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Monday, June 23, 2008

Book Review: Verb Crisis

Verb Crisis edited by Mario Ballesteros, Albert Ferre & Irene Hwang
Actar, 2008

After previous issues of Verb that focused on architectural change via innovation and technological progress, the sixth installment of the self-proclaimed architecture boogazine "confronts underlying questions and doubts regarding current models of urban development." The crisis of the title is seen as "a turning point, a decisive moment when tensions and instabilities peak and change becomes inescapable." Certainly the appeal of this issue will correspond to the reader's belief that we are in fact in a time of crisis, that places like Dubai, Detroit, and Tijuana illustrate issues of global inequality, shrinking cities, and border conflict, respectively. This reader/reviewer is a sucker for texts investigating the parts of life and the world that are not the sunniest, be they areas of inequality, abandonment or conflict, as these and other places and peoples are ripe for design interventions socially just and architecturally ambitious.

This issue of Verb is split into three sections (Places, Positions, Projects), but certain geographical and thematic overlaps occur, such as Interboro's analysis and design response to Detroit's plethora of vacant lots, or John May's highly critical take on the Fresh Kills landfill and recent design competition. Even in sites as apparently depressing as these two, a certain bit of optimism pervades, if not a refreshing response to the status quo that situates the contents of this issue with the avant-garde technological projects that predate it. This is not middle-of-the-road architecture and theory. A few of the names to be expected on this topic are found here, notably Shigeru Ban with his emergency housing, and Teddy Cruz with his seemingly endless investigation of the informal in primarily Tijuana.

Of the three sections, the weakest is perhaps the Projects section, which features the obligatory experimental architecture, but whose eye candy is primarily Spanish, with projects on Madrid's periphery by MVRDV and FOA, among others. Luckily a lot of attention is given to Interboro's "Blot" design concept for Detroit's "New Suburbanism" and a couple approaches to informal housing south of the border. This makes for an extremely varied collection of places, opinions, and architectural designs, yet with a great amount of depth, all focused on a difficult topic. It holds great promise for future issues of Verb that will (hopefully) tackle other difficult issues that require not only changing approaches to architecture but changing attitudes in the reader.

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