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Harvard Design Magazine

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Commodification and Spectacle in Architecture

A Harvard Design Magazine Reader

William Saunders

More than ever, architectural design is seen as a means to promote commercial goals rather than as an end in itself. Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, for example, simply cannot be considered apart from its intended role as a catalyst for the economic revitalization of Bilbao and its ability to attract tourist dollars, regardless of its architectural merits. A built environment intended to seduce consumers is more likely to offer instant gratification than to invite independent thought and reflection. But how harmful, if at all, is this unprecedented commercialization of architecture? 

Framed with a provocative introduction by Kenneth Frampton, the contributions to Commodification and Spectacle in Architecture stake out a variety of positions in the debate over the extent to which it is possible—or desirable—to escape from, resist, or suggest plausible alternatives to the dominant culture of consumer capitalism. Rejecting any dreamy nostalgia for an idealized present or past in which design is completely divorced from commerce—and, in some cases, celebrating the pleasures of spectacle—the individual essays range from indictments of particular architects and critiques of the profession to broader concerns about what the phenomenon of commodification means for the practice of democracy and the health of society. 

Bringing together an impressive and varied group of critics and practitioners, Commodification and Spectacle in Architecture will help to sharpen the discussion of how design can respond to our hypercommodified culture. 

Contributors: Michael Benedikt, Luis Fernández-Galiano, Thomas Frank, Kevin Ervin Kelley, Daniel Naegele, Rick Poynor, Michael Sorkin, Wouter Vanstiphout. 

William S. Saunders is editor of Harvard Design Magazine and assistant dean for external relations at the Harvard Design School. He is the author of Modern Architecture: Photographs by Ezra Stoller

Kenneth Frampton is Ware Professor of Architecture at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and author of many books, including Labour, Work, and Architecture.

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Sprawl and Suburbia

A Harvard Design Magazine Reader

William Saunders

Sprawl is the single most significant and urgent issue in American land use at the turn of the twenty-first century. Efforts to limit and reform sprawl through legislative “Smart Growth” initiatives have been enacted around the country while the neotraditionalist New Urbanism has been embraced by many architects and urban planners. Yet most Americans persist in their desire to live farther and farther away from urban centers, moving to exurbs made up almost entirely of single-family residential houses and stand-alone shopping areas. 

Sprawl and Suburbia brings together some of the foremost thinkers in the field to present in-depth diagnosis and critical analysis of the physical and social realities of exurban sprawl. Along with an introduction by Robert Fishman, these essays call for architects, urban planners, and landscape designers to work at mitigating the impact of sprawl on land and resources and improving the residential and commercial built environment as a whole. In place of vast residential exurbs, these writers offer visions of a fresh urbanism—appealing and persuasive models of life at greater density, with greater diversity, and within genuine communities. 

With sprawl losing the support of suburban citizens themselves as economic, environmental, and social costs are being paid, Sprawl and Suburbia appears at a moment when design might achieve some critical influence over development—if architects and planners accept the challenge. 

Contributors: Mike Davis, Ellen Dunham-Jones, Peter Hall, David Harvey, Jerold S. Kayden, Matthew J. Kiefer, Alex Krieger, Andrew Ross, James S. Russell, Mitchell Schwarzer. 

William S. Saunders is editor of Harvard Design Magazine and assistant dean for external relations at the Harvard Design School. He is the author of Modern Architecture: Photographs by Ezra Stoller

Robert Fishman is professor of architecture and urban planning at the Taubman College of Architecture, University of Michigan. He is author of Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia and editor of The American Planning Tradition: Culture and Policy.

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