Not TV

June 30, 2007 at 10:07 pm | In facebook, ideas, links, style | 1 Comment

For something a bit less predictable than TV, but pleasurable in an eye-candy sort of way, 3 links to visuals that might intrigue you:

For the designers, via Cool Hunting, there’s wind to light, an installation that “illustrates alternative energy sources in the form of a cloud of LEDs. Mini wind turbines power the lights (both are mounted on poles); as the wind moves through them, it creates a visual pattern.” There’s a Quicktime video of the installation here. It’s a prototype and beginning of an art form that could (should) be deployed more in our “urbanscapes.”

Via the Doc Searls weblog, a pointer to an “animation made by digital media artist Aaron Koblin, airplane traffic looks much like fireworks in the night sky. Using air-traffic data from the Federal Aviation Administration, categorized using criteria such as ‘types of aircraft,’ ‘location,’ and ‘altitude,’ Koblin shows the changing dynamics of air traffic over the United States and Canada over a 24-hour period.” (From Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge) Watch the video by clicking here. Great soundtrack, by the way.

Finally, via links via facebook via groups thereon, a link via Upgrade! Vancouver (found via facebook groups — cause Roland Tanglao joined, I think, and this showed up in my “feed”…), a link to a 2007 movie by Peter Horvath, Boulevard. Description: “In Boulevard we follow a striking woman, the passenger of a convertible car, driven by an unidentified driver through the city, passing its generic streets, billboards and motels, with an unknown destination.” It’s a bit slow getting started, and it remains “slow,” but there’s something about it that makes you want to keep watching. Just in case. Spoiler: nothing happens. But it’s interesting, all the same. 😉

(n.b.: for some reason, the Upgrade!Vancouver link won’t work, so here’s one for Upgrade!Berlin. Just use it as a jumping-off point: if you scroll down, you’ll see the links to all the other global Upgrade! locations. I hope. Those internets. Sometimes they can be persnicketty…)

Soul-Crushing Stalinesque Architecture? Memory Trip, New Hip, & Heritage

June 29, 2007 at 11:24 pm | In architecture, authenticity, berlin, cities, heritage, Stalin_style, style | 6 Comments

For anyone who was certain that all those super-ugly”commie blocks,” built in East Berlin during the height of the German Democratic Republic’s most intense enthrallment to Stalin, would get the chop after the Wall came down, here’s an explanation for why they’re staying: Warum “die Kultbauten am Alexanderplatz” nicht abgerissen werden. It’s a short (under 2 1/2 minutes) video by Maxim Leo, editor at the Berliner Zeitung. He observes that his generation (aged around 30 to late 30s) isn’t eager to tear those buildings down because they are part of his generation’s personal history. As he tells it, those buildings were there before his generation was even born (so he and his cohort feel no personal responsibility for them). But the point is that his generation grew up with them: the buildings were there when his generation was cutting its teeth. Since this is also a demographic that’s obsessive about preserving its youth and youthfulness, it wants to preserve these buildings: they remind Leo and his friends of when they were young, expansive, in control. They flock to the businesses — cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, hotels — in these buildings; they are their patrons.

In German; via

This reminds me of a recent symposium I attended here in Victoria. The topic was “Heritage and Tourism: Compatibility or Conflict?” During one Q&A session, the conversation veered dangerously toward validating only quite old buildings as heritage (here in Victoria — in North America, West of the East Coast — that typically means something from the mid- to late-19th century, maybe the early 20th century, too). But one younger woman spoke up to put forward the viewpoint of her husband, who had grown up in one of those oversized, soul-crushing “commie block” apartments. She pointed out that for him, those buildings represented his memories, his “heritage,” and that — therefore — it’s ridiculous to think of heritage as simply a museum piece, or a style that has been vetted & approved. It’s also be about lived-in things that are full of memories and experiences and stories.

Which is kind of what Maxim Leo is saying, I guess.

Social class on social networks: and style?

June 27, 2007 at 10:33 pm | In danah_boyd, facebook, health, ideas, MySpace, social_critique, social_networking, web | 7 Comments

danah boyd has a new article out called Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace, which everybody seems to be reading (and, looking at her blog, commenting on — two hundred comments and counting…) Basic thesis: facebook attracts more upwardly mobile college-bound types, while MySpace attracts non-college-bound, possibly declasse or lower-class or outcast-type kids.

I’m curious to know whether the design was the egg or the chicken here: I confess that MySpace pages look cluttered and messy to me, and I get weirded out by the fact that all sorts of applications (sound, video, music, whatever) start up when I click through to some pages. In other words, I have to let MySpace roll all over me, and that pisses me off (well, not really, but I’m like, Hey, can you let me decide when I want to hear your stupid music or see your movie?). I want my eyes to control everything first, and then I push the buttons (mouse & click the links), not lie there and think of England while some MySpaceling has its way with me.

So, does the style attract people who violate “nice” rules about tidy spaces and imaginary “protocol,” or is the style a result of people using MySpace in a really trashy way? Can the technology even have that sort of malleability? That sort of ability to respond? I don’t think so, which means that from where I’m sitting, MySpace design or style is “trashy” and non-eye-centered (non-controlling) first, and that therefore it attracts the more anarchic among us.

(I am exaggerating slightly when I describe myself as such a control freak in the above paragraph. Slightly. A bit.)

Tolerance for overflowing sensation, an ability to “live” with many people, in a tribe, vs in a more distilled fashion: I think that factors into things, too. Is it a class issue? Possibly, but there’re always exceptions to the rule. From boyd’s essay:

MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school.

Right here there’s a snag: this passage describes me pretty much to a “t” (except for the Latina/Hispanic part, although I was an immigrant). My parents didn’t go to college, thought it would be a waste of time for me to go, were surprised I bothered finishing high school — which I barely did, a year and a bit “early,” too often too stoned to know what was going on, but desperate to get out so I could get a job — waitressing, incidentally — and make enough money to move away from home. I purposely skipped my high school graduation, because you wouldn’t have caught me dead trying to be pretty and stupid in a prom dress or sucking up to some old fart handing out diplomas. (I even skipped my B.A. graduation at UBC, and the M.A., and when I finally did go to one of my graduations — the Ph.D. ceremony at Harvard — I grinned at the Dean handing me my sheepskin, but I had the worst migraine in the world: I was smiling through pain, lots of it… Analyze that!)

Would I have gravitated to MySpace then, had it been around?

I don’t think so. I think one of my problems was stimuli overload (which explains the self-medication with drugs), and it was important for me to get enough control over my environment so that I could shut things out because it was difficult for me to handle the intensity of sensation I experienced. Experience. To this day, I find it crushing to be with people all day long: it’s too much. I vant to be alone is the rallying cry not just of Swedish actresses. Too much to observe, to pay attention to, to modulate, choreograph, perform, and respond to: after a day with lots of people, I’m exhausted. MySpace is an onslaught of entire rooms-full of people talking all at once, like a bad high school day times 10. In comparison, I guess Facebook is like meeting over coffee. Mocha vanilla latte, frapped. Maybe that’s our class structure today.

Yoo-hoo! Mark Zuckerberg, can you see my face(book)?

June 23, 2007 at 1:03 am | In facebook, mark_zuckerberg, media, social_networking, victoria, web | 2 Comments

I registered my Facebook account on September 8, 2006, admittedly spurred by the fact that it was developed by a smart young guy at Harvard, Mark Zuckerberg. (Ok, so by September 2006 Mark had long dropped out of Harvard! Nonetheless, that old school loyalty worked its magic…)

I was part of the “Harvard network,” but I wanted to join my regional network, too. Well, guess what? It doesn’t exist, according to Facebook. Facebook — Mark?, Mark?, can you hear me?? — thinks that we in Victoria (the capital city of British Columbia) on Vancouver Island (a distinct, separate-from-the-continent geologic fact and entity — belong to a network called…”Vancouver, BC.” This is an insult, not to mention a grave, grievous error.

Mark, Mark, Mark: where did we go wrong with you at Harvard, my dear boy?? Sweetie, we realize you’re just a drop-out, but we can overcome this if we work together, ‘k? It’s not too late…

First thing you must do is GET AN ATLAS. Get a map. I believe there’s a nifty application called around. Type in V8V4J4. That’s my postal code (yes, postal code — we don’t zip in Canada, we go quietly postal…). Note the location! Please note that we are a capital city. (Well, not me personally, not even in the majestatis pluralis, but “we,” the city of Victoria.) We’re a distinct metropolitan centre, located on a large (very large) island. Our city actually lies below the 49th parallel. We’re practically breathing down your neck!

Mark, according to FastCompany, you took art history classes! Darling, that’s where you and I have a bond, don’t you see? I took my PhD in art history at Harvard, and you … well, you dropped out of Harvard’s art history classes — but not before having that key epiphany that only a high-pressure art history course can deliver. I quote from FastCompany:

…by the end of the first semester, with just two days to go before his art-history final, [Mark Zuckerberg] was in a serious jam: He needed to be able to discuss 500 images from the Augustan period. “This isn’t the kind of thing where you can just go in and figure out how to do it, like calculus or math,” he says, without a trace of irony. “You actually have to learn these things ahead of time.” So he pulled a Tom Sawyer: He built a Web site with one image per page and a place for comments. Then he emailed members of his class and invited them to share their notes, like a study group on cybersteroids. “Within two hours, all the images were populated with notes,” he says. “I did very well in that class. We all did.”

Ok, now that a bona fide WEB ENTREPRENEUR has admitted that art history can be more complex to deal with than math and calculus (which “you can just go in and figure out how to do”), I can die happy.


Maybe, that is, if Mark Zuckerberg relents and satisfies the demand of nearly 4,200 members who joined Petition for a Victoria BC network.

Mark! Mark Zuckerberg! Fellow Harvard art history student! How can you ignore this?

Why, even our dead-dog mainstream media has awoken and taken an interest (and believe me, bubbe, it takes a lot to get them to sit up and take notice): from today’s local paper, According to Facebook, the Island doesn’t exist. Mark!, Mark — these people normally don’t notice that their own backsides don’t exist, yet they have registered that you, my fellow Harvard art history colleague, have failed to register our existence. Mark!, Mark — can this go on???

As the art-history-bereft local media point out, “More than 11,000 Islanders have joined a petition group urging Facebook to create a Vancouver Island ‘network’ that would unite them with a specific online identity.”

Mark!, Mark — listen! That journalist is talking about 11,000 people on Vancouver Island who don’t have a Vancouver Island network! I refer you again to — I bet you’ve heard of it, now that you’re out of upstate New York and Massachusetts, and living in California. Hey, I bet you even get to hang out with Sergei and Larry! So look, Mark: Vancouver Island is pretty big — not too dense (sometimes stupid, maybe, but not dense in population terms) — but that makes 11,000 members even more remarkable. The other thing you gotta grok is that Victoria, the city that hangs on the south-eastern coast of said island, is the capital of British Columbia. Dude, I have a friend in the Olympia, WA network! It’s seriously crazy to give Olympia its own network (given its relation to Seattle), but deny Victoria its own in relation to Vancouver.

So Mark, listen up: we are not face-less and we want Facebook to recognize our network — because in terms of social capital, that’s networth.

Ubiquitous Place(s)

June 21, 2007 at 1:21 am | In education, futurismo, links, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve read many interesting things about “the local,” a topos (literally!) that’s being mined in the wake of our lengthy infatuation / fascination with “the global.” I suppose it’s about time — maybe you can’t be general without being specific, and vice versa.

Trendwatching kicked things off in early June with its Still Made Here post. All urbanists who want vibrant communities, take note of what Trendwatching says here:

A third, ongoing driver behind (STILL) MADE HERE is the importance of community, especially because to many consumers, ‘global’ has come to represent faceless, rootless mega-corporations and supranational bodies, headed up by money grabbing executives whose golden parachutes seem to grow with the degree of incompetence they’ve let loose on employees and other stakeholders. Far from being chauvinistic nationalist movements, (STILL) MADE HERE and (STILL) SOLD HERE will increasingly be about supporting one’s neighborhood, one’s city, one’s region, to regain a sense of place and belonging and to safeguard future access to the special and original, vs. the bland, the global and the commoditized.

Trendwatching‘s entry was immediately picked up and commented on over at CEOs for Cities as well as by Brendan, who writes the Where blog. In fact, he spun that theme into several blog posts: (Still) Made Here: Eco and Ethics on June 5; (Still) Made Here: Story and Status on June 6; and (Still) Made Here: Support on June 11. As Brendan points out in his June 5 entry:

one of the great challenges that central cities face is how to market themselves. Die-hard urbanites and suburbanites aside, what can make the difference between city and suburb for many consumers looking to rent or buy a home in hyper-mobile metropolitan regions is the perceived “authenticity” of a neighborhood. This term means different things to different people, but in this case it usually refers to a high level of historic building stock, independent business, quality public space — factors that create that ephemeral phenomenon we call “a sense of place.”

It’s clear that one very important emerging theme in the quest to defne the local is the problem of authenticity, which is of course an ideologically loaded term. For someone like me, spoon-fed on Frankfurt School theory (ok, ok, so I was holding the spoon and feeding myself…), there’s a tendency to have a kneejerk reaction against authenticity. We know, you see, that there is no “real” thing, that authenticity is a construction. And this is literally true. Reality is highly debatable, whereas ideology is rock solid to the core.

But wait a moment, step back. Is it not “real,” after all, to have some sense of attachment to place? And are you a total moron if you don’t subscribe entirely to living the digital life, online, globally, 24/7, and instead persist in the “delusion” of place?

Well, no. You’re not. If you’re twenty years old, you can perhaps live globally, deny the local (and real). But at some point your cells catch up with the rest of you, …and let’s face it, even if you’re twenty right now, ten years from now you’ll be at least twenty-three. Maybe even older, if you haven’t made enough money.

(Facing up to place — and even authenticity — is something that people have to do when they grow up. It’s a quality that’s often lacking where I live, professional cynicism too often determining not just the order of the day, but hearts and minds, too. But that’s a local aside, not necessarily understood by readers not immersed in this local situation. Or perhaps they do…?)

The theme of authenticity feeds into what we tell ourselves about a place, or in other words, its stories. Again quoting from Brendan (June 6):

City neighborhoods are already status symbols in most places. If you live in Los Angeles, for example, you can identify yourself as being from The Valley, Hollywood, or Watts and get completely different reactions. By associating ourselves with a certain place, we are associating ourselves with the cultural story that has been created about that place, and that cultural story is the quality that will allow a place to overcome its challenges. To increase investment in a community, neighborhoods can focus on the most exceptional aspects of their local culture (which can be just about anything) in order to craft a favorable cultural story. And in a society where “individuality is the new religion” (credit TW) it seems that marketing a neighborhood’s most unconventional aspects would be the best way to go about promoting it.

The cynic raises her head: marketing? Telling stories in order to “brand” a place, because brand viability translates into place vibrancy?

Well, yes again, boys and girls. But before we go off in a sulk, let’s think about the alternatives. Who gets to tell the story? Do you want to remain silent, just because the marketers are coming in with their lubricants, penetrating all your holy of holies? Remember, we are grown-ups now and don’t need to pretend. If you don’t take control of the story, “they” will. “They” might not be local, but “you” are. So speak up.

Here’s an article from FastCompany, the May 2007 issue: Who Do You Love? The appeal — and risks — of authenticity. Its author, Bill Breen, writes:

In an increasingly shiny, fabricated world of spun messages and concocted experiences–where nearly everything we encounter is created for consumption–elevating a brand above the fray requires an uncommon mix of creativity and discipline. And nowhere do you see the challenge more starkly illustrated than in the quest for authenticity. “Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged,” notes John Grant in The New Marketing Manifesto. Or as Seth Godin quips in Permission Marketing: “If you can fake authenticity, the rest will take care of itself.”

Overloaded by sales pitches, consumers are gravitating toward brands that they sense are true and genuine. Hunger for the authentic is all around us. You can see it in the way millions are drawn to mission-driven products like organic foods. It’s there in the sex-without-guilt way people respond to the footloose joy of BMW’s Mini. You see it in the tribes of “i-centered” buyers who value individuality and independence–and whom Apple has so cleverly cultivated through its iMacs and iPods.

What does it take to be authentic in marketing? According to Breen, 1.A sense of place; 2.A strong point of view; 3.Serving a larger purpose; and 4.Integrity. Re. number 1, he quotes Steve McCallion of Ziba, a Portland, OR design consultancy: “Authenticity comes from a place we can connect with… A place with a story.”

The theme is echoed in many other articles: Arlene Gould, Request for Proposal: Can designers save our cities? Building and landscape architects, along with industrial, interior, and graphic designers and artists can all play a pivotal role (Feb. 27, 2007), writes:

Most of our cities are led by utilitarian bureaucrats rather than design thinkers. We can also lay some of the blame at the feet of a design community whose members have failed to deliver a consolidated protest against the lack of representation of their profession at city hall, or the mean-spirited RFPs that don’t allow the scope, time or money designers need to deliver breakthrough results.

Design works on a grand scale, but its most profound benefits are experienced on a human level: beauty, accessibility, functionality and cohesiveness, to name a few. Our cities are missing design-led innovation in the public realm. A growing number of Canadian buildings are energy-efficient and environmentally designed. But when it comes to public space, we are still design-deprived. Most of our major cities lack the infrastructure and master plans that would inspire and enable design-led change at every level.

She has 5 suggestions for using design to enrich the fabric of our cities: 1. Use designers to work on sidewalks, which are the arteries of the urban space; 2. Use designers for graphic and visual communications, to tell our stories, “to create cognitive maps that would connect with various target audiences, and illustrate our cities’ unique personalities.” 3. Use designers to “mend a city’s severed connection with nature” (urban ecology).  4.Use design to improve accessibility; and 5. Use design for the arts: “Our arts communities could mine the talents of designers to energize their spaces and promote their work. Currently, artistic outfits often treat designers like second-class suppliers due to budget constraints, and designers end up offering their services pro bono or for a cut price due to budget constraints.”

The arts, local artists and designers, are asked to step up to the plate to infuse a place with local brand identity: a vibrant arts community gives a place a sense of …well, of place. (See this Ontario example as well as this Vancouver example.)

As fate — er, I mean markets — would have it, the local-tied-inextricably-to-the-authentic at some point becomes …ubiquitous (which is a problem not of real places, since they cannot yet be in two spots at the same time). Ubiquity is of course both Scylla and Charybdis for authenticity and branding. We’re describing the problem of the local outlet — a coffee shop, say — that grows popular and opens more stores. At first, the growth is in the community, then it’s regional, next national, and before you know it, bada-bing: global (eg. Starbucks), at which point it’s difficult to associate “authenticity” with the brand. Since the “lurch” toward ubiquity is usually quite slow, it takes a long long while for the authenticity glow to wear off, of course.

But consider that our technologies will make ubiquity occur much faster. Which might be where the play (if it can be called that) of markets and playing with shit and making money and all that gets overtaken by the seriousness of saving the planet, that decidedly singular local bugger we all live on. Before you know it, we’re talking about having a Workshop on Ubiquitous Sustainability: Technologies for Green Values, which will be held on September 16/07 in Innsbruck, Austria, in conjunction with the 9th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (Ubicomp 2007).

Say what??! Yes, it’s a strange world.

From the UbiComp website: “Ubiquitous Computing refers to the trend that we as humans interact no longer with one computer at a time, but rather with a dynamic set of small networked computers, often invisible and embodied in everyday objects in the environment.” This refers to RFIDs and GIS and mobile technologies which will enable references to the local even as they identify us utterly and totally globally.

The Ubiquitous Sustainability webpage describes that workshop’s overview as follows:

This workshop will explore how Ubicomp research can intersect with values and practices linked to environmental sustainability. Growing concerns about resource depletion, global warming, and environmental degradation have led increasing numbers of people to reconsider their actions and the impact they have on the planet. This upswing in public interest in making positive change for the environment has substantial implications for how the Ubicomp community frames and executes the design of technologies in realms as diverse as energy conservation, healthcare, home systems monitoring and automation, environmental monitoring, community planning, and social networking. The goals of the workshop are to gain an understanding of emerging practices in which technologies align with emerging environmental values, and to distill a set of challenges for the Ubicomp community that are synchronous with those developments.

I think what this means is that we will continue to engage in a balancing act between the local and “authentic” on the one hand, and global hypermarkets and technologies on the other. Being alive and creative in the spaces informed by those tensions is what will shape us and our societies.

Johnny Five: “Life in Transition” and “Johnny’s Cave” on NYTimes video

June 15, 2007 at 2:42 am | In cities, homelessness, social_critique | Comments Off on Johnny Five: “Life in Transition” and “Johnny’s Cave” on NYTimes video

It’s only 9 minutes long (not counting the 15 second commercial that comes first), but Life in Transition, a video produced by the New York Times about Johnny Five, a homeless man also known as The Mayor of Ogden Avenue (in the Bronx), who probably has schizophrenia as well a drug addiction, is one of the most compelling, informative, and illuminating documentaries on chronic homelessness I’ve ever seen. If you watch this video, another will follow immediately afterward: Johnny’s Cave (~7 1/2 minutes long).

Do watch both.

(via Archinect News.)

If we lived in medieval times, Johnny Five would count as a holy fool, both clairvoyant and blind. He’s quite exceptional, and seems to know what he’s talking about when he describes himself as a newborn babe. It would be easy to romanticize him because he’s so unique (yet simultaneously “everyman“). It’s less easy to make sure he has a decent roof over his head, though, as the film makes obvious.

My “yes, minister” moment…?

June 11, 2007 at 1:25 am | In architecture, cities, scenes_victoria, victoria | 2 Comments

So many interesting things I should be commenting on, if only to have some trace for my own overburdened memory… Things I’ve been reading, in books and online; events I’ve been able to attend, spoken words, conversations: all ephemera. And yet themes emerge.

If there’s a metaphor, maybe it’s that I’m skating not on thin ice, but cutting my teeth on the impossible flatness of this webbed, instant, accessible, occulted, interlinked, informed world. Were I skating, I’d be upright, horizontal, eyes straight ahead, staring out from my silo. And wouldn’t I know where I was then! Barrel-chested and armoured. Instead, it feels more like I’m flat on my belly, face pressed against a transparency that won’t congeal.

Of course, many folks around me are upright pillars of probity. They know what’s what. It’s all rather funny, though.

Let me tell a little story. In the current (June) issue of FOCUS Magazine, I discuss a possible downtown redevelopment proposal. It’s proposed by Westbank Projects Corporation, and entails building a circa 20 story condominium tower in conjunction with a badly-needed downtown satellite facility for the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. The Art Gallery would also get an onsite outdoor sculpture park. The property, in downtown Victoria, is currently a small motel, with a floor-space-ratio of 1:1, which means it’s a totally underused space in the city centre. The property’s streetscape is plain and offers very little to the pedestrian. Putting a sculpture park and art gallery in its place would enliven the block, which is also part of the downtown “tourist district” (the Royal BC Museum is across the street, the Victoria Convention Centre is diagonally opposite, and the Empress Hotel — Victoria’s famous Rattenbury-designed pile — is half a block away, directly behind the Convention Centre).

Perhaps closer to my heart than the logical proximity of these other “star” locations, which suggests that another attraction both in terms of architecture and amenity (in this case venue) would be appropriate, is the fact that James Cheng, the architect who would design the residential tower and art gallery, is probably the best person for this job. He has proven himself at the SFH level as well as at building towers. Not to be unkind, but I can’t think of a single local architect I’d trust with the task of building a stylish highrise in such a sensitive downtown area, or with rising to the challenge of building something as important as an art gallery — our contemporary equivalent of what amounts to a religious building. (In the 80s, that would have been the mall — at least its interior: cathedral, anyone? — but in the naughts, it has to be the art gallery and other buildings associated with culture.)

In addition, I also admire the way Cheng pays attention to the roofline — by now we all know that how the building meets the street is a critical factor in successful urbanism (not least because no one in their right mind walks around with their neck craned, looking up at buildings, but rather with their senses engaged as to what’s happening on the sidewalk: hence, pay attention to how your building meets the street if you want good design).

But that doesn’t mean that individual buildings don’t “congregate,” as it were, to create a “community,” which in turn creates an urban identity. And for this, their rooflines are critical: it is how we identify them, name them, and bring associations to them. It is their rooflines that let our hearts sing when we glimpse the skyline from a distance. Our cities are an assembly, and our buildings should show some care for that. There are too many architects who just don’t get that and think that a slavish adherence to modernism (think flat-top) is sufficient, or who think that some dragged-out tired post-modern “hat trick” is ok. Oh-no-no-no-no, mes amis! The roof is as important as the base. In high school (Oak Bay High, right here in Victoria) I had a very interesting art teacher who worked with pottery at the time (she’s now a jewelry designer in Seattle). She taught me that the most important thing about a “pot” (a vase or other thrown clay object) is its base — mess that up, and you may as well punch it down again. The base, of course, in architectural terms, is how the building meets the street. But the second most important thing is the rim or lip. You can get away with messing that up a bit — just a bit — if the base if right. But it’s best if you get them both right. The rim or lip is of course the roofline. We notice the base first, without even knowing it. But inevitably, we will look at the rim. Same with buildings. Get it right.

Ok, enough background. So here’s my story:

Yesterday a woman phoned me, at home, in response to my above-mentioned article “about the architect Chang [sic].” She’s not the first person to phone me at home after something of mine appeared in print locally. I’m usually intrigued by these calls, but this one was immediately different.

My caller demanded to know whether “he” (the architect) “knew” that there had been “a duck creek” on the site.

Excuse me?, I asked. She spoke with a slight English accent — the kind that’s either a left-over from an emigration that took place four or more decades ago, …or was acquired around the same time by select Canadian natives who wanted to show their general superiority in North America’s hugger-mugger western frontier. It’s the sort of somewhat braying, yet “proper,” tone meant to impress the servants and other lower orders. Naturally, it’s all a bunch of sodding rot, but there you have it.

“Duck creek!” she repeated, or at least that’s what it sounded like.

I finally figured out that she was actually referring to the well-documented, but oft conveniently-forgotten fact that this area used to be part of the tidal flats, which were dammed, drained, dredged, and infilled over a century ago. In fact, the Empress (which is a seriously weighty building), the Conference Centre, and the Crystal Garden (across the street from the proposed art gallery site) are all built on what used to be a bog. People forget that this was the sort of mega-engineering project that today would be disallowed for its ecological impacts, not to mention what must have been its probably obscene costs. But now it’s done, and it looks great.

My caller seemed to think that she was the only person who had remembered or thought of this structural weakness in the ground’s underlying make-up, and demanded to know whether the architect was aware of the “problem.” I replied that this was an engineering problem, and that most certainly the architect and the developer were aware of the soil conditions. I tried to tell her that the Empress sits on what used to be a marsh, and that it has so far escaped the horrible fate of sinking into the muck. I explained that this is an engineering problem that the architects and engineers were well capable of dealing with, and that if it comes to building a highrise on the Crystal Court Motel site, the structural condition of the ground will be taken into account and dealt with. But she kept at it, as if I could “do something about it.”

What really annoyed me, though, was that she had my name, had successfully looked me up in the phone book to get my number, and had no qualms about calling me at home — but when I asked what her name was, she refused to tell me.

“I’m a citizen!” she spluttered, as if that said it all. Yes, well, I suppose if you watch enough BBC and keep up the accent, you would expect the servants to consider this sufficient. But it made me wonder what she thought I was. A public servant? The Bloody Building Czar of Victoria? Or perhaps the willing tool of evil developers?

I have a suggestion for the “citizen”: learn to throw a pot.

Wow… (Body by Dance — Nike)

June 8, 2007 at 12:18 am | In fashionable_life, health, media, social_critique, women | Comments Off on Wow… (Body by Dance — Nike)

An amazing ad for Nike on YouTube, must see. (Click through — I can’t seem to be able to embed YouTube videos here.)

(found via if! from PSFK, who got it via Buenos Aires Spotting. Thanks, guys!)

(PS/edit: in particular, if you want more background information on the ad, click through to Buenos Aires Spotting — very useful.)

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