- Adrian Anagnost writes for Bloomberg that the Modernist design of Brazil’s Presidential Palace, mobbed in early January in an echo of the US’s January 6 attack, might be uniquely positioned to deter protesters and crowds:
The design of those structures seems to have helped stymie their efforts, as Niemeyer’s clean concrete shapes, vertiginous curves and top-heavy piloti columns reject human intervention. Unlike the complex forms of the US Capitol, Niemeyer’s facades offer blank walls of concrete and glass — many of which protesters promptly broke. The ease of entering may have muted the attackers’ energies; with few human targets for their protest, they milled about aimlessly. While footage from DC on Jan. 6 showed bodies clambering over each other in order to grasp architectonic handholds or massing furiously at narrow ingresses to force their way into the building, Brazilian protesters lined up along Niemeyer’s ramp ascending to the roof of the Brazilian Congress building. They may have been yelling and screaming, but they had to obey the spatial logic of the site. Brasília’s forms guide mass movement in ways that DC’s Neoclassical buildings do not.
Brasília is also no stranger to such displays: In recent years, the Monumental Axis has served as a spectacular backdrop for nurses protesting Bolsonaro’s Covid response and Indigenous groups seeking continued land protection. At the same time, its proportions can render political action strangely inert. The “transparency of [Brasília’s] open spaces” limited political gatherings, explains historian Kristi M. Wilson, especially during the 21-year period of military dictatorship, when “the sheer expanse of Brasília made it difficult to organize.”
- This week in architecture-washing, the Saudi Arabian government is continuing construction on the Jeddah Tower and other structures as part of its broader “giga-projects” plan to pour resources into architectural development, Nabih Bulos writes for the Los Angeles Times:
Other detractors level an often-repeated criticism that the Saudi government should invest in improving creaking infrastructure in Jeddah rather than building fancy towers. Recent events demonstrated their point: A few days of heavy rain in November saw widespread flooding in the city that killed two people and forced schools and universities to close; pictures on social media showed cars swept away by the deluge. Earlier this month, authorities warned of more flash floods and called on motorists to stay home. In 2009, floods killed 123 people.
Beyond the forced evictions, skeptics say there is a mentality at work that aims to create closed-off, Disneyland-like communities that function as profit generators but don’t provide the texture of a real city.
- For the New Yorker, Dan Kois delves into the book cover art of Lorraine Louie, whose designs defined an era of ’80s covers:
In 1983, Louie was hired by Judith Loeser, an art director at Random House, to design a new imprint of quality paperbacks the publisher was launching called Vintage Contemporaries. An editor named Gary Fisketjon had been given the brief of publishing literary fiction—reprints and original, never-before-published books—in a trade-paperback format, distinct from the mass-market paperbacks in which most fiction was reprinted. Fisketjon and Loeser wanted the books to look like a series, and to look different from other books. In those days, “covers simply weren’t a priority,” Fisketjon said in an interview with the blog Talking Covers, “or else were subject to mediocre taste or none at all.”
- Kate Wagner muses on “house porn” and why so much architectural media focuses on the myth of the perfectly manicured, single-family home:
As I said before, it is so far from my personal reality and the realities of others, it may as well be alien. Very few of us live in architecture. We live in vernacular. We live in “multi-family residentials,” shaped by so many planning and financial restrictions that they seemingly cease to be architecture and instead become “projects.” The firms that build the more artistic of these projects are medium-sized companies — with the staff to handle so many complex interlocking parts and restrictions — like Kanopy or Morris Adjmi, or mega-firms like Perkins&Will. Most are constructed by the countless local nobodies and non-profits tacking up a five-over-one where a parking lot used to be. One of the best places to find interesting projects is not ArchDaily but New York City’s own Housing Preservation and Development website, which has a well-hidden list of “featured projects,” all of which are built using public funds. You probably will not see, for example, “263-267 W 126th Street” in Harlem, built by “Lemor Realty Corporation & Apex Building Group” — a 100 per cent affordable city-funded mid-rise residential development featuring some rather tasteful massing and all-brick material unity — on the cover of Architectural Digest, which is a shame.
- A new chatbot software can now literally write entire essays for you, all based on a simple command. It went viral this week, yielding hilarious and unsettling results that have prompted educators to consider how students might use (and misuse) it, Aleksandra Bliszczyk writes for Vice:
Pope said using ChatGPT to write an essay on a prescribed text, instead of reading it yourself, was like basing your assignment on just the abstract and conclusion of your source material. It’ll get you so far, but it probably won’t get you a high grade.
But once you start to think of a chatbot as a tool, rather than a replacement, its possibilities become very exciting.
“It’s not a matter of banning it, it’s there, it exists, we’re going to be using it in the future, but it’s going to be an efficiency tool,” Pope said.
Chatbot software also has the potential to make tertiary education more accessible to people who may struggle with traditional assessment styles, or have to balance other commitments alongside school, as well as giving students 24/7 access to study help.
- A nine-month investigation conducted by the Guardian, Die Zeit, and SourceMaterial found that the carbon offset credits approved for large companies by top carbon standard organization Verra do not actually reflect a reduction in carbon emissions, Patrick Greenfield reports:
David Coomes, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Cambridge who was a senior author on a study looking at avoided deforestation in the first five years of 40 Verra schemes, was part of the Cambridge group of researchers. He reviewed the Guardian’s findings and said there was a big gap between the amount of deforestation his team estimated the projects were avoiding and what the carbon standard was approving.
“It’s safe to say there are strong discrepancies between what we’re calculating and what exists in their databases, and that is a matter for concern and further investigation. I think in the longer term, what we want is a consensus set of methods which are applied across all sites,” he said.
- Williamsburg’s Graham Avenue-Avenue of Puerto Rico sign was mysteriously replaced with one missing the latter half of its name, fulfilling years-long rumors about the impact of gentrification in the neighborhood, Catalina Conella reports for Gothamist:
“I felt disgusted, I felt hurt, because the Avenue of Puerto Rico has been a part of this community has been a part of this community over 30 years,” resident Gyvis Santos said. “I said wow, it finally happened because this has been the making… for years and years and years.”
Santos shared a photo of crews changing the sign Friday on social media. It quickly spread among residents, business owners and local leaders. Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso tweeted that it was a mistake and that the old sign would be returned by Saturday. It went back up Friday afternoon.
- For Screen Slate, Yasmina Price sat down with filmmaker Alice Diop, whose new film Saint Omer, based on the 2016 Kabou case, has sparked discussion about motherhood, race, and the law since its release:
AD: I’m a descendant of a colonized people, and I can see how colonial histories continue to haunt the present. Their haunting is all the more violent because modern European societies, particularly French society, is constantly hitting the brakes on the confrontation with those histories. Yet those histories continue to affect and shape our lives in France—the return of the repressed [memory], which is always all the more felt when the amnesia continues to be intentionally produced. For me, remembrance is an avenue of collective liberation. I studied colonial African history, and I know how much just learning about them allowed me to understand the racist violence which continues to exist in French society. At least knowing where that racial terror comes from permits us to know how the black body was constructed through this racism, and it was in turn inherited from colonization, which continues to contaminate the social relationship in France.
- Marketing firms continue to rely on social media for building brand awareness, and across Africa, Facebook remains its top platform, Brian Ambani reports for Nation Africa:
The survey findings reveal that the importance of social media is increasing among organisations due to global economic uncertainty.
More than half of the survey respondents (52 per cent) stated that economic uncertainty has made social media a more important channel for their organisation with brand awareness remaining as a priority for firms.
“With current uncertainty in the economic climate, many brands are embracing innovation to get more from their marketing budgets. A thoughtful social media strategy allows marketers to gain and retain customer attention in a way that is highly efficient, cost-effective, and measurable,” said Lays Bammesberger, an enterprise account executive at the firm.
- As book bans continue raging across the United States, Michigan’s Department of Corrections is no exception: The state has restricted incarcerated people from accessing around 1,000 titles, Claire Woodcock reports for Vice‘s Motherboard:
In other words, much like when books are removed from schools and public libraries without clear acquisition policies, the process is totally subjective. In Michigan, prison wardens get the final say on what books end up on restricted publications list, taking recommendations from deputy directors that hold hearings to determine whether a “representative sampling” of the written content violates its policy.
Once a book in Michigan ends up on the restricted publications list at one of the 31 prisons in the state, it becomes a banned book for every prison in the system. Chris Gautz, public information officer for Michigan DOC, told Motherboard in an email that the DOC is in the midst of updating its policy, but didn’t elaborate on whether this would include reviewing or removing books from the state’s list of banned titles.
- For Atmos, Amber X. Chen takes a look at the history of psychedelics and climate activism, from right-wing appropriations to Indigenous plant knowledge:
In the last year, at least two peer-reviewed studies have found evidence that psychedelics may influence pro-environmental behaviors. Another philosophical paper published last year argued in favor of psychedelics to help solve our environmental problems. Author Michael Pollan has even spoken to the power of psychedelics in dismantling authoritarianism or inducing closer relationships to nature—akin to the left-wing countercultural movements of the ’60s and ’70s psychedelics are popularly associated with. Meanwhile, brain scientists have examined whether psychedelics cause “neuroplasticity,” or the nervous system’s ability to change its activity and structure.
Other people are more skeptical, pointing to the history that psychedelics have with the right wing, in which neo-Nazi figures have credited psychedelic plants and drugs as their source of inspiration.
Clearly, interest in these psychedelics is not dying down anytime soon. As we enter the so-called psychedelic renaissance of the 21st century, Indigenous peoples are growing wary. The history of psychedelics does not begin with Aldous Huxley and Albert Hofmann; its roots lie in the sacred multi-millennial traditions of Indigenous medicine and ceremony. Could the future of psychedelics lie in shaping environmental movements?
- Dara Mathis penned an essay in the Atlantic on the Black Christian Nationalist movement commune she was raised in, and it’s a must-read:
Donations were a major source of funding. Young people we called missionaries went out “reaching,” traveling to cities throughout the South and Midwest year-round, in all weather, to ask for money. The National Training Center, or NTC, was a bustling village back when I lived there in the early ’80s. It must have seemed, to my mother and all the other young people who joined the Black Christian Nationalist movement, that the future shimmered with possibility.
But liberation movements wax and wane. By the late 2000s, the NTC no longer operated as a full-scale commune, though some church members continued living there. In 2019, the building was sold to a developer. The nursery and dining hall and all our old rooms are being turned into luxury apartments; the first hit the market last year. I felt a startling sense of loss when I heard about the sale. It was the symbolic end of a self-sufficient Black nation within a nation.
- A sweet visual of berry diversity across the US:
- The Sitting Down With the Sisters podcast hosts weigh in on the Meghan/Harry documentary-induced conversation about race and Blackness in the US vs. the UK. It’s an interesting take, even if (judging by the comments) it seems incomplete:
- Teach ’em young!:
- The Grammys have been real quiet since this dropped:
Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.
Editor’s Note, 1/20/2023, 11:39am EST: An earlier version of this post misidentified the location of “Thérèse.” This has been corrected.