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Architecture

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The Terminal. | And the Bridge.

“It speaks to the paucity of our civic imagination, and the small-mindedness of our politics, that simply to describe a project of such ambition is to invite the knowing smirks and raised eyebrows of those who will immediately recognize it as wholly incompatible with the current political and budgetary environment…At the same time, broader economic forces make Union Station expansion almost inevitable. As Doug Allen, the head of the Virginia’s commuter rail service, put it, ‘The question is how we do it, not whether we do it.'”

In a long and handsomely illustrated piece, WaPo’s Stephen Pearlstein looks into the reimagining of Union Station (or is it Truman Station), in light of both commuter needs and the burgeoning of NoMa, H-St, and the DC downtown in general. “This new Union Station would go well beyond the ambitions of Daniel Burnham’s original Beaux-Arts masterpiece. Its footprint would span 10 square blocks — two blocks east to west, five blocks north to south, from the foot of Capitol Hill to K Street.”

Update: “Make no mistake: Any of the finalists in the competition to design D.C.’s 11th Street Bridge Park is a winner. This is the savviest proposal for adapting outmoded infrastructure since the High Line. The four teams that made the grade as finalists to design the thing met the challenge.

And while we’re re-envisioning DC, CityLab looks at some intriguing “High Line”-style plans for the 11th Street Bridge. “Maybe the City Council could be convinced of the merits of the Southeast-to-Southwest Streetcar line once D.C. decides on a final design for the edgiest architecture project in the city’s history.”

Justice is Closed (To You, Anyway).


All across Washington, the doors, terraces and plazas of our essential public buildings have been closed off to the public, likely forever. But the closing of this front door, which will now be used only for exiting the building, is not just another front door lost to paranoia. It is the loss of what may be the nation’s most important portal.

In the WP, architecture critic Phillip Kennicott lambasts the Supreme Court for closing its front doors in fear of the Big Bad Terr’ists. “The justices, with Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissenting, have made their priorities known, as clearly as if they had they had sold naming rights to the Great Hall to the highest corporate bidder. They stand on the side of security — a regime of absolute and irrevocable decisions often made by unelected officials and not subject to any meaningful public appeal. Beauty, architecture and the need for a democratic people to experience inspiring symbolic public space weigh lightly, if at all, in the scales.” (See also Paul Goldberger’s similar case in The New Yorker.)

Life in the Great American City.


In her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, self-taught urban scholar and activist Jane Jacobs observed that sidewalks and their users are ‘active participants in the drama of civilization versus barbarism’ (by “barbarism,” she meant crime) and that a continuously busy sidewalk is a safe sidewalk, because those who have business there — ‘the natural proprietors of the street’ — provide ‘eyes upon the street.’ Jacobs, who died in 2006, would not have been surprised to learn that it was two street vendors who first notified police of the suspicious Nissan Pathfinder parked on West 45th Street just off Broadway.

In surveying the recent foiled Times Square car-bomb attempt, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan makes the case for the prescience of Jane Jacobs, and explains why Dick Cheney is, yet again, wrong. (Kaplan also makes a case for security cameras which I’m less sanguine about — but, hey, two out of three ain’t bad.)

Speaking of the Times Square situation, Twitter wag pourmecoffee had some arch responses to the near-disaster: “Somebody saw something in Times Square. If Cheney were still around, he’d torture entire Lion King cast for answers,” and “When we catch this Times Square guy, I assume he will be too scary to try in New York.” Ah, Twitter.

The Journey is the Reward.

“Corridors make science-fiction believable, because they’re so utilitarian by nature – really they’re just a conduit to get from one (often overblown) set to another. So if any thought or love is put into one, if the production designer is smart enough to realise that corridors are the foundation on which larger sets are ‘sold’ to viewers, movie magic is close at hand.” By way of Lotta, Den of Geek‘s Martin Anderson sings the praises of the sci-fi corridor. Lots of great eye-candy here.

A Republic of Knowledge.

“I believe it is not in our character, American character, to follow — but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again. I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than 3 percent of our gross domestic product to research and development. We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race, through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science.

It’s poetry in motion: In a clear break with his predecessor, President Obama pledges $420 billion for basic science and applied research. “And he set forth a wish list including solar cells as cheap as paint; green buildings that produce all the energy they consume; learning software as effective as a personal tutor; prosthetics so advanced that you could play the piano again and ‘an expansion of the frontiers of human knowledge about ourselves and world the around us.’” Huzzah! (And fwiw, I would also like more manned spaced exploration…and a jetpack.)

The Kingdom.

The guy is sculpting the toddler id while also designing a domed metropolis with a monorail. How did this happen? A man who got famous drawing a cartoon mouse was now going to solve all America’s urban problems?” Old friend Seth Stevenson spends a week in the realm of Disney, and lives to tell the tale. “After spending the past five days here, I’ve come to the conclusion that Disney World teaches kids three things: 1) a meaningless, bubble-headed utopianism, 2) a grasping, whining consumerism, and 3) a preference for soulless facsimiles of culture and architecture instead of for the real thing. I suppose it also teaches them that monorails are cool. So there’s that.

The Strength of Collective Man.

“When you look at this tower, it will immediately tell you where the memorial park is. It’s always pointing.” Architects and developers reveal the rest of the proposed Lower Manhattan skyline at Ground Zero, to accompany the Freedom Tower.

The Death and Life of Great American Urban Activists.

“In the weeks to come, much will be written about her central role in shaping our ideas — and our ideals — of urbanism. The praise will be deserved. During the 1960s, a time when the reigning orthodoxy was urban renewal, which generally took the form of urban demolition, she championed a more evolutionary, humanist, and small-scale approach to city planning.Slate‘s Witold Rybczynski ruminates on the legacy of Jane Jacobs, who passed away yesterday (1916-2006.)

Ground Zero Hour.

“With today’s agreement, we can now move forward with rebuilding the World Trade Center.” After months of wrangling, developer Larry Silverstein and the Port Authority strike a deal on the planned “Freedom Tower” at the WTC site. Said Pataki: ““This is the last stumbling block to putting shovels in the ground.” Construction on the 1776-foot Freedom Tower is set to be completed by 2012.

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