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— urbantick

February 2010 Monthly archive

Probably the beauty of the product lies not in the subject of the product, but in the way it is done. Might not be the latest headline, but there is something to this. Can one build nice highways, is it possible to design a meaningful park and ride or can a disused railway lines turned into a park? Well you must have guessed it by now, I am thinking of specific examples here. Even though it is probably a lot easier to come up with terrible examples for infrastructure projects, you probably only have to look out the window, there are some really ‘knock you out of your shoes’ examples of good practice. A great collection is put together in the book ‘the Landscape of Contemporary Infrastructure‘, published by NAi Publishers.

Image taken from Archphoto / A view of the Swiss highway A16.

And of course here are the examples I was thinking of, ‘Tunnel Artifices’, highway projects by Flora Ruchat-Roncati and Renato Salvi 1988-2008, realized in Switzerland; ‘Terminal Hoenheim Nord’ by Zaha Hadid Architects 1999-2001, realized in Strassbourg, France; or the ‘High-Line‘ by Dillier Scofidio + Renfro with James Corner Field Operations 2005-2010, in New York, USA.
And actually New York was what I wanted to get at, to introduce this beautiful timeLapse. A day in the Sandpit of the big Apple portrayed so beautifully the everyday situations that it lives up greatly to the examples give. Everyday life is beautiful, no matter what.

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There are things and things in our material world, that are not the same. Some things, especially if they inherit the ability to change between different forms and states or even context, are contradictially received. This phenomenon is known in all areas, but it is particularly distinct in the context of the environment. More so because it is so consequently denied.
And I am probably taking it a little far here, but a great deal of the sustainability debate of the recent decade is related to this denial of context and integrativity of more than a century of constructing and theorizing environment. So in this context the debate about how and especially why we should build ecological or sustainable buildings and cities makes more sense. Because of the radical and to a large extend successful exclusion of anything unplanned, uncontrolled we now are doomed to sit out the debate around how to live a life on our planet and to learn to accept that everything is part of the plan even and particularly the planner. This is a tuff one, I know, but there is no return, we have to obey the culture we live in (@geno).
Beauty might lie in this. Louis Sullivan wrote a poem to one such banned commpanion of the environment:

“I made a little one to a weed the other day. I like weeds: they have so much ‘style’ to them and when I find them where they grow free they seem most interesting and suggestive to me. I think I’m something of a weed myself….And then there are so many of them, and they differ so much in shape, colour and arrangement; the form follows the function so beautifully as you would say. I wish I knew the names of the little rascals; then it seems to me, I could talk to them better.” (David Gissen (2009), Subnature. p. 154)

In his book Subnature – Architecture’s Other Environments, published by Princeton Architectural Press, the author David Gissen goes to a great length to shade light on different aspects of denial of context in the practical and theoretical construction of environment. It is a book that you probably wouldn’t take first down from the shelve in the store, but not because it is not good written or pleasant looking (the opposite is true), but very likely because the topic puts oneself against so much practice and cultural conventions, that it might still be hard for people to take this step of acceptance.
It is worth it, moreover it is necessary and I believe this publication is only the start of the theorization of a movement that has developed tools and practices to allow numerous completely forgotten dimensions to feed into the man made environment.
Gissen has positioned the book very cleverly out of the main line of commercial sustainability debate and with this can avoid all the unnecessary discussion around the education of professionals and can concentrate on actually discuss concrete examples, approaches and theories on this subject.
The book is organised in three parts. Part one is on darkness, smoke, gas, exhaust; Part two is on dust, puddles, mud and debris; Part three is on weeds, insects, pigeons and crowds. A not on first blink self explaining structure, but as you dive into the content a skeleton that starts to make sense as Gissen continuously feeds the reader with examples. An this is really the strength of the book. The author has illustrations for most of his arguments and subjects. This is really brilliant and pulls the reader in immediately. It is not one of these “I tell you to to this!” books, but a real discussion of the subject matter. THe examples are not presented as right or wrong, but as a way of reading something, leaving it open for the reader to read more into it or read something completely different from it. This is something very few books mange to do, creating this platform for an debate between professionals.
For the conclusion, I realize that I have actually given away very little on the content of the book, but I guess this is a good thing in this context. There is little point in me repeating what David Gissen has put so beautifully and engaging in print. This is simply a must read, if you are prepared to take the plunge and be prepared to see the world, and definitely your work, with different eyes.
For further and detailed reviews visit Landsacpe+Urbanism or Archidose or see the authors blog for a 11 point list on Subnature.

Image taken from HTcExperiments / Alternative book cover, showing the work by Jorge Otero Pailos.

Gissen, D., 2009. Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments 1st ed., Princeton Architectural Press.

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Physicist Albert-László Barabási, well known for his work on network theory, has tuned his attention in a recent paper to the human movement. In the latest issue of Science 19 February 2010
Vol 327, Issue 5968, his paper ‘Limits of Predictability in Human Mobility‘ reports the research work undertaken with 50’000 anonymized mobile phone user data.
Barabási has don a lot of work on networks as early as 1999 were he coined the term Scale Free Networks, describing a type of networks with major hubs, such as for example the world wide web. In his barabasilab at Northeastern University, Centre for Complex Network Research a number of network related project are researched.

Image taken from The University of Chicago / Diagram of a scale-free network that contains components with a highly diverse level of connectivity. Some components form highly interconnected hubs, while other components have few connections, and there are many levels of interconnectivity in between.

However in this recent work the focus is on the predictability of human movement. The authors say: “By measuring the entropy of each individual’s trajectory, we find a 93% potential predictability in user mobility across the whole base. Despite the significant differences in the travel patterns, we find a remarkable lack of variability.” The work was intended to close a gap in the approaches to modeling human behavior. Despite personally we rarely perceive our actions as random, the existing models are largely based on the factors of random movement. The paper demonstrated that even though the activities, distances and motivations for individual movement might be very divers and different the predictability of an individuals location is not. They all have very similar predictability values, ranging between 80 % and 92 %. AOL News titles their article on the work “Study Makes It Official: People Are So Predictable” implying that this must be soooo boring.

Image taken from AOL News / These diagrams represent the movements of two mobile phone users. The one on the left shows that the person moved between 22 different cell towers during a three-month period, and placed 52 percent of his calls from one area; the other subject hit 76 spots, and was much less rooted.

This might be very surprising news for most people. The fact that there is so much less changing and spontaneity might seem unrealistic, but a similar impression was given by the data collected with the UrbanDiary project last year. Even though this was a really small sample, the fact that individuals travel most of the time along their known routes, between only a few hot spots clearly emerged. This can also be seen visualised in the What Shape are You? renders. Also Hagerstand’s work pointed in to this direction arguing that the ‘Constraints’ are too strong for too many out of rhythm activities.
Barabási already undertook similar work with mobile phone data in 2008, which war published as an article in nature, by Gonzalez MC, Hidalgo CA, Barabasi A-L. with the title ‘Understanding individual human mobility patterns’. In this article they analysed data of 100’000 mobile phones. Was the media coverage back then (two years) very much concerned about privacy issues related to the data source, for example NYTimes is this less of an issue. Nevertheless it is obvious that the researchers try to play it save by mentioning about ten times in the article that they work with anonymized data.
The argument is largely the same in both articles and the finding too. In both papers the researchers show their surprise about the outcome, that the movement can be predicted. However to my surprise they stick to their study and do not draw any strong links to routines and rhythms of personal habits. You can listen to a podcast where Barabási talks about this research.
In the more recent paper they conclude “At a more fundamental level, they also indicate that, despite our deep-rooted desire for change and spontaneity, our daily mobility is, in fact, characterized by a deep-rooted regularity.”
I believe that the former, spontaneity, is very much a cultural phenomenon similar to the urge to stay young. The later, regularity, is the provider of identity and orientation resulting in stability and safety and therefor fundamental to human everyday life. Interesting should be Barabási’s upcomming new book Burst on “The Hidden Patterns Behind Everything We Do”.

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Google seemed for a long time to kind of miss the upcoming social networking hype. They have actually paved the way for this development to happen, especially where it comes to location based services and now it looks like they miss the train.
This is not the first time though, already with the chat they could not catch up with msn or with voip, skype was the number one. Same here again with social networking, Google had to watch the rise of facebook and twitter for quite a while and similar with the location based social networking services. Here Brightkite or foursquare are small, but very agile and successful providers of location based services. Earlier these services were discussed HERE.
Google came up with the Google Latitude service. It offers the option to let a mobile device track its route and broadcast it on the web or share with invited friends. It was a very simple platform and did not offer anything in addition. Were Brightkite offered tools for networking, commenting and socializing, Latitude would only show a the location. This inability not to interact could be frustrating and this might be the reason why Latitude stayed a niche product.
But Google was determined to come up with some sort of service to mach the still growing social networking community. So earlier this month they launched Google buzz, sort of an extension to Gmail. Google buzz was introduced on their official blogs HERE or HERE or on googlemobile.
It is kind of a cross between a chat and micro blogging tool that can be used directly from within Gmail. It combines elements of Gmail, Wave and Latitude, looks a bit like facebook (in the way it displays the activities) and works a bit like twitter (the way you can sign up and follow other users). There are however also differences. It is tied to the Gmail account, which means no strange names or funny images. It automatically links to everyone you have ever emailed through Gmail, your identity is set. Also the fact that it is embedded in Gmail means you have to be inside your mailbox to use it and follow your friends (for now, there will be for sure other clients pop up – depending how it develops).
I have to say for me is the Gmail integration at the moment not the most interesting part, but rather a bit annoying. I very seldom log in to check my email. In fact I basically have only joined buzz because I am logging in to the Gmail service at the moment due to a faulty machine and I don’t have access to my regular mail client. But lucky me, the real deal with the Google buzz is the way it works on mobile clients such as the iPhone. Blogs, for example the next web, have this week described the service, what twitter should be, or what the next generation facebook with integrated location awareness must be! And really this is it, buzz mobile, in this case one could say it is an extended Google Latitude, gives you the service you’d expect. In a list or on the map you see the buzz’s around you and you can interact with them. Nothing new, yes we know, Brightkite or Foursquare do this for a year already, but twitter doesn’t yet properly do this.
THe main problem really is the graphical interface. I know this is a tricky one, but I really can’t get warm with this Google style. This was already one of my main complaints with Google Wave and now it is again with Google buzz. It is simply ugly and unfriendly. It might work properly, but if it aint good looking you don’t want to use it. Compared to twitter or facebook , similar complaints apply there too and the boring design of facebook is one of the reasons I hesitated long before starting to use it. Twitter is a different case. It took me a while to get used to it, but they managed to develop their own stile and invented a format for micro blogging.
To come back to the actual functions of the buzzing buzz, it is integrated with Gmail as mentioned above, so direct buzzing is easy, even more Google has integrated the buzz button on the search page too. So as you have found something while searching, simply click the buzz button and your very personal news go out to the world. Similar with the location based integration, Google makes the most of the services they already have and are successful. They have added a buzz layer to Google Maps for example, where you can see what is buzzed around a certain location. For a more complete list on the features and how to use them see mashtrends. The map feature is great and you get quick and simple an impression of what is going on in an area. This, however, creates an interesting problem of how to represent the aspect of time. At the moment this is not really a question, but soon certain places will become very buzzy and it will become impossible to decide which buzz you actually want to see. It was similar with the user generated KML files that would be automatically be integrated into the general Google Earth layer in the early days of Google Earth. It obviously quickly grew to be too much user generated information and Google started selecting. By now the have established ‘official’ layer contributors, such as Panoramio or Discovery Channel. But here, with Google buzz, the aim is different n so should be the solution. How can Google simplify the growing content without losing the important content you are looking for? There are aspects of time involved, beside possible categories or tags. A feature like the timeline in Google Earth would be a good start, to see how this location developed and where the information lies that one is looking for.
Anyway, if other clients start picking up the format it might all change, at least this is what was the promise with Google Wave, we’ll see. For now there is a new Google buzz button with each post here on the blog, so keep buzzing away, it could develop into something.

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Bioreboot – The Architecture of R&Sie(n) by Giovanni Corbellini is published by Princeton Architetural Press, an architecture monograph with a cover that for once represents the book quite accurate. It is ambivalent, for one it draws you in and tickles your interest, but for two contains a strange irritation alongside.
The R&Sie(n) projects are through out fascinating and often surprising. However there are some projects that really stand out. Such for example ‘the Invisible House’ (2001), built for $160’000 in France. This ‘stealth’ building is a radical take on landscape, architecture and the debate around integration. As a model type it could almost be compared to ‘The Slow House’ (1990) by Dillier and Scofidio (http://www.dillerscofidio.com). Or there is also the ‘Terra Incognita’ (2006) project about ‘global warming and the apparition of the island of the albino penguin’. Or the ‘Hypnochamber’ (2005) a experiment on ‘unconscious planning’ and participation.
There are also the more flat projects were catchy titles do suggest more than the images or visualisations, such as with the ‘Mosquito Bottlenecck’ (2003), the ‘Aqua Alta’ (1998) or the ‘Waterflux’ (2002/2007) a proposal that was good in the context of early blob architecture, but has lost a lot of it’s charm since.
Nevertheless the work of this practice is really pushing the boundaries of architecture and the experiments with space, materials and visualisation draws you in and gives you a buzz for your own work (given you are involved in some sort of creative work). The work is quite poignant described by Bruce Sterling from Wired as ‘…(they are) exploring what happens when the usual constraints are allowed to fall away and things get wild and loose.’ And yes indeed some of the projects go along the line of the book ‘Installations by Architects‘ The thing about the work of R&Sie are the stories they create around each project. It is not simply a house or a space, but a whole world they carefully craft to allow the proposal to happen inside it. The resulting product is then simply the consequence of a logical sequence, beautiful.
The irritation from the front cover continues on the inside and the design of the book can not really catch up with the content. Since the projects are of such experimental nature the representation of them in the book tries to mirror this to some extend, but then also doesn’t. This ambivalent and undecided state makes me as the reader really nervous. Only for the ‘endlessness… chat’ at the very end of the book a different form of representation is found in the form of the portrait orientation of the format rather than the landscape of the rest of the book. The rest is a conventional at times rather dull reporting of projects sorted in categories presented in a linear fashion. It is the sort of book to inspire architecture students starting a new project.

The book, it can be said as a sort of concluding summary, can not quite live up to the content. For which it is worth, though.

Giovanni Corbellini (2009), Bioreboot – The Architecture of R&Sie(n). Princeton Architectural Press, New York

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Google street view has been introduced back in 2007 and it is already part of everyday navigation. The initial hype ha settled, at least in countries were it is introduced now for more than a year like the UK. In others legal battles and other misunderstandings are still under way.
However Google is never short of news stories and with the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver they have taken Street View to the slopes and enable everyone with access to the internet to see the beautiful landscape and ski slopes the athletes will be heading down next week in detail along the tracks. Picked up as reported by the Google Lat Long Blog or Gizmodo.
The area covered so far is Vancouver at Whistler Mountain where the Winter Olympics 2010 start on the 12th, which is on Friday.

Image taken from Gogle Slope (Street) View / Vancouver Whistler Mountain

You can test it right here. Put on your skis your already on the slope!

View Larger Map

Documentation here in the clip with details of how it was recorded.

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I am down in Plymouth today at University to give a lecture at the School of Architecture, Design and Environment with the title Narrative and Time. I have put together elements of my current research work to explore the aspects of the narrative as a specific aspect of time as well as an tool to visualise time. The idea of the story plays an increasing importance in my work. It came up through the tracking project UrbanDiary and now plays an important role in the latest work on Twitter and the Tweet-O-Meter, where the stories old start the spatial investigation.
With this presentation the focus is on the everyday, the ordinary and how we are involve or selves in daily stories as we navigate the passage of time in space. The second part of the presentation focuses on examples of how a narrative can directly be employed for a project. The simpler the story the better and the more powerful the pictures painted. Examples are Senones, a revitalisation project for a small former industrial ‘city’ in France. Where three character played the lead role to explain and illustrate four future scenarios for the valley. Also the Nearness clip, as an interpretation of the ‘Ein Lauf der Dinge’ by Fischli und Weiss. Or there is also the BluDot chair tracking project, furniture stories in New York.

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I am down in Plymouth today at University to give a lecture at the School of Architecture, Design and Environment with the title Narrative and Time. I have put together elements of my current research work to explore the aspects of the narrative as a specific aspect of time as well as an tool to visualise time. The idea of the story plays an increasing importance in my work. It came up through the tracking project UrbanDiary and now plays an important role in the latest work on Twitter and the Tweet-O-Meter, where the stories old start the spatial investigation.
With this presentation the focus is on the everyday, the ordinary and how we are involve or selves in daily stories as we navigate the passage of time in space. The second part of the presentation focuses on examples of how a narrative can directly be employed for a project. The simpler the story the better and the more powerful the pictures painted. Examples are Senones, a revitalisation project for a small former industrial ‘city’ in France. Where three character played the lead role to explain and illustrate four future scenarios for the valley. Also the Nearness clip, as an interpretation of the ‘Ein Lauf der Dinge’ by Fischli und Weiss. Or there is also the BluDot chair tracking project, furniture stories in New York.

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To come back to the discussion about the identity of the architecture profession I have here a publication that explores this question from a different direction. What if architects make something else, what if they work in the field of art and produce installations? Are they still architects, and if so what does it mean for the identity of the professions, both of the artists and the architects?
Installations by Architects – Experiments in Building and Design by Sarah Bonnemaison and Ronit Eisenbach (2009) is published by Princeton Architectural Press. The book identifies a “rich and increasingly diverse practice” that emerged over the past few decades in art practice, the working with installation and architects are amongst the user of this type of expression. It seems to be the ideal playground for architects, the installation implies a direct spatial component and the profession identifies it self with spatial practice.
Architects as artists have a long tradition. More often than I feel comfortable with, the architect is stereotyped an artist, a practitioner capable of doing art work or at least someone with an ‘arty’ flair. In most cases architects enjoy playing in this mist of uncertainties and enjoy the opportunities and in some cases reduced responsibility. This has over the years, however, created a watered self image and architecture today can be anthropology, sociology, engineering, planning, construction, sustainability, geography, politics, management, art, archeology, research, business, fashion, theatre, just to name a few. This can be confusing, if the standard idea is the planning and construction of a house. However there is noting wring with this practice in principle and as art of the Bauhaus movement, architecture was part of an idea of space, together with other disciplines, including the arts, that had the boundaries blurred explicitly with the idea to foster collaboration between the different disciplines. Today it seems almost as if the architects still follow this idea, but as the only discipline ending up isolated and with a fading identity. It is probably more about the attitude, not about the practice.

Image by Andre Forget taken from we-make-money-not-art / Asher DeGroot, David Gallaugher, Kevin James, and Jacob Jebailey, Walking in the Park.

And this is exactly what this publication manage to demonstrate. The projects, better installations illustrated and documented in the book are all, without exception extremely ‘good practice’, whether artist, architect, sociologist, or community worker. The really new aspect highlighted in the book is the use and benefit of this practice for educational purposes. But yes it is obvious, not in this book but leading schools such as the Bartlett school of Architecture make a lot of use of these techniques.
In the introduction the authors take the readers through a chain of historic examples of installations that you might be familiar with. For example Kurt Schwitters, Merzbau or Gordon Matta-Clark’s Splitting or Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work The Gates.
For the book the selected projects are grouped into five thematic topics: tectonics, body, nature, memory and public space. This list seems a bit general at first, but makes perfect sense in the context of the projects.
The representation of the projects happens in two parts. Part one is a text based description of the work, the context, comments and critique, whereas the second part is a visual, mainly photographs based documentation with short explanation texts, mainly explaining the content of each illustration. The two parts are spatially separated. So you get these blocks of texts, some five projects, followed by a block of visual documentation. This is confusing at first but again falls in to place later on. It opens up possibilities to cross read projects, widen the contexts and link practices.
Documented work’s include Diller + Scofidio (1993), Bad Press, Dissident Ironing; Pilip Beesley (1998-2007), Geotextiles; Marco Casagrande and Sami Rintala (1999), Land(e)scape; fieldoffice (2001), NY A/V or the pixualisation of facades by LAb[au] (2007), touch.
The presented work is extremely evocative and of the type, why didn’t I have this idea? I could have done this! in very positive sense here. I believe this is not only the case for the audience, but very much for the installation practitioner himself and this is most likely the reason behind why architects are so much into this kind of practice. Their other work is actually benefitting from these ‘research’ practices.

Image taken from archiworld / land(e)scape (Savonlinna, Finland – 1999 – Recalling the little barns that pepper the traditional Finnish landscape, the architectural installation is designed as a protest against the desertification of the countryside. Three of these abandoned barns have broken free from their moorings to rise majestically 10 meters from the ground.

Bonnemaison, S. & Eisenbach, R., 2009. Installations by Architects: Experiments in Building and Design, Princeton Architectural Press.

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The paper was published on the CASA page already in December last year. That was as a boring ‘first have to download’ pdf format.
Now, this is cool, it is available on Issuu, conveniently embedded and you can flip through right here, share it with friends and so on.
So there you go, now you can casually flip through and see if your interested to read more, if so click on the fullscreen button and you’ll enjoy it large.

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