Tag Archives: urban planning

Where to walk, what to read…

I already own a book on architecture that is just at my level, The Architecture of Happiness. But reading on the internet tempts me to explore many different realms… further than I actually want to go, when it comes right down to it.

Something I read back in the fall made me want to see the book Cognitive Architecture, by Sussman and Hollander, and my library’s “Link” feature helped me to get it, from southern California. It came in just before Christmas, and just before I needed clear away piles of books and papers, seeds and seed catalogs, to make space for a few Christmas decorations.

So I barely glanced at it, and quickly put it…. somewhere. I was pretty sure it was upstairs, probably in my bedroom, and when I found it last week — after looking everywhere several times over the last month — it was in an odd little stack of things, with a prayer book and a Christmas card and other unrelated stuff. One reason I hadn’t seen it earlier was that it was so much smaller than I remembered it.

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So small, my immediate thought was, maybe I could actually get through this book! Even though I’ve sort of moved on and my current goal is to whittle down the number of half-finished books I already have, without adding more.

Another book I treasure.

So I only browsed, and it is pretty interesting, about designing buildings for the way people live and behave, the sort of “animal” that humans are. One example is, that people in cities are known to like to walk or congregate on the edges of open spaces or streets, near buildings or walls, so that the buildings “have their backs.” But not so much if the building is turned in on itself and doesn’t seem open to the people, with low windows, for example, for easy window shopping. An example of a space not conducive to this protected and friendly feeling is the Boston City Hall Plaza, which is known as an unloved space and is up for renovation:

It is known that people prefer not to climb stairs if they can avoid it. I know that doesn’t apply to toddlers. This is my neighbor Grace who was enjoying going up and down my front steps this afternoon.

I discovered that one of the authors, Ann Sussman, has co-authored a fascinating article, “The Mental Disorders that Gave Us Modern Architecture”!

Many of the other points of human-centered design were not new to me. I had learned a lot from De Botton’s book, and I also have this one that Pippin gave me, in which I can browse actual buildings and their architects, which is more appropriate for me, who am not considering a career in design.

I wonder if I have other books I could write about without having read them, and in that way get some satisfaction from my failures…? I’ve enjoyed making use of this one to organize the Architecture compartment of my mind, and I found a pleasing poem in it as well:

THINGS

What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,
and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.

-Lisel Mueller

Strolling Kate’s neighborhood.

gle-row-housesThough Kate has lived in Washington, DC for almost eleven years, I’d never spent a night in any of her dwellings before. This time, I stayed five nights with Tom and Kate in their apartment that I was seeing for the first time.

I am a country girl who lives in the suburbs – I’ve never in my life been a city-dweller. When I get the chance to take any kind of walking tour of a city with this much history, I find myself stopping and staring a lot. Just the brick row houses could keep me occupied for hours, if I had hours to spare.

131 neighborhoods are unofficially recognized in our nation’s capital. One of them in the “Old City” is Dupont Circle, arranged around streets that extend like spokes from the traffic circle that was part of the original plan for the city, designed for President George Washington in the 1790’s. This is Tom and Kate’s neighborhood for a few more months; you can see it just west of the center of this map:

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Pierre Charles L’Enfant was the architect who laid out the streets of what is now called the “Old City.” Much of the area was not developed until after the Civil War; in 1871 the Army Corps of Engineers began construction of the traffic circle that was then called Pacific Circle. About ten years later Congress renamed it Dupont Circle after Samuel Francis Du Pont, to honor his service in the Civil War. He was the grandson of another Du Pont I heard about a few days later. Here is one of his original drawings:

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I arrived in D.C. the day after the presidential election. The next morning Kate and I walked through her neighborhood….

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…and on to the White House, where the President-Elect Donald Trump was meeting with President Obama. Some quiet demonstrators were there, too. Lots of construction was going on and we couldn’t get as close as usual.gle-demonstrators

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This young woman was talking for as long as I would watch, to the boy in the Trump t-shirt. He was listening meekly. I wondered if he ever got a chance to talk, or had anything to say. There at the White House, I didn’t see anything hateful, and I don’t believe in speculating about the thoughts of other people’s hearts.

We spent quite a while touring the Renwick Gallery – so much beautiful artwork, which my pictures don’t do justice to, so I’ll just share one bit of Jennifer Trask’s art; she creates her designs with the antlers, teeth, and bones of many different animals including snakes, water buffalo and camels.

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My daughter and her husband have been living the best kind of city life, the kind where you sleep, work and worship all in the same neighborhood. On Sunday we walked a couple of blocks to their church, the Cathedral of St. Mathew the Apostle, where I also had not been before. I was sorry to leave after the service, there were so many beautiful mosaics to gaze upon, and quotes from St. Francis in the side chapel dedicated to him.

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Because that first photo blocks the face of St. Mark, I will share another, which shows a part of the beautiful dome, and all of St. Mark.

 

 

 

 

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This quote from the prayers of St. Francis took my thoughts back home, where we really appreciate every drop of moisture that falls on our farms and gardens. Speaking of farms, Kate’s neighborhood boasts a farmer’s market, which we walked through after church, to sample fruit and salsa and pickled jalapeño okra. We bought apples and a jar of the okra.

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Right next to that market is the Colombian Embassy, and in front of it a fiddler was busking.

A bookstore-café, Kramerbooks & Afterwords, is a popular spot in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. It was the first of this kind of duo to open in the capital. We browsed in there, too, and I even took pictures of books 🙂

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Tom bought a different book that afternoon, Speaking American by Josh Katz, which kept us busy for hours afterward — and afterwords in this case — because it is full of statistics on regional differences in word usage: Do you say sneakers or tennis shoes, sub or hoagie? Maps show where you likely live, if you prefer one word or the other. Tom seemed to be “from” all over the place.

This example from the book shows something I already knew from living in that neighborhood for a few days, that in D.C. they say “traffic circle,” not “roundabout.” But all in all, it’s a pretty inexact science.gle-speaking-american-exampleBeing in the nation’s capital during this particular week meant that I engaged in more political thinking and talk than is usual for me, but as a group we weren’t entirely consumed by the kind of emotions that the media stories seem determined to rouse. We were too busy exploring all the rich cultural, natural and even culinary riches to be had close at hand. Oh, yes, if you don’t mind I will indulge in just one food photo, of some coconut milk panna cotta I had for dessert at a restaurant that actually wasn’t in their neighborhood. We got there via Uber!

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Another reason for our relative calm may be that we have been influenced throughout our lives by the truths and reality exemplified in another quote that I found in the neighborhood, right in Tom and Kate’s living room. The words from the Bible were part of a gift that Kate’s brother made for them the first year they were married, and they do help keep things in perspective.

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In my next post there will be more books, buildings and quotes.
Come back again if you also like this sort of thing!