Are Aaron Betsky and his architecture contemporaries ‘out of touch’ with society?

As we all know by now, most architecture today is pure shit. Well, a recent piece by the architecture critiques at The New York Times that says contemporary architects are largely out of touch with society didn’t sit well with architecture power broker Aaron Betsky.

In a response piece to Betsky’s commentary on the matter, Forbes published a piece from Justin Shubow, President of the National Civic Art Society and author of The Gehry Towers over Eisenhower, panning the former outspoken director of  the Cincinnati Art Museum.

Betsky rained down on Bingler and Pedersen with ridicule and scorn: Their piece was “so pointless and riddled with clichés as to beggar comprehension.” He summarized their position: “we have three of the standard criticisms of buildings designed by architects: first, they are ugly according to what the piece’s authors perceive as some sort of widely-held community standard (or at least according to some 88-year old ladies); second, they are built without consultation; third they don’t work.”

Yet Betsky then admitted, “All those critiques might be true.” They are irrelevant, he claims, since architecture must be about experimentation and the shock of the new. (Why this should be the case he does not say.) And sometimes designers must stretch technology to the breaking (or leaking) point: “The fact that buildings look strange to some people, and that roofs sometimes leak, is part and parcel of the research and development aspect of the design discipline.” Ever brave, he is willing to let others suffer for his art.

At no point did Betsky consider the actual human beings, the unwilling guinea pigs who live in the houses. He implicitly says of the poor residents: Do their roofs leak? Let them buy buckets. And as for sickness-inducing mold, there’s Obamacare for that. Betsky also does not consider what a leaky roof means to people whose prior homes were destroyed by water. The architects, having completed their noble experiments, effectively say like the arrogant King Louis XV of France: “Après moi, le deluge” [After me, the flood]. No wonder architects have an image problem.

Prefabricated tiny living spaces are on their way to America’s biggest city

While the concept of living in micro-apartments is not new to many cities around the world, it is a fairly novel concept in North America where large dwelling units have traditionally dominated the marketplace. That, however, is changing and we are excited to be covering the emergence tiny living in Cincinnati. Meanwhile, New York City will soon celebrate the arrival of its first prefabricated “microunits” that will make up the city’s first tower of such apartment units. More from The Atlantic:

For another, this will be the city’s first “microunit” building. In 2013, its design won a city-sponsored “micro-housing” competition devoted to compact housing for single occupants. (Forty-six percent of Manhattan households are made up of one adult.) The architects, Eric Bunge and Mimi Hoang, hope that large windows, high ceilings, and floor plans featuring multipurpose living areas—fold-up furniture sold separately—will make the apartments feel more spacious than their 255 to 360 square feet.

Bunge says that drafting a modular, microunit building is, in terms of complexity and precision, something like designing a car. The little boxes flirt with minimum-habitable-space laws as well as mandates regarding disability access, so there is absolutely no room for error. “If we were to … change drywall from half an inch to five-eighths,” he says, running his fingers across some plaster, “we’re screwed.”

What if we calculated level of service for pedestrians?

Level of Service. Chances are, unless you’re in a field related to transportation planning or engineering, or are a total geek, you probably have not heard of this term before. LOS, however, has come to define how we design and build or roadways. Almost by its structure, LOS favors cars over the function or safety of any other mode of transportation. So what would happen if we took the same approach for other modes, like walking? More from Urban Kchoze:

The point of a traffic engineer in most studies is to keep level of service as low as possible to avoid delays for drivers, helping them drive faster and have to wait less for other traffic. Now then, some of you may ask “well, what about pedestrians and cyclists? How is level of service measured for them?” Well, the answer to that is that the default method says: F#!% ‘em.

So let’s suppose that we calculate a level of service for pedestrians based on the same basis as for vehicles. Pedestrians can stop and accelerate to regular walking speed almost instantaneously and so we don’t have to calculate delay caused by lower than desired speeds during acceleration and deceleration. So delay is limited essentially only to the wait time before they can go ahead and cross (supposing car drivers respect pedestrian priority).

…crosswalks with medians and stop signs should be preferred to traffic lights for areas with a focus on pedestrians. It also means that the habit of channeling all the traffic on a few wide arterials, forcing each intersection to have multiple turn lanes and many through lanes, is absolutely terrible for pedestrians. A street grid with densely packed streets would do a better job of responding to all users, as it would dilute traffic on many streets, all these streets could be narrow, with 3 or 4 lanes only (1 per direction plus a shared left-turn lane or 2 per direction). Ideally, I believe there should not be any width of pavement greater than 12 meters (40 feet) in a city, any pavement wider than that should be broken in two with a median wide enough to use as a pedestrian refuge.

What can cities today learn from failed ancient cities?

It is always fascinating to study what exactly led to the collapse of previous civilizations and the cities they built and inhabited. Often we study what it is we can learn in order to maintain the civilizations we have built, but not our cities. A team of University of Cincinnati researchers have been looking at exactly that in the former Mayan city of Tikal. More from Next City:

When Lentz and a group of colleagues looked, they were able to piece together a picture of how Tikal survived as an urban center. For hundreds of years, they found, the Maya managed their resources sustainably. But that wasn’t enough to keep the city from collapsing in the face of climatic change; the changes Tikal’s residents made to the land may even have made them more vulnerable.

“They expanded to the carrying capacity of their landscape, leaving no resilience where something bad came along,” Lentz said. “When you make changes to your environment, sometimes things happens that you don’t expect. When the droughts came, because they had exploited the environment to the full extent of their technological capabilities, they just were not able to respond.”

The last monument went up around 869 A.D. By the end of the century, the city was likely largely abandoned.

What should take the place of the former Queensgate Correctional Facility?

Hamilton County’s former Queensgate Correctional Facility is currently on the market. The historic warehouse building has sat vacant since the jail operation was shut down six years ago. The site sits close to the Central Business District and the building evidently has tremendous views of the downtown skyline and Ohio River. A buyer has not yet been identified, so it is unclear as to what the future holds for the 152,000-square-foot complex…so what would you like to see in its place? More from the Business Courier:

The Queensgate Correctional Facility closed in 2008 due to budget cuts. It housed low- and medium-security prisoners. It sits directly west of the former Hudepohl brewery property, which the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority purchased for $650,000 in May. The Port Authority is still working on a plan for repositioning that property. The former jail property includes five buildings. The largest is an eight-story, more than 128,000-square-foot building that served as the jail. The smaller buildings served as staff services space, administration space and a recreation building.

…the property has only been on the market a few weeks and he’s already had interest from a couple developers. The building could be redeveloped as residential space, used as warehouse space, or it could potentially be used as a jail again if the county is interested in reopening it.