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Rethinking the City Alternative Lifestyles for a Post-Pandemic World

Fareed Zakaria’s new book, “Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World,” conveys a broad view of tomorrow’s possibilities within the context of both history and a rapidly changing present. Zakaria covers accelerated change, quality government, the market economy, expertise, artificial intelligence, tomorrow’s city, inequality, globalization, a US/China bipolar world, and idealists’ leadership.

The argument that most attracted me can be found in Chapter Six. It reasons that while people abandoned cities throughout history because of epidemics, wars, fires, natural disasters, and recessions, cities came back, and people rebuild them better and safer than before. Why? Because, as Aristotle put it in 350 BC, humans are social animals.

This argument inspired me to bring up some former and present architectural solutions that can apply to some of the current crisis’s problems. To put Zakaria’s and our urban-related ideas within a broader context, I recommend reading his book in its entirety.

Fareed Zakaria: GPS Program and New Book

Why Cities?

There is a likelihood that after Covid-19, many people will leave the city life, yet cities will continue to grow. While telecommunication will continue to become transformative both to work and education, human beings like to interact in person. According to an estimate by the United Nations, more than two-thirds of humans will live in an urban environment by 2050. So, the question for rethinking the post-pandemic city is not if it will continue to grow, but how.

Urban vs. Rural Projected Population Growth by 2050

Density

One of the most critical issues to reconsider is population density. From the sustainability point of view, an increase in housing density can free up agricultural land for food production, diminish the need to commute to work, and potentially stimulate human interaction socially, economically, and intellectually.  Does living in dense societies increase the dangers posed by Covid-19? Not necessarily. For example, dense cities like Hong Kong and Singapore had a very low death toll, yet other low-density and rural areas in the United States had much higher death tolls.

Is the subject of safety a design problem or a policy problem? Most likely, it is a combination of the two. The recently re-elected Mayor Anne Hidalgo wants to turn Paris into a “fifteen-minute city” by making all locations accessible by foot or within a fifteen-minute bike ride. This policy has led to major pedestrian-oriented design transformations throughout the city.

Lifestyle

The speculation as to whether the earth’s population will reach ten billion by 2050 or 2070 can affect how we collectively plan using the planet’s resources for food and shelter to provide a sense of physical and psychological safety.   Furthermore, there will be an increased need for transportation, healthcare, commerce, and education infrastructure. The size of the land-footprint that we create will affect the way we live our lives.

Sample Models of Population Density

High Population Density. Paris is a model to consider. Its buildings are 4-6 stories high, zoned as residential-commercial mixed-use. The city is surrounded by trees and plants in the streets and parks.  Aesthetically, it accommodates contemporary design within a historical context. Culturally, it has an infrastructure that stimulates people’s intellectual growth.

Medium Population Density. The Netherlands is a great example of territorial planning. Only 10% of the Dutch population actually live in a big city. Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht are all connected by highways, allowing many people to commute to work while leaving the country’s heart and soul as the farmlands that the Dutch ultimately wanted to maintain.

Low Population Density. Costa Rica has received a 2019 Champions of the Earth award, the UN’s highest environmental honor, for its role in nature preservation and an ongoing policy to combat climate change. It demonstrates leadership in the use of green energy and the preservation of both forests and oceans. Furthermore, according to the Happy Planet Index, it ranks first in sustainable happiness.

Realistic Idealism

Zakaria titled his tenth lesson, “Sometimes the Greatest Realists Are the Idealists.” While his analysis focuses on policy, I suggest that we can also become inspired by two great architects’ designs.

Frank Lloyd Wright saw policy and design intertwined. When he first presented his 12-foot square model of Broadacre City in 1935, he looked at each individual “broad acre” as a place to enable self-actualization.  The intent was to make room for a large variety of activities, just on a smaller and more personalized scale:

                          “little farms, little homes for industry, little factories, little schools, a little university going to the people mostly by way of their                                        interest in the ground, little laboratories on their own ground for professional men. And the farm itself, notwithstanding the                                          animals, becomes the most attractive unit of the city.”        – Frank Lloyd Wright.

Thirty-five years later, Luigi Pellegrin conceived his new mixed-use model of a spatial structure. He suspended most of the residential units above the areas dedicated to services and commerce.

 

Luigi Pellegrin and Frank Lloyd Wright, 1951

Urban Change with a Stroke of a Pen

Back in 2020: changing people’s minds and rewriting regulations is a long and difficult process. In his conclusion, however, “Nothing is Written,” Zakaria insinuates that changing our mindset is possible.

I would consider changing the residential zoning policies to allow for two units to be built instead of one, doubling apartment availability while also making housing more affordable. Furthermore, one could incorporate edible gardens on the balconies and roofenhancingnce sustainable living aaddingdds beauty to the surroundings. These “stroke of a pen” modifications could have an enormous impact on American cities while generating millions of jobs.

For new developments, medium-rise condominiums could be designed in sections, each with its own private stairway and elevator shaft,  distributing to 12-20 units, which is considered to be the optimal number for socialization,  according to environmental psychologists. Some areas of the city could be zoned for experimentation, free of obsolete regulations.

Medium-Rise: 8-16 Units per Entrance – 2020

Four-Block Transformation with Common Green Areas

Shashlik Scheme: Tree Mixed-Use Towers Interconnected

Coda

My wife and I lived in Tel Aviv during the summer of 1973, having recently returned to Israel following seven years of studying architecture in Rome and then working for Pellegrin. We were twenty-eight years old young professionals, hoping to create our own practice finally.

The Association of Architects and Engineers in Israel sponsored a conceptual competition to design a 5,000 dwelling-unit neighborhood. The submission deadline was scheduled for November.

 

On October 6, the Yom Kippur war started. When the war was finally over, the competition deadline was rescheduled to November of the following year. We had time to rethink. The influence that Wright and Pellegrin had on us was powerfully present in our thinking, along with thoughts about the future of a world with limited resources, projected to reach a population of six billion by 2000 (at the time, the world population was three billion).

Main Concepts – 1974

 

Forty-six years later, after winning the competition, we are facing a post-pandemic future. I still believe that most of the principles that guided our never-built design remain valid. Change for the better is possible.

 

 

'>Vernissage at the Hammer The Opening of the Hammer Museum's "Winter Exhibitions Opening Celebration" Illustrates the Public's Attendance and the Works of Four Artists

The Hammer Museum’s latest vernissage, “Winter Exhibitions Opening Celebration,” was unexpected at various levels. The biggest surprise was seeing how many people of all ages attended. It was a welcomed abnormality, a good sign that there is life after Trump, climate change, and long wish-lists of We The People.

The first impacting artwork was at the entrance lobby: Leonardo Drew’s sculptural installation at an architectural scale made out of roofing material, wood, and sandpaper. As stated in the show’s presentation, it is “a monumental explosion of material and color that evokes the energy and entropy of an uncertain planet.”

Max Hooper Schneider’s idiosyncratic installation succeeded in getting one immersed in it. Beyond the visual impact on the visitor, knowing about his background in landscape architecture and marine biology informs his “destruction and construction” artwork.

The leading exhibition was “Paul McCarty: Head Space, Drawings 1963-2019.” It was less surprising. I had covered some of his work in Tangoing with Paul & Amigos. Although I am less interested in the conflicting emotions provoked by his visceral repressed memories, I do admire his journey of continuous experimentation, and also the scale of some of his drawings.

The work of New York-based artist Tishan Hsu’s intrigued me more for the formal originality of some of its sculptures than for their Minimalist message of emerging technologies’ aesthetics. Trained as an architect at MIT, and having had a carrier as an artist and teacher that spanned over four decades was revealing.

Anish Kapoor: Fluidity, Reflections, Space A spatial stainless-steel installation in Hollywood

Anish Kapoor is known as one of the world’s great living artists.  Since he won the Premio Duemila Prize at the 44th Venice Biennale back in 1990, his sculptural installations had a significant presence in many cities, including London, at the Tate Modern, Paris, at the Grand Palais, and Jerusalem, at the Israel Museum.

 

Anish Kapoor was born in Mumbai in 1954 to an Iraqi-Jewish daughter of a rabbi who immigrated to India from Baghdad with her family when she was an infant. His Punjabi Hindu father was a hydrographer for the Indian Navy.  This mixed and complex background had a powerful influence in his attraction to dualities: concave and convex, matter and void, light and darkness, negative and positive, earth and sky, mind and body.  The range of materials he uses and pushes to their limits is astonishing: stone, steel, concrete, fabrics. Many of his projects are at an architectural scale.  He collaborated with architects Frank Gehry in Chicago’s Millenial Park, Arata Isozaki in Japan, and engineer Cecil Balmond at the ArcelorMittal Orbit in London’s Olympic Park.

Although his reflective artworks in highly polished stainless steel are easily recognizable, it would be a mistake to pigeon-hole Kapoor into this style only.  His crude artworks in sculptural painting and amorphous concrete tell us of an artist in continuous research for new forms of expression.

The exhibit of Kapoor’s stainless-steel Double S-Curve at the Regen Projects gallery in Hollywood is good art news for Southern California.

Filmmaking Resume Segments of Documentaries Shot over the Course of Several Years

This documentary is titled Filmmaking Resume as a reference to short bits of architectural footage shot over the course of several years, and published in Architecture Awareness, Cultural Weekly and in this website.

 

Although I have also created short films on art, politics, and cultural events, my focus here is on architecture-as-space, the essential language of architecture. This short documentary illustrates fragments on the works of twenty recognized contemporary architects. As such, it expresses how good design can resonate on a much deeper level and lead to a higher quality of life.

 

In dealing with the human condition in the 2020 decade, some of my future films are likely to focus on topics such as housing, sustainability, and open urban spaces.

12/12 in L.A. & 3 Pianists A link between long-term thinking and what is doable today through architecture and the arts

This short documentary tries to connect dots between three disparate experiences that happened in a single day, 12/12/2019. The dots are a brainstorming session with old friends, a visit to a new working environment in Hollywood, the discovery of an art studio by the Los Angeles River dedicated to environmental art, and three piano performers.

It all started with a scheduled breakfast at Coffee Cup, a reunion of four former members of a group known as “Rethinking Greater Long Beach.” At the table were Professors Alex Norman (UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs,) Jack Humphrey (Demography) Bill Crampton (Education) and myself.

After ordering sunny side up eggs for breakfast – out of the ordinary for me – and updating ourselves – we had not seen each other several years – we started our brainstorming session. This time, instead of rethinking Long Beach, we posed several questions at a global level. China thinks and plans long term, why can’t the US? Is Singapore urbanity number one, as Jack thinks after his recent visit? How many people can planet Earth take sustainably? What revolution is needed in education to face the future’s challenges? What are the dangers generated by Trumpism beyond Trump? Summarizing the results of our discussion, we voted. “Optimistic vs. Pessimistic.” The result: 1 to 3, respectively.

In the afternoon, Ruth and I made an unplanned visit to Second Home Hollywood. I only knew that it had been designed by the same architects that designed the Serpentine Pavilion near LACMA, Jose Selgas, and Lucia Cano, from Madrid. They had recently completed this new kind of working environment in London and in Lisbon.

We found Second Home Hollywood’s design impressive. Built with low-cost materials, and making intensive use of planting, the place is full of light, spatially vibrant and stimulates socialization. It is out-of-the-box thinking. Its success with young people is evident.

In the evening, we went for a first visit to Metabolic Studio, by the Los Angeles River, close to downtown L.A. Once again, we were surprised to discover a stimulant space to produce arts and crafts within an existing industrial warehouse.

Inspired by these three events in a single day, I decided to produce a short documentary, included here. While watching the Kennedy Center Awards 2019, I discovered Yuja Wang. Immediately it triggered the idea of bringing into the film the piece that she performed, “You Come Here Often?” by Michael Tilson Thomas. While researching for another two piano pieces, I first discovered Marco Mezquida, from Barcelona. He has played in many international jazz festivals. Then I discovered Joanna MacGregor. She is a British concert pianist, conductor and composer, who is also Head of Piano at London’s Royal Academy of Music. I found her playing of a Piazzolla arrangement fantastic! I couldn’t resist connecting the dots through a film collage.

Doc Snippets Selected Documentary Segments

On a recent event at U.C.L.A., the 43rd Congress of the Romanian Academy of Arts and Science, I was invited by its Interim President, Prof. Ileana Costea, about what I do as an architect-filmmaker. I decided to edit “an extended trailer” of selected segments from my films. I called it “Doc Snippets.”

Beyond some short notes on my architectural practice and of my passion for film since I was a student, I saw the question “Why are architectural documentaries important?” as the most relevant. Why?

The transformation of the planet to accommodate 10 billion people by 2050 will demand the active input of all its inhabitants, which would include self-help. Architecture awareness is critical to confront planetary challenges such as climate change, sustainability, population growth, mobility, food production, conservation of natural spaces, visual pollution, and over-crowding.

My films, most of them on architecture-related subjects, try to inform the viewer about the relationship between quality-space and human scale, and about meaning in the configuration of spaces.

Architecture + People in San Diego Architecture 2019 in San Diego: Downtown, the Central Library, the Salk Institute

San Diego’s downtown transformation conveys an important message to many cities’ challenges. It is possible to increase density while maintaining high standards of design quality. It is possible to mitigate traffic by bringing efficient public transportation. It is possible to build high-quality public buildings within the budget.

It was late May when we first considered the possibility of registering for a Brendon Burchard “Influencer” seminar in San Diego in October. “We haven’t been there for about a decade. It sounds like a good excuse,” I said. We signed up. It was a good decision. What we saw and learned in a few days well exceeded our expectations.

“What’s new to see in architecture?” I asked Google while doing basic research.  A small, five-story, zero energy mixed-use building, Torr Kaelan, caught my attention. It had been designed by Rob Quigley, an architect unknown to me. Some of the building’s details reminded Carlo Scarpa’s design.  Googling more on Rob Quigley, I reached the San Diego Central Library project. I couldn’t tell much by looking at the photographs that I found online, but I marked it as a place to visit.

Torr Kaelan

We decided to set our base in Little Italy. I found a lovely small hotel, Urban Boutique, next to a European-style piazza known at Piazza della Famiglia.  It was located a mile-plus from the event we planned to attend. “We could do some exercise by walking the distance in less than a half-hour,” I said to Ruth. Once we arrived at the hotel, we parked the car and didn’t move it until we left.

We found the downtown area transformation, since the last time we had been there, very impressive.  It had become a thriving center easily accessible by foot, bike, car, or public transportation. Its urban scale was right, the traffic was moderate, and we noticed a number of new, well-designed condominiums.

Yet the biggest surprise was the central library. According to the architect, it had been conceived as “a 9-story archive of flexible space, sandwiched at the top and ground floors, with diverse and accessible public amenities.”  The library opened in 2013, following a protracted 17-year period of design and construction. This may explain the 1970s–1980s flavor. The material of choice was concrete, for both cost and maintenance.

A spacious atrium and a roof garden, accented by a symbolic dome, provided an urban identity to the building. We found the different areas well crafted, with some of the spaces quite spectacular.

The “Influencer” event, structured as good content (psychology, physiology, productivity, persuasion) wrapped with entertainment, was remarkable for the diversity of over two thousand participants. There were people from all over the United States and also from many other countries. Our new chanceful acquaintances included a woman from Soroka, in the Republic of Moldova, an actress from Istanbul, a French couple from Montpellier and other people ranging in age from teenagers to adults in their seventy’s.

Brendon Burchard “Influencer” Seminar

We couldn’t leave San Diego without revisiting Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute in La Jolla. It triggered memories. When we were in our late twenty’s, we worked in Tel Aviv for Ram Karmi. When Kahn visited Israel, Karmi invited him and his wife for dinner at his condo, and asked us to join them. At the end of the evening, he said “pick up Kahn at his hotel tomorrow morning and take him to see the Central Bus Station,” of which I had been working on its details for several months. The gargantuan building, then under construction, was mostly done in exposed concrete.

Until a scheduled late-lunch, at 3:00 PM, to be joined by Carmela, Karmi’s his first wife, we spent five hours with Louis Kahn all for ourselves! During the three-hour-long lunchtime, Louis Kahn talked most of the time. It was like listening to Socrates. Kahn’s intellect was very high, and his language was, at times, incomprehensible to us.

Back in 1971, we had made our first visit to the Salk Institute at the end of our “Frank Lloyd Wright’s pilgrimage,” during which we visited and photographed over one hundred of Wright’s works across twenty-five states.  At the time, the Salk Institute was one of the most famous buildings in the world. Seeing it again forty-five years later was less impacting, although now I could read that, while its work in concrete remained impeccable, its greatness was in its scale and in the way the large court opens to the ocean. 

The link between the architecture we discovered and the people we met produced a highly productive and rewarding weekend!

Shirin Neshat Magic Realism Without Smiles

Shirin Neshat is a great artist. She captures depth from the subjects of her photographic portraits, and she creates fiction in her films and videos at a quality level comparable to some of the works of Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, and Michelangelo Antonioni. Their uniqueness also derives from her feminine sensitivity and her understanding of ancient cultures. In doing so, she opens for the Western World a window to look at the other, beyond itself.

Shirin Neshat at her studio

The exhibition at The Broad is named “I Will Bring the Sun Again,” from the title of a poem by the Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad. It presents over 230 photographs and eight video installations, curated by Ed Schad. The images take us to ancient cultures that include not only Persia’s ancient history and traditions but also to Morocco, Mexico, Egypt, and Azerbaijan, not as tourists, but as observers of displacement, alienation, and political oppression.

The exhibition inspired me to produce a short documentary as an homage to Shirin Neshat’s work.

¡SÍ, SE PUEDE! Women of Action in Architecture and in Politics

This short documentary, “¡Si Se Puede!” is dedicated to women of action on two subjects: architecture and politics. Unseemingly related the two disciplines follow a similar process: DREAM > PROGRAM > DESIGN > BUILD. Both crafts demand courage, imagination, and tenacity.

Dolores Huerta, 89.
Rick Meghiddo

The cry used as the title was conceived by Dolores Huerta (89) during the 1970s and has been since then the motto of the United Farm Workers of America. President Barak Obama adopted the English version “Yes, we can!” first during the 2004 Illinois Democratic primary race for US Senate. It became a slogan of his 2008 presidential campaign.

Dolores Huerta, neither an architect nor a politician – she has always been an American labor leader and civil rights activist – is chosen here as a symbol of a woman fighting for ideas.

Women-Architects and Women-Politicians

The first two Democratic debates of twenty candidates running for President included six women: Senators Elizabeth Warren, MA; Kamala Harris, CA; Kirsten Gillibrand, NY; Amy Klobuchar MN; Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and Self-help author, Mariane Williamson. Their platforms have many overlapping, similar subjects. From all these, the most related to architecture are sustainability, the environment, infrastructure, education, affordable housing, and food production.
Included are also Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, NY, who won her nomination to the Congress at the age of twenty-nine, and Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, the first woman to hold the office. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposed Green New Deal is likely to influence political decision-making in the foreseeable future. Anne Hidalgo’s major part of her development program is the improvement of the environment. The infrastructure development plan also includes a 24-hour subway service, a ban on parking in certain areas and days, and the creation of new green areas, including urban farming.
The women-architects presented in the documentary come from different countries – Canada, Irak, Poland, Israel, Mexico, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, the UK, and the US – and they have built, besides their countries of residence, in Bangladesh, China, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinean West Bank, and New Zealand.
There is a gap between the politicians and the architects on the broadness of worldview. While most of the politicians look widely at climate change, their vision on the physical implications of some of their subjects is limited to what is known. Architects, by training, learn to think globally and in multiple layers of complexity, and only then they work on the details. They use not only logical thinking but also lateral thinking, which implies infinite possibilities.
Besides Zaha Hadid, who died in 2016 at the age of sixty-five, the most innovative of the women architects brought here is Elizabeth Diller, a Partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Her works include the High Line in New York and The Broad in Los Angeles. The Shed, currently under construction at the northern end of the High Line, is scheduled for completion in 2019. When completed, it is likely to become a revolutionary new icon of multi-use architecture. The $500m Center for the Performing Arts will house a vast transformable space and a big open piazza able to be covered by the extension of the movable outer shell, clad with an inflatable skin of quilted pneumatic cushions.
The Chicago skyline would not be the same without American architect Jeanne Gang. Aqua, the unique skyscraper that has become well-known for its wavy facade, is the third tallest building in the world designed by a woman. Most recently, she was named to the TIME 100 most influential people of 2019.
Also significant is the use of bamboo as a building material in the works of Anna Heringer in China and of Elora Hardy in Bali. Bamboo, an eco-friendly construction material, is one of the fastest-growing plants in the world.
Another architect to follow is Benedetta Tagliabue. In 1991 she founded the studio Miralles Tagliabue EMBT with Enric Miralles (1955-2000.) Her works include the Scottish Parliament in Edinburg, The Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona, and the Spanish Pavilion in Shanghai, shown here.

Architects can take initiatives without waiting for a commission, but, in the final event, moving from paper-architecture to built-buildings requires other decision-makers: clients, city authorities, bankers, the community. The role of politicians is critical when the decisions needed are related to the urban environment, housing, and public institutions.

Politicians may – and should – dream big, yet moving from dreams to legislation to implementation demands, to a great extent, relaying on imaginative architects, who should possess, besides their skills, high moral standards.

A Personal Note

Influential women occupied a dominant place in my life. My mother, Fanny Frenkel de Maghidovich, was a strong presence not only at home but also publicly. As Secretary-General of Argentina’s WIZO (Women International Zionist Organization,) she influenced thousands of listeners with her rhetoric in impeccable Spanish.
I grew up surrounded by loving aunts. From these, my aunt “Chichi,” Dr. Marta Luz Frenkel, is an attorney still going to work every day at ninety-four. She is more “a big sister” than an aunt, and I rely on her judgment. I was also blessed by women-teachers of Spanish, English, and Math and I befriended some extraordinary women: Nancy Reeves, a pioneering feminist; Irena Kovaliska and Ilana Offer, committed artists; Sylvia Manheim, a political activist still fighting for human rights at ninety-four. The list goes on and on.
Last but not least, are my wife Ruth, also a partner as an architect, and our daughter Gabby, who, after practicing psychiatry, is still looking for new challenges. They both make a dent on my daily decision-making.