Friday, July 30, 2010


Tater the terrier.

My husband and I adopted a dog from a local shelter in May and the little guy likes to walk. A lot. So twice a day I traverse the half mile from my home to Druid Hill Park, where we climb the switchback paths through the wooded terrain. What an amazing place. The forest smothers the sounds of the city and suddenly you are surrounded by the hum of nature. The park is 745 acres. It was purchased in 1860 from a landowner named George Buchanan, and developed into this lustrous playground of streams, lakes, playfields, and a zoo. Druid Hill Lake, built in 1863, is the largest earthen damned lake in the country.

Today, many of the features of the original park are overgrown and forgotten. Three Sisters Lane leads you past a deep, sunken section where kudzu and grapevine cover everything, including what once was a section of landscaped park with three manmade ponds. This was where sea lions would play. The effect of all that overgrowth is ethereal, like a house that's been closed up and its possessions shrouded with sheets. I have yet to master taking pictures while controlling a puppy, so I turn to another photographer...Here are some images taken from the Web site Monumental City.

Stairs to nowhere.

Some kind of a well?

A fence surrounds one of the ponds

The "Forgotten Fountain"

Monday, July 26, 2010

Street Art

Paused to snap some shots of Gaia's street art along Franklin Street in Baltimore. He put work onto one of my favorite facades, The White Coffee Pot. (Photos taken with my phone, so excuse the quality.)

Also on the White Coffee Pot Building, this beautiful silhouette. Don't know who did it:

On the corner of Park and Franklin, another Gaia piece:

Around the corner on Park, remnants of Baltimore's former Chinatown district.

And these images I snapped because I liked them.

Metal rods cover a broken window.

What a gorgeous wall, framed at the top by dripping paint.

For more images of Gaia's work, click here for his Web site and here for his Flickr site.

And on the graffiti front, a new work appeared a few months back under the 83 near my home. This is on the corner of Clipper Mill and Falls Roads in Hampden.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Baltimore Design Convo Comes to Artscape

(Click on image for a larger version.)

This Saturday D:Center Baltimore brings the latest installment of the Baltimore Design Conversation to Artscape.

Please join us for Design Conversation 21: FESTIVALS

Saturday July 17th 2010
Charles Street Garage (across from the Charles Theatre) - 1714 N Charles Street
7:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Beer and wine will be available for sale.

Design Conversation 21 will feature Karin Bacon. Bacon began her career as Festival Director for the City of New York, where she originated citywide celebrations such as the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Central Park and July 4th in Lower Manhattan. She went on to produce celebrations, parties, and promotions for audiences as diverse kids at the Bronx Zoo and celebrities at Studio 54. Since forming her own company in 1981, Bacon has created a broad range of events for clients from the worlds of fashion, architecture, finance, media, retail, entertainment, and real estate, known for their theatricality, imagination, and high production values.

Design Conversations are open to the public and are loosely curated by volunteers around a series of topics related to design, art, architecture, and cities. They are made possible by the support of the Baltimore Community Foundation and D:center Baltimore.

Questions? |

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Great Humanitarian Design Debate


It's getting heated on the Fast Company Design Blog. Writer Bruce Nussbaum wrote a piece on July 7th that asked: Is Humanitarian Design the New Imperialism?

His answer: Yes. Nussbaum called out organizations like Project H Design and One Laptop Per Child for being pie-eyed, misdirected, and crass to the needs of local populations. He compares this new direction in design to the Peace Corps:
"Are designers helping the 'Little Brown Brothers?' Are designers the new anthropologists or missionaries, come to poke into village life, 'understand; it and make it better—their 'modern' way?"
Emily Pilloton (who I interviewed on this site) is founder of Project H Design and she took exception to the piece, particularly the part where Nussbaum criticizes American-based humanitarian designers for going abroad when so many issues face them at home. Ironic in light of Pilloton's latest move. Read her response here.

And if this topic interests you, check out the blog post I wrote this spring for Metropolis about the humanitarian design debate.


Nussbaum RESPONDS to Pilloton.

Susan Szenasy of Metropolis JOINS the debate.

And Change Observer follows the many posts the resulted from Nussbaum's original inquiry.

Is it Soup Yet?

A postcard of Paris's Les Halles, circa 1920.

That's the question one of my editors asked when I was running late with an assignment. The implication: have all the research components for your article come together finally and transformed into an actual story? (The underlying implication: hurry the f*&k up).

Lately, I've been thinking about this magic moment of transmogrification when it comes to cities. When do the disparate ingredients of planning coalesce into something altogether different and whole? In a biography on James Beard, writer Robert Clark describes why Les Halles, that famous Parisian market, was so popular in the 1920's:
"Part of the wonder of Les Halles was the sense that it was less a collection of vendors than a full-blown organism whose life came not from any conscious effort but through the transcendent totality of its constituents."

Urban planning is a very conscious effort at changing place. Planners often apply ideas like recipes. Put a mixed-use development here, a highrise there, a new zoning overlay across the river; try to recreate the hub of New York city or the civic order of Portland. Like cooks, they can adhere to their favorite chef. Some cook from the book of Jane Jacobs, some from the book of Robert Moses, some from Andres Duany, others from Le Corbusier. etc. etc.

But what turns those urban planning ingredients into—as Clark so aptly describes it—a transcendent totality? In the case of Les Halles, it was the "constituents." The people. Les Halles symbolized the vibrancy of French culinary culture and it was imbued with the passion of the vendors sharing their livelihood and the customers who believed in those products. The people engaged in marketing at Les Halles believed in its value and as a result it became vital.

Interestingly, a similar public market in Portland, Oregon in the 1900's failed to achieve such success. Beard grew up in Portland and Clark describes how a thriving farmers' market was relocated into a civic structure at the prodding of political power brokers. The new market never achieved the same vibrancy as the original and it closed leaving Portland without a public market. They built it; the public did not come. The "constituents," many of whom were not aware of the political machinations that led to the market's move into a new building, sensed the place was off nonetheless and simply stopped going there. The most important consideration in the planning process—the end user—was not considered and the project failed.

That said, even some of the best intentioned plans can fall flat. It's hard to predict human behavior, to understand why a street with all the right ingredients comes alive with the "messy vitality" of urban life (a la Lewis Mumford) or does not. Some recipes sing, others are inedible. Why? I don't profess an answer. Any thoughts?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

New on the Web

Yolande Daniels’s Tea Cozy on the grounds of the Evergreen Museum. Photo: Will Kirk

wo posts of mine went live on other sites yesterday.

First, there is my monthly Letter from Baltimore blog column on the Metropolis Web site. I write about an exceptional sculpture exhibition at Evergreen Museum & Library that invites architects to make site specific work. Read more here.

Herfra til Evigheden, translated as From Here to Eternity, is a Danish housing collective

The second is my first article for editor Julie Lasky at Change Observer. Titled "New Visions of Home," it is a continuation of my research into thoughtful, universal design for residential housing around the world, particularly as it relates to our needs as we age. Read more here.