non-event cities

After the buzz disappears, so do the crowds

"The problem is that it was touted as more -- a civic savior and an architectural milestone. Like too many buildings completed since Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Hadid's arts center was intended as a larger-than-life phenomenon. But when we're asked to judge architecture on the basis of sensation rather than structure, the result is bound to ring hollow once the crowds move on."

After reading "After the buzz disappears, so do the crowds" I thought of The Scrapheap of Architectural History.

In general, I agree with the views of King and Vanstiphout in that they express things as they really are, where as Bouman expresses a much more virtual view of things.

Are "events" now-a-days actually well masked advertisements?

Is "history" now-a-days a record of well masked advertisements?

Are "non-event cities" now-a-days the bulk of reality?

Is there a reality to "architect as event planner"?

Feb 14, 06 10:17 am
liberty bell

I remember when the much-loved I. Goldberg Army/Navy store in Philly was demolished. It was one of those irreplaceable urban “places”: a sprawling chaotic space within three linked commercial-rowhouse-type buildings, tons of space crammed full of crazy merchandise, high ceilings, ancient store fixtures, code violations everywhere you turned, but such a cool place to buy a pair of socks or a tent.

There was some press coverage before the closure, and Nana Goldberg (owner) recounted how an older man had come in to the store to see it one more time before it closed. He told her “ I haven't been in this place in 20 years!” to which she responded “Well you can't expect us to survive in retail based on your bi-decade visits.”

I'm reminded of this related to the Cincy Museum, and all downtown “destinations”. A museum alone can't keep people coming into the city. At most they change their shows once a month, so the restaurant and retail nearby can't expect a flood of business based on that timetable. A single building can't attract a constant crowd of people unless there are other urban amenities playing support roles, I guess. It's like cool loft-style condos being built in downtown Indy: Living in a cool space isn't enough for me if I still have to drive 65 blocks to get to an organic grocery store. You need a concentration of amenities.

But also: museum buildings especially tend to be built to last. It is not unlikely that in 20 years or 50 years the Zaha's building will be seen as contributing enormously to an urban vitality. We probably shouldn't be judging its success after only 3 years. (I haven't seen the building myself, so maybe I'm wrong.)

Feb 14, 06 10:43 am  · 

Great thread,
The most unashamed use of an "event" as masked advertising, and the role of the architect, is the complex Barcelona built for Forum '04.
Forum'04 was the biggest non-event I have ever seen. As far as I can see it was only good to get some trophy architecture on the Westside of Barcelona just past the olympic village.

I was in Barcelona when the forum stuff was going on, and I could never understand what the hell a forum is or was. It seemed like an over blown benetton colors commercial pretty people of all races always smiling.

Also, as I posted in Oana's blog Sevilla's World Expo buildings are desolate and overrun by the local environment. And I think that those buildings probably never looked better.

Feb 14, 06 10:57 am  · 

lb, there used to be many stores in Philadelphia just like I. Goldbergs. The quondam Bond Linen on 5th Street in Olney was exactly like I. Goldbergs, except for bedding, etc. And I wonder how many people still remember South Street before it became "South Street"--I still vividly remember going shopping there with my parents for a leather coat for my brother back in the late sixties--there were several blocks of men's clothing stores, and the salesmen would literally grab you on the street drag you into the store. Quite the 'event'.
Also, It's interesting how you move from the real to the virtual in the last paragraph.

q+, your last sentence is very provocative.

Feb 14, 06 11:23 am  · 
liberty bell

One of the best features of Architectural Record is its end-pages review "50 Years of Record House". I love seeing buildings after/outside of that just-completed sheen.

My dream photograph for every house featured in an arch mag would be to see it plus the two-three houses on either side of it, to get a sense of how it sits in context. This contextual view could either further an understanding of a good design or expose a ridiculous aspect of it.

Didn't P/A (before its demise) once upon a time start revisiting buildings they had previously featured?

Feb 14, 06 11:44 am  · 

i think john king's article is interesting, but also a little irresponsible. the strength of the cinci arts ctr as i see it is exactly that it is more than its 'wow'-factor. it's a cultural building that tries to act like a storefront (though the center has been a little half-hearted in the use of its corner cafe), bringing edgy art right downtown, rather than a shining citadel on a hill (which cincinnati also has).

it's part of a larger cultural development in cinci - which king both acknowledges and cites as evidence that the cac is old news. cincinnati has developed a much more sophisticated transit system than nearby midwestern cities. it has a density and scale that makes it feel truly urban - a condition which the cac supports in a non-diva, good-citizen sort of way. pelli's aronoff is across the street. the new sports venues are down at the river, as is the freedom center. there are plenty of restaurants within a short walk. fountain square is usually a hub of activity when i've visited. a lot is happening.

the giveaway in the article is that king himself looks for activity, or lack thereof, to indicate how the cac is doing as a catalyst, but then seems to suggest that the current renovation of nearby fountain square indicates dereliction in some way.

he seems to have decided before arriving that he wanted to find evidence of the cac's failures.

raises some issues which i think are worth discussing, but it also just annoys me. i don't expect rose-colored glasses, but at least some level of real consideration and an attempt to understand a larger urban dynamic than what one might glean from a couple-hours visit on "a weekday afternoon", "on a gray day" in february.

Feb 14, 06 12:15 pm  · 

Excellent thread, and goes to the core of my disdain for the worship of stararchitects. After the initial "buzz" wears off from a new design, cities are left with a building that is - often very expensive to maintain, usually doesn't fit the context of the city and all too often become nothing more than a orientation point. "Turn left at that goofy looking building on 10th street."

Quite frankly I prefered the late 20th century urban hoopla over highrises. Cities defining themselves with skylines.

The article reminds me of that Simpsons episode where the town hires Frank Ghery to design a museum. That lasts all of a short while and eventually they turn it into a prision, if I recall correctly.

As architects I think we all to often fall into the "celebrity" of some designers and the "fame" of their buildings, yet turn out backs on the bulk of good design. Those buildings that function well and cohabit well within their urban fabric. The buildings that actually make a city a viable place to live/work/recreate.

Feb 14, 06 12:15 pm  · 

Steven, I don't see King's article about CAC's "failure" as much as I see it about the "failure" of the "buzz." What concerns me is that the buzz too easily becomes the history, and then we're left with a record that is more virtual than real.

King brought a lot of (personal) history of the place in the article. He has personal experience about the place before there even was CAC, and I think he make a valid comparison between the past and the present, and it seems that CAC didn't change all that much as per the buzz. Let's not overlook that fact that this part of Cincinnati really wasn't all that bad before CAC.

Feb 14, 06 12:48 pm  · 

Whoops! Pardon my Schlittenfahrt.

Feb 14, 06 12:50 pm  · 

fair enough.

the cac was/is certainly worth some buzz, but if his criticism is primarily of the cac-as-saviour buzz, i'll buy it.

i think that distinction makes the discussion a little too subtle, though, because i bet his audience will read the article as 'the cac is not really as good as they said.' some might even condemn it to 'The Scrapheap of Architectural History' based on his comments.

Feb 14, 06 12:53 pm  · 

Same thing will happen to the new de Young, it was packed last Sunday, in a few years, it will be a musuem that will draw crowds for a "blockbuster" art show and tourists. Everyone else in the Bay Area will have been there and done that. It is only human nature, whether it is the new mall the new restaurant or the new ______.

The de Young is actually one of the buildings in the world that I will enjoy watching age, I saw it copper-penny shiny last year, now it is more weathered, and the first hints of its future coat of green are starting to appear.

Feb 14, 06 1:04 pm  · 

What CAC is certainly worthy of is an honest history. Buzz is premature, at best. That is the distinction of this discussion.

Feb 14, 06 1:10 pm  · 

I love it when museums are pretty much empty and I have the place virtually all to myself, but that's another story.

Feb 14, 06 1:15 pm  · 

What is not apparent in this article is that downtown living in Cincinnati is skyrocketing, there is a lot going on down there and projects like the CAC are giving natives the feeling that downtown doesnt have to be the mundane urban center that they are used to. Although attendance has leveled out, as it should, people are changing their opinions of the city.
When looking at any page of history, three year is hardly an amount of time to base any conclusions on. When this author visited downtown Cincy on a bleak winter day he did see for rent signs and not so crowded sidewalks, but he dogot to mention that 5 years earlier he would have seen twice as many of those signs and half as many people around. His observations are apparently based on laziness because the famous Skyline chili that he claims cant even be found actually has four locations within about a three mile radius and is one of the few things that is readily available downtown.
The publicity from this project has proven to people that quality architecture can pay off. Cincinnati is gaining more of an edginess and is slowly wearing down its conservative blanket that seems to have slowed its progression dramatically for years. With dowtown residency rising, the city is very close to being legally considered a major metropolis.
I suggest the author visits downtown on a spring day when Fountain square is done and has lunch at one of the Skyline Chili restaurants that he was two blocks from when he wrote down that they dont exist.

Feb 14, 06 1:16 pm  · 

i've never heard inflated claims of urban impact/aspirations for the de young, though. lucky for the de young all it's expected to be is a machine-in-the-garden variety museum.

that's part of what makes me angry about king's crit of the cac. a building which actually takes on a responsible role, maybe even exhibiting symptoms of an attempt to act as a sort of urban generator of activity, is criticized because it can't sustain the activity it generated in the beginning.

doesn't exactly offer positive reinforcement. why not continue making heroic objects in the landscape and forget the hard job of integrating into the cityscape?

Feb 14, 06 1:17 pm  · 

once there are fifty bilbaos, bilbao won't be special anymore. or the copies won't be. i think that's the point of the article and the thread, that maybe the market for art/architecture appreciation found its saturation point or is nearing it. that, minus a compelling collection or a compelling destination city, museums such as this are sculptures whose shock and effect can be illustrated as a ripple...high amplitude at the outset, petering to nothing. and then, yes, the building might leak or age badly or--ya know--just plain go out of style. visits to the milwaukee art museum are way, way down in the past four years -- and that is one kick-ass piece of starchitecture complete with a mechanical roof and an incredible view of lake michigan.

but the collection is, i dunno, ho-hum, and while i personally really like milwaukee (real chili is the BEST chili i have ever had outside TX and i like the people in wisconsin) maybe not a lot of people think about going there on vacation.

someone mentioned the simpsons episode with frank gehry -- i think the more relevant reference would be the episode where someone tries to sell springfield a monorail. cities like cincinnati (did i spell it right? i always mess it up) are much, much better off working on the nuts and bolts that king is discussing here: putting people downtown to live, work, eat, shop, and BE rather than making it a destination for tourists.

by the way, the area just north(west?) of the milwaukee art museum kicks ass as a place to live, work, eat, shop, and be. but i heard most of the north side of milwaukee is, um, not so good.

Feb 14, 06 2:00 pm  · 

architect as event planner

Whenever it gets oppressively hot here on Arbor Street, I start up this machine in my garden.

And then I sit back and watch as a live virtual Benetton Colors commercial happen.

Feb 14, 06 2:38 pm  · 

Bilbao had something that these other museums do not - a politically charged environment. the day my wife and i landed in Madrid the Basques - ETA - detonated a device and killed a police officer outside the Guggenheim, just a week later my wife and i would tour the museum - blood cleaned, bomb free of course.

in a country where Forrest Gump is the leader of the free world, i think it's much harder to rage against the machine. perhaps that is what compassionate conservatism is, conservatism without desire or need to conflict with opposing forces.

museums do fine when they are not the only draw, MOMANYC is packed all the time - even with higher tix prices. museums as destination - sole destination is the problem.

Feb 14, 06 2:59 pm  · 

event = branding a city through the use of a short-term experience

history = nodding to nostalgia

non-event cities = cities which don't cave-in to the bilbao effect

architect as event planner = if we are incharge of managing any scale urban experience, definately

Feb 14, 06 3:13 pm  · 
Feb 14, 06 3:18 pm  · 

King’s point is well taken; a single building can’t resolved the entire problem, this is an urban space, where urban strategies needed to be put in motion, I am not aware of a master plan for this area of the city or any long range planning effort to address the entire downtown area.
After reading this and other articles about trophy buildings trying to revived a dead downtown area, I tent to think that the elected officials in such cities as Cincinnati and many others are under the impression that a single very expensive architectural master piece will place then among the cities that embrace modernity and diversity not only in architecture but as a progressive lifestyle, this is the avenue by which a city becomes part of the global stage, completely ignoring local ramifications of such actions. What are we to do when this is the trend?
Would any architect surrender the possibilities of designing a powerful iconic structure for the good of the urban context of a city?- Zaha Didn’t-
"The kind of cultural sustenance our world craves." What is this mean? Substance- the last time I felt that a piece of architecture has substance that spoke about what people crave was when I visited the work of Sambo Mockbee.
Trophy buildings do became a landmark, a point of urban reference, no very often they become the heart of a city; a place that severs a civic function as well as one of delight.

Feb 14, 06 3:19 pm  · 


skyrocketing, payoff, edginess, branding a city, nodding to nostalgia, cave-in, bilbao effect

Feb 14, 06 3:24 pm  · 


i miss you too Kim.

Feb 14, 06 3:45 pm  · 

Going back to what A said about "worship of stararchitects" and what southpole said about the thinking of elected officials, is it a reality now-a-days that only architecture by star architects will even generate buzz?

Who exactly is benefiting most from the buzz, from the masked advertisments?

Feb 14, 06 3:59 pm  · 

that damned richard florida and the "creative class" all these cities wanna be cool and it's a real stretch. the "cool" thing isn't sparked by any civic endeavor or overarching (desperate) attempt -- it's an organic phenomenon that occurs when people of a certain disposition collect or manage to find themselves in close proximity at the same time.

cincinnati (twice in a row! SWEET!) is not going to become a hip urban mecca JUST because it has a hadid building. it'll happen ifwhen a lot of broke creative people find cheap places to live and some kind of sustenance while they work on changing the world.

when i was growing up cities weren't considered cool. at least the city i grew up near, fort worth, wasn't. it was not a place i saw myself going to in order to rebel or cheese off my folks. although indeed it has the single greatest work of US architecture of the 20th century, and i am not talking about the city center buildings by "paul rudolph".

fort worth's downtown was kinda dirty, kinda rundown, and nobody lived there except jail inmates, homeless people and the elderly in an assisted-living high rise. there was a failed 1970s attempt at urban renewal, the tandy center mall, which had its own subway from its parking lot which was RIGHT ON the trinity river. at the time the clear fork of the trinity river was the single most polluted stretch of waterway in the US.

in the late 1980s downtown real estate was so worthless that the county took over two entire blocks and built a massive extension to the county jail to house the explosion of criminals stemming from the crack epidemic.

supposedly now that people can drink, dine, watch a movie, and live's supposedly "cool." but the downtown area's pretty much a local tourist destination, a mini-"urban" disneyland where people from the suburbs can park for free on weekends and actually walk from place to place for a couple of hours. concept hasn't really spread.

hope i'm not offending anyone, i really love fort worth, but not because it's cool. my point is, "cool" cities aren't planted -- they just sprout. austin used to be the cheapest city in texas...

Feb 14, 06 5:49 pm  · 

When I very little, probably in 1960, about once a month on Friday nights my parents would take me and my brother to "the south." I can still vividly remember my first trip there because it seemed like we went to Hell. We were first greeted by multiple barrels in the street with open flames coming out their tops, and lots of noise and smells and dirt everywhere, and there were dead animals all over the place, I mean dead fish and dead rabbits and dead chickens, and I got really afraid when I saw my father going into a big dark room with big dead pigs and cows hanging in it. Of course, my older brother was no help because he made me touch the dead animals as we walked by them.

After several trips my brother and I put up such a fuss that we were allowed to stay home, and I never wanted to go to "the south" again.

Fifteen years later in my first year of architecture school, the teachers wanted us students to learn and experience the city, "and everyone should go to the Italian Market in South Philadelphia, it's vibrant and lively."

Feb 14, 06 6:43 pm  · 
Feb 14, 06 7:03 pm  · 

i think we often forget about the cultural displacement that occurs when "tourist attractions" such as the forum 2004 program are implemented.

in desperation, cities looking at urban renewal through new program, starchitecture whatever, tend to displace the local in favour for the tourist.

i was studying in barcelona when the forum projects were in their initial construction phases, when the area was made up of lower/ middle income families who would use street corners to play boulle/ patonc. displaced by the brutality of politics and developers it becomes easy to blame singluar works or acts to be responsible.

what about educational responsiblilities in teaching students to work within existing city fabrics, or governments encouraging practices of landscape, architecture and urban design to interact with it. why is our environment/ society/ culture so replaceable at a time when we should be conserving...

its no wonder that these buildings and spaces become big white elephants. they are concieved with such of view of urgency + simplicity that they dont look beyond their own program.

the bilbao guggenhiem almost had me. i hated it before i saw it, then on my approach to the building there was something about it that i thought i really engaged with, that was until i went inside and tried to use it as a gallery. with proportions and spaces so big you can barely engage with the walls, floors and ceilings let alone works on the walls... how can a building such as this be expected to exist as a long term cultural phenomenon when is very purpose culturally doesn't work properly...

Feb 14, 06 7:12 pm  · 
vado retro

events are overrated. stay home. stay in your room. get to know your appliances. talk to your carpet. share poetry with the shower curtain. we have much to learn from lamps...

Feb 14, 06 7:15 pm  · 

yeh, i gotta go with vr on that.

i grew up in an old suburb on the edge of downtown, with the natives , the criminals (supposedly, though i only knew of one for certain) and the lower working class stiffs that seems to be me, were more common than today (does america even have a working class anymore?). it was totally a new urbanist paradise, but back then what we call new urbanism today was still what everyone feared and most people were clammering to escape to whatever version of new suburbia they could afford.

the place is still not popular, incredibly beautiful in that serene new urbanist way, but mostly populated by...well, not very many people actually. all the attempts at urban renewal have failed, including the quaint placement of old-ish looking street-lamps (now why wouldn't THAT draw people back downtown?), and the mall they did in the 70's is quite frightening.

SO, if it takes event architecture to attract people downtown, even if it IS for just a few hours at a time, I would say go for it, cuz right now things can't get much worse. i mean it would at least be a start, right? or is it better to put up another box that has no ambition of connecting to the street at all?

In my hometown i don't think much can be really done, but in places like cinc, it does seem like a bad investment at all....

Feb 14, 06 7:47 pm  · 

this thread is depressing me now. sure, downtowns had rough times through the 60s, 70s and 80s. but right now, today, it's an exciting time to visit ny, seattle, st louis, boston, louisville, milwaukee, cincinnatti, etc. the shiny new projects by star architects won't do it by themselves, but they will definitely take part in the up-cycle.

excitement about the city can encourage a return to city living - density as an alternative way of life - instead of everyone living on their own 1/4 acre.

why must we all be so cynical? get out. take the bus or the train and leave your car at home. go downtown. go to a gallery opening or a newsstand. drink beer in the afternoon. marvel at the new notable project, take pictures, and grab a bite at a decades-old, never-cleaned dive. whatever.

an interesting book, by the way: "Moment of Grace tells the story of the American city in its remarkable heyday. Never before or after the 1950s were downtowns so exciting, neighborhoods so settled, or suburban dwellers so optimistic. Urban culture was at its peak: it was vital, urbane, conformist, and generating rebellion all at once."

Feb 14, 06 8:49 pm  · 

yeah steven, it totally true for lots of cities, though not quite a trend for all of north america. philly has some serious problems with shrinking city syndrome, as does detroit and others. and 2nd tier cities are also not doing so well; not even close really.

but if we believe kunstler the suburbs are soon to become the new ghettoes of the poor and disposessed, so things could change...

i haven't really lived in a modern suburb even now that i can afford it, and am rooting for the return of downtown, but ain't holding my breath....mostly because of discussions with folks like my late father who was quite intelligent and well educated and in a position to live anywhere he wanted by the time he passed away. Basically when we drove downtown and i asked him what he thought of the old suburbs on the fridge of the city centre he was more or less apalled at the back alleyways (asking for crime) the small size of the homes (where do i put my plasma tv?), the non-existence of a garage (where do i put my car? and walking outside after parking? not a chance). and most of all he hated the status such places inspired, the places he worked his ass off all his life to get out of. No way was he interested in returning to them. never mind living in a loft or something right on the street, that would be just too weird. nah, the ambition of folks with the money still remains with the mcmansions. at least for a little while longer.

on the other hand the ol cores of london and tokyo are def turning into the playgrounds of the rich (ny as well i am guessing though i have never lived there so can't speak from experience) which is also not a good thing. would be nice if we didn't go to such extremes...

Feb 14, 06 9:11 pm  · 

there are lots of good thoughts here and i couldn't address all of them, but as someone who grew up in cincinnati i thought i would add a few points:
there is the criticism in the article that the CAC didn't accomplish something much larger than simply bringing a better buliding to the CAC--sixth street hasn't improved markedly (actually, many prominent businesses have closed along sixth street in the last year) and it isn't filled with people at all hours of the day. but i do think this misrepresents this building, and assumes unreasonable expectations for cincinnati. i do not remember this ever being framed as a "bilbao effect" building until after it was completed, and never in quite those terms (not to say it wasn't said by some). the CAC needed a new building and held a competition. zaha won in 1998, the new guggy opened in bilbao in 1997. clearly the management of the CAC could not have framed their competition in terms of being the next bilbao. they did frame it in terms of choosing a cutting edge architect to represent the image they hoped to present, and few could have argued when she won that they chose a "starchitect." she was prominent among architects, but not for the public. and what other type of building could this have become, except the unusual one it is? it has an unusual program, it was commissioned by an unusual institution. what contemporary art museum in the world ISNT unusual? isnt that the very point--to advance the dialogue of the contemporary? that doesn't mean each city with a new contemporary art museum (chicago, new york, boston, etc) was looking for this to be their bilbao. that is an easy criticism and a myopic one, because it overlooks the mission of the museum and the very essence of the "10 minutes ago" museum he describes as the intent. king says this was "intended as a larger than life phenomenon." again, i do not see the validity of this criticism, except that it can easily be transposed upon a building that is radical for its own reasons. this project was funded mostly, if not entirely, by private funding. it was provided for a museum that greatly needed more space and a higher profile, and yes, it was part of a larger effort in the arts community to build up the existing resources in the city. as others have pointed out, cincinnati did not do this with only one building. some are relatively staid (underground railroad, great american ballpark), others have a higher architectural profile (CAC, Paul Brown) but I do not see what he would have preferred--a museum designed by David Schwarz? the real problem is that no, cincinnati doesn't much of a master plan for this area of the city, or really any area of the city at all, and that is partly because the city planning department was dissolved a few years ago. the new mayor is friendlier towards planning, and perhaps he will see the CAC within the larger context of cultural institutions and push that idea. but arts funding in the city is driven by the private sector, and the political situation is not one that is friendly either towards the urban condition or promotion of the arts. these are inherently constricting circumstances. king doesnt consider these larger issues. he neglects that fact that cincinnati just isnt a destination city, and unlike the moma, the cac is never a museum that will be busy on a weekday afternoon. it wasn't busy when i went on a weekday afternoon three months after it opened, on a bright sunny day. membership that has gone back to normal is not an index of failure. metro cincinnati has a stable population. i wouldnt expect the number of contemporary art fans has surged since the museum opened; an initial blip is much more the oddity than the numbers tending toward average over the long term. and king falls back on other classic tropes of lazy architectural criticism, characterizing the outside of the building in a negative light without actually describing how the building functions urbanistically--"Instead of a cubist sculpture itching to explode, it looked more like a monochromatic hipster who crashed the wrong party." What does this mean? that it should adopt the "cold war" aesthetic of one nearby building he refers to, or the blandness of the other? is the problem that it is not contextual? i fundamentally disagree with that assertion, nor do i see what it has to do with liveliness or aura or what have you. the building deals well with an architecturally fractured corner condition, and adapts some very typical massing found in nearby buildings. again, it doesn't blend in, but it doesnt blight its neighbors either. i find it pretty hard to believe that anyone would argue the CAC doesnt contribute to the architectural aesthetics of downtown, which has always been marked by a number of singular architectural works, rather than an overarching architectural vision. there is ernest flagg's gwynne building, the carew tower, cass gilbert's pnc bank building, an early skidmore hotel, etc. zaha's building fits into this idea. and i agree with those who have pointed out the basic laziness/myopia through which King sees the city. we are not told if vacancy has increased, and his snide comments (like not being able to find skyline, or putting a negative spin on the rebuilding of fountain square) are mostly untrue. but they put the city in a negative light, which goes much farther in hurting a city then almost anything he decries.

Feb 15, 06 12:45 am  · 


Feb 15, 06 7:11 am  · 

can we assume that king has a somewhat warped view of public life (and what might constitute an 'event city'), coming from a city where even the pillow fights are a public event? (see today's news.)

Feb 15, 06 9:05 am  · 
liberty bell

Very well stated arguments, hckybg. Thanks for taking the time to write that.

Feb 15, 06 9:31 am  · 

great thread.

Feb 15, 06 9:56 am  · 
liberty bell

Just a brief comment re your comment, jump, about Philly having shrinking city problems. Yes and no. The downtown core of Philly (Center City) is booming. Housing costs there are outrageous, because people realize that yes Center City really does offer all the things urban dwellers want: restuarants, bars, cafes, museums, theater, etc., but also - and this is very important! - grocery stores, drug stores, tons of day-to-day shopping needs as well as boutiques. One can live very easily in Center CIty without a car and be able to enjoy a vibrant, interesting and authentic city lifestyle.

Despite what Geoff Manaugh and Hasselhoff have to say about it, downtown Philly is a wonderful place to live. And there are, believe it or not, a ton of young families in downtown because there are so many amenities for children: tons of museums, lots of daycare, play groups abound...

Overall, yes, the city of Philadelphia is losing popultion. But the bigger problem there seems to be the first and second ring residential neighborhoods. These neighborhoods represent what scares people about the city: urban poor, disintegrated physical environment, drugs (though mostly purchased by people who drive in from the 'burbs, as I understand it...), etc. But as housing costs in Center City rise, the close-in neighborhoods are also booming. I see these inner rings being the great challenge of urban improvement and of course the linchpin is good education and that opens a huge, huge additional topic.

Honestly to me Philly is a textbook example of what people mean when they talk about how great living in a city is! And to sum up my philosophy of why this is possible, it comes down to one element: grocery stores. You can have all the historic buildings, cultural institutions, parks and cafes and etc. that you want but if you can't walk from your dwelling to a good grocery store it is hard to justify the "convenience" of living in a pedestrian environment. My house in Philly was within 10 blocks of two oprganic grocery stores, two regular grocery stores, and a Trader Joes.

Feb 15, 06 10:10 am  · 

Yes, very well stated hckybg. You presented what I would call a honest history of CAC. And, going back to the King quotation at the top of the threat, you based the achitecture on "structure" rather than "sensation".

It looks like King too is guilty of ulitizing "buzz" in some instances. Perhaps journalism today just can't escape it, and that's why I see most media coverage of architecture as masked advertising. And before I'm misinterpreted here, I am not against advertising itself, rather I'm against not recognizing that most media coverage of architecture is advertising.

Also, so that my post about going to the Italian Market is not misinterpreted, the point there is that my parent were already doing "cool" urban things and going to cool urban "cool" places and unwittingly taking me on architectural tours all over Philadelphia. To them it was all just living in the city, and pretty much that's still all it is to me too. Just going to different places is eventful, and, ironically, media hype or buzz makes things less interesting to me.

[I'm stopping here because I see there are now a couple of new posts to read.]

Feb 15, 06 10:32 am  · 

I'll second everything liberty bell just wrote. But I have to add that Philadelphia has a great amount of thriving predominately African-American neighborhoods. I know this because I now live in one. True, the only media coverage Olney ever gets is when someone is shot here, but overall I wouldn't call my neighborhood "dangerous" or even poor. For me, it's extremely affordable and very convienient in terms of where I like to go. But nonetheless, I can't deny that here, literally and in spirit, I am a minority.

Feb 15, 06 10:55 am  · 


abracadabra, faia
by Rita Novel, 2005.04.15 18:26

[...before the approaching apocalyptic EtherWare party.]

"Santa Monica, she's the mother of St. Augustine, right?"
And Santa Barbara, she's the non-existent patron saint of architects, right?"

"Shut-up already. We have to get out of West Hollywood before the stupid parade starts. I say we go to Malibu."

"Damn! We should've rented a Malibu."

"I thought it was your idea we got the vintage Probe."

postscript 2006.02.15
This partially fictitiously masked dialogue occurred three days before visiting abracadabra, faia's first built work, a still unforgettable event.

Feb 15, 06 12:36 pm  · 

thanks for the info on philly liberty bell. i knew it was a suburban thing and wondered how that fit in with the urban core. i didn't see the degredation when i visited a few years back and wondered what had happened after seeing pics of the vacant land all over the inner suburbs.

Feb 15, 06 5:20 pm  · 

jump, this is partially just semantics, but North Philadelphia, which I assume is where the vancant land that you recently saw pics of is, is not what anyone here calls "suburban" or even "inner suburban"--North Philadelphia in local lingo is "inner city", but not to be confused with "Center City". To call a place here suburban you have to be literally outside the city limits. Philadelphia is a large place and comprises dozens and dozens of neighborhoods.

All of North Philadelphia in yellow.

I would guess that most tourists of Philadelphia only visit Center City.

Feb 15, 06 5:54 pm  · 

Liberty Bell did describe Philly pretty well. I should know because I live in Center City now. I think Philadelphia is a great example of the evolution of American cities. I've been to North and West Philly (actually today for a survey) and have actually lived in a very dangerous part of town in Norristown when I was younger. These communities are changing although very slowly.

To get slightly back on topic, I guess cities with problems similar to Philadelphia can not be solved by a starchitect's signature building. It is a much bigger issue involving community, politics, economics among other things. There are ways that architectural groups are helping with the problem of urban blight, though. The CDC (Community Design Collaborative) is just one example of many in Philly that do great work to help bring Philly back to where it should be. A city as a whole can not be effected by one architectural "event," but a series of small progressive steps.

Feb 15, 06 5:58 pm  · 

the idea of the city centre as the place of event is a mute point, in that the star treatment usually signals the initial point of gentrification, and this changes the quality and complexity of these spaces anyway reducing what could be spectacle down to the superficial rather than actual event/ habitation.

Feb 15, 06 7:16 pm  · 


Feb 15, 06 7:27 pm  · 
vado retro

i moved downtown and my car insurance went up...thanks urbanism...

Feb 15, 06 8:48 pm  · 


at least you have a car.

i would like to move downtown so i wouldn't feel the need for one so much. i live 5 minutes by foot from the tube to the centre (20 minutes to the centre) and my area is about as walkable as it gets, but this broken foot o mine really makes it a pain in the ass to get to building sites by train...taxies are becoming an unexpected (and expensive ) friend.

Feb 16, 06 12:51 am  · 

Lots of cars and non-event cities, now there's a fecund topic. A good bunch of the households in my 'non-event' neighbirhood have at least two cars, but really mostly much-bigger-than-car-vehicles. 'Cars' are all over the place, and yes, most people here have nice 'cars'. Honest.

I love my Jeep, keep it mostly in the garage, still less than 50,000 miles in seven years. It's how I get around, mostly, saddly to say, to non-events. Yet, it's also worth noting that my car often takes to completely unexpected events. Yes, my car still helps to keep life interesting. Honest.

Feb 16, 06 3:38 pm  · 

Yesterday was the first time I ever wrote about finding two four-leaf clovers and one five-leaf clover almost 34 years ago, plus I again mentioned Louis I. Kahn's burying of the New Testament in snow.

Today is St. Patrick's Day and Louis I. Kahn died exactly 32 years ago.

Also today, after I wrote a post containing the word kicky, I read Inga Saffron's "Repulsive sense of security" in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer, which contains these sentences: "Cywinski's sedate masonry structure was designed to replace Mitchell/Giurgola's swooping 1976 bell pavilion. That kicky little building, which is scheduled for demolition starting on Monday, was often criticized because it was seen as being too modern and disrespectful of Independence Hall."

Wow, demolition of the Liberty Bell Pavilion is set to begin on my 50th birthday.


Mar 17, 06 11:37 am  · 

I don't know about you, but as far as architectural history is concerned, I think it's worth remembering that demolition of the Liberty Bell Pavilion is set to begin on the third anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.

Mar 19, 06 5:55 pm  · 

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