Thursday, January 31, 2013


By: Jaime Correa

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to find Roman ruins in America. This absence of a direct lineage to a great civilization generates a rootless culture which has been trained to think of its regional fields as a resolute vacuum of virgin lands, and of its cities as disturbances within pristine ecological mosaics.[1] The absent of a lineage coupled with the desire to modify every corner of a “virgin” world creates an urban disengagement and a desire for the idea of landscape to fill, rigorously, the ills of the present and the anxieties of the future. 

In a collective logic where cities are perceived as disturbances, branding operations force upon all of us a system of false characterizations about their urban content and that of the regional field. Somehow, we have been told that America is nothing but a conglomeration of: first, banal issues of geography -water, weather, mountains, canyons, or mesas; second, issues of cultural hybridization -Islamic mosques in New York, the so-called Miami “Cuban/Latino refuge”, or even Mexican food; and third, nostalgic recollections of small invented territories -represented by our invention of the concept of “historic neighborhood” and “historic architecture” or by the preservation of vast amounts of territories under the National Park System. This three-fold type of branding mechanism generates identification marks and regional atmospheres that have nothing to do with nature, art, or science and which can only be described as a commodity or as an excursion into a series of “themed environments”. America is no longer understood as a mosaic of natural regions but as a place of relentless sameness and absolute lack of distinction; a retrograde experience, in which all future interventions are not judged by their own merits but by their capacity to fit within the rules; a moment in time in which change and advancement are seeing with suspicion or denial.

Cities continue loosing population to their suburban counterparts; large areas of the region are paved over; huge pieces of public infrastructure are subjected to deterioration; economic development is taken prisoner by political figures looking after themselves; racial struggles find their own abode in the metropolis; fossil fuel dependency and environmental problems are a matter of fact; and, most importantly, decreased densities and extensive vegetation removal continue at an accelerated pace. Everything unfit to the branding slogans is pulled away from the political discourse; as a result, intelligent contemporary proposals never see the light of the day unless they show up, by choice or by default, as part of a natural catastrophe, as part of a shameful political scandal, or when inflexible post-Fordist development practices reveal our current human isolation, our dependence on fossil fuels, and our absence of alternative infrastructures.

In the midst of these circumstances, urbanism plays a secondary role; an inferior position in which design, science, art, myth, and poetry are no longer the lens through which new building disciplines can emerge; a minor job where tourism, recreation, destination entertainment, preservation, real estate development, civil engineering, political games, traditional recollections, and racial struggles replace the unique metaphysical possibilities of a discipline in search of new modes of description, scholarship, and discourse.

[1] See McHarg, Ian L. Design with nature. John Wiley and Sons. 1992.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


By: Jaime Correa



I enjoyed your interpretation of the current situation at the new Harvard School of Design (formerly known as GSD). However, as I told you many times before, Harvard should not be the yardstick against which the world should be measured. If you add to the events in your e-mail the new P-2-P initiative by Nikos Salingaros and Michael Mehaffy, the recent "Small Scale, Big Change" exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the renewal of socio-political planning currently sponsored by the University of California, at Berkeley, or the kin interest of every American school of architecture and planning on issues of under-development through the so-called "Informal Urbanism" rubric, then you will be able to understand that all of these issues are nothing but effects of very confused minds -minds which are completely taken over by the desperate circumstances in which we find ourselves nowadays.

I can't see my self at war with anybody and have difficulties understanding any of the above proposals as threats to the survival of the goals and objectives so preciously defended by the Congress for the New Urbanism.

America is a concept which no longer exists; an idea which is not operative anymore. 

For those of us who have had the privilege of living abroad for a few months, our perception of America has widened through cultural experience, collegiate discussions, and comparative studies. It is not hard to see that the outside image of America has changed and that, no matter what we do, things will never be the same. The world is experiencing an America of sufferance, distress, and failed policies; an America where conservative efforts have organized an irrational blockade to prevent our own progress and the development of original ideas; an America which our own forefathers would have despised for its lack of innovation in the fields of philosophy, politics, social and economic development, science, and art; an America where mytho-poetic dimensions are long gone and where dreams are sabotaged by the so-called “realists”; an America where daily debates about economic opportunity end up in discussions about white supremacy, racism, religion, or sexual orientation; an America of human damnation and confused democracies; an America without identity or capacity for self-sufficiency; an America with a vast territory yet stagnant natural resources; a neurotic America full of commodities yet lacking leadership and direction; an America with abandoned and unprepared teenagers and with an exhausted supply of elderly people under the poverty line; an America which is nothing but a dystopia that no longer exists; most importantly, an America which is neither a research topic for Harvard nor the focus of attention of our so beloved Congress for the New Urbanism (C.N.U.).

The dismantling of the Berlin wall, in 1989, was the urban collective symbol that acknowledged a troubled soviet system and the beginning of a new period of unity and innovation. In the landscape of America, this type of symbolic action has no correspondence. All we have is the economic crisis of 2008 or the political failures and terrorist attacks of 9/11. Our meaningful values and successes are not measured against physical structures but through the abstraction of economic ideas which are difficult to grasp for normal Americans i.e. the New York Stock Exchange listings, the federal Rate of Return, the national census demographic data, political polls, the national unemployment rate, the Gross National Product, and many more; all of them, however, pointing out to an imminent failure and to results which are avoided by government and still remain unacknowledged by the big business machines –including Ivy League universities and intellectual groups like the CNU.

America fears innovation in all fields, including arts and sciences. Nothing genuinely innovative has been proposed to reconstitute the original American dream or to keep abreast with the technological discoveries that are forcing our civilization to evolve in quantum leaps. After 30 years of experience, we can honestly state that planning is a failure and urbanism is almost dead; that urban form discussions, by themselves, will never stop the rampant process of global urbanization. It is a cosmic joke; the more we insist on the repair of suburbia or the reconstitution of "urbia", the more serendipitous and chaotic the city becomes. To the point in which many of us are losing faith not only on eternal principles and natural laws but on quantum concepts and everything else that our contemporary civilization has to offer.

Despite futile attempts to restore what is left standing, no strategic proposal seems to work because every piece of patchwork is based on our old cultural habits and patterns of consumption; on the assumption that the individual must reign over the welfare of society; on our self-imposed ignorance about the inter-connection of the world and our role as creators of change; on ideas of planning which do not take into account quantum serendipity and chaos; on nostalgic views of a post-modern world in which everything past was formally, morally and ethically much better than what we, as individuals with a human mind, can propose today; on our own failure to recognize that the system is doomed and that the so-called promise of the “Audacity of Hope” has felt short. But, most importantly, neither intellectuals nor universities, like Harvard, have found a clear cut strategy to replace it.

I have been in total dismay for the past few months and my faith in urban design, as a redeemer of society, is already running short. Let us not see these disparate proposals as moments of confrontation or denial, but as opportunities to move a stagnant professional state of affairs into a more hopeful and positive direction. Unfortunately, the real estate bubble of the past 10 years blinded us with our futile attachments to consumerism, fame, and fortune. Meanwhile, a new breed of design was on the making; a breed which, by choice or by default, has been neglected by each and every one of us.

This is an important moment in time. Let us not waste it on futile ideological battles but on the production of a set of alternatives that will help America move forward into the future.

Urbanism, if it does exist, is not a theory; urbanism is both an art and a science.

E-mail to Andres Duany - Oct 19, 2010, at 5:48 AM


By: Andres Duany

Last April, upon attending a remarkable conference at the Harvard GSD, I predicted that it would be taken over in a coup. I recognized a classic Latin American-style operation. It was clear that the venerable Urban Design program would be eliminated or replaced by Landscape Urbanism. Today, it is possible to confirm that the coup was completed in September--and that it was a strategic masterpiece.

To summarize:

The first step was the hiring of Charles Waldheim, who, after long and patient preparation, had circled in from the academic hinterland acquiring "famous victories" at Illinois and Toronto.
The second step was the "general strike" of the huge Ecological Urbanism Conference--the one that I attended last April. With some thirty speakers, it was both a remarkable show of force, and simultaneously the casting call for the next faculty. The conference began with a shock: Rem Koolhaas' keynote address destabilized the then-current GSD regime. It was most unexpected to see the grand, aging revolutionary, distancing himself from all starchitect work (including his own) and aligning anew with his origins in the "humble, local and climatically responsive" work of his 60s teacher, Jane Drew (I made a note at the time "Jane Drew is the New Leonidov!"). To my fevered imagination, it was quite a frisson to witness a real show trial.
Then another shock: Midway though the conference there was suddenly a very unusual performance for a university president. Drew Faust transcended the expected insipid greeting, baring quite some fang when stating forcibly that the GSD was going to change to the ecological line--and to get used to it. Dean Mohsen Mostafavi followed with an interpretation of what was meant by that change: an unalterable commitment to the ecological basis but also, soothingly, assurances that the GSD would not neglect the high-design filter.

The third step was the publication of a red brick-like summa of the proceedings, Ecological Urbanism--the first official guide of the new regime. In size and weight and format it is clearly a replacement to Rem's silver SMLXL testament.

Then last month, by interview, Charles Waldheim disclosed that the once "small" Landscape Architecture Department he now heads would within a year hire ten new faculty. He also announced (in both the interview and in the summa) the official name change for the party, from the revolutionary, unique, branded, "Landscape Urbanism" to the reassuring, generalized, mature--conservative even--"Ecological Urbanism". A by-the-book protocol, just as the glamorous but scary "Red Brigades" transmute into comforting "socialists" once they take power.

Then, it was announced that Rahul Mehrotra (a denizen of India) was hired as a full professor with tenure to head the Urban Design Program. Alex Krieger, the levelheaded head of that program is presumably out. It is not difficult to conclude given Rahul's specialization, that the Urban Design Program will morph entirely toward third world initiatives--all offshore--thereby leaving the field clear for Landscape/Ecological Urbanism to be the GSD's only urban program operating in North America and Europe.


This coup was brilliantly conceived and comprehensively executed. Machado and Silvetti, "plantados" in gentlemanly formal principles, will probably retire soon in frustration. The agile Koolhaas will be the one Old Party survivor, as he has already provided the intellectual underpinnings for Urban Design's third world focus (with his Lagos work) while supplying infrastructural meta-visions (North Sea Power Rings et al.) such that will allow Ecological Urbanism to seem downright pragmatic.

So. . . there will not be much of whatever remained of the urbane, urban design sensibility. Landscape/Ecological Urbanism will rule without dissension.

The CNU should now stand to salute Charles Waldheim and his companions. As Churchill said of Rommel in 1941: "We have against us a very daring and skillful opponent and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general."

E-mail sent to Jaime Correa - October 18th, 2010 at 8:51 pm