Living Facts

New York City
© Iker Gil


MAS Studio selects some fascinating facts and numbers about the way we live around the world. Because what happens in downtown Tokyo is a little different to what happens in the storm tunnels in Las Vegas. However, we call both places home.


In 1950, 29% of the world population lived in cities. By 2050, 70% of the world population will live in cities.


In 1950, the world population density was 19 persons per square kilometer. By 2050, the world population density will be 68 persons per square kilometer.


There are more than 400 urban agglomerations in the world with over 1 million people.


Tokyo is the largest urban agglomeration in the world with a population of 33.8 million.


With current living consumptions levels, on average each person needs 2.2 global hectares to support the demands they place on the environment. However, the planet is only able to meet consumption levels of 1.8 global hectares per person.


According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average home size in the United States was 2,330 square feet in 2004, up from 1,400 square feet in 1970.


The Istana Nurul Iman palace, official residence of the Sultan of Brunei, is the world’s largest residence of any type. It contains 1,788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, and a floor area of 2,152,782 square feet (200,000 m²). Amenities include 5 swimming pools, an air conditioned stable for 200 polo ponies, a 110-car garage, a banquet hall for 4,000 guests, and a mosque accommodating 1,500 people.


As homeownership rates rose, eventually reaching a peak of nearly 70% in 2004 — our society became less footloose. Last year fewer Americans moved, as a percentage of the population, than in any year since the Census Bureau started tracking address changes in the late 1940s.


In the US, there were more than 3.1 million foreclosure filings issued during 2008, which means that one of every 54 households received a notice last year.


At the peak of the housing boom in 2006, there were about 800,000 building permits issued in Spain, about the same as France, Germany, and Belgium combined.


According to estimates there are about 1 billion squatters in the world today – one of every six people on the planet. Within 25 years, their number will grow to 2 billion, and 1/4 of the world’s population will be squatters.


There were some 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2008. This includes 15.2 million refugees, 827,000 asylum-seekers (pending cases) and 26 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).


Pakistan is host to the largest number of refugees worldwide (1.8 million), followed by the Syrian Arab Republic (1.1 million) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (980,000).


In 2005, Shanghai had a floating population of 4.3 million, corresponding to almost 25% of its total population.


It is estimated that the population living in the storm tunnels under Las Vegas Strip could be as many as 700.


According to the Mercer 2009 Quality of Living Survey, Vienna has passed Zurich to take the top spot as the world’s city with the best quality of living. Geneva retains its position in third place, while Vancouver and Auckland are now fourth in the rankings.


According to a report by UBS, Oslo, Zurich, Copenhagen, Geneva and Tokyo are the most expensive cities in 2009.


Harare, Zimbabwe, has the highest cost of living for Americans working for private companies abroad — 143 % higher than Washington, D.C.


New research by the Gallup Organization finds that 700 million people – 16% of the world’s total population – would like to move to a different country than the one they currently call home.


In 2007, Iceland was the most livable country in the world. The least livable country was Sierra Leone.


MAS Studio is a collaborative architecture and urban design firm directed by Iker Gil. MAS studio takes a multidisciplinary approach to its work, with teams including architects, urban designers, researchers, graphic designers, and photographers among others, in order to provide innovative and comprehensive ideas and solutions.

Survivor Maracaibo

© Karla Sierralta & Brian Strawn


Architects Karla Sierralta and Brian Strawn share their experience living in Maracaibo, where informal inventions address social and economic conditions


Maracaibo is the second largest city in Venezuela and the source of 78% of its oil reserves. The town sits on Lake Maracaibo, the largest fresh water lake in South America, which acts as the major port for oil exportation. Despite this natural wealth, the cost of living has sky rocketed, while electrical blackouts, water shortages, rampant organized crime, internal bank fraud and food shortages have become the new normal. Architects Karla Sierralta and Brian Strawn share their experience living in Maracaibo during the last two years, where informal inventions address social and economic conditions.


Venezuela is primarily known for its beaches, beauty queens, biological diversity and massive oil reserves. Today, it is also home to the highest inflation rate in Latin America; it’s capital, Caracas, is the new “murder capital of the world”, and the country now has the highest global per capita rate of kidnappings. Since a change in government in 1999, the country has been undergoing a slow transformation from a forty-year-old democracy into a “revolutionary new socialism”, as termed by the current government. This “revolution” has caused life for the average citizen to change dramatically. The cost of living has sky rocketed, while electrical blackouts, water shortages, rampant organized crime, internal bank fraud and food shortages have become the new normal.

Year-over-year the inflation rate in Venezuela is at 28.9%. By comparison, the inflation rate for Brazil is at 4.2% and in Argentina the inflation rate is at 7.1%. The government has fixed the currency in the country at 2.15 Bolivares Fuertes per U.S. Dollar. The actual worth of the money, of course, fluctuates with the global market. A parallel exchange or “black market” rate is common knowledge. As of December 2009, the rate is at 5.95 Bolivares Fuertes per U.S. Dollar. An entry-level worker is paid the minimum wage, which is set by the government. Today this is 967 Bs.F, which is subsidized with an additional 639 Bs.F in Food Stamps. That is $450 in cash and $186 in Food Stamps. Though gasoline is virtually free, around $0.12 a gallon, everything else is very expensive in relationship to the earned income. Most products at the grocery store are imported from Europe, Asia or the U.S.A. and are sold according to the cost of the U.S. dollar purchased on the parallel market. The average middle class family in Venezuela spends between $930 – $1,395 a month on groceries. The average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment for a middle class family in a moderately safe zone ranges between $1000 – $1,500 a month. To purchase a home or apartment in these areas, with 2 bedrooms and around 900 square feet , costs between $185,000 – $375,000. A four door compact car, the Chevy Optra, costs approximately $70,000. This vehicle, which is marketed in the U.S. as the Suzuki Reno, sells for $16,389.

A very telling guide for judging the strength of a nation’s economy is “The Big Mac Index” published annually by “The Economist” since 1986. The index is set up with the cost of the Big Mac in the U.S. selling for $3.54.Globally, the average time that would have to be worked to earn a Big Mac was under 40 minutes. In Venezuela, with the cost of a Big Mac currently set at $9.76, the worker earning minimum wage would have to work 3 hours and 21 minutes to cover the cost. By comparison, two arepas with meat and cheese, a Venezuelan alternative to a Big Mac, from a national fast food restaurant, made with local ingredients, cost $14.88. It would take 5 hours and 7 minutes to earn the arepas! Venezuela’s inflation rates do not allow the minimum Venezuelan salary to cover living expenses. The math just doesn’t add up.

The ever-increasing cost of living is causing crime to rise dramatically. It is no longer safe in most urban areas to walk in the streets if you are in the middle or upper classes. A decade ago mugging was the major fear, today it is car jacking, armed home invasion, murder and kidnapping. People are no longer fearful of losing “things”, but rather are concerned for their lives. The following photos were taken while residing in Maracaibo, Venezuela over the past two years. Maracaibo is the country’s second largest city and the source of 78% of its oil reserves. The city sits on Lake Maracaibo, the largest fresh water lake in South America, which acts as the major port for oil exportation. Maracaibo sits within the 50-mile buffer zone along the Colombian border, which the U.S. Department of State has prohibited all U.S. Embassy employees and family members from entering into. The threat of kidnapping or murder by paramilitary groups has been determined to be too great in this zone.


Panoramic view of La Lago area in Maracaibo
© crl_

View of residential high-rises along the edge of Lake Maracaibo, covered by duckweed due to contamination
© Karla Sierralta & Brian Strawn


Fence as façade

Everyday life in Maracaibo is very much about survival. This reality is evident in the way people try to protect their homes. A typical single family home not only has bars on every window, but also tends to sit behind a fortified concrete wall. These fences have become the new façades of the home, obstructing more and more the real façades behind them. As crime has increased, the fences have grown in vertical height, horizontal dimension and have begun to form occupiable interstitial space between the street and residence.

These cage-like “buffer zones” act as safety checkpoints while driving the car into the carport or entering the home via doorways and gates. They essentially allow you to feel safe from the threat of kidnapping or armed robbery while unloading groceries from your car or greeting guests. These spaces claim uses such as enclosed gardens, protected front porches or sheltered locations for the now essential water tanks. They allow the opening of doors and windows, reclaiming an indoor outdoor connection.

Some fences are evidence of the progression of this phenomenon through time. Examples show low masonry partitions, sometimes permeable, as the first strata of these fences built in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Metal bars follow as a second stage during the 1980’s and 1990’s, raising the height of the fence over 3 meters, and protecting any openings with metal bars. Additions to the top of the fence in the last decade include shattered glass, barbwire, and for the ones that can afford it, electrified fences with sophisticated alarms and motion detectors systems.

While the addition of electrical wire to the tops of these fences may be one of the most visually disturbing parts of the defense system, it is the addition of private armed guards outside the homes that is most troubling. Recently, neighborhood groups have joined together to gate entrances to their streets; essentially creating gated communities at an urban level. 24 hour a day armed security personnel monitor these entrance and exit points, which has allowed self organized neighborhood groups to reclaim their streets.

The openings, height, and construction techniques of the fence as façade are closely tied to the economic means of the owner. Lower income families primarily protect the front door and the area where they park their car, as well as openings for small businesses such as vending of homemade food, or phone cards. The fences of the higher income families are typically the tallest, and least permeable. They are also characterized by the latest gadgets in alarms, intercoms, buzzers and remote control security systems. Regardless of a family’s income, attempting to secure the home has become a top priority.


Fence stages in a residential building
© Karla Sierralta & Brian Strawn

Low-income fence. Live + Work
© Karla Sierralta & Brian Strawn

Incremental fence in residential building
© Karla Sierralta & Brian Strawn


Villa effect

The isolated single-family home in an open neighborhood is no longer seen as the ideal scenario for raising a family. The city has become so dangerous that children cannot safely ride their bikes in the streets or hang out with friends in front of their homes. As a consequence, during the past decade, the gated community has been adopted as the new ideal for family living. Housing typologies from detached single-family homes, townhouses, to low-rise apartment blocks now share protected common open space in these planned communities. Continuous concrete fences, up to 20 feet in height and topped with electrical wire, surround the villas, opening at one vehicular and pedestrian access point. An armed guard sits 24 hours a day at the gate to allow people in or out, always checking the identification and destination of the visitor. Newer villas try to soften the effect of the enormous walls by incorporating landscape features and architectural detailing of the particular theme of the development. Once inside the walls of the villa, though bars on windows still remain, other forms of protection disappear. Carports are no longer cages. People are able to keep planters and outdoor furniture on their decks and patios. Visitors and residents can safely park their cars on the street. Many daily activities that were lost re-emerge; such as children playing outside, riding bikes, people jogging or just hanging out watering their front lawns. Now that the villa developers have started to provide facilities for the residents such as swimming pools, tennis courts and community centers, the artificial feeling of a neighborhood has become more real than it has been for a decade. This lifestyle does come at a cost, not only in the premium charged for the provided facilities and sense of security, but rather in the fact that the enormous complexes act as impassable islands in the city for pedestrians and vehicular traffic. The urban quality of the city is being physical transformed by insecurity.


Protected common open space in new residential development
© Karla Sierralta & Brian Strawn

Interior street of a new residential development
© Karla Sierralta & Brian Strawn

Concrete wall with electrical wire protecting the new residential development
© Karla Sierralta & Brian Strawn


Water by truck

From 1981 to 2009 the population of the city exploded. Data from the National Statistics Institute of Venezuela states the number of inhabitants grew from 890,653 in 1981 to 1,891,800 in 2009. Maracaibo’s metropolitan region and Zulia state hold 3.700.000 inhabitants, which counts as 13.2% of Venezuela’s population. Infrastructure built in the 1960’s for a town of around 450,000 has been stretched beyond its carrying capacity. The city has grown piecemeal, sprawling toward the north, south and west away from the densely populated historic downtown and lakefront. Coincidentally, the city’s water supply originates, not from the lake, but from a reservoir about 40 miles northwest of the historic city center. While growth occurred the new neighborhoods and developments hooked up to the water supply. Sometimes these hookups are done by the city and sometimes they are done privately and without permission. Effectively, the outlying areas of the city are using up all the water supply before it can get to the dense city center and main business districts.

Water shortages have resulted in privately owned, diesel powered, water trucks driving all over town and delivering water door to door. The water is stored in blue plastic tanks that can be seen everywhere, from the poorest neighborhoods to zones inhabited by the middle and upper classes. This improvisational system of storing water is easily expandable and the number of tanks is determined by the amount of water each home expects to use.

Underground water tanks and “gas-tank style” water nozzles are sold as upgrades for new housing. One very quickly gets used to the idea that water is something bought from and a truck and not something that comes from the city through pipes. Water costs about 150 BsF or $69.75 per 2,400 gallons. This usually lasts a family of four about a week if they are extremely careful with water usage. That is 600 BsF on top of the water bill paid to the city, another 80 BsF. (680 BsF = $316.28 for water a month.)


Water tank shop
© Karla Sierralta & Brian Strawn

Addition of new water tanks
© Carlos Marval

Water truck delivering water to a residential neighborhood
© Karla Sierralta & Brian Strawn


Re-programmed park

The city of Maracaibo has many paved public plazas, but “green” parks with open grassy fields and trees are very rare. The city’s largest park, Vereda del Lago, covers 168 acres along the lakefront. Created from infill in the 1970’s, the park was originally landscaped with endemic vegetation and contained a few playing fields and walkways, including a long promenade along the shoreline. In 2001 the city government decided to re-program the park to deal with increased insecurity. Today, the park is a mixture of private and public, permanent and temporary, open and closed spaces.

Two anchor programs border the park, at the north end, a city police station, and at the south end, a private university campus, both located strategically adjacent to the park’s vehicular and pedestrian access points. Members of the police academy use the park as training grounds, which facilitate monitoring the park’s activity while they exercise. In addition, they regularly patrol the entire zone, guiding traffic and resolving conflicts at peak hours.

The private university’s campus includes four classroom and office buildings and an auditorium. This has brought young life to the south end of the park, not only during the daytime, but also at night, when crowds congregate for concerts, lectures or other cultural activities open to the public.

Other supporting program accommodating recreational activities has filled the space in between the police station and the university. Outdoor sports playing fields, a minor league baseball stadium, and a petting zoo are available for public use. The park also hosts a trolley station, a small art gallery and a museum of public radio run by the city. Public parades and events are held at a small open amphitheater. In addition a number of private businesses have been allowed to operate in the park, including a gym, a café, a go-cart track, a climbing wall and one of the largest water parks in the country. Smaller informal businesses, such as food stands or seasonal vendors, are also present within the park.

In total, 113 of the park’s 168 acres are occupied with new recreational development. Though decidedly less “green” than before, the Vereda del Lago is a massively popular place for city residents to more safely enjoy the outdoors.


Aerial view of Vereda del Lago park
© Google Earth

Event in Vereda del Lago by Lake Maracaibo
© Karla Sierralta & Brian Strawn


Karla Sierralta is an architect, educator and co-founder of Strawn.Sierralta, a design studio based in Chicago. Born and raised in Venezuela, she moved to the U.S. after receiving a Fulbright scholarship for environmental studies. She has served as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Universidad Rafael Urdaneta (URU).

Brian Strawn is an architect, zoologist and co-founder of Strawn.Sierralta, a design studio based in Chicago. His work with the studio has been recognized nationally and internationally. He has lectured at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, the Graham Foundation, CalPoly, and the Universidad Central de Venezuela.

Assembly Required

© Andrew Clark


Andrew Clark introduces the packages, pieces and steps behind the styled and priced dioramas by Ikea


Ikea is easy. Since hitting the American landscape, the affordable, flat-packed, requires assembly, modern living destination has enticed a road tripping, “Uhauling” population to their product and their lifestyle. The anticipated annual catalogue is perhaps the easiest way to get to Ikea. Shipped to you, the 350+ page, wall to wall product, room after room catalogue is the latest product offering and price points for the world of Ikea. These diagrams by Andrew Clark introduce the packages, pieces and steps behind the styled and priced dioramas—they are the assembly catalogue to the catalogue.



Andrew Clark is a designer at MINIMAL and a collaborator in MAS Studio. He has designed solutions for communications, brand, vision, experience and visualization projects. His work is featured in “Shanghai Transforming” (Actar, 2008), “Building Globalization” (UChicago Press, 2011), and “Work Review” (GOOD Transparency). | @andrewclarkmnml

A Frame of Mind

© Sergio Bertolini


Essay by writer and actor Paul Mougey


“Living is funhouse and fortress, bright spot and dark corner, a place of play and places apart. Mostly, though, it’s a frame of mind.” Writer and actor Paul Mougey explores through various scenes the relationship between life and films.


Scene 1

Nick Tanis and his moustache stood in front of a group of people I’d never seen before. I’d never even seen Nick.

“This is Sight and Sound,” he said, his voice chocolate and oil. “It’s a course in film. In filmmaking. It’s a jumping off point to test your mettle. Your talent. I’ll be teaching it, but you’ll really be teaching each other.”

He walked to the corner of the room, a parochial place of white-painted cinder block and linoleum, a blank and typical classroom with one exception: into the back wall was cut an 8×8 inch hole, covered in glass. The projection room. Our eyes followed Nick. He’d worked on a Visconti film over the summer, we heard. We listened. We wanted to get his image into our heads.

“Film is a collaborative art. Hear me when I say that. Collaborative. Art. Art is truth, and the truth is, how can you paint a picture with, say, twenty painters? Build a building with twenty architects? We call it a film crew, because a shoot is like a ship and if everyone does not work towards the common goal, it sinks. A ship of fools. We’re all fools.” He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Just know that out in Los Angeles, they make movies. But here on the east coast,” he said, his finger flicking the room into darkness, “here on the good coast, we make films.”

A spiraling beam of light shot through the wall and hit the screen at the front, carrying a shot of Harvey Keitel’s beautifully youthfully angular face, in the shadow of an early morning, or maybe late afternoon, as he awakens, rouses, up and then torso, standing and walking to the mirror, to see himself, only a second and then another and then back into bed in t-shirt and boxers and, just as his head in slowed motion descends and hits the pillow, at the very moment of impact, the first chords of “Be My Baby” strut. ‘bum-buh-bum-BUM, bum-buh-bum-BUM’.

A film projector turns to face the camera, and us, flickering its images of a screen within a screen, grainy images like home movies, which they were, the main characters out on the streets of New York, their home. Our home. The credits start to type on screen one letter at a time, plain, introducing the central characters. Robert DeNiro as Johnny Boy. Type type and in porkpie he clumsily walks past a storefront, up to a mailbox, yanks open the door and tosses in a homemade bomb. ‘Boom!’

Inside a church, the camera descends and peers up at Keitel, his character named type type Charlie, holding his finger over a prayer candle’s flame and then in it, and then in a voiceover intones, “The pain of hell has two kinds. The kind you can touch with your hand, and the kind you can feel in your heart, your soul. The spiritual kind. And you know, the worst of the two is the spiritual.”

The sound of the projector whirred to a stop. The real one. The screen stayed lit, though, all white, the biggest white square in the cinder block room, and then it went dark, too. All we could see were images burned on retinas by the first three and a half minutes of ‘Mean Streets’.

“Marty Scorsese, the director of this film, taught here. He was 26 when he made this movie. From the first frame, he introduces the rhythm of the story, the pulse. We meet the characters, the milieu, the penance, the redemption. The story of a saint in modern times, looking to do the right thing. That’s what they called it in that neighborhood. The Right Thing. Marty studied in the seminary before becoming a director. He lived in Little Italy growing up. He knew of these things. He saw these things.” Which all of us in that room wanted to see.

“It trespasses where other films hadn’t. DeNiro throws a molotov cocktail into the mailbox and that little explosion blew the movies to smithereens. It was raw. It was new. It was the pure vision of a director. Which doesn’t happen all the time.” The lights flicked on. Nick crossed his arms across his dark shirt. His skin was alabaster. He was absolutely black and white.

“It’s as clear as this. I’m going to hand each of you a camera, and you’re going to go out and make a film. To trespass. Put something on film that only you could put there. That only you could see. You’ll shoot it. We’ll watch it. And then we’ll listen to what each other has to say about them. The chosen images. The mise en scene. The way you’ve decided to edit. The music, dialogue. How they move us as an audience. Sights and Sounds.” He clapped his hands. The noise was crisp and sudden. “That’s where we start.”



Scene 2

Rarely is there a film that doesn’t have a shot of architecture or living space. Whether buildings are actually shown in the film or not, the framing of an image, as the definition of scale or story, implies the existence of a distinct place.

The man alone on the land. The house on the horizon. Stairs as transition between safety and fear. Doors as mediators between worlds. Windows as framing devices. The intimacy and power of a fireplace. The ritualizing role of a kitchen table. The secrecy of a bedroom. The sensuality — and potential terror — of a bath. The masters of cinema keenly identify the potent encounters of architecture.

King Vidor, in “The Crowd,” identifies the small man in the big city. In a rush of expressionism, he pans up a massive office building’s exterior towards rows of windows and then cross fades into a huge room housing rows of desks and he dollies and dollies and dollies over a sea of workers all the way in to one tiny desk in the middle of it all where sits the everyman.

In John Ford’s films, nature is architect. Ford situates the loner against the deep panorama of the west. He’s the man who can’t abide the blessings of civilization and so removes himself from it. John Wayne, looking for the family he can’t ever have, gets framed in the doorway at the end of “The Searchers.” The interior is completely black. It lacks any indication of ‘home’, and in the background, the frontier upon which he’s doomed to live alone. The west itself, defined by the majesty of Monument Valley, both diminishes a man and gives him power.

Some of Hitchcock’s great power emanates from the way his films begin so calmly, in idyllic environments that reflect a nice and naive bourgeois life—until the setting itself generates and sustains fear. The comfortable courtyard apartment in “Rear Window” slowly reveals the activities of a murderous neighbor. Bodega Bay, the northern Californian seaside getaway in” The Birds,” transforms into a place of no escape. Martin Balsam in “Psycho” falls down seemingly endless stairs, and Janet Leigh steps into a sparkling clean shower, and it isn’t until later that we learn there’s a basement…



Scene 3

Everything was in the realm of the possible. Down fifteen steps, inside the created world of a Long Island cellar, glued to black and white movies on the black and white TV on Sunday mornings, alone in the quiet, you could live in film. Alone with everyone in the world.

Onscreen, the pace was hurried. You were either a New York gangster or a Broadway producer, rakish heroes fighting to create fictitious worlds. 42nd Street. White Heat. The Naked City. Or you were soldier, fighting for both democracy and a chance at the beautiful co-star. Or Robert Mitchum, a crag of rock behind him in “The Longest Day,” addressing his troops before the battle at Normandy: “Only two kinds of people are going to stay on this beach. Those that are already dead and those that are gonna die.”

Or you lived in the magical midwest. The family in “Meet Me in St Louis,” Vincent Minnelli’s memory album set at the turn of the 20th century, aren’t professional performers, but everyone can sing or act. Everyone can just blow it out of the ballpark if they want to, and every time they do, it’s as natural as breathing.

Or you lived at MGM. Where the world WAS a stage.



Scene 4

“Why do you want to dance?” poses the imperious ballet impresario in “The Red Shoes,” by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

The ballerina, hair aflame and skin creamy and pure, looks up at him and answers, “Why do you want to live?”

It’s a lunatic and beautiful line, and so guilelessly said, that we know she believes it with everything she has. And we, as audience, we are meant to believe it, too.



Scene 5

When you watch a movie over and over again, the plot begins to feel something like fate. You just sense what’s going to happen. Everything feels inevitable.

There are signs of it all around, when you look, things seeding themselves for later revelation. It happens in screenplays. In life, too. You spot someone on the el train, in a coat that snags your attention, and three months later it shows up at the same dinner party, in the closet as you’re hanging up yours. While in line at the MCA, your best friend plugs you into his iPod and plays you the very same song you heard on the radio, the one you missed the name and artist and haven’t even really gotten it out of your head yet and there it is, defined. You go to NYU film school and then you work for Marty Scorsese, archiving films for him in the Brill Building.

The Brill. Big arched golden doors, flecked black marble foyer lined with gilt floor to ceiling mirrors, the long lobby hallway leading to shiny brass elevator doors that opened onto the dumpiest of compartments. A building of creativity. Songwriters and music publishers had offices there, and got replaced by filmmakers in the mid-80s. Demme editing “Married to the Mob.” Paul Shrader. The Kids in the Hall literally down the hall. Jean-Luc Godard in the waiting room, for crissakes.

Marty lived history. The more pictures he makes, he said, the more he realizes he doesn’t know about them. He watches films because he’s a student of them. Like a painter looking at old masters. He’d project the newest 16mm prints for us, booking a cozy 12-seat screening room downstairs in the Brill and standing up front of the six or seven of us to introduce them. Silver Lode by Allan Dwan: “He’s one of the unheralded film pioneers. Dwan made 400 films, his first all the way back in 1911. At the end of his career, he was relegated to making B-movies and genre pictures. But it didn’t matter. Pay attention to things like the beautiful simplicity of the sweeping tracking shots that are literally guiding John Payne, sweeping all the way across town, pushing him towards his final sanctuary, the town church.”

And then he’d flick off the lights and plunge us into the dark.



Scene 6

I can no longer think what I want to think. My thoughts have been replaced by moving images. Things happen and I say, “It was like a movie.”



Scene 7

Architecture and cinema articulate lived space. They form and curate comprehensive images of life. They define dimension and existential space; they create experiential scenes of life situations.



Scene 8

Netflix. It’s untenable to see movies at a moviehouse anymore. It’s no longer sacred. It’s not a movie palace. It’s a Cineplex. It’s average. It’s sub-average. It’s loud, and not clean, and those who need shooshing tell you to f*** off.

The funhouse, the fortress is the comfy sofa in the apartment in the sky, feng shui’d in front of a big lovable TV, lamps clicked off and nighttime lights of the city stretching.

The movie starts. “The Bad and The Beautiful.” Kirk Douglas and Barry Sullivan are friends given the chance to do their first movie. A genre pic, called “The Doom of the Cat Men.” The budget is cheap, and the costumes look that way, and one day in the editing room they begin to figure it out, they begin to realize that people are afraid of the dark, and they like it there. Not seeing the Cat Men is a better idea. To prove his point, Kirk clicks off the lights, and the room goes dark, and from the desk lamp shoots one single beautiful spiraling beam of light.


Paul Mougey is a brand and strategy storyteller. He’s currently at work on his first novel.

Selling Lifestyle

“Stahl House (CSH#22)” photographed by Julius Shulman (1960). From VISUAL ACOUSTICS, an Arthouse Films release 2009.
© J. Paul Getty Trust


Iker Gil interviews Eric Bricker, director and producer of Visual Acoustics, a film that celebrates the life and career of Julius Shulman


Julius Shulman, the late master architecture photographer, helped to shape the career of some of the most important architects from the modernism movement. Most importantly, with his photographs he introduced an innovative lifestyle to society. He saw it as selling architecture. Iker Gil interviews Eric Bricker, director and producer of Visual Acoustics, a film that celebrates the life and career of Julius Shulman.


ERIC BRICKER – INTERVIEW from Spirit of Space on Vimeo.


IG: How did you get in contact with Julius Shulman?

EB: I was living in Los Angeles and I had met Julius’ next-door neighbor. I wanted to rent an apartment building that she owned but she didn’t have any vacancies. So I called her up and I said, “Next time you are on the street (I was living on the same street), come on over for coffee or tea or something, and let’s talk” in the hopes of getting moved up to the top of her list. When she came over, we got to talking, and I needed some 1930s photographs of San Francisco, black and white (I was working as an art consultant at the time). I don’t know how this came up but she said, “Well, you should call my next-door neighbor. His name is Julius Shulman. Here is his telephone number”. So I called him up and he answered the phone, “Julius Shulman” as he always used to. I explained to him who I was and what I was looking for and he invited me over. I went up there, I didn’t know who Julius was at this time. So on that day, and I will never forget that day, he was on the phone when I arrived at the studio and he motioned for me to come in and pointed to make myself at home. I sat down and I picked up one of the Taschen books, Architecture and its Photography. I started looking through this book, and I was just stunned by these photographs. And I was equally stunned by him as a person. We had a really great exchange on that day, he reminded me of my maternal grandfather. I just wanted to become friends with him, I thought I wanted to get to know this guy. Over the next two years I just kept going back, and we developed this friendship. That was in 1999 and in 2001, I proposed the idea about doing a documentary on him, the photography, etc. When I asked him, “What do you think about me doing a documentary?” his response was, “Well, I don’t see why not”. From 2001 until the end of 2003, I researched the material to try to get an idea on the story/ies and how to formulate a point of departure for the film. We started shooting the film in 2004, I pretty much finished shooting by mid 2006 and I finished the film in May of 2008.

IG: How was it working with Julius Shulman? Was he hands on or hand off the film?

EB: A little bit of both. When we were creating the film, Julius was a combination of hands on and hands off. In terms of hands on, he loved to be in front of the camera. When we were interviewing, he was just thriving on this. And also, he could never let go of what was going on behind the camera. So every interview, he wanted to compose everything as he is sitting in front of the camera. At times, it was even kind of difficult because he wouldn’t answer a question straight. He would say, “ Now I am going to sit down here, and I am going to look in the camera, and I am going to start talking about the early years of Neutra”. He would say this, and then, when we would actually get everything set up to do it, he wouldn’t want to do that again. In terms of hands off, Julius and his daughter, Judy, never once questioned what I was doing. I had free range of the archive. I could take 4 x 5 color transparencies, which, you know, there is only one, negatives, photographs… I had access to everything, I had the keys to the studio, I could sleep there… and they never once said, “Hey Eric, what have you been up to all these years?” They trusted me and it was amazing.

IG: How did you choose the people involved in the film?

EB: The way that we chose the different people to get involved in the film was pretty much approaching people, both production wise or also on camera, that had an association with Julius, who personally knew him or knew enough about him to have an informed and experiential place from which to speak. Also, I had to find particular experts on subjects as well. So it was a combination of those things. I wanted to pull those two ideas together in terms of qualifying participants. Now, there are some people that were left out, a small number, but people that really should have been in the film. But we had so many interviews already that we had to stop, from a production stand point and editing as well.

IG: What is Tom Ford’s relationship with Julius?

EB: The reason that Tom Ford is in the film is that he restored a Neutra home and I think he had Julius photograph the home for him. I am pretty sure that is accurate. I think Leo Marmol and Rod Radziner did the restoration for Tom Ford and Julius photographed the home. Tom had met Julius and loved Julius and he is kind of emblematic of the majority of people involved in the film. When I asked his office, “Could he possibly participate?” it was a resounding, “Yes!”.

IG: The photographs of Julius Shulman helped to shape the career of some of the most important architects from the modernism movement as well as discover new talent. What do you think it was about his work that set him apart?

EB: I think what set Julius Shulman’s photography apart from, perhaps, some of the other photographers that were working at the time, was that he was able to infuse, I think, a sense of spirit. It comes from him, really, I think it’s in a way his spirit that is infused into the photography. I think he was the perfect ambassador for this, because Julius was the eternal optimist. He is the person that says, “We can do this, we can pull together, we can create, we can shape, we can make something better, we can help evolve”. And that’s what I believe these architects and designers really were so passionate about. And they were looking at technology, and new materials, and seeing how ultimately they could rework things to make life better. And I think Julius saw that in the work. I think he was a person who wanted the same things and he had enough artistry to articulate that in an image.


“Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum” photographed by Julius Shulman (1964). From VISUAL ACOUSTICS, an Arthouse Films release 2009.
© J. Paul Getty Trust

“Chemosphere House” photographed by Julius Shulman (1960). From VISUAL ACOUSTICS, an Arthouse Films release 2009.
© J. Paul Getty Trust


IG: He also helped to introduce an innovative lifestyle to society. As Steven Kurutz said in a recent article in the New York Times, he “wasn’t simply an architectural photographer but a lifestyle propagandist”. Did he realize that he was having this effect and what were his feelings about it?

EB: Julius was a master at many things. He was a master photographer, he was a philosopher of everyday life, he really was somebody who mastered and actually had an art of living, and he was also a master sales person. He would tell you that his job was to sell architecture. He would always talk about when somebody opens up a magazine and sees an image, it is your job, if you are providing that image, to make a statement. He always talked about this, making a statement. He was a master storyteller. You open the magazine, and you are turning and flipping the pages, there is an ad for something and you stop because the picture just captures you. The picture has enough going on, a story that makes you stay on that photo. And youstart to go into the photo, and start to absorb some of the other statements that are in that. Julius knew exactly what he was doing and why he was doing it. Joseph Rosa’s book [about Julius Schulman] is called A Constructed View, and that is exactly what he was doing, he was constructing these views to tell a story. Going back to selling architecture, selling wasn’t a negative thing for Julius. Quite often we see it as manipulative. For Julius, it was exciting people, inspiring them. He wanted the people to live the best quality of life they could. He would get frustrated at them when they were not doing that, as did Richard Neutra and so on. Ultimately, it was inspiring people to want to go and live this life as well and that’s what he saw as selling architecture.

IG: He portrayed mid-century Los Angeles like nobody else. Was he interested in portraying the life in contemporary Los Angeles?

EB: Very much. When he “came out of retirement” late 90s and started photographing again he was excited about the new forms and I think it took him a while to, in some ways, open up to them. But I think there was enough of an openness that he was excited to see where architecture was going. I know he reacted at times when he would look at this idea of “starchitects” and all the money that was put towards those projects. You know, everybody wants a “Bilbao” now, and I think he saw the hype behind it and he reacted against that, but ultimately, the underlying feeling was, “This is it. It’s like we have cracked it, we have broken it open”. Maybe looking at it in terms of the United States because in other places, like in Europe, the common person is so much better informed and appreciative of architecture. But Julius saw it in terms of the States. He kept saying, “It’s never ending, it keeps growing”. With Los Angeles, he was excited about what was going on there. He had been documenting Los Angeles since he was 15, 16… and he loved Los Angeles. I would say Julius Shulman is Los Angeles. Even just from that perspective too, he was really excited to see the change in the city, a city that has become a world-class city at this point.


“Kaufmann House” photographed by Julius Shulman (1947). From VISUAL ACOUSTICS, an Arthouse Films release 2009.
© J. Paul Getty Trust

“Julius Shulman and Richard Neutra” (1950). From VISUAL ACOUSTICS, an Arthouse Films release 2009.
© J. Paul Getty Trust


IG: In your film, you mention that he retired when Postmodernism became the dominant trend. What was it that he found encouraging about recent architecture that inspired him to pick up his camera again?

EB: In my opinion, it was a combination of things what pulled Julius back from retirement to photographing, and not just to photograph a few projects here and there. In the last 10 years, from 1999 to 2009, he did a lot of work. I think he was excited with the direction of architecture and also the exposure of architecture just in general. And also, Julius lived for this. People have been asking, “Why didn’t you go into his personal life in the film?” There are reasons why we didn’t, but what I’ve come up in watching the film, talking to audiences, and going deeper into this is that this is Julius’ personal life. Architectural photography, photography in general, buildings… That was his personal life. He was retired and spending time with his second wife, Olga, down in a condo in Florida at times, and I think he enjoyed that, but as soon as Olga passed away, you see that he dives right back into his work. And that is what I think sustained him in terms of living. That was his reason to live, his work.

IG: Do you know which photograph he was most proud of?

EB: In terms of his work and the architects that he worked with, he never commented on what his favorite photograph or architect was, but you can see because of the fame, that the famous shot with the two girls at the Case Study House #22, was the one that he would most often reference because people knew that image. In describing that image or the experience, he could really help spread some of the other messages that he had. In terms of his favorite building, there is a great show on KCRW (the NPR station in Santa Monica), called DnA hosted by Frances Anderton. Every week she asks different people about their favorite buildings in LA, and when she picked Julius, he said his favorite building in LA was the Bradbury building. When he was photographing the interior for the second time, I think it was late 80s early 90s, he had commented how he was so inspired by what he was seeing. He had talked about the idea that this building, this interior, had “visual acoustics”. He could hear what he was seeing, and that was actually the working title for the film. He said that again when he was photographing Disney Concert Hall, which we have that footage in the film. Thus, the title of the film.


“Stahl House (CSH#22)” photographed by Julius Shulman (1960). From VISUAL ACOUSTICS, an Arthouse Films release 2009.
© J. Paul Getty Trust


IG: How has the film been received so far from the photography community as well as the architecture community?

EB: In terms of how the film has been received in the photography community, I haven’t seen enough interviews yet, or critiques, or just overall observations from that community. I am hoping to get more. From the cinematography community, I have met a number of people and they have been really inspired by the work. In the architectural community there seems to have been a great reception, people are really excited. They feel that the way the story is being told and the character of Julius seems to be so magnetic. It was set up that way. Julius is the portal, the audience has to fall in love with this character and then they can get pulled into this larger story of architecture. People have received that quite well and have been very complimentary. I was reading today what Christopher Hawthorne, the architecture critic for Los Angeles Times, had written and he was commenting on some things that were left out of the film. I want to talk to him because from an architectural stand point, I see his point and it’s accurate and yet, I feel like if I would have addressed the things that he was talking about in that interview, then I think this film probably wouldn’t have had a chance for a wider theatrical release where people can get turned on to the material. And also, ultimately his ideas are better done in a book.

IG: Where would you like to have your film shown?

EB: The film was designed for two audiences. The architectural / photography / art museum / Los Angeles audience who know about Shulman and his work on one side, and everybody else on the other side. The idea is to give each of those groups something that hooks them into the film and gets them inspired, and even wanting to go out and know more about whatever it is, the architecture, etc. We have been really fortunate. The film has already been released, opening in New York two weeks ago. We just opened in Los Angeles last week at the Nuart Theatre. People came out for this film and it did really, really well. Now it’s moving to the Landmark Pavilion, so we got extended in a top notch theater, and that was the goal. Basically what is happening is that we have a US theatrical release, opening in 20+ cities from now until the end of January: San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, it will come back to Chicago… It’s an opportunity to reach a wider audience. After that, we will focus on the academic world: universities, high schools, etc, and we will have screening through those organizations. The DVD will be released in April and then it will premiere on the Sundance channel May 1st, I believe. And then, it is exciting because we have the different pieces of the international distribution lined up but I think once we have the bulk of the US, then we will start seeing in which countries there will be a theatrical release. There is a strong chance to getting theatrical release in the UK, France, Germany… those are three right now that we are looking at.

IG: Is there any question about the film that has not been asked that you would like to be asked?

EB: That’s a question that I have never had so it is a good question! In terms of questions that have been asked, I love speaking with the audiences because the questions that they are asking are really inspired, insightful questions. At every screening I go to, there is usually one question that I haven’t thought of yet. That is a good sign. I can’t think of a question that hasn’t been asked yet which I wish people would ask because they really seem to be in tune with the material and again, through their observations, I am learning more about the film.


Julius Shulman. From VISUAL ACOUSTICS, an Arthouse Films release 2009.
© Aiken Weiss. Courtesy of Arthouse Films


Eric Bricker is the director, writer and producer of Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman. He graduated from Indiana University receiving his B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Theatre. Originally from St. Louis, he lived in Los Angeles for 15 years before recently moving to Austin. He is currently at work on a narrative feature film exploring the contemporary art world while running Kaleidoscope Mediaworks.

Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture at UIC. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club. | @MASContext

Spirit of Space is an organization that uses digital media to promote greater awareness of designed environments formed by Adam Goss, Red Mike, Ryan Clark, and Dean Storm.

Living in Cabrini

© Iker Gil


James Lockhart, a former resident of Cabrini Green, shares his memories with Iker Gil about growing up in the Chicago Public Housing.


This summer, while taking photographs of buildings being demolished in Cabrini Green, I met James Lockhart, a former resident of the public housing. A few weeks later, along with my friend Andreas EG Larsson, we walked around the neighborhood to know more about him growing up there and the stories of the dissapearing neighborhood. One of the most notorious housing projects in the US, it is also full of stories of community, friendship, education, and respect. Here are some of his memories that accompany the pictures we took during this fascinating visit.


Red brick building on 365 West Oak Street
© Iker Gil


The view of building 365 wrenched with poverty and absorbed by violence is where I used to call home. Those red brick buildings were a playground, sometimes forts during wars of the rival gangs, and even a fall out shelter during a natural disaster. And although it may have been stricken by these ills, it was a nurturing place as well. Nevertheless, my mother and father taught me lessons that would keep me safe from the ravaging wolves of the streets. Although I did run with the wolves, I felt a sense of hope growing up in Cabrini Green.


Entrance to a red brick building on Oak Street
© Iker Gil


Located on the Near North side of Chicago, Cabrini Green stood out like a sore thumb. As cities have their financial district, a Gold Coast and a Diamond district, Cabrini was “the Poverty district.” Lines for drugs extend from the 4th floor down to the lobby of the building; imagine walking home from school through these conditions. It always amazed me how I could walk down four blocks east from my building 365 W. Oak St. and can stand in front of Barneys New York or the Prada store. How could we be so poor and be surrounded by so much wealth? Alas!


Row houses on North Cambridge Avenue
© Iker Gil


The row house, the low-rise section of Cabrini Green is where I spent most of my wonder years. Sort of like a maze to police running after us, to the point they chopped down all the trees so they could see clearly down each row leaving only the trees in backyards; how is that for going green. Mainly kids riding bikes, girls jumping rope, gang bangers gang banging and drug dealers selling drugs but it was still
our community. I remember how they use to tell me “lil James go in the house…We bout to be shooting.”


Back of row houses on North Cambridge Avenue
© Iker Gil


In the row houses my address was 941 North Cambridge, I witnessed a lot of things while living there, good and bad. I remember getting sent home from summer camp because I got caught smoking weed, such a bad habit for a 12 year old right. Or the time a woman’s body was recovered from a sewer across the street from us. My nephew, age six, witnessed the entire thing, when they pulled the body out he thought it was a Ninja Turtle.


Side entrance to a row house
© Iker Gil


We would just sit back in amazement looking at the John Hancock building. Words like “architecture” were not a part of our vocabulary yet but we understood the building was special. We could view it right from our bedroom window; as a matter of fact we could view the entire Chicago skyline right from the projects. We did not realize how valuable the real estate truly was until the gentrification started.


View of the skyline from North Cambridge Avenue
© Iker Gil


Vivid memories of us hopping those black gates playing “it” a project version of “hide go seek”, running after each other. We would watch the older guys in the projects and try to emulate them from smoking weed to carrying guns. This was the cycle that trapped so many friends of mine who didn’t have parents or whose parents where hooked on hard drugs. It was very common for parents to be addicted to drugs and allow the streets to raise their children, but there were also very strong parents who were disciplinarians who raised their children to be independent thinkers.


Basketball court on West Oak Street
© Iker Gil


The project’s favorite pastime seems to be basketball. I knew several friends who could’ve received full athletic scholarships to Big Ten schools and blew it because they lacked discipline. Personally, I love basketball, but my father always put emphasis on providing and maintaining my family, so instead of me waking up and running to the court to play during the summers, I had to work my Chicago Sun Times newspaper route on Adams and Dearborn, and then I could go play ball. At age 9.


St. Philip Benizi
© Iker Gil


St. Philip Benizi was, I believe, a Quaker church originally, but we knew the church for its Summer camp “Cycle.” Cycle provided summer jobs for teens in the community and a safe haven from the ills of the projects. There were several community centers like this in Cabrini but all seemed to disappear as the gentrification increased. Cycle was one of eight community centers in the 80’s and 90’s but by 2000
that number decreased to one. As one can see from it’s boarded up windows, Cycle is no longer a place where the project kids can come for activities.

Graffiti on a wall
© Iker Gil


Graffiti is something you can find in any neighborhood, but what’s special about Cabrini is that most of it is paying homage to fallen friends. Cabrini Green has witnessed a lot of blood poured into her streets, claiming its place in American history as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the United States, but I am evidence that it’s a place that teaches you life lessons of survival and hope.


Graffiti remembering B-Love
© Iker Gil


Honestly, I feel somewhat like a veteran of war, because, frankly, I cannot recall how many friends I have lost, and to be perfectly honest, its hurts to count. For some, like B Love Ink Dog, their names have become as beloved as Jesus. And at any given moment you will hear someone swear to their names “I put that on Ink Dog” or “on B Love” similar to how someone would “swear to God” to show they are
sincere or prove that they are telling the truth. Somehow, this keeps their memory alive, and just how the young emulate the old, this is sometimes the ultimate goal of the living; to have their name mentioned in this way after they die.


Police post at one of the access to Cabrini Green
© Iker Gil


It felt more like a maximum security prison than a gated community when the Chicago Housing Authority tried to beef up the safety of the neighborhood. Moreover, with the invasion of privacy by police cameras watching our every move. I guess it is true a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch.


Security camera in the street
© Iker Gil


But it is also true that the poor people here in Cabrini do not produce the drugs that they shoot in their veins nor do they produce the guns that spill their blood into the streets. Moreover, the poorly funded schools and lack of education has a direct correlation with delinquent behavior. That’s why my mother emphasized education and drilled this into my head “Jay, never walk by an open door; walk through and establish yourself, ask questions and learn, your education can never be taken from you. Use it to open doors for others, but first you have to walk through.”


James Lockhart is an Anesthesia Technician at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC. He received his BS from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA and has completed his postbaccalaureate premedical studies at Northwestern University Chicago campus. He is currently applying for Medical School to pursue a career in Anesthesia.

Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the School of Architecture at UIC. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club. | @MASContext

Places, Not Spaces

© Maya Brittain


Architect and painter Maya Brittain examines the transformation of the Veneto region in Italy during the last 30 years


“Often I try imagining what the future has in store for us. In just a couple decades, powerful and uncontrollable transformations have occurred to the landscape and ultimately to our lives. This fact makes me at times feel helpless, but at other times hopeful at the thought of what can be done today for tomorrow.” Architect and painter Maya Brittain examines the transformation of the Veneto region in Italy during the last 30 years and the influence that it has had in the urban fabric and its citizens’ lifestyle.


Today I find myself living the powers of the modern system from a more rural perspective. I am half American, half Japanese and am an Italian citizen. In the 1970s my father found himself in the heart of Rome, Italy after roaming around the world for half a century. When he set foot on Roman ground he immediately knew that would be home for the rest of his life. It was his first time feeling at home.

I was then born in Rome and lived there until my young wings felt an irrepressible urge to fly away. I have always felt privileged and proud of where I grew up. Having seen and lived in places not worth being proud of, I ask myself whether a positive experience of the place one calls home should be a privilege. We are social beings and interactions with other humans are one of our most basic needs. The connection can be a passing gaze, listening to an animated discussion, hearing the footsteps of a woman hastening to an appointment, or overhearing the sound of a piano being practiced. These moments are not accessories to a life but they are happenings that together form the experience of living. We have a civic and moral duty to create, with care and thought, the places in which these connections can happen. Places are not an accessory to a life, but a cardinal premise to living.

After living 15 years of my life in the USA between Chicago and New York, now I am back in Italy, and have been living in the Veneto region (one of the 20 regions of Italy situated in the north east) for just about three years. My first experience of living in the Veneto region was completely idealistic. We lived in an old Palladio villa right outside the town of Bassano del Grappa and life felt like a dream. There were vineyards outside our windows (the region is world renowned for its wines), and farmers bringing harvests into the courtyard of the villa. It was Italian country living as a foreigner would imagine. A designed misconception.

I tell my Italian friends I live in Veneto and they laugh, imagining me with my computer amongst cows. They are not so wrong since Veneto was a poor agricultural region until just 30 years ago. The agricultural region then abruptly transformed, becoming the heart of a quickly beating industry, bringing aspects of urban life that no one really knew how to handle. The hardworking farmers had a chance to improve their standards of living.

They started creating empires. Pride, dignity and comfort took on entirely different meanings. The region now finds itself being the third richest and most industrialized region in Italy in terms of GDP, right behind Lombardia (Milan) and Lazio (Rome).

This astoundingly fast economic growth brought changes to the landscape of the once rural Veneto. Warehouses, factories, and new housing appeared from nowhere overnight. There was no time to think about how to effectively merge these constructions with what existed. It was the moment to take action and, impatiently and avidly, the land was sewn with erections.

Detached and far from sight of the old town, the old and the new were kept far apart, a division visually clear to this day. The older town halts on the edge of a weighted down artery. The daily frenzy of trucks overloaded with goods en route make these arteries tremble at their constant passing. In other cases, the major artery passes right in the middle of the old town splitting its heart in two. These arteries successfully keep the dirty stench of sweat away from the old town, keeping the last pristine for the tourists. What existed pre 1970s, enclosed and segregated behind walls, is preciously preserved. The rest, an unplanned, messy assembly of mono-functional edifices, like a disease, are quarantined. The isolated edifices extend ad infinitum until they meet another artery fencing in another pristinely preserved old town. The areas in between historic towns become never-ending urban sprawls. Buildings line up, indifferent to how they relate to each other, with no evident sense of integration with neither urban nor rural contexts.

But what is the reality behind the charm of these old towns? The town is old, most often of medieval origins, and most often what someone would consider charming. Unbelievable amounts of money are spent on keeping the city center as intact as possible. Like a mummy, it is kept in memory of what once was. The charming city center starts humming with tourists later on in the morning, making the Veneto region the most visited region of Italy. Instead, the Veneto man or woman, known nationally as the hardest working citizen of Italy, finds himself behind the steering wheel, sinking into the highways flanked by isolated edifices, as they march to their workplace. The old town remains empty of its citizens and ironically, to this day, the citizens still identify with it. However, during the weekend the city experiences frenzied movement, when the citizens from all around come into town, to remind themselves of what a beautiful place feels like. The caricature of modern life has been transcribed instead into nowhere land.

Land is our life insurance. Regardless of what formidable scientific, biological, technological developments we are able to conceive, it remains de facto our only true life support. But today, we find ourselves to be, by most standards, its most aggressive and dangerous predators. In the past few decades, a lifestyle that depends on speed, energy, and consumption has reached far, rudely invading even the most serene rural landscapes. Taking into consideration the energy crisis, population growth, and climate changes, we will soon have to take a step backwards or maybe forwards to remind ourselves what it means to live, what it means to nurture a life. Many are trying to bring awareness to the fact that we have a past, a present and even a future to take care of.

Will the abundance and subsequent desire for more need to reach a level of saturation before common sense finds a platform? Is the presence of a couple charming spaces in the old towns a good enough balance to the unplanned and segregated areas? Who forgot the meaning of the old inscription on the library of the medieval town of Marostica? “E bello il paese ove uno nasce” (Beautiful is the land in which one is born)

Change is an essential event to life and problems are present, even in the best of families. Any psychologist or self-help book states that the first and most important step to cure is the acknowledgment of the problem. I am convinced that in the Veneto region this is a step that still has not been taken. Not only is the administration blind to the vast environmental, social, and economical consequences of their confused building strategy, but also they are feeding off of the blindness of the citizens.

The first step in confronting the problem in this area is by rekindling awareness in everyone, administration and citizens alike. Once the citizens and the administration realize that the Veneto region has an incredibly beautiful territory, rich of cultural history to promote, there is no doubt that this pride will awake a sense of civic duty. The solutions available, that would need to be adjusted to the specific situation, are numerous.

One important aspect is the creation of a set of principles in form of a law by which buildings and its developers would have to abide. It is a process that is underway in Italy today but has yet to be approved. The criteria that are examined in this law include the obligation to study the possibilities of reuse of dismissed or underutilized buildings before deciding to build new, and the obligation to pay an ecological equivalent to the impact the new building would cause. These principals are presented as a way to awaken a sense of responsibility in the public and private developer and not as an obstruction towards transformation.

Another part of the solution includes the reintroduction of mixed-use building types. This would result in a lifestyle that would rely less on car use and would promote walking, thereby creating more livable spaces. The area in which I live in (like so many other parts of the developed world) is fractioned into residential zone, industrial zone, commercial zone… This organization requires miles and miles of car usage, preventing the development of civic life, social life or any lifestyle that might come close to profound. Management of parking design concentrating on the welfare of the territory, would stop parking from being considered this century’s open space and would limit the creation of impervious grounds. Encouraging architectural solutions that strive to create better and healthier connections between new developments and its context will prevent isolated buildings and conflictive juxtapositions that unplanned schemes result in.

Most fundamentally, what is needed are solutions that create places and not spaces. It is very probable that the historic center will not remain as central of a figure as before. It is instead hopeful that a sensible approach to design will create new places that people will be able to identify better with. The ever expanding collection of generic boxes await to be given some sort of social identity. The creation of a strong connection to the various human activities (productive, cultural, recreational) that today are dislocated will hopefully leave places in which to let life blossom. The last remaining rural lands around the world quietly await their moment to be urbanized. What I have seen in the Veneto region and what I hope to help change will hopefully be a useful experience towards making future change a beautiful enterprise.


Maya Brittain is an architect and painter, living and working in Bassano del Grappa, Vicenza, Italy. She has worked as lighting designer for interiors and urban landscapes in Chicago and New York, and has designed and built retail spaces and houses in and around Vicenza. She is currently collaborating with local Italian administrations to create events to awaken awareness regarding the possibilities of modern urban planning.

Point Clouds

© Bureau Spectacular


Graphic novel by architect Jimenez Lai


Architect Jimenez Lai explores realities in architecture and urbanism through his graphic novels that often become physical realities. In this case, the initial graphic story becomes an installation in Chicago, a system with a set of standard modules and simple geometric rules linked a with a series of connection points. When force is applied to one rotary joint, the entire structure responds with further geometrical transformations. As in the graphic novel, dimensions has various meanings in the many ways our bodies may instinctively inform actions such as lean, sit, grab, skip or pull.



Jimenez Lai is the leader of BUREAU SPECTACULAR and a Clinical Assistant Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago. He graduated with a Master of Architecture from University of Toronto. Previously, Lai has lived and worked in a desert shelter at Taliesin, AZ, and resided in a shipping container at Atelier Van Lieshout on the piers of Rotterdam. Professionally, Lai has worked for Michael Meredith, RE X, OMA /Rem Koolhaas in Rotterdam and New York. Currently Lai is busy working on a comic book.

Case Study # 1 | Nakagin Capsule Tower

© Tomio Ohashi courtesy of Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates


Case Study #1 | Nakagin Capsule Tower


Architect: Kisho Kurokawa architect & associates

Location: Tokyo, Japan

Year: 1970-1972

Status: Completed

Program: Residential tower with a total of 140 capsule units.

Size: 3,091 sm


Located in Ginza, Tokyo, and designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa, this 1972 project realizes the ideas of metabolism, exchangeability, and recycleability as the prototype of sustainable architecture.

When the residential area in Tokyo started to shift to the suburbs, this building was intended to be one tactical move to restore housing units to the central part of the city.

The individual units were mass-produced and fastened in the desired arrangement to the central core by high-tension bolts. Each room provides various facilities found in a single hotel room.

The design anticipates change and growth. By replacement or removal of the capsules, the appearance of the architecture changes over time, containing the potential for participation by the resident in determining its form. This building symbolizes individual human existence in the urban landscape. The concept also expresses the aesthetic of Metabolism, the aesthetic of transience.

This project has been short-listed for the World Heritage by the International Committee of Docomomo International since 1996.


© Tomio Ohashi courtesy of Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates

© Tomio Ohashi courtesy of Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates

© Tomio Ohashi courtesy of Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates

© Tomio Ohashi courtesy of Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates

© Tomio Ohashi courtesy of Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates

© Tomio Ohashi courtesy of Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates

© Tomio Ohashi courtesy of Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates


Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates, established in 1962 by Kisho Kurokawa, has provided numerous number of architectural design works representing the respective time. Upon the decease of Kisho Kurokawa in 2007, his son Mikio decided to carry on his will and to succeed his position representing the firm.

Case Study # 2 | Walden 7

© Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura


Case Study #2 | Walden 7


Architect: Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura

Location: Sant Just Desvern, Barcelona, Spain

Year: 1972-1974

Status: Completed

Program: 446 dwellings, public spaces, meeting rooms, games rooms, bars and shops on the ground floor, and two swimming pools on the flat roof.

Client: Ceex. 3

Size: 31,140 sm


The project, built in 1974 by Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura, is located in Sant Just Desvern, a town west of Barcelona, in a plot formerly occupied by a cement factory. Designed as a series of buildings, only one was finally built.

The building, called “City in Space”, is composed of 18 towers which are displaced from their base, forming a curve and coming into contact with the neighboring towers. The result is a vertical labyrinth with seven interconnecting interior courtyards, as far removed as possible from the model of the uniform, repetitive housing block.

The 31,140 m2 complex includes 446 dwellings, public spaces, meeting rooms, games rooms, bars and shops on the ground floor, and two swimming pools on the roof.

The dwellings are formed on the basis of one or more 30 m2 square modules creating, on different levels, dwellings that range from a studio consisting of a single module to a large, four-module apartment.


© Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura

© Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura

© Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura

© Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura

© Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura


Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura accomplishes a collective and elaborate system for project design, establishing a technical collaboration in all countries where it undertakes projects. It is a practice composed of a structure which endeavours for the highest quality, capable of conceiving and carrying out projects anywhere in the world. With this aim the ‘Taller’ uses all of its means available: modern techniques, human resources, the professional expertise of each individual and the efficient organization of its structure.

Case Study #3 | The UFO Houses

© Cypherone


Case Study #3 | The UFO Houses


Architect: Based on a design by Matti Suuronen

Location: Taipei, Taiwan

Year: 1978-unfinished

Status: Demolished

Program: Resort with approximately 138 residential units plus other amenities.

Client: Yu-chou Co.


Located in the Sanjhih Township in Taipei, construction of the UFO houses began in 1978. Developed by plastics manufacturer Yu-chou Co., the idea for the design came from architect Matti Suuronen.

Construction stopped in 1980 when Yu-chou went bankrupt and in 1989, Tsai Chin-hsien, the president of a local beer house proposed Hung Kuo Group continuing with the construction to create a large beer house and resort. By the end of that year, construction was halted due to differences among the partners and since then, financial problems left the complex vacant and unfinished.

In early 2009, the complex was demolished with plans to turn the site into a tourist attraction by constructing hotels, beach facilities and other amenities.


© Cypherone

© Cypherone

© Cypherone

© Cypherone

© Cypherone

© Cypherone

© Cypherone

© Cypherone


Cypherone is a Taiwan-based photographer.

Case Study #4 | The Whale

© Jeroen Musch courtesy of de Architekten Cie.


Case Study #4 | The Whale


Architect: Frits van Dongen, de Architekten Cie.

Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Year: 1998-2000

Status: Completed

Program: 150 social housing, 64 private housing to rent, 1,100 bussiness accomodation, 179 parking spaces.

Client: Ontwikkelingsmaatschappij New Deal bv, Amsterdam

Size: 35,800 sm


Designed by Frits van Dongen of de Architekten Cie. and built in 2000, the project is located in Borneo- Sporenburg, a former harbor area in Amsterdam redeveloped to include 2500 low-rise dwelling units, with a density of 100 units per hectare.

One of the three immense sculptural blocks that interrupts the vast expanse of houses, it includes 214 apartments (150 social housing and 64 private housing for rent), 1,100 m2 for business areas, and 179 underground parking spaces. Its design generates unique views and a great diversity of housing types, particularly in the lower and upper edges of the building.

With two sides of the building elevated, the lower floors receive sunlight coming in from under the building. Light and space have free access into the heart of the building, redefining the typology of the closed block: the inner area transforms the traditionally private domain into an almost public city garden.


© René de Wit courtesy of de Architekten Cie.

© Jeroen Musch courtesy of de Architekten Cie.

© Jeroen Musch courtesy of de Architekten Cie.

© Mick Palarczyk courtesy of de Architekten Cie.

© Jeroen Musch courtesy of de Architekten Cie.

© de Architekten Cie.

© de Architekten Cie.

© de Architekten Cie.


de Architekten Cie. combines strong individuals with experienced teams. Our office comprises approximately 50 professionals from no fewer than 10 countries. Our workshop culture generates innovative solutions and individually tailored projects.

Case Study #5 | Linked Hybrid Complex

© Shu He courtesy of Steven Holl Architects.


Case Study #5 | Linked Hybrid Complex


Architect: Steven Holl Architects

Location: Beijing, China

Year: 2003-2009

Status: Completed

Program: 644 apartments, public green space, commercial zones, hotel, cinemateque, kindergarten, Montessori school, underground parking.

Client: Modern Green Development Co., Ltd. Beijing

Size: 221,426 sm


Designed by Steven Holl Architects, the 220,000 m2 pedestrian-oriented project, sited adjacent to the site of old city wall of Beijing, aims to counter the current privatized urban developments in China by creating a new twenty-first century porous urban space, inviting and open to the public from every side.

Filmic urban public space; around, over and through multifaceted spatial layers, as well as the many passages through the project, make it an “open city within a city”. The project promotes interactive relations and encourages encounters in the public spaces that vary from commercial, residential, and educational to recreational.

The entire complex is a three dimensional urban space in which buildings on the ground, under the ground and over the ground are fused together.


© Shu He courtesy of Steven Holl Architects.

© Shu He courtesy of Steven Holl Architects.

© Shu He courtesy of Steven Holl Architects.

© Shu He courtesy of Steven Holl Architects.

© Shu He courtesy of Steven Holl Architects.

© Shu He courtesy of Steven Holl Architects.

© Shu He courtesy of Steven Holl Architects.

© Steven Holl Architects.

© Steven Holl Architects.

© Steven Holl Architects.

© Steven Holl Architects.

© Steven Holl Architects.


Steven Holl Architects is a 40 person innovative architecture and urban design office working globally as one office from two locations; New York City and Beijing. Steven Holl leads the office with partner Chris McVoy. Steven Holl Architects is internationally-honored with architecture’s most prestigious awards, publications and exhibitions for excellence in design.

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