The Best New Yorker Articles on Buildings, Cities, and Landscapes (and a Few from Places Journal)
Last week The New Yorker, celebrating its redesign, opened the doors to part of its archive and let the internet walk in for free. That's good timing for Places readers; as you may have noticed, we're on a brief hiatus. Below, we've rounded up some New Yorker articles you can read while their paywall is down.
That should tide you over until September, when Places will return to publishing new work. After five valuable years in partnership with Design Observer, we're deepening our commitment to public scholarship and critical journalism by launching a new, independent website at www.placesjournal.org.
Here at Places we have ambitions to be The New Yorker of the built environment. The journal where you find rigorous, accessible writing on architecture, landscape, and urbanism that stands the test of time.
So we hope you'll delve into our archive, too. The old site is live while we remodel. Start with Kristi Dykema's “Scale of Nature,” on the Mississippi River Basin Model (an essay which The New Yorker's own John McPhee called 'absorbing'). Read Jerry Herron on Detroit, Daniel Brook on Shanghai, Richard Powers on Berlin, Keller Easterling on extrastatecraft, Shannon Mattern on infrastructural tourism. Read Barbara Penner on toilets, Keith Eggener on evil buildings, Reinhold Martin on real estate, Naomi Stead on child's play, Sandy Isenstadt on beauty, Gabrielle Esperdy on metadata, Simon Sadler on the magical thinking of TED talks. Read D.J. Waldie on Los Angeles, Richard Campanella on New Orleans, David Heymann on sex — er, we mean landscape. There's hundreds more where those came from, and hundreds more to come.
Our articles will never be behind a paywall, thanks to the generosity of academic partners, foundations, and corporate and individual donors who support a vital discursive culture on design.
Our big mission is to harness the moral and investigative power of public scholarship to promote equitable cities and sustainable landscapes. We publish designers, artists, and thinkers who are responding to the profound ecological and social challenges of our time. Cities that are growing and cities that are shrinking, climate change, environmental health and equity, resource scarcity, technological change — all demand that we rethink how we plan, design, construct, and maintain the built environment. These challenges also demand that serious design journalism and scholarship move from the margins to the center of the larger cultural discussion.
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Then get back to The New Yorker block party. If you're looking to load up on summer reading, here is some of the best writing on buildings, cities, and landscapes that we've found.
See you in September.
— The Editors, Places Journal
From The New Yorker
Get Out of Town, by Nicholas Lemann
“Cities, like children, bear such a heavy load of projection that their real character can be hard to see. Depending on the tenor of the moment, they can appear bleak, filthy, dangerous, and inhumane, or gloriously sophisticated, varied, and exciting. These days, cities so dominate the world that you can use them to demonstrate any truth you choose.” (06.27.11)
The Island in the Wind, by Elizabeth Kolbert
“Jørgen Tranberg is a farmer who lives on the Danish island of Samsø... When I arrived at his house, one gray morning this spring, he was sitting in his kitchen, smoking a cigarette and watching grainy images on a black-and-white TV. The images turned out to be closed-circuit shots from his barn. One of his cows, he told me, was about to give birth, and he was keeping an eye on her. We talked for a few minutes, and then, laughing, he asked me if I wanted to climb his wind turbine. I was pretty sure I didn’t, but I said yes anyway.” (07.07.08)
A Sense of Place, by Calvin Tomkins
“The American civil-rights movement was critical to the way the independence movement happened in Africa, and I think this building could provide a model to Africa about the complexity of history. Things often come at the time they’re meant to come, even if they seem late.” (09.23.13)
The Civilization Kit, by Emily Eakin
“Marcin Jakubowski, the owner of a small farm in northwestern Missouri, is an agrarian romantic for high-tech times.... He has spent the past five years building industrial machines from scratch, in a demonstration of radical self-sufficiency that he intends as a model for human society everywhere.” (12.23.13)
Auto Correct, by Burkhard Bilger
“Four-way stops were a good example. Most drivers don’t just sit and wait their turn. They nose into the intersection, nudging ahead while the previous car is still passing through. The Google car didn’t do that. Being a law-abiding robot, it waited until the crossing was completely clear — and promptly lost its place in line.” (11.25.13)
Hidden City, by Ian Frazier
“Everybody has documents, but the homeless must keep theirs always close by.” (10.28.13)
Life at the Top, by Adam Higginbotham
“Window washing at the Empire State Building is scheduled floor by floor, and never stops. ‘We have a regular routine — we start from the top, and go to the bottom,’ Zeibig said. ‘And, as a reward, we get to go to the top and start again.’” (02.04.13)
The Psychology of Space, by David Owen
“The home of the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet, in Oslo, resembles a glacier that’s calving great wedges of glass and white marble, and at night its windows, which are huge, project sheets of amber light onto the Oslo Fjord. Yet the Opera’s main impact, since its opening, in 2008, has been civic rather than aesthetic.” (01.21.13)
A Life-Altering Sock Drawer, by Deborah Copaken Kogan
“I opened Richard Rogers’s sock drawer and started to cry.... Everything I’d ever admired about the Pompidou was sitting right there in that drawer.” (11.08.12)
High Rise, by Ian Parker
“Some contemporary architects are like tailors working on the perfect modern version of a bespoke suit; Ingels hopes to invent fabrics that launder themselves.” (09.10.12)
Green Giant, by Evan Osnos
“If China’s emissions keep climbing as they have for the past thirty years, the country will emit more of those gases in the next thirty years than the United States has in its entire history. So the question is no longer whether China is equipped to play a role in combatting climate change but how that role will affect other countries.” (12.21.09)
Ponzi State, by George Packer
“Driving around Florida’s ghost subdivisions, you feel not just that their influence is waning but that they are physically hollowing out. In a place like Lehigh Acres, near Fort Myers, where half the driveways are sprouting weeds, and where garbage piles up in the bushes along the outer streets, it’s already possible to see the slums of the future.” (02.09.09)
Up and Then Down, by Nick Paumgarten
“The Otis test tower rises twenty-eight stories above an office park, at the base of a wooded ridge. It’s the only tall building for miles around. Its hazy-day gray color and near-windowlessness suggest a top-secret military installation, a bat tower, or the monolith from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ In one way, it’s the most over-elevatored building in the world; all it is, really, is elevators — twelve test hoistways, plus a regular elevator. That one gets busy.” (04.21.08)