New York & India

Rush out and buy these special issues before they disappear from the shelves at the end of the week: The Economist’s terrific Survey of New York and New Scientist’s comprehensive special on science in India. Both are outstanding – the best specialist journalism in Britain and lots of clever, exclusive content. Both mags are really on form, if you ask me.

The Economist’s survey seems to be available for nothing at the web site and quite a lot of the New Scientist’s special is also free online.

Misery at Ground Zero

Don’t read this excellent review from the NYRB if you’ve been sort of distractedly assuming that the reconstruction of the twin towers in NYC was going to be one of those uplifting stories of human nobility, resilience and creativity in the face of brutal nihilism; vigorous American mercantilism overcoming poisonous cynicism and all that. It’s not. It’s a dispiriting mess. Very sad.

Half a kilometre and climbing…

Short piece from MIT’s Technology Review about the latest world’s tallest building – in Taipei – soon to be overtaken by several others, including the Twin Towers’ replacement (NY Times). I like skyscrapers. They speak to the 14 year-old in me and, since you just have to reverse those numbers to arrive at my current age, that sounds reasonable to me. Here’s the Taipei tower’s page from the wonderful (both articles require free registration).

A changing city

If it weren’t a really crass thing to do I think I’d probably say that Walter Benjamin would have loved this mournful photo-record of change in the built fabric of Berlin over nearly twenty years. I’ve been to Berlin a few times. The first was long before the wall came down – around the time of the first of these photographs. The poetry of this collection is as much in the idea and in the arrangement of the exhibit as in the individual images. It’s a very thoughtful stab at a new kind of urban historiography –? a contemporary, subjective, visual way of writing a city’s history. Anyway, now I’m gushing. Set aside half an hour to browse the pics, though. Thanks to Jonathan at the always excellent Things Magazine for the link.

places and camphone privacy

Camphone hysteria is building. Gadgets with built-in cameras are being banned all over the place. Looks like we’ll see an arbitrary patchwork of camphone rules emerge ??some will ban them, others encourage them ??most, presumably, try to ignore them.

But maybe this is actually a rational response to new surveillance tech. Maybe an evolved public realm provides a spectrum of degrees of privacy. From totally transparent, 100% surveilled spaces like malls and street corners to private zones like cafes and swimming pools ? maybe even using opportunistic, new technologies to automatically disarm personal surveillance gadgets. I’d rather see an explicit new urban grammar of surveillance ? places and environments publicly marked up with their ‘personal surveillance status’ (Matt could do the signage) than have no idea who’s watching and when.

Building Magazine on why construction needs migrant workers

Gordon Brown’s announcement of a larger quota for desperately needed overseas construction workers is cue for a good piece from Building magazine about migrant workers on UK sites. The article focuses on the experience of workers on the huge Paternoster Square development, next door to St Paul’s Cathedral in The City – from Italy, Hungary, Zimbabwe and Germany. This is the kind of access only a prestige trade title like Building could get but it’s crying out for a longer treatment – five workers from four nations on one well-run site is hardly an in-depth survey.

The magazine’s coverline sums up the UK building trade’s attitude to migrant workers: “The indispensibles: why construction needs migrant workers”.

And watch out for those pea-soupers…

Strange ‘insider tips’ from The Economist’s London City Guide that came through my letterbox the other day, apparently cut and pasted from a 1950s travel guide:

Table manners are keenly observed as a sign of good breeding. Never talk with your mouth full; never reach across the table; do not wave cutlery around or yell “I’m done” to the waiter. The British are less politically correct than their American counterparts. Wittiness often means an agility with sexual innuendo, with a pint in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The woes of public transport are a sure-fire way of reviving a flagging conversation.

Ironic? Out of touch? You decide.

Libeskind in New York

Choosing an architect to replace the twin towers was always going to be a pretty high stakes game. The fact that it was happening in New York City, one of the most politically and culturally charged places on earth, could only make the whole thing more intense. Hal Foster (architecture critic and generally cool postmodernist) communicates the drama in this excellent review of the selection process in the LRB (the full story is only available to paying LRB subscribers).

“The presentations in December made for terrific theatre: two parts The Fountainhead, one part Gangs of New York. On the one hand, the willingness of prestigious architects to collaborate was impressive, especially in the case of the ‘Dream Team’ of Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey and Steven Holl. On the other hand, to be in the running one had to be a designated ?ber-architect, presumably with the technical expertise required of grands projets: stock in the Dream Team, Lord Foster and the Skidmore Owings & Merrill group went up, while stock in Daniel Libeskind and others fell. But also, implicitly, one should be an echt New Yorker, and here Foster went down (maybe out), Libeskind up a bit, while the Dream Team, SOM and the ‘Think’ group led by Rafael Vi?oly, a veteran of big buildings who works out of downtown Manhattan, held even.”