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How the Red Sox stadium upgrade revamped Boston neighborhood

(CNN)It’s one of the most enduring symbols of baseball in America — if not in the world.

Opened in 1912, Fenway Park stands in the heart of Boston and has been home to the Boston Red Sox, the city’s Major League Baseball team, ever since.
For years, the sporting ground hosted countless games. It’s where the Red Sox won the World Series in 1918.
    They went on to win multiple World Series, but didn’t have another victory in their home ground at Fenway Park until almost a century later in 2013.
    Located in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood — known as “The Fenway” — it has become major sporting landmark, attracting baseball fans worldwide.
    But when ownership of the Red Sox was transferred from the Jean R. Yawkey Trust to magnates John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino at the turn of the millennium, it became clear that the sports ground was urgently in need of a revamp.
    “When we arrived in 2002, major investment was needed — in terms of water issues, structural issues, seating capacity issues, player amenity issues,” Sam Kennedy, president of the Red Sox, tells CNN.
    They were faced with a tough dilemma: should they tear the stadium down, or save and improve it?
    They decided to give the iconic grounds an expensive upgrade.
    “$300 million is a lot of money, but it needed to be invested,” Kennedy tells CNN.

    The transformation

    In 2006, the revamp of Fenway Park began.
    New seating, as well as clubhouses for premium ticket holders, were added. A series of renovations from 2002 onwards means capacity has been increased to 37,731.
    An exciting addition was made to the iconic “Green Monster” — a 37 feet (11.3 meters) high wall that functions as a target for right-handed baseball players.
    Where there once stood a net to catch home run balls, seats were added, creating a unique view of America’s most beloved ballpark.

    The grounds were also adapted to host other sporting events and concerts — rock gods Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones have graced the venue, with Lady Gaga set to perform in September.
    In 2016, Fenway Park saw 2,955,434 visitors to Red Sox games alone — an 11.5% rise from 2002.

    Revival of an area

    The revamp didn’t simply mean a new lease on life for the sports ground — it had a far-reaching effect on the Fenway area, too.
    “Once we committed to staying, businesses, developers, city planners knew there would continue to be three million people coming into this neighborhood each and every baseball season,” Kennedy says.
    Steve Samuels, who helms real estate development firm Samuels & Associates, is building a luxury condo in The Fenway — a 32-story tower named Pierce Boston.
    The developer has been actively building in the area for almost two decades — though the unveiling of this luxury residence is a sign of the times.
    “With the Fenway’s transformation into a thriving hub for people to live, work, and play, and the public’s enthusiastic response to what we’ve created, we felt that now was the time to offer people a place to purchase a luxury product,” Samuels tells CNN.
    Before Samuels began developing the Fenway in 1999 — just a few years before major revamps began at Fenway Park — the area mainly consisted of “fast food joints and car repair shops”, he says.
    There was already a residential community in place, he says, but there weren’t lifestyle amenities like dining options.
    These are integral to “establishing and solidifying a neigborhood”.
    “When we first got started, there wasn’t anybody else investing in the neighborhood in a meaningful way,” he adds.
    “Part of that was just the logistics of compiling all the parcels of land — we had to piece it all together to make it work. And there was also a sense that people didn’t appreciate the potential of the area that has now been realized.”

    Rise in value

    Piece Boston, which is set to open in 2018, has already sold 50% of its units at an average cost of $1,600 per square meter.
    The median sales price of a property in Fenway-Kenmore have risen from $305,000 in April 2011 to $710,000 in April 2015, according to online real estate resource Trulia.
    The annual number of overseas visitors to Boston between 2005/2006 and 2015 increased by 61.4%, according to the US National Travel and Tourism Office.
    “The changes they implemented have complemented what we already created in the area over the past 18 years,” Samuels says.

    In with the old

    Amid such rapid development, Samuels is conscious of preserving the fabric of the neighborhood.
    Instead of tearing down old buildings and replacing them with soulless office units, many of his ventures are run out of restored buildings.
    Casual eatery Tasty Burger, for example, is housed in an old gas station.
    “Glitz is actually not a word that we want to associate with the Fenway. In fact, I’d say we are the opposite of glitz,” Samuels tells CNN.
    “We’ve worked really hard to keep the history and character of the neighborhood … and celebrate the roots that were already here.”
    With so much development underway he thinks the Fenway is becoming a “new hub for startups in Boston”.
    “We are encouraged by all the great business putting down roots in the area.”

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    Put us on the map, please: China’s smaller cities go wild for starchitecture

    From mountain-shaped apartment blocks to the centre of braised chicken reinventing itself as Solar Valley, Chinas second (and third) tier cities are hiring big-name architects to get them noticed

    From egg-shaped concert halls to skyscrapers reminiscent of big pairs of pants, Chinas top cities are famously full of curious monuments to architectural ambition. But as land prices in the main metropolises have shot into the stratosphere, developers have been scrambling to buy up plots in the countrys second and third-tier cities, spawning a new generation of delirious plans in the provinces. President Xi Jinping may have issued a directive last year outlawing oversized, xenocentric, weird buildings, but many of these schemes were already well under way; his diktat has proved to be no obstacle to mayoral hubris yet.

    From Harbin City of Music to Dezhou Solar Valley, provincial capitals are branding themselves as themed enclaves of culture and industry to attract inward investment, and commissioning scores of bold buildings to match. Even where there is no demand, city bureaucrats are relentlessly selling off land for development, hawking plots as the primary form of income accounting for 80% of municipal revenues in some cases. In the last two months alone, 50 Chinese cities received a total of 453bn yuan (54bn) from land auctions , a 73% increase on last year, and its the provincial capitals that are leading the way.

    At the same time, Xis national culture drive has seen countless museums, concert halls and opera houses spring up across the country, often used as sweeteners for land deals, conceived as the jewels at the centre of glistening mixed-used visions (that sometimes never arrive). Culture, said Xi, is the prerequisite of the great renaissance of the Chinese people, but it has also proved to be a powerful lubricant for ever more real estate speculation even if the production of content to fill these great halls cant quite keep up with the insatiable building boom.
    From mountain-shaped apartment blocks to cavernous libraries, heres a glimpse of whats emerging in the regions.

    Fake Hills, Beihai

    A render of how the Fake Hills would look. Illustration: MAD architects

    Forming an 800 metre-long cliff-face along the coast of the southern port city of Beihai, the Fake Hills housing block is the work of Ma Yansong, Chinas homegrown conjuror of sinuous, globular forms whose practice is appropriately named MAD. Having studied at Yale and worked with Zaha Hadid in London, where he nourished his penchant for blobs, Ma has spent the last decade dreaming up improbable mountain-shaped megastructures across the country.

    Less scenic mountain and more lumpen collision of colossal cruise-liners The first phase of construction on Fake Hills has been completed. Photograph: MAD

    As it rises and falls, the undulating roofline of Fake Hills forms terraces for badminton and tennis courts, as well as a garden and swimming pool. Sadly the overall effect is less scenic mountain range than a lumpen collision of colossal cruise-liners.

    Greenland Tower, Chengdu

    Greenland Tower, Chengdu. The building harks back to the crystalline dreams of early 20th-century German architect Bruno Taut. Illustration: Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture

    A crystalline spire rising 468 metres above the 18 million-strong metropolis of Chengdu, the Greenland Tower will be the tallest building in southwestern China, standing as a sharply chiselled monument to the countrys (and by some counts the worlds) largest property developer, Greenland Holdings. It is designed by Chicago-based Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, architects of Dubais Burj Khalifa, who say the faceted shaft is a reference to the unique ice mountain topography of the region. It harks back to the crystalline dreams of early 20th-century German architect Bruno Taut, who imagined a dazzling glass city crown to celebrate socialism and agriculture; whether Sichuans farmers will be welcomed into the penthouse sky garden remains to be seen.

    Sun-Moon mansion, Dezhou

    A rival to Silicon Valley the Sun-Moon mansion of Solar Valley, Dezhou. Photograph: Alamy

    Once known as a centre of braised chicken production, the city of Dezhou in the north-eastern province of Shandong now brands itself as Solar Valley, a renewable energy centre intended to rival Californias Silicon Valley. At its heart is the Sun-Moon mansion, a vast fan-shaped office building powered by an arc of solar panels on its roof. It is the brainchild of Huang Ming, aka Chinas sun king, an oil industry engineer turned solar energy tycoon who heads the Himin Solar Energy Group, the worlds biggest producer of solar water heaters as well as purveyor of sun-warmed toilet seats and solar-powered Tibetan prayer wheels.

    Harbin Opera House

    Harbin Opera House, with the St Petersburg of the east in the background. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

    Nicknamed the St Petersburg of the east, the far northern city of Harbin has long had a thriving cultural scene as a gateway to Russia and beyond. In the 1920s, fashions from Paris and Moscow arrived here before they reached Shanghai, and it was home to the countrys first symphony orchestra, made up of mostly Russian musicians.

    Inside Harbin Opera House. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

    Declared city of music in 2010, Harbin has recently pumped millions into a gleaming new concert hall by Arata Isozaki, a gargantuan neo-classical conservatory and an 80,000 sq metre whipped meringue of an opera house by MAD. Shaped like a pair of snowy dunes, up which visitors can climb on snaking paths, the building contains a sinuous timber-lined auditorium designed as an eroded block of wood.

    Tianjin Binhai library

    Tianjin Binhai library. Illustration: MVRDV

    Due to open this summer in the sprawling port city of Tianjin, this space-age library by Dutch architects MVRDV is imagined as a gaping cave of books, carved out from within an oblong glass block. The shelves form a terraced landscape of seating, wrapping around a giant mirrored sphere auditorium that nestles in the middle of the space like a pearl in an oyster.

    Inside the space-age Tianjin Binhai library. Illustration: MVRDV

    Along with a new theatre, congress centre and a science and technology museum by Bernard Tschumi, the building forms part of a new cultural quarter for the city, itself being swallowed into the planned Beijing-Tianjin mega-region population 130 million, thats more than Japan.

    Huaguoyuan Towers, Guiyang

    Arups twin towers are almost complete. Illustration: LWK & Partners

    Nowhere in China is the disparity between economic reality and architectural ambition more stark than in Guiyang, capital of rural Guizhou, the poorest province in the country, which has the fifth most skyscraper plans of any Chinese city. The twin 335-metre towers of the Huaguoyuan development, by Arup, are now almost complete, standing as the centrepiece of a new mixed-use office, retail and entertainment complex, while SOM is busy conjuring the even higher Cultural Plaza Tower, a 521-metre glass spear that will soar above a new riverfront world of shopping malls and theatres. It has the glitz and gloss of any other Chinese citys new central business district, but as Knight Franks David Ji points out: It will be hard for a city like Guiyang to find quality tenants to fill the space.

    Yubei agricultural park, Chongqing

    Will Alsops Yubei agricultural park. Illustration: Will Alsop

    Architectural funster Will Alsop may finally have found his calling in the supercharged furnace of Chinas second-tier cities booming leisure economy, crafting a number of fantastical dreamworlds from his new satellite studio in Chongqing where he is busy building a new cultural quarter around his own office, with a restaurant, bar and distillery. He is also plotting an enormous agricultural leisure park in Yubei, 20 miles north of the city, designed to cater to the new middle classes nascent appreciation of the countryside, a place hitherto associated with peasants and poverty. The rolling landscape will be dotted with cocoon-like treehouses, a flower-shaped hotel and a big lake covered by an LED-screen canopy, so visitors can enjoy projected blue skies despite the smog.

    Zendai Himalayas centre, Nanjing

    A limestone mountain range : Zendai Himalayas Centre, Nanjing. Illustration:

    Erupting across six city blocks like a limestone mountain range, the Zendai Himalayas Centre will be Mas most literal interpretation yet of his philosophy of fusing architecture and nature. Taking inspiration from the traditional style of shanshui landscape brush painting (literally meaning mountain-water), the 560,000 sq metre complex is designed to look as if it has been eroded by millennia of wind and water, not thrown up overnight by an army of migrant labourers. Once again, Ma appears to be forgetting that elegant feathery brushstrokes dont often translate well into lumps of glass and steel. It is one of many such green-fingered schemes in Nanjing, including Stefano Boeris vertical forest towers and the Sifang art park, where Steven Holl, SANAA, David Adjaye and others have built pavilions in a rolling landscape as another decoy for a luxury real estate project.

    Huawei campus, Dongguan

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    All under one roof: how malls and cities are becoming indistinguishable

    Suburban malls may be a dying breed, but in cities from New York to Hong Kong, new malls are thriving by seamlessly blending into the urban fabric

    We didnt expect to see stores, says Yulia, as her husband browses for shoes in one of the shops lining the Oculus, the new focus of New Yorks World Trade Center.

    Visiting from Ukraine and on their way to the 9/11 memorial, they were beckoned by the Oculuss unusual architecture: from the outside, the Santiago Calatrava-designed ribbed structure reminds you of a bird or a dinosaur skeleton; inside, it is teaming with tourists taking pictures with selfie sticks.

    But the Oculus, named after the eyelike opening at the apex that lets in light, is more than a piece of striking architecture. It exists as a mall, with more than a hundred stores, and as a hub connecting office buildings in Brookfield Place and One World Trade Center with 11 subway lines and Path trains, serving 50,000 commuters every day. Thats a lot of eyeballs on shopfronts.

    The mall company Westfield, of course, hopes that the tourists and transit users will stray to the stores. The New New York Place to Be, reads the malls tagline. Shop. Eat. Drink. Play. All under one magnificent roof.

    Oculus was Westfields $1.4bn bet that New York, a city known for its love of the street, could also have a successful mall. And judging from the crowds, it counters the narrative that the mall is dead, like those thousands of empty suburban malls dotting the American landscape, ghostboxes decaying on cracked asphalt parking lots.

    Boxpark turned shipping containers into an urban mall that merges directly with the London street. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

    Michael Sorkin, professor of architecture at City College of New York, points out that Westfield is an example of a kind of global urbanism. The Westfield mall is virtually indistinguishable from Dubai duty-free, he says, pointing out that the same generic multinational shops are now to be found not just in malls, but on the streets of cities. The effect is compromising and imperial a real estate formula.

    Certainly, the Westfield World Trade Center seems to demonstrate that it is not the mall that is declining, but suburbia. The mall, meanwhile, is becoming urban.

    In fact, a new breed of shopping centre is integrating so seamlessly into its urban surroundings that it can be difficult to draw any line between city and mall whatsoever. Londons Boxpark, Las Vegass Downtown Container Park and Miamis Brickell City Centre are examples of mall-like environments that try to weave into the street life of a city.

    Across the Pacific Ocean from the Oculus, developers in China are experimenting even more radically, with new mall configurations catering to the rapid rise of domestic consumerism and quickly evolving tastes.

    Sino Ocean Taikoo Li in Chengdu, China, an outdoor mall with streets. Photograph: Oval Partnership

    In the early 2000s, when enclosed malls were the standard, architect Chris Law of the Oval Partnership proposed an open city concept for San Li Tun, an area in Beijings central business district. He proposed to inject the big box with a heavy dose of public space. He says people had a common reaction to his plan: You guys are crazy.

    Instead of laying out asphalt parking lots, Law wanted sidewalks and trees that would cool and shade pedestrian outdoor space. He designed the shops and restaurants around two distinct plazas one brimming with an interactive water feature and a massive screen to televise events, the other for quietly reading a book over a cappuccino.

    Rather than designing the whole complex himself, he created a masterplan with an urban design framework for other architects to fill in, making it appear as if the complex grew organically just like cities do, Law says.

    As a result, the mall has the look of a modern village complete with irregular facades and zigzagging alleyways. It became a large success, not least for being a pedestrian respite in a city of cars.

    The developer then tasked Law to design another outdoor retail development in Chengdu near an ancient temple. Law respectfully designed structures with timber portal frames to match the cultural heritage, laying out the stores and restaurants along intimate, tree-lined lanes. He added a hotel, serviced apartments and an office tower to create a mixed-use district centred around intricate public space.

    An escalator gives the game away at this outdoor retail space in Chengdu, China. Photograph: HeZhenHuan

    As innovative as his projects may be, we simply continued the urban pattern that has been around for hundreds of years, Law says. He mentions medieval cities such as Sienna, or those depicted on the Qingming scroll, where shops and food stalls lined thriving public space.

    It raises the question: was the enclosed, suburban mall, located far from the city centre, a discontinuity? An invention for the age of cheap fossil fuel?

    They certainly waste energy. The typical big box is thick and fat, says Ali Malkawi, professor of architectural technology at Harvard University and founder of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities. In contrast, the outdoor retail village typically has a smaller ecological footprint. Thin structures allow for the possibility of natural ventilation and daylighting, and hence can be more energy-efficient, Malkawi says.

    Malls first appeared in suburbs in the 1950s, when reducing energy was not a priority, says Malkawi, and they were only accessible by car. The more you move shopping away from where people live, the more you increase transportations impact on the environment, he says. (The transport sector accounts for nearly a quarter of all energy-related CO2 emissions.)

    Architect Friedrich Ludewig of the firm Acme takes the idea a step futher. Knowing that the point to shopping in stores is to offer something physical that is interesting, otherwise we can do it all online, he designed a suburban mall extension in Melbourne around a town square, with a public library at its centre, not an anchor store.

    Offer something physical or we can all do it online … Friedrich Ludewig, whose suburban mall in Melbourne is designed around a town square with a public library (pictured) at its heart. Photograph: Acme

    Customers prefer to be outside and to feel less artificial, Ludewig says of what is, in fact, an outdoor mall. His company has taken steps to create a seamless urban feel. There are guidelines for storefronts, including about colour, to ensure the visual coherence of the public space and avoid screaming yellow storefronts. When there are lots of people shouting, he said, you cant hear anyone.

    He also thinks about the right ratio between landscaping and paving of the open spaces, and makes an effort to think about the city planning of how the space is used throughout the day. We spend a lot of time thinking: what does it feel like at Wednesday morning 11am?, when there are not a lot of shoppers around. He also argues that outdoor malls save money by having open spaces and buildings that are naturally ventilated rather than air-conditioned.

    Above all, however, he says: It shouldnt feel like something is wrong. He describes a feeling akin to what is known as the uncanny valley: the hypothesis that when human replicas appear almost (but not quite) real, they trigger disgust and revulsion because they seem unhealthy.

    Langham Place, like many Hong Kong malls, is deliberately placed to capture natural pedestrian flows. Photograph: Alamy

    The city of Hong Kong solves this issue by going one step further it weaves malls into the very urban fabric.

    The city counts more than 300 shopping centres. Most do not perch on asphalt parking lots, but on subway stations and underneath skyscrapers. Hong Kongs transit provider is also a real estate developer, and has capitalised on the value created by its subway stops: it sandwiches malls between stations and skyscrapers, establishing pedestrian streams that irrigate the shopfronts.

    Tens of thousands of people often work, live and play in a single megastructure, without ever having to leave. And the mall is deliberately placed on the intersection of all pedestrian flows, between entry points into the structure and the residential, office, and transit functions. These malls are, by design, impossible to miss.

    Langham Place, for instance, is a 59-storey complex in Hong Kong that includes retail, a five-star hotel and class-A office space. It is connected to the subway with its own tunnel and pulls in an estimated 100,000 people per day.

    My whole life is here, says Katniss. She works in the buildings office, where she also shops, eats her meals and watches movies. Even on her daysoff, she enjoys going on dates in the malls soaring atrium, and drinking coffee near the huge escalator.

    This expresscalator whisks people up four storeys in a matter of seconds. To get shoppers back down, the Jerde Partnership designed an ingenious retail-lined downward spiral path, shaped like a corkscrew. Langham Places retail portion alone measures 15 storeys, which is a skyscraper in its own right a vertical mall.

    On both sides of the Pacific, the mall is not dead. It has simply transformed into an integrated part of cities themselves.

    For Sorkin, that comes with a risk. While the idea of the shopping mall becoming urban has a certain appeal, the net effect is to turn the city into a shopping mall.

    Stefan Als books include Mall City: Hong Kongs Dreamworlds of Consumption and The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream

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    ‘The building creaks and sways’: life in a skyscraper

    From Chicago to Dubai, Manchester to Melbourne, our cities are climbing above the clouds. Whats it like to live on the 64th floor?

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    Manhattans avenues stretch north like tracks through a forest, eventually disappearing into Harlem. Below me, Central Park is laid out like a picnic blanket, its largest trees rendered shrub-like. To the south, the Empire State Building pierces the citys canopy of stone and iron, and the blue glass of the new World Trade Center glints beyond it. Between them, the Statue of Liberty is almost lost in the haze.

    This is the view from the worlds highest home, as enjoyed virtually, using Google Earth. Because to enjoy it in person would require knowing the unnamed owner of the 800 sq m penthouse at 432 Park Avenue or buying it for more than the $88m (71m) it sold for last year.

    But there are alternatives for those with a head for heights and the money to match. Next year, the 426m Park Avenue tower will lose its title to 111 West 57th Street, rising two blocks to the west. Meanwhile in India, the 442m Mumbai World One will push higher still, its Armani-designed penthouses on level 117 offering airliner views of the Arabian Sea.

    Once, only offices reached so high. In 2000, there were 215 office towers worldwide above 200m high (the first, the Metropolitan Life Tower in New York, was completed in 1909), but only three residential towers that high. Today, there are 255 residential towers above that height, with a further 184 under construction. Mixed-use towers, with apartments as well as offices and hotels, include the Burj Khalifa, still the worlds tallest building, at 828m. The Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, due to be completed in 2020, will be the first to break 1,000m. Its highest apartments will be on the 156th floor.

    What is life like up there? For decades, tower blocks typically comprised social or affordable housing in crowded cities or on new estates. Hundreds were built in the postwar social housing boom, in cities across Europe. But today the highest residential towers are overwhelmingly luxury developments, and many remain empty, weeks after selling. If skyscrapers broke ground as barometers of corporate hubris, increasingly they now stand for personal excess, applying gravity to the wealth divide.

    Britain, traditionally a low-rise country, is part of the boom. Skyscraper clusters are casting shadows across London. In Manchester, the first 200m building outside the capital is due for completion next year. Even in Bristol, where St Mary Redcliffe church has been unrivalled in its heavenwards reach for more than six centuries, there are plans for a 22-storey residential tower that would come close.

    Jason Gabel, an urban planner at the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, which keeps a global skyscraper database, says advances in building technology partly explain the trend. Lifts can now travel at more than 40mph and climb for hundreds of metres, thanks to lightweight carbon fibre ropes. Sophisticated dampening systems at the tops of towers mean slender buildings can rise higher, on smaller urban plots, without toppling in a storm or swaying to the point of causing nausea.

    For a growing number of city dwellers, day-to-day life can be a little different. The payoff for peace and endless views can be five-minute waits for the lift at rush hour and even sunburn. You could get tanned in winter if you sat right by the window: theres a bit of a greenhouse effect, the owner of a 64th-floor apartment above Chicago tells me. Vertigo can be another danger. At the top of a tower in east London, former taxi driver Sammy Dias rarely uses his balcony: I dont like heights, and if people go out and start messing about, I can get quite angry, he says from a safe distance inside.

    I spoke to residents around the world, and many reported feeling uplifted by their elevated perspective, but there are hidden downsides: a Canadian study of heart attack victims showed survival rates dropped markedly on higher floors, because they were harder for paramedics to reach.

    Skyscraping homes have always held an allure; a house with a view, a life in the sky. They frequently evoke dystopian imagery; Ern Goldfingers troubled Trellick Tower in west London, completed in 1972, is thought to have inspired JG Ballards dark thriller High-Rise. It was originally entirely owned by the Greater London Council, and rented out as council flats. Now social tenants of the Grade II*-listed building, and its sister, Balfron Tower in east London, are being displaced by upwards gentrification. Less desirable council towers are reaching the end of their habitable lives, facing decay, demolition or expensive repair.

    Meanwhile, the upper floors of many new luxury skyscrapers serve as foreign cash stores: giant briefcases with views. The highest homes in Britain are the 10 luxury apartments between floors 53 and 65 of the Shard. They are among the most opulent in London, yet almost five years after their completion, none is occupied or even for sale or rent. The reason remains a mystery.

    Stacking people on shelves is a very efficient method of human isolation, says Jan Gehl, a veteran Danish architect and renowned urban design consultant. A critic of residential towers even where they are fully occupied, Gehl likens them to gated mansions in the sky. Humans, he says, did not evolve to look up or down: We have seen, in the past 20 years, a withdrawal from society into the private sphere, and towers are an easy way to achieve that.

    Is this the experience of those who live above our rising cities? Finding out isnt easy; even when or if they are home, residents of the most rarefied apartments in the world are hard to identify, much less reach. But all human life is there, way up on the 64th floor.

    Mike Palumbo, 50, trader; Water Tower Place, Chicago

    Mike and Veronica Palumbo on the 64th floor of Water Tower Place, Chicago: Oprah used to live a few floors down. Photograph: Alyssa Schukar for the Guardian

    Chicago born and raised, Mike Palumbo is a Bulls fan who grew up on the edge of the city, the son of a truck parts salesman. From a corner near his house, he would gaze at the John Hancock tower, the matt-black, tapering monolith near the lakeshore, and dream big. When I hit 13, I went to high school downtown, Palumbo says. I would take the L train to within a block of the John Hancock. Back then, there was this guy called Spiderman whod climb up it with suction cups. I loved it. Id walk around and I was like, man, Id rather be in the city where all the action is. This is me.

    Palumbo became a fund manager and in 2007 made $100m. For 18 years, he has lived in an eight-bedroom apartment on the 64th floor of Water Tower Place, an exclusive residence right across the street from his favourite skyscraper. Oprah Winfrey used to live a few floors down, Palumbo says as we look out, and down, on a forest of skyscrapers. David Axelrod, President Obamas chief strategist, remains a neighbour and chairs the pets committee on the buildings management board. Im a dog lover, but there are people who dont want them in the building, says Palumbo, who also sits on the board. You try to get along, but youve got a lot of very successful people arguing over minuscule things.

    The Palumbos view of Chicagos John Hancock Center. Photograph: Alyssa Schukar for the Guardian

    Half of Palumbos apartment is a man cave, with cigars in a jar on a bar next to a pool table. The other half is crammed with the accessories of parenthood: Palumbo and his second wife, Veronica, had twins last year, and their nanny lives with them. They add five minutes to any journey to allow time to get everything into the elevator. He has four grown-up children from his first marriage, who often visit.

    As a young trader, Palumbo got job offers from Wall Street, but never wanted to leave Chicago. I just love this view, he says. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is open the blinds and let the sun come in. It doesnt get any better. Yet he is also scared of heights. Im OK with the windows, but if this was a ledge, Id be freaking out right now. He opens the window and a gust of wind slaps our faces. A spiders web somehow still clings to the frame. I never understand how these guys get all the way up here, he says.

    Below us, I count more than a dozen rooftop swimming pools. The 423m Trump Tower dominates the skyline to the south. Later, a cleaning cradle winds past and the men with rags avoid looking through the glass. I would not want that job, Palumbo says.

    Ian Simpson, 61, architect; Beetham Tower, Manchester

    We want to intensify the city, not spread it out, says Ian Simpson, at his home on the 47th floor of the Manchester skyscraper he designed. Photograph: Fabio de Paola for the Guardian

    Ian Simpson is from a family of demolition experts and grew up in a poor northern suburb of Manchester. I spent my youth climbing up mill chimneys and blowing them up, he says. But, somewhere along the way, I went from knocking things down to putting them back up again.

    Simpson became one of Britains leading architects and has been instrumental in Manchesters regeneration, not least since an IRA bomb destroyed large parts of the city centre in 1996. He now occupies a unique position at the top of his own skyscraper, a steel-and-glass eyrie from which he surveys a city he has helped shape. At 47 floors, Beetham Tower cuts a lonely, slender figure above south Manchester, the tallest building in Britain outside London. Nobody thought it was going to stand alone, Simpson says in his vast, two-storey penthouse, which includes what may be Manchesters only olive grove. Other tall buildings had consent, but then we hit the recession.

    For 10 years, Simpson and his partner have enjoyed uninterrupted views. The light here is spectacular, he says. It animates the space as it moves around; I find it very uplifting. Its like a little oasis right in the city. But the architect is happy that Manchester is on the rise again. There are plans for almost a dozen new towers above 30 storeys, chief among them the Owen Street development. Designed by Simpsons practice, which he leads with architect Rachel Haugh, it will include a 200m tower of 49 floors, a new high for the city.

    Simpsons view of Manchester. Photograph: Fabio de Paolo for the Guardian

    This is what Manchester needs, Simpson says. Historically, nobody lived in the city centre. If you had money, you lived in the leafy suburbs to the south; if you didnt, you lived to the north like me. Thats changing, and we need to have a critical mass to create the jobs and demand for everything else, whether its bars and restaurants or infrastructure.

    I have a lovely painting in my office down there of the city in the 18th century. It was a city of towers but they were mill chimneys. When that changed, there were gaps, which generally became car parks. We want to fill those gaps and intensify the city, not spread it out. Like those chimneys, Simpson says, tall buildings provide not only a function, but also an image of confidence.

    We move from the living area into the olive grove, which occupies a sort of penthouse conservatory, facing south. Thirty miles to the west, Liverpool is visible on a clear day. The trees, more than 30 of them, were shipped from Italy and lowered through the roof before the buildings crane came down. They love it up here, Simpson says. But theres no pollination: we dont get any bees this high, so there are no olives.

    Farimah Moeini, 35, media sales manager; Ocean Heights, Dubai

    Its a bubble: when I was 16, you heard Arabic music and saw local people, says Farimah Moeini of Dubai, where she lives on the 68th floor. Photograph: Siddharth Siva for the Guardian

    As a teenager in Tehran, Farimah Moeini would often fly to Dubai with family and friends. She knew only the old town because that was all there was. Everything you can see here was sand, she says via video call from the Dubai apartment she shares with her British husband, Luke, and their baby, Liam. The Palm, Dubai Marina, all these towers: none of it existed. I remember going to the older malls. Wed have shawarmas and use fake IDs to try to get into bars and clubs. Then it started to grow and it hasnt stopped.

    Moeini left Tehran, where her father owned a textiles factory, to go to college in the US. In 2009, she got a job with Yahoo and moved to Dubai at a time when rents were cheap following the global financial downturn. She met Luke, who works in real estate, the following year. They live in a one-bed apartment on the 68th floor of Ocean Heights, a residential block in the marina. Burj Khalifa, the worlds tallest building, looms 13 miles along the coast.

    Moeinis view of Dubai. Photograph: Siddharth Siva for the Guardian

    You do feel as if youre in a bubble, Moeini says. Sometimes I pinch myself, because a lot of the lifestyle is not really real. Its all so clean and neat and safe. Theres a cultural bubble, too. When I was 16, you would hear Arabic music and see local people everywhere; it was more authentic. I also miss nature. In Iran, we have four seasons, and its beautiful when they change. Here, years go by and you dont know where you are.

    But its a nice bubble. Its fun and easy to meet people from all around the world. Its a happy place. I also love being up here its insane how calm you feel. Just waking up every sunrise and staring out to sea is so soothing. If I sit on my sofa and look out, I can only see sea and sky. And they are real.

    Sammy Dias, 77, retired taxi driver; Petticoat Tower, London

    I cant go out on the balcony. They call this one the haunted flat, says Sammy Dias of his home on the 21st floor of Londons Petticoat Tower. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

    For more than 30 years, Sammy Dias has lived in Petticoat Tower, a 1970s council block owned by the City of London Corporation, and for most of them hes been on the 21st floor, two down from the roof. On a sunny January afternoon, he draws back the net curtain in his living room and looks east towards Stratford.

    Look at that you see the Olympic Stadium there? he asks. The buildings zigzag roof supports come into view three miles away. Since the 2012 Games, it has become dwarfed by taller apartment buildings. Just look at the amount of flats that have gone up: its unbelievable. Its almost happened overnight.

    The Gherkin and 110 Bishopsgate flank Petticoat Tower. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

    Dias drove a black cab in and around the Square Mile for 45 years, until he retired five years ago. From street level and above, he has watched London rise. The Gherkin, just 200m away, casts a shadow over his building. 110 Bishopsgate, with its rooftop sushi restaurant and exposed lifts, rears up just two streets to the west.

    Dias turns his gaze down over Aldgate, a hodgepodge of housing and mushrooming hotels, and Petticoat Lane market, where clothing has been sold for centuries. I worked down there when I was an 11-year-old, pulling barrows out, he says. Every stall sells the same thing now. You see that brown building there? Thats where I was born: number one Herbert House.

    Dias didnt plan to live high up, and never uses his tiny balcony. He hates heights. Im OK sitting here, but I cant go out there. They call this the haunted flat theres been a suicide from that balcony.

    His first flat here was on the 11th floor, but he and his wife, Phyllis, a jewellers bookkeeper, moved up in 1994, when a two-bed flat became available. Soon after, she developed Alzheimers disease; she died in 2001.

    It took a while to get used to living here alone, but I have a good routine now, Dias says, sitting in one of the rooms two armchairs. Photos of the couple stand on an old dresser. Sometimes I wake up early and lie there and reminisce, or I might read the paper. Then I get up, have a wash and the radio goes on. I listen to Radio X with Chris Moyles. I cant stand him, but I love the music. Later, Ill go out and meet the little old boy on the estate with the frame. We go to the Bell, where I had my first drink aged 16. Ill have two pints of lager, then two maximum three gin and lemonades, come back up here, have my grub, get relaxed and go to bed.

    Dias plans to live out the rest of his days here. My mind is all there. I went to school up until age 11, and I could still tell you everyone who was in my class. Its the genes; Ive got a 90-year-old sister and we have a conversation on the phone. April the first I was born, I was married April 1st and, the way I feel sometimes, Im gonna snuff it on April 1st. Ill do the treble.

    A City of London housing officer recently came to discuss a move into a one-bed flat. Dias had suggested it himself, but declined when it became clear that it would mean leaving the building. I said, Ive got friends here! This is my area. Ive got everything and Im happy. Do you know what I call it? I call it my castle.

    Traci Ann Wolfe, 40, actor; 8 Spruce Street, New York

    Want to live in a toilet? London’s public lavatories get a make-over

    (CNN)Would you like to eat dinner, drink a cocktail or even go to bed in a toilet cubicle?

    That might be strange question but for Londoners it’s an increasingly realistic one.
      Across the bustling British metropolis, abandoned public toilets are being turned into coffee shops, wine bars, restaurants — and even apartments.
      Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, public lavatories were constructed in key locations in the English capital. Mostly catering to men caught out on the move, they typically charged a penny per time.
      After the Second World War, many of these facilities were abandoned because of the cost involved in their upkeep.
      Fast forward 60 years, and the potential of this prime real estate is being realized — one 600 sq ft former London lavatory near Spitalfields Market was recently listed for over 1 million ($1.5 million).

      Repurposing the past

      Just a five minutes’ walk from Europe’s busiest shopping street lies a striking staircase.
      Framed by opulent black iron bars and hanging baskets, this staircase is typical of those leading to a Victorian public lavatory.
      Today, however, it leads to Attendant, a funky West End hang out, located just off Oxford Street, opened in 2013.
      The tiny 390 square foot (36.2 square meter) basement that houses this innovative cafe was originally an1860s public toilet — a past the coffee shop is keen to flaunt.
      Preserved are the toilet’s original white tiles, cisterns and — its piece de resistance — Victorian Doulton and Co porcelain urinals. There is even toilet-style graffiti on the walls.

      WC wine and Joe’s Public Pizza

      On the other side of the River Thames lies Clapham in South London, where restaurateurs Jayke Mangion and Andy Bell have revolutionized not one, but two former underground public toilets into eateries: WC Wine and Charcuterie and Joe’s Public Pizza.
      The local council put the abandoned toilet which today houses WC up for rent in 2013. Mangion and Bell quickly snapped it up.
      “When we first viewed it, we realized it had so much potential because of its natural character,” Mangion tells CNN.


      Instead, Kohler and his team had to be inventive. The result is a dinky bar that can squeeze in 60 people, as well as a stage.
      “It is a cabaret venue, and cabaret comes from the old Dutch word for small room. Cabarets should be in a small room. This idea of Caesar’s Palace and Las Vegas cabarets — that’s so unlike what cabaret is about.”

      Would you live in a loo?

      Having a drink in a former lavatory is one thing, but architect Laura Clark has converted set of 1930s Art Deco public toilets in South London’s Crystal Palace neighborhood into a one-bed apartment.
      “I’ve always been interested in crazy old buildings, and buildings that people can’t see anymore potential in,” Clark tells CNN.
      “When I found the loos, I wasn’t particularly looking for them … They were all boarded up and painted brown and covered in graffiti. I realized that the space was actually really quite big.”
      It took her seven years to persuade the local council to agree to her plans and allow her to buy the premises.

      “I thought it was a beautiful space and I could do something really special with the toilets,” Clark explains.
      Housing regulations prevented Clark from keeping the urinals, but she has repurposed the original mirrors and the waffle grid ceiling structure.

      View from the loo

      If more proof was needed that London lavatories are undergoing a renaissance, then Rachel Erickson can provide it.
      The California-born entrepreneur founded, in 2012, London Loo Tours, a tour of the city’s conveniences past and present.
      “We start at a modern public toilet, Jubiloo on the Southbank — it was built for the [Queen’s] Diamond Jubilee,” Erickson tells CNN. “We finish up at the cocktail bar Cellar Door”.
      Erickson says that England has lost about 40% of its public toilets in the past 10 years.
      “Most of these places are realistically never going to be used again,” Erickson says. “So I’m all in favor of recycling these public spaces, and keeping their toiletyness.”


      The future of London’s toilets?

      Letting and selling former public lavatories also allows councils to avoid wasting prime real estate and generate income.
      Lambeth Council, the authority which had jurisdiction over the toilets that became Clark’s flat, WC and Joe’s Public Pizza, has embraced this strategy.
      “There are a number of former WCs in the borough that have now been sold, and others that we are currently looking at bringing back into use,” explains councilor Paul McGlone, deputy leader for investment and partnerships in Lambeth.
      “These sites, some of which have been closed for decades, present a good opportunity to do something new and bring fresh life to our high streets.”

      Read more:

      Trumpitecture: what we can expect from the billionaire cowboy builder

      The tower with a combover, the 90-storey skyscraper with just 72 floors, the name in huge shiny letters Trump says his buildings are beautiful. But all they stand for is money, status and power

      As the self-styled builder president, Donald Trump began his electoral campaign with a grand architectural promise. I will build a great wall, he said, standing in the lobby of his proudest creation, Trump Tower in New York, surrounded by 240 tonnes of pink Breccia Pernice marble. Nobody builds walls better than me, believe me. And Ill build them very inexpensively.

      The billionaire real estate tycoon and president-elect has made a career out of building inexpensive walls and filling them with very expensive apartments. But this would be a wall of a different kind: an impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall that would march along the Mexican border, to keep out the drugs, crime and rapists, punctuated with one big, beautiful door presumably so his Trump Tower taco bowls could still come in.

      Like most of Trumps policies, the wall has always been big on bluster but light on detail. It mysteriously grew in height as his campaign snowballed, from 30 to 55ft, while budgets rose from $8bn to $12bn. Independent assessments suggest it would cost more like $25bn and require more than three times as much concrete as the Hoover Dam. Unperturbed, Trump insisted his wall would have beautiful everything and be just perfect. Maybe someday theyll call it the Trump Wall. So I have to make sure its beautiful, right? Since winning the election he has conceded that, in places, it might actually be a fence.

      Tall storeys Trump Tower apartments start on floor 30 despite there being just 19 floors below them. Photograph: Don Emmert/AFP/ Getty

      If its anything like the other edifices that bear his name, in 20ft high bronze letters, beauty might be stretching it. From the serrated flanks of his brooding Trump Tower to the gold lam attire of his Las Vegas hotel, his buildings glow with a surface sheen, like his own bronzed face, but it is a veneer of luxury that masks a prosaic product underneath.

      As the former New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp put it, Trumps towers dont quite register as architecture but instead stand as signs of money, status, power like the diamonds, furs, yachts and other tokens of the deluxe life enjoyed in Marbella. What Muschamp found objectionable about Trumps taste was not the desire for attention, for the best, the most, the tallest, the most eye-catching but his failure to realise these desires creatively in the architectural medium. For the king of superlatives, nothing has ever turned out quite as tremendous as he promised.

      His first Manhattan project, completed in 1980, set the tone, taking the ailing Commodore hotel, a handsome brick and limestone building from 1919, and entombing it inside a shell of mirrored glass. It spawned the Trump style of wrapping standard buildings in paper-thin party costumes of chrome, bronze or gold depending on the occasion, and adorning them with sparkly signifiers of glitz and glamour.

      Just like his policies, Trumps real estate projects are often characterised by bold claims that dont quite stand up beginning with their height. He famously inflates the floor numbers of his buildings: the 90-storey Trump World has 72 floors, while apartments in Trump Tower begin at floor 30, despite there being just 19 commercial storeys below them. People are very happy, he has said, openly proud of his marketing ruse. They like to have apartments that have height, the psychology of it.

      The Trump Tower in Chicago was planned to be the tallest building in the world when it was announced in 2001, but it was hurriedly scaled back following the 9/11 attacks despite Trumps rhetoric of not being cowed by terrorists. It now stands like a stunted Mini-Me version of Dubais Burj Khalifa (designed by the same architect), at less than half the height of its Arabian cousin.

      Lacking the desired height, Trump tried to make up for it with the size of his sign, which spells out his name in back-lit stainless steel letters running the length of half an American football field across the 16th floor. Mayor Rahm Emanuel slammed the sign as tasteless and set about changing the citys regulations to prevent a repeat of such vulgarity. As ever, Trump hurried to Twitter to defend his creation: Before I bought the site, the Sun Times had the biggest, ugliest sign Chicago has ever seen, he thundered. Mine is magnificent and popular.

      Taken down a billboard in Dubai, where Trump is building a golf course in the desert. Photograph: Karim Sahib/AFP/Getty

      But the popularity of the Trump brand a byword for Superior Quality, Detail and Perfection according to his website has suffered hammer blows as a result of his vitriolic presidential campaign. In Dubai, where he is building a golf course in the desert, a large billboard featuring the man himself swinging a club was taken down following the announcement of his plan to ban Muslims from entering the US, while sales of his home decor range were also suspended.

      In Istanbul, where the conjoined tilting shafts of the Trump Towers loom 150 metres above the city, President Erdoan has declared that the ones who put that brand on their building should immediately remove it. Even before his comments, the $300m scheme had not provided the premium that investors were promised.

      Prices slashed the Trump Ocean Club, Panama City. Photograph: Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Images

      Similar stories of inflated expectations, followed by legal wrangling, are repeated across the globe. The Trump Ocean Club in Panama was plagued by delays. By the time the yonic edifice was completed in 2011, there was a glut of high-end apartments, so prices were slashed and many buyers walked away. The condo owners association is trying to sack Trumps management company, claiming it exceeded budgets and used its fees to cover hotel costs. Trump, in turn, is now seeking $75m in damages.

      The Trump Tower hotel in Toronto topped with a strange quiff like the man himself also opened late to find the market flooded with five-star hotels. It has been subject to a lawsuit by buyers who say they were misled by marketing materials, while the local developer is also trying to remove Trumps name from the project.

      Topped with a strange quiff like the man himself the Trump Tower hotel in Toronto. Photograph: Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket/ Getty

      The story is repeated in New York, where Trump unusually settled a lawsuit brought by buyers of his $450m Trump SoHo development. They asserted that they had been defrauded by exaggerated claims. He admitted no wrongdoing however. According to the New York Times earlier this year, a separate lawsuit stated that the project was developed with the undisclosed involvement of convicted felons and financing from questionable sources in Russia and Kazakhstan.

      Elsewhere, plans for further Trump towers, from Rio to Azerbaijan, have hit the buffers, while recent records show his controversial golf courses in Scotland have made losses of almost 26m. In sum, it all suggests that Trump might not be quite the star deal-maker he claims to be. So what is it like to be on the wrong side of his famous deals?

      Architect Andrew Tesoro. Photograph: UPI/Barcroft Images

      Architect Andrew Tesoro had first-hand experience of being on the receiving end of the Trump Organisations deal-making machine when he was commissioned to design the Trump National golf club in New York state, a process that left him on the verge of bankruptcy. Driven by Trumps infectious enthusiasm, the project quickly tripled in size along with the associated workload but the additional fees were not forthcoming.

      By the time the building was completed, Tesoro had amassed unpaid invoices to the tune of $140,000. After endless requests and meetings with his associates, he finally got a face-to-face meeting with Trump, which proved to be a textbook lesson in Trumps trademark cocktail of charm and ruthlessness.

      He told me that we built the most spectacular clubhouse in the world, Tesoro recalls. I was the finest architect hed ever met, he was going to make this project the best-known building of its type in the world, the next project was going to give me the opportunity to recoup any money that Id lost and, just because Im such a nice guy, he was going to offer me $25,000 to go away.

      The Trump National golf club in New York state. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

      At first Tesoro declined, so he was handed over to Trumps attorney. The attorney told me quite directly that, if I sued, I would probably get all the money I was owed, but that it was his job to make it take so long, and cost me so much, that it wouldnt be worth it.

      It raises questions over how Trump plans to administer his $500bn infrastructure plan, a scheme that has already got the construction industry salivating at the thought of the tax-credit-driven contracts. We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals, Trump declared in his victory speech. Were going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none.

      Tesoro featured in this Clinton campaign video

      The American Institute of Architects was quick to pledge its unwavering support to the new administration, writing that its 89,000 members stand ready to work with Trump on his grand building plan. But it turns out that the AIA had neglected to consult its members, many of whom have pointed out that Trumps bigoted pronouncements dont quite chime with the institutes diversity and inclusion goals.

      The Architects Newspaper, meanwhile, warned that architects who contributed to the proposed border wall or its attendant detention centres, federal and private prisons, and militarised infrastructure would be perpetuating inequality and the racist patriarchy of Trumps ideology.

      As architect and critic Michael Sorkin writes in an open letter: Trumps well-documented history of racial discrimination, tenant harassment, stiffing creditors, evasive bankruptcies, predilection for projects of low social value such as casinos and his calculated evasion of the taxes that might support our common realm are of a piece with his larger nativist, sexist, and racist political project.

      He concludes: We call upon the AIA to stand up for something beyond a place at the table where Trumps cannibal feast will be served. Let us not be complicit in building Trumps wall but band together to take it down!

      The AIA has since issued a grovelling video apology, admitting their statement was tone deaf while no doubt rushing out to stock up on security fencing and gold glazing catalogues.

      Read more:

      Big Pink: Mexican architects imagine Trump’s wall as Luis Barragn homage

      The Estudio 314 architectural practice has unveiled its pastel pink plans to realize the Republican candidates border proposal in all its gorgeous perversity

      As an architectural brief it is pretty straightforward. The real estate developer turned Republican candidate Donald Trumps southern border wall will be, in the presidential hopefuls own words great, impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, and may perhaps also feature a big, beautiful door.

      In the more measured terms of the Republican partys documents, the structure will cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

      Trump has also declared that construction will begin on day one of his term in office, and that Mexico will pay for the thing. So, surely, engaging an architectural practice south of the border to oversee the project would be politic?

      Thats the thinking behind the Mexican architectural practice Estudio 314s proposal, which offers a distinctly Latin take on the Republican wall. A team of seven interns working under 314s creative director, Leonardo Daz Borioli, reimagined the border proposal in the spirit of the great 20th-century Mexican architect Luis Barragn.

      Barragn, who won the Pritzker prize in 1980 and died in 1988 at the age of 86, was known for combining simple, modernist designs with lyrical, spiritual flourishes, employing bright pinks, as well as other startling pastel shades, in his otherwise restrained works.

      Estudio 314s rendering adopts a Barragn colour scheme with an equally faithful lack of ornament, though the studio has a little fun with other features in this imaginative, uncommissioned proposal. This wall also encloses a prison where 11 million undocumented people will be processed, classified, indoctrinated, and/or deported, the studio explains, making reference to Trumps immigration plans.

      Interior view of the house and studio of the Mexican architect Luis Barragn. Photograph: HO/AFP/Getty Images

      At other points, the wall could also accommodate a shopping mall, or even an observation terrace, where would-be migrants might look upon, but not touch, the Land of the Free.

      Of course the architectural practice, which is based in Barragns birthplace of Guadalajara, does not sincerely believe its pink wall will break ground anytime soon. Instead, 314, which is more used to working on hospitality and public-park commissions, hopes its proposal will allow the public to imagine the policy proposal in all of its gorgeous perversity.

      Because the wall has to be beautiful, it has been inspired by Luis Barragns pink walls that are emblematic of Mexico, says 314, adding: It also takes advantage of the tradition in architecture of megalomaniac wall building.

      Well, quite. And while Barragn may have approved of the pigmentation and the clean lines, theres very little else likely to endear the scheme to the late Pritzker laureate, including the flamboyantly haired client north of the border and his swingeing terms of payment.

      As the architecture critic Jonathan Glancey put it in a 2001 article, Barragn was a generous man. When he was asked to rebuild and extend a convent in Tlalpan not far from his own home, he paid for the extra work needed to give the resident nuns a special design far and above what they had expected. The result was a sensual, spiritual place influenced by the Court of the Myrtles at the Alhambra.

      It seems unlikely that, in years to come, anyone will be choosing similar words to describe this wall or its chief commissioner, no matter what the colour.

      Read more:

      A ‘radical alternative’: how one man changed the perception of Los Angeles

      In the 1960s, British architectural critic Reyner Banham declared his love for the city that his fellow intellectuals hated. What Banham wrote about Los Angeles redefined how the world perceived it but what would he think of LA today?

      Now I know subjective opinions can vary, the journalist Adam Raphael wrote in the Guardian in 1968, but personally I reckon LA as the noisiest, the smelliest, the most uncomfortable and most uncivilised major city in the United States. In short, a stinking sewer …

      Three years later, Raphaels words appeared in print again as an epigraph of Reyner Banhams Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies the most exuberantly pro-Los Angeles book ever written. Ever since publication, it has shown up on lists of great books about modern cities even those drawn up by people who consider Los Angeles anything but a great American city.

      Somehow, this book that drew so much of its initial publicity with shock value (In Praise (!) of Los Angeles, sneered the New York Times reviews headline) has kept its relevance through the decades, such that newly arrived Angelenos still read it to orient themselves. But what can it teach us about the Los Angeles of today?

      An architectural historian a decade into his career when he first visited, Banham knew full-well that his fellow intellectuals hated Los Angeles. How and why he himself came so avidly to appreciate it constitutes the core question of his work on the city, which culminated in this slim volume.

      The many who were ready to cast doubt on the worth of the enterprise, he reflected in its final chapter, included a distinguished Italian architect and his wife who, on discovering that I was writing this book, doubted that anyone who cared for architecture could lower himself to such a project and walked away without a word further.

      The project began when Banham brought his shaggy beard and wonky teeth to Los Angeles and declared that he loved the city with a passion, in the words of novelist and Bradford-born Los Angeles expat Richard Rayner. Teaching at the University of Southern California, who put him up in the Greene brothers architecturally worshipped Gamble House in Pasadena, Banham had a privileged base from which to explore. But what he went looking for, and the way he wrote about what he saw and felt, redefined the way the intellectual world and then the wider world perceived the city.

      Reyner Banham with his shaggy beard and wonky teeth in 1968. Photograph: Peter Johns for the Guardian

      Not that he declared his love right there on the tarmac at LAX. Banham initially found the city incomprehensible a response shared by many critics, wrote Nigel Whiteley in the study Reyner Banham: Historian of the Immediate Future.

      Banham first attempted to publicly explain this cutting-edge metropolis, saturated across its enormous space with electronic devices, synthetic chemicals and televisions, in four 1968 BBC radio talks. He told of how he came to grips with LAs embodiment of the experimental: its experimental shape and infrastructure, the combinations of cultures it accommodated, and the experimental lifestyles to which it gave rise.

      But even an appreciator like Banham had his qualms with the result. In Los Angeles you tend to go to a particular place to do a particular thing, to another to do another thing, and finally a long way back to your home, and youve done 100 miles in the day, he complained in the third talk. The distances and the reliance on mechanical transportation leave no room for accident even for happy accidents. You plan the day in advance, programme your activities, and forgo those random encounters with friends and strangers that are traditionally one of the rewards of city life.

      Nevertheless, to Banham this un-city-like city held out a promise: The unique value of Los Angeles what excites, intrigues and sometimes repels me is that it offers radical alternatives to almost every urban concept in unquestioned currency.

      In his subsequent landmark book, Banham enumerated Los Angeles departures from traditional urbanism, as well as from all the rules for civilised living as they have been understood by the pundits of modernity, with evident delight. It seemed to legitimise a model he had already, in a 1959 article, proposed to replace the old conception of a single dense core surrounded by a wall.

      Civilised living in suburban LA. Photograph: University of Southern California/Corbis via Getty Images

      Banham foresaw the city as scrambled egg, its shell broken open, its business yolk mixed with its domestic white, and everything spread across the landscape, its evenness disturbed only by occasional specialised sub-centres. A visitor to Los Angeles today might hear the city explained in just the same way: as a network of nodes, a constellation of urban villages, an exercise in postmodern polycentrism.

      Banham put another finger in the eye of traditionalists who insisted that a city should have just one strong centre with his short chapter A Note on Downtown, which opens with the words, … because that is all downtown Los Angeles deserves.

      From its fetishised structures such as the Bradbury Building and Cathedral of Saint Vibiana to its brand new office towers in their standard livery of dark glass and steel, Banham wrote that everything stands as an unintegrated fragment in a downtown scene that began to disintegrate long ago out of sheer irrelevance, as far as one can see.

      The books contrarianism reflects the contrarianism of Los Angeles itself, which, insofar as it performs the functions of a great city, in terms of size, cosmopolitan style, creative energy, international influence, distinctive way of life, and corporate personality [proves that] all the most admired theorists of the present century, from the Futurists and Le Corbusier to Jane Jacobs and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, have been wrong.

      Filled with photographs and diagrams, Banhams book on Los Angeles divides its subject up into the four ecologies of its subtitle: the beaches and beach towns of Surfurbia; the Foothills with their ever more elaborate and expensive residences; the utilitarian Plains of Id (the only parts of Los Angeles flat enough and boring enough to compare with the cities of the Middle West) and the famous, then infamous, freeway system he dubbed Autopia: a single comprehensible place, a coherent state of mind in which Angelenos spend the two calmest and most rewarding hours of their daily lives.

      The 1893 Bradbury Building in downtown LA was an unintegrated fragment in Banhams eyes. Photograph: Michele and Tom Grimm/Alamy

      Between chapters on the citys ecologies, Banham examined the buildings found in them. Populist, stylistically promiscuous, tradition-agnostic and often deliberately impermanent, Los Angeles architecture has, of all the citys elements, drawn distain the longest. There is no reward for aesthetic virtue here, no punishment for aesthetic crime; nothing but a vast cosmic indifference, wrote the novelist James M. Cain in 1933.

      More than 40 years later, Banham saw a stylistic bounty of Tacoburger Aztec to Wavy-line Moderne, from Cape Cod to unsupported Jaoul vaults, from Gourmet Mansardic to Polynesian Gabled and even in extremity Modern Architecture.

      He discussed at length the LA building known as the dingbat a two-storey walk-up apartment-block … built of wood and stuccoed over, all identical at the back but cheaply, elaborately, decorated up-front, emblazoned with an aspirational name such as the Capri or the Starlet.

      In defining dingbats as the true symptom of Los Angeles urban id, trying to cope with the unprecedented appearance of residential densities too high to be subsumed within the illusions of homestead living, Banham diagnosed the central and persistent tension, then as now, between wanting to grow outward and needing to grow upward.

      Banham drew out the meaning of Los Angeles ostensibly disposable buildings not by venerating them, nor denigrating them, but simply by seeing them as they were. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour would advocate the same approach in their own urban classic, Learning from Las Vegas, published the following year: Withholding judgment may be used as a tool to make later judgment more sensitive. This is a way of learning from everything.

      Still, even appreciators of Los Angeles might take issue with this method when Banhams non-judgmental attitude at least toward the aesthetics of American commercial culture starts to look like advocacy for bad taste.

      The self-absorbed and perfected Watts Towers. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

      Non-appreciators of Los Angeles certainly did. The painter and critic Peter Plagens, author of an 11,000-word excoriation in Artforum magazine entitled The Ecology of Evil, went so far as to label Banhams book dangerous: The hacks who do shopping centres, Hawaiian restaurants and savings-and-loans, the dried-up civil servants in the division of highways, and the legions of showbiz fringies will sleep a little easier and work a little harder now that their enterprises have been authenticated. In a more humane society where Banhams doctrines would be measured against the subdividers rape of the land and the lead particles in little kids lungs, the author might be stood up against a wall and shot.

      Uncowed, Banham followed the book by starring in Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, a 1972 television documentary that followed him through one day in the city that makes nonsense of history and breaks all the rules, and inspired within him a passion that goes beyond sense or reason. Stops on the tour included Simon Rodias handmade Watts Towers (a totally self-absorbed and perfected monument) to Los Angeles characteristic fantasy of innocence (prominently marked on all the maps in his book); the overgrown sections of the old Pacific Electric Railways rusting rails that once tied the whole huge city together; the decrepit canals and beachside bodybuilding facilities of Venice; and a Sunset Boulevard drive-in burger joint.

      There, Banham asked the painter Ed Ruscha, plainspoken and painstaking observer of American urban banality, what public buildings a visitor should see. Ruscha recommended gas stations.

      Banham pre-empted objections to Los Angeles urban form by claiming the form matters very little, having already written that Los Angeles has no urban form at all in the commonly accepted sense. Yet whatever it does have, he argued, has produced a fascinating, and sometimes even efficient, set of emergent urban phenomena.

      Come the day when the smog doom finally descends, he narrated over aerial shots of Wilshire Boulevards double row of towers and frame-filling neighbourhoods of detached houses, … when the traffic grinds to a halt and the private car is banned from the street, quite a lot of craftily placed citizens will be able to switch over to being pedestrians and feel no pain.

      Cyclists on Venice Beach … though much of LA is not bike-friendly. Photograph: Alamy

      The end of the car in Los Angeles? Bold words for the man who called Wilshire Boulevard one of the few great streets in the world where driving is a pleasure after having, like earlier generations of English intellectuals who taught themselves Italian in order to read Dante in the original, learned to drive in order to read Los Angeles in the original.

      But just as the languages heard on the streets of Los Angeles have multiplied, the language of mobility has changed there, as has much else besides. How legible would Banham, who died in 1988, now find it?

      The smog that supposed bane of the citys postwar decades which he always downplayed has all but vanished. The time of apparently unlimited space to gratify an obsession with single-family dwellings has given way to one of construction cranes sprouting to satisfy the new demand for high-density vertical living. They stand not just over a downtown risen miraculously from the dead, but the specialised sub-centres scattered all over greater Los Angeles.

      Though the ban on private cars hasnt come yet, no recent development astonishes any Angeleno who was there in the 1970s more than the citys new rail transit network, which started to emerge almost 30 years after the end of the Pacific Electric. It ranks as such as a success of funding, planning and implementation (at least by the globally unimpressive American standard) that the rest of the country now looks to Los Angeles as an example of how to build public transportation and, increasingly, public space in general.

      Readers might scoff at Banham calling the Los Angeles freeway network one of the greater works of man but he has demonstrated more of an ability to see beyond it than many current observers of Los Angeles. Even though it is vastly better than any other motorway system of my acquaintance, he wrote, it is inconceivable to Angelenos that it should not be replaced by an even better system nearer to the perfection they are always seeking.

      Banham felt downtown Los Angeles only deserved a short chapter dedicated to it. Photograph: Alamy

      Banham also foresaw the rise of the self-driving car, so often mooted these days as an alternative solution to Los Angeles traffic woes. But cars that drive themselves (as distinct from Baede-kar a then-fantastical voice navigation system dreamed up for Banhams TV doc, that bears an uncanny resemblance to those every American driver uses today) come with problems that Banham also predicted all those years ago. The marginal gains in efficiency through automation, he wrote, might be offset by the psychological deprivations caused by destroying the residual illusions of free decision and driving skill.

      Under each outwardly celebratory page of Banhams book lies the notion of change as Los Angeles only constant: no matter how excitingly modern the car and the freeway, their day will come to an end; no matter how comfortably idyllic the detached house, it too must fall out of favour, or into impracticality, sooner or later.

      Some of the elements that drew Banhams attention have, after their own periods of disrepute, turned fashionable again. Even the humble dingbat has found a place in the future of the city, becoming the object of critical study and architectural competition.

      Banham also saw the future of Los Angeles in other unprepossessing buildings, especially one striking and elegantly simple stucco box on La Cienega Boulevard. Its architect? A certain Frank Gehry, then almost unknown but now one of the most powerful influencers of the built environment in not just Los Angeles (his current high-profile project involves re-making the citys famously dry, concrete-encased river), but other cities as well. The Toronto-born starchitect became his adopted hometowns architectural emissary just one of the myriad ways in which Los Angeles has influenced the rest of the urban world.

      These days, the rest of the urban world also influences Los Angeles. No longer labouring under the delusions of total exceptionalism that prevailed in Banhams day, it has, with its towers, trains, parks and even bike-share systems, made strides toward the liveability so demanded by 21st-century urbanists. It now even resembles (if faintly) New York, Boston, London, and Paris those thoroughly planned, non-experimental cities where, Banham lamented, warring pressure groups cannot get out of one anothers hair because they are pressed together in a sacred labyrinth of cultural monuments and real estate values.

      In its impressive bid to incorporate older metropolitan virtues and play by the rules of good urban design, modern Los Angeles ignores the possibility of becoming a similarly sacred labyrinth at its peril. Keeping Banhams Los Angeles: the Architecture of Four Ecologies on its syllabus will hopefully protect against the dire fate of losing its rule-breaking experimental urban spirit.

      The engineering-trained author regarded Los Angeles as a kind of machine. Though it has come in for a badly needed overhaul of its interface in recent years, nobody has yet written a users manual more engaged in the city on its own terms as Banham did 45 years ago.

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