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

The BRT Experience

Posted by & filed under Planning.

While the Planning Board, staff, and County are facing down the challenges of retro-fitting bus rapid transit into the suburbs, some transit planners are thinking about the soulfulness of mass transit.

Beyond the engineering and economic  calculations, the languge used to describe the service, its frequency and legibility, whether you can eat on a train car or check your email all contribute to how you feel about transit and whether you’re likely to use it.

I am not a frequent Metro user, but when I think about a local trip I consider it an alternative. I usually find it timely and convenient, but am always stymied by figuring the fare. Am I in the peak or peak of the … Continue reading

Book(s) of the Month: Last Harvest

Posted by & filed under Places, Planning, Zoning.

To keep up with emerging ideas, highlight especially important works, and provide diverse views on issues in planning and design, I will be highlighting some of my past and current readings over the next year. To begin, I’d like to feature a pair of books from one of the best authors in architecture and urban studies: Witold Rybczynski. Two of his books contrast the extremes of development: Last Harvest (2007) and City Life (1995). (For now, I will forgo his wonderful biography of Frederick Law Olmsted, A Clearing in the Distance, and his latest, Makeshift Metropolis.)

The subtitle of Last Harvest is a summary of its theme: “How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from … Continue reading