Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


A new year...again

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

When it comes to the new year, I never get to post right on time. Good thing there are many "new year" opportunities to do so.

There's the traditional Roman calendar new year, which most of us celebrate. There's Chinese New Year, which is coming up tomorrow. There's even Nowruz, the Persian new year on March 21 this year.

In short, there are many opportunities to begin anew again, perhaps even (gasp) every day.

This past year, my family celebrated it a little differently from our usual ruckus in Manila. Instead of noise and firecrackers, we greeted the new year with a little solemnity in a Buddhist temple. All of my family, including grandkids trekked through Fukuoka's streets at night. We looked like a merry band of wanderers, as we navigated the byways of Japan. Then, we lined up with others inside a smaller, less popular Buddhist temple called Enkakuji. We waited to ring a bell once to thank the year that's gone before and to pray for the new one. It's a practice they call joya no kane, literally the bells of the remaining night.

After you rang the bell, you would then be served amazake, the warm sweet non alcoholic drink. With that in your hand, you could talk in hushed tones with your family or simply take in the rest of the night, with the bells tolling in the background.

I liked this kind of celebration. It was devoid of the usual gaiety, which can sometimes be forced and instead it was more contemplative. It gave all of us a chance to think about what really did go before and what else we could do in the coming year. I'm still figuring out my answer, but that night was a good place to start.

Happy new year, everyone...whichever one you celebrate!


The Internet in real life

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

You and I are living on a different dimension every time we step up to a computer. The internet is a place that isn't tactile, yet has created profound change in the way we live. We're used to thinking of the internet as a place, Other Than Here.

But, in reality, the internet can still be a real place. It could even be in the vicinity of Wilshire and Grand in downtown LA's Financial District, in a building called One Wilshire. Angelenos would most likely recognize the place as they emerge from the 7th and Metro station. Its big block letters announce One Wilshire with no argument.

Courtesy of Center for Land Use Interpretation
Yet, this isn't just a building, New York Times reveals that it  "is one of the world’s largest data-transfer centers — tenants include network, cloud and information-technology providers — and serves as a major West Coast terminus for trans-Pacific fiber-optic cables."

Philadelphia-based photographer David Greer captured this building on film, and many other across the country, the obscure, anonymous buildings that house what we know as the internet.

What else make up the bones of this ghostly ether we call the internet? Check out Greer's photos on New York Times. For a tour of One Wilshire, check out the Center for Land Use Interpretation's online exhibit.


Living trees as buildings

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

It's not only glass and steel that can become buildings, so can trees. When I talked to Vancouver architect Michael Green a few years ago, he was getting ready to break ground on North America's tallest wood building. He says that because of the size of trees required to make these buildings, they are actually quite fireproof.

But, trees are natural building materials, even when we don't cut them down. There are people in the world that make bridges out of them. Now, Barry Cox of New Zealand has made a church by training semi-mature trees around an iron frame.

Cox, owner of a tree moving service, used his knowledge to grow a church. The enterprising tree-lover says that he used live cut-leaf alder trees for the roof canopy and copper sheen for the walls, as well as camellia black tie, Norway maple, and pyramidal white cedar.

What if we stop looking at trees as a resource only when cut down? What else could they be?

Here's a video of the Tree Church:

h/t ASLA


Changing the city for our children

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Since having my son, I've noticed how many parents opt to take their children to indoor playgrounds rather than spend time outside. One indoor playground even touts, "we keep children healthy by making fitness fun," as if our children don't naturally know how to have fun themselves.

I must admit, it is hard to relax as a parent, when the city seems to unwelcoming to its twenty-pound residents. Just outside our door is a busy street full of cars and trucks zooming past every few minutes. Across us, the sidewalk suddenly disappears, making it harder to push a stroller to your destination. The situation becomes even more frightening knowing that traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for children aged 2 to 14.

It's not just Los Angeles that has made childhood in the city daunting. A UC Davis report says childhood in the modern age has become over-controlled and over-structured, which has led to children spending less time outdoors (including the streets) and more time in these overly safe, manicured spaces. As a result "children are increasingly disappearing from the urban scene."

Exploring the sidewalk. Photo by Carren Jao.
Oh look! Our neighbors introduced us to a "rock garden" a few blocks away. Photo by Carren Jao.
It would have been easy to sigh and say, "That's the way the city is," but Curbed LA editor Alissa Walker's post reminded that there is a lot we can do to change the city back in favor of our children. We can encourage 20 mph limits on the street (the speed where survival rate is 95 percent). We can support segregated bicycle lanes that make bike riding easier. Most especially for Angelenos, we can support Measure M, a  half-cent sales tax increase that would go toward making our rail and bus systems even more usable. It also includes improvement on bike and pedestrian infrastructure like
fixing potholes or painting crosswalks. 

In the meantime, we can all keep the end-goal in mind by taking our time and walking with our children outside or even taking a bus ride with them. As Walker beautifully writes: 
... the time I spend with my daughter getting around LA without a car is a different kind of quality time—it’s specifically reserved for me to experience the city with her. A few extra minutes waiting for a bus isn’t an inconvenience, it’s a time to slow down, admire murals, and count pigeons. (Besides, she’ll let me know when I’ve walked too fast past something she wanted to see.) 
In a car, no matter where we go, the experience never changes: I’m sitting in traffic, staring out one window, while she stares out another window in the backseat...
Wouldn't it be great to do more with your children than strap them into a car seat and then step into the driver's seat facing away from them?

Read more of Walker's thoughts on raising children car-free and the solutions on the horizon for LA's multimodal future.


What my child has taught me about urban design

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

I love walks, but in the walking/exploring department, I think my son has me beat. He lives for walks.

In the year or so that I've had my son, I must have walked thousands of steps, trying to keep up with the him. When he was smaller, and less mobile, walks were a perfect way for me to get out and take in the sunshine, while introducing him to a little bit more of the world. Now that he's moving more, he's become his own explorer.

While accompanying my son on these walks, I've learned a few things about living in the city myself. Here's what I've picked up:

Walk, rest, repeat.
My son loves to walk outside. He does it incessantly. Since he needs company, I find myself dragged outside, even on days when I'd rather not.

Our walks have become so routine that I've started to see the same people out sharing the streets with me. At first, I shared a few nods and greetings with these strangers, but as the months went by, and a sense of familiarity settled on both parties, we began to have longer conversations.

Soon, it didn't feel as if we were walking in intimidating new territories; it felt as if we were extending the range of our home base. Every few blocks, a familiar person or pet came into view and we'd fall into easy how-do-you-do conversations.

I realized, this is how neighborhoods used to be made. Neighborhoods aren't just blocks of similar homes. They were places where people interacted on a daily basis and thus created a sense of belonging.

No walks? Just hang
Walks aren't the only way to get to know your community, so is staying in one open place.

My son's favorite hangouts are usually in front of multi-family staircases, or a particularly leafy, patch of sidewalk. As the minutes ticked by, we'd see neighbors walking their pets, people cycling or other children taking their adults outside. It gave me the perfect opportunity to say "hi."

A little mess is a good thing
Cities love clean, manicured spaces. It's our instinct to keep things organized, but to be engaging, sometimes you need a little clutter.

Falling leaves are nature's toys. Photo by: Carren Jao
Before he learned to walk, one of our favorite activities was simply wiping a leaf on the concrete and listening for that low scratching sound. Or throwing pinecones in the air, like makeshift balls.

Now that he's walking, it's a new opportunity to explore the same place in a different way. A few days ago, I set him down by a patch of dried leaves. I stomped on a few, which produced some satisfying "crackling" sounds. With this, my delighted little one promptly plodded all around the sidewalk, crunching leaves as he went.

Variation adds interest
Children love texture, and so do adults. We love varied environments. It's great to walk by a block and find a Zen rock garden on one hand and then a grassy spot with a sign in the other.

The same principle goes for heights. My son loves stairs and little overlooks, because of the new sights at that elevation (I think.)

When we're looking to design something for the public space, it's great to have more than one kind of texture and color in a small space. We've all walked through large concrete parking lots and those are never fun to navigate, right?

Have you walked with a child? What did they teach you about the city?


A Life Lesson from Bill Cunningham

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Bill Cunningham at Fashion Week photographed by Jiyang Chen via Wikipedia

Bill Cunningham died a few weeks ago. I never knew the man, only of him, but nevertheless his life is a one lesson in the most difficult challenge of all: staying true to who you are.

Everyone knows Bill took photographs. He photographed socialites, downtown kids, street dancers. He trained his 35-millimeter camera, put his energies on something everyone had previously dismissed, and became a voice in fashion.

But I didn’t particularly care what he took photos of, I cared about the manner in which he did it: in uniform. Donning a blue French worker’s jacket, khaki pants, and black sneakers day after day, he chased after his images, often astride a bicycle.

He wasn’t a Chase Jarvis, the century’s poster boy of success in photography. (Jarvis is a photographer turned entrepreneur who worked with name brands, wields an impressive online platform and has a web series to his name.) He was simply Bill, a man who slept in a single-size cot and, until 2010, showered in a shared bathroom, and then went out on the streets to photograph.
He went about his business and he did it, in Frank Sinatra’s immortal words, his way, without any excuses about his looks or his taste in clothing.

It was a bold choice, at least in my eyes.

Image is at such a premium nowadays. Celebrities have stylists that ensure every piece of clothing they wear telegraphs the right message. Us regular folks have to settle for our best friend’s opinion. All of us browse magazines and websites to make sure each accessory, piece of clothing, even the way our hair is coifed all contribute to a visual of what we want people to think we are. Bill, it seemed, was above all that. He just was.

Perhaps that is the quality that drew most people to him. His integrity. He lived a life without doubt. He lived with the utmost courage to be himself. He was a puzzle, shooting beautiful, interesting, aha people without himself wanting to be them.

Bill will most likely be most remembered for his photographs, his yearbook of New Yorkers on the streets, but his most important lesson for me was his steadfastness in being himself, in what made him happiest.

If only more people would be so wise.


The Longest Shortest Time

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

I've been incommunicado for many months now. Those who know me well know it's because I've entered into a new chapter of my life: motherhood. While it hasn't been all rainbows and roses, the experience, as many harrowing ones often do, has taught me a lot about myself and my own capacity as a human being.

Being a parent, especially in the early days, is very, very, very difficult. Now, when I see moms and dads in the park or in the grocery, I silently think, "What heroes, they all are." The experience isn't always pretty either. In fact, it's probably 87% not pretty, but we're surviving anyway.

One way we do that is by finding a community of people that will remind us that it's okay not to be picture perfect. I've been fortunate enough to find that in the actual real, people friends I've made, the mommy groups I've joined, but also this amazing podcast that will re-launch in January.

Those who need a dose of reality in parenting, tune in to: the Longest Shortest Time, "a bedside companion for parents who want to hear in the middle of the night (or day—what’s the difference, really?) that they are not alone." It's a show that's featured single motherhood, a mom who has an unusual way of putting her child to bed, one about the emotional pitfalls of breastfeeding. The show is real in a way that not many parenting outlets are. There is no judgement (which is refreshing as well.)

via the Longest Shortest Time
One of my favorite episodes is this one with 99% Invisible's Roman Mars, talking about raising twin boys. He says of the experience, "Being a parent of multiples is like the worst thing that can happen to you that you wouldn't wish away if you had a wish you could wish away. It's that hard but you'd never want it to be different." Even if you're not raising twins, I bet it feels that way too.

To this, the show's creator Hilary Frank writes, "Motherhood is not always giggles and hand-clapping and learning to walk. But things do change and often they get better. And the things you’re going through, even if they’re not in the books, they happen to other people, too. In this blog and podcast you can hear other moms—and sometimes dads—tell stories about their longest shortest times. And maybe, in your darkest hours (both literally and figuratively), you’ll hear a voice that reminds you that this part is only the beginning of the rest of your life with your new little person."

Read to the show's dramatic beginnings and listen to the podcast.

Get updates via RSS