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Covering the Issues

Read all about it… Library Journal presents its top 20 “New Landmark Libraries” (May 15, 2011). In this cover story and related print and online commentary, the editors showcase relatively unknown-yet-exemplary small libraries across the US, with the hope of inspiring other communities. Current design trends include sustainability, flexibility, transparency, and collaborative spaces, which together help these libraries become more effective community centers. Even though technology is rapidly transforming the book, the need for free access to information — especially for children, elders, and immigrant populations — is as powerful today as it was when the Boston Public Library launched the institution in 1852.

The end of the world as we know it… Pulitzer Prize–winning author Junot Díaz tackles “Apocalypse: What Disasters Reveal,” in a Boston Review cover story (May/June 2011). The Haiti earthquake killed an estimated 220,000 people, left iconic historic and cultural buildings in ruins, destroyed the electrical grid, and left 10 percent of the population homeless. Díaz notes that the Greek root of the word apocalypse means “uncover and unveil,” arguing that the calamitous effects of the earthquake — as well as the recent Asian tsunamis and Hurricane Katrina — were caused by human actions, not nature. From issues of deforestation and poor infrastructure to depleted coral reefs and global inequality, Díaz reminds us that Mother Nature is not subject to moral judgment.

Dollar signs… Today, 3.5 million people live in cities;by 2050, that number will nearly double, with the most explosive growth happening not only in Brazil, China, and India but also in smaller nations including Vietnam, Colombia, and Chile. Peter Loscher, head of Siemens (makers of urban infrastructure such as computer-operated trains, electrical transformers, and water-treatment systems), sees enormous market potential. In “Urban Outfitter” (Forbes, May 9, 2011), writer Daniel Fisher describes Loscher’s vision, explaining that “even shantytowns need electricity and clean water.” Siemens is designing special equipment that functions in high humidity, with solar power, and at a lower price point, as it’s partnering with explosively growing cities to improve carbon emissions and energy efficiency. Good design is great business?

Preservation gets pummeled… Rem Koolhaas’s recent exhibition and lecture at the New Museum on the state of historic preservation has prompted a torrent of commentary. Architectural critic (and ArchitectureBoston editorial-board member) Sarah Williams Goldhagen provides important context in “Death by Nostalgia” (The New York Times, June 10, 2011), explaining how preservation has become a means for planning, design review, and development (yes, and actually preserving valuable old buildings, too), where projects are often evaluated in terms of economic dealmaking rather than historic importance. Writing for ARTINFO (posted May 16, 2011), Ben Davis suggests that the “solution is not a better theory of preservation, but a more humane model of economic progress.” Meanwhile, The New Yorker’s Paul Goldberger (posted May 10, 2011) argues that the real issue is not the limits that preservation imposes but the marketing of architectural celebrity. Time will tell?

LA story… Sometimes GOOD is great. The Spring 2011 edition of this five-year-old quarterly explores “critical issues facing global cities,” with Los Angeles as its focus. Touching on schools, urban ecology, riots, homelessness, houses of worship, water, density, and the politics of mixed use, its wide range of contributors include architects and designers to writers who shaped LA’s image, from novelist Joan Didion to urban thinker Mike Davis. Directly and indirectly, the built environment pervades all. Chock-full of hip infographics and photography, the print magazine is only the first step; be sure to check out GOOD’s robust website and event schedule, too.