Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Design Conversation #8: FOOD

Click on the image for a larger version.

It's that time again. The next monthly Design Convo at the Wind Up Space will be Wednesday, May 13. This time the topic is "food." Hope you'll stop by...

An open forum for presentations & discussion on food shopping in Baltimore.

@ the Windup Space
12 W North Ave (corner of Charles St and North Ave)
Wednesday, May 13
6:30 PM - 8:30 PM

Monday, April 27, 2009

Earth Day

Wegmans Hunt Valley. Photo from the Baltimore Sun.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the challenges of integrating sustainability into our daily lives can be found in a Wegmans supermarket. I went to the store in Hunt Valley, Maryland on Sunday at the behest of my mom. She makes monthly pilgrimages to the suburbs to shop here and I decided to join her. I didn't have my digital camera with me, so I'll have to describe the experience the best I can: We began shopping in the pharmacy and worked our way back across the 140,000 square foot store (about double the size of your typical supermarket). The shopping carts are also supersized, a new change, apparently, because even the Wegmans' regulars were having trouble navigating the aisles. My mom knocked over a produce display with hers; I took out a shelf of shaving cream. It was like the SUV of carts in the SUV of stores.

The "regular" part of Wegmans looks like your typical shopping market, just bigger. Photo from their website.

We worked our way through the pharmacy to the cleaning supplies and then onto the food. I started to suspect something was weird when I got to the milk. They had just two brands, mostly in plastic jugs, and the Wegmans store brand was one of them. I couldn't understand how a store this large wouldn't carry organic milk. Ditto on the yogurt. It seemed a paltry selection for such a mammoth place. In the aisles carrying peanut butters, I couldn't find any almond butter. It was all Peter Pan and such. I used my in-cart GPS system to locate my mom (OK, they don't have those yet, but they really should) and she told me to wait until I got to the other part of the store—the organic part.

The floor plan. Click on the image for a larger view.

The store transitions about halfway through from a "regular" grocery store to "Nature's Marketplace." The interior decor is completely different. Suddenly the aisles are more intimate, there's more wood and warm spotlights. Quaint hand-painted signs announce the fare. It's a completely separate experience. It's a shopping doppelganger: everything from the other part of the store is also here—from milk and yogurt to canned soups and beans, to nut butters and beauty products. I looked at my cart full of groceries and wanted to put half of it back because the brands I normally purchase were here, in this special land of "sustainability." There was even a separate section for "better" coffees and teas.

For Earth Day last week, Wegmans put out a press release announcing a special event on Saturday, April 25. "As customers shop, they’ll see, touch, taste and learn how the three “R’s” of environmentalism – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – are shaping the way Wegmans does business, and they’ll discover easy ways their own families can make more sustainable choices at home."

It goes on to say that "choosing organic foods is another shift toward greater sustainability, and customers will be able to sample organic foods throughout the store."

Throughout the store being a key word here. This shopping experience is a wondeful metaphor for the challenges of integrated sustainability as a whole. How will we ever make it a daily part of our lives when we still keep it isolated in its own special category? Why should there be four separate locations for yogurt in one store? Why not present everything side-by-side and allow the consumer to see the spectrum of choices and make educated decisions? Instead, customers simply push their mammoth cart past Nature's Marketplace on their way to the deli and they never explore alternatives. It's high time we stop building special shelves for organics and it's definitely time to stop marketing it as an expensive, elitist option.

The press release ended by saying: "Earth Day shouldn’t be a one-day celebration, but rather a reminder to us that changes made, even small ones, on the other 364 days of the year can make a difference."

That's great. And it starts by changing the layout of your store.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Metropolis POV

Boarded up housing in East Baltimore.

I'm blogging a lot these days on the Metropolis magazine site. Keep an eye on the "Five Recent Blog Posts from Elsewhere" link in the right-hand column for new posts and be sure to check out the latest one about a trip through East Baltimore with Cameron Sinclair.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Architecture of Collaboration

The 11th Venice Architectural Biennial exhibition, Out There: Architecture Beyond Building, raised important questions about the direction and scope of design. Into the Open: Positioning Practice, was the American Pavilion contribution to the show and it is now stateside and on view at Parsons School of Design through May 1. A new video about the show, linked above, highlights the work of three of the 16 exhibition participants: Teddy Cruz, Laura Kurgen, and the Rural Studio. Enjoy!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tonight! Cameron Sinclair in Baltimore

The two Camerons. Image from the Sundance Channel's Iconoclast series.

Architecture for Humanity founder Cameron Sinclair is spending the next 48 hours in Baltimore. Tonight he gives a lecture at MICA as the first annual Wm. O. Steinmetz '50 Designer in Residence. 7:00 PM in the Brown Center's Falvey Hall.

Design Day Trip

Muji's New York in a bag.

I had to head up to New York on Friday for a quick trip and once the work was complete, I made some stops into my favorite design stores. First up was Muji in Soho. I've been wanting a few basics from their office supply collection. Everything they produce is simple, well made, and well priced. I love the craft CD holders:

I also found a glass measuring cup shaped like a beaker for $4. I wish I'd bought more to use for containers in the bathroom. Muji has everything from furniture, to essential oils, to clothing. And I just learned they are launching an online U.S. store, which is great news.

Essential Oils

Olive wood mortar and pestle.

Tea pot for one.

Organic cotton jacket.

Simple sofa.

After Muji, we stopped into Pearl River, with its miles and miles of Asian ceramics, housewares, foods, clothing, paper. My husband, Matt, fell in love with this battery-free flashlight shaped like a pig (we just had an experience at our home that involved a mouse, a dark corner, and a flashlight that ran out of batteries, so Matt was primed to love a light source that runs on human power.)

The pig flashlight.

Click a button on the side to release a pump that generates electricity.

Battery-free lighting.

Then on to the Taschen book store for racks of architecture and art books.

Looking down into their light-filled office area.

From here we hit the new Design Within Reach accessories store, where they have a lot of things that remind me of Muji for three times the price. But I sure love this scale.

After DWR, we popped over to the Storefront for Art and Architecture to see their new exhibit, 49 Cities (you can read more on that in a different post). We did not have time to swing by the Whitney to see the new Jenny Holzer exhibit, unfortunately.

Walking back to our friend's house on the Lower East Side, I saw two great things:

Street art: a house made out of masking tape on the sidewalk.

Spotted on Clinton Street: White store, white sign, white clothing, white dog.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Photo by Mike Morgan for Architect magazine. Left to right: Maurice Cox of the National Endowment for the Arts, Christine McEntee of the AIA, and Chase Rynd of the National Building Museum.

rchitect magazine has been running a series of articles about how the economic downturn is impacting the architecture community (click here to read the first installment by Amanda Kolson Hurley). The latest piece was written by me and it's in the new April issue. I spent a few months this winter interviewing deans, executive directors, foundation leaders, students, and faculty to understand how this recession is changing the nonprofit and academic sector. A short excerpt is below along with a link to the full article at ArchitectMagazine.com.


Design centers, architecture schools, the AIA: how are they doing? Nonprofits aren't insulated from for-profit problems, especially in a recession like this one.

You know things have really gone askew when an architect sets up shop in a lemonade stand. Seattle-based John Morefield made news this winter when he began selling design advice from a stall at a local farmer's market—for a nickel. “I was laid off twice this year, and I decided to open my own design firm, and I needed a way to meet people,” Morefield told a local reporter.

It may be unorthodox, but in tough economic times, what's an architect to do? The question is just as pressing for the dozens of institutions that support and promote the architecture profession—museums, design centers, foundations, and colleges and universities. Endowments have been decimated; state budget cuts are forcing layoffs, furloughs, and hiring freezes; and shrinking credit lines are jeopardizing financial aid and scholarships.

While many architecture institutions are struggling, they also are busier than ever, as perceived safe harbors in the current economic storm: Applications to U.S. architecture schools are up by as much as 60 percent, and the design division of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a federal grantmaking agency, is seeing a dramatic rise in proposals. The division's applicant pool doubled in the third quarter of 2008. “I can't tell you how many nonprofits were born when people got laid off and saw it as an opportunity to become a design entrepreneur,” says Maurice Cox, the NEA's director of design.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Night Light

Photographs by Gustavo Sanabria.

I remember walking though the city one blustery April day with a good friend of mine. The cherry blossoms hadn't yet bloomed on Charles Street in Mount Vernon and the wind was whipping up the usual urban detritus, particularly plastic bags. They blew about, inflated and took flight, like that scene in American Beauty. Most became ensnared in the tree branches, prompting my friend to say, "You know it's spring in Baltimore when the bag trees start to bloom."

I saw something on Apartment Therapy that made me think about the annual blooming of the bag tree. A Madrid-based art group called Luzinterruptus gathered plastic bags and created an illuminated flower garden on the lawn of the Prado Museum. On March 5, they installed “A Cloud of Bags Visit the Prado." It wasn't a sanctioned exhibit, and the bags were gone by morning when the cleaning crews arrived, but they managed to capture some excellent images of their work.

This group specializes in creating ephemeral (and illegal) light installments in unexpected settings around the city. I'm amazed at their ability to transform quotidian urban objects into glowing pieces of art. Just look at this holy cross made out of parking cones. I also love that they use the city as their canvas. Imagine the feeling of stumbling onto one of these?

And more images of crosses in the night:

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Return of the Alphabet

Tonight, the excellent show Alphabet: An Exhibition of Hand-Drawn Lettering and Experimental Typography returns to Baltimore after a multi-year tour around the country. If you missed it the first time around, now's your chance to see the alphabets created by 51 international artists and designers, from well-known typographers to rising artists and design students. Curated by Nolen Strals and Bruce Willen of Post Typography. A reception runs from 7 - 10 pm at Current Gallery. If you can't make it out this evening, the exhibition stays up until April 26.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tattered Fragments of the Map

On May 16, the exhibition Photocartographies, Tattered Fragments of the Map opens at the g727 gallery in Los Angeles. I'm contributing an essay to the accompanying book, which is much more than your typical exhibition catalogue. "Rather than drawing conclusions from the work presented in the exhibition, this collection of texts is offered as a projection, a departure, a tangent, a gesture towards new territories for thought and inquiry," explain curators Brian Rosa and Adam Katz.

Contributors include artists, scholars, and critics like Bill Brown, Bill Fox, Herbert Gottfried, Gerardo Greene Gondi, Alex Haber, Simone Hancox, Anusha Venkataraman, Anthony Auerbach, Katherine Bash, Cris Benton, and curators Adam Katz and Brian Rosa.

You can preorder the book and help support the exhibition. And to entice you, I've included an expanded abstract about my own contribution below...

The Rise of the User Generated City

Screen Grab: Mr Beller's Neighborhood

Maps are often taken as reality, as objective presentations of fact, but anyone studying cartography recognizes maps as a relatively subjective form. They are communication tools rooted in culture and history and how we understand territory depends on our perspective. Interpretation, bias, and circumstance play a large role. Take, for example, the research of Ohio-based archivist William C. Barrow. In 2003 he studied the maps of Cleveland and found, among other things, subdivisions that were never realized. “Inaccuracies in local history maps are most often caused by the failure of commercial map makers to keep track of changes in the community, or by their need to incorporated the newest information as it comes available, sometimes adding features that ultimately never appear on the ground,” he writes.

Today, new technologies allow improved tracking of those changes in community that Barrow references. Google Earth affords extraordinary visual access to the world, allowing us to zoom in on 360-degree street-level images and see a place for ourselves. It creates a sense that the cartographer’s subjectivity has been replaced by literal images of what exists. (And yet, that image is still just a captured moment in time. Google my own home and you’ll find an image of my husband in the driveway unloading the trunk of our car after a vacation. A vacation that we took more than a year ago.)

Conversely, as mapping software becomes more ubiquitous, individuals have the capacity to formulate their own subjective maps. We can layer subsets of information—stories, concepts, architectural speculation—onto geographies. The Web site Mr. Beller's Neighborhood maps New York via oral histories. Click on a tab and you can read a story about what happened at that address. The Green Maps movement looks at cities through the lens of sustainable businesses and resources. Our personal worldview can filter our spatial experience to create individualized interpretations of cities. The map key is expanding exponentially as data can be overlaid by anyone. We now have the power to map minutia at a grand scale.

The world according to Green Map

Cities themselves are embracing this user generated approach. In Baltimore, the department of tourism recently launched a new Web site based on a concept known as “My Baltimore.”

“People can define for themselves what they mean by ‘Baltimore,’” explains Amber Shriver, the site’s designer. Anyone can upload images to create their own personalized tour of the city. There is no longer one official story, no longer one official map.

This article explores a series of questions arising out of the unprecedented access to mapping technologies. What impact does user generated mapping have on our perception of cities and space? Will access to photocartography, like Google Earth, bias our understanding of what a particular geography can achieve? Or will the various filters, the many different perspectives, open us up to new possibilities? What happens when we become the cartographers of our own lives?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Rebranding HOK Sport

Screen Grab: Imagery from the rebranded HOK Sport Web site.

Kansas City-based architecture firm HOK Sport just unveiled a new name and identity after management purchased the business from parent company HOK. The firm, which specializes in sporting venues, will now be known as Populous. And don't forget the TM, which shows up everywhere, including Web search returns:

The company's revamped Web site explains: "Our new name populous means full of people; abounding in people; containing many people."

"Everything we do is full of people," one manager is quoted as saying. So first, the grammatical issue, beyond the annoying construction of that quote.
I've been trying to think of another major architecture firm that has named itself with an adjective. Anyone?

The name itself reminds me of what happened in the car industry, when suddenly models were rebranded with attributes. The Ford Fiesta became the Ford Aspire (which raises lots of possibilities: "I aspire to own a better car." or "If Ford had aspired to green their cars not just their plants, they may not be in the mess they are today.")

The name and the subsequent explanations feel like we've become privvy to the early stages of a brainstorming session. Populous is the springboard for a concept; it's not the concept itself. If you have to spend several pages of your Web site explaining your choice of firm name, chances are you have not succeeded.

The rebranding has not gone unnoticed by the Kansas City press. "
Why ditch a well-known name for one that sounds like a pharmaceutical-grade acne medication?" asks Nadia Pflaum of Pitch Week.

And who affixes a trademark symbol to every useage? Trust me , no one is going to steal this name. Though they may be in trouble with Nintendo.

The Populous video game was released in the fall of 2008.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Postopolis! LA

Following up on a highly successful event in New York in 2007, six blogs along with the Storefront for Art + Architecture and the LA Forum for Architecture and Urban Design are hosting Postopolis! LA, a live 5-day marathon of discussions, interviews, panel talks, slideshows, and films around landscape and the built environment. It's happening right now in Los Angeles and for those of us who can't attend in person, we can eavesdrop on the conference via a live web feed that starts every day at 5 pm PCT and runs until 11 PM.

Take a look at tonight's line up (all times are PCT):

5:00 : Mary-Ann Ray Architect, Writer, and Principal, Studio Works Architects

5:40 : David Gissen, Theorist and Historian, CCA (Check out articles here and here about David)

6:20 :
Whitney Sander Architect and Principal, Sander Architects

7:20 :
Sarah Johnston & Mark Lee Architects and Principals, Johnston MarkLee

8:00 :
Robert Miles Kemp Designer and Principal, Variate Labs

8:40 :
Freya Bardell & Brian Howe Principals,Greenmeme

9:40 :
Ted Kane, Architect and Writer

10:00 :
Stephanie Smith Founder, Ecoshack