Melissa Hope Matlins

Sponge Parks for Superfund Sites
May 7, 2009, 4:32 pm
Filed under: Architecture, Design, Green, Sustainability, Urbanism

Brooklyn’s own Gowanus Canal is on the verge of becoming a Superfund site, pretty incredible since my friend was spotted paddling down the Canal in January, clearly at his own peril. The pending Superfund declaration has generated significant debate about how, exactly, the polluted waterway will be remediated. The industrial polluters that once lined the Gowanus are long-gone, but New York City’s own 19th century sewer system, which combines sewage from buildings with stormwater from streets, empties into the Canal and other waterways surrounding the city practically every time it rains. (It has been raining for almost a week straight here, so it’s on my mind.)

ARO Principal Stephen Cassell, and his friend Susannah Drake, Principal at dlandstudio, have a proposal for you – “Sponge Parks” along the Canal that will harness the incredible absorptive power of dirt and plant roots to capture water where it hits the ground, stemming the tide of stormwater that slicks our urban surfaces, building rooftops, sidewalks and roads. I have to admit, the term Sponge Park sounds pretty fun, a place that you might want to hang out in, enjoy the weather and such. It a significant improvement over the industry terminology of bioswales and rain gardens; the former sounding too technical and the latter sounding too age of Aquarius.

Via: WNYC Cityscapes project


Bed-Stuy Meadow Project

Photo credit: Kate Glicksberg via  21st Century Plowshare

I braved the rain on Saturday in support of a beautiful and simple vision – to blanket the vacant lots of New York City’s Bed Stuy neighborhood with native wildflowers. The project’s creators, 21st Century Plowshare, supplied us volunteers with nifty bags filled with a seed/sand mixture and “seed bombs” for throwing over fences (shown here in Kate Glicksberg‘s great photo). I am hoping that April showers will work their magic and we will see some sprouts soon. More neighborhood plantings are in the works. And testament to the power of the idea – New York Times coverage here.

Image: Kate Glicksberg via 21st Century Plowshare

CCTV Fire Signals the End of Boomtown Architecture
February 10, 2009, 3:18 am
Filed under: Architecture, Design, Urbanism


Incredibly, all it seemed to take was a few sparks from the Lunar New Year’s celebrations to ignite a 500 foot high tower, part of Beijing’s iconic new CCTV development, designed by Rem Koolhaas of OMA. Thankfully the structure was unoccupied, so we can ponder the figurative meaning of this destruction, and not the mourn the loss of life, surprising considering how close this person got to the blaze.

If the end of the olympic games marked the technical end date of China’s great building boom, this fire has surely marked the symbolic end. This building pair was cutely dubbed the “underpants” and “boot” because of their radical shapes. From some angles, it would appear that the boot was kicking the underpants forward, almost encouraging the CCTV tower, and China by extension, to stride confidently into the future. At the time the building was conceived in 2004, the future was an endless building boom for China, fueled by a surge in US consumer spending. I think we know how that turned out.

A massive urban development, an abundance of cheap labor and financing, a star architect, an ambitious design, a worldwide event, a now vacant tower, a project over budget, a year or more behind schedule, finally a huge burnout. It’s like the program summary of an avant garde opera. Architectural critic Paul Goldberger, recognizing the building’s flair for drama, recently wrote: “a building which I had thought was going to be a pretentious piece of structural exhibitionism—turned out to be a compelling and exciting piece of structural exhibitionism.”

Below, a rendering of the CCTV development in happier times.


Photograph: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images via Times Online

Architecture’s Ten Best of 2008 by Paul Goldberger, The New Yorker

Sleepy Subway Surfers
January 29, 2009, 10:20 pm
Filed under: Travel, Urbanism


Why is there a blog dedicated to pictures of people asleep on the subway? In the words of is creator, “Because seeing people fall asleep on the subway is a universal language…” I didn’t realize it, but I have been holding on to this picture that I took on the train back from the airport last summer, just waiting for a site like this. Thanks for the post, Asleep On The Subway! And for letting me know that blogging about micro-topics is a legitimate trend. If you have any doubt, check out my friend’s blog on Round Signs.

Fine Day for a Cruise
January 15, 2009, 8:16 pm
Filed under: Design, New York City, Urbanism


I thought I was crazy for trying to bike through the winter, but then Stephan has to go and one-up us all by taking a leisurely paddle down the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn just as temperatures were dropping into the teens yesterday. Nice looking dory. For more information on this handmade boat check out The Free Seas/Mare Liberum.

Image via Gowanus Lounge

Shoes in the News
January 5, 2009, 8:25 pm
Filed under: Urbanism


Shoes are in the news a lot lately. It’s still unclear if the thousands of pairs of shoes that fell off a truck and onto the Palmetto Expressway in Florida this morning was an accident, performance art, or political commentary. The Soles4Souls charity plans to aid in the cleanup effort and re-distribute them, in a more orderly fashion, in Haiti.

Image via: Sun-Sentinel

Hard Times for Peace
December 3, 2008, 12:11 am
Filed under: Architecture, New York City, Urbanism


Architecture can be most intriguing in ruins. 339 Lafayette Street appears as a mirage at the end of a City block – a ghost of New York’s past. Also known as the “Peace Pentagon,” the building at the corner of Bleeker and Lafayette has been home to a number of activist organizations since its purchase by the War Resisters League in 1969. The facade is not particularly distinguished, and the building is unrenovated after 90 years of existence. Motley stacks of books, flags, and signs obscure many windows, and banners, like this one opposing the first Gulf War from 1991, are often strewn across the cornice. The building is just a sort of backdrop for messages – an architectural sandwich board.

Times are tough for peace, and the non-profit institute that owns and operates the building can no longer ignore the estimated value of the property, and its deteriorating condition, and is contemplating a sale. Tenants, unsurprisingly, are protesting.

Image: Ed Hedemann via Peace Pentagon