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Letters

Hard times in the Big Easy

Thank you for your editorial about New Orleans ["What Architects Can Do," November 2005, page 17]. We certainly are in a mess and desperately need the support of those in Washington. Many of us feel that the cry for help is falling on dead ears. New Orleans is one of the most important cities in the country—if not the world—for architecture. No other city in the U.S. has the number and percentage of historic structures we have. And it's a unique blend with numerous house types unheard of anywhere else. It simply has to be rebuilt and revitalized. Yet, as you drive around, three and a half months later, entire neighborhoods are dark, the flooded cars are still on the street. It has to be seen to be understood.

An issue devoted to New Orleans detailing the history and culture of the city, along with pictures of the variety of houses, buildings, and neighborhoods, would be a real eye-opener for many around the country who are unaware of what we have (had). There are also architects here with talent, firms that need work (there is none right now as we sit waiting to hear our fate, waiting for insurance companies, and for the verdict on the extent of levee protection Washington will provide). Certainly, if there is a federally backed revival and reinvestment starts, we will all be very busy. The question is, how long can we expect to wait? How long can we keep paying our staff members? The problem is many layered and will take much time to resolve. —Mac Ball

Waggonner & Ball Architects New Orleans

Sustainable solutions

I read your editorial about taking action in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In it you ask, "Are there that many trees and nails available for the massive rebuilding effort? That much concrete? And with so many demands made on resources, how can the sheer numbers of housing units required be realized?" I ask, must we rely on traditional building materials, such as timber, nails, and concrete? The current situation presents a great opportunity for architects, engineers, and planners involved in the rebuilding efforts to take a nontraditional look at the problem and apply sustainable construction materials and techniques. —Evonne S.C. Chong Tasmania, Australia

Taking down the de Young

Your recent review of the de Young Museum in San Francisco [November 2005, page 13], well written as it was, neglected the problems the building has with its exterior massing and finish. Only a dismissive comment at the article's end mentioned many people's strong dislike for its hulking and homely exterior. The building does not work with regard to exterior light conditions as they affect massing, texture, and color. Furthermore, the photographs featured do not convey its unrelenting massiveness. There are movements in Modern architecture which today are reviled, but once were greeted with great enthusiasm. Witness Brutalism: As architects know, many cities today cannot wait to get rid of many of the concrete monstrosities they produced. The ungainly, misshapen, and unattractive exterior of the de Young Museum, however stylistically current it may be today, will certainly be on that list in the future. —James Shay, FAIA San Rafael, Calif.

Modern optimism

The introduction by Jane F. Kolleeny to "Multifamily Housing: Fighting Sprawl" cited traditional families as the reason for suburban sprawl and credits nontraditional families, and others, for the renewed interest in urban living. While this is probably mostly correct, it is striking that ARCHITECTURAL RECORD doesn't assume a more positive outlook for the future of traditional families returning to the city. Supporting this blame-game truism reinforces unfortunate misconceptions about the lifestyle desires of all kinds of people, and forgets that urban influx housing is primarily affluent housing (The D.C. Fiscal Policy reported that affordable housing in the district fell by nearly 12,000 units last year). Kolleeny proposes that it's predominantly single parents, retirees, empty nesters, and young professionals who desire to move into urban areas. Why exclude traditional families? Why not take an inclusive stance about the attraction of good design? Why not resurrect the Modern optimism about good design's universal attraction and powerful models for future living instead of past failures? —Camilo Llorens Bearman Ritter Architects Alexandria, Va.

Drawing the professional line

With regard to your September editorial, "The View From Two Penn" [page 19]: Where is the line between professional responsibilities and profit? As a profession, is it not our role to ask "how does this project fit in?" as part of the charge of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public? When a developer client asks a firm to conceptualize a project in another city, does that architectural firm have a responsibility to ask the tough questions? Or is it a matter of don't ask, don't care, it's not in my backyard—let the locals deal with the problems. As a profession, are we mercenaries for hire? Or do we serve the greater good? —Brion Lipschutz, AIA Ayers Saint Gross Architects & Planners Baltimore

Dog days

Your writing on poorly designed buildings truly struck a chord with me. I am involved in traditional architectural design; however, my work focus over the past 20 years has been real estate due diligence, which has allowed me to become intimately familiar with buildings of note in most every major market in the country. I agree with you wholeheartedly that the architecture profession will be well served by stepping back, looking at the mistakes, and learning from them. I am fortunate to be in your fair city several times each month, and yes, you have a few shining examples of these buildings. However, the wonderful architecture in New York City balances these out very well. Not to pick on them, but Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles could learn from the same self appraisal. Keep up the great work. —Ron Hadaway, Associate AIA Atlanta

Corrections:

In the obituary for Edmund Bacon [December, 2005, page 36], the phrase "who was raised as a Quaker" was accidentally omitted. The sentence should have read: "Always his own man, Edmund Bacon, who was raised as a Quaker, entered the Navy during World War II, instead of registering as a conscientious objector."

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