The Place

Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. For any number of pundits, policymakers, and scholars, the new next hot thing, in countries developed and developing, is The City—or, more expansively and more precisely, the megalopolis and its little brother, the metropolis.

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Where can you find a land so sublime it instills in you an almost biblical, yearning delight? Where time slows so dramatically that the direction in which purple, wheat-colored, and yellow grasses blow becomes the indolent object of concentrated fascination?

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It has a centralized, repressive government for which its citizens do not vote. Local authorities come to people’s houses in the middle of the night to arrest them on bogus charges. Censors control access to information, monitoring the Internet and approving or even writing elementary school textbooks. Corrupt government officials routinely elevate to power the obedient, the well-connected, and the cash-plentiful above the meritorious. Laborers, skilled and unskilled, work breathtakingly long hours.

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Even the “Genius” at your local Apple store admits that your dollar buys significantly more computing power in a PC. iTunes can be infuriatingly glitchy and difficult to navigate. The iPod is so delicate a flower that it breaks, seemingly, if you exhale in its vicinity. What, then, explains a world awash in longing, admiration, and loss in the wake of Steve Jobs’ death last week at the age of 56?

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Recently, the Pritzker Committee held the award ceremony for its annual prize, which this year went to Eduardo Souto de Moura, a Portuguese architect revered among architecture’s global, academic elite and virtually unknown to the public.

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What does a photograph reveal and not reveal about a building? However consequential the question used to be, the Internet has become a seductive digitized world of photo stills and slideshows from which one might infer that actual knowledge—factual information—has been obtained. But buildings are real, indeed, real things that everyone needs and nearly everyone constantly uses. More or less reliably, too, a building stays put, at least until a tsunami hits or, more typically, someone comes along and tears it down.

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“Notes from the Archive: James Frazer Stirling, Architect and Teacher”Exhibition runs until January 2, 2011 at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut, and will then travel to the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. Post-modernism in architecture came to the public eye when, in the late 1970s, The New York Times printed on its front page the astonishing image of Philip Johnson’s model for the proposed AT&T (now Sony) building in midtown Manhattan.

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Do we really know what the new Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero would look like? For weeks, we have heard and read that Park51 is in fact not a mosque, with its developers contending that it is modeled on two very American building types: the Jewish Community Center and the YMCA. Early sketches of the project suggest this much is true. Park51’s developers recently posted on their website three conceptual drawings of the center by the New York-based SOMA architects.

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Stick Stuck

ONE OF THE items in “Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling,” the exhibition recently at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, was a short film, made in 1930, called “Houses While You Wait.” A grainy black-and-white screen opens up with a view of a vacant suburban lot. A delivery truck rolls up, filled with wall-size metal panels and other materials. A retinue of somewhat scruffy white men in baggy pants unloads the cargo and deposits it on the site. They scurry around at that ridiculous, fast-forward silent-film speed.

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To accurately assess trends in architecture and urbanism one needs a time horizon longer than 365 days. Just to design a building often takes longer than that. Even so, 2008 may come to be seen as a watershed year for contemporary architecture. The electrifying campaign for the U.S. presidency, the sputtering housing market and the global economy's free fall, the ever-more chilling and urgent need to slow the pace of global warming: these developments and more awakened architects to the realization that they've more important things to design than monolithic, high-end goodie bags.

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