Mark Lamster

Architecture Critic, Dallas Morning News

True to form, Dallas Morning News architecture critic and biographer of Philip Johnson, Mark Lamster, is reading a lot about what makes or breaks a built place. He’s also taking delight, in this moment of being home and still, in the speed of car racing and the thrill of crime shows, as well as the creativity that comes from a fugue state.


Books
Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains, by Kerri Arsenault
This memoir-slash-history tracks the rise and mostly decline of Mexico, Maine, a small mill town on the Androscoggin River that has been the home of the author’s family for generations. Arsenault writes nonfiction with the density and beauty of poetry, in this telling of the costs and tolls (environmental, physical, cultural, medical) of industrialization and its aftermath.

Sabotaged: Dreams of Utopia in Texas, by James Pratt
This thorough accounting of the story of La Reunion completely rewrites the history of the utopian community founded in Dallas in 1855. It is published posthumously, the work of the late Dallas architect, planner, and historian James Pratt. The received history tells us that the community died as a result of its own naivete and incompetence; Pratt tells a different story, as the title suggests.

Brodsky and Utkin: The Complete Works
Right now, I’m finding special meaning in the dreamlike works of the architects Sasha Brodsky and Ilya Utkin. These were paper projects—drawings of great delicacy, whimsy, and humor—created during the late Soviet period, by two architects who did not want to practice for the state so were forced to create fantasy projects for the mind. In a world in which we are all trapped against our will, these have an added poetry and force. 

Screen
Formula 1: Drive to Survive
There isn’t any live sport to watch at the moment, so I’ve been getting my visceral kicks from the first two seasons of this Netflix series, which tracks the Formula 1 racing circuit and its rivalries in 2018 and 2019. The drama between drivers and teams will keep you hooked, and the in-car footage is more exhilarating than anything you’ll experience on the Tollway or 75.

Narcos: Mexico
The fourth season of this cocaine crime saga is its weakest, but I’m a sucker for anything with Scoot McNairy, who has to be the most underrated actor going. I don’t know anyone else who can so convincingly play both a total nerd (see him in the cult series Halt and Catch Fire or the Oscar-winning Argo) and a complete badass (here, Godless) and just about everything in between. Bonus: He’s from Dallas.

Home Alone
If you’re gonna be stuck in the house by yourself, you might as well watch a feel-good movie about being stuck in the house by yourself. Home Alone is the king of that genre. (I also use it in my seminar about film and architecture as an entry point into the subject of suburban planning.) Or you could always just watch Some Like It Hot, just because.

Podcasts
Le Show with Harry Shearer
You know Shearer from Spinal Tap (Derek Smalls) and The Simpsons (Mr. Burns) and countless other things, but here he is fully himself, reviewing the news of the week with his low-key, sardonic wit. The highlight is the “apologies of the week,” wherein he reads through the lame public apologies made by politicians, corporations, celebrities, and others who have, through their own stupidity, embarrassed themselves.

Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street
I like to cook, and this podcast with Christopher Kimball (the bow-tied host of America’s Test Kitchen) and Sara Moulton makes for pleasant diversion on culinary subjects. Honestly, I generally don’t glean much useful information from it but it has a soporific, ASMR quality that I find reassuring while I do my prep work.

Music
Write about Love, Belle and Sebastian
My teenage daughter and I picked up this CD for cheap at Half Price Books—we’re both Belle and Sebastian fans—and it is an addictive little masterpiece. Every song is a gem: a mix of juicy pop, brilliant orchestration, and incisive, poetic lyrics about the trials of quotidian life. The hooks are infectious, ear worms that can leave you humming to yourself half the day.

The Goldberg Variations, Glenn Gould
When I get a little cabin feverish, the entrancing mechanics of Bach is the antidote. A fugue is its own kind of quarantine, a construction that you explore without breaking its containment. I like the idea of finding creativity within that kind of constraint, and now that we’re all stuck at home, it’s something we have to do or we’ll go nuts. 

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