Avi Friedman. A Place In Mind

Avi Friedman. A Place In Mind. In the Argo catalog.

Avi Friedman is a very smart man. He is a renowned professor of architecture at McGill in Montreal and the mind behind the grow home. His most recent book is probably worth reading despite what I say below because he is an important person in architecture and urban planning, however if you are familiar with these fields in the North American context than this book will have little new or noteworthy for you.

In his most recent book Avi Friedman thought it would be interesting to study places that seem to be conspicuous in their conduciveness to thought. I agree that this could be a fascinating topic and could answer questions about what is so special about the places authors choose as their writing haunts or painters choose as their studios. While Friedman brushes on these topics he does little more than lip service to the initial idea. Perhaps it is a matter of scale, in an early essay in the book he discusses a café in Turkey, but later he discuss the lay out of the suburbs. It’s not that I think the suburbs are an especially good place to think it’s that it is so obvious that they aren’t I can’t believe a serious architect with an interest in urban planning still feels that the topic needs discussing.

In the essays Friedman is constantly re-hashing old ideas. He discusses the role of play and the detrimental aspects of the suburbs and the car culture/organized activity culture that they sprout as negative to children, he tells us vibrant squares and colorful small scale local markets are good, he argues for higher densities in living conditions and many other aspects of living that most people interested in the topic are already familiar with. He offers little that is new. If you are new to the topics urbanites love to discuss (and blow their own horns about) than this is certainly a book worth reading.

The re-hashing would not be so bad if it was not so blatant or if he had a very special editor. The sentences are often very poorly constructed and show a lack of care and an impatience to get the book written. This is especially obvious when one considers that his driving argument in the book is that we all need to slow down. The book has a staggering amount of typos in it and the language leaves loads to be desired. A little more time and care ought to have been put into this project, as it surely is in what Mr. Friedman may consider his more important work, architecture. In short, Friedman’s writing is not as bouncy and contagious as someone like Jane Jacobs or what I expect from Bill Bryson’s next book.

Mr. Friedman largely ignore his own city of Montreal which is unfortunate because we have some great spaces that I am sure he knows very well. Using such spaces would have saved him the time of getting to know places and given his ideas and interpretations of the spaces more validity and power than the slap-dash jobs he does in the places of the book. Perhaps someone ought to study the places Mr. Friedman dis his best work, then we might get to know little something of places of the mind.

2 comments on “Avi Friedman. A Place In Mind

  1. Naomi says:

    Speaking of both established and new ideas in urbanism — I read what Hazel Ashton wrote about the new title “What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs” on her “Village Connections” site and thought it relevant to some of your thoughts. “Readers will observe many instances of the new in the old and old in the new. We observe what works. We learn from nature, how ‘succulents teach us how to make the most of a scant rainfall,’ and ‘oaks teach us how to handle a hurricane with grace’. We visit a ‘tool-house’ in India, places where people live and work, places which are used in multiple ways. We learn from the past, recalling how some of us have lived in places where work and living was more integrated, where children could visit their parents at work. We observe the city economy, and what is needed to invigorate it, collaboration with other cities, urban manufacturing, and local currencies. We observe children’s needs, by first thinking about our favorite places when we were children, noting these are generally not the controlled places designed just for children. We observe many successful projects, such as cycling in New York, where cycle lanes are on the inside, not outside, of parked cars. We observe slums and see creative human-scale functioning neighborhoods…and much more.”

    Her mention of spaces for children refers to a beautiful piece by Clare Cooper Marcus that’s met with some controversy by people who cringe at the mention of cul-de-sacs. Regardless, I’d recommend taking a look. http://www.newvillagepress.net/book/?GCOI=97660100041170

  2. christopherclarke says:

    Thank you for the comment. I will check Hazel Ashton out.

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