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Long-form text about trends in modern building architecture


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    This essay is about architecture, but really it’s about not getting so deep into intellectual masturbation that you miss the entire point of creating something at all.

    I believe that we do this a whole lot in the field and culture of technology.

    If you have to explain three levels of theory-counter-theory to reveal the value of something, then it might have very tenuous or narrow value. Of course it might not, but it’s something I think we could do well to keep in mind.

    Something about taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture.

    Perhaps even more it serves as a warning of the dangers of not incorporating such an attitude. I think we’re all tempted to say “yeah, of course, keep the bigger picture in mind, no shit”. But if the billions of dollars that goes into these projects can end up creating buildings people don’t actually want to live or work in, or even be around, then there is clearly value in the lesson.

    If they weren’t immune, we probably aren’t either, so maybe we should talk about it.

    Unrelated to the above, the article is kind of tongue-in-cheek, at least in the severity of its tone. I don’t think it would have actually worked with a self-serious tone. And the idea of using insincerity to make a sincere argument isn’t new.

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      Christopher Alexander is mentioned in the text, as being against the blobitecture and pro gardens-and-ponds; this is the Christopher Alexander who created a pattern language for architecture, that a gang of four in the 1990s riffed off of to make a pattern language for C++ (design patters)

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        I agree with a lot of the author’s points, but I object to

        Besides, there is plenty of space left on earth to spread out horizontally; the only reasons to spread vertically are phallic and Freudian.

        Tall, narrow urban centers are vastly preferable to low, slow urban sprawls.

        The author is right; humans need water and plants and other signs of nature to stay sane. The ideal solution, then, is not to blot out as much of nature as possible by forcing people to build more buildings instead of taller buildings. The ideal solution is to construct hyper-dense cities that are thin enough that people can easily leave the city and find themselves in nature.

        Hong Kong executes this extremely well. Look at satellite photos of the island. Skyscrapers hug the coast and the interior is mostly untouched forest. (For now; the Chinese government may change that now that they are taking control of HK.) The only thing that would make this better is if there were also human-friendly beaches available, i.e. if there was less water pollution and everything was situated a kilometer farther back from the coast.

        I often imagine what my ideal planned city would look like. Approximately, it’s a city built on a precise NxN grid (N <= 16) with increasing building height towards the center. There are no motorized vehicles inside the city (wide pedestrian walkways only) but ample vehicle storage along its edges. No construction is allowed for radius R outside the city. You’re essentially taking a medium-sized urban sprawl and compressing it into a few square blocks, reserving the rest of that area for parkland, easily accessible by anyone in the city with a few minutes’ walking. And since you don’t have cars inside the city, you can make very comfortable human-friendly spaces between the blocks.

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          Agreed. The idea that low-density sprawl is a solution to anything grates on me. You can go to Singapore or Hong Kong and compare the average person’s access to green space, plants and trees with the average suburbanite’s in America; yeah, you might own a tree or two of your own, and see other peoples’ on your way to work, but in those cities you can take a train to a park from anywhere in the city and walk through the landscape—without a car, without worrying about parking or traffic. This is the kind of green space that matters.

          Note that Hong Kong and its “squalid density” has the longest life expectancy in the world, at 81 years for men and 87 years for women. Singapore is at 80 and 86.

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            Stockholm has an ambition to keep “gröna kilar” (green wedges) between housing developments.

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              I often imagine what my ideal planned city would look like…

              This sounds delightful.

              If you move some of the parkland inside of the city, in between individual blocks, you’d also have a good excuse to add waterslides, rope bridges and zip wires in between the middle floors of adjacent skyscrapers / top floors of adjacent blocks. Just for fun.

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                Zip wires would be some Dwarf Fortress level of FUN. I can imagine a few situations: large height differential (remind me how to brake on these things), getting stuck in the middle are the simpler cases. A success story is maybe even more horrifying: high-tension zip wire that has slack of less than a meter over its one-kilometer length, so the endpoints have to handle a hundred tons of force. Applied above the center of mass of the corresponding buildings, of course!

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              It’s an odd article. it tries to tie together everything from Bauhaus to Brutalism and Frank Gehry. In the process it sidesteps post-modern architecture which was/is more humanistic. Personally, I like the modernist arc, but I do think we’re overdue for another period of ornamentation.

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                I used to really like post-modern art & architecture, but eventually I realised that while postmodernism was generating objects I considered attractive, it wasn’t doing that because of; it was generating art in spite of beauty. That is, modernism actually shares with Art Deco, Art Nouveau and earlier styles a desire for beauty: it’s just wrong about it; postmodernism thinks beauty doesn’t exist and just does what the artist wants. As it happens, often ‘what the postmodern artist wants’ is beautiful, or at least not as ugly as what a modern artist thinks is beautiful, but that’s just accidental, not intentional.

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                I’m kinda confused about this, mostly because I like most of the examples they’re flagging under “either you hate this or you have no soul”

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                  I don’t, and I dislike being told what I should like or dislike. I can be persuaded it’s flawed in some objective sense, but convincing me I don’t like it is beyond the power of anyone else, and it is presumptuous for them to try.

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                    I actually like brutalism, and got what they were going for :(

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                      I like brutalism when the owners get around to power-washing the exterior occasionally. Makes a pretty big difference! You could argue needing that kind of maintenance is a flaw, though that’s also true for a lot of the styles this article likes; just go to any economically depressed UK town to see what those pretty brick or wooden Victorian houses look like if you don’t put regular maintenance effort in.

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                    What stinks about contemporary architecture is nakedly neurophysiological.

                    Architects are indoctrinated about how their work should “challenge” the tenants, or excite them, or throw them off balance. Since the tenants are homo sapiens, that means stimulating their sympathetic nervous pathways.

                    This is a bad thing. Good architecture does precisely the opposite: it stimulates the parasympathetic pathways.

                    Sympathetic stimuli work up your adrenaline, a little bit of the fight-or-flight response.

                    Parasympathetic stimuli do the opposite: they give you a sense that you are out of danger. Physiology wise, that translates directly to sexual arousal, if you are with your sweetie.

                    So, in short, a “machine for living” can still be a comfortable piece of good architecture, if it’s designed by someone who has a clue about the more scientifically validated aspects of human nature.