Mimi Zeiger

Critic, editor, curator and instigator.

Images of the havoc that natural disasters wreak upon the built environment are part of our cultural consciousness. They have been since the birth of photography. Yet the past decade or so has seen a worrisome convergence: the parallel increases in the ubiquity of media technology and the number and severity of devastating storms, which are arguably linked to climate change. Katrina: drowned New Orleans freeways and neighborhoods (the latter re-created in Beyoncé’s 2016 “Formation” music video). Sandy: a darkened Manhattan shot by Iwan Baan. Harvey: Houston’s graybrown floodwaters captured by drone photography. Irma: cell phone footage of a battered port town in the British Virgin Islands.

The degree to which the two are connected—and the importance of that link—was most acute when Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, cutting out power and destroying telecommunications infrastructure. The Washington Post even attributed the Trump administration’s delayed response in part to not seeing the wreckage. Read More …

Sometime in the early 1980s, Reyner Banham looked out across a stretch of Arizona landscape—a dry wash and long mound of earth scattered with trash. “[A]mong the chollas and cacti there are areas of burned ash, holes containing broken porcelain insulators and what may be pieces of toilet fitting, broken china and other domestic detritus; and areas of compacted ground that might have been the sites of small  buildings,” he later wrote in Scenes in America Deserta as the opening to a chapter entitled “Frank Lloyd Wright Country.” Read More …

In June 2015, at the start of an almost halcyon summer compared with our last, President Barack Obama described the slow pace of democratic change to comedian Marc Maron. “Sometimes the task of the government is to make incremental improvements or try to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that ten years from now, we’re in a very different place than we were,” he said, suggesting that a 50-degree turn was unmanageable. Fast-forward through a vicious election season, an unnerving inauguration, and a hot rash of executive orders, and it feels like not only has the ocean liner turned 50 degrees, it’s capsized.

While individuals can take to the streets, the phone, or social networks to voice their political views on a furious host of contemporary issues, cultural institutions are like ocean liners, stately and slow to turn. (Some are careful not to upset their donors or nonprofit status by taking a stance.) Increasingly, though, museums, journals, and universities—as agents of curators, editors, and faculty—have quickened their pace. Rather than pledging allegiance to the new administration (ahem, AIA), these organizations are making super-relevant programming that sheds light on the complexity of worldwide political, social, and economic issues. Read More …

I meet architect and educator Ralph Knowles on an unseasonably warm autumn day, even for Southern California. He greets me in shirtsleeves (his shirt is a tropical pattern of vines and branches) and leads me to a seat on the balcony of his condo. The building—a retirement community—is fairly new, but mature oak trees line the quiet street. As we talk about his career, the California oaks form a poignant backdrop. For more than five decades, Knowles, 88, has argued for an architecture that hews closely to nature’s forces and rhythms.

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This November, the Manetti Shrem Museum on the University of California, Davis, campus opened to the public. Designed by New York City–based SO-IL with the San Francisco office of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the museum pays homage to the agricultural landscape of California’s Central Valley with an oversize roof canopy. The steel members of the 50,000-square-foot shade structure, nearly twice the size of the museum itself, reference the patterning of plowed fields and create a welcoming outdoor space for visitors. It is both expressive and practical, but getting that balance wasn’t easy. Read More …

When media artist Refik Anadol arrived at Los Angeles International Airport in 2012, the first thing he did was rent a car and drive to Walt Disney Concert Hall. Jet-lagged after his long flight from Istanbul, where he was born and was immersed from an early age in computing, cinema, and photography, he stood outside in awe. “I was dreaming of what would happen if this building was embedded with memories, intelligence, and culture,” says Anadol. Read More …

Paul Klee once said that drawing was “taking a line for walk.” In the decades since, that line has not just walked—it’s gone rogue. Drawings have escaped their erstwhile parameters. Definitions have gotten sloppy, like a barfly at last call. Just what is a drawing, especially an architectural drawing, when longstanding fights—hand v. mechanical, digital v. analogue—are fast becoming archaic concerns? Read More …

“We build what developers won’t build: family-sized units,” says Sarah Letts, the executive director of the Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM), standing on the outdoor terrace on the top floor of 2802 Pico Housing—a recently opened 100-percent-affordable housing project by the nonprofit developer. The family-oriented design by Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners provides ten three-bedroom and 23 two-bedroom rental units—all at 25 to 30 percent of market rate.  Read More …

Spoiler alert! The Japanese maple in Jeff Dauber’s San Francisco backyard is not at the center of a carbon-sucking vortex. Sorry, sci-fi fans, but the Berkeley-based architect Thom Faulders’s perfectly flat deck only looks like its far corner has its own warped gravity. Ever since Francesco Borromini’s Gallery Spada, in Rome, forced perspectives and architectural patronage have gone hand in hand, but whereas the Renaissance architect employed a mathematician to make that arcade seem longer through foreshortening, Faulders used 3-D–modeling software to achieve Deformscape’s dipping effect. Read More …