Originally published on Blue Ant, August 31, 2015.
Victorian English literature is filled with angst about what chaos lies behind proper and unassuming exteriors. In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlow says Brussels always reminds him of a “whited sepulchre,” a biblical reference to hypocrisy by which things “appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”
William Gibson’s London puts a psychedelic twist on this notion, with all manner of sinister weirdness lying in wait behind plain facades. This is most true in Cabinet, the hotel and private club that serves as home base for our heroes in Zero History.
Cabinet is “(h)alf the vertical mass of an eighteenth-century townhouse, one whose facade reminded her of the face of someone starting to fall asleep on the subway,” with the interior decor “ragingly, batshit insane.” Read More
Originally published at Curbed on June 18, 2014.
Due to plummeting enrollment and a troubled district, vacant school buildings—heck, just vacant buildings—are none too rare in Detroit. After 19 years of abandonment, the Nellie Leland School, however, is no longer vacant—it, as abandoned urban buildings are want to do, is back in session as condos. When it first opened in 1919, vacancy was far from anybody's mind; in fact, demand was so high that it had a waiting list for admittance, and two years after opening had to build an expansion that more than tripled its enrollment. The reason Leland was such hot property? It has little to do with the economy, and everything to do with the fact that it was the first opportunity most local students with disabilities had for a public education. Read More
First published in American Forests magazine spring/summer 2014. |
In the 1820s, America's cities had a problem: People kept dying, and church burial grounds were filling up. Fortunately, a group of horticulturists in Massachusetts had a solution and, in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge became the first modern cemetery. Other cities began to follow suit, dedicating rolling, scenic tracts of land on the outskirts of town to honor the deceased. This “rural cemetery,” or “garden cemetery,” movement not only temporarily solved the problem of where to put the dead, but it also gave us the nation’s very first parks.
Over the decades, cemeteries fell out of vogue as cultural centers, but their fall from favor was not to be permanent. Today, the practice of using cemeteries for outdoor recreation is bubbling up once more, as urban dwellers seek out nature in the city. Read More
Originally published on Curbed National, April 18, 2014. |
The Boott Mills complex stretches along the Merrimack River like a fortress, a 179-year-old set of connected brick buildings that once housed roaring hydroelectric textile factories in the heart of Lowell, Mass. It's a remarkably intact representation of the mills that launched Lowell and other towns like it to prominence during the Industrial Revolution, and then left them in economic decline in the second half of the 20th century. But Lowell's factories—most recently, the iconic Boott Mills near downtown—are making a comeback. Read More
Originally published in the East Bay Express, 2012 Roman Mars' radio show and podcast is changing the way we look at design — and maybe the nature of public radio.
By Tate Williams
When people think of design, they usually conjure images of prominent, beautiful objects, like a sleek modern building or a stylish piece of furniture. But there's another world of design, one we rarely notice, that quietly orchestrates our lives — the paths we walk, our moods, our interactions.
That secret world is the terrain of 99% Invisible, a four-and-a-half-minute-long KALW radio show and podcast that local producer Roman Mars creates at night from his home in the East Bay, and has become something of a national hit. In its sixty-plus episodes, the show has uncovered the hidden world of design, revealing such stories as the murderous history of dentures, the faults and virtues of the cul de sac, and the free-jazz of deteriorating escalators. Read More