Friday, 26 February 2010

The Sandpit New York- or Everyday is Beautiful

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.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Book - Subnature the Other Side of the World

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.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

How Predictable is our Movement?

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".

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A Buzz for the iPhone - Latitude is Dead

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.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Book - Bioreboot the Projects of R&Sie

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 ( 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

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Google Slope View for the Winter Olympics 2010 at Whistler

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.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Narrative and Time

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.

Narrative and Time

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.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Book Review - Installations by Architects

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.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Urban Diary Working Paper - Update

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.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Book - urbanTick Temporal Urban - Preview

The first year of blogging is soon gona be available as a bound print. The publication will be ‘urbanTick Temporal Urban’.
The book is very much about the literal meaning of the title, about the ticking of the urban, the urban as we experience it everyday on the bus, in the park or between buildings. It is about the big orchestrated mass migration of commuters, the seasonal blossoms of the trees along the walkway and the frequency of the stamping rubbish-eater-trucks. It is also not to forget, about climate, infrastructure, opening hours, term times, parking meters, time tables, growing shadows and moon light. But most of all it is about how all this is experienced by citizens on a daily basis and how they navigate within this complex structure of patterns.
The content of this book is based on the content of the urbanTick blog between 2008-10 and 2009-10. One year or blogging about this topic brought together a large collection of different aspects and thoughts. It is not at all a conclusive view, the opposite might be through, it is an explorative work in progress, while trying to capture as many facets of the topic as possible.
For this publication the written content has be structured under seven topics that appear here as chapters and the text has been reduced towards a continuos content.
Each chapter is lead in by an essay, each written by an academic or professional with a specific interest and expertise in the particular topic. It will set the scene to the topic and beyond.
The book is illustrated with 400 tiny graphics in black and white. The content is full indexed to find tags easily. References and links in the text are fully ported and are directly accessible through the blog, so no tedious typing here.

Contributors: Sandra Abegglen, Matthew Dance, Jeff Ho, Ana Rebelo, Luis Suarez, Zahra Azizi

The preview below is really only a preview. Intro and outro are more or less complete, each chapter is only present with the first page of each section. But it should give you an idea of what the book will be like.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Book - Transformation Strategies for Former Industrial Cities

In the current times the topic of change is big, Life is changing and the awareness of this consumes a lot of the attention both, individual as well as collective. The Financial crisis has just rocked the world for the whole of the last year, health concerns dominated the media with the pig flu virus and wars are not won quickly any longer, to name just a few of the current big topics of change. Global climate change would be an other big topic. However there is a common topic to all of them and I believe this is the awareness of time as an aspect of the topic description. You could almost say it hasn’t featured to such an extent at any point in history. The second element is the global awareness, we all share the same planet in the end.
Big changes are also discussed among cities and it is true that the construct city faces a really dramatic change. It has become a global phenomena how cities grow and predictions point still upwards. Cities or better city regions are at current extremely attractive. However the extent of the change we are facing in structural, organisational or social terms, hardly anyone can grasp.
The crowded, dense and dirty instalment of the industrial city is long gone and new identities have to be found or most likely invented. A whole series of heavily industrial cities struggled with decline over the past fifty years. This was already pointed out by the Shrinking Cities Network or by the Shrinking Cities Project lead by Philipp Oswald. In a series of publications V1, V2 and an Atlas of Shrinking Cities, the group has researched case studies of mainly former industrial cities struggling with decline. To some extend this project was an eye opener for a lot of people did it for once divert from the cliché of the ever growing, pretty and strong city. It lent an image to the deserted city centres and run down neighbourhoods. If you wanted you could accuse them of simply moving beyond the empty industrial building in the inner city location stylised to a trendy urban loft and sexify the decline of the city as a whole. But this is probably going too far.
Since we now have the shrinking in our repertoire of capitalist planning reality, we can steer our attention back to the growth of the cities. Growth is one aspect of the solution these cities are working with. There are other aspects too, for example sense of place or identity are other factors to play an important role, not only for location marketing. In a recent NAI Publishers publication ‘Comeback Cities - Transformation Strategies for Former Industrial Cities’ edited by Nienke van Boom and Hans Mommaas (2009), brings together a documentation of eight cities’ strategies to develop themselves into the twenty-first century. The different places are Tilburg, Entschede, Manchester, Huddersfield, Tampere, Forssa, Ghent and Roubaix. However oddly the whole setting is created around the city of Tilburg and its anniversary celebration of the fact that it received its municipal charter two hundred years ago from 2009. This is really an odd context or such topic as immediately one gets a sense of actually becoming part of a cities promotion effort, quite literally, marketing between book covers. This is clever, if it then is and reaches a different group. What better way to promote than to become a model.
Anyway, we leave this discussion aside for now and look more at the content of this as usual with subtle design decisions surprising publication. NAI Publishers really love their books, you can tell. This one here has textured covers that give it a nice touch as you hold it.
The content is preceded by fact sheets documenting anything from population size to type of fiber used in production to levels of education. It seems almost that this kind of quick context creation starts to become a common feature of a serious book. I ultimately think of ‘the Endless City’ book by Ricky Burdett, Deyan Sudjic, where the facts even crept onto the covers to make the point. This element of the book is of course also the perfect stage to clarify the publications graphic design position. The ‘Endless City’ is bold black on bright orange, to underline the fact that they are talking fact. Here in ‘Comeback City’ the information is communicated through diagrams represented by sewing thread bobbin (I had to look this one up, what a creation. It is probably also long lost together with the tradition of the industry in cities.) So no the first few page you get a really good sense of the material these industrial cities worked with and in all sorts of colours. At times these bobbins almost transform into characters.

Image taken from ‘Comeback Cities’ p28/29 / Opportunities

The main art of the book the is a series of chapters named ‘Case Study’ each comparing two of the example cities, out of the eight. These texts are structured as similar analysis writ-ups starting with some history, talking about the years of suffering and then the slow change highlighting the different players and their roles in the context. There are detailed descriptions of political processes right down to who was the major during which period and what were his interests. It does end up in propaganda paragraphs at times, in a series of cliff-hangers from positive aspect to positive aspect. Having said that the amount of detail is astonishing and even if at times extremely one dimensional it is valuable and gives a good insight to understand the mechanisms almost on the level of daily business (in case you wana run your own city). So you end up with a bunch of creative cities, highlighting their cultural potential and practice mixed up with cafes, restaurant entertainment and a big bit of higher education. Anything the cliché of a contemporary dynamic city would ask for, right out of a third year architecture students project presentation. But I guess this is the reality we live in and consuming is a westerners main occupation. To some extent this raises the question whether these cities are not on the road to buy right into the next big mono functional bubble after escaping battered the industrial gripper.
However the one phrase that really jumps out from all the descriptions is ‘the DNA of the City’. It is used in most of the city portraits as a subheading and it is an element I really can not relate to. After having read all of the paragraphs I can still not understand what the authors describe with the phrase. It is probably thought to refer to the basic, fundamental building blocks of the city, but I doubt those are creative industry and knowledge. The only element I can think of that could maybe fit the shoe are the citizens, the society living the cultural context the city is created in, but there is little talking about them in this book.

Image taken from ‘Comeback Cities’ p82/83 / Industrial halls in Tilburg at different times.

There are two intermezzo elements to the book structure, each a photo essay illustrating the feel of these places then and now. These are beautiful parts where the reader can put together the puzzle of descriptions and sense the extent of the drama covered by the book. You see black and white or sepia photographs of mainly women, but also men in vast halls standing at machines with hundreds of threads going off and then you see a contemporary group of people looking at art work in a similar building. This really illustrates the dimension of change and for me helped to understand the struggle described in the text. It also directly talk about the memory of places that might not be accessible for outsiders but are the essential element of identification.
However nice the book is designed sadly the sections with the photographs is pretty unfortunate. Somehow the framing of the images, the blue colour of the page background, the wiggly line, the black of white frame and the description text box do not make sense, a real pity.

The book is concluded with a section documenting student projects developed in the context of Tilburg addressing the issue of change and identity. This is a refreshing section and underlies the potential and the capacity these cities have, both actual and for marketing.
I guess in this sense the review can be concluded, a refreshing book that does not always follow the much used paths of documentation, plays with the subject even as part of the book, fails in some cases but succeeds in others. A valuable contribution to the debate around the creation and recreation of an identity of place.

van Boom, N. & Mommaas, H. eds., 2009. Transformation Strategies For Former Industrial Cities, R: NAi Publishers.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Green Police - the Power of Recycling

The topic of climate change is currently one of the top topics. However the acceptance of facts of a human involvement are only slowly settling. One of the earliest observations of the environmental temperature rise was undertaken by Charles David Keeling at the Mauna Loa Observatory. He has produced the most striking graph used in the debate from early on.

Image taken from Scripps Institution Of Oceanography / The Keeling Curve

The latest development in the global debate has climaxed in the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP15 held at the end of 2009 in Denmark. There were no real conclusions or immediate actions to the problem at hand. However, the fact that climate change is accepted as a global issue is already something.
Besides the important politicians talking, isn’t there something everyone can do? The buzz word here probably is sustainability, a term that is fluid and employable by too man different interests. It has become a empty phrase. Individual responsibility and action is probably the more powerful alternative, quite likely the only alternative there is. Greenpeace has published a starting guide HERE.
As a wider community based project the Green Police is an effort to tackle sustainability on an everyday level. The wiki states: ‘The modern Green Police are an environmental task force comprised of collaborative law enforcement groups assembled to crack down on emissions’ Details on the Green Police can be found on wikiAnswers, a great place for all sorts of questions. It is not at all a dull cooperation. The Green Police is for example active at festivals such as Glastonbury. So you have the possibility to combine a great festival and some work for the environment. You can sign up HERE to take part as a Green Police Officer at the upcoming Glastonbury festival 2010.

Image taken from musicGreen / Green Police can be a lot of fun

Found through musicGreen

Stadtkolloquium Workshop

The PhD workshop took place over two days at UCL and was a platform for PhD students to discus their research with other students. The sixteen participants are all doing research related to urban questions. Nevertheless this proofed to be a very divers criteria. It was a mix of geographers, anthropologists, artists, architects and more. Quite a few people didn’t fit only one category so the group was very dynamic.
The workshop was organised by two PhD students from UCL, Sandra Jasper from the Geography department and Luis Moreno from the Urban Laboratory. The concept was for each participant to present condense and short her or his work, followed by a longer plenum discussion and questions. This worked very well, as the organisers managed to structure the program in blocks of two with a similar topic. This would provide a good structure through out. My contribution can be found HERE.
It was for me, with an architectural background, really refreshing to discuss for once amongst other architects. Some completely different topics came up for discussion in this divers setting and this was the real benefit.
Looking thought the notes and the program again the five main topics were Urban Interventions, Urban Complexity, Urban Politics, Writing Spaces and Ethnographic fields.
The most striking discussion, that followed as lead unintentionally through al the topics really was the identity of the profession. What do we do and how does it relate to other filed and the urging questions how can we work together, exchange and develop. What better setting than to discuss it with people in a similar situation with divers backgrounds and interests, but common ground?
I happened to watch Prince-Rasmus’ TED talk the night before the workshop and this probably already set my mind for this debate. He was talking about Architectural Agency.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Bicycle Parking - Cyclehoop

Testing a location map for Cyclehoop LtD.

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Urban Narrative - Tracking Movement via Twitter

We have been logging Twitter activities in the London area (M25) over an earlier weekend in January with some code Steven Gray has put together. The idea was to log the location based traffic and see what the mapping of it would bring. There are a number of twitter mapping projects out there already, for example from where the timeLapse of the weekend activity was captured HERE, or the first big mapping project However, we wanted to focus on a local region, a city, to see what the traffic is and how the location might play a role. The traffic visualisation page tweeTOMeter is part of this interest.

Image by UrbanTick / Screenshot of Twitter data visualised in GeoTime’s space-time aquarium.

One could think of this investigation as following the urban story quite literally, while following the tweets of citizens. However it is quite tricky to make sense of it all. The dataset for the weekend, which covers Friday evening to Monday morning contains some 300’000 tweets. Not all of them are properly geo referenced. Only 1’700 have actual Lat/Long information in the geo tag field. Furthermore some 60’000 have Lat/Long details in their profile tag field and the ret only has a generic profile location, such as London. This probably is because of the relatively new geo support of the Twitter API. Most users still seem to have little interest to include their actual location, as well as a lot of the applications do not yet properly support the format. Interesting seems to be the network. Whom are tweets directed at? It seems to be quite a high average of direct tweets, almost 3 per message. Also who will actually read it, how many followers are there in average?
Working with the real geo referenced tweets, surprisingly they contain quite a bit of movement.
For a quick look at the data it has been visualised in GeoTime. The representation in the time-space aquarium makes the diagonal lines, that suggest movement, very distinguishable from the vertical stationary lines. While looking at the replay in the 2D view the weekend really comes to life and London gets busy.

Similar visualisation, with snippets and names, but without the river Thames, can be fund HERE.
GeoTime here really offers a powerful and very quick way of visualising the data in space and time and offers a whole pallet of different visualisation types, each including a set of tools for analysis and manipulation. Import comes either via ARCGIS or even quicker excel.
The main problem really is the quality of the graphics, the design of the result. Here the user has hardly any choice or possibilities to manipulate anything from colour palette to line style or font. This is a bit annoying especially because the tool is kind of an end of the line analysis tool, after you have prepared the data elsewhere.
The second quick one goes into Google Earth obviously. Here the data again comes from a simple excel spread sheet with a VB macro to write the KML file. This literally takes 5 seconds to do and you have a KML file, including time tags in Google Earth.
This one only plays the locations though, also in a time window of some six hours.