Event: Oculus Book Talk: Witold Rybczynski
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.11.11
Speaker: Witold Rybczynski, AIA — Author, Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities (Scribner, 2010)
Organizer: AIANY Oculus Committee
Makeshift — “a temporary or expedient substitute for something else.” Metropolis — “a large city or urban area.” Together these two words form the alchemical ingredients of a pragmatic and poetic work about urban design and the future of our cities, by author, critic, and professor Witold Rybczynski, AIA.
There are no villains or heroes in this story. This is a reflective examination of a century of ideas in urban planning that evolved from movements such as City Beautiful, the Garden City and the ideas of Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Jane Jacobs. As the history unfolds it does so alongside the reshaping of our cities. This is a book that encourages the reader to think about the distinction between good ideas and implementation; as well as history, ideologies, and forward-thinking possibilities.
Rybczynski opens the book with Michael Van Valkenburgh’s Brooklyn Bridge Park and closes with Moshe Safdie’s new city of Modi’in, Israel — creative voices that clearly speak to the 2lst century. As for the pages between, all I can say is this: A planner walks into a bar… Charles Mulford Robinson, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, and Patrick Geddes are sitting there together, reading, and not saying much to each other until Patrick Geddes (who is on the final page of the book) breaks the silence, quoting the author: “History does not always have the answers — new problems do sometimes require new solutions — but it behooves us to keep one eye on the past as we venture into the future. This is not about nostalgia or summoning an imagined past, but freedom from history is no freedom at all. The next city will include much that is new, but to succeed it cannot ignore what came before. Linking the past with the present, and seeing the old anew, has always been part of our improvised urban condition.” With that the personages of history order a round and raise their glasses to the future. As for the how this has impacted the planner who walked into the bar and observed this moment in time — that part of history is yet to be written.
Note about Oculus Book Talks: Each month, the AIANY Oculus Committee hosts a Book Talk at the Center for Architecture. Each talk highlights a recent publication on architecture, design, or the built environment — presented by the author. The Book Talks are a forum for dialogue and discussion, and copies of the publications are available for purchase and signing. This article is a preview for Witold Rybczynski’s upcoming talk on 04.11.11. Click here to RSVP.