Issue 10
ISSUE
STORY TYPE
AUTHOR
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 28, 2024
In Search of Domestic Kintsugi
by Edwin Heathcote
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 13, 2024
The Perils of the Landscapes We Make
by Karrie Jacobs
10
PERSPECTIVE
May 6, 2024
Using Simple Tools as a Radical Act of Independence
by Jarrett Fuller
9
PERSPECTIVE
April 29, 2024
Why Can’t I Just Go Home?
by Eva Hagberg
9
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 22, 2024
Why Did Our Homes Stop Evolving?
by George Kafka
9
ROUNDTABLE
April 8, 2024
Spaces Where the Body Is a Vital Force
by Tiffany Jow
9
BOOK REVIEW
April 1, 2024
Tracing the Agency of Women as Users and Experts of Architecture
by Mimi Zeiger
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 25, 2024
Are You Sitting in a Non-Place?
by Mzwakhe Ndlovu
9
ROUNDTABLE
March 11, 2024
At Home, Connecting in Place
by Marianela D’Aprile
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 4, 2024
VALIE EXPORT’s Tactical Urbanism
by Alissa Walker
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 26, 2024
What the “Whole Earth Catalog” Taught Me About Building Utopias
by Anjulie Rao
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 19, 2024
How a Run-Down District in London Became a Model for Neighborhood Revitalization
by Ellen Peirson
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 12, 2024
In Brooklyn, Housing That Defies the Status Quo
by Gideon Fink Shapiro
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 5, 2024
That “Net-Zero” Home Is Probably Living a Lie
by Fred A. Bernstein
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 22, 2024
The Virtue of Corporate Architecture Firms
by Kate Wagner
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 16, 2024
How Infrastructure Shapes Us
by Deb Chachra
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
January 8, 2024
The Defiance of Desire Lines
by Jim Stephenson
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 18, 2023
This House Is Related to You and to Your Nonhuman Relatives
by Sebastián López Cardozo
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 11, 2023
What’s the Point of the Plus Pool?
by Ian Volner
7
BOOK REVIEW
December 4, 2023
The Extraordinary Link Between Aerobics and Architecture
by Jarrett Fuller
7
PERSPECTIVE
November 27, 2023
Architecture That Promotes Healing and Fortifies Us for Action
by Kathryn O’Rourke
7
objects and things
November 6, 2023
How to Design for Experience
by Diana Budds
7
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 30, 2023
The Meaty Objects at Marta
by Jonathan Griffin
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
October 23, 2023
How Oliver Grabes Led Braun Back to Its Roots
by Marianela D’Aprile
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
October 16, 2023
Can Adaptive Reuse Fuel Equitable Revitalization?
by Clayton Page Aldern
6
PERSPECTIVE
October 9, 2023
What’s the Point of a Tiny Home?
by Mimi Zeiger
6
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 2, 2023
A Book Where Torn-Paper Blobs Convey Big Ideas
by Julie Lasky
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
September 24, 2023
The Architecture of Doing Nothing
by Edwin Heathcote
6
BOOK REVIEW
September 18, 2023
What the “Liebes Look” Says About Dorothy Liebes
by Debika Ray
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 11, 2023
Roy McMakin’s Overpowering Simplicity
by Eva Hagberg
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 5, 2023
Minimalism’s Specific Objecthood, Interpreted by Designers of Today
by Glenn Adamson
5
ROUNDTABLE
August 28, 2023
How Joan Jonas and Eiko Otake Navigate Transition
by Siobhan Burke
5
OBJECTS AND THINGS
August 21, 2023
The Future-Proofing Work of Design-Brand Archivists
by Adrian Madlener
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
August 14, 2023
Can a Church Solve Canada’s Housing Crisis?
by Alex Bozikovic
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
August 7, 2023
In Search of Healing, Helen Cammock Confronts the Past
by Jesse Dorris
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
July 31, 2023
What Dead Malls, Office Parks, and Big-Box Stores Can Do for Housing
by Ian Volner
5
PERSPECTIVE
July 24, 2023
A Righteous Way to Solve “Wicked” Problems
by Susan Yelavich
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
July 17, 2023
Making a Mess, with a Higher Purpose
by Andrew Russeth
5
ROUNDTABLE
July 10, 2023
How to Emerge from a Starchitect’s Shadow
by Cynthia Rosenfeld
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 26, 2023
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All in Architecture
by Marianela D’Aprile
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 19, 2023
How Time Shapes Amin Taha’s Unconventionally Handsome Buildings
by George Kafka
4
SHOW AND TELL
June 12, 2023
Seeing and Being Seen in JEB’s Radical Archive of Lesbian Photography
by Svetlana Kitto
4
PERSPECTIVE
June 5, 2023
In Built Environments, Planting Where It Matters Most
by Karrie Jacobs
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 30, 2023
On the Home Front, a Latine Aesthetic’s Ordinary Exuberance
by Anjulie Rao
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 21, 2023
For a Selfie (and Enlightenment), Make a Pilgrimage to Bridge No. 3
by Alexandra Lange
3
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 8, 2023
The Building Materials of the Future Might Be Growing in Your Backyard
by Marianna Janowicz
3
BOOK REVIEW
May 1, 2023
Moving Beyond the “Fetishisation of the Forest”
by Edwin Heathcote
2
ROUNDTABLE
April 24, 2023
Is Craft Still Synonymous with the Hand?
by Tiffany Jow
2
OBJECTS AND THINGS
April 17, 2023
A Historian Debunks Myths About Lacemaking, On LaceTok and IRL
by Julie Lasky
2
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 10, 2023
How AI Helps Architects Design, and Refine, Their Buildings
by Ian Volner
2
SHOW AND TELL
April 3, 2023
Merging Computer and Loom, a Septuagenarian Artist Weaves Her View of the World
by Francesca Perry
1
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
March 27, 2023
Words That Impede Architecture, According to Reinier de Graaf
by Osman Can Yerebakan
1
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
March 20, 2023
Painting With Plaster, Monica Curiel Finds a Release
by Andrew Russeth
1
PERSPECTIVE
March 13, 2023
Rules and Roles in Life, Love, and Architecture
by Eva Hagberg
1
Roundtable
March 6, 2023
A Design Movement That Pushes Beyond Architecture’s Limitations
by Tiffany Jow
0
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 7, 2023
To Improve the Future of Public Housing, This Architecture Firm Looks to the Past
by Ian Volner
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Radical Potential of “Prime Objects”
by Glenn Adamson
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 20, 2023
Xiyadie’s Queer Cosmos
by Xin Wang
0
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
February 13, 2023
How Michael J. Love’s Subversive Tap Dancing Steps Forward
by Jesse Dorris
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 7, 2023
Finding Healing and Transformation Through Good Black Art
by Folasade Ologundudu
0
BOOK REVIEW
February 13, 2023
How Stephen Burks “Future-Proofs” Craft
by Francesca Perry
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 27, 2023
Making Use of End Users’ Indispensable Wisdom
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The New Lessons Architect Steven Harris Learns from Driving Old Porsches
by Jonathan Schultz
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Day Architecture Stopped
by Kate Wagner
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The Overlooked Potential of Everyday Objects
by Adrian Madlener
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 7, 2023
A Conversation About Generalists, Velocity, and the Source of Innovation
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
Using a Fungi-Infused Paste, Blast Studio Turns Trash Into Treasure
by Natalia Rachlin
Untapped is published by the design company Henrybuilt.
PERSPECTIVE
03.25.2024
Are You Sitting in a Non-Place?

Coined in the ’90s by French anthropologist Marc Augé, the term refers to spaces that fail to create social connections among people—and underscores the need for an alternative.

Colorful home with geometric adornments in Mpumalanga, South Africa
Daniel and Franzina Ndimande’s home, in what is now part of the province Mpumalanga, in South Africa, painted by Franzina and her two eldest daughters. (Photo: Margaret Courtney-Clarke. Courtesy African Pictures)


I don’t remember exactly when I first heard the phrase “the house is a machine for living in,” from Le Corbusier’s seminal 1923 book, Toward an Architecture. It was likely when I was at university, learning about Modern architecture—Le Corbusier’s progeny—for the first time. I remember being doubtful of his claim. A machine? I asked myself. I don’t quite feel like I’m in a machine when I’m most comfortable in any house I would call home.

I know I’m taking a very literal route by fixating on the word machine, but such words, and such claims, carry a lot of weight. The term implies attributes I would typically assign to airports, supermarkets, and call-center offices: impersonal, cookie-cutter spaces incapable of eliciting character or emotion, and concerned more with getting a task done than with how someone feels while they’re doing it. Lifelessness, stiffness, anonymity—these are qualities I don’t associate with my idea of domesticity.

Around the same time I learned about Le Corbusier’s perception of home, I learned that, during the 1920s and 1930s, something called the International Style of Modernism was on the rise in the United States. What piqued my interest were two hallmarks of the architectural manner: the wide use of uniform, mass-produced industrial building materials, and the utter rejection of ornamentation, which it equated with a crime.

To me, this suggested that progress in architecture, within this framework, meant that all buildings should be conceived of and constructed similarly to one another, regardless of where they’re built or who they’re built for. It also suggested that none of these buildings would have significantly identifiable qualities on the exterior that would give us any clue about what might be happening inside them.

I tried (and failed) to make sense of this from my vantage point as a student in South Africa: Were the beautifully painted exteriors of the homes of the Ndebele people specimens of bad architecture? Those brightly colored, intricate geometric adornments have meaning. Painted exclusively by Ndebele women and girls of age, they are symbols of things such as a family’s status, heritage, wishes, prayers, and announcements of marriage, to name a few. They are as informative as they are ornamental. Is there no function in insignia?

I also thought of the buildings of Tiébélé, a small village in the south of Burkina Faso that’s home to the Kassena tribe. The village dwellings are painted in vivid black-and-white geometric patterns, riddled with symbols representing the tribe’s history, folklore, and even some key information about the inhabitants of the structures (the royal family’s home, for example, has more detailed patterns than others).

Since the 15th century, the Kassena tribe has developed these symbols within their architecture not only as an exterior building envelope appliqué, but also in architectural planning and programming: rectilinear houses signify a family home, while circular structures are meant for bachelors. It’s another case of ornamentation that’s not merely frivolous, but functional.

Now, a decade into my career working as a designer in the fields of architecture and furniture, product, and graphic design, my view of Modern architecture has evolved. Its tenets were formed by very small groups of men in the United States and Europe, whose views obviously do not represent those of the entire world. These small groups of men, in relatively small parts of the planet, essentially decided how the classroom I sat in—as a Black man on the African continent, where life differs greatly from that in the West—should look, feel, and work.

The elements we have come to associate with Modern architecture—the open plan (Le Corbusier’s “plan libre”), large windows, white walls—were meant to aid in creating flexible spaces that could be used in a variety of ways. To be clear, I have no quarrel with flexible spaces. However, I have realized in my professional practice that these spaces often end up as basic, generic, unidentifiable non-places where almost anything could happen, yet almost nothing significant ever does.

Coined in 1992 by the French anthropologist Marc Augé in his 2009 book, Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity, the term non-places refers to everyday, transient spaces in contemporary life that are devoid of a prominent cultural or historical identity. Think about a space in your immediate surroundings that is a non-place. It shouldn’t take long; contemporary life is filled with them. In fact, I am sitting in a non-place right now: the airport in Barcelona.

In his book, Augé explores the differences between places—spaces that have the capacity to assist in the creation of social connections between people—and non-places, which Augé humorously deems “the opposite of utopia.”

The airport is a good example of the latter: Most interactions I have with anybody there are predicated on a need for information rather than the desire to get to know the person I’m speaking with. Non-places are abundant because they tend to be the spaces we traverse through to get to places. The widespread application of the components of Modern architecture I mentioned earlier—uniformity and standardized building elements—suggests that the threshold between non-places and places has the potential of being obscured, rendering that boundary between them difficult to define.

The Ndebele people and the Kassena people’s structures fit within Augé’s definition framework of place. The ornamentation and its utility for each of these cultures creates environments of identity, tethering the design of their homes to the basic integral functions of their respective societies. All things considered, it seems to me that places cannot exist if they do not somehow reflect the culture, identity, or history of the people occupying them. Historically, cultural identity has been legible—not exclusively, but vividly—through the use of symbolism. So the syllogism here is that symbolism in the form of ornamentation, to any degree, could be a key signifier that one is indeed in or at a place.

A few questions arise as I think about this: How can designers of spaces fold these ideas into their work and consequently, our world, to create more places? How do we ensure that the line between non-places and places is clearly defined? How do we reconfigure the components of non-places to make places? And how do we ensure that the places we create have long-lived meaning for the people currently in them, and for those who will inhabit them in the future?

“As practitioners in the built environment, we are responsible for making places for people that are a reflection of them, and not solely of an ideological movement.”


From Barcelona, I flew to Milan, and one night wound up at a seafood restaurant with about 20 people I met at a fashion show that evening. We’re loud, but so is everybody else there. It’s packed. There are mounds of food everywhere. The restaurant is not well-designed by any standard. It’s a Modernist’s nightmare. The relentless, ocean-themed décor is unsurpassed in its tackiness. But the operative idea here is that it is a place. And it’s glorious.

This restaurant is exactly the kind of environment that restores my hope for the future of architecture and interior design, fields I have recently scaled back from practicing full-time. I’m not saying that places should be heavily decorated, or that white-box spaces aren’t ideal at times. What I am saying is that, as practitioners in the built environment, we are responsible for making places for people that are a reflection of them, and not solely of an ideological movement.

If more designers designed with this in mind, we would have more places that allow for improvisation and change in ways that are user-specific, that have positive impacts on the people in them, and that will survive the current wave of mass demolitions and be cared for and used for generations.

If we design places for people first, the ideological framework will be filled in by those very people. A good building is a servant to the community by being a part of it, not above it.

Here’s to fewer “machines.”