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Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Case For Preserving — And Improving — Brutalist Architecture, by Amanda Kolson Hurley, Washington Post

Clearly, the beleaguered Metro system has bigger things to worry about — safety, reliability, plummeting ridership — than the color of its stations. Yet “Paintgate” does prompt tantalizing questions about the future of perhaps the world’s most polarizing architectural style: brutalism, derived from the French béton brut, meaning “raw concrete.” And few big cities in the United States or Europe have as much brutalism per square mile as Washington — thanks to the Metro, the FBI headquarters downtown, the Hirshhorn Museum on the Mall and the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Southwest Washington, among other federal buildings, as well as privately built structures like Georgetown University’s Lauinger Library.

Brutalist architecture in the United States emerged in the 1960s, the era of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, when progressive designers wanted to create buildings that fit their vision of a strong and benevolent public sector. They were also bucking the previous generation and its cool, glassy modernism, which by that point had become the architectural language of the corporate world. By contrast, brutalism showcases stark or rough exterior walls; deep-set, sometimes small windows; a sculptural or blocky form (often top-heavy); and a monumental scale.


As brutalist buildings have started to suffer the aches and pains of middle age, many are being torn down. Preserving them just as they are can be expensive and impractical. But for all its ham-fistedness, the painting of the Metro vault at Union Station raises the possibility of a middle way: Perhaps we can save brutalism by making it more lovable.

Phone By Will Self Review – A Triumph Of Joined-up Thinking, by Jon Day, The Guardian

Phone is the final instalment in what has shown itself to be one of the most ambitious and important literary projects of the 21st century. Its style, as well as many of its characters, will be familiar to Selfians. The novel opens with Busner (now 78, and faintly baffled by a world “where there could be such a procedure as anal bleaching”) mid-breakdown in a hotel restaurant. He’s suffering from the early stages of dementia, but doesn’t think himself unwell: “Whatever they say, there’s not much wrong with my memory – its only that I have to … sort of … download things,” he thinks. Besides “Alzheimer’s itself may be a form of good mental heath – after all, what could be saner in a world in which every last particle of trivia is retained on some computer than to … forget everything.”

During Ramadan, Home Cooks Shine, by Tejal Rao, New York Times

For Amanda Saab, the flavors of Ramadan are baked into sweet, tender bites of namoura. Her Lebanese grandmother used to make the cake, folding together frothy, aerated yogurt and semolina flour. Now Ms. Saab makes it the same way, soaking the cake in a floral-scented sugar syrup while it’s still warm from the oven, and cutting it into diamond-shaped pieces.

“While I’m not consuming food all day, I’m thinking about food,” said Ms. Saab, a social worker who lives near Detroit. “Not about how I’m missing out, but about how to make the best thing to fulfill everyone’s cravings after a long day of fasting.”