The CA board and the Inner Arbor Trust

Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend the Columbia Association board meeting this evening. Here are the remarks I had planned to make during the speak-out portion of the meeting; if anyone else wants to crib from these for their own remarks please feel free to do so:

I have two points I wanted to make tonight:

First, I have not seen the language of the Inner Arbor Trust easement, and am not qualified to comment on legal issues relating to the easement. However I have read pretty much every public source of information I could find relating to the various proposals for Symphony Woods, and everything I’ve read indicates that the Columbia Association has been accepting of the actions taken by the Inner Arbor Trust since its creation. That includes in particular the Trust’s decision to leverage the work already done by CA as part of the county planning process, and concentrate first on developing the part of Symphony Woods covered by the current Inner Arbor plan—a plan whose elements are those contained in the original CA-submitted Final Development Plan, including an amphitheater, café, play area, and so on. There is nothing in the public record to indicate that the Inner Arbor Trust was ever acting in violation of the easement as far as CA was concerned. If the current CA board is determined to test the issue in court I believe that the private record of dealings between CA and the Inner Arbor Trust will also show this to be the case.

Second, if the CA board is determined to pursue action against the Inner Arbor Trust then it will presumably put at risk the construction of the Chrysalis amphitheater, the first feature of the Inner Arbor plan scheduled to be realized. The Chrysalis is a key element of the plan, and a needed complement to a renovated Merriweather Post Pavilion. It is also a beautiful and innovative structure, designed by an award-winning architect who’s been hailed as “the rising star of the 21st century”. It would be a shame if Columbia were to lose the chance to host the first major work by an architect who may become as prominent in this century as Frank Gehry did in the last. And given that construction of the Chrysalis is being funded by the county, it would more than a shame if the CA board’s actions cause schedule delays and consequent cost overruns for which Howard County taxpayers will be asked to pick up the tab.

I believe the Inner Arbor Trust has produced a superior plan for Symphony Woods, a plan of which CA has previously been supportive. By all indications the Inner Arbor Trust has also been executing on that plan in a competent and timely manner. For the CA board to now reverse CA’s previous support of the Trust would I think do a disservice to the residents of Columbia and the rest of Howard County, who want to see a renewed and vibrant Symphony Woods. If that reversal ultimately leads to expensive and protracted legal proceedings then I think the board would also do a disservice to the Columbia Association itself, and risk damaging CA’s ability to effectively serve the Columbians to whom it is ultimately accountable.

As for what the CA board will end up doing, I have no idea. I look forward to reading reports from those who are able to attend the meeting.

UPDATE: Fixed a couple of grammatical errors.

Chrysalis designer wins World Architecture News 21 for 21 award

Architectural rendering of the Chrysalis, exterior view

The Chrysalis in Symphony Woods / Merriweather Park in the Inner Arbor plan. (Click for high-resolution version.) Image © 2013 Inner Arbor Trust; used with permission.

Marc Fornes, the designer of the Chrysalis, the amphitheater planned for Symphony Woods as part of the Inner Arbor plan, and his firm THEVERYMANY are one of two winners of the 2014 WAN 21 for 21 award sponsored by World Architecture News, “an initiative aiming to highlight 21 architects who could be the leading lights of architecture in the 21st century”.

(This actually happened back in the spring, but I was only recently alerted to this when I was checking out who linked to my blog and saw a Rhino News blog post that mentioned the award. I’ve previously written about the Chrysalis, Fornes, and his firm THEVERYMANY as part of my ongoing coverage of the Inner Arbor plan; see in particular my initial post and my follow-up post discussing the structure of the Chrysalis in more detail.)

THEVERYMANY and 2014 co-winner sP+a (Sameep Padora + Associates) were selected from a total of 94 entries submitted, of which 42 were selected for more detailed consideration. The accompanying story notes that “As soon as Marc Fornes’ work was set on the table it was clear that a unanimous agreement [among the judges] was brewing” and quotes one of the architects judging the awards praising Fornes as “an absolute leader” and “the rising star of the 21st century”.

So what’s all the fuss about? The entry submitted by THEVERYMANY highlighted the Chrysalis, and discussed the firm as a “studio committed to the design and construction of prototypical architecture via custom computational methods”. The language of the submission is somewhat dry and abstract, so I’ll try to describe Fornes’s methods more informally:

Traditional architectural practice is based on architects conceiving of a structural form or set of forms in their minds, putting pen to paper to refine the design through drawings, and then using computers primarily as an aid to the rest of the process: creating more detailed drawings to nail down the final look of the structure and make sure everything will fit together as envisioned, doing structural analysis to see if the structure can handle loads, producing good-looking renderings for clients, and so on.

THEVERYMANY turns that process on its head: Don’t use the computer as a simple drawing tool, a substitute for pen and paper. Use it for what it’s truly capable of, including exploring the space of possible three-dimensional structures. More concretely: Start with sophisticated 3D modeling applications (like Rhino, the one Fornes uses). Extend them with powerful programming languages that can be used to drive the 3D modelers (Fornes uses Python as implemented in Rhino). Leverage applications that can take complex 3-dimensional surfaces and join them together into structural elements and then into complete structures (see for example RhinoNest). Add code that can analyze such structures for soundness, and that can produce instructions for computer-controlled machinery to create individual pieces that can then be assembled into the finished structure. Finally (and most importantly), find people like Fornes and his associates who have the knowledge, discipline, and aesthetic sensibility to incorporate these techniques into the heart of their architectural practice.

As the submission entry states, “The desire is not to generate models, nor installations, but rather 1:1 scale structures, prototypical architectures.” Fornes has been developing such prototypes for many years now, and “continually pushes constraints at larger scales”. The result of this work is the Chrysalis amphitheater as you see it here, a beautiful airy structure that looks as if it had emerged naturally from the earth. I hope it won’t be long before we see it in real life as part of Symphony Woods, replacing the temporary stage that’s been used this year during Wine in the Woods and other events. If all goes well it will be in place sometime next year, and Columbia can (as it did with Frank Gehry) once again boast of hosting the early work of an architect who seems destined for great things.

Campaign signs 2014: Final results

The Maryland 2014 primaries are now over, and it’s time for me to wrap up and name some final winners. I’ve had a busy past few weeks with a dozen posts critiquing more than six dozen signs (plus one car magnet). In case you want to revisit signs in any of the primary races, here’s the complete list of posts (rearranged from the order in which I posted them):

Note that I’ve updated the Board of Education and House of Delegates District 12 posts to add pictures of signs for Allen Dyer and Eric Ebersole respectively.

I already selected winners (or in some cases, multiple winners) for signs in each race. Now it’s time for me to name winners in some special category, as well as an overall winner for all signs I saw.

mirabile-delegate-9a-largeThe first category is for the best slogan. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not too hot on including campaign slogans on signs, and certainly there were a number of signs in this election where the slogan wasn’t doing much more than taking up space. However on Frank Mirabile’s sign the slogan “Time to Stand Our Ground” is both memorable and does something useful, namely letting the more partisan voters in a party primary know exactly where the candidate, uh, stands.

stewart-delegate-12-2014-largeAfter seeing lots of signs I get tired of looking at conventional color schemes, either the American colors red, white, and blue or the Maryland colors red, white, black, and yellow, and I yearn for a change. I thus decided to have a “color my world” category, in which the winner is the large Nick Stewart sign and its orange on blue color scheme.

miller-delegate-9a-2014-small-changedSome signs I thought were almost but not quite what they could be. In some cases (as, for example, with Ryan Frederic’s sign) I don’t know enough about graphic design to determine how the sign could best be improved. In other cases I thought just a relatively small change would do the trick. Hence we have the “most easily improved” category, with the winner being the small Warren Miller sign once the (in my opinion) superfluous design elements in the upper left and right corners have been removed (as I’ve done here).

broccolino-states-attorney-2014-largeFinally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for (or not, as the case may be): My pick for the best Howard County campaign sign of 2014. Those of you who’ve been reading this entire series will not be surprised at my pick, the large Dario Broccolino sign. This sign made me go “wow” the first time I saw it, and I haven’t seen another sign to top it since then.

With that I’m concluding this series, at least for now. I did collect pictures of signs for the gubernatorial race and the race for Attorney General, but I just ran out of energy to post and critique them; maybe later. Also, if I have time and the inclination I’ll post closer to the general election if there are any new signs that didn’t show up in the primary.

Finally, some thanks: First, thanks to all of you who’ve come to this blog to read these posts; I appreciate your attention, and hope your time was worth it. A further thanks to those of you who stopped to comment, who sent me pictures of signs, or who pointed out where I could find them; I love hearing from readers, and thank you for taking the time to contact me. And last but not at all least, thanks to all the candidates who put themselves out in the public eye and ran for election to public office. As I wrote before, you had to endure people commenting on your public appearances, counting up your Twitter and Facebook followers, and making videos about your direct mail pieces. And thanks to me, not even your signs are safe from criticism. Thank you for bearing it all in good grace, and being willing to serve the citizens of Howard County and Maryland.

This is the end of my one-a-day posts; I now return you to your regular (or I should say in my case, irregular) programming. I’m not sure when I’ll post next, or what I’ll post about, but if you’re interested in what more I might have to say please take a moment to click the “Subscribe via email” button or add my RSS feed to your newsreader. Till later!

Campaign signs 2014: Howard County Executive

Today is primary day, and the day I cover the last of the local campaign signs, this time for Howard County Executive candidates Allan Kittleman and Courtney Watson (both of whom happen to be unopposed in the primaries).

Here are the signs, in alphabetical order by candidate, along with my comments, according to the criteria I’ve previously discussed.

kittleman-county-executive-2014-small

I’ve previously written about the problems inherent in using all four colors of the Maryland flag in a single sign. This sign handles those problems as well as they can be handled, mainly by avoiding the red text on yellow background found in signs from Trent Kittleman, Frank Mirabile, and others. Instead this sign carefully restricts itself to the exact color juxtapositions found the Maryland flag: black with yellow, and red with white. More specifically, it restricts itself to what I think are the best color combinations: black text on a yellow background and white text on a red background.

Some other things to note about this sign: The typeface is clean and readable; it’s bold enough to stand out but light enough to allow adequate space between the letters. Using both upper and lower case in “Kittleman” means that the text isn’t quite as wide as it would be if it were in all upper case, and thus it can fit better on the sign. (“Kittleman” has nine letters, just like “Grabowski” and “Markovitz”; compare this sign to the Grabowski and Markovitz signs I discussed in my previous post.) The red banner-like design element in the upper right corner is well-done; note that on the left side of the element the yellow background seems to form an arrowhead pointing to the “Proven Independent Leader” slogan. The slogan itself points diagonally upward to the right to make the sign more dynamic (the same technique used on the Dario Broccolino sign). Finally, note that the horizontal line separating “Kittleman” from “Howard County Executive” is not just red on yellow (a poor combination) but is both red and white in order to maintain the preferred color juxtapositions I mentioned above.

The one thing that bothered me about this sign is that the “Howard County Executive” seems a bit thin. When I was walking around the neighborhood I had some trouble making that text out when viewing the sign from a distance.

kittleman-county-executive-2014-large

The design of the large version of the Allan Kittleman sign is the same as that of the smaller sign, except that “Howard County Executive” is now one line rather than two, is in a slightly bolder typeface, and (at least to my eyes) is more readable.

watson-county-executive-2014-large

Like Courtney Watson’s 2010 sign, this sign uses white text on a blue background to good effect: The text is very readable (especially “County Executive”), and there’s a good visual progression from oblique serif type and all caps in “COURTNEY” to the bold san serif typeface of “WATSON” to the sans serif mixed case of “County Executive”.

The one potentially problematic part of this sign is the design element in the upper left corner. Typical non-text elements in signs are either totally non-representational (e.g., lines or borders) or are common symbols that are immediately recognizable (e.g., stars, apples, flag-derived banners). This element is clearly intended to represent something, but it’s not immediately clear what that something is. My personal interpretation is that it’s symbolic of Howard County’s rural heritage: (yellow) sun above (white) road above (green) field; however I’m not sure the average person would see it the same way as I do. Nevertheless the colors are very nice and brighten up what would otherwise be a plain and unadorned sign. (Note also that subtle green line that separates “WATSON” and “County Executive” and echoes the green in the upper left conner.)

Now for the tough part: Which sign to vote for? This contest is certainly not as lopsided as we saw four years ago with Trent Kittleman’s sign vs. Ken Ulman’s sign; these signs are much more closely matched. Both sign designs are professional and effective but neither is perfect, for reasons explained above. On Kittleman’s side I think this the first black/yellow/red/white sign design I actually find attractive; on Watson’s side I really like the sign but consider it just a step down from the 2010 sign. In the end I’m going to take the coward’s way out and call this a toss-up.

This concludes my look at the campaign signs for Howard County local races in 2014. In my next post I’ll wrap things up and name some overall winners in various categories, including my choice for the best Howard County campaign sign of 2014.

Campaign signs 2014: Howard County Council District 1

With the primary one day away, I’m close to the end of this campaign sign adventure. Today we look at the signs in the race for Howard County Council in District 1, a seat left open when Courtney Watson decided to run for Howard County Executive. The candidates are Democrats Dave Grabowski, Lisa Markovitz, Wendy Royalty, and Jon Weinstein, and Republicans David Blake Melton and Kevin Forrest Schmidt.

Here are the signs, in alphabetical order by candidate, along with my comments, according to the criteria I’ve previously discussed. Note that I could not find any signs for David Blake Melton.

grabowski-county-council-1-2014-small

Dave Grabowski, like Lisa Markovitz and Dario Broccolino, has the problem of having a long name that’s difficult to fit on a sign; unlike Renée McGuirk-Spence, hyphenating it is not an option. Unlike the Dario Broccolino sign, which provided more room for the name by displaying it on the diagonal, this Grabowski sign adopts the simple strategy of displaying the name horizontally in a serif typeface that is pretty readable. Overall the sign is clean and well-designed, with no extraneous elements or slogans. The background color isn’t one of my favorites, but that’s just a matter of taste; certainly it provides a good contrast to the text.

markowitz-county-council-1-2014-small

I like the color on this sign; it’s a change from the typical colors and is not so pastel that it causes contrast problems. However I think the typeface used for “Markovitz” is just a tad too bold, and that does affect readability a bit. Compare this sign to the Grabowski sign above; both names are the same length but I think you’d better be able to recognize “Grabowski” from a distance. Also, I’m not sure the “Vote ‘14” design element in the upper right corner adds anything.

royalty-county-council-1-2014-small

This is a solid sign: No extraneous clutter, typeface that’s bold but still readable, and a good background color.

royalty-county-council-1-2014-large

This is almost the same design as the small Wendy Royalty sign, but it’s missing the white border found on that sign. To me that’s to its detriment: I think the white border works well to frame the main part of the design. Without the border all that red in the background gets to be a bit much. The design is cropped really tight as well; notice how close the “R” and “y” in “Royalty” are to the edge of the sign.

schmidt-county-council-1-2014-small

A nice minimal sign that highlights the candidate’s (full) name and position sought without trying to cram anything else in. The color and typeface look good as well.

schmidt-county-council-1-2014-small-2

This is an interesting sign. Kevin Forrest Schmidt couples this sign with his regular sign, for example putting the “RUN FORREST RUN” sign next to or in front of his other sign. It’s a cute gimmick to lend some personality to the signs, although I’m not sure if it’s worth printing double the number of signs that normally would be required.

weinstein-county-council-1-small-2

Jon Weinstein likes yellow and white text on blue backgrounds; his 2010 campaign signs used the same color scheme. This one is interesting because it’s a variant of the design on his other small sign. I don’t really like the stars intermixed with dots; it seems a bit busy. However I do like the typefaces on this sign.

weinstein-county-council-1-2014-small

The different typeface and the switch to mixed upper and lower case on “Weinstein” make this sign a bit more legible. However I think the typeface on this sign is a bit lacking in personality compared to the previous sign.

weinstein-county-council-1-2014-large

This sign is just a taller version of the small sign, with “Howard County Council” spread out over three lines to add height. I think that’s a mistake, as it makes the design look too skinny. I think it would have been better to drop the “Howard”, put “County Council” on one line, and reduce the height just a tad.

Which sign should go on to the general election? There are no clunkers in this race, but overall I think I like the small Wendy Royalty sign the best. However the large Wendy Royalty sign serves as a warning that a good design can be significantly compromised by seemingly minor changes (in this case removing the border and cropping more tightly).

In my next post I’ll look at the marquee Howard County race, and the last local race for which I was able to find signs, namely the contest for Howard County Executive.

Campaign signs 2014: Howard County Board of Education

Today I take a break from party primaries and look at the signs for the Board of Education race. There are 13 candidates in this race: Bess Altwerger, Corey Andrews, Maureen Evans Arthurs, Tom Baek, Zaneb Beams, Olga Butler, Allen Dyer, Sandra French, Dan Furman, Leslie Kornreich, Christine O’Connor, Mike Smith, and Cindy Vaillancourt. FourEight of them will go on to the general election.

Here are the signs, in alphabetical order by candidate, along with my comments, according to the criteria I’ve previously discussed. Thanks to Corey Andrews for sending in a picture of his sign. I couldn’t find any signs for Zaneb Beams and Dan Furman. I did see one sign for Allen Dyer, but couldn’t stop to take a picture; by the time I came back later that day the sign was gone.

andrews-boe-2014-small

This is a good minimal sign with a nice clean typeface and a dark blue background to provide excellent contrast and legibility.

altwerger-boe-2014-small

The core of this sign is good: Nice typeface, readable, stands out. However the top and bottom of this sign succumb to the syndrome of treating a campaign sign like a direct mail piece.

arthurs-boe-2014-small

This is a well-designed sign as far as it goes: The typeface is great, the candidate’s name is prominently featured (even though it takes most of the sign to do so), and the apple design element is really well-done. Unfortunately the pastel color scheme just doesn’t work well in the great outdoors; it gets washed out in bright sunlight and the sign becomes difficult to read.

baek-boe-2014-small

I don’t understand why this sign uses an American flag; it’s a Board of Education race, not a national election. Other than that the text elements are OK as far as they go—but note that ditching the flag motif would have allowed splitting the candidate’s name onto two lines and making the text significantly larger.

butler-boe-2014-small

A nice sign. The main typeface used for “BUTLER” stands out well, and the other typeface complements it well. (Note that the typeface used for “Olga” is an oblique version of that used for “Board of Education”. The thin white line above “Board of Education” is a nice touch too; it breaks up what otherwise might be a too-heavy red background.

dyer-boe-2014-small

A good solid sign that’s quite readable. The red, white, and blue color scheme, though quite attractive, doesn’t exactly say “Board of Education” to me.

french-boe-2014-small

The background apple makes the “CH” in “FRENCH” almost unreadable on this sign from a distance. Also, why “Return” and not “Re-Elect”? Because it sounds more “nonpartisan”?

kornreich-boe-2014-small

As I’ve mentioned previously, apples are a cliché in the context of Board of Education campaign signs. The strategy of this sign is that if you’re going to use a cliché, own the cliché. That together with minimal text and good complementary typefaces makes for a good sign. My only nitpick is with the stars in the upper right, which make that area of the sign look a bit busy.

oconnor-boe-2014-small

The sun adds visual interest to this sign, its yellow color complements the green background and text colors, and the childish look of the drawing evokes education without resorting to the usual clichés.

smith-boe-2014-small

My daughter writes: “An awesome sign. The bow-tie makes it look totes adorbs! Even though they are soooo 2012, it’s still a nice touch.” I write: Why a (trademarked!) bow-tie that’s inspired by the Maryland flag? Apparently because Mike Smith wears one; see for example this Baltimore Sun story. I guess it’s a change from the usual apples, but to be honest I’ve been looking at this sign for over a month now and just now cracked the code on it. (For a while I wasn’t sure it was even supposed to be a bow-tie.) In any case, whether the bow-tie is a good idea or not, including it in the middle of the sign means that the candidate’s name is relegated to a small space at the top of the sign. That’s definitely not a good idea in my book.

vaillancourt-boe-2014-small

This sign goes heavy on the apples, but oddly enough where one might expect to find yet another one, i.e., replacing the “o” in Vaillancourt, instead there’s a large globe and three small children. This is another sign where I had to puzzle out what was going on: The globe isn’t that visible from a distance, so you have to get up close to see what’s going on. Again, this might be OK on a direct mail piece, but with a sign the viewer will likely be driving by at 20 mph or more and there’s not enough time to notice and interpret sign elements that aren’t boldly drawn.

This is a tough race to call an overall sign winner. The Olga Butler sign had no missteps, but it also didn’t have anything in the design that specifically evoked a Board of Education race; ditto for the Allen Dyer sign. The Leslie Kornreich sign did do that effectively, and was definitely the best of the “apple signs”; the Christine O’Connor offered an alternative way to evoke education and childhood that I thought worked well. Finally, the underlying design of the Maureen Evans Arthurs sign was really excellent, and if the colors had been a bit bolder I would have likely named it the winner.

In my next post I’ll look at the signs for candidates in the Howard County Council race in District 1.

UPDATE: Corrected the number of candidates going on to the general election; thanks go to Corey Andrews for the correction.

UPDATE 2: Finally found a sign for Allen Dyer and updated the post to add it.

Campaign signs 2014: Maryland State Senate Districts 12 and 13

The Maryland State Senate races in Districts 12 and 13 are relatively quiet in terms of signs, especially since none of the candidates have opposition in the primary: Incumbent Ed Kasemeyer is unopposed in the Democratic primary in District 12, and will run against Republican Jesse Pippy in the general election. In District 13 Democrat Guy Guzzone will face off against Republican Jody Venkatesan to win the seat being vacated by retiring Senator Jim Robey.

Here are the signs, in alphabetical order by candidate, along with my comments, according to the criteria I’ve previously discussed. Note that I couldn’t find any signs for Jody Venkatesan.

team-13-2014-large

Hey, haven’t I seen this sign before? Yes, it’s Team 13 once again, with Guy Guzzone apparently not having any signs just for himself. As I wrote before, this sign is effective but otherwise lacks interest.

hill-delegate-12-2014-large

Another sign we’ve seen before, as Ed Kasemeyer piggybacks on Terri Hill’s sign design. Again I’ve noted the problems I have with this sign, including the somewhat overly idiosyncratic typeface and the botched banner.

pippy-senate-12-2014-small

A simple sign that gets straight to the point and drives it home without any missteps along the way: candidate’s last name, position sought, and web site address for those wanting to know more.

The final tally? I’m going to give this one to Jesse Pippy, first for actually having a sign of his own and second for having it be a simple but nice one.

In my next post I’ll come back to Howard County local races and evaluate signs for the Board of Education candidates.