Japanese architect Arata Isozaki has won the 2019 Pritzker Architecture PrizeÃ¢â‚¬â€�the fieldÃ¢â‚¬s top honor.Ã‚Â Considered Ã¢â‚¬Å“the Nobel of architecture,Ã¢â‚¬ï¿½ the Pritzker Prize is bestowed annually by ChicagoÃ¢â‚¬s Pritzker family through its Hyatt Foundation. The eight-person jury was chaired this year by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.
In its citation, the jury wrote of 87-year-old Isozaki: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Possessing a profound knowledge of architectural history and theory, and embracing the avant-garde, he never merely replicated the status quo but challenged it. And in his search for meaningful architecture, he created buildings of great quality that to this day defy categorizations, reflect his constant evolution, and are always fresh in their approach.Ã¢â‚¬ï¿½
This is the fourth year out of the past 10 in which an architect or architects from Japan have carried off the $100,000 award, continuing a recent trend away from giving the prize to a European or American Ã¢â‚¬Å“starchitect.Ã¢â‚¬ï¿½
Arata Isozaki was born in Ã…Å’ita, on the island of Kyushu, in 1931; he was a teenager when the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed. Ã¢â‚¬Å“My first experience of architecture was the void of architecture, and I began to consider how people might rebuild their homes and cities,Ã¢â‚¬ï¿½ he said. He studied architecture at the University of Tokyo and apprenticed under famed architect Kenzo Tange (winner of the Pritzker in 1987).
Isozaki broke out as an international figure in the 1980s and early Ã¢â‚¬90s, designing the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1987); the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, for the 1992 Summer Olympics; and the Team Disney Orlando building in Florida (1991).
More recent works by Isozaki include the Ceramic Park Mino in Gifu, Japan; Shenzhen Cultural Center; the Qatar National Convention Center in Doha; Shanghai Symphony Hall; and Allianz Tower in Milan.
IsozakiÃ¢â‚¬s architecture is impossible to boil down to a signature style: It has taken on aspects of Metabolism, Brutalism, High Tech, Postmodernism, and vernacular traditions over the six decades of a prolific career. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Clearly, he is one of the most influential figures in contemporary world architecture on a constant search, not afraid to change and try new ideas,Ã¢â‚¬ï¿½ wrote the jury, who also hailed him for his contributions to architectural theory and city planning and his promotion of younger architects.
Nevertheless, the choice of the venerable Isozaki stands in contrast to recent Pritzker picks who are known for their socially driven and humanitarian designs, such as Chilean social-housing innovator Alejandro Aravena, honored in 2016, and Shigeru Ban, the 2014 winner, who has designed for disaster survivors and refugees. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The Pritzker has been swinging wildly in tone with its choices in recent years,Ã¢â‚¬ï¿½ as critic Alexandra Lange noted in Curbed.
Isozaki will receive his award in May in a ceremony at Versailles, near Paris.
Ah, suburbia, land of the bland. White-picket-fenced realm of white-bread people and cookie-cutter housing. That’s still the stereotype that persists in how many of us think about and portray these much-maligned spaces surrounding cities. But if there was once some truth to it, there certainly isn’t today.
In the past several years, a much more complex picture has emerged—one of Asian and Latino “ethnoburbs,” rising suburban poverty, and Baby Boomers stuck in their split-levels. And 2018 really drove home the lesson that, when Americans say they live in the suburbs (as most do), the suburbias they describeare vastly different kinds of places, where people of every stripe live, work, pray, vote, and vie to control their communities’ future.
A century and a half after Frederick Law Olmsted laid out one of the first planned American suburbs in Riverside, Illinois, and seven decades after the builders Levitt & Sons broke ground on the ur-tract ’burb of Levittown, New York, we haven’t fully mapped the contours of modern suburbia—not just who lives there and why, but the role that suburbs play in politics and society.
CityLab’s reporting and analysis brought suburban realities into sharper focus in 2018. The wide spectrum of suburban place types is a feature of CityLab’s Congressional Density Index, developed before the midterm election by David Montgomery and Richard Florida. The index classified each congressional district in the U.S. by density into one of six types, four of which fall under the suburban umbrella: rural-suburban mix; sparse suburban; dense suburban; and urban-suburban mix.
As Montgomery and Florida wrote, “a continuum of densities” correlates closely to suburban politics. Rural-suburban areas are strongly Republican; urban-suburban places are overwhelmingly Democratic. But sparse and dense suburbs are more divided—and these were the battleground of the 2018 election. On November 6, Democrats picked up at least 22 seats in sparse- and dense-suburban districts. A suburbanite is now twice as likely to be represented in Congress by a Democrat as by a Republican.
If the density index revealed that America’s suburbs are more politically diverse than many would guess, Brentin Mock’s reporting from greater Atlanta showed the role of changing racial demographics in reshaping metropolitan areas. Mock chronicled the “cityhood” movement that is roiling Atlanta’s outskirts, as suburban enclaves attempt to secede from counties and towns and form their own jurisdictions. This takes an important chunk of the tax base away from the larger municipality, leaving it holding the bag. “Since 2005, at least ten cities have formed in the region, in a movement that could be described as a series of Brexits,” Mock wrote in March. Most of the new cities are majority-white, but one formed in 2016, Stonecrest, is majority-black. A recent bid by the Eagle’s Landing enclave to secede from the town of Stockbridge—motivated partly by the former’s desire for a Cheesecake Factory—failed at the ballot box in November.
As some suburbs draw lines in the sand, others put out the welcome mat. South of Chicago, the suburb of Homewood, Illinois, launched an ad campaign earlier this year to try to woo Millennials from their urban strongholds. A series of comic-strip ads by a local artist touted Homewood’s racial diversity, walkability, and farm-to-table food—as well as its good schools and, crucially, its affordable home prices. “Suburbs can no longer just sit back and wait for the inevitable stampede of first-time homebuyers and new parents,” as I wrote back in April. “They have to convince skeptical young folk of their essential urbanity first.”
The charm offensive reveals just how much the old dichotomy of declining cities and snooty suburbs has shifted. This year, we also saw the suburbs of Minneapolis battling over very urban-looking issues of density and affordability; saw Amazon locate one of its HQ2s in the un-suburban suburb of Crystal CityNational Landing, Virginia; and contemplated the cloudy future of suburban staples like malls and shopping centers. It all added up to a portrait of suburbia as a landscape of dynamic cultural and structural change, not sleepy stasis.
Earlier this month, the U.K.’s Conservative government launched a new commission on architecture called “Building Better, Building Beautiful.” Announced by Secretary for Housing and Communities James Brokenshire (yes, his real name), the group is meant to draft guidelines to “tackle the challenge of poor quality design and [construction]” in real-estate projects so that they earn “popular consent.” The idea is that if the outward look of new development is more to people’s liking, they will be less inclined to turn NIMBY and oppose it.
The birth of yet another “quango,” as such paper-pushing bodies are known in the U.K., might have gone unnoticed as the deadline for Brexit approaches. But one thing has provoked controversy: the appointment of conservative philosopher and author Sir Roger Scruton as the unpaid head of the commission.
Scruton is a well-known public intellectual in the U.K., who has written books on wine, music, and architecture as well as philosophy and makes regular appearances on the BBC. (He is also a favorite of the right-wing internet.) In the wake of the announcement, media outlets reported that he had previously called Islamophobia “a wholly imaginary enemy,” date rape and sexual harassment made-up, Hungarian Jews “part of … the Soros Empire,” and homosexuality “not normal”—the last in a 2007 article that argued against gay adoption. Labour members of Parliament then demanded that Prime Minister Teresa May remove him from his post. (She did not.)
Architects and architecture writers piled on with their own criticisms. One objected to the “narrow and predictable terms” in which Scruton, an arch-traditionalist, defines beauty. Another called the philosopher a “ludicrous curmudgeon.”
But there are bigger problems with Scruton and this commission than his personal preference for Georgian and Victorian architecture, or even the offense caused by his comments. (Scruton maintains his remark on Hungarian Jews was taken out of context.)
First, Scruton’s theory as to what caused the U.K.’s severe housing crisis is so off-base that any “solution” premised on it, far from alleviating the problem, will only make things worse. Second, his claim that people want traditional styles rests on questionable evidence. And third, his notion of architecture itself as a war between styles—of “tradition” and “Modernism” locked in battle, one right, the other wrong—is reductionist and outdated.
In a lecture delivered in London on November 14, Scruton lambasted Modernist architecture for degrading cities and explained what he believes is the root cause of the country’s housing woes:
The sense that new developments violate the existing order, rather than embellishing it, is the primary cause of local resistance, and the Government is beginning to take this matter seriously, since it suggests the existence of a “democratic deficit” in the planning process. There is a demand among all citizens that new buildings should conform to a standard of beauty, but a serious confusion as to what that standard is or how it might be brought to bear on the massive projects that it is now necessary to undertake.
[Their] objections suggest that the housing question is not at root an economic, social or political question but an aesthetic one.[Emphasis mine.] And it is in this vein that I propose to address it.
Experts differ on the primary reason for the housing crisis, but the contributing factors are clear. Population growth, decades of inadequate new construction (including the demise of social-housing programs), the sell-off of existing public housing, and strict planning rules have caused a critical shortage of homes and soaring prices, especially in greater London and the southeast of England.
Local resistance to development, while frustratingly common, is a secondary factor, and the idea that this comes down to style is dubious anyway. It is naive to think people will applaud a plan for new houses nearby if they have symmetrically placed windows or nice corbeling. The fears of British NIMBYs seem pretty consistent with those of their counterparts across the Atlantic: more traffic on local roads, more kids crowding local schools, possibly disreputable “newcomers,” and the blocking of views.
Unfortunately, Scruton’s theory is not his alone, but shared by members of the U.K. government. At a public event on November 19, Housing Minister Kit Malhouse said “acceptability” was key to the government achieving its goal of building more housing: “If it fits in, resistance starts to reduce.” The more the government treats the housing crisis as a matter of aesthetics, the further behind it will fall on developing real strategies to fix it.
It may be true that many Britons dislike the new buildings in their area. But the case made by Scruton and a London think tank, Policy Exchange, that the public strongly prefers traditional architecture is shaky even on their own evidence.
The “Building Better” commission grew out of a report that Scruton and Policy Exchange released earlier this year. The report includes the results of public polling on architectural taste, and these are ambiguous. Asked which style of housing they’d like to see in the future, about half of respondents answered “traditional terraces on tree-lined streets,” but “housing developments or estates in a modern style” came second. Asked which features they’d include in a new home, many respondents said thick walls, fewer but larger rooms, feature windows, and high ceilings—none of which connotes traditional versus modern design. Only a small percentage said “symmetrical shape,” “lots of corners, nooks and crannies,” or “pillars at the entrance.” (And this is despite the leading phrasing of some of the survey questions.)
Improving the quality of new buildings is a laudable goal for the British government (and one it has pursued before). But equating quality with style is a form of misdirection. What people overwhelmingly dislike about many new buildings is the sense that little effort has gone into their design and construction, as expressed in any style. As the report states, “In focus groups … the words soulless, alienating, identikit, chocolate box, noddy houses and ugly, were all used by people to describe their feelings about new development.” A few of those terms refer to faux-traditional tract housing rather than progressive architecture.
Given that his academic specialty is aesthetics, Scruton really ought to look around more. The architectural culture he hopes to rein in is currently besotted with … tradition, of all things. The last several years have seen a resurgence of interest in the materials and visual language of the past. Glass is tired; brick, stone, copper, and terra cotta are wired. Color and pattern are back. Arches are suddenlyeverywhere. This is partly a revival of Postmodernism a generation after that movement’s heyday. In London, it’s also a response to housing-design guidelines issued by then-Mayor Boris Johnson back in 2009.
The architect charming London critics at the moment is Peter Barber, who primarily designs social housing. Barber remixes traditional types like medieval almshouses and Victorian back-to-back houses in inventive ways. His buildings sport crenellations, brightly colored front doors, and bull’s-eye windows. Barber is a “Modernist” if you define that as not earnestly imitating historical styles, but his work bears little resemblance to that of Lord Norman Foster or Thom Mayne, whom Scruton took aim at in his recent lecture. Contemporary architecture is a much broader church than the Scrutonians give it credit for.
Scruton told the design publication Dezeen that as head of the new commission,“I want to give the public the opportunity to have the kind of architecture they would vote for, not the kind that is imposed on them by the disciples of Le Corbusier and Mies.” But no one is trying to build Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse in 2018! What Scruton seems not to realize is that “Modernist” architects also look to earlier figures such as Nicholas Hawksmoor and Louis Sullivan for inspiration. Besides, the public actually likes some of the glass towers that Scruton accuses of “trashing” the skyline.
On his website, Scruton promises the commission will not be an “aesthetic dictatorship”: “[M]y own aesthetic stance will be only one input among many, to the exploration of design quality in all its aspects.” Let’s hope so. The architectural style wars refers to a time in the 1980s when traditionalists and Modernists (“trads” and “mods”) split into camps and fruitlessly tangled over which style was best. Reigniting those wars at a time when the public is mostly agnostic as to style, and the architectural profession is thankfully moving on, would be worse than pointless. The real fight must be for high-quality, affordable housing for the millions of people who need it.
On Wednesday, Hurricane Michael became the strongest-ever storm on record to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle, pummeling coastal towns with winds of up to 129 miles per hour and a storm surge of several feet. The Category 4 hurricane blasted the windows out of buildings, ripped off roofs, and knocked down trees and power lines by the hundred.
Even after it was downgraded to a tropical storm, Michael spawned tornadoes as it tracked north and triggered flash flooding from Georgia up to New Jersey. The storm’s death toll currently stands at 13 and may rise.
The devastation the storm wreaked is clear in stark before-and-after imagery from NOAA. Toggling back and forth between different layers of the online satellite map, you see that neighborhoods that were once verdant and orderly now have far fewer trees and are strewn with the debris of flattened structures.
Here are before-and-after images of the same section of the worst-hit town, Mexico Beach:
In a more zoomed-out view, the whole town appears to have been decimated. “The mother of all bombs could not have done all this,” one local resident said.
But Michael did not mete out the same pain to everyone along this stretch of coastline. Other places in the NOAA images appear to be more or less intact. Florida has among the nation’s most stringent building codes, and buildings constructed to its standard have better odds of withstanding a storm of this ferocity.
Take Seaside, the beach town that’s famous as a paragon of New Urbanism and was Jim Carrey’s pastel-hued dystopia in the movie The Truman Show. Seaside is 30 miles west of hard-hit Panama City and 90 miles west of Mexico Beach. Yet it emerged from Michael relatively unscathed:
Seaside was developed starting in the 1980s. Mexico Beach, on the other hand, is “Old Florida,” and many of its buildings predate the stricter requirements.
Mobile homes are very common in the Panhandle, and their residents were especially vulnerable to Michael’s wrath. The storm ruined a trailer park in Panama City, Florida. In Seminole County, Georgia, near the Florida state line, an 11-year-old girl died after strong winds hurled a metal carport into her trailer.
There is something else the NOAA imagery reveals: ongoing beachfront construction. Despite climate scientists’ predictions that rising seas will encroach on the Panhandle’s beaches and more violent storms will pound them, people are still building homes by the water, undaunted.
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