Maurice Cox is the planning director of Detroit, Michigan, and the recipient of this year's Tau Sigma Delta Gold Medal. He was just interviewed by critic Blair Kamin at the opening plenary session of the 105th annual conference of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture in Detroit. Kamin's picture show ended with aerial views of Detroit and Toronto. Cox looks to Toronto for inspiration. Build from strength. Cities are composed of neighborhoods, or cities within cities. Transit-oriented development. Varying scales. Building the connections. After listening to Cox's inspirational and aspirational comments, a Detroit more like Toronto seemed reasonable. Different but rich nonetheless.
(Detroit photo by Alex S. MacLean for the New York Times)
Some years ago, I read Greg Grandin's book on Fordlandia, the company town and rubber plantation developed by Henry Ford in the Amazon. Ford wanted a midwestern utopia where the workers didn't drink and there were cement sidewalks, where Ford Motor Company could get the rubber it needed. Fordlandia was not a great success for a variety of reasons. Utopian attempts are nonetheless interesting. I was reminded of Fordlandia by a recent article in The New York Times by Simon Romero: Deep in Brazil's Amazon, exploring the ruins of Ford's Fantasyland.
(Bryan Denton for the New York Times)
It wasn't the first time today that I read something about attempts to build in relatively inhospitable climes and not use the local and native methods. I was indexing the December 2016 issue of Metropolis and there was an essay by Lola Sheppard and Mason White based on their forthcoming book Many Norths: building in a shifting territory (Actar, 2017). "The growing cities of the Canadian Arctic are contending with decades-old planning mistakes that ignored indigenous settlement patterns and building knowledge." I was surprised to read that "Canada's North is home to the fastest-growing population in the country, with more than 115,000 people living in small, dispersed, and isolated communities." Ralph Erskine and others designed megastructures and microclimate bubbles while the Inuits preferred to build near the shore for proximity to fishing and hunting sites. The Inuits also avoided wind screens because the wind helped clear the snow and wind screens result in drifts. (Tonight and tomorrow, we may get up to 15-18 inches of snow. I wonder if it will drift.)
P.S. A few days later, the New York Times published a review of "Architecture of Independence--African Modernism" at the Center for Architecture in New York City. The exhibition started at the Vitra Design Museum, the "640-page doorstop" catalog was published then. The author of the review, Justin Farago, mentions the small size of the Iwan Baan and Alexia Webster photographs in the show. It is, after all, the 50th anniversary of Complexity and contradiction in architecture, by Robert Venturi, famously illustrated with small images.