Meet Bella

Bella.  She’s my 2002, Intensa Blue Pearl, 5-Speed, Lexus IS-300.  Dream car since the eighth grade.  Searched high and low for her throughout Southern California when my family decided that I needed a more reliable car to take with me to college.  Bought her beat-up and modified beyond recognition and have been returning her to her original condition ever since.  I’ve repainted her rims, replaced her floor mats, replaced her center caps, replaced her tires, replaced her battery, replaced her cold-air intake, changed her oil, Seafoamed her engine and crank case, and have hand-washed, clay-barred, waxed, and polished her regularly, and with only the best products, since she has been mine.

In college, I used to hose her down once a week without fail during the winter so as to keep the salt from corroding her undercarriage.

I once slept in my car, refusing to leave her to go home with my friends after leaving a bar too intoxicated to drive.  And it was by no means a safe neighborhood.

And she has always had 91 octane gas, if not better.  Always.

As you can see, I love her.  She’s my beautiful beast, and until yesterday, nothing had changed.

I gave her a wash yesterday, and with sadness, it dawned on me that I no longer fervently loved to take care of her.  Why?  I asked myself.  And as I write this, I am still figuring it out.

It is a combination of things.  With my knowledge of urbanism continuing to expand, I have wholeheartedly begun to celebrate the pedestrian way of life.  This is the feeling of growing excitement you have as you walk through any outdoor market or festival: the energy, activity, and laughter of others permeates the air and beckons you to share in it.  “What’s that crowd over there?  Someone performing?  Let’s look!”  “What’s that wonderful smell?  Oh, he’s roasting chestnuts!”  Even outdoor shopping centers, like the Block at Orange or Bella Terra can recreate that feeling, that connection with people.  And sadly, Bella and her kind do not share in this sort of life.

The Metro as well, I think, has un-romanticized the private automobile for me.  I use Bella very sparingly, partly to save gas but mostly because I have found that I don’t need her.  The public bus and public train are so convenient for me, that I drive only two out of five weekdays, sometimes two out of all seven days a week.

I don’t think I love her any less, but rather, I see her in a different light.  The romantic view of her as an icon, as part of my identity on the street, is gone.  I now love her and appreciate her for what she is: a vehicle.  My fiance and I have talked about selling one of our cars after we’re married, and I should’ve realized something in me had changed when I volunteered to let Bella go without much hesitation.  It makes sense–she’s beautiful but…we wouldn’t need her.  And at 17-18 mpg, she’d cost a small fortune more than his Corolla.

It is always a moment for pausing when you realize that your priorities in life have played musical chairs on you.  When did this happen?  When did I begin to actually consider letting someone else wash and detail her?  When did I stop associating myself with the type of vehicle I drove?

I will still fill her up with premium gas.  I will still turn off the AC as I go up a hill and will still warm up the car before I drive.  But when I do hand over her keys…I think I’ll smile and be okay, and I’ll look forward to a more people-centric way of life.

(DianeRocks, Flickr)
(DianeRocks, Flickr)
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Meet Bella

Where do people tend to sit most?

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/82618859]

Every other Friday afternoon, my studio has (or tries to squeeze in) something called our “Friday presentation,” an hour reserved for learning where a coworker usually presents a current project or something of general architectural interest.  This was my first time attending a Friday presentation, and as there was no presenter this particular week, we watched a documentary instead.

It was titled The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, a 1980s documentary by William “Holly” Whyte that had originally accompanied his book by the same title.  To explain how I felt while watching the documentary wouldn’t capture enough of my interest and excitement.

Whyte covers the basic ingredients of successful urban spaces–seating, sun, and water to name a few–in a study of New York City’s different plazas.  Although the people studied are obviously of a different era given their fashion styles, their behavior–their very human behavior–described in Whyte’s witty and informative manner remains absolutely contemporary.  I was both surprised and amused by the simple brilliance of one of Whyte’s findings:

“People tend to sit most where there are places to sit.”

Ha!  Talk about anticlimactic.  But yet, so true!

For example, take downtown Long Beach, California.  During my lunch hour, I will often go outside to find a place to relax and enjoy my break.  A hard task, and this isn’t even a suburb.  I might just write a separate blog about my findings (or lack thereof!)  In general however, I have found that while the nearby Promenade and parks do have some scattered seating, they’re rather lacking in “sit appeal.”  Of the ones I did find, many are too small or narrow to sit on without extra efforts.  One park I tried was completely shaded by its adjoining office building and felt very damp, mossy, and much too cold.  Some benches were hardly deep enough to actually fully sit on, and at striking height of 5′-1 3/4″, I’m hardly long-legged.  The point is, a successful plaza will offer a variety of seating choices, all of which should appeal to the average person.  Oftentimes, I think, designers of places and objects of such importance do not sincerely design for people, but rather for aesthetic appeal that achieves a look or trend of the moment.  I can tell you, however, that sitting on a piece of art has yet to allow me to enjoy my lunch in comfort!

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces is thus a true eye-opener, giving viewers insightful perspective on every-day places we often don’t think twice about.  It is the second inspiration for this blog.  View the online video above!

A copy of the text can be found here.

Where do people tend to sit most?

Better than my morning coffee

Last Thursday, my architecture firm had invited a guest speaker to present his work to us at the wee hour of 9 am.  I by opportunity had walked by the seminar room early and so had peeked in to see what all the set-up was about.  Learning that it had something to do with urbanism and public spaces, I dipped out of my desk area and into an hour of pure inspiration.

I remember inhaling with absolute delight when our guest speaker began his talk.  What serendipity!  The speaker was Fred Kent, president of Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a nonprofit planning organization that works with a community’s own people to revitalize and re-urbanize neighborhood centers all over the world.  Their mission is to help people create public spaces that give back to their communities and that bring value and local pride to its members.

To PPS, “…Placemaking is a catalyst for building healthy, sustainable and economically viable cities of the future.”  I listened with both my ears and hands, scribbling away as Kent described PPS’s “Placemaking” approach to programming these spaces.  I found their concept of the Power of 10 most exciting: in any city, first find ten destinations that people go to or ten reasons to be there (e.g., cultural museum); near each destination, identify ten places to go to (e.g., coffee shop, movies, bookstore); then at each place, identify ten things to do there (e.g. have a conversation, meet a friend, buy a lotto ticket).  If the quota is lacking, then program more of the necessary ingredient.  The idea here is that a great place to be should be brimming with activities of all kinds, for all kinds of people.

I could feel purpose in my step as I left the room.  I felt invigorated to hear about a group of people so dedicated to improving the quality of life through the same means as mine, and I returned to my work with a different sort of energy boost.  That morning’s event was the first inspiration for this blog.  Read my studio’s PPS blog here!

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Better than my morning coffee

Hello, World!

They say that with great knowledge comes great responsibility.  My professor of architectural history, Dennis Doordan, sent my graduating class forth with these words:

“Architecture is a form of stewardship as well as an honorable profession.  Architects bear an enormous responsibility as stewards of creation.  How you conceive, construct and manage the built environment will shape the quality of life–all life on our interconnected planet–for generations to come.  Here I want to remind you that architects are optimists by profession. To build is an act of hope and an affirmation of life.  We can design a better world.  You must design a better world.”

This blog is just a small effort to do so–to promote real urbanism and architecture in efforts to rediscover community and to create that better world for all of us.  By sharing what little I do know about architecture and urbanism, I hope to catch the eye of a few community members, who’ll then pass these ideas and intentions on to their fellow community members.

Above all, this blog is meant to encourage–to celebrate architectural and urban achievement and to earnestly call for more of that good stuff.  Come join me!

Hello, World!

I say, “I’m studying to be an architect.” You say, “Oh wow, what kind of buildings are you going to draw?”

Oh, man.  I never know how best to answer this question.  It’s a little naive, but by no means the questioner’s fault.  Here then, is a mini lesson on architecture and urbanism, as explained by one who’s still learning.  I figure since I’ll be using these words throughout, I should somewhat define these concepts at least for the purposes of this blog and at least so I know what I’m mumbling about.

Architecture.  It’s got something to do with buildings, and a lot more to do with a lot else.  It is the queen of the arts–ideally, a harmonious blend of technical knowledge and artistic vision, manifested into spaces where people experience life, every single day.  How we live, where we work, where we play, where we worship–these all tie back to architecture.  Our quality of life, therefore, is rooted in this great art.

Urbanism.  Although it has become somewhat of a buzz word, real urbanism is timeless and unmistakable.  Let’s think for a second.  Where is your favorite place in your city or town?  Where do you love to walk, to sit, to read a book, or to enjoy a coffee?  Where can you socialize, take your lunch, or just people-watch?  If these answers don’t come readily, it’s likely that these characteristics of vibrant neighborhoods aren’t available to you.  And it’s more than likely that they should be.

Urbanism, I think, is a people-centric way of life.  It speaks of streets that are safe and easy to walk across, of places vibrant with a mixture of activities, and of hubs where people of all classes and neighborhoods eat, linger, and laugh.  Most importantly, urbanism speaks of connectivity.  Of community.

I say, “I’m studying to be an architect.” You say, “Oh wow, what kind of buildings are you going to draw?”