The idea of meta-regions is all the rage when it comes to national transportation policy. The logic of maps like this are helping frame high-speed rail policy and priorities, for example. But the regions depicted in this map also represent radically different taste regimes when it comes to design culture. “Cascadia,” the region defined by Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, is the home of the contemporary language of Patkau, Miller Hull, and other proponents of a woodsie and geometrically inflected modernism that has more than a whiff of Alvar Aalto. The green region centered on Atlanta and Charlotte, on the other hand, is ground zero of suburbo-preppy New Urbanism. Gross generalizations for sure, but regional cultural affinities do matter and are greatly clarified by this map.
A ghastly (say with a British accent) affordable housing project was featured in the recent issue of Metropolis Magazine. Designed by Sir Richard Rogers’s newly reconstituted firm, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners – shaped no doubt by consultants who specialize in the succession plans of famous-name firms – the project looks like it was designed in about 45 minutes. I like to say that there is a fine line between minimalism and banality. Unfortunately (for the inhabitants) this project fell far short of the mark.
Even Rick Poyner, the writer of the fawning article, stumbles over the social and aesthetic incongruities of the Lego-land-like project:
“My only criticism, now that the houses are occupied, is that their futuristic style makes conventional timber fences, gates, and garden sheds look incongruous and unsightly. (Harbour notes that even the cars parked outside seem old-fashioned.) These backyard necessities require a better integrated design language, but that is more restrictive than even the most aesthetically aware owner is likely to accept. A few residents have even put up net curtains. Ultra-modernity is a demanding visual code to live up to.”
Projects like this fuel the Congress for New Urbanism’s authority when it comes to community development.
About 80 miles north of New York City, the Poughkeepsie Highland Railroad Bridge was re-opened earlier this year as a pedestrian walkway over the Hudson River. Originally built in 1889 (the longest bridge in the world at the time), it had been abandoned since a fire damaged the tracks in 1974. The bridge spans 1.25 miles and the walking deck is 212 feet above the river. Following the fire, the bridge was left standing only due to the inhibitive cost of demolition. The $38 million rehabilitation effort was funded by both public and private investment, and the walkway was able to open on schedule to correspond with the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s exploration of the river.
Massey College, a graduate-level residential college at the University of Toronto, was one of several interesting places I was taken while attending an urban design workshop in Toronto last week. The College, designed by Ron Thom in 1963 as a cloistered enclave that turns its elegantly composed back to the city, has a humanizing scale and gemütlich character that is unique within the context of much more monumental work being done in North America during the same period. The architecture is equal parts Frank Lloyd Wright, Eliel Saarineen (via Cranbrook), and Harry Potter.
The dining hall (shown below) is the culmination of a spatial sequence that begins at the elaborate gate to the college, continues past sunken pools in the courtyard, into a well-proportioned entrance hall with glimpses into a sitting area, and then up broad stairs in a double height space that is reminiscent of Dudok’s Town Hall in Hilversum, the Netherlands (1924-31).
Shim Sutcliffe did a series of elegant interventions in the late 1990s, including the Carlo Scarpa-inspired firewood storage area shown below. Brigitte Shim, host for a lunch for the out-of-town workshop participants, is a fellow at the College.