Field Notes


Increments of Neighborhood by Brian O’Looney

Increments of Neighborhood

Neighborhood and building typology are a scale higher than we deal with here. So I’ve been having a great time reading Increments of Neighborhood by Brian O’Looney, recently released by Oro Editions. I’ll have a full review on the website soon, but this is a great book for those interested in urban typologies – both residential and commercial.

Each type has nice big photographs, site and aerials, floor plans, and missed opportunities. This sort of deep detail really connects with my inner typologist.

Highly recommended.

Increments of Neighborhood entry
Increments of Neighborhood entry detail

A layered history: interview with Mari Kroin

History is what we make of it, and these are short interviews with designers, manufacturers, artists, and residents who explore the tiny bits of urbanity we generally call street furniture. This interview was conducted over email and edited for clarity.


My name is Mari Kroin – I am a 90’s kid, born and raised in New York City. I went to Fiorello H. Laguardia High School for visual art (ed. note: the FAME school), during that time I delved deeper into an inherent interest in Architecture. Growing up in NYC I was immersed in an endless treasure trove of history and creativity, it has alway served as a source of inspiration in my work. Not wanting to leave the city, I chose to attend Pratt Institute for my Bachelors in Architecture. Here I explored crossovers in visual art and architecture and began to define my own form of representation. I became obsessed with the layering of color and potentials in physical transparency. This interest has carried over into my work at Yale, where I am getting a post professional degree. I would describe my work now as somewhere between the  state of waking and dreaming.

Wet Paint: A Study of Subway Columns

In Spring of 2020 I was lucky enough to take a seminar called “Polychromatic Reconstruction of Architecture” taught by David Gissen (@davidgissen). We talked about the loss or fading of color in ancient and classical architecture over time, the qualities of a ruinous state, preservation, and chromatic reconstruction. He asked us to investigate a case study or area of interest in relation to the reconstruction of color in built forms. I couldn’t help thinking about the beaten edges of subway columns, which reveal a long, layered history of repainting. I have always tried to bring elements of NYC into my work, it seemed like the perfect subject for this project: Wet Paint: A Study of Subway Columns.

The subway column paint chip is a nostalgic thing for many New Yorkers. While working on “Wet Paint: A Study of Subway Columns”, a lot of childhood friends reached out to tell me they still had paint chip collections. It was very exciting. Depending on the station, the chips can reveal a wide spectrum of colors. A painted tree trunk of sorts. Typically, columns are never fully stripped of their previous layer of paint, creating a thick build up. The texture changes over time, edges grow less defined, and debris between layers becomes increasingly visible. 

Train stops with heavy traffic have endured more coats of paint; the 23rd street E/C station is a local stop with moderate foot traffic. Seven unique color phases were found. The progression is investigated through a historical, visual, and tactile lens.

The project initiated with the collection of paint chips throughout the station, around the time COVID-19 first hit the city. These were dissected to analyze the thickness and texture of each layer and to establish a clearer color matching process. The colors were matched with acrylic paint and applied to identical column maquettes, mimicking the full-scale painting process over time. With each progressive column a new portal to the layer(s) below is revealed. I found myself getting sentimental simply mixing the colors, friends of mine noted my nostalgia particularly for the dark forest green. It’s amazing how our senses can be entwined with the memory of color.

In addition to color matching, I did some investigation into the history of the MTA’s chromatic and graphic language. The history and intention of coloring station tiles is incredibly interesting. Moreover, the NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual (containing the work off Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda) gave me some insight into the progression of station graphics. While both the tiles and manual spoke to my area of interest, I did not find much on the progression of column paint colors. I therefore had to ask a few enduring locals from the west 23rd street area to recount upon their memory of station cleaning and renovation. Establishing a timeline of color phase duration, I had to do a lot of guessing too and used paint layer thickness to estimate span.

For the final project David suggested making identical maquettes to show the color timeline. I just ran with that and made it my own, creating new reveals with each column. I had wanted to make them out of metal and at a larger scale, to mimic the actual columns but we were in the beginning stages of work from home culture and I had to adapt. All of the art supply stores were closed so I made them out of scrap chipboard, used my dining room table as a work space, and made a little photo set up in the corner of my living room. I never really got a chance to display them to the public outside of my home but I enjoy looking at them on my bookshelf.

What is the one surprising thing you have learned while making this project?

I think it is incredible how color is tied to nostalgia.

Necessities in infrastructure and utility and the tactile everyday elements in the world around you play a huge role in individual and collective memory. I love when New Yorkers tell me subway stories after seeing this project. I think this is the first project I have worked on that consistently encourages sense-based recollection. The subway is something that ties New Yorkers together, particularly people that grew up in the city. It is exciting to feel a sense of community through memory.

On typology, and the city

In the case of the “Wet Paint” project, I think of typology as elements which form a collective, or parts of a whole entity. I see a city as a body or organism, something that evolves and tries to adapt to greater forces but distinct because of its elements, its organs and the parts that give it life.

As designers I hope we never shy away from color. I think there is a comfort in black and white lines and existing in monochrome but color is one of the greatest tools we have, and a fascinating and significant lens through which to examine history.

If you had to choose: Peter Eisenman or Christopher Alexander.

Neither.

I might get in trouble for this one! Eisenman is quite a presence at Yale. You have the Eisenman die-hards and people, like me, who might gravitate towards up-and-coming architects/theorists or just in a different direction in general. I really try not to venerate architects too much and I tend not to follow media accounts like NextTopArchitects, it puts pressure on ideals. I do have a lot of respect for certain thinkers and collectives and definitely refer back to some more than others… Boullée, Lina Bo Bardi, Miralles and Pinós, Barragán, Frei Otto, Ant Farm, Haus Rucker, E.A.T., Ando, Kenzō Tange, Kazuyo Sejima. I am half Japanese so I draw a lot of inspiration from architecture in Japan both past and present.

Thank you to Mari Kroin for their time. To see more of their work, check out their instagram @marzcargo and see more about Wet Paint: A Study of Subway Columns.

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Feminist Architecture: a new way with Grace Thomas

Grace Thomas Empower rendering

Hello, my name is Grace Thomas and I am a third-year undergraduate architecture student in the UK. I fell in love with architecture after walking around the Sagrada Familia by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona. I was inspired by how much detail and meaning building parts could have and the effect a building has on people’s thoughts and feelings. 

When I fell in love with feminism is a little hazier, I think I have always been a feminist.

When I came to university that my ‘feminist agenda’ changed. Instead of working to combat micro-aggressions thrown around at a boy’s school, I wanted to put feminism in architecture. It was at the beginning of my second year when I started to consider this: we had to try and define our style of architecture and feminist is exactly what I wanted architecture to be.

To be honest, I did not know if feminist architecture could be accomplished.

Grace Thomas School axonometric

My feminist architecture

Feminism is the ‘the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes’. I believe architecture is one of the discourses that can show that feminism isn’t just a theory.

Architects can be the action that rebels against the patriarchal built environment that we currently live in. Incredible books such as Living in a Man-Made World- Gender Assumptions in Modern Housing Design by Marion Roberts and Feminist City by Lesie Kern are brilliant at demonstrating how architecture has been used to oppress women and keep them trapped. 

My feminist architecture is about creating buildings and spaces that are built for everyone. I don’t design just for the six-foot male and I try to include everyone’s needs in my specifications: an accessible stair, an increased number of accessible bathrooms, and trying to reduce crime on the site by 24hr programming of the building. 

I think it is imperative to clarify that feminism does not and has never meant anti-male. Feminism (and any of its discourses) aims to dismantle the patriarchy and the system which disadvantages women. Patriarchy also disadvantages men in many ways – feminism aims to support men as well. Men get less time off work for paternity leave and are not encouraged by their peers to display their emotions, contributing to higher rates of suicide in males than females. 

Therefore, in my work I try to design for everyone. That is what feminist architecture is for me. Designing so that everyone has equal opportunities for success. Furthermore, in countless parts of the world feminism is still considered taboo and people get shamed for calling themselves feminists. Thus, it should be no wonder that I am trying to promote the movement that gives half the world’s population a voice and that tries to achieve gender equality. 

Your projects is centred around education and the local context. How is this important?

Rules for Feminist Architecture

Globally there is a lack of women in STEM and in Margate where my project was set, there are not many great post-16 centres let alone specific STEM ones. As a result, to add to the feminist goals of my project I opted for a STEM college for women. Looking back the programming did help to market my building as feminist. But there are so many ways you can design in a feminist manner that does not involve specifying that the building to be for women only!

Every piece of architecture must be built into the local context. If there is not sufficient prior knowledge of this then I strongly believe that is one of the main factors why buildings do not work or are not received well by the community. Therefore, I took multiple site visits and scoured the internet and online books for as much local history and views on the current situation of the town as I could. This enabled me to focus on what the town would need from my project and how previous architectural builds such as the Turner Contemporary have been received. 

Grace Thomas Girl in STEM poster

Who will tell your story?

So much of the canon of architectural history is (for lack of better terms), old white dudes. How does that affect feminist space/architecture?

During my first year, the only architects we looked at or were told to look at were old white men. I think that to design feminist spaces, architecture students must make the conscious effort to explore other architects and how they have designed for equality or have they? It should also be a big focus of architecture schools to radicalise their teaching and include more of the forgotten architects. These include those who are female, black, from ethnic minorities, marginalised communities, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community and more. We also need to be teaching our future architects how to design for the specific needs of these communities, just having one day about designing for people in wheelchairs is not enough by any means. 

I will be completely honest and say I have not researched the decolonization movement yet. I understand that I need to and I have started to broaden my feminism to practice intersectional feminism. Can We All Be Feminists? – Seventeen Writers on Intersectional Identity and Finding The Right Way Forward for Feminism By June Eric Udorie is a fantastic resource that introduces and discusses the different intersections that feminism needs to start covering. I will use this book as a jumping-off point to look more into the issues of colonialism and how it affects the built environment. Moreover, I am looking to see what I can do to ensure what I design in a way that does not repeat the mistakes of history. 

Can we all agree that Ray Eames and Denise Scott Brown totally get overlooked? What forces need to change to bring equity and equality?

Oh yes, we can 100% agree on that. Amid all my male-centred architecture teachings I did have one professor who talked a little about how much more of the credit should lie with the female behind some of the big male names. So that was very refreshing to hear.

I would maintain that it is the architecture schools who need to make the most change. If we keep teaching about the same white men all the time then future architects won’t know how much wonderful diversity is out there. That will be a big factor in bringing about equity and equality, especially in the future. For now, we need more appreciation and celebration of the roles that women played in designing the current built environment.

Let’s spread awareness of what happened to Ray Eames and Denise Scott-Brown or even Marion Mahony Griffin or Eileen Gray or Lily Reich or Charlotte Perriand. The list of over-shadowed women goes on and these are the most famous of the group. Think about how many women’s stories we just don’t and will never know about. 

Typology and the city

Modern housing design and typologies since the 1800s in the UK particularly, have consistently reinforced the need for the nuclear family with the man as the breadwinner. It was the housing policies set by the government that unapologetically forced anyone not married into low-quality housing and slums. Even what the government would classify as “the deserving poor” had to be families who did not drink and smoke, and had a loyal, clean and tidy housewife to maintain the property. Single women and other minority groups were priced out of decent standard council houses by design. 

The housing boom in the 1950s to the 1970s further reinforced these patriarchal ideas and now this is the housing stock we are left with today. So, whilst the archaic policies are gone, the framework from a male dominant society is still there. Furthermore, we need more diversity in our policy-making rooms so that marginalization and discrimination in the housing market never happen again. 

To bring change to the profession we need to step outside our comfort zones. Whilst it may be easy to copy elements from precedents that have seemed to do well in the past, we need to think: who are these building schemes benefitting and are they as great at the predominantly white male architecture profession claim to be? We need to ask a more diverse range of people their opinions before trying to fit a square shape through a circular hole, so to speak. 

Farnsworth House – photo by Typology City

If we look at Mies Van der Roe’s Farnsworth house. This is a celebrated historic design and one I got told in architecture school was a brilliant example of modern housing. But if you ask the owner and resident of the house Edith Farnsworth, we see a very different side to the story. She said that she did not like the invasion of privacy she got from all glass walls and always felt like she was being watched, a feeling most women know too well and do not want to feel in their own homes. In an interview, she said

“The truth is that in this house with its four walls of glass I feel like a prowling animal, always on the alert. I am always restless. Even in the evening. I feel like a sentinel on guard day and night (…) Mies talks about his ‘free space’: but his space is very fixed. (…) Any arrangement of furniture becomes a major problem, because the house is transparent, like an X-ray.” 

Thank you to Grace Thomas for their time. To see more of their work, check out their instagram @thefeministarchitect and see their final year presentation – they also gave us further Reading for anyone interested in feminism or feminist architecture:

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Observed: Outdoor dining yurt village in Williamsburg

Outdoor dining yurts in Williamsburg

We were out and about Brooklyn yesterday and we encountered one of American Express and Resy’s 13 Yurt Villages across the US, designed to support safe outdoor dining during COVID-19:

The Yurt Villages are a new covered, heated outdoor experience available exclusively for American Express Card Members. The collection of custom-designed tents will serve as miniature private dining rooms in a range of sizes holding four to six people.

Yurt Village press release

I was surprised how much I liked them. I’m a sucker for repeated multiples of the same shape and object. I’m sure that the experience at night is nice. The village concept is what I love about the work of Jan Kattein Architects – the human-scale of the yurts sitting on the sidewalk bulb-outs was pleasing, and well proportioned.

I still wouldn’t eat outdoors at a restaurant until after we are all vaccinated, but my risk tolerance is different than other people, and this is totally on brand for American Express.

Crisis 2020

Fire Hydrant

The last 10 months has been honestly hard to manage work, life, and if this project has any value compared to the world altering crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. More often than not, I have erred on silence and focusing on family and the daily crisis of finding balance in an imbalanced world. So may these random photos of fire hydrants remind us that the worst bits of history become lifesaving devices.

We hope you and your family are safe, healthy, and the end of this year has been restorative. We will resume posting new field notes and taxonomies every week for the next 52 weeks.

Vibrant communities, at a small scale – an interview with Jessica Mathews

Tree Installation EpicSmall – SQ color

These are short interviews with designers, manufacturers, artists, and residents who use the tiny bits of urbanity we generally call street furniture. This interview was conducted over email and edited for clarity.

My name is Jessie and I am the operator of Epic Small Consulting. Epic Small is a consulting firm that works in all size communities interested in improving where they live through small-scale, placemaking projects. I work with communities putting together public art plans as well as executing “lighter, quicker, cheaper” projects that energize and build momentum in the community. 

I got into this field because of my personal experiences as a pedestrian and bike rider in Columbus, Ohio. I moved back to Columbus in 2002 from San Francisco and thought that I could live similarly in Columbus meaning walking, taking public transit, and biking; that was not the case. At the time, Columbus was neither a pedestrian nor bike-friendly place. I found and joined advocacy groups championing efforts to make our streets more inclusive and friendly for all. Additionally, I educated myself on city design, local policy, and legislation. Eventually, I began to see how we waste and underutilize our streets and public spaces, and how we as a society have been trained to think that only cars belong in certain spaces. I wanted to change that mindset so that is what I began to do, one little project at a time.

Interventions by EpicSmall

Vibrant placemaking is community engagement.

The community knows their environment best, knows the improvements that need to be made, knows the bad buildings that need revitalized, knows the streets that drivers speed through.

They are the experts. Communities are no longer settling with the “experts” coming in and planning their neighborhoods. The most important way in which neighborhoods can build a sense of place, a sense of pride, and a sense of wanting to participate is when their vision and ideas are seen and heard.

When the projects are small and doable, and can be executed within a year or less, people can be a part of the entire process and that is when you hook them. People want to see results. They don’t’ want to be part of a revolving door of talking…they want to do

Right now, I think my favorite project was the street painting project: W. Cherry St. “Re-imagined.” Our team took a two-block stretch of an underused street in downtown Columbus and transformed it into a pedestrian-preferred public space. We had 35+ volunteers help paint the street on Memorial Day weekend. This project was a two-month demonstration project that showed what could be done to under-utilized streets. Not all streets have to be driven on. I loved watching so many volunteers excited to participate and watching the progression of the street being painted.

Gay Street Parklet
Gay Street Parklet – by EpicSmall

A surprising moment working at this scale was when one evening a woman walked into a parklet our team built and installed in our downtown, and said, “ I can’t believe all of this fits into one parking space.” That has always stuck with me because our project was able to show this woman the possibility of what could be when you transform a parking space into “people” space.

We have been brainwashed into thinking that only cars belong on our streets. My passion is to chisel away at that thinking. When we think about our favorite city to visit, chances are that city has a different energy than where we live. What is that energy? Is it more opportunities to people watch? Is it friendlier, more walkable and bikeable streets? Is there more art to experience? Is it greener and calmer? All these elements create an experience that is desired by most of us, it is called livability! Some cities in America are doing it well and some are not. We must radically re-think the way we design our cities.

My favorite piece of street furniture is a tie between street trees and benches. These two welcoming elements can make a street great and get people to return to that street. Sadly, I think benches and trees are underutilized. Homelessness is the excuse for lack of benches and maintenance is the excuse for lack of street trees.

Not all cities, but many cities lack leadership and diversity within that leadership. Cities are not solely run by their Mayors – there are local city councils, department agencies, local foundations, executive boards, etc which help lead cities. These are groups that are still white dominated and male. If cities are being designed within this myopic view, the city is not for everyone. We cannot be what we cannot see. 

I want more leaders to be leaders and not followers. Too many “leaders” live in the status-quo zone because they do not want to piss anyone off. Status-quo has gotten us into this mess of car obsession, concrete jungles, and a decreased quality of life. We need more Janette-Sadik Khan’s, Elizabeth Diller, and Tamika Butler’s

EpicSmall – Playful Paracord
West Cherry Street Redesigned – by EpicSmall

My Instagram @epic_small is a collection of projects I have done, as well as projects that inspire me, and examples that I think will inspire those who follow me. I get messages all the time with people telling me how much they love my account and how colorful it is. What often isn’t spoke about is the importance of color, and how it impacts us psychologically. When we think about our surroundings we interact with every day, our surroundings are dominated by grey and concrete. Look up the meaning behind the color grey.

It is lifeless.

I feel that one of the many reasons why people like my account is because it is full of life. That is what placemaking is. If you think about the placemaking projects you have experienced or have worked on, color DOMINATES. When we experience color, we have a sensory experience, we have an emotional experience, and we have a physical experience that makes us feel energized and alive.

Thank you to Jessica Mathews for their time. To see more of their work, check out their website, epicsmall or their instagram @epic_small.

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Desert quarantine: Mary and Davit rethink the village

Sonora Art Village Mary Jilavyan and Davit Jilavyan

These are short interviews with designers, manufacturers, artists, and residents who use the tiny bits of urbanity we generally call street furniture. This interview was conducted over email and edited for clarity.


Well I (Mary) work with my brother Davit. We’ve never thought about working together, but we’re very much alike: we have similar ideas and interests so it is easy to us work together. We even finish each other’s phrases! We always tell people our joke about being twins just with difference in age in 5 years! Now we are opening our own multifunctional studio of visual art.  

In 2019 we made a desert house concept in Mexico for our friends. We didn’t expect so many people to like it and were very surprised. A lot of people have been writing to us about their feelings, saying they’re inspired by this project, and for us it was very important and enjoyable. Maybe that confession meant we were doing something right. It’s been almost a year.

The world has changed a lot over this time; unfortunately not for the better.

We’ve been working very hard this year. Sitting in self-isolation, surrounded by four walls, it occurred to us to create a whole village from houses like Sonora House. We wanted to create a place where people can come and feel for a while in a completely different place, far from the grey reality, to feel in some bright 3D space, or even a cartoon. It’s a place free from prejudice. There’s no place for racism, sexism, humiliation. We tried to create a completely different atmosphere that would exude joy, love, and happiness. 

We were inspired by the works of great masters Ricardo Bofill and Luis Barragan. Their buildings are still very relevant: people take photos of them, shoot in the movies, do something similar, using some elements, and we are among them.

This is not just ordinary architecture, but a work of art. 

We live in a very ugly and cruel world: reality isn’t movie, isn’t picture; reality is very dull and cheerless. People are just passing around the buildings and never mention it because the most architecture is quite grey. We like to mention that we like strict architecture too, but we feel that the world needs colors. Bofill and Barragan get that long time ago and created one of most amazing buildings ever 😄 So we think that us being in self-isolation helped us to put our negative energy and sadness in something right. So we created our Sonora Art Village

Community buildings have to be comfortable for people and it have to meet the people needs. Now being the witnesses of pandemic we see that community buildings and spaces were not ready for it. Now the most important is to change architecture – making it more practical but also not a detriment to appearance. We think that there is a need to develop vertical gardening and creating parks in the cities. There is absolutely no fresh air in the cities and it’s a problem. Also we think that lot of people would love to move to suburbs so we think that that direction have to be developed too.

Village view

It’s a bit hard to answer what is typology to us, it’s definitely needful in cities but at the same time it kills the uniqueness. We fell that there’s lack of unusual buildings. By the way In Sonora Art Village there is no clear system, the houses are located chaotically, each house has its own colorful path.

We are not fans of either Christopher Alexander or Peter Eisenman. They are masters of their work, but their work does not make us feel anything. But if we had to choose one of them we’d pick Peter Eisenman. We love the project City of Culture Galicia, it’s amazing.

We like sitting furniture with some plants. The cities could look so beautiful if there were more nice street furniture with plants. Great combination.

Thank you to Mary and Davit for their time. You can see more of their work on their Behance Page.

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