Second in the series Overdue Books, in which Curbed’s architecture critic Alexandra Lange takes a fresh look at classics of the architectural canon.
I received my copy of “A Pattern Language” as a high school graduation gift. I had already declared my intention to be an architect, so my aunt and uncle bought me the design equivalent of the Bible—thick and minimally illustrated, with a specialized system of numerical classification and a studiously typographic cover. If a non-architect is looking for a gift for a wannabe, there it is. As a design-enthusiast, you may have gotten a copy once too; the 42-year-old book is parked at the top of Amazon’s Architectural Criticism bestsellers list.
It looked handsome in my dorm room alongside my new dictionary and Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia. And like both of those tomes, I barely opened it. The architecture library was filled with books with lovely glossy pictures. My rudimentary word processing program had a thesaurus. What was a “pattern” anyway? And why were there 253 of them?
The book was enshrined but unread. But “A Pattern Language,” which was written by Christopher Alexander with Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein, Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King and Shlomo Angel (all colleagues at Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Structure in the 1970s) turns out to be an ideal place candidate for a re-read. A pattern is the way physical design responds to human relationships. I didn’t need it as a teenager, but I turned to it after I got married, and then again after I had kids. Patterns that were meaningless at 17 – like Pattern 73, “Adventure Playground”–feel like breadcrumbs charting a new way of looking at cities now that I’m a parent.
I have been to the Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards six times—six times—and yet I’m still getting lost. Is Muji on the second or third floor? Is the Instagram-worthy Van Leeuwen ice cream shop down the hall? Forty Five Ten, the Dallas-born boutique that is the grandbaby of Barneys, is definitely up on the fifth floor, but how do you get from the first to the second floor without passing Blue Bottle Coffee? And what is the fastest route to William Greenberg rainbow cake to placate your kids who hate Vessel?
“It’s just stairs,” they say. “Can we get bubble tea?”
R. Webber Hudson, a Related Companies executive vice president, doesn’t have this problem. He and his team curated the “vertical retail center”—he winces each time I refer to it as a mall—and its configuration is as clear to him as the glass in the six-story atrium. International luxury brands are on the first floor; previously only-on-the-internet brands like M. Gemi shoes and Japanese normcore faves Uniqlo and Muji are on the second; high-volume draws Zara and H&M are stacked on three and four; and so on.
There’s a logic, but I am frustrated that I can’t see it.
Autonomous cars? Who needs ’em. If you want to improve your city then design it so that children have more autonomy. In this episode we hit the playground with architecture critic Alexandra Lange, the author of “The Design of Childhood.” To grow up into healthy, functional adults, kids need opportunities to experience freedom and independence. Alexandra argues that car-dominated streets make that more difficult. A city designed for cars is a city that’s lousy for families — and pretty much everyone else. Plus: The surprising history of playgrounds.
The exuberant career of the Brazilian designer Roberto Burle Marx brings the oft-overlooked field of landscape architecture to the foreground
The polymathic Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx is having a moment.
Following shows at the Jewish Museum in 2016 and the Chicago Botanic Garden in 2017, “Brazilian Modern: The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx”—the largest exhibition ever put on at the New York Botanical Garden, and the first to display an entire outdoor garden—opened June 8. The NYBG, which is located in the Bronx, is easily accessible via the Botanical Garden station on the Metro-North’s Harlem line, or a short walk from several subways. In December, its Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, a grand Victorian structure, hosts an annual train show with New York City landmarks rendered in bark. This summer, it has traveled south rather than to the North Pole.
“Brazilian Modern” completely takes over a stretch of lawn in front of the wedding cake-like conservatory, replacing that high-maintenance surface with a little slice of the tropics, 1950s style. Burle Marx died in 1994, so Miami-based landscape architect Raymond Jungles was called in to create a Burle Marx remix, combining plants, patterns, and architectural fragments into a lush and dramatic pastiche.
In the first installment of our summer series Overdue Books, Curbed’s architecture critic re-reads A Field Guide to American Houses
If you visit the Architectural History best-seller list on Amazon, you will notice Virginia Savage McAlester’s A Field Guide to American Houses is almost always near the top. Displaced briefly by a Bauhaus anniversary or a famous architect’s death, it always bobs up again. I’ve owned the book for years, first in its original 1984 edition, then the chunky 2015 paperback revision, but I haven’t dipped into it too often. But seeing the book beat my own sales and those of my friends week after week made me curious, not to mention jealous: Why so popular?
It only took me two chapters to figure it out. Virginia McAlester tells you exactly what you need to know about your neighborhood.
If you had the arm strength to carry the Field Guide everywhere (or bought the e-book), you could walk down any street in America and identify the style, age, and component parts of each and every home you pass. Her most enthusiastic readers are preservationists, or wannabe preservationists, trying to quantify just what it is that makes a place so different, so special. Her wider audience comprises people who simply want to know what’s going on out there, starting at their doorstep. It was slightly startling to realize how rarely I’ve considered that view in my writing—though I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about the transformation of the inside of the American home.
The designer Giorgia Lupi was born in 1981 and believes that she is part of a special bridge generation. “I was raised in a completely analog environment,” she says. “I was a teen-ager when all of the awkward connection and human connection needed to be made in real life. But, at the same time, because I started to use technology as a teen-ager, I’m fluent in both worlds.” This week, Lupi joins the graphic-design firm Pentagram as the only partner who has a focus on information design. Her work, consistent with her upbringing, brings a tactile feel to computer code, and her appointment is an occasion to assess information design—a field located between graphic design and data science—and the possibilities it holds.
Sitting in Pentagram’s crisp quarters, on Park Avenue South, Lupi cuts an extremely organized figure: petite and black-clad, with a looping black necklace and round black glasses, accented by a cap of red hair. Born in Modena, Italy, and trained as an architect, Lupi had her first brush with information design while in college via an exercise in urban mapping, inspired by the planner Kevin Lynch. In his landmark book, “The Image of the City,” published in 1961, Lynch asked people to draw their city for a visitor, paying attention to their own everyday paths and major landmarks, without reference to geography. Of course, each person’s map, both in Lynch’s book and Lupi’s exercise, was different—but that did not mean that one map was more accurate than another. Rather, each person was telling a different story through cartography.