Toy Cities. Our friends at Planetizen tell us that Avondale, AZ had urban planner James Rojas over for a playdate of sorts. Citizens who took part in this re-visioning session got to use pipecleaners, Legos, blocks, and other assorted toys to build their ideal version of the city. According to Rojas, this bottom-up community planning method breaks down barriers and allows people to exercise a degree of creativity not often found at the typical charrette.
Food Oases. Streetsblog questions the much hyped notion of the “food desert”: is it media myth or reality? It seems that urban areas aren’t always as lacking in food stores as they seem, at least depending on your definition of supermarket. Even the USDA, who recently debuted their new food desert locator, might be a bit confused about what constitutes a food desert. (In fact, the web application says that a part of Dedham, MA is a food desert. Maybe they don’t count the Star Market that’s right near that Census tract…)
Suburban Swan Song. Slate’s architecture columnist Witold Rybczynski has penned an obit of sorts to that symbol of suburban sprawl, the McMansion. He posits that when the recession is over people will be in the mood to buy homes again, but that they may be hesitant to purchase a behemoth of a building that costs a lot to heat and cool.
Green Alert. Inhabitat takes a look at the latest in the green roof trend in the form of sloping roofs on townhomes in the City of Brotherly Love. It seems that the historic Center City has a new (and almost LEED certified) infill development called Bancroft Green. The high-end homes here sport some nifty plant covered roofs as well as geothermal heating and herb gardens that capture storm runoff and spaces designed specifically for bicycle storage.
High Speed Rail Rescued. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced $200 million for high speed rail projects in Michigan yesterday, as part of a $400 million package for high speed rail in the Midwest. The money came from funds rejected by Florida governor Rick Scott. Grist reports: “It looks like Scott’s tantrum will mean improved speed and performance in the Northeast Corridor, a high-speed line between Detroit and Chicago, better train cars throughout California and the Midwest, and forward movement on the planned L.A.-to-S.F. high-speed line. Thanks, sucker!”
Over the Hill. And speaking of rail, Grist brings us this infographic showing the dramatic decline of Amtrak‘s coverage since its heyday in the 60s. Maybe it’s time to bring Joe Biden in for a celebrity ad campaign.
Buffalo’s Berkeley Makeover. Can Buffalo, New York become the next hip college town? That’s what administrators at the University of Buffalo are betting on, staking $5 billion to expand the campus from the outskirts of the city to downtown. The city, which lost 1/10 of its population over the last decade, may not have Berkeley’s hippie past, but business leaders and local politicians envision bringing thousands of professors and staffers downtown, with “young researchers living in restored lofts, dining at street-side bistros and walking to work.”
Metrocards Out, Smart Cards In. The country’s oldest subway system foresees a future without the iconic Metrocard. The NY Daily News reports that the New York City MTA plans to replace Metrocards with smart cards in three to four years. Riders would tap the MTA Card, or a debit or credit card, to pay their fares.
60 Seconds Helicopter. The Sikorsky Prize is legendary, for it has not yet been awarded–it’s still awaiting its first winner, whose human-powered helicopter will reach an altitude of 3 meters (10 feet) during a flight lasting at least 60 seconds, while remaining in a 10 meter square (32.8 foot square). But Inhabitat reports that if things go as planned, a team of students from the University of Maryland may be taking home the prize with their human-powered flying machine, the Gamera.
BIG’s beautified universe. Metropolis deconstructs the renderings of Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG)’s latest project: a mosque complex in Tirana, Albania. While the thoughtful octagonal design (an overlap of the Mecca orientation and Tirana’s urban grid) may have put BIG in front of the competition, one can’t help wonder if the seductive juxtaposition of photo-realism and and benign atmospheric glow in BIG’s renderings may be the secret to the firm’s running marathon of competition wins.
More Getty Trust. Christopher Knight at The Los Angeles Times raises a good point regarding the J. Paul Getty Trust’s appointment of James Cuno, currently director of the Art Institute of Chicago, as Trust president and chief executive: It might be a brilliant idea to appoint him to the directorship for the Getty Museum, finally merging the two positions.
Suburbia Objectified? Allison Arieff of The New York Times comments on the recently launched Open House, a collaborative project in which the Dutch design collective Droog and Diller Scofidio + Renfro architects imagined “future suburbia.” She laments that the project missed the point– by treating a real place (Levittown) as a “perfect blank canvas” and dodging “the real issues.”
Still Life. Fast Company previews Brad Cloepfil/Allied Works Architecture’s design for a new 28,000 square foot Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, which will hold 2,400 works from the artist’s estate. Suzanne LaBarre writes that Still’s will stipulated “that his estate be given, in its entirety, to an American city willing to establish a permanent museum dedicated solely to his artwork.”
Melting Pot. Bloomberg reports that, based on latest Census numbers, New York is back to being the most diverse city in the U.S., beating out L.A. The Italian-American Brooklyn neighborhood of Dyker Heights takes the prize for the biggest shift, with a 31% increase in Asian residents since the last Census.
Scan this! In case you missed it, this week MVRDV released renderings for a mustard factory turned call center in Dijon, France, with an intriguing facade composed of QR tags, via Bustler.
New Mad Men. Tommy Hilfiger and his real estate partners buy the old Met Life clock tower on Madison Avenue with plans to convert it into a hotel, writes The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, in the Meatpacking neighborhood, Hilfiger’s weird preppy pop-up cottage stays up through Sunday.
Not Me! The architect of record for the much beleaguered Xanadu mall in New Jersey went on the record with northjersey.com. David Jansen said the garish colors weren’t his idea. It appears he was called in to save the day after David Rockwell washed his hands of the multi-billion dollar debacle. Rechristened the American Dream @ Meadowlands the project got a fresh infusion of cash from the Mall of America and NJ State taxpayers are kicking in $200 million in low interest financing (that’s almost as much as state will have to pay the Feds for canceling the Hudson Tunnel Project). The project got so out of hand that The Times sponsored a contest for readers to reimagine Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”, aka – Xanadu.
Don’t shoot! Architectural photographer Grant Smith is mad as hell. After taking a photo of a London church he was surrounded by a bunch of bobbies who thought he was a terrorist. Unbeige reports that on World Press Freedom Day the photog took his grievances to the street. He and dozens of other shutterbugs descended on London City Hall wearing signs proclaiming, “I’m a photographer not a terrorist.”
Freudian Facades. The Wall Street Journal reports that the “real cutting edge of architecture has to do with the psychology of buildings.” The august paper interviewed a few scientists about how space design can effect worker productivity. For accuracy and focus, confined spaces painted red work well. While creative types benefit from high ceilings, lots of windows and bright blue walls. Maybe, but sometimes a room is just a room.
Splash House. Graduate architecture students at the Parson’s Design Workshop are ready to get to work this summer on a pool-deck pavilion for the Highbridge Park Swimming Pool in Washington Heights–that is, if they can raise enough funds for their project via a Kickstarter campaign. Mammoth has more details on the pavilion.
Preservation Month. Richard Layman isn’t wasting any time in celebrating National Preservation Month, going on all May long. He has collected 33 ideas for an action-packed DC-based month of preservation.
Taxi of the Future. WNYC’s Transportation Nation reports on the city’s choice of Nissan to build the Taxi of Tomorrow, finding there’s likely to be a controversial road ahead for the bright-yellow mini-van.
Flummoxed Lenox. Inspired by a Gothamist post about hidden rooms in the Frick, Mark Lamster digs a bit deeper and shares his knowledge of the site when it was occupied by the old Lenox Library. “…sober, imposing, and correct, much like the man who designed it, Richard Morris Hunt,” he says of the old edifice, before delving into the curious history of the Hunt memorial across the street.
Boulevard Blues. Brownstoner is still hammering away at a bleak streetscape along 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, where first floors of the new residential buildings leave a lot to be desired. The site reports that City Planning may be looking at measures to fix mistakes from 2003 upzoning and bring more life onto the street. While they’re at it, perhaps they can tap the DOT to add some green to the median.
House vs. Home. A kinder and gentler Peter Eisenman emerged from nearly 20 years of Jungian analysis, the architect tells The Washington Post. Far from the heady world of theory (“I was a cerebral cat”), Eisenman returns to the world of bricks and mortar. The change helps him expound on the differences between a house and home.
Tick Tock. The clock is ticking for the Brooklyn Bridge Park to make a decision on how to pay for maintaining the park, reports Crains. “If we don’t have a financial model, we won’t be able to proceed with construction,” BBP President Regina Myer tells the paper.