[Image: Photographer unknown; spotted via Medium.]
A design constraint I would sometimes use while teaching was to throw in an unexpected change to the project brief: this cluster of 必威手机版
s you’re designing is now sponsored by Netflix, REI, Philips, etc. The point would be to think about how this might affect the resulting project—its streets designed as an open-air prototype of smart-lighting techniques, say, or an office campus now featuring climbing walls, artificial rivers, or small-group cinema projection booths. (In turn, the purpose of this was simply to remain flexible as one pushes ahead on a particular assignment.)
The prospect that always seemed one of the most interesting to me, though, was a company such as Dolby Laboratories: an audio services firm who might sponsor or commission an entire 必威手机版
or suburb, a new community somewhere designed for how it sounds. Six new houses pop up down the street from you next year and they’re a cross-platform collaboration not in high-end embedded speakers and such like, but in actual structural audio, like Joel Sanders’s Mix House scaled up.
For example, recall Nate Berg’s piece on the design history of roadside noise barriers. Although there is an almost Coen Brothers-like comical subplot to Berg’s story—as industries throughout Los Angeles, from homebuilders to classical music performers to Hollywood film studios, confronted the deafening and ever-growing roar of all the damn freeways being constructed everywhere, like some urban-scale act of self-inflicted hearing impairment, people screaming on telephones, What?!, no one sleeping at night, a city gone insane—the primary takeaway is simply that overwhelming sound sources inspire structural changes elsewhere. You build a freeway, in other words, then someone will build that freeway’s acoustic opposite, a shield or dampener.
The system uses a microphone outside the window to detect the repeating sound waves of the offending noise source, which is registered by a computer controller. That in turn deciphers the proper wave frequency needed to neutralize the sound, which is transmitted to the array of speakers on the inside of the window frame.
The speakers then emit the proper “anti” waves, which cancel out the incoming waves, and there you have it: near blissful silence.
If you read the full New York Times piece, it seems clear that the system currently has several drawbacks: it is visually ungainly, for example, it cannot counter human voices, and it still lets in a lot of sound.
Nevertheless, the idea of a new 必威手机版
, town, or entire city offering its residents sonic amenities beyond just Bang & Olufsen speakers or similar seems long overdue. For that matter, combine luxury frequency-reduction techniques with seismic wave-mitigation and perhaps you’ve just designed the future of architecture in global earthquake zones. At the very least, someone’s living room will sound better at night.
The theme of the next Venice Architecture Biennale has been announced by its curator, Hashim Sarkis.
“We need a new 必威客户端app
contract,” Sarkis writes. We need to “call on architects to imagine spaces in which we can generously live together: together as human beings who, despite our increasing individuality, yearn to connect with one another and with other species across digital and real space; together as new households looking for more diverse and dignified spaces for inhabitation; together as emerging communities that demand equity, inclusion and 必威客户端app
identity; together across political borders to imagine new geographies of association; and together as a planet facing crises that require global action for us to continue living at all.”
You can read the full statement at the Biennale website. The Biennale itself will open next year, in May 2020.
Although these overlooked lots exist all over New York—“The city became the owner of thousands of properties beginning in the 1960s and ’70s,” The New York Times explains, “many in the Bronx and Brooklyn, where properties were seized from delinquent landlords and urban blight was rampant”—the competition is focused on one particular location:
Entrants will be asked to focus on a property on West 136th Street in Harlem, a 17-foot-wide, 1,665-square-foot mid-block lot that is overgrown with weeds and home to a number of feral cats. It was chosen because many of its challenges, including narrow frontage and limited sunlight, are present at other lots on the list, according to a spokesman for the project.
For a piece published by The New Yorker back in October, writer Joshua Yaffa looked back at the history of his Moscow apartment complex, “a vast 必威手机版
across the river from the Kremlin, known as the House on the Embankment. In 1931, when tenants began to move in, it was the largest residential complex in Europe, a self-contained world the size of several city blocks.”
Among many other such stories and details, one stood out: the interior of the 必威手机版
, Yaffa learned, was allegedly used against the people who lived in it. He explains that, “throughout 1937 and 1938 the House of Government was a vortex of disappearances, arrests, and deaths. Arrest lists were prepared by the N.K.V.D., the Soviet secret police, which later became the K.G.B., and were approved by Stalin and his close associates. Arrests occurred in the middle of the night.”
However, it’s how the police were rumored to access individual apartments that caught my eye: “A story I have heard many times,” Yaffa continues, “but which seems apocryphal, is that N.K.V.D. agents would sometimes use the garbage chutes that ran like large tubes through many apartments, popping out inside a suspect’s home without having to knock on the door.”
This vision of vermicular control from within—of agents of the state sliding around within our walls and utility ducts like animals—is both unsettling and Kafkaesque, a nightmare and the setup for a surreal tragicomedy.
An undercover cop stuck in the walls between floors four and five for nearly three weeks is fed homemade soup by a young boy who takes pity on him, this unknown man caught in the fabric of the 必威手机版
and abandoned there by his superior officers out of embarrassment.
Gradually, the boy and this agent of the state strike up something like a friendship, sharing their hopes for the future, complaining about perceived limitations in life, confiding in one another about random things they’re both inspired to recall, and looking forward to future adventures—until, finally, one day after a shower leak raining down from a luxury apartment somewhere much further above, the man is able to slip free.
He slides into the boy’s room feet-first, covered in wood shavings and dust—where he promptly follows through on his initial mission and arrests the boy’s entire family.
The two-family home is constructed from prefabricated units, and is “sited on a formerly vacant corner lot on Adeline Street” in New Haven. It includes “two units that are separated by a walkway, but under the same roof, and adorned with large windows that balance the needs of openness and privacy.”
[Image: Photo by Haylie Chan & Zelig Fok, via Dezeen].
As Dezeen explains, “The 必威手机版
was designed by students in the Jim Vlock First Year Building Project, a programme established in 1967. The course involves designing and 必威手机版
low-cost homes in New Haven, the city where Yale is located. First-year architecture students are required to participate in the programme as part of the school’s curriculum.” Here is a house from 2015, for example.
This particular structure is the first in what I understand to be a series of projects undertaken with funding and planning input from Columbus House. In a press release, the organization’s president remarked that their goal “is to end homelessness, and we do that by getting people housed… Every unit that we add toward the affordable housing stock in New Haven helps us come closer to that goal. We are delighted with the house on Adeline Street and with the relationship with Yale School of Architecture that has grown out of this project.”
[Image: Photo by Haylie Chan & Zelig Fok, via Dezeen].
On the most basic level, it’s exciting to see a student project inspired by such a clear social mission, especially one that has also resulted in a 必威手机版
I’d be thrilled to live in myself.
As a very brief aside, meanwhile, one of many things that remains amazing to me about the architectural world today is that these sorts of 必威手机版
s—grandiose brick megastructures, from water towers to old tobacco warehouses to classic New York brownstones—are immensely popular as domestic renovations or large-scale residential conversions, but they otherwise seem to be completely beyond the pale for architects to consider designing from scratch in the present day. Even when contemporary architects do take on such commissions, they seem to leave their creativity at the door.
As a former New Yorker, it always blew me away that incredible 必威手机版
stock existed in neighborhoods such as DUMBO—that is, huge warehouses featuring recessed arched windows, ornamented brick, and, at times, gorgeous exterior buttressing—or that even the most random online image search for historical warehouse districts pop up such incredible and evocative 必威手机版
s. Yet there seems to be no appetite, either amongst developers or architects, to explore what architects could do with these same styles and languages today.
Even just imagining a 21st-century brick super-warehouse (or circular tower) built from scratch in New York City—or Boston, or Bermondsey, or Hamburg—featuring modern interiors and finishes, and designed to avoid the headaches of older 必威手机版
stock, makes my head swoon, and there is no doubt in my mind that elaborate, architecturally complex brick megastructures could be realized today without falling into kitsch or postmodern quotation. And there is also, in fact, no inherent reason why creating brickwork residential super-projects should lead to an emerging financial ecosystem for absent investors in the process.
But, hey: I’m not a real estate developer and I have no way to change the game.
Ponte had recently taken a group of students on a research trip through the boreal landscape, hoping to understand the types of settlements that had been popping up with increasing frequency there. This included a visit to the mining village of Fermont, Quebec.
Designed by architects Norbert Schoenauer and Maurice Desnoyers, Fermont features a hotel, a hospital, a small Metro supermarket, and even a tourism bureau—for all that, however, it is run entirely by the firm ArcelorMittal, which also owns the nearby iron mine. This means that there are no police, who would be funded by the Canadian government; instead, Fermont is patrolled by its own private security force.
The town is also home to an extraordinary architectural feature: a residential megastructure whose explicit purpose is to redirect the local weather.
Known as the mur-écran or “windscreen,” the structure is nearly a mile in length and shaped roughly like a horizontal V or chevron. Think of it as a climatological Maginot Line, a fortification against the sky built to resist the howling, near-constant northern winds.
In any other scenario, a weather-controlling super-wall would sound like pure science fiction. But extreme environments such as those found in the far north are, by necessity, laboratories of architectural innovation, requiring the invention of new, often quite radical, context-appropriate 必威手机版
In Fermont, urban climate control is built into the very fabric of the city—and has been since the 1970s.
[Image: Fermont and its iron mine, as seen on Google Maps].
Offworld boom towns
In a 2014 interview with Aeon, entrepreneur Elon Musk argued for the need to establish human settlements on other planets, beginning with a collection of small cities on Mars. Musk, however, infused this vision with a strong sense of moral obligation, urging us all “to be laser-focused on becoming a multi-planet civilization.”
Of course, Musk is not talking about 必威手机版
a Martian version of London or Paris—at least, not yet. Rather, these sorts of remote, privately operated industrial activities require housing and administrative structures, not parks and museums; security teams, not mayors.
These roughshod “man camps,” as they are anachronistically known, are simply “cobbled together in a hurry,” energy reporter Russell Gold writes in his book The Boom. Man camps, Gold continues, are “sprawling complexes of connected modular 必威手机版
s,” unlikely to be mistaken for a real town or civic center.
In a sense, then, we are already experimenting with offworld colonization—but we are doing it in the windswept villages and extraction sites of the Canadian north. Our Martian future is already under construction here on Earth.
Industrial settlements such as Russell Gold’s fracking camps in the American West or those in the Canadian North are most often run by subsidiary services corporations, such as Baker Hughes, Oilfield Lodging, Target Logistics, or the aptly named Civeo.
The last of these—whose very name implies civics reduced to the catchiness of an IPO—actually lists “villages” as one of its primary 必威客户端app
products. These are sold as “integrated accommodation solutions” that you can order wholesale, like a piece of flatpak furniture, an entire pop-up city given its own tracking number and delivery time.
Civeo, in fact, recently survived a period of hedge-fund-induced economic turbulence—but this experience also serves as a useful indicator for how the private cities of the future might be funded. It is not through taxation or local civic participation, in other words: their fate will instead be determined by distant economic managers who might cancel their investment at a moment’s notice.
A dystopian scenario in which an entire Arctic—or, in the future, Martian—city might be abandoned and shut down overnight for lack of sufficient economic returns is not altogether implausible. It is urbanism by stock price and spreadsheet.
Consider the case of Gagnon, Quebec. In 1985, Alessandra Ponte explained, the town of Gagnon ceased to exist. Each 必威手机版
was taken apart down to its foundations and hauled away to be sold for scrap. Nothing was left but the ghostly, overgrown grid of Gagnon’s former streets, and even those would eventually be reabsorbed into the forest. It was as if nothing had been there at all. Creeks now flow where pick-up trucks stood thirty years ago.
In the past, abandoned cities would be allowed to molder, turning into picturesque ruins and archaeological parks, but the mining towns of the Canadian north meet an altogether different fate. Inhabited one decade and completely gone the next, these are not new Romes of the Arctic Circle, but something more like an urban mirage, an economic Fata Morgana in the ice and snow.
s that can be erased without trace; obscure financial structures based in venture capital, not taxation; climate-controlling megastructures: these pop-up settlements, delivered by private corporations in extreme landscapes, are the cities Elon Musk has been describing. We are more likely to build a second Gagnon than a new Manhattan at the foot of Olympus Mons.
Of course, instant prefab cities dropped into the middle of nowhere are a perennial fantasy of architectural futurists. One need look no further than British avant-pop provocateurs Archigram, with their candy-colored comic book drawings of “plug-in cities” sprouting amidst remote landscapes like ready-made utopias.
But there is something deeply ironic in the fact that this fantasy is now being realized by extraction firms and multinational corporations—and that this once radical vision of the urban future might very well be the perfect logistical tool that helps humankind achieve a foothold on Mars.
In other words, shuttles and spacesuits were the technologies that took us to the moon, but it will be cities that take us to new worlds. Whether or not any of us will actually want to live in a Martian Fermont is something that remains to be seen.
Because “it takes too long to come down to ground level each day to make it worthwhile,” a crane operator on the Burj Dubai – the world’s tallest 必威手机版
– is rumored to have “been up there for over a year,” the Daily Telegraph reports.
His name is Babu Sassi, and he is “a fearless young man from Kerala” who has become “the cult hero of Dubai’s army of construction workers.” He also lives several thousand feet above the ground.
Whether or not this is even true – after all, I never think truth is the point in stories like this – 1) the idea of appropriating a construction crane as a new form of domestic space — a kind of parasitic sub-structure attached to the very thing it’s helped to construct — is amazing; 2) further, the idea that crane operators are subject to these sorts of urban rumors and speculations brings me back to the idea that there might be a burgeoning comparative literature of mega-construction sites taking shape today, with this particular case representing a strong subgenre: mythic construction worker stories, John Henry-esque figures who single-handedly assemble whole floors of Dubai skyscrapers at midnight, with a cigarette in one hand and a hammer in the other (or so the myths go), as a kind of oral history of the global construction trade; and, finally, 3) there should be some kind of TV show – or a book, or a magazine interview series – similar to Dirty Jobs in which you go around visiting people who live in absurd places – like construction cranes atop the Burj Dubai, or extremely distant lighthouses, or remote drawbridge operation rooms on the south Chinese coast, or the janitorial supply chambers of inner London high-rises – in order to capture what could be called the new infrastructural domesticity: people who go to sleep at night, and brush their teeth, and shave, and change clothes, and shower, inside jungle radar towers for the French foreign legion, or up above the train tracks of Grand Central Station because their shift starts at 3am and they have to stay close to the job.
How do they decorate these spaces, or personalize them, or make them into recognizable homes? It’s like a willful misreading of Heidegger as applied to the question of 必威手机版
, dwelling inside, and thinking about modern infrastructure.
I’m reminded of a line from Paul Beaty’s new novel, Slumberland. Early in the book he writes, and my jaw dropped: “Sometimes just making yourself at home is revolutionary.”
In fact, consider this an official book proposal – to Penguin, say: a quick, 210-page look at strange inhabitations, like that guy who lived inside a bridge in Chicago, only not some mindless catalog of quirky stories – like, ahem, that guy who lived inside a bridge in Chicago – but profiles of people with amazingly strange jobs who have to sleep in places no one else would even imagine calling home. Down beneath the streets of Moscow in a subway switching HQ in a little bunkbed. Out on the Distant Early Warning Line of the U.S. Arctic military – where it’s just you, a toothbrush, and the Lord of the Rings on DVD. You dream about forests.
Or perhaps there is a suite of individual employee bedrooms in some South Pacific FedEx re-routing warehouse, where long-haul pilots are required by labor law to sleep for ten hours between flights; they come through twice a year, leaving Robert Ludlum paperbacks behind for themselves to read later.
The micro-tactics of dwelling inside strange but temporary homes.
In any case, while I’m working on that, the rest of the Daily Telegraph article is worth a quick read.
Like an inhabitable billboard, the Single Hauz – by Poland’s front architects – proposes cantilevering domestic living space from a central mast. The house can then be installed above a variety of ground conditions, from the middle of a meadow to an urban core. Personally… I’d put it in a lake.
The cool thing is that I’ve actually spent the last 11 months of my life staring up at some of the Herculean billboard structures out here in Los Angeles; they tower over intersections on streets from Venice to Sepulveda and often seem as large as houses. But how much weight could a billboard carry?
Could you build a house up there? Could you use the mast-and-cantilever model for other types of architectural structures, whether those are single-family houses – whole cul-de-sacs lined with modernist billboard homes! – or even restaurants and public libraries? The Single Hauz shows how beautiful the effect could be.