PULLMAN, Wash.–The “anonymous rational urban spaces” — home offices, wired “virtual” environments, mobile homes, phones and services … fast food outlets, corporate offices, hotels, freeways, suburban tracts, multiplexes, hypermarkets, malls — are as much a part of today’s urban scene in Saigon as in New York City. So too are the disenfranchised on the fringe in squatter settlements, sweat shops, or gangs who lash out with graffiti.
This snapshot of “Making Place in Today’s Global Village” was presented by Nan Ellin, architecture/city planning scholar in post-modern urbanism from the University of Cincinnati, to 50 architecture educators attending the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture Conference Oct. 3 on the WSU Pullman campus.
Ellin documented the “blahs of the ‘burbs,” the blase indifference of the overstimulated cosmopolitans, architecture of fear with gated communities and heavy security, and public buildings often so devoid of nature and unfriendly to users they literally make people ill. Such impersonal scapes often elicit human responses of retreating or cacooning, neo-traditionalism and nostalgia, or escape to fantasy worlds or the margins, she said.
Her suggestions are that today’s architects and city planners “intervene (and construct) in ways that nurture the communities that ultimately sustain us.” Mend seams. Be interdisciplinary, multicultural, incorporate technology in a humane way, and if modern also be environmentally sustainable. Join landscape with interior design. Provide anchors with enough rope for people to explore without losing their centers, she urged. Create more personalized, meaningful, sacred spaces, and with interconnections that make one feel supported and part of a whole.
The keynoter synthesized the underlying sense of the 30 scholarly presentations at the conference as reflecting in some way “a loss of community. Today we are all outsiders to some extent — at home nowhere and everywhere.”
Other presenters at the “Architecture and the New Geographies of Power” conference documented homogenizing influences of the Information Age as they affect architecture education, and how to capitalize on these cyber tools. WSU architecture professors Ayad Ramani, Paul Hirzel, Anna Mutin, Catherine Keane, Don Mirkovitch, John Abell and David Wang illustrated some Northwest issues:
Mirkovitch provided his own Pullman Meadow’s area home as a configuration for new living, carefully designed to integrate work-related and home study activities, family activity and private places. Each room captures passive light and views from the windows, yet the home also capitalizes on solar energy and conservation techniques.
Henry Matthews explored the wilderness architecture genre — lodges, furniture and park buildings in the tradition of Kirtland Cutter, Mary Colter and Robert Reamer. “Rustic architecture has been embraced by the elite today. Armed with fast modems and travel budgets, they realize their romantic dreams of log structures.”
Rahmani put forth Spokane, where he teaches, as a case study of urban development somewhat stifled by ambivalent, reticent political and social forces. While its leaders are willing to take baby steps toward incremental downtown improvements, no overall generous vision is provided to which all are devoted, he suggests.
A study by John Abell and three undergraduate students at WSU Spokane provide a possible breakthrough: the “dissimulation method” of assessing community planning, essentially to diffuse the Not-In-My-Back-Yard syndrome. This technique defines growth models, themes, preferred characters and alternatives and allows appropriate decisions to be made without basing them in the context of a particular place.
The illustrated proceedings of the conference and presentations is available by contacting Rafi Samizay, director of WSU School of Architecture, 509/335-5539, samizay@wsu.edu