I’m very exciting to finally announce the official launch of CLOG. This is a publication I’ve started with 5 other to take a closer look at singular topics important in architecture at the moment. Our first issue is on Bjarke Ingels and BIG. Despite being a relatively young office, the firm already has 126+ projects, and 9 completed buildings. But why hasn’t their work, process and philosophy been more critically examined?

CLOG:BIG includes over 40 contributions from contributors with widely different backgrounds. To further encourage a dialogue on the work of BIG and the contributions, we’ve given Bjarke Ingels the chance to respond to a few of the essays, and we’ve included these short reactions in the back of the publication.

We will be launching the issue at the Storefront for Art and Architecture on October 7th with an Interrogation of Ingels. Submit your questions to

If you’d like to purchase a copy, have any questions, or want to know more about how to contribute to future issues, visit our website

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While not well received by all, Mike Davis’s City of Quartz from 1990 is still a significant book on Los Angeles urbanism. Essays like his text “Fortress L.A.,” served as an “often strident reality check, an examination of the ways in which the built environment in Southern California was by the 1980s increasingly controlled by a privileged coterie of real-estate developers, politicians and public-safety bureaucracies led by the LAPD,” as stated by Christopher Hawthorne.

With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 coming up, such topics are still remarkably relevant. In a recent article for TCPalm, Michael Lingerfelt, president of Florida’s AIA Chapter, considered the role of architecture in security measures.

Consider the drawn-out controversy over the design of the lead tower of the new World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan. The tallest building in the United States, standing at a symbolic height of 1,776 feet, will rise from a bombproof base that critics have compared to a concrete bunker.

In Washington, D.C. the National Capital Planning Commission recently organized a design competition for the President’s Park South. The idea of improving the area is great, but Lingerfelt brings up a valid criticism: why  is design an issue to be addressed second to security?

Design is more than skin-deep; it’s about preventing harm, not coming in afterward to tidy up the debris.

The issue of security was also brought up in BIG’s Danish Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo. The architects asked Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to come up with a replacement for the Little Mermaid, which would travel to China as the centerpiece of the pavilion. To ease the Danes’ concern for their missing monument, Ai Weiwei suggested installing a video camera in the pavilion, sending continuous live-stream footage of the sculpture back to an LED-screen on the Copenhagen waterfront. Aiming to point out the realities of our contemporary life, Ai Weiwei used a surveillance camera—the same which was installed at the entrance of his own studio by the Chinese government.

Certainly an interesting comment on security, but unfortunately the concept of the piece was never integrated fully with the Danish pavilion. Labeled with a descriptive plaque on the wall, the piece was an artwork, merely co-existing with the architecture rather than collaborating. [1]

Lingerfelt ends his article with a poetic message.

To be alive is to be at risk; to live freely carries the greatest risk of all. Our role as architects is to secure the open space in which a democratic people can continue to risk without fear the bold adventure that is democracy, and to live the values of openness and freedom of movement that have made our nation great.

Can design and security truly be integrated as Lingerfelt suggests, or will we inevitably end up with a forceful invasion of security measures as Davis described?


[1] For a more detailed report on the collaboration of BIG with Ai Weiwei, take a look at the first issue of CLOG, out this Fall.

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Holding Pattern

Last year’s PS1 Young Architect’s set up was hard to miss. News about dancing poles was popping up everywhere, and as fictitious as they sounded, the poles really did bring a lively sense of movement to museum’s courtyard.

This year, I remember the reveal of the Holding Pattern design, the winning scheme by Interboro Partners, but I realized I hadn’t heard much since then. The project has been relatively quiet. The design was posted on usual websites like ArchDaily and Designboom, and there was a nice piece on the Metropolis Magazine blog by Cheryl Yau—taking us on a tour through the courtyard, past all the various elements of the design.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t as enthusiastic as Yau upon visiting. It may have been the fact that I was there this past Saturday, when the courtyard was crowded with people trying to socialize while holding onto a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. But there seemed to be something physical lacking from the final design.

The architects asked local institutions the question: Is there something you need that we could design, use in the courtyard doing the summer, and then donate to you when Holding Pattern is de-installed in the fall? Working to meet everyone’s request (which included such things as a mirror for the Long Island City School of Ballet, a lifeguard chair, and 84 oak and plum trees), Interboro used PS1 as a temporary storage place for these objects, which will be distributed to the community at the end of the summer.

The concept is commendable, and its implications for architecture are perhaps best explained by Alan Ricks, Founding Partner and Creative Director of MASS Design , one of the other YAP nominated teams:

“What is exciting about “Holding Pattern” is the statement it makes in the contemporary debate over the role of social engagement in architecture. Rather than differentiate this as an “Architecture of social engagement”, somehow removed from the avant-garde, Interboro has used “Holding Pattern” to articulate that choosing between the two is unnecessary – or maybe impossible.”

However, sometimes a project that is conceptually strong ends up falling flat when realized. The thought of using this event to give back to the community is an important one, but rather than using the architecture and installation itself to create a sense of community, these objects float as islands in a large courtyard and at the end of the summer, all they will have in common is that they will have been sat on, stood on, jumped off of, and danced on by masses of people. The community is encouraged to already use their objects while at PS1 during the summer, but it’s unfortunate that the majority of visitors will inevitably only damage the objects instead of engaging with the community or contributing to the architects’ noble efforts.

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What About Landscape Architecture Criticism?

Speaking of Michael Kimmelman’s new job at the New York Times—what subjects should architecture critics cover? In the Huffington Post, Charles Birnbaum, President of the Cultural Landscape Foundation, calls for better landscape architecture criticism.

There’s good news and bad news for landscape architecture. On the positive side, employment prospects look very strong for the next few years. […] Unfortunately, major daily newspaper critical analysis of landscape architecture doesn’t appear to be following suit.

Birnbaum takes this transitional moment in newspaper criticism—the announcement of Kimmelman’s new job, and the recent appointment of Philip Kennicott as culture critic at the Washington Post—to urge for more informed criticism on landscape architecture and a better look at the whole picture.

“Kennicott and Kimmelman are smart and able, but can or will they transcend the object-ness of architecture to understand and then write about the complexity of landscape architecture? Or, am I asking for too much here?”

Seeing architecture and landscape architecture as “object” is a major issue for Birnbaum. After Ouroussoff’s love fest with CCTV (“ Moving from sin of omission to sin of commission, Ouroussoff’s swansong review for the Times, about Beijing’s CCTV building may be the sloppiest of wet kisses I’ve encountered in a long time (get a room!)”), Birnbaum asks Kimmelman in advance: “Please do better.”

James Russell, Bloomberg’s architecture critic, agrees with Birnbaum. As he makes clear in his recent book, The Agile City , we don’t live in a world of objects and islands. Being sustainable isn’t just about recycling and turning off the air conditioner when we’re not at home; it requires a rethinking of our society, culture, urban planning, and even politics. When it comes to architecture criticism, Russell says:

“we remember architecture critics fondly because they wrote about the city and not objects. Today they need to write about how cities are changing from environmental design to architecture.”

With the help of Russell, Birnbaum makes a strong case. Architecture critics need to continue looking at context, rather become object-obsessed, and “it’s time for this arena of criticism to “evolve already.””

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Kimmelman to Replace Ouroussoff

Michael Kimmelman’s name had been floating around as a possible Ouroussoff replacement for a few weeks, but his appointment was finally made official a few days ago. While Kimmelman has primarily served as an art critic at the paper, he has written some nice architecture articles.

Most surprising about his new position is not his interest and experience in art and music, but that he will not take on Nicolai Ouroussoff’s title of “Architecture Critic”, but will rather be named, “Senior Critic.”

While most Twitter reactions to the news have been negative—seeing the NYTimes’ refusal to hire a new architecture critic as a rejection of the field—Kimmelman’s range may prove to be a good thing.  The paper is quoted as saying, Kimmelman’s interest are “in how we life, in how buildings actually work, in city planning, public policy, neighborhoods, communities and characters, in architecture as a complex and contradictory discipline, a true generalist’s profession and synthetic art.”

Since it was the seeming lack of these exact interests that we critiqued Nicolai for, Kimmelman’s new position may be what we asked for. Sadly, it is at the expense of the position which was fought for so strongly by Ada Louise Huxtable decades ago. 

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Success Story

It’s not often that we take a closer look at the places we inhabit and use often, even though there could be the potential for some valuable architectural lessons. Why are certain buildings successful? Why are others less so?

In her Metropolis Magazine column “Places that Work,” Sally Augustin, a principle at Design With Science and author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture, examines the reasons for success of various public buildings. Her first article discussed the importance of the abundance of warm natural light in Grand Central Terminal, and she has since argued for the success of the extravagant ornamentation in the light court of The Rookery in Chicago, the calm color palette of Apple Stores, and heated sidewalks in the small town of Holland, Michigan.

In her article on the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Augustin simply states, “places succeed when they support people’s activities.” While there’s truth to this statement and many of the others that come up in the column, it’s not about providing a recipe for success. In the end, what is most interesting in Augustin’s column is her ability to highlight our often strong psychological response to architecture. It may not be an easily measurable factor of success, but nevertheless an integral part of design.

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Community Benefits

A few weeks ago, I discussed the value of small-scale architecture. In the Wall Street Journal, Julie Iovine described the community benefits of Toshiko Mori’s new Poe Park Visitor Center in the Bronx, while mentioning the center’s $3.8M price tag only in passing. While I agreed with Iovine’s suggestion that architecture doesn’t have to make big, bold moves to be successful, comments online did not share the sentiment and were instead shocked by the high budget.

A remarkably similar story appeared in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle. This time it was John King, gushing about the success of revamping a community space, the Hayes Valley Playground. The total cost of the project, which included a new clubhouse, was $3.9M.

"The space reopened on June 11 after 17 months of work, and on the morning I visited, it already was part of the neighborhood scene." Photo by Noah Berger

King is enthusiastic about the new community space, but unlike Iovine, he does acknowledge its high budget. “Indeed, the $3.9 million project is more than the city would have been able to afford on its own. But this and two other spaces in the city are being revived in a partnership between the Recreation and Park Department and the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit that believes in urban health as well as open space. The design work by WRNS included a pro bono contribution as part of the 1% Program created by local advocacy group Public Architecture.”

The question is: does this matter? In the end, these projects are built for the community, yet it’s the community who reacts negatively. Of course, as is most often the case, only readers who disagree with a story tend to comment online. King mentions seeing, “hipster moms watching toddlers clamber on low walls” but for a playground in between restaurants serving “a $30 veal chop” and public housing projects, who is this $3.9M playground catering to? This time, I’m not sure if I can agree that “the bolt-blue clubhouse is designed to catch every child’s eye, no matter their race or class, and it does so with a smile.”

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