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Covering the Issues

Not your father’s almanac… Are you fascinated by the current prominence of urban farming? Do you love rooftop, community, or backyard gardening? Do you secretly harbor dreams of a chicken coop? Well, then, Modern Farmer is here for you. The luscious inaugural issue (Spring 2013) of this new quarterly includes colorful instructions for how to transform backyards into four-season farms; tips on building a straw bale house; and design highlights on things big and small, including the 55,000-square-foot garden on top of the Boston Design Center. Modern Farmer’s attention ranges widely, from organics in China to French hardware stores. With fabulous photography and clever graphics, this design-porn-meets-the-farmers-market is no ye olde Farmers’ Almanac. Perhaps it’s no surprise that half of its advisory board members are architects.

Consumer index… Two relatively recent newsstand editions aim to demystify the residential design and construction process. Design editor Wendy Goodman curates New York’s second annual “Design Hunting” special issue (Summer 2013), a well-photographed, surprisingly humanizing look at a diverse array of New York interiors. Captions offer instruction, not a simple shopping list; if only more house mags would do this. Boston Consumers’ Checkbook takes a more scientific tack. The Spring/Summer 2013 issue walks readers through topics from selecting HVAC equipment and contractors to assessing the need for an arborist, all in down-to-earth text. Working with architects hasn’t yet made it into the magazine, but “neighbor-to-neighbor” architect reviews are on the website.

The future’s so bright…Welcome to the Programmable World,” writes Bill Wasik in Wired’s cover story (June 2013). Wasik describes life in a not-too-distant future, where “smart” computer sensors not only inhabit your phone or lighting system but also talk to one another. Imagine: When you exit your office, your home heating system automatically cranks up; lawn sprinklers automatically adjust to ground moisture sensors and the weather forecast; your hotel room’s lighting, sound, and window shades adjust to your preferences as you enter. The remarkable part, Wasik argues, is not the proliferation of the sensors but the prospect that once there’s enough of them, they can be “choreographed… coordinated as if they were a single giant machine,” with one system depending on another according to our instructions. If you haven’t already begun to reconsider the connection between virtual and physical worlds, the future is now.

If you build it… ArtForum’s May 2013 issue is chock-full of architectural interest: architect Richard Meier’s review of MoMA’s Le Corbusier exhibit; structural engineer Guy Nordenson on renovating the late Donald Judd’s SoHo studio for public visiting; professor John McMorrough’s review of Zaha Hadid’s latest art museum, where no walls are vertical. Perhaps most timeless, though, are three commentaries on the life, work, and influence of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who died last year just shy of turning 105. Historian Jean-Louis Cohen offers a sweeping chronology; South American architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha discusses Niemeyer as an inspiring example to younger generations; and artist Josiah McElheny describes the lasting elegance and “urgent possibility” still present in Niemeyer’s sculptural work for the capital city of Brasilia and the United Nations.

Right on track… Penn Station is the busiest transit hub in North America and the biggest gateway to New York City, yet one enters “like a rat,” as Louis Kahn famously quipped. Radio journalist Robin Young of WBUR’s Here and Now considers whether Penn Station should be restored to its former beauty in a 17-minute audio essay (air date: May 28, 2013; accessible online). The original McKim, Mead & White building, with a soaring, light-filled waiting room, was destroyed in 1963, a great catalyst for the historic preservation movement. Young takes us on a tour of the current station and its more lovely cousin, Grand Central, while discussing the building — what it was, is, and might be — and making a case for why civic space should inspire.