Edifice Complex

One subject that I constantly worry about is the design of parking garages. These are the elephants in the room in any urban redevelopment, since the dirty secret of modern planning is that you can make the streets and the buildings look like no one drives anymore, but in reality we all still do, and must. "Come see our pretty main street, and by the way there is an enormous ugly parking garage on the next block." This is not so much an issue in Toronto, where it has become acceptable among developers to suffer the cost of building underground parking, or in New York, where there is no parking period, but it has huge ramifications on the rest of North America. Look behind the office buildings in Glendale, or Jersey City or countless other places and recoil in horror.

The correct approach is to try to design a better parking garage. Architects used to consider it beneath themselves to even try, so they left it to the engineers. Modern education and training of engineers has segregated their profession from any concept of architecture, so they were ill-equipped to come up with anything attractive. And the clients, of course, would refuse to pay for it if they had. Things have finally changed, as noticed in this NY Times article. There are even discussion forums on the topic. This can only mean good things for urban design everywhere.


Battle of the Transmission Towers

Chicago and Toronto have a lot in common these days. Both are crammed full of condos, and Toronto keeps looking to its big brother a couple lakes over for urban design guidance. (So far, no such luck, but at least they are trying.)

Chicago's proposed Calatrava Spire has already gotten a good deal of press, and now they are talking about a CN Tower clone that would rise 2,000 ft (compared to Toronto's 1815 ft).

The design is acceptable, although I would prefer a little more splay in the legs in order to appreciate their geometry. These kind of towers generally defy easy categorization, being driven more by functionality than any particular neo-idiom. The main problem with the proposed Chicago tower is that its form is not unique -- it can already be found in the white steel cell phone towers that I've seen around Toronto and no doubt other places. It's one thing to have an iconic, vaguely erotic, un-nameable needle on your waterfront, but a giant cell phone tower is not so cool. My prediction that this gets built: 50%. I think CN's record will hold out a little longer...


Chicago's Classy New Condo

Although I have never been to Chicago, I hope to visit certain exiled friends there soon. In the meantime, the city's architectural resume continues to impress. Like Toronto, Chicago has experienced a terrific rush of new condo high-rises. I use the word "terrific" because, in general, any kind of upscale urban density is a good thing, but both cities have had trouble with the mediocre appearance of many of the new buildings. Too much concrete, cheap panelized brick, lumpy proportions.

The Tribune has a nice review of the latest Chicago luxe condo, one that is impressively tall (631 ft) and well shaped. The Heritage at Millenium Park is a winner in my books, regardless of what the insides are like. (Nice sales website too)


Small Group of Idiots Ruin Toronto

...or something like that. I'm so mad about this that I can't even comment right now. In some ways, the Robert Moses-era had its advantages. City-building never pleases everyone, but this example of a couple deli owners being able to stop real, critical, the-city-is-falling-behind-its-rivals -without-it light rail mass transit shows the pendulum has swung too far.

SOS, go to hell.