Urban Economics and Where We Live

Posted by & filed under Architecture, Planning, Zoning.

American Century types like to complain that this country doesn’t make anything anymore or if we do it’s artisanal cheese and not steel. But as this article points out, that cheese or other basement production is often where the big stuff starts. How can we forget Apple’s garage beginnings.

So if economies are shifting, at least in some small way, to local production and services, are our communities able to accomodate new jobs?

According to Mike Pyatok, interviewed in Better Cities and Towns, “Most planning regulations are based on the Euclidean model that separates cities into zones accommodating a single use, which true live-work is decidedly not.”

While Pyatok is pointing out that the rules of subsidized housing preclude small scale economic ventures, … Continue reading

Mid-Century Architecture Gets its Due

Posted by & filed under Design, Places, Planning.

Guest post by Scott Whipple

The Washington Post’s “Where We Live” blog recently featured Washington area mid-century architecture (Washington’s mid-century modern neighborhoods | Washington’s mid-century modern neighborhoods, part 2), making mention of a number of Montgomery County’s recent past resources — including the Rock Creek Woods, Hammond Wood, and Carderock Springs National Register historic districts.

As Amanda Abrams writes in the first post, “I’ve found that once I look for them, I start seeing modernist communities everywhere.” We expect to be seeing more mid-century resources, too. So we’ve started the MontgomeryModern initiative to explore our county’s mid-century architectural history. We share the excitement about this architecture that Michael Shapiro mentions in his post, and we hope you will come … Continue reading

The Food Truck Challenge

Posted by & filed under Places, Public spaces.

No, it’s not about who’s got the biggest twitter following or who makes the best fusion taco. As always, follow the money. In many cities, trucks compete with local and chain restaurants and as this article points out, since there are only three meals a day, competition gets fierce.

Rising Cities

Posted by & filed under Design.

Cities have always drawn the best and the brightest, who are drawn by urban energy and in turn, contribute to it.

A new world economy is creating new up-and-comers, reviewed in this New York Times article. And what do these cities have in common–connectivity of varying sorts. Lots of cities are putting in free wi-fi and most of them, from Aukland to Vilnius, are expanding and improving mass transit. Sometimes in the most unlikely places and in the most unlikely (and exciting) ways!

Round House Weirdness

Posted by & filed under Architecture, Design.

Like a triple play or a blue moon, round houses are rare and wonderful things. But even though we always stop to look, we rarely buy. Round houses just don’t fit our image of home–a front door tucked under a gable roof. Instead, they look like something that’s just landed from another universe.

Building materials may be one reason we live in boxes rather than bowls. Teepees and yurts made of cloth and skins are self-supporting without a foundation. Even more contemporary materials like steel and concrete can be molded into round structures. But most home-building is stick-built construction. It takes effort and skill to shape two-by-fours into a round structure. (A more subtle influence might be lot shape–you … Continue reading

D.C. Environmental Film Fest

Posted by & filed under Architecture, Design, Places, Planning.

This year’s festival features films about the built environment, from the Mohawk ironworkers in Skydancer to Dutch architect Rem Koolhas coming to terms with rapid urbanization in Lagos, Nigeria.

Venues are all over the city, and screening times throughout the day. Find one that works for you, but tickets sell quick, so don’t delay.

Preservation and Change

Posted by & filed under Design.

Washingtonian magazine recently ran a long article about preservation in the Washington, D.C. region, including early efforts at Mount Vernon after the Civil War to more recent efforts recognizing Modern architecture.

You can read about the local battles and inspirations here, but to me, the most interesting paragraph in the article was this one:

“Sometimes historic buildings are sacrificed for what is considered the greater good. The Federal Triangle was Washington’s first great example in the 1930s, when several square blocks were torn down to make way for a federal office complex. Construction of the National Archives meant demolition of the city’s central food market. The Kennedy Center replaced the city’s largest brewery. And the Army Medical … Continue reading

Book(s) of the Month: City Life

Posted by & filed under Design, Planning, Zoning.

In my last post, I began reviewing two of my favorite books from Witold Rybczynski, someone I consider one of the best authors in architecture and urban studies. The first post covered Last Harvest (2007) . Contrast that to City Life (1995), where Rybczynski theorizes:

“…the American city has been a stage for the ideas of ordinary people: the small business man on Main Street, the franchisee along the commercial strip, the family in the suburbs. It all adds up to a disparate vision of the city. Perhaps the American urban stage is best described as cinematic rather than theatrical. A jumbled back lot with cheek-by-jowl assortment of different sets for different productions….”

Like Last Harvest, … Continue reading

Considering the Environmental Value of Existing Buildings

Posted by & filed under Architecture.

guest post: Scott Whipple

Last Wednesday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released a report demonstrating something some will find counterintuitive or even dubious, but which many of us in the historic preservation field have thought for years: reusing existing buildings almost always offers more environmental savings than demolition and new construction.

The study, The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, includes some interesting findings: A new, high-performance building needs between 10-80 years, depending on the building type and where it is built, to offset the environmental impact of its construction. In comparing new and retrofitted buildings ofsimilar size, function, and performance, energy savings in retrofitted buildings ranged from 4-46 percent higher than new construction. The benefits of retrofitting … Continue reading