Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino Review and Booknotes

Introduction

The Book Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino is a classic modernist novel yet has had a widespread popularity that elevates it above most books of its type and has come to have an enduring influence among artists and architects.

It’s a staple for architecture students and architects alike, but why is it so popular and what’s so interesting about it? After all it may not seem on first sight to be particularly relevant to the practice of architecture as although it proports to be about cities it’s actually a magical realist book whose cities are dreamlike creations. A post modern novel with little plot and seemingly a much more poetic dreamlike quality.

But on starting to read and being drawn into the novel I think it becomes apparent why this has become such a touchstone for creative thinking about design and cities and why many architects love it so much, me included.

Before the review I will give some background and have a more detailed look at the structure of the book. This I feel is really important because of the way the book was written. The structure of the book in fact, is an integral part of the beauty of its beauty.

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Links of Note (week 49/20)

Every week I highlight the most interesting items from my media diet.

Video

Article

  • Creative community issues a call to remove Philip Johnson’s name because of his fascist past Archinect Reports on a group trying to remove Philip Johnson’s name from any reference of honor. It should be noted that it wasn’t just that Johnson was a racist, he founded an explicitly racist and fascist party before he went into architecture. There is a great biography of him The Man in the Glass House by Mark Lamster.

Once the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, the Arecibo facility has been the site of many key astronomical discoveries over the years, including observations of the spinning stars known as pulsars that led to the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics. Before its collapse, astronomers were using the telescope for a number of scientific studies, including radar assessments of near-Earth asteroids, to measure their threat to the planet.

Opinion

Norman Fosters and Zaha Hadid Architects formerly withdraw from Architects Declare a network of architectural practices committed to addressing the climate and biodiversity emergency.

My first reaction was that the practices should have stayed in and fought for environmentally friendly buildings no matter what the client or program.


But I think I was wrong. It really is a climate emergency in which we have about ten years to half our emissions. See a good article here about the problematic nature of aviation for global warming.

The other thing is I don’t think these two offices have taken it seriously. Signing up, but not changing your business model or design approach leaves only an empty and cynical PR strategy. Sad really. The AJ has an interesting overview of Architects Declare predating these offices leaving but they imply that while many offices have taken their commitment seriously some didn’t. Their passive aggressive withdrawal letters only underline this reading.

On what I feel is a related note Architects have a thing for strongmen. In Kazakhstan, the big global practices – from Norman Foster to Zaha Hadid – have piled in to help the dictator, Nursultan Nazarbayev, build his trophy city.

Links of Note (week 47/220)

Every week I highlight the most interesting items from my media diet.

Photo by Sushant Jadhav

Arecibo Observatory (°18.35,-66.75) used by scientists to look through space and time, is going to be demolished as two of the main cables suspending the structure have snapped. Luckily we will always have Goldeneye!

Articles

Not only is eelgrass naturally fire-, rot- and pest-resistant, it also absorbs CO2, and as it doesn’t require heat to produce, is carbon neutral when harvested and used locally. Eelgrass becomes fully waterproof after about a year and has insulation properties comparable to those of mineral wool, a dense, fibrous material made from molten glass, stone or industrial waste. A roof can last hundreds of years – one of island’s remaining seaweed roofs dates more than 300 years – for comparison, a concrete tile roof typically lasts around 50. –via

According to Mitchell, our intestinal microbiome isn’t keeping up with the rapid pace of globalization. “Things are changing incredibly quickly,” he says, “but our genetics are still pre-industrial.” He associates modern ills such as high rates of allergies, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disease with modern substances that affect the gut, from antibiotics to fast food. “Parts of us are coping, but other parts are suffering,” Mitchell says.
via polymath

Thanks in part to its adoption in the 1840 presidential campaign, what began as a lame joke in a Boston newspaper morphed into one of the most ubiquitous expressions in the English language

Podcasts

  • On Deviate with Rolf Potts and Stephanie Rosenbloom talk about The pleasures of (and strategies for) traveling solo. I know it seems strange to talk about travelling at this time but the conversation is a real pleasure. Part vicarious travel part warm memories resurfaced.

Quote

Sooner or Later All Games Become Serious – J.G.Ballard Super-Cannes

Declad Articles

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander: Review and Notes

A fantastic Guidebook to design thinking which if you use it as an aide rather than a Bible will educate and enrich your designs. Would love to see an updated New Edition.

Introduction

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein, Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King, Shlomo Angel

A Pattern Language came out in 1977 authored by Christopher Alexander with some of his students Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein, Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King, Shlomo Angel.

At the time I believe Christopher Alexander was teaching Architecture at Berkley and the first group of books he wrote sprung from his teaching, research and designing there. It is one of a series of Books by Alexander but A Pattern Language is his most widely read work.

Alexanders books principally A Timeless Way of Building, A Pattern Language and The Nature of Order have inspired a following not just in Architecture but in other fields also principally Computer Science where his work is more influential than in Architecture.

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Links of Note (week 45/2020)

Every week I highlight the most interesting items from my media diet.

Photo and Plan of building no.30 in Hashima Island (Image from Japanpropertycentral)

Hashima /Gunkanjima Island in Japan was the most densley populated place on the planet until it was abandoned. Building No.30 on the island was Japans oldest reinforced-concrete apartment building (1916). Now partially collapsed, a good example of how Japan treats many of its old buildings. (via Irène DB)

Articles

  • The Swedish Housing Experiment designed to Cure Loneliness Sällbo, is a radical experiment in multigenerational living in Helsingborg, Sweden. The Architecture is very unremarkable it’s the social organisation, the way this group have decided to live which is interesting.
  • Finland is a Capitalist Paradise Behind a NYT paywall but if you have access well worth a read. A Wife from Finland and her husband from the US reflect on living in both countries.

Quote

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations

-George Orwell

Links of Note (week 44/2020)

Every week I highlight the most interesting items from my media diet.

You can still see the divide between West and East Berlin from space. The Photo (taken by ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers) shows the Berlin from the International Space Station. The street lights in former East Berlin are more orange, in the west they are a colder yellow.

Articles

  • Kiruna the town that moved a Swedish mining town that had to be moved or it would have been swallowed up by the the iron ore mine it sat too close to.
  • Daisugi -The Japanese Technique of Creating a Tree Platform for Other Trees

Sometime in 15th century Japan, a horticulture technique called daisugi was developed in Kyoto….The technique was developed…as a means of solving a seedling shortage and was used to create a sustainable harvest of timber from a single tree. Done right, the technique can prevent deforestation and result in perfectly round and straight timber known as taruki, which are used in the roofs of Japanese teahouses. via

  • Work From Home and how it may effect apartment block design. So while I would agree with Norman Foster for the most part there is an interesting kind of in-between place for a cohort of new work from homers that might mean the designing of more varied and better co-work spaces not based on office but on location.

Videos

  • Designing Temporary Urbanism from The Life-Sized City youtube channel. A lovely slice of inspired Urbanism from a channel worthy of your time.

Quote

What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we’ll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.

Valery Legasov

Links of Note (Week 43/2020)

Every week I highlight the most interesting items from my media diet.

project-o (photo by Aleksi Hautamäki and Milla Selkimäki)
Articles
  • What Neuroscience Says About Modern Architecture Approach Quite possibly the most stupid article I have read for some time. Modernism swept across the world partly because it articulated an architectural language that followed the industrialisation of the building industry (it was in some ways inevitable). Overlooking this for two Architects Brains malfunctioned as an explanation is beyond dumb.
  • Designing and building a Cabin in Finland (via). The Instagram feed has great photos of the Cabin being lived in. Project-o embodies the kesämokki life the Finnish dream of a simpler living either on an island in the Baltic or beside a lake in the forest.
Videos
  • The Chudobín Scots Pine is European Tree of The Year 2020 Watch the video of why it won. The other finalists all have their own videos, some beautiful trees to enjoy.

Podcasts

  • Fungus Amungus A fascinating podcast that explains why mammals might have triumphed in the race to become the dominant animal type after the dinosaurs disappeared and why our edge might be slipping now.
Quotes

The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as escaping from the old ones

John Maynard Keynes (via)
Declad Articles
  • Declad posts this last week A review and notes on the iconic Book Experiencing Architecture by Steen Eiler Rasmussen.

Experiencing Architecture by Steen Eiler Rasmussen Review and Book Notes

A classic architectural theory book, easy to read with some unique insights but with a couple of large flaws.

Experiencing Architecture by Steen Eiler Rasmussen

Introduction

Experiencing Architecture by Steen Eiler Rasmussen was a standard text in architectural schools and also for me when I began my studies more years ago than I care to remember.

It was on my reading list as a student and it was one of the first books from the course that made an impact on me. So I was interested to come back to this book after many years and reread it.

Below you will find an introduction, summary and review with a set of notes by chapter for those that want to get into the weeds with detail!

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The Haiku Houses of Japan

An overview of Japanese House Design and why they are like solid Haiku Poems.

As a little follow up to some reading and thinking around the books Lost in Japan and In Praise of Shadows I think its worth looking at an aspect of Japanese architecture I love and I think could be understood better through the lens of the above books and a little analogy which might bring some different insights.

Ghost House by Datar Architecture (Photograph by Takeshi Yamagishi)

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