Iggy Peck, Architect, by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
New York: Abrams, 2007
Peter Exley, FAIA, and Sharon Exley, MAAE
Iggy Peck is the architect we all want to be, the engineer and author of lovely, exuberant structures made from the most exceptional and unexpected materials. Who couldn’t help but love a Gateway Arch if made of towers of pancakes and coconut pie?
Iggy’s tale is of one loved and encouraged by parents to follow his heart. Many of us will recall parents who were nurturing—if perhaps a tad curious about our creative quirks—or a teacher who tolerated our eccentricities, if not with approval, with fondness and patience. Yet it is Iggy’s teacher who first takes a jab, makes a joke, and attempts to extinguish his creative efforts. Banished with his chums to the periphery of the classroom, Iggy the outsider doodles his escapist architecture, and, as the class become victims of a terrible calamity, it is he, our hero, who uses his architectural nous to save the day. Bravo Iggy! Even his resuscitated teacher is impressed, and Iggy’s pals give the reader that look of told-you-so smugness—perhaps they didn’t exactly understand Iggy’s fascination with architecture, but he’s their friend, and they never doubted his brilliance.
Andrea Beaty’s poetic story of Iggy is most charming, but it is David Roberts’s illustrations that bring Iggy to life (and give away his Midwestern location). The drawn Iggy is tiny and quirky, especially set against his own towering structures, but he is a master builder, in charge of his destiny. Each page is a visual treat, filled with architectural details and historical references that lend themselves to close inspection. A clever use of white space and the double page spreads help create the sensation of height and urban density on every page, while giving the impression that Iggy’s imagination grows along with each new creation.
Iggy “quirks” up quite a few of our favorite buildings: architectural aficionados will enjoy the many references to iconic buildings and structures, though they may be a bit obscure for those who’ve never taken an architectural history class. Iggy’s ambition is heroic and original, for sure; a little ugly and ordinary might make the details of the subject matter more accessible. But maybe that’s okay; an impossible Leaning Tower crafted from diapers is certainly funny and could be fine inspiration for a mischievous reader.
Iggy Peck, Architect, is a lovely parable of the power of creativity and an oddball manifesto to challenge the linguistic and logical biases of most educational curricula. Will it be the antidote? Likely not, but faith in creativity and invention saves the day in this book, and perhaps that will encourage a bit more tinkering with building blocks, glue, cereal boxes, and yogurt pots and inspire some future problem solvers. Read it at bedtime (it’s a quick read!), chuckle with your children, and send them to dreamland to build alongside Iggy.
Design on the Edge: a century of teaching architecture at the University of California Berkeley, 1903-2003, edited by Waverly Lowell, Elizabeth Byrne, and Betsy Frederick-Rothwell San Francisco: William Stout Publishers, 2009
From the edge, perceptions become amplified. This has certainly been the case when it comes to Berkeley’s College of the Environmental Design. One might argue that no school of architecture has been so identified with its location on the nation’s geographic and political spectrum. A handsome and thorough compendium, Design on the Edge paints a complex portrait of this influential institution.
The pedagogical contributions of the College of Environmental Design during the sixties and seventies are undeniable. The social, political, and environmental disciplines that it incorporated into architectural education are now being re-discovered, reconsidered, and reimplemented. It is, however, unproductive and inaccurate to define the school solely on these terms and by this era. Berkeley, an outpost that eventually became a touchstone in the national consciousness, struggled like other schools with tradition, history, the changing desires and values of students, the personalities of faculty, and the academy’s relationship to practice. Yet, there always seemed to be the pervasive sentiment that, distanced from the expectations of the East Coast academic hegemony, Berkeley was reinventing architectural education as it was inventing itself. A unique set of characters, from Bernard Maybeck to J.B. Jackson, and the democratic ideals engrained in California’s mythology—from the consistently high percentage of female students to the early introduction of open juries and free faculty/student dialogue—helped construct an architectural ethos that was inextricably interlaced with the sense of being on the western edge.
In the second two thirds of the book, the more recent intellectual concerns of the curriculum are described, usually firsthand by those who created it. In many ways, the pedagogical inventions of this period—from those planned, to those that were a response to local events that became national spectacle (People’s Park), to those accidentally stumbled upon (Sim Van der Ryn’s wonderful descriptions of his communal experiments in Inverness)— foreshadow much of the recent interest in design/build and sustainable communities. While some schools are finally taking these on, sometimes, as one takes a daily dose of Castor Oil, one understands how they have become germane to Berkeley. It is the latter part of Design on the Edge that holds the multiple overlapping, often contradictory voices that must have made for lively pedagogical debates and interesting faculty meetings. This latter part of the book includes seven sections, among them, “The Research Environment,” “Communities and Cultures,” “Ecology and Building Sciences,” and “Systematic Approaches.”
A section dedicated to the design studio is, however, conspicuously absent. Indeed, save for Dan Solomon’s erudite and entertaining article, the school’s influential design figures from the last thirty years (Saitowitz, Mack, Fernau, and others) are mentioned only in passing. This is a striking contrast to how the history through William Wurster’s deanship is told, with change and interdisciplinarity happening through design, not in spite of it.
A the editors note, writing a history of the period since the 1980s is difficult, there not being sufficient time for reflection. Accordingly, Design on the Edge feels more like a 75-year history than reflections on a century, and it misses the opportunity for the CED to show how its recent past, while much debated, is ready to be reshaped for a world engulfed in globally interconnected academic, architectural, and environmental exchanges. As Asia’s rise continues, Berkeley is clearly no longer at the edge. The natural question is, “Where does it go from here?”
Grid/Street/Place: Essential Elements of Sustainable Urban Districts, by Nathan Cherry with Kurt Nagle
Chicago: American Planning Association, 2009
In Grid/Street/Place, Nathan Cherry, Kurt Nagle and their collaborators pursue the ambitious goal of identifying, analyzing, and summarizing the key attributes of sustainable urban districts around the country. The book’s figure-ground diagrams, charts, perspectives, and photographs form a valuable resource, a worthy complement to the toolkit of any urban designer and architect who works at such a scale.
In the first two chapters, the authors lay the groundwork by presenting examples of both classic districts—Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mizner Park in Boca Raton, and Malaga Cove Plaza in Palos Verdes Estates and contemporary mixed-use districts, such as Playa Vista and L.A. Live in Los Angeles and Mockingbird Station in Dallas. They considerimportant elements of districts, such as squares, greens and parks, shopping streets, and “places” (reflecting a yet smaller scale).
The book’s restrained drawing style is applied with consistency and rigor. Detailed, same-scale diagrams nurture comparison, encouraging the reader to make back-and forth, page turning journeys. The diagrams document scale, open space, resources, transit, and general relationships of chosen districts, along with dimensionally accurate plans. The authors have the good sense to compress the district plans on one or two pages in each chapter, further enabling comparison. Each chapter includes a summary of findings and common attributes, and, although the text lacks literary flourish, one comes to appreciate the no-nonsense, “focus on the essentials” attitude.
The book betrays an unstated geographic bias in its selection of districts. As an Angeleno, it is a bias I appreciate and applaud. The authors choose a number of districts from the Los Angeles metropolitan area, which reflects their professional interests but is also a unique service to the region, considering the Southland’s enduring reputation as the front line of sprawl, lacking significant public spaces. L.A. is important, because it is not a bucolic environment, is very much a contributor to the global environmental crisis, and needs a toolkit of real solutions.
Early in the book, the authors discuss the necessity of using branding as a key part of the urban re- envisioning process, an approach that seems directly related to their professional expertise and is highlighted by a later chapter on “shopping streets”—a welcome chapter, given that retail design can be a very misunderstood topic dominated by specialists, and that it is not an area of deep expertise in most architectural offices.
If there is a less satisfying aspect to the book, it is the light touch on the topic of sustainability itself. While the chosen districts are clearly sustainable places, the attitude seems to be that their sustainability is self- evident, owing to their compact, mixed-use, and transit-oriented character. Yet this approach bypasses a critically focused discussion of sustainable performance, climate change, and other significant environmental pressures, none of which are in fact mentioned. In this area, the book is missing significant data and analysis, comparable to that applied to the physical characteristics and retail circumstances of the districts.
One would expect that performance in delivering solutions to greenhouse gas reduction, addressing stormwater needs, incorporating sustainable buildings, or reducing often excessive parking ratios (a potentially critical means to discouraging automobile use) would be central to the discussion. One could easily imagine highly aggressive performance indicators and checklists added to each chapter that analyze how the districts deliver on the critical global deadlines we face. This is the evolving core of professional practice. If there is one suggestion I would have, it is that the authors consider such issues in a revised version.