prss release #19 ,september 9 2008 1/8 h
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land matters: time to forget everything you know? | the dirt the rise and rise of â€˜anti-designâ€™ | spiked the future of shopping malls: an image essay | world changing in the model shop: vincent de rijk | archinect are architecture schools turning into factory farms? | building design apartamento magazine | shift zevs: visual kidnapping | pingmag cities at night: the view from space | earth observatory agro-veillance | pruned working out of the box: gongo szeto, architect-turned-information designer | archinect
illustration | v-annemarie
Brand New Editorial
Today the start-up of an architectural office usually is an accident. At least in the Netherlands. 'Whoops, we won the competition for a 10.000 square meter project, we better hire a lot of people as fast as possible' and before you know it you have a 20 person office to run and clients to manage. Besides that you are responsible to get in new work for the office because those 20 people need to earn a living, and there you are stuck in what you always wanted... right? The unusually young architecture offices in the Netherlands are the result of getting your degree as soon as you graduate (no mandatory 2 years of relevant experience before you get your architecture title in Holland) , and of architecture competitions for young architects (like the europan competition). This is all brilliant because there are many countries where this is simply not possible. But my point is that architects develop beautiful ideas, brilliant concepts but are out of touch with the conditions of practice itself. Practice is the accident that happens to you when you as an ambitious young architect meet post-school reality. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to destroy the protective conditions of academic education, where there is room for experiment, and the harsh reality of practice is postponed. But why do we only learn the raison d'ĂŞtre of the artist, of the cultural intellectual, and not the one that would result in interesting innovative and competitive new forms of architectural practice. Why don't we learn to make besides floor plans, business plans. Why don't we learn to make besides urban development strategies, business strategies. Why aren't we besides discovering the potentials in the constraints of the urban condition, discovering market niches for new forms of architectural practice. What if we would draft a new curriculum for the architect? What if the architect could be instead of artist educated as entrepreneur as well? What if instead of being the middleman between client and building, the architect would be the client or the builder themselves? What if you would graduate with a business plan for an architectural practice that didn't involve a drafting room or model shop? This week the Venice Architecture Biennale opens, in the Dutch pavilion they take 'drafting of a new curriculum for the architect' www.prss-release.org
as a departure point. The destruction of the Architecture Faculty in Delft, inspires like all events of destruction in architecture the ambiguous opportunities to construct novel structures from the ground up. So these are my five cents for summoning the rejuvenating Phoenix of architecture from its ashes. Edwin Gardner
Brand New Trigger Pic
Jesus tries to save your soul but windows stops him... http://gizmodo.com/5043285/jesus-tries-to-save-your-soul-butwindows-stops-him
1. Land Matters: Time to Forget Everything You Know?
about what people really want from their urban spaces? If you have contributed to the design of urban spaces, what has been your biggest surprise regarding what makes them work for people, and what is the most important thing landscape architects can do to help them better design such spaces? The Dirt http://www.asla.org/land/dirt/blog/index. cfm?mode=entry&entry=04AC6034-1422-1874-81F585D4FAA2F968 by J. William “Bill” Thompson, FASLA, on August 27, 2008
2. The rise and rise of 'anti-design'
Does the general public care whether their urban spaces have the elements landscape architects are taught to provide—seating and shade, for example, or plants? What I saw yesterday evening in Silver Spring, Maryland, an older “edge city” bordering Washington, D.C., made me have my doubts. Silver Spring hires landscape architects to design some of its outdoor spaces, and I’d heard that they offer interesting contrasts. I went to see for myself. My first stop was the strangest urban space I have ever seen. To cover up an empty lot in the middle of downtown, the city had plopped down 35,000 square feet of artificial turf three years ago. Local young people have since adopted “the Turf” as a favorite gathering place. Forget everything you ever learned about the elements that are supposed to make places appeal to people—the Turf doesn’t have any of them. Yet last evening, the people were out in force. A young family was enjoying a picnic while a couple tossed a Frisbee, a few boys practiced their soccer moves, and another kid wheeled around on his shiny new bicycle. One couple lay clasped in a warm embrace. Most, however, were just sitting around on the Turf in small groups, talking up a storm. What’s the attraction of a flat expanse of fuzzy green plastic? Part of it may be that it’s totally unprogrammed: It’s a “blank slate” that users can adapt to their own whims. Importantly, fast food is available just across the street. But if someone can just plop down some artificial turf and attract the public in droves, who needs the skills of a landscape architect? Just a short walk away, a midblock plaza offered a sharp contrast (see “Beauty and the Turf,” page 78). Designed by local landscape architects, it had everything—chairs and walls to sit on, colorful tile mosaics, shade trees, and a spritzing fountain. Last evening, the place was packed with people, all of whom appeared to be enjoying themselves, with kids cavorting in the fountain seeming to have the most fun of all. Granted, tonight was no ordinary night at the plaza: The city had set up a stage and programmed a hot Latin band that made quite a few of us want to get up and dance. Most of Silver Spring had apparently turned out for it, and the plaza was absolutely seething with urban exuberance. Here’s the surprise: Most nights, our LAM reporter found that the welldesigned plaza was no better attended than the Turf. How do you explain that? A little farther on was another contrast: the corporate headquarters of the Discovery Channel. Its outdoor spaces, designed by a large landscape architecture firm, were in the high-end corporate garden mold, tastefully designed with plenty of seating and lush plantings. Yet last evening they were almost deserted. “Let the people decide what makes a good urban space,” I’ve always said. But, if the public is choosing the scruffy Turf over the elegant Discovery Channel gardens, what does that tell landscape architects
Designers who focus on producing only meek and sustainable things are denying their own creativity and impact on the world. Philippe Starck is possibly the world’s most famous designer. He has put a sense of style and fun into many people’s lives, furnishing their homes, offices and public spaces with his trademark French flair. He has made millions by doing everything from designing lemon squeezers to styling airport lounges. But Starck has said enough is enough. In March this year, he told the German magazine Die Zeit that everything he did was ‘unnecessary’. For Starck, ‘design is dead’ (1). Shocking stuff. Is this another outburst from a well-known and impetuous maverick? Perhaps. But it is also clear that Starck has become a convert to green design, turning his back on his past ‘unnecessary’ misdemeanours. All is not lost, however - or so it seems. Next year, Starck is launching the first of his new ideas: a wind turbine for homes costing just £400, which he claims will produce 60 per cent of the power needed for heating and lighting. He is intent on making green ‘sexy’. He is also going to produce a variety of other products such as electric cars, solar- and hydrogen-powered boats, and a solar-panel film that sticks on windows (2). Starck is the latest prominent designer to bolster the ranks of a growing green design bandwagon. No doubt he is also partly responding to pressure from critics who blame design for an avalanche of consumer waste which is, in their view, draining the world’s resources and filling up landfill with unnecessary crap. Paradoxically, many people who are privileged enough to be able to buy Starck’s stuff seem as willing as ever to buy it. The reason is simple: Starck surpasses many other designers’ talents by turning seemingly inane, mundane objects into desirable, beautiful things that many of us want and take great pleasure from. Yes, we could all do with less badly designed crap in our lives. But when someone like Starck comes along and turns the mundane into the beautiful, that’s a good thing. Likewise, there is, of course, nothing wrong with Starck making wind turbines sexy (although his claims about the amount of energy his turbines will produce seem over-the-top), or his desire to tap into a growing ‘green’ market. After all, designers, together with engineers and scientists, are capable of producing hybrid-cars, low-energy appliances and products that use less resources. These are all useful and innovative examples of saving energy, which is generally a good thing. However, what underpins the general shift towards green design is a widespread sense of guilt and self-doubt felt by many designers about blighting the world with too much stuff. The paradox is that the big idea they turn to for salvation - environmentalism - means that rather than endeavouring to produce something new to solve the problem, one that makes use of the best possible processes, ideas and resources, designers will attempt to regain a sense of purpose and credibility by preaching to the rest of us to lower our horizons. Indeed, calls to ‘cut back’ seem to be loudest from within the design community. Take A Manifesto for Sustainability, published earlier
this year on the popular America Core77 design website (3). Its author, Allan Chochinov, didn’t pull his punches on the design profession. Taking the doctor’s Hippocratic Oath as his starting point for design, his manifesto insists that designers, like doctors, should ‘Do no harm’. The manifesto continues by suggesting that design is a modernday plague. Under the heading of ‘Stop making crap’, the manifesto argues that we are all ‘suffocating, drowning, and poisoning ourselves with the stuff we produce’, all because of the designer. Chochinov’s manifesto is only the tip of the iceberg in this anti-design outlook. The UK’s Design Council is also pinning its colours firmly to the mast of green design. Instead of a forthright manifesto, it has just announced a three-year national strategy for design that - surprise, surprise - is built upon sustainable design, reaching the same conclusion as Chochinov’s manifesto. In its sparsely worded pamphlet (surely an anathema to green design?), the Design Council says: ‘Good design is sustainable design. It results in objects, systems or services that work aesthetically, functionally and commercially, improving people’s lives and making the smallest possible impact on the planet.’ (4) [My italics.] Hang on. Isn’t design always about making an impact? Not according to the green-design movement, or the ‘design deniers’ who argue for placing limits on human ingenuity and creativity. Put bluntly, they want less of it, not more. Of course, there is no ignoring climate change. While the science, causes and effects are by no means given (as discussed many times on spiked), placing limits on ingenuity will itself deny us imaginative and mature solutions. The greening of design will only contribute to more climate change panic if our hands are tied in finding the best means to deal with a warming world. The greening of design, as epitomised by the likes of Starck and others, preaches to the rest of us on how to live differently. In practical terms, this means choosing sustainable or ethically acceptable design practices over those that are capable of making more of an impact using the best, newest and most innovative materials and resources. Sometimes things are produced that are both innovative and green even though they didn’t start out that way. But in many other cases, ideas are more likely to be dismissed out of hand if they don’t fit into the environmental outlook. And amongst all the debate about limits, there is something else under attack, something distinctively human that is tied up with the idea of the designer: the degradation of objectivity. This is something the designer must treasure over all of his pencils, computers and skills. The designer should, wherever possible, stand firm and assess problems without prejudice, unlike the client or end-user, who are often too bound up in the problem to notice a way out. By remaining steadfastly objective, the designer is able to offer the best guarantee of being able to come up with the right answer: hopefully something that is either novel, surprising or compelling. Okay, these opportunities don’t always arise. Clients often get annoyed if you attempt to do something different, or not what they originally wanted. But every so often, moments do arise which push the boundaries a bit further, or if you are lucky, by a long way. That’s called innovation. And when it occurs, it must be seized upon. However, the greening of design ‘thinking’ only seeks the opposite effect: the deliberate curtailment of that freedom to think. The designer makes a virtue out of doing less and thinking small. This is ‘anti-design’. Holding back ideas inevitably means crap solutions. And that affects us all. Take the recently established American Designers Accord movement. This movement is all about re-educating clients to adopt a sustainable, do-no-harm approach to design. It is hell-bent on educating the world on the merits of sustainable design. Already boasting 15,000 designer members worldwide, its aim is simple: members must re-educate clients on alternative design practice that is green and sustainable. In practice, this means using alternative processes, materials and expertise that minimise any environmental impact. As its website says: ‘Rework client contracts to favour environmentally responsible design and work processes. Provide strategic and
material alternatives for sustainable design.’ (5) This is no minor movement either. Two of America’s largest design organisations, the American Institute for Graphic Arts (AIGA) and the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), signed up in January. Next month in the UK, we will be getting more of the same. Green design will be a major theme at September’s London Design Festival. A series of events, masterclasses and ideas are being packaged up into ‘Greengaged’, which will showcase green design and bring together leading thinkers, practitioners, clients and policymakers to ‘focus the design industry on the urgent problem of climate change and start one big conversation’ (6). And, we are told, at the end of the festival the Design Council wants to draw up its own ‘green manifesto’. The greening of design seems almost inevitable. The guilt designers express about design will drive them to spend more effort in trying to regain credibility and worthiness. While green design appears to be about being relevant to the world’s problems, it can also end up avoiding tackling problems with sensible, mature answers. Instead what we get is green posturing. Starck’s wind turbine ticks all the right ‘green boxes’ and may well become a best seller - but it is no answer to energy production. It creates the illusion that the energy problem is one of consumption, not of production. We need bigger, better and dependable power stations (including nuclear ones), not small home generators. Starck’s green worthiness only helps obscure the problem and does design a disservice. Let the government, politicians and policymakers take the flak for the consequences of design, while leaving the designer with the job of recreating the world around us. The designer, while living in the real world, cannot be constrained by it, because it’s his or her job to make it better. (1) Philippe Starck tells magazine design is dead, Breitbart, 27 March 2008 (2) Philippe Starck turbine creates green juice for homes, The Times (London), 10 August 2008 (3) 1000 Words: A Manifesto for Sustainability in Design, Core77 (4) The Good Design Plan, Design Council, 1 July 2008 (5) Designers’ Accord, February 2008 (6) London design festival goes sustainable, Design Week, 13 August 2008 Spiked http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/5604/ by Martyn Perks on August 21, 2008
3. The Future of Shopping Malls: An Image Essay Mall culture in the United States -- at least as we know it -- is coming to an end. Last month, the fall of Steve & Barry's became the next addition to a series of recent retailer bankruptcies we've been witnessing across the nation. This trend is likely to continue, as the U.S. economic downturn causes people to reduce their trips to stores and to shop less, forcing more shops to close and leaving malls deserted.
According to an article that ran in The Economist at the end of
In the past half century ... [malls] have transformed shopping habits, urban economies and teenage speech. America now has some 1,100 enclosed shopping malls, according to the International Council of Shopping Centres. Clones have appeared from Chennai to Martinique. Yet the mall's story is far from triumphal. Invented by a European socialist who hated cars and came to deride his own creation, it has a murky future. While malls continue to multiply outside America, they are gradually dying in the country that pioneered them. Deadmalls, a site dedicated to these failing malls, tracks closings and developments, and even allows you to locate malls that are dying in your own town. Around Seattle, casualties include the Blue Mountain Mall, Totem Lake Mall, Factoria and Everett (Crossroads was once pronounced dead, but has been revived.) As malls across the country start to fade into obsolescence, what is to become of these massive structures? After spending some time searching out the most creative alternatives to abandonment and massive landfilling of these former monuments to chain-store consumerism, I've found that the future of shopping malls is hopeful and creative: The Factoria Mall in Bellevue is currently losing many stores, but redevelopment will begin soon in the hopes of creating a more useful, long-term multipurpose community space. The new Marketplace @ Factoria will still house retailers, but the redesign will add pedestrian walkways, outdoor dining, and even residential units.
Residential Plaza (Credit: Kimco Redevelopment Group) Factoria is one of a number of older malls being redesigned as mixed-use centers that include housing as a main feature. The development group General Growth Properties (not associated with Factoria) has become a leader in mall renovation, re-imagining them as town centers to reflect their awareness of "changing living patterns and widespread opposition to sprawl," according to an article in New Urban News. The article continues, describing one renovation of a mall in Columbia, Md.: The tactics would include walkways and streets connecting the mall to Columbia Town Center’s lakefront district, which abut one another but have never been connected from a pedestrian point of view…. Other sides of the mall would have their own connections to streetscapes.” Parking lots would be replaced by structured parking. Residential, office, and retail space would be added. A hotel may be built, too. The Howard County government had Design Collective, a new urbanist firm in Baltimore, devise a 30-year plan through a public charrette process. My belief is that this is going to be a long-term trend extending over at least the next twenty years, so much so that people will become as familiar with a mall conversion protocol as they are with a prototypical new urbanist residential neighborhood…. It will start out slow as people learn the new ‘formulas’ and pick up speed once they have got them down. We are paying close attention to the quality of the buildings and to the quality of the spaces between the buildings,"
The Factoria mall today. (Credit: Brian Lutz)
Rendering of planned Pedestrian Plaza (Credit: Kimco Redevelopment Group)
These mixed-use centers reflect the principles of New Urbanism, a movement that formed as a reaction to sprawl. New Urbanists promote the creation of human-scale, walkable communities with reduced reliance on parking lots, emphasized access to public transit, and public spaces designed to invite and benefit the community. At the Rochester
Hills Mall, pictured below, a central commons area acts as a meeting point and playground, and a spot to host festivals throughout the year.
Credit: Julia Christensen In some instances however, abandoned malls aren't able to be redeveloped. Whether it is caused by new owners or existing poor construction, some must be demolished. Here in the Northwest, most materials get recycled. An alternative -- and still resourceful -- solution is deconstruction.
The non-profit group Congress for New Urbanism summarized their experience with six case studies in the document "Malls to Main Streets", intended as a manual for developers, planners and community leaders facing the issue of abandoned malls. This group claims that when a project is done correctly, the mixed-use redevelopment can actually relieve traffic, help reduce pollution and provide residents with a downtown. CNU insists that redeveloping malls, can reverse the process of urban sprawl. Malls, surrounded by parking lots and located far from residential neighborhoods, once encouraged the expansion of car culture. Now these greyfields present the opportunity to revive neighborhoods in suburbs around a central location. The challenge is to find an appropriate solution for each unique situation. More ideas for what's to become of the malls and suburbia were expressed in an art show entitled "Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes". Architects along with artists submitted realistic proposals ranging from indoor beer gardens to drive-in theaters in the parking lots. And the opportunity to revive the suburbs isn't limited to shopping malls alone. Another creative idea: turn the inside spaces of cloverleaf on-off ramps into pocket parks. Big box retailers can become a healthier part of the community with proper planning. Colleges, churches and even a Spam museum have all found their way into abandoned buildings. Julia Christensen has documented big box reuse and how it can accommodate different communities in various ways.
Credit: Heather Beal For No Name Exhibitions in Minneapolis, this was the perfect solution to create their multi-use center for the arts. A total of $85,000 worth of material, including Italian marble tile, wrought iron benches and mop sinks, was salvaged from a luxury shopping center that was to be torn down. No Name used the materials to renovate a 19th century former soap factory to create the Soap Factory. Any materials not used for the art center were donated.
Credit: Heather Beal Credit: Walker Art
Whether an interior renovation, a community redevelopment or reconstruction happens to an abandoned mall, outcomes target the needs of the community. Instead of viewing these boxes as dead wastelands, we can imagine the various possibilities in which they can be transformed to become new cultural centers.
WorldChanging http://www.worldchanging.com/local/seattle/archives/008250.html by Morgan Greenseth on August 7, 2008
4. In the Modelshop: Vincent de Rijk Vincent de Rijk is perhaps one of the most well known architectural model makers in Europe. He graduated from the Design Academy Eindhoven, with an industrial design degree. His proximity to the architectural scene in Rotterdam, at around the time when now-famous firms were emerging, has resulted in a multitude of rich collaborations that continue to this day.
VDR: Yes, more or less, because in my workshop, I always was trying to develop my own techniques, and casting of resin was one of them, also plaster casting, (mostly casting processes). Processes that are more suitable for the workshop rather than industry. So I had experimented with these processes, and the nice thing was that it didn't make any difference whether you made a bowl or a model in the end - it's the same way of thinking with those techniques. That's also what Rem (Koolhaas) saw in the beginning. He saw the bowls we were making with the resin, and he said you should use those techniques for model making. It was not directly his idea, but he also saw the connection...
Vincent has developed techniques of model making dealing with plastics, specifically the casting of polyester in which he is the foremost expert. His education and practical skills along with a keen understanding of the aims and ambitions of architects have made him a sought-after, and coveted partner on all important competitions and commissions throughout Europe & North America.
De Rijk with a multi-piece epoxy mould for casting a very complex polyurethane chaise longue.
Tomek Bartczak: One of the first stories that I heard about you was from Barendt Koolhaas. He told me that you were involved in a model airplane club and you were the youngest member by a few years. So I guess model-making has been an interest of yours for a while now? Vincent De Rijk: Yes, but always by accident more or less. When I was young, I had some classmates and they were into this airplane building, and then I saw that and said that's nice and I want to go to that model-making club! I was ten years old, and you had to be twelve to enter. It was not that I was especially talented. The nice thing was (looking back on it) that I was already into production more or less and made a whole squadron of Spitfires instead of one Spitfire and then another model. TB: Yes, Barendt mentioned that also. He said that people were really confused by that. Did you always know you wanted to make architecture models? VDR: Architecture models just came naturally when we moved to Rotterdam. We were starting up our own workshop with a group, and basically you always need some work on the side when you're starting out, so that's how it happened. Franz (Parthesius), my friend and colleague, who is now a photographer, was more in contact with the architects. They were people that he knew, and we started helping them out with competition work - virtually unpaid in the beginning. TB: Do you see a lot of cross-over with your work, between industrial design and model-making? Figuring out processes for one and then applying it to the other where possible?
Polyester model with metal mesh and scale people cast within. TB: That leads into my next question: how do you approach a model job? How do you visualize the finished project? You once told me that you don't want to know too much about the building project, what it's about, or what the philosophy of the design is. Can you elaborate on that? VDR: Well, I'm only concerned with the main features. There's a whole team of architects that know everything about the building, and they'll make sure that whatever is important will be in the drawings, and in the description they give me. For me, it's important to find the simplicity in the project and to find what the main characteristic or feature is...something that you can take away from it. Rem is also able to do that in his descriptions. If he talks about a building, he can make a really simple description about it... and that's what a model should do. Knowing too much background information makes it confusing. It should be an object. That's what I always try to make. Of course it's a representation of a building, but it's also a
representation of an idea. TB: Have you found that during the process of model making, the model itself has influenced the architect to change the design in some way? VDR: That's a question that always comes up and it's of course true, but it's also logical. Everything during the process influences the design. Every meeting, every conversation, every drawing. So I don't see that as something special that you add. But it's also tricky because with the model, it's usually hard to see anything consistent anytime before it's finished, and that's when the architect starts to react on it...and it's usually already too late. But Rem is good at that. He can find the right moment to see what can be changed. TB: I remember this one story that I thought was quite interesting that you could perhaps re-tell: Regarding the Easter weekend and the Zeebrugge Sea Terminal competition, where you actually had a big hand in the initial concept of the building. VDR: Yeah, it's hard to remember it exactly right. There were drawings of these round towers, and there was the concept for a sea terminal in Zeebrugge, and it was a very short deadline. I think they did everything in one week or so. It was a strong concept, Xavier de Geyter was involved and he had all kinds of references, it could be an octopus with tentacles, or it could be a radar sphere that you could find on marine boats. He had a whole list of references of what it could be. Actually in the end, it was a little bit of everything - which was nice. At that time, when he came in to the workshop, they hadn't made a shape, they just had these ideas. When he called me to make shapes for it (of course a round shape was already in the range of ideas), but I made it a complete egg in the beginning because it was Easter Sunday of course. Xavier laughed really hard when he saw it, and in the end, it was not changed much.
100% industrial, but almost more craft-based techniques. Polyester fits very well in that range. It's not directly a nice material to work with, but it has a lot of potential, ways to make variations in the techniques to give different colours and transparencies.
OMA proposal for Dubai. scale 1:200.
Kuwait Master plan. pictured (left to right) Andrea Bertasi, VDR, Daniele de Benedictis, Pirjo Haikola, Tomas Libertiny, Tjimtje.
The mess associated with dealing with polyester. TB: That's a really fantastic story. Let's move on to some more specific questions now: How do you go about choosing materials for a particular project? Is it based on an effect you want to achieve? VDR: It has a lot to do with scale of course. There's one important scale issue: can you make it a solid model or will it be an open model? I usually prefer the solid model where you can make everything in one block with inserts and floors glued in. Then the materials are usually casting materials. Transparent materials or plaster. And that depends on the level of abstraction also. Usually I try to avoid the more conventional materials that most model makers use like wood and sheets and plastic materials. But there's not really a specific preference. TB: What made you initially interested in polyester as a medium for your work? VDR: Because polyester resin casting is really a workshop process, and ever since I was in school, I was looking for things that were not
TB: I would say that you have a very particular style of model making. If I were to see a model for the first time somewhere, I would know right away this is a Vincent de Rijk model. Can you speak a little about how you developed this style? VDR: If you make a drawing, there's two ways of doing it. The technical way, to make sure everything is visible and clear. Or to make something more like a sketch that gives the overall idea. Less detail and more the overall atmosphere - that's also the way to approach the model. I am almost convinced that people who are not able to make a nice sketch, or draw, cannot come up with a nice model. Maybe technically they can, but not as an image. TB: Your workshop is a very conventional type of workshop with drills and power tools. What kind of specialized equipment do you have? VDR: Well, I have the stationary milling machine. It was one of the first machines that we bought, because in combination with polyester, we needed to make sharp blocks and cut-outs. Later we added the computer controlled milling machine. Every tool is still basic. There's not much specialty tools. In the beginning, we almost used only hand electrical tools. We still have a lot of those. It's not so much about equipment I think. But the computerized milling machines are of course now more important, there's also the direct link with the drawing.
Pirjo operating the CNC routing machine, aluminium being cut with the aid of lubricant. TB: But even with those sophisticated machines, you've stayed quite basic. If you look at the machines, the software that controls them is the most simple, low-tech software available on the market; whereas there are other products that are more complicated and have more advanced features. Can you comment on why you've stayed with something so basic? VDR: I'm not sure, but by the instruction of your computer, everything gets more literally linked to what the architect draws. So the parts that come out, are almost exactly like the drawings. And that's what I would most like to avoid. That's why I don't want to have fancy software. It's more about the combination of materials. It's more about thinking in blocks than plates. So I don't really feel the necessity of 3D software. It's basically only for landscapes. And you really limit the types of materials you can use. The nice thing now is that we can use polyester, wood, metals, and even plaster. To keep this sketchy idea as much as possible. TB: When I was working for you, you stressed time, and time again that we have to re-draw the building at model scale when we get the drawings from the architect. As architects, we're trained to always think about the building at full scale: 1:1. Do you see the building as a model first and foremost? VDR: Yes. That's important. When you draw out a project in model scale, you start to think about the right dimensions for the materials. If you think about the materials that you can use, it's never accurate to the one-to-one scale because usually the materials are too thick and you have to somehow try to find a way to deal with it. You can only do that in model-scale. Also, I think in model-scale to avoid the problem of zooming in too much. Even last week, as an example, people came with a drawing, and I had to cut out some 2-D people at a special scale. At the computer, they were worrying about the smallest detail, and I was telling them about the smallest mill bit that we could use (and they were worried about loss of detail). But when you see the result, you realise there's no problem at all. I mean, you can't see the nose of a person at 1:100 scale! It's only this big! It's a really hard thing to get out of your system if it's not drawn and printed in the right scale. Maybe it's also a generation thing. I never worked with computers when I was starting to design, so everything that you drew, you drew one-to-one. The drawing is a physical thing. You see that also with Rem, he never comments on things he sees on the screen; only on prints, only on things that have a certain size. Size, scale are so important in architecture. TB: We've talked about this briefly earlier, but what do you see as being your specialty in the model-making world? What keeps OMA, MVRDV, and others coming to make their most important models with you? VDR: I don't know...I think it's a matter of what they're used to. We have a long term relationship and I know their method of working
quite well - especially the hectic nature surrounding it. I'm not behaving directly like a model maker in the process. I know that the architect needs open points in the process and cannot give me any fixed information...it's always half fixed. But still within this process, you have to find starting points - and that is the hard part. Even if they're not ready with the design, you have to give them some model information. It could be made like this or it could be made like that. Then they can make choices already. I think that's what the standard way of making a model is: wait until you get all the drawings and then start. That's what these architects cannot do....and that's what I try to incorporate into the process. Since I've been working with them a long time already, we have developed a system of finding a way to deal with those problems, which most modelmakers cannot deal with. So it's not so much that the model itself is so special, it's more the process behind the model...to be able to deal with the process of model-making.
REX Architecture's Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, Dallas, TX. model 1:50. TB: Are you exploring any new techniques at the moment or are you focusing on developing existing ideas? VDR: For me, I cannot really think of new techniques, I think it has never been that way. The techniques are always there and it's what you do with them that makes a model interesting. TB: What still excites you about model-making? VDR: The opportunity to build a nice object. And that it's always a challenge. You never know how well things will turn out. If you're into more than sketch models, potentially to make lasting piece, presentation models. They are things that are collected. I feel that I can really be a part of that group...part of a team that produces these special objects. Architecture is still not my specialty at all, but I really respect the way these offices work. And the way they keep things open. Usually there's quite an open minded system to create something really special. That atmosphere I like a lot. Within that process, I feel there's some role that I can play, that makes it always exciting - it's never predictable. You never know what comes out. TB: Last question: What does the future hold for you? Do you see yourself making models for the next period of time, or do you see yourself transitioning more towards your own products and designs? VDR: In the near future, I think it will be less about models and more about products and also developing the workshop techniques a little bit further. But at the same time, I also feel very connected to the offices in Rotterdam such as OMA and MVRDV, so perhaps I'll do a few models per year - it would be nice.
The uniform teaching programme of many schools will create “tasteless chickens”, says Tim Ronalds; while Richard Hayward argues that schools remain almost entirely free-range. 'Yes' - Tim Ronalds, Director, Tim Ronalds Architects
De Rijk and Michele Bruni working on model of REX Architecture's Museum Plaza, Louisville, KY. scale 1:500.
De Rijk and Rem Koolhaas discussing OMA proposal for La Defense Competition. TB: OK, I guess that concludes the interview. Thanks very much for taking the time to do this Vincent. VDR: No problem. It was nice. Tomek Bartczak is a M.Arch candidate in his final year at the University of Toronto. He worked in Vincent's modelshop in 2006-07. Photographs are by Hans Werlemann and Franz Parthesius. Special thanks to Evan Saskin and Lukasz Kos. Archinect http://archinect.com/features/article.php?id=78095_0_23_0_M by Tomek Bartczak on September 2, 2008
5. Are architecture schools turning into factory farms?
Working as an external examiner at schools of architecture in recent years, I have been struck by the scale and uniformity of many of the teaching programmes. One sees year groups of 100 or 120 students all doing the same project on the same site — for a cheese factory, or an antiquarian archive, or nursery school. The effect of this on students, teachers and the creative and intellectual life of architecture schools is worrying. The idea of crits that go on for days, of teaching that must consist of endlessly repeated tutorials, and the distinctly limited range of conversation that must result, is appalling. This is factory farming and no matter how well designed the diet, compared with exploring in the open, sceptical air is likely to produce tasteless chicken. Why is this happening? Schools of architecture have been growing steadily over the past decade. There are now a third more students in each year than there were five years ago. But architecture has been downgraded in funding terms to a category C course and gets less per head than it used to. So schools are effectively teaching more students with fewer teachers. The demands from the RIBA, Arb, university quality assurance procedures, and more consumerist students for more prescriptive curriculums have made it worse. The early years of architecture education are formative. A student’s enthusiasm and creativity need to be inspired by passionate teaching. Teaching en masse is no way to nurture it. 'No' - Richard Hayward, Head of school, University of Greenwich Schools are almost entirely free-range. In our school, we sustain most species of the design and built environment population, and while they browse their particular (brain) food, together they discourse on the future of the planet and practices for designing, making and using buildings, landscapes and cultural artefacts. Student diversity is greater than ever in terms of ethnicity, culture, and social background. Our part-time students outnumber fulltime, bringing richness to the critique between practice and education. There is some prescription in the form of the Arb/RIBA curriculum, driving many onto the dark perch of compliance projects, and inhibiting real learning. But the Standing Conference of Heads of Schools of Architecture (Schosa) should forget about abandoning part I, and instead lobby to separate education from exams to enter the profession, as in the US. The downside of the US approach is that it may reduce the number and diversity of students who benefit from project and tutorial-based undergraduate courses, which are expensive for universities. Schools may see little to be gained from offering courses with no professional validation attached. If there are factory farms still, the profession has itself to blame. The involvement of architect examiners and visiting board members, and the relationship of the RIBA to Arb all influence schools. This influence can be encouraging, but is often preoccupied with the pre-packaged, oven-ready product. Building Design http://www.bdonline.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=3121776 by these two people on September 5, 2008
6. Apartamento magazine
Apartamento is not that kind of magazine that tells you what furniture you should buy or how you should decorate your flat. It’s quite the other way around: this Spanish-Italian venture is all about having a glimpse at how people organise their daily environment. Voyeurism or admiration? The point is that it’s a real pleasure to browse through living rooms or bed rooms of American polymath Mike Mills, of the Editor-inchief of Purple Journal, Elein Fleiss, of the British indie-band Mystery Jets and many more. There are common aspects: since all the houses are of people involved in creative jobs, who tend to live in bigger cities, places are tiny and densely packed with stored information in form of books or pictures but the styles and the moods are very different. But the portrayal of other people's life spaces is not the only raison d’etre of Apartamento, that seems to be a good platform also for special projects like Annette Merrild’s featured in the first issue and many more other things: let’s discover them with the Milan based Associate Editor Marco Velardi.
Who are the people behind Apartamento? Apartamento was the brainchild of Nacho Alegre, Omar Sosa and Albert Folch. They have been knowing each other for a long while, living in the same city Barcelona. They realized there was no magazine as such following closely interiors and people’s lifestyle as they wanted to see it portrayed, therefore the only way was to do it themselves. Both Albert and Omar worked for Albert’s own design studio, specialized in publishing and with the experience of art direction for magazines like Fanzine137, Metal, Kilimanjaro. Nacho is a young emerging photographer, who has been gaining a lot of recognition in the fashion, music and magazine scene, but originally began working with photography thanks to the Swiss furniture maker Vitra, being commissioned images for one
of their beautiful annual Home Collection catalogue. Nacho has been a friend of mine, a multitasking freelance writer and curator living in Milan, for a while thanks to mutual connections, when Nacho met me again in Spring 2007 asking to collaborate and write for Apartamento, the magazine wasn’t even planned.. There was an idea up in the air, which then began to grow and define itself as more concrete project, which was then put together in the last 6 months mounting to the presentation in Milan last April during I Saloni.
Could you please explain the concept of the magazine? Apartamento is an independent magazine, born out of the will to establish a connection with its readers by portraying interiors, furniture, design, architecture as a mean of personal expression... in a way that is close to the feelings and aesthetics of many new generations, either if you are 18 and just moved out of your parent’s house or you are 45 and thinking of redoing your apartment from scratch. Apartamento is dedicated to the concept of Home and Interiors, comprehending all that makes the place where you live yours: furniture, interior design, books, food, music, architecture, art, gardening... People tend to try and affirm their personal taste more than ever nowadays, and express it in many ways: by the way they talk, the way they dress, the things they do... Apartamento is there to capture the moment in life you start living in your own home and you want it to reflect your own personality. Apartamento will show homes of young, both established and emerging, creative people from all over the world, like it has never done before, filling a gap for style and aesthetically hungry readers, bored with the usual masks and clique imposed by most magazines in the field. We will not show tidy interiors because they don’t exist outside your mum’s imagination. We want to show how people arrange their homes and the solutions they find to the same problems you have.
How did you launch the first issue? Did you have good feedbacks so far? The first issue was presented in Milan, on April 17, at Spotti, one of the leading interiors showrooms in Milan. Apartamento invited to-Kit, a duo of Milanese girls, Anna Clerici e Silvia Orlandi, to present their brand new project about visual everyday life aesthetics seen and portrayed through interiors. Apartamento thinks it’s important to foster new talents and push new ideas into the game of design and interiors. Feedbacks have been really positive, from designer Martino Gamper himself (present in issue 1 with a special magazine inside the magazine and a postcard that complete his 100 chair catalogue, the 100th chair is finally revelead..!!) , to designer Konstantin Grcic whom we hope to collaborate in the near future.
A "Liquidated MC Donald" logo by French street artist ZEVS. From 2006. Courtesy of Art Statements. Visual Kidnapping… what was that again? French street artist ZEVS — yes, the one from the documentary the week before — now also has a home in the art world and had his first exhibition in Asia: Postcapitalism Kidnapping at Hong Kong-based gallery Art Statements, documenting how ZEVS cleverly distorts the logos of big brands. For PingMag, he explains their visual power. Do you remember the very first time you tagged as a kid in Paris? I did my first pieces in Paris in the early ’90s. In the beginning along the abandoned railway tracks, the streets and the “Hall of Fame” of graffiti artists of the 20th arrondissement in the east of Paris.
What are you working on at the moment? Issue 2 and the launch for it… coming this fall on the other side of the pond.. but can’t tell you more right now. Also, please write us if you can’t find the magazine in your city or local bookstore.. we are getting there but the system is slow.. so don’t be afraid to drop us an email, or propose ideas.. Shift http://www.shift.jp.org/en/archives/2008/05/apartamento_magazine. html by Francesco Tenaglia in August, 2008
7. ZEVS: Visual Kidnapping
“Liquidated Logo Chanel.” From 2008. Courtesy Galerie Patricia Dorfmann.
How did it feel? I remember very well the first time I saw one of my graffiti after coming back from having made a tour of the subway line. It was wonderful, felt like a boomerang! At the time tags were all over the city, it was bombed, and it was very difficult to be visible in other ways than tags. So I got the idea of creating a logo that made sense with my name. That’s when I started painting the cloud with the lightning exactly like a throw-up — inflated lettering that lies between the tag and piece — all over Paris. Weren’t you frightened of the police? Of course, but the danger is also part of the pleasure. The first time I was arrested, I returned to the different spots to clean my tags and remove any evidence; a good solution to not pay the fines and end up in jail. From this came the idea of Proper Graffiti, which I am exploring now: When I write on a dirty wall with a high pressure jet, I turn the common idea about graffiti upside down. Not only is my graffiti seen as clean, but the wall is also seen as dirty. Nice! What about your name? In 1992 I barely avoided being hit by a subway train while I was doing some graffiti in a tunnel in Paris. The ID name of that train was ZEUS. It really marked me, as it was printed on my consciousness. So I reversed the situation to my advantage, took this name and made it my identity.
“Visual Kidnapping,” Berlin 2002. The cut-out LAVAZZA model on the billboard right at Alexanderplatz. When you see an ad, do you plan beforehand how to ‘kidnap’ it — or does it happen spontaneously? It is rarely spontaneous. There is a precise time for each art crime. Exciting! Then, how would you characterise the drippings below the logos you painted to give it a graffiti-like appearance, are they works of art in their own right? Of course, there is a graffiti aesthetic to my art but I primarily play with the visual effect. I use the original colours and re-paint the logo with excess. By pouring paint over them, the logo dissolves in front of the viewer’s eyes, drawing attention to, and visually disturbing the recognisable and omnipresent trademark. By doing so, I try to investigate the logo’s visual power. It’s a simple gesture, just as in Aikido when you reverse the power and change the flow of energy.
Louis Vuitton… elegantly dripping. Courtesy of Art Statements. You coined the term visual kidnapping. What does that mean? Visual kidnapping is like entering an interactive game: If the brand on the billboard kidnaps the attention of the public with the purpose of consumer demand, I reverse the situation and I kidnap the model on the poster and I demand a ransom of 500,000€ from the brand. This sum represents the symbolic price of an advertising campaign for the brand. There must be a story to it… A night of the summer of 2001, during an exhibition about Hitchcock and art, I made a visual attack on the huge Hitchcock poster that was on the front of the building. I climbed the facade from the backside and cut a little hole with my scalpel in the face of Alfred Hitchcock to make a flow of red ink. The guards surprised me and I fled at full speed by the fire escape. Fortunately, my friend the artist André was waiting below with his scooter. The Pompidou Art Centre was the only establishment to keep a “visual attack” that I had done; they kept it up for the duration of the Hitchcock exhibit.
And the same cut-out model of the ad, as shown in an installation for “Show Room #3, Imposture légitime” in 2004. Courtesy Galerie Patricia Dorfmann. Connected to that: It’s been eight years since Naomi Klein criticised big brands’ activities in her book No Logo. Would you see yourself in a similar context, coming from the visual side? In fact my approach is not guided by a political project. It is rather the visual aspect of the landscape of our cities that interests me. Because of my experience with graffiti, I’m interested in advertising, signs and slogans, everyday objects, lighting in public spaces. I work freely in
the city to form my ideas and the political side naturally becomes part of my work. My ideas are not extreme like anti-advertising or anti antiadvertising!
“Urban Shadows — Feux de signalisation, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, Paris 2000.” and “Sculpture, place Zeus, Montpellier 2001.” Courtesy Galerie Patricia Dorfmann. You’ve done a Shadow series: What was your idea when you started painting shadows? Due to an optical illusion the white paint enhances the darkness so that even the shadows seem painted. What I found interesting in this approach was to be able to make the shadows of the night visible by outlining them with white road paint and make them last into the day… To give dead objects an outline as the police would draw around dead crime victims, as an analogy? Yes. I like crime code and I play often with this universe.
“Triangle,” ZEVS’s own logo. Courtesy of Art Statements. “WARNING.” Ransom, please! Courtesy of Galerie Patricia Dorfmann. But, in 2002 in Berlin, you did quite an activist action when you cut out the model on a giant Lavazza billboard right at Alexanderplatz and demanded ransom for your “hostage.” Has your attitude towards brands changed since then? I am still interested in the image industry, television and the advertising mechanisms. I enter these systems to understand their use and exploit the loopholes. Always keeping a distance with this world in a way that does not make me burn my wings and fall into this system. True, it’s a thin line… Did the brands change their strategies since 2002? I feel that the brands today are adopting a code of good behaviour. I hope they will not lose their edge.
Lastly, what are you working on at the moment? I just finished editing a 3.33 min film documenting the performance done recently in Hong Kong. It will be on the Art Statements website soon. This month, I’m taking part at a European street art exhibition in connection with “Beautiful Losers” and Festugen festival at Århus Kunstbygning in Denmark. And, where can we spot your mark now on Hong Kong’s streets? Keep an eye out… Most def. Thank you, ZEVS! Hope to see your visual kidnapping in Tokyo too… PingMag http://pingmag.jp/2008/08/11/zevs-visual-kidnapping/ by Verena on August 11, 2008
8. Cities at Night: The View from Space
people visualize the world’s distribution of people and cities. Astronauts circling the Earth have the wonderful vantage point of observing the nighttime Earth from 350-400 kilometers above the surface, taking in whole regions at once. Onboard cameras and a bit of experimentation allow astronauts to take highly detailed images of our cities at night and share them with the rest of us. Looking east from a location southwest of Ireland, an astronaut took this nighttime panorama of population centers in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Image ISS016-E-27034 was taken on February 1, 2008, using a 28 mm lens. To an observer in space, humanity’s footprints on the surface of the Earth are large and varied. They include the regular patterns of irrigated cropland, straight lines of roads and railways running across continents, reservoirs on river systems, and the cement rectangles of ports and seawalls along coastlines. But what about humanity’s signature footprint—cities? By day, cities viewed from space can blend into the countryside, or appear as gray smudges, depending on the style of development and size of the urban area.
Orange sodium vapor lights illuminate the port facilities of Long Beach, California, supporting the round-the-clock operations of one of the world’s busiest commercial cargo ports. Image ISS016-E-27162 was taken on February 4, 2008, using the 400 mm lens, providing superior resolution. But taking pictures in the dark is difficult at best, made even more difficult by the fact that the International Space Station moves more than 7 kilometers per second (15,659 miles per hour) relative to Earth’s surface. With daylight illumination, an onboard camera can be set to take an image with an exposure time of just 1/500 of a second. With the Earth’s surface in darkness, night images of cities require much longer exposure times. As the Space Station (or Space Shuttle) flies over Earth, however, the city the astronaut is trying to photograph will move across the camera’s field of view while the shutter is open—a recipe for blurry images. The longer the exposure, the more motion blurring there will be.
Chicago, Illinois, is home to roughly three million people, but the wider metropolitan area includes nearly 10 million. By day (top), the cementcolored urban center of the city blends almost imperceptibly into the gray-green colors of suburbs and then farmland. By night (lower), the region’s ten million people cannot be missed. ISS007-E-16747 (top) was taken on October 8, 2003, with a 50 mm lens. ISS007-E-16525 (bottom) was taken on October 7, 2003, with a 50 mm lens. At night however, city lights present the space observer spectacular evidence of our existence, our distribution, and our ability to change our environment. A few years ago, NASA and NOAA joined forces to present the first world map of the nighttime Earth using 9 months of data collected by the DMSP (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program) satellite from an altitude of 830 kilometers (1 kilometer is 0.62 miles) above Earth. That “Night Lights” map, widely distributed on the Internet, helped many
Don Pettit built and installed a “barn-door tracker” to enable him to take nighttime photographs from the International Space Station. Astronauts use the tracker to keep a camera steady during long exposures while the station moves above the Earth’s surface. Image ISS006-E-44299 was taken on April 5, 2003.
In late 2002 and early 2003, astronaut Don Pettit, part of International Space Station Expedition 6, spent some time accumulating spare parts from around the space station, and constructed a device called a barn-door tracker. A barn-door tracker is a camera mount commonly used by astronomers and photographers on the ground to capture images of stars and planets in the night sky. The camera is mounted on a hinged platform that can be moved very slowly and precisely (by turning a knob). On the ground, the device allows photographers to compensate for the rotation of the Earth relative to the stars. In space, it allows astronauts to compensate for the movement of the Space Station relative to the Earth below. The careful coordination keeps the targeted city in the same position in the camera’s field of view during the long exposure, even though both the station and Earth’s surface are moving. Pettit’s tracker and nighttime photography techniques produced hundreds of images of cities from around the world that had estimated resolutions (level of detail) of about 60 meters. Since then, a few other crew members have been able to successfully master night photography techniques. In late 2007 through early 2008, Expedition 16 Flight Engineer Dan Tani acquired a number of striking images of cities at night, including some exciting images taken with the longer, 400 mm lens, producing images with an estimated ground resolution of less than 10 meters.
Dan Tani, recently aboard the International Space Station as a member of Expedition 16, extended Don Pettit’s techniques for photographing city lights. He has taken nighttime photographs with a resolution of better than 10 meters (about the length of a bus) using a 400 mm lens. Image ISS016-E-026454 was taken on January 30, 2008. Recently, Don Pettit assembled a sequence of several of the most striking images of city lights at night into an animated “world tour” [high-resolution (126 MB MPEG), web-resolution (39 MB QuickTime)] of cities at night (script). This video, produced entirely by Pettit, takes you on a quick trip comparing cities from different regions, all viewed from the International Space Station. From a geographic perspective, cities at night tell different stories about a region. City lights provide sharp boundaries that delineate the densest concentrations of people, a characteristic that has been used to assess the effect of urbanization on Earth’s ecosystems. The increased detail of city lights available from astronaut photography can help refine urban boundaries defined from satellite data. Transportation corridors and major commercial development, such as ports, shopping centers, and cultural icons—like the Las Vegas strip—jump out of the landscape.
The “Vegas Strip” of casinos and hotels—reputed to be the brightest spot on Earth—stands out in the center of this image due to both its brightness and its diversity of light colors. Image ISS016-E-27168 was taken on February 4, 2008, using the 400 mm lens. In many cities, neighborhoods of different generations can be distinguished by the lighting color and patterns along their streets. In many North American cities, older neighborhoods have less regular street patterns and light green mercury vapor lighting, while newer cities, especially in the western United States, have street patterns aligned to the compass directions and use orange sodium vapor lighting. The major Denver street patterns are rectilinear, aligned north-south and eastwest.
The streets of Denver, Colorado, are aligned with the cardinal directions. Image ISS016-E-26150 was taken on January 31, 2008, with an 85 mm lens. Cities from different regions of the Earth are also identified by differences in their nighttime lights. Japanese cities glow a cooler blue-green than other regions of the world. Newer developments along the shore of Tokyo Bay are characterized by orange sodium vapor lamps, while the majority of the urban area has light green mercury vapor lamps.
Like many Japanese cities, the night lights of Tokyo, Japan, have a blue-green glow that comes from mercury vapor lighting. Image ISS0 16-E-27586 was taken on February 5, 2008. Border cities like Ciudad Juaréz, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas, illustrate different city patterns side-by-side, suggesting cultural influences on the development and growth of cities and infrastructure. Ciudad Juaréz, supports at least 1,300,000 people. On the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, El Paso is marked by the brightly-lit Interstate Highway I-10 that cuts across the city. Although the area of El Paso, with an estimated population of slightly more than 600,000 is roughly on the order of the area of built-up Ciudad Juaréz, the density of settlement evidenced by the distribution of lights, is much less.
the world will change. Individual city footprints will coalesce into ever larger bright blobs. More roads will connect those cities to form an illuminated, lace-like web on the habitable parts of the continents. Nighttime photographs from astronauts on upcoming missions will document these changes, providing dramatic illustrations for the continuing story of humanity’s footprints on the Earth. Earth Observatory http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Study/CitiesAtNight/ by Cindy Evans and Will Stefanov on April 22, 2008
(GIS data on parcels and crop type for a Tuscan vineyard.)
More densely populated Ciudad Juaréz, Mexico, is separated from El Paso, Texas, by the Rio Grande. Image ISS006-E-44123 was taken on April 7, 2003, with an 85 mm lens. The rapid growth in Jiddah and Mecca in Saudi Arabia can be mapped from the lighting patterns, and the road connecting them stands out as a bright string in the surrounding dark desert.
The cities of Jiddah and Mecca, Saudi Arabia, are connected by a welllit pilgrim road. Image ISS016-E-16189 was taken on December 11, 2007, with an 85 mm lens. What’s next? Earth is becoming an urban planet. As more and more people move to cities, and the surrounding rural and suburban areas are increasingly developed, the pattern of lights in cities around
If blanketing UK cities with a thick scopic fog of CCTV cameras weren't enough, the countryside may soon find itself placed under similar heavy surveillance. But this, curiously enough, might be a good thing. As reported by BBC News last month, researchers from technology firm QinetiQ and from Aberystwyth University flew an autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) “over fields in England and Wales to map the nitrogen levels in soil, to determine whether fertiliser applications were needed.”
(Instead of one plane, how about a fleet of tiny ones? Solar powered mini-dirigibles? Photo by QinetiQ.) The data collected was then used to create a Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) map, which “tells you the difference between 'green crops' that are photosynthesising and bare ground.” Where there is bare ground, more fertilizer may be needed. Equipped with this NDVI map, some GPS locators and a tech-
no-pimped out John Deere, farmers would thus be able to target areas in need of supplemental nutrients and to better estimate how much to use, potentially releasing less fertilizers that otherwise would leach out and pollute water sources nearby and further down the hydrological line. Making flights and maps at regular intervals would also increase efficiency and thereby decrease energy consumption by letting farmers know precisely when the chemicals are needed. Guessing is pretty much taken out of the equation. This is precision farming.
(Spectral topography. Image by NASA.) With a surveillance network such as this, one wonders if you can re-purpose it to monitor other things, say, the urban poor doing a bit of nighttime grocery shopping while the food crisis and subprime armageddon rage on in the inner cities. When detected, they get sprayed with herbicides. How about GMO crops? Design them to emit a characteristic glow in the infrared or ultraviolet wavelength, and you can be alerted when they've jumped the fence. Don't forget to allocate part of the network to keep a look out for anti-GMO anarchists. It's entirely possible that future pharms will be as heavily monitored as prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and maniacally firewalled as CIA servers.
(Assessing individual trees in an orchard. Image by Satellite Imaging Corp.) Of course, you can use the same information-gathering technique to monitor other conditions, such as soil moisture, disease outbreaks and pest population. The ecological impact is potentially huge. Imagine only watering crops that need to be watered (and only when required) instead of flooding the entire field. Imagine as well spraying just those diseased plants with herbicides (and only when there is an outbreak) instead of suffocating acres and acres of fields with poison all the time. Better yet, you send in a cadre of Medusa agrobots networked to GPS satellites to surgically excise these botanical tumors.
(More spectral topography. Image by Satellite Imaging Corp.) Meanwhile, how about a farmer's possible acts of criminality? As food prices have soared in recent months, farmers in the UK and in the U.S. have started to abandoned conservation programs. These programs pay them to let some of their fields lay fallow, but they could earn more by growing high priced commodities. Now those fields, which have gone a long way in restoring wildlife habitats and reversing topsoil erosion, are being converted back into functioning croplands. But have they fully alerted the government of this or could they not be reporting in order to keep their subsidies?
Specially in the U.S., it's rather difficult to tell if a farmer is being honest or not. There is just too much land. To make it easier to detect promises kept and promises broken, the U.S. Department of Agriculture initiated the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP). NPR had a report on this crop crime unit: Farmers may seem like trustworthy people, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking no chances. It's spending tens of millions of dollars to create an enormous computerized map of every farmer's field in America. The program is intended to make sure farmers are doing what's required to earn their government subsidies. It's an enormous task, keeping track of those subsidies. They add up to billions of dollars each year and they go to more than half a million farmers, scattered from Maine to California. Some farmers receive payments for protecting streams and wetlands; others, for growing specific crops. In each case, the payments depend on accurate information on the amount of land involved. So the USDA has resorted to a program of overhead reconnaissance — something akin of spy flights. We read that the surveillance maps aren't publicly accessible, as it might violate farmers' privacy. But imagine releasing them to the internet wilderness of distributed grid computing, data pornographers, meme-hungry social networking sites, open source virtuality and websavvy eco-guerrillas. It'd be like Stardust@home or SETI@home, except you're asking the teeming Web 2.0 masses to look for terrestrial counterfeit. Instead of surveying the Martian landscapes for uncatalogued craters and landforms, these citizen agents survey nearer terrains in search of horticultural deviants, the tenuous peace between the urban and the rural be damned. Contact Wired, Boing Boing, Engadget, Slashdot and even Land8Lounge, and you could have an army of volunteers comparing maps for hours on end, late into the night, during lunchbreaks or boring studio lectures to spot planted fields where there should be reconstructed prairie or wetlands. This may even be the only time they get to interface with that other wilderness beyond the urban periphery — with Nature — for an extended amount of time. Protecting your tax dollars while saving the environment and enjoying the outdoors.
(Electromagnetic tapestry. Image courtesy Susan Moran, Landsat 7 Science Team.) So will England's green and pleasant land become an aviary of sorts for pilotless airplanes (how about solar powered mini-dirigibles?), whose droning bird songs in B-flat will commingle with the melodic twittering of traditional birds, the hypnotic chirping of crickets and the nostalgic rustling of grains against the wind? “Ah, the sounds of summer,” passing urbanites will plaintively sigh. Will America's majestic horizons darken with a murmuring data cloud kicking up a neverending electromagnetic storm? Pruned http://pruned.blogspot.com/2008/09/agro-veillance.html by Alexander Trevi on September 03, 2008
10. Working out of the Box: Gong Szeto, Architect-turned-Information Designer
Archinect: Where did you study architecture? Gong Szeto: I received my B.Arch from the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture and Planning in 1991, a very pragmatic well-rounded program, studying in the wild and woolly late 80’s. To give context, Eisenmann, Tschumi, and Morphosis were hot, Graves and his post-modernist cohort were not. I was personally a Corb, Kahn, Ando devotee, with a secret desire to be the offspring of a Lebbeus Woods and Buckminster Fuller tryst, if you are brave enough to imagine that. My work was conventional and weird at the same time, drawing heavily from the early Pamphlet Architecture series, which was just getting off the ground then. At what point in your life did you decide to pursue architecture? My whole life I wanted to be an astronaut or an artist, but because my math skills sucked and so did my eyesight, becoming an astro-
naut was out of the question. I started college in the Art Department at UT Austin, but only lasted one year there. I attended the senior show in 1986 when scatological art was all the rage, and left the building completely grossed out at the stench of all the senior student paintings made with human feces. I can’t even remember what their big “statements” were all about because it was just too much for me. After a long walk across campus, I ended up in the architecture building where they had their senior show. I remember seeing all the models and drawings, being drawn especially to things that looked more like abstract art than buildings per se, and told myself, “Hey, I can do this.” So I decided to change my major at that very moment. It wasn’t so much I wanted to build buildings, but I wanted to build those MODELS!
U.S. Patent 6,282,713 B1 co-invented with Sony Corporation of America, issued in 2001.
Concept 2-player fighter game for the 3DO platform using only wireframes, 1995 When did you decide to stop pursuing architecture? Why? I officially stopped pursuing architecture in 1995 after working for a few years as a junior architect for Charles Moore in Austin and Leers Weinzapfel in Boston. I was always interested in technology, having learned to program computers at a young age, hacking the Apple II+ and TRS-80 my brother and I had growing up. My brother Nam, a Cooper Union art and architecture grad, started a new company in New York City doing all things digital. His computer graphics and animation expertise he learned at Cooper proved invaluable in a number of freelance gigs he and his other Cooper partners got designing environments for 3D games, CD-ROMS, prototypes for all kinds of interactive applications. I left Boston after a failed relationship and moved to New York to figure out my life, in effect, to start over. Nam hired me as i/o 360 digital design’s first employee; I was really a glorified gopher since it took me a while to learn all the tools and techniques they had already mastered at Cooper Union. It was a study in contrasts: the practice of architecture was dreary and mundane compared to the excitement and optimism of pioneering a new medium. I later became a partner and was instrumental in shifting our focus to the web. We quickly became recognized for our work in this new medium, our highest moment being recognized as one of the I.D. 40 in I.D. Magazine. It wasn’t all corporate, though. i/o 360 also developed a reputation in the digital art and conceptual art worlds, showing in New York galleries, and lecturing worldwide on our studio’s experiments. We also did a fair amount of cutting-edge work in the interactive television space, and was even awarded a patent in this area.
Our design firm grew about 25 people with about $3MM in revenue with Fortune 500 clients. We sold the company in 1998 to a publicly traded Internet services company with offices all over the world. It was then that I began working on projects for Wall Street and stepped fully into the world of finance, the engine that runs just about everything we know. Describe your current profession. Currently, I design high-performance securities and derivatives trading software for online retail investors and active traders where hundreds of millions of dollars worth of transactions flow through my designs every business day hitting all the major US stock exchanges. I work for a very successful proprietary equity options trading firm and hedge fund as the Director of Design, and in my time there, have launched a brand new retail equity options brokerage and am about to launch a new social community platform geared towards novice investors. I work with very large, real-time data sets everyday, and in the financial space, the data is huge and changing all the time. The responsibilities are fairly huge, as a dropped trade could mean a multi-million dollar loss for one of our customers, and that actually does keep me up at night.
Concept visual email application in Java, XML, 1998 During my tenure as a partner in at i/o 360, one of the first design firms to specialize in new media and digital design, we were exposed to the power of the Internet as a viable communication and transactional infrastructure, and built some of the very first websites and e-commerce applications. After we sold our firm to the publicly traded Internet services company, I cut my teeth in doing projects for Wall Street investment banks, private equity firms and a few venture capital firms. Since then I have been very interested in the financial space, in money, in macro-
and microeconomics, in high-performance networked software applications. What I have learned is less about architecture (buildings) per se, but about the architecture of Capitalism itself. This is an area of endless fascination for me. Being part of this world has led to a knowledge base and set of experiences that is probably rare for a designer, and I hope to someday share it in a meaningful way with others. I also have had a side business in real estate development with my brother, as we value the risks of entrepreneurialism, and are continually interested in the role of good design as a means to sustainable business ventures. What skills did you gain from architecture school, or working in the architecture industry, that have contributed to your success in your current career? I most certainly use a lot of the skills I learned in architecture school – everything from ways of thinking about a problem, being able to separate form from function, structured and systems thinking, economy of means, the list goes on. I would say that I have quoted Vitruvius’ “Firmness, commodity, and delight” in more than 50 or so meetings with software engineers, investment bankers, traders, people who have no idea who Vitruvius was and would have no reason to know. But they seem to get it, that a good “anything” needs all three, as I work in an industry that only does 2 of those virtues well (firmness and commodity).
I am also a very good presenter. All those nerve-wracking final critiques in architecture school were worth something pretty valuable in the real world. Sometimes the merits of the design just aren’t enough. You have to sell it and sell it convincingly to bring it to fruition, especially when someone else is paying for it. In the end, I owe a strong sense of ethics from my education as an architect. Architects truly value integrity – integrity of form, integrity of execution, integrity of conviction in problem-solving, integrity in the rigor of process. Architects believe in the honesty of materials, they believe in the basic goodness of Man, they believe in the power of design to shape human behavior (for good and bad). And I feel architecture truly is one of the most ethical professions – you just don’t read headlines about architects going to jail for cheating and lying.
Browser-based OptionsHouse equity options trading platform using Java and AJAX technologies, 2006-07
Interactive digital television streaming multi-modal application concepts for Sony Corp., 1998. I also catch myself drawing parti diagrams at the beginning of projects and no one seems to know what the hell I am doing since they mostly know the “program” part of the equation. I simply explain it as I am seeking some kind of organizing principle to net out all the competing priorities on the very complex projects I work on, and they seem to understand that. They just don’t really understand why I frequently draw a single straight line (spine) with boxes that grow off it. It certainly doesn’t look like a flow-diagram or a use-case diagram. I really just draw the same diagram over and over again, but in this case for software and not a floor plan…hence the power of the parti. Without it there would be very expensive chaos.
Do you have an interest in returning to architecture? Yes, but not as a career. I have some gorgeous land near Abiquiu, NM (Georgia O’Keefe country) that I would like to build on someday, so I will probably put my architect’s hat on then. But that would just be for me and my family and not a client. Archinect http://archinect.com/features/article.php?id=79221_0_23_0_C by Archinect on September 2, 2008