Karrie Jacobs


January 28, 2009

Winter Tidbits

January in Sara D. Roosevelt Park on the Lower East Side

In winter the Itinerant Urbanist should be elsewhere, preferably someplace where there are no giant slush puddles making it a challenge to cross from one side of the street to the other. I know a nice beach on Anguilla, for example, where I’d much rather be. On a day as bleak as this one, it’s hard to have any love at all for the urban environment. Nonetheless, I managed to find a spot of color (above) while doing errands on the Lower East Side. Most of what’s interesting at the moment, however, is not outside on the street, but in the email inbox on my nice warm computer. For example:

1. The Perfect $150,000 House

An airtight Polycarbonate and aluminum house by ARO/Della Valle Bernheimer (courtesy of the Architect’s Newspaper who got the image from the Syracuse University School of Architecture)

The icy looking little house above is one of three winners in a competition, From the Ground Up: Innovative Green Homes, sponsored by the Syracuse University School of Architecture. The idea is that the three architecturally distinctive homes are designed to be energy efficient and to be built for about $150,000. The other two winners are by the New York firm, Cook + Fox (architects of the Bank of America tower) and a Philadelphia design/build firm called Onion Flats. The school plans to build the winners, one of each, on the west side of Syracuse. Personally, I’m always delighted to see houses that are low in cost and architecturally ambitious. Green is a bonus. Hats off to Syracuse. (Courtesy of ArchNewsNow.)

2. Obsessive signage collecting

Typographer and calligrapher Paul Shaw knows Brooklyn. He has covered the borough finding examples of wonderful lettering. His impressive collection is on the AIGA website, all carefully annotated and numbered. It’s really a superb survey. My favorite is the door handle from the downtown Brooklyn branch of Macy’s. Give this man a museum. (Thanks to Nancy Cohen.)

3. Urban soundscapes

A conceptual artist named David Gunn emailed me about a project he’s been working on in Leeds, England. It’s a kind of audio archive of a run down part of the city that’s currently undergoing urban renewal. The idea is that residents can contribute found sounds and then blend the snippets of music and noise into audio-visual collages. It’s a way of preserving at least the essence of what’s being bulldozed. Take a look at ( or a listen to) the Echo Archive. It beats the hell out of Guitar Hero.