By Paula Loomis, FAIA
Why Architecture Matters, Lessons from Chicago by Blair Kamin.
My book selection for this edition of the APC newsletter is “Why Architecture Matters” by Pulitzer Prize winner Blair Kamin. Kamin’s book makes the case for why good architecture, urban planning and the development of infrastructure in general is important for society He argues that “architecture is the inescapable art”. A painting or sculpture can be ignored, but we cannot live without the built environment. Architecture is not a frill. It reflects our value and vision. It shapes everything we do. Nationwide the battle to show that architecture and the built environment matter is ongoing.
There are two events current events that make the selection of this book relevant. First, on November 29th and 30th the American Institute of Architects President, Russ Davidson, will be hosting an event called Build America Summit in New York City. The event will highlight the impact that public buildings and spaces such as schools, libraries, city halls, ballfields, town squares and fire stations have on the local community and why it is important to invest in those public facilities. Russ makes the point that the engineers have a “utility report card” that highlights the improvements need in the U.S.’s infrastructure and that the public buildings supported by that infrastructure are just as important. Kamin’s book makes this same argument when it talks about Daley Plaza and Comiskey Park. America Builds will include presentations by former Mayor Guiliani and public architects, such as David Trevino (2016 PAAG Chair) from Dallas. Tickets are free, so if you will be in the NYC area, please attend (see the AIA website). Also be sure to advocate for quality public architecture and its funding.
Second, Kamin is the architectural critic for the Chicago Tribune. His book advocates for architects, planners, writers and citizens to be involved in “stopping hideous buildings and urban spaces” and advocating for constructive alternatives. Kamin is one of the critics that goes “toe-to-toe” with developers. Those rebukes did not stop his criticism nor his praise (both when appropriate). I admire Kamin for his steadfastness and encourage us to participate in constructive architectural/built environment criticism.
So enjoy the read. It’s a little heady, but a nice run-up to America Builds and the election.
My second book is a departure from my first recommendation. I picked up “Ayn Rand and the World She Made” in a DC Friends of the Library store to learn more about the “Fountainhead” author. I did not realize how many of Rand’s books, such as “Atlas Shrugged”, “The Virtue of Selfishness” and “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal”, concentrated on economic and social theories and ideals. Even if I don’t agree with her Objectivist ideals it was interesting to see how they manifested themselves in her work. (She wears a large dollar sign pin on the cover of the book - I should have known).
I also found Rand’s social network fascinating. Throughout her years she maintained a band of students/twenty-somethings that would philosophize with her into the wee hours of the morning and help review her work. Interestingly Alan Greenspan, the current Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, was part of her group and even attended her funeral in 1982. It is interesting to look at his current policies and ideas to compare them to Rand’s. He was described in the book as “one of the more aloof” members of the group who more openly criticized her ideals than others. Perhaps he socialized with Rand’s group more to develop his own philosophy than to support the development of hers.
Enjoy this fascinating read that brings together architecture, economic and social ideals as well as (yes, you guessed it) scandal.
Blue Sky Report from the National AIA Strategic Council
Lastly, I would recommend that folks take a look at the Design Intelligence Foresight Report. I have spent the last year on the Strategic Council in a group called the “Next Big Thing”. This groups has been trying to guess what will be the next big things in the world, in the U.S., in the built environment and especially for architects. There are other groups that are trying to guess what will be the “next big thing” in the world. This pamphlet is important because it narrowed down all those items to reveal what will be important for the built environment and architects. Take a look at the pamphlet and see what will be important to you and your organization and how you might fit in to the “next big thing”.
Paula Loomis, PhD, FAIA, FSAME, LEED BD&C is the 2006 past chair of the Public Architects Advisory Group and has over 37 years in federal service with the US Coast Guard, Air Force, Army, Navy and General Services Administration. She currently serves as Executive Director for Shore Infrastructure Logistics Center at the US Coast Guard. Paula was the Sustainability Program Manager for the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), providing sustainability policy, technical assistance and training to USACE engineering and construction worldwide. She was the Command Architect for Air Combat Command and Deputy in the Air Force’s Base Transition Office for BRAC 2005. In the U.S. Air Force Reserves, Colonel Loomis was the Senior Reservist at the Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment in San Antonio, Texas. In the private sector, she started the EDAW Virginia Beach office, taught architecture at Hampton University and research in the built environment at Stevens Institute of Technology. In addition to AIA, she is a Life Member of the Society of American Military Engineers and serves on their National Board. She served on the selection committee for the AIA College of Fellows from 2008-2011, the AIA National Board and Strategic Council.
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