by | Aug 5, 2015 | Portland | 9 comments

Architecture and urban planning — and human constructions in general — should be suited to the human body and human abilities. Obvious, right? Famous architect Le Corbusier advocated that clear principle, which he summed up in his “Modulor” — “a range of harmonious measurements to suit the human scale, universally applicable to architecture and to mechanical things” …
… But did Le Corbusier really believe in his principle?
Take a close look at his monstrous vision above and notice that it is plunked down right in the middle of Paris. A blueprint for annihilating history and turning humans into ants. Somehow I’m not surprised that Le Corbusier was a fascist
Central Paris escaped this fate, but not its suburbs, and not the centers of many cities. In China, among other places, Corbusier-ish anthills are sprouting up everywhere.
Yanjiao, China (New York Times article)
This brings me to Portland. Just about everything in this city is truly on the human scale. For one thing, it’s easy to get about by bike, and lots of people do. Good planning has made it easy to use public transportation, most car traffic is channeled onto relatively few streets, and there are bike lanes and paths all over. Today I rented the red bike below and enjoyed exploring the east side and the riverfront.
I parked outside Free Geek, a densely packed makerspace where volunteers turn donated old electronics into usable equipment that goes to needy recipients. High technology becomes accessible and understandable through projects like this.

I was glad to see the Repair Manifesto on one of Free Geek’s walls.
Another delightful feature of Portland is the little neighborhood movie theaters that either still show films or serve as music venues.
The Moreland is so narrow that there must be room for only 4 or 5 seats per row:

The Aladdin is now a music venue and restaurant:

CineMagic is showing a film that’s all about a human reduced to the scale of an ant.

What does this all have to do with typewriters? Everything, come to think about it.
But tomorrow afternoon I’ll visit a source of actual Portlandian typewriters. I’ll be sure to document the visit and report thoroughly.


  1. Bill M

    Sounds like a really nice city. I miss those old theaters. Our town had one when I was growing up. I tried to buy it after a flood to save it from destruction, but the owner would not budge — it was going for small town urban renewal and became a vacant lot.

    It would be nice if more places had maker recycling places for old electronics. There is so much that can be saved and reused. Some still needs to go into the trash, but generally not the entire device.

    I like the bike. Not too many any more with fenders — a requirement in Florida because of all the rain. I ride quite often on wet streets after the showers and a bike without fenders is no fun.

  2. Rob Bowker

    Those old cinemas are beautiful and the perfect antidote to le Corbusier's machines for living.

  3. Nick Bodemer

    Definitely check out Ace Typewriter on Lombard–he's incredibly friendly and does a wonderful job–and is reasonably priced in terms of portables for sale!

  4. Richard P

    The use of "renewal" to mean "demolition" is one of my most despised examples of newspeak.

  5. Richard P

    Heading there on Thursday morning!

  6. Anonymous

    There are one or two typewriters I don't own, but I'm working on it…

  7. notagain

    My degree is in Urban Studies, so I got acquainted with Corbu in that context. He was quite a character, I'd rather have read novels about him than read his planning ideas. He was kind of a Harry Lime type, always looking out for himself.

  8. Scott K

    I've heard a lot about Portland, and I am not surprised that you have found something of a spiritual home there.
    And my… do I ever miss the corner side tiny theatre. But then again, cinema has become something tor the kids these days. I think I heard someone describe the situation as 'Once adults went to the cinema, and the kids watched the TV. Now it's the kids go to the movies and adults stay at home and watch TV'.

    As for the ant-hills of humanity, well – with populations rapidly expanding, it is somewhat necessary to go upwards instead of outwards where cities would then occupy farming land needed to produce food. But don't write off the humanity in these spaces. Grim they may seem to the eye, I've been to plenty of wide-spread middle-class housing estates that are equally as soul-less – albeit a lot more tree-lined. New spaces like this take time to develop their culture. Sometimes we don't like the culture that comes from it, and sometimes governments and populations spend thousands of hours telling people that these places are soul-less and filled with criminals until it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just look at the Ponte city apartments in South Africa.

    The challenge I feel, is to understand and see the impersonal and personal in culture All you need in one of those ant-hill towers is a typewriter, and you can see the warm glow of a soul writing. And that can happen no matter how beautiful or fascist the organisation of society is by the people that govern us.

  9. Richard P

    Good points. I didn't mean to put down the people who live in Corbu spaces, or their culture — I'm just sorry for them that they don't get to live in a more congenial and better-designed place.


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