Notes on walking architecture

May 21, 2010 at 10:40 pm | In architecture, cities, futurismo, ideas, innovation, jane_jacobs, land_use, ubiquity, urbanism | Comments Off on Notes on walking architecture

It’s not everyday that you see Guy Debord and Steve Jobs in the same presentation, is it? Courtesy of Matt Jones‘s People Are Walking Architecture, or Making NearlyNets with MujiComp, it’s not only possible, it makes sense. (Read the full document on Scribd.) Jones makes the case for building “smart city networks by making inviting, intelligent products,” hence the juxtaposition of critical thinkers and people who make “inviting, intelligent products.”

Going through the 59-page document, a few pages that attracted my attention especially:

p.15, Archigram were basically right, a sentence inspired by Chris Heathcote’s Cheer up, it’s Archigram. Why Archigram (about which I’ve blogged here)? “Essentially they were user-centric designers, working with technology to create humane exciting environments with technology …with a liberal dash of 60s psychedelia…” (p.14). Archigram’s architects thought about enabling behaviors, not just about buildings. Cool. (Jones even calls them interaction designers.)

Archigram envisioned the car as the “ultimate symbolic technology of personal freedom,” but as Jones points out, that didn’t quite pan out. Today, we’re more likely to see mobile technology (phones, etc.) in cars’ symbolic stead. (p.16)

Car = 20th century; mobile phone = 21st century. (p.17)

Hence the jump to Steve Jobs – and back (in time) to Guy Debord, who defined psychogeography as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” (p.18)

Jones points to smart phones as the gadget that lets users manipulate the experience of psychogeography from an individual perspective: “…a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities…” (p.20)

Cities are now “linked and learning” (Sir Richard Rogers, British architect who designed Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou), hence people are walking architecture. It’s back to Archigram, see? Architecture should enable behaviors, and what we have today are gadgets that enable behaviors relating to how people experience and shape, in a feedback loop, the urban experience. The urban experience is still informed as well by buildings, but who hasn’t also found that it’s informed by behaviors – often experienced as negative, like traffic jams, congestion, and bad infrastructure? Today – and into tomorrow – those behaviors will be more and more fine-grained, as people carry tiny mobile devices that allow ubiquitous computing, which in turn shapes the city as much as cars, roads, and other infrastructure did.

People are walking architecture, shaping the urban-scape as they move through it, devices in hand.

Next up, Jones covers Eliel Saarinen (“Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context …a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan”) and Clay Shirky (Situated Software), and a bunch of other things (MujiComp; porch computing; doorways; nearly nets).

And then he gives Jane Jacobs the last word (which I appreciate, if only because every other person mentioned in his presentation is male):

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” (p.58)

Jane Jacobs, last word

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

October 11, 2009 at 2:31 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
    Adam Greenfield, a design director at Nokia, wrote one of the defining texts on the design and use of ubiquitous computing or ‘ubicomp’ called “Everyware” and is about to release a follow-up on urban environments and technology called “The city is here for you to use”. In a recent talk he framed a number of ways in which the access to data about your surroundings that Hill describes will change our attitude towards the city. He posits that we will move from a city we browser and wander to a ‘searchable, query-able’ city that we can not only read, but write-to as a medium.

    He states:

    The bottom-line is a city that responds to the behaviour of its users in something close to real-time, and in turn begins to shape that behaviour.

    Again, we’re not so far away from what Archigram were examining in the 60’s. Behaviour and information as the raw material to design cities with as much as steel, glass and concrete.

    tags: cities, archigram, urbanism, science_fiction, ubiquity, ubicom, jjacobs

    Cities are organized like brains, and the evolution of cities mirrors the evolution of human and animal brains, according to a new study by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
    Comparing infrastructure to neural networks. Hm – legitimate, scientific, or overwrought metaphor? I can certainly see that “maintaining sufficient interconnectedness” is a problem for both brains and cities.

    tags: cities, neuroscience, evolution, urban_development

  • Excellent article by John Geraci on how/why “the long tail” analogy has to come alive in cities, and what it would mean.
    Most cities right now are models of closed, rigid systems, systems that rely on a few, top-performing agents to get civic tasks done and keep quality of life high for residents. Most of these agents are departments of the city itself, though some are outsourced. Either way, cities rely on one agent per issue, no more. (…)
    …imagine instead a city that has totally open, unrestricted access to data (say, San Francisco or DC in 2011). What does it look like? It has all of the familiar city-run departments providing all of the services and assistance they’ve always provided – that’s not going away. Then it also has public services offered by the mega companies, the Google Traffic, IBM’s Smarter Cities, and so forth. Those are huge added value to these open cities – they’re used by a large percentage of residents and make life in those cities better. But THEN, it also has an insane long tail of services set up and run by anyone with an interest in doing so, just by hooking into city data, distributing it in a new way, improving on it, mashing it up, giving it back to the city, etc. These services each individually get used by a small minority of people, but collectively they get used by more than any other single source in the city.
    It’s interesting to think about the differences between Canada and the US here. In the US, all government data is owned by the people – governments can’t keep it back. But in Canada, all government data is owned by the Crown. That means, Canadians have to first get someone in authority to grant them access to it and they have to get permission to use it. #fail #deadendfeudalism

    tags: john_geraci, cities, data, open_source, democracy, long_tail, o’reilly

    Gramazio & Kohler’s work represents the cutting edge of innovation in the field of digital fabrication in architecture. For many years architects have relied on digital manufacturing processes such as CNC milling or 3D printing as a tool for formal research at model-scale. For the first time, Gramazio & Kohler’s work explores the potential of mobile digital fabrication techniques that can fabricate at 1:1 scale on site.

    tags: robotbuilt, architecture, design

  • QUOTE “Land use and urban form are key contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) through the physical arrangement of streets, building types, and land uses that influence vehicle use and energy consumption in buildings. City and regional officials now facing new emissions reduction requirements are increasingly turning to urban design as a key component of climate mitigation. But, this approach requires decision support tools that illustrate the GHG implications of land use and transportation options. While a wide spectrum of tools currently exists, few have the capacity to work simultaneously at both the regional and local scale, or to capture both building performance and transportation demand analysis.

    This report reviews existing tools by scope, scale, methodology, and policy support, and presents four case studies illustrating how existing tools at various stages of development have been used. ” UNQUOTE

    tags: mitigation, urbanplanning, urban_development, lincoln_institute

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

February article: Housing 2.0

April 14, 2009 at 1:18 am | In affordable_housing, architecture, cities, FOCUS_Magazine, housing, writing | 3 Comments

It took a while for me to catch up with my own goal to blog about the articles I’ve posted to Scribd, but here (finally) is a quick pointer to Housing 2.0, the piece I published in the February 2009 issue of FOCUS Magazine.

It’s a funny title in some ways, but this brief introductory description, followed by the first paragraph, might clarify the intent:

Using the Wikipedia model, along with modular housing, to solve homelessness: As web 2.0 development has shown, people are able to unleash creativity and energy when they see how to move forward and get things done from the bottom up.

Vancouver architect Gregory Henriquez wants to tackle Vancouver’s crisis of homelessness with temporary modular housing. Homelessness, he points out, is growing at a much faster rate than housing can be built, which basically means that housing production should speed up. The problem is that traditional housing construction can’t.

So, the gist is that it’s another attempt on my part to shift our thinking away from “let government do it” to “let the people do it.” If we have a group of people who’ve become systematically beaten down (sometimes through their own bad choices, sometimes through the bad choices others made for them), does it make sense to keep them passive and in a state of learned helplessness, or is it better to help people move – step by step – toward autonomy? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. I know what my answer is.) Henriquez tried to make a case for what he called “Stop-Gap Housing,” and it makes a lot of sense in our housing market (which is both imploding in some ways, while still incredibly unaffordable at the same time).

I also, in this article, try to get a “2.0” kind of thinking focused on bricks and mortar (literally), which is something that’s badly, badly needed in land use and development. There have actually been some great historical precedents for that kind of fluid thinking, in particular Archigram’s DIY City concepts (I blogged about this and my ideas and responses around “housing 2.0” here).

I’m not sure the Victoria readership appreciated all the weirdo references I threw out in this piece, but everyone should get out of their comfort zone occasionally, right? 😉

Note: The March article, Victoria’s Urban Forest, is also up on Scribd, and I’ll blog a short post on that one tomorrow.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

January 11, 2009 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • A bit of a fluff piece (this is the “printable” page – FastCompany has so much annoying flash & crud on its front pages), but there’s an interesting thought about *im*permanent architecture here.
    One of Ma’s core ideas — the impermanence of architecture — has particular appeal for anyone who would be happy to see Los Angeles’ relentless sprawl bulldozed. Ma, 43, views today’s Western architecture as a descendant of the Greco-Roman tradition, which is all about building in stone and erecting things that are intended to last forever. (Which makes it all the more amusing that he’s an occasional collaborator of Koolhaas, creating mind-bending buildings, such as Beijing’s CCTV headquarters, that look as if they might fall down.) Clearly a son of modern China, he questions the West’s preservationist reflex. “Everything has a life cycle, as should buildings,” he says. “Preservation is an action in sacrifice of future possibilities. The future needs its own space.”

    tags: fast_company, architecture, los_angeles, asia

  • The title is quite misleading since only the first half of Lehrer’s article chronicles the city’s stressful effects on the brain, while the second half describes urbanism’s benefits, and that it’s a question of designing cities so that nature continues to intervene and refresh/ calm / regenerate the brain.

    Given the myriad mental problems that are exacerbated by city life, from an inability to pay attention to a lack of self-control, the question remains: Why do cities continue to grow? And why, even in the electronic age, do they endure as wellsprings of intellectual life?

    Recent research by scientists at the Santa Fe Institute used a set of complex mathematical algorithms to demonstrate that the very same urban features that trigger lapses in attention and memory — the crowded streets, the crushing density of people — also correlate with measures of innovation, as strangers interact with one another in unpredictable ways. It is the “concentration of social interactions” that is largely responsible for urban creativity, according to the scientists. The density of 18th-century London may have triggered outbreaks of disease, but it also led to intellectual breakthroughs, just as the density of Cambridge — one of the densest cities in America — contributes to its success as a creative center. One corollary of this research is that less dense urban areas, like Phoenix, may, over time, generate less innovation.

    The key, then, is to find ways to mitigate the psychological damage of the metropolis while still preserving its unique benefits. Kuo, for instance, describes herself as “not a nature person,” but has learned to seek out more natural settings: The woods have become a kind of medicine. As a result, she’s better able to cope with the stresses of city life, while still enjoying its many pleasures and benefits. Because there always comes a time, as Lou Reed once sang, when a person wants to say: “I’m sick of the trees/take me to the city.”

    tags: boston_globe, neuroscience, psychology, nature, brain, jonah_lehrer, urbanization, urban_design

  • Blog post by Chris Keam about a design project called “Homes for Less,” done by students at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design and at the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Advanced Wood. The students had to create homes (compact) that could be built for under $1500. The results were on view on Granville Island (till 11/14/08).

    One thing that strikes me with these microhomes – and the ones built by the Madhousers group – is that they would be claustrophobic (literally) for some of the hardcore homeless. In that regard, the “Stop-Gap housing” proposal by Vancouver architect Henriquez seems better, insofar as his proposed modular homes could be customized to leave one side completely open to nature/ outside. This is preferred by some people, especially those who need a transition period to get back into the idea of living within 4 walls.

    tags: homelessness, affordable_housing, microhomes, ecuad, vancouver

  • This page has a great series of videos explaining some of the projects showcased in the exhibition, “Home Delivery.”

    tags: moma, prefab, housing, manufactured_housing, modular, exhibitions

  • Portal page for a number of outstanding in-progress prefab/ modular housing projects.

    tags: architecture, prefab, modular, housing, manufactured_housing

  • Reading this article, I was again reminded of Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan’s book, Dazzle Gradually, and the Gaia hypothesis. Fascinating to think that the planet is regulating itself – and if it’s a sentient organism as proposed, why wouldn’t it?
    A team of UK scientists have discovered a natural process that could delay, or even end, the threat of global warming.

    The researchers, aboard the Royal Navy’s HMS Endurance, have found that melting icebergs off the coast of Antarctica are releasing millions of tiny particles of iron into the southern Ocean, helping to create huge ‘blooms’ of algae that absorb carbon emissions. The algae then sinks to the icy depths, effectively removing CO2 from the atmosphere for hundreds of years.

    According to lead researcher, Prof. Rob Raiswell of Leeds University, “The Earth itself seems to want to save us.”

    tags: cleantechnica, polar_ice, global_warming, gaia, climate_change

  • Audio slideshow of Archigram:
    “In the early 1960s, the avant-garde architectural group – Archigram – set out to find hypothetical ways of creating alternative buildings and cities for people to live and work in.

    “Their ultra-modern visions drew inspiration from modular technology and early space capsules – as well as the natural environment.”

    tags: bbc, archigram, zaha_hadid, peter_cook, slideshow, britain, 1960s

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Notes: Housing 2.0

January 7, 2009 at 12:02 am | In notes | 7 Comments

I’m finally finishing the article that was due a few days ago – hate being this late. Prompted by what I came across in several articles recently, it’s about housing for people who are homeless. Except I’m looking at this as a “2.0” issue (yes, I know we all have two-dot-oh coming out our ears, or are hearing it as “two-dot-uh-oh,” but…).

A Vancouver architect wants to use companies like Britco and Shelter Industries to churn out the kind of modular housing they usually build for workers up in the Alberta tar sands (which are also in recession, hence the demand for worker housing has receded, hence Britco and Shelter Industries could instead crank out housing for the homeless).

The crux of his idea hinges on speed: it currently takes months if not years to get a social housing project off the ground and into the ground, built. Part of the hang-up has to do with the red tape around permanent housing: try to build anything permanent around here, and you’re tied up at city hall forever.

Modular housing, however, is temporary – the word is in italics, because of course you can apply to renew the temporary permit every 12 months, rinse and repeat as needed.

Point is: modular housing could go up really quickly and actually provide help immediately. It’s not rocket science.

While I was reading about the many variations of modular and mobile and microhousing, I was also thinking about Mark Surman’s A city that thinks like the web, and about other ways in which that two-dot-oh thing has changed engagement, turning people from passive consumers into producers (naturally, Larry Lessig’s TED talk came to mind – if you haven’t seen this, WATCH IT NOW, it’s great).

So then I wondered about learned helplessness, and how we prevent people who are homeless from housing themselves – we make them wait for government action, and we forbid them from constructing their own shelter (largely because they can’t meet the permitting and code requirements). This is kind of the opposite of the two-dot-oh thing that has done so much to revolutionize the way we interact with intangibles. Houses, however, are still mired in …well, in real estate, right? What if houses were tools, instead, the way blogging software is a tool for publishing, or slideshare is a tool for content sharing, or …(fill in the gap with your favorite tool).

Or consider people like Keith Dewey of Zigloo, right here in Victoria, who went past the notion of a traditional house and built his own out of cargo shipping containers in Victoria’s Fernwood neighborhood. Repurposing cargo containers in turn got me thinking about all the other innovators out there. If the change from “houses 1.0” to “houses 2.0” is going to happen, it’ll happen first on the edges, whether with creative innovative individuals, or marginalized groups (people who are homeless). Early adopters for “houses 2.0” are going to be artists and dreamers, or people who can’t afford traditional housing, but who really don’t want to stay mired in learned helplessness, either.

Finally, the creatives aren’t inventing the wheel here. There are historical precedents (there are always historical precedents), but the grooviest, most far-out one was probably Archigram (google it, or see the recent BBC audio slideshow here).

Archigram was ahead of its time, otherwise it would have had the web and mobile technologies, but it didn’t. Archigram proposed ideas like the “DIY Plug-in City,” or villages contained in hovercraft, which would descend on “action points” at certain destinations. As I write in my article, the need for that kind of mobility where the place moves to different locations) doesn’t exist anymore as prerequisite for change or a dynamic, active culture: the internet brings “action points” to you, and we don’t need to move villages (or dream of doing so). But Archigram’s underlying purpose in conceiving of a mutable moveable architecture? Now that’s something that overlaps to a couple of degrees with temporary housing, which in turn overlaps a couple of degrees with unlearning learned helplessness, which in turn overlaps a couple of degrees with mashup culture, which overlaps a couple of degrees with the mobile city, which overlaps a couple of degrees with …a DIY plug-in city.

I have no idea what “houses 2.0” will actually be – I’ll leave predicting the future to others. But somehow I can’t imagine that we don’t have some version of it heading our way.

(For some thoughts from high end architecture – i.e., not necessarily the “houses 2.0” aspect – on the impermanence of architecture, see Asian Designers Are Schooling America. Changes are coming from all angles.)

Daily Diigo Public Link 01/06/2008

January 5, 2008 at 5:39 pm | In links | Comments Off on Daily Diigo Public Link 01/06/2008

The ArchRecord Interview: Sir Peter Cook, Page 1 | Features | Architectural Record

Ex-Archigram group member Peter Cook interview.

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