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Covering the Issues

Divine inspiration?... Satirist P.J. O’Rourke turns sincere in “God’s Engineer” (The Atlantic, September 2011). To “understand the new oddball global cityscapes,” O’Rourke travels to Barcelona to experience the turn-of-the-20th-century work of architect Antoni Gaudí and is in awe of what he finds. A century before Gehry and his curvy contemporaries, Gaudí designed structures without edges and corners, embodying a sense of motion. In his work, O’Rourke sees geometry, proportion, biomorphism, and even a touch of the divine at play, calling La Sagrada Familia “a sermon in broccoli.”

Appetizing tidbits... The visual-culture gurus at Print magazine dive into a “Movement” theme (August 2011)—the movement of people, objects, cities, ideas—as part of their ongoing mission to “explore why our world looks the way it looks and why the way it looks matters.” Wayfinding gets a lot of attention: the legendary graphics of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport; integration of information design into architecture; how people create mental maps. Meanwhile, James Biber provides humorous, inventive ideas to improve movement through New York City’s public spaces, such as tourist lanes on sidewalks (like highway slow lanes). Nothing’s particularly meaty, but it’s all great food for thought.

A tribute... In the flurry of 9/11 anniversary press, here’s an eloquent architectural commentary from an unlikely source: Esquire. With a balance that’s all too rare, Scott Raab’s “The Memorial” (September 2011) explores the human, political, and design story behind the creation of the World Trade Center memorial. Raab not only thoughtfully navigates the slew of competing interests but also clearly explains the memorial’s design ambitions and challenges: It must serve as a daily lunch spot and lifetime pilgrimage destination, connect to the surrounding sidewalk, and repair the scars created first by the construction of the superblock itself and then by its horrific destruction.

The ’burbs are all right... Urban thinker and Forbes columnist Joel Kotkin dissects the latest census data in a brief print piece (September 12, 2011) and a series of related online essays (August 2011). Where are recent college grads, family-oriented thirty- and fortysomethings, and retiring boomers actually living? Though cities may be experiencing a renaissance in the US, most households are still putting down roots on the periphery. Over the past decade, even “hip and cool” cities such as Boston lost 40 percent of their (now) 35- to 44-year-olds—the age group that’s buying homes, building businesses, and investing in schools. And despite the hype about affluent boomers retiring to downtowns, average Joes are staying put in their suburban neighborhoods. Kotkin’s analysis: Cities are changing from “enduring places to temporary resorts.”

Reinventing Edison... We’re about to witness the end of the light bulb as we know it; 100-watt incandescents will be off store shelves in 2012, with their lower-powered brethren soon to follow. In Wired’s recent cover story, “Let There Be LED” (September 2011), Dan Koeppel illuminates (sorry) the implications of this impending change. Although incandescent bulbs may be notoriously inefficient, abandoning them “means abandoning fire as our primary light source for the first time in human history.” Koeppel traces the origin of the bulb and various attempts to replace it. It’s a story of art meeting science, coming to your socket soon.

Densely speaking... Globally, nearly 70 percent of the population will be urban by 2050. Recognizing this trend, Scientific American devotes an entire issue to “Cities” (September 2011). The editors open with a plea for city-friendly public policies. Many of the stories that follow will seem familiar, but the mix is eclectic enough that most readers will stumble across something fresh. What is perhaps most significant is that the leading general-interest science publication (and the oldest magazine in the country) has devoted substantial resources to a “special issue” on the subject.