prss release #22 ,november 17 2008
the independent paper blog aggregator
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
the state of 3d on the iphone | ogle earth all along the watchtower: coop himmelb(l)au in l.a. | hello beautiful! bombing modernism: graffiti and its relationship to the (built) environment | core77 wi-fi structures and people shapes | city of sound eonomies of architectural thought | htc experiments james bond: the enemy of architecture | the guardian 09. for what and for whom? | vague terrain archinect op-ed: the public image(s) of architecture | archinect who killed the blogosphere? | rough type venice biennale of architecture: the polish pavillion | we make money not art
illustration | v-annemarie
westboro baptist church and me http://www.flickr.com/photos/burstein/2979979221/
1. The state of 3D on the iPhone So how close are we to getting a proper 3D virtual globe on the iPhone? Clearly, recent apps for the iPhone have shown that true 3D games are entirely doable: Just take a look a Cro-Mag Rally to see a car racing game using real-time 3D rendering of the terrain.
No doubt plenty of short-cuts are employed for the sake of playability, and the terrains are fantasy places, but the player does get a sustained effect of being inside a 3D place rather than looking at a 2D screen. Same goes for Aphalt 4. Then there is an actual stab at making a virtual globe: Earthscape does a remarkable job of hiding its shortcuts to create quite a seamless experience. You can zoom in on the globe from above, and then switch to a stationary bird's eye view to see a 3D terrain view. Both modes get around what must be a very expensive calculation, in terms of processing power: Deciding which 3D pixels come in front of others. In the straightfrom-above view, no such calculations are necessary as you zoom in, as you always get to see every pixel on the map, even if it is a 3D map (just travel across the Alps at close range to see the changes in perspective). When you switch to the bird's eye view perspective, the application spends some time figuring out which pixels come in front of others for your one specific location — and it only needs to do this once, as you can't look up to the horizon and then travel. In effect, what Earthscape does is construct a 360-degree panorama for your location and then lets you pan and zoom around that. All the work, however, only needs to be done once. You can't move location while looking around in bird's eye view. (see comments for clarification.)
Earthscape is an impressive proof of concept, a good app to impress iPhone newbies with. It does suffer from some limitations, currently, that don't really make it usable as an efficient cartographic tool: It takes a very long time for the resolution to catch up with your zoom, even on wifi broadband; and while some US cities have high resolution imagery, Europe and the rest of the world does not. As a result, the Wikipedia layer included in Earthscape has a much higher level of granularity than the map it is displayed on. In a way, these criticisms are a bit unfair, as we're comparing Earthscape to the imagery dataset and data serving capacity of some of the world's biggest companies, but they do reflect user expectations. I'm sure we can expect future updates to Earthscape to get road layers as well. In one respect Earthscape has a feature that Google Earth and Virtual Earth haven't even implemented: A feed of popular photo site Flickr's "most interesting" georeferenced pictures. There is also a built-in feature to take and upload geotagged iPhone pictures to an Earthscape server, and the ability to see these photos and the most recent ones uploaded by everyone on Earthscape, but these are — for the moment at least — snapshots of people testing the feature. Flickr and Panoramio have proper "postcard" photos. In sum: At its previous price of $10, I couldn't really recommend Earthscape as money well spent (other than to review it), but at its current new price of Free, there is every reason to download it, play with it, and offer feedback to encourage further development. Can we expect to get "live" bird's eye view soon, in the sense that a 3D view towards the horizon is calculated in real time as we travel across the landscape? [Update: See comments; Earthscape does already let you move around] One iPhone application already does this, and with impressive frame rates: X-Plane 9. X-Plane is a joy to use as a flight simulator (once you realize that it crashes easily if it doesn't get to use plenty of unfragmented memory, i.e. restart the iPhone before use). The accelerometer-based controls are especially intuitive, and I hope future mobile virtual globes let us navigate the world in a similar fashion. The most impressive feature of Xplane for iPhone is that it uses the same bit of real terrain as in the full-fledged version (according to Xplane aficionados): The region around Innsbruck, Austria. It's mountainous, and yet rendered in real-time. And it is $10 well-spent.
For D, it suggests Can this be replicated in a virtual globe? There are three short-cuts that I can see that may make it harder for virtual globes to get the same frame rate as X-Plane: 1) the terrain is not downloaded on demand but instead already exists in memory; 2) the textures are quite rough and limited in variety; it seems to me that there is only one level of detail; 3) Plenty of haze ensures that the 3D pixel calculations don't have to extend too far from the cockpit. Still, it certainly looks feasible that a true virtual globe is within reach of the iPhone's capabilities, and I for one can't wait to play with it. Ogle Earth http://www.ogleearth.com/2008/09/the_state_of_3d.html By Stephan Geens on September 22, 2008
2. All along the watchtower - Coop Himmelb(l)au in L.A. C-monster says Coop Himmelb(l)au's Los Angeles High School #9 at night
Wall-E, or a toy robot. Sylvia Lavin of UCLA, said on the day after the election, in a public conversation with the head of the firm that designed the High School, Wolf Prix, that it reminds her of
a prison watchtower. Well, one great thing about the tower at the High School for the Visual and Performing Arts is that it's so abstract it can be almost anything you like.
Barack Obama. Lavin said that in the 1960s Wolf Prix was angrier. Now he's figured out how to still be radical but a little softer. So Prix gets to build, and yet still foment change. (His firm is designing the new European Central Bank in Frankfurt; Prix hopes to create a new symbol for Europe.) Sylvia Lavin compared Prix to Barack Obama, and Obama's understanding of how to be an African-American man in the United States and not be angry, but rather, constructive. She said she will forever call this "the Obama Tower." Prix smiled.
When Coop Himmelb(l)au's lead architect Wolf Prix spoke the other night in the auditorium/theater of the school, he rightly said that a High School for the Performing Arts could not just be boxes, and that arts students deserve a landmark, an icon. So now, I see the tower as a West Coast
He said the room at the top of the 140 foot tower was originally meant to be rented out to generate income for the school. The L.A. Unified School District has since balked at that idea and also at Prix's desire for the tower to hold L.E.D. signage - for advertising - to also bring in money to the school system. An artsy billboard, how L.A., don't you think? Signage, and certain industrial aspects of the high school remind me of the work of L.A.-based architect Thom Mayne
such as his Caltrans Headquarters, just a few blocks from the new high school. Theirs is likely a mutual influence.
And Prix has one-upped Mayne if you think the swirl around his tower stands for the number 9, since after all, this is L.A. Unified School District High School #9. Or does this tower suggest a local vernacular-
Long live the Enlightenment. From sea to shining sea. As for the title of this post, Wolf Prix has said he learned English by listening to songs by Bob Dylan. the tower of slides at the water park?
Of what does the tower remind you?
The L.A. arts high school, set to open next fall, will be Coop Himmelb(l)auâ€™s second building in America, and it looks to be more interesting and better-suited to its purpose than their first US effort, a $30-million expansion of the Akron Art Museum. The cost for the five acre high school is said to be about $230 million. It will have space for some 1,600 students, many from surrounding low-income neighborhoods. The school is expensive, overbudget, delayed, and criticized for all those reasons. It stands just across a freeway from
the Rafael Moneo-designed cathedral, with its campanile, or tower. The two form a gateway as you are driving. Prix said he was told his tower could not be taller than Moneo's. I have already said that Caltrans by Thom Mayne/Morphosis is just a few blocks away, and just a few blocks up Grand Avenue you'll find the magnificent Disney Concert Hall by Frank Gehry. Kudos to L.A. Hello Beautiful! http://edwardlifson.blogspot.com/2008/11/all-along-watchtower-coophimmelblau-in.html by Edward Lifson on November 8, 2008
of celebrated universities or intellectual cafĂŠs thick with smoke. It came from the heart of the ghetto where new voices were quick to take up arms against the status quo. Holstered with felt tip markers and spray cans, truth was recognized in a colorful show of force and bravado. For graffiti artists, manipulating letters became lifeblood and fighting back meant getting ill, and ill-legible. Holstered with felt tip markers and spray cans, truth was recognized in a colorful show of force and bravado. For graffiti artists, manipulating letters became lifeblood and fighting back meant getting ill, and ill-legible. Because modernism was considered positive, rational, and objective, architects like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe championed its capacity to facilitate a new social order. They prophesized that technological progress and a reconsidered urban plan would result in "better living through architecture." Although Le Corbusier applied his concepts to a series of theoretical, large scale housing projects, cities like Paris were wary of the plans and rejected his ideas. But by the end of World War II the need for new housing stock (both in Europe and the United States) persuaded a generation of architects and urban planners to embrace Le Corbusier's Utopian vision. The dream that modernism could somehow ameliorate living conditions never came true. Instead, just the opposite occurred. Anonymous, cheap, high-density housing isolated its inhabitants from the greater city and exacerbated socio-economic problems. It prompted Charles Jencks, the architect credited for popularizing the term post-modernism, to date the symbolic end of modernism as July 15, 1972. That's when the prize-winning Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis was demolished. Designed in 1951 by Minoru Yamasaki (who went on to design the World Trade Center towers) the project included 33 eleven story buildings, 2870 apartments, and when it was initially conceived, not one playground.
3. Bombing Modernism: Graffiti and its relationship to the (built) environment
Pruitt Igoe Housing Project. Photo: www.affordablehousinginstitute. org; Tags. Photo: Graffiti Research Lab It's easy to see how a generation of restless teenagers growing up in high-rise and low-rise ghettos doubted and eventually rejected modernism and its oppressive reality. For them, modernism represented systemParis subway car. Photo: Adam A. The curse of modernism The search for truth can take us to the most unlikely places. As postwar domesticity and prosperity settled over much of America, the growing rift between haves and have-nots exposed serious doubts about the promise of modernism and a modern life. An honest appraisal of a deteriorating American condition didn't come from the cloistered towers
ic irrationality, negativity, half truths, poor education, and limited access to economic empowerment. However, when a self-aware subculture rose out of the urban core to embrace plurality, fragmentation, and indeterminacy, something clicked. In retaliation they shaped an honest reflection of their lives from a fundamentally post-modern lens that pitted them against larger forces that had denied them individual value and cultural identity. Adventurous teens did this with no capital and no organizational power. They fought back with one of the few things they could control,
words. By focusing on just their name, "bombing" (tagging) it over and over again in different styles, teenagers developed an intuitive understanding of how the building blocks of language could be controlled for their specific needs. No wonder these artists referred to themselves as writers and their work as writing. The power of language Hegel wrote that, "To learn to read and write an alphabetic writing should be regarded as a means to infinite culture." The post-structuralist French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote that, "Language is oppression," because it is developed to allow only those people who speak it not to be oppressed. During the late 1960s overcoming socio-emotional hurdles necessitated both Hegel's key to unlocking infinite culture and Foucault's understanding of language's deeper power. Once harnessed, an unusual torrent of creative, language-based experimentation and expression flowed from inner cities like New York and Philadelphia. It turned tables, oppressed the oppressor, and lit the fuse for a contemporary graffiti movement. It all started with the tag. The first were rudimentary in contrast to today's complex signatures but were steeped in a layer of political and social dynamism that is no longer possible. Loosely derived from territorial gang marks, early graffiti artists like TAKI 183, JULIO 204, and LEE 163 included their name and street numbers as a first step toward identity, attention, and respect in an otherwise stark and ruthless city. During his day as a foot messenger TAKI 183 was able to tag office buildings, subway stations, mail boxes, and the inside and outsides of subway cars. He was the first to go "all-city" a title of reverence reserved for the graffiti artist that gained visual prominence throughout all five boroughs of New York City. Recognition for TAKI 183 and enthusiasm for the burgeoning graffiti scene was stoked when, in 1971, the New York Times published an article about the omnipresence of the messenger's curious mark. It quickly led to surge in tagging. Contemporary graffiti's connection to post-modernism certainly began as a response to the flaws of modernism but it was able to establish itself as an independent discipline that understood how to manage and employ meaning within a cultural context. "Getting up", the recognition that comes with the near constant act of tagging your name, became the driving force in the nascent graffiti scene. As a result the application of tags proliferated through crowded urban housing projects and high-traffic public transit systems until surfaces were covered in permanent inks. The competitive nature of graffiti, a hold-over from urban gang activity, was played out in non-violent "battles" that featured spray cans and skill instead of knives and strength. (The competitive nature of graffiti would seep into and boost the related youth sub-culture of hip-hop dance and music.) More importantly, competition brought about the stylistic innovations that were necessary to distinguish one tag from the rest. These revealed themselves in unique hand styles and lettering including the use of bubble letters, complicated scripts, calligraphic flourishes, flexible ascenders and descenders, new ligatures, simple illustrations, and cartoon characters. In many cases a combination of these left tags illegible to all but the graffiti artists. By focusing on just their name, "bombing" (tagging) it over and over again in different styles, teenagers developed an intuitive understanding of how the building blocks of language could be controlled for their specific needs. No wonder these artists referred to themselves as writers and their work as writing.
Bubble letters. Photo: Graffiti Research Lab
Rome subway car. Photo: Phil Moore A post-modern condition Post-modernism, with its distrust of universal judgements and hostility toward hierarchies of value, reflected a shift away from the establishment toward the pluralism of an increasingly global society. The interconnections of globalism not only increased communication, trade, and overseas manufacturing but also decentralized accepted political and commercial power bases as well as their centers of intellectual production. They allowed for cultural pluralism to succeed where previously it had not and exerted further pressure on the concept of stylistic unity. Widespread sharing resulted in a democratisation of taste where the values of struggling social classes could survive and thrive in micro-economies that performed outside the well-oiled machine of mass commercial markets. Contemporary graffiti's connection to post-modernism certainly began as a response to the flaws of modernism but it was able to establish itself as an independent discipline that understood how to manage and employ meaning within a cultural context. In arts and architecture the post-modern was evident in the way familiar styles and spaces were recreated and reviewed. Wit, ornament, and historical reference collided in an eclecticism that was best summed up by the architect Robert Venturi when, in his watershed book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture , he turned Mies van der Rohe's favorite doctrine, "Less is more," inside out by noting, "Less is a bore." Venturi argued for a pluralism of meaning in architecture that adequately reflected a diverse society. He wrote, "I like elements which are a hybrid rather than pure, compromising rather than clean, distorted rather than straightforward, ambiguous rather than articulated, perverse as well as impersonal, boring as well as interesting, conventional rather than designed, accommodating rather than excluding, redundant rather than simple, vestigial as well as innovating, inconsistent and equivocal rather than direct and clear. I am for messy vitality over obvious unity."
been tagged was taken out of service. Penalties for those caught writing were increased and access to subway and commuter train layover yards obstructed by new barbed wire fencing. Eventually graffiti proof, Teflon coatings were applied to subway cars, denying writers their best canvas and all but killing their pursuit. Vanna Venturi House. Photo: JPMM; Michael Graves Denver Library. Photo: ÂŠ2007 Paul McAleer Applied to graffiti, Venturi's ideas on a valid architecture described one of writing's most interesting characteristics: its ability to reconsider letter forms, reformulate language, and destroy the accepted hierarchies of communication. With no artificially imposed order and the inherent decentralization of postmodernism as its guide, graffiti writers used irony (in the form of the oppressor becoming the oppressed), double coding (writers communicated simultaneous messages to different social groups), and paradox (the inherent illegibility of their work), as tools to change our shared expectations of how, where, and why we communicate. It is an archetypal study in semiotics where signs and symbols are used to recognize how meaning is formulated and perceived. It is also an example of how information can be transferred and data decoded between sender and receiver. COPE Photo: Vito Street Even as politicians and police continued to attack writing as a serious crime, the 1990s saw the acceptance of graffiti writing grow until it became an integral part of global fashion, music, graphic design, and illustration. In trying to understand how counter intuitive shifts are eventually accepted by society architect Bernard Tschumi wrote in his treatise, Violence in Architecture , "If the Sistine Chapel were used for pole-vaulting events, architecture would then cease to yield to its customary good intensions. For a while the transgression would be real and all-powerful. Yet the transgression of cultural expectations soon becomes accepted. Just as violent Surrealist collages inspire advertising rhetoric, the broken rule is integrated into everyday life."
Wall. Photo: Graffiti Research Lab Change happens In just over a decade graffiti writers were able to evolve their work from one color tags to kaleidoscopic subway cars and then to "wild style" pieces with highly ornamented and intricate lettering. This evolution is proof of the inherent competition that forced writers to consistently experiment and of graffiti's incongruous relationship with the marketplace. Unlike traditional applications where type, layout, and design serve the needs of buyers and sellers, writers had no allegiance to anyone or anything. With no pressure and no labels such as "success" or "failure" to limit them, writers moved from student to teacher, directing a hip-hop revolution that would eventually position their urban culture as the predominant commercial lifestyle in America. Graffiti artists did reach a crossroads in the 1980s. As teachers, they provided for (but couldn't cash in on) a generation of profitable hip-hop products that were scooped up, repackaged, and sold by marketers from coast to coast. As artists, some tried to find acceptance through mainstream cultural outlets but ended up playing muse to the likes of Keith Haring or Jean Michel Basquiat. As writers, with too much time and too little money, they were on a collision course with a political system that was coordinating their demise. City Hall saw graffiti not as the effect of social ills but as its cause. Between 1984 and 1990 New York City adopted George Kelling's Broken Window Theory and veraciously targeted graffiti. Subway cars were buffed clean on a regular basis and any car that had
While deconstructivist architects, including Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, and Daniel Libeskind, have avoided this or any other title that might place artificial restrictions upon them, graffiti writers have been going about their work oblivious to the fact that they, more so than architects, are defining both a visual and spatial representation of deconstruction. New interpretations Graffiti, in its most pure form, had fulfilled its promise. By this time the original rebirth writers that came out of the ghetto could no longer sustain their participation. Time and times had inevitably changed. The freedoms of postmodernism gave way to a technological and information revolution. No longer confined to the urban core and no longer propelled by one socio-economic identity, tech-savvy writers used the cumulative work of their predecessors as a palimpsest to violate what had come before and reinvent graffiti writing all over again. It was inevitable that new tools and a dose of cross-fertilization would force the complete pliability and subversion of letters and language as part of a wave of deconstructive thought. Deconstruction, as it relates to philosophic applications, was posited by Jacques Derrida who challenged existing theoretical texts by exposing them to the innate ambiguity of language. He suggested that words have different meanings based on each reader's past experiences, cultural connections, or social influences. Under these circumstances absolutes disappear and an author's original intent is open to infinite subjectivity. In a Domus magazine interview from 1986 Derrida described his intent, "Deconstruction...analyzes and compares conceptual pairs which are currently accepted as self evident and natural, as if they had not been institutionalized at some precise moment,
as if they had no history. Because of being taken for granted they restrict thinking." It is important to note that rather than a negative process of dismantling, deconstruction is more accurately defined as affirmative because it frees concepts from their historic foundations and opens up new possibility. (Even Nietzsche said that all perception is interpretation.) Marcel Duchamp was the first deconstructive artist when he questioned value and authenticity by releasing everyday objects from their traditional meaning and proudly proclaiming them Readymades. Duchamp did it again with analytical cubism where form could be viewed from multiple perspectives. Today architecture is considered best positioned to interpret the visual and physical expressions of deconstruction. What constitutes a deconstructive architecture is still an open question: a nonlinear design process, manipulation of surface or skin, geometric imbalances, distorted spaces, rejection of historical precedent, influence from Russian Constructivists, or just controlled chaos. Architect and author Mark Wigley says it's simply, "the ability to disturb our thinking about form" that makes a project deconstructive.
The best examples of this are cross-fertilizations where language and architecture merge. Hybrid "typogritecture", breaks apart and reprocesses letters through a deconstructive filter only to be re-engineered into unrecognizable symbols that carry graffiti's unique message. JOKER has stretched the letters if his tag into a series highly gestured techtonic plates that shift and dip on the page and in public spaces.
JOKER. Photo: www.jinscoe.com DAIM's writing, reminiscent of Zaha Hadid's large scale paintings, relies on heavily layered dimensional tags that simultaneously leap off the wall and drop into deep space.
Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum. Photo: Tenis Vermelho; Thom Mayne's Diamond Ranch High School. Photo: Suntom While deconstructivist architects, including Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, and Daniel Libeskind, have avoided this or any other title that might place artificial restrictions upon them, graffiti writers have been going about their work oblivious to the fact that they, more so than architects, are defining both a visual and spatial representation of deconstruction. The reason for this is that deconstruction in constantly teasing out meaning from meta-language, the language used to describe language. Unlike architecture, graffiti writers base their work in the same vocabulary and tools as their theoretical counterparts. No longer concerned solely with post-modern ornamentation today's writers are dismantling letter forms piece by piece and forming their own metalanguage for a small army of citizen philosophers. Long-accepted letter forms have been ditched and the door has been opened to an alternate universe where the re-organization of information and the exploration of semiotics continues.
DAIM. Photo: Sebastian Gondek / PLphoto DELTA has transcended traditional elements like spray paint, using sculptural devices to create complex tags more suited to robotics and the electrosphere than to the street.
DELTA. Photo: www.deltainc.nl
Zaha Hadid painting. Photo: Mangtronix
In one of the more interesting hybrid explorations the Dutch writer ZEDZ has teamed with the architecture studio of Maurer United Architects on a proposal to build his tag into large-scale street furniture for the
campus of the Eindhoven University of Technology.
Core77 http://www.core77.com/reactor/04.07_klausner.asp by Amos Klausner on April 7, 2008
4. Wi-fi structures and people shapes
ZEDZ and Maurer United Architects. Photo: www.zedz.org Recognizable in the work of all these writers is the easy integration of technical elements derived from the computer and architectural drafting software. The results are true and the writing has obviously pushed the boundaries of how language can be visualized and communicated. Yet there is something unreal about it. There comes a point in which upsetting narrative content and violating a utilitarian need causes these technically perfected and abstracted tags to become at once meaningful and meaningless. The writing is iconographic and each piece lives as a magnet for our attention, but they are increasingly difficult to connect to personal experiences. Lacking the raw energy and power or the history and shared experience that comes with racking paint and cutting chain link fence, these pieces float in a world of fiction. They are unreal and it's easy to doubt their authenticity. Hybrid "typogritecture", breaks apart and reprocesses letters through a deconstructive filter only to be re-engineered into unrecognizable symbols that carry graffiti's unique message. JOKER has stretched the letters if his tag into a series highly gestured techtonic plates that shift and dip on the page and in public spaces. Language dissolves, communication fails Watching from the sidelines as a new language is formed, evolves, and falls apart is a rare opportunity. Having the activity compressed into just a few decades is a rare treat. That graffiti writing is dead is not to say that it doesn't happen anymore (just ask the owner constantly cleaning tags from his building). But after a meteoric ride and the market's slow strangulation, graffiti has none of the rocket fuel that post-modernism provided and the academic nature of deconstruction isn't able to infuse writing with the personal narrative that has gone missing. To recognize that letters, like architecture and other modes of meaning, have limits to their effectiveness, is part of the exciting experiment. It may be that, as Bernard Tschumi describes, this is just a pause in which our current violation can be absorbed. More likely we have come to a definitive moment. Not because writers are unable or unwilling to conjure up new constructions. They keep at it. But without tension, sincerity or a revolutionary message the constant re-combinations are, like deconstruction itself, just exercises open to doubt. The truth is that Le Corbusier's hope for an age of technology and progress that could improve the lives of so many has finally arrived. A new global level is doing today what the architect wanted his craft to do almost a century ago. Information, access to it and the ability to manipulate it, is fulfilling the promise of a new social order. And in the end it is the sheer volume of data being sent and received through rational computer-based systems that is rendering graffiti writing impractical. Bombing is losing out to blogging and modernism has made a triumphant return.
Following on from my recent 'post-occupancy evaulation' of the State Library of Queensland's wi-fi (see previous post), I thought I'd share a couple of outputs. (Thanks to Tory Jones of the State Library of Queensland for permission). One of the ideas I've been exploring relates to how urban industry - in the widest sense of the word - in the knowledge economy is often invisible, at least immediately and in situ. Whereas urban industry would once have produced thick plumes of smoke or deafening sheets of sound, today's information-rich environments - like the State Library of Queensland, or a contemporary office - are places of still, quiet production, with few sensory side-effects. We see people everywhere, faces lit by their open laptops, yet no evidence of their production. They could be using Facebook, Photoshop, Excel or Processing.
I've been developing a few ideas for exploring this industrial activity, which I hope to share here later, but the post-occupancy work on the Library's wi-fi involved creating a few representations of the service; a service which is all but invisible. Outside of monitoring the server logs, the wi-fi can only be perceived through the presence of users themselves, or of course via devices that detect wi-fi.
So as well as photo-essays, videos and in-depth interviews with users, and relating to this idea of making the invisible, visible, I mapped the strength of the wi-fi signal across levels 1 and 2 of the Library, the primary areas that the Library’s wi-fi is used. By taking readings across the floor of both levels, using standard wi-fi-enabled consumer equipment in order to mimic the conditions for the average user (in this case a MacBook laptop and a Nokia e65 mobile phone), I was able to construct a snapshot of the wi-fi signal strength across the Library.
While this model is not intended to be totally accurate - wi-fi signals may change in different atmospheric conditions, and perceived signal strength will vary depending on the equipment used - it does convey a sense of the overall ‘shape’ of the wi-fi, as if we could perceive it in physical form. Sensing the wi-fi like this is almost akin to dowsing - detecting the presence of unseen forces - and mimics the sensation of users attempting to discern where the wi-fi signal is strong.
I then articulated this set of readings as a basic 3D model in SketchUp, with peaks representing good wi-fi signal strength (4 bars, for example) and troughs representing poor wi-fi signal strength (no bars/no connection, or intermittently 1 bar). Each ‘bar’ defined a level in the 3D model (1 bar = 1 metre, roughly). This gives a sense of the wi-fi as a shape, with a physical form. Although literally misleading, it helps to understand wi-fi as a discrete phenomenon, via a form of translation.
The model was initially overlaid onto a floorplan of level 1, and subsequently scaled up to sit over a snapshot of the site from Google Earth. When comparing with the built form, we can explain the strong signal over the north-western egress of the Knowledge Walk. Through our observations at the Library, we saw that users have figured out that this is a good spot - one of the 3 wireless access points currently on that floor is located in the nearby meeting rooms, not that users would know this. The presence of the ‘bench’ extruded from the wall provides useful affordances for users too, almost suggesting it’s a good spot to sit and access the wi-fi (although again, we suspect that is accidental coincidence of design). Similarly, the floor-to-ceiling windows from meeting rooms and open corridor leading outside means there is minimal concrete to block the signal. So this 3D model helps suggest a correlation between use of
the space, the shape of the space, and the strong wi-fi signal.
Following the central spine of the wi-fi model through towards the south-eastern edge, we can see how the wi-fi ‘leaks out’ of this end of the building, through the open end of the Knowledge Walk outside onto the concourse in-between the Library and the building destined to be The Edge. Elsewhere, thick concrete mitigates against wi-fi spreading far, unfortunately including the café and the fabulous deck areas on the river, where the signal falls off sharply (currently).
I allocated the SketchUp model a skin of netting, in a nod towards the Cedric Price-designed aviary at London Zoo. This seemed to me a similar structure, and suggests that 'wi-fi cloud' might actually feel like a containing volume - a net of wi-fi, as if seen from a user’s or bird’s point-
Formally, the result is hardly elegant, and bears little relation to the AIA award-winning structure by Donovan Hill/Peddle Thorp. (Incidentally, it’s been a great pleasure to work with Timothy Hill on this and other projects recently). The sharp angles and abrupt faces are accidents of the crude construction in SketchUp and the simplicity in my measurements. I should probably take it into 3D Studio Max or something, to render it with more graceful curves, or a material that would more properly represent the qualities of radio waves - perhaps something like Diller+Scofidio's Blur Building. There's a full set of screengrabs here, here's a fly-through animation, and here's the original SketchUp model. I don't want to overplay the significance of this approach - it was simply one of several methods for expressing the presence of wi-fi in the Library, and partly just sketching out loud ... Constructing another tangent on the wi-fi, I was struck by how users adopted the Infozone space - where the wi-fi is primarily located - and the furniture provided for them. The low desks, small tables, various chairs, benches etc. afford numerous variations for wi-fi users, and sure enough people drape themselves all over them. Discussions with Timothy Hill indicated how the design of furniture across the Infozone was intended to, in his words, “break up the traditional anthropomorphic relationship between the user and their laptop”, based on observations of how intimately people actually relate themselves to their laptops. Hill had noted how people rest the laptop on their knees, lie down with it, use it in bed, curl up around it on the sofa, and so on. So the fixtures and fittings in the Infozone were intended to suggest
this intimacy - in common with the ‘domestic’ touches in the design of the Library in general - and provide a wide variety of options as to how to use a laptop in the space. As well as the hundreds of photos I took in the space, I decided to do a few sketches of the more interesting positions, which I suggested might work something like a aircraft identification manual or compendium yoga positions perhaps. With the latter in mind, I was tempted to name a few, such as "The perch", "The front crawl", "The huddle", "The sandwich", "Battleships", “Reverse Battleships", “The Horse", "Side saddle", "Lotus", "The NASA control room", "The occasional-table hug" and so on. Below, a few of the quick sketches I did, illustrating some of these positions:
City of Sound http://www.cityofsound.com/blog/2008/11/wi-fi-structure.html by Dan Hill on November 8, 2008
5. Economies of Architectural Thought
thought. HTC Experiments http://htcexperiments.wordpress.com/2008/11/06/economies-of-architectural-thought/ by David Gissen and students on November 6, 2008
6. James Bond: the enemy of architecture From Venetian palazzos to fantastical submersible lairs, the buildings in Bond films dazzle - what a shame they get blown to smithereens.
Probably all of us who work in the architectural HTC area have heard stories about how architectural thought–particularly architectural theory–increases in times of economic hardship. When the markets are down and the economic indicators turn south, the architect begins to think, to write, to theorize. When the markets are up we “do” and don’t think much. Based on this argument, all one has to do is look at the economic chart above (it traces gdp in the US and Europe) and literally turn it upside down to map the intensity of architectural thinking. The latest version of this narrative claims that as the neoliberal economy collapses it simultaneously brings both “post-critical” and “generative design” down with it; a very simple way to put this is that the cutting-edge architect of today will suddenly trade Rhino for Microsoft Word. Besides the reductive economic determinism that underpins such arguments–”when the cash flow dries up we suddenly think more and when we’re flush we don’t reflect as much”–its authors offer little statistical evidence. And I make this cold empirical assessment because the best economic determinist thinkers rely on empirical data to fuel their theories (consider the work of David Harvey as an example). And I would imagine that some of the very authors who imagine the generative-downfall, have Harvey-esque, neo-Marxist ideas in their back pocket, even if not explicitly stated as such. But the neoliberal/generative coupling and its downfall, and the larger narrative of which it is a part is not only based on economic determinism; it is also based upon a faith that when the economy is bad architectural theory suddenly flourishes. But this article of faith needs to be proved, or the larger argument falls apart. And for me, this is an extremely interesting question; how exactly could we chart this relationship? Would I go to the Avery Index and search for the number of architectural theory articles between 1973-75; 1980-82; 1990-91; and 2001-03? Would I then compare them to the number and “significance” of articles written outside these years–during the booms? Such cross-referencing sounds ridiculous; I know this. But even more surprising is that when I scan my most recent theory syllabus I realize that some key pieces of contemporary literature are actually not written during these lean years. In fact some of the key pieces of literature are written during the booms. The chart above traces an “economy”–one of the great social constructions–but I am not sure it truly traces any indicators of architectural
Licence to trash ... the submersible hideout in The Spy Who Loved Me. Photograph: Danjaq/EON/UA/The Kobal Collection Most people will be too carried away by the relentless action in the latest Bond film to notice the background, but design-minded viewers will find it more exciting than most. It's unlikely to go down as the best Bond ever, but Quantum of Solace wins hands down when it comes to best architecture. Perhaps it's because he's Swiss, but director Marc Forster certainly has an eye for a good building, usually a piece of hard-edged European modernism with a conveniently flat roof. A key location, for example, is the Festival House Bregenz, in Austria - a dauntingly sophisticated ensemble of steel cladding and huge glass windows that opens out on to a spectacular open-air amphitheatre facing the lake, with the stage in the middle of the water. Designed by Austrian architect Dietrich Untertrifaller, it's the perfect venue for a covert mid-opera meeting of arch-villains. It's also great for crane shots, tuxedo-clad shootouts, and the odd rooftop punch-up. Forster seems to have passed up on another local landmark, mind you: the Kunsthaus Bregenz, designed by his revered compatriot Peter Zumthor. Perhaps it just didn't have enough places to plug in a Klieg light. Elsewhere we get a precarious chase over the terracotta tiled roofscape of Siena, a brief tour of London's Barbican, some grand colonial buildings in Panama, even a car chase through Italy's Carrara marble quarry - birthplace of Rome's Pantheon, among others. Topping the bill, though, is the ESO Paranal Residencia in Chile, where the traditional climactic rendezvous between Bond and his nemesis takes place. In reality, this stunning building is a hostel for astronomers at the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere. Designed by German architects Auer and Weber it's a fine choice: a long rectangular strip of a building, sunk into the barren landscape that contains a splendid indoor garden and swimming pool lit by a 35-metre glass dome. Being situated in the middle of the Atacama desert, 2,400 metres above sea level, it's a place very few of us are likely to ever see inside for real, so here's your chance. Be dazzled by the rhythmic concrete facades! Thrill to the earth-toned interiors! Swoon over the long internal perspectives. Salivate over the minimal detailing! Then watch it all get blown to
smithereens! Yes, almost inevitably, the building does not survive its encounter with Bond, and as he saunters away from its smoking ruins, it occurred to me that few buildings ever do. Bond movies invariably end like Quantum: with 007 single-handedly trashing not only the plans of would-be world dominators but also their hideouts, which is a pity because most of them are rather splendid. Think of the stupendous submersible lair of Stromberg in the Spy Who Loved Me with its circular underwater windows and 2001-style furniture, the hollowed-out volcano in You Only Live Twice, the vertiginous control room in Moonraker, the elegant, if structurally unfeasible, ice palace in Die Another Day, and so forth. Some of the lowrent Bond baddies settle for oil rigs and such, but whatever the villain's crib of choice, you can guarantee it's going to get exploded. Those villains tend to put a great deal of effort into their bachelor pads, recruiting tasteful but evil architects, contractors, interior designers etc - it can't be easy. Then along comes Bond. The villains are the creators; Bond is the destroyer. He's basically an enemy of architecture. Even beyond the villains' lairs, Bond is a menace to the built environment. Think back to Casino Royale. For once there was no hideout at the end, so what does Bond do? He demolishes a priceless Venetian palazzo instead, not just smashing it up but actually sinking it into the lagoon. That seemed like an awful lot of damage to inflict in the name of a $150m theft, or whatever it was. How much would it cost to repair that building? Probably more. It's a similar story when it comes to historic cityscapes in Quantum of Solace. The chase across the rooftops of Siena leaves plenty of tiles in need of replacement, and culminates in Bond and his quarry crashing through a skylight, swinging about on pulleys and knocking over statues inside some antiquated chamber. If Bond has a problem with architecture it can probably be traced back to his creator, Ian Fleming, who was certainly no fan of modernism. He even went as far as to name one of his best baddies after the Erno Goldfinger, architect of London's Trellick Tower among others. Goldfinger the architect was apparently a neighbour of Fleming's in Hampstead, and the conservation-minded author was incensed when he demolished two Victorian houses to build his now-classic modern villas on Willow Road. So he returned the insult by lending Goldfinger's name to his fictional gold-loving megalomaniac. Another, less-controversial version of the story has it that Fleming played golf with Goldfinger's wife's cousin, but either way, poor Erno tried and failed to stop Fleming appropriating his name, and had to bear the association for the rest of his life. Fleming's views on Le Corbusier were equally scathing, according to associates. In fact, on closer inspection, what is the archetypal Bond villain if not a modern architect? He is usually on a mission to "improve" humanity by wiping out the messy status quo and replacing it with some orderly, rational utopia of his own design. In Moonraker it's Hugo Drax who wants to start civilisation afresh in space. In the Spy Who Loved Me, it's Stromberg, who tries to wipe out the world's cities and create his own underwater world of Atlantis. "The only hope for the future of mankind," he says, echoing Le Corbusier. "We all have our dreams," responds Bond, resolving to ensure Stromberg's scorched-earth vision remains just that - a dream.
The archetypal villain interior ... Elrod House, which was featured in Diamonds Are Forever. Photograph: Alan Weintraub/Arcaid/Corbis The association between evil and modernism runs through many Bond movies. In Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery is taught a lesson by Bambi and Thumper in John Lautner's beautiful Elrod House in Palm Springs - all futuristic concrete domes, dynamic diagonals and circular furniture. Villain interiors are often modelled on similar modernists. Osato's spacious office in You Only Live Twice is rather Corbusier in Japan. Goldfinger's "rumpus room" is distinctly Frank Lloyd Wright, as is Hugo Drax's behind-the-waterfall lair in Moonraker, whose Mayanpatterned relief panels resemble those of Wright's Ennis House. The association continues in Quantum of Solace. When they find a mole within MI6, where do you think he lives? London's Barbican centre, of course. What kind of house does Bond himself live in, I wonder? Does he even have one? If Bond is the scourge of modern architecture, the movies at least have a champion in the form of Ken Adam, production designer extraordinaire. He was the man behind most of the classic Bond villain headquarters - from Dr No to Moonraker, and he designed and furnished them with great skill and devotion, as a new book from Thames and Hudson details. Adam studied architecture in London before the second world war, and he deserves to be considered one. Inarguably, he created some of the most memorable spaces of the modern era. Usually, we look at buildings in a city and wonder what they look like inside. Adam's spectacular interiors do the opposite, inviting us to wonder what the buildings look like on the outside. In reality of course, most of them were just flimsy sets in Pinewood studios whose ultimate fate was to be dismantled or blown up (like the Venetian palazzo in Casino Royale, and the interior of the Paranal Residencia in Quantum of Solace), but Adam's designs have been as influential as any "real" pieces of architecture. Bond might deploy his licence to trash with worrying abandon, but his motive should be seen less as a grudge against modern architecture and more an extreme form of criticism. He makes a mockery of buildings' functions and pricks the pomposity of their designers. Flat rooftops become platforms from which to dangle henchmen by their neckties; tall chimneys are there to drop wheelchair-bound villains down; corridors become racetracks, balconies vantage points, buildings as a whole turned into giant climbing frames, their carefully designed details relegated to mere footholds and escape routes. Perhaps that's just fanciful thinking on the part of someone who writes about architecture for a living, but as I loosen my bowtie, unholster my revolver and mix a stiff vodka martini, I can't help but identify with him. the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/nov/04/james-bondarchitecture by Steve Rose on November 4, 2008
7. 09. For What and For Whom? Increasingly open ways of participating in the selection and display of content are blossoming. Harnessing the ubiquity of internet access, the Brooklyn Museum are able to produced Click!, a "crowd-curated" photography exhibition. Weblogs, like FFFFOUND!, allow invited internet users to select pictures worthy of scrutiny from the tonnage of imagery available on the web. Taking the semi-randomness of allowing web users to filter content as a model, the Kemper Museum in Kansas City recently permitted museum visitors to choose items from the collection to be displayed in an exhibition entitled "Putting the U in Curator".
[Screenshot from FFFFOUND! image bookmarking service] In each of these situations, the word curating is used to describe actions taken by members of the public who would not normally self-define as curators. This situation is similar to the one described by Clay Shirky in his recent book, Here Comes Everybody4, about the definition of a journalist: "So long as publishing was expensive, journalists were rare." (p. 71) So long as there were relatively few museums and galleries, art curators were rare. On the surface, it appears that this rarity is eroding, not because of an explosion in curatorial jobs and projects, but because there is an explosion in the way the term is being used. "Curating" is increasingly being used to describe an expanding body of activity in terms of new platforms and materials, but remains focused on the act of the curator as editor or selector. This movement towards the application of the term curator to bloggers choosing images for their blogs, and to museum visitors who are invited to move a painting from the vault to the gallery wall, and to the person who votes on images in a web browser, expands the notion of a curator at the same time that it contracts it. There are two distinct types of activity happening in this expanded area of definition. One is a singular act of temporary deputisation as a curator. This type of singular activity fits with the example of the Kemper Museum show, where one random museum visitor was selected to choose one piece from the collection, and then this same activity was repeated with a different museum visitor, until the walls were full. The other type of activity is a crowd-generated model, wherein group choices are tallied and a final result evolves from popularity of particular items, as in the Brooklyn Museum example. Both of these cases highlight the selection and editing processes that are part of a curatorial role. Language is living and the meaning of words and expressions evolve over time and with use. There is no doubt that there is value to opening up and demystifying the editing and selection processes most typically known to be domain of the art curator. If this strategy is properly applied, it is possible to encourage anyone who is interested to develop a deeper aesthetic sense, to feel more closely linked to culture and heritage institutions, and to develop stronger ideas of what culture means to them. But if this is how the common use of the word curator is evolving, what is lost? To speak very broadly, when looking at any collection of items, one can ask: "For what and for whom?" Why select, edit, and group things together? Collections and curated exhibitions are about creating links, developing narratives, and composing responses to perennial questions and ideas. These collections and groupings are then presented in ways so that they will effectively reach audiences. Often erroneously perceived as the skulduggery of the marketer, it is the work of curators and all cultural workers to perform extensive research on who is or could be the audience for a particular exhibit or collection, and what would constitute an effective display for this audience. Just as a priest isn't simply someone who says Mass and a doctor isn't simply someone who taps your knee with a hammer, a curator isn't just someone who selects images. The larger role of the curator encompasses the creation of links to other creative dialogues, writing and contextualising work, developing the physical (or
virtual) exhibition sequencing and flow, and perhaps most important of all, nurturing a relationship with the practitioners who make the work and understanding the narrative inherent in their career trajectory. (Or, in the case of those who work with historical collections, having a scholarly background on the movements/time periods/artists represented in these collections). What can and will be lost in the reduction of the term curator to mean one who clicks on a thumbs-up or thumbs-down icon is that sense of for what and for whom. Is it possible to build a notion of for what and for whom into the singular model and the crowd model, and is that an appropriate aim? Or do these models serve the very specific purpose of magnifying the intricacies of these selection processes? I would argue that building larger cultural narratives, and developing clear intentions towards an audience are functions too important to ignore. Behind each of these very important additional tasks of the curator is an understanding of intentions and a burden of responsibility towards the public, artists, and colleagues.
[Screenshot from Click! at Brooklyn Museum] Perhaps the intentions of those working with either old models or new are too divergent to reconcile. In interviews about the Brooklyn Museum crowd-curated exhibition Click! on artinfo.com, a photoblogger describes traditional modes of curating as about "judgment and exclusion" and that it allows "only a certain group of people to have their work seen", whilst a professional curator working in an institution characterises the crowd mode of curating as allowing people to act "less as curators and more as participants" and another curator described how the the exhibition might undermine the educational aspect of a museum's mandate. In a very direct statement on the matter, blogger Jason Kottke says5 of his FFFFOUND! project: "I would argue that these sites showcase a new form of art curating. The pace is faster, you don't need a physical gallery or museum, and you don't need to worry about crossing arbitrary boundaries of style or media. Nor do you need to concern yourself with questions like "is this person an artist or an outsider artist?" If a particular piece is good or compelling or noteworthy, in it goes." Were these thoughts to be developed a little further, Kottke might have found that the terms "good", "compelling", and "noteworthy" are problematic, and the use of those terms in a cavalier way indicates a lack of consideration for who both the audience and the users are, or could be. In "Here Comes Everybody" Shirky also notes that: "As with the printing press, the loss of professional control will be bad for many of society's core institutions, but it's happening anyway. The comparison with the printing press doesn't suggest we are entering a bright new future - for a hundred years after it started, the printing press broke more things than it fixed, plunging Europe into a period of intellectual and political chaos that ended only in
the 1600s." (p. 73). Will the notion of flexibility espoused by evangelists such as Kottke break more things than it fixes? It will certainly stretch, if not completely break, the definitions of noteworthy, good, and compelling, as well as curating. In these open forums for participation, the very arbitrariness and randomness that is held up a virtue also ensures that there will never be a common vision or consensus on direction and intention. While this doesn't undermine the value of online or offline filtering by the public as an educational or research vehicle, it is erroneous to imagine it could take the place of a specialist waking up every day and asking "for what and for whom?" (before putting the "u" in curator). Rather than muddying our terms, the way forward is to identify and clarify what the purpose of singular or collaborative methods of filtering are, and refine how to make these methods more useful and meaningful to the participants. Vague Terrain http://vagueterrain.net/journal11/michelle-kasprzak/01 by Michelle Kasprzak on September 14, 2008
8. Archinect Op-Ed: The Public Image(s) of Architecture Architecture and politics have a long and sordid relationship. It has been said that all architecture is political. Typically architecture serves a subservient role in this relationship by merely representing the politics of the building’s patron—what Deyan Sudjic has described as the Edifice Complex. Nevertheless, at times throughout history architects themselves take on a political agenda and use their projects as rhetorical devices for the elucidation of these views. Rarely, though, do architects take it upon themselves to become actively involved in politics (Maurice Cox is one notable exception). It seems, however, that we are experiencing a sea change and you can now witness a growing interest in political advocacy amongst architects. The question still remains as to how we should get involved. The AIA suggests a ‘grassroots strategy’ that involves fundraising, contacting legislators, and ‘staying informed.’ This is all well and good but I believe we can do better. As architects, urban designers, and landscape architects we are trained to design a better world, offer suggestions and produce visions for how tomorrow can be better than today. On top of that our professions have developed exceptional skills and techniques for communicating these visions to a broader public. From Boullée to Superstudio to Lebbeus Woods, one common thread has connected all great political architecture – powerful images that evoke the political ideals of the designer; too often though these images remain within the confines of our discipline. I would argue that considering the current push for political advocacy we need to develop strategies to make our images more public. Taking into account the current political and financial milieu there is no greater time than now for designers to unite behind a collective set of issues, create more provocative images, and present them to the public for inspection and debate. There already exist some precedents for this. Current media darlings MAD and BIG, the Shirley Temples of today’s design community, seem to have developed highly effective formulas for media engagement. Under the leadership of Ma Yansong (MAD) and Bjarke Ingels (BIG) both firms have demonstrated skills at making use of architectural media and the media at large; successfully igniting public discussion on important issues and even picking up a commission or two along the way. Through unsolicited design proposals MAD and BIG are able to put forth their personal agenda—for Ma it is the concept of a ‘high-density nature’ and achieving greater harmony between nature and urbanity, and for Bjarke Ingels it is the concept of an ‘ecolomical’ approach to design (economy +
ecology). Additionally, through a grassroots approach, BIG have voluntarily proposed alterations to their native Copenhagen that have since gotten the attention of some important city officials and are discussing possible implementation. What is the key to their success? In my opinion it is an ability to create salient images that galvanize a fragmented collection of publics behind compelling visions. I recently had a chance to meet with Ma Yansong from MAD when this topic unintentionally came up (which actually triggered the idea for this diatribe). I have to say I was struck by a project I had not previously given much thought to: MAD’s vision for Beijing in the year (2050). Their vision features three proposals: a giant cloud-like building which would hover over the CBD, the modernization of Beijing’s hutongs through blobby infrastructural interventions, and the forestation of Tiananmen Square, what we would now call ‘re-wilding’. From a traditional architectural viewpoint the first two proposals might look the most ‘radical’ because they push the boundaries of formal experimentation. But in the Chinese context it turns out that transforming Tiananmen Square into a lush green space is actually the most politically subversive proposal. Why? Because it questions China’s unprecedented growth at the expense of the environment, it undermines the state’s apparatus of control through unimpeded surveillance, and it challenges the most fundamental ideology of the state itself – communism – by atomizing the collective space of the ‘citizens’ plaza into smaller chunks better suited for individuals and small groups. Ma claims that “it was important for encouraging normal people to talk about all these possibilities. …I think many people see it, and somehow it changed their minds...” Discussion about the project did indeed occur—so much so that the project is now banned from state sponsored media and exhibitions. But eventually Ma & co. would be redeemed. Two years later a mayor from a southern Chinese city approached MAD to build a new city hall and did not balk when they proposed a similar strategy, that the city hall be embedded into a heavily forested ‘landscape’, the antithesis of the standard Chinese strategy of using architecture as a representation of state power. Before it was adopted by Walt Disney, imagineering was a term invented during World War II by combining the words imagination and engineering. It was originally defined as “the fine art of deciding where we go from here.” To me this is a beautiful mandate for designers and I believe we should adopt it as our own. I recently modified this portmanteau and coined the phrase ‘imaginUrbanism.” At first I used it as a satirical take on the privatization of public infrastructure, but in the context of this essay I see it transformed into a charge for all of us to keep imagining brighter futures and to work together to take our collective agendas out of inner-disciplinary debates and put them in front of the public at large— and rescue the public image of architecture. Archinect http://archinect.com/features/article.php?id=82515_0_23_0_C by o d b on November 8, 2008
9. Who killed the blogosphere? Blogging seems to have entered its midlife crisis, with much existential gnashing-of-teeth about the state and fate of a literary form that once seemed new and fresh and now seems familiar and tired. And there's good reason for the teeth-gnashing. While there continue to be many blogs, including a lot of very good ones, it seems to me that one would be hard pressed to make the case that there's still a "blogosphere." That vast, free-wheeling, and surprisingly intimate forum where individual writers shared their observations, thoughts, and arguments outside the bounds of the traditional media is gone. Almost all of the popular blogs today are commercial ventures with teams of writers, aggressive ad-sales operations, bloated sites, and strategies of self-linking. Some are good,
some are boring, but to argue that they're part of a "blogosphere" that is distinguishable from the "mainstream media" seems more and more like an act of nostalgia, if not self-delusion. And that's why there's so much angst today among the blogging set. As The Economist observes in its new issue, "Blogging has entered the mainstream, which - as with every new medium in history - looks to its pioneers suspiciously like death." "Blogging" has always had two very different definitions, of course. One is technical: a simple system for managing and publishing content online, as offered through services such as WordPress, Movable Type, and Blogger. The other involves a distinctive style of writing: a personal diary, or "log," of observations and links, unspooling in a near-real-time chronology. When we used to talk about blogging, the stress was on the style. Today, what blogs have in common is mainly just the underlying technology - the "publishing platform" - and that makes it difficult to talk meaningfully about a "blogosphere." Stylewise, little distinguishes today's popular blogs from ordinary news sites. One good indicator is page bloat. The Register's John Oates points today to a revealing study of the growing obesity of once slender blog pages. "Blog front pages are now large pages of images and scripts rather than the pared-down text pages of old," he writes. The study, by Pingdom, is remarkable. Among the top 100 blogs, as listed by the blog search engine Technorati, the average "front page" (note, by the way, how the mainstream-media term is pushing aside the more personal "home page") is nearly a megabyte, and three-quarters of the blogs have front pages larger than a half megabyte. The main culprits behind the bloat are image files, which have proliferated as blogs have adopted the look of traditional news sites. The top 100 blogs have, on average, a whopping 63 images on their front pages. As blogs have become mainstream, they've lost much of their original personality. "Scroll down Technorati's list of the top 100 blogs and you'll find personal sites have been shoved aside by professional ones," writes one corporate blogger, Valleywag's Paul Boutin, in the new Wired. "Most are essentially online magazines: The Huffington Post. Engadget. TreeHugger. A stand-alone commentator can't keep up with a team of pro writers cranking out up to 30 posts a day. When blogging was young, enthusiasts rode high, with posts quickly skyrocketing to the top of Google's search results for any given topic, fueled by generous links from fellow bloggers ... That phenomenon was part of what made blogging so exciting. No more." The buzz has left blogging, says Boutin, and moved, at least for the time being, to Facebook and Twitter. I was a latecomer to blogging, launching Rough Type in the spring of 2005. But even then, the feel of blogging was completely different than it is today. The top blogs were still largely written by individuals. They were quirky and informal. Such blogs still exist (and long may they thrive!), but as Boutin suggests, they've been pushed to the periphery. It's no surprise, then, that the vast majority of blogs have been abandoned. Technorati has identified 133 million blogs since it started indexing them in 2002. But at least 94 percent of them have gone dormant, the company reports in its most recent "state of the blogosphere" study. Only 7.4 million blogs had any postings in the last 120 days, and only 1.5 million had any postings in the last seven days. Now, as longtime blogger Tim Bray notes, 7.4 million and 1.5 million are still sizable numbers, but they're a whole lot lower than we've been led to believe. "I find those numbers shockingly low," writes Bray; "clearly, blogging isn’t as widespread as we thought." Call it the Long Curtail: For the lion's share of bloggers, the rewards just aren't worth the effort. Back in 2005, I argued that the closest historical precedent for blogging was amateur radio. The example has become, if anything, more salient since then. When "the wireless" was introduced to America around 1900, it set off a surge in amateur broadcasting, as hundreds of thousands of people took to the airwaves. "On every night after dinner," wrote Francis Collins in the 1912 book Wireless Man, "the entire country becomes a vast whispering gallery." As amateur broadcasting boomed, utopian
rhetoric soared. Popular Science wrote, "The nerves of the whole world are, so to speak, being bound together, so that a touch in one country is transmitted instantly to a far-distant one." The amateur broadcasters, the historian Susan J. Douglas has written, "claimed to be surrogates for 'the people.'" The democratic "radiosphere," as we might have called it today, "held a special place in the American imagination precisely because it married idealism and adventure with science." But it didn't last. Radio soon came to be dominated by a relatively small number of media companies, with the most popular amateur operators being hired on as radio personalities. Social production was absorbed into corporate production. By the 1920s, radio had become "firmly embedded in a corporate grid," writes Douglas. A lot of amateurs continued to pursue their hobby, quite happily, but they found themselves pushed to the periphery. "In the 1920s there was little mention of world peace or of anyone's ability to track down a long-lost friend or relative halfway around the world. In fact, there were not many thousands of message senders, only a few ... Thus, through radio, Americans would not transcend the present or circumvent corporate networks. In fact they would be more closely tied to both." That's not to say that the amateur radio operators didn't change the mainstream media. They did. And so, too, have bloggers. Allowing readers to post comments on stories has now, thanks to blogging, become commonplace throughout online publishing. But the once popular idea that blogs would prove to be an alternative to, or even a devastating attack on, corporate media has proven naive. Who killed the blogosphere? No one did. Its death was natural, and foretold. UPDATE: Justin Flood points to a difference between amateur radio and blogging: "It’s a fairly good statement to say that blogging in general will likely be more and more absorbed into the mainstream media, leaving independant bloggers a bit fewer and farther between. But unlike amateur radio, which has all but died today due to licensing and equipment costs, independant blogging will always be around. All one needs is a modicum of technical and writing knowledge and a website like Blogger or Wordpress.com to host a blog for free." I think there's a lot of truth to that - it's considerably easier, assuming you have a computer and net connection, to become a blogger than to become a ham radio operator, and that should, in theory, mean that a fairly steady stream of new bloggers should continue to enter the field (even if they don't stay in it very long). Still, though, Flood exaggerates the death of amateur radio. There are about 3 million amateur ham radio operators worldwide. That doesn't seem to be radically different from the number of active bloggers, despite the fact that blogging is new and sexy while hamming is, well, old and dusty. A postscript to my Who killed the blogosphere? post: starting Monday, Cosmic Variance will be bidding adieu to its life as a plucky independent blog, and huddle into the warm embrace of Discover Magazine ... Now, we know what you’re thinking: you knew us back when we were indie rock, keeping it real, and now we’re going all corporate? Yes, yes we are. If for no other reason than the thankless task of keeping the blog from crashing and handling the technical end of things will be put in someone else’s capable hands, not our clueless ones. But there are other reasons. Hopefully the association with Discover will open up new opportunities, and bring new readers to our discussions. And we’re happy to be joining an elite community of blogs that are already up and running at Discover. “Elite community”: now there’s a telling phrase. Rough Type http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2008/11/cosmic_implosio.php by Nicholas Carr on November 7, 2008
10. Venice Biennale of Architecture: the Polish pavilion The Polish Pavilion was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation at this year's edition of the Venice Biennale of Architecture. And it's easy to understand why.
Terminal 2 - Fryderyk Chopin International Airport, (Estudio Lamela, Lamela y Asociados)
Curated by Grzegorz Piątek and Jarosław Trybuś, the exhibition is entitled Warsaw's Polonia Hotel. The Afterlife of Buildings and presents six major architectural projects designed in Poland in recent years by renowned architects.
What's the use of the Metropolitan office building designed by Foster+Partners once the speculative real-estate market faces collapse or in case of a revolution in the patterns of corporate work? Could it be bought one day by the police and turned into a prison? The idea might not be as crazy as it sounds. The building encircles the courtyard (which would become an exercise yard for convicts) in an almost perfect panopticon and the polished surface of the walls multiply reflections, enabling a surveillance from all points of view.
The exhibition engages with the theme of this year's Biennale "Out there - architecture beyond buildings" in a literal way. Looking beyond the form given to buildings by architects, the curators of the pavilion question the durability of edifices. Their project tries and forecasts how the passage of time, the changes in social or environmental conditions will affect and slowly modify buildings. Images hung side by side present prestigious edifices as they are now and as they might be after a major transformation. The 'before' photographs were made by Nicolas Grospierre. The 'after' are collages by Kobas Laksa that imagine a possible future for these buildings. What is the point of having a second air terminal at Warsaw airport when skyrocketing price of oil makes flying affordable to very few people? When importing bananas from Brazil and rice from Vietnam has become a scandalous luxury? The solution envisioned by Polish authorities a few decades from now is to convert an airstrip into cultivated land and to adapt Terminal 2 to the needs of a large animal husbandry plant. Could this idea be discarded as a crazy forecast when speculations about the future of Berlin's Tempelhof airport, now officially closed, envision the possibility to turn the 900-acre (365-hectare) site into a luxury spa, some condos, a museum, a park, a trade center or even the centerpiece of a new Olympic bid.
Metropolitan, by Norman Foster and Partners
Sanctuary of our Lady of Sorrow, by architect Barbara Bielecka
What is going to happen with a monumental university library such as the Warsaw University Library when all the books become digital? Wouldn't it make more sense to restyle the space into a shopping mall?
Warsaw University Library, by Marek BudzyĹ„ski, Zbigniew Badowski
Who needs a monumental Marian shrine like the Sanctuary of our Lady of Sorrow, built between 1994 and 2004, in Lichen when even the last Poles have ceased attending masses? Surely they would prefer Poland's largest church to be converted into an aquatic park, right?
The project didn't stop with a bunch of photos. The building of Polish Pavillion itself - a monumental building raised in the 1930s- is subject to change. The curators re-purposed it into a hotel for the first five days of the Biennale. When i visited, beds were still welcoming visitors willing to have a quick rest and a red sign that reads Hotel was added on the facade of the Polish pavilion.
The Venice Biennale of Architecture continues until Nov. 23, 2008. We Make Money Not Art http://www.we-make-money-not-art.com/archives/2008/11/venicebiennale-of-architectur-5.php by Regine on November 6, 2008