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How To Create A Secular Saint – And Her Shrine

Local Essex woman Julie Cope never lived or died, but sure enough, in a peaceful Essex field you can find a building that commemorates her life in every detail. Tapestries, tiles, statues, and other objects use various symbols and imagery to communicate the story of her life: her gradual rise up Britain’s socioeconomic ladder, her marriages and children, and her untimely demise at the hands (wheel?) of a food delivery motorbike. This shrine, which doubles as a vacation home, is part of a unique series of architectural experiments being commissioned in Britain by the organization Living Architecture. Read on learn about their undertaking, the house’s design, and how it was created through a close collaboration between artist Peter Grayson and architect Charles Holland.

Link to Architectural Record Article

Top Image: A House for Essex, Photo © Jack Hobhouse

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Chicago Architecture Club Winning Entry for Obama Library Design Competition

Designing Obama’s Presidential Library

If Barack Obama is a ‘celebrity president’ then his Presidential Library has already attained celebrity status, despite lacking a building or even a site.

A flurry of media coverage has followed the low-intensity drama process of selecting the library’s host city, a decision now delayed until after Chicago’s mayoral election. Assuming Rahm Emanuel, current Chicago Mayor and former Obama Chief-of-Staff, is re-elected then the library seems likely to land next to the University of Chicago in Chicago’s South Side. That’s where the President taught constitutional law and began his political career; it seems only seems natural that Obama’s legacy will literally and figuratively return to its roots. The Chicago City Council recently approved the use of parkland adjacent to UChicago for a library. However, this hasn’t stopped speculation to run rampant. Moreover, there has been little discussion of the potential for the library to be more than a conventional archive and museum. In a rare exception, Michael Sorkin’s unsolicited plan presents the Obama library as a means to revitalize the South Side as a vehicle for new urban infrastructure and community resources. When I visited a recent exhibition of designs at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, I found a similar undercurrent of thought running through the designs.

Link to Exhibition Review: Designing A Presidential Legacy

Image: One of the winning designs featured at the Exhibition, produced by Zhu Wenyi, Fu Junscheng and Liang. Courtesy Chicago Architectural Club.

Saving the Early History of Digital Architecture

40 years ago, not a single architectural drawing was done digitally. Now there is an entire industry of software-makers catering to the needs of architecture. In between now and then, however, architects were forced to make novel digital tools that remain unknown to the public and to the architectural profession.

Architect Greg Lynn has been involved with computer design since the 80s when he embraced the use of digital and mathematical tools to shape his projects. How architects use these tools has always been a contentious subject: do you let a tool, such as a computer script or complex formula, determine a design? Regardless of how you view Lynn’s biomorphic work, I sat down to discuss another one of his projects: a massive effort with the Canadian Center of Architectur that aims to preserve the early history of digital architectural tools. With the second of three exhibitions now open at Yale, now’s the time to familiarize yourself with this little-known chapter of digital design.

Link to the Article

Top Image: Greg Lynn by David Lai, Hello Design

The Hidden Health Dangers of Interiors and Furniture

The list of side effects, including cancer and diabetes, reminded me of leaded gas or ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons. This was another quick embrace of a chemical solution that may be disastrous in the long term. The chemical in question, however, can be found indoors thanks to its common presence in architectural materials.

The problem lies in flame retardants, a range of chemicals placed in architectural materials to satisfy fire-resistance tests. These tests have gone a long way to saving lives but now, it seems, the chemical presence they encourage indoors may be just as dangerous. We’re learning that the flame retardants don’t stay locked within materials and accumulate within the human body. Suzanne Drake, a senior interior designer and associate at the international firm Perkins+Will, coauthored a white paper with a chemistry PhD to communicate the possible dangers. As she said at the end of the interview, “We have sprinkler systems for fires that occur once in a blue moon—meanwhile, I’m being exposed to these chemicals every day for years on end. Which is more dangerous?” Read on to find out more.

Link to the Article

Top Image: via Chicago Tribune. Read the Chicago Tribune’s article on how the chemical industry is fighting efforts to reduce flame retardants here.

Smart About Smart Cities

Like Sisyphus and his boulder, a small community of thinkers is trying to push their vision for the city-of-the-future to the top.

This community is composed of academics, designers, policymakers, and corporations. What unites them is the “Smart City,” a nebulous term for how cities will integrate digital software and hardware into their functioning. It can meany anything from free WiFi to sensors embedded in every street corner and skyscraper. With tens of trillions of dollars estimated for urban infrastructure in the coming decades, everyone is looking to shape the discussion on how that money should be spent. Will the Smart City be about commerce and desirability, ecology and the environment, freedom and individuality? With almost 3/4 of the world living in cities by 2050, the Smart City debate concerns the very essence of the future’s built environment.

However, so far the arguments have yet to grapple with the complexity of this still-amorphous subject. Cities are immeasurably intricate and represent how almost every facet of our civilization, from culture to economics, is organized in space. This struggle was made evident when I reviewed two very different books on Smart Cities. Read on to see two of the many perspectives contending to decide what we think of the Smart City.

Link to Article

Top Image: Cover of The City As Interface: How New Media Are Changing the City, by Martijn de Waal.

The “Chicago Way” of Architecture?

The vaunted “Chicago Way” resonates through the Windy City’s architecture community: from its unlikely beginnings as a Sean Connery line in the 1987 film The Untouchables, you can read it on architecture blogs and I certainly heard it when I enrolled in a summer program at University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Architecture. It connotes a hard-hitting, ambitious, and direct method and practice. But has it lost its way?

The Art Institute attempts to update Chicago’s architectural and urban history at its Chicagoisms exhibition, on display through January 4 in the Modern Wing. The exhibition distills the spirit of Chicago’s ambitious 20th century growth well but largely fails to help it find purpose in 21st century America. Instead of imaging Chicago-style solutions for the U.S., perhaps it should have looked farther afield…

See my full review below at Architectural Record:

Link to Article

Top Image: Courtesy the Art Institute