Tag Archive: Urban Design

Why I am a Whinger

laide, moche, laide moche moche laide (belle). Photo © 2011 Alan Miller.
My reaction to the release of what Infrastructure NSW calls a 20 Year State Infrastructure Strategy was what I am going to call an epiphany. It was almost nothing, certainly born as much out of laziness as principle, more the morbid blue glow of the florescent lights in Sydney’s new made in China train carriages than an incandescent halo centered over the head. To decide ‘I shall have a cheese sandwich for lunch’ would be both more useful and more profound than my realization that I can’t, or won’t, or don’t want to write about Sydney’s boring and intransigent problems anymore.

Some Paris Parks (English Version)

Les arbres rectilignes, mid-February. Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

Writing about parks is more fun than writing about buildings. Parks are unpredictable, not so harnessed to the auteur system as buildings. The designer of a park is never so powerful as nature, who always has her say at the drawing board. Many building are most beautiful on the day they are finished but a brand new park, as Ronald Reagan said of the USA, has its best days ahead of it. Depending on how well they are built, buildings deteriorate or age while parks grow like living creatures from one day to the next and across the seasons. I would bet that many city-dwellers’ happiest memories take place in parks. They seem to be the most, and perhaps the last, mirthful places left in today’s cities. Rather than the ritualized coffee-drinking and passeggiate of the piazza, parks encourage an amplitude of movement and feeling. Down at the park a runner might push himself to exhaustion, a picnicker might scrub time watching an ant abscond with a crumb. Beyond their ecological benefits, parks are essential to our own well-being, our dignity even. In a park, as in a library, everyone is rich.

Quelques parcs parisiens (version française)

Les arbres rectilignes, mid-February. Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

Les parcs m’intéressent plus que les bâtiments. Les parcs sont imprévisibles, ils évitent la politique des auteurs qui entravent l’architecture. L’auteur d’un parc n’est jamais plus puissant que la nature qui a toujours son mot à dire à travers les ans et les saisons. Les parcs viellissent un peu comme les êtres vivants. Un bâtiment est souvent plus beau le jour de son achèvement alors que un parc flambant neuf a ses meilleures années à venir, comme Ronald Reagan a dit à propos des États-Unis. Je ne seriais pas surpris si la plupart des meilleurs souvenirs des citoyens se passent dans les parcs. Ils semblent quelquefois les plus joyeux endroits de nos villes—et peut-être les derniers. Les parcs encouragent une ampleur de sentiment qu’on ne retrouve que rarement dans les rues. Dans le parc un coureur peut pousser son corps au maximum lorsque un pique-niqueur passe la journée en regardant les fourmis volant les miettes de pain. Dans le parc, tout le monde est riche.

Opera Houses in the City, Part II: The Opéra Bastille (English Version)

L'Opéra Bastille. Photo © Alan Miller 2012.

What does it matter what you say about buildings? Is it possible to be fascinated by a building without thinking it very good, or even without knowing whether it is good or not? I’m not talking about the architectural equivalent of a guilty pleasure, a treat which would have to be triple-Z grade  lousy indeed to cause genuine shame in a time in which you can watch Plan 9 from Outer Space at the Cinemathèque Française. I’m talking of course about the Opéra Bastille, a building which this sentence will not even attempt to sum up.

Les opéras en contexte, deuxième partie: l’Opéra Bastille (version française)

L'Opéra Bastille. Photo © Alan Miller 2012.

What does it matter what you say about buildings? Est-ce qu’il existent des bâtiments mauvais ou médiocres qui nous fascinent quand-même?  Je ne parle pas des “guilty pleasures,” une tendance devenue si quotidienne qu’on peut voir Plan 9 from Outer Space à la Cinémathèque Française. Je parle, bien sûr, de l’Opéra Bastille, une édifice qui résiste à chaque tentative de la décrire ainsi.


Opera Houses in the City, Part I: The Palais Garnier (English Version)

Un paon au parc de Bagatelle. Photo © Alan Miller 2012.

Imagine a peacock at the Paris Opéra. Having taken the Métro eastwards from his digs in the heavenly Parc de Bagatelle, he passes the intermission munching an eight euro canapé. As we stare at the cultured bird, we find his feathers blurring into the architecture. Does the peacock, we wonder, prove that ornament is hard-wired into nature? This is not a “modernist” bird, a bird with clean lines and sharp edges like an Australian King Parrot. Like the Garnier, the patterns of the peacock’s plumage are subtle and layered, they seem to curl in on themselves until, through modern eyes, it is difficult to read in the ornament anything but beauty itself. This is a particular kind of beauty, one which provokes émerveillement rather than analysis.

Les opéras dans la ville, première partie: le Palais Garnier (version française)

Un paon au parc de Bagatelle. Photo © Alan Miller 2012.

Imaginez un paon à l’Opéra de Paris. Après avoir emprunté le Métro de son nid au parc Bagatelle, il passe l’entr’acte en mangeant un canapé de huit euros. Lorsque nous regardons cet oiseau cultivé, ses plumes commencent à se mêler avec l’architecture de Charles Garnier. Le paon est-il la preuve que l’ornement vient de la nature? Certes, il n’est pas un oiseau “moderniste,” ses couleurs ne sont pas aussi nettes, aussi précises que, par exemple, le perroquet roi d’Australie. Son plumage est comme le Palais Garnier, subtil, dépendant des effets de la lumière et son grain, autant que de la couleur. Pour nous dans le monde contemporain, les bâtiments si ornés sont quelquefois difficile à lire. Cette architecture d’autrefois excite les sentiments flous, l’émerveillement plutôt que l’analyse.

The Skin of this Onion is Delicious: Learning from Rue Rebière (English Version)

Logements (Raphaëlle Hondelatte & Mathieu Laporte), rue Rebière, Paris. Photo © 2012 Alan Miller.

If Paris is a city shaped like an onion, formed of concentric rings as fortifications have been demolished and extended, then the site of the new îlot expérimental on Rue Rebière in the 17th arrondissement is the thin membrane just beneath the outer skin. The site is 620 meters long and only 12.6 meters wide, wedged between the Cimetière des Batignolles and the rue itself, which is what one might call a quiet street, or perhaps one too shy or cranky to admit cross-streets. Beyond the cemetery the Périphérique roars along a viaduct while on the other side of the street stands the rather impassive Lycée Balzac, not awful, not particularly inviting. It’s exactly the sort of unlovely site a young architect ought to love, particularly for housing, particularly for the social housing which has now been built here.

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