Arts & DesignEssaysFeatureMedia

The Invention of “Gritty” New York

Where did nostalgia for gritty New York come from and what makes it so potent?


Restoring Security by (Re)discovering the Culture of Flexible Work

By the early 1990s, Jay Chiat had reached the pinnacle of the advertising world thanks to his firm’s iconic campaigns, especially the Absolut Vodka bottle print ads and Apple’s “Think Different” and “1984” spots. Flush with cash, Chiat commissioned the architect Frank Gehry to design “the office of the future.” Gehry produced the iconic (if mystifying) “Binoculars Building” in Venice, California. The structure’s whimsical exterior, however, clashed with the staid, cubicled ways of work going on inside. And so Chiat soon embarked on a mission to reorganize the ways employees worked at the Chiat/Day offices. His “virtual office,” a phrase Chiat popularized, would be as radical as the building’s shell. The quirky interiors would stimulate creativity and foster equality through open, non-hierarchical communal spaces sure to inspire imagination, collaboration, and flexibility — even playfulness. 

The firm chose associate media director Monika Miller to test-drive the office, which meant she was freed of her desk, chair, and personal office space. Each morning,  …

Arts & DesignEssaysFeature

Hostile Architecture — Electronic Monitoring

In urban planning, there’s a strategy known as “hostile” or “defensive” architecture, such as the metal spikes built into public ledges to keep people (particularly those who are homeless) from sitting on them. Similarly, a 2013 article in the New York Times described what it called “pocket parks.” After becoming alarmed at the presence of men walking around with GPS monitors around their ankles, residents and city officials of a Los Angeles neighborhood found that the easiest way to drive away sex offenders was to build tiny playgrounds — or rather, plots of land with often no more than a swing set — just enough to invoke a state law that forbids registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or a park. 

Arts & DesignEssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Can Architecture be Democratic?

The tension between The People and their places

Can architecture be democratic? Most people would readily agree that the built environment is bound to be political. Yet in the popular imagination the combination of “architecture” and “politics” tends to conjure up distinctly undemocratic figures: totalitarian leaders designing monumental edifices and avenues for eternity. And if authoritarians fancy themselves as architects, so a certain logic goes, architects often act like authoritarians: at best they might create something for the people, but not anything meaningfully seen as of the people and certainly not by the people. And yet there are ways of judging architecture and space to be more or less democratic — and, to some extent, practical strategies to render architecture (and also urban planning) democratic. These are bound to become ever more important in the twenty-first century, as our age is one of unprecedented urbanization and hence new planning and building challenges around the globe. …