Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

No loitering, no skateboarding, no baggy pants

"Dreams & Nightmares" from Park Powers, 2016-7. Courtesy Hector Urban Design, Planning and Civic Arts.

Sometimes it seems like there is nowhere for teens to be.
Here’s what they are doing about it.

Harold Ickes Playground doesn’t look like much: a paved ballfield atop the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, surrounded by a chain-link fence., One of its closest neighbors is the Brooklyn Tesla dealership, and it is prone to winds off the waterfront. But to high school students from Red Hook Initiative’s youth organizing group, it was perfect.

Two years ago, they decided Red Hook needed a skate park—but without a location, the idea went nowhere. One year ago, they surveyed the parks in the neighborhood, and picked Harold Ickes as their spot. Having solved one problem, another reared its head: the build-out would cost $3 million, far more than the average participatory budgeting project.

“We went to [Councilman] Carlos Menchaca and asked him, What can we do to get the skate park funded?” says group member John Texidor, now 20. “He said he would be willing to give $1 million if participatory budgeting is willing to give $1M—[and then he’d go] to Brad Lander and ask him to give $1 million. All we have to do is get signatures to show that we want the park.” Texidor and his teenage compatriots eventually collected 800 signatures from their neighbors.

“They would ask, ‘What do we need a skate park for? We need a supermarket!’ They could be very close-minded about it,” says Texidor.” I had to explain to them it is not only for kids, it is for adults. It could be a hangout spot.”

Continues: Curbed

The Slide-Show Epiphanies of Vincent Scully

Vincent Scully in 1966. (Harry Naltchayan/The Washington Post)

My abiding mental image of Vincent Scully is seeing him stand at the front of the Yale Law School auditorium, a great wood-panelled room to which his course, History of Art 112a, had been moved because it had long outgrown the spatial resources of the art-history or architecture departments. He stood before us, craggy and tweedy, and beat the screen with a wooden pointer, making the silvery fabric billow. What was he mad about?

Nothing but architecture, whose effects roused him, year after year, to peaks of emotion. The low entryways and subsequent spatial release of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie-style houses. The thick, compressed columns of Frank Furness’s Philadelphia façades. The dramatic peak of McKim, Mead & White’s Low House, a caricature of the gables sheltering the American dream. The drama of what might, to others, have looked like just a bunch of brown buildings was the drama that launched his career.

Continues: New Yorker

These are the best scissors I’ve ever owned

Fiskars Softgrip 8-inch scissors.

My grandmother had a room in her house that we were not allowed to enter. It was just off the kitchen, and she would go in and out of it at various points during the day, whether to dress, to fetch a gift, or to get the right tool for a project. It wasn’t locked, but we knew it was her room and I never even tried the latch.

I thought of her room recently, wistfully, when I could not find my good scissors. They are supposed to rest in the middle drawer of my desk, beneath my thicket of screens. I use them for opening book packages and slicing through wrapping paper, cutting my kids’ hair or scalloping an edge.

When I need them, they should be there, sleek and sharp, and they were not. I had to borrow my husband’s giant-handled scissors and gave myself a blister. I gave my son a trim with the kitchen shears and it showed. I tried miniature kid scissors on packing tape, which caused a tangle.

Continues: Curbed

Judging a book by its cover

Courtesy of Modernism 101.

Why vintage design books are now so radical—and radically expensive

In February 1972, the design director at MIT Press thought she had a fabulous idea. The publisher’s forthcoming book was about Las Vegas, and she would make the cover an “homage to Vegas Glitz.” Bubble wrap would echo the shape of the Strip’s bulb lights, fluorescent dots printed beneath would shine through the plastic. “I thought: boy, this is wonderful material. I’m not gonna let them screw it,” she later told an interviewer. “Well, they hated it! I loved it.”

The authors of the book responded by letter: “The cover as designed is absolutely unacceptable: leaving out questions of good or bad design, it is inappropriate. It is against the philosophy of the book; it is a duck—‘heroic and original’—almost fruity in its appearance.”

Continues: Curbed

The Child-Friendly Dishes We’re Obsessed With

“For so long, high-end taste has been in this really stripped-down place, but lately there’s been a bubbling up of interest in more exuberant postmodern looks.”

Me, in this WSJ story on 1980s plastics.

Are we having fun yet?

Kelly Sullivan/Getty Images for Museum of Ice Cream.

The sprinkles got to me first: After Boomerangs on banana swings, the second-most-popular ’gram from the Museum of Ice Cream seemed to be kid-buried-in-the-sprinkle-pit. When the museum premiered in New York in 2016, all the sprinkle pictures confused me, because who would want to eat something in which people had wallowed? The sprinkles aren’t edible, of course—they are plastic. (Duh.)

A recent profile of co-founder and creative director Maryellis Bunn helped me see what should have been obvious all along: The Museum of Ice Cream is not a museum, but a playground, albeit one with a seriously twisted idea of fun. The sprinkle pool is not Willy Wonka’s world of candy, but a giant sandbox.

All the pretty colors led me to dismiss it as just another millennial photo op, falling for what pioneering play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith called the “triviality barrier.” Children’s play in particular—and play, irrationality, and aesthetics in general—are so out of step with our work-oriented civilization that, he wrote in 1970, they have been seen as beneath the dignity of study. I was guilty of making the same mistake, but in fact, a little play theory helps us see the MOIC and its ilk, like Color Factory, for what they really are: working for the weekend.

Continues: Curbed