Month: April 2018

Speaking Ill of the Dead

I was dismayed to read Randa Jarrar’s tweet yesterday. Marking the death of Barbara Bush, she wrote that she was an “amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal.” Later, she doubled-down, and claimed to be happy that “the witch is dead.” While I respect Jarrar’s honestly-held opinion, and I am appalled that she might face disciplinary action or dismissal for exercising her right to free speech, I found the sentiment tasteless, and deeply offensive. Worse still was the chorus of my comrades on the left who chimed-in with their own, often gleeful condemnations. Make no...

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From the Vaults: The Kinks’ ‘Come Dancing’

For reasons I don’t quite understand, I woke up with the Kinks’ ‘Come Dancing’ in my head yesterday.  It’s a catchy little ditty, but it really can’t hold weight versus the rest of the band’s oeuvre.  But it did introduce the band to a new generation of fans, and I was at the tail end of that generation when ‘Come Dancing’ shot up the pop charts in 1983.  I don’t think I’d heard the song in close to 20 or 25 years.  Listening to it yesterday, I was struck by how different the track is from the classic Kinks oeuvre.  It’s very much a 1980s song, driven by a horrible keyboard riff.  But it is also heavily influenced by ska and reggae, in the beat, and in the way Davies delivers the lyrics.  The horns that are meant to reflect the Big Band era sound more like they come from Specials, by design, of course. Anyway.  As I listened to the lyrics, I thought about how nostalgia works.  For those not familiar with the song, Ray Davies, the Kinks’ frontman, is singing about the new parking lot on the piece of land where the supermarket used to stand. Before that, they put up a bowling alley, on the site that used to be the local palais.  You see, as Ray was growing up in the 40s and 50s, his...

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Unlicensed Driver by Lylanne Musselman

Installment 19 reminds us that the topside of terror is often desire. Lylanne Musselman’s unlicensed driver violates the laws of the road, family, and gender. Evading the fear and self-doubt that our culture expects from teenage girls, she hazards the routes of adulthood with refreshing resolve.  *** Unlicensed Driver My first memory of driving was around 15 – I was waitressing at my uncle’s restaurant. Mom, dad, my aunt and uncle had gone home early for an adult party later that evening. My two younger cousins assigned to stay with me, were to be brought home by our designated...

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Stop Demolishing Useful Buildings: a Manifesto for an Architecture of Transformation

I’m a walking nightmare, an arsenal of doom I kill conversation as I walk into the room I’m a three line whip I’m the sort of thing they ban I’m a walking disaster I’m a demolition man (Demolition Man, by Sting) Demolition in progress in Barcelona’s historic centre Why is the demolition of old buildings and their replacement by new ones still widely seen as a sign of “progress”? Why is transforming an existing structure considered somehow “less architectural” than demolishing it and building anew? Demolishing perfectly sound, useful structures harms both the environment as well as our collective memory. In this age of human-induced climate change, existing buildings should be maintained and transformed through adaptive reuse whenever possible, regardless of whether they are listed as heritage or not. But there is also the issue of collective memory that is permanently lost whenever buildings are demolished that could otherwise be refurbished: their replacement by new buildings usually leads to a much more sterile and soulless environment, especially when this is done on a massive scale. This is not about preserving a status quo for reasons of nostalgia. Far from it. There are plenty of structurally unsound buildings everywhere for creating new building sites, to say nothing of the abundance of empty lots in many cities. This is rather about not always discarding things that are still perfectly useful, and...

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A New Low: the World’s Tallest Building

Faced with a half-day layover in Dubai recently, I decided to visit the tallest building in the world. I could have opted to visit a more architecturally pedigreed building, such as Concrete at Alserkal Avenue by OMA, or the Muraba Residences by RCR, both designed by Pritzker laureates. But no, I opted for the “marvel of engineering” that seemingly everyone else visiting The United Arab Emirates was also rushing to see, judging by the lineup at the ticket counter before it even opened. Dubai’s high-brow architecture can wait until another layover. Fashion Avenue at the Mall of Dubai The oddest thing about visiting the Burj Khalifa tower is the approach. It’s impossible for a visitor to enter through the building’s front door and lobby just like the everyday users of the building. Instead, visitors must approach this mega-skyscraper through an adjacent mega-shopping centre, the Mall of Dubai, from which a tunnel-like corridor containing an exhibition of gee-whiz factoids about the building leads to a ticket counter and waiting zone. At the ticket counter, a choice has to made between “At the Top”, a ride up an express elevator to the 124th and 125th floors that costs 135 AED (roughly €30), and “At the Top Sky“, a ride up another express lift to the 148th floor that costs a whopping 525 AED (nearly €120). Of course, I opt for the...

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