Monday, May 28, 2012

zoë's cats

Zoë's Cats on Amazon
Zoe's Cats cover
Cats from her rural setting in Cornwall illustrate and provide narrative in Zoë Stokes' book of exquisitely detailed, full-colour, mostly realistic felines. You can leave Zoë's Cats on a table or nearby shelf, pick it up, read a paragraph or two, enjoy a cat view, and find yourself ready to return to mundane tasks. You might want to buy this book as a gift for yourself or a cat lover; the recipient will not be disappointed in the least!

my amazon review: lovely gift

Sunday, May 27, 2012

paul rand: thoughts on design

Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand

thoughts on design
If ever there lived an iconic designer/illustrator, it was the late Paul Rand (1914-1996). In this now 4-decades old treasure of a book, Rand exegetes, illustrates, and explains symbol and word. But is word not symbol in itself and is symbol not a kind of speech?

In less than 100 pages you can read about beauty and utility, humor, typography, and imagination. In contrast to fine art, design has a function, typically as a solution for a problem or concern; graphic, photographic, and typographic design is most familiar to consumers as a modality for presenting a product, event or idea. We live amongst many varieties of architectural, industrial and "other" types of design, as well.

This simply modest yet elegant paperback is packed full of actual illustrations of mostly advertising design solutions accompanied by the "how to" and "why to" involved. You know IBM, UPS, and Westinghouse? Paul Rand designed those logos and campaigns and in the half century since they first impacted the public, Rand's style and philosophy has influenced literally countless others. Thoughts on Design is a "don't miss it" if you can find it and afford it.

Paul Rand online

my amazon review: a jewel, a keepsake

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Exploding Metropolis

The Exploding Metropolis on Amazon—there are several versions; most likely you can buy one very inexpensively.

exploding metropolis coverI'm blogging and reviewing the original © 1958 that has been in my library close to forever but I'm posting my review with the 1993 revision.

A group of "Editors of Fortune" magazine at the time, William H. Whyte, Jane Jacobs, Francis Bello, Seymour Freedgood, and Daniel Seligman considered essential elements of urban design and pondered their effects on city dwellers and urban workers. The book's working definition of city simply is the area within the city limits (viii); almost needless to say, "metropolis" indicates the functional and statistical area or areas geographically beyond yet contiguous to the named incorporated entity.

Exploding sounds like unanticipated, sudden, randomness; if the authors knew they'd seen a lot of that from the mid-20th century up to the time they put this book together, they hadn't seen anything yet, though each of them accurately describes the unexpected, often distressingly unattractive results of urban growth and sprawl—even in some cases of planned change and development. In terms of explosive, the schematic "classic case of sprawl" (on page 119) in Santa Clara County, California from 1945 to 1956 is instructive.

Chapter topics of Are Cities Un-American?; The City and the Car; New Strength in City Hall; The Enduring Slums; Urban Sprawl; and Downtown Is for People add up to Urban Studies 101 as the authors explore existing infrastructural and superstructural configurations in a dozen established USA population centers (along with a couple of references to Toronto, Ontario, Canada), assess ideas in progress and process, and propose future arrangements that might work in terms of "how to live in cities," the central thesis of The Exploding Metropolis.

exploding metropolis backThis book now is more than a half-century old, but ever since humans began moving from hunter-gathering into settlements, they've had to figure out the best relationships between living space and working space and the most convenient ways to get back and forth from one to the other; planning and implementing the most pleasing, amenable, visual layouts alongside the practical became close to essential.

Jane Jacobs especially emphasizes "working streets," and advises us to walk, walk, walk, in order to feel and learn how the city all comes together.

Whether discussing clearing and developing land, rehabilitating and rebuilding on an existing site, different styles of city government, housing authorities, port authorities, water works or watersheds, every one of the contributors comes back to human scale and human functionality again and again, making The Exploding Metropolis both basic and classic.

my amazon review: Urban Studies 101

Thursday, May 03, 2012

the Image of the City

The Image of the City. Kevin Lynch, Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies, © 1960

image of the city book coverThe Legible City—a city you can read! As an iconographer writes rather than draws or paints an icon, a city comprised of colors, shapes, motion, and light can be viewed, read, and interpreted as an environmental image. The picture includes identity (what is it?), structure (space, shape, pattern relation and discrimination), and meaning (emotional, psychological, historical values) from the observer's own experiences. Each image derives from here and now; the city "image also is soaked in memories and meanings." [page 1] And, of course, there's not a single public image of any city, but a series of overlapping and interrelated ones.

From author Kevin Lynch: "This book is about the look of cities, and whether this look is of any importance, and whether it can be changed." This book is "a first word not a last word…" it's "at once tentative and presumptuous." The research method consisted of relatively objective systemic field reconnaissance and relatively subjective interviews with a small sample of mostly professional and managerial city residents. Citizens interviewed in Chapter 2, "Three cities," were exceedingly small samples: 30 in Boston, 15 each in Jersey City and Los Angeles, so these are not necessarily commonly held public images of those cities.

Kevin Lynch and his colleague Gyorgy Kepes researched and wrote this book during the 1950s; since then we've moved from Metropolitan Statistical Areas to a string of Megalopoleis (I found 3 possibilities for the plural of megalopolis and chose this one). At least two Boston features in the book no longer exist: Scollay Square, superseded by Government Center that includes City Hall of still controversial love it or hate it (I adore it) architectural design, and the Central Artery, replaced by the most expensive public works project in history: The Big Dig. But you will find physical structures of paths, edges, nodes, districts, and landmarks in any human population center larger than a village, so they're not necessarily an urban distinctive. "Districts are structured with nodes, defined by edges, penetrated by paths, and sprinkled with landmarks." [pages 48-49]

The five chapters include:

• The Images of the Environment

• Three Cities—Boston, Jersey City, Los Angeles. In each case, studies came from a small central area of 2.5 x 1.5 miles.

• The City Image and Its Elements

• City Form

• A New Scale

Appendices are sufficient to make another short book:

• Some References to Orientation

• The Use of the Method

• Two Examples of Analysis [Beacon Hill and (the late) Scollay Square, Boston]. There's also a bibliography and index. Margins throughout the book include many many line drawings and there are quite a few Black and White photographs.

In terms of future cities The Image of the City might influence, "We have an opportunity of forming our new city world into an imageable landscape: visible, coherent, and clear." By definition a city is multi-purpose with mixed functions yet with "fundamental functions of which the city forms may be expressive: circulation, major land-uses, key focal points. [pages 9-92] The common hopes and pleasures, the sense of community may be made flesh. Above all, if the environment is visibly organized and sharply identified… it will become a true place, remarkable and unmistakable."

As a handbook about present and about possibilities, "what we seek is not a final but an open-ended order, capable of continuous further developments" [page 8] The Image of the City "is about the look of cities, and whether this look is of any importance, and whether it can be changed," but appearance is an immeasurably critical part of the infrastructure that supports all the activities of the urban enterprise, the work, play, school, and home lives of the city's citizens. A city's physical appearance and the emotional responses that arise from it can be the reason someone wants to move there or the reason they long to leave. "The map, whether exact or not, must be good enough to get one home." [page 9]

Close to the end Kevin Lynch reminds us of Susanne Langer and gives us her definition of architecture: "the total environment made visible." Remember Langer's Philosophy in a New Key where she writes about our human need for symbols and our need to symbolize, to invent and invest meanings in objects, our environments, our activities, and our world?

These are shapes, spaces, and vistas that will – or won't – attract new artistic, educational, and commercial enterprises; no wonder this book is a classic! Kevin Lynch's prose is dryer than I'd prefer, but it is what it is, and if someone doesn't write like a poet, they don't. I'll give The Image of the City a high recommend to read and to read again.

my amazon review: the legible city