Less-Ambivalent Ambivalence

by Don Friedman on February 16, 2018

If you’re looking for a good long article on some of the difficulties in landscape preservation, you won’t do better than this, from Urban Omnibus: Under Annihilation’s Sign: Public Memory and Prospect Park’s Battle Pass.

Central and western Brooklyn was the site of the Battle of Long Island in 1776, the largest set-piece battle of the American Revolution, and a bad loss for the colonists that was almost an army-destroying disaster. The loss of New York to the British forces was, at that point in the war, pretty much inevitable because of the British naval superiority; but only the emergency ferrying of the colonists’ army across the East River allowed the fight to continue. Battle Pass, one of the key locations of the fighting, is located within the boundaries of Prospect Park, which was built nearly 100 years after the fighting.

As Nadler and Mironova, the authors of the article, describe, the original subtle reminders have been added to and become more obvious over the years. That phenomenon has occurred at other sites of remembrance, most famously the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, where traditional statues were added to the original wall of remembrance.

I’m trying very hard to keep a neutral tone here because I’m quite ambivalent about the process. As I’ve described before, preservation of a physical artifact without context qualifies as preservation but barely so. Preservation of the landscape of Battle Pass, including the old line of Flatbush Avenue as the East Drive of the park, is great, but I doubt one person in a thousand who passes by there could place that local chunk of landscape in its historical context. Two hundred and forty years is a very long time, and a losing battle at the beginning of the seven-year-long Revolutionary War is, perhaps, not the highest priority in memory.

Obviously (I hope), I do not recommend forgetting about the few physical remnants of the Battle of Long Island. I guess I’m not bothered by the change in forms of remembrance because I’m happy there are any at all.


February 9, 2018

I’ve been reading Designing Culture by Anne Balsamo, which is largely a sociological study of how engineering affects everyone around it. It’s interesting, if a bit off from my usual reading. One sentence in it grabbed my attention: Balsamo refers to a famous book in the same field, Aramis, or The Love of Technology, and […]

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Response to a Manifesto

January 31, 2018

Old Structures is an engineering firm, not an architecture firm; our technical employees are all engineers. That said, we work with architects every day and the two professions are closely related and to some degree mirror images of each other. The Architecture Lobby Manifesto therefore resonates a great deal with me. The text at the […]

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Analyzing Sisyphus

January 7, 2018

You can’t really see it, but I took that picture during the snowstorm on Thursday. The somewhat hyper maintenance staff in Battery Park City had already plowed this section of park walkway once, as you can see, and were plowing elsewhere at the time. They were obviously on some kind of schedule to rotate through […]

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Fluid Mechanics

January 6, 2018

I only remember two things from the one semester of fluid mechanics I studied in college: (1) if you can’t have smooth flow (which the most efficient) you’re better off with turbulent flow than with sort-of-smooth flow, and (2) it was a hard topic to study. That said, I can watch the wind blow snow […]

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A Joke Until It’s Not

September 1, 2017

Plenty of building sites in 1903: It’s not often you see a parody as well executed as the website for One Liberty, the redevelopment of the Statue of Liberty as condos. From the “One [Something]” name to the tagline “Goodbye Huddled Masses, Hello Muddled Cocktails” it manages to encapsulate everything mockable in the current real […]

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An Added Benefit

August 27, 2017

We climb scaffold for a single purpose: to see some aspect of a building up close in order to better understand it. But a lot of the time (click on the panorama above to enlarge it) the view is worthwhile in itself.

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What Do We Do All Day? Revisited

August 15, 2017

Internet discussion can be many things, with good and bad. Once in a while, a reply is more interesting than what triggered it. This short essay by Yonatan Zunger was a response to a “manifesto” that I’m not going to link to, on the topic of diversity. It should come as no surprise to anyone who […]

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A Thousand Words

August 7, 2017

From Beyond My Ken: There was an interesting demonstration of the relative inadequacy of language during my trip to Governors Island last week. If you click on the photo above, which shows the Governors Island ferry tied up on the island as seen from the Manhattan shore, you can make out the configuration of the […]

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Dress Like An Architect

July 30, 2017

A semi-serious discussion of fashion clichés among architects: here. I’m not going to poke fun, since the stereotypes of engineers’ clothing are far worse. The fellow up top is George Melville, Chief Engineer of the United States Navy Bureau of Engineering, whose magnificent beard and top hat were featured here once before. In the way of […]

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