When I started reading this book, I didn’t intend to review it. It was a birthday gift, and it didn’t seem like it fell in with the other books I’ve reviewed here, which were perhaps weightier or more profound. The 99% Invisible City isn’t that, and that’s precisely why I felt I needed to review it once I was done.Read more
Surveillance pervades modern society. From CCTV cameras to cellphones to digital tracking, it can be impossible to tell whether someone is watching. This monitoring almost certainly affects our behavior, and theories about exactly how it does have a long history, tracing back to a model of the ideal prison: the Panopticon. Read more
In the aftermath of personal scandals and the 1929 market crash, legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright saw a sharp decline in paying clients. With a creative lull, he took the opportunity to begin something new: Broadacre City, a plan he hoped would change the shape of not just architecture, but land use and society across the United States.
Wright outlined the proposal in the 1932 book The Disappearing City and followed it in 1935 with a 12-foot by 12-foot model exhibited at the Rockefeller Center. The core concept is simple, if radical: completely disperse the modern city and give each family at least an acre of land. The details and the defining ideals behind them are considerably more complicated.
About 110 km north of Phoenix, Arizona, in the middle of a semi-arid desert, you’ll find an odd sight: a community of rough concrete buildings sitting on a mesa. Inside, brass and ceramic wind-bells are cast and sold, construction on the development continues, and, in theory, all the needs of a modern city are met with minimal environmental impact. This is Arcosanti, the brainchild of Paolo Soleri, built to prove his vision of architecture and ecology working hand in hand. Read more
Written in 1961, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs is a seminal work in urban planning. The work is a condemnation of orthodox planning, especially that based in the work of Ebenezer Howard and Le Corbusier. These ideas, Jacobs argues, are paternalistic and controlling, and lack any understanding of real cities. She also defines a new paradigm for urban planning, based in people and the complex truth of cities, which she sees as a “problem of organized complexity.” Throughout the work, she argues that solving the problems of urban life requires a more in depth understanding of the interactions of people and the built environment on every scale. Read more
Detroit has a long history of agriculture, from the French farmers who colonized the area and set up ribbon farms along the river to the Panic of 1893, which prompted Mayor Hazen S. Pingree to open empty lots for farming. With the growth of the auto industry, the city’s agriculture faded into the past. Now, as the city plans for shrinkage, a resurgence in agriculture is making its way through cracks in the urban fabric. Read more
In recent years, Detroit has become a byword for the decline of industrial cities in the United States. The community grew rapidly with industrialization in the mid-1900s, faced political, social, and economic turmoil through the rest of the century, and decayed into a disaster of infrastructure. Today, Detroit is finding its own way in the future of urban life, and it just might prove an example for all of the cities facing their own changing futures. Read more
In the early 1900s, not long after Ebenezer Howard realized his first Garden Cities, another designer put forward his own solution to the woes of urban life. French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, saw the machine age as a chance to remake society and improve the lives of all. Corbu’s ideas, which reached their ultimate form with the Radiant City, proposed nothing less than the complete destruction and replacement of cities with his concept of perfect, ordered environments.