Reviewed by: Cheryl LaGuardia, Research Librarian, Widener Library, Harvard University
Places is an open access journal about contemporary architecture, landscape, and urbanism. It publishes popular material (such as essays, criticism, photography, and journalism) as well as peer-reviewed scholarship deserving of a wide audience. The editors’ stated mission is “to harness the moral and investigative power of public scholarship to promote equitable cities and sustainable landscapes.” Before the journal moved online in 2009 it was a print title founded in 1983 by faculty at MIT and UC Berkeley; the entire print archive is now available in PDF format at the journal site.
As soon as I took a look at this journal I knew I was in big trouble. Why? Because I write to a number of deadlines, and that usually means going through a resource in an efficient, thorough, straightforward way, highlighting its strengths and pointing out what could be better or should be changed. Places is not designed for such quick, streamlined examination. Rather it is a place to explore, link by link, photo by photo, columnist by columnist, through a vast virtual expanse of fascinating text and images attractively, and accessibly, arranged in a compact space. Let me begin to set out what you’ll find here.
The current main page offers “Tracks: A Walk in the Arctic,” a photo-essay by columnist David Heymann about taking part this past summer in “an expeditionary program that takes a group of scientists and artists sailing around in the Svalbard Archipelago above the Arctic Circle.” Both text and images are riveting, not to be missed. Also on the main page are the articles: “Tsunami + 10: Housing Banda Aceh After Disaster” (about a devastated city rebuilding ten years after the Indonesian tsunami); “Speculative Archaeology: Art and architectural excavations, from the primitive hut to the meth lab”; the latest article in a new series, “History of the Present: Cities in Transition,” focusing on Havana; “Fabrications: Architecture as Conjecture,” about Dean Monogenis’ architectonic fantasies; and “Cartographic Grounds: Projecting the Landscape Imaginary,” about the ascendance of “mapping” and data visualization in design culture. Then there are the Galleries, image collections on a host of subjects and themes, as well as a News section, a Columnists section (all of whom are practicing architects and / or design faculty), more Series (Modern Masters, Women in Architecture, Fiction and Place), and Interviews. That’s one way to navigate Places. Another way is to enter the Explore Places section, where you can view all departments (Subjects, Cities and Regions, Columnists, and Series) either according to recent publication date or alphabetical arrangement.
Then there’s Reading Lists, a tool being developed that will let readers save a topical reading list of articles from the Journal and other sources around the web, and Places Wire (news and commentary on the built environment from around the web, handpicked by the editors of Places journal). In Places Books there’s an announcement about a book series being developed by Places journal and Princeton University Press to present “smart, lively, peer-reviewed titles on architecture, landscape, and urbanism that are characterized by strong narrative, provocative argument, and engaging prose.”
The Search mechanism here is pretty nifty; a click on the word Search at screen right brings up a screen-wide simple search box. My search for: jane jacobs found 31 results, including “Jane Jacobs and the Death and Life of American Planning,” an essay by Thomas Campanella, associate professor of urban planning at Cornell University.
Suffice it to say that Places should be made known to any and all students, researchers, and enthusiasts in architecture, urban planning, and the culture of place. It’s more than just a journal, it’s a work of art.