Places Journal: 10 by 10

Ten themes, with ten articles for each, to celebrate our tenth anniversary online.

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It’s the end of the year, and the decade, and here at Places it’s our tenth anniversary as an online journal. In the spirit of the season, some retrospection seems in order. But how best to assess the production of a decade during which we’ve published almost 600 articles and more than two million words? Most “popular” felt too commercial, and “ten best” too minimal (and how could we possibly choose just ten?). What follows, then, is an overview organized into thematic categories. Following the logic of the decade, we’ve chosen ten themes, and for each theme we’ve chosen ten articles from among those that have been most widely read and cited. The themes are not intended to be comprehensive. They are shaped more by editorial preoccupations than by established disciplinary rubrics, and no doubt they are informed by what seem to us the urgencies of the moment. Think of them as section cuts through a dynamic archive that is being continually replenished. To read over the holidays, to bookmark, to share: We hope you’ll explore and enjoy.

Against the Neoliberal City

These are contentious times, so let’s start with a statement of protest. During a decade that began with economies in recession and is ending with democracies in crisis, many authors sought to assess the accumulating social and environmental wreckage of the neoliberal city. A grant from the Kresge Foundation allowed us to dedicate a series to inequality in America, while another, from the Graham Foundation, seeded a series on extreme urban transitions from Asia to Latin America to Eastern Europe. Several authors focused on cities as a function of restless multinational capital; another traced the origins of neoliberal politics to postwar anti-planning polemics. Others chronicled the persistence of segregation in post-apartheid South Africa; the accelerating gentrification of New York; and the complicity of architects in aestheticizing the environs of our new gilded age.

The Inequality Chronicles, 2016 – 2019
“There are many reasons for our troubles,” wrote historian Jill Lepore in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. “But the deepest reason is inequality: the forms of political, cultural, and economic polarization that have been widening, not narrowing, for decades. Inequality, like slavery, is a chain that binds at both ends.” Six writers measure the continuing strength of these chains: Preston Lauterbach on housing and racism in Memphis, Alec MacGillis on transportation planning as a root cause of segregation in Baltimore, Michael Berryhill on the rise of a modern settlement movement in Houston, Maya Dukmasova on the fraught politics of Chicago and Cook County, Thomas Beller on lead poisoning in New Orleans, and Elizabeth Greenspan on the enduring trauma wrought by the postwar urban planners of Philadelphia.

History of the Present, 2014 – present
Can cities struggling to recover from authoritarianism survive the predations of global real estate? Daniel Brook, on Yangon, Belmont Freeman, on Havana, and Marco Roth and Katarina Dudas, on Belgrade, all wrestle with this question.

Keller Easterling, Zone: The Spatial Softwares of Extrastatecraft, June 2012
Urban space has become a mobile, monetized technology, and radical changes to the globalizing world are being written in the spatial information of infrastructure, architecture, and urbanism. One of these infrastructures is the free zone — a highly contagious urban form and a vivid vessel of extrastatecraft.

Lizzie Yarina, Your Seawall Won’t Save You, March 2018
In Southeast Asian cities, the rhetoric of climate adaptation is too often doublespeak for the displacement of poor, informal communities, and an alibi for unsustainable growth.

Amale Andraos, The Arab City, May 2016
In a region at once feared and exoticized, we have been witnessing for more than a generation the devastation of old urban centers and the rise of new ones. But what is actually happening when global practices meet local conditions?

Lisa Findley and Liz Ogbu, From Township to Town, November 2011
In South Africa, the differences between the former white cities and the former black townships remain all too stark, and the spatial inequities of apartheid endure.

Robert Sullivan, Directions, June 2018
Today, at the very heart of Brooklyn’s spectacular success, of its “revival,” is not its redevelopment as a place to live but rather its reconceptualization as a brand to market.

Phillip Lopate, Above Grade: On the High Line, November 2011
 A city that had pioneered so many technological and urban planning solutions is now consigned to cannibalizing its past and retrofitting it to function as an image, a consumable spectacle. Productivity has given way to narcissism; or, to put it more charitably, work has yielded to leisure. 

Ellen Dunham-Jones, The Irrational Exuberance of Rem Koolhaas, April 2013
Was it only in the ’90s that Rem Koolhaas could ride the global socio-economic restructuring and emerge as one of architecture’s leading avant-gardists while at the same moment celebrating capitalism?

Anthony Fontenot, Notes Toward a History of Non-Planning, January 2015
If as a discipline we thought we understood the history — and shortcomings — of planning, it’s increasingly evident that we’ve paid comparatively little attention to the history — and dangers — of non-planning.

Remaking Landscape

“Slowly — fitfully — landscape architecture is remaking itself,” wrote Brian Davis and Thomas Oles in their impassioned argument for reconceiving — and renaming — the discipline. Many authors were similarly inspired to challenge the fundamentals of the field, with vital arguments about the radical instability of ecosystems; the re-wilding of the American West; and the need to reconstitute the relationship between settler and native, colonial and indigenous. Numerous articles focused on water systems both natural and engineered, from the managed landscapes of the Mississippi River Basin to the massive hydraulic infrastructures of the American Southwest to the contested water supply of Cairo and the Nile Delta. Others envisioned extensive territories that might be renewed with more progressive stewardship, from the endangered prairies of the Great Plains to the cultural landscapes of African American burial grounds; and one author contemplated the uneasy and even rivalrous relationship between architecture and landscape.

Brian Davis and Thomas Oles, From Architecture to Science, September 2014
How will our cities adapt to rising seas? How do we respond to the mass extinction of our fellow species? How can we build places that are more just? Such questions mock the very notion of disciplinary boundaries.

Brett Milligan, Landscape Migration, June 2015
We allow ourselves the fiction of background stability. Landscapes are changing faster (moving farther) than ever before. I would like to assert a more relational definition of migration as patterned movement across space and time. We can then look beyond the movement of individuals or species to the migration of landscapes. 

Stacy Passmore, Landscape with Beavers, July 2019
In the American West, beavers are gaining a reputation as environmental engineers who can help restore water systems — and challenge their human neighbors to think differently about land use.

Rod Barnett, Designing Indian Country, October 2016
Landscape architecture has always had a complicated relationship with the indigenous. Native plants are all the rage, but native humans are bracketed out. But suppose Native America is not over, that there is no “after colonialism.” How do we create public spaces that enable true contact between cultures?

Kristi Dykema Cheramie, The Scale of Nature, March 2011
The Mississippi Basin Model quickly became the most complicated, expensive, and time-consuming research project ever undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers.Today the abandoned model testifies to the long battle to control the great river.

Austin Troy, Thirsty City, January 2012
Constructed two millennia ago, ancient Roman aqueducts remain serviceable today. But the modern water delivery systems of the American West are comparatively ephemeral — for the sole reason that they depend so heavily on energy.

Karen Piper, Revolution of the Thirsty, July 2012
The Egyptian revolution was not only about political freedom; it was also about the right to water. In a land with little rain, the Nile River supplies almost all potable water, and these days an increasing share is being directed not to downtown Cairo but to posh suburban compounds.

Tim Schuler, The Middle of Everywhere, November 2019
In the Flint Hills of Kansas there are cattle ranches and art galleries, old barns and modern architecture, ghost towns and growing cities. Most of all there is the last stand of tallgrass prairie in America. But if the prairie is to survive, it will require collective action, public investment, and farsighted planning.

Zach Mortice, Perpetual Neglect, May 2017
The racism and inequality that plague African Americans in life are perpetuated in death; which is why there is nothing less than a preservation crisis for black burial grounds across the country. Can we envision a contemporary public program that would restore the nation’s neglected cultural landscapes?

David Heymann, Landscape Is Our Sex, November 2011
Architects are not required to be intellectually rigorous. They only have to convincingly sell ideas about how value is embedded in form in order to build. It is precisely this need that makes architectural intellectualism so suspect — and today, nothing sells like landscape, however shoddily conflated in theory.

Architectures of Well-being

As we reviewed the decade, and our numerous articles on architecture, we recognized various thematic trajectories, including activism, education, and criticism. One of the subtlest yet most persistent was the subject of well-being. This might be understood as related to personal, public, and social health — as in articles focusing on the medicalization of architecture, the design of hospice spaces, the provision of shade, and the concept of maintenance. Or it might be defined more broadly as dealing with environmental comfort and psychic ease, and how these are encouraged or undermined by architecture — as in articles on stereophonic sound and domestic environs, the brief heyday of the singles apartment complex, the unexpected parallels between prison and museum design; and spatial inventions like container urbanism or pedestrian skyways.

Sam Bloch, Shade, April 2019
Scoot across a satellite map of the Los Angeles Basin and you can see the tremendous shade disparity. Leafy neighborhoods are tucked in hillside canyons, while in the flats, there are vast gray expanses with almost no trees. Shade is nothing less than a civic resource, an index of inequality, and a requirement for public health. It should be a mandate for urban designers.

Shannon Mattern, Maintenance and Care, November 2018
What we really need to study is how our broken world gets put back together. Not the election of new officials or the release of new technologies, but rather the everyday work of maintenance, caretaking, and repair.

Nitin Ahuja, End Stages, May 2018
As hospice design becomes more formally ambitious — and standardized — we should remember there is no universal model for “dying well.”

Dianne Harris, A Tiny Orchestra in the Living Room, April 2015
High-fidelity stereos created an entirely new mass audience for music — an audience in the home. Which ultimately transformed domestic environs: even those who had never paid much attention to the aesthetics, materials, or dimensions of rooms now had to scrutinize such things if their listening pleasure was to be optimized.

Mireille Roddier, Dear Marais: Postcards from Paris, January 2016
City services here don’t suffer from disreputable associations; they don’t lack popular support or public funding. The public libraries are for study, the parks for leisure, the museums and cinemas for culture and entertainment, the banks of the Seine for picnics. 

Jennifer Yoos and Vincent James, The Multilevel Metropolis, May 2016
While early experiments in multilevel urbanism belonged to social utopians and the architectural avant-garde, most built systems were advanced by pragmatists in an effort to make downtown convenient, comfortable, safe, and climate controlled.

Giovanna Borasi and Mirko Zardini, Demedicalize Architecture, March 2012
Architecture and urban planning have adopted the bellicose stance of Western medical rhetoric, and the new moralistic philosophy of healthism. The demedicalization of the discipline will remove problems and solutions from the realm of individual commitment and restore them, appropriately, to the larger sphere of the social.

Joe Day, Corrections and Collections, July 2013
Prisons and museums — two massive expansions in the built environment — led the last great wave of American urban renewal. And design advancements in each have altered our perceptions of transgression, vision, and time, and how architecture can shape those perceptions. 

Mitchell Schwarzer, The Emergence of Container Urbanism, February 2013
Positioned as the quirky, everyday opposite to high-minded architecture, container buildings owe a great deal to the utopian visions of architecture’s modern movement.

Matthew Lasner, Swingsites for Singles, October 2014
If we look beyond the surface — beyond the Bacchus bashes and Jacuzzis, the Bain de Soleil and pop-top Budweiser, the skimpy bikinis and Speedos — can we see the brief postwar popularity of the singles residence as part of the countercultural turn? Maybe even as a force for social progress?

Housing Not Real Estate

Housing has long been one of our crucial topics, and within this category are many articles that challenge the widespread, by now normative assumption that shelter should be understood as a form of real estate. Accordingly, some authors have questioned the market triumphalism that determines who can afford to live in New York or Berlin or London; that dictates that the single-family house will dominate suburbs everywhere; and that assesses urban land as too valuable to accommodate public needs. Others have traced contemporary homelessness to its origins in the Reagan and Thatcher revolutions of the 1980s; argued that real estate should be understood as one of the fundamentals of modern architecture; and retrieved a forgotten chapter in the long, unfinished campaign for housing justice in America.

Jonathan Massey, Housing and the 99 Percent, February 2012
The welfare state, the nuclear family, and other institutions of industrial modernity are yielding to new ways of managing the risks and opportunities of globalization and post-industrial society. Often envisioned as the foundation for domestic life and personal finance, the house is now an unstable commodity.

Susanne Schindler, Housing and the Cooperative Commonwealth, October 2014
Why aren’t U.S. policy makers embracing housing models outside the private market? Why aren’t they encouraging non-profit, limited-equity cooperative housing? Why has this very successful model, pioneered in New York at the turn of the 20th century, all but disappeared from the American housing scene?

Aron Chang, Beyond Foreclosure: The Future of Suburban Housing, September 2011
The Great Recession challenged not only the economics of homebuilding but also the essence of the suburban dream. We have an opportunity to rethink suburban housing: to make it responsive not to dated demographics but rather to the actual needs of a diversifying and dynamic population.

Chris Herring, Tent City, America, December 2015
The contemporary era of chronic homelessness in America began with the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. Today homeless camps can be found in cities rich and poor, big and small, conservative and liberal.

Nate Berg, The Accidental Planners, June 2019
In a former bicycle shop in central Berlin, a band of artists are running an unofficial annex of the city planning department. What began as an effort to protest the city’s lack of affordable housing led to a participatory planning process that will transform the area near Alexanderplatz.

Amanda Kolson Hurley, “Housing Is Everybody’s Problem,” October 2017
Largely forgotten today, the housing visionary Morris Milgram wanted to prove that multiracial suburbs were not only practical but also superior to segregated developments. In retrospect his postwar projects seem prescient — ongoing experiments, at once mundane and brave, for how to knit together a divided America house by house, street by street. 

Lawrence Vale, Housing Chicago: From Cabrini-Green to Parkside, February 2012
Public housing officials and their private-sector partners assert that the wholesale clearance of substandard housing is a benefit to those who are freed from having to live in such conditions — that is, to those whose homes and neighborhoods are being destroyed.

Reinhold Martin, Fundamental #13, May 2014
Architecture meets its world most commonly in the international, transnational, translocal, global and otherwise border-violating and border-producing system of real estate.

Douglas Murphy, The Modern Urbanism of Cook’s Camden, January 2018
The council housing designed 50 years ago for a progressive London borough remains a potent symbol of the achievements of postwar social democracy. That it is being celebrated today is surely a sign of the degree to which the architecture profession now feels powerless to confront the unaffordability and inequality that year after year are only worsening. 

Jason Griffiths, Manifest Destiny: A Guide to the Essential Indifference of American Suburban Housing, October 2011
Like an architectural pattern book, our visual account records the fastidious and relentless pursuit of perfection played out in the houses and spaces at the edges of American cities. This is a realm where nothing, from the flow of water to the grain of a carpet, eludes inspection.

Unbuilding and Unforgetting

In their calls to unbuild gender, or to unforget women, authors in our pages are ultimately calling for the dismantling of the patriarchal structures that have long prescribed what was possible in the design disciplines (and in everything else, for that matter). Some authors have found inspiration in the anarchitectural projects of Gordon Matta-Clark; in the activist legacies of older generations of women architects; and in an early group of closeted gay suburbanites who staked a claim to (semi)public assembly. For others, unbuilding or unforgetting means recasting the intellectual boundaries and even the definition of cultural preservation; or retrieving the histories of cities that have changed too fast; or redressing our ignorance of the natural world.

Jack Halberstam, Unbuilding Gender, October 2018
Trans* anarchitectural performers are among the most innovative heirs to the project begun by Gordon Matta-Clark in the 1970s, in a New York City where buildings fell or burned down, industries failed, economies collapsed, and artists and activists found a way to push different worlds through the cracks of the crumbling city. Today we are in a new anarchitectural moment, and it is all coming down.

Frances Richard, Spacism: Gordon Matta-Clark and the Politics of Shared Space, March 2019
“I developed my way of working after completing my architectural studies, aware that a genuine spirit of change could not be achieved at the request of a private economy,” wrote Gordon Matta-Clark in 1975. “So, for five years I have worked to the best of my abilities to produce small breaks in the repressive conditions of space generated by the system.” 

Despina Stratigakos, Unforgetting Women Architects, May 2013
Their scarcity in the virtual sphere threatens to reinforce the assumption among younger generations that women have not contributed significantly to the profession of architecture. The dearth of entries in the collectively produced, free online encyclopedia Wikipedia, one of the most visited websites in the world, is particularly worrisome. 

Gabrielle Esperdy, The Incredible True Adventures of the Architectress in America, September 2012
Too often there is a tendency, especially in the aftermath of ’90s-era identity politics, to efface gender difference and to avoid the F-word, effectively disallowing the conjugation of “woman” + “architect.”

Tim Retzloff, The Association of (Gay) Suburban People, April 2015
In an era when it was assumed that gay space was urban space, the Association sought to assert its presence beyond the Motor City — and ultimately to recast the relationship of gays with suburbia.

Jerry Herron, The Forgetting Machine: Notes Toward a History of Detroit, January 2012
What does it add up to, all this abandonment of lives and buildings, neighborhoods and property? It doesn’t seem to add up to anything, other than the decontextualized spectacle itself and the demographic souvenir-hunting opportunities it provides.

Jorge Otero-Pailos, Experimental Preservation, September 2016
Preservation has come to be associated with a sort of deference to the past over the needs of the present that limits contemporary action. No more; today experimental preservationists are upending old ideas about cultural heritage, choosing objects once considered ugly or unsavory, and usually excluded by official narratives.

Richard Campanella, A Katrina Lexicon, July 2015
So what shall we call this whole bloody affair? How do we talk about a disaster so monumental we can’t agree on what to call it?

Enrique Ramirez, I Watch Slacker to Read Austin in the Original, October 2011
Richard Linklater’s movie functions as a record of Austin at a pivotal time, at just that moment when the city had not yet become the self-conscious nexus of music and media — and money and fame and power — that’s now epitomized by the spectacle of the annual festival SXSW.

Adelheid Fischer, A Home Before the End of the World, June 2011
Does our ignorance of the natural world make it easier to destroy it?

Photography and Memory

From an early feature on Japanese internment camps to our latest, on the construction of Brasilia, Places has published almost 200 galleries that spotlight the work of dozens of established and emerging photographers. Unsurprisingly, many of these visual essays document environments — individual buildings, historic landscapes, entire ecosystems — at moments of significant transformation, or even erasure, from a city submerged under the Three Gorges Dam; to the death of the largest sea in Asia; to the U.S.-Mexico border in a less fearful time; to postwar Oakland, Calcutta in decline, and the petcoke mountains of southeast Chicago. There’s a photo essay that uses the comparative processes of re-photography to reveal subtler changes in the streets of Havana, and one that seeks to makes sense of the “formless megalopolis” of Los Angeles in aerial images and a writer’s recollections. Another portrays the deceptively pastoral English landscapes that conceal the storage of deadly chemicals used in real combat; while yet another tracks the war-game fantasy-scapes of post-industrial suburbia.

Zhang Xiao and Aaron Rothman The Last Days of Kaixian, May 2012
The Three Gorges Dam and its reservoir are physical manifestations of the tradeoffs being made in the name of progress throughout China — the dislocation of millions of individuals, the loss of old ways of life, an expanding sense of placelessness.

Radek Skrivanek, The Dying Sea, April 2011
The Aral Sea is now a vast salt flat permeated with pesticides from the runoff of surrounding agricultural fields. Walking on the former seabed, you hear a constant crackle under your feet, and are startled to find that you are stepping on piles and piles of seashells.

Moriah Ulinskas, Imagining a Past Future, January 2019
As the photographic record suggests, the painful legacy of urban renewal in Oakland comprises more than ruined neighborhoods and bad architecture. Resistance movements, public-service programs, non-profit agencies, and community-advocacy groups belong to this history too.

Mark Klett, “The eye traffics in feelings, not thoughts,” June 2015
In 1933, Walker Evans published a series of photographs of Depression-era Havana; decades later, traveling in the great photographer’s footsteps, a contemporary artist learns much about the processes of change and continuity in Cuba’s capital.

Alan Thomas, Approaching Calcutta, June 2013
Once great but now peripheral cities are good reminders of globalization’s fickleness. Calcutta is one of these, and the breathtaking completeness of its demotion would be hard to match.

David Taylor and William Fox, The Gray Scale, January 2016
The 276 Boundary Monuments along the U.S.-Mexico border recall a time when the two countries were separated by dignified stone sentinels rather than walls, sensors, and cameras.

Dara McGrath and Deborah Lilley, The Mustard Gas in Sherwood Forest, June 2016
The pastoral scenes — a Cornish heath, an overcast Norfolk sky— are emptied of people yet uncomfortably marked by traces of human actions. The mustard gas storehouse that became an oil refinery and the decontamination facility turned into a printshop remind us that war is a domestic industry.

Terry Evans and Josh Wallaert, The Things They Piled, June 2016
Pig iron, limestone, scrap metal, salt. The Calumet River has always been a place for piling things up. Southeast Chicago is wetland prairie buried beneath 21 billion cubic feet of landfill and slag.

Ruth Dussault and Michael Shanks, Play War: Homemade Recreational Battlefields, November 2014
At paintball fields across the country, the detritus of an industrial century is pushed to the urban margins to create apocalyptic playgrounds for a disheveled middle class.

Michael Light and David Ulin, L.A. Day/L.A. Night, April 2011
Los Angeles exists in the shadow of elemental forces, forces we cannot control. We build on terrain that is, in the most fundamental sense, unstable, that shakes and burns and floods with the regularity of the tides. Here we see the intercession of technology, and the limits of that technology all at once.

Future Archive

The digital revolution in publishing has resulted in a wealth of online content; left behind, however, is a rich store of writing which has limited cultural presence because it has limited digital presence. For this ongoing series, which was initially funded by the Graham Foundation, we are republishing significant works of 20th-century criticism and history, each introduced and contextualized by a leading contemporary scholar. It’s proven popular, and there are twelve installments to date; and  because we couldn’t bear to exclude any, we’re breaking our ten-category limit and presenting the full dozen.

Despina Stratigakos, Hitler’s Revenge, March 2015
When Sibyl Moholy-Nagy died, in 1971, Reyner Banham eulogized her as “the most formidable of the group of lady-critics who kept the U.S. architectural establishment continually on the run during the ’50s and ’60s.” Today, this “lady-critic” merits new attention.

Gabrielle Esperdy, Architecture and Popular Taste, May 2015
As a longtime editor of Architectural Forum, Douglas Haskell was once a leading voice in design journalism, always ready to promote unfashionable ideas, and deeply concerned about a problem that persists: the failure of the profession to communicate with the public.

Keith Eggener, “An architecture which is whole,” June 2015
Vincent Scully often and unabashedly used these terms: the most, the best, the worst. But in recent decades we architectural historians have become a more cautious tribe, at least when it comes to separating personal opinion from universal truth. So the audacity of his pronouncements both repels and fascinates. 

Barbara Penner, The Man Who Wrote Too Well, September 2015
“He tends to write too well,” is how Nikolaus Pevsner described his prolific protégé, Reyner Banham. This lofty remark nicely — and accurately — captures the perception, widely shared in the ’60s and ’70s, of Banham as gadfly-in-chief of the modern movement: he was viewed as non-doctrinaire, non-deferential, and so smart that his criticism, even when off-point, still stung.

Sandy Isenstadt, Metropolis Regained, November 2015
In a career that spanned half a century, Grady Clay can be seen thinking clearly through all the ways a truly democratic city would operate and what it would look like.

Simon Sadler, You (Still) Have to Pay for the Public Life, January 2016
In 1965 the architect Charles Moore slyly diverted a report on Californian architecture, commissioned by the Yale journal Perspecta, into an unexpected and expansive critique of American public space. It continues to provide the best short guide to the Californian built environment of the mid-20th century.

Naomi Stead, (Not So) Anti-Architecture, October 2017
Robin Boyd’s essay “Anti-architecture,” published in 1968, might have been written yesterday, or this morning. Just as Boyd wondered then, we might wonder now: What is the possibility for architects amongst all this radicalism and rebellion? 

Christopher Long, Apostle and Apostate, February 2018
“Accidentism” was Josef Frank’s ultimate statement of his long-standing disquiet with the tenets of mainstream European modernism. Today, the essay reads as a bracing critique, all the more notable for having been written by a prominent modernist — indeed, by one of the original members of CIAM.

Barbara Penner, The (Still) Dreary Deadlock of Public Housing, October 2018
Catherine Bauer was one of the few women regularly invited to share a stage with the “great men” of 20th-century architecture. Her opinions on housing, planning, and urbanism were widely sought out, and she advised no fewer than three presidents. Yet Bauer has slid into obscurity for reasons which are not entirely clear. 

Alona Nitzan-Shiftan, Memorandum on the Plan for Jerusalem, December 2018
Fifty years ago, Lewis Mumford argued passionately that Jerusalem should become a world city, both de-politicized and de-nationalized. His argument remains powerful and problematic.

Jeffrey Kastner, The Domestication of the Garage, February 2019
J.B. Jackson believed that the conditions of the built environment reflect — and, crucially, affect — the relationships between people, the characteristics of community, and the structure of society. His 1976 essay on the American garage displays his rare ability to combine deep erudition with eloquent and plainspoken analysis.

Garrett Dash Nelson, An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning, April 2019
In the original concept of geographer Benton MacKaye, the Appalachian Trail was more than a hiking path. It was a wildly ambitious plan to reorganize the economic geography of the eastern United States.

Reading Lists

To open up the editorial space of public scholarship, we’ve dedicated a section of our site to user-generated reading lists that can take the form of annotated bibliographies, innovative syllabi, or personal bookmarks. Lists can be shared publicly or kept private, and to date more than 1,600 have been created. Slightly more than 200 lists are public; what follows suggests the range of topics and interests.

Desiree Valadares, Race, Space, and the Law, February 2019
What is the law’s historical role in the constitution of space, place, the body, and various other ways of belonging in the U.S.?

Fadi Masoud, Coding Flux, December 2018
Fifty years ago, at a Harvard conference, J. B. Jackson warned an audience of designers about the dangers of climate change. What is the efficacy of today’s urban codes in addressing these dangers?

Emma Rowden and Jesse Stein, Public Architecture, March 2018
How exactly do public buildings provide both internal and external places for community interaction and participation in city life?

Benjamin Smith, Architecture and Pedagogy, November 2017
Education is a negotiation, not only between student and teacher, but also between the content covered and the institution’s mission. 

Daisy-O’lice Williams, AIA Gold: Paul Revere Williams, July 2017
Thirty-seven years after his death, the AIA awarded African American architect Paul Revere Williams its highest honor. Though the significance of his professional achievements can stand alone, they typically don’t. Williams’s story is often framed (and at times sensationalized) by the obstacles he overcame.

Anna Livia Brand, Black Geographies, February 2017
For planners, this is a critical moment to reexamine how our work is complicit in racial processes.

Phu Hoang, Designing for Future Weathers, November 2016
What is the potential of micro-weather forecasting to radically change how we experience weather in our cities, and even within the interior environments of our buildings?

Dorothy Tang, China’s New Landscape, February 2015
Diverse texts drawn from architecture, urbanism, political ecology, and other fields paint a partial picture of the landscape transformation in China since the “opening up” in the 1980s.

Nina Marie Lister, Critical Ecologies, February 2015
In the past generation, the study of ecology has broadened from a classical Newtonian paradigm and a Kuhnian normal science focused on stability, prediction, and certainty, to a contemporary transdisciplinary field of studies concerned with post-normal understandings of dynamic change, adaptability, resilience, and flexibility. 

Nick Lally, Cloud Vision, November 2016
How can we understand the vast assemblages of networked computers that have come to subtend almost every aspect of political, social, and cultural life? Constantly at work on massive scales and at the speed of light, exceeding our ability to make sense of them, they construct the world in unpredictable and surprising ways.

Public and Private

At the start of the decade, we issued a call for articles that would “explore the complex dynamic of public and private in contemporary politics and culture, and how this dynamic influences the design and production of buildings, landscapes, and cities.” Today, if you click on this category in our Explore page, you’ll find almost a hundred articles. Inevitably the collective mood feels volatile, with authors early on registering the failure of any sort of new New Deal to materialize and counter the great recession, and more recently articulating the hope for a Green New Deal. Beyond the U.S., there are accounts, by turns optimistic and bleak, of the struggles to sustain vital public spaces in Cairo during and after the Arab Spring, and in Tehran and Istanbul under repressive rulers. And there are ruminations, at once personal and political, on the differences between scarcity and austerity, and between the New York idealized by Jane Jacobs and influenced by Andy Warhol.

Jason Reblando, New Deal Utopias, November 2010
For the past couple of years, I have been photographing the planned communities conceived and constructed by the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. My goal is not only to evoke the communal spirit for which the greenbelt architecture was designed but also to meditate on the urge to create a better society.

Nancy Levinson, The Public Works, January 2010
The New Deal was a big-scale, legacy-building, vision-to-burn public-sector response to national crisis. But in 2010, unlike in the ’30s, we confront our crisis in a social-political climate that’s contemptuous of public solutions, and more, hostile to the very idea of the public.

Garrett Dash Nelson, Rexford Guy Tugwell and the Case for Big Urbanism, January 2018
Trained by radical economists, Rex Tugwell believed the government should actively direct the objectives of private industry through comprehensive planning. As one of Roosevelt’s New Dealers, he launched an ambitious suburban development scheme with the intention of building hundreds of greenbelt cities across the country.

Billy Fleming, Design and the Green New Deal, April 2019
In the early 20th century, urbanists and designers entered public service, fighting for housing justice, land conservation, and environmental resource management at all levels of government. Today, the revival of an activist federal design bureaucracy is necessary to the success of a Green New Deal. It also presents a unique opportunity to create alternative models of practice in landscape architecture.

Mohamed Elshahed, Tahrir Square: Social Media, Public Space, February 2011
The Arab Spring showed that the virtual is not enough. It wasn’t the Facebook revolution; the occupation of public urban space was crucial to the uprising.

Ursula Lindsey, The Anti-Cairo, February 2017
Egypt’s military regime is building a new capital city in the desert, where the “People’s Piazza” will be a pale shadow of Tahrir Square.

Rudabeh Pakravan, Territory Jam: Tehran, July 2012
The public spaces of Tehran are tightly controlled and highly choreographed, and the private home has become the true public realm, the place where residents can socialize freely, unmonitored by the otherwise pervasive government.

Pedro Levi Bismarck, Architecture and the Aestheticization of Politics, February 2014
Taksim Gezi Park occupies a significant location in Istanbul, not only geographically but also culturally. One of the few open spaces in this densely inhabited city, the park has long been a site for protest and demonstration. The government’s plan to turn this vital public space into a shopping mall reflects the global democratic crisis.

Jeremy Till, Scarcity contra Austerity, October 2012
Caught between the diminished architecture of the 99% and the austere architecture of the 1%, we are left helpless.

Timothy Mennel, Jane Jacobs, Andy Warhol, and the Kind of Problem a Community Is, April 2011
Warhol and Jacobs were different species of libertarians. The contemporary city is more Warhol’s than Jacobs’s — and that’s not a bad thing.

From Walmart to Wessex

This is not, you might object, a proper category. But that’s the point. For years we’ve enjoyed publishing articles in which adventurous authors pushed the bounds of design scholarship. You could describe this work as interdisciplinary, but that doesn’t quite capture the imaginative vitality with which various authors illuminate the spatial inventions of the strike zone and street basketball; the secret histories of the humble corner; the radical cartography of Thoreau; the under-recognized collaborations of architects and choreographers; the cultural contradictions of campsite design; the architectural career of Thomas Hardy; and the logistical lessons of Walmart. Nor does it capture the idiosyncratic investigations of the underground landscapes of nuclear deterrence and the interstellar visions of orbital space settlements. Or, last but not least, the seasonal pleasures of Fairy Tale Architecture.

Richard Cleary, The Architecture of Sports, July 2017
The technical jargon, the mysterious X’s and O’s drawn on coaches’ chalkboards, not to mention the commercial and behavioral excesses of the sports-entertainment complex — all these can obscure our appreciation of the spatial practices of sports. They can obscure also our understanding of the natural connections of sports to other spatial endeavors, like dance and architecture.

Beth Weinstein, The Collaborative Legacy of Merce Cunningham, March 2011
In Merce Cunningham’s work, dancers mingle in a shared space with diverse volumetric elements. Collaborations between choreographers like Cunningham and architects ranging from Frank Genry to Nikolaus Hirsch to Ai Weiwei are in fact a real if often unacknowledged architectural type.

Martin Hogue, A Short History of the Campsite, May 2011
Modern campsites embody a peculiar contradiction. They are serviced by an increasingly sophisticated range of utilities and conveniences, yet marketed to perpetuate the cherished American ideal of the rugged backwoods camp.

Kester Rattenbury, The Invention of Wessex, February 2018
Thomas Hardy’s Wessex was not just drawn from the architectural ideas of his time; it has predicted some of the most inventive architectural work of our own age.

Jesse LeCavalier, All Those Numbers: On Logistics, Territory, and Walmart, May 2010
Walmart has generated a far-reaching enterprise made up of information systems, land holdings, buildings, and infrastructure; yet its overall physical presence is diffuse. The architecture of Walmart, if you can call it that, is at once under-designed and ubiquitous. 

Daegan Miller, A Map of Radical Bewilderment: On the Liberation Cartography of Henry David Thoreau, March 2018
What separated Thoreau from many of his politically radical peers was his insight that free trade and slavery, the mill and the factory, territorial expansion and offensive war and demoralized rivers, all were rooted in a peculiar kind of landscape. 

Peggy Weil, Oscar Zero: Notes from a Nuclear Tourist, April 2017
Located deep underground, in some of the least populous parts of America, our sites of atomic weaponry are mostly out of mind. Like the dark corners of our souls, we don’t want to go there.

Will Wiles, The Corner of Lovecraft and Ballard, June 2017
In the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and J.G. Ballard, the corner is a place of horror. In the purgative moral regime of modern architecture, it is equally abhorred.

Fred Scharmen, The Shape of Space, August 2018
How we visualize “outer” space, and how we choose to talk about it, can influence how we think about environmental conditions on and off our home planet. Do we imagine space as a hard, uninhabitable solid? Or as a softer medium, a potential source of energy and matter, perhaps even an environment that is home to friends and neighbors?

Kate Bernheimer and Andrew Bernheimer, Fairy Tale Architecture, 2011 – present
For this ongoing series, the curators ask diverse architects to select favorite tales and produce works exploring the intimate relationship between the domestic life of fairy tales and the imaginative realm of architecture.

Nancy Levinson, “Places Journal: 10 by 10,” Places Journal, December 2019. Accessed 30 Sep 2023. <>

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