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prss release #24 ,december 19 2008

the independent paper blog aggregator

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time on your side | jackcheng they’re watching you | scouting new york ice installation by nele azevedo | cooked brains building a better big box | brand avenue the economy of hope | portfolio building stories | serial consign book review - shoot an iragi, art, life and resistance under the gun | we make money not art plectic architecture | wired tallest abandoned structure | english russia the lost twin | the believer


illustration | v-annemarie

merry. freaking. christmas.

bike-powered christmas tree

1. Time on your side

break down vague tasks into ones that aren’t quite as daunting:

We all have nagging to-dos—the ones we put off for weeks or months (or even years). When we finally get around to taking action, we realize that we spent more time dreading them or worrying about them than it actually took to do them. For the past couple months, I’ve been attaching a time estimate to the end of each item on my to-do list. This simple trick has completely changed how I deal with the things on my plate, especially the tasks I’d normally keep putting off. I call it time-tagging:

I follow the 5-60 rule. If it takes less than 5 minutes, it’s a waste of time to even write it down. You should do it on the spot if possible. If it’s longer than an hour, it’s probably too big and needs to be split into smaller tasks. Otherwise, you’re going to skip over that 3-hour to-do every single time.

Time-tagging helps you filter. Say you’re a fairly-organized, somewhat-busy individual and you have a list of to-dos, arranged by project like so:

Time-tagging helps you democratize. When you think about your tasks in terms of how long it takes to complete them, the volume on what the project is gets dialed down. Important projects you’ve been putting off gain weight on impulsive, lessproductive things. We go through huge chunks of our day on autopilot. When that happens, we let our subconscious minds dictate what we feel like working on (which often leads to a couple hours reading wikipedia or watching youtube videos) instead of what we know we should work on. Seeing things in terms of time give our conscious minds some leverage—that extra little boost we need to overcome the mental hurdles that stand in the way of putting creative energy toward something amazing. by Jack Cheng on December 10, 2008

And you only have 20 minutes before your next meeting starts. In this case, Subconscious Jack would decide it was too much mental work to scan that long list and process those few hundred characters to figure out which one he had time to do. So naturally, I defaulted to reading blogs, checking email incessantly and general slackery (also known as “killing time”). But if you have the minutes in advance, you skip over a lot of the mental resistance that comes with figuring everything out on the spot. You can glance at this list and just ignore any task longer than 20 minutes:

Time-tagging helps you clarify. Often our to-dos are so vague that we end up thinking they’re bigger and more energy-consuming than they actually are. By going through and consciously considering how long it’d take to complete them, we can

2. They’re Watching You The amount of detail to be found in NYC is absolutely mind-boggling, to the point where there are ornamentation and decorative flourishes that are simply invisible to anyone but the birds. A few years ago, I was working on a job that had a camera position on a roof near Madison Square Park. I got to spend a few beautiful summer days about 20 stories up, which afforded a fantastic view of this building on West 26th Street between Broadway & 5th.

This building is covered in intricate detail, but what is really incredible is that most of it is way, way too far up for anyone on the street to see. So who was all this designed for? Even from my position, it’s still hard to make anything out. But when you get a little closer…

…including these guys hanging out on a ledge.

Move a little further down still and you get this great row of gargoyles (or are they grotesques? Can’t tell if they are hiding drain pipes)…

Up close: a cherubic baby beside a monstrous gargoyle, complete with curled tongue…and there is simply no way you could see this from the ground. Brilliant.

If you look a little further down, you can see flourishes of design everywhere…

There was a time when the standard for architecture was insanely high, far beyond the modern expectation of simply maximizing square footage. It blows my mind when I visit tenements that were once intended for the poorest of society and yet were still built with a few interesting decorations in the brick work. Meanwhile, modern standards, courtesy of The Brownstoner:

boarded-up movie theater in Williamsburg on Rodney and Broadway today…

…except it’s no longer there. It was recently demolished, making way for what I expect will be more of the same old shit. It’s yet another reason to pay a little closer attention to the city - there’s a lot to see, but what exists today could very well be gone tomorrow forever. I want to thank everyone for a fantastic week. We had a ton of writeups in various blogs, including Curbed and the New York Times, and hopefully found a few new readers! You can always subscribe to the RSS feed above for easy updates. And there’s a lot more to come in the weeks ahead! Have a good weekend… Scouting New York by Scout on December 12, 2008

3. Ice Installation by Nele Azevedo.

I’m not trying to depress everyone on a Friday, really! I’m just trying to reinforce how amazing it is not only that such a building still exists today, but that there was once a time when such a vastly different standard was held. Those days are sadly gone forever, which makes it all the more important to preserve what still remains. I happened to drive by this old

These beautiful art installations of tiny icemen is the creation of Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo. This is really cool artwork! And here are few more of the ice installations which we came across in the past: Ice And Snow Sculptures and Ice And Snow Sculptures: Part - II.

Cooked Brains By Venus on August 25, 2008

4. Building a Better Big Box The Washington Post enlists the imaginations of several DC-area architects in envisioning the future of the "big box" retail spaces that we all know and loathe. What will happen when the anchor tenant moves on, goes under, or decides it needs an even bigger space? What about changing retail and transportation preferences? The different solutions presented in the article approach big box retail space from a few angles--exploring the big box's integration into denser, urban form and reimagining its insides as space for agriculture and commerce. Below, Christopher Leinberger and Daniel Rippeteau start with the ubiquitous parking lots that surround essentially every suburban big box store. Their solution: "build a town in the parking lot."

The vast acreage of big-box parking lots seems almost providentially proportioned to be turned into walkable city blocks, he says. What you have to do is lay these blocks out with parking garages at their core, and encrust those with an outer layer of shops and apartments on all sides. That makes one block. Put together a whole bunch of these blocks, with the shops and apartments facing each other across the newly defined streets, and you've got a chunk of city. As it happens, prefabricated parking deck trusses span about 60 feet. So let's say you make your parking deck a loaf 60 feet wide and 120 feet deep. If you face it on all sides with shops that are 50 feet deep, well, voilĂ -- you've got yourself a walkable city block, with just enough space left over for sidewalks, bike lanes and streets. Then you build apartments or offices over the shops. What happens in the parking lots would have a ripple effect on the surrounding environment, too: Leinberger and Rippeteau suggest redesign of the fast-moving arterials and highways that typically service suburban retail to become latter-day versions of the classic 19th-century Parisian boulevards. (Which reminds me of this photoessay from San Francisco Cityscape on the development of Octavia Boulevard, a "complete street" designed to supplant the Central Freeway, lost in the 1991 Loma Prieta earthquake. Think of the ugliest arterial road you can, look at that photoessay, and imagine how much sprawl could change.) But what would happen inside the big box store itself? Roger K. Lewis, professor emeritus in the School of Architecture at the University of Maryland, suggests ways to convert a big box structure to housing by selectively opening some of its regular structural bays.

Organic gardeners routinely lay down weed-suppressing black plastic into which they poke holes to plant their seeds. Asphalt is just like that, only a little thicker, observes Darrel Rippeteau, principal of Rippeteau Architects. So in the process of creating a truck garden (above), the parking lot becomes an orchard. Under the parking lot you find an elaborate network of drainage pipes -- if you think big-box owners want to see women in high heels slipping on ice, you are out of your mind. In its new incarnation, the system collects rainwater for irrigation. In fact, the water can be piped into the fire-suppression sprinkler system in the big box, which now serves as a monster mister. (You could also go hydroponic.) Much of the roof, of course, has become glass or translucent plastic. Those gigunda halogens make great grow lights. The concrete slab floor works as a heat sump. Major-league climate control comes with the package. Much of the produce is packed up in the back and shipped to farmers' markets. But you can also pick your own. There's also possibility in the roof--either as a green roof, capable of small-scale agricultural production; or as a greenhouse roof, illuminating the vast floor space below. The proposal below from Esocoff & Associates uses the latter approach.

In her book, Big Box Reuse, artist and Oberlin College professor Julia Christensen explores the ramifications of big box conversions through a wide variety of recent examples, focusing on defunct KMart and WalMart properties nationwide. As she notes in the book's introduction:

The exterior walls are not hard to punch windows into -- structurally, they're just steel uprights sometimes reinforced with diagonal struts. Then you punch skylights in over the interior walkways, and the apartments almost start laying themselves out. You add a balcony here, a second floor there, a sleeping loft over yonder, and you're looking at the niftiest affordable housing ever. Conversely, the former site of so much globalized consumer activity could serve a new role as incubator of local food production.

By examining the reuse of these sites, we get a glimpse of what our future might look like as we continue to adapt these buildings into our everyday nonretail lives. We also cull a compelling portrait of this moment in the development of our built environment, which inevitably speaks of our culture, of our activities, of our lives. There is a cultural shift at hand, as groups such as schools and senior resource centers "supersize" and find big box buildings more and more useful for their own operation. As the form of cities, bound up with environmental, social and economic concerns, appears to gain a more important role in a global discussion, Christensen's book is a must-read for anyone interested in the design of the Western city of the near future. Like it or not, big box retail is a constituent part of our cities, and Christensen correctly points out that its re-invention offers just as much possibility as that of a defunct industrial loft building. It's the loft building of the present day, in fact. We know what to do with the former factory; but what about the urban fringe?

Brand Avenue by Chris Timmerman on December 9, 2008

5. The Economy of Hope Consumer surveys show gloom today, brighter days tomorrow. Do they matter?

As the holiday shopping season stumbles toward its frantic conclusion, countless opinion polls and surveys will remind us that Americans believe the economy is in the doghouse. And short of a miracle not seen since, well, ever, there's little evidence that times will get better over the next few months. Indeed, last week's downright scary employment report, which showed that more than a half-million jobs vanished from offices and factories around the country in November, will add only more doom to everyone's gloom. Amid the bad news, however, the election of Barack Obama appears to have given Americans a lift. According to the CNBC/ Wealth in America Survey, 55 percent of respondents expect the economy to improve under the new president. Still, a cynic, could point out that 55 percent matches up pretty nicely with Obama's share of the popular vote. How seriously can we take any of these surveys, especially with a severe financial crisis and economic downturn the likes of which most of us have never lived through? The predictions of professional forecasters largely failed us in the run-up to the current recession. Can consumers do any better? The short answer is no. While for many years, economists believed that consumer surveys helped improve forecasts of consumer spending, more recent research has shown otherwise. Still, surveys of consumers can tell us something about their state of mind. For example, other surveys have shown similar bounces higher after the November elections, a situation which is actually an anomaly. A study by European economists last year found that in elections in the United States and Europe over the last two decades, consumer confidence typically rose before an election and dipped thereafter, regardless of whether the incumbent party won or lost. Political contests appear to instill some hope for a brighter future, which are then quickly dashed when "politics as usual" resumes. Confidence surveys in the U.S. showed a similar upward trend this year until September, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers sent panic throughout the financial system. The European study's results then suggest that the optimism surrounding Obama could be a red herring if no significant action is taken on the reeling economy soon after he becomes president, or if the action is perceived to be unhelpful.

To Obama's credit, the possibility of little legislative movement post-January seems remote: Democrats in control of Congress and the president-elect has continuously pledged to act quickly on an economic stimulus plan once he enters office. And the selection of Berkeley's Christina Romer also suggests that speed is on Obama's mind. Romer's past research into the Depression, the historic economic calamity that our own is most often compared to, offers an example of when consumer confidence does matter. In a 1990 paper titled "The Great Crash and the Onset of the Great Depression," Romer examined how the stock market collapse of 1929 spilled over into the real economy. Contrary to popular belief at the time—and probably still now—Romer argued that the stock-market crash and the Depression were two distinct events. One didn't automatically lead to the other. The link connecting the two was the role of low sentiment and how it reduced business activity. "The stock-market crash temporarily increased uncertainty about the course of future income," wrote Romer. "The result of this temporary uncertainty was that consumers, and to a lesser degree investors, cut spending on durable goods drastically as they waited for the uncertainty to be resolved." Romer wrote the paper shortly after the 1987 stock-market crash, which, she noted, only had a small impact on the rest of the economy: After a brief downturn, spending recovered and grew at a normal rate. But this time around, the situation is sure to be worse. Consumer purchases of big-ticket items like cars and appliances have fallen sharply for two consecutive months through October. Total consumer spending, which makes up more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy, is on a five-month decline, the longest such stretch since the government began tracking it in 1959. If future income expectations are the linchpin for a return to growth, as Romer's research implies, then the picture looks even grimmer. For even while there is optimism over Obama, a little-followed indicator released monthly by the Conference Board shows that only one out of 10 Americans expect their incomes to increase over the next six months, down from one out of five at the end of 2007 and the lowest level since 1980. If there is a bit of good news in all of this, it's that while consumer confidence indicators can usually be ignored, that's not the case during times of great distress. Which means that the opinion-polling industry, unlike most others, should breathe a little easier now. Portfolio by Zubin Jelveh on December 10, 2008

6. Building Stories

thinking that it is the architectural counterpoint to Tom Waits' take on meteorology on Nighthawks at the Diner. The final lines of Building Stories: Part 3 reads "This building now has to admit to feeling a little bit grateful for the arrival each day of 24 more hours" - and the events continue to accumulate. Building Stories: Part 3 is available for PDF download as part of the excellent Acme Novelty Archive, an "unofficial directory" of the works of Chris Ware. Serial Consign Submitted by Greg J. Smith on Fri, 2008-11-21 11:00.

About a year ago I received a .zip archive of comic artist Chris Ware's entire series of Building Stories. These "funny pages" scrutinized the lives, dreams and space of a number of tenants in a varying states of melancholy and restlessness. Like all the characters in Ware's universe, these protagonists exist in a bleak and nostalgic world of missed opportunities and unfulfilled dreams. Despite this overbearing sense of emptiness, hope does glimmer in the background and subtext. Building Stories appeared in Nest Magazine, The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine between 2003 and 2006. The purpose of this post is not so much to survey the complete series but to instead consider a specific installment, Building Stories: Part 3 (pictured above). Building Stories: Part 3 conducts a narrative vivisection of a threestory apartment complex, pulling away walls to provide an omnipotent view of the history of the space. What is interesting about the structure of this comic is rather than delve into the complex, fragmented layouts (primarily composed of small multiples) that Ware is famous for, it provides a quantified overview of events that have happened in the space of a single panel. So while "nothing is happening" the moment that this snapshot is taken, a sum total of incidents is quantified and laid bare on various architectural surfaces and in the margins. The reader is provided with lists rather than shown events.

Close examination of these lists reveals a variety of tracked values including "886 screams, 217 punches, 3 births, 74,316 newspapers, 5 spiritual crises, 64,418 orgasms, 22 pregnancies" and a personal favourite "32,655,497 water drips". Delivery of these quantities is deadpanned and major personal benchmarks are casually mixed with the trivial as if to suggest an indifference on the part of both the architecture and Ware. This depiction of domestic space as a living document (a tally sheet) and an "event-aggregator" speaks to some of the desires evident in Andy Stanford-Clark's "talking" home automation system [see previous post]. They key difference between these two models of scanning urban space is time - in Ware's fiction he can shoot with a wide-angle lens and speculate an absurd and fascinating endgame to this notion of quantified domesticity. While spending time with this comic over the last several days I keep

7. Book Review - Shoot An Iraqi, Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun

Shoot An Iraqi, Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun, by Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi American artist currently an assistant professor at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York Universit and author and journalist Kari Lydersen (Amazon UK and USA.) Publisher City Lights says: Wafaa Bilal's childhood in Iraq was defined by the horrific rule of Saddam Hussein, two wars, a bloody uprising, and time spent interned in chaotic refugee camps in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Bilal eventually made it to the U.S. to become a professor and a successful artist, but when his brother was killed at a U.S. checkpoint in 2005, he decided to use his art to confront those in the comfort zone with the realities of life in a conflict zone. Thus the creation and staging of Domestic Tension, an unsettling interactive performance piece: for one month, Bilal lived alone in a prison cell-sized room in the line of fire of a remote-controlled paintball gun and a camera that connected him to internet viewers around the world. Visitors to the gallery and a virtual

audience that grew by the thousands could shoot at him 24 hours a day. The project received overwhelming worldwide attention, garnering the praise of the Chicago Tribune, which called it "one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time," and Newsweek's assessment "breathtaking." It spawned provocative online debates and ultimately, Bilal was awarded the Chicago Tribune's Artist of the Year Award. Soot an Iraqi is a tale that walks you through refugee camps and experiments in interactive art. It is both a biography of artist Wafaa Bilal and the chronicle of his one-month experience as a paintball target at Flatfile Galleries. The book pertains to the political, the art, the activist fields. It is not a novel but it reads like one.

Wafaa Bilal during the Domestic Tension exhibit at the Flatfile galleries in May 2007. Š Photo: Dimitris Michalaros Defining the book is no straightforward enterprise and things do not get any more clean-cut when ones decides to focus on the performance at the center of the book. Domestic Tension is a playful and provocative online game, a cathartic performance that went further than the artist expected, a reflection on the impact that a seemingly innocent online gesture can have in the physical world, an invitation to dialog -no matter how contentiously- about war in Iraq. The artwork attracted the attention and most enthusiastic comments from art critics but it also appealed to the geeky type who'd define conceptual art a pretentious bore. And even there, one should stear clear of any hasty judgment, the experience taught the Bilal (and now its readers) that people you wouldn't expect to have much sympathy for Iraq's plight or for conceptual art turned out to be more supportive than expected. Shoot an Iraqi has a lesson for everyone, even for those who 'know better.' I just wish all lesson-bearing books could be as devoid of self-pity, regrets, anger or hauteur as one is. We Make Money Not Art by Regine on December 6, 2008

8. Plectic Architecture *I'm trying to imagine myself old, and feeble, and weak, and sick, and white-haired, and totally surrounded by mid-21C "Plectic Architecture." Obviously I've got it coming, I deserve that fate, but... maybe I'd be really *pleased and serene*. "Yes, this part is nanotechnological... and this is an old-skool Janine Benyus biomimicry riff here... and this useless Koolhaas junkspace where I keep my dialysis unit, that's where they goofed off doing Rhinoscript 'taffypulling.'"

And then I take visitors over to the BDLGBLOG room where I've got a crumbling archive of the only stuff every *physically printed out* from BLDGBLOG. It's like Tut's tomb in there. It's like Otzi's autopsy table, and a cloud of plectic dry-ice pours out whenever I open it. PLECTIC ARCHITECTURE -TOWARDS A THEORY OF THE POSTDIGITAL IN ARCHITECTURE (((no no, don't run away yet -- it's pretty good stuff, and I put some paragraphs in it so it's almost parseable))) Definitions: Firstly it is important to stress that "Post-Digital Architecture" is not an architecture without any digital component. Indeed it an architecture that very much is a synthesis between the virtual, the actual, the biological, the cyborgian, the augmented and the mixed. It is impossible, anymore, to talk of Digital Architecture as a binary opposition to normal real world architecture. Cyberspace has insidiously insinuated itself into our existence, at every scale and at every turn. (((Yep.))) Murray Gell-Mann defines "Plectics" as the "...the study of simplicity and complexity. It includes the various attempts to define complexity; the study of roles of simplicity and complexity and of classical and quantum information in the history of the universe, the physics of information; the study of non-linear dynamics, including chaos theory, strange attractors, and self-similarity in complex non-adaptive systems in physical science; and the study of complex adaptive systems, including prebiotic chemical evolution, biological evolution, the behaviour of individual organisms, the functioning of ecosystems, the operation of mammalian immune systems, learning and thinking, the evolution of human languages, the rise and fall of human cultures, the behaviour of markets, and the operation of computers that are designed or programmed to evolve strategies - say, for playing chess, or solving problems." (1) If we start to think of the architecture in this book (((there's a book? Hey wait, wow, I need that book))) as the first stirrings of a Plectic postdigital Architecture, then Murray Gell-Mann's, mid nineteen eighties definition, of "Plectics" seems a suitably broad umbrella within which to situate it. Such terrain can include a variety of complex sub cultures of architecture that are all composed of differing degrees of the digital, the virtual, the biological and the nanotechnological, interaction and reflexivity without banishing the more off piste and often less fashionable investigations, propositions and researches. Above all these architectures seek to simplify, amplify or facilitate and make visible the complex entanglement of contemporary space. (((And that's a full day's work right there, folks.))) Wired By Bruce Sterling on December 09, 2008

9. Tallest Abandoned Structure

That’s the tallest abandoned Russian structure and those guys have paid a visit there one frozen winter morning. It’s a shorter than Empire State Building, but not too much.

English Russia by English Russian on December 8, 2008

10. THE LOST TWIN The Lone, Shrunken World Trade Center Tower in Oklahoma One Williams Center, Tulsa, OK 74172

they were both just what big buildings looked like. Yamasaki proposed for the Williams Center a small pair of towers, each just twenty-five stories; John Williams, the corporate chieftain who wanted to revitalize downtown Tulsa, reportedly altered the plan by picking up Yamasaki’s model and placing one building atop the other. The resulting single building fails to be a “third twin” because, by itself, it lacks what Baudrillard identified as the World Trade Center’s only real characteristic: doubleness. But it is a manifestation of that characteristic, a tower blindly reproduced yet again, sized down and ordered up as if from a catalog of urban design, in interchangeable units to be manipulated and stacked. Tulsa’s tower mimics its model in function as well as form, a monument to commercial real estate and grandiose plans for reviving moribund downtowns. It seems only to have entombed Tulsa’s, creating a landmark that, like its predecessor, was known from afar, but rarely seen up close except by those who would cross a windy plain every day to their jobs inside. For most of its worldwide audience, the World Trade Center’s simple silhouette, in the distance or in a picture, was the only thing to remember about it firsthand. The void in lower Manhattan that the mind’s eye can still fill with that thin image will one day be occupied by a new spectacle that will hasten the memory’s decay. But hiding in plain sight, Yamasaki’s building in Tulsa is another image of the disappeared towers—itself incomplete but physically persisting. The tower takes on an unexpected value as time carries us away from the event that made the World Trade Center more unique than it really was. The Believer by Jonathan Taylor on December .., 2008

As you loop along a curve on Interstate 244, downtown Tulsa drifts across the windshield, floating atop the fringe of lollipop trees that otherwise forms the city’s skyline. The scene resembles a dusty little storage yard for surplus mid-height skyscrapers, a scattered handful of twentieth-century styles, with one particularly recognizable model. The Bank of Oklahoma (BOk) Tower looks startlingly like a lone, shrunken World Trade Center tower—which is what it is. It was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the Twin Towers’ architect, for the Williams Center, an urban renewal project planned in imitation of the World Trade Center and completed three years after it, in 1976. The BOk Tower rises at the end of South Boston Street, an address that is also borrowed: Tulsa undercuts its civic pride as the self-proclaimed “Oil Capital of the World” by naming its north-south streets after other, often equally minor, cities, in an alphabetical cycle—Rockford, St. Louis, Trenton, Utica. For the BOk building, Yamasaki reprised the scheme of a Twin Tower at almost exactly half the scale: 52 stories and 667 feet tall, to the Twin Towers’ 110 floors (1,362 and 1,368 feet). It has 31 steel perimeter columns per side, to the Twin Towers’ 59, producing the same eye-boggling vertical lines on each face. (As Jean Baudrillard noted of the more famous pair, well before its destruction, it is “blind,” with no side presenting a facade.) The BOk, too, has a bilevel lobby, whose height is matched by arched windows. But the arches are big and round, like a child’s plain wooden building blocks, rather than the Venetian Gothic ogees that, in the World Trade Center, flowed directly into the perimeter columns. I am surprised that the Tulsa tower is not better known as a surviving relation of the World Trade Center, that it hasn’t turned into a site of folk devotion to 9/11. Although I grew up in Tulsa, I discovered the link belatedly, just a couple of years ago. As a child, despite being fascinated by famous tall buildings, I don’t think I ever noticed the likeness. To me,

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