Sunday, November 29, 2015

Why the Bataclan Theatre?

The Bataclan theatre, where the worst of the Paris attacks was staged, is a nineteenth-century music hall embedded in a block facing Boulevard Voltaire in a dense, culturally-mixed neighborhood.    It couldn’t be more classically Parisian in design or in use.  Most of the façade is inhabited by Café Ba’ta,clan that offers patrons a sidewalk salon of wicker chairs and tables on the boulevard.  The theatre entry is modest, facing the street so the queue forms outside.

Why did ISIS choose that place, a low-rent music hall, among all the gilded theatres of Paris?  Some speculate that the owner’s support for Israel brought down the wrath of murderers.  Maybe.  Was it American heavy metal?  Or Parisian nightlife? Perhaps.

I’m struck by the cruel irony that the architectural openness of the Bataclan made it vulnerable, while the same openness is our best defense against intolerance.  The Bataclan (meaning the whole caboodle) embraces the city and makes the boulevard into a public space – not just a street.  Its café turns outward to welcome all those who drink and chat.  The theatre has two entrances that flank the café, but only one is used.  They lead up to a foyer that looks back over the street with tall French doors and a long balcony where concert-goers might perch at intermission, or go for air when the music gets too thick.  The façade is bright and decorative.  Originally it had a Chinese kick to the roof, just to make it exotic, and three circular windows at the top.   The historybuff has an early picture showing the chinoiserie inside and out.  The Bataclan embodies the best French tradition of  urban architecture, with joy, urbanity and good humor.

Perhaps that also offends those who would control us.   
A good night at the Ba'ta,clan Café

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lincoln Road Oval Redesign: Kids and Parakeets

The Lincoln Road Oval (at Euclid Ave) is a Miami parterre covered in an astroturf carpet where kids romp and parakeets chatter overhead, even Discoman is there.
Here's a link to a video:  Listen for Parakeets

James Corner and Field Operations have proposed a new design to renovate Lincoln Road including changes to the oval.  Back in the summer, they proposed turning the oval into a fountain. Here's a link.   A number of people including me spoke with the designers about how popular the oval has always been as public space.  In particular we told them that about the children who love to race around and do their tricks on the astroturf where everyone can see them.   I also spoke of the parakeets that nest in the date palms surrounding the oval.

In late September Field Operations presented a revised scheme showing a play area for children backed by a much smaller fountain.  Better.  They listened.  Another link. 

However Lapidus, the master of designing spaces for people watching, still has some lessons to teach.  His oval is raised up about two feet higher than the pavement like a stage that is facing outward to Lincoln Road.  Someone on the oval can see whatever else is going on and can be seen by everyone passing by.  This is a thrill for kids who are suddenly at eye level with adults.  It also works for teenagers who like to lounge or picnic on the oval in a position where they can sit and still be at eye level with passersby.  The height makes adults sit down, usually on the rim with their feet on the steps.  Public space as an equalizer.  Sitting, they look outward toward passersby or turn around to watch their kids, sitting sideways on the rim.  This double view knits the space together, looking out and looking in, and it makes kids happier to play when they are watched only casually.

And parakeets chatter overhead.  They are the other residents who need to be considered.  Monk parakeets are the only parrots that nest communally.  They chose the grove of date palms for specific reasons: they can be together but spread among several trees; they are safe from ground predators; they are high enough to watch out for hawks; they are close to a ready food supply, the palm nuts, berries, and bird feeders of South Beach gardens.

I'm sure we can learn to design for all the animals, including kids and birds.