Episode 79- Symphony of Sirens, Revisited
Sirens, for the ancient Greeks, were mythical creatures who sang out to passing sailors from rocks in the sea. Their music was so beautiful, it was said, that the sailors were powerless against it—they would turn their ships towards these sea nymphs and crash in the impassable reefs around them.
Episode 78- No Armed Bandit
Americans now spend more money on slot machines than movies, baseball, and theme parks combined.
Episode 77- Game Changer
60 shots per game x 2 teams = 120 total shots per game
One game = 48 minutes = 2880 seconds
2880 seconds per game / 120 shots
24 seconds per shot
Episode 76- The Modern Moloch
On the streets of early 20th Century America, nothing moved faster than 10 miles per hour. Responsible parents would tell their children, “Go outside, and play in the streets. All day.”
And then the automobile happened. And then automobiles began killing thousands of children, every year.
(Credit: New York Times, Nov 23, 1924)
Much of the public viewed the car as a death machine. One newspaper cartoon even compared the car to Moloch, the god to whom the Ammonites supposedly sacrificed their children.
Pedestrian deaths were considered public tragedies. Cities held parades and built monuments in memory of children who had been struck and killed by cars. Mothers of children killed in the streets were given a special white star to honor their loss.
The horrors of peace appear to be appalling than the horrors of war. The automobile looms up as a far more destructive piece of mechanism than the machine gun. The reckless motorist deals more death the artilleryman. The man in streets seems less safe than the man in the trench. The greatest single lethal factor is the automobile. It left shambles in its wake as it coursed through 1923.
(From left: poster by Harry de Bauffer, reproduced in “Poster Wins Second Prize,” Milwaukee Journal, September 28, 1920; poster by George Starkey, reproduced in “Winning Safety Poster,” Milwaukee Journal, September 25, 1920.)
Episode 75- Secret Staircases
Wherever there is sufficient demand to move between two points of differing elevation, there are stairs. In some hilly neighborhoods of California—if you know where to look—you’ll find public, outdoor staircases.
(Credit: Alana Goldstein)
The large number of often hidden, public staircases is part of what makes California so great. San Francisco’s tourist-crushing Filbert Steps to Coit Tower are not to be handled lightly. The Monument Way staircase just off the corner of 17th and Clayton leads the intrepid walker to what used to be Sutro’s Triumph of Light and Liberty statute. There’s just something about a secret staircase that beckons you to go out of your way to use it.
Episode 74- Hand Painted Signs
There was a time when every street sign, every billboard, and every window display was painted by hand. This sounds unremarkable until you actually think about what that actually means.
(Sign painter Chancey Curtis in Mankato, MN, ca. 1930. Courtesy of Sign Painters and Princeton Architectural Press.)
Every single sign in existence was made by a sign artist with a paint kit and an arsenal of squirrel- or camel-hair brushes. Some lived an itinerant lifestyle, traveling from town to town, knocking on the doors of local shops, asking if they could paint their signs.
Hand painted signs began to disappear. But not completely.
(Credit: New Bohemia Signs)
Our contributor Benjamen Walker spoke with Faythe Levine and Sam Macon about their new book and documentary project, Sign Painters, which profiles more than two dozen contemporary sign painters keeping the tradition alive.
(Ken Davis and Caitlyn Galloway of New Bohemia Signs. Courtesy of Sign Painters and Princeton Architectural Press.)
(A collection of work from New Bohemia Signs. Courtesy of Sign Painters and Princeton Architectural Press.)
Benjamen also spoke with sign painter and cartoonist Justin Green, who draws the comic series Sign Game (among others).
(Courtesy of Sign Painters and Princeton Architectural Press.)
Sam Greenspan also visited New Bohemia Signs in San Francisco to get their take on the sign painting scene. Damon Styer, the store’s owner, was working on a “rickshaw obscura” for the San Francisco Exploratorium.
Sign Painters (the film) premiers in Washington, D.C. on March 30.
Episode 73- The Zanzibar and Other Building Poems
There comes a time in the life of a modern city where it begins to grow up—literally. Santiago, the capital of Chile, has been going through a tremendous growth spurt since its economic boom of the mid 1990s. It happened fast. In just a few years, single family homes all over the city gave way to high rises.
(Credit: Miguel Angel)
(Credit: Grego Lepoolpe)
(Credit: Carla McKay)
Daniel is also the author of the award-winning novel Lost City Radio. His next book, At Night We Walk in Circles, will be out in the fall.
Episode 72- New Old Town
Like many cities in Central Europe, Warsaw is made up largely of grey, ugly, communist block-style architecture. Except for one part: The Old Town.
(Credit: Andy Wright)
Walking through the historic district, it’s just like any other quaint European city. There are tourist shops, horse-drawn carriage rides, church spires. The buildings are beautiful—but they are not original.
During World War II, German forces razed more than 80% of Warsaw. After Soviet troops took over, much of the city was rebuilt in the with communist style: fast, cheap, and big. They built apartment blocks, wide avenues, and heavy grey buildings. It was communist ideology in architectural form.
But when it came to the historic district of Warsaw—the Old Town and a long connecting section called the Royal Route—they decided not just to rebuilt, but to restore. Builders would use the same stones, and use special kilns to make special bricks to preserve its authenticity. After six years of reconstruction, the new Old Town was opened. Poles were ecstatic to have it back. Even in the West, it was seen as a triumph of the human spirit.
But here’s the thing: Warsaw’s historic Old Town is not a replica of the original. It’s a re-imagining. An historic city that never really was.
(From left: Warsaw’s Old Town Square in 1913; in 1945; and in 2009)
Not long after the Old Town was rebuilt, people started to notice that it was a little bit off. People wandered around and feeling this uncanny disjuncture between the city that they remembered and the city in which they now found themselves.
(From left: Nowy Swiat (“New World”) Street, c. 1915-1918; in 2009)
Despite the push for authenticity, it turned out that the major inspiration for the rebuilding of the city were the paintings of an 18th Century Italian artist named Bernardo Bellotto. Bellotto was a “vedutista,” one who specialized in the Venetian style of painting in which cityscapes are depicted realistically, with their details and documented precisely.
(“Dluga Street,” Bernardo Bellotto, 1778.)
But Bellotto had a tendency to make “improvements” on the cities he painted, relying as much on his artistic license as what he actually observed. The paintings from the 18th Century were never meant to match reality—they were supposed to be better than reality.
(From left: John’s House on Castle Square in the 1920s; John’s House as depicted by Bellotto, c. 1768; John’s House After the 1948 reconstruction.)
For the Soviets, this reconfiguration of the Old Town served two purposes. FIrst, they wanted to send the message that the Old Town—and Warsaw as a whole—would be better than it was before the war. Second, they didn’t want Poles to long for this lost part of the city. By recreating Old Town, the past could stop being such a distraction, and they could get to work on a drastic overhaul of the country.
(Credit: Emily Heath)
Today, placards with Bellotto’s paintings stand beside buildings, inviting passers-by to marvel at their likeness.
This week’s episode is sponsored in part by Sidewalk Radio with Gene Kansas, which covers the art, architecture, design and urban planning of Atlanta, GA and beyond.
Design Matters with Debbie Millman
Last year I appeared on Debbie Millman’s Design Matters and now the episode is on Soundcloud for easy sharing. This is my mom’s favorite interview with me. Design Matters has posted 141 past episodes for your listening pleasure!
Episode 71- In and Out of LOVE
(Credit: Mike Blabac)
Though its official name is JFK Plaza, the open space near Philadelphia’s City Hall is more commonly known as LOVE Park, after the Robert Indiana sculpture installed there.
Designed by Edmund Bacon and Vincent Kling, the park was fashioned in high modernism: sleek, granite benches; geometric raised planter beds, and long expanses of pavement. Its success as a pedestrian plaza is debatable.
But it turned out to be perfect for skateboarding.
(Credit: Mike Blabac)
You could even make skateboard ramps by pulling up the concrete tiles.
(Credit: Mike Blabac)
Skaters started filming themselves at LOVE Park in the early 1990s. Once their videos found their way to California—the epicenter of the skating world—Philadelphia became a skating destination. As the skateboarding industry grew, so did the popularity of LOVE Park. By the end of the decade, professional skaters moved to Philly just to skate in LOVE everyday.
LOVE Park may have become the Mecca of skateboarding, but skateboarding was never a legal activity there. Police chased (and still chase) away skateboarders, and can issue fines or even confiscate boards. And as the city gentrified, the grip on skating in LOVE Park tightened, and the city announced that the park would undergo a $1 million redesign to make the park unskateable. DC Shoes, a skateboarding footwear company, offered to match the city’s $1 million if they would keep the park as-is and use the money to repair the wear and tear done by the skaters. The city declined, and renovated the park in 2002.
“The major thing they did was they removed all the of the granite benches that were there, these giant slabs of granite that were these great skateable elements,” says Philadelphia architect Tony Bracali. ”And they replaced them with Williams and Sonoma-ish wood benches that look like they belong in an 1890s kind of park.”
(LOVE Park after the renovation. Credit: Tony Bracali)
Though Bracali is not a skateboarder himself, he’s become an advocate for skateboarders’ rights, and argues that skateboarding actually improves the life of public places.
Here’s Bracali giving a tour of LOVE Park after the renovation in a documentary called Freedom of Space (beginning at 36:30)
LOVE Park’s renovation didn’t just upset the skateboarders. Edmund Bacon, one of the park’s designers, was so impressed with the skateboarders’ ability to find a new use for the space he designed, that at age 92, Bacon skated in LOVE Park in protest of the crackdown..
Other cities deployed anti-skating countermeasures as well. In San Francisco, innocuous-looking marine life sculptures were installed around the Embarcadero to render ledges ungrindable, and “skatestoppers” were put on ledges at another SF skating landmark called Hubba Hideout.
(Credit: Andrew Norton)
But skateboarding culture is a culture of adaptation. DC Shoes, after failing to keep LOVE Park from being renovated, opened their own skate park in Kettering, OH, using similar features found in LOVE Park. Tony Bracali, the architect, is working to create skateable public places. so skating doesn’t have to be confined only to the skate park. And in Tacoma, WA, skateboarders won the right to remove skatestoppers in what is now known as Thea’s Park.
If you don’t skateboard, don’t live in Philly, or don’t want to get chased by the cops, you can skate LOVE Park virtually—and in a few different ways, too. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 was the first to include a LOVE Park level, but some gamers have re-created their own LOVE Park in other games, such as EA Skate 3.
Our reporter this week is Andrew Norton, a Toronto-based skateboard photographer-turned-radio producer. Andrew Norton is a proud graduate of the Transom Story Workshop, led by our friend Rob Rosenthal from HowSound.