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The New York Times

Figure-Ground

ILiveWorkHere.jpg

Despite persistent, unsubstantiated rumors that The New York Times is failing, the paper continues to produce some of the best visualizations of data being produced these days. In today’s online edition (and Sunday’s print addition) they’ve created a map of every building in America. This massive figure-ground diagram of the nation we’ve built for ourselves is truly amazing. Better than a map or satellite imagery it clearly illustrates the patterns of development that define where we live.

Naturally my first instinct was to find where I live and work. From there I explored some more and was able to locate my kids’ schools and the other landmarks of my life (HEB, Target, etc.).

Of course by illustrating only built structures you also start to realize just how expansive the built world is. There’s lots of open space as well and so it looks like us architects will be busy for some time.

Now Award Winning

I know what you're thinking.

The holidays were great but you didn't get that one gift you were wanting: you didn't get a copy of The Courthouses of Central Texas. But that's OK. Now's a great time to treat yourself by ordering a copy here or here.

Still looking for an excuse? Now you can justify your investment in the non-fiction book market with the knowledge that The Courthouses of Central Texas is an AWARD WINNING publication as the San Antonio Conservation Society has chosen it to receive a 2017 citation.

Obviously I'm flattered but I'm also looking forward to the spike in sales that will no doubt result, the book's resulting rise to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List and the ultimate adaptation of it into a hit Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Poor Calatrava

image courtesy the author

Santiago Calatrava buildings make for exquisitely beautiful photographs. The purity of the white forms contrasted against the blue of the sky is stunning and his expressively approach to structure is nothing if not sexy.  There for a while it seemed like every major city was clamoring to get a piece of the action.  Dallas even ordered three of his bridges to prove how awesome it is (so far, they’ve only managed to build one of them).

But a recent New York Times article paints a rather unflattering picture of Calatrava’s operation from a service standpoint.  Although his projects may be beautiful they are egregiously expensive, often costing many times more than what their original budget allowed while containing technical flaws that later required expensive remedies.

I do not doubt the truth of this reporting – stories of this sort of thing have accompanied the handful of Calatrava projects I’ve experienced in person.  My take is the Calatrava is a compelling teller of fantastical tales.  His story is that if we rationally express structure and function, it will look like his pristine and futuristic forms.

But reality is usually a whole lot more messy than his stories would lead us to believe and one’s suspension of disbelief is broken whenever the “purity” of his approach collides with the reality of a building code or life-safety requirement.

Don’t get me wrong, Clatrava does what he does remarkably well, but it comes at a cost.  So long as clients are willing to pay that price, I see no issue with what he does.  But to the extent that he propogates the impression that architects design expensive pretty things of only limited relevance, it could be argued that Calatrava hurts the profession.