Alexandra Lange | Essays

Reading in Public

Four enterprising 2011 graduates of D-Crit have started a design communications consultancy called Superscript, and have decided to launch in a both public and critical way: with the Architecture and Design Book Club (ADBC). It meets next Thursday, August 18 at 6:30 p.m. on the High Line, where they've asked me to guest host the first edition on William H. Whyte's classic 1980 text The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Future texts and locations, including some fiction, TBA.

Now that Phase 2 is open, the High Line hardly seems, in geography or reputation, like a small urban space, but as I hope we'll discuss next Thursday, I think it is the biggest small space a designer could imagine. All the insights in Whyte's book: the importance of sittable space, people's preference for standing in (pedestrian) traffic, the uses of art and food as conversation starters (the original definition of triangulation), are on prominent display along the High Line. Since we'll be right there, I hope we can identify some of the failures as well as the successes of the park's design from a social point of view.

The book is well worth buying, but if you don't feel like it, xeroxes of a few key chapters will be distributed at the club meeting.Snippets of the videos from Whyte's multi-year research project are also available on Vimeo.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of the inspirations for the club, critic Christopher Hawthorne's yearlong Reading L.A. project for the Los Angeles Times. It is the kind of idea that is perfect for the blog form, and so obvious as to make you smack your head. Here's his up-to-date take on Mike Davis's City of Quartz, which makes a good pair with Alissa Walker's account of the L.A. Urban Rangers' Bonaventure Adventure. Let's hope the new New York Times critic, about whom the New York Observer writes this week, will have some as-good ideas about how to draw more people into reading about, looking at and commenting on the city.

Posted in: Architecture, History, Media, Social Good

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