Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Sarah Whiting will become the first woman dean of Harvard’s GSD, joining a growing contingent of female leadership in academia. But will such appointments bring equity to the profession?

On July 1, when Sarah Whiting steps into the job of leading the most prestigious architecture school in the country, she will be the eighth dean and the first woman to helm Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. And while her appointment is a personal and professional achievement for Whiting, it also marks a sea change for an institution still grappling with the aftermath of architecture’s #metoo moment. Last year, faculty and student populations alike petitioned for reform.

Construction is abundant across Los Angeles right now, and amid the backhoes and the cranes we are seeing signs of fresh takes on expressive architecture: glass domes, geometric facades, soaring arches. Charges of elitism swirl around big-time architecture, but many of the new designs opening this season promise to advance cultural and social life in L.A., whether with a riverside park that filters rainwater or a campus crafted to uplift the lives of LGBTQ homeless youth.

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Tree. Person. Bike. Person. Person. Tree. Anya Domlesky, ASLA, an associate at SWA in Sausalito, California, rattles off how she and the firm’s innovation lab team train a computer to recognize the flora and fauna in an urban plaza.

The effort is part of the firm’s mission to apply emergent technologies to landscape architecture. In pursuing the applied use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the research and innovation lab XL: Experiments in Landscape and Urbanism follows a small but growing number of researchers and practitioners interested in the ways the enigmatic yet ubiquitous culture of algorithms might be deployed in the field. Read More …

It’s an uncharacteristically wet day when I meet with Los Angeles–based architect Clive Wilkinson at his office in Culver City, a mixed-use building he designed in 2012. Wilkinson is a bit of a coffee snob, so it makes sense that his ground floor tenant is Cognoscenti Coffee, which serves some of the best brews in the city. Despite the downpour, brave souls on laptops shelter under the overhang formed by the stairs leading to the reception desk at Clive Wilkinson Architects (CWA).

It’s a tableau indicative of our time—of how we work now. Work is itinerant and flexible. Work is everywhere and anywhere there’s Wi-Fi and espresso.

Given the transient nature of our contemporary work lives, supported by a host of mobile devices, the actual need for an office might seem unwarranted. But Wilkinson believes in the workplace as a kind of urbanism, as community, and as a theater for everyday life—his book, “The Theater of Work,” is scheduled to come out in February. For close to three decades, he’s been at the forefront of workplace design. How, why, and where we work is central to his award-winning practice. Read More …

If there was any lingering doubt that Brutalism — the architectural style derided for everything the name implies — was back in fashion, the “Atlas of Brutalist Architecture” quashes it with a monumental thump. At 560 pages representing some 878 works of architecture in over 100 countries, the outsize volume is part reference tool, part coffee table book, and certainly part of an ongoing design trend favoring big, big books.

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Last March, #MeToo finally came to architecture. While the specifics of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Richard Meier, white-haired lion of the New York scene, were indeed shocking, many in the discipline were wondering what took so long.

In the months between the accusations that brought down Harvey Weinstein and others in Hollywood, comedy, and media, women in architecture asked one another, “Who will be ours?” Via back-channel messages we speculated about prominent and charismatic figures with reputations for bad behavior. Which architectural heavyweight would be first to fall?

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It would be cliché if it wasn’t true. On a day hazy with smoke from the Woolsey fire, Pritzker Prize-winning Dutch architect and theorist Rem Koolhaas is grumbling about L.A. traffic. Specifically, the two hours it took to get across town on a Friday.

Sitting in the cushy lobby of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, Koolhaas is a cautionary futurist. He once called multimodal Los Angeles a prototype habitat for the future of all cities because of its flexibility, networks and mobility.

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Guiding the transition of San Francisco’s Presidio from military base to national park may be the standout accomplishment of the landscape architect and parks administrator William Penn Mott Jr., who assumed the helm of the U.S. National Park Service in 1985, but it’s a little “monster” from early in Mott’s career that has received renewed attention.

In 1952, when Mott was parks superintendent for the city of Oakland, he commissioned the artist Robert “Bob” Winston to create a unique play structure on the sandy banks of Lake Merritt. Sculptural and organic, the chartreuse green piece was known as the Mid-Century Monster. It was one of the first designs in the United States to depart from conventional swings or slides and celebrate imaginative play, and from its opening, children climbed on and hid inside the Monster’s many haunches and niches. Read More …

The new book The Architecture of Closed Worlds: Or, What Is the Power of Shit? offers lessons for today by looking at Biosphere 2, 1970s ecohouses, and other microworlds.

Of all the terrarium-like experiments included in Lydia Kallipoliti’s The Architecture of Closed Worlds: Or, What Is the Power of Shit? (Lars Müller/Storefront for Art and Architecture), Biosphere 2 is the most infamous. A steel-and-glass structure baking in the Arizona desert, it represents the hope and hubris of re-creating Earth on Earth. The project was launched by an alternative living group with a taste for theater, and tanked by disastrous management by Steve Bannon (yes, him). As such, it illustrates the risky arc that courses through Kallipoliti’s 300-page volume—visions of utopia bending toward ultimate failure.

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The crude kitsch of fast-food diners is being abandoned in a bid to communicate sustainability, community and health

Back in the ’90s, when I was a grad student at SCI-Arc, my class was sent out to the desert to meet art critic and raconteur Dave Hickey, who was then teaching at the University of Las Vegas. We met at the Hilton Sportsbook, a cavernous room where, even in the middle of the day, there wasn’t a sliver of natural light. With a backdrop of screens lighting up the gloom, Hickey shared his philosophy of Mediterranean architecture, which applied as much to the Mojave Desert and Los Angeles, as to the coast of Spain or Italy. Shadow. Darkness. Escape the sun.

Radical interiority – the concept flies in the face of California Modernism, which obsessively blurs boundaries between inside and out, and defies conclusions of Learning From Las Vegas by ignoring the exterior. To illustrate his point, perhaps, Hickey took us to The Peppermill Restaurant & Fireside Lounge, a kitschy Vegas establishment that, true to its ’70s roots, features a sunken living room, purple carpet and 24-hour breakfasts. Time doesn’t simply stop here, but congeals. If fast, fresh, and light are core tenets of contemporary food culture, the Peppermill rejects all of them.

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