Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Helpful Glossary

Downtown Lewiston, Idaho
Hello Everyone:

Today I thought I might try to shed some light on some of the jargon used in historic preservation.  As a student of historic preservation, I remember hearing all these terms and barely catching their meaning.  Fortunately, I had resources available that I could look at to figure out what phrases like "certificate of appropriateness" meant.  The majority of preservation minded citizens don't have a textbook on the subject handy to look up the jargon that often comes flying at them.  With the help of Sarah Heffern, the social media strategist for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I'd help you decipher the "preservation code" in order to help sit through a community meeting without that glazed expression you'll get when the "legalese" starts come at you.

Archival photo of the Aspinall Federal Building
Affirmative Maintenance: the requirement in historic preservation ordinances that a building's structural components must be maintained.  Not an affirmation of the fact that a building's structural components require maintenance.

Building Code: the Uniform Building Code (UBC) are the laws that set the minimum standards for construction and use of a structure in order to protect public health.

Certificate of Appropriateness (COA): a COA is a certificate issued by your local preservation commission indicating its approval of an application to alter, demolish, move, or add on to an already protected place.

Contributing Structure: a structure or building located in a historic district that has historic, architectural, or archeological significance to that district.

Demolition by Neglect: I know I've mentioned this term a few times in relation to posts on blight. Allow me to explain.  Demolition by neglect is the process of allowing a building to deteriorate to a point where razing it is necessary in order to protect human health and safety.

Archival photograph of Corinth Plantation
Designation: the act of identifying historic buildings and districts subject to regulation under historic preservation ordinances or related laws.

Easement (Preservation or Conservation): in this context, we're talking about the partial interest in a property that can be transferred to a nonprofit or governmental agency through gift or sale to ensure the protection of a continual historic resource and/or land area.

Guidelines: these are interpretative standards or criteria, more advisory than mandatory.

Site Plan: this is a architecture term and, at first glance, seems pretty self-explanatory-a plan of the site. Actually, it is a proposed plan for development submitted by the property own for review by the local planning commission or related government agency that deals with issues such as placement of structures, landscaping, pedestrian and vehicular circulation, lighting, signage, and other features.

Zoning: zoning laws are sometimes considered the devil's handiwork because of the perception that they restrict development.  Truthfully, you want zoning laws.  Zoning laws are there to regulate land and building use which typically specify allowed usage such as residential or commercial, restrictions on development such as height limits, set back requirements, bulk, and so on.  Zoning laws are what keeps some one from putting a landfill next your children's school or a high-rise behind your house.

These are just some of the jargon that you will hear at community preservation meetings.  My thanks to Sarah Heffern for defining these terms for us and hopefully they'll be of use to you.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Historic Preservation As A Tool For Urban Economic Development

Scenes of Buffalo, New York 
Hello Everyone:

I still have yesterday's post on the brain.  I'm thinking it kind of sounded a little science fiction-using a headset and iPod Touch to record the brain's response to the urban environment.  One possible use I can think of is tailoring the experience of a space or a building to the individual, especially in this era when our cities are growing in leaps and bounds.  This brings us to today's post.  As our cities expand, residents and city officials are looking to historic preservation to help deal with all the changes.  After all, that is what we do, manage change.  Preservation can help maintain and grow sustainable cities, typically characterized by walkable neighborhoods, a nice mix of small and national retailers, and a myriad of opportunities for residents of all ethnicities, races, and income levels.  For cities, preservation is not about encasing the past in amber and stopping development, it's about the future.

Buffalo, New York skyline
In a recent post for the Preservation Leadership Forum, "Reimaging, Reinventing, and Revitalizing Legacy Cities," Brad White writes, "Unfortunately, too many legacy cities-older industrial suffering from years of divestment and job losses-do not consider historic preservation as a way to manage change.  Instead they focus on what should be removed, rather than considering what is important for their future stability." Realistically, not every building can be saved and, this is going to sound sacrilegious,  nor should every building be saved.  However, historic preservation tools can help mitigate threatened neighborhoods and help legacy cities reimagine their cities.

Detroit skyline
New Guidance on Rightsizing

This year, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation published a study titled Managing Change: Preservation and Rightsizing in America.  The report discusses how federal programs and policies can be implemented to manage the changing urban landscape.  In 2011, the ACHP put together the Rightsizing Task Force whose members were drawn from the government and non-government sectors.  The group toured legacy cities in different stages of decline, renewal including: Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, and Saginaw.  The task force staked its study on the information gleaned from the twenty to sixty-five cities identified by the Brookings Institute. The study focuses the research and recommendation targets all legacy cities and can be extrapolated to any city or town with communities that share similar characteristics of distress associated with the legacy cities.

Cleveland, Ohio
 Early on, the task force learned that cities and towns do not take advantage of federal programs that could address issues regarding rightsizing.  Based on the research completed by PaceEconomics, the task force discovered that most cities were only aware of a fraction of the assistance programs, loans and grants available through the federal government. Respondents said that it was difficult to obtain any information about the programs, they lacked the resources to do the necessary research and prepare applications, they did not meet program qualifications, and the likelihood of success and limited awards did not pique their interests in pursuing any funding.

In response to these observations, the task force recommended that the ACHP and its partners develop a web-based information clearinghouse with useful links to a wide variety of federal agencies and programs for communities looking for funding.  Additionally, the report provides links to more the than seventy different programs spread out over twelve federal agencies.  Not  surprising that programs generally associated with urban revitalization are offer through agencies such as Housing and Urban Development; Transportation, what is surprising is that other federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection, Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, and the Department of Agriculture.  The study also emphasized that cities that have integrated preservation goal into their community development plans have the chance of taking advantage of federal assistance.

Saginaw, Michigan
Making Compliance with Section 106 a Priority

What is Section 106?  Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 requires federal agencies to take into account the impact of any impending projects on historic properties and allow the ACHP the opportunity to comment. (  One of the main findings of the task force is that Section 106, administered by the ACHP through the individual state historic preservation offices and crucial to communities with federally supported projects, is often treated by federal and local agencies responsible for completing the review process as just something to tick off on a to-do list.  Too often, especially in communities where a good amount of energy is being channeled to combat blight through demolition, the Section 106 process is just a cursory effort despite the best efforts of those charged with job of compliance.  When properly used, Section 106 is a planning process which included a spectrum of stakeholders: concerned citizens, local government representatives, state and federal agencies.  The task force recommended the the ACHP and federal agencies responsible for its implementation redoube their efforts to ensure full compliance with Section 106 and promote it as a planning the way it was intended to be.

Newark, New Jersey

Use of Tax Credits Spurs Economic Vitality

The Rightsizing Task Force also found that use of the federal Historic Tax Credit and state tax credits (currently 31 states have a credit program) are a critical part of the revitalizing legacy cities and neighborhoods across the country.  The HTC can only be used for rehabilitating income-producing buildings (rental residential, commercial, and retail buildings), report after report revealed that these buildings are frequently essential to turing around a street, neighborhood commercial district, or downtown area.  State tax credits enhance the HTC by providing greater financial incentives.  Also, state tax credits are often available for rehabilitating a single family house or other non-income generating properties.

Case after case has revealed that an economically healthy central core is synonymous to the health of the surrounding communities and the city as a whole.  Evidence of this can be found in city after city. For example, in Detroit HTC is being used to revitalize the downtown and adjacent neighborhoods in order to attract new residents and office dwellers.  This program is having a positive effect on the surrounding communities and historic districts.  Importantly, it is helping to attract new businesses and people willing to relocate to the city and increase economic revenue.

The future of legacy cities and like areas within cities and towns is in peril.  In order for these places to thrive we must reimagine and reinvent our cities and reinvest in them.  We must recognize that our built environment is affected by dwindling populations.  Also we must identify these neighborhoods, stabilized them, and recognize that other communities currently exist as point on a map or in historic photographs.  The report issued by the ACHP is designed to continue the dialog and provide information and case studies of revitalization tool.  Finally, the study is designed to spur federal agencies, Congress, and the administration to recognize that historic preservation is economic development a key component of reimagining and reinventing the future of our cities.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Measuring How the Brain Responds to the Urban Experience

Hello Everyone:

 For those of you in the United States, Happy Memorial Day.  Please take a minute to thank a veteran for their daily sacrifices so we can enjoy our freedoms.  For those of you in the UK and Europe who just participated in elections, well done.  I want to send a special congratulations to the people of the Ukraine, who just elected a new president.  I want to remind all of you that now comes the hard part, governing.  Things will not get better overnight or next week.  It'll take time and not setting the bar of expectations too high.  Also for everyone, I'd like to make aware of a worthy cause that could use some love, Wounded Warrior Project.  This organization is dedicated to meeting the needs of injured veterans, regardless of what war they served in.  It's a terrific organization that's dedicated to doing more for our men and women in uniform than the Veteran's Administration.  To check them out, please go to  Thanks

Woman having her brain responses measured
 We live in an era where our responses to virtually every external stimuli has to be recorded, measured, and analyzed.  This is true in the field of urban design.  How do we respond to stimuli in our urban environment?  This is something that Mark Collins, architect, programmer, and professor at Columbia University's Cloud Lab wanted to find out.  One of the test subjects was Sarah Goodyear of The Atlantic Cities, who recorded her experiences in the article "The Quest to Measure the Brain's Response to Urban Design."  The goal of the experiment is quantifying the human brain's response to the city.  It sounds a little science fiction and a little Big Brother but the idea may have some impact on how our cities are designed based on actual user information.

Sarah Goodyear begins by describing her experience.  Ms. Goodyear relates walking down her familiar cobbled street in Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood, wearing an EEG device that resembles a cumbersome looking headset.  Her words, "...I resembled a character in a 1990s sci-fi rendering of the Future..."  The researchers instructed her to walk at a "museum pace," meaning slowly,  maintaining a robot-like (stiff) torso.  What the researchers actually meant was that if she saw something that interested her in a shop window, Ms. Goodyear was to turn her whole body, robot-like, pointing to the iPod Touch device in her hand in the direction of her gaze.  Ms. Goodyear admits to feeling a little self-conscious but in this trendy New York neighborhood, the residents are conscious (or act too cool) not to act too surprised at anything out of the ordinary-even in the name of science.

Participants in the Van Alen study
Ms. Goodyear was part of a group participating in a small study that was attempting to answer the question, "How does the brain respond to the city?"  The headsets used by the test subjects recoded the second-by-second reading of everyone's brain waves via a bluetooth device to iPod app.  The resulting gigabyte of information gathered from a pool of fifty participants, will be aggregated into a visualization and was presented on May 13 at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn.  This study is part of the the Van Alen Institute's multiyear "Elsewhere Escape and the Urban Landscape" study.

Mark Collins, on the main people behind the brain-imaging study, and his colleagues have been toying with the ever evolving and increasingly mobile technology that permits us to monitor our brain waves, with the hopes of harnessing the information in order to better understand how people interact with their urban and architectural environment.  Recently, the researchers have been working with the relatively inexpensive technology, the subjects are wearing in their tour through the DUMBO neighborhood, EEG biosensors from a company called Neurosky.

Title page for study
"Brain-Computer Interfaces" (BCIs) could potentially give urban and architectural designers the ability to see the effect of their work on people who use it in a radically different way.  According to Mr. Collins, "It's the holy grail for architects, who are trying to be empathetic and really understand what people's experience is."  Together with his colleague Toru Hasegawa, the director of Cloud Lab, Mr. Collins has be trying to come up with a method to do just that, even as BCI technology changes from month to month.  "It's an incredible moment in the history of technology," enthuses Mr. Collins.  "We thought architects should project themselves into that."  Mr. Collins also acknowledges that technology is moving at such a rapid pace that's impossible to keep up.  It's a constant, albeit futile, game of catch up.

The Neurosky device
The Neurosky device used by the during the participants' jaunt through the DUMBO took readings of the brain's electrical activity as it was being transmitted to the body's surface, the forehead in particular.  An algorithm took the beta, theta, delta and other waves, summarized them into two general states: attentive and meditative. The point of the visualization is to "spray" the data onto a three-dimensional map of the neighborhood toured by the group and reveal their mental state as they moved about.  Before the group set out on their walk, Mark Collins told them, "We're creating a new kind of camera."  "It's a camera for mental activity.  We wanted to really train that mental camera on a specific environment.  Each and every one of you is a pixel in our digital camera."  A human pixel, hmm, definitely the stuff of science fiction.

The researchers mapped out a several-block square area of DUMBO because the neighborhood held a diverse group of urban settings.  There are grand pieces of infrastructure such as the Manhattan Bridge; the narrow cobbled streets with boutiques and galleries; a public waterfront park; quiet residential and office blocks.  Not every participant through every inch of the designated area.  Different groups took different paths, with the help of guides to keep everyone from wandering off, getting lost, and troubleshoot any hard- or software issues.  An earlier version, using a single walker traveling around Lincoln Center, yielded a prototyped used by the team.  Mark Collins told Sarah Goodyear that "it reflected an interesting result: when the subject was in parts of Lincoln Center plaza that are more open to the city's streets, he recorded  more 'meditative' brain waves; when he was in the more enclosed and architecturally circumscribed ultramodernist part of the campus, his response was more attentive."

A view of the Manhattan Bridge from DUMBO
Mark Collins related that by nature, the data gathering effort in DUMBO was not quite a rigorously scientific experiment but more of a large-scale art project. Conditions were anything but laboratory-controlled.  "We had to embrace the noise," said Mr. Collins.  "In a sense we're embracing everything [neuroscience researchers] are trying to remove."  Still, he mentions that at first, the neuroscientist laughed then they got curious.  The study still faces numerous technological challenges but, Mr. Collins predicts that it's only a matter of time before the next generation of BCI devices reliably add another layer of information to take into consideration when designing cities or neighborhoods; when we make decisions about what urban experiences we want to go after.  Mr. Collins eventually envisions the visualizations that will allow the users to explore and learn about the textures of the urban experiences, whether as consumers or creators.

Mark Collins believes that interacting with data generating devices will become increasingly common just as wearing the now ubiquitous fitbit has become.  However, BCIs require more active participation from the user than a fitness tracker.  Devices such as Google Glass could make participation easier but wearing such a device can induce a feeling of self-consciousness.  Case in point, Ms. Goodyear wrote, "The other day in Dumbo, I didn't look at the app where my results were showing while I was walking for fear of creating misleading results (or getting hit by a car).  So I wasn't able to see whether I was in a meditative mode or attentive mode at any given point..."  Understandable, the conspicuousness of the device could cause  whole host of ambivalent feelings about wearing one and the feeling that everyone is pointing and laughing at you.  I hope Ms. Goodyear didn't check instagram or YouTube, kidding, maybe?

Sarah Goodyear concludes that perhaps interacting with BCIs will be more common in the future, even as the backlash to the smartphone, tablet computer, Google Glass continues.  Ms. Goodyear doesn't foresee any love affairs a la Her  but she speculates that we may find ourselves bonding with our devices in unexpected ways, if we aren't already.  "It's beyond sci-fi how these things are evolving together," says Mark Collins.  "It's not a human becoming a computer or a computer becoming a human.  It's a participatory framework between the two, and each becomes a little more like the other."

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Villa Aurelia at the American Academy
Rome, Italy
Hello Everyone:

We're visual people.  We like to look at pretty things.  In preservation terms, getting people excited about an unattractive building or place is more of a challenge than rallying the troops around a beautiful places or building. The old aphorism, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" definitely applies to preservation.  Julia Rocchi, in a recent blog post for the National Trust for Historic Preservation titled, ""[Preservation Tips & Tools} How to Save Ugly Buildings offers some helpful ideas on how to save those ugly buildings.  Styles with challenging architectural features, sites with more history then aesthetic delight, and spaces with so caked in grime that they obscure their beauty often require a little more work to prove to the general public that these places are worthy of saving.  Thus, how you do go about accomplishing this task.  With the help of Tom Mayes, Ms. Rocchi sets before a tool kit for persuading the general public that just because it's ugly, it doesn't mean it should be demolished.  On a personal note, I was inspired to write this post by some photographs of urban ruins in Berlin, Germany I saw on my instagram feed this morning

Former Detroit ballroom
Detroit, Michigan

Join the debate of what defines beauty

According to Tom Mayes, "As I talk to people about beauty and old places, I note that many architects and artists-like many preservationists-hesitate to talk about beauty.  The hesitancy is for many reasons-the difficulty of defining what beauty is, the loaded cultural aspects of beauty, the subjective nature of people's experience of beauty, or even the simple fact that decision-makers sometimes consider beauty frivolous or expendable."  I'm not quite sure how anyone would find something aesthetically pleasing frivolous or expendable but what I am sure about is the subjective nature of beauty.  I got a lesson in that my first semester at USC when I took an elective course in architectural theory and had to listen to multiple presentations on the definition of beauty.  I didn't realize that there were so many different approaches.  Ms. Rocchi suggests the best "...way to engage join the millenia-long discussion yourself."  Even when everyone disagrees with you over the exact definition and application of beauty, at least you can focus the discuss on a place you care about, placing into the public forum long enough to alter public opinion.

Orange County Government Center
Paul Rudolph,  Goshen New York
Explain the architectural merit

The late great writer Gore Vidal once said, "Style is about knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn." (  This can also be applied places.  Sometimes an architectural style, though unpopular, might represent a daring innovation or new method in the architecture profession that it should be saved.  Let's use Brutalism as our example.  Before I go any further, I have to disclose that I'm not a big fan of this period style but I can appreciate it for its contribution to the Modern movement.  The name comes from the French words béton brut-"raw concrete."  In an article titled "Defending Brutalism The Uncertain Future of Modernist Concrete Structures" for Preservation magazine, New York-based writer and playwright David Hay wrote, the style "promised a raw and rough materiality that had a social and artistic purpose," a monumental yet inexpensive strategy for public buildings.  (  A second look at these places when you understand their meaning and purpose adds a dimension that might have gone previously missing.

The abandoned Astrodome
Houston, Texas
Make an emotional connection

Making an emotional connection can be fairly easy.  If you want to get people excited about a places, especially an unattractive place, get them to share with you a fond memory.  People connect to the stories associated with a place more so than bricks and mortar.  Case in point is the Houston Astrodome.  While this National Treasure can stake a claim in being the world's first domed stadium, more important is the place it holds in the hearts of football and baseball fans in Houston and throughout the country.  In its forty-plus year history, this "Eighth Wonder of The World" has served as backdrop for every manner of sports and entertainment event.  This past November, a crucial vote was held to determine the Astrodome's future.  The National Trust led the campaign to save it by asking people to share their personal stories about the Dome: catching a home run ball, a last second come from behind win, and I'm sure at least one or two marriage proposals.  The result was such an overwhelming show of love which more than countered any negative comments.

The porch of John Coltrane's home
Dix HIlls, New York
Share the place's unique history

Every place has a unique history, even the most mundane looking buildings can reveal a fascinating story.  From the outside, the picture on the left may appear to be just another ranch house on the block.  It's the home of the late jazz legend (and personal favorite) John Coltrane.  This nondescript house was built in 1952 in Dix Hills, New York, yet within the wall of this unassuming home, 'Trane recorded, rehearsed, and wrote some his best-know work including the masterpiece "A Love Supreme," three years before his untimely death in 1967. The Friends of the Coltrane Home are diligently working to save the site with the hops of restoring it and reusing as an education center.  In the interim, sharing this home's wonderful past teaches us how history can take place in the most unexpected of places.  Besides that, can you imagine the music that still resonates in the walls, floor, and ceiling?

Miami Marine Stadium
Hilario Candela, Miami, Floria
photography by Spillis Candela DMJM Archives
Go inside the place

I've always felt that in order to truly experience a place you have to go inside.  Walk through the space, inhale the air, let your eyes take in the sights, touch (if you can) the objects, listen to the noises.  Let your encounter with the interior of a space be sensual experience.  It will allow you to gain a new perspective and make a connection to the space.  Case in point, Miami Marine Stadium, another addition on the ever growing list of National Treasures.  It has hosted boat races, concerts, Easter services until its closure twenty years ago after Hurricane Andrew swept through the Miami region.  Despite its closure, the funky look and cantilevered roof are a beacon to teenagers, Parkour practitioners, and graffiti artists.  Recently, the social media site instagram gave its subscribers a chance to capture the coolness of this local landmark and their infectious enthusiasm helped others see the hidden beauty in this neglected place.

Lincoln Center
Manhattan, New York
Encourage people to consider the alternative

When embarking on a preservation campaign, you have to keep in mind the real question, "What else would we lose if this place disappeared?"  Tom Mayes discovered that the loss of old places, no matter their aesthetic quality, resulted in a loss of identity, continuity, and memory.  Mr. Mayes writes,

Old places help people place themselves in that "great, sweeping arc" of time.  The continued presence of old places--of the schools an playgrounds, parks and public squares, churches and houses and farms and fields that people value--contributes to a people's sense of being on a continuum with the past.  That awareness gives meaning to the present, and enhances the human capacity to have a vision for the future.

Don't  be afraid to ask the naysayers, "Imagine if this place were gone.  Then what?"  Preservation is not for the timid and the meek.

If nothing else, remember that perceptions can--and will--change over time

English Romantic poet William Wordsworth once said, "The human mind is capable of excitement, without the application of gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very faint perception of its beauty and dignity who does not know this."  (  People are capable of great passion for period styles and technologies of their era.  Without too much effort or stimulation, a human being can find beauty and dignity in the way a Victorian building drew on the Industrial Age's manufacturing prowess.  The optimism in the face of desperate financial expressed in the colorful ornamentation of the Art Deco and the Ezra Pound "Make it new" breathlessness symbolized by the innovation of Modernism.  All these period styles, that we now value, were derided at one time or another yet have found new appreciation as time moves on.  In the words of Tom Mayes:

The history of preservation demonstrates a remarkable march of the ugly transforming into the beauty.  Take heart, then, that the place you love, even if other don't find it beautiful, has a lot to offer--and you can help them discover why.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Can Gentrification Be Bad For Your Health?

How to tell if your neighborhood is gentrifying
Hello Everyone:

Is gentrification a public health concern?  Should the Surgeon-General put a health warning label on communities considering gentrifying reading, "Warning gentrification maybe hazardous to your health?"  Whether of not gentrification is a public health concern is the question that Samuel H. Taylor asks and attempts to answer in his St. Louis Today opinion piece, "Gentrification as public health concern?"  I suppose in the rush to drop an artisanal food establishment and yoga studio on every corner, no has really stopped to think about the possible effect said yoga studio would have on a community's health and well-being and I don't necessarily mean it in a good way.  Still, in the rush to reclaim long neglected urban areas, pretty them up, attract young professional and creative types it might worth it to take a look at the question of whether or not gentrification is hazardous to the public's health.

Washington Avenue
St. Louis, Missouri
Health concerns regarding gentrification is not unique to St. Louis, Missouri.  Recently, the Alameda County Public Health Department in Oakland, California released some of the findings in a study it did on the effect of gentrification in the San Francisco Bay Area. The reception to the conclusions were mixed.  Some of the conclusions found the the overall consequences of gentrification on the displacement of the long-term residents has been huge, forcing the predominantly African-American population to either move in the face of soaring rent or weather the storm.  The costs to said residents has been reduced emotional and social well-being, increased stress, financial uncertainty, altered community structure, and the loss of important health and social resources.

Former antique store
St. Louis, Missouri
This is not unlike public health concerns in elsewhere in America.  Researchers in New York City discovered that rapid gentrification correlated to higher premature birth rates amongst African-American women.  Studies conducted in other cities have demonstrated that similar neighborhood changes have significantly affected low-income children and has limited their access to educational resources.  These and other conclusions have prompted the Centers for Disease Control to identify gentrification as potential public health risk.  If at all, these conclusions raise serious issues about making development equitable for all the residents.  Mr. Taylor, concedes, While the data are suspect to some, they should be concerning to us all.  We should recognize the applicability of empirical evidence that finds connections between gentrification and the displacement of low-income residents, and between displacement and resulting health disparities."  Whatever you or I may think of gentrification, it is important that we reach some sort of agreement regarding the importance of place and its affect/effect on our daily lives and health.

Loft development
St. Louis, Missouri
Why is so important to St. Louis?  Mr. Taylor reports that St. Louis is one of the fastest gentrifying cities in the United States.  The city is ranked in the top twenty-five fastest gentrifying gentrifying neighborhoods in the country.  Second and interestingly, emerging conversations in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley appear to suggest that St. Louis is quite suitable as midwestern technology hub.  While St. Louis may be a rapidly growing city, we have the case studies of San Francisco and Oakland to show us what happens when development threatens an existing community.

Ubiquitous artisanal coffee place
St. Louis, Missouri
A region such as St. Louis is hungry for more development in the urban core and are excited about the prospect of  duplicating a technology hub.  However, Samuel Taylor points out, "... are we prepared to learn from the same mistakes our gentrifying neighbors on the West West Coast have made?  Can St. Louis continue to develop in a manner that, according to Professor Todd Swanstrom at UMSL, has escaped many of the outcomes that other gentrifying cities in America have faced?"  All very good questions but how they will translate into policy remains to be seen.  In light of this city's auspicious position, Mr. Taylor suggests that St. Louis should be "...preemptively cautious about ushering in development that potentially provokes the displacement of current, low-income residents and only amplifies many of the disparities that they face."  It may sound like wishful thinking on Mr. Taylor's part.  Mr. Taylor adds, "We should be unambiguous about development in St. Louis that may cause an irreversible hike in rent prices and the cost living.  Our city's economic development agenda should pay special attention to the potential for further concentration of poverty in certain neighborhoods, which has only spread in recent decades.

This is an exciting moment to be in St. Louis.  The city on the cusp of a major transformation that will effect it for years to come.  However, the history of rapid gentrification and development suggest that St. Louis should approach the process from a critical standpoint, vis-a-vis, enhancing the health of its communities.  Samuel Taylor advises using a cautionary approach, assessing who will be the primary beneficiaries of development ventures.  Development can be a good thing but it can raise serious questions over the health of a city.  With an eye toward protecting the most vulnerable communities and supporting their development, St. Louis can move forward without causing lasting repercussions.

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Save The Nakagin Capsule Tower

Nakagin Capsule Tower
Tokyo, Japan

Hello Everyone:

After grim post about the September 11 National Museum and Memorial, I thought I might lighten the mood a little with a post on the Nakagin Capsule Tower.  I came across this article, by Jessica Baldwin, in the DoCoMoMo monthly newsletter.  It made me smile, not so much because it resembles a pile of washing machines, I wrote about it in the final chapter of my thesis where I discussed contemporary Japanese historic preservation, which I've excerpted for you.  The preservation efforts surrounding this hotel are part of global attention to post-war architecture and the growing cost of real estate, especially in Japan where only fifteen percent of the land is arable, had put much of post-war architecture at risk.  Without a doubt, the Nakagin Capsule Tower is one of the most iconic post-war buildings, standing as testament to post-war architecture and development.

Typical interior in the Nakagin Capsule Tower
The Nakagin Capsule Hotel was completed in
1972 by Kishio Kurukawa. The tower was part of Kurokawa’s exploration of capsule architecture developed for Expo’70 with the Takara Beautilion, which was demolished after the event.  The idea of impermanence and moveability, based on the Metabolist movement, influenced the construction of the tower. From its beginning, the two basic components-the megastructure and the capsules were intended to last sixty years and twenty-five years respectively.  Kurokawa explained, “...the lifespan of the capsule was not a mechanical one, but rather a social one, implying that it is the changing human needs and social relationship that required such periodic replacement."

Porthole window in the sleep space
The building was recognized by the Documentation and Conservation of the
In 1998, Kishio Kurokawa Architects and Associates developed a renovation plan, “Nakagin Capsule Tower Renovation Plan,"  which would update the service core and replace the capsules. Kurokawa posited that replacing the individual capsules would be more cost- effective than tearing down the building. When he designed the hotel, Kurakawa expected to replace the capsules every twenty-five years. Ironically, as Tokyo continues to grow and transform itself so much that it outpaces the “metabolism” envisioned by the architects, the dominant real estate paradigm, and requires the entire hotel be renewed not just the individual capsules.  The result is more renovation and rebuilding in Japan, as well as New York City than in most other places complicating preservation efforts.  Kurokawa’s plan was supported by the Japanese Institute of Architecture and architects around the world. Global support for his initiative demonstrates the recognition of the Nakagin Capsule Hotel’s place in the continuum of Japan’s architectural heritage. The ongoing efforts to save the hotel from demolition serves as reminder of its importance in the history of modern Japanese architecture.

Lounge area
The ongoing preservation effort of the Nakagin Capsule Hotel poses the question, what criteria is used to determine buildings and objects worthy candidates for designation? Isozaki Arata writes, “The professional appraisal that originated in selecting and judging [what] would now be called ‘art’ from among everyday utensils was from by Western-style ‘Japanese taste.’”  This concept of “Japan-ness” belonged to the external gaze projected by the West. Kikuchi Yuko argues that this external gaze was a response by the Japanese to the West’s interest the exotic and contributed to the way Japan looked at its own works of architecture and art.  Writer Yanagi Sôetsu’s theories helped call attention to Japan’s indigenous craft tradition, which was subject to protection and preservation beginning with the 1933 Law on The Preservation of Important Art Objects. Whether Yanagi’s theory had any influence on the criteria for determining what is worthy of protection under The 1933 Law is conjectural and the subject for another paper. Therefore, it is possible that this Western construct of Japan-ness informed the way the National Treasures Preservation Committee evaluated what merited preservation. Perhaps the solution to the question of how to evaluate Japanese historic and cultural resources is developing a hybrid criteria of what is worthy of designation.

Composite rendering of the Nakagin Capsule Tower
The Metabolist movement wanted to challenge and appreciate the past while push the Japanese people forward into the future by using avant garde architectural design concepts through physical construction.  Western conceptions of preservations, particularly in the United States, are based in a type of stasis in the preservation of the built environment, usually a piece of architectural history.  Simply put, western preservation practices is about managing change, meaning how to keep old buildings, adapt them for contemporary use or turn them into a museum, while maintaining the historic fabric of the building.  Western preservation practice can be selective about new uses for a building, sometimes heavily restricting them through legislative action.

Axonometric view of Nakagin Capsule Tower
Japan and other Asian nations approach preservation from a different point of view.  Environmental issues, natural disaster, conflict, rising real estate prices, and population demands all factor into Japanese preservation practices.  The Diet does not exactly enforce preservation law, and that lack of regulation often collides with the real world needs of the evolving economy.  Striking a balance  between historical, cultural value and the market economies of Japanese cities creates more prevalent challenges in Japanese preservation practice.  The very limited availability of land for construction, coupled with the demand for reals estate is the main factor in determining preservation practices.  Added into this mix is a sense of national pride (and inferiority left over from World War II) makes preserving the recent past even more challenging.

Capsule close up
The soaring demand for real estate and the ephemeral perspective of Japanese construction (buildings are not meant to last forever), also factors into the role of preservation and have a profound effect in the preservation of the recent past.  The idea that a built environment is in a constant state of transformation, has been ingrained into the Japanese consciousness and is the most critical element in examining Japanese preservation practice, especially the recent past.  This abbreviated life span of Japanese architect is said to be based in the social system that guarantees change.  In this case, Jessica Baldwin concludes, "As preservationists, we must be open to this concept and accept, especially with structures of the recent past and as buildings and cities evolve.

Close up of the capsules

When taking into account the Metabolism and the difference in preservation practices in the United States and Japan, it's not difficult to understand how the Nakagin Capsule Tower is an exemplar of Metabolist movement.  The individual capsule were designed to be the size of a shipping container, thus making it easy to build and move around.  The Tower was finished in 1972, using 144 capsules, inserted at a rate of five to eight modules per day.  The modules are connected to the core structure (megastructure) which serves as a elevator shaft, electrical, plumbing and HVAC conduit.  This modular system was quite innovative for its time, completely new construction.  Ms. Baldwin cites Lin Zhongjie, "The towers rise to different height and the capsules are arranged in a seemingly random...suggesting an ongoing process." (Lin, 2011, 19)  The end result is that the Tower embodies the Metabolist manifesto.  Since the capsules do not completely cover the towers, there is a sense of continuation.  Capsules can be added or subtracted, a sense of ephermera.

Rendering of typical capsule

The Nakagin Capsule Tower is currently on DoCoMoMo Japan's list of cultural significant modern buildings.  However, this means little in terms of government regulation.  Rather, it's only recognition in terms of its cultural and national value. The list of culturally significant modern buildings was created in hopes that the Japanese government would halt the demolition of most of the Modern movement buildings.  Kishio Kurokawa campaigned to save his building and made some progress until his death in 2007.  Despite the architect's campaigning, the planned demolition of the Capsule Tower will continue.  This development has placed the tower in the forefront of global preservation.  The DoCoMoMo list and additional preservation activities have attracted the attention of preservation professionals.

Although the demolition for the Capsule Tower was approved in 2007, for the moment, it has been sparred.  However, the ultimate fate of the tower is still unknown, a common fate for buildings of the Late Modern (1960-1980) era.  The campaign to save the Nakagin Capsule Tower began several years but ended with Kishio Kurakawa's death.  The Japanese government has not stepped in to protect the landmark tower, which has become an monolithic icon amid the chaos and constant sea of transformation in the Ginza District.  The loss of the tower could represent the fundamental downfall of the Metabolist principles.  It could also be the foundation of all Japanese preservation.  The Metabolist architects understood that cities and buildings constantly evolve.  Now as the world turns its gaze toward the Nakagin Capsule Tower and watches it evolve.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

9/11 Museum

September 11 Memorial Museum
Hello Everyone:

Thursday May 15 is an auspicious day for the people of New York City and the United States.  Today marks the ceremonial opening of the National September 11 Memorial Museum on the Ground Zero site.  This day finally has arrived after ten years of bottomless grief, partisan bickering, two ill-conceived wars, financial setbacks, and Hurricane Sandy.  President Barack Obama is expected to be on hand to mark the occasion and the museum will officially open to the public on Wednesday May 21, 2014.  In his thoughtful review published today in the New York Times, "The 9/11 Story Told at Bedrock, Powerful as a Punch to the Gut," veteran art critic Holland Carter writes, "It delivers a gut-punch experience-though if ever a new museum had looked, right along, like a disaster in the making, this one did, beginning with its trifurcated identity."

September 11 Memorial Museum site
Some of the question that surrounded the creation of this museum dedicated to that most awful of days and its aftermath: Was it going to be a historical document, a monument to the dead, or a tourist attraction?  How many historical museums are built around actual cemeteries that are still being added to?  For that matter, how many cemeteries have a twenty-four dollar entrance fee and sell souvenirs? How many tourist attractions repeatedly move a person to tears?  This is what this museum does. I don't care who you are, where you were, or what you were doing on that most awful of days, if you were in New York that day or following the events in the media, you could not but feel a sense of paranoia and horror in watching the story unfold second by second.

Stairs in the September 11 Memorial Museum
The families of the 2,983 people killed on that day and those who died in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center raised the above questions and many other anguished, angry questions regarding the museum have been widely reported.  In a way this reminds of the fantastic Amy Waldman book The Submission, which centers on the reactions by the families to the Indian-Muslim architect winning a fictitious 9/11 Memorial competition.  In real-life, the current debates over purpose, propriety and protocol still continue.  There were moments when said debates threatened to derail the project or delay but work on the museum moved forward.  From all that painstaking, sometimes rancorous effort, emerged a place that was held true to it goal: tell the story of September at the Ground Zero bedrock.

September 11 Memorial Museum during construction,
From above ground, the National September 11 Memorial Museum is accompanied by two granite basins of cascading water filling the footprints, however the museum is almost entirely underground.  The majority of the 110,000 square feet of gallery space, is deliberately seventy feet below ground, where the foundations of the towers met raw schist.  Holland Carter writes, "Invisibility can make for strong drama.  A descent into darkness is the stuff of suspense.  It's also the classic route of religious ritual and regeneration, bringing images of the tomb and the seedbed to mind."  The museum makes full use of these associations in a slow revelatory manner.

Entry pavilion for the September 11 Memorial Museum
The drama of the place subtly begins on the aboveground plaza level entry pavilion, half way between the memorial fountains.  The Norwegian architectural firm Snøhetta was commissioned in 2004 to design the only building in the memorial plaza.  The pavilion is a glass box tilted sharply, resembling a falling building.  The blond-wood atrium features a private room for the September 11 families only, is in Mr. Carter's opinion, "atmospherically neutral, even bland, but offers an unmistakeable sight: two of the immense trident columns that were signature features of the twin tower façades."  According to project architect
The Twin Tridents
Craig Dykers, "Our desire is to allow visitors to find a place that is a naturally occurring threshold between the every life of the city and the uniquely spiritual quality of the Memorial." (   The tridents, once clad in aluminum now covered in rust, survived the collapse of the north tower.  Despite dwarfing the atrium, only a small section is visible to the public.  Looking over a balcony, a visitor can follow their lines as they plunge several stories down in the direction the visitors will take to a second lobby below plaza level, out of the natural light of day into the sepulchre-like tomb.

Second lobby level
The heady geo-politics of 9/11 and World Trade Center are alluded to in a staggering quotation from Minoru Yamasaki, the architect of the towers, in which he declares his work "a monument to world peace."  Needless to say not everyone subscribed to this utopian vision.  To many the WTC represented, at best, "...two cold giant vertical bars of silver bullion, at worst obscene gestures of capitalist might."  Even as you breath in the architect's words, confront the faces of the fallen and hear their final words as you move down the darkened hallway, deeper into the museum, you cannot help but be struck by the pending sense of doom and catastrophe that crowds the air.  It is recorded sound which plays a major role in this museum.  As does scale.  As a visitor emerges from the corridors claustrophobic sound cloud onto a platform overlooking a gaping space containing a sixty-foot-high exposed section of the WTC's wall.  This thick foundational barrier made of poured concrete was laid before construction began in 1966 to hold back the Hudson River.

The slurry wall
When the towers collapsed, there was a palpable fear that this wall would give way flooding the site. Miraculously, it held.  When German architect Daniel Libeskind was hired as the master planner for the new trade center complex in 2003, Mr. Libeskind spoke of that slurry wall as the soul of his design.  By that point, this remnant of the once mighty towers had come to symbolize urban recovery, democracy, communal strength, the human spirit, and the virtues of sound engineering.  The metaphors were plentiful in the days and months after that most awful.  Everything connected to it was framed in the context of polarities: light and dark; wounding and healing; death and rebirth.  The interior design of the museum by Davis Brody Bond maintains those polarities in several features, specifically the long descending ramp taking visitors down several stories between the enormous sunken cubes of the memorial pools.

Visitors being led down into the museum
The ramp was inspired by the access road dug during the early recovery phase, eventually taking on a sacred aura.  In the museum sense, the ramp becomes a processional, lined with slow reveal vistas and projections of "Missing" posters that papered the city in the days following September 11.  When the path terminates at the bedrock, it offers a choice of paths: toward a quiet memorial to those killed in the terrorist attacks or the more disturbing presentation of the actual events.  Here is where the dual nature of the museum become more apparent.  The memorial display is similar in nature to the photographs that line main elevator shaft at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C, a communal commemorative display. These portraits and their spoken can be viewed on touch screens and projected large in another room.  Presently, about 14,000 yet to be identified or unclaimed remains of the 9/11 deceased rest, unseen, in an adjacent repository created at the request of the majority of the families.

9/11 families protest keeping the remains in the museum
A small group of families protested the presence of the remains in the museum.  This small group of families have taken issue with the idea of a museum in the first place-particularly one that will, inevitably serve as a tourist attraction and mortuary.  Other museum critics are concerned that the building, which took in eleven feet of water during Hurricane Sandy, could flood again. Lastly, the fact that the remains are not properly entombed but in storage and under the jurisdiction of the New York City Medical Examiners, compromises the sense of repose.  However, repose is not something a person would associate with the museum other larger exhibit, focusing on the actual day.  Moving through several galleries, the exhibit incorporates video and audio recordings, photographs, and hundreds of artifacts which record the minute by minute event of that Tuesday from 8:46 a.m. when the first plane slammed into the North Tower to just past 10:28 a.m when the South Tower fell, the remaining hijacked planes destroyed, the Pentagon in flames, and thousands of people gone in an instant.

Glass installation of the moment of impact
 The installation was the product of a team of designers led by museum director Alice M. Greenwald, formerly of the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.  The exhibition drew from the museum's collection of over 10,000 artifacts, some quite devastating to see and listen to.  Videos of people jumping out of the towers are set in alcoves with an advisory notices.  Even in our desensitized cultural environment, the sight of seeing someone leap to their certain death can leave the most hardened person dumbstruck.  Holland Carter observes that for some reason, the larger items: a burned-out cab, an intact fire-truck with carefully folded fire hoses, a steel column decorated with prayer cards, and store-front jeans display are the easiest to absorb despite the fact they remain covered with WTC ashes.  The exhibit also features less disquieting objects, personal items some donated by the families.  In their usual environment, a purse, pocket, or bedside, they are mundane, however behind a vitrine, they become infused with lost life.  They elevate the museum experience to one-part theater, voyeuristic, and devotional.

9/11 artifact on tour
In searching for a proper analogy to make in reference to the museum, Mr. Carter looks to the dynamic of a religious pilgrimage site, regardless of religion.  The mortal remains of secular saints, sanctified by there touch, are the center of attention.  The visitor walks along a holy route, stopping at the equivalent of side chapels and altars, meditating on the icons, talismans and embodied miracles, the crucifix of crossed steel ground zero girders, a Bible found fused to a hunk of steel prophetically opened to passage warning against repaying violence with violence.  The dominant narrative in the museum is similar to that of a place worship, framed in moral term-angels and devils.  In the telling of the tale, the angels are in abundance, heroic.  The devils are few and are portrayed as the devil incarnate in standard issue film blandly titled "The Rise of Al Qaeda," presented at the end of the exhibition.  Mr. Carter describes the narrative as, "...not so much wrong as drastically incomplete.  It is useful history, not deep history; news, not analysis."

This useful history approach the museum utilizes, to a high degree, still living the history, working through the grieving, memorializing it, still hanging on to the idea that September 11 "changed everything," ignores the evidence which suggests, for better or worse, this not the case.  While the displays of hyper-patriotism have long subsided, so has the "we're in it together" generosity Americans extended to each in the immediate days.  Thus with its narrow perspective, or perhaps, because of it, museum has done something powerful.  Thankfully, the museum regards itself as a work in progress.  Good, because memorial museums seem to come off as final summations, the narrative encased in amber.  However, if the museum wants to comprehensively tackle the reality of September 11 and its aftermath successfully, the result will a greater deepening of our understanding why nearly three thousand people died on that day and why thousands more died in the ensuing conflicts.

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