The Mississippi State architecture school asked Mapos to speak as the headliner of their NOMAS Symposium. The topic: emerging practices in architecture.

This gave us an opportunity to share our work of the (challenging) past three years through our passion for saying “YES.”

A good architectural education, like a good architect, is proficient in many things: design, technology, strategy, process, and most of all, the ability to communicate through various media. We draw. We make 3D models (virtual and physical). We also can write and talk. Create a narrative about the many things we do as architects. Design is increasingly being valued for its creative ability to approach and define complex issues – and to communicate it. We too often take for granted the extraordinary powers we have to create beauty and to reach people with new ideas that affect their lives in meaningful ways. It is humbling. It matters. Say YES to bridging and connecting and designing solutions in a world that desperately needs them.

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This past Sunday, the NYTimes Magazine ran a riveting story on the Parisian artist JR.

His medium is immense photographs wallpapered on walls, roofs, sidewalks, trucks, swimming pools – anything large, really – in surprising locations around the world.

His subject matter is the faces of the millions of people overlooked and displaced, disrespected and forgotten. His recent project, called “Women Are Heroes,” literally plastered the eyes of women from impoverished communities on surfaces around the world. Some images were in the same neighborhoods where these women lived. Others were displayed in well-to-do districts in Western Europe. All of them stare quietly yet forcefully. Be sure to check out the slideshow.

 

The latest edition of Green Source Magazine just arrived in the post. Check out a detailed review of the Green Depot store in the Case Study section. As the leading publication of  sustainable design and construction, Green Source is a great place to learn about what’s new in the world of progressive design and learn a bit about how Mapos works. If you can’t get your hands on the old fashion print version, check out the story online.

Be sure to check out the slide show, and the online video. Colin gives a riveting tour of the store, complete with his summer ‘stache.

My ever keen brother in Detroit recently alerted to me to a very interesting piece on his troubled and chagrined hometown. More a critique on the city’s media attention than on the city itself, VICE (and their broadband channel VBS.tv) takes aim at how this once-great-metropolis has fallen victim to shallow one-liners and easy-photo-essays on urban decline. I, for one, have pointed my camera at the adundant decay and posted the images for display, and can’t help but feel a bit sheepish about partaking in this “misery porn” myself (And yes – gasp – I even fetishized over the hulking Central Train Station. Tsk, tsk, says VICE).

Be sure to check out the VBS clips here.

While VICE showcases a fair bit of the urban decay themselves – fully half of their video piece features Johnny Knoxville illegally wandering through beautiful abandoned buildings marveling at their opulent past – the piece eloquently uncovers a nascent yet thriving creative class in Motor City. Artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs seem banded together in tough pioneerism, facing the cruel city with microphones, paint brushes and pulled pork. They commiserate in their under appreciated city and revel at their good fortune of living in Detroit at a time when they can poach entire city blocks for farming, art installations, and rave parties. Listening to these determined voices, you get the feeling that Detroit can rebound, one DIY project at a time.

The most poignant interview was with Larry Mongo, a long time entrepreneur who owns and operates Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy in Downtown Detroit. The recent Creative Class renaissance has brought his business back from the dead, he says, in an ever changing landscape of boom and bust. To paraphrase, he believes if the city founders could come back today, they would see young pioneers making their own mark on the city, just like they did 300 years earlier. We’re all moving and relocating and returning to “fill in the gaps,” left by the pioneers who came before us.

The point being, there ARE definitive pockets of community growing and collaborating and making something out of sweat and cheap real estate, just as they have across humanity for generations. When people get together and DO something – say YES – things happen. If this bond of purpose and determination is any sign, Detroit has a pulse. And it is growing in the empty gaps that have all too often defined this city.

A panoramic view of the Catskill Mountains to the West, from atop the dirt pile outside of Hudson, NY. Foundation formwork can be seen on the right.

We architects like to daydream… in fact that’s what got most of us here in the first place.

A dream becomes a vision, that vision slowly gestates, and through monumental efforts of a team of individuals, believing in and adding to this vision, not to mention commendable stamina, this vision forms into a reality. With the right team and the right client, this entire process can begin to take on a poetic rhythm.

The in-progress foundation pictured above is just such a project. A dream site with unobstructed views of the Catskill Mountains to the west, an incredible client seeking the latest in cutting edge sustainable practices with an open mind to design, and an energetic and knowledgeable general contractor dream team (American Green Home Builders, who provided this photo, a byproduct of their aforementioned energy).

We’ll keep you Mapostles updated on the progress of this new home as it magically forms over the next several months, and share with you our thoughts along the way!


Newsweek magazine recently commissioned six design firms to imagine the “city of the future.” Three firms each looked at New York and Los Angeles to envision how America’s two largest cities might develop in the coming decades.

The results echo the recent statistics that urbanism – namely densification of programming and built area – is a viable susatainable strategy for a more populated world. It’s rather predictable. More people live in urban areas than ever before, and this pattern will continue, as it has for millenia, especially in the developing world. We are increasingly living, working, playing, and commuting, within the same landscape and in closer proximity to each other. This is not new. What will be new, if we take the beautiful renderings as prophecy, is an urban landscape that is scrubbed clean of texture and history and the messy vitality that IS humanity. Especially a humanity that lives so close together for so long. Why does utopia look so banal and boring?

As New York is already the poster-child for density, the three New York teams had no real room to move, and no real new ideas. Proposing urbanism at the scale of the building is not new. Mixed-use has been around since the first farmer built his home above the stable. It isn’t even that new to think that infrastructure – highways, rail yards, water ways – is fertile ground for mixed-use. The proposed projects at Atlantic Yards, Hudson Yards, and Sunnyside Yards have been on the boards for over a decade. What might be new is an overly optimistic view that as long as two different things can happen at the same place, happy, sustainable, urbanism will flourish. We’re not advocates of single-use zoning by any means, but multi-tasking is more of a syndrome than a cure.

Out in Los Angeles, things are a bit better, perhaps because LA, unlike New York, is typically American in its sprawl, so can be an example for cities across the country. So what would LA do? Evidently be more like New York. Densify the landscape with infill construction and multiple uses. Fill backyards with new homes. Build atop the freeways. Develop parks along the rivers. What is novel here, however, is the appreciation for what is quintessentially LA. The strip malls and fast-food restaurants and parking lots are not plowed under for gleaming new visions of a happy future. The are renovated and incorporated and included. In-N-Out IS LA, and it is good.

The monolithic mainframe has proven too inflexible against the personal computer. The fragemented computing cloud has proven more scalable than the centralized data bank. Wiki-ness has tapped the collective brain trust of each of us. Evolving systems based on flexibility, adaptability, and scalability are successfully mimicking the qualities of human communities: the sum of the diverse parts is greater than the homogeneous whole. How can this trend in efficient technology distribution be applied to a greener planet? Can energy production become cloud-based? Can our dependence on fossil fuels be usurped by smart grids and multiple renewable sources of energy?

Portugal has been aggressively building an energy industry that promises to have half the country off of fossil fuels by 2025, putting them in the progressive European vanguard with Denmark and Iceland, and leap years ahead of the US and China. The principal reasons being something inherently non-American: they are a small country with strong central leadership, limited domestic fossil fuel supplies, and abundant renewable energy supplies (hydro, wind, solar). Yet, even with all this, the government faces intense opposition, and may be voted out of office. Can you imagine the perfect storm that would be required here in the US for this to happen? Congress working amicably? Neighboring states agreeing on shared interests? Ingrained, lobbyist-laden, industries allowing development in new directions? The immense size and geography of the country being knit together with new technologies? National Geographic recently reported on the patchwork of projects that may prove to stitch this country together and steer us in the same direction. There are many ideas and many directions. We’re too big to be Portugal, but their lesson is there for the taking.

Last March, I spent a few days in Aspen, CO (locale of the origin story of Mapos, BTW). The recession has hit hard there, perhaps harder than other places around the country. Worse than auto-industry-dependent Michigan? Deeper than real estate-speculative Florida/Arizona/California? Maybe not. But when an entire region is dependent on the superfluous income of the wealthy – building trophy homes, renting luxury condos, buying lift tickets and family ski packages – and that income dries up, the recession becomes visible, raw, and immediate. In Aspen, there was a general pall covering the happy and energetic personalities in the valley. The gilded walls of this exclusive private island are eroding to the painful reminder that there is a larger world out there. Surrender can be read on their faces.

In a similar valley further North in the Rockies, a group of recession-affected entrepreneurs sees opportunity in this challenge. Up in Bozeman, MT, designers and builders who most recently built the massive second homes for the rich and famous have focused their skills at building affordable and portable shelters for war-bombed, earthquake-ravaged, civil-war-stricken refugees. This shift from the luxury to the affordable, from the wealthy to the displaced, from the .01% of the population to the unbelievable 40% who can really use it, makes us think the recession may have lessons for all of us.

From L to R: Britta Riley at the Synagogue, SCAD's re-purposed theater and prison, Chris Parachini admires some student work, and one of Savannah's many incredible green squares.

Recently, Mapos was honored and delighted to be invited to participate in Savannah College of Art & Design‘s nine day long design celebration, SCAD Style 2010, as part of their “Sustainability in Action” panel discussion, along with co-panelists, the artist/inventor Britta Riley and restaurateur/urban farmer Chris Parachini. Our gregarious moderator, Matthew Mascotte, assembled the panel to highlight 3 unique but related practitioners in ongoing sustainable projects. Video of the inspirational and informative discussions, which occurred in both the Atlanta and Savannah campuses, can be seen via this link (once it’s available). Until then, we’ll refrain from spoilers and just share some brief thoughts on SCAD, Savannah, Southern Hospitality, and Ghosts:

Mapos enthusiastically applauds SCAD’s campus, which sets the standard for creative reuse of existing urban conditions and architecture, not to mention integration into the urban community of Savannah. During our brief stay, we toured a textiles school in an old elementary school (miniature handrails still intact) and an architecture school within an old railroad structure, dined in not one but 2 former bank structures (one of which was al fresco in the old drive through lane), perused SCAD’s library in a former big box department store, and had cocktails in a former prison decorated by student work. Our standing room only panel discussion occurred in a repurposed synagogue– stained glass still intact. This was just a small sampling of SCAD’s beautifully executed reuse projects in the community.

The City of Savannah exemplifies the perfection of the Grid in city planning. It is both rational and humanist in its execution. Divided by a green square every third block in all four directions, each park space with its own unique character and history, the deadly repetition of the typical grid transforms into something more of a rhythmic melody, human in scale and wonderful to explore by foot. Ironically, these refreshing squares were originally designed for military functions.

One could be excused for likening Savannah to Rome. Like the lush Italian capital, the architecture, urban spaces, and foliage of this port city seem frozen in a former era of great private and civic wealth, where civilized leisure activities by men and women dressed in white was a much larger part of the city’s pulse. Those days are long gone but this cityscape remains like a palimpsest on modern Savannah.  As luck would have it, this apparent preservation was the result of decades of economic stagnation during the second half of the last century—so much preserved out of apparent indifference before SCAD came to town 30 years ago. Imagining entire swaths of this fair city completely empty, and overrun by Spanish moss, it’s little wonder that Savannah has garnered a reputation as America’s most haunted city. Ghost stories proliferate in this environment!

When in Savannah, if you simply must eat pork prepared on a smokey, wood-fired grill, slathered in homemade bbq sauce, then drive (very fast) to Rib Hut BBQ in West Savannah, known by the locals as Mama’s (who still holds court in the open kitchen). This is where Matthew took us when we demanded authentic local BBQ. What we got was a transcendental experience which can only be described as a saucy “baptism by barbeque.”

It is said that Savannah is the “Hostess City” of the South, and we have never experienced such remarkably sincere hospitality. Everywhere we went, our new friends were eagerly pointing out the historic sites and curiosities with unaffected delight, both on and off the beaten path. A special thank you to Matthew Mascotte (our Moderator), Scott Singeisen (Chair of the Architecture Dept.), and Ashley Woodson (SCAD Event Master and new friend) for all of the time they spent with us.

Mapos is now conspiring for our next visit to this wonderful place—and Savannah truly is one of those rare things these days: a PLACE. Viva SCAD and viva Savannah, the Mostest City of the South!

It’s always interesting to revisit places you think you know so well and be surprised. Since leaving Columbus, Ohio, 22 years ago, most of my surprises have involved getting lost in the expanding collection of freeway off-ramps and shopping complexes. Every time I returned home it seemed a new sub-division was sprouting up complete with it’s own golf course, high school and local mega-plex. 20 screens per family must be a new record for central Ohio. Well, a couple of weeks ago I was walking through a marshy wilderness only a couple miles from where I grew up. This wilderness, the newly opened Audubon Center, was recently a brownfield site, and before that a warehouse district tucked into a curve of the Scioto River.  (The city’s largest impound lot still sits next door, though that is slated for relocation.) Now it is 600 acres of winding trails, playgrounds, and rock climbing walls scattered through native trees, grasses, and the meandering Scioto. Most impressive are the 2 bald eagle nests, countless other bird species, and the LEED Gold visitor center complete with energetic birders who love to share their knowledge.

It’s surprising I had to be reminded, but Columbus sits at the confluence of two rivers. Two rivers that had long been covered with freeways and train tracks by the time I came around. Now the 600 acres is planned to be stitched into 1300, creating an emerald necklace of park lands, bike paths and hiking trails. Here on the East coast I’ve gotten accustomed to the regeneration of our waterfronts, from Baltimore to Boston. It’s surprising and downright exciting, to see a Midwestern hometown do the same. The river is back. The birds are following. And us humans seem to like it.