Archive for October, 2009

Phenomenology [presentation response]

October 29, 2009

A few weeks ago at the history-theory faculty colloquium Bob Mugerauer presented on Heidegger, and (as usual, it seems) the discussion got cut off right when it became interesting. Ralph Stern, citing Christian Norberg-Shulz as an example of someone using phenomenology as a method to theorize architecture, raised an interesting question.

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Grad Student? Plan?

October 22, 2009

Eszter at Crooked Timber says The path to tenure begins in the first year of graduate school, to inaugurate her new career advice column Ph.Do at Inside Higher Ed.

Some commenters disagreed, in various ways.  Seems to me she’s basically right.  But the need is not so much to devise an elaborate master plan as to be planning all along, a lot of things including your potential fit in the job market.  This can even have a bearing on your choice of topic but probably more so on activities outside your research proper.  One example is establishing qualifications to teach standard undergrad courses within your discipline.

Gwathmey and the New York Five

October 19, 2009

The appreciation of Charles Gwathmey by Nicolai Ouroussoff titled “As Heroes Disappear, the City Needs More”, published in the New York Times about two months ago, highlighted Gwathmey’s association with the “New York Five” and the white-gray debate in the early 1970s.[1]  Nice to see some attention to that transitional period, when Modernism in architecture was turning into something else, not yet named.

Ouroussoff is right to tie the NY5’s focus on “architecture as art form” to the sense that Modernism as a project of social reform had failed.

The group’s greatest contribution, in retrospect, was its assertion that architecture had not reached a dead end. The architects saw themselves as artists and thinkers — not activists — and this was particularly true of Peter Eisenman, sometimes to a fault. The distorted grids of his early houses, with their references to Renaissance precedents and Structuralist theory, were not only a way to thumb a nose gleefully at [Jane] Jacobs-style populism; they also elevated conceptual ideas above material and structure, the life of the mind over the life of the body.

But this narrative, while not uncritical of the conceptual move, glosses over an obvious question.

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Inertia in Urban Form and Modes of Occupation

October 10, 2009

Matthew Yglesias describes the cycling-friendly city of Copenhagen and how it got to be that way:

Back in the 1970s there were a substantial number of cyclists in what I guess you would call the “pre car” mode where people ride bikes because the country is too poor for everyone to afford a car. Then came the oil crisis and driving got even more expensive. And alternative policies started to be explored where for the first time the country started consciously trying to encourage bicycling. And the policy was never really dropped. So you have lots of cyclists which creates a constituency for more infrastructure which leads to more cycling which creates a constituency for more infrastructure.

He sees something similar, or at least the potential for it, in New York and D.C.  This cycling example exemplifies a dynamic of change that is to some degree inherent in the built environment.  His term “path dependence” sounds a little too rigidly causal, though.  Not a path so much as a field of ongoing interactions – between social and cultural norms, economic facts, political actions, and the physical form of the built environment.

I would especially emphasize the last.  Read the rest of this entry »

Charter Cities: Call me Skeptical

October 5, 2009

Economist Paul Romer has worked up an idea he calls “charter cities” and put up a web site about it.  Also described in this interview.  Something like an economic free-trade zone raised to the full-blown status of a city.  The main distinction is an express intent to import workers from underdeveloped parts of the world, and this based on the theory that what they need is a modern physical and social infrastructure.  As he puts it, in an optimistic present tense,”Charter cities let people move to a place with rules that provide security, economic opportunity, and improved quality of life.”

I have at least two questions off the bat.  Read the rest of this entry »

Ceremonial Blog-Opening First Post

October 1, 2009

At the outset my idea is that this can be a place for writings related to my research but less formal than standard academic work.  But also less transient than the kind of comments made in email conversations with friends.

Doing this kind of writing in a blog makes it easy to share with friends and colleagues.  At this point I’m not seeking a larger audience.  The public nature of blogging however is an interesting complement to the public side of academic work today – to the fact that, whether you like it or not, you have a presence on the internet.  Being public and associated with my “real identity” also imposes a certain discipline on the writing, compared to what I might say in an email to friends.

This mission statement may change, or along with many who’ve tried this, I might abandon the project entirely.