Gongol.com Archives: December 2020

Brian Gongol

December 21, 2020

News Beautiful architecture is in the eye of the beholder

But that subjectivity hasn't stopped the President from issuing an executive order prescribing specific styles for use in Federal government buildings. That's a bad mandate, for a simple reason: Anything built with tax dollars ought to be suitable to the community around it and seek to enhance the value of the neighborhood surrounding it. That's it. Different styles will achieve that differently in Des Moines, Manhattan, West Palm Beach, and Ketchikan. Stifling architectural creativity in the name of "classical" style can lead to mediocrity where taxpayers deserve innovation. ■ Norway's national oil company built a marvelous headquarters facility with the specific purpose of creating something to enhance the area. Classical architecture it is not. But it is far better than classical. ■ The opera house and convention center in Reykjavik is breathtaking. Again, not classical in any sense -- but far better. Harpa is iconic, welcoming, and useful. A huge enhancement to the area. ■ The TWA terminal at JFK is so magnificent that it's now a hotel still bearing the iconography of a long-defunct airline. Classical architecture? Nope, not even close. But it's better than anything else around it! ■ One of the finest courthouses in all of Iowa is the one in Woodbury County, which is in the distinctive Prairie School style. It's one of the best-looking structures in Sioux City. But when built in 1918, it was far from "classical". ■ Styles evolve, and every style has to begin with its first building. Lessons should be learned and designs should be improved upon, not just for aesthetics, but for practical reasons, too -- as Louis Sullivan's principle says, form follows function. And improvements to function may change those forms in unexpected ways: Modern Nordic architecture, just for example, often includes thoughtful approaches to materials and configurations that are energy-efficient and suitable to harsh winters -- ideas from which Midwesterners and others in cold climates could learn. But those approaches would conflict with mandates for "classical" styles. And that's the problem: Public buildings in particular ought to serve the community, rather than appear to be the work of a distant occupying government. Bland mandates from DC just don't serve the community interest.

Science and Technology "Vegan leather" needs a better brand

It doesn't sound like nearly as much fun as Naugahyde.

Science and Technology South Korea's broadband speeds put American speeds to shame

South Korea's average 4G download speed (62.9 Mbps) is faster than America's average 5G (55.4), and more than twice our average 4G download (29.8 Mbps). And on 5G, South Korea clocks in at a scorching 351.2 Mbps.

Science and Technology Thinking of exposure to STEM as a matter of privilege

People who have the means should try to get STEM gifts for kids -- it sends a demand signal that can help lead to more (and more affordable) choices for others. The market already knows it can sell more Paw Patrol toys. It need to know there's demand for microscopes and robot kits.

Science and Technology Jupiter and Saturn cross paths in the sky

The AP says it's "the closest Jupiter-Saturn pairing since July 1623". A nice experience, if your view isn't obscured by clouds.

Business and Finance "Nearly 14 percent of office space in Midtown Manhattan is vacant, the highest rate since 2009"

The New York Times points a finger at the pandemic for putting big-city real estate in a bind. And of the 86% that isn't officially vacant, it appears that at last count, 90% of Manhattan office workers still weren't back to working from their offices. So should those vacant offices be allowed to convert into living space? In general, anything that produces more housing is probably worth contemplating: More than 18,000 children are reportedly living without homes in New York City.

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