Category Archives: architecture

How wireless and mobility is changing architecture

The fact that people are no longer tied to specific places for functions such as studying or learning, says Mr Mitchell, means that there is “a huge drop in demand for traditional, private, enclosed spaces” such as offices or classrooms, and simultaneously “a huge rise in demand for semi-public spaces that can be informally appropriated to ad-hoc workspaces”. This shift, he thinks, amounts to the biggest change in architecture in this century. In the 20th century architecture was about specialised structures—offices for working, cafeterias for eating, and so forth. This was necessary because workers needed to be near things such as landline phones, fax machines and filing cabinets, and because the economics of building materials favoured repetitive and simple structures, such as grid patterns for cubicles.

The new architecture, says Mr Mitchell, will “make spaces intentionally multifunctional”. This means that 21st-century aesthetics will probably be the exact opposite of the sci-fi chic that 20th-century futurists once imagined. Architects are instead thinking about light, air, trees and gardens, all in the service of human connections. Buildings will have much more varied shapes than before. For instance, people working on laptops find it comforting to have their backs to a wall, so hybrid spaces may become curvier, with more nooks, in order to maximise the surface area of their inner walls, rather as intestines do. This is becoming affordable because computer-aided design and new materials make non-repetitive forms cheaper to build.

I love these ideas of the sometimes unexpected or unintentional consequences of mass media/technology. The semi-deliberate semi-chaotic long term evidence of technological determinism (the flavours of media) as they become embedded cultural, habits, norms, and even architecture

how does wifi change cubicle culture? how will mobile broadband as accelerating this trend of the new nomadicism.

File under: pls put more electric outlets in your airport terminals, lobbies and public spaces [for the love of god, k thx]

Link: The new Oases – The Economist

“…it’s critical to remember that these changes were happening for the first time ever, accelerating human life into the modern age at a pace that barely allowed time to gain vantage on the present before hurtling into the future, all the while changing the expectations of what that future might hold.”

In case you missed it, this is from a great post last week by Michele on the reaction of artists, crafts people and designers to the disoriented changes in, wait for it, Victorian england as spurred by the industrial revolution.

Textile factory

She is pointing out the strong parallels between historical change drivers like the industrial revolution, and our current digital age. In each case, major societal changes being driven by a sudden major change in an underlying enabling media.

server racks

“Arts & crafts was neither anti-industrial nor anti-modern, though it embodied a strong reaction against many industrial practices and encouraged individual handwork over mass production.” It’s a repeating theme, the idea of struggling to bring back some the human meaning and flavour lost from the shift from individual craftsmanship to the commoditization of the the industrial process – as well as to use these new tools in the best ways consistent with a designed idealism.

In the great post war expansion of the 1950s, the Americans invented spray-on cheese. Is this an innovation?

New media create whole new areas of possibility. But not all of these areas are awesome. As designers we feel the urge to try and “steer” these outcomes away from some perceived negative outcomes to other perceived “higher value” outcomes but is it like trying to steer a tidal wave?

Michele asks “i wonder though if our insights into the past can aid us in creating the future?”. I hope Michele will take a swing at that in her future posts, but for now, here’s my swing at it:

I have this “dead media” idea as a framework for understanding what happens next based on what is, has or will be about to obsolesced. You can understand some of what happens next by thinking about, if we adopt this new thing en mass, what will it displace? All new media displaces an old. (That is the definition of adoption.)

NYC streetsFrom a recent William Gibson interview:

…footage is of the last night that streets in New York were the way they were before everyone started staying home to watch television. All the footage that he’s been able to find afterward is dramatically different. It changed. It changed the night they turned it on. The night they started to broadcast television in New York, New York ceased to be what it had been before. Because everyone stayed home to watch television.

“It’s not that we prefer it, it’s not even that conscious. It becomes the nature of our experience. If it’s going to happen at all, it becomes the nature of our experience. If it doesn’t happen it just becomes one of those iconic retro-future images.

But if we do stop to conscious of it (this is roll of designers), we can foresee how new media will displace what we do now. Dead media is creative destruction. With every shift in media there is no perfect replacements for old archetypes, the new always has some new flavour (you may or may not like it), and some old flavours are always lost (the ritual of flipping the record, the character of cobblestones, front-porch social interactions before there was tv). Lost flavours are also an opportunity. According to McLuhan, every new media retrieves an older archetype or an older media, (just with a different flavour). To look to where new technology (or art or design) could be going (or to be at the forefront of creating it ourselves as designers), we just have to look at what has happened before. Lost flavours are the opportunity gaps of the status quo.

The new social platform of the internet is retrieving some of that experience of the streets of New York before everyone stayed home to watch television. Same archetypes just different mediums, different flavours. I feel like TV is almost a dead media now itself. What will bring it back?

But back to architecture and the design of things. The long trend of industrialization has been the increasing blandification of things. Ikea selling a billion of the exact same, minimalist kitchen widget. Spray-on cheese.

Just as the social internet has exploded the long tail of content like indie music and increasingly online video. I’d look forward to seeing how these models eventually spill over into the sacrosanct fields of architecture industrial design. Leading one might imagine to an A&C-like resurgence of individual craftsmanship, and a profound shift in flavour. Traditionally the constraints here have been around manufacturibality and economies of scale, resulting in : few designers, many copies made.

Sites like threadless.com are a weak signal of this already, as is lulu.com they enable peer-to-peer design production of physical goods. As manufacturing and distribution technologies change, I think we’ll more and more of this creep into other fields. Think how 3d printers could change the economics of distributing unique vs mass-produced goods. These days, you can 3d print a house you know.

What’s your take on Michele’s question?

I was joking that if Coehn Brothers took a swing at this question here is what they’d say. Forgive me if you haven’t yet seen the truly awesome (and surprisingly thoughtful) No Country for Old Men:

  1. In these late times we live in, it may feel that this is no country for old men or for their old ways.
  2. This impression is false, in fact the only constant is that it has always felt this way.
  3. You can’t stop what’s coming.

-fin

Link: arts & crafts revisited – shotfromthehip.wordpress.com

Previously on Thomaspurves.com: A Provocative List of Dead Media, Dead media workshop at Lift07, Deadmedia and the flavour of cities

photo credit: shorpy jamax

“Some people tell me it is a beautiful shape, but I cannot tell this because I am an engineer.” – Gábor Domokos

Gomboc shape

Ha, a quote that seems to explain a lot about this world?

1. How many the things that surround us may work, but are not beautiful.
2. And the corollary, why some things that are beautiful don’t seem to work?

file under: arguments for interdisciplinary design.

Quote overheard on a quirks and quarks podcast. a Gomboc is the first know shape shown mathematically to have only one stable and one unstable point of equilibrium. Side note: if modern engineering is a hare, than this must be the tortoise?

The Flavour of Cities – My deck from OpenCities

UPDATE: oh and my speaker notes are here on the slideshare page which might explain things a *little* more clearly.

A great commentary by Edward on the discussion that followed (thanks!):

“At the final session, insulated by a Creemore, it was interesting to think of as flavour as taste: in the look and feel and design and form and method and means of how we, for example create/make architecture. In other words do we permit taste to be acknowledged by sampling flavours and then understanding preferences based on this sampling? Is this an exercise in nostalgia or form of connoisseurship? We mourn the passing of a time-stamped culture and its intrinsic forms of expression its aesthetic? We contrast this with what might seem the harshness of the new. I like the new. You admire craft. Is there craft in contemporary design? Is contemporary architecture the triumph of pure design—conceptual as opposed to crafted? Even if we wanted to recreate or recapture neo-classical architecture would we not end up with kitsch? Something so artificial that it would be at once Disney. The time-sense, the aura of the object (the neo-classical bank building for example), it is irreplaceable ‘having-been’ or being ‘of the past’ cannot be replicated. And how do we assess what is going to be understood as valuable, beautiful and fabulous? Everyone I know under 15 in Toronto thinks the new Royal Ontario Museum Crystal is fabulous and when told some ‘grown-ups’ have divided opinions about it they are incredulous. What kinds of architecture tend to work and continue working? Perhaps buildings designed to listen to people and anticipate function (it was suggested that people refer to: How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built: by Stewart Brand) will last and be enjoyed: understood over time as beautiful.”

And this response from Kelly Seagram

Tip O’ the day. If presenting at a conference, ensure a wonderful turnout and a warm reception by simply announcing you’ll be kicking off your session by handing out a free beer to each participant. OpenSauce, because sometimes it should mean free as in beer.

OpenCities was a great event, you can find lots moar notes here.

And yes, that is a vintage glass plate photograph of Zepplin over Jerusalem that I’ve added to the cover. Flavour and dead media egads.

Open thoughts for open cities

..Because gifted children are able to consider the possibilities of how things might be, they tend to be idealists. However, they are simultaneously able to see that the world is falling short of how it might be. Because they are intense, gifted children feel keenly the disappointment and frustration which occurs when ideals are not reached. Similarly, these youngsters quickly spot the inconsistencies, arbitrariness and absurdities in society and in the behaviors of those around them. Traditions are questioned or challenged…

When gifted children try to share these concerns with others, they are usually met with reactions ranging from puzzlement to hostility. They discover that others, particularly of their age, clearly do not share these concerns, but instead are focused on more concrete issues and on fitting in with others’ expectations. Often by even first grade, these youngsters, particularly the more highly gifted ones, feel isolated from their peers and perhaps from their families as they find that others are not prepared to discuss such weighty concerns…
Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals

I’m sure many of you out there can identify. I would like to think, more positively, that everything arbitrary about the flavour of our world is itself an untapped resource, an opportunity gap. But then I also want to believe that massive weight everything that’s arbitrary in our modern world and culture is also obvious – or even perceptible. As I see it

The trouble with gifted children
is that they have the imagination to just taste the flavours of what could have been. But are not in the position

to do anything about it.

As grownups we,
however,
are -or should be-
finally in a position
to DO
something about it,

if we can just recapture
some of that
imagination

or the wisdom to see
whether any given thing
is the way it is
just because it is
or actually because it should be.

The second paragraph resonates as well – but more about whether it’s even healthy/productive to worry about such things. Maybe there is no hope.

How do you see it?

Because media has a flavour

2 Walls in New York

These are two exterior walls. They serve (roughly) the same physical purpose. They live across the street. 52nd street if I remember.

B) is the north side of the brand new redesign of the the NYC MoMA
A) is just another building of another century facing it across the street. Right across the street.

They have a different flavour. In general, all media have a flavour.

By it’s flavour I mean the medium’s idiosyncrasies, it’s accidental memes of little common details, you might call it it’s character. How often do we choose a medium based on it’s flavour? how often do flavours choose us?

Does the character of our age choose our mediums, or do our mediums determine the character of our age?

This is a teaser of sorts. I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot lately. I have a few answers, I believe, the start of which (at least as it may pertain to cities, and open cities) that I plan to bring to OpenCities this Saturday. I hope that you might join me in the conversation there. I guess I should book a slot.