While not totally within the genre this blog covers the Seattle Design Festival has more than a few events that STB readers would probably enjoy. Below are highlights from the festival:

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth


The story of the transformation of the American city in the decades after World War II is told through the lens of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing development and the St. Louis residents who called it home. Built in 1956, Pruitt-Igoe was heralded as the model public housing project of the future, “the poor man’s penthouse.” Two decades later, it ended in rubble – its razing an iconic event that the architectural theorist Charles Jencks famously called the death of modernism. The footage and images of its implosion have helped to perpetuate a myth of failure, a failure that has been used to critique Modernist architecture, attack public assistance programs, and stigmatize public housing residents. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth seeks to set the historical record straight by examining the interests involved in Pruitt-Igoe’s creation and re-evaluating the rumors and the stigma.

Transforming Seattle’s 520 Floating Bridge Design Ideas Competition Exhibit

Seattle’s 520 floating bridge will be decommissioned in 2014. What new, innovative reuse strategies might designers envision? This exhibit features winning proposals from a competition challenging designers to utilize the bridge in its current state or take the bridge apart and reuse its pontoons. It asks the questions: What is a floating bridge when its function is no longer needed? What can designers do when faced with the design problem of reusing thirty-three floating concrete pontoons?

Competition jurors included Robert Hull FAIA, Ev Ruffcorn FAIA, Shannon Nichol ASLA, Ellen Sollod, Mark Hinshaw FAIA, and Moderator Peter Steinbrueck FAIA.

South Lake Union: Extreme Makeover Walking tour

Witness the profound effect that money, green construction, adaptive reuse and streetcars can bring to a community.

This will be a “special edition” of the South Lake Union: Extreme Makeover tour that will include a brief preview (and a peek through the front doors) of the renovation of the Naval Reserve Armory Building into the new Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI), which will open to the public in late December. Sam M. Miller AIA, LMN Architects, will describe the origins of the project, the history of the armory building, and the design approach to the museum.

Tour begins in the new South Lake Union Park, in front of the Naval Reserve Building, and lasts approximately two hours. Advance ticket purchase is highly recommended; spaces are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. All tours are conducted rain or shine. Tour participants are responsible for their own personal safety. Most routes involve hills, stairs, escalators, and elevators. This tour is not recommended for children under age 12.

The Museum of History & Industry, one of the most widely used regional history resources in Washington State, is moving into the historic Naval Reserve Armory Building at South Lake Union. Among the Museum’s diverse holdings are an extensive collection of historic photographs, a large costume collection, and a far-ranging collection of objects representing life in the Northwest. The architectural design is exploring the adaptive reuse of the facility as well as changes to structural, mechanical, electrical, lighting and vertical transportation systems that are required to house the Museum’s exhibits and education programs. The program also includes a small cafe and retail shop.

Designing Cities / Seeding Cities / Rearing Cities

There is much conversation lately about how cities are evolving, and a lot of that conversation in the design world is deterministic in nature: “What should the end product look like?”

However, making cities is more like making people than like making cars. Cities are a product of genetic and environmental factors, and they change over time. Successful cities don’t have an “end product.” And successful cities are democratic, so by definition no one person designs the whole thing.

If the cities we end up with are actually a product of genetic and environmental factors (just like growing children), then perhaps our design focus should be less on the end product and more on thinking about cities as a design system.

This talk will explore the impact of zoning, financial structures, energy prices, entrepreneurialism, architects and artisanship on the emergent design of our cities.

What are the levers for change and how can individual people make a meaningful difference?

11 Replies to “Seattle Design Festival September 20th-23rd”

  1. “What should the end product look like?” is the wrong question. We must first ask what do we want our cities to DO, then we can go into how they look. Function must come first, then form. With all do respect to artists and visionaries, the urban planning community needs a healthy dose of engineering reality.

  2. Pruitt-Igoe is not a myth. I don’t know what the storyline of this movie is, but Pruitt-Igoe was not an isolated incident; the towers-in-the-park have been coming down all over the world, and the ideology that created it — not so much modernist architecture as modernist urban planning — has been utterly and rightfully discredited (though the Seattle City Council doesn’t appear to want to revive the corpse). Pruitt-Igoe was not one complex of buildings but part of a wave of anti-human planning that swept the post-war world. Every city in Europe is ringed with buildings like these, that the tourists never see, and they isolate and destroy the people who live in them. American cities are full of them too. I could give you a hundred examples; start with Les Pyramides estate outside of Paris, Red Road in Glasgow (demolished), Logan Towers (demolished) in Liverpool, and hundreds more in Sevilla, Torino, Toronto and New York.

    Not all of them are tall towers — Ocean Estate in Tower Hamlets, London is three or four stories. It’s also the heroin capital of Europe. It’s been slated for renovation for over a decade, but these problems are much easier to get into than out of.

    The problem in all of these examples is the complete and utter arrogance and ignorance of the “Brutalist” modern architects who designed them without even a cursory look at what the residents actually wanted or needed, or any kind of urban understanding at all. They in fact consist of deliberate ASSAULTS on the idea of the city; anyone who has seen pictures of the wastelands of urban renewal in Manchester or Liverpool or the Bronx knows that the damage done by the planners was much more devastating than that done by the Luftwaffe. Have a look at the movie “Charlie Bubbles” (Albert Finney and Liza Minnelli) if you don’t believe me.

    1. This kind of terrible design actually has worked, but mostly through sheer willpower of the residents. I stayed in a “tower in a park” style apartment(though these did at least have some retail at street level) in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Everyone seemed to bike everywhere, which made these a little less isolated. The bike paths were excellent.

      Of course, it would have been a much greater success if the designers had put in mixed-uses, designed for pedestrian and transit travel, etc. But bikes can bridge enough distance that the harm was reduced.

      1. Of course it can sometimes work.

        Look at the Upper East Side of Manhattan….however, those are people in the upper reaches of income. And also, the apartments they inhabit are tremendous.

        I visited a friend of a friend in one of them, and his “apartment” was the size of a 5 bedroom ranch home. I think there were only two or three apartments on a single floor. You’d get off the elevator and entered this tiny foyer and there were three doors off each direction!

    2. Le Corbusier was the granddaddy of that thinking.

      That the buildings, as social “machines” would transform society.

      Le Corbusier spoke of his building as “machines for living”: His critics have stressed the word “machine”; Le Corbusier stressed the “living”. He saw his approach as a way of using the “machine” – modern materials and engineering techniques – to free ordinary people from the airless, light-deficient, cramped, damp slums of the 19th century.


  3. Pruitt-Igoe was a failure for numerous reasons, architecture being only one of them. The main reason for failure was there wasn’t enough money to maintain them: The Federal Government paid for their construction costs but the city of St. Louis (via the Housing Authority) didn’t have enough money to maintain them. They also apparently overestimated demand so they were never fully rented out, exacerbating the maintenance funding problem. Finally, St. Louis was shrinking as people were fleeing the city to the safety of the suburbs, so the tax base eroded.

    Would they have still turned into an urban ghetto if there were sufficient maintenance funds? Probably. But I don’t blame the architecture. Hell, my college dorms looked exactly like these buildings – but they were well-maintained and had (relatively) wealthy college students as residents. That said, those students didn’t treat the dorms very well at all.

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