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From Malls to Marfa: the Year's 12 Must-Read Features

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Curbed launched its longform features this year, publishing deep dives on architectural history, preservation controversies, and some of the most interesting architects working today. Here now, in order of publication, we look back on some of our favorite features so far. Happy end-of-year reading!

The Rise and Fall of One Architect's Modern Torrance Utopia

When a group of Los Angeles businessmen set out to create Torrance, a "Modern Industrial City," in 1912, they chose architect Irving J. Gill to design its buildings. Some of Gill's Torrance work made it to the National Register of Historic Places. But the small workers' homes he designed—with oiled and waxed concrete floors to eliminate crevices for dust, and other design elements "almost monastic in their austere simplicity"—were too far ahead of their time. Read the full story of Gill's Torrance work on Curbed LA.

How Women Are Climbing Architecture's Career Ladder

To launch a four-part series on what it's like to be a woman in architecture, Curbed National surveyed the state of the field for women. Women earn 42 percent of architecture degrees—but they make up only 25 percent of architecture staff in the U.S.. For the most part, says one Harvard Graduate School of Design architecture professor, "I don't see a problem that women can't get into the field. I see the problem down the road of them staying in the field." Read the full story (and the rest of the series).

How SHoP Became NYC's Go-To Megaproject Architects

New York City-based SHoP Architects is developing a reputation for megaprojects, from Brooklyn's Barclay's Center and Domino Sugar Factory makeover to Essex Crossing, which will fill the largest span of undeveloped land in Manhattan south of 96th Street. The firm has expanded to 190 employees, 90 of them hired in the past year, and moved into a new office in the iconic Woolworth Building. How did the firm get to this point? Read on to find out.

How the Cold War Shaped the Design of American Malls

The look of the American shopping mall—two floors of enclosed shopping and parking, anchor stores, and central arboretum, all connected by escalators—is essentially the same everywhere. When the first mall opened in 1956, the setup was meant to aid in the event of nuclear war. Here's the story of how Victor Gruen came up with the mall's design.

What's Next for Santiago Calatrava's Troubled Chicago Spire?

The Chicago Spire, a 2,000-foot-tall curvy tower designed by the famous Santiago Calatrava, debuted in 2005 to fanfare. By 2008, the hype had fallen away, to be replaced by lender woes and lawsuits. Writer Emilie Shumway traces the project's complex history. (After reading, pour one out: the project's official death knell came in November.)

The Quest to Save LA's Century-Old Batchelder Tiles

The Dutch Chocolate Shop in Downtown Los Angeles contains an installation of custom tiles by Pasadena artist Ernest Batchelder, designed a Historic-Cultural Monument in 1975 and considered the most important of Batchelder's commissions. Unfortunately, most days it remains shut behind a metal roll-up door. Writer Liz Arnold delves into the reasons for its obscurity, introducing us along the way to the passionate community of Batchelder experts and tile aficionados.

How a San Francisco Architect Reframes Design for the Blind

The Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco, a nonprofit community center for people with disabilities, is the first space architect Chris Downey has designed since losing his sight. When he lost his vision after an operation to remove a tumor pressing on his optic nerve, Downey questioned whether he could remain in such a visual career. But within a month, he was back at work part-time, and soon he and a technology trainer were finding new ways of getting his design ideas onto paper. He has since carved out a niche helping architects better meet the needs of blind people, as writer Lamar Anderson explains in this profile.

How Julia Morgan Gave California Women Space for Leisure


The Roman Pool at Hearst Castle, designed by Julia Morgan. Photo via Getty Images.

In 1904, Julia Morgan became the first woman licensed to practice architecture in California. She came on the scene, Hadley Meares explains, just as women were beginning to spend money on social welfare projects, and Morgan was their perfect partner. One of her greatest champions was the socialite Phoebe Hearst, who got Morgan involved in YWCA building projects and then introduced her to William Randolph Hearst, for whom Morgan would design two gorgeous pools at Hearst Castle.

From 'Stripes With Plaids' to Unmade Beds: Major Players Talk 25 Years of Elle Decor

Heavyweight home magazine Elle Decor turned 25 in September, and Curbed talked to everyone from the founding editor to some of the earliest featured designers to put together a comprehensive oral history of the magazine's first quarter-century.

Remembering the Grand Spectacle of the 1939 World's Fair

For the 75th anniversary of the 1939 World's Fair, writer Tiffany Webber shares her grandfather's photographs of the fair empty at night. Harold Webber was a 25-year-old amateur photographer whose membership in the Railroadians, a group for train enthusiasts, got him a volunteer gig and admissions pass to the 1939 and 1940 seasons of the fair. Take a look at the photographs.

The Post-Sandy Shoreline

To mark the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, photographer Nathan Kensinger returned to three New York neighborhoods he has been visiting since the storm, Breezy Point, Coney Island, and Staten Island. While Breezy Point's residents chose to remain and rebuild their homes, the rebuilding process in Coney Island's Sea Gate community has been mired in frustration. Residents of Staten Island's Ocean Breeze opted to sell their homes to the government and leave. Take a look at the whole series.

The Rise of Marfa

Marfa, Texas, a desert town that looks like a movie version of the American West (and has, in fact, been one) has been known to the art world for years—but now it's on the design community's collective mind, as well. Writer Laura Fenton explores why the tiny town has become such a source of inspiration for interior designers.

· Curbed Features archive [Curbed]