Issue 9:
Myths
ISSUE
STORY TYPE
AUTHOR
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
05.21.2023
For a Selfie (and Enlightenment), Make a Pilgrimage to Bridge No. 3

There’s often more to Instafamous infrastructure than meets the eye.

Illustration by Sam Pease
Illustration of the Manhattan Bridge


The first birds returned in the spring of 2022. First it was just a few scattered families: black coats, colorful heads, chirping in an unknown language. As the weather warmed, the visitors shed layers, their plumage brightening. They landed in groups, fledglings in tow. They came as singles, stretching and preening in the sunshine. They came in pairs, taking turns being the center of attention. Alighting, fluffing, resettling in a more comfortable position. Observation seemed only to make them more comfortable, as if their natural habitat were the backside of a smartphone.

Although Brooklyn Bridge Park sits on the Atlantic Flyway and plays host to more than 120 species of birds lured by its wetlands and piers cultivated with native plants, the birds I speak of here are the Instagrammers. In the depths of the pandemic, as I took my daily walk through the linear landscape, I passed real birds and local birdwatchers moving through the park in morning waves, cheeping in the underbrush, settling on the spindly trees, posing on the pylons of a ruined pier. In the afternoon the prime movers were joggers and cyclists; on weekends particularly scenic spots—the glade north of Pier 2, the deck underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, the arches at St. Ann’s Warehouse—would host parties of more exotic plumage. Brides and their clutches of bridesmaids in champagne or mint, groomsmen in matching ties. A teen decked out for her quinceañera, her dress almost as wide as she was tall. Less often, on one of the slowly greening slopes, an engagement picnic set up with the Manhattan skyline as backdrop.

But these park denizens were mostly locals, Brooklynites drawn to the edge of the borough by the promise of nature and scenic views. It didn’t feel like the city was back until the flocks returned to Dumbo. When tourists clogged the path outside Empire Stores. When strollers ringed Jean Nouvel’s transparent pavilion for Jane’s Carousel. When influencers had to jockey for position on the Belgian block surface of Washington Street, where two historic brick warehouses and one cobblestoned street perfectly frame an oblique view of the azure Manhattan Bridge.

A spot that once seemed like a perverse choice (when in history had anyone cared about the Manhattan Bridge?) and that had morphed into a neighborhood annoyance (last year’s New York Times headline: “Can a Neighborhood Be Instagrammed to Death?”) suddenly seemed full of hope. If the world felt well enough to make this pilgrimage, who was I to judge their choice of station?

If you go to Dumbo these days, it is hopping. TikTokers, music videos, photo shoots, bikes, scooters, skateboards, milkshakes, pizza, ice cream, lattes. But the hoppingest spot of all is Washington Street, where, despite the occasional honks of vans insisting the street is theirs to dominate, selfie-takers rule. There’s a family in matching black puffers and mirrored sunglasses, looking as if they have just left the slopes. There’s a young man strutting for friends in an excellent checkerboard coat. There’s a tall blonde in an iridescent parka, left unzipped so as not to camouflage her shape, bringing her hair forward over her shoulders. In fact, as I scan the singles and pairs and groups, all taking their photos on Washington Street in the spring sunshine, this is a gesture I see over and over again—as automatic as the sign of the cross—tucking both hands under the hair and bringing it forward over the shoulders to maximize the appearance of fullness. Once the hair is settled, the ritual can proceed.

The movement of the visitors also mimics the spatial patterns in church. The timid cluster in the aisles—the sidewalks—off to the side, waiting their turn on the part of the street in the sun. The confident walk up and down the center of the street, pausing to check their angle. The whole ensemble resembles a nave: The mid-height brick sidewalls of the converted factories, the stone floor of the street and, soaring above everyone’s heads, the bridge’s blue span. Foreshortening visually connects the suspension cables to the factories, while the pointed arch at the center of the Manhattan Bridge’s eastern tower completes the ecclesiastical parallel. The Brooklyn Bridge may be chunkier, the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge more minimal, but in this setting, the forgotten bridge soars.

Once I started to think of Washington Street as architecture, I began to realize how many popular Instagram sites ape sacred architecture. St. John’s Bridge in Portland, Oregon, has a more delicate, more explicitly Gothic structure, soaring high over the heads of those posing between the concrete legs of its anchorage in the park below. Chris Burden’s “Urban Light” (2008), the stand of deco street lamps that welcome visitors to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (many go no further), also suggests the stepped structure of church aisle and nave, offering foreground framing and depth of field. Acorn Street, on Boston’s Beacon Hill, is like the baby brother of Washington Street, cobblestoned and with three-story brick row houses on either side, but it lacks the drama of the high arch in the same way some say Boston’s skyline pales in comparison to New York’s.

The narrow frame, the distant release: These are also the hallmarks of many naturally occurring Instafamous sites. When Rebecca Jennings wrote for Vox about Antelope Canyon, in 2019, she noted that the canyon, “with its towering walls and natural skylight, looks like a church, or rather, churches look like it.” But Antelope Canyon, Mesa Arch, and other sought-after sites in parks and public lands have seen overcrowding, traffic jams, and destructive overuse. And yet, the cobblestones of Brooklyn, a few blocks from a subway station, can take it. The hot dog cart, parked just outside the money shot, can take it. The urban cathedrals of the past were surrounded by hardscape, commodious and easy to maintain, and so is this sacred selfie space.

“Once I started to think of Washington Street as architecture, I began to realize how many popular Instagram sites ape sacred architecture.”


Bridge No. 3 was how the project to span the East River from Canal Street to Flatbush Avenue was originally identified. The New York Times initially criticized the “meaningless” choice to officially name it the Manhattan Bridge (and indeed, the name has proven confusing), and questioned the series of designs presented to the Municipal Art Commission as decreasingly artistic. The points in favor of Leon Moisseiff’s final design were all technical—the first use of a Warren truss, an advance in deck-stiffening theory—and today his name is remembered largely as a failure. He was the design engineer for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which collapsed, on film, four months after it opened. Emily Roebling, who guided the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge after her engineer husband, Washington Roebling’s death, was granted her own generous memorial plaza during the pandemic (too wide for good ’gramming). Othmar Ammann, the civil engineer of the Verrazzano, George Washington, and Bayonne bridges, has his own brand of in-group fame. 

It’s Bridge No. 3’s accidental ensemble of structures that have made it a star, an urban agglomeration captured in photographs. Those tourists, flocking in from season to season and year after year, turned an ordinary intersection into a place of pilgrimage by noticing, then documenting, the space as a dramatic frame for the vagaries of human appearance.

Artists have piggybacked on the spot’s popularity. Brooklyn Bridge Park has long partnered with the Public Art Fund on temporary installations. Jeppe Hein’s antic persimmon benches offered a scavenger hunt through the length of the linear park, while Olafur Eliasson’s “The New York City Waterfalls,” positioned just below the Brooklyn Bridge, underlined that structure’s position as the granddaddy of all Brooklyn bridges.

Claudia Wieser’s “Rehearsal,” installed in the park at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge during the pandemic season of 2021–2022, commented more specifically on selfie-taking practice. Five pierlike sculptures, tiled in pop colors, were scattered like sentinels on the flat plaza below the bridge. One was a mirrored arch, a reflection on what people do on Washington Street, while several others featured fragmentary images of classical sculpture, a commentary on what beauty used to be. For kids, it was another jumping off place (literally). For adults, the spot offered a pilgrimage within a pilgrimage, a side chapel for a more focused type of photographic worship.

It is easy to make fun of Instagram-famous spots as shallow (the Paul Smith pink wall), but many of them turn out to have high-art priors (Luis Barragán’s Cuadra San Cristóbal in Mexico City). To make architecture for Instagram is a task best left to festival pavilions and restaurant bathrooms; to find architecture in the wild that’s worthy of Instagram—well, aren’t we all on the lookout for something that stops us in our tracks? That lifts our eyes up to the sky? That makes us consider the slant of sunlight? That’s worthy of a hair toss? Once people are out there, they notice other aspects of the environment, too: the waves on the river, the brides by the shore, the birds. If a historic corner draws people out of their homes, back to the city, back to communal life, the least we can do is provide them a safe place to land.