Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

State Rooms for Shitty Behavior

Courtesy HBO.

No amount of decor can cover the truth in Succession: It’s not the furniture, it’s the humiliation

In Season 2, Episode 4 of the HBO series Succession, someone fires a gun.

This is far from the first gunshot (in the previous episode, for example, the top managers at Waystar Royco, the fictional Murdoch-esque media-and-entertainment company, were flown to a castle in Hungary for a team-building retreat which involved hunting wild boar). But this gunshot, fired in the offices of ATN—the company’s Fox News-y cable network—sends members of the inner circle into a different sort of panic.

“I’m in the wrong panic room,” says the venal, hapless Minnesotan Tom Wambsgans (played by Matthew Macfadyen). Tom, you see, is an executive married to Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook), Titian-haired princess of Waystar Royco. No one, including Tom, thinks he is good enough for her, and here is physical proof: a white-walled breakroom with snacks and a laminate countertop that’s neither sealed nor secure. Tom recognizes that his wife and her father, company founder Logan Roy (Brian Cox), aren’t in his room. They are in a better one.

Panic room hierarchy serves as a neat shortcut into the Roy family’s architectural psychology. This is not a show that merits deep reading of throw pillow choices or kitchen island family dynamics. What matters most is: Who’s in the room?

Continues: Curbed

Cas Holman’s Search for the Ideal Playground

Designer Cas Holman with Geemo, her first toy to market. Courtesy Netflix.

What if the future of early-childhood education didn’t involve an iPad? What if, on the playground, movable blocks and ladders replaced fixed plastic slides and tubes? What if teachers acted more like guides and were less beholden to worksheets? School would be more like the creative process (rather than the counting-the-minutes crucible that many students experience) and the tools would look quite different: wooden play pieces, ropes and pulleys, nuts and bolts. That’s where Cas Holman comes in. Holman is the founder of the toy company Heroes Will Rise, a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, and one of six designers profiled in the second season of “Abstract: The Art of Design,” on Netflix. In the episode that features Holman, we get a glimpse of the educational future, as Chinese kindergartners, dressed for the rain in full-body yellow slickers, create a life-size version of a Hot Wheels track out of ladders and barrels, learning about coöperation, gravity, and momentum along the way.

Holman, who is forty-five, is best known as a member of the design team behind the Imagination Playground blocks: blue foam logs, bricks, arches, and chutes, some as big as a preschooler; they allow children to build their own playground and, in the process, practice teamwork. Since 2010, when the blocks were launched, in a park in lower Manhattan, they have spread to libraries, children’s museums, more parks, and schools in more than seventy countries. The blocks, which are bulky but lightweight, make it possible to set up play practically anywhere; the minute they hit the floor, the kids take over, creating their own world, with their own hands—not without some bickering. “The reason I design for children is I’m designing for people,” Holman said. “These are the people that are going to make the world suck or not suck. Good toys make good people.”

Continues: New Yorker

Skateboarding in Style

Jolie Crider Memorial Skatepark 2.0, designed by Finnish landscape architect and former professional skater Janne Saario. Photograph by Hadley Fruits.

Columbus, Ind., is known as a mecca of postwar modern architecture, with churches, libraries, and post offices designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei, Harry Weese and a host of other big names. The city’s latest destination is somewhat smaller: a skatepark, albeit one with an international design pedigree. Jolie Crider Memorial Skatepark 2.0, designed by Janne Saario, a Finnish landscape architect and former professional skater, opened in early September. The skatepark bridges the past and future of Columbus, with Mitchell Giurgola Architects’ 1972 Columbus East High School right across the street.

The podcast “99 Percent Invisible” got Mr. Saario the job: Jonathan Nesci, a designer who lives in Columbus and is the father of a skater, cold-emailed the architect after listening to “The Pool and the Stream,” a 2017 episode about the connection between curvaceous swimming pools and skatepark design featuring Mr. Saario. Mr. Nesci eventually gave Mr. Saario one of his mirror-polished side tables in return for a conceptual design. Hunger Skateparks, in Bloomington, Ind., signed on to build the $400,000, 14,000-square-foot project, with support from the city, the county’s Heritage Fund, the Columbus Park Foundation and local donors. The new concrete skatepark is far more durable than its predecessor, as well as more seamlessly integrated into the landscape, reflecting the same investment in advanced design as those public works of the 1950s and 1960s.

Continues: New York Times

Brutalism Springs Eternal in Morocco

The site around 1960, from the book “Zevaco” by Michel Ragon and Henri Tastemain. Afriat/Frac Centre-Val de Loire Collection.

When Aziza Chaouni was a girl, she spent holidays with her grandmothers at Sidi Harazem, a thermal bath complex built next to an ancient magnesium-rich spring about seven miles east of Fez, Morocco.

One grandmother loved the new complex, designed by Jean-François Zevaco and completed in 1960, soon after Moroccan independence. “She was born and raised in Fez, in the old city, and she was very keen on alternative medicine,” said Ms. Chaouni, a professor at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto and principal of Aziza Chaouni Projects. “She was amazed by the new facilities. We would stay in the bungalows that were modeled after the medina — as a child it was like a maze.”

The other grandmother was nostalgic for the pre-modern Sidi Harazem. The springs, set in an arid mountain range, had drawn visitors since the time of the Romans, and Sultan Abu el-Hassan built a 14th-century shrine to Sidi Harazem, a Sufi theologian, on a nearby plateau. “They used to wake up at 5 a.m. and walk from Fez, then simply camp. Locals would offer space in their own homes,” Ms. Chaouni recalled. “For people who lived in Fez, it was their green lung.”

Continues: New York Times

Who’s afraid of the pedestrian mall?

Victor Gruen’s first downtown project on Burdick Street in Kalamazoo, Michigan, circa 1970. Photo by Lance Ferraro.

Ah, the heady optimism of 1974! On the cover of The Pedestrian Revolution, by Simon Breines and William J. Dean, men in bell-bottoms and women in vests stroll between planters of lush blooms, dine under a purple umbrella, take a tram, always surrounded by blocky towers. “Streets Without Cars,” the subtitle, offers the promise of leisure, sunshine, and family time on some not-so-mean streets.

“Urban society’s growing frustration with the automobile, and the congestion it causes, is a major factor behind the Pedestrian Revolution,” Breines and Dean write. “Pedestrianism enhances our physical well-being both by reducing air and noise pollution and by encouraging, through the creation of urban strollways and urban bikeways, the greater use of footpower.”

Yes, you think. Too true, you nod. And then the publication date sinks in.

We’ve been here before, if here means trying to assert the primacy of the person—the pedestrian, the cyclist, the transit rider—in the matrix of city streets. We’ve been here before if here means realizing that, for the health of the planet, we need to make the pedestrian life easier than the windshield view.

Once upon a time in the 1960s and 1970s, urban leaders pushed cars out of downtown. Why is it so hard to do that now?

Continues: Curbed

How to Fix Polarization: Get Politicians Out of Cars

POLITICO Magazine asked dozens of big thinkers to tell them their boldest solutions to America’s problems, and this was my response…

Public space is inextricable from urban issues. But many politicians have become disconnected from the physical reality of the people they serve, which leads to a disconnect from their constituents.

I propose a movement to get all politicians—or at least mayors and other urban politicians—to spend at least one day a week working car-free. This wouldn’t just be an exercise in empathy for constituents who don’t have cars, or an opportunity for politicians to experience the public transportation system from which, via years of being driven from A to B to C, they may have become estranged. There are hundreds of data points that could drive policy that can best be understood while walking down a sidewalk, cycling down a bike lane or tapping on to a bus. Are sidewalks in good repair? Is there shade at the bus stops? Where does it flood during a rainstorm? Reducing car dependence is also key to any meaningful strategy to address the climate crisis: We need to give people good options to abandon their cars.

Continues: Politico