Posts Tagged ‘Books’

The problem with tidiness: the Kindle and urban design


Summary: Scandalously breaking the rules of blog-writing best practice (make one point), this is a meandering post that touches on e-books, urbanism, lego, ESI product development and the poetry of Les Murray. An untidy post on tidiness and over-tidiness.

I’ve recently joined the ranks of Kindle users, and I was very excited to do so too.

I had run out of room for bookshelves, and never really got to grips with note-taking and ‘processing’ books. I like traveling light. I’ve been navigating the shift from print to digital content in construction information publishing at work. I was in the mood for a panacea.

I was looking forward to a simpler, more streamlined life.



On urban trees moving, climbing and tidying up


There’s a thaw on in Central Scotland and it’s a relief to see a bit of greenery. Bring on the green shoots, literal and otherwise.

UrbanTick reviews a few books and articles that look at the ‘mobility’ of trees in urban design and landscape architecture. They test assumptions about trees’ rootedness, reporting on things like seed vaults, the international migration of plant species, and the industrialisation of tree production.

They include Dominique Ghiggi’s Tree Nurseries – Cultivating the Urban Jungle: Plant Production Worldwide:


3 or 4 views on urban change


In a recent article about science fiction, philosopher John Gray says that the kind of books that used to be driven by a utopianism nowadays take a different tack:

During much of the 20th century, speculative fiction served an impulse of world transformation. Fantasy was understood as an exercise in which alternative worlds were imagined in order to create new possibilities of action. Today fantasy has the role of enabling us to see more clearly the elusive actualities. The question of action is left open. We debate what can be done to change the world, but no one expects an answer.

What’s interesting for us in this is the high profile of imagined cities and suburbs in the books he’s talking about: from the societies of Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four to Ballard’s visions and China Miéville’s The City and the City.

So far, so abstract. So what?


Book review: Digital Culture in Architecture


Digital Culture in Architecture: An Introduction for the Design Professions, by Antoine Picon

There is something odd about a hard-copy book devoted to emergent technologies. It feels old before its time. Aren’t practicing architects’ methods more likely to be shaped on the job, or by the real-time peer reviews that social networks are starting to provide?

Either way, Antoine Picon is aware of the tension. As an historian, he charts a course between long-view philosophical musings on the one hand and the over-excitement of early-adopters on the other.

Digital Culture in Architecture does well in placing recent developments in their historical context, while still arguing that there is something unique about digitisation in society and culture.

Picon alternates slices of theory and practice, and clusters examples in three areas: the influence of digital technologies on architectural form, on the sensory experience of architecture, and on the relationship of individuals to urban environments.

This is not a crossover title. It makes few concessions to the non-academic reader. Nor does it go out of its way to be particularly fluent, and in this it’s not helped by laissez-faire copyediting. But it avoids obscurity thanks to the good measure of well-appointed illustrated examples that signpost the essays.

Digital Culture in Architecture: An Introduction for the Design Professions
Author: Antoine Picon
Format: Book
Pages: 225
Publisher: Birkhauser
Date Published: Apr 2010
Stock Code: 71709
ISBN: 9783034602594
Binding: Paperback

ConLib coalition and public space


Given our new coalition government in the UK, what are the implications for public space? Planning isn’t mentioned in the draft agreement document, except for the nuclear power station variety.

Our recently reviewed book, Ground Control by Anna Milton, positions the Liberal Democrats historically as sometime defenders of the public realm and community life.

During a controversial run-in between political protesters and Marks & Spencer in 2004, Peter Rothery of Manchester City Council’s Lib Dem opposition is credited with saying, ‘Anyone has a right to protest in a free society’. And, again in 2004, the incoming Lib Dem administration at Newcastle City Council played its part in stopping the heavy-handed ‘Going for Growth’ programme. The demolition of hundreds of homes had been proposed to make way for more desirable properties to kick-start the local housing market.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are cast as the misguided champions of planning reforms that ultimately led to a private-sector land-grab.

Out-of-town shopping centres proliferated in the eighties thanks to the Thatcherite attempt at non-planning, until the damage to cities was so apparent that John Gummer, Conservative sectretary of state in the nineties, changed tack. At the same time, their knitting together of private sector development and social housing provision didn’t prevent insufficient supply or vulnerability to bad economic conditions.

The same kind of polarisation hasn’t necessarily come to the surface in the recent election campaign.

The Conservative Manifesto talks about reforming planning, not only by abolishing the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) and making Ministers responsible for final permissions on infrastructure projects, but also by ‘giving neighbourhoods greater control of the planning system’. This is all presented as part of the party’s community empowerment and Big Society policies.

Supposedly, neighbourhood plans will be able to be drawn up and will be brought together to form local plans. Immediate neighbours will be given more influence in planning housing developments and other local projects. Local housing trusts will be charged with granting planning permission for new housing.

The Lib Dems Manifesto is thinner on detail. Again, there’s the promise to abolish the IPC and ‘return decision-making, including housing targets, to local people’. There was to be a closing of loopholes on playing field development, a new designation to protect green areas of value to communities, and ‘landscape-scale’ water resource management policies.

But does the urgency of dealing with the deficit mean that public space decisions will only be addressed in economic terms?

Will the kind of approach recommended by Anna Milton be seen as idealistic in a period of austerity?

Do the economic dire straits mean that these discussions, and even the RIBA priorities for the new Government, are in danger of falling a bit flat?

Rumours of the death of landscape architecture


Kerb 17

Landscape+Urbanism reviews Kerb 17: Is LA Dead? in glowing terms (“by far one of the best collections of landscape architecture essays, not just from this year, but ever”).

The tone and language of the review and the source material are polemical, academic and pretty dense, but there are points of interest and there seems to be a keenness to talk about application as well as concepts.

Edinburgh practice GROSS.MAX gets a special mention.

ESI references:

Privatising public spaces

Ground Control by Anna Minton

Ground Control by Anna Minton

Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First-Century City by Anna Minton

‘More new spaces are being created in British towns than at any time since the Second World War. But they’re all privately owned and privately controlled, and they are changing not only the very fabric of our cities, but our understanding of public space, of citizenship, of fear and of trust.’

‘… Ground Control explores the psychological effects our shared spaces have upon us, and shows us how alternative models produce cultures of greater happiness.’

Interesting reviews from Rafael Behr in The Guardian and Tom Payne in The Daily Telegraph.