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prss release #25, JUNE 5th 2009
1 — Infrastructure: A Hacker’s Manifesto Architects should stop worrying about the Obama administration’s scarce stimulus spending, and start wrapping their minds around new technologies that reinvent infrastructure, writes Kazys Varnelis. 2 — The new Architectural Review On the occasion of the redesign of the Architectural Review, the Sesquipedalist thinks over how the architectural periodical could perform the balancing act of propaganda and critisism. 3 — Postcard Architecture Disseminates the Future of U.S. Infrastructure How to bring architectural ideas to the populace? The format of the postcard offer a way for architectural discourse to reach beyond the traditional confines of the museum or studio. Jimmy Stamp reviews architectural broadcasting in a gas station near you.
4 — BIG Rusell Davies writes about how he, as an architecture lay-men, experienced a Bjarke Ingels lecture.
8 — Poverty and Partitions Owen Hatherley shares some thought on what apartheid, the urban sitcom and architecture have to do with each other.
5 — Squatter urbanism comes to America In the States they use the euphemism ‘Tent city’, hoping for it to be temporal, for what in reality is the emergence of a third world conditions in America, writes Mathieu Helie.
9 — Clash of Subways and Car Culture in Chinese Cities 15 cities in China are building subway systems, to stimulate the economy and to fight gridlock on the street. Keith Bradsher reports on if the car-loving Chinese, will share their love with another means of transportation.
6 — A Society of Simulations Media technologies play a fundamental role in our cycle of meaning construction. This is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it entirely new. Van Mensvoort explains what consequences this has for our concepts of virtual and real. 7 — This Is Your Brain on Facebook Rob Mitchum writes about how recent studies on the effects of the internet and other new media on brain plasticity raises an open research question: Is Google making us smarter?
10 — Here & There influences Jack Schulze made an awesome poster revolving around this thought: “Within one field of view, to be both in the world and to see yourself in it. The power of looking through, and occupying, your own field of vision.” illustrations by LeGrandCrew.com
1 Infrastructure: A Hacker’s Manifesto the Architect’s newspaper http://archpaper.com/e-board_rev.asp?News_ID=3316 by Kazys Varnelis on March 13, 2009
Farewell to all that: Photographer Michael Light's Interchange of Highways 60 and 202 Looking West, Mesa, AZ (2007), from the series Salt River/Deadman Wash/ Paradise Valley. Michael Light/Courtesy Hosfelt Gallery
In December, when President Elect Barack Obama called his economic stimulus plan “the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since President Eisenhower established the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s,” the media was abuzz with hopes that cities strained by decades of underinvestment would become better places to live. There were even suggestions that building high-design infrastructure would serve as an inspiration to a gloomy nation. Calatrava everywhere! OMA-designed windmills! The possibilities were delirious. So there has been much hand-wringing that as signed into law, the plan allocates only $48 billion to highways, rail, and mass transit. That’s a mere 6 percent of the plan’s budget. Sure, architects and the building sector will stand to benefit from more money allocated for improving public housing, federal agency buildings, and the like, but the point is clear: Instead of a vigorously rebuilt future, we are treading water at best. We should view this not as another professional snub, but as a major opportunity to get our priorities straight. We all know that infrastructural investment is necessary. But the way architects were talking about their hopes for a bailout made them sound as bad as the banks. So let me make a modest proposal. To paraphrase another president, think not what infrastructure spending can do for you; think what you can do to reinvent infrastructure. Here’s the real problem: Our models for supporting cities have grown as decrepit as the bridges and highways around us. This I learned between 2004 and 2008, when I led a team of researchers investigating the changing conditions of infrastructure in Los Angeles, and producing the book The Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles. For us, Los Angeles was a case study: A particularly interesting city, but one that proved the rule regarding infrastructure, rather than the exception. Our conclusions were, first and foremost, that a WPA-style infrastructural push is impossible today. In part, this is because infrastructure tends to conform to an S-curve during its growth. As money is invested in infrastructure, its efficiency leaps ahead, but due to rising complexity, the S-curve eventually flattens and returnsper-dollar invested diminish greatly. Most of our systems are now at this stage: highly complex and very expensive to invest in. Moreover, costs for infrastructural improvements are vastly greater today than in the past. Thus, even if economist Paul Krugman observes that
infrastructure funding generates a greater benefit for the economy than tax cuts, the improvement to urban life we would see from even $200 billion in infrastructure spending would be minor. As the American Society of Civil Engineers has suggested in its appraisal of our failing infrastructure, we don’t need $200 billion—we need $2.2 trillion. And that’s just to shore up the existing hardware. If we’re talking about rolling out new rail lines and green power grids, there are still other problems at hand. The public building boom of the 1960s and ’70s—which was mainly a vast expansion of highways—devastated many communities and drove down their property values. Since then, homeowners have defended their back yards like medieval barons defending their castles, effectively mobilizing to question, forestall, and generally thwart the construction of new infrastructural systems that would theoretically benefit everyone. To think that opposition to vast new projects will evaporate at a time when home values are in free fall is ludicrous. As society has become more complex and interconnected, so should our ideas about how we build and service cities. As a case in point, new “soft” technologies are already transforming hard infrastructure. Commuter train ridership, for instance, is more attractive when you can log onto a laptop and get in two more hours of work while you ride. Similarly, mobile phones have made hours stuck in traffic more palatable (even as they’ve made traffic more dangerous by distracting drivers). We could build on such practices, subsidizing fiber-optic communications lines to Main Street to encourage the growth of offices in downtowns that languish half-empty while peripheral suburbs boom. Or we could add wi-fi to all forms of public transit, encouraging commuters to get out of their cars and into existing buses and trains. But this is only a start, and we need to be daring. We need to reinvent infrastructure with new technologies. I’d like to suggest that we embrace a cultural practice that is about as far from Congress and the White House as can be imagined: hacking. In the post-9/11 culture of government paranoia, hacking is tantamount to terrorism, but in the best sense of the word, hacking sets out not to harm other people but to expand our horizons, using systems in ways they were not intended as a means to free information. This is amply shown by the internet’s rapid growth, which stems from its status as an ideal environment for hackers. Anyone with a small investment in access can build new applications and interfaces. Why not open up infrastructure in a similar way? Legislating open access to data in new and existing infrastructure would allow developers to build applications—many of them as yet unforeseen—that would exploit that data to expand our infrastructural possibilities. Take Google Maps on the iPhone. This service delivers up-to-date information about traffic speeds. Granted, it’s not perfect. Not all routes are covered, the data is too coarse, and sometimes it is unavailable, making real-time routing tricky. Still, I have a good sense of whether I should take the George Washington Bridge or the Holland Tunnel on the odd occasion when I have to drive into the city. With technology like this, there’s no reason why New York’s subway riders can’t be equally enlightened. If the MTA knows where its trains are, we should know too. It’s preposterous to wait forever to get on a local train only to find out—once the doors have closed—that the train is inexplicably going express, right past your stop. Government agencies have such information at their disposal, yet we, the users, don’t. Incredibly, forms of data as basic as subway schedules can still be hard to obtain, often requiring either Google’s muscle or a canny lawyer and a Freedom of Information Act request. As last year’s Design and the Elastic Mind show at MoMA demonstrated, user interface designers and software engineers in urban informatics are already working on these challenges, but should the architectural profession cede the city to them? Leaving such work in the hands of individuals whose primary site of experience is the computer display shortchanges the city. Architects need to find ways to engage with such technology, to make it part of the lived experience of the city, and not just something that happens on a screen. This may not be what architects who long for construction want to hear about, but it’s the sort of thinking that led to the transformations in everyday life that digital technology has enabled over the last generation. The result was a major economic stimulus from the resulting rise in productivity. Architects should not feel left out. Their imaginations are second to none. It’s time to use them again, and to truly rethink what architecture and infrastructure might be.
2 The New Architectural Review
qualities he looked for and responsibilities he tried to imbue in the AR during that period. In short, he believed that “helping to sharpen the perception of architects and their clients is one of the aims of an architectural magazine.” He also believed, however, that the magazine should positively criticise bad architecture: “another essential role of the architectural magazine: criticism – of architects and all their works, of the opportunities they are given and of the conditions that allow, or don't allow, them to make their proper contribution to the world. There is still not enough informed and constructive criticism of architecture, and it is sometimes asked why architectural magazines do not pillory the bad buildings, instead – as they mostly do at present – of criticising them only by implication; by ignoring them and paying attention instead to the buildings they think worth serious discussion. Perhaps they should attack the bad more positively, though this would make it all the more necessary to reach beyond subjective and appearance criticism; to look critically not only at the result but at the programme. Criticism in my experience had not been made easier by the touchiness of many members of the architectural profession, who claim to approve of it but resent its being applied to themselves.”
illustration: Annemarie van den Berg (legrandcrew.com)
the Sesquipedalist http://www.sesquipedalist.com/2009/04/new-architecturalreview.html by the Sesquipedalist on April 23, 2009
In a piece called “Retrospect” in the Architectural Review of February 1971, the leaving editor of over 30 years, J.M. Richards wrote about the role of the architectural magazine in architectural production and the
Monica Pidgeon, the nonagenarian editor of Architectural Design between 1946 and 1975 for example, admitted when I interviewed her recently that the policy for AD was to do just that – ignore the bad and promote what they considered the good. Richards goes on to astutely observe that “the difficulty becomes clear when it is remembered that the significant dramatic criticism is not written in periodicals circulating chiefly among actors and stage producers, nor significant art criticism written in periodicals for practising artists. Architectural criticism, of which much more is needed, should not be so dependent on the architectural magazines, it should find a place alongside the dramatic and art and music and book criticism in the layman's press – daily, Sunday and weekly.” It is easily forgotten by architects that the architectural press form the trade magazines of the architectural profession and the public in general simply does not concern itself with it. The flavour of architectural criticism in the national press is quite different. It necessarily needs to be dumbed down, while maintaining relevance to the philistines that form society. Richards disapproved of the architectural autonomy that architects strive for in their work which inevitably becomes reflected in their magazines: “Architects' tendency to concern themselves with a limited private world – to work, in effect, for the approbation of other architects, or become satisfied by in-language and plug-in gimmicks – is what makes an editor despair. Such private worlds are really an escape from the realities that remain architects' only claim to be taken seriously by society.”
That was 1971. Fast forward 38 years and Kieran Long has been editor of AR's sister, the Architects' Journal, for about 18 months and has recently become editor-in-chief of that and the AR, hence this month's redesign. Although almost everybody I ask considers Architecture Today to be the best UK architectural periodical, the AR is arguably still the most revered.
to say I'm a little disappointed in the design. I think most architecture part 2 students with InDesign could quite easily match it today. While I don't expect Archigram, I think it's unambitious and lacks any edge when compared to other architecture magazines, such as Mark which is a beautiful piece of design in its own right.
It was established in 1896 and made its name in the 1920s and 1930s when it was largely responsible for introducing the modern style to these shores from the continent. Since then it has become the respectable daddy of architectural monthlies that sets the benchmark for what constitutes architecture. To be published in the AR still really validates the work as architecture. But recently it had lost its way and I for one hadn't picked up a copy for years because it had become so staid and predictable. Other than tweaks, it hadn't had a redesign in format since January 1985 and so was feeling very weary. Rumours had been abounding that it had gone the same way as l'architecture d'aujourd'hui. Monica Pidgeon was saying that she had heard that the AR was no more and I had to reassure her that although changes were taking place, it was still alive and trying to kick. So what of the first kick of the new regime?
There is a brief history of its design here at Things to look at and here at Eye magazine, concentrating more on the typography. The first thing to notice is the logo, which harks back to the masthead of pre-1985 but with a 21st century zoom which is strong and nicely retro and works well as a symbol of both tradition and progress. Inside, the overall design is clean and won't offend the older AR readers, but is not going to set any designer's hearts racing. It's clearly from the same stable as the AJ and looks very much like I remember Icon a couple of years ago, which isn't surprising seeing as both Kieran and designer Violetta Boxill previously worked there. One thing that this does bring is the highlighted yellow marker style words within the pieces, which for me is preferable to corny summaries at the end of an article in order to get a quick gist. The layout is based on a flexible grid with some photos framed in white space and others bleeding right to the edge of the page. The drawings have that bland quality that all computer drawings have today and it would have been nice to see the AR set a higher standard for quality of architectural drawings seeing as drawings are essentially one third of the content of architectural magazines. There are no line weights for a start. The long sections on pages 78-79 don't line up for no apparent reason and the cross section on page 66 has no labelling whatsoever. I would be disappointed if my students handed in drawings like these. The logos for the sections "SKILL", "ID" and "MARGINALIA" I think are a missed opportunity and for me neither echo the past nor beckon a future and the cyan colour always reminds me of formica for some reason. Judge for yourself in the "ID" picture (4 below) whether the "ID" logo works or is lost. And "MARGINALIA" (5 below) requires its own column rather than being integrated into the rest of the page. So I have
Enough of the design, what of the content? This issue of the new AR is divided into three sections: "VIEW", "BUILDINGS" and the back pages of "SKILL", "ID" and "MARGINALIA". All apart from "BUILDINGS", I believe, are taken from section names in previous generations of ARs. I understand that themes will be introduced occasionally to issues when a collection of buildings requires it which is a sensible move. All the buildings are now numbered and mapped onto the world, which is also a nice idea. It will be interesting to see how this is collated and used in the future - whether it'll be searchable online at the much improved AR web site, for example. The buildings in this issue noticeably come from the Western world - USA, Europe, Japan. Hopefully there will be more variety in the future and a greater mix of what constitutes architecture considered. The critique of the buildings doesn't offer much more than description, though, and there's never any reference to the drawings or pictures. This is normal in today's architectural press, and I doubt if the more critical edge that Kieran brought to the AJ with excellent writers such as Kester Rattenbury will transfer to the AR. Being published in the AR validates architecture and that has become its function, rather than to criticise poor design. The outrage column that Ian Nairn started with great vitriol in 1955 had become its own self-parody a long time ago. However, previous ARs had sections called â€œcriticismâ€? and I long for the return of the campaigns from yesteryear. Whether this can be expected in a magazine run for profit rather than a hobby (as it practically was for Hubert de Cronin Hastings) remains to be seen. The AR is now mainly sold overseas and its "Rule Britannia" days are over so a campaign such as "Manplan", which makes great reading today but was suicide for the magazine back in 1970, will be even more impossible. Yet J.M. Richards' words from 1971 ring in my ears.
The other new-old sections are a welcome step forward. "VIEW" discusses current affairs that affect architecture in the wider context. It's readable and informative and hopefully will maintain relevance and interest. The rear sections of "SKILL", "ID" and "MARGINALIA" are
shorter reviews of the wider context of art and architecture - again more varied than the previous regime and demonstrating a wider cultural mix. Hopefully this won't lose the more serious long book review, for example.
The great period of AR – up to about 1970 under the editorship of J.M. Richards – saw great articles on the holy trinity of history, theory and criticism that later became canonised into architectural folklore, such as Colin Rowe's “The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa” from March 1947's AR. It would be great if the AR could re-invoke more serious investigation on more imaginative historical and theoretical issues by the world's best architectural writers and thinkers, as well as maintain its cultural ambitions. That doesn't mean it should become like today's AD, which seems to exist in its own bubble and whose relevance to today's architects is dubitable.
promote high ethical values. It would provoke critical thinking rather than simply print nice pictures. It would integrate its dead-tree format with the online world and provide a platform for feedback and real-time debate. This online world would be a much wider receptacle of more fluid publication, the best of which could be compiled in with specially commissioned pieces for the paper magazine, to be published as and when it was ready. It would, of course, be international, and actively seek out new talent from the existing Western tradition as well as the more forgotten places. It would not participate in awards.
With the AJ and now the AR, Kieran seems to be creating a pair of cultural magazines for architects which add more to the discipline of architecture and its culture than the profession per se. They are both, without doubt, better than they were under the previous regimes and I sincerely hope they continue their improvement and approach something like my ideal. The architectural press is, after all, where 21st century architecture occurs. 3 Postcard Architecture Disseminates the Future of U.S. Infrastructure Life Without Buildings http://lifewithoutbuildings.net/2009/04/postcard-architecturedisseminates-the-future-of-us-infrastructure.html by Jimmy Stamp on April 29, 2009
Inevitably I compare any architectural magazine with my fictional perfect ideal version. This would have a contemporary design that made the whole look like one, like Arts & Architecture achieved under Entenza and Travers where even the adverts became part of the whole design. The typography would be a major part of the design of the page and merge with drawings and stunning photographs like the original Plus. The drawings would have character and transmit information in their style as well as content. This perfect magazine would have a variety of pieces relevant to architects from the arts and social sciences, as well as science and technology, much like some of WIRED's best features over the past decade. The criticism of buildings would include drawings and diagrams integrated into the text and photographs in order to tell a unified story and explain, enlighten and educate in the manner of Edward Tufte. It would include the occasional off-the-wall historical or theoretical piece by an interesting writer to bring new angles on current debates, or introduce new thinking. It would have pretentiously lagubrious reviews of books and exhibitions. It would capture research, either from the universities or from practice, and even instigate its own in order to pour cold water on stale thinking and paint a real picture of what's going on in the architectural world. It would publish this in funky diagrammatic form as a collectable series. It would take a stand on important architectural issues such as sustainability and education and
"Bridging Parallel Infrastructures"
One of my greatest frustrations with architecture is how inaccessible it is to…well, everyone. All too often architecture is something reserved for the backgrounds of car commercials, the occasional feature of a weekend paper, and the interiors of glossy magazines relegated to their own little corner of bookstores. That’s why it’s such a relief to see an exhibition like Friends of the Future. FoF is a the result of an advanced studio at the Rhode Island School of Design taught by Anthony Acciavatti, Infrastructural Reserves: Spreads and Densities along the Northeast Corridor, that investigated the formal and spatial potential of rest stops, intermodal stations, and other infrastructural
interventions along I-95. The exhibition will travel to venues located along the Northeast Corridor and distribute 36,000 postcards promoting speculative futures of regional transit systems. It’s this populist aspect of exhibiting that is especially exciting. Starting May 25, the postcards will be available at rest stops, gas stations, welcome centers, and even McDonald’s restaurants across Connecticut - bringing design to people who might just be stopping off to walk the dog, use the bathroom, or buy a McFlurry.
voters actually support innovative architecture and massive intermodal transit zones along high-speed rail lines. But that’s not all. We love our cars in America and we love road trips with mix tapes and crossing state lines with the sun setting behind us. As rail lines becomes more prevalent and new stations become necessary, these intermodal zones could potentially change the nature of the road trip by reconsidering what it means to travel by car and, as the projects brief states, reorganize the vast expanse of residual space between our cities. Can we create an ecologically sound, architecturally innovative infrastructure? As much I’d like to use the familiar “yes we can” refrain, the best we can hope for right now is a resounding “maybe.” But at least people are talking. And the next time you stop to grab a double cheeseburger on your way to Myrtle Beach, look for the RISD postcards and send a few to your family. 4 BIG Russell Davies http://russelldavies.typepad.com/planning/2009/04/big.html by Russel Davies on April 28, 2009
Friends of the Future opening exhibition at RISd
From the Friends of the Future Press Release
Throughout the winter term, the students cultivated a series of well attuned strategies that envision the introduction of rail within the interstate system. The purpose in doing this is to conceive a diverse body of proposals, which provide an assortment of alternative futures for these contrasting sites that are unique for their exceptional cultural and ecological value.
a portrait of the US via the Interstate Highway System
The exhibition couldn’t have come at a better time, as it coincides with the recent announcement by the Obama administration of a new high speed rail plan for America. The Northeast Corridor and a continuing route that follows almost the entire length of I-95 is a primary focus of the new plan. After the election, there was a lot of discussion about the future of architecture and urbansim as the US welcomed its first urban President. Could we realy be entering a new Golden Age of infrastructure, creating new infrastructure to physically unite the nation as we begin what will surely be a slow economic recovery? The government, President Obama said, “will act—not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.” Projects like the RISD exhibition can help start the discussion that precedes this “new foundation.” As the average citizen becomes more aware of good design, it becomes possible to see a future where educated
illustration: Zsuzsanna Ilijin (legrandcrew.com)
The projects presented serve to foster a discussion about new design strategies that can start to re-organize the expanse of residual spaces throughout the interstate, in order to accommodate a wide variety of programs that can serve a new social and economic future for the I-95 corridor, and consolidate an array of urban edges into a new infrastructural network.
Dan very kindly took me to a talk by Bjarke Ingels last night. It was very good. I liked the architecture, but I'm not really qualified to talk about it. However, it was really interesting to hear about the interior of another sort of business - it seemed there were quite a few things that BIG do, that I've seen in other good creative businesses.(Including, unfortunately, lots of horrible flash on the website.) 1. They don't seem to be precious about ideas. They don't cherish them, regard them as valuable or hard to have. They have lots and lots of them and then prune, recombine and mutate. He talked about this as 'excess and selection'. You have an excess of ideas and then pick the ones that seem to fit the problem. (And you keep them all, because they might come in handy next time.) 2. The work environment is part of the process. Each project is documented on the walls of the office as it's being done. So anyone in the office can see what's going on, and contribute. It all seems to be a very open and collaborative practice. 3. There's a charismatic front-man. Mr Ingels himself is a great presenter, funny, smart, personable, and above all, convincing. He's great with powerpoint, managed to talk for more than an hour about architecture without any baffling jargon and is clearly someone you'd want to spend time with. 4. They're happy to be opportunistic and pragmatic. Their didn't seem to be a lot of big theories, just a desire to get good stuff actually made. They're as adept at engineering the political/client reality to get something done as they are at making the building. If you need to put a huge picture of the client in the lobby to get the
building made, then do that, and don't do it grudgingly, do it well, make it good, make it a postive. 5. They use video really well. They make a lot of films that make their projects understandable, and feel real. And use music well to add that convincing emotional depth.
5 Squatter urbanism comes to America
illustration: Bouwe van der Molen (legrandcrew.com)
Emergent Urbanism http://emergenturbanism.com/2009/04/26/squatter-urbanism-comes-toamerica/ by Matthieu Helie on April 26, 2009
In previous posts I argued that the only way a modern housing subdivision was possible was by the creation of a permanent, extreme housing crisis by the authorities attempting to control development. Now this housing crisis is catching up with American cities and a phenomenon that was until then limited to dysfunctional third world countries, squatter camps, is popping up all over the country. From the well-kept interior of the Caros’ place, one can hardly see the jagged rows of tents and shanties on the vacant land around them. About 200 people have built informal habitats along the railroad tracks, primarily poor whites and migrant workers from Mexico. There are many names for this fledgling city, where Old Glory flies from improvised flagpoles and trash heaps rise and fall with the wavering population. To some it’s Little Tijuana, but most people call it Taco Flat. Just to the south, under a freeway overpass, there’s another camp of roughly equal size called New Jack City where most of the residents are black. Even more dwellings are scattered throughout the neighborhood nearby, appended to the walls of industrial buildings and rising up the flanks of freeway spurs.
Fresno,whichtheBrookingsInstitutionrankedin2005astheAmerican city with the greatest concentration of poverty, is far from the only place where people are resorting to life in makeshift abodes. Similar encampments are proliferating throughout the West, everywhere from the industrial hub of Ontario, Calif., to the struggling casino district of Reno, Nev., and the upscale suburbs of Washington state. In any other country, these threadbare villages would be called slums, but in the U.S., the preferred term is tent city, a label that implies that they are just a temporary phenomenon. Many journalists, eager to prove that the country is entering the next Great Depression, blame the emergence of these shantytowns on the economic downturn, calling them products of foreclosures and layoffs. While there’s some truth to this notion, the fact is that these roving, ramshackle neighborhoods were part of the American cityscape long before the stock market nosedived, and they are unlikely to disappear when prosperity returns. The recent decades of real estate speculation and tough-love social policies have cut thousands of people out of the mainstream markets for work and housing, and the existing network of homeless shelters is overburdened and outdated. People such as the Caros are part of a vanguard that has been in crisis for years, building squatter settlements as a do-or-die alternative to the places that rejected them. This parallel nation, with a population now numbering in the thousands in Fresno alone, was born during the boom times, and it is bound to flourish as the economy falters. “The chickens are coming home to roost,” said Larry Haynes, the executive director of Mercy House, a homeless outreach organization based in Southern California. “What this speaks of is an absolute crisis of affordability and accessibility.” … In Fresno and other struggling cities, which perpetually strive to boost tax revenues with development, tent cities are often seen as symbols of criminality and dereliction, glaring setbacks to neighborhood revitalization efforts. That perception is common wherever informal urbanism exists, said Mehrotra, and it often leaves squatter camps on the brink of ruin. “You are always on the edge of demolition,” Mehrotra said. “There’s a kind of insecurity in the lack of tenure on the land.” This hit home in Fresno a few years ago, when workers began raiding encampments throughout the city, tearing down makeshift homes and destroying personal property in the process. The city of Fresno and the California Department of Transportation conducted these sweeps in the name of public health, citing citizen complaints about open-air defecation. Yet the raids did nothing to stop tent cities from forming, and they ultimately led to lawsuits. In October 2006, residents who lost their homes in the raids filed a class-action suit against the city of Fresno and the state of California. A U.S. district judge ordered the defendants to pay $2.3 million in damages. Tarp Nation – High Country News The same features that define the process of every squatter town are present. There is the random occupation of land, the lack of any amenities, and of course the police repression that makes it impossible to create a viable economy. As the public authorities run out of money they will have to lighten the repression and the squatter towns will move into the second class, one with fixed buildings and small outlaw businesses that will attract even more of the poor looking for subsistence. They will become America’s Dharavis. Instead of using repression to enforce a planning system that drives people into destitution, the authorities should instead act pre-emptively by extending the towns’ infrastructure ahead of urbanization, not in collusion with home builders, and tolerating that the settlers build themselves out of poverty, something that they know quite well how to do. Over time these neigborhoods would go through an unslumming process, and their social and economic liveliness would make them even more attractive than subdivisions, at which point they may become historic cities the likes of which people always built before the modern planning process. The people who were once destitute would be smalltime property developers and landlords, and for those who still had
nothing the process could be repeated in a new neighborhood. Update: Here are some pictures of the “Hoovervilles” that sprung up in America during the 1930’s.
The beginning of a real place.
6 A Society of Simulations Next Nature http://www.nextnature.net/?p=3361 by Koert van Mensvoort on April 13, 2009
Written by KOERT VAN MENSVOORT, published in What you see is what you feel. PhD Thesis, Eindhoven University of Technology. ISBN: 978-90-386-1672-8 (Download PDF) An interviewer once asked Pablo Picasso why he paints such strange pictures instead of painting things the way they are. Picasso asks the man what he means. The man then takes out a photograph from his wallet and says, “This is my wife!” Picasso looks at the photo and then says: “isn’t she rather short and flat?” INTRODUCTION This essay aims to increase our understanding of simulations and their impact on our notion of reality. Following on some observations regarding the dominant role of visual representations in our culture, I will argue that we are now living in a society, in which simulations are often more influential, satisfying and meaningful than the things they are presumed to represent. Media technologies play a fundamental role in our cycle of meaning construction. This is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it entirely new. Yet, it has consequences for our concepts of virtual and real, which are less complementary, than they are usually understood to be. Before you read on, a personal anecdote from my youth: when I
was a child, I thought the people I saw on TV were really living inside the television. I wondered where they went when the TV was turned off and I also remember worrying it would hurt the TV, when I switched it off. Obviously, I am a grown man now and I’ve long learned that the television is just a technological device, created to project distant images into the living room of the viewers and that those flickering people weren’t actually living inside the cathode ray tube. Now I return to my argument. Over the last century or so, the technological reproduction of images has grown explosively. Each of us is confronted with more images every day than a person living in the Middle Ages would have seen in their whole lifetime. If you open a 100year-old newspaper you will be amazed by the volume of text and the absence of pictures. How different things are today: the moment you are born, covered in womb fluid, not yet dressed or showered, your parents are already there with the digital camera, ready to take your picture. And of course the pictures are instantly uploaded to the family website, where the whole world can watch and compare them with the medical ultrasound photographs already shared before you were born. VISUAL POWER Images occupy an increasingly important place in our communication and transmission of information. More and more often, it is an image that is the deciding factor in important questions. Provocative logos, styles and icons are supposed to make us think we are connected to each other, or different from each other. Every schoolchild nowadays has to decide whether he or she is a skater, a jock, a preppie, or whatever. Going to school naked is not an option. But no matter which T-shirt you decide to wear, they are inescapably a social communication medium. Your T-shirt will be read as a statement, which your classmates will use to stereotype you. I remember the strange feeling of recognition I had when I was in Paris for the first time and saw the Eiffel Tower. There it was, for real! I felt as if I was meeting a long-lost cousin. Of course, you take a snapshot to show you’ve been there: ‘Me and the Eiffel Tower’. Thousands of people take this same picture every year. Every architect dreams of designing such an icon. Today, exceptional architecture often wins prizes before the building is finished; their iconic quality is already recognized on the basis of computer models.  PICTURE THIS! Does anyone still remember the days when a computer was a complex machine that could only be operated by a highly trained expert using obscure commands? Only when the graphical user interface (GUI) was introduced did computers become everyday appliances; suddenly anyone could use them. Today, all over the world, people from various cultures use the same icons, folders, buttons and trash cans. The GUI’s success is owed less to the cute pictures than to the metaphor that makes the machine so accessible: the computer desktop as a version of the familiar, old-fashioned kind. This brings us to an important difference between pictures and pictures – it is indeed awkward that we use the same word for two different things. On the one hand, there are pictures we see with our eyes. On the other, there are mental pictures we have in our heads – pictures as in “I’m trying to picture it.” Increasingly, we are coming to realize that ‘thinking’ is fundamentally connected to sensory experience. In Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson (1980) argue that human thought works in a fundamentally metaphorical way. Metaphors allow us to use physical and social experiences to understand countless other subjects. The world we live in has become so complex; we continuously search for mental imagery to help us help us understand things. Thus politicians speak in clear sound bites. Athletic shoe companies do not sell shoes, they sell image. Thoracic surgeons wander around in patients’ lungs like rangers walking through the forest, courtesy of head-mounted virtual-reality displays. You would expect that this surfeit of images would drown us. It is now difficult to deny that a certain visual inflation is present, and yet our unslakeable hunger for more persists. We humans, after all, are extremely visually oriented animals. From cave paintings to computers, the visual image has helped the human race to describe, classify, order, analyze and grow our understanding of the world around us (Bright, 2000). Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about our visual culture (Mirzoeff, 1999) is not the number of pictures being produced but our deeply rooted need to visualize everything that could possibly be significant. Modern life amid visual media compels everyone and
everything to strive for visibility (Winkel, 2006). The more visible something is, the more real it is, the more genuine (Oosterling, 2003). Without images, there seems to be no reality. VIRTUAL FOR REAL When considering simulations, one almost immediately thinks of videogames. Nowadays, the game industry has grown bigger than the film industry and its visual language has become so accepted that it is almost beyond fictional. Virtual computer worlds are becoming increasingly ‘real’ and blended with our physical world. In some online roleplaying games, aspiring participants have to write an application letter in order to be accepted to a certain group or tribe. We still have to get used to the fact that you can earn an income with gaming nowadays (Heeks, 2008), but how normal is it anyway, that at the bakery round the corner, you can trade a piece of paper – called money – for a bread?  Most people would denounce spending too much time in virtual worlds, but which world should be called virtual then? Simply defining the virtual as opposite to physical is perhaps too simple. The word ‘virtual’ has different meanings that are often entangled and used without further consideration. Sometimes we use the word virtual to mean ‘almost real,’ while at other times we mean ‘imaginary’. This disparity in meaning is almost never justified: fantasy and second rank realities are intertwined. It would be naïve to think simulations are limited to video games, professional industrial or military applications. In a sense, all reality is virtual; it is constructed through our cognition and sensory organs. Reality is not so much ‘out there’, rather it is what we pragmatically consider to be ‘out there’. Our brain is able to subtly construct ‘reality’ by combining and comparing sensory perceptions with what we expect and already know (Dennett, 1991; Gregory, 1998; Hoffman, 1998; IJsselsteijn, 2002). Even the ancient Greeks talked about the phenomenon of simulation. In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato describes human beings as being chained in a cave and watching shadows on the wall, without realizing that they are ‘only’ representations of what goes on behind them – outside of the scope of their sensory perception. In Plato’s teaching, an object such as a chair, is just a shadow of the idea Chair. The physically experienced chair we sit on is thus always a copy, a simulation, of the idea Chair and always one step away from reality. Today, the walls of Plato’s cave are so full of projectors, disco balls, plasma screens and halogen spotlights that we do not even see the shadows on the wall anymore. Fakeness has long been associated with inferiority – fake Rolexes that break in two weeks, plastic Christmas trees, silicone breast implants, imitation caviar –, but as the presence of media production evolves, the fake seems to gain a certain authenticity. Modern thinkers agree that because of the impasto of simulations in our society, we can no longer recognize reality. In The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord (1967) explains how everything we once experienced directly has been replaced in our contemporary world by representations. Another Frenchman, Jean Baudrillard (1981), argues that we live in a world in which simulations and imitations of reality have become more real than reality itself. He calls this condition ‘hyperreality’: the authentic fake. In summer we ski indoors; in winter we spray snow on the slopes. Plastic surgeons sculpt flesh to match retouched photographs in glossy magazines. People drink sports drinks with non-existent flavors like “wild ice zest berry”. We wage war on video screens. Birds mimic mobile–phone ring tones . At times, it seems the surrealists were telling the truth after all. And though you certainly cannot believe everything you see, at the same time, images still count as the ultimate evidence. Did we really land on the moon? Are you sure? How did it happen? Or was it perhaps a feat of Hollywood magic? Are we sure there is no Loch Ness Monster? A city girl regularly washes her hair with pine–scented shampoo. Walking in the forest with her father one day, she says, “Daddy, the woods smell of shampoo.” Do we still have genuine experiences at all, or are we living in a society of simulations? MEDIA SCHEMAS A hundred years ago, when the Lumière brothers showed their film ‘L’arrivée d’un train’ (1895), people ran out of the cinema when they saw the oncoming train. Well, of course – if you see a train heading towards you, you get out of the way. Today, we have adapted our media schemas. We remain seated, because we know that the medium of cinema can have this effect.
Media schemas  are defined as the knowledge we possess about what media are capable of and what we should expect from them in terms of their depictions: representations, translations, distortions, etc (IJsselsteijn, 2002; Mensvoort & Duyvenbode, 2001; Nevejan, 2007). This knowledge enables us to react to media in a controlled way (“Don’t be scared, it’s only a movie.”). A superficial observer might think media schemas are a new thing. This would be incorrect. For centuries, people have been dealing with developments in media. Think of carrying on a telephone conversation, painting with perspective, or composing a letter with the aid of writing technology – yes, even the idea that you can set down the spoken word in handwriting was new once. Let’s face it. Our brains actually have only limited capabilities for understanding media. When our brain reached its current state of evolutionary development in Africa some 200,000 years ago (Hedges, 2000; Goodman et al., 1990), what looked like a lion, actually was a lion! And if contemplating the nature of reality at that point would have been a priority, one would have made for an easy lion’s snack (IJsselsteijn, 2002). Although we do seem to have gained some media awareness over the years, some part of this original impulse – in spite of all our knowledge – still reacts automatically and unconsciously to phenomena, as we perceive them. When we see the image of an oncoming train, we physically still are inclined to run away, even though cognitively we know it is not necessary. Our media schemas are thus not innate but culturally determined. Every time technology comes out with something new, we are temporarily flummoxed, but we carry on pretty well. We are used to a world of family photographs, television and telephone calls. Imagine if we were to put someone from the Middle Ages into a contemporary shopping street. He would have a tough job refreshing his media schemas. But to us it is normal, and a lucky thing, too. It would be inconvenient indeed if with every phone call you thought, “How strange – I’m talking to someone who’s actually far away.” We are generally only conscious of our media schemas at the moment when they prove inadequate and we must refresh them, as those people in the 19th century had to do when they saw the Lumière brothers’ filmed train coming at them. MEDIA SPHERE I once took part in an experiment in which I was placed in an entirely green room for one hour. In the beginning everything seemed very green, but after some time the walls became grey. The green was not informative any more and I automatically adjusted. Something similar seems to be going on with our media. Like the fish, who do not know they are wet; we are living in a technologically mediated space. We have adjusted ourselves, for the better because we know we will not be leaving this room any time soon. Today, media production has expanded by such leaps and bounds that images and simulations are often more influential, satisfying and meaningful than the things they simulate. We consume illusions. Images have become part of the cycle in which meanings are determined. They have bearing on our economy, our judgments and our identities. In other words: we are living the simulation. A disturbing thought, or old news? In contrast to Plato, his pupil Aristotle believed imitation was a natural part of life. Reality reaches us through imitation (Aristotle calls it mimesis): this is how we come to know the world. Plants and animals too, use disguises and misleading appearances to improve their chances of survival (think of the walking stick, an insect that looks like a twig). Now then, the girl that says that “the woods smell of shampoo”, should we consider this a shame and claim that this young child has been spoiled by media? Or is this child merely fine-tuning herself with the environment she grows up in? In the past, the woods used to smell of woods. But how interesting was that anyway? OUR INTERFACED WORLD-VIEW Four centuries ago, when Galileo Galilei became the first human being in history to aim a telescope at the night sky, a world opened up to him. The moon turned out not to be a smooth, yellowish sphere but covered with craters and mountains. Nor was the sun perfect: it bore dark spots. Venus appeared in phases. Jupiter was accompanied by four moons. Saturn had a ring. And the Milky Way proved to be studded with hundreds of thousands of stars. When Galileo asserted, after a series of observations and calculations, that the sun was the center of our solar system, he had a big problem. No one wanted to look through his telescope to see the inevitable.
While some dogs have such limited intelligence that they chase their own tails or shadows, we humans like to think we are smarter; we are used to living in a world of complex symbolic languages and abstractions. While a dog remains fooled by his own shadow, a human being performs a reality check. We weigh up the phenomena in our environment against our actions to form a picture of what we call reality. We do this not only individually, but also socially (Searl, 1995). Admittedly, some realities are still rock solid -– simply try and kick a stone to feel what I mean. However, this is not in conflict with the point I am trying to make, which is that the concepts of reality and authority are much more closely related to one another then most people realize. Like the physical world, which authority is pretty much absolute, media technologies are gradually but certainly attaining a level of authority within in our society that consequently increases their realness. Today the telescope is a generally accepted means of observing the universe. The earth is no longer flat. We have long left the dark ages of religious dogma and have experienced great scientific breakthroughs, and yet there are still dominant forces shaping our world-view. As we are descending into the depths of our genes, greet webcam-friends across the ocean, send probes to the outskirts of the universe, find our way using car navigation, inspect our house’s roof with Google earth and as it is not unusual for healthy, right-minded people to inform themselves about conditions in the world by spending the evening slouched in front of the television, we come to realize that our world-view is fundamentally being shaped through interfaces. Surely, the designers of these interfaces have an important responsibility in this regard. As media technologies evolve and are incorporated within our culture, our experience of reality changes along. This process is so profound – and one could argue, successful – it almost goes without notice, that to a large extent, we are living in a virtual world already. NOTES 1 Examples of architectural structures that are already famous and celebrated before being build are the Freedom Tower by Liebeskind/ Childs in New York and the CCTV building by Rem Koolhaas in Beijing. 2 We usually do not realize that ‘money’ is in many respects a virtual phenomenon: a symbolic representation of value constructed to replace the awkward, imprecise trading of physical goods. Indeed, paying $50 for a pair of sneakers is much easier than trading two chickens or a basket of apples for them. As long as we all believe in it, the monetary system works fine. 3 The Superb Lyrebird living in Southern Australia sings and mimics all the calls of other birds, as well as other sounds he hears in the forest – even cellphone ring-tones, chainsaws and camera shutters – to attract females (Attenborough, 1998). 4 The term media schemas stems from the concept of schemas, which in psychology and cognitive sciences is described as a mental structure that represents some aspect of the world (Piaget, 1997). According to schema theory, all human beings possess categorical rules or scripts that they use to interpret the world. New information is processed according to how it fits into these rules. These schemas can be used not only to interpret but also to predict situation occurring in our environment. REFERENCES Attenborough, D. (1998). Life of Birds. DVD from the BBC Series, 2 Entertain Video, ASIN: B00004CXKJ Aristotle, (350 BC). Poetics, Translated by Stephen Halliwell. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Pres, 987. Pg 34. Baudrillard, J. (1981). Simulacra and Simulation. Translated by Sheila Faria Glaser, University of Michigan Press (1995), ISBN: 0472065211 Bright, R. (2000). ‘Uncertain Entanglements’ in Sian Ede (red.), Strange and Charmed Science and the contemporary Visual Arts, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, London 2000, p.120-143 Debord, Guy (1967). Society of the Spectacle, Zone Books, 1995, ISBN 0942299795 Dennett, D. (1991). Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co. Goodman M., Tagle D.A., Fitch D.H., Bailey W., Czelusniak J., Koop B.F., Benson P., Slightom J.L. (1990) Primate evolution at the DNA level and a classification of hominoids. Journal of molecular
evolution 1990;30(3):260-6. Gregory, R L. (1998) Eye and brain: The psychology of seeing (5th Edition). Oxford University Press. Hedges, S. B. (2000) Human evolution: A start for population genomics, Nature 408, 652-653 (7 December 2000) Heeks, R. (2008). Current Analysis and Future Research Agenda on “Gold Farming”: Real-World Production in Developing Countries for the Virtual Economies of Online Games. Working Paper Series, Development Informatics Group, University of Manchester. Hoffman, D.D. (1998). Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See. New York: W.W. Norton and Co. Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1980. Lumière, Auguste & Lumière, Louis. (1895). L’Arrivée d’un train à la Ciotat Mensvoort van, K. & Duyvenbode van, M. (2001). Het Bos ruikt naar Shampoo, Documentary. VPRO Television, April 2001. Mirzoeff, N., (1999). An introduction to visual culture, Routledge, London, ISBN: 0415158761. Nevejan, C. (2007) Presence and the Design of Trust. PhD. Dissertation, University of Amsterdam, 2007. Oosterling, H. (2000). Radicale Middelmatigheid (‘Radical Mediacrity’), uitgeverij Boom, Amsterdam. P23. ISBN:9053526218 Oosterling, H. (2003). Act your actuality, in Gerritzen, M. et al. 2004. Visual Power: News. Gingko Press, Corte Madera, CA, 2004, ISBN: 9063690568. Piaget, J. (1997). Jean Piaget: Selected Works. Routledge, 1997, ISBN 9780415168892 Plato (360 B.C.) The Republic, Translated by Robin Waterfield, Oxford University Press, USA Searl, John (1995). The Construction of Social Reality, Free Press (1997), ISBN: 0684831791. Winkel van, C. (2006) Het primaat van de zichtbaarheid, NAi Uitgevers, 2006, ISBN 90-5662-424-5 Ijsselsteijn, W. A. (2002). Elements of a multi-level theory of presence: Phenomenology, mental processing and neural correlates. In Proceedings of PRESENCE 2002 (pp. 245-259). Porto, Portugal. white 7 This Is Your Brain on Facebook Seed Magazine http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/ this_is_your_brain_on_facebook/ by Rob Mitchum on April 21, 2009 Recent studies on the effects of the internet and other new media on brain plasticity raises an open research question: Is Google making us smarter?
Adapted from the cover of Seduction of the Innocent (1954) by psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, one of the early figures to warn against the negative effects of popular media — in this case, comic books — on society at large.
Concerns that the latest fad is rotting the minds of our children have
illustration: Pierre Derks (legrandcrew.com)
never faded. The target of such worries has only drifted from television to rock music to video games. So when a British neuroscientist warned the House of Lords earlier this year about the damaging neural effects of the internet and social networking sites, the only surprise was that it took so long. “I suggest that social networking sites might tap into the basic brain systems for delivering pleasurable experience,” said Baroness Susan Greenfield in her parliamentary remarks on February 12. “As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilized, characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize and a shaky sense of identity.” Greenfield’s comments had little scientific basis, and the British media reacted to her with their usual brand of sober decorum. (The Daily Mail chose the headline “Social websites harm children’s brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist.”) But it’s all been said before. One can simply swap out “social networking sites” for television, the telephone, or even books and find similar testimony. However, if one can stomach Greenfield’s alarmism, an inference is clear: The internet is now so pervasive in our society, it would be foolish to think it weren’t having some kind of effect on our brains. “It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations,” Greenfield said. Though she hedges with the shift to “minds,” other scientists agree that she is probably correct about the way in which popular media exerts its influence over our brains’ inherent plasticity. “Everything you do changes your brain,” says Daphne Bavelier, associate professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester. “When reading was invented, it also made huge changes to the kind of thinking we do and carried changes to the visual system.” But unlike with previous media technology that immersed our collective attention and spurred the fears of overprotective parents, we now have the tools to study just how the machines we use shape our brains. It’s surprising then that so little work has been done. Though correlations between excessive internet use and ADHD, social anxiety, and depression have been probed, few laboratories have specifically looked at effects of such media upon brain activity. The study of adult brain plasticity, how the brain continues to dramatically change its wiring and function long after early development, has picked up speed in recent years as scientists realize that the brain is not static, but truly never stops reorganizing itself in response to the world. While in-depth examinations of what changes on a cellular and molecular scale remain very difficult in humans, indirect measures of brain changes, such as fMRI images, have strongly suggested that the adult brain is a highly malleable organ. In February one lab published what may be the first study to examine how internet use affects our brains. Gary Small and colleagues at the University of California Los Angeles used fMRI to study observed brain activation of subjects interacting with a simulated search engine. Comparisons between “net savvy” and “net naive” groups of senior citizens — young internet-ignorant subjects were too hard to find, Small says — revealed increased brain activity in the experienced Googlers as they performed the internet task, particularly in the frontal cortex, right temporal cortex, anterior and posterior cingulate, and hippocampus. The more active brain, Small says, reflects recruitment of more brain systems in the active process of browsing the Web. Such processing involves not just the visual and language regions active during passive reading, but also frontal regions associated with decision making and short-term working memory. More intriguing was the second phase of the study (as yet unpublished, save for in Small’s book with Gigi Vorgan, iBrain), in which Small and his colleagues asked the Google rookies to go home and train by searching the internet for an hour a day for five days. When the test subjects came back and were rescanned, the researchers found that the net-naive had already increased activation in the frontal areas where they had previously lagged behind the net-savvy. Such rapid changes lead Small to believe that our brains are evolving rapidly, as computer and internet use comes to dominate our waking hours. A similar change, he points out, likely occurred early in human evolution when tools were invented, creating a new environmental pressure. The choice of a dominant hand for wielding a tool led the human brain to evolve a neural representation of handedness, with motor
areas for hand movement larger in left hemisphere for right-handers and vice versa. “Our environment is changing and we’re spending hours and hours with technology — something’s got to give,” Small says. The nature of these changes, and whether they are beneficial or detrimental to humans in the long run, remains to be fully revealed. As Greenfield’s comments illustrate, much of the discussion can’t help but rush headlong to the pessimistic conclusion that any changes caused by technology will be negative. Even Nicholas Carr’s examination of how human thought might be altered by technology (in the July/August issue of Atlantic Monthly), was saddled with the diminutive, fretful headline of “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The concerns about our internet-addled brains ring familiar to the neurobiologists working in another field at the intersection of popular technology and brain plasticity: video games. Imaging studies indicate that, like in Small’s internet task, playing a video game in an fMRI machine activates regions across the brain, from frontal lobe gyri to occipital areas associated with vision. But some studies have gone beyond the inconclusive, pretty colors of fMRI scans to look at how playing a video game can actually mold behavior. Daphne Bavelier’s work at Rochester attracted attention in 2003 when Nature published her paper with C. Shawn Green on visual attention in video game players. Green, himself an avid video game player, found that he was too good for the visual attention task (a simple game in which a subject is asked to identify quickly flashing shapes amid distracting stimuli) he was trying to design. The experience gave Green and Bavelier a hunch that regular gamers in general might be better at navigating such visual tasks due to the hundreds of hours spent on games that far surpass the study’s point-and-click tasks in complexity, but which likely train the same attention skills. The resulting study found that, yes, gamers were better at the task than nongamers, and that nongamers’ could improve their performance with training. Since that paper, Bavelier’s group has shown a wide range of improved visual abilities in avid gamers (including a paper last month postulating that in some cases, games could be used as a substitute for corrective lenses), and they expect to demonstrate similar effects on more complex problem-solving and decision-making processes. Bavelier says that these games are “extremely powerful” in terms of brain plasticity. “The real goal for us,” she says, “is to understand why
there is so much transfer of learning. It’s unusual to think just shooting robots and zombies will actually help you in larger range of tasks — not just visual tasks but things we consider as being more cognitive, like improved attention.” That research pursuit could lead to better-designed educational tools or rehabilitation options for people with brain disorders, Bavelier says. As she wrote in a recent review in the journal Psychology and Aging, the ability of popular games to manipulate the natural reward systems of the human brain, one of the central tenets of Susan Greenfield’s doomsaying, may actually be why they are so effective at changing the brain for both better and worse. Small and Bavelier’s research suggests that actually researching, rather than just baselessly speculating about, the effect of popular media on brain activity and function reveals more benefits than ill consequences. Although both researchers caution that the brain’s limited resources mean that strengthening certain regions and processes may weaken others, that trade-off still remains worlds away from the dire warnings from Greenfield and others before her. “We tend to oversimplify when we argue whether technology is making us smart or making us stupid,” Small says. “The brain is complex and technology is complex; it’s the content, timing, and balance of what we’re doing that’s important. We can argue whatever we want with so little data. It’s not settled; we need to study it. These are the technologies that are part of our lives, so we need to be scientific about it and not conclude from the outset whether it’s all good or all bad. We need to understand it and use it in a way to enhance our lives.”
Inspired by the Fantastic Journal's posts on the space of the British suburban sitcom (and a nod to Sand/orB on comedy and conjuncture), a post on the space of an urban sitcom, Steptoe and Son. Galton and Simpson's relentlessly grim show is a practically Pinteresque study of an Agonistic father and son in inner West London (sometimes it seems to be Shepherd's Bush, sometimes Earl's Court - but regardless, this is not suburbia), and the tensions of their relationship and permanently beleaguered rag&bone business. Left-wing Modern architects were both despisers of rag&bone clutter, and conversely enormously keen on moveable partitions as a way of ensuring both changeability and privacy - some, like Leonid Sabsovich, even believing that 'divorces' between couples could be achieved through partitioning his communal blocks. Meanwhile the French Modernist architect and PCF fellow-traveller Andre Lurçat once designed a house for a mother and daughter, with the strict instructions that the house had to be divided between them, so that they would never have to encounter each other unless they absolutely wanted to. Divided we Stand, an episode from the especially grim 1970s run of Steptoe and Son is the story of what happens when you try to do the same thing in a far more impoverished context, and a reminder of the pitfalls of clean living under difficult circumstances.
8 Poverty and Partitions
illustration: Alice marwick (legrandcrew.com)
Nasty Brutalist and Short http://nastybrutalistandshort.blogspot.com/2009/04/ poverty-and-partitions.html by owen hatherley on April 27, 2009
As ever, the episode hinges on disagreements between the Steptoes, with the younger Harold wanting to improve himself and his father Albert sneering at his every attempt to rise above his decidedly lowly station. A lesser sitcom (Citizen Smith for instance) would sneer with him at any hint of artistic or political pretensions, but while Albert is often sympathetic in his loneliness and poverty, Harold's constantly thwarted desires for escape are not patronised. Here, Harold is fed up of the clutter, chaos, waste and dirt of a house like a permanent junk market. He tries to convince Albert that the house needs to be redecorated and some of the crap thrown out, but his books of colours ('Etruscan red? How about Wedgwood Blue?) and his wallpaper suggestions are ridiculed. In frustration he goes round the house, throwing around old newspapers ('Mr Chamberlain meets Mr Hitler in Munich??') and finding particularly gross examples of squalor to throw at his father - who, of course, has affection for everything from the half-century old newspapers to a set of false teeth lost in 1941. Not for the first time, Harold is driven to desperate measures.
Using some of the clutter left around the flat ready for sale, including a turnstile taken from a defunct toilet, Harold manages to completely partition the house, creating what he calls an 'apartheid' between them. The differences in aspiration between the two are exemplified here in spatial terms, in that Albert leaves untouched the familiar piles of god knows what, and a Smoking-Jacketed Harold attempts to create a minimalist, Georgian influenced half-house for himself, with carefully selected pictures on the walls, finally using his 'Wedgewood blue'. The problem of course is that he simply doesn't have the space, the light or high ceilings that come with real Georgian privilege, and so it seems poky and ludicrous. In order to get a bit of light from the window, he has to have the partitions stopping at a point where Albert's hat is constantly visible. It all comes to a head over the partitioned TV, where Harold wants to watch Nureyev at the Festival Hall on BBC2, and Albert 'Blood of the Ripper' on ITV. During the fight over it they ignore a fire which has broken out in the kitchen, and both end up in hospital - where, finally, in the uncluttered and sterilised hospital environment Harold gets his revenge, and is able to close the curtains as a decisive partition. 9 Clash of Subways and Car Culture in Chinese Cities The New York TImes http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/27/business/worldbusiness/ 27transit.html?_r=1&n=Top/Reference/Times%20Topics/Subjects/I/ Infrastructure%20(Public%20Works)&pagewanted=all by Timothy O’Rourke on March 26, 2009
Digging for the subway expansion in Guangzhou, China, proceeds around the clock, every day.
GUANGZHOU, China — Chan Shao Zhang is in the race of his life. After four decades of false starts, Mr. Chan, a 67-year-old engineer, is supervising an army of workers operating 60 gargantuan tunneling machines beneath this metropolis in southeastern China. They are building one of the world’s largest and most advanced subway systems. The question is whether the burrowing machines can outrace China’s growing love affair with the automobile — car sales have soared ninefold since 2000. Or are a hundred Los Angeleses destined to bloom? And even as Mr. Chan labors to bind Guangzhou together with an underground web of steel, the city is spreading out rapidly above ground, like a drop of ink on a paper towel. The Guangzhou Metro is just part of a much broader surge in mass transit construction across China. At least 15 cities are building subway lines and a dozen more are
planning them. The pace of construction will only accelerate now that Beijing is pushing local and provincial governments to step up their infrastructure spending to offset lost revenue from slumping exports. “Nobody is building like they are,” said Shomik Mehndiratta, a World Bank specialist in urban transport. “The center of construction is really China.” Western mass transit experts applaud China for investing billions in systems that will put less stress on the environment and on cities. But they warn that other Chinese policies, like allowing real estate developers to build sprawling new suburbs, undermine the benefits of the mass transit boom. “They wind up better than if they did nothing, but it costs them a fortune,” said Lee Schipper, a specialist at Stanford in urban transport. Mr. Chan defended Guangzhou’s combination of cars and subways, saying that the city built a subway line to a new Toyota assembly plant to help employees and suppliers reach it. Subways have been most competitive in cities like New York that have high prices for parking, and tolls for bridges and tunnels, discouraging car use. Few Chinese cities have been willing to follow suit, other than Shanghai, which charges a fee of several thousand dollars for each license plate. The cost and physical limitations of subways have discouraged most cities from building new ones. For instance, only Tokyo has a subway system that carries more people than its buses. The buses are cheaper and able to serve far more streets but move more slowly, pollute more and contribute to traffic congestion. China has reason to worry. It surpassed the United States in total vehicle sales for the first time in January, although the United States remained slightly ahead in car sales. But in February, China overtook the United States in both, in part because the global downturn has hurt auto sales much more in the United States than in China. Guangzhou, a city of 12 million people that is also the fastest-growing center of auto manufacturing in China, shows both the promise and obstacles of China’s subway extravaganza. Mr. Chan helped set up Guangzhou’s subway planning office in 1965, when he was straight out of college. Digging started the next year. But the miners gave up after less than 10 feet when they hit granite. After that, Mao personally sent China’s finest mining and underground construction experts to oversee the digging. But further excavation efforts failed in 1970, 1971, 1974 and 1979. During and immediately after the Cultural Revolution, Communist dogma, poverty and nationalism forced a reliance on inadequate Chinese equipment. In 1989, when preparations began for successful excavations, city leaders thought it would be enough to have two subway lines, totaling 20 miles, in an X shape bisecting a tightly packed downtown. “At that point, it was still mostly bicycles and people walking,” Mr. Chan said. Then, “in the 21st century, the Guangzhou economy really took off.” Today, Guangzhou has 71 miles of subway lines, most of them opened in the last three years, and yet large areas of the ever-expanding city are still distant from the nearest subway stop. The city plans to open an additional 83 miles by the end of next year — and an underground tram system and a high-speed commuter rail system. A long-term plan calls for at least 500 miles of subway and light rail routes, and there are discussions on expanding beyond that. China now produces much of the equipment to build modern subways, but the country’s infrastructure stimulus spending is drawing in imports as well. Most of the tunneling machines here were made by Herrenknecht of Germany. I.B.M. announced on Wednesday that it had signed a consulting contract for computer tracking of Guangzhou Metro’s nearly $3 billion in assets, including convenience stores in subway stations and lighting systems. The digging in Guangzhou proceeds around the clock, every day. Men like Wang Jiangka, a profusely perspiring engineer in charge of one of the steamy tunnels, endure sweltering temperatures at the tunneling site, where workers put in five 12-hour shifts a week. “If they don’t want to do overtime, we get other workers,” Mr. Wang said, standing in a red hard hat next to a Herrenknecht tunneling machine that chewed through the rock more than a one-mile walk from the nearest daylight. Inexpensive labor — less than $400 a month — and the economies of scale created by completing 20 miles of subway lines a year have driven costs down.
Mr. Chan said that it cost about $100 million a mile to build a subway line in Guangzhou, including land acquisition costs for ventilation shafts and station entrances. By contrast, New York City officials hope to build 1.7 miles of the long-delayed Second Avenue line in eight years at a cost of $3.9 billion, or $2.4 billion a mile. The city expects to use a single tunneling machine. Owners of land needed for subway construction in Guangzhou have few rights compared with those in New York. Here, Mr. Chan said, a property surveyor appraises a building and “whatever he says, that’s it.” But, Mr. Chan added, “because China is now more democratic, if they don’t want to move, then you have to take more time.” And time is of the essence. Guangzhou is growing rapidly outward. Primly dressed in a white silk shirt and light brown slacks, Kerry Li stood under the 30-foot-tall crystal chandelier in the clubhouse lobby at the Hua Nan Country Garden complex and watched as her 10-year-old son played nearby. A bus leaves her gated community in the suburbs and heads for the city, across the broad, muddy waters of the Pearl River, every 15 minutes. But a recently completed subway line under the river goes nowhere near the compound. Ms. Li’s husband, a businessman, drives his own car to work every morning, while his wife stays home. The lure of cars is hard to resist. Chen Hao Tian, a 43-year-old economic planner for the Guangzhou municipal government who worries about the need for mass transit, used to spend a half-hour riding a free bus for government employees to and from work. Then he acquired a silver-gray Honda Accord from the local Honda assembly plant and found he could make the trip in 10 minutes — and run errands along the way for his wife and 13-year-old daughter, and listen to his favorite music. “On my salary, the maintenance costs are a pressure,” he said. “But it gives me great pleasure and the feeling of a higher standard of living.” And few subway rides do that, even for those who build them.
Origins and sources Some of my favourite maps are drawn by a British writer, walker and accountant named Alfred Wainwright. Phil Baines provides background: “Wainwright was an accountant born in Lancashire who fell in love with the English Lake District and moved there to live and work. All his free time was spent walking the fells, and he began his series of seven ‘pictorial guides to the Lakeland Fells’ in 1952 as a way of repaying his gratitude to them. The work took 13 years.” (Type & Typography) Wainwright’s walking maps are drawn to suit their context of use, the books are intended to be used while walking. As the reader begins their walk, the map represents their location in overview plan. As the walk extends through the map, the perspective slowly shifts naturally with the unfolding landscape, until the destination is represented in a pictorial perspective view, as one would see it from their standpoint.
10 Here & There influences Pulse Laser http://schulzeandwebb.com/blog/2009/05/04/here-there-influences/
By Schulze on May 4th, 2009.
I’m going to tell you a little bit about the influences on Here & There, a project about representation of urban places, from when it began. It was warmly received when I first presented some corners of it back at Design Engaged in 2004, before Schulze & Webb existed. Here & There is a projection drawing from maps, comics, television, and games. This particular version is a horizonless projection in Manhattan. The project page is here, where large prints of the uptown and downtown views can be seen and are available to buy. I’ve been observing the look and mechanisms in maps since I began working in graphic design. For individuals, and all kinds of companies, cities are an increasing pre-occupation. Geography is the new frontier. Wherever I look in the tech industry I see material from architects and references and metaphors from the urban realm. Here & There draws from that, and also exploits and expands upon the higher levels of visual literacy born of television, games, comics and print. The satellite is the ultimate symbol of omniscience. It’s how we wage wars, and why wars are won. That’s why Google Earth is so compelling. This is what the map taps into. The projection works by presenting an image of the place in which the observer is standing. As the city recedes into the (geographic) distance it shifts from a natural, third person representation of the viewer’s immediate surroundings into a near plan view. The city appears folded up, as though a large crease runs through it. But it isn’t a halo or hoop though, and the city doesn’t loop over one’s head. The distance is potentially infinite, and it’s more like a giant ripple showing both the viewers surroundings and also the city in the distance.
This is a reversal of the Here & There projection. In Wainwright’s projection we stand in plan, and look into perspective. Wainwright’s view succeeds in open ground where one can see the distance… but in a city you can only see the surrounding buildings. Wainwright and Here & There both present what’s around you with the most useful perspective, and lift your gaze above and beyond to see the rest. David Hockney presents a fantastic dissection of perspective in the film A Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China or Surface Is
Illusion But So Is Depth. He describes a very old painting from China which depicts a journey along the grand canal. I really like how he describes the scene as ‘making sense.’ He justifies a deviation from Western perspective, that to represent things as they strike your eye is not even functionally as good as some other interpretative distortions. In this painting in which there’s a grossly distorted perspective, in which there aren’t even any rules, it still makes sense because it changes how you put yourself in the painting, and that changes where you put yourself outside it.
Michaels, H. Sargent. Photographic Runs: Series C, Chicago to Lake Geneva to Delavan, Delavan to Beloit. Chicago: H. Sargent Michaels, 1905. Used with permission from Prof. Robert French, Osher Map library, University of Southern Maine, Owls Head Transportation Museum.
The book dates from before the national road sign infrastructure was introduced to American highways or inter-city roads. Each page is a photo of a junction, with every junction between the two cities included, and an arrow is drawn over the photo to say which direction to take. As the driver progresses along their route, they turn pages, each junction they arrive at corresponding to the one in the current photo. (Many thanks to Steve Krug for the sharing his discovery of these great pieces.) First person to God games I don’t like the way maps (in-game maps) work in most video games. They seem to break my flow of play, and locating one’s actor in the game isn’t satisfying. I’d love to see a first person or third person shooter where the landscape bent up to reveal a limited arc of the landscape in plan over distance. As a video game, the Here & There projection slides from Halo, through GTA into Syndicate, to end in SimCity.
Augmented reality There is a element in the map, in the uptown view, of a bus. Its destinations in both directions are shown. (I love NY bus routes, the cross town super power!) This is to explore how augmenting the map with local information might work.
One of my intentions with the project is to make an exploration into way-finding devices. One of my favourite examples of augmented reality is from these American Road maps from 1905. The map is stored in a book, and good for only one route. In fact, it isn’t a map as we’d typically understand one.
The final sequence of panels in the penultimate book has Stark wearing the Iron Man suit, setting off to confront his enemy, his recent transformation has left him with new powers…
Although I never played it, I’ve heard a lot about Luigi’s Mansion for the Nintendo GameCube. Luigi wonders around a haunted mansion and hoovers up ghosts with a vacuum cleaner. I heard about a mechanic in the game which involved a virtual Gameboy Advance in the game. Luigi could take it out and use it to inspect the world. The game played out in the third person with a view of Luigi in place, but I think when you look in the Advance, it gave a first person view from Luigi’s position. Well, if it didn’t, it should have done. I know that in some special games the Gameboy Advance could be plugged into the GameCube, to be used as a special controller. It would be amazing to use the second screen in a controller for that first person perspective. Imagine if you could guide your actor around in third person and glance down at the screen in your hands for close inspection or telescopic sniping. Powers and cities Recently Matt Jones and Rod Mclaren discussed Jason Bourne and James Bond and how they use cities. Jones characterises Bourne in contrast to Bond: “… in addition, Bourne wraps cities, autobahns, ferries and train terminuses around him as the ultimate body-armour” For Bourne, the city is his power, Jones continues: “A battered watch and an accurate U-Bahn time-table are all he needs for a perfectly-timed, death-defying evasion of the authorities.” I like to talk about the projection as a superpower, the power to be both in the city and above it. Last year Warren Ellis wrote an Iron Man arc called Extremis. As ever, fine stuff. And with great pictures from Adi Granov too. Ellis, unsatisfied with controlling the Iron Man suit by normal means (sensors, or weeny joysticks in the gloves or something) as an exoskeleton (picture Ripley in the clumsy Powerloader), Stark must ingest the Extremis serum in order to match his enemy, Mallen, and prevent him from his destructive path into Washington. The serum welds Stark to his tech. It leaves him ‘containing’ the membrane-like ‘undersheath’ he uses to control the Iron Man suit. It is stored inside his bones.
“I can see through satellites now. What a thought! Within one field of view, to be both in the world and to see yourself in it. The power of looking through, and occupying, your own field of vision. Awesome. What if the projection appeared inside location-aware binoculars? Hold them up, and live satellite images are superimposed in ‘the bend’ onto the natural view of the city as it lifts up into plan! You’d see the traffic and people that just pulled out of view into a side street from above mapped onto your natural view. Timo Arnall posted a video showing a Google Streetview pan controlled with the digital compass inside the device:
It begins to reveal how Here & There might feel if it were moving beneath your feet. Thanks I would like to thank both James King (art direction) and Campbell Orme (technical direction) for their tireless efforts in bringing this work to life. Email them and make them work on your stuff. They are talented, humane and brilliant designer/thinkers. Art prints of Here & There have been produced in a limited run and can be purchased here. Please buy one and stick it on a wall.
Prss founding editors: Marten Dashrst & Edwin Gardner / Editor: Lukas Pauer / Graphic design: Annemarie van den Berg