Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Reading List: Small Spaces

A new release that arrived from Princeton Architectural Press 'Small Scale' advertises 'Creative Solutions for Better City Living' which is a lofty goal.  It immediately made me think of niche DIY magazines like Ready-Made  for people with pent up creativity just bursting with ideas if they only had some direction or money.  When I read the preliminary text, I was interested to see this ideology of projects for good in action.  Instead I just enjoyed some cool projects and some great photos.

The authors, partners at Moscow Linn Architects discuss the intent early on, alluding to the range of projects " places to contemplate, to find reprieve from urban intrusions, and to facilitate social interaction', building on many urban precedents of site design and artistic intervention.  The include their own project, which I remember seeing from a few years back - the Zipcar Dispenser for dense urban mobility in the text. (Wait a second, they slipped three of their projects into the fold - wait... four!)  Perhaps this first one is one of the more interesting additions to the book - one with a story of reuse and necessity in an urban context - sort of right along the lines of the intent of the book.

Seen above, the project which looked at transforming a ship-repair container into a new sports venue - reminiscent of the work of LTL and indicative of a more strategic positioning of space melded with community need.  This seems to set the stage for a sort of investigative approach that one would think continues throughout the volume, one maybe better suited for speculative-only projects, which seem more suited to ideology without being watered down in reality.

Thus, with these precedents in hand, it's a bit of a strange ride through sections like 'Service', 'Insight' or 'Delight' which sort of organize the snapshots of the projects into a systemic view.  It reads somewhat like a blog, with short descriptions and an array of photos, giving one a taste, and if the interest is piqued, the ability to find out more.  I ended up enjoying it more by picking and choosing, often at random intervals* and came across some gems, such as 'In Pursuit of Freedom' from Local Projects -  a multi-media installation focused on elements of historic urbanism.

Many are ones that have been seen before, like the 'Parti Wall' from Boston, which I so artfully referred to in the past as 'hanging bath mats' (but in reality is pretty cool) as a temporary installation of vertical urban void space.  

And others like StossLU's outdoor romper room 'Safe Zone' a temporary installation utilizing recycled rubber play surfacing material - definitely fit the essence of small-scale.

The solutions also range from the artistic such as the sculptural 'Maximilian's Schell' (below-top) by Ball-Nogues Studio or the whimiscal 'White Noise White Light (below-bottom) by Howeler + Yoon that consisted of a simple activated array of led lights in a plaza space - which some wonderful results.

Literally 1 to 3 pages per project, these are just vignettes, partially in response to getting a wide cross section of content, but perhaps more evidently as there probably isn't a lot of substance (or anything that would be palatable to read) with these projects.  That is not to say they are simplistic in design elegance, just that they are simple to explain.  One of my favorites (and I think the ideal for a book like this) is the simple Temporary Event Complex for TBA Festival, done by Portland firm BOORA - using scaffold and construction fencing to create an ephemeral pavilion of sorts.  Anyone who saw this knows the photos don't do it justice.

Oddly enough there were a few really strange additions (both in scope and scale) - such as the High Line (also due to it's photogenic quality, is on the cover shot) and other larger projects like the Ecoboulevard in Vallencia, , and a few others that don't seem to fit the mold - and are tough to document in a few pages.  Both great projects, I just don't see how they fit the intent of the book, but don't dwell on this too much.  It wasn't terribly hard to endure 200-300 words of any one project - and it works sort of a book length Pecha Kucha.

I so appreciate an opportunity to show off some of the cool graphics for The High Line - so of course I will.  But much like the rest of the book, the addition of this project shows a schizophrenia on what the focus really is about.  Is it small interventions or creative insertions into urban fabric?  Simple, affordable, expensive, artistic, functional?  All of these typologies were included, so, even as I was enjoying the book, I couldn't actually tell what the agenda was, and what exactly was trying to be accomplished.  Not that books really need that agenda, but just don't put it in the title.

A great collection of interesting projects with great imagery and simple descriptions is a good book on its own.  I think the overarching hyperbole of 'Creative Solutions for Better City Living' maybe sounded good as a marketing strategy, but falls flat in execution - especially for a set of project profiles that costs $34.95.  The act of 'improving the lives of city dwellers' and 'addressing problems specific to urban life', as noted in the introduction, is noble.  But it is not the contribution of this collection of projects.  If this were the sum total of those efforts at making better cities, then god help us all.

More commentary from Urban Lab Global Cities and the always irreverent faslanyc

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