featuring my more recent activities:
(projection of a new urban growth, from the simulations of the urban planning office of the city of Shenzhen, 2007.)
Head Curator of the biennale Ma Qingyun (who’s also Dean of the USC school of Architecture and planning consultant to the Beijing Olympics) asked all participants and exhibitors to answer 10 questions on the theme of urban expiration and regeneration. The results were published in a 32 page newspaper distributed to all visitors. I can’t find this gem of aggregated thoughts on the future of our cities, but here are our answers posted on the blog documenting our design creations and research www.regional-office.com:
1. What do we need and get from the city? Conversely, what do we provide for the city?
What we now get from the city is what we can take from it. Our demands exert pressure on the city to adapt to us, and inspire opportunists to shape the city for our further taking.
The city always responds, but we should not confuse that reaction with meaningful spontaneous responsiveness. We have allowed the city to develop without our collective wisdom. We have built mute cities that cannot learn independently.
The city should function as a permeable system of exchange where a dynamic populous with an uncertain future can participate with it in a process of mutual inspiration and complete material and metabolic recycling.
2. Can we trust our judgment of the future?
As the future is something collaboratively created, judging the future is judging our own ability to cooperate in envisioning, illuminating and realizing it.
Can we trust ourselves to envision the future that is most harmonious, equitable and prosperous?
Can we trust each other to mutually build that future?
Can we trust that given our current organizations and practices, there will even be a future?
3. Should we invest in intelligence that maximizes a building’s performance in a given time period or in sentiments which demand its perpetuation?
Building intelligence maximizes ecological integration and democratic participation in the creation of spatial experiences.
We should invest in building intelligence that understands its own context. Then buildings will be extensions of the environment, and evolved and flexible extensions of our life-supporting selves.
4. How can we maximize our needs today?
We can maximize our needs by reconsidering our wants.
We must commonly alter our wants so they reflect what is needed for a healthy interconnected civilization on a delicately finite planet.
5. Should buildings have expiration dates?
Unlike perishable food products, we just can’t tell when buildings should expire. But as technology advances and needs change, buildings render themselves no longer valid and should expire and perish as improved building or non-building solutions emerge.
Rather than look at the expiration date on a building, the building should engage in dialogue about its own existence vis a vis its occupants, their use of the building, and the state of building technologies at large.
Buildings should consider their own life, and play a part in their own decomposition, material redistribution and unrecognizable displaced reassembly.
6. Should a city stay in its current form forever?
No. A good city, like a good tool, should reflect its purpose and function.
Cities should be constantly learning, improving and reflecting the collective and imaged ethos of its occupants.
The physical form of a city will inspire and catalyze cultural crystallizations that will be inscribed in formless media. The content of the formless media will change the form of the city as reflected in the configurations of our past and possible experiences.
7. Can we envision a city composed of temporary buildings, instead of eternal monuments?
Yes, please see 5.
8. What is the polar opposite to the city?
9. What is the essence of agriculture?
Humans should be integrated into the natural world in a process of collaboration not control.
10. Is agriculture the next form of urbanism?
If we define agriculture historically as the cultivation of organisms, then some of the most profound innovations in agriculture are on the near horizon of biotechnology.
The communities and buildings of cities will be the fields and fertilizer of the new age of agriculture, sprouting living things that help us find new life. Organisms will take root that produce endless harvests, including energy (food and otherwise), medicine and environmental assistance.
Our deepest societal values and civilizational needs will make themselves known through our collective biotechnological agricultural practices.
How we engineer the undertakings of living things will establish the next form of urbanism as a platform for the birthing and reflective pondering of life itself.
* * *
Here are the answers from Neville Mars, a Dutch expert on Chinese Urbanization now living in Beijing.
In the last months I have been working in partnership with Gwendolyn Floyd in our new venture called “REGIONAL.” We operate REGIONAL as an interdisciplinary design and research network that performs and applies original analysis of global society, culture and commerce, uncovering and developing opportunities for profitable innovation and meaningful cultural intervention.
It’s been a wonderful and busy time as our design, research and consulting work has taken us to Germany, the UK, China, Japan, Canada, the U.S. and now Cuba. We have a dedicated website that documents our ongoing work and thinking. It’s now featuring several projects, including the piece that recreated Shenzhen’s pre-urban topography for the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture. That piece led us to work extensively and directly with local craftsmen and take up residence in Shenzhen for nearly two months. Have a look at that project and others on REGIONAL’s website here.
For an independent take on REGIONAL, have a read of Mary Ann O’donnell’s recent piece that took us as her subject. Mary Ann is a professional Anthropologist, Sinologist and Artist. After a PhD that saw her pioneer work in Shenzhen, she became one of the first international experts full-time on the ground there. Her research, guidance and insight were instrumental to our work in Shenzhen and Greater China. This piece appeared in translation in a notable Chinese cultural publication during out residency there.
Global Movement, Local Participation:
The Partnership of Gwendolyn Floyd and Joshua Kauffman
For Gwendolyn Floyd and Joshua Kauffman, thinking globally and acting locally is a passion, a way of life, and a job. They have recently founded Regional, an interdisciplinary design and research network which “applies original analysis of global society, culture and commerce, uncovering and developing opportunities for profitable innovation and meaningful cultural intervention.”
In their Bienniale installation Foreground, for example, Floyd and Kauffman have contributed to ongoing Shenzhen discussions about the relationship between urbanization and environmentalism. According to the designers, “Foreground is derived from GIS data of a recently removed Shenzhen mountain ridge.” Over the past twenty years, Shenzhen has aggressively reclaimed land from both its eastern and western coasts. In everyday conversation this process is called “moving mountains in order to fill the ocean (移山填海).” The result has been a general flattening of the landscape. With Foreground, Floyd and Kauffman respond to this transformation by using bamboo to re-construct a mountain that no longer exists. The mountain ridges soar above the central axis of the Biennale, lightly resting above late 1980s era factories. The contrast between the structure and the ground actualizes the difference between Shenzhen’s pre- and post-urban topographies, creating a visible and material history for the area. More importantly, the installation enables Bienniale visitors to imagine the lay of Shenzhen’s land before urbanization and, in doing so, re-imagine how the city might reproduce itself in the future.
The designers chose to use bamboo because bamboo simultaneously evokes the ancient and the contemporary, the constructed and the natural, the quotidian and the majestic. On the one hand, archeological evidence suggests that the Chinese have used bamboo for over 7,000 years. Indeed, during the Han Dynasty, craftsman used bamboo to build a palace for the Han Wudi Emperor. However, bamboo was also used to make arrowheads, chopsticks, musical instruments and furniture. On the other hand, as urbanization and industrialization degrade the environment, bamboo is an ancient, renewable, and low-cost building material. In southeastern China, where bamboo is abundant, many Dai people live in bamboo stilt houses, complete with bedrooms, kitchens, and balconies. Meanwhile in Shenzhen, bamboo scaffolding enabled the construction of many of the city’s skyscrapers.
Foreground provides a useful introduction to the designers’ very global, but locally realized passions, social commitments, and work. In a word, Floyd and Kauffman are ‘regionalists.’ They aim to create platforms for global and local collaboration, specifically cultivating spaces where local terms can be deployed and understood in global contexts. In their ongoing Cuba project, for example, they analyze and provide creative solutions to understanding the problem of self-representation in a global tourist market. During an interview, Kauffman explained that Cubans don’t have ready access to the internet, but visitors to Cuba do. What’s more, these tourists regularly upload images of and commentary about their Cuban experiences, with the result that non-Cubans are creating, manipulating, and deploying images of Cuba in an online context, which excludes Cuban participation. Thus, Regional’s Cuba project explores how contradictions between technological haves and have-nots shape global tourism and, by extension, local societies.
Regional’s projects represent a new generation of global engagement. When David Brower first coined the term “Think Globally, Act Locally” in 1969, internet access was not universal, international flights were limited and expensive, and the Cold War separated the world in mutually exclusive zones. Today, young Chinese watch Korean telenovelas, American sitcoms, and Indian movies online, international flights are common and cheap, and the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border is open 24 hours a day. Being global is no longer a question of imagining one’s place in the world, but actively engaging that world. Floyd and Kauffman represent a new generation of global citizens, who live and work abroad, defining themselves in terms of international understanding and cooperation.
They further elaborated these ideals during an online interview, “Wherever we investigate and create we employ the same cultural and historical sensitivity. To make ourselves conversant in the cross-contextual situations in which we operate, we re-situate our research and questioning long before we physically transport ourselves. In North America, Europe and Asia, our advanced preparation of coming into contact with experts and locals is the same. Where things feel most different is when we arrive in our new temporary homes and allow ourselves to be the subjects of cultural dialogue, where inevitably our appreciative inquiry, and intercultural absorption and interaction is fully exercised.”
Significantly, access to education, technology, and local resources enable this model of global localism. Floyd has studied architecture in Germany, cultural theory at Brown University and design at the Design Academy Eindhoven (the Netherlands), while Kauffman designed his own degree in globalization at Duke University and studied film at the Canadian National Film Board. To create Foreground, the team used GIS data to map design the installation. Moreover, much of their initial impressions of Shenzhen were formed through online research and interactions. In fact, I first met Floyd and Kauffman online; they sent me an email, after which we began a virtual dialog about Shenzhen several months before we met. At the Bienniale, Floyd and Kauffman worked with local contractor, Li Wenjing, who oversaw purchasing materials as well as project construction. Shenzhen University School of Architecture student, Huang Lu (Laura) provided translation and facilitated cross-cultural communication. She also gave Floyd and Kauffman Chinese names. Gwendolyn became Wen Linlin, nomenclature that whimsically echoes her English name, while Joshua became Shu Ya, literally “Book Asia”, a name simultaneously formal and fitting.
I close this essay on a personal note. When I first came to Shenzhen in 1995, globalization referred to export-oriented manufacturing. There were few foreigners here, and among that motley crew, even fewer interested in engaging Shenzhen society. The fact that Foreground has been built and installed in Shenzhen speaks not only to the globalization of young westerners like Floyd and Kauffman, but also to the profound and deepening globalization of Shenzhen’s culture.
Foreground is installed along the central axis of the Overseas Chinese Town bienniale grounds.
During my participation in the European Futurists Conference last autumn, Sirkka Heinonen & Minna Halonen of the Technical Research Centre of Finland interviewed me for their extended research on Social Media.
They’ve just sent me the text of the interview which will be incorporated into their formal report to be released globally in November. Here’s an excerpt:
How do you define the MeWe generation?
It is the first generation where a critical mass has been reached in the proportion of people present, information acquired/created and activities coordinated online.
The MeWe generation is a temporally defined group of people with a common experience regarding the participative possibilities of the dominant communication technologies of the age. Using the term “MeWe generation” implies a new mode of generational definition that relates to a common condition of technological adoption and use. This should be contrasted to other socio-historical definitions of a “generation” that denote predominant cultural experiences within a given time.
The recent technological conditions of the internet and the access to it that provide the medium for interactions of the MeWe generation mark the incipience of a pop-internet. The internet is less considered to be a separate part of social life – something external that can be spoken of – and more of an unspoken and taken-for-granted public good, a sort of infrastructural entitlement used automatically as part of what is considered to be a ‘normal life’.
The MeWe generation is born directly into technologically advanced societies, discovering and identifying the web as a system of social and cognitive extension and as an evolving apparatus for new forms of communication and adaptation.
The modes of cultural production in the MeWe generation offer a flexibility within the participative corridors of the web’s structures and formats that effectively unite and integrate communication, expression and output. If social media encourages open interpretation and continued recontextualization of information based on social interaction, leading to varying scales and durations of social cohesion, it gives the MeWe generation the ability and responsibility of governing and orchestrating its own social development. This generation, with common access to shared mediated landscapes and the tools to commonly churn information through that media, have accelerated the socio-informational productivity of networks and produced sensations of continued connectenedness possibly in place of more meaningful behaviours.
Do you think or see that young people could have more to say in societal decision-making through social media or is there some kind of scare that they want to connect with their peers only?
Young people rapidly progress through stages and exercises in identity formation, mostly related to their social existence. Social media gives young people a new tool to play with self-presentation and relationships. The question is whether social media, with its boundaryless structure, crystallized mnemonics and non-physiological acceleration of the appearance of intimacy is too invasive, virtual and imprisoning for healthy self-development. Not to mention the preservation of those things in our society which we hold to be dear.
Social decision-making encompasses the entirety of the material and immaterial world and calls upon people to act and behave responsibly with an idea for the future of their own society. While young people utilize social media amongst themselves they may not appear to be preparing for social decision-making. But what is evolving is a new means for social communication and coordination that complements and potentially surpasses what is available today.
We all hope that young people develop themselves with positive social traits while using social media to learn new modes of bottom-up social decision-making.
Expressing our identity and digital identity or identities is very important. But do you see any threat in there from the personality point of view? If you are used to having multiple and shifting digital identities, can it shake your personality?
Yes, absolutely. Identity is derived from social relationships, which social media seems to enhance. But many are now questioning the supposed benefits of social media in bringing genuine improvements to the development of a healthy and well-adapted personality.
The constant use of the modifier ‘social’ needs to be questioned by way of evaluating the types of sociality that are produced. Social technologies and those who promote them prey on this notion that pure connectedness is our natural state. Whereas these socialities are guarantors for the liquidity and velocity of what passes through people. It is true that an aspect of our identities is what we care about, and that social technologies allow us to come to know each other and be inspired by each other by those cares. Yet just because we can share does not mean that we can relate. Sharing information is very different than sharing wisdom.
Relationships are highly varied in mode and purpose and this is coming into greater light as social media can both proliferation casual connections maintained with shallow transparency for the sake of cordiality and connectivity, and meaningful, compassionate relationships based on the promotion of what is good.
Social networks have always existed; they are only now visible. They can function at varying depths and for varying purposes. We need a better understanding of personality formation through digital mediation. We need to understand the nature and mechanisms of the relationships that promote complete social welfare, and recognize that social media plays only one role in our efforts to improve ourselves.
Many young people do not use e-mail any more. How about you, do you still use it?
I love to use e-mail because it contains a social protocol that allows for a degree of rumination and delay. It is an accepted medium for longer-form expression and explication, which leaves room for thought development.
With the migration to other forms of communication, those of us who use email are fortunate that it is coming to represent something more solid and intentional, akin to hand-writing a letter and delivering by post.
Can you foresee, maybe there is another mode emerging from social media, e-mailing, messaging, chatting?
The most interesting breakthroughs will come from the proliferation of access points to the reception and delivery of our social-media in geo-physical space. I will be closely watching the worlds of pervasive/ubiquitous computing.
On the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the birth of the father of Taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, The Natural History Museum in London is now devoting an entire special exhibition to his contribution in understanding the natural world. They called upon amateur scientist and fine artist Mark Dion to conceive of an interpretation of Linneaus that would be relevant to the present day city of London.
“Artist Mark Dion examines how humans make order out of chaos by collecting and classifying organisms. He creates intriguing art installations from wildlife samples collected at sites across London. They reveal the rich variety of life that surrounds us in one of the world’s most vibrant cities.”
The exhibit comprises an introduction to Linnaeus and four purpose built labs, each resituated from the four London Urban environments where Dion and his scientist teams investigated and categorized found objects and species.
A. Site one: A40 motorway, from St Paul’s Cathedral in the City, to Northolt in northwest London
(Electric collecting car, molecular sequencing field lab in background)
Dion’s team drove the entire length of London’s A40 motorway in an electric car with a screen of sticky fly-tape attached to the roof and butterfly nets protruding from the windows. By simply passing the vehicle through the urban air, it caught insects and other airborne life. The collected specimens were preserved in alcohol and were subjected to DNA analysis at the Museum.
Unlike the whole and undamaged specimens from the other urban laboratories, what was left after highway-speed insect impacts was often just goo. So Dion used molecular genetic sequencers for the classification of the salvaged matter. From this evidence they found a host of species, including two that had never before been recorded in Britain; one a wasp, another a beetle.
With reference to the necessity of using sequencers to identify the partial gooey samples picked up from the electric car, Dion spoke on the tension between traditional taxonomies of morphology and new molecular genetic techniques. It’s a contentious issue in a natural history museum where the adoption of such molecular-based technology would potentially obsolesce the esoteric expertise of the paleontologists, zoologists and botanists there. Yet the human-based classifications and molecular genetic technology match up about 99% of the time. There are differences though: the molecular sequencers need only a sample rather than the whole specimen., and they’re also incredibly expensive.
Humans are far more efficient in classifying whole specimens from previous experience. And curiously in Dion’s project, one of the molecular testers actually misclassified a fly as having the DNA of a grain of rice. Humans are far more efficient in classifying whole specimens from previous experience. And curiously in Dion’s project, one of the molecular testers actually misclassified a fly as having the DNA of a grain of rice.
(Molecular sequencing laboratory rebuilt in gallery)
What is so poignant about the car as a roaming species collection device is that sensor-enabled artwork such as that of Natalie Jeremijenko predominantly monitor environmental conditions against time and geographical location. Here Dion uses the motorized vehicle as a collector of life and the life that the vehicle itself termninated. Rather than the air-life being washed or wiped away in windshield-washer fluid or car-wash sprays and solutions, the car can guage what cohabits our air, not just the hazards and particulate we produce and live amongst.
B. Site two: The River Thames at Kingsnorth Power Station
(Kingsnorth Power Sation on the River Thames)
Near the estuary of the Kingsnorth 1940MW power plant, Dion looked into cultural biodiversity by collecting and analyzing detritus from the plant’s intake filters. What emerged from the filters was every kind of consumable object as well as the expected myriad of plants and animal specimens, from floating rubber ducks and sports balls to a menagerie of plastic bottle caps and a host of urban flotsam and waste. They also found the second seahorse to ever be recorded in the London area.
Dion described that the collection of the material and then its catologuing was as if aliens came and removed everything from the river and organized the matter by shape and colour but with no rigorous sense of classification. The field laboratory now situated in the gallery is a haunting tubular and opaque self-contained structure with samples laid out by crude similarity. In one section there are bottle caps arranged by colour. And in another, something of a geneology of rubber balls presumably lost in the course of street games, swept into sewers and into the Thames.
(Classified Objects in the resituated Thames field laboratory)
C. Site three: Brompton, East Finchley and Highgate Cemeteries
(Scientist taking cemetery insect sample)
Dion’s team collected samples from the stone surfaces and surrounding areas of three famous Victorian graves: suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928), evolutionary theorist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895) and philosopher Karl Marx (1818–1883). All the organisms collected were preserved in alcohol and taken to the Museum to be identified and classified.
(Rebuilt Victorian era examination area)
D. Site FOUR: Olympic Park development
As London will host the 2012 Olympic Games Dion’s team used the future site of the games as an urban laboratory. They carefully removed two sections of earth which they brought to the Museum to be examined. The two sections showed the marked difference in species variety between a sample of playing-field grass, which had two species of plant, and the natural grass that would grow unabated in the area, which had 25 species.
(background: two species planted sample. foreground: 25 species wild sample)
In animating Linneaus’s world, Dion borrowed objects from the Linnean society in London, an academic research organization, whose collection of Linneaus’s specimens and tools is stored in a bomb shelter and rarely lent out. He also brought his own specimen collection tools and other objects from the Chalmers-Hunt collection of historical entomology gear.
The originator of our common taxonomical system, Linneaus’s specimens were all type specimens. At the introduction of Dion’s work on Linneaus, a case holds three open books with the rather provocative type specimens of tobacco, coffee and marijuana. The images in the books highlight the evolution of taxonometric visual description, starting from a storybook like format with pressed leaves emerging out of childishly painted flower pots and rolling hills, comically creating the visual effect of everyday plants as botanical giants happily classified and thereby civilized into the visual rhetoric of agriculture and domestic gardening.
Due to Linneaus’s poverty, he was forced to use single half sheets with the specimens meticulously laid out scientifically, hence marking the end of the romanticization of narrative collections of botanical specimens and the beginning of a scientifically scrupulous and eminently logical system of understanding the complex familiarized networks of the ecologies that surround us.In an increasingly globalized art market Dion’s fascinations and expertise are patently western. His work plays with the occidental scientific and natural historical traditions and rhetoric – he has trained for many years from that angle – and perspectives of natural history from other countries are too complicated to take on. It would be hard to get a handle on other traditions and he worries about globalizing his own work in an art market that he has seen cave to a market function rather than a critical stance to our society.
Dion’s artistry is an interesting example within the contemporary art-world where the arguments for a return to craft and technique are pitched against proposals af greater conceptual abstractions of the artistic subject. While his work is conceptual in the sense that it is a construction of ideas and experiences, he is one of the only artists currently exhibiting a conceptual rigour and mastery over a specific and relatively esoteric body of knowledge that endows his work with a true intellectual craftsmanship.
Dion’s work has incredible value because it reintroduces the immediacy of regionality that we all experience as our first wondrous interface with the natural world – of the backyard, swimming pool, corners of the school room etc. But that first encounter with the natural world eventually dissolves in a world where we are trained to consider science and the natural as a phenomena only to be experienced in a nature that exists in as “elsewhere.” As geographically differentiated regions from the civilized arenas in which we live our daily lives. Dion’s is an interesting methodology that reinjects our childlike awe into a mixture of rigorous scientific observation and a storytelling that is as imaginative as our search for understanding the natural world has historically been and should continue to be.
(Second Life avatar walking on Mycoplasma Pneumoniae)
We’ve been fortunate to have Matt Biddulph around Amsterdam a lot recently. Describing himself as a creative technologist and freelance software developer, tonight he spoke to an intimate audience at Mediamatic about programming self-replicating bacteria in Second Life. Here are some notes.
Matt introduced his talk with an overview of Bruce Sterling’s little design book ’shaping things.’ The book is a vision of an age when objects are active and aware. Sterling calls them “spimes.”
Spimes have identities. They know their origins, locations and best uses. First spimes will exist in the virtual world. They will begin on the computer screen and from the drawing board.
Spimes will then get to the physical world through 3D printers, which are getting more affordable and are ubiquitious in design practice and industry. They can easily take objects from the screen to realization before the investment and risk of massive production runs.
Spimes allow the tracking and optimization of cradle to cradle object lifecycles. With a search engine of all objects, you can track the progress of objects and repurpose and assign them to where they are most needed.
So the universe of spimes is an informational universe. The logical first step in creating spimes is creating them as pure information.
Where better to do it than Second Life, the online world, a system we can use to understand the operation of digital objects. Second Life is an environment where you can make things. Every object is made by users. It isn’t a narrative experience like World of Warcraft.
And every object in the virtual world can have a script attached to it. The first bit of Second Life hacking Matt did (with nice video) was to take the API from Flickr and feed it onto the surface of objects in Second Life. He took data from the 2D web and put it into the 3D virtual world. You could call up a subject or object through a Flickr tag and have the most recent picture projected onto a virtual object.
Matt was then contacted by the esteemed Nature Publishing Group to conceptualize and derive centers of sociality for the scientists in their readership. The goal was to start and maintain conversations amongst scientists. Every scientist has seen a 3D visualization of a cell, but none have been able sit in them and walk around them.
Matt realized that the tomography software that models cells is inaccessible and expensive. If only you could model cells in Second Life, you could facilitate widespread interaction around virtual scaled-up models of cells.
It turns out that scripting and making things in second life is quite easy. You can set up an object that is self-replicating.
He compared the process of making objects in Second life to Mickey Mouse conducting in Fantasia. You sort of send objects off and so it’s easy to physically lose a piece of code there. Sometimes you lose objects in second life, never to be found again!
He started working up from a polygon to more complex shapes. Inspired by Quake, which is now open source, the first test rendering was taking the quake character into the Second Life world.
He showed of video of the character from quake coming together triangle by triangle. Second life puts a delay on self-replciation to prevent the ‘grey goo’ situation of Stephenson where we are chocked to death by dead biotech descending from the air. Every object in Second Life is subject to slowdown.
Now on the Island of Nature.com, called ’second nature,’ you can press a red button that begins the self-replication of your chosen cell. You can then convene and interact with people around it as it forms and floats in mid air. Cool.
Coming back to subject of Spimes, Matt mentioned Arduino, the open source all purpose physical computing platform. You can start prototyping real world spimes with it. Small enough to turn into wearables and embed into objects.
You can now make active objects that control virtual objects in the 3D world. He shows a board linked to an object in second life. Physical gestural instructions from a bluetooth object in the physical environment leads to a script in the virtual world.
Where is the crossover between art and programming? Those who know how the interact with a human through a browser don’t know how to interact with switches and sensors.
He uses Schultze and Webb as an example of designers taking software ideas into the physical world.
(Matt Bidulph quoting Matt Webb from Schulze and Webb)
Can we map real objects onto a virtual world that is a 1 to 1 relationship to our own?
IBM is projecting the physical world into the virtual world. And projecting the web into second life. Andrew Reynolds wrote a connection between the tilt sensor in his laptop to his virtual laptop. A simple mapping of presence.
IBM also does sports telemetrics in Wimbledon. They took the data sets and you can now watch replays of Wimbledon matches with floating tennis balls. 1 to 1mapping of coordinates in the real world.
In a gymnasium in Petit-Lancy, Geneva, this Parisian breakdancer practices on the periphery for the Swiss hip-hop dance competition.
The recent ‘Global Place’ conference at the University of Michigan addressed the challenge of designing and managing cities in age of unprecedented urbanization and global climactic crisis. Cities can be a part of the solution as they are far more than physical places. Economically, they are the location of opportunities and increasingly vital creative intermingling. Socially, they promote dialogue, bonding and unity. Ecologically, they tend to slow population growth, help conquer diseases and due to their density, have relatively small footprints.
The conference was a resounding call for pragmatic utopianism and an integration of urbanism and ecology. It had an emphasis on getting things done rather than living to an ideal. Yet there was some agreement that there is gap between academic discussion and the cultural and material realities. Enough talk. There is a greater need for implementation.
Proposed design solutions rarely spoke of how sustainable architecture practices could be incorporated into a larger idea of empowered development that addresses issues of poverty and self-reliance. Many participants mentioned the necessity of giving urbanizers the freedom to determine and adapt to their own built environments. Yet we glanced over the subject of how communities with differing wealth, expertise and capabilities could autonomously and locally apply sustainable solutions from the bottom up.
We also assumed urbanization to be an undifferentiated process. By definition it is always a flow of people to urban environments. And though usually economically motivated, there is great variation amongst the situations and drivers that bring people to move entire lives and families from one space to another. But space is not even the same as place. Place is something uniquely made over time. We should wonder how ‘place’ is made when people exodus en masse to locations of proximity to economic opportunity.
As the process of urbanization is happening in largely diverse and distinct economies and cultures, it would be most helpful to understanding the future needs of the built environment by revealing and incorporating the various modes of urbanization. Just who are the urbanizing people, from where are they coming and to where are they going? How are they drawn into urban economic dreams and what is awaiting them when they arrive? Answering these largely psychological questions would provide a much needed depth to the designing and managing of cities that best respond to their needs, idiosyncratic conditions and mental states.
Here are some notes that outline the people and topics from the very engaging and wide ranging three days. There are also videos of all the sessions.
(Opening Panel: L to R, Saskia Sassen, Liane LeFaivre, Michael Sorkin, Charles Correa, Homi Bhabha)
1. Homi Bhabha spoke about how globalization intensifies the ambivalence about a whole range of issues. Showing the picture “Ramallah New York” of similar scenes in two locations known to be diametrically different but apparently aesthetically similar, he suggests that we become split in an ambivalent representation of these frames.
2. Saskia Sassen based her talk on the observation that the formal political system incorporates less of the political. The legislative branch has lost much of its political power to the executive, which is usually aligned with global corporate capital.
Privatization removes functions of legislature and shifts them to the private sector
Sassen believes that cities are a critical space for overcoming the hollowing of the legislative body and in their capacity to make informal politics. People are mixed from around the world creating a vernacular cosmopolitanism. To facilitate better local informal political interactions, the technologies of globalization that tend to be wired into urban spaces can be used to study the city, and decode the new forms of the political.
(L to R: Teddy Cruz, Peter Land, Liane Lefaivre)
3. As a critical regionalist, Liane Lefaivre seeks to understand the context of a place in order to give it meaning.
Le Faivre’s current project uses the concept of play to confront major issues affecting European cities, especially the tension between communities. Citing Schiller, Gross, Freud, Huizinga, and the Dutch painting genre “Children’s Play,” she talked about the importance of play in exploring our world and in crossing over cultural boundaries.
Post World War Two, the Dutch chose to instill civic values and a civic experience through play. Aldo Van Eyk designed multiple play spaces in central neighbourhood locations in Amsterdam. The Amsterdam playgrounds were not conceived individually, but as part of a net. They were polycentric, interstitial and participatory.
Le Faivre became concerned about xenophobia in the Netherlands and chose to develop playgrounds in Oude Westen, the poorest part of Rotterdam and also that with the least inter-ethnic bonding. After interviewing and engaging local residents, she has assembled a team of global architects and designers to conceive and build playgrounds.
4. Michael Sorkin, whose work deals with the investigation of how politics and architecture are ‘conjoined,’ came with a stunning if somewhat ironic talk about slums as utopian propositions. At the core of the urban crisis are slums, where 1.5 billion people live. And though slums remind us of the most desperate of human conditions, and are very real problems, they are paragons of efficiency and democracy. They can respond to our environmental oversights.
The canary in the minefield has croaked and the solution is to build sustainable cities.
As Jane Jacobs spoke of good cities being self-organizing and morphological, slums, with these and other desirable qualities give us the possibility of thinking of the utopian condition:
- high degrees of internal equality, which can be identified as the basis of solidarity
- low levels of consumption
- high levels of reuse and recycling
- logical adjacencies to economic resources
- high levels of self-organization stemming from tight community grouping
- scales that are morphologically adaptable
5. Celebrated Indian Architect Charles Correa conveyed the great hope India has placed in its cities. He pointed out how they break down the caste system, provide freedom, generate economic skills and are agents of social engineering. He maintained that we need to increase the carrying capacity of cities, and that we should not be looking for beauty in them, but in the synergy that delivers the quality of what we would call a ‘city.’ While celebrating the absorptive capacity of Indian cities as destinations for rural immigrants who otherwise would have gone to ‘Australia’ he described Bombay as “a great city and a terrible place.”
Correa, in one of the more referenced moments of the conference, differentiated between the scientific ideas of similarity as they relate to building large-scale projects from scratch:
Same-similar is life. Same-identical is death.
Correa then presented his own bill of rights for Indian Housing:
- open to sky space
- income generation
6. Ed Mazria gave his blistering presentation on global warming and architectural responses, which provided tangible and practical solutions for construction as outlined in his ‘2030 Challenge.’ As buildings are responsible for nearly 50% of contributions to greenhouse gases, it’s a crucial leverage point in achieving sustainability.
7. Citing T.S. Elliot, David Orr asked why we fail to fathom unfathomable things. Elliot thought it’s because in our drive to deny mortality, we don’t have much appetite for truth. Orr largely blamed the 5 massive media conglomerates that dominate the market. And he did allude to the potential positive effect of the democratization of media that participatory practices of the internet afford.
In the market we say ‘I’, in the politics we say ‘we.’
8. Beginning with a story from Sack’s “The man who mistook his wife for a hat,” John Thackara spoke about the necessity of seeing the reality behind our physical world. The difference between what is visible and what is invisible means we can’t recognize the ecological realities of our material world. He cited Rafael Buitrago’s notion that we respond to our environment based on hunter-gatherer instincts. In response, we all need the tools to look deeper into the origins and consequences of our material world, and the feedback mechanisms to regulate our individual and group behaviour. We need embedded technology to show the flows through a system.
The Stern Review was a major official pronouncement of the real economic dangers of global warming. Multinationals are rethinking their principles and entire countries like Sweden are eliminating their dependencies on fossil fuels. Taking these as examples, it is not enough to consider the design of individual products or buildings, we need a “transformation of material and energy flows at the very heart of our economy.”
Thackara’s most appealing proposition is to design away from the need to have gadgets and to transition to a ‘use rather than own’ economy. His latest book, ‘In the Bubble,’ makes a strong case for this, especially on the notion that networked communication allows us to locate something easily so we don’t need to be in constant possession of it. Thackara maintains that there is no shortage of innovation and ideas, just of implementation.
9. John King, recent dean of the University of Michigan school of information, urged us to look at things that don’t change in order to design in a faster world. Things that don’t change: people are social, rational and self-interested, and central planning never works. We should learn from Friedrich von Hayek’s ‘local-distant knowledge problem’ where the quality of a decision is proportional to the proximity to the problem. King believes we should put decision-making powers into the hands of the local community.
Touching on the role of technology, King mentioned the mobile phone as the fastest disseminating device in history:
mobile technology is putting the knowledge and the decision-making in the hands of people – we have to get the action out to the leaves as soon as we can!
10. Teddy Cruz discussed his ‘acupunctural’ interventions between Tijuana and San Diego, the site of the most trafficked border in the world; over 60 million people cross every year.
Tijuana and San Diego are diametric opposites in wealth, but are relationally very close. Tijuana builds itself with the waste of San Diego. Entire American bungalows are transported over the border and placed awkwardly on stilts suspended over existing dwellings in Tijuana. Tijuana also has a massive tire-dump, and the dismantling and reconfiguring of tires is an example of creativity in a situation of crisis.
Cruz has intervened in the favellas of Tijuana that surround Maquiadores, the export-oriented assembly factories of global multinationals. The multinationals who take advantage of the cheap and abundant labour have tended not to give back to communities in proximity to them. So Cruz worked with Hyundai to make a metal frame that could be incorporated into existing structures and modes of resourcefulness of the people in the favellas. Rather than developing and deploying entire structures or solutions, the collaboration yielded the production of key ingredient that would help the self-improvement of the communities. Citing Homi Bhabha, Cruz said:
How do we enter in an empathic way allowing temporal possibilities rather than seeking a solution?
(Urban density display from Venice Biennale)
Showing an image from the Venice Architecture Biennale of a topographical representation of the population density of a city, Cruz called for a redefinition of density as the amount and complexity of social exchanges rather than the quantity of people in a place. He continued by suggesting that social experimentation should be happening on the level of the neighbourhood rather than the city.
11. With neoliberalism shaping globalization, there’s heightened competition amongst cities to attract industry and tourism. Rather than seeing cities as efficient and perhaps aesthetic places to live, they are being reconceived and marketed from the demand side as sites from conferences, festivals and conventions. Susan Fainstein argued that global cities can bear responses to the transitory whims of global corporations, the competition for foreign capital, and the placelessness of global culture.
Global citiies are strategic sites for economic control – yet they cannot control themselves – control emanates from them, but its not clear how much control cities have over their own boundaries.
While cities are becoming more responsive to global forces, Fainstein thinks we should encourage democracy on the local level to allow for equitable relationships. Inspired by David Harvey’s “Social Justice and the City,” and praising Amsterdam as a city with high social equality without sacrificing prosperity, she listed three factors that allow cities to deliver justice:
- the extent to which government is entrepreneurial
- the amount and quality of planning
- the amount of focus given to those most in need
Fainstein praised Sen and Nussbaum for their ‘capabilities approach’ to development which seeks to ensure substantial freedoms to people, and sees poverty as capability-deprivation. One such poverty is environment degradation, which often is caused from distant global forces and reinforces environmental injustice. Global climate change has the potential to disproportionately impact poor communities who may not be able to react to problems they didn’t create. Local populations need to be able to respond to global challenges in a way that ensures social justice.
12. Reknowned sustainability specialist Ken Yeang outlined his approach to design as biointegration.
buildings and the built environment are prosthetic devices in the biosphere…how are we to integrate what we make into the host organism?
(Yeang’s aspects of biointegration)
13. John Habraken spoke about how current design ideology is in conflict with the realities of the environment.
people still think that the environment is just a backdrop for architecture. The environment is not something you can produce, it is something you must cultivate. And you must understand the context to build well.
14. Harrison Fraker, dean of the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley, thinks collaboration is our greatest challenge. Coordination is deeply complicated, but entirely essential to taking on our interdisciplinary projects that require continually developing expertise.
Fraker believes that China is our biggest threat and greatest hope. Every week a new coal fired power plant goes up, yet there is a growing interest in creating a circular economy there. He sees local mayors, who have great autonomy and big budgets, as the best partners in creating sustainable projects.
The current mode of Chinese development is based on arterial road systems, which create discrete urban blocks. Developers are required to provide structures according to guidelines. This process is quick as there is an intense and clarified division of roles. The result is a faux urbanism with the unintended consequences of being entirely reliant on automobile transport, which would lead to increased congestion and pollution. Already 80% of Chinese cities have unacceptable levels of air quality, and 600,000 people die prematurely from pollution-related respiratory problems.
Fraker and his students at Berkeley, partly financed by the Moore foundation are developing sustainable communities on an old military base. While gated communities appeal to the Chinese because they reference the emperor’s forbidden city, the team is considering the ‘block’ as the scale of a manageable ecological and political community.
In addition to implementing an array of leading sustainable architectural techniques, they are building an urban garden that will provide 50% of the produce needs of the community. For power generation, they are adopting an innovation in cylindrical wind-turbines spinning on a vertical axis, and graphite rods that extract electricity from biomass and accelerate its decomposition.
15. Lance Brown reminded us that sustainability is a social act, not just a physical act. He talked about the Brazilian city Curitiba, what some people consider to be the most sustainable city in the world. Most impressive about Curitiba is the educational system which teaches young kids about how to live on the earth, who then return to their homes and teach their parents.
16. Anthony Townsend of the Institute for the Future discussed the role of mobile devices in the future of the city. With mobiles, people can record, document, and annotate social space. Ideas, insights and emotions can be transmitted. Townsend calls this functional telepathy “telepathic urbanism.”
Telepathic Urbanism would help us experiment with new social ways of urban living that are based on real-time information and feedback. Thus we could get more out of the existing structures of cities and optimize our lives in them through a better representation of their energy, resource and material realities.
17. Anthony Tung’s sensational and compelling story about urban preservation urged us to create and preserve the sublime for the acculturation of city dwellers. From the widening of Roman roads by Italian Fascists to the soviet aided peacetime removal of the Forbidden City, urban destruction has purged our history. The most touching account was in Warsaw, where Nazi architects and historians identified the most precious and significant Polish landmarks and destroyed them to eviscerate the Polish people of their historic structures and heritage.
Our significant historic fabric is being destroyed in a widespread demolition of irreplaceable structures. The total urban fabric from the past 2000 years that will be left by the year 2100 will be less that 1%.
18. And finally, Robert Jan van Pelt, expert witness in the trial against holocaust denier David Irving, explains in this video (sorry embed not working) how an architectural analysis of Auschwitz proved that the holocaust was not an accident.
we can follow all these decisions and see that their is no practice of killing, then their is a practice of murdering, then there is a policy of murdering…architecture of the camps morphed into the question of answering holocaust morphology…was it intended yes or no?
How can we better understand our ecosystem and our impact in it? How can we aggregate uncoordinated measurements about the status of our environment for commercial, educational and awareness purposes?
Two complementary sources provide observations and trends analysis to help improve the management of our resources and ultimately our planetary health and civilizational well-being.
GEONETCast is a near real time, global network of satellite-based data dissemination systems designed to distribute space-based, air-borne and in situ data, metadata and products to diverse communities.
GEOSS will work with and build upon existing national, regional, and international systems to provide comprehensive, coordinated Earth observations from thousands of instruments worldwide, transforming the data they collect into vital information for society.
EarthTrends is a comprehensive online database, maintained by the World Resources Institute, that focuses on the environmental, social, and economic trends that shape our world.
This information is incredible valuable to policy-makers, space-makers, industry and certain financial services. Now is it possible to make this information available in real time to the public so they may understand and track global environmental changes?