Prentice Women’s Hospital, Chicago © Tom Harris/Hedrich Blessing



Issue statement by Iker Gil, editor in chief of MAS Context


It has been over a year and a half since Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital started to disappear. It was painful to watch and it continues to be now that the site remains empty with no signs of the former occupant. But that will change shortly as its replacement is scheduled to break ground imminently. As the new replaces the old, I wonder if the fight to save the building helped to question the way we discuss which buildings need to be saved and why they should be saved. There will be another Prentice, in Chicago or elsewhere, sooner than later, so it is important to evaluate how and why it happened.

In this issue we look back at the case of Prentice one more time to see what lessons we could learn as well as two other buildings that suffered the same fate: Miguel Fisac’s “Pagoda” in Madrid, Spain, and Josep Lluís Sert’s Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is a look back at the importance of those buildings and the conditions that facilitated their demolition.

But the issue is not a nostalgic look at the past but one that wants to learn from it, understand it, and build from it. It is a look that takes us to past and present speculative proposals for Chicago’s lakefront and Berlin, developed from the social, economic, and environmental legacies of those cities; proposals to commemorate celebrity mishaps in Los Angeles; symbolic infrastructure systems in the US as well as small-scale under-designed spaces in Japan and Australia; efforts to document legacies, from buildings in Sierra Leone to architects through comprehensive oral histories and graphic designers through superb books; the second life for a former slaughterhouse in Shanghai; the contemporary condition of an ambitious US federal program envisioned in the 1930s; and the lasting effects of the recent economic crisis. A selection of present and future legacies across the globe that are worth another look.



Legacy has had invaluable help from Paola Aguirre, Luis Asín, Michelle Benoit, Kyle Brancheti, Ted Brown, Evan Chakroff, Jacob Chartoff, Andrew Clark, Carlos Copertone, André Corrêa, Andrea Dietz, Killian Doherty, Sarah Dunn, Lee Dykxhoorn, Patxi Eguiluz, Alexander Eisenschmidt, Fabrizio Gallanti, James Goggin, Geoff Goldberg, Michelle Ha Tucker, Tom Harris, Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, James Khamsi, Rachna Kothari, Alexandra Lange, Julie Michiels, Andrew Moddrell, Christina Morris, Aisling O’Carroll, Shane Reiner-Roth, Jason Reblando, Bud Rodecker, Christoph Rupprecht, David Schalliol, Adrian Shaughnessy, Anna Souter, Stanley Tigerman, and Rick Valicenti.

We would like to extend our gratitude to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for allowing us to include the Prentice Women’s Hospital photographs by David Schalliol; to the National Park Services and the Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, part of the Department of Cultural Resources, for the Blue Ridge Parkway photographs; and to the Fundación Miguel Fisac for the photographs of the Jorba Laboratories.


Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club. | @MASContext

Heritage is Ineffable


Casa del Fascio by Giuseppe Terragni, Como, Italy, c 1983 © Geoff Goldberg


Essay by Geoff Goldberg


Heritage is ineffable.

Ever present, it hides well. It remains elusive. Neither gas, liquid, or solid, it can’t be seen with a flashlight, but requires an act of thoughtful reflection to be found. In fact, it needs more than that, it needs consciousness. Heritage is about something remembered, sought after, and considered.

Merely being aware of heritage is not enough. It demands to be considered, for it needs to be properly framed, again requiring intelligence. The considered work or object of heritage has to be placed in context, located in place and in time, and even more critically, in relationship to others. A context has to be constructed.

And yet the reconstructed context, while necessary, is still not enough. Finding the past, making it fresh and new, is not correct. Such an approach, even if only fabricated in the imagination, may be conceptually admirable, but remains inadequate. Instead, what is needed is something rather peculiar, a thoughtful merging of a distant past, reconstructed and combined with a lacking present. The situation has to be clear and evident but missing some key aspect.

And what might be missing? Difficult to state. For no matter how described, heritage, legacy, fore-bearers, and precedents are tough sledding in our world. Our country has its origins deeply rooted in flight and remains uncomfortable with its past. We have a love of the newly created, and admire new opportunities above all else. Balancing our past with our present remains a delicate act of gymnastics.

Nevertheless, some enjoy gardening. Plants and nature remain, not for our pleasure or purposes, but to serve some other goals. Some of us have tended our gardens without an interest in profit or purpose, but rather because they exist and are worthy of nurturing on their own terms. We do this, although perhaps not every day, for the simple reason that beauty outside ourselves is enjoyable. Let there be no mistake—a successful garden needs tending, it is a garden we care for, but it is also a place that lives outside of us.

And so it is with legacy. More obscure than precedent, and more difficult than heritage, legacy is a quality of the past that is maintained and transmitted forward in time. This raises a different version of the well-known tree-in-the-forest question, “Does legacy exist if we ignore it?”

The answer is frustratingly both yes and no, leaving each individual to find a way through this dilemma. Ignored legacy can re-emerge, generations later, and be rediscovered and renewed. However, the opposite is also true: legacy forgotten too long can disappear, never to be heard from again.

If legacy exists outside of the self, why is it that it can only be transmitted and recovered by ourselves? Is it ours, to do with as we wish? Or does it answer to some other authority or purpose? One might wonder about the need for such philosophical ponderings, but might the opposite be true, that many of our difficulties with our past stem from legacy’s most difficult definition?

Legacy is absent tactility. Its presence remains difficult to place, and it is confounding in origins and transmission. Nevertheless some continue to enjoy this curiosity and value it. Some appreciate legacy for its role in framing history, as legacy provides context for questions of the day through its embrasure of the past. For many of us, it is one voice among others, helping us understand our relationship to things in the world and also to understand ourselves.

Imagine a world without legacy: such a world would be without a past, without history. It would operate outside of time and without place. It would be a world of self, rooted in hubris, without larger understandings. The tangled and knotted threads of legacy tell a different story, that the trails of our fore-bearers had purpose and deserve recollection. To forget the past is to abandon our place in the present and would portend poorly for the future.

Legacy as considered here does not have the romantic aura of a beautiful history, fondly remembered and nicely packaged. The concept here is one of a more complete picture, with the errors of our past as fully represented as the best we have done. We are a whole and our past contains both good and bad.

The larger picture is thus full of complexity. We are charged with conflicting duties and responsibilities. It is not hard to see the desirability of a road less fraught with these complications. Yet profound simplicity, the only one worth having, is not achieved that way, but rather by struggling with uncomfortable and incomprehensible aspects of our past. Only with a firm grip on these challenges can substantive contributions be made.

Such an unflinching appraisal of both past and present allows for a proper synthesis, necessary to address our uncertain future. Acceptance allows us to create anew and thus reinforces this, our most essential poetic act.



Casa del Fascio by Giuseppe Terragni, Como, Italy, c 1983 © Geoff Goldberg


Geoff Goldberg has practiced architecture and urban design in Chicago for the past twenty-five years. His research and practice operate in a particular way, with the advantage of long and in-depth exposure to a broad range of architectural issues. At the large scale, he is interested in integration across disciplines in the design of complex infrastructures and in finding opportunities in overlays otherwise overlooked. At a more intimate scale, Goldberg’s architectural work engages formal considerations with a contemporary notion of craftsmanship.

In Support of the Speculative Project
A Chicago Legacy


(Detail) Panorama of a Phantom Chicago, Chicago, 2012 © Alexander Eisenschmidt / Visionary Cities Platform. It transcribes architectural visions for Chicago from across the twentieth century and was originally produced as a one hundred-foot-long drawing for the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice. All projects discussed in this text can be found somewhere in the panorama.


Essay by Alexander Eisenschmidt


Chicago is young, clumsy, foolish, its architectural sins are unstable, captious and fleeting; it can pull itself down and rebuild itself in a generation, if it will: it has done and can do great things when the mood is on. . . . One must indeed be incurably optimistic even momentarily to dream such a dream.
Louis H. Sullivan, “Kindergarten Chats,” Interstate Architect & Builder, 1901


This passage from Louis Sullivan’s poignantly titled “Kinder­garten Chats” offers us not only a historical lens into past mentalities towards Chicago but it also points at a very different attitude (and the lack thereof) towards urbanization today. While early Chicago clearly functioned as a catalyst towards architectural speculation, today’s role of the city is less clear. It is no longer “young” or “clumsy” or “foolish,” and with urban maturity came more than just the disappearance of these characteristics. While the city’s power to transmit ideas and its capacity to fom­ent radical visions is legendary, the contrast between the early city that functioned as a territory for architectural speculation and today’s city could not be more stark. Therefore, remembering Chicago’s particular urban history might refocus the perspective on the city of today and help invent new modalities to engage the city of tomorrow.

The Chicago that in the early nineteenth century existed only as a frontier village with a few settlers, had materialized by 1870 as one of the largest markets, supported by the world’s most active railroad junction, and a harbor that connected the center of the US with the rest of the Western world and beyond. Also called the “lightning city,” its population in 1890 had long passed the one million mark and it sprawled over more than 180 square miles, making it the city with the largest footprint. For contemporary observers, Chicago’s development had outpaced progress and the future had seemingly arrived in the present, making this unlikely metropolis in the midwestern plains the ideal forecaster of urbanities to come and an indicator of the fate of other cities. The sociologist Max Weber, for example, came to the city in 1904 in order to see “what modern reality is like.” [1] As so many others, he had been introduced to Chicago through headlines in newspapers, announcing a city that made its river “run uphill” by reversing the flow of its polluted stream; that “pulled itself out of the mud” by raising its ground plain to be above Lake Michigan; and that “questioned gravity” through the first Ferris Wheel for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. [2] Widely understood as the prototypical launch pad for modernity, the ur-metropolis, and a zone in which artistic and stylistic traditions were suspended, some international visitors already cautioned: “Chicago might eventually succumb to the temptation to be refined.” [3]

Today, this early remark from the late nineteenth century appears suddenly like a prophecy as it foresaw the risk of the city eventually yielding to the charm of having its own history, of wanting to perfect its culture, and seeking its declarative urban and architectural forms. After all, Chicago today bears little of the restlessness and ambition to imagine new urban conditions that made it one of the earliest and most vital examples of the modern metropolis. Therefore, if anything deserves to be preserved then Chicago’s openness towards challenging projects and visionary dreams, a mentality without which the city becomes trivial and architecture irrelevant. [4] What is needed today is a renewed understanding of the city as laboratory, an advanced form of visionary speculation, and a different kind of architect.

To use the city as a laboratory means to utilize it as a springboard for architectural and urban conjectures, to not simply see the city as a display of urbanization but as a test-bed and catalyst for architectures and urbanisms to come. In 1911, Chicago’s commitment to use the city as a stage for experimentation went as far as pushing it to the brink of collapse. City officials locally suspended police presence and traffic regulation in an effort to test if the city could still self-regulate. [5] While the answer to this question was obvious, it does highlight an understanding of the city as a speculative terrain. It points towards a place that not simply registers but simulates and, potentially, projects new kinds of conditions. Encouraged by a mentality with very little agony over failure, Chicago became a springboard for advanced urban experimentation, which for architects presented a playground with unexpected possibilities. John Wellborn Root, of the Burnham and Root office, put it most bluntly:


Our freedom begets license, it’s true. We do shocking things, we produced works of architecture . . . irredeemably bad; we try crude experiments that result in disaster. Yet somehow in this mass of ungoverned energies lies the principle of life. [6]


Chicago became the perfect ground for crude architectural experiments, which for Root was based in the city’s apparent lack of an urban past. For him, a negligible urban history made not only the future seem attractive and tangible (an environment that encouraged speculation) but it also created a model city that feared no past and, therefore, no failure (ideal conditions for a city laboratory). While previously a lack of history was associated with a degree of freedom that encouraged the surpassing of established norms and conventions, today’s Chicago faces the opposite. Hyper aware of its history, notions of improvement substitute experimentation, trend analysis stands in for trend setting, and visionary speculation is replaced by problem solving. But even as many agree that the city is no longer an enabler of speculation, a nostalgic view of earlier conditions is equally unproductive. In the end, an awareness of this alternative urban history should be less about missed opportunities in the recent past than about openings in today’s immediate future. To radicalize the city of today requires a renewed boldness in engagements with the city, one that not only challenges the status quo (to counter what is here) but, more importantly, extrapolates from the existing and crafts alternative futures (to accelerate from what is here).

In this context, the importance of the speculative project is clear. Yet its position and reach are challenged. After all, notions of the “visionary” are largely dismantled. Conscious of the flaws and errors of modernist dreams, academies and the profession alike have grown weary and often resort to merely documenting the city or intentionally scaling down (mapping or urban acupuncture). But to rescue the term of the “visionary” is as much a reminder of the essential workings of architecture as well as its unique position within the city. As our modes of operation—the drawings, animations, models, and scenarios—are always an act of forecasting, the ethos of architecture is intimately linked to the “visionary.” In other words, architecture by definition anticipates something that is not yet—a projective envisioning of a world to come. This is the very project of architecture.

And, Chicago’s arsenal of influential unbuilt visions argues most vividly on its own behalf. Adolf Loos’s design for the 1922 Tribune Tower competition, for example, has undeniably outpaced the constructed winning entry in its ability to influence and deflect the discourse. Here, not the building that was constructed but the project of architecture (Loos’s drawing) shook urban culture to the core and continues to perplex. It conceived alternative possibilities by staging a Doric column in an American city; simultaneously, a re-contextualization of a scaled-up artifact and an opportunistic exploration of the form-function corollary. At first, and in light of this example, the “visionary” seems to run counter to the professionalism of architecture and urbanism; after all, it refocuses the responsibility of these disciplines from “problem solving” to “vision making.” Yet today’s “visionary” would be less associated with revolutionary utopias then with alternatives for the immediate urban future and, therefore, aiming to bring these disciplines back to the fold. To define alternative positions will be an act of recasting existing realities. The new visionary is no longer in utter difference to what exists but instead takes clues and extrapolates from it.

This will require a new species of architects—one that is able to excel beyond the two primary types of the utopian dreamer and the problem solver. Coupling these two, usually considered polar opposites, formulates a new kind of spatial inventor. What emerges is the architect as visionary pragmatist, a figure of which Chicago has seen a number of early precedents through projects that escape the utopian mold. Peter Weber’s Electric Railroad Tower of 1892, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Quadruple Block of 1901, Walter Ahlschlager’s Apparel Mart of 1928, Marion Mahony Griffin’s Plan for Chicago of 1945, Andrew Rebori’s Harbour Airport of the same year, Harry Weeses’ Island in the Lake of 1952, Stanley Tigerman’s Urban Matrix of 1967, and Bertrand Goldberg’s Floating World’s Fair of 1984 are only some of the many projects that can be seen as precursors. These do not propose an otherworldly “no-place” but instead are deeply embedded in the tendencies and logistics of the existing city. To understand the contemporary city as a condition that holds potential for architectural intelligence and experimentation, points towards an architecture of the city that is no longer against urbanization, but that uses urbanization productively to get its way. [7] They extrapolate from the existing in order to find in a heightened urbanity the beginnings of a new productivity. Some imagine the densification of the grid, others explore the intensification of technology, a few speculate on the augmentation of urban patterns, and several predict the growth of the city onto the water. All manifest as accelerations of tendencies and developments that are already in motion. The latter—gaining land by slowly building Chicago’s long awaited “East Side”—is in line with built projects such as the construction of the World’s Columbian Exposition on wetlands or the development and expansion into what today amassed as Grant Park. Understanding the speculative project in this trajectory sheds light on a productive legacy that the following three portfolios participate in and continue to elaborate. Releasing these historical and contemporary projects into the cultural ether should provoke a new debate on the city as laboratory and, ideally, a change in attitude, one that challenges the status quo and once again radicalizes the city—a Chicago legacy.



Panorama of a Phantom Chicago, 2012 © Alexander Eisenschmidt / Visionary Cities Project. It transcribes architectural visions for Chicago from across the twentieth century and was originally produced as a one hundred-foot-long drawing for the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice. All projects discussed in this text can be found somewhere in the panorama.



1. Marianne Weber, Max Weber: A Biography, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: John Wiley & Son, 1975), 287.

2. The German architectural paper Bauzeitung, for example, reported on the raised city in 1868.

3. Jaques Hermant, “L’art à l’exposition de Chicago,” in Gazette des beaux-arts 73 (September 1893): 242.

4. Today, most cities within the Western World are concerned with preserving the past rather then speculating about the future. They display an inability to project ideas and envision radical alternatives. Perhaps, no other city displays this tendency more dramatically as Chicago; a situation made palpable by an awareness of the city’s legacy of speculation.

5. The Board of Supervising Engineers administered the experiment in the midst of the city at the intersection of Randolph and Dearborn Street. Photographs were published in Chicago Commerce, March 24, 1911, 6; May 19, 1911, 23-26; March 29, 1912, 7. For further reading, see Paul Barrett, The Automobile and Urban Transit: The Formation of Public Policy in Chicago 1900-1930 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983). I thank Robert C. Michaelson for this reference.

6. John Wellborn Root, c. 1890. Here quoted from Lewis Mumford, The Brown Decades: A Study of the Arts in America, 1865-1895 (New York: Dover Publications, 1971), 60.

7. For previous discussions outlining the concept of a “productive urbanization,” see my article “Stranger than Fiction,” in City Catalyst: Architecture in the Age of Extreme Urbanization, ed. Alexander Eisenschmidt, Architectural Design 219, September/October 2012.


A portion of this text was initially presented as an introduction to the panel on “Chicagoisms: A City to Speculate?” at the Chicago Cultural Center in November 2014. For an expanded version on this topic, see my “No Failure too Great,” in Chicagoisms, eds. Eisenschmidt and Mekinda (Zürich: Scheidegger & Spiess/Park Books, 2013), 150-167.


Related articles

Urban Matrix:
Filter Island:
The Big Shift:


Alexander Eisenschmidt is a designer, theorist, founding partner of Studio Offshore, and Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Architecture, where he teaches graduate studios and courses in history and theory. His work investigates the productive tension between the modern city and architectural form. He is author and editor of City Catalyst (Architectural Design, 2012), contributing lead editor of Chicagoisms (Scheidegger & Spiess / Park Books, 2013), designer and curator of City Works at the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice (2012), and co-curator of Chicagoisms at the Art Institute of Chicago Museum (2014). | @EisenschmidtA

Urban Matrix


Urban Matrix, 1967 © Stanley Tigerman


Project by Stanley Tigerman


Urban ills are many and varied, this obvious to anyone who has ever entered a metropolitan area. For the urban environment to become meaningful tomorrow, we must solve these problems today. At the present, there are two approaches to satisfy the problems of the urban environment. The first is the “new town.” Build a city in and of itself—start from scratch. In many ways this could be considered an artificial solution, for it turns its back on the problems of existing cities. It is also artificial in that the site selection is a-priori; it is not generated out of natural demands. The second approach is renewal and rehabilitation of existing cities—HUD’s Demonstration Cities. While it is a more realistic approach, it is still shackled by existing zoning and transportation systems. The concept is valid now, but is neglecting problems that will affect us in tomorrow’s urban environment. URBAN MATRIX is a possible third approach. We link to, extend from, and expand upon the existing.

It is the intention of this project to illustrate a possible method by which man can expand center city. Research shows that a common denominator for the origin of most cities is proximity to water transportation. The water, which was once a city’s lifeline, has now become an edge—a boundary. The city can grow only on three sides. We had expanded center city vertically but find it rapidly reaches a saturation point. We have expanded peripherally until it can no longer be considered center anything, let alone center city. We have tried reclaiming land by means of earth-fill, but in doing this we destroy the social-economic prestige that is inherent in the edge. What, then, is an answer? How can center city expand both significantly and efficiently?

We feel a valid approach is to build in the water, but at an incremented distance from the shore. After reaching this decision, we established mandatory goals that the project had to meet in order to become a valid environment. First, each unit must have direct access to light and air. Secondly, it must be dense and establish a high ratio of open recreational space to enclosed floor area. Thirdly, it must develop an enclosed space that would satisfy human needs; a space that would be more than just a human filing cabinet.

The segmented tetrahedral form satisfies the light, air requirements; each face receives direct sunlight during the day. This phenomenon has far reaching connotations.

Within the urban environment there has, and perhaps always will be, a range of neighborhood desirability—the right and wrong side of the tracks. At the present, the parameter or range of values is quite great. All cities seem to have their own version of Harlem – Madison Ave. Theoretically, if we could more closely equate the desirability of real estate, we would eliminate some of the social unrest. If all neighborhoods possessed a diverse range of people differentiated by age, income, race, family size, etc., but all bonded together by some basic collective interest, we would have a unique neighborhood. Possibly this would eliminate financial and racial prejudice. Collectively, man will always have condescending attitudes, but within this diverse commune social structure it would be mutual.

The basic concept is to achieve a flexible, but dense, extension of the existing urban environment. The essence of a large metropolitan area is enclosure and transportation of man and goods. It is environment plus movement.

The structure for URBAN MATRIX is eighteen-foot octagonal aluminum trusses. The core of the truss is for all utilities. Man and goods are transported in capsules, which ride in any one of eight compartments in the truss. The movement of any given capsule is individually controlled by a master computer. The capsule programmed for a specific destination will take the most efficient route as dictated by movement of all other capsules in the system.





Urban Matrix, 1967 © Stanley Tigerman


URBAN MATRIX is composed of 163 tetrahedral elements. The functional zoning within the structure is most flexible. Any given tetrahedron could be a total community—that is, it would have residential, commercial, communal, and recreational functions, or if circumstances dictated, the entire tetrahedra could be designated one specific function. Just as neighborhoods vary in size, so it, too, is possible to have “neighborhoods” within URBAN MATRIX VARY IN SIZE. Adjacent tetrahedra could comprise a neighborhood of specific flavor. It is our belief that if center city was expanded in the form of URBAN MATRIX most of the floor area would be allocated to communal and commercial space. Communal space would include governmental, judicial, retail trade, etc., and any other functions in which people gather together in large numbers. Commercial functions would be a flexible office area or space now considered semi-public. We feel that thirty-three tetrahedra, or approximately twenty percent of the total, could be designated for residential use. Within these tetrahedra, 689,000 square feet of residential area is distributed over twenty-four floors; each floor having a height of nine feet. Duplex apartments are distributed linearly along the external faces. The internal area is allotted to convenience shopping; in effect, the net residential area is approximately 460,000 square feet. This will yield about five hundred apartments per tetrahedra.

The remaining floors in the residential tetrahedra serve communal, commercial, and mechanical functions. The uppermost four floors, designated for commercial functions, have a total gross of 450,000 square feet, and a floor height of eighteen feet. The next six floors, designated as commercial, have a total gross of 511,200 square feet, and a floor height of thirteen feet, six inches. The residential function falls directly below the commercial and covers twenty-four floors. The lowest eight floors are designated for computer controlled mechanical and electrical systems; gross area is 15,000 square feet.

The functional use of the remaining one hundred and thirty tetrahedra is divided between communal and commercial. The necessary mechanical support functions are again designated to the lowest eight floors and occupy 15,000 square feet in each tetrahedra. 698,000 square feet gross of communal space is distributed over the uppermost eight floors; floor-to-floor height is eighteen feet. 503,000 square feet gross of commercial function is distributed over the next eighteen floors; floor height is thirteen feet, six inches.

Floor areas for URBAN MATRIX according to function are:

Residential 22,737,000 square feet
Commercial 82,259,600 square feet
Communal 105,668,000 square feet





Urban Matrix, 1967 © Stanley Tigerman


Open area is provided by the buoyant sub-structure. The square pontoons of six-hundred, twelve-hundred and eighteen-hundred feet per side yield a total recreational open space area of 18,140,000 square feet or four hundred and fifteen acres. The sub-structure pontoons provide not only open space but also 88,2-0,000 gross square feet of floor area for light industrial usage. The buoyant sub-structure units are anchored to the water bottom by high-strength aluminum cable. For purposes of stability, a constant positive buoyancy is maintained through a wench mechanism in the sub-structure. This device will compensate for any rise or fall of water height. The concept of a buoyant sub-structure necessitates lightweight, high-strength, durable materials used to maximum efficiency—aluminum. Of necessity, new high-strength extruded shapes will have to be developed, but it is possible to employ many standard products.

Anodized ribbed siding, in its many varieties, is employed for lightweight, easily maintained partitions. Extruded aluminum boxes are used to form internal trusses. Aluminum pan roof deck is used in the floor system. Drop ceiling is an aluminum, linear, acoustical system with corrugated and “V” crimp panels.

The above are just a few examples of ways in which aluminum was used to satisfy a critical weight-strength problem of URBAN MATRIX.

URBAN MATRIX, we feel, can be seen as a total environment. It is more than a human filing cabinet—it provides basic needs essential to man. Random stairs, penetrating successive floors, plus open balconies will give man an awareness of URBAN MATRIX at all times. We express mixed usage and the recognition of man’s need for diverse environment. We provide open recreational areas, land and water, for ninety percent of the water rights area that we use. It is difficult to find an urban area that satisfies any one, let alone all of these problems.


Related articles

In Support of the Speculative Project: A Chicago Legacy:
Filter Island:
The Big Shift:


Stanley Tigerman is a principal in the Chicago architectural and design firm of Tigerman McCurry Architects and a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects as well as the Society of Architectural Historians. Of the nearly 500 projects defining his career, 200-plus built works embrace virtually every building type. He has delivered over 1,100 lectures worldwide, he was the resident architect at the American Academy in Rome in 1980, and he was Director of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago for eight years. In 1994, in association with Eva Maddox, he co-founded ARCHEWORKS, a socially oriented design laboratory and school, where he remained as Director until 2008 when they were awarded Civic Ventures’ Purpose Prize Fellows.

Filter Island


Filter island program (detail) © UrbanLab


Project by UrbanLab


In the 1909 “Plan of Chicago,” Daniel Burnham sought to harmonize two physical systems that had always been incom­patible along Chicago’s lakefront: transportation and recreation. Re-envisioned transportation networks included railroads to be realigned, roadways to be built, and harbors to be located. Simultaneously, in the same space, Burnham envisioned a continuous lakefront recreational park filled with new public buildings and amenities. Synthesizing technical necessities with cultural enhancements ultimately produced a lakefront that was much more than the sum of its functional parts.

A decade before Burnham’s Plan, engineers transformed the Chicago River into a model of water management and transportation infrastructure. Directing the flow of the river away from Lake Michigan and linking it via canals to the Mississippi River was critical for the health and prosperity of Chicagoans. It still is, but Chicago has changed.

Today, Chicago faces new challenges to its physical form. On a semi-regular basis, massive rainstorms overwhelm the Chicago River, which leads to raw sewage overflowing into Lake Michigan. Additionally, the river has become a two-way conduit for invasive species. These invasions cause billions of dollars a year in damage to water infrastructures and ecosystems from Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico.

We believe it is time to redesign the river and while we’re at it, leverage the redesign to conceptualize new civic possibilities. Our project—Filter Island—springs from Chicago’s legacy of leveraging infrastructural improvements to simultaneously create new civic space. The first step toward this double-goal is to dam the Chicago River near the confluence of its three branches: the North Branch, the South Branch, and the Chicago River. By damming the river, three branches (operating as one waterway) transform into two separate waterways: the new South Branch and the new Chicago River. The new Chicago River flows between two mouths of Lake Michigan: the southern mouth in downtown Chicago and the northern mouth in Wilmette, Illinois. The existing locks are removed between river and lake resulting in the new Chicago River becoming an extension of the lake.



Waterways – Before © UrbanLab



Waterways – After © UrbanLab


Damming the river will halt the transmission of invasive species and prevent yearly losses of billions of gallons of Lake Michigan water currently leaking through the existing locks. But, damming doesn’t fix the whole problem. Currently the river acts as an overflow for stormwater and sewage during severe rainstorms. Because the river will once again flow into the lake, a new approach is needed to remove dangerous toxins and microbes.

Filter Island cleans the new Chicago River by filtering pollutants in a series of large scale bio-cells. Polluted water flows into Filter Island over a shallow waterfall at the northern edge of the new island. Through a series of wetlands and bio-pools polluted water is cleaned of contaminates before being discharged into the lake. The ratio of water cleansing landscape to park program landscape flips as the park extends southward. Park programs range from ecological wetlands, marshes, and fields to cultural programs such as swimming pools, water parks, sports courts, and playgrounds. The whole island is wrapped in a programmed edge that includes beaches, pathways, and break waters.

To accommodate boat traffic between the river and lake, there is a new dry-dock transfer exchange along the eastern extension of the new Chicago River.

Rather than hide the water cleaning process, Filter Island reveals it. Rather than employ a heavy industrial, energy intensive system, Filter Island is a passive, low-energy water treatment sponge. But most vitally, Filter Island is a hybridized landscape combining the transportation of water with new recreational spaces.







Filter Island plan © UrbanLab



Filter Island path and flow circulation © UrbanLab



Filter Island programming water © UrbanLab



Filter Island program © UrbanLab







Filter Island© UrbanLab


Related articles

In Support of the Speculative Project: A Chicago Legacy:
Urban Matrix:
The Big Shift:


UrbanLab is a research-based architecture and urban design practice led by Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen. UrbanLab strives to respond to the complexity, growth, and unintended consequences of the modern city by developing catalogues of architectural, infrastructural, and urbanistic design strategies. UrbanLab’s projects range from urban infrastructural plans to buildings and architecture proposals. In parallel, Felsen and Dunn are principal investigators for funded research focusing on public space, infrastructure, and resources in American (and American-style) cities and megaregions. | @TeamUrbanLab

The Big Shift


The Big Shift scenario model © PORT|Urbanism for “Chicagoisms” exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago


Project by PORT|Urbanism


Chicago is facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis. One-off solutions to resolve the municipal debt such as selling off assets or pursuing economically risky endeavors like the Olympics are short sighted, only serving to delay dealing with the fundamentals of the problem at hand. The city is in need of a sustainable revenue stream, not a one-time revenue shot.

While Chicago has continued to try to reinvent itself, jockeying for global economic position and emulating “world city” projects pursued elsewhere, it has ignored its most compelling asset—the lakefront. Although popularly considered “forever open, clear and free,” in reality, Chicago’s lakefront has been in a constant state of transformation over the last 150 years, resulting the creation of more than 1,000 acres of new land and the construction of dozens of buildings, not to mention continuing to be dominated by the changing configurations of Lake Shore Drive (LSD). As a result, significant portions of the lakefront remain under activated and often obstructed.



Chicago’s Lakefront Evolution © PORT|Urbanism


Since development is prohibited east of LSD, the city has foreclosed on the possibility of leveraging this asset for its social, civic, and economic potential. In turn, the political and financial capital necessary to enhance the lakefront—producing a generous, productive, and socially compelling public space—is absent. This is a missed opportunity.

The Big Shift imagines a scenario wherein Chicago embraces the lakefront’s latent potential by proposing a dramatic, yet conceptually simple infrastructural transformation. By shifting the 1.5 mile stretch of LSD running along Grant Park eastward, the city could create upwards of 225 acres of new lakefront real estate—importantly, west of LSD—that would generate an enormous, long-term revenue stream through land leases and property taxes, despite the significant upfront infrastructural costs of the endeavor. The “shift” would allow for the reconfiguration of LSD—changing its alignment and partially sinking or bridging portions of it in order to reduce its adverse impact on pedestrian and bike access to the lakefront, as well as its auditory and emission impacts on the city.



01: Move Lake Shore Drive eastward © PORT|Urbanism



02: Create 225 acres of newly developable land © PORT|Urbanism



03: Triple area of lakefront public realm and reconnect back to city © PORT|Urbanism



04: Catalyze municipal revenue stream through new development © PORT|Urbanism



Big Shift Scenario Plan © PORT|Urbanism


More significantly, the project would enhance two of Chicago’s most beloved public spaces. A fourth street wall would frame the east side of Grant Park, creating a kind of Central Park condition, while stately, tree-lined boulevards would connect from the west side of Grant Park across the new development area and LSD to a new 145-acre public waterfront. This newly configured waterfront would include softly rolling topography, beaches, spaces of prospect and refuge, as well as generous planting, pedestrian circulation, and furnishing. The proposal would more than triple the size of the current lakefront adjacent to Grant Park, providing the recreational amenities now missing from the area, but which animate other areas of Chicago’s iconic lakefront.

Simply put, the Big Shift imagines a scenario where a public infrastructural renovation is leveraged to create urgently needed municipal revenue sources while enhancing and expanding Chicago’s most important public spaces and civic assets.



The Big Shift: Grant Park as Central Park © PORT|Urbanism


Related articles

In Support of the Speculative Project: A Chicago Legacy:
Urban Matrix:
Filter Island:

PORT|Urbanism is a leading-edge urban design consultancy focused on the analysis, visioning, design, and implementation of new forms of collective space and public realm. Established by Christopher Marcinkoski and Andrew Moddrell in 2010, PORT has evolved into one of the most innovative public realm and urban design practices operating in the US today. The firm’s work looks to leverage the latent civic, ecological, and cultural potentials embedded within a given context in order to imagine fresh, compelling, and culturally relevant public landscapes. | @porturbanism

All History is Contemporary History


Detail of Ken Garland: Structure and Substance, 2012 © Unit Editions


Iker Gil interviews Adrian Shaughnessy


Every book that comes out of Unit Editions, the London-based publishing company founded in 2008 by Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook, is a beautifully designed artifact. Every aspect is meticulously researched and considered, from the subject and design, to the production and feel, or what Adrian calls “the heft of a book.” Focusing on graphic design and visual culture, they have published acclaimed monographs on Wim Crouwel, FHK Henrion, Ken Garland, and Herb Lubalin. This year is the turn their attention to Spin, Lance Wyman, Morag Myerscough, and Universal Everything. Iker Gil talks to Adrian Shaughnessy about his start as a designer, starting Unit Editions with Tony Brook, their methodology, and establishing legacies.



FHK Henrion: The Complete Designer packing, 2013 © Unit Editions


IG: Tell us a little bit about your education and becoming a graphic designer.

AS: I am an “uneducated” (in the formal sense) graphic designer. I didn’t go to design school. I messed up my entire education—expelled from school, bad attitude to authority, youthful arrogance… the usual stuff. I found myself drifting aimlessly with a headful of silly dreams and a vague notion that I might work in the music industry. I eventually got a job as a trainee graphic designer in one of the big, but long-gone, UK record labels. It’s no exaggeration to say that this was a lifesaver. I had actually found the one thing I could do—graphic design. I discovered that I had an intrinsic understanding of the basics of letterforms, layout, and the way text, image, and color could be shaped to convey meaning and interest. I also quickly discovered that despite my instinctive attraction to the craft, I had oceans of stuff to learn. But the discovery of design gave my life purpose and meaning. Something it lacked at that point.

IG: During your education, who were the designers that influenced you? Were there any figures outside graphic design that you looked up to?

AS: The designers I worked with were my educators and heroes. They were far from being creative geniuses. In fact, they were mostly journeymen designers, but with a thorough grounding in the technical aspects of design, something I desperately needed to learn. It wasn’t part of their job descriptions to teach me, but most of them were kind enough to give me guidance and advice. I didn’t want to pester them, so I had to learn super fast. The figures I looked up to outside of graphic design were the ones that I still look up to—maverick writers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians. Then as now, I’m only attracted to iconoclastic and highly individualistic artists.

IG: Besides being a graphic designer, you are also a publisher, writer, lecturer, radio host, and professor at Royal College of Art (RCA). How do each role complement the others?

AS: Each role causes me to use a slightly different part of my mental make up. All of them give me cause for anxiety—a feeling I have to experience, otherwise I quickly become bored. I can only derive satisfaction from doing things that I need to improve at. I get no satisfaction from doing the things I know how to do. I also cherish the diversity that comes from my different roles. I am energized by the way each role forces me to use different parts of my brain and experience.

IG: In 2008 you formed Unit Editions with fellow designer Tony Brook, creative director of Spin. Since then, Unit Editions has published several truly fantastic books delving into the archives of key figures in design and focusing on overlooked aspects of design history. What was the drive to start the publishing house?

AS: Both of us love books to an unhealthy degree, and our interest extends to all aspect of “bookness”: the design, the manufacture, the content, even the way a book sits in the hand—what I call the heft of a book. Prior to starting Unit, Tony had experimented with self-publishing with Spin, and I had worked with mainstream publishers—a very useful learning experience, but ultimately a frustrating one due to the highly commercialized approach of most publishers. And so when we met to discuss our mutual interest, it quickly became clear that we both wanted to have our own imprint. Unit Editions grew out of that conversation.

IG: Did you have any reference when you and Tony started Unit Editions?

AS: There were many publishing houses we both admired. In design publishing, we both had a soft spot for Lars Muller. We admired those imprints that seemed to be uncompromising: Nigli, ABC Verlag, and Hyphen Press. Some of my personal influences were record labels: ECM, Rune Grammofon, Factory, and older imprints like ESP and Impulse. Our business model was heavily influenced by the new thinking around alternative commence, alternative distribution systems, and the new internet economy that has emerged in the last decade or so.

IG: Unit Editions is a great example of the potential of combining print and online. Your books are superb in content and production, and you pay attention to every detail, including packaging and shipping. At the same time, you use your website to provide complimentary content to your books and to distribute almost exclusively all of your books. Has that created a sustainable publishing model? Are there any aspects that you are considering adding to the model?

AS: Our website gives us a digital shop window. It allows us to display and sell physical books without the tortuous dealings that always accompany working with distributors. So yes, we see ourselves as a print and digital hybrid with a physical product.

Is Unit Editions a sustainable publishing model? Yes, but we have some way to go before it is totally self-sustaining. We have three full-time members of staff, and we have access to the high-level talent within Spin. We are debt free and remain 100% independent. We have some plans to look beyond graphic design into the wider field of visual culture, and we have already experimented with a book app. In the case of the app we found the uptake was poor, but it also led us to the realization that art and design subject matter is best dealt with in traditional book form. Continuous text such as novels works in e-book formats, but this is not the case with art and design subjects. I subscribe to the Umberto Eco view that: “The book is like the spoon, scissors, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented, it cannot be improved.”

IG: The first book of Unit Editions was Studio Culture. Tell us about the experience of looking into the inner workings of the twenty-eight graphic design studios selected and what you learnt from producing that book.

AS: One of the basic tenets of Unit Editions is to only publish books on subjects not already covered by other publishers. When we started Unit we looked around for a topic that had not been dealt with before. It seemed odd to us that there had not been a book on graphic design studios—what they are, how you run them, how you grow them, and their role in a shape-shifting discipline. And of course today it is not unusual for graduates to set up studios straight after graduation, without serving an apprenticeship in an established studio where they can learn how it is done. Until Studio Culture there was no book on the subject. We printed 10,000 copies and the book has long since sold out.

The studios we featured were selected to show a range of experiences. We interviewed Marion Bantjes who works alone on an island off the Canadian coast and to Paula Scher, a partner in Pentagram. We interviewed studio heads in Japan, Australia, and Europe—not to mention Rick Valicenti in Chicago and James Goggin, now in Chicago but then based in London.







Studio Culture cover and spreads, 2009 © Unit Editions


IG: Since that first book, you have published several comprehensive monographs on the work of leading practices: Wim Crouwel, FHK Henrion, Ken Garland, Herb Lubalin. In a way, your role has been both being a graphic designer and a researcher. Is that an accurate description of your role?

AS: I’m very keen on the idea of the designer as researcher. I run a course at the RCA called Research Design Publish (RDP). This starts from the premise that all designers are instinctive researchers. It’s just that this particular aspect of being a designer is undervalued by designers themselves (they do it instinctively), and by academia, who privilege written research over practice-based research. My course is designed to allow students to value their research skills to a greater degree. So, within Unit Editions I consider myself a “designer researcher.” I want to be able to look at any subject (currently mostly neglected figures from graphic design’s past), and find a way of presenting them in a new and contemporary light. This involves looking at them as a practitioner myself and not as a detached observer.



Spreads of various Unit Editions books © Unit Editions


IG: Can you share the process that you go through when producing a book? From the research process to the production and release of the book.

AS: We have a long list of books we’d like to publish. Some will appear in the next 12-18 months, others will take longer. And some will never make it into print for a variety of reasons. For a book to appear, it has to meet some strict criteria. Firstly, Tony and I have to agree on it. Secondly, it has to be a subject that is not already in existence. Or if it does exist, we have to find a way of doing it that is new and fresh. If it’s a historical subject, there also has to be an affordable source of visual material—this usually means an archive. Our three big monographs to date—Ken Garland, FHK Henrion, and Herb Lubalin—were all made possible by the existence of good archives of their work. If a designer’s work is spread all over the world, it is unlikely that we will have the resources to pull it together into a book.

Once we have located the material, we begin negotiating rights. This can take a long time, but so far we have been lucky (although I suspect that design publishing will be affected in the way art publishing has been affected by rights holders ramping up the charges for permission to reproduce works of art).

Then the writing, design, editing, and production process begins. In order to show work in its original form—books, posters, printed matter of all kinds—we photograph most of our pictorial content. This involves many hours of studio photography and many hours of retouching. In addition, Tony and I circle round our subject—debating, arguing, prodding, interrogating, fine-tuning the concept, and sweating over the book’s title and other details. I will be researching, reading, interviewing, and poking around in libraries. Tony will be looking at layouts, cover ideas, production materials. At the same time we will be thinking about format, price, and how we position the book. In the case of the historical books, one consideration overrides all others: can we identify the contemporary relevance of our subject? If we can’t, we move onto another subject. Emphasizing contemporary relevance is vital for us.

After the groundwork has been done, we start to put together the book. Design is finessed. Texts are edited and proofread. We have an experienced editor who does most of the editorial heavy lifting work of indexing, proofreading, cross-referencing, etc. Only then is the book put into production.

Finally, we have to start thinking about how we present a new title to our audience. Thanks to the internet and social media, we are able to talk directly to them. They tell us what they think. What they like. What subjects they’d like to see in print. In fact, we are in a feedback loop with our audience, something that is much harder to achieve with conventional media.

IG: After completing each book, does your understanding of the legacy of each designer change?

AS: Yes, but only in the sense that as you dig into any subject, as you bring critical thinking to a subject, your understanding and perception changes. The best example of this was our book on Herb Lubalin. Tony was a paid-up member of the Lubalin fan club. It was different for me. Lubalin was the designer of note when I started out. Older designers told me to study him and try to emulate his superb typographic skills. As a result of this force-feeding, I’d built up a slight resistance to him. But I knew he was a master of his art, and I knew there was a need for a book on him. So I was committed to publishing a Lubalin monograph, I just didn’t want to write it. But—as I started the preliminary research, I realized quickly that he was a far more interesting figure than I had realized, and I ended up becoming a Lubalin zealot.





Top: Ken Garland in his studio, 2012. Bottom: Ken Garland book signing, 2014 © Unit Editions


IG: Your next books focus on the work of Spin, Lance Wyman, Morag Myerscough, and Universal Everything. How do you decide who will be the focus of your monographs? What makes each one of them special?

AS: All of these people—Spin, Lance, Morag, and Mat Pyke (Universal Everything founder) are alive and kicking, so we are working with them closely to progress their books. SPIN is an attempt to see if we can crack the “contemporary monograph” question. By this I mean, why would anyone want to buy a book on a contemporary studio when they can see all the work on the studio’s website, or on the thousands of blogs that feature current work? Well, we’re working on something called the 360-degree interrogation. Can we present a fully rounded portrait of the SPIN studio? In the case of the others, they are all people we admire and who we feel have enough work to merit a book. In the case of Lance Wyman, we are talking about more than fifty years of astounding work.

IG: You recently co-curated the exhibition “GraphicsRCA: Fifty Years” at the RCA. Did you approach exhibiting this archival material differently than if you were sharing this legacy in a book format?

AS: This was a project with a different focus. I was part of a quartet of RCA tutors who staged a major retrospective of graphic design at the RCA. We ran it as a teaching exercise. We had a group of students and recent graduates working as part of the team. Our objectives were twofold. One, to put on a good show that the public, the design community, and alumni, would enjoy; and two, give our student collaborators an exercise in all the manifold complexities of exhibition design and curation.

IG: Does the medium selected to share these legacies (books, exhibitions, panel discussions) depend on the content, the target audience, and resources? Is there one that you think is more successful?

AS: In the case of the RCA exhibition, all three dovetailed beautifully and allowed different responses to surface. The exhibition allowed an audience to contemplate a substantial body of influential work; the book allowed a deeper interrogation of the subject by providing alumni and past teaching staff with a platform to discuss, critique, and illuminate fifty years of graphic design pedagogy. And finally, the panel discussion allowed the audience to have a say.

IG: What are the lessons that we can learn from looking into these legacies and how can they influence future practices?

AS: I’m very taken with the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce. He said, “All history is contemporary history.” And this is really my view on the books we publish on figures from design history. This is a new position for me because I’ve always resisted history and dismissed interest in it as a sign that an individual is no longer interested in the present. In fact, it is a way of seeing the present—and the future—with greater clarity. FHK Henrion is a brilliant example of someone who provides a blueprint for modern design practice. He was a design polymath. Most of us can never hope to emulate him, but we can learn from him.

IG: Do legacies have any expiration date?

AS: Legacies die and get reborn. Sometimes they stay dead, sometimes they leap Lazarus-like from the grave, and we are forced to reappraise their value. I hope we’ve helped to do this—in a small way—with Henrion and Lubalin.

IG: In fifty years, a fantastic publisher wants to share your legacy. How would you want that book to be and what would you want it to transmit?

AS: As things stand, it is going to be a slim volume! But I go back to something I said at the beginning of this interview. I only value the things I can’t do. So, in my view, I haven’t yet done anything that would justify a publisher sharing my legacy. There’s still time, though.



Books ready to be shipped, 2014 © Unit Editions


Adrian Shaughnessy is a graphic designer, writer, publisher, art and culture zealot based in London. He is also a senior tutor in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art and a founding partner in Unit Editions, a publishing company producing books on design and visual culture. Scratching the Surface, a collection of his journalism, has recently been published. | @uniteditions | @AJWShaughnessy

Iker Gil is an architect, urban designer, and director of MAS Studio. In addition, he is the editor in chief of MAS Context. He is the recipient of the 2010 Emerging Visions Award from the Chicago Architectural Club. | @MASContext

Building Legacies


Building Legacies


Diagrams by Jacob Chartoff


A look at the Artists’ and Architects’ Papers, the Chicago Architects Oral History Project, and the Chicago Film Archives.


Artists’ and Architects’ Papers

The collection held at The Ryerson & Burnham Archives at the Art Institute of Chicago contains correspondence, writings, scrapbooks, architectural drawings and prints, business papers, photographs, slides, and other ephemera. The collection is separated by subject and measured by the number of linear feet it takes up on the shelf; ranging from .25 to well over 200.













Artists’ and Architects’ Papers © Jacob Chartoff


Click here for larger view as a single file



Chicago Architects Oral History Project (CAOHP)

Started by the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Architecture in 1983, the CAOHP set out with the goal of documenting the life and experiences of architects that have contributed to the built environment in and around Chicago.





Chicago Architects Oral History Project (CAOHP) © Jacob Chartoff


Click here for larger view



Chicago Architects Oral History Project (CAOHP) – Birthplaces © Jacob Chartoff


Click here for larger view



Chicago Architects Oral History Project (CAOHP) – Post secondary education © Jacob Chartoff


Click here for larger view



Chicago Film Archives

Consisting of over 15,266 reels of film, the Chicago Film Archives is a dedicated to collecting, preserving and providing access to films that represent the Midwest.




Click here for larger view




Jacob Chartoff is the campus Architect for Columbia College Chicago. Previously he worked at Gluck+, where he designed the tallest prefabricated building in New York City, and at Wheeler Kearns Architects in Chicago, where he redefined their graphic and digital identity.

The Parkway
A Curated Legacy


© Courtesy of National Park Service, Blue Ridge Parkway


Essay by Aisling O’Carroll


The parkway is the quintessential American road typology. In a nation so tied to the automobile, it combines recreational motoring with the scenic symbolism of the American landscape. These roads, offering a blend of leisure, infrastructure, and cultural heritage, have shaped the way we move through and view landscapes and regions, and yet the scale of their impact on physical surroundings is often underestimated.


The Parkway Typology

A parkway is, by general definition, a strip of public land intended for recreational travel rather than the movement of major segments of traffic. The primary purpose of the road is to provide a visual experience, revealing a significant scenic or cultural quality in the landscape. The term “parkway” refers not simply to the road itself, but rather to both the road and the park corridor within which it lies. This generous right-of-way provides a visual buffer between the motorist and adjacent properties, allowing for a continuous, uninterrupted scenic experience. While the parkway typology has been realized in a variety of forms and contexts, each iteration shares the characteristic of limited access and a buffered condition. This characteristic is also what most clearly distinguishes the parkway from early boulevards and other beautified roads. [1]

The emergence and evolution of the parkway can be traced through the formal institutions of the National Park Service (NPS) and federal, state, and municipal transportation planning. These organizations began considering the visual character of roads, and integrating them with parks and landscapes as a way of appealing to a growing number of motor tourists in the early twentieth century. The parkway’s history can be further traced through the early history of landscape architecture in America. In the late 1800s the pioneers of American landscape architecture, including Olmsted and Vaux, introduced the term “parkway” to refer to roads set in generous landscaped corridors, and simultaneously began to focus attention on the sequence and experience of roads within gardens and landscapes. [2] The first parkways in North America emerged between 1880−1900 as landscaped connectors between urban areas, or between parks and urban areas. These roads were essentially a North American interpretation of the European avenues and boulevards of the nineteenth century, combined with a concept of the picturesque carriageways of English parks and gardens. [3] The parkway typology later evolved to exist independent of its function as a connector, and came to refer to a road set within a park or scenic, often native, landscape. In this iteration, the parkway was no longer simply a connecting element, but instead it became the destination itself, allowing the roads to take on a new role and definition in the regional context. [4] In both cases, the term “parkway” offered a democratic interpretation of the elitist ideals of the avenue and boulevard, and evoked pastoral associations, indicative of the period’s popular fascination with the American countryside. [5] While roads like the Bronx River Parkway have become part of many Americans day-to-day experience, the scenic rural parkways are what grew into icons of national values, beloved by the country, and interpreted by locals and tourists alike as the definitive American experience.



Craggy Pinnacle Tunnel, 1952 © Courtesy of National Park Service, Blue Ridge Parkway


Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is the ultimate model of the popular American destination parkway, and has grown to the status of venerated landmark in national culture. The road is wholeheartedly dedicated to tourist recreation and the promotion of regional heritage and scenic landscape qualities. Winding its way through the Blue Ridge Mountains, the parkway stretches 469 miles, linking the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Western North Carolina. The road offers visitors an impressive and unrivaled sequence of vistas and views over forested mountain slopes, pastoral landscapes, and scenes of early mountain life. Over 200 overlooks dot the miles of road, and numerous campgrounds, parks, visitor centers, and lodges offer activities, amenities, and accommodation to visitors. These moments interrupt the seamless road, and give drivers the opportunity to leave the car and experience the forested mountains more intimately. The parkway’s route was planned to provide variety and continuing interest along its length by traversing mountain ridges, stream valleys, and deeper forests, and designed to support a multi-day driving experience for families and visitors. [6]

The concept for an Appalachian parkway emerged at a strategic moment, when the concurrent state of growing regional conservation efforts, a declining economy, and booming auto-ownership set the stage for political and public support.

Through the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Southern Appalachians were heavily exploited for natural resources. As access to the mountains increased with expanding rail networks, the Appalachian region was quickly identified as a verdant wealth of natural resources. Lumber and tanning companies soon established themselves throughout the region. [7] The rabid thirst for resources by industrial logging and agricultural practices rapidly denuded the landscape—a process that was accelerated by the influx of population and pathogens. By the 1920s, the mountains were finally becoming accessible to the general American public, but the slopes were a ghost of the forests that previously existed. Stripped of trees, the landscape was susceptible to wildfire and the soils became degraded and eroded, presenting a scene of vast environmental devastation. [8] The scale and visibility of this destruction prompted a widespread public response, which took the form of an aggressive conservation movement calling for the protection and preservation of the mountain slopes and forests. [9]

Concurrent with the formation and establishment of this conservation movement in the rural landscape, auto-ownership was booming in American cities and national attention became focused on the improvement and expansion of road networks. National car registration exploded in the decades following 1910. [10] Country roads, which previously fell under the jurisdiction of farmers, were suddenly available and attractive to city-dwellers who now had the means to leave the city at their own volition and explore the landscape. As the campaign for improved quality and connectivity of roads spread, Good Roads associations were established throughout the country and began to attract the attention of business leaders with interests in tourist highways. The idea of a tourist route through the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains was first raised in 1909 by the Southern Appalachians Good Roads Association. [11] The concept was tossed around for the next two decades, while auto tourism became well established as a national pastime, and the NPS began formally integrating roads for access and leisure throughout parks across the country. Recreational motoring promised to bring tourists to the heart of America, and automobile touring became a symbolic act of national patriotism. This growing form of middle-class leisure was a direct extension of the infrastructure of the modern nation-state. [12]

As the country slipped into depression, the idea of the Appalachian parkway garnered new traction as a way of providing both employment to a region desperately in need, and the potential for new economic growth through the tourism industry spawned by the parkway. [13] In 1933 the parkway was authorized under the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. The Public Works Administration (PWA), under the NIRA, directed money towards the NPS for construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway, covering the entire cost of the project, excluding land acquisition. The NPS was responsible for the planning, design, and management of the parkway, while the Bureau of Public Roads took over the engineering and construction of the roadway. [14] The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) completed much of the construction of roadside and park facilities, and planting throughout the parkway corridor between 1935 and 1943, while contractors did most of the roadbed construction work. [15] The legacy of the road as an economic generator and source of employment has contributed to the celebration of the parkway, and its designation as an “All-American Road.” [16]

At the beginning of the twentieth century, wilderness and nature were widely considered to have beneficial restorative effects, promoted to counter the influence of urban dwelling. The National Park Service was a strong proponent of these benefits and advocated both the inherent edifying quality of exposure to nature, as well as the programmatic opportunity of education through projects like the parkway. [17] The visual experience of the Blue Ridge Parkway was intended to emphasize the cultural landscape, and evoke the pioneering spirit through pastoral vernacular scenes. [18] These values of the NPS were complimentary to the motivations of the conservation movement and nationalistic heritage tourism, both of which helped spur the development of the regional parkway, glorifying the American landscape and the idyllic agrarian history.



Blue Ridge Parkway map © Courtesy of Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, Department of Cultural Resources.


Click here for larger view


Curation and Construction of a Legacy

The legacy of the road has taken on a significant role in the culture of the United States. The preservation of the original intended themes is a testament to early parkway designers and planners. For the parkway’s fiftieth anniversary, Southern Living magazine put out a cover story and described the essence of the scenic road:


The parkway is a good road, a road that does not fight the mountains—their geography, geology, or history—but rather follows their every twist and turn, every ascent and descent. The parkway never seems an intruder among these mountains. [19]


The strength of the parkway is in its scale, its apparent ease and harmonious coexistence with the landscape, and its effortless presentation of American wilderness and vernacular beauty. Beneath the surface, however, the parkway is a thoroughly controlled landscape experience, thus the narrative of the road is rigorously curated, and its legacy intentionally planned, constructed, and maintained. This harmonious and idyllic pastoral aesthetic is in fact the product of a combination of pro-business support for recreational motoring and an aggressively nationalistic heritage tourism.

The planning of the road was a significant feat. Construction of the parkway began in 1935. The project, led by Stanley Abbott, Resident Landscape Architect for the parkway, was a true collaboration between the NPS and the BPR. Abbott, along with R. Getty Browning, chief locating engineer with the North Carolina State Highway Commission, planned the route through field reconnaissance and on foot. [20] Together, the two laid out a course for the road that would ultimately determine the character and experience of the drive. While the selection of the route was closely tied to the landscape—responding to topography, natural features, significant framed views—the process was also unavoidably political. [21]



Excavation cut, 1936 © Courtesy of Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, Department of Cultural Resources.



Parkway under construction, 1936 © Courtesy of Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, Department of Cultural Resources.



Parkway under construction, 1936 © Courtesy of Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, Department of Cultural Resources.



Loading Holes for Blasting, 1937 © Courtesy of Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, Department of Cultural Resources.


Given the industrial denudation that preceded the parkway, the road was planned through a largely barren, cut over, and burnt out landscape. The designers had the vision to imagine and plan for the scenic within this context. It was, however, through careful planning and curation of the road, its layout and its planting, that carried this vision through to the public spectacle of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Views and vistas were created by careful and strategic planting along the roadside, and maintained periodically to preserve the visual connection. Detailed Parkway Land Use Maps (PLUMs) were drawn for the entire length of the parkway, calling out every overlook, visitor amenity, and vernacular artifact, and additionally laying out roadside plantings, areas of clearings, and identifying significant views, vistas, and natural features. These PLUMs are still used today to guide land management within the parkway, and inform local development. [22]

The acquisition of land for the parkway was a massive undertaking. 469 miles in length, with varying right-of-way from 700 to 1,000 feet, the parkway comprises some 95,000 acres of land. While the parkway designers strove to find a route that would fit the landscape as naturally as possible, limiting the disturbance and responding to physical features, this geologically determined approach did not inherently take into account boundaries of private property and land ownership. The majority of land acquisition was completed by the late 1960s, with both states together assembling 40,000 acres, (nearly half of the total parkway acreage), through the use of eminent domain. [23] Many residents were given no choice about whether to sell, while others who lived within view of the parkway, in particularly aesthetic, rustic homesteads were encouraged to maintain their practices and refrain from any physical or architectural improvements to their property. A number of agricultural leases were set aside from the land assembled within the parkway corridor, and offered to farmers with prescribed restrictions as to what crops should be harvested and how to maintain the fields. This allowed parkway management to control the desired aesthetic of the pastoral vernacular, while distributing the maintenance labor beyond parkway personnel, and providing an additional venue for economic production. [24]

In addition to agricultural controls, controls on architecture and construction were also strictly enforced. Barns and homesteads that were deemed to be particularly aesthetic were dismantled, reconstructed, and restored in new locations so as to create the most effective view from the roadway. [25] Guidelines on how to maintain every detail, from roof finish to fence posts, were dictated by the parkway designers and planners. While the parkway is often perceived as an untouched, idyllic pastoral scene from the past, in reality it is a heavily restored, maintained, and even fabricated landscape of romanticized mountain life.



Buildings to be demolished, 1939 © Courtesy of National Park Service, Blue Ridge Parkway



Seeding and Staked Mulch, 1941 © Courtesy of National Park Service, Blue Ridge Parkway



Hydroseeder on parkway, 1959 © Courtesy of Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, Department of Cultural Resources.


A drive along the parkway presents intentionally framed views, staged scenes, and a thoroughly constructed narrative of regional heritage, presented as though it were authentic. The parkway became the most effective form of propaganda for the burgeoning tourism economy and conservation movement at the time of its planning and early construction. Roadside scenes and attractions constructed a narrative of the road that promoted the romanticization of pioneering mountain culture, and the glorification of scenic landscapes and apparent untouched wilderness. Given the timeliness of the roadway’s planning and construction, these themes were eagerly received by the regional and national population, who flocked to the road for vacation and patriotic celebration of American culture and values. Since 1946, the road has been the most visited site in the NPS. The curated parkway ultimately produced the popular legacy and iconicity of vernacular heritage, however, the parkway is in reality a representation of the NPS’s idealized version of rural Appalachian life. And herein lies the parkway’s problematic, while it aspires to present history and offer educational opportunity, the aesthetic and scenic experience is prioritized over the reality of pioneering mountain people.


A Legacy Shapes the Landscape

Given the reliance on a visual condition and experience, the parkway’s success has depended upon the preservation of its scenic quality, both along the parkway corridor, and through its vistas and views. As Abbott stated in his expectations of the roadway, the parkway would inform methods of good land management, while encouraging preservation of both vernacular features and landscape. [26] The parkway effectively provided economic value to the scenic quality of forested slopes, and this has subsequently shaped the way the surrounding landscape and urban context have developed. In an effort to preserve the iconic views and vistas, significant areas of land adjacent to the parkway have been purchased by the NPS, Friends of the Parkway, and various affiliated conservation groups. [27]

In effect, the history reveals the reverse relationship to what is perceived: the parkway became the reason and motivation for preservation, rather than the landscape as the reason for the road. While the parkway effectively helped preserve large areas of land and encouraged environmental stewardship, it was also part of the early movement promoting various arrested approaches to preservation. Its reliance on, and promotion of the scenic values of forested slopes made the road a poster-child for protective land management practices. The culture and practice of land management that was replaced by industrialization in the late 1800s had understood the need for adaptive management in a dynamic mountain ecology. The protective practices that inherited the landscape in the 1920s, however, mistook disturbance for a purely negative force, and introduced protective management strategies, which significantly impacted the composition of forest re-growth. Certain species, for example, the Rhododendron maximum, spread far beyond their original range without typical disturbances, such as fire. This flowering shrub now grows prolifically throughout the mountain slopes and along the parkway road verges, and has become a significant seasonal roadside attraction. The change in species composition has had a significant effect on canopy and the visual condition of the forests, but it has also affected conditions below the surface. The combination of changes in root density and plant structure has been attributed to decreased slope stability in some areas. The top-heavy structure of the Rhododendron has a tendency to initiate surface slumping in steep conditions, and has thus accelerated the entropic mountain processes. [28] While this landscape effect cannot be directly attributed to the parkway, the road was part of an era and formalized certain cultural values in the landscape, perpetuating protective practices and ultimately shaping the new forest composition.

The counter point to the parkway’s influence on conserving landscape is its restricting influence on the growth and development of urban areas and diverse industrial economies adjacent to the parkway. The parkway’s presence imposed the development of a tourism-based economy, with a focus on regional heritage. The scenic quality of the road has discouraged the spread of urban and industrial development within the roadway’s viewsheds. The road and its narrative have influenced the footprint and the type of development both indirectly and directly, by setting guidelines to inform the architectural and landscape design of development. Guidelines offer directives from height of building and its positioning relative to the parkway, down to material considerations, roof form, and color palettes. [29]



Fox Hunter paradise, 1946 © Courtesy of National Park Service, Blue Ridge Parkway


Legacy vs Liberty

By prioritizing the visual experience and the rhetoric of regional heritage, the focus of parkway management practices is towards the preservation of the original parkway experience. The vast area of landscape within the parkway’s viewshed is effectively reduced to supporting this elaborate pastoral perspective.

In recent years, the road itself has stagnated. Visitation, though still high as compared to other national parks, has been in decline since 1990. In 2002 Concord Mills, a major shopping destination in Charlotte, NC, eclipsed the parkway as the region’s largest visitor attraction, indicative of shifting values for leisure activities. [30] The smooth twists and turns of the roadway, so carefully designed in the 1930s to provide continuous travel and pleasant experience for viewing, no longer accommodate the driving speed and vehicle size of contemporary motor-tourists. Tunnel clearances and turning radii are not suited to today’s RVs and caravans, and additionally, campgrounds and picnic stations do not accommodate the infrastructure needed to support these large motor vehicles. [31] Furthermore, all available gas service along the parkway was removed in later years due to outdated infrastructure and the environmental hazards of tanker truck delivery. Today, such services are only offered to visitors off the parkway, however availability is unsignposted at parkway exits. Concessions along the parkway have been reduced due to lagging economic viability, further challenging the convenience of a parkway visit. Visitor’s services and interpretive signage have been preserved in their original form to stay true to the value and aesthetics of the original parkway designers, rather than be enhanced or updated for contemporary modes of interpretation. [32] No longer meeting the needs of the contemporary motor tourist, the parkway is now reduced to a simple one liner of cultural heritage. The landscape is frozen—the country’s largest museum in support of the legacy of nationalistic heritage tourism.

This begs the question: how can we preserve the cultural legacy, and liberate the surrounding urban and rural landscape from the confines of a supporting backdrop to the pastoral perspective of cultural heritage?

Beyond its nostalgia and glorification of the pioneering history, what is the contemporary value of such a legacy? What is the authenticity of such a constructed and curated legacy?

By reconstructing the landscape history, the forces driving the shape of the modern Appalachian landscape and the parkway’s legacy become more evident. They help to articulate the frictions between the parkway and its landscape that produce the questions above. An authentic experience of this landscape, and fair interpretation of the legacy requires acknowledgment and legibility of the constructed nature of the narrative in the landscape. The parkway, as a museum of mountain life, objectifies America as a nation. If this relationship is reversed and the parkway itself becomes the object, understood as an artifact or monument rather than an accepted component of the landscape, the road may be detached from dependence on its surroundings.

Do we monumentalize the roadway and liberate its surroundings from their supporting role; or do we sacrifice a degree of the preserved heritage of the parkway corridor, and bring the road up to date with contemporary needs? While the cultural, and even ecological value of the parkway is not to be underestimated, we must question the extent of control and influence this cultural legacy carries in the region, and the scale of landscape dedicated to its support.



Craggy Garden visitor center, 1950s © Courtesy of National Park Service, Blue Ridge Parkway



Mile High & Soco Gap, May 1952, Abbie Rowe © Courtesy of National Park Service, Blue Ridge Parkway



Mountain Climbing practice overlook, 1973 © Courtesy of National Park Service, Blue Ridge Parkway



Tanbark Ridge overlook, 1974 © Courtesy of National Park Service, Blue Ridge Parkway



1. Edward M. Bassett and Latham C Squire, “A New Type of Thoroughfare: The ‘Freeway’,” The American City, (November 1932), 66.
John Connor, A Proposed Program for Scenic Roads and Parkways, (Washington, DC: US Department of Commerce, 1966).
Stanley W. Abbott, “Parkways—Past, Present, and Future,” Parks and Recreation 31 (1948): 681.
Norman T. Newton, Design on the Land: The Development of Landscape Architecture (United States of America: Belknap Press, 1976), 597.

2. For Olmsted, who was a key figure in convincing Vanderbilt of the value of devoting the Biltmore Estate to experimental forestry, the approach road on Vanderbilt’s property was the most important element in controlling a visitor’s understanding and appreciation of the property and landscape.
I suggest that the most striking and pleasing impression of the Estate will be obtained if an approach can be made that shall have throughout a natural and comparatively wild and secluded character; its borders rich with varied forms of vegetation, with incidents growing out of the vicinity of springs and streams and pools, steep banks and rocks, all consistent with the sensation of passing through the remote depths of a natural forest. Such scenery [is] to be maintained with no distant outlook and no open spaces spreading from the road; with nothing showing obvious art, until the visitor passes with an abrupt transition into the enclosure of the trim, level, open, airy, spacious, thoroughly artificial court, and the Residence, with its orderly dependencies, breaks suddenly and fully upon him. Then, after passing through the building, the grandeur of the mountains, the beauty of the valley, the openness and tranquility of the park would be most effectively and even surprisingly presented, from the windows, balconies, and terrace. (Alexander, 41)
Bill Alexander, The Biltmore Nursery: A Botanical Legacy (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2007), 41 –48.
Anne W. Spirn, “Constructing Nature: The Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted,” in Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, ed. W. Cronon, (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1995), 99–102.

3. Timothy Davis, “A Pleasant Illusion of Unspoiled Countryside: The American Parkway and the Problematics of an Institutionalized Vernacular,” in Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, Vol. 9 (2003), 229 –232.

4. US DOT and NPS. Visual Character of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina (Washington, DC: US DOT and NPS 1997), 7.

5. Davis, “A Pleasant Illusion of Unspoiled Countryside,” 233.

6. Abbott, “Parkways—Past, Present, and Future,” 684–685.

7. Ina W. Van Noppen and J.J. Van Noppen, Western North Carolina Since the Civil War (York, Pennsylvania: The Maple Press Company, 1973), 253–322.

8. Kathryn Newfont, Blue Ridge Commons: Environmental Activism and Forest History in Western North Carolina (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2012), 35–48.

9. Between 1900 and 1930, the region became the largest supplier of paper and pulp in the country. The landscape was purchased and divided by large industrial players such as the Ohio-based Champion Fibre Company, who employed thousands of people at their plant west of Asheville. By the 1920s up to 60% of Western North Carolina’s had been clear-cut, and fires and floods that ensued destroyed much of the remaining landscape. In the midst of this destruction the regional conservation movement succeeded in beginning to establish managed national forests with the Pisgah National Forest, however, this forest management proved to do little to preserve the scenic qualities of the landscape upon which the tourism industry depended.
A. Mitchell Whisnant, Super-scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History (University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 26–28.
Sarah Gregg, Managing the Mountains (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Sheridan Books, Yale University Press, 2010), 14–17.

10. Ford’s Model T was first sold on the market in 1908. Over the next five years, as he perfected the assembly-line production, national production, and sales soared as the automobile became a popular consumer product, rather than a novel luxury.
Marguerite S. Shaffer, See America First: Tourism and National Identity, 1880-1940 (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001), 137.

11. In 1909, the Southern Appalachians Good Roads Association was established, promoting a network of long-distance roads through the mountains for the purpose of auto-touring. Joseph Hyde Pratt, president of the group and head of the North Carolina Geological Survey, proposed the idea for the Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway as an attraction to recreational motorists. This proposal was a direct pre-cursor to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Whisnant, Super-scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 17–21.
Van Noppen and Van Noppen, Western North Carolina Since the Civil War, 326–329.

12. “I believe that nothing is doing or can do more to broaden the outlook of the people and educate them to a proper knowledge of their country and its greatness than the Automobile. I believe that travel, familiarity with the sights and scenes of other parts, first hand knowledge of how my fellow-men live is of inestimable value to me and will do more to make me patriotic and public spirited than daily intimacy with the Declaration of Independence.”
“A Motorist’s Creed,” in American Motorist 9 (June 1917): 27.
Shaffer, See America First: Tourism and National Identity 1880-1940, 130

13. Whisnant, Super-scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 17-38.
Harley E. Jolley, The Blue Ridge Parkway (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1969), 15-20.
Ethan Carr, Wilderness by Design: Landscape Architecture and the National Parks System (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1998), 276.

14. Richard W. Sellars, Preserving Nature in the National Parks: A History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 52–53.
Whisnant, Super-scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 33–34, 38.
Jolley, The Blue Ridge Parkway, 20.

15. Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established in 1933 as a work relief program for young men. Unemployed men were selected from across the country and put in camps where they were trained in labor and heavy construction work, providing skills and employment, and improving the quality of public services and parks across the country.
D. Meringolo, Museums, Monuments, and National Parks (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), 112–114.
Karen Hall and Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Inc., Building the Blue Ridge Parkway (Chicago, IL: Arcadia Publishing, 2007), 11, 31.

16. “‘America’s Byways are roads to the heart and soul of America,’ said Secretary Mineta. ‘Byways help create a sense of pride in America. They connect us to this country’s beauty, history and culture.’ Under the National Scenic Byways Program, the US Secretary of Transportation recognizes certain roads as National Scenic Byways or All-American Roads based on their archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities. . . . To receive an All-American Road designation, a road must possess multiple intrinsic qualities that are nationally significant and have one-of-a-kind features that do not exist elsewhere. The road or highway must also be considered a ‘destination unto itself.’ That is, the road must provide an exceptional traveling experience so recognized by travelers that they would make a drive along the highway a primary reason for their trip.”
US Department of Transportation, Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mineta Names
 36 New National Scenic Byways, All-American Roads, 2002, accessed January 18, 2015,

17. The educational value of parks was fundamental to the National Park Service’s mandate. Mather, the first president of the NPS, believed strongly in the inherent edifying quality of nature, whereas Horace Albright, successor to Mather and NPS director at the time of the BRP, emphasized education as a programmatic imperative of the NPS.
Meringolo, Museums, Monuments, and National Parks, 87–89.

18. Abbott, “Parkways—Past, Present, and Future,” 684–688.
US DOT and NPS, Visual Character of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina, 45.

19. H. Middleton, “The Good Road of the Blue Ridge,” Southern Living 20, no. 9, September 1985, 72–79.

20. Whisnant, Super-scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 59–62.

21. Politicians and businessmen in North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee petitioned and lobbied for the road to be routed through their state, or next to their city, in hopes of economic benefits from the project.
Whisnant, Super-scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 59–62.

22. US DOT and NPS, Visual Character of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina, 46.

23. The unprecedented use of eminent domain for the purpose of conservation and recreational development was exercised first in assembling large areas of public land, including the Blue Ridge Parkway, in Appalachia in the early twentieth century.
Gregg, Managing the Mountains, 2, 32–35.
Anne Mitchell Whisnant, “About the Parkway,” accessed January 10, 2015,

24. Abbott, “Parkways—Past, Present, and Future,” 686-687.

25. Early parkway planners restored and relocated a number of log cabins and pioneering buildings within the parkway corridor in an effort to preserve and best display their interpretation of early mountain life. The popular site of Mabry Mill was assembled as a countryside museum—more recent, modern constructions of the residents were razed, and rustic log cabins were relocated to the site to stage an idealized scene of rural Appalachian life. Similarly, the pioneering farm at Humpback Rocks, the Peaks of Otter site, and additional structures scattered through the length of the parkway were assembled and staged to produce a stereotypical vision of the Appalachian past, while buildings that did not meet this vision were torn down.
US DOT and NPS, Visual Character of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina, 175–201.
“Buildings,” National Park Service, accessed January 20, 2015,

26. N. Robinson and I. Firth, “Abbott, Stanley William,” in Pioneers of American Landscape Design, ed. C. A. Birnbaum and R. Karson (New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2000), 1-3.

27. For example: D. Hendershot, “More Blue Ridge Parkway Viewshed Protected,” Smoky Mountain News, December 2010, accessed January 25, 2015,
H. Benton, “Jackson County landowners work with Land Trust for Little Tennessee to preserve parkway viewshed,” Mountain Xpress, January 2015, accessed January 25, 2015,

28. T.C. Hales, “Topographic and Ecological Controls on Root Reinforcement,” Journal of Geophysical Research 114 (2009): F03.

29. See “A Neighbor’s Guide of the Blue Ridge Parkway.” The document, published jointly by the National Park Service and Hill Studio—Community Planning, Landscape Architecture, Architecture, Preservation, in Roanoke Virginia, outlines steps to survey a site adjacent to, or near the Blue Ridge Parkway, and plan development for the least impact to the neighboring parkway. This includes suggestions for locating buildings, material colors and types, landscape strategies, and details down to the type of fence and gate to use on a property.

30. Concord Mills,” accessed January 25, 2015,
“Concord Mills Mall,” accessed January 25, 2015,

31. While limited parking is provided for RVs at most campgrounds and sites along the parkway, electrical, water, and sewage connections are not available.
“FAQ,” Blue Ridge Parkway, accessed January 20, 2015,
“Camping on the Blue Ridge Parkway,” National Parks Traveler, accessed January 20, 2015,

32. “Frequently Asked Questions,” National Park Service, accessed January 20, 2015,


Aisling O’Carroll is a Senior Project Manager at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and a Design Critic in Landscape Architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Aisling has worked internationally with a range of architecture and landscape design practices and research platforms, and has a great interest in the stories that have shaped our urban spaces and landscapes.

The Potential of Absence
Informal Green Space and its Unexpected Legacies


How about a sneaky garden extension? (Sapporo) © Christoph Rupprecht


Text and photographs by Christoph Rupprecht


Vacant lots, dismissed after another housing bubble bursts. Concrete banks of a flood-protected river, scheduled for re-greening projects that will never be funded. Street verges nobody cared to decorate with flowerpots. Railway verges, necessary buffers mown or sprayed to keep them “empty.” Leftover gaps of space in the infrastructure, too small to be monetized. These are not places we expect to leave behind legacies. We can understand them through absence: no buildings, no plans, few rules. But freedom of purpose can also mean freedom from purpose. It makes room for actors often excluded from urban discourse—and their legacies.

Plants and lichens are usually the first visible pioneers of the urban ecological frontier. Seeds, patiently waiting in the soil for decades or carried by the wind, germinate to make the most of openings in the urban landscape. A crack in the pavement is plenty to work with. Fences, intended to limit access, instead facilitate rampant growth. Signs and legal liabilities matter little to plants. Whether left alone or periodically removed, spontaneous vegetation creates informal greenspace from absence—a floral legacy, inviting all to join. [1]

Animals follow, searching for food, shelter, company, or play. Verges teeming with butterflies, with vacant lots where moles rule underground and nocturnal feline choirs at night. An insect banquet in the form of leaf sap, until a grazing deer plucks it underneath the power line. Only mythic creatures remain in the hidden city of Theodora, but informal greenspace is firmly in the claws and paws of the nonextinct—a faunistic legacy. [2]

People come looking, too, curious what’s going on. A place to walk the dog off-leash, find flowers, bugs, or solitude. Urban exploration (as the grown-ups like to call it) fills in for journeys past, far from the parents’ watchful eyes. A shelter for the night(s), but with due care to not offend the wealthy people’s eyes. The bucolic pleasure of growing vegetables and wine combined with urban density, where gardens space is precious. Together, everyone’s footsteps, experiences, and shaping of the place—another, informal, yet personal legacy.

All these legacies are as inherently transient as the informal green space they are made in. Everyday a new building might take its place, even though the seed bank was refilled, forage enjoyed, and memories of adventures are still alive. Planners and developers rush to find commercially viable and visually attractive ideas, anything to bring these spaces back into the formal economy. The New York Highline shows how we can sanitize them, to make designer parks in line with norms of beauty and lure tourists (send that land price soaring!). But is this the only future worth it? What could we inherit if we resist this urge to prescribe purpose? How can we learn to embrace floral, faunistic, and informal legacies?



Concrete river bed habitats, where plants… (Nagoya) © Christoph Rupprecht



…invite animals, both large… (Nagoya) © Christoph Rupprecht



… and small… (Sapporo) © Christoph Rupprecht



…who, in turn, may attract young adventurers (Sapporo) © Christoph Rupprecht



Decomposing traffic cone retires as unintentional flower pot (Nagoya) © Christoph Rupprecht



Verge flowers—legacy of neglect or the local seed bank? (Sapporo) © Christoph Rupprecht



Please leave rules and regulations outside (Nagoya) © Christoph Rupprecht



Mowing favors annual grasses (Sapporo) © Christoph Rupprecht



Removing the new reveals the old (Brisbane, CBD) © Christoph Rupprecht



What happens after the flood protection project is completed (Sapporo) © Christoph Rupprecht



In a repurposed parking space, cars make way for herbs and vegetables (Sapporo) © Christoph Rupprecht



Informal use without signs of gentrification (Nagoya) © Christoph Rupprecht



Change of perspective: horsetails push through the gap between a recently built curb and sidewalk asphalt (Sapporo) © Christoph Rupprecht



Vacant lots: white on the map, green in reality (Nagoya) © Christoph Rupprecht



Only the fence remains, but the new inhabitants have moved in already (Nagoya) © Christoph Rupprecht



Peeking behind closed doors (Brisbane) © Christoph Rupprecht



Fancy boardwalk or informal community agriculture? (Sapporo) © Christoph Rupprecht



1. Christoph D. D. Rupprecht and Jason A. Byrne, “Informal Urban Green-Space: Comparison of Quantity and Characteristics in Brisbane, Australia and Sapporo, Japan,” PLoS ONE 9, no.6 (2014), doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099784.

2. Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, trans. William Weaver (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013).


Christoph Rupprecht is a PhD candidate in urban geography and ecology at Griffith University, with a Magister Artium in Japanology from Ludwig-Maximilian University (Munich). He enjoys combining qualitative and quantitative methods to examine the role informal greenspace plays for urban residents and urban nature. | @focx

The Future of Neglect


© Courtesy of the author


Essay by Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss


A friend sent me this photograph, which was taken by someone in Kalesija, a town in the Tuzla canton within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It depicts the corner of a building whose exterior has been renovated and painted in a vivid, optimistic color—somewhere between peach and orange. A sharply defined area has been omitted from the new renovation; it appears to be the facade of a single apartment. On the old concrete walls that are not covered with the new paint, one can still spot traces of decay. On closer inspection, one can also see what appear to be bullet marks dispersed across the raw surface, as if the building had been randomly fired upon. A large satellite dish—the largest of the many in the image—sits on the balcony of the apartment. The perfect outline of the unrenovated area suggests that it is the result of purposeful neglect.

I sent this image to various friends and colleagues, as well as to blogs and social networking sites without much description other than a caption reading “wonderful neglect” and a note stating where it was taken. The responses were surprisingly diverse. On one end of the spectrum, the image was read as a symbol of civil disobedience—resistance to a renovation that in its collective character too strongly echoed an older ethos of socialist solidarity. At the other extreme were pragmatic interpretations that understood the gesture as a strictly financial one. This was best summarized in the wry note from a colleague who wondered if the owner had spent all his money on the satellite dish on his terrace instead.

Since I first circulated the image, I have learned more about the circumstances surrounding the renovation. As it turns out, the unrenovated section is one of the two areas left out. The two areas mark the facade belonging to two distinct apartments that reportedly did not contribute money to the reconstruction of the entire building. At least one of the owners lives abroad. In the summer of 2007, the municipality of Kalesija decided to paint this particular building, together with a few other buildings, in order to make the town “better and more beautiful.” However, despite its good intentions, the city did not have sufficient funds to pay for the entire project and the owners of the individual apartments were also asked to contribute toward the restoration, in the way a coop or condominium fee increase would be used in a US context to fund general work on a building.

It is not possible to know with certainty the motivations of the owners who rebuffed the city’s request, but their refusal does open a space for speculation, particularly given the complex social dynamics of the area. Before the war, Kalesija was predominantly Bosnian Muslim (today known as Bosniak), with a small Serbian minority. On 2 May 1992, during the early stages of the Bosnian war, the Bosnian Serbian army overran the town and started to displace the Muslims. Only twenty days later, the Bosnian forces reclaimed the city. Many of the Serbs who originally lived in Kalesija fled. Today, the town is ninety-nine percent Bosniak. The years following the 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended the war in Bosnia, saw concerted efforts toward urban renewal across the country. In Tuzla, the government plan of 2000 for the return of displaced populations noted that residents who had fled had started to return in significant numbers by 1998, though they largely consisted of Bosniaks from other parts of Bosnia as well as abroad. The return of Serbs to towns like Kalesija was reported as minimal, but significant enough to inspire the government further encourage Serbs to return with a scheme for better financial aid.

In larger Bosnian towns, such as Mostar and Sarajevo, the urban renewal took the form of conventional reconstruction of buildings, and sometimes entire areas, that had been shelled during the war. Though included in many international preservation lists and often used as case studies in design and preservation curriculums in North American universities, such cities have nevertheless had difficulties securing long-term international aid. The iconic parts of Mostar, like the Old Bridge, were only finally reconstructed through a complex partnership between UNESCO, the World Bank, and local government. Meanwhile, the status of Sarajevo’s 1997 application to the World Heritage List as a “unique symbol of universal multiculture” is still listed as “tentative” on the UNESCO’s website.

The situation is different in towns like Kalesija. There, individual initiatives are more typical, with citizens organizing themselves to repair their architectural surroundings. The social conditions have also given rise to self-styled developers who transform property formerly controlled by the socialist government—successfully adapting, say, collective housing into condominiums—while making their fortunes. And then there are the chronically under-funded municipal authorities, as was the case with the building in question.

It’s entirely possible that the two owners refused to participate in the renovation simply because of their financial situations—the fact that at least one of them lives abroad, however, to some extent undermines this mundane reading. A more critical interpretation, however, might ask questions about the politics of refusal in the post-war era of abrupt democratization.

For some who witnessed the destruction of the town during the war, the bullet holes are not simply an eyesore to be covered up, but a testament to the suffering of the entire population. If, however, the decision to keep the bullet holes visible is motivated by a desire to assign blame—we may not know whether the damage was caused by the initial Serbian offensive or the Bosniak counterattack, but perhaps the owners do—then the testimony of the building points away from a generalized sense of grief and toward a continuation of the war by other, symbolic, means.

The value of speculation like this lies less in the particular case of one apartment building in a Bosniak town than in the larger questions about the future of neglect as a strategy within democratic values and systems. Is negligence a tool that can operate with a force equal to that of urban reconstruction? Is refusing to renovate as powerful a statement as renovating? And in a larger sense, if there is not enough money to upgrade a particular building or an element of municipal infrastructure, should citizens be allowed to refuse when asked to contribute? And if they do contribute, should they have a voice in how their money is used, and in the way participation is managed and directed?

The owners of the two unrenovated apartments in Kalesija answered these questions with their inactions. What is striking is the precision and respect with which the town officials marked out the owners’ dissent. The perfectly delineated edge marking the boundary between what personal property is renovated and what is not speaks to the new ability to refuse the image of reconstruction. It is an inspiring precedent that suggests a future for neglect as a tool for integrated exceptionality.



The author wishes to thank Nebojsa Seric-Shoba for bringing the photograph to his attention.

The first version of this article was printed in Cabinet 38, Summer 2010.


Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss is a Serbian-born architect living and working in New York. He is a founding principal of Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss / NAO and co-founder of School of Missing Studies (SMS). His books include Socialist Architecture: The Vanishing Act (with Armin Linke, 2012), Almost Architecture (2006), Lost Highway Expedition Photobook (ed. 2007), and Evasions of Power: On the Architecture of Adjustment (ed. 2011). Jovanovic Weiss teaches at Columbia GSAPP and the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, and he has taught at Cornell, Harvard, Pratt, Parsons, and Temple Universities.

Journey with Maps
A Cultural Emergency Project in Freetown, Sierra Leone


Freetown, Sierra Leone © Killian Doherty


Essay by Killian Doherty


Countries in the throes of rapid development blithely destroy historic spaces—houses, palaces, military or civil structures. If advantage or profit is to be found in it, the old is swept away. [1]
Henri Lefebvre


Sierra Leone is a country of staggering contradictions, emerging “through years of depression and prosperity through periods of idealism and disillusionment.” [2] Emancipated slaves from America and the UK settled in Sierra Leone and formally established the capital of Freetown in 1792. It was a corporate endeavor supported by abolitionists from the West, and within twenty years the country and capital became an extension of the crown colony of the British Empire.

As is the case of many former colonies countries, accurate, unbiased, and non-western written histories are elusive. Yet fluctuating power struggles of Sierra Leone over the past two centuries between that of the British Colonial powers and ex-slaves/Krio people is visually traceable across the city’s built heritage. Where written documents, archives, and accounts are absent, Freetown’s built heritage in part delineates a complex and fraught history.

Countless nineteenth-century “Krio” homes built by the liberated slaves dominate inner-city Freetown. Adopting the vernacular style of former western masters, these predominantly timber homes were built by ex-slaves, yet fashioned to deliberately turn inward away from the street as an assertion of privacy and newly acquired property rights. The period of the early twentieth-century colonial administration of Freetown is clearly evident in the Hill Station area where homes were built for a British governor and civil servants. These large timber homes rest on top of steel pilotis, elevated above ground to reduce the harshness of Sierra Leone’s oppressive climate. However, this exclusive white settlement was situated in the remote hills, distant from the inner-city Krio communities due to misguided beliefs about contracting malaria. The once “British Masters divided vision of urban space” is traceable by old railway station signposts that mark the journey between the white salubrious enclave into the inner-city black Freetown. [3] Following Sierra Leone’s 1961 independence and today, local civil servants occupy these homes.





Freetown maps locating Krio and colonial homes © Killian Doherty


The exact number of Freetown’s Krio and colonial homes is unknown. Occurring between 1991−2002, during the eleven-year civil war, many of these homes were destroyed. In the post-conflict period since, a chronic lack of policy, governance, and accountability in Sierra Leone are causing these homes to rapidly disappear. [4] History is a luxury. Redevelopment is the path of national focus. The preservation of history/tradition in Sierra Leone is seen as effort at the expense of embracing modernization. History is the preface and counterpart to any legacy. Freetown’s architectural heterogeneity is a complicit part of Sierra Leone’s traumatic past.

Under Freetown’s urban entropy, bereft of order, many of these homes are little by little disappearing. They are replaced by the oversized, generic structures that maximize plots with varying heights (up to eight or nine stories) and are constructed with an abundant overuse of concrete. These structures fleshed out with imported components (i.e. windows, doors, and roofing materials) are symptomatic of the larger blandification of African urbanism. Construction costs, like much of West Africa, are exorbitantly high. Consequentially high construction costs push rental rates through the roof beyond the affordability of most low earners and shop keepers, pushing out living/working within the inner city. Many of these old Krio homes are inherited and occupied by third generations of the same family who are under constant pressure to sell their homes. The former colonial Hill Station homes as owned by the Sierra Leone government and occupied by civil servants are less likely to be demolished. However the large-scale overhaul of Freetown’s roads, as a facet of infrastructural redevelopment, saw one Hill Station home loose its monsoon staircase as a result of errant road alignment. This timber staircase with its with ornate, filigree carpentry has been replaced by a concrete one.





Streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone © Killian Doherty


To compliment Lefebvre’s opening quote is philosopher Felix Guattari’s quote that provides a perspective on the genesis of the project. Guattari states that we “re-evaluate the ultimate goal of work and human activities in terms of criteria other than those of profit and productivity,” and that we “acknowledge the need to mobilize individuals and social segments in ways that are always diverse and different.” As practitioners we are cognizant of the dialectic role western knowledge plays within development; it can be both positive and negative. Therefore we feel that the most effective step towards protecting these historic structures is to mobilize local efforts around a historic inventory as an implicit part of the Freetown’s rapid, albeit uncoordinated, redevelopment.















Freetown’s Krio and colonial homes © Killian Doherty



“I grew up here, my great-grand children grew up here.” – Esther © Killian Doherty



Usman © Killian Doherty



“White-settlers didn’t live down in Freetown with mosquitoes… they lived up in Hill Station.” – Samuel © Killian Doherty



“In 1926 this house was purchased with $53, money strapped to my grandmother’s waist.” – Arthur © Killian Doherty



“I do everything for this place. After the war, I constructed a fence.” – Dauphine © Killian Doherty



Sheku © Killian Doherty


Journey with Maps is an educational mapping project using Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS) that is inputted into Geographic Information Systems software (GIS). Training in this has been provided to both members of the local government/civil servants and youth residing within Freetown. This workshop emerged out of Architectural [Field] Office (AFO)’s efforts to muster local and government bodies around a simple idea that would encourage addressing Freetown’s historic heritage collectively.

Slum Dweller’s International method was used as a starting point, which mobilizes local community groups to enumerate household data and physically map informal settlements. [5] Having taken this concept to the local legislative body responsible for Freetown’s heritage, the Monument and Relic’s Commission (MRC), a plan was laid out to jointly teach civil servants and local youth community leaders in the area on how to go about building a historic map of Freetown. The MRC provided local points of contact in the community to reach out to for collaboration with AFO assembling, providing in-house training and managing mapping teams in the field. The Prince Clause Fund in the Netherlands was approached to provide funding for building local capacity and preservation of local heritage in Egypt and Afghanistan, and a small grant was successfully secured for this project.

Taking its name from Graeme Greene’s brief travels across Sierra Leone and Liberia, the workshop was designed to mark the commencement of a digital inventory and archive of Krio and Hill Station homes. In addition, the project gathered oral histories of residents and tenants of homes as we moved door to door. However, much of this inventory was cut short as occurring during the period when the Ebola virus began to emerge in Freetown in September 2014. The workshop was in fact cut back to eleven days as interrupted by a national three-day curfew, in which mobility across the city was forbidden and policed.



Journey with Maps training in Freetown, Sierra Leone © Killian Doherty


This workshop as agency advocates for Freetown’s historic structures to be acknowledged within the formal “Freetown Structure Plan” and operates as an intermediary forum between local authorities, ministries, and the neglected community youth within Freetown. Furthermore all GIS, photographic, and video data is in Freetown with those trained. A template interactive website has been started by AFO to be incrementally sustained by the local team. A fluid inventory operates not just as an internationally accessible platform for historic knowledge of these homes, but grows to underpin a drive for national protective legislation for historic structures across Sierra Leone.

Sadly such is the severity of the Ebola virus in Freetown (and across Sierra Leone) that this is currently hampered. Yet steadfast connections made through this project—between the MRC, civil servants, and youth leaders in the area—ignite a joint will to support the long term redevelopment of Freetown that is inclusive of its past.



Journey with Maps group in Freetown, Sierra Leone © Killian Doherty



1. Henri Lefebvre, “The Production of Space,” in Rethinking Architecture, eds. N. Leach et al. (London : Routledge, 1997), 137.

2. L. Spitzer, “The Mosquito and Segregation in Sierra Leone,” Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue Canadienne des Études Africaines 2 no. 1 (Spring 1968): 49-46.

3. O. Georg, “From Hill Station (Freetown) to Downtown Conakry (First Ward): Comparing French and British Approaches to Segregation in Colonial Cities at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century,” Canadian Journal of African Studies / Revue Canadienne des Études Africaines 32 no.1 (1998): 1-31.

4. The City hotel where Graeme Greene stayed was burnt to the ground in 2010.

5. Slum Dweller International is an international NGO working within the area of the
empowerment of communities living within informal settlements. See more here:


Killian Doherty is an architect from Northern Ireland and runs Architectural Field Office, a small collaborative practice. His research interests lie within the exploration of fragmented sites, settlements, and cities at specific thresholds of racial, ethnic, or religious conflict. For the past five years he has worked on a number of post-conflict reconstruction projects in Sierra Leone and Rwanda. He is registered for a PhD by Design at the Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL). | @ArchitectureFO

An Unlikely Legacy
1933 Shanghai


1933 Shanghai, 2013 © Evan Chakroff


Essay by Rachna Kothari


What was prosaic and even vulgar to one generation had been transmuted by the mere passing of years to a status at once magical and also camp.
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris, 2011


Architecture lives to be transformed, and there lies its true calling.
Eduardo Souto de Moura


A building envelope, the space it encloses and the potential of experiences it can evoke remain the most primary realm of architecture. Analyzing these—the form, the space, and the phenomenal experience of a building is to study the aspects of longevity that persist beyond the temporality of styles, technologies, conditional programs, and the expanse of the physical and historical contexts. With the accretion of time, layers of use, memory, symbolism, cultural attributes, interpretations, and physical weathering influence the connotations of a building, but for the architectural concinnitas which, in constant possibility to adapt, can attain emancipation from time. Within this purview, to leave a lasting value is the passion and the very drive of architecture. The conventional notions of legacy are often pitched on a high alter, privileging a certain “elite” form of architecture or compendiums of lifetime achievements, weighed by associations than by the building itself. More often though, the actual significance of a building, of architecture as an enduring connection between generations is distinguished not so much by palaces, museums, or skyscrapers, as by the obscure ruins of everyday. While the semantic range of legacy tends to presuppose (due to conventional bias) and underscore (for marketability) grandeur, monumentality, religious significance, or cultural attributes, it remains for a more differentiated approach that can isolate these layers to reveal the very material, spatial, and intangible aspects of architecturality that pegs the building in time.



1933 Shanghai, 2013 © Evan Chakroff


1933 Shanghai is one such urban oddity at the confluence of an alternative quotidian and histories. Used as an abattoir in 1930s and recently opened in 2006 after a supposed 80 million yuan ($12.85 million) renovation, the poured (read crafted) concrete building is a peculiar architectural relic of morbid charm, possibly a last one of its kind in the world. It is located in the historic Hongkou district—an area that has its own chapters of Jewish refugees and Japanese occupation, today a core district for businesses, financial services, and shipping service industry in the north of Shanghai. Reckoned to be designed by a British architect and built by the former Shanghai Municipal Council with high-quality cement aggregate imported from Britain, the building, covering about 32,000 square meters spread on five levels, was considered the largest slaughterhouse of the Far East, producing by one account, two-thirds of the total meat supply of the city then. Since being abandoned as an abattoir, it has been used as a meat plant, a warehouse, a medicine factory, and for other auxiliary purposes prior to the recent restoration. In its latest avatar, the building was renovated and launched, antithetically to its initial function, as a platform for lifestyle and creative industries, and boasts the likes of Ferrari Owners’ club, Cigar club, and Retro Revo Furniture boutique as well as design offices and event spaces. However, in rapidly growing countries like China, where the concepts of heritage preservation and urban regeneration swing between high profile properties such as on the Bund to arrant commercialization, 1933 Shanghai treads a precarious path. The irony of such massive investment for the building is in the danger of pushing the ingenious value over to banality, devoid of deeper readings, instrumental to consumerist culture or tourist attraction. But the unsettling vibe of the place, its limited size compared to other similar centers in Shanghai and the high standards maintained in the restoration and management keep its integrity in check, just yet. It remains rather vacant except during events. On regular days its deserted monochrome corridors are a draw for lone photographers, architects, and visitors who wander around the maze of its bridges, ambitiously trying to capture its form in singular frames.

Unruly and Escherisque, its charm lies in the poetic multiplicity and seemingly morphing form that leaves one delirious. Surprisingly though, the building plan is rather simple, composed of an outer rectangular ring and a central cylindrical workshop tower connected by twenty-six varyingly sloping “cattle bridges” crossing over intermediate open courts. In lieu of mechanization, the building got its form entirely from the functional requirements of movement of cattle and the evisceration processes that were aided merely by the principles of physics. After the restoration, the outer rectangular ring is converted to spaces for restaurants, cafes, stores as well as design offices, while the central tower is left open for events and art exhibitions. A 1,500 m2 plush sky theatre, with a suspended glass-floor stage, a steel-dome roof, and dramatic blood-red curtains, is added on the top level of the central workshop building and has catered to Porsche and Rado anniversaries celebrations among others. Quite commendably, while instigating a new vitality into an otherwise derelict antiquity, the restoration remains faithful to the tacit historical connotations and integrity of the building. The building shell and its conditions of a slaughterhouse are preserved, not disturbing the authenticity while adding the theatre, elevators, toilet blocks, and safety aspects with apparent contemporary identity. Although the restoration keeps the chronology distinct, the building itself has layers of time—historical, experiential, and otherwise embedded in its reading.



1933 Shanghai, 2013 © Evan Chakroff



1. Devoid of the chamfers, the outer rectilinear corridors, linear bridges and inner circular corridors reveal rigid geometries wherein open courts appear as negative spaces.
2. Disorderly chamfers and bends of the outer rectilinear corridors, linear bridges and inner circular corridors soften their inherent rigid geometries and achieve a spatio-sculptural relation with the open courts.
© Rachna Kothari and Tarak Mehta



Traces such as chutes, heavy metal grills, non-slip floors of cattle-paths, and high walls of the bridges are left unchanged, quite unsettling for some while revealingly authentic for others. These design conditions of an animal facility comprise the very guidelines that were devised a few decades later by Dr. Temple Grandin for what is known as humane slaughtering. Anticipated way before the time of their widely accepted formulation, stress-free, natural animal movement, chamfered corners, resting places, and slopes of movement are integrated in the 1933 Shanghai, pointing at a possible pre-existing empirical knowledge of these standards. Set against the nouveau-rich lifestyle backdrop these conditions of slaughterhouse evoke an eerie presence. The interlooping bridges and corridors afford a vivid non-hierarchical circulation diagram; movement along them often brings one to the same nodes, albeit offering different perspectival frames each time. One would be teased into thinking that Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five got its name and the theme of non-linear time on these very bridges. Historical without nostalgia, melancholic in its atmosphere and distinctly contemporary without the parametric formalism or techno-determinism, 1933 Shanghai seems to fictionalize time and outwit conventional space.



1933 Shanghai, 2013 © Evan Chakroff



1933 Shanghai, 2013 © Evan Chakroff



Five ribbon loops in their differentiated avatars centripetally orient towards two-way dogleg staircases intertwined like a dna helix in the centre of the workshop tower. © Rachna Kothari and Tarak Mehta



Parapet walls (ribbons) of the corridors inside the central workshop tower continue along the staircases, creating spatial loops. The loops get further differentiated by dogleg stairs between 1st and 2nd level and spiral stairs between 2nd and 3rd levels. © Rachna Kothari and Tarak Mehta


Morphing Form

Within its interiority, 1933 Shanghai is away from all the jazz—the regal colonial buildings of Pudong, design museums of the recent governments and vertigo instigating heights of the Shanghaian towers. Except for stray views of higher (and uglier) buildings of the surrounding from the open corridors, there is barely any visual reference to the outside world. The unpretentious candor of the building, with its bare concrete structure sans ornamentation, its emptiness taken over by atmospheric light is poignant and incredible in an age of buzzing glass malls. The building is encased in 50 cm thick and sometimes hollow concrete walls for temperature control and art deco inspired latticed windows in the west, to allow for air circulation, lighting, and disseminating the stench. Having survived seventy years of natural weathering, all the concrete components together create a monolithic labyrinthine shell. High-quality gray concrete contorts to form more than 300 umbrella columns, large at the ground level and reducing in size on upper levels. The columns around circulation routes and bridges are uncharacteristically placed along the central axes of sloping bridges of narrow widths, possibly to control the movement of cattle through differentiation and shunting (or to avoid cross beams). In its present use, the narrow width of column-bridge condition and constricted spiral and linear staircases (built for workers to escape) persuade solitary movement around the premises, encouraging a subject to explore the building individually while often being in vision of another observer on a different level across the open light court, creating a space for collective individual movements. High bands of concrete parapet walls flank narrow corridors, toppling conventional proportions. Parapet bands when viewed from across appear as continuous looping bands luring the vision to follow their chamfered corners and meandering turns, encouraging further movement. The density of the conditions of movement is highest within the central cylinder wherein, a smaller radial area and a shorter viewing distance created by the limiting peripheral walls of the cylinder enables viewing multiple bridges and spiral staircases within a single glance; Piranesian complexity can be captured in a single frame (the modern mechanical eye) adding to an overwhelming sense of spatial ambiguity.



1933 Shanghai, 2013 © Evan Chakroff



A myriad of column locations and relations with parapets, voids, walls, and brackets create a spectacular multiplicity of form and order. © Rachna Kothari and Tarak Mehta



Atmosphere, light, and tactile materiality—phenomenology makes up for the lack of geometric rigor, delighting the sensory as much as the cognitive faculties. While the cylinder is dark and complex, the radiating bridges straddling between the cylinder and peripheral building reduce formal complexity, but for the intense light that adds a parameter of visual play. When observed from the open court of lower levels, the bridge slabs appear solid surfaces punctuating light wells. This relation gets flipped from the upper levels, looking down from which the tall concrete walls of bridges appear bright bands of light punctuating a dark volume. This interplay of light imparts its own layer of spatial density where the building in silhouette, its shadow and light keep shifting the perspectival form—the shadow indistinguishable from the gray figure. For a layout rather simple and almost vertically layered, the figure-ground condition itself becomes a destabilizing and thereby enticing aspect.

The introvert focus of the building complemented by deep shadows create a perception of dark underground cellar at ground level, thus playing with a subliminal sense of ground plane such that the well-lit top floor feels like a new ground. One is reminded of Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart by UNStudio, where the planned circulation brings visitors to the top floor to enter and then descend through the building, subtly reversing ground datum’s relation to one’s location within the building; in here, the light performs that role quite intangibly.



1933 Shanghai, 2013 © Evan Chakroff


As can be deduced, wandering through the phenomenal corridors of 1933 Shanghai evokes an array of responses—from awe at the labyrinthine concrete bridges rendered noir by strong piercing light, subtle discomfort at traces of abattoir left explicit to disdain at the signs of handy consumerism that the place can possibly be reduced to. Like a sensorial piece of art, it combines stories of human industries, smell, materiality, art deco elements, bloodstained history, and light-washed poetics of concrete into an evocative composition. Beyond its phenomenology, 1933 Shanghai is a microcosm—a parti diagram of fascinating multiplicity of form and order. It presents possible models of complexity and posits the case for differentiation, to produce unexpected and truly spectacular results out of limited geometries. Studies on figure-ground relations shaped through light, planer simplicity vis-à-vis spatial complexity, center-edge conditions at architectural scale and to that of a singular column as well as forms that elicit movement, impart atmospherics and a sense of place can feed contemporary architectural discourse. Again, 1933 Shanghai is more pertinent as an urban concept where it raises questions on the socio-cultural influence of non-hegemonic places in today’s cities as well as their economic viability.

Interestingly, in contradiction to the glorious monuments and epitomes of solo visionaries, 1933 Shanghai finds its signification and phenomenology only in retrospect, drained of its then present program. Its architectural legitimacy lies not in denying history or being an extension of it, but only in lingering correspondence with the history. Its adaptive restoration is a testimony to the longevity of a valid spatial configuration. By extension, the case study grants the agency of the profession to the everyday practicing architects, to achieve quality in the local building practice in spite of typological limitations, thereby shaping the spatial and social environment to last. Ultimately, in peculiar ways and within the diverse scope of poetics and theories, the building asserts the prospect of architecture as a profound legacy, timeless and enduring, irrespective of its conditional associations.



1933 Shanghai, 2013 © Evan Chakroff


Rachna Kothari is an architect with Jaeger and Partner Architects, Shenzhen. Other work experiences include that with Rahul Mehrotra Architects and her freelance practice and writing where she explores with earnestness socio-spatial and experiential nuances of the built environment. Her alter ego, however, measures cities by running them, clubbing them, and chatting with the cab drivers in broken local dialects.

New Deal Utopias


Mushroom, Greenbelt, Maryland, 2009 © Jason Reblando


Text and photographs by Jason Reblando


New Deal Utopias explores one of the most ambitious but overlooked federal programs in New Deal history, the Greenbelt Town program. The photographs depict the built environments and landscapes of Greenbelt, Maryland; Greenhills, Ohio; and Greendale, Wisconsin, to evoke utopia both as an idea and place in the American mind. The Greenbelt program was implemented by Rexford G. Tugwell, one of Franklin Roosevelt’s “brain trust” of close advisors and head of the short-lived government agency, the Resettlement Administration. Tugwell believed that shifting the American economy from one based on individualism to one that incorporated more cooperative efforts would rescue the US from the Depression.

Tugwell envisioned a series of newly constructed towns built for displaced farmers and poor urban dwellers that privileged communal activities, natural landscaping, and cooperatively owned businesses. As urban populations continued to grow around the perimeter of metropolitan areas, Tugwell saw outlying suburban land as a new frontier to realize his vision of America. As the communities were built, they represented ideal towns for some and wasteful pie-in-the-sky schemes for others. For Tugwell and the New Deal supporters, these new cooperative communities were a symbolic break from the unfettered capitalism that contributed to the Great Depression. Tugwell touted the Greenbelt program for its creation of much-needed jobs and housing. However, critics feared a federal housing program would encroach upon on the private housing market. Conservative members of Congress, industrial and corporate leaders, and newspapers hostile to New Deal policies critiqued them as “socialistic” and “communistic.” There are many contemporary parallels that can be drawn, ranging from ongoing battles surrounding Affordable Care Act legislation to debates on how best to stimulate employment and a sluggish economy. Nevertheless, the idea of planned communities that placed interaction with nature and fellow residents at the forefront may seem commonplace nowadays, but the Greenbelt towns were hailed as a “City of Tomorrow” at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City.

The Greenbelt concept was a new one for Americans, but not for Tugwell. He was aware of the work of Ebenezer Howard, a British reformer whose vision had transformed the landscape of British industrial communities in the early twentieth century. [1] In To-Morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898), Howard looked back to the pre-industrial models of village living and suggested that their emphasis on community and green space should be models for the poor and working classes in London and its suburbs. [2] Like other reformers of his time, he was horrified by living conditions in industrial cities and was critical of “the brutal overcrowding . . . aesthetic starvation, and class segregation as rigid as any apartheid system.” [3] Howard, deeply influenced by Edward Bellamy’s utopian novel Looking Backward, proposed a Garden City model to solve these societal deficiencies and provide relief from urban industrial living. [4]

Howard’s Garden City model combined the best features of urban and rural life. Articulated in his “Three Magnets” illustration, Howard lists the repulsive and attractive aspects of “town” life and “country” life on two separate magnets. The third magnet, the Town-Country magnet, combines the attractive draws of both, including “social opportunity, low rents” to represent positive aspects town life, and “beauty of nature, bright homes & gardens, no smoke, no slums” to represent country life. Tugwell adapted Howard’s Garden City concepts of marrying the best of the town and best of the country for his Greenbelt towns. The three towns of Greenbelt, Maryland; Greenhills, Ohio; and Greendale, Wisconsin, would be constructed outside of Washington, DC, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee, respectively.

My images engage not only with the legacies of Ebenezer Howard and the New Deal, but also with contemporary conversations about politics and place, the history and future of urbanism, and the complex relationship between landscape and the built environment. While it is far from the most prominent program from the New Deal, the Greenbelt communities still manage to draw visitors from urban planners, historians, and social scientists from around the US and the world. My photographs are a meditation on the changing nature of planned communities and the human urge to create an ideal society, as we continue to grapple with the shifting roles of housing, nature, and government in America.



Townhouse, Greendale, Wisconsin, 2009 © Jason Reblando



Clinging Vine, Greenhills, Ohio, 2009 © Jason Reblando



Daffodil House, Greendale, Wisconsin, 2009 © Jason Reblando



Water Tower, Greendale, Wisconsin, 2010 © Jason Reblando



Underpass, Greenbelt, Maryland, 2009 © Jason Reblando



Lake, Greenhills, Ohio, 2009 © Jason Reblando



Tree Shade, Greenbelt, Maryland, 2009 © Jason Reblando



Baseball Field, Greenbelt, Maryland, 2009 © Jason Reblando



Gazebo, Greendale, Wisconsin, 2009 © Jason Reblando



City Hall, Greenbelt, Maryland, 2010 © Jason Reblando



Wheat Room, Greendale, Wisconsin, 2009 © Jason Reblando



Library, Greenhills, Ohio, 2009 © Jason Reblando



Music Room, Greenhills, Ohio, 2011 © Jason Reblando



Disney Garages, Greendale, Wisconsin, 2010 © Jason Reblando



1. Some of Howard’s principles were carried out in the 1920s in the planned town of Radburn, New Jersey, a precursor to the Greenbelt program. The development was halted because of the Great Depression. Radburn architects later joined the RA. Hillary French, “The Garden City,” in Impossible Worlds, eds. Stephen Coats and Alex Stetter (Basel: Birkhaüser, 2000), 107.

2. “This book was reprinted as Garden Cities of To-Morrow (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd., 1902).

3. “Joe Kerr, “Back to the Future,” in Impossible Worlds, 90-91.

4. “For more on Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City movement, see Robert Fishman’s Urban Utopias of the Twentieth Century: Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1982).


Jason Reblando is the recipient of a Fulbright US Scholar Award and an Artist Fellowship Award from the Illinois Arts Council. His photographs are part of the collections in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, and the Midwest Photographers Project of the Museum of Contemporary Photography.

Figural Monuments
Six Ways to Commemorate Celebrity Mishaps


Figural Monuments © TALL


Project by TALL


In LA, if there was a spot and you knew that Beyonce chipped a nail on that spot, then every time you passed it you’d be like “Ah, here’s that parking lot where Beyonce chipped a nail!” And that means something, and you feel like a ghost, like a background character to this enormous stage, like nobody would ever notice you. Because in LA if you and 2000 people see a billboard and Beyonce is on it, you feel like this town belongs to her, and everyone else on the video store murals we’re just renting it from them, and wearing sunglasses and walking around pretending we belong. [1]
Zak Smith


Los Angeles is divided: some are celebrities, and the rest are not. The daily interactions that take place between these two classes create a distinct mental geography that is of great interest for non-celebrities; a map not invested in historic political events or natural disasters, but rather one at the intersection of the banal and the newsworthy. Figural Monuments (2014) is a project that attempts to commemorate the importance of celebrities to our collective memory. Memorials are placed at the sites of famous celebrity incidents and oversights around Los Angeles, and are disguised as governmental architecture one commonly sees within the city. The relationship between Los Angeles and Figural Monuments is linked to the city’s tenuous relationship with memory and its own history. This project challenges and confounds some of the issues that have often characterized the field of memorial design, as well as make permanent the celebrity mishaps that were once only gossip.


Figural Monuments Honor Celebrities Over Non-Celebrities

Harris Demitropoulos, in attempting to establish the standards and ethics of memorial design, wrote that, “memorials [should] address their intended audience by accommodating a projection of the individual on their semantic matrix. As a subject, to be drawn to a memorial, I have to find a part of me in it.” [2] While this may be a reasonable rule of thumb for many major cities, Los Angeles is uniquely divided by both automobile culture and fragmented communities. Their semantic matrix therefore lies not within themselves, but in celebrities to whom they have elected higher power and status. The constant stream of TMZ vans and Star Maps pamphlets for sale along Sunset Boulevard confirms the lengths to which the general population will hold celebrities over their heads.

Though it lacks the solidity and implied significance of some other major cities, Los Angeles has a mythology as strong as that of the Greeks in celebrity culture. Many locals will recall the corner of Fairfax and Wilshire when asked where Biggie Smalls was shot, and more still can point out the Saks Fifth Avenue that caught Winona Ryder shoplifting on videotape. Celebrity culture supplies the collective memory of Los Angeles for those outside and within for one reason: a lot of people shoplift and get shot, but when it happens to a celebrity, it becomes that much more interesting.


Figural Monuments Confirm Collective Memory

On the subject of a city’s collective memory, Aldo Rossi wrote, “One can say that the city itself is the collective memory of its people, and like memory it is associated with objects and places. The city is the locus of the collective memory.” Buildings, like monuments, are used as landmarks as one navigates through a city.

And when a stately piece of architecture is coupled by a notable historical event (such as the Round Table meetings at the Algonquin Hotel in New York), it is easy to argue for a site’s significance. These sites become landmarks to those familiar with their history. Yet Los Angeles does not have many of these happenstances to speak of. We are yet to claim a Columbus Circle or a Garibaldi Square, either because the political events don’t happen here or we simply choose to look past them. Jan Rowen once observed that “to be able to choose what you want to be and how you want to live, without worrying about social censure, is obviously more important to Angelenos than the fact that they do not have a Piazza San Marco.” [3]

Given these conditions, Figural Monuments gathered celebrity blunders and placed memorials exactly where they were rumored to take place. Some recall a murder or robbery, while others signify the videos of celebrities bumping their heads or tripping over sidewalks that once went viral. Their collective memory is not centered on political or academic achievements, but lies squarely on the minutia of any given celebrity’s everyday life. As we pour over the details, we not only give them a higher status than non-celebrities, but we also validate the importance of their every move.

Many people are aware, for example, that Hugh Grant invited a prostitute to his car in 1995, but few know exactly where it took place. Automatic Teller Machine 00023d2 (Hugh Grant) is located on the intersection of De Longpre and Courtney Avenue, the site of the allegation. Now that a memorial in visible at the site, visitors may visit to remember the famous incident at an otherwise insignificant intersection for pedestrians or auto­mobile traffic.



HUGH GRANT, Love Actually, Automatic Teller Machine 00023d2, Center City, West Hollywood © TALL


Figural Monuments Are Figural

Geometric abstraction was arguably popularized by Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC in 1982. Prior to this point, memorials were almost entirely figural, embodying those honored with the highest level of verisimilitude and allegorical content. There were accompanying plaques with the honorees’ names and brief biographies, yet their focus was sculptures with faces and time-period clothes that were instantly recognizable and often scaled up. This was done to both increase their visibility and illustrate their importance. The Korean Memorial designed by Frank Gaylord, adjacent to the Vietnam Memorial, demonstrates the relative immediacy of the human figure in monumentality.

The current method of geometric abstraction assumes that its audience is not only actively literate, but will also take time to read further into the nature of a piece. However, to assume this type of audience in Los Angeles would be the first mistake in local memorial design. With a pedestrian culture that is still yet to be seen, Los Angeles requires signage that can be read quickly and from distant vantage points. As well, David Gebhard has observed, “California’s mildness of climate, with the resulting ability to cheaply and quickly erect structures, encourage[s] a non-serious view of not only architecture, but symbolism and salesmanship as well.” [4] Sharp marble and concrete solids, when displayed earnestly, have little resonance here.

Bollards 2 and 3 (Kim Kardashian and Kanye West) represent the memorable forms of the two celebrities at the exact moment the paparazzi distracted them from their walk out of a parking structure, resulting in Kanye West bumping his head. The bollards portray the body language that characterized the incident, and they only present at certain times of the day.



KIM KARDASHIAN & KANYE WEST, Bollard 2 – Kim Kardashian, Bollard 3 – Kanye West, Golden Triangle, Beverly Hills © TALL


Figural Monuments Are Obsessively Site-Specific And Sometimes Obstructive

Memorials have typically been placed in parks as traditional artwork have been in galleries: in the center or out of the way of a path of circulation that had been established before it. By their politeness, they are quickly accepted as memorials and do not leave room for speculation. Figural Monuments are more akin to the chalk outlines of murder scenes than its predecessors. This level of site specificity ensures that the gravity of one celebrity’s blunder is regarded as more essential to the way a city functions than the ease of movement for everyone else.

Biggie Smalls was murdered in front of The Petersen Automotive Museum on Fairfax and Wilshire. Though the permanence of this museum is currently under debate, the memory of Biggie Smalls dwarfs the architectural significance of this site and takes precedence. Bus Stop 775 – Wilshire/Fairfax Transit Hub (Biggie Smalls) takes up the majority of the sidewalk, requiring pedestrians to purposefully walk around or under the memorial. It appears as a solid clash of concrete and marble above fragile furniture.



BIGGIE SMALLS, Bus Stop 775, Wilshire / Fairfax Transit Hub, Miracle Mile, Los Angeles © TALL


Detention Center 008 (Winona Ryder) poses as a supplementary security room for the adjacent Saks Fifth Avenue. Its location across the street is, according to publicly viewed security footage, as far as Winona Ryder ran with the five stolen dresses, only to be apprehended moments later. The building strikes both shoppers and general pedestrians as patently absurd in its detachment and overall distance from the Saks to which it formally belongs.



WINONA RYDER, Saks Fifth Avenue, Detention Center 008, Wilshire District, Beverly Hills © TALL


Figural Monuments Are Disguised As City Architecture

Because the impact of sculptures in parks or in front of buildings has diminished as they’ve been quickly regarded as “public art,” new relationships between memorials and the cities they’re in have to be drawn. Contemporary artists have established flexibility in the category by considering new relationships between art and its environment. As Rosalind Krauss had observed in 1979:


Rather surprising things have come to be called sculpture [lately]: narrow corridors with TV monitors at the ends; large photographs documenting country hikes; mirrors placed at strange angles in ordinary rooms; temporary lines cut into the floor of the desert. Nothing, it would seem, could possibly give to such a motley of efforts the right to lay claim to whatever one might mean by the category of sculpture. Unless, that is, the category can be made to become almost infinitely malleable. [5]


Architecture has often played a role in this categorical game, if not only because it has always been its backdrop and source of definition.

The Figural Monuments are therefore more covertly placed in their urban environment than their predecessors. They are programmatically based on familiar objects within the city, such as ATMs, security booths, and bus stops. Rather than adorn standard box buildings with symbolic decoration like parade floats, the functionality of the series is willed by their outward figurality. The memorials therefore appear curiously out of place; like one-offs that stand proudly by their control groups.

Parking Meters 4800cc82 and 4800cc83 (Angelyne) generally look and function like the other parking meters with which they share a row. But because they commemorate the time Angelyne attempted to avoid the paparazzi and her subsequent fall, these parking meters appear awkward and bashful compared to the rest. It seems that no plaque is necessary for viewers to interpret the mood of the incident that took place here, since none has been placed.



WINONA RYDER, Saks Fifth Avenue, Detention Center 008, Wilshire District, Beverly Hills © TALL


Figural Monuments Are Fictional

Marble, concrete, and granite have been the standard materials in memorial design for their apparent permanence and seriousness; this might be the one convention that continued from figurality to geometric abstraction without any major exceptions. These are heavy materials for heavy meaning, and a monument’s physical presence is proof of an event’s authenticity and importance. Many only see them in visual content and publications, yet fewer can claim to see the real thing. Monuments are an alternative for word-of-mouth and are intended to solidify memories in the ground.

But the rumors about celebrities are often only that, and these memorials attempt to reflect this instability. The Figural Monuments are real as far as images are three-dimensional; they are five postcards exhibiting the images that accompany this essay, and nothing as of yet has been erected at the sites they describe. These postcards confirm collective memories to many through nearly weightless distribution, performing in a similar fashion to the social media that has lately become prevalent.

The intention of this series is not to remind viewers of what would otherwise be forgotten, but rather to confirm what was generally brushed off as mere gossip. With Figural Monuments, our celebrity Schadenfreude is validated and our collective memory fortified. Los Angeles is torn between the have and the have-nots, a condition either self-inflicted or projected onto it by the rest of the world, and it is time to acknowledge this reality through intensive memorialization. Similar hierarchies exist in other cities—gangsters in Chicago, founding fathers in Philadelphia—but arguably none confound the concepts of civic memory and rights to fame quite like Los Angeles.



1. Zak Smith, “Celebrities and Los Angeles,” Artillary Magazine, April 26, 2009, 28.

2. Dimitropoulous Harris, “The Character of Contemporary Memorials,” April 17, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014,

3. Reyner Banham, “Introduction,” in Los Angeles; the Architecture of Four Ecologies (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), xx.

4. Jim Heimann and David Gebhard, “Introduction,” in California Crazy: Roadside Vernacular Architecture (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1980), xix.

5. Rosalind Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October 8 (Spring 1979): 30-44.


TALL is a collaborative group formed by Kyle Branchesi and Shane Reiner-Roth and based in Los Angeles. Their work challenges the looseness of architecture and its presence in media. Their work has been published in EDGE_CONDITION magazine, The Oxford School of Architecture Journal, and Clog journal, among others. | @kjbranchesi | @ShaneReinerRoth

Architecture and the City
Berlin, Tempelhof


A City within the City in Berlin © Ted Brown


Project by Ted Brown


Through a narrative structure of text, image and drawings, Ted Brown explores a design alternative for the abandoned Tempelhof terminal and airfield in Berlin. Working with reference to Hilberseimer, O. M. Ungers, Tafuri, Rossi, Koolhaas and P. V. Aureli, Brown posits a stratified field as object, a “city within the city” of Berlin.


Head without a Body, Body without a Head: The Eagle

Moved to the top of the Tempelhof terminal building in 1940 under the direction of architect Ernst Sagebiel, Lemke’s bronze eagle (symbol of National Socialism under Hitler) is later turned on its head. As a tribute to the US for feeding the Western half of the city, the eagle is Americanized, head painted white during the post-war airlift (and thus, you might say, given a new imperial signature). Later, during the Cold War, it (in whole or in part) is the Berliners’ gift to the Yanks who install it at the Military Academy, West Point, NY. In 1985 West Point gives it back: but only the head. A new monument/memorial in Berlin, the eagle head is located in the forecourt of the now abandoned Tempelhof airport terminal, Eagle Square.



Tempelhof Airport within the City of Berlin © Composite of DE/BKG Google Earth, September 4, 2014


The body has gone missing.

Inscribed at the base of the main stair, Humboldt University: “Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert; es kommt aber darauf an, sie zu verändern” (Philosophers have only sought to interpret the world in various ways; the point is to change it). Words resonate; the head/body–thought/action split identified by Marx (eleventh thesis on Feuerbach) is materialized in an eagle split between two continents. The eagle allegorizes the thought that thought alone accomplishes nothing. Thoughtful in-action percolates in the Tempelhof debates.



Lemke’s Eagle (ony the head) in Front of the Vacant Tempelhof Terminal Building © Ted Brown


In-Voluntary Prisoner

With no consensus on its future, the great void of the Tempelhof airfield has become (temporarily) an urban park of little but diverse activity (underutilized but active). However, the behemoth terminal building at Tempelhof is arrested—trapped, literally imprisoned, fenced in, doors locked. Occasional events are anomalies within the vast vacant terminal. At one time a thoroughly modern airport, gateway to the city of Berlin, the terminal is on life support.



Templehof Terminal, Imprisoned © Ted Brown


Critical Reconstruction

Critical Reconstruction: the rage in Berlin that produces outrage. What is critical and what to reconstruct: the urban plan and cornice line of Prussian Berlin, the Wall, Speer’s NS axis, Hansaviertel, Potsdamer Platz or the project, program, and form of Karl Marx (Stalin) Allee?



“Critical Reconstruction”, Berlin © Ted Brown


The Gift Economy: Part I

In recognition of their post-wall economic success (and in an effort to avoid future surveillance), Berliners decide to release the Tempelhof terminal building and offer it as another gift to the US. At last, this iconic Nazi edifice is off the books, no longer subject to daily protest and opinion and no longer a line item on the city and state budget.

The Yanks “critically reconstruct” the terminal outside Tucson, Arizona at the AMRC “boneyard,” home to over 4,500 decommissioned planes, managed by the US Air Force Material Command. The rebuilding project within this vast airplane graveyard unites the (abandoned) terminal with the (abandoned) airplanes.



Uniting Abandoned Terminal with Abandoned Airplanes, Tucson, Arizona © Composite: DE/BKG Goggle Earth (Berlin), Landsat Goggle Earth (Tucson), March 27, 2014


The Gift Economy: Part II

Beholden to the logic of reciprocation, the US offers a piece of the Arizona suburbs to Berlin in exchange for the terminal. The plan is meticulously drafted and sent. It is reviewed by the local Berlin government and quickly and summarily rejected.



“Gift Economy”, Berlin and the US



Arizona Suburb in Berlin © Composite: Landsat Goggle Earth (Arizona suburb). DE/BKG Goggle Earth (Berlin)


Urban Artifacts, Permanence

Rossi: A propelling (non-pathological) urban artifact (monument) is reaffirmed by both its existence and adaptability to change in use. Originally designed in some response to program, the formal characteristics are sufficiently general (but precise) to absorb alternative programs and persist through social and economic change.

Experiment: Can one move a monument to the conceptual and literal desert and construct a city? That is, if the autonomous urban artifact confirms and helps construct the existing city, can it also spawn new urban organizations?

Can the monument give birth to the city? Can the monument give birth?



Formal Order in the Desert © Base aerial photograph Landsat Google Earth (Tucson), March 27, 2014



The first child has an inflexible configuration (an order) other than a grid (it must be the maternal genes). As with all babies, physical attributes seem to derive from both parents. That said, clearly the legs and arms are maternal. Paternal lineage is more ambiguous. With unknown father and those chubby legs she soon gets a nickname, “Surely Temple.”

It is nothing less than a new formal structure in the Mojave Desert that will give the airplane bone yard a symbolic, if not economic, civic pattern. This is a bold experiment to reunite planning and architecture. With the ensuing construction, there is an historic opportunity to stabilize a-historic values, abstract, timeless, and indisputable principles, much like the desert itself, but this time carefully separated from the forces of development. Templehof is more than “the mother of all airports.”

Baby’s first words: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

The US military, not exactly in the baby business, puts the second child up for adoption while still in the nest (egg). Berlin is quick to file papers and move forward—exchanges have been frequent. Although the foster parents live in Schönefeld, the egg incubates at Tempelhof. With American vitamins and German beer, the chances for a healthy childhood are promising (although interminably delayed). What plans
will hatch?


Back in Berlin: Absence Presence Absence

With the Tempelhof terminal building having been carefully disassembled, crated, and barged to the western US for its desert reconstruction, Berlin must confront a new absence, a negative form of the former terminal, a vast hole in the city scape, and a hole in the ground. The debate about this new void parallels those that surround Berlin: reconstruct (with no use intended but precise attention to detail), convert to a park, spawn private sector development, imagine new social housing, maybe new quintuple skin glass facades to a Prussian cornice; or covert to an energy source, an aviary, an underground graffiti park, …

The result of unsuccessful referenda, Berliners agree to leave the hole as a monumental void. The absence will always make present the memory of the terminal and with it, its aviation, national socialist, and airlift history. City mothers convince the city council to temporarily fill the void with water—a new urban swimming pool in the summer, a seasonal urban amenity that awaits a future generation for a definitive program. What was once the site of the largest building in Germany is now the largest swimming pool in the northern hemisphere (quite possibly the world).

Still, Berliners want to know: Wo is der Strand? (Where is the beach?)



Tempelhof Terminal removed for “Critical Reconstruction” © Base aerial photograph DE/BKG Google Earth (Berlin), September 4, 201



Tempelhof Terminal: Presence, Absence © Ted Brown


Project: Park/Park/Park

With the crisis of the terminal building “solved,” Berliners move the debate back to the airfield. In lieu of the Arizona suburban plan, all agree to support different projects of a park—the egg has hatched. Delamination is the result: vehicular park(ing) below a continuous green park, below social housing that supports the vegetable Garden Park to help feed Berliners. With the ground no longer serving as an airfield, the land is configured to construct a park and cover a parking deck below. Twenty-five percent of the underground is devoted to parking to accommodate 20,672 vehicles. A place to park for residents and guests, it is anticipated to be an unanticipated revenue stream for the city. The undulating ground level park provides for all urban recreational and entertainment activities. The roof garden park of the housing blocks provides fifty-seven hectares of agricultural field.

As much a new experiment in politics as it is in urban architecture, the project is an incubator of radical hybridization of program, ecologies, opinion, landscape, and social exchange.



(Left) Airfield laminations; (Right) Park/Park/Park © Ted Brown


Housing the Masses

Ninety-five elevated parallel mix-use housing blocks, some over 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) long are spaced and oriented for ideal southern exposure. Many of the slabs take on certain characteristics of their forbearers. Ecologically calibrated to be thirty-two feet wide and ninety-six feet apart, the field of stripes provides 20,000 units of housing towards an anticipated population of over 50,000. At this scale, the former airfield morphs into a city (and into the effective and affective alternative to any US suburb).

It is a city within the city of Berlin.



Institutional “Figures” within the Field © Ted Brown


City within a City: Field as an Object

The limits of the field have the form of an ellipse (once imagined as an outer spectator ring by Speer). The new Tempelhof is objectified, spatially isolated from its context. It is a complete (but contrasting) part of the city, a dialectical island with a strictly defined form. (It is a heterotopia in neither Foucault’s nor LeFebvre’s sense.) Absolute liberty is granted to the single architectural fragment: school, church, stock market, city hall, palace of justice, prison, and hospital are objects dispersed within the field. The gap between ground plane and housing block provide the infrastructure for commercial office and retail, a flexible system in response to market demand.



Housing Slabs with Genealogical Relations © Ted Brown


Space in-between

The elevated field leaves two primary spaces of absence. One, in plan, between ellipse and adjacent neighborhoods. The other, in section, between the new ground plane and the underbelly of the housing blocks. Public parks occupy the ground between this new city and adjacent neighborhoods, and between the newly configured ground plane and the raised housing blocks. At one level of conceptualization, all ground is park (the beach?) as social interface.



Space in-between © Ted Brown


Voids within the Figural Field

Four voids mark the project. Retained to provide for vehicular access, kite boarding, roller-skating, sun bathing, etc., the airstrips “cut through” the housing slabs. The existing Volkspark (Hafen Heide) to the north is extended, penetrating the elliptical field. Two new public squares, Xplazt and Oplatz, are the “official” social center within this new civic compound. The ubiquitous perimeter block and courtyard is overcome.
Chancellor Merkel confirms that all levels of privacy have gone out of fashion with the last century.



Space in-between © Ted Brown



Tempelhof Field X © Ted Brown



Templehof Field O © Ted Brown


Tale of Two cities

The Tempelhof experiment has two outcomes.

In the southwestern desert of United States, the relocated terminal building begets a highly configured fixed form, preserved by the dry air but with little occupation. A city of the dead—it is the final resting place for terminals and planes that soon outnumber the inhabitants of Tucson. Although subject to interpretation, its symbolic function demands inaction. It has a head, but no operational body.

In the heart of the German Capital, the park/housing field, configured as an object, locates the social experiment in the city. A utopian project, it is an archipelago within a vast urban conglomeration. A city of the living—autonomous in its form and outrageous in socio-political experiments—it remains permeable to the urbanism it confronts. A product of interpretation, it is the site of action, the location of change. Is it the body stitched and re-stitched to the head?



Architecture of the Desert, Speers N/S Axis © Ted Brown



Tempelhof Terminal © Ted Brown



A City within the City in Berlin © Ted Brown



A City within the City in Berlin © Ted Brown



Composite: Field Object on Scheider’s Plan of Berlin, 1798 © Ted Brown


Ted Brown is an architect practicing with Munly Brown Studio, a critic, and a professor at Syracuse University School of Architecture. He is a fellow of the American Academy in Rome.



Wallpaper – Boullee museum © Andrea Dietz


Essay by Andrea Dietz


Perhaps I was a daydreamer. Perhaps I was mischievous and prone to triggering time-outs spent facing dining room corners.

I passed many of my childhood hours staring at patterns on walls. Rapt by the reciprocal glances of figures receding into and out of geometries, by spaces and volumes emerging from fields and lines, I lost myself in (im)possible realities.

I long since have outgrown such indulgent disappearances. I have seen and touched many of the world’s actual, tangible architectural and geographical marvels. But, the “imagelands” that continue to dance upon the screens of my eyelids as I drift off to a fitful sleep are those that I pretended into existence when my naivety allowed for a much less formidable separation between the realms.




Sometimes, the paper-thin leaves the lasting impression.




“Majorité Opprimée”: Or, Where to Hang the Wallpaper
(A Nod to Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Plus)

Its place is in art photographs of house trailers abandoned to the Mojave Desert. Its cracked, yellowing edges, clinging to deteriorating plywood surfaces, invoke the kind of nostalgia that makes the passage of time comforting. The fading of its cheerful flourishes reminds the sophisticated of aesthetic innocence.

Its place shifts before the glue dries. It waffles in the “fatal newness” to which John Ruskin condemned it. Cursed, for all of its (im)permanence, to mirror the whims of the hipsters and the it-kids, it samples the latest trends and coolest gadgets in its search for that thing that will help it “stick.” Just as it settles into mode, it grows bored, relinquishing the hand, for the block, for the stencil, for the steam-driven surface roller, for the screen printer, for photogravure, for flexography, for lasers, for coding—then, takes it all back, when retro is in.

Its place is in a trade fair—the alternately flamboyant or sterile halls of the market economy. Or maybe it’s in one of those Digests. It’s the stuff of decorators and wannabes. It’s the mark of the suburban mindless, of those who consume their environments like they do their outfits, their media, and their meals.

Its place is in show business, amongst the actors, fakers, and liars. It imitates—brocade, chintz, damask, velvet—reducing textiles to caricatures. It dares to don the shade, shadow, and stroke of masterworks on its secondary canvases. It mocks form—flattening etchings, friezes, ornaments, and sculpture into the narrowest of reliefs. Its fraudulent cosmetics are a distraction from true volume, an insult to objectivity and sensibility.

Its place is in quarantine, rolled-up and sealed away for purposes of decontamination. Its pastes and its pulps absorb the grime and the grit, the grease and the soot, the germs and the malevolence of the classless and uncultured. It killed Oscar Wilde.

Its place is in the kitchen—and the attic playroom. It’s the home of feminine hysteria—and liberation. The women already shook The Yellow Wallpaper’s bars, crawled through its seams, and “creeped” out into the world. They escaped the wallpaper, but it cannot escape them.




Ladies Home Journal Household Feature:
A Guide to Practical Wallpaper
Maintenance and Preservation

Stop! Your old homecare how-to guide is wrong.

Yes, your walls, with their swirling florals and rosy hues, are sensuous. But, please, respect the surface. If you must caress the details, by all means, wash your hands, first.

It’s unavoidable; dust will build-up on your wallpaper. That does not give you permission to pull out the mop buckets and chemical cleansers. Resort only to delicate, soft-bristle brushing.

If, heaven forbid, your walls befall some misfortune—fingerprints, food stain or splatter, pen blot—consult a professional. Whoever thought of rubbing bran and breadcrumbs on walls was not well; benzene and oxalic acid, just vicious.

The upkeep experts are trained in time-tested techniques to use special mechanical erasers and muslin-covered hand-held vacuums. Do not assume that you, with whatever you find under your utility sink, can mimic the skill.

If your well-loved wallpaper is wearing your affection, it is time to get serious. The foolhardy might think a little dab of glue or a spot of touch-up paint are harmless. Think, again. Real wallpaper repairers know the secret concentrations for starch adhesive and methylcellulose recipes. They know never to be so presumptuous as to introduce, without thorough study, foreign pigments into set scenes. They use trade tools, like artist’s brushes and syringes to apply their wares.

Now, if you get the home re-do itch, remember: that which is boring and old to you might just be someone else’s treasure. Old wallpaper (unless you know for Wallpaper certain that the connoisseurs have deemed your pattern a dud) is not to be hung, nailed, plastered, or rolled over. It should be carefully removed with scalpels and spatulas and, only in the most extreme of circumstances, loosened with water-alcohol spritzes and steams. Again, pursue a consultation, first.

You, of course, may not even know that you are a wallpaper’s caretaker. Sometimes it hides—beneath plaster, above a dropped ceiling, behind fixtures and furnishings. If you happen to stumble upon some long-covered fragment, refer to all of the above treatments. Document your findings with high-resolution photography and rigorous notes. And, store loose pieces in melinex envelopes with an acid-free tissue sheet surround.




Wallpaper Agency: Other Ways of Doing-Up Architecture
Wallpaper was the hook at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Employed in bright and immersive displays, it introduced Crystal Palace visitors to and enticed them into complicity with the British Design Reform makeover campaign. The agenda subliminal to the colorful bath was one of comprehensive comportment training—a national endeavor to instill principles and qualities of beauty as intrinsic to cultural well-being and economic competitiveness.

Published as and through AWN Pugin’s extensive guidelines and templates, wallpaper was the centerpiece of Owen Jones’s The Grammar of Ornament, a text that elevated, throughout its popularity in the last half of the eighteen hundreds, the design of the domestic interior as morally and societally imperative.

In parallel, through a complex blending of aesthetics and politics, William Morris, advocated a mass return to medieval ideals and to a direct engagement of hand and work. He enforced his vision for the Arts and Crafts Movement and its new world order in an extensive line of wallpapers and other decorative products.

For the Bauhaus and Deutscher Werkbund of the turn-of-the-century, wallpaper began as a medium for Germany’s Formwille de Zeist, the “will-to-form of age”; it had a role in setting a scene appropriate to the times. But, the ethos that evolved in the Neue Sachlichkeit and the conditions and edicts of the World Wars turned wallpaper, an emblem of excess and progressivism, into an object of hostility, violence and, ultimately, of obsolescence.

In 1946, the Dutch Goed Wonen, yet another collective operation championing the correlation between design standards and the good life, kicked off the postconflict round of organized environmental awareness and improvement drives with wallpaper reinvigorating presentations.

Edgar Kaufman Junior, along with the Chicago Merchandise Mart and New York’s Museum of Modern Art launched America’s Good Design program in 1950. Wallpaper, perceived as the perfect mediator of personal and professional expression, established the friendly front for efforts to uplift caliber and craft in the residential building boom.




Once, (not so) long ago, for at least a one hundred year span, the material was the political. Design and social practice were one and the same. The two- and the three-dimensional co-mingled. Diverse audiences participated. Just ask the wallpaper.



Wallpaper – Boullee cenotaph © Andrea Dietz


Wallpaper Holler
Wallpaper, in the blue hills, is a profoundly literal term. The houses out there are paper, or are held together by it—layers upon layers of the stuff. Actual house structure, paltry from the start, lasts for just enough time to act as substrate for a first round of clipping postings. The divides of the houses, the barriers that separate space from mass and wilderness, then stratify and thicken, sheet-by-sheet, micron-by-micron. The room to live and move shrinks—infinitesimally, but surely—with the passing seasons.

Each ply of a wallpaper-house keeps time, constitutes a piecemeal ledger of the stories and fancies central to the moment of their “stick-up.” News headlines, culled for their bold typography or for the strength with which their message holds that particular house together, create the base field. Magazine adverts, adhered in positions of privilege, trace appliance breakthroughs and trends, fashion and wardrobe goals, and otherwise impossible object-wants. Cutouts from books, giftwrap, and product packaging frame jogs and thresholds—simply because they’re pretty. And, just as telling, the cartography of covering over and leaving be fixes—for good—the hierarchies of attention and dimension.

Most of these papier-mâché habitats are haphazardly uniform; they wear the character of undiscriminating inevitability. Some stand out, though, seem to aspire to upend compositional expectations.

Take “document house,” a wonderland of legal scripts rescued from generations of absent-mindedness, flea markets, and shredders; embedded in its vast collage are rare texts purportedly signed by the likes of Henry Knox and George Washington. At “currency house,” the author, once a military man, plastered his walls in foreign note from his tours of duty. Oil paintings—of varied and unknown provenance—removed from their frames now stretch over the horizontal and vertical surfaces of “canvas house.” And, quite unusually, quilts of domesticated orange tabby pelts sewn tightly into lining-paper pad the small enclosures of “cat house.”

In these kitsch extremes, all definitions break down. Wallpaper isn’t exactly; house isn’t exactly.

But, even the mundane wallpaper-house defies parsing. Neither tectonic nor text-graphic, neither built nor printed, it is a dwelling-archive that slips between and occupies a hybrid state of form, ornament, and sign. The wallpaper-house leaves an opening for exploration of where representation ends and matter begins.




If Wallpaper Were Habitable: Style Sandwich
Est. 2015: There is a slow enveloping in pixels and fields, feathers and lines, forms and figures. The deep and the flat are confused, dogged by illusion. If something repeats—rarely the case—it’s a cacophony. No color is excluded. The signage is familiar, popular, but twisted. If self-awareness and satire were palpable, they would be here as micro-worlds, oases, or watchtowers. Nothing is fixed, but everything is sited.

Est. 1985: It’s a zone of sets. Everything exists in triplicate, all coordinating, all saturated. It steps from one shiny field of tiny textures, to another of floating figures, to another of bloated sculptures, and back. From one increment to the next, the lights invert with the darks; the primaries switch places. And then, abruptly, randomly, a neon wedge or flashy monolith breaks the rhythm.

Est. 1955: This is a hallucination. It’s a ride on waves in a sea of swirling amoebas. Tiny insects on flying saucers hang from squiggly lines like constellations. Stalagmites and stalactites rise and fall in a sea of prisms. The horizon is a merle with streaks of mauve and yellow. It all dissolves into monotone, a vast bowl of porridge.

Est. 1925: From afar, the pastel lines cross and lap in plaids and plaits. Up close, the diameter, directionality, and rigidity of the bars may vary, but this is prison. There are cells, cage yards, and fenced-in territories. Inside, the surfaces glisten with a ceramic sheen. Past the enclosure, the long view is one of shady splotches barely distinguishable from an impenetrable matte background of forest or sky.

Est. 1895: The world is slippery and seamless. It’s a space of complementing harmonies, carefully detailed and meticulously tidy. Biology morphs into geometry. Abstract curves flow and swirl in consistent and unifying trails, without end or beginning. There is no inside, no outside: just over and under, hard and soft.

Est. 1865: Enter the jungle. Monstrous leaves and petals intermingle, blocking all light and visibility. Snaking vines dotted with bright, tempting (but likely poisonous) fruits weave the ground and growth together. Peering eyes flit open and closed in the overlaps and shadows.

Est. 1835: Wander a maze of picket fences, squeaking gates, and tunnel trellises. The foliage is a dusting of tiny pin-prick flowers that bloom without stems or stalks. Soil and air are one in the same.

Est. 1775: This is the stuff of fantasy. It’s a cross-section through a biosphere of magical plantings and wildlife. It’s a window into epics and myths. Everything glitters with gold sprinkles. But, with its impenetrable glowing edges, it’s a place for which there is neither entry nor exit.

Est. 1715: Here is an endlessly cushioned den of dark, velvety contours. It’s a dirty lounge for sinking in and getting lost in the creases.

Est. 1595: One shape pushes forward; another falls back. It’s a grid of coffers far away or it’s a high-contrast game of magnified figure-field. There is only black and white.




The wall’s paper lets it imagine a time before it was, what it could have been, what it could yet become. Indeed, such lines on paper echo the wall’s own origins. Through this thin limen, drawing becomes building and building becomes drawing, too.


Works Referenced

Greysmith, Brenda. Wallpaper. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc., 1976.

Hanaor, Cigalle. The Cutting Edge of Wallpaper. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2006.

Hoskins, Lesley, ed. The Papered Wall: The History, Patterns, and Techniques of Wallpaper. London: Thames and Hudson Limited, 2005.

Karmel, Pepe. “When Artwork Has a Sticky Back.” New York Times, July 28, 1995, Design Review.

Langley, Christopher and Osceola Refetoff. “High & Dry: Through a Window Darkly.” KCET, August 27, 2014. Web. December 15, 2014.

Mallonee, Laura C. “More Than 6,000 Wallpaper Designs Digitized.” Hyperallergic RSS, December 31, 2014. Web. January 3, 2015.

Oman, Charles C. and Jean Hamilton. Wallpapers: An International History and Illustrated Survey from the Victoria and Albert Museum. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1982.

Thibaut-Pomerantz, Carolle. Wallpaper: A History of Style and Trends. Paris, Flammarion, 2009.



Wallpaper – Ledoux cemetery © Andrea Dietz


Andrea Hunter Dietz is a Los Angeles-based architect, designer, and educator. She is interested in alternative and responsive platforms for both learning about and practicing architecture. She has a background in participatory and public interest design (with Design Corps) and in exhibition and event production (with estudio teddy cruz). She is a longtime associate of Woodbury School of Architecture where she has coordinated a multi-million dollar federal grant, led graduate program curriculum development, overseen digital fabrication facility improvements and operations, and taught coursework in research methodologies and theory.

Lessons Learned
Quandaries posed by Learning from Las Vegas and Delirious New York


Learning from Las Vegas and Delirious New York


Essay by James Khamsi


Learning from Las Vegas and Delirious New York are two books about American cities, and they are two books about American urbanism at specific moments in time: the 1960s, the moment after the decline of Modernism, and the 1920s, the moment just before its advent.

Beyond being about places and times, they are about forms of architecture: successful forms of architecture, pleasurable forms of architecture, and popular forms of architecture.

Beyond being about places, times, and forms, these texts are about the market and the discipline of architecture. They are about the forms of architecture and cultural engagement that liberal development was able to generate and which the discipline was failing to produce. In order to evaluate the enduring or exhausted legacy of these projects, we must appraise these texts and their attitudes towards place, time, form, and the market.



When Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown brought their students from Yale to Las Vegas, they found a city that had grown on a tabula rasa: the desert. It was an environment of vast spaces traversed at great speed by cars with novel forms of architectural arrangement oriented around the strip. Buildings were set back behind parking lots, creating a gulf that was too wide for traditional architectural ornamentation to communicate across, creating a problem of communication and symbolism for built form. “Space is not the most important constituent of suburban form. Communication across space is more important.” [1] In this environment, a new symbolic order of highway signs emerged.

In contrast to Las Vegas, Rem Koolhaas’ historical study of New York in the early twentieth century uncovered an environment of extreme density that created new architectural and cultural dynamics. “Congestion itself is the essential condition for realizing each of these metaphors [referring to the visions of Hugh Ferris and Harvey Wiley Corbett] in the reality of the Grid.” [2]



The Last Vegas Strip “just grew, and perhaps its initiators built it outside of city limits to escape controls.” [3]

Manhattan’s “grid makes the history of architecture and all previous lessons of urbanism irrelevant.”[4]

Las Vegas and Manhattan are cities without histories, they are cities of technology that coalesced in and around infrastructural forms: the grid and the strip. Taken as a pair, these projects document the effects that successive waves of technological change have had on patterns of urbanism in the twentieth century.

Industrialization’s evolution from steam and iron to electricity and steel gave us the elevator, the streetcar, steel frame construction, and the electrical light: “technologies of the metropolis” that radically altered the spatial practices of the urban classes. [5] Some of these technologies dispersed parts of the city, others, namely the elevator and steel frame, densified other parts through vertical growth. [6]

By the 1940s and 50s, as the car grew to be the most dominant form of personal mobility, the concentration of American cities and towns around infrastructural nodes was undone the distributed logic of roadways. [7] The car, in combination with technological advancements in telecommunications, industry, and business, rendered urban form more flexible and diffusible. [8] The redistribution of labor, business, and leisure resources freed contemporary urbanization to spread across regional geographies without regard for political boundaries and any pre-conceived image of the city. [9] In comparison to its rail-based antecedents, which corralled and structured individual commuting itineraries, auto-infrastructure offers seemingly limitless freedom. And in comparison to those antecedents, which were by measures dis-aggregative and centralizing, the auto-infrastructure is dominantly dispersive. [10]

American cities all experienced similar waves of change, so why then the focus on Las Vegas and New York? These sites of piqued their authors because they were extreme instantiations of normal conditions. [11] According to Venturi and Scott-Brown, Las Vegas was an “archetype rather than a prototype, an exaggerated example from which to derive lessons for the typical.” [12] Though their subjects, 1920s Manhattan and 1960s Las Vegas, are both American and set apart by only forty years, they are a study in contrasts. Both describe the architecture under intense pressure conditions. Manhattan, through the advent elevator and the steel frame and the concentration they brought, was the archetype of the Metropolis, fusing a “culture of congestion.” In Las Vegas, the vacuum effect of the automobile and highway created “vast expansive texture: the mega texture of the commercial landscape,” making it the archetype of the American suburb. [13]



Technological change altered the organization of cities, beyond that, these projects are concerned with the effects they had on the nature of architecture, the novel building types they produced and the forms of subjectivity that grew as a result. Whereas modernism generated new prototypes from within (the Dom-ino, the cruciform tower); these texts found their archetypes in the world around us: the decorated shed and the skyscraper. These new forms recast relationships between interior and exterior, structure and ornament, function, and representation.

The metropolitan form at the core of Delirious New York is the skyscraper: a “proliferation of space” that resulted from the “ad infinitum” multiplication of a site made possible by steel frame construction and the elevator. [14] It created a new arithmetic of volume and surface: “mathematically, the interior volume of three dimensional objects increases in cubed leaps and the containing envelope only by squared increments: less and less surface has to represent more and more interior activity.” Abetted by the elevator, disconnects between the envelope and contents are multiplied by “brutal disjunctions” between the integral parts of the project. Individual floors are autonomous, relieved of responsibility towards one another, and freed to pursue their own fantasies. In the Downtown Athletic Club, the “apotheosis” of the social potential of the skyscraper, programs are stacked one on top of the other—each offering its own particular mix of function and ambiance. In the skyscraper, the pressurized plenum of the metropolis renders each tower a collage of juxtaposed experiences and subjectivities.



Architecture in a pressure plenum: A Machine for Metropolitan Bachelors © James Khamsi


In the vacuum of Las Vegas, contrasting tendencies are observed as the architectural unity of function and symbolism was delaminated across the vast gulf of the parking lot. Citing the palazzi of Renaissance Italy as precedent, Venturi and Scott-Brown demonstrate the blurry line between iconography and structure in classical architecture: an element’s articulation could be one, the other, or both. [15] By contrast, under conditions of speed and space, the iconographic and the functional become distinct, spatially segregated entities with diverging performance criteria. The “decoration” acquired a new scale to address the speed of drivers passing by. At the back of the site, the shed, an interior augmented by artificial illumination and mechanical cooling, was freed from any natural impediment to its horizontal expansion. [16]



Architecture in a pressure vacuum: A recommendation for a Monument © James Khamsi



These archetypes were discovered through a new engagement with reality, one that sought to avoid, or at least suspend, biases and a-priori judgments of taste. At the onset of her career, Scott-Brown was troubled by absence of a “non-judgmental, non directive attitude,” which had a deep influence in visual art, psychology, and music through the twentieth century, in architecture and urban design. [17] In reaction, she and her partner introduced it as a method to a series of studios that studied “extreme forms” of the “landscape of suburban sprawl that surrounds all American cities.” [18] Dissatisfied with modern urbanism’s disdain for “exiting conditions,” they polemically aimed to question “how we look at things,” suggesting that the method may “make later judgment more sensitive.” [19]

Koolhaas has cited their influence on Delirious New York explaining that at the time, as “it seemed increasingly uncertain what should happen, one should look at reality, and describe cities and describe developments as they were taking place; and if anything, interpret rather than speculate how the future would look.” For him, Learning From Las Vegas in 1972 pointed to a fundamental shift in architectural discourse: “the age of manifestos seemed to be over.” [20]

It is the precisely this search for novel archetypes within the real that distinguish these projects from other contemporaneous strategies urban analyses. If we consider site analysis as the documentation of a territorial milieu to reveal the forces and contingencies that will affect a project, then these projects pursue a different objective. Consider Learning from Las Vegas in comparison two contemporaneous site analysis methods such as Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City and Ian McHarg’s Design with Nature. For Lynch, the map objectively documents people’s subjective understanding of their cities and the constructed elements that contribute to it. [21] For McHargh, the map elucidates the visible, non-visible, living, and geologic elements that interact to produce the ecology of a site. Lynch is interested in how a site is experienced; McHarg is interested in how a site is conditioned. They share an interest in reading and decoding a territory in anticipation of design action.

Can the same be said of Learning from Las Vegas and Delirious New York? Las Vegas and New York were not immediately sites for their authors’ practices. Neither delves too deeply into the social or ecological forces that had converged produce their unique morphology. Here we can distinguish two different kinds of analytic gazes: one that is invested in place and seeks specificity, the other, exemplified by these texts, is invested in disciplinary questions and explores generalities.



Their engagement with reality produced its most provocative conclusions when the authors addressed the realities of commercial development. Learning from Las Vegas situates the locus of innovation and provocation outside academic architectural circles and in the commercial realm. It was commercial development that was able to fill the void opened by technological change, and it was commercial architecture that was producing new formal vocabularies and new means to communicate with the public.

For Scott-Brown, working with the archetypes of commercial architecture connects designers with the needs and desires of people. “The first lesson for architects is the pluralism of need. No builder-developer in his right mind would announce: ‘I am building for Man.’ He is building for a market, for a group of people defined by income range, age, family composition and life style.” [22] The market could simultaneously open and discipline architectural production. If the rallying cry of modernism was “Architecture or Revolution,” for Scott-Brown and Venturi it was “Hop on Pop.”

These projects reacted to radical technological transformations in the built environment that were too broad and occurred too quickly for academic architectural discourse to keep abreast with. We can credit these texts for introducing a form of curiosity with the real to architecture and urbanism. They injected new capabilities into the discipline: the ability to critically engage research and analysis tools; the ability to identify new architectural forms and cultural patterns in the built environment; the ability to adapt new modes of operation on the fly.

For the authors, these books carry a personal legacy that reverberates through decades of architectural production. For Venturi and Scott Brown, the analytic techniques, conclusions about publicity and enduring interest in symbolism and pop culture are hallmarks of their work. [23]

For Koolhaas, continued his “non-judgmental” investigation into real sites such Atlanta, Lagos, and the Pearl River Delta, as he framed it in 1989: “judgments make you heavy . . . I would rather talk about the postponement of judgment and articulation of the problematic, which does justice to as many good and bad sides as possible.” [24] Instances of this formulation have occurred in other writing as well. Two notable examples are his admonishment to architects and urbanism to “dare to be utterly uncritical” in “Whatever Happened to Urbanism” and the “Y€$ Regime” from the turn of the millennium.

Looking at these projects from a contemporary vantage, without their polemical friction against the exhausted monolith of Modernism, new questions emerge. What is the legacy of these texts now that the supremacy of market-based private enterprise has been globally affirmed over public investment as the preferred means to urbanization and now that a host of crises (climate change, obesity, gentrification, etc.) make us skeptical of the urbanism liberalism has delivered? Should Delirious New York’s and Learning from Las Vegas‘ enthusiasm (perhaps qualified enthusiasm) for commercialized laissez-faire come under scrutiny? How should we then characterize these texts within the recent history of architectural and urban discourse? These two books offer three possible ways to understand their legacy.

A beginning: one view of their legacy would see these texts as announcements of a new, post-modern urbanism. In that light, they can be read as the creation myths of its fundamental characters and configurations. Which begs the question: have all the archetypes of contemporary development been invented? Has urbanism subsequently become a game of shuffling and playing with combinations? Is innovation in urbanism now merely the exaggerations of types—taller skyscrapers, larger spontaneous desert cities, more deliriousness? These texts are the source books of the patterns of urbanism of our time.

An end: an alternate reading could suggest that the technological changes that motivated the phenomena observed in these texts have come to an end. They narrated how heavy infrastructural developments changed cities—the last of such developments is the freeway. Since then, we have not witnessed a similar archetypal transformation to urban form. Which isn’t to say infrastructure and technological changes do not continue to affect our cities. Rather, technology has increasingly become immaterial, virtual, and invisible. The spatial effects newer technologies are felt at radically polarized scales—operating at either the personal or the global level. As a result of this shift in nature, certain urban/regional relationships have dissolved into broader global, planetary questions. Cities now operate as nodes in global markets and competitors in a global arena. As the nature of urban change occurs in different registers and frequencies, the discursive and analytic lessons of these projects have diminished relevancy: while they describe certain dynamics in twentieth century metropolitan and suburban form, they cannot be squared with the technological milieu of contemporary urbanism.

An inflection: a third reading of their legacy follows from the inflection of urban inquiry from speculation to realism. This reading presents a quandary: in order to advance a disciplinary critique of modern urbanism, these texts cede the critical function of urbanism—a bold polemic in the wake of the crises of the urban renewal era. They imply that, ultimately, the power to transform urbanism rests with the market. In their wake, we can observe a fundamental shift in urbanism as a discipline. Whereas we once proposed cities—Garden Cities, Broadacre Cities, Radiant Cities—today we speak of urbanisms—landscape urbanisms, infrastructural urbanisms, tactical urbanisms. Urbanism, the discipline, has been completely reoriented to monitor, document, and intervene in urbanism, the phenomenon that is constantly unfolding. No longer able to progressively lead the discourse on urbanization, design can only react incrementally to contingencies coalescing around it. Though decades have passed since their publication, fundamental questions still remain for the design disciplines. How well equipped is the contemporary discourse to question contemporary urban phenomena? Can the discourse critically challenge the development of cities, or are its sub-disciplines only able to slot into the market-defined enclaves to create situationally specific environments?



1. Denise Scott-Brown, “Learning from Pop,” in Architecture Theory Since 1968 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998), 63.

2. Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1997), 125.

3. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott-Brown, and Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977), 82.

4. Koolhaas, Delirious New York, 20.

5. Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York: Swerve Editions, 2000), 92.

6. David W. Jones, Mass Motorization + Mass Transit (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2010), 45.

7. Peter Rowe, Making a Middle Landscape (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), 10.

8. Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture Volume I (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 431.

9. James Khamsi and Emily Goldman, “Greater Connections,” MONU Magazine on Urbanism 19 (Autumn 2013).

10. Robert E. Lang, Edgeless Cities: Exploring the Elusive Metropolis (Washington: Brookings Institution, 2003), 40.

11. Denise Scott-Brown: “Analysis of the extreme forms would be easier than analysis of more typical ones, which were usually overlaid on earlier patterns. However, the intention was to throw light on the everyday. We aimed to document the characteristics of American place that were alluded to by the writers of the 1960s and also to teach ourselves, as artists, to be receptive to the mandates of our time.”Denise Scott-Brown, “Invention and Tradition,” MAS Context 13 (Spring 2012): 6-29.

12. Venturi, Scott-Brown, and Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, 18.

13. Venturi, Scott-Brown, and Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, 13.

14. Koolhaas, Delirious New York, 82.

15. Venturi, Scott-Brown, and Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, 107.

16. “Michael Piper and James Khamsi, “Endless Architecture,” MONU Magazine on Urbanism 21 (Autumn 2014): 52.

17. Denise Scott-Brown, “On Pop Art, Permissiveness, and Planning,” in Journal of the American Institute of Planners 35, no. 3 (1969): 184-186.

18. Scott-Brown, “Invention and Tradition,” 6-29. See also Jessica Lautin, “More than Ticky Tacky: Venturi, Scott-Brown and Learning from the Levittown Studio,” in Second Suburb: Levittown, Pennsylvania, ed. Dianne Harris (Pittsburg: University of Pittsburg Press, 2010).

19. Venturi, Scott-Brown, and Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, 3.

20. Quotes taken from Rem Koolhaas, “Supercrit #5” (lecture, Westminster University, May 5, 2006),

21. James Khamsi, “Curious Little Diagrams,” Urban Infill 5 (Fall 2012).

22. Scott-Brown, “Learning from Pop,” 62.

23. Maurice Harteveld and Denise Scott Brown, “On Public Interior Space,” AA Files, no. 56 (London: Architectural Association School of Architecture, 2007): 64-73.

24. Alejandro Zaera, “Finding Freedoms: Conversations with Rem Koolhaas,” El Croquis 53+79 (Madrid: El Croquis Editorial, 2004), 31.


James Khamsi is principal of FIRM a.d. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and published in Actar’s Verb series, Volume, MONU, Scapegoat, and Interior Design magazine. He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University. | @JamesKhamsi

The Lehman Invisible Monument


Barclays Bank Tower, New York City, 2015 © Fabrizio Gallanti


Essay by Fabrizio Gallanti


In the marvelous book The Missing of the Somme published in 2011, British author Geoff Dyer reconstructs how the English society cultivated an immediate memory of the First World War, through writings, carefully choreographed public ceremonies, and monuments. The common grief around the deceased soldiers and the exaltation of endurance and heroism were combined to support patriotic spirit and to forge a renewed national identity, possibly to counteract the emerging communist tendencies with an idea that as sufferings during the conflict were crossing class separation so the future somber celebration of the collective sacrifice would be instrumental to maintaining unity across social classes.

The political decision to leave the buried bodies in the war cemeteries of France and Belgium led to the invention of new typologies of monuments, paradoxically celebrating the military in absentia of their remains, disseminated in cities and in the countryside. The apotheosis of such somber collective feeling could be found in the monuments to the unknown fighter, the disappeared whose remains were never recovered from the mud of the trenches. Several important architects designed innovative solutions, among them for instance Sir Edwin Lutyens’s cenotaph at Whitehall in London. The cenotaph was a reinvention of the tomb of the hero or conductor without a corpse, already known in ancient Greece, and became the model to be replicated throughout the Commonwealth.



Unveiling of the Whitehall Cenotaph, London, 1920. Project by Edwyn Lutyens (a cenotaph is an empty tomb) © Courtesy of the author


It is interesting to juxtapose the exacerbation of an immediate past, recurrent not just in the United Kingdom, but in France and Italy as well, where every little village and town still host a memorial or monument to the soldiers who perished in the conflict, to the contemporary attempt to erase traces of events and facts, which might not have had the same scale of destruction and suffering but have, nevertheless, had significant impact on our lives.

I recently went to see and register what is left of the 2008 economic crisis, in particular in the city of New York. We can agree that our perception of reality, if compared to the sensibility of the early 1920s, has been multiplied through numerous intertwined vectors, where the tangible world is overlapping with incorporeal streams of data and information. We entered a condition where the physical and the virtual are interchangeable with almost identical properties. For instance Wall Street, a precise street in Downtown where the New York Stock Exchange building is located, has come to signify an abstract concept of the current financial capitalist condition. It is useful to remember that the majority of the transactions of the NYSE do not occur anymore on the floor so often portrayed in movies, with neurotic brokers, bizarrely wearing flashy colored jackets, but rather on computers and servers, managed by machines that decide when to buy and sell, based on real-time sophisticated algorithms that analyze gigantic quantities of data.

The main site of the Occupy Wall Street mobilization in New York was not on Wall Street itself, but on Zuccotti Park, three blocks to the North, ironically a public space, privately owned by Brookfield Properties.

So if the crisis of 2008 was largely happening within the almost fantastic world of finance, composed of immaterial assets, transiting through the nodes of digital transactions, I was interested to understand if some of the rather mundane and concrete points where these flows touched ground became memorials or monuments. I wanted to see if there are places for mourning, as there were after the First World War. Places, also, to solemnly promise that the past will not happen again.

The names that during the crisis became familiar to the public, in a domino effect of successive bankruptcies and quick takeovers sound almost like people’s names or characters in a novel: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bear Sterns, and Lehman Brothers.

Lehman Brothers came to symbolize the arrogance and fascination with risk of the financial world that almost came to bring the world economy to a halt.

I wanted to know what happened to Lehman Brothers buildings and assets in New York and in the region, to verify whether some of these sites might resonate in our collective memory as the epicenter of the 2008 financial meltdown. The history of the real estate component of Lehman Brothers activities is particularly compelling, as it is connected with notions of legacy and memory in the city.

I started my journey from the headquarters of Lehman Brothers, where its last CEO, Dick Fuld had its office on the 31st Floor (the closer circle of trusted collaborators of Fuld was named the Club 31). The building stands at 745 on Seventh Avenue. It is a skyscraper of 38 floors, designed by the New York firm Kohn, Pedersen, and Fox. Originally, it was destined to host offices of competing bank Morgan Stanley, whose main headquarters are located at 1585 Broadway, also in the Times Square district. The building was topped up in 2000 and never occupied by Morgan Stanley. Instead, Morgan Stanley sold it to Lehman Brothers in October 2001 for a reported sum of 700 million US dollars. Lehman Brothers was searching for a new seat, after their global headquarters at Three World Financial Center was severely damaged by the debris of the attack on the Twin Towers of 9/11. [1]

In contrast to other large financial corporations, which have dispersed their activities outside of New York, Lehman made a point about its intention to maintain a strong presence in the city.

Walking around what was the former seat of a major player in the financial world, it becomes all the more surprising to notice that the memory of its former tenant has been completely stripped away. The tower currently hosts Barclays Bank, the UK-based entity that purchased the US operations of Lehman (for a modest sum of 250 million US dollars) and several of its real-estate assets (the tower and two data centers for 1.5 billion US dollars). The base of the building is clad in large digital screens, which project a blue hue, corresponding to the corporate visual identity. Not too far from Times Square, the cunning use of neon and lighting alludes to a spectacularization of finance, accompanied by friendly slogans and texts, referring to the global and cosmopolitan identity of the bank. The palette of Lehman was instead a cold grey that was more a reference to the revered tradition of the house. The brand name of the bank was displayed through large steel cutout serif letters, hanging over the curtain wall of the inferior block. For a brief period, both Barclays Capital and Lehman Brothers logos were together on the façade, while now only Barclay rules. Walking around the building, no signage, texts, plaques, or chromatic references can connect it to its former tenant. In similar fashion, a small public park adjacent to the tower, nicknamed Lehman Brothers Park, carries no vestiges of its former neighbors. One element survived the overhaul: names of cities, in steel, just above the ground floor, that corresponded to the distributed offices of Lehman Brothers worldwide. They now seemed to indicate the global nature of financial capital, of which also Barclay is an incarnation.







Barclays Bank Tower, New York City, 2015 © Fabrizio Gallanti


The tower is a precise exhibition of the austere power that finance wishes to be associated with: its proportions are well balanced, the use of material denotes taste and wealth (stone, reflecting glass, aluminum, and steel profiles), without being too flashy, there is a subtle understanding of the difference between the lower levels, which respond to the urban context, and the upper part, which is more anonymous and has a well-orchestrated differentiation between the front and the back.

In a similar manner, the former headquarters, located in Cesar Pelli’s tower in Downtown, do not bear any sign or symbol of its previous tenant. The postmodern skyscraper, nicknamed the American Express Building, is currently owned by the same real estate company that owns also Zuccotti Park. It is part of a cluster of offices that include also Merrill Lynch, RBC Capital Markets, Nomura Group (who bought the Asian and European operations of Lehman Brothers), and Brookfield Asset Management (the owners).

The exploration could continue: in order to pay back its creditors, after emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2012, Lehman Brothers Holding is selling numerous assets throughout New York. Their substantial invisibility with respect to their ownership is embedded in a commercial strategy aimed at maximizing their value. Among them were an office tower at 425 Park Avenue, slated for demolition to then be substituted by a Norman Foster designed high-rise, 237 Park Avenue, a 21-floor office building, and the NYLO boutique hotel.

In a site of accelerated capitalist accumulation such as Manhattan, the vestiges of one of the most powerful players are everywhere, but are not easily detectable. All of them share a certain anonymity in their design and detailing, the expression of solidity and taste which has become the common language of corporate architecture.



Barclays Bank Tower, New York City, 2015 © Fabrizio Gallanti


Perhaps the true memorial to Lehman is not to be found in the city, but more appropriately on the Internet. The website appears frozen in time, September 2008, indicating which companies have acquired the bank and redirecting the traffic to their respective websites. In an era of permanent digital updating, encountering a home page that has not changed in more than six years is almost mesmerizing. Its static condition is, perhaps, not that different from the sculptures of soldiers from the trenches of the Western Front, which tried to freeze in stone or bronze a precise instant, perpetuating its volatile pain for eternity.



1. The migration of the Lehman Brothers offices in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on New York is another fascinating story. At some point, the bank had offices dispersed in 40 temporary locations in the New York area, including the Sheraton Hotel, whose 645 rooms were converted into trading offices.


Fabrizio Gallanti holds a Ph.D. in architectural design from the Politecnico di Torino (Turin, Italy 2001) and an M. Arch. from the University of Genova (1995). In 1998 he was among the founding members of gruppo A12. In 2003 he founded with Francisca Insulza Fig-Projects. Between 2007 and 2011 he was the architecture editor at Abitare magazine and chief editor of the Abitare website. Between 2011 and 2014 he was the Associate Director Programs at the Canadian Centre of Architecture in Montréal, Canada. He has taught at universities in Chile, Italy and United Kingdom. He is currently the first Mellon Senior Fellow within the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities. | @FIGProjects | @FabrizioGallant

The Short Life and Long History of The Pagoda


Jorba Laboratories Madrid, 1967 © Fundación Miguel Fisac


Essay by Carlos Copertone and Patxi Eguiluz


It is extremely difficult to predict when a building is going to reach a symbolic condition able to survive its own destruction. The process to mystify a specific building can be sped up exponentially when unique historical circumstances and a theatrical demolition are added to its intrinsic qualities.

This is the case of “The Pagoda,” the stunning building that the Spanish architect Miguel Fisac designed in Madrid and that, nowadays, is only present in our memory. In the rise and fall of “The Pagoda” we find a elements of tragedy but also of comic opera: reports of religious conspiracy, administrative apathy during summer holidays, speculative businesses, professional envies, and politicians unable to appreciate an architecture whose unfair destruction has turned into myth and martyr.

But let’s not lose perspective. Spain, mid-twentieth century. After a Civil War (1936–1939) that had eliminated any traces of modernity from the first decades, the timid openness of the Franco dictatorship in the mid-1950s allowed to evolve from the “neoherreriana” historicist architecture that the dictatorship itself had favored. It started a second period of modern architecture with a new generation of young architects that incorporated Spain into the international scene. From that generation, known for a restrained style strongly influenced by the purest rationalism, stood the heterogeneous figure of Miguel Fisac.

Fisac was born in Daimiel, Ciudad Real, in 1913, in a religious environment, mostly rural, and without any architectural tradition in his family. The political situation in Spain affected him greatly, both personally and professionally: the start of the Civil War in 1936 interrupted his architectural studies; and the war itself forced him to align with one of the sides, the franquista, probably abiding by his Christian beliefs. He was one of the first members of the Opus Dei, one of the most conservative wings of the Catholic Church and one of the most powerful and influential institutions in the Spanish society at the time. He rejected it twenty years later.

After a first period of his career where he self-imposed the purest rationalist style for his architecture, he became dissatisfied with the results and, during a trip around Europe in 1949, he discovered another type of architecture that had detached itself from the rigid approach of the Modern movement. From that moment on, his architecture became closer to the organic style of the Scandinavian masters that employed a more expressionist language.

Fisac was a daring architect that proposed bold solutions to specific problems, a self-taught builder that experimented with unique solutions, and an experienced technician who patented numerous construction elements. Concrete was his favorite material and with it, he created his flexible formworks as well as the so-called bone beams: hollow triangular-shaped pieces made of prefabricated concrete that could span long distances with post-tensioned steel bars. With that solution, the roofs of the buildings could be lighter but also could provide waterproofing and a uniform zenithal light that enriched the covered spaces. A single element that did not require any extra additions to solve all the problems: structure, natural light, and waterproofing. As the architect himself said then, “while testing how to connect a square or triangular-shaped element with a wall to achieve the desired zenithal light, I came across a shape that resembled that of the bones of the vertebrate animals. I requested cattle bones from the butcher and, when I noticed the similarity, I realized that I was on the right path.” [1]

Since he devised that solution in the early 60s for the Center for Hydrographic Studies in Madrid, Fisac used the bone system to span long distances column-free. The head of the beams that stick out would form the wing and would show its section to the exterior, in a display of radical expression and absolute construction sincerity.

He used once again the bone beams for the production and storage warehouses of the Jorba Laboratories that were built in Madrid between 1965 and 1967 next to the highway that connects the capital city with its airport and Barcelona. Two differentiated areas defined the complex: the column-free warehouses covered by that ingenious technical solution and a freestanding tower that housed the office area.

The tower, located in the area closer to the street, included several administrative areas as well as a library. The client asked Fisac to create a striking element that could be attention grabbing to those driving on the highway, the only way to move around in this area of the periphery. Fisac created a memorable building with a peculiar shape: the square-shaped floors of the tower rotated 45º alternatively. The square shape of each floor remained only in the plan of the windows, between the height of the ledge and the window lintel. The overlapping floors created a ruled surface of hyperbolic paraboloids.



Building elevations, 1967 © Fundación Miguel Fisac



Tower plans, 1967 © Fundación Miguel Fisac



Tower top structure, 1967 © Fundación Miguel Fisac



Tower cross section, 1967 © Fundación Miguel Fisac


While the structural solution for the warehouse building responds to the truthful construction system of bone beams, the tower was more theatrical in its technical solution: the structure was formed by metallic columns and slabs covered in concrete using wood formwork that was able to solve the resulting complex shape.

Fisac, an extremely detailed-oriented person during the construction process, wanted the façade to be built from the top down so that the poured concrete would not spill onto the lower floors.



Jorba Laboratories under construction, Madrid, 1967 © Fundación Miguel Fisac


The resulting building, an intriguing and suggestive shape that changed depending on the light conditions, soon became the symbol of a new Spanish architecture. Due to its expressivity, it was also warmly received by the majority of the citizens of Madrid that would enjoy it while driving to the airport. From that moment on, it was popularly known as “The Pagoda” due to its resemblance to the traditional tiered towers from East Asia. It was the only Spanish building included in “Transformations in Modern Architecture,” the 1979 MoMA exhibition dedicated to the International Architecture of the 1960s and 1970s.







Jorba Laboratories, Madrid, 1967 © Fundación Miguel Fisac


But popular admiration and international relevance were not enough to convince a good number of Spanish architects. Professional jealousy or rationalist fundamentalism projected a shadow of disdain over “The Pagoda.”

In the 90s, the Madrid City Hall started to catalog those buildings worth receiving landmark status. The initial selection was ultimately shortened and approximately seven hundred buildings were left out, including Jorba Laboratories. Without a doubt, the members of the commission that made the selection were more interested in other buildings by Fisac, more conceptual and rationalist, than his Pagoda.

In 1999, Grupo Lar, the new owner of the property, requested a demolition permit with the goal of increasing the built area in the parcel. The local government of the San Blas district approved the demolition permit as the building had not been landmarked.

The first news about the demolition of “The Pagoda” came as the building was starting to be demolished, in mid-July during the summer holidays. Neither the protests by groups of young architects nor the impassioned defense of the value of the building by the president of the Association of Architects or Madrid had any effect.

Fisac, still alive when the demolition took place, argued that it was the revenge of Opus Dei—the organization he had left decades before—to “destroy his image as a person and as an architect.” [2] The truth will never be known but, if Miguel Fisac had still been the influential and powerful person he was decades before, his building quite possibly would have been treated differently.



Demolition of the Jorba Laboratories, Madrid, 1999 © Luis Asín



Building that replaced the Jorba Laboratories, Madrid, 2015 © Carlos Copertone


In fact, the demolition of the building had to do more with the blindness of the Mayor of Madrid and the City Hall, who were unable to show any respect for a building that was absolutely worthy of having a landmark status. And it also had to do with economic interests: to be able to build a larger building would provide enormous capital gains. At the end of the twentieth century, Spain witnessed the last big cycle of economic growth based on construction, one where the government allowed everything in search of what they called economic “progress.”

The demolition of “The Pagoda” generated media coverage and a popular response never seen before for a contemporary building. At that moment the City Hall, ashamed, suggested Miguel Fisac the possibility of building “The Pagoda” in another location, to what he responded categorical, “this is a total farce.” [3]

“The Pagoda” is now part of the collective memory. It demonstrates our inability to value and actively protect contemporary architecture for which not enough time has passed to understand and appreciate its value as shared heritage.

The demolition of “The Pagoda” speaks by itself of what was, and is, Spain, and its stance towards contemporary architecture landmarks. It also demonstrates the continuous abuses committed in urbanism and urban planning.

Will we repeat this formula over and over again, or will be able to create an intelligent and sensitive society able to protect our contemporary symbols?



1. “Prefabricados—vigas hueso,” Edificio del Centro de Estudios Hidrográficos, Documentation area of the Centro de Estudios y Experimentación de Obras Públicas of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport of Spain, accessed February 1, 2015,

2. Valeria Saccone, Miguel Mora, and Charo Nogueira, “Los arquitectos comparan el derribo de ‘La Pagoda,’ de Fisac, con la quema de un ‘miró,’” El País (Madrid), July 21, 1999.

3. “Fisac: ‘Yo no me vendo,’” El País (Madrid), July 24, 1999,


Carlos Copertone is a judge who received his PhD from the University of Extremadura in Spain. He specializes in urbanism and regional planning and has taught at the Carlos III University in Madrid. He is a permanent contributor to the Spanish edition of Architectural Digest (AD España). | @carloscopertone

Patxi Eguiluz is an architect with more than fifteen years of experience in building construction and urbanism. His work has received multiple awards and has been published internationally. He is a permanent contributor to the Spanish edition of Architectural Digest (AD España). | @EguiluzPatxi

Never-Loved Buildings Rarely Stand a Chance
Josep Lluís Sert in Cambridge


Classrooms open on exterior play space, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn


Essay by Alexandra Lange. Photographs by Lee Dykxhoorn.


It’s a detail too perfect, better suited to a novel. Architecture critic goes to kindergarten at modernist school. Years later, she returns to the city of her birth and discovers the school again, surrounded by construction hoardings, on the brink of destruction. Can she save it? Except that was me, and I was too late.

My school, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was designed by the firm of Josep Lluís Sert: Spanish architect and planner, former Harvard Graduate School of Design dean, designer of the superb Peabody Terrace apartments just across the street, as well as buildings for Harvard and Boston University. My school came late in his career, late for the concrete walls and rhythmic geometric shadows that were signatures of his architecture, and late, too, for the architecture’s relationship with the surrounding stick-built residential neighborhood known as Riverside. My school was demolished during the spring of 2014. Another King School is now under construction, this one of terminal beige exterior blandness, designed by Perkins Eastman. King School 2.0 trumpets its community connections, zones for students of different ages and natural lighting—just like the one it will replace.

The building was six-years-old when I started kindergarten in 1977. It housed three programs: a Head Start (an early childhood program conceived as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty), a traditional elementary school, and a progressive school with mixed ages, open classrooms, and math taught with Cuisenaire rods. The plan, as conceived by Sert, Jackson & Associates, made moving through the school, both through the day and through the years, easy for a five-year-old. Thirty-five years later, I could make a reasonably accurate sketch of it, so memorable were its parts. There was the main street, entered from Putnam Avenue every morning in a cacophonous rush through many doors. Auditorium, gym, and library, accessible to the public after hours, were set along the double-height sky lit hall, which shot through the building to the playground behind. (It’s both a Corbusian ramp brought down to earth and a ringer for the overheated hallway at Sert’s Science Center at Harvard, which opened in 1973.) Classrooms ran along two perpendicular, narrower hallways. Kindergartners turned off first, to a set of classrooms with their own walled outdoor spaces. Second- and third-grade classes were at the back of that first floor; older grades upstairs. The King School checked all the boxes of modernist school orthodoxy: abundant natural light, flexible plan, access to the outdoors, spatial complexity. It was utilitarian in appearance, minimal in detail and interior finishes, but the strong horizontals and uplifting use of light gave it more character than many of the one- and two-story suburban courtyard schools built during this era. I can still recall the texture of the red Tectum walls against which we had to line up, compressed, random ornament.



Martin Luther King Jr. Elemantry School plan © Lee Dykxhoorn


The school was a city in miniature, I realize now, with the combination of institutions, housing, open space and roads Sert advocated for in town planning and, indeed, into his design for Peabody Terrace. There, modular blocks of apartments pile up into towers and stretch laterally into walls around green space and a virtual town square. A blank side of a parking garage was meant to be used as a public blackboard. The 500-unit project, completed in 1964, had a nursery on the square, but the King School allowed Sert to add a missing public element. “To have a really urban pattern of life,” he told the AIA Journal in 1977, “you have to pull services and activity centers close together.” A broad walkway along the north end of that site sits diagonally across Putnam Avenue from the school entrance. In my memory, they lined up, as we children filled the walkway as we marched toward playgrounds by the Charles River.

I never saw that walkway as a barrier, peering, then as now, into the curious apartments along the side (I didn’t know anyone who lived in a high-rise). I lived in half of a Victorian house one neighborhood over, but my childhood was studded with concrete: the Sert school (1972), the New England Aquarium by Cambridge Seven (1969), and the Central Square Public Library by Monacelli Associates (1973-75). To pass back and forth between the ages of architecture was natural. The King School’s legacy for thirty-five years of kindergarteners is modernism learned from the inside out, that blank walls are made for chalk, concrete walls for murals, glass for art projects stuck up with tape. The simple, powerful spaces were disruptive or strange, but there to guide you safely (and en masse) from classroom to restroom to cafeteria. The building made children comfortable—the grown-ups were another story.

In 2003, Architecture Boston published a story titled, “Why the Public (Still) Hates Peabody Terrace,” exploring three decades of distrust set off by the construction. Despite Sert and his partners’ efforts at inclusion via clear paths to the river, public spaces and shops, and efforts at contextualization, via blocks brought down to triple-decker height, Peabody Terrace was still seen as alien and other, and unfortunately policed that way. While the architects were glad to leap Putnam Avenue and establish a foothold on the other side with the city of Cambridge as client, the King School was seen as a pushy interloper, their architecture on our side of the street. No matter how cleverly Sert, Jackson & Associates fit a new gym, auditorium, and playing fields behind existing houses or echoed the rhythm of the gables with rooftop monitors, the fact of the school, and its clear design relationship to Harvard and Peabody Terrace poisoned the interpretation of a brand-new school.

The outside didn’t help: it had yellow-tinted concrete, few diminutive elements, and a largely blank first floor. What was, in fact, open, didn’t read as such. Scant period sources (even in Sert monographs, this is not a popular project) suggest that the school’s fortress-like outside was a response to the very unsettled politics that gave what had been the Houghton School a new name: Sert began the design in 1968, the year of King’s assassination and worldwide campus protest. But I wonder: how many schools on a main thoroughfare have windows that make it easy for passers-by to see children at work? The new version has windows, yes, but they are barricaded behind layers of planters. How much more engagement will passers-by actually have? The local architects and preservation groups who tried to save the King School admitted a few more exterior windows wouldn’t hurt, but they would be a gesture toward the alienated neighborhood rather than a necessity: the classrooms, arranged around a glassed-in courtyard, got plenty of light.

The King School began to be demolished before it was even built, and never-loved buildings rarely stand a chance. If only someone had turned to four-foot-tall advocates, too small to know concrete is automatically to be described as fortress-like. Kids are offended by guards and barriers, but not by styles of architecture or town-gown politics. The story of the building from the inside out, as a city for children, might—might—have convinced. Stripped for demolition, the building revealed itself as be an ideal platform for reinvention; the bones of Sert’s educational village ready and willing to take on new programs that also needed light, space, and easy access to the outdoors. Ironically, the urban metaphor, and the idea of creating internal streets and neighborhoods within the protected zone of the school, is perhaps more popular in education design now than it was in the 1960s, when many modern schools were designed as U’s and E’s and L’s around boxy, internal outdoor courtyards. The King School’s back playground was more messy and liberal than those midcentury versions, but the protected gardens for the younger children had the same one, two, three structure, while the wide maw opening, from front or back, onto the internal street, offered a more generous point of entry. SOM’s Burr Street Elementary School (2004) in Fairfield, CT combines the two paradigms, with rectilinear bars of classrooms around shared courtyards and facilities, like rows of houses in relation to city institutions. Morphosis’s Diamond Ranch High School (2009) in Pomona, CA similarly inserts an urban “street” into a suburban site, segregating students by age while providing access for all to outdoor space, gym, and cafeteria. As the copy on their website states, “The intention of the whole is to challenge the message sent by society that routinely communicates its disregard for the young by educating them in cheap institutional boxes surrounded by impenetrable chain link fencing.” Sert’s intentions, with his crosscut street, his community facilities accessible after hours, his small play spaces for the small children, big play spaces for all, were the same, and were clearly legible (to those who can interpret) in the plans. But if this was said during the design process, or even afterward, it seems not to have been heard. The King School legacy instead becomes part of a chain linking too many other postwar buildings felled by longstanding prejudice, green-washed replacements, and the promise of the new. It’s a shame the King School never really had a moment as shiny and new. A lifetime of skirting the edges of the King School made it easy to wish away, no matter how carefully it was designed to let the community in.



Residential fronts along Putnam Avenue, Cambridge, 2014 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Classroom clerestory expression along Putnam Avenue, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Material scale and context, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Façade from Putnam Avenue, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Classrooms open on exterior play space, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Classrooms open on exterior play space, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Natural lighting in typical classroom, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Circulation corridor along courtyard, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Stairwell, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Double-height skylit hall, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



View from stairwell, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Courtyard, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Stacked massing with roof access ladders, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Play area behind the school, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn



Play area behind the school with entry ramp, Cambridge, 2013 © Lee Dykxhoorn


Alexandra Lange is a design critic and author of Writing About Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities and co-author of Design Research: The Store that Brought Modern Living to American Homes. She is an opinion columnist at Dezeen and a contributor to the New York Times, New Yorker, Architect, Design Observer, and Metropolis. | @langealexandra

Lee Dykxhoorn is an architect with Gund in Boston. Trained at MIT, his work explores the sociocultural context of civic buildings and political influences in the design of public spaces. He is an educator at Learning by Design in Massachusetts. | @leedykxhoorn

When the Future Was Here


View from one quadrant patient room to another, Prentice Women’s Hospital, 2014 © David Schalliol


Essay by Paola Aguirre and Michelle Ha Tucker. Photographs by David Schalliol.


I. Context

It feels like a familiar story: a hotly debated competition for an iconic building, a stirring of opinion and speculation, the public waiting with bated breath for what will rise from the gaping emptiness. Then, completion: and with that, a sort of denouement to the building process. We either rejoice and marvel at the beautiful new jewel for the city, or settle into a numb disappointment for what could have been.

A timely example of the latter fate is the recent completion of 1 World Trade Center. Quite possibly one of the most anticipated build projects in New York, if not nationally, the building was to be an emblem of resilience for the city and for the US. The project could advance what Battery Park City had started: bringing the human scale of the city back in Lower Manhattan, and introducing culture and street life in a place that had long been devoid of it. But alas, it had not: such an idea was “brushed aside” by commercial interests, a force that led to “up-side down priorities,” with the economic greatly overpowering the civic. [1] The result of much heated public debate: an office park plaza scheme, and the tall glass office tower that is 1 World Trade, though it looks like it could be anywhere else. The reminder was clear: buildings represent a fundamental part of the cultural production of cities. Their real estate value should not overshadow their cultural contribution and commitment to the City, especially those involving such civic ambition or invaluable collective memory.

While that tower was nearing completion in New York, another was being destroyed in Chicago. The Prentice Women’s Hospital, built in 1975 and designed by renowned architect Bertrand Goldberg in the near-north neighborhood of Streeterville, was nearing complete demolition by September 2014. Even though the scale and context of the World Trade Center and Prentice are entirely different, in many ways the heart of the controversy was the same–an unabashed overriding of civic concerns for those of a small group of appointed decision-makers. The struggle was in effect an introversion of what happened in New York. Yes, there was healthy debate, but it was too limited, opaque, biased and too late. Anticipation of constructing the desirable new was replaced with the imminent allegory of defending something plagued with the sheen of the unwanted.



The Buildings are sleeping, you should go and wake them up, she says. First Prize, 2012 Chicago Prize, Chicago Architectural Club © Cyril Marsollier and Wallo Villacorta


Despite the extraordinary campaign “Save Prentice” spearheaded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the superficial evaluation of reuse proposals by the City of Chicago [2] and the economic argument put forward by Northwestern University seemed to trump all else. A lack of imagination was no excuse: an open competition for proposals on how to reuse and adapt the building for twenty-first century use drew innovative ideas from over eighty architects and support from a dozen Pritzker Prize winners. Yet Northwestern didn’t budge, calling it “not productive” to review proposals for a building they had been planning to demolish for ten years. [3] The University just “closed its eyes to free ideas,” [4] closed their doors to any reasonable discussion for reuse of the building, and foremost it failed as an educational institution to preserve and contribute with a valuable piece of Chicago’s built heritage.

The defensive kind of debate reveals deep flaws, if not jarring breaches in our current model of preservation. How can a model reconcile the twin interests in tension that are ever present in cities: the economic and the civic, the private and the public, and the reverence for heritage while lusting for the new? And how might we bring the same heady, curious passion that a public might have for new construction to make preservation less a reactive struggle, and more of a proactive conversation?

This piece is a discussion of the uniquely innovative design of Prentice Women’s Hospital, a review and lessons learned about the failed efforts to preserve it, and a call for action for developing a new framework around a more holistic and active role within the cultural production of cities that is inherently related to the built environment.


II. The Legacy of Function

Trained in both in architecture and engineering, Goldberg developed a strong social-oriented commitment to improve people’s quality of life through design throughout his entire career. With a combination of academic training early at Harvard in Cambridge, the Bauhaus in Dessau and Berlin, and later at the Armour Institute in Chicago, Goldberg developed an ambitious formal design aesthetic and sensitive humanistic approach to design.

Goldberg worked closely with Mies van der Rohe, one of the main figures of architecture modernism and was highly influenced by his sculptural approach to building details and thoughtfulness within his design process. Nevertheless, his interests mainly aligned with Mies’ in the possibilities of mass production and in the idea that architecture could fundamentally alter the ways a society lives. [5] Goldberg’s exceptional intellectual independence from his mentor and his particular notion of positive space strongly influenced his formal approach to shaping buildings. His own research and experience led him ultimately to conclude that the circle–not the square that strongly defines Mies’s projects–was the best shape on which to base architectural form.6 Prentice was one of the most remarkable project opportunities to prove this.

Until the mid-twentieth century, the design of hospitals had been relegated to banal standards that addressed quantity before quality. Bertrand Goldberg designed eight major hospitals in the United States over the course of his career, with Prentice occurring right in the middle of that number, and almost parallel to other two.7 With Prentice, Goldberg was able to stress test his formal conclusions and synthesize his thinking and experience with previous hospital designs. Prentice’s story amongst his other healthcare designs is unique as a commission in two ways: it inspired a new patient-centered approach and it employed the use of new technology to advance his spatial agenda in an unprecedented manner.

Patient-Centered Care Approach

The Chicago Maternity Center (CMC), Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NMH), and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University Medical School consolidated their resources, knowledge and services to create a new kind of medical center that combined cutting edge technology, groundbreaking medical research, and patient-focused care. [8] The timing of this project was at the forefront a progressive cultural movement of the mid-1960s that led to increase in healthcare design a more patient-centered approach. [9] This latter aspect was relevant to Goldberg’s work since he already had been charged formerly with creating plans to promote the physician-patient relationship at the Affiliated Hospital Center in Boston. [10]

One of the most exciting features of the new hospital was the introduction of an approach to obstetrics that Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NMH) dubbed Family-Centered-Maternity Care. Prentice’s promotional materials boasted “having a baby at Prentices is—as far as possible—a family event”. The list of services offered at Prentice illustrates the hospital’s progressive attitude towards women’s choice, reproductive rights, mental healthcare, and cutting edge research. [11]

Goldberg carefully analyzed the nurse-patient relationship through his many healthcare projects. He understood the importance of balancing the patient’s privacy with better visibility and care of patients, and developed as a key design principle spatial clusters organized as centripetal or radial that allowed nurses equidistant access to patients. [12] The form-making process was inherently integrated with his understanding of the psychology of spaces. [13]



Prentice Women’s Hospital typical bed tower floor plan, 1971 © Bertrand Goldberg Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago


Legibility and Building Organization

Innovation is intrinsically linked to flexibility. Goldberg recognized this relationship constantly and worked with two approaches: flexibility of floor space (column-free where possible) to accommodate patient-oriented functions, and flexibility of layout (uniform structural grid) for service and administrative spaces. Although a strong advocate for flexible design, he had reservations about placing absolute primacy on flexibility in hospital planning, noting that is “relatively impossible to provide an ideal, “tight”, economical solution for an specific task at hand while at the same time also providing unlimited flexibility.” [14]

Legibility was also a main achievement of Prentice’s design, and a visual way in which the users could potentially identify and navigate the distinct functions of the hospital. By using different building forms for the different main programs, Goldberg emphasized a way to humanize how hospital programs are conveyed to patients and staff. His design solution at Prentice: a custom-designed facility that balanced flexibility with humanity. Therefore, he argued that the facility was not one, but two buildings: a rectangular five-story base of reinforced concrete post and beam construction below a seven-story bed tower of reinforced poured concrete in a distinctive quatrefoil shape. [15] Finally, in order to achieve the so-called flexibility that Goldberg pursued for Prentice, the quatrefoil bed tower exterior shell was cantilevered from the core, providing maximum plan flexibility below. [16]

Structural, Geometrical, and Technological Innovation

Goldberg had a strong formal and spatial sense that drove both his pursuit of structural innovation and exploration of new programmatic solutions. By the time he began to work on Prentice, Goldberg had already spent almost two decades searching for ever-more-daring building shapes. [17] Like many other engineers and architects through history, he was attracted to concrete, with its remarkable aesthetic and structural capabilities. The elegant arches of the quatrefoil tower that cantilevered 48 feet at Prentice were not only an aesthetic but also a functional statement on structural possibility.

The tower at Prentice consists of four partial circles or “pods” interconnected in plan and intersecting arches at the center core. The arches are cantilevered from the core, providing support service for all four of those resulting pods. [18] The upper body of the tower is a composite structure: a concrete structural self-supporting load-bearing exterior shell that is also partially “hanging” from the central cores. This highly complex solution makes more efficient use of material while making the building stable. [19]



Prentice Women’s Hospital section, 1971 © Bertrand Goldberg Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago


With this integrated and experimental approach to structural design, there was no room for error. Nothing like it had ever been undertaken, and it required meticulous and copious engineering calculation. A computational group within BGA had emerged during the late sixties, but it wasn’t until the early 1970s that Goldberg established the programming division as a subsidiary company of BGA called Computer Service, Incorporated (CSI). BGA’s modeling program was able to process structural calculations and produce three-dimensional drawing without the hand of an architect, and was light years ahead of the common, flat electronic drawing machines that many architecture firms had used until the 1990s. [20]



Prentice Women’s Hospital CAD drawing, c. 1972 © Computer Service Inc. and BGA, Bertrand Goldberg Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago


The methods that Goldberg developed in the process of designing Prentice are now commonplace in architectural practice. Although his life-long interests in computers and structural innovation, Prentice is especially significant within the context of his career because is was the first time that he used computer modeling in structural analysis and the first time that he used the Finite Element Method. [21] Based on grid analysis, the method enabled a more accurate understanding of how the total structure functioned and was crucial for complex shell forms. And even though the method had been developed since the 1940s, it was not until the 1960s and the advent of high-speed digital computing that the extensive amount of calculations required could be processed and used as part of the building design process.

Goldberg’s innovations in concrete structure can be seen by a review of three of his Chicago buildings, which provides a clear narrative on the evolution of his approaches: Marina City (core and columns), Prentice (core and shell), and Hilliard Homes (only shell). Although it is the smallest of the three, Prentice represents the most daring of structural solutions.





Prentice Women’s Hospital under construction, 1973 © Photographs by Allan Weber. Bertrand Goldberg Archive, Ryerson and Burnham Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago



Prentice Women’s Hospital interior under construction, 1973-74 © Courtesy of Geoff Goldberg


III. Legacy or Benefactor?

Beyond discussing the legacy of the building’s significant aspects, we arrive on the question of the word “legacy” itself. Legacy connotes the obsolete, the inherited, the delegated object that is given against our will. Might there be a more enlightened way to think about the effects of the building, one in which we can compare it against other cultural bodies of work? If buildings like Prentice act as “elders” that newer buildings and architects can learn from, are they not also actively supporting the current process of cultural production as “benefactors”? Prentice represented both risk and hope at a time of social change, but also a thoughtful approach of design values to elevate the experience of healthcare services. The values around human-centered functions remain relevant, yet the current scales of need and additional criterion have also increased the complexity to the way health-oriented projects are developed.

The design approach for Prentice remains relevant and is used as both inspiration and reference for new projects, such as Rush Medical Center in Chicago. The principles of a decentralized organization of community groups and a formal legibility of large-scale projects still confer us with wisdom and inspiration going forward. Prentice acts as a mark of resolution of a long trajectory of invention. It should be understood not as variations on a standard theme, but rather as the culmination of a design ethos that sought to transform too-often cold and banal models for hospitals into villages for healing. [22]

Myriad national and international articles acknowledged and celebrated Prentice’s design both during its construction process and after it started operations. GBA was acclaimed with everything from a prize for structural innovation granted by Engineering News-Record magazine to being on the cover of Healthcare magazine. Markedly, Prentice wasn’t just drawing notice from within the architecture world—it was sparking the imagination of healthcare professionals, engineers, and most importantly, patients.

Prentice is part of a wider narrative that is central to the history of Chicago architecture of avant-garde design and cutting edge structural engineering achievement. [23] It is also part of a broader thematic body of work, being one of Goldberg’s hospitals, which share a target that is not regional nor influenced by economics; the target is simply taking care of health.” [24] Current and future designers continue to learn from these projects; the design and broader community continues to being inspired by the values of collaboration, innovation, and social responsiveness that drove projects such as Prentice.



Prentice Women’s Hospital contrasted by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago building, 2014 © David Schalliol


IV. A New Framework for Cultural Production of Cities

The demolition of Prentice represents a deep failure in the way we as a public and as a City contend with the concept of preservation. Let us learn from failure. The only counter to something so disheartening as the leveling of an iconic building is to, of course, build something new: a new model, a framework for the cultural production of cities that reframes the act of preserving as one of producing. A new model where preserving symbolic assets implies added value, not an added burden. A new model where those in charge of overseeing the cultural assets of the City are accountable for their decisions. A new model that flexibly responds to the level of importance of the piece under discussion. A model that allocates seats at the decision-making table to those who have a legitimate expertise. We propose the following elements as a build on current ideas of preservation, with the hope that they stir the public with the same amount of passion for a building being saved as for a building being erected.

Radical Transparency

The landmarking process was fraught with unprecedented drama. A process that seemed so clear at the onset became increasingly murky through political chess playing and manipulation. To qualify as a landmark, the City must first review a landmark nomination report, which assesses the building against seven criteria. The report is submitted as part of a two-stage process, the first stage being a vote on qualifications, and the second as a final vote after discussions and negotiations with the building owner regarding economic impact.

For Prentice, the inconsistencies and shortcuts allowed in the process are at once remarkable and ridiculous. The landmark hearing took place after repeated delays on November 1, 2012. Notably, Mayor Emanuel wrote an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune in support of Northwestern’s demolition plans just the day before. In one of the most unusual proceedings in Chicago Landmarks Commission history, the vote after the first phase was a unanimous 9-0 in favor of qualification, only to have it rescinded a few hours later. [25] Normally, the first vote would have granted preliminary landmark status for a year while the Department of Housing and Economic Development (DHED) researched whether there was an economic case for permanent designation. However, the second vote came just 2 hours and 21 minutes later, after DHED released a report at the same meeting alleging that preserving Prentice would harm the University’s ability to build a biomedical research facility on the site. While the process ultimately ran its course, this particular hearing was deemed unlawful, with Judge Neil Cohen of the Cook County Circuit Cook calling the proceedings arbitrary and nontransparent. [26]

Myriad questions still remain as to why and how the process was subjectively compromised in the case of Prentice. In a time when Chicago is leading the charge for open government data, how might processes, evidence, and arguments become more transparent?

New Values, New Criteria

The values around preservation are inherent in the criteria a landmarks commission holds. In the report reviewing the building against seven criteria, Prentice was seen as having qualified as four of the seven criteria (only two were needed), listed below in bold:

1. Value as an example of City, State, or National heritage
2. Location a site of a significant historic event
3. Identification with a significant person
4. Exemplary architecture
5. Work of a significant architect or designer
6. Representation of a significant theme
7. A unique or distinctive visual feature

There are two distinct recommendations here. First, the criteria must hold some weight against the economic argument, where it currently does not. Despite having satisfied much more criteria than it needed to, Prentice was still not given legitimate preliminary landmark status. Second, we must tease apart the inherent values of preservation and ask what’s missing. It is easy to protect what is old and agreeably beautiful, but how might criteria reach beyond these values to encompass ideas of innovation and inventiveness?

Public Oversight and Accountability

The parable of Prentice calls into question the culture of decision making at the highest levels of our cities. If not the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to be our stewards to safeguard the City of Chicago’s historic and cultural heritage (as outlined in the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance), then who else? [27] One might wonder why, out of a nine-person committee, only one of the members has a background in architecture, given that the commission’s mission has ostensibly everything to do with architecture (Emanuel had replaced four members, two of which were architects, by a chef, an obstetrician, and two career-politicians the year before). [28] And the one voice who was in favor of Prentice through both votes resigned shortly after the hearing. These events begin surface where the true power lies in the equation—and casts a disturbing light on the lack of it in the context of this commission. How might we rethink the qualifications for those appointed to the commission, and hold them accountable for the power they supposedly wield?

Balancing the Equation—A Real Seat at the Table

If we were to weigh the copious arguments, reuse proposals, and letters of support from the public against those of each of the Commission members, we would find the arguments from the Commission falling dreadfully short. We’d hope to find a satisfactory jury-like conclusion, a story based on evidence, or a verdict that resolves the tensions present: but none of this exists.

To balance the power equation surrounding Prentice, we would have hoped that the public arguments would have had a seat at the table, and at the jury. We needed an impartial body, exhibits of evidence, and a timely, well-reasoned review of both sides of the argument. Instead, keeping with the courtroom analogy, the jury was rigged, and the public never had a real seat at the table. How might we return to a balance of power by having the right expertise and arguments in the room—especially when the toughest decisions must be made?

A Future-Facing Perspective

Finally, we need a long-term view that sees cultural production as a promise for future generations as opposed to those stuck in the past. Instead of a simple yes or no solution to the landmarking process, what might a longer-term, fluid exploration of what’s best for both parties at stake look like? For example, the Commission never inquired into Northwestern’s master plan, and whether such a thing even existed (it didn’t)—a seemingly glaring error that would have heavily informed options for preservation. In this case, numb disappointment and a short-term view trumped healthy debate that could have led to a win-win result.

Let us move beyond a simple set of black-and-white conclusions and a static set of rules that leaves only two camps: those who are stuck in the past, and those blindly drawn to the future. For Prentice could have been the champion of something else: it could have been a time when the city renewed itself through creative reuse, or when innovation meant experimentation with existing constraints instead of starting anew. In that time, the future was here, and it was just a matter of telling the story in a way that everyone could understand.



Prentice Women’s Hospital south view, 2014 © David Schalliol



Prentice Women’s Hospital structural detail, 2014 © David Schalliol



Prentice Women’s Hospital patient rooms, 2014 © David Schalliol



Prentice Women’s Hospital patient room, 2014 © David Schalliol



Prentice Women’s Hospital quadrant with patient rooms, 2014 © David Schalliol



Prentice Women’s Hospital office, 2014 © David Schalliol



Prentice Women’s Hospital neonatal emergency room, 2014 © David Schalliol



Prentice Women’s Hospital nursing quadrant, 2014 © David Schalliol















Prentice Women’s Hospital demolition sequence, 2014 © David Schalliol



1. Michael Kimmelman, “A Soaring Emblem of New York, and Its Upside-Down Priorities.” New York Times, November 29, 2014, A1.

2. Cook County Court, Public Meeting, February 7, 2013. Report from the City of Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development on Prentice Women’s Hospital landmark designation petition: “DHED has reviewed reuse proposals submitted by preservation advocacy groups for the former Prentice building as well as the reuse report prepared by the [Northwestern] University. After careful consideration, the Department is persuaded that the old building cannot be efficiently adapted to meet the technical needs of the modern medical research facilities nor can it be configured to meet the space requirements identified in the school’s expansion plan neither functionally or programmatically.”

3. Nathan Eddy, “The Absent Column,” Short documentary. Interview with Alan Cubbage, Vice President, University Relations. Northwestern University.

4. Karissa Rosenfield, “Winners of the Future Prentice Competition Announced,” ArchDaily November 21, 2012,

5. Susannah Ribstein, Prentice Women’s Hospital Report for Landmark Illinois (July 2012), 13.

6. Susannah Ribstein, Prentice Women’s Hospital Report for Landmark Illinois (July 2012), 14.

7. “Selected Projects,” in Bertrand Goldberg, Architecture of Invention (The Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University Press, 2012), 170-188. Elgin State Hospital, Illinois (1967); the Health Services Center in Stony Brook, New York (1974); Affiliated Hospitals in Boston, Massachusetts (1984); St. Joseph Hospitals in Tacoma, Washington (1974); Prentice Women’s Hospital (1975); Saint Mary’s Hospital, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1976); Good Samaritan Hospital, Phoenix, Arizona (1982); Providence Hospital, Mobile, Alabama (1987).

8. Susannah Ribstein, Prentice Women’s Hospital Report for Landmark Illinois (July 2012), 3.

9. Susannah Ribstein, Prentice Women’s Hospital Report for Landmark Illinois (July 2012), 19.

10. Alison Fisher, “Humanist Structures, Bertrand Goldberg Builds for Healthcare,” in Bertrand Goldberg, Architecture of Invention (The Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University Press, 2012), 131.

11. Susannah Ribstein, Prentice Women’s Hospital Report for Landmark Illinois (July 2012), 4.

12. Igor Marjanovic, and Katerina Ruidi Ray, Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg’s Urban Vision (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010), 153.

13. Alison Fisher, “Humanist Structures, Bertrand Goldberg Builds for Healthcare,” in Bertrand Goldberg, Architecture of Invention (The Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University Press, 2012), 134.

14. Alison Fisher, “Humanist Structures, Bertrand Goldberg Builds for Healthcare,” in Bertrand Goldberg, Architecture of Invention (The Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University Press, 2012), 132.

15. Susannah Ribstein, Prentice Women’s Hospital Report for Landmark Illinois (July 2012), 3.

16. Igor Marjanovic, and Katerina Ruidi Ray, Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg’s Urban Vision (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010), 153.

16. Igor Marjanovic, and Katerina Ruidi Ray, Marina City: Bertrand Goldberg’s Urban Vision (Princeton Architectural Press, 2010), 153.

17. Susannah Ribstein, Prentice Women’s Hospital Report for Landmark Illinois (July 2012), 23.

18. Bertrand Goldberg, interviewed by Betty J. Blum, transcription of tape recording, 1992 (Chicago Architects Oral History Project, Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago), 221.

19. Bertrand Goldberg, interviewed by Betty J. Blum, transcription of tape recording, 1992 (Chicago Architects Oral History Project, Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago), 168.

20. Susannah Ribstein, Prentice Women’s Hospital Report for Landmark Illinois (July 2012), 22.

21. Susannah Ribstein, Prentice Women’s Hospital Report for Landmark Illinois (July 2012), 26.

22. Alison Fisher, “Humanist Structures, Bertrand Goldberg Builds for Healthcare,” in Bertrand Goldberg, Architecture of Invention (The Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University Press, 2012), 142.

23. Susannah Ribstein, Prentice Women’s Hospital Report for Landmark Illinois (July 2012), 28.

24. Bertrand Goldberg, interviewed by Betty J. Blum, transcription of tape recording, 1992 (Chicago Architects Oral History Project, Department of Architecture, The Art Institute of Chicago), 233.

25. Lee Bey, “In a Historic Meeting, City Landmarks Commission gives Prentice the Thumbs-up—Then Down,” WBEZ Beyond the Boat Tour, November 2, 2012, accessed January 25, 2015.

26. Landmarks Illinois.

27. Commission on Chicago Landmarks. Landmarks Ordinance and the Rules and Regulations of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. Chicago: Commission on Chicago Landmarks, 2014. Print.

28. Blair Kamin, “Changes will Erode Foundation of Landmarks Commission,” Chicago Tribune, July 8, 2011, accessed 25 January 25, 2015.



Photographs by David Schalliol provided courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


Paola Aguirre is an urban designer and part of the Place Lab team at the University of Chicago. She is also founder of The Borderless Workshop, a collaborative initiative that focuses on the US−Mexico border region to further the understanding of cities, ecologies, and cultures among the border condition. |

Michelle Ha Tucker is a design lead at IDEO, helping organizations innovate by approaching complex, systemic problems as design challenges. As a transplant to Chicago, she is ever curious about how this most “quintessential American city” can both inform and influence the future of other urban contexts. | @michellecyha

David Schalliol is a PhD candidate in the University of Chicago’s Department of Sociology who explores the transformation of urban centers through hybrid ethnographic, filmic, and photographic projects. The Japanese publisher Utakatado released his first book Isolated Building Studies in February 2014. Schalliol contributed to Highrise: Out My Window, an interactive documentary that won the 2011 International Digital Emmy for Non-Fiction. His current film project, The Area, focuses on a portion of Englewood where 400 families are being displaced by the expansion of the Norfolk Southern South Side 47th Street Terminal. | @metroblossom

Share 'When the Future Was Here' on Delicious Share 'When the Future Was Here' on Digg Share 'When the Future Was Here' on Facebook Share 'When the Future Was Here' on Google+ Share 'When the Future Was Here' on LinkedIn Share 'When the Future Was Here' on Pinterest Share 'When the Future Was Here' on reddit Share 'When the Future Was Here' on StumbleUpon Share 'When the Future Was Here' on Twitter Share 'When the Future Was Here' on Add to Bookmarks Share 'When the Future Was Here' on Email Share 'When the Future Was Here' on Print Friendly