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Portland's Troubled Housing History; Google X vs. Architect

Welcome to Curbed's weekly roundup of architecture, real estate, and urban planning-related feature stories. Please be in touch if you have a story to recommend.

1. Portland, Oregon, has a long history of discriminatory housing practices (in 1919, for example, the city's Realty Board Code of Ethics did not allow sales of or loans for properties in white neighborhoods if the buyers were minorities). When shipbuilder Henry Kaiser needed housing for black workers, he built Vanport, which became Oregon's second largest city and the country's biggest housing project. Smtihsonian has its full story.

Kaiser couldn't wait for the city to provide his workers with housing, so he went around officials to build his own temporary city with the help of the federal government. Completed in just 110 days, the town—comprised of 10,414 apartments and homes—was mostly a slipshod combination of wooden blocks and fiberboard walls. Built on marshland between the Columbia Slough and the Columbia River, Vanport was physically segregated from Portland—and kept dry only by a system of dikes that held back the flow of the Columbia River.
2. Curbed sister-site The Verge has the story of Eli Attia, an architect who has been designing his own system to vastly simplify the construction process. Attia brought the system, which he calls Engineered Architecture, to Google X five years ago, and now he claims Google X has stolen it.

Engineered Architecture should have been the perfect project for Google's moonshot program: a bold idea, a brilliant architect, and an ambitious plan to reshape one of the world's fundamental industries. But only about a year after the venture began at Google X, it split apart, and within months branched off into an independent business called Flux Factory without Attia's involvement. Now, Attia says the new company is profiting off his work, and he's making his case in a million-dollar trade secrets lawsuit against both Flux and Google, naming Larry Page and Sergey Brin as personal defendants.

3. New York Times architect critic Michael Kimmelman wonders why the American Institute of Architects recently refused to censure member architects who design death chambers or solitary-confinement cells:

Designing execution chambers is something else. They require their own deathly architecture. If architects refuse to design them, that doesn't mean that they won't be built, any more than the refusal by doctors and pharmaceutical companies to participate in executions has stopped executions from happening. But Ms. Dreiling said it herself: "Many, if not most, architects enter this profession because it is a calling. They believe they can make the world a better place, they believe they can enhance the lives of people on a daily basis, where they live, work and play."

4. In The Guardian, Alex Andreou considers "defensive" or "disciplinary" architecture—additions like spikes on the sidewalk that are meant to keep the homeless from stopping there:

There is a wider problem, too. These measures do not and cannot distinguish the "vagrant" posterior from others considered more deserving. When we make it impossible for the dispossessed to rest their weary bodies at a bus shelter, we also make it impossible for the elderly, for the infirm, for the pregnant woman who has had a dizzy spell. By making the city less accepting of the human frame, we make it less welcoming to all humans. By making our environment more hostile, we become more hostile within it.

· Recommended Reading archive [Curbed]