Bitter Pill to swallow

Designed environments which are thought out, formalized, and complete are usually ‘lifeless’ and unapproachable because (a) they do not invite interaction and modification to suit immediate human needs; (b) they are unable to develop and become extended through human use. (…) Oddly enough, many environments which ‘work’ well for people meet few, if any,aesthetic criteria ordinarily employed by designers. (…)

George Rand, quoted in Lawrence Halprin, New York, New York (1968)

For most designers this was a bitter pill to swallow. (…) We do not seem to be able to structure the process of change. On one hand we need citizen participation; on the other the magnitude of he physical needs of rebuilding are enormous.

Lawrence Halprin, New York, New York (1968)

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Florian Rivière, Hacktivist Dublin (2012)

Bitter Pill to swallow

Industrial Sublime

At Gas Works Park, the industrial works and the waste burial mound were transfigured through site design into aesthetic objects. This was achieved, first, through masking their presence with a thick, green wall separating the parking lot from the park, and then through juxtaposing silhouetted towers in the foreground with the city in the distant background. These objects were made heroic by their isolation and lack of of functional context. They evoked the technological sublime awe of our ability both to control nuture, space, and time through technology and to create magnificent forms clearly expressive of that control.

Elizabeth K. Meyer, Seized by Sublime Sentiments (1998)


seattle-gas-works-park-1gasworks1 img_6675img_0793_edited-1 Haag; GasWorks Park; Seattle; WA courtesy Richard Haag Associate 10006585213_ca15f16aab_z Richard Haag, Gas Works Park (1972)

Industrial Sublime


The List:

To roll, to crease, to fold, to store, to bend, to shorten, to twist,

to dapple, to crumple, to shave, to tear, to chip, to split, to cut,

to sever, to drop, to remove, to simplify, to differ, to disarrange,

to open, to mix, to splash, to knot, to spell, to droop, to flow,

to curve, to lift, to inlay, to impress, to fire, to flood, to smear,

to rotate, to swirl, to support, to hook, to suspend, to spread,

to hang, to collect –

of tension, of gravity, of entropy, of nature, of grouping,

of layering, of felting –

to grasp, to tighten, to bundle, to heap, to gather, to scatter,

to arrange, to repair, to discard, to pair, to distribute, to surfeit,

to complement, to enclose, to surround, to encircle, to hide,

to cover, to wrap, to dig, to tie, to bind, to weave, to join,

to match to laminate, to bond, to hinge, to mark, to expand,

to dilute, to light, to modulate, to distill –

of waves, of electromagnetism, of inertia, of ionization,

of polarization, of refraction, of simultaneity, of tides, of reflection,

of equilibrium, of symmetry, of friction –

to stretch, to bounce, to ease, to spray, to systematize,

to refer, to force –

of mapping, of location, of context, of time, of carbonization –

to continue.

The “Verb list” established a logic whereby the process that constituted a sculpture remains transparent. Anyone can reconstruct the process of the making by viewing the residue.

The sculptures resulting from the “Verb list” introduced two aspects of time: the condensed time of their making and the durational time of their viewing.

Both tasks and materials were ordinary. I was tearing lead in place, lifting rubber in place, rolling and propping lead sheets, and melting lead and splashing it against the juncture between wall and floor. The activities were experimental and playful. It wasn’t the question of how to accomplish this or that, nor was it the question of making it up as I went along: it was rather a free-floating combination of both.

I cannot overemphasize the need for play, for in play you don’t extract yourself from your activity. In order to invent I felt it necessary to make art a practice of affirmative play or conceptual experimentation. The ambiguity of play and its transitional character provides suspension of belief whereby a shift in direction is possible when faced with a complexity that you don’t understand. Free from skepticism, play relinquishes control. Play allows one to accept discontinuities and continuities; it also allows one to happen upon solutions or invent them. However, even in play the task must be carried out with conviction. It’s how we do what we do that confers meaning on what we have done.

b6b46091bd255cca12de0715ea943f5f-2 tumblr_m3nrdoOxW61rpri2zo2_1280Richard-Serra-Tilted-Arc-4  tilted-arc Richard Serra, Tilted Arc (1981-1989)


Martha Schwartz, Jacob Javits Federal Building Plaza (1997-2011)


Michael Van Valkenburgh, Jacob Javits Federal Building Plaza (2013)


Natural Capital

The city is a landscape; its soils and geology define its fundamental character. Our work and interests stem from understanding time and territory, the geology and wider landscape patterns, the river catchment with propositions for water sensitive urban design, the urban forest with how liveable the city is and how resilient the urban dweller feels. Our work ranges from strategic planning to forensic analysis of the below-ground condition, considering the soil’s biological complexity and its capacity for yield and absorption. Collaborations enable our practice to reach widely into the marginal territories that inform our work; the poetry and science of soils; the sound of geology; the value of shared grass roots knowledge; the biomimetics of spider sheet webs. Our profession concerns that which makes land a landscape, the people who inhabit it and the resilience of the environment and the individual that together create city communities in all their density and diversity. We seek an archaeological narrative and creative ways of how to stimulate the stewardship of the city’s natural capital.

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Johanna Gibbons + Muf Architecture – Art, Making Spaces in Dalston (2012)

Natural Capital


Our image of the landscape is the result of complex cultural interpretations. The relationship of our personal experience, based in our cultural milieu to the landscapes around us is often underestimated. This includes how we interpret something even as simple as a public park. Parks have undoubtedly communicated cultural, behavioral and political cues throughout history.  Sometimes didactic and sometimes unintentionally instructive about societal norms and preferences, parks are not always as neutral as they might appear. Curiously, parks are instruments of power that seem almost benign in the public realm – few question the creation of a new park.

The design and appearance of a park generally reflects its cultural and geographical position. At the municipal level, parks are furnished with standard “from the catalog” items, such as benches, bollards and trash cans, which vary from country to country, and from city to city. Even in parks that are initially completely custom designed, these standard elements creep in as time and use progress. it is easy to identify the location of some parks from their bits and pieces, such as those in New York City from their dark green wood-slat benches. In contrast to this common quality, Superkilen in Copenhagen looks nothing like any other park in Copenhagen,and for good reason.

Jessica Bridger, Culture Riot (2012)

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Topotek 1, Bjarke Ingels Group, Superflex, Superkilen (2012)



More recently (…), we could observe a new diagram of the human body in relation with its environment. The winning entry of the Phase Shift Park (Taichung) competition by Philippe Rahm architectes and Catherine Mosbach depicts indeed the body, not anymore by its anatomical dimensions but rather by its biological affections by the environment. Heat, humidity and pollution, as three factors having physiological consequences on the body, are mapped and exploited in the creation of the park proposition.

Léopold Lambert, A subversive approach to the ideal normalized body (2012)






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Catherine Mosbach, Phase Shift Taichung Park (2011)