Shinsuke, Architect Magazine, North Park discussed on Longform Podcast
You have these concepts in architecture and in criticism of what people should do and what they did do. This should is in the public good. It's sustainability. Public spaces that are accessible to all. And those are all one form of ideal. And then there's different ideals for the people who are putting up the money for them all, which are like bringing in customers, selling stuff, not spending too much building them all. How do you think about those sorts of tradeoffs and the difference between what people should do based on certain ideals and the practical realities of building buildings? I don't actually believe that better materials are always better. I mean, if you look at if you look at contemporary mall design, there's a lot of marble, a lot of shiny marble, and all the malls I like, like when I talk about in my second chapter, north park has polished concrete floors and white brick walls, and it's so much nicer than these kind of alienating super shiny, super hard marble spaces like it American Dream and some other malls like part of mall of America has been remodeled and it looks very similar. And if you look at photos of those faces they all look alike and they are not warm and they are not human in the same way that something like brick and concrete can be. So I think really in all architecture, it's all in the way you deploy the materials. It's not about the expense of the material. Other part of your question, I agree all of those things should be public goods like the public domain should provide clean bathrooms and air conditioning and like lots of comfortable seating. But it is not doing it. It's certainly not doing it in New York City where there are no benches and moynihan station. And it's just not doing it in general. And the malls by and large are. And we have to look at critics, you know, people who are interested in the future of architecture and urbanism have to look at the places that people actually like to go and what those places are surviving, like there's no point in just standing back and only talking about these idealized spaces. I think most critics, like we want to be active, we want to talk about what people like what they're doing and one of those faces as well. The buildings that you write about have these long lives that they are evolving. Malls are an evolving art form. And how do you think about the lifespan of architectural stuff and do you feel like there's like an ideal time to be writing about it? Well, the nerdy term for it is post occupancy review. And but yeah, I mean, because of the way the media cycle is, like most mainstream media only wants to hear about the building the minute it's opened. It's kind of like those architect profiles like archetypes get profiled when a big skyscraper is about to open in a major city, even if that's not their most interesting work. And so a new building gets profiled the minute it opens. When in fact, we have the least amount of information about it from a kind of humanist point of view. So there have been various experiments over the years. I actually went to rib Shinsuke for a while, was writing this column for architect magazine where he would go back and look at a building like ten years after it had opened. And I thought that was great. All of us would be down for that, but that's not what editors want. There's always like a little bit of market forces at work. The interesting thing for malls was that often when I was trying to research a new mall, like the best first source of information was actually Wikipedia because Wikipedia stays up to date. So if I was trying to figure out how many different owners of all had had or how many times it had been added onto, it was the Wikipedia that would then link me to those local paper articles about all the changes in the mall. And one of the things that I kind of used historical research for was to establish what the mall looked like at the beginning, but then sometimes the ways a place like the mall of America has changed. What you're actually seeing is fashion imprinting itself on the architecture of the mall. And because the mall sells fashion, I think it's honestly easier to talk about the changing looks of a mall than it is to talk about the changing looks of some other building types. If you zoomed out on America or really most countries and you looked at where all the wealth is, it's mostly in real estate. And yet, there aren't a ton of people who write about the thing that most of our money is in, which is in buildings basically. Why do you think that is? Why are we not more interested in a society and this thing that we're perfectly willing to put our entire net worth into? Well, I mean, there's a lot of real estate writing, but it's mostly about the money part of it. And you know, I don't think the people that are making the money are that interested in criticism. I mean, the big mall companies wouldn't talk to me for this book. I read a lot of articles. I read lots of business journalism where they did talk to them, and I just kind of used my own alternate research techniques, but I feel like that's the attitude a lot of times. They don't need me to be little people like me, writing about them. So why would they contribute agree to interviews, et cetera? It's not necessary. But I also think, I mean, I don't know, why don't more people read architecture criticism like this, this is like something that I struggle with all the time because it's like, I think I'm entertaining. I am very connected to the world. I think if you read my stuff, you'll get it, but I feel like there's just this sense that architecture criticism is boring, and I don't know who gave people that sense, but there's just kind of a barrier, not I think, to the actual material, but just to even bothering to read it. But for me, I really like to write about things that I can hold and experience. Like I said earlier, I'm not that interested in biography, but I am very interested in the biography of an object. And again, this is something my editor and I had a lot of back and forth about like he wanted me to write more about people and I'm like, but I love objects. I feel about the objects, I think, how most people feel about people. So what I'm always trying to do is kind of communicate that enthusiasm and that understanding to my reader because these objects really have a lot of speaking to do and I think ultimately it's easier to connect if people have their own physical experiences in the objects. I mean, the best example of this is my last book was called the design of childhood and it was about all the ways in which design interacts with children's lives, especially like in the first 12 years. And the most popular chapter of that book is on playgrounds. And I think it's because everyone's been to a playground. You've seen a playground, so then I think that kind of softens you up to be willing to let me tell you about the whole history of playgrounds. I mean, I feel like that's a great analogy for the mall book. It's like you've been to a mall, but did you know that malls have this whole complicated history that they have periods if they have actually multiple innovators? I feel like you should want to know about that. When you're writing about a niche that's like really, really alive and present for you. But for other people, they're like, tell me the stories of the people behind it, or why is that interesting? How do you sell other people on writing about this thing that isn't part of the general magazine and writing cycle? Well, do you want to know what I led my book proposal for this book with? Please, please. Stranger Things. There you go. That's how you sell it..