Wednesday, July 09, 2014

What does the International Space Station look like?

This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. I put out a call via twitter and facebook for quick drawings of the ISS from memory. Asking my social media friends for sketches wasn't some kind of contest about accuracy or skill, it was more an investigation into what sorts of visual responses come up when people think about the space station. The (totally unscientific) results reveal much about how we see and understand the built environment in outer space. The International Space Station is modular, and those modules have been moved around and added to over the course of its 16 year operational life so far. The station went through several redesigns, both during its conception and construction. Its image is also tied up with images of space stations in science fiction, speculative futurism, and alternate or parallel histories.

The International Space Station in May 2010, via Wikipedia
This image shows the state of the ISS in 2010, it reflects the current configuration pretty well. The shiny silver cylinders at the front are the American/European/Japanese modules, and the white, more complex pieces towards the rear are the Russian modules. The large truss extends out from the cluster of modules to hold the solar panels, radiators, and storage for more gear.

ISS Modules in 2011 (minus Pirs), via NASA and Wikipedia

Despite its existence in freefall, the station orients itself so that it flies like this all the time, with a clear up and down, front and back, left and right. The crew also uses these directions to orient themselves inside. The photo at the top of the post was taken during the second to last mission of the shuttle Atlantis, there were only three more shuttle flights after this, total, before the program was retired. This is the first problem with imaging the actual ISS, you need a spacecraft to do it, and there haven't been many opportunities since the end of the shuttle program. It's harder to take a good photo from the Soyuz ships, so we rely more on renderings.

Rendering of the ISS in 2011, via NASA
Note already another problem: the big solar panels, arguably the most prominent aspect of the structure, are moveable in two directions. They move to best present themselves to the sunlight as the station orbits the earth once every 90 minutes. The smaller folded radiator panels also move, to better stay in shadow.

Symmetry and Stacks


This drawing was maybe the most accurate one I received, if we think of the front of ISS as the right hand side of the drawing, then even the position of the Soyuz module near the rear is pretty good, although they usually dock on the bottom.


Another pretty accurate one, if we think of this as half the station only.

In the course of the station's construction, modules and other bits were continuously moved around to make room for new modules, so that the station was still able to best function at every phase. There were points in its existence where even the rough symmetry that we currently see was not present.

The ISS in 2006, via NASA

This drawing looks something like the stacked configuration of the station's very early phases.

The ISS in 2000, via NASA
The photo above shows a phase when the ISS consisted of, from top to bottom: an uncrewed Progress supply ship, based the Russian Soyuz design, the Russian Zvezda module, with the Russian Zarya module above, and the American Unity module on top. The drawing also recalls some of the earliest space stations built by the Soviets in the 1970s, the Salyut series.

Salyut 1, 1971
Here's another drawing of a stacked space station:



The Salyut series evolved into the Mir station, which lasted for 16 years until it was de-orbited in 2001.

Mir, circa 1995
The author of this drawing seems to be channeling the Mir's characteristic canted solar panels, which give it a kind of dragonfly look:



Hubble and Skylab

Others who responded may have been unconsciously referencing other existing structures in space, like the Hubble Space Telescope:




Here's the Hubble:

The Hubble Space Telescope
The above drawings also look somewhat like Skylab, which would have been symmetrical if the second solar panel wing had successfully deployed:

Skylab, ca 1975

Alternate Futures

Still other responders to the call may have been thinking of some classic spaceship and space station designs from the commercial world, science fiction, and speculative futurism:


The catamaran-like configuration of the above drawing is reminiscent of Virgin Galactic's Spaceship Two / White Knight Two arrangement for air launching their commercial spaceplane:

White Knight Two with Spaceship Two carried in the center
The above sketch also recalls some of the alternate design proposals for the International Space Station. In the 1980s, the Americans at NASA were investigating the creation of a large orbital facility that, at the time, they were calling 'Space Station Freedom'.

One of several design proposals for Space Station Freedom, ca 1986
At the same time, the Russian space program was working on designs for the successor to Mir, which would have been called simply Mir 2. The ISS, as the result of primarily American and Russian partnerships, is effectively a merger between Freedom and Mir 2:

Russian design for Mir 2

This drawing, which seems to show some kind of battle or emergency, looks like some of the spaceship / space station mashups in the movie Iron Sky:


Space battle scene from Iron Sky
(Iron Sky was a pretty awful film, with some pretty great visual effects and design.)

This drawing of a rotating space station is clearly influenced by some of the large scale space colonization proposals investigated by NASA in the 1970s:


A Bernal Sphere, painting by Rick Guidice, 1975, courtesy NASA Ames Research Center
The Bernal Sphere shows up in popular culture a lot, as well, most notably in Babylon 5.

As a side note, I have no idea what's going with this drawing:



Even NASA gets it wrong.

The formal structure of the ISS is so complicated that even official representations of the station often get it wrong. This model by Dragon shows the ISS at its intended final buildout phase:

Dragon scale model of ISS at buildout
To date, the large umbrella-like set of solar panels on a tower at the Russian end of the station has not been built, and it's unlikely that it ever will be. In any case, even if it is built, there certainly won't be a shuttle orbiter docked there, since they have all been stripped for museum display, and will never fly again.

Even NASA's official Android tablet app for the ISS has at least one incorrect detail. The module labeled as 'Docking Compartment 1: Pirs' in the screencap below is in the location that Pirs currently occupies, but the rendered module isn't Pirs. Instead the app is showing Nauka, a Russian module not due for launch until 2015, at the earliest. When it's launched, Pirs will be moved elsewhere.

Screengrab from NASA's ISS Android app, showing Nauka in place of Pirs

Greetings, Humans!

Maybe the most revealing aspect of this exercise came from one responder on faceook, who posted a space station sketch with the note: "Sorry I forgot to draw a stick figure Canadian astronaut playing Major Tom."

This was a reference to the former ISS Commander Chris Hadfield, whose photos and tweets from the station arguably did more to raise awareness on Earth about the ISS, its activities, and its importance since anything past the end of the shuttle program. Commander Hadfield's skillful use of social media probably reached its peak when he posted a video, shot and edited aboard the station, of a cover version of David Bowie's song 'Space Oddity':

Commander Chris Hadfield performs his modified cover of 'Space Oddity', 2013
The poster then changed his mind, and made a drawing of Hadfield anyway, to submit to the experiment:



This brings up a set of important issues. Since the end of the shuttle program, space exploration has no central image to associate itself with. The International Space Station is probably the most complex, most important piece of architecture ever made, but no one knows what it looks like. If an image in our heads of the ISS constantly collapses into science fiction, history, and imagined futures, while the real thing is moving and changing everyday, what can we relate to about this structure, if not its human inhabitants?

Megastructures and Megafauna

A spaceship, especially a spaceplane with wings, with its closed contour, basic symmetries, and forward facing directionality, is something that is easy to have an emotional relationship with. Like classical columns, we empathize with them as fellow bodies in space, performing a task. A complex megastructure like the International Space Station has indistinct boundaries, blurry formal hierarchies, and is constantly changing over time.

The space shuttle orbiter was the last great mascot for outer space, it was a classic charismatic megafauna. The structures we're building now don't have that same capacity to enable us to understand them and form relationships with them as other beings in the world. The way these drawings operate within a complex web of popular culture and speculative history illustrates that there may be other possible relationships we can form with structures besides recognizing them as bodies. If we can learn, visually and emotionally, to empathize and engage with systems in a more meaningful way, we can maybe better understand the complex work that is to be done on Earth and elsewhere.

If humans (or nonhumans) are going to marshal the resources, capital, and political will to explore and inhabit the rest of the solar system, we'll need to get control over this need our minds have to see and understand things visually, as well as emotionally.

(Thanks much to the friends who responded to this experiment with drawings! Including Adam Hu, Andrew Liebchen, Angus, Evan Chakroff, Gary Kachadourian, Jay Owens, Lou Joseph, Michael Petruzzo, Mike Riley, Neil Freeman, and Noah Saber-Freedman!)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Towards a General Theory of Cultural Containers

If you're a person who writes, you probably have that one friend who's always saying brilliant things, but they're not in the habit of writing regularly themselves, so it's difficult to get access to the ideas they come up with in a way that fits within the traditional means of constructing an argument or a position. Does an idea exist if it can't be cited or linked?

Anyway, my friend and sometime collaborator Eric Leshinsky is one of these people: unciteably brilliant. One of my favorite ideas that he's come up with is the notion of the 'cultural container', which I'd define as any venue, bounded in space or time, that allows cultural production to occur. He had the occasion to use this idea as part of one of D Center Baltimore's Design Conversations, back in 2008, more info on that is here. I've used it before as a foundational concept for some thoughts on isomorphisms between the social space of the web and social spaces in the built world, that became an article here.

I'm thinking of it again, because of the important role that boundaries play in the construction of the concept. A certain event starts at a certain time, and stops at another time. Production occurs within a room or a site. Thinking about boundaries and containers in general can be a way to recognize similarities between ideas about spatial and temporal structures, but the idea can also be applied to organizational, institutional, or disciplinary structures as well. Painting has traditionally concerned itself with certain questions, and not with others. Architects have practiced in ways that leave them professionally and legally separated from the financial decisions of their clients, or the moral decisions of contractors who build their work.

I am continually fascinated by cases like: 1) The Cooper Union, where a school that teaches art, engineering, and architecture, seems to have been financially compromised by its decision to commission a signature piece of architecture by Morphosis at the height of the real estate bubble. 2) Zaha Hadid's comments in the The Guardian, that "it's not my duty as an architect to look at it"; "it" here being the deaths of migrant workers at World Cup construction projects in Qatar, where her office has designed a stadium. 3) Similar concerns about the Guggenheim's presence as an anchor institution in Abu Dhabi, another place where working conditions have been sharply criticized. 4) The Folk Art Museum and #folkmoma, 5) Patrik Schumacher's missive on facebook ("stop confusing art and architecture"). 6) etc, etc, ...

So we have boundaries and containers; disciplinary specificity and outside context problems. Talking about this is partly a way to provide space for a diagram I made last year to attempt to explain a specific type of work that's produced under the banner of The Working Group on Adaptive Systems:


This diagram attempts to sort out the production of a set of projects in 2010 and 2011. The assumption behind it is that venues, institutions, events, or even projects themselves, when seen as cultural containers, can all be looked at in terms of their relative scale and qualities, and in terms of their relationship to each other. The lines represent different types of boundaries, and different types of connections between actors who are sequentially working to define those boundaries, and to produce other work inside them, especially where that 'other work' is the production of other, nested containers.

For example: at the top center, Evergreen Commons is a project from 2010, in which Eric, Ryan Patterson, and myself, were commissioned by the Evergreen House to create a piece of sculpture for their Biennial. We decided to experiment with the production of a cultural container instead, designing infrastructure, and reserving much of the project's budget to commission other artists to make work within the boundaries of the place we had made. One set of commissioned artists, Jaimes Mayhew and Marian April Glebes, were also themselves working under the banner of their own micro-institution, Services United. Jaimes, Marian, Eric, Ryan and others involved with this project showed up in some of the other projects as well (psNone Sodscape, and campcamp), in different capacities: sometimes working as themselves, sometimes working as a part of other groups and venues.

This is partly an attempt to instrumentalize the call from Bruno Latour, in especially 'Reassembling the Social', to keep everything flat, and follow the actors themselves as they construct frameworks, and then work within them (again, sequentially, not simultaneously). What this diagram suggests is that boundaries, instead of existing as barriers that silo work and keep it apart, are exactly what enables collaboration and interdisciplinary work to take place. These containers aren't givens, they are constructed by the participants themselves. And as long as one is aware of their provisional character, they can stepped into and and out of at different times, depending on their usefulness to the task at hand.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Spatial Intervention: Five Moments from #occupy

Some aspects of #occupy that stand out for their implications about the rough edges and overlaps in political control, spatial practice, spatial design, and spatial intervention:

1) Occupy Baltimore Mic Checks Karl Rove.
10 minutes into a speech at Johns Hopkins University on November 15th, protestors from Occupy Baltimore, who had mingled with the talk's audience, started up the People's Mic call-and-response protocol (which always begins with the phrase "Mic Check") to deliver a message: “Mic check. 'Mic check.' Karl Rove. 'Karl Rove.' Is the Architect. 'Is the Architect.'"

The use of the word 'Architect' to describe people who mastermind conspiracies and schemes of control is always fascinating. I've written in CRIT (pdf article link) and elsewhere about the need on the part of those trained in architecture and spatial disciplines to reclaim the broader use of the word, and scheme for the greater good instead of the perceived evil.

2) Occupy Wall Street Bat Signal on the Verizon Building.
In a carefully planned and timed maneuver coordinated to correspond with the march across the Brooklyn Bridge, messages from Occupy chants were projected onto the blank facade of the "Verizon Building" (375 Pearl St., so-named because of a large lighted Verizon ad) facing the bridge.

In this interview, it's noted that the messages were projected by the organizers from a private family apartment, the space was donated by the residents for the use of #occupy that evening: "opposite the Verizon building, there is a bunch of city housing. Subsidized, rent-controlled. There's a lack of services, lights are out in the hallways, the housing feels like jails, like prisons."

This description matches the Alfred E. Smith Houses, a set of cruciform, Corbusian Towers-in-the-Park built by the New York City Housing Authority during the Robert Moses era. The towers in Le Corbusier's original Radiant City plan were intended to be office buildings, not housing, but the image of hand of the architect, autocratically clearing away old for new, has become, in a thousand lectures on urbanism, synonymous with the idea of the Evil Architect, and the misguided social intentions of Modernism in general.

The text from the projection reads:

99% / MIC CHECK! / LOOK AROUND / YOU ARE A PART / OF A GLOBAL UPRISING / WE ARE A CRY / FROM THE HEART / OF THE WORLD / WE ARE UNSTOPPABLE / ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE / HAPPY BIRTHDAY / #OCCUPY MOVEMENT / OCCUPY WALL STREET / list of cities, states and countries / OCCUPY EARTH / WE ARE WINNING / IT IS THE BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING / DO NOT BE AFRAID / LOVE.

3) Occupy UC Davis Kettles the Police.
The beginning of the video linked above is difficult to watch, police have been tasked with removing tents from the quad at UC Davis, students occupying the tents sit down and link hands peacefully around the tents. In a sickening act of police brutality, an officer pepper sprays the entire line.

By around the 6 minute mark into the clip, the atmosphere has changed completely. The students have advanced on the police in a line, they have kettled the police, surrounding and confining them in a space defined by a ring of people. The police are in a tactical retreat, but at the last moment, the officer in charge pauses and begins shaking his canisters of pepper spray menacingly. Suddenly the chants fade from "Shame on you! Shame on you!" to another Mic Check: "We will give you 'We will give you' a moment of peace 'a moment of peace'" and finally: "You can go" is picked up in a chant: "You can go. You can go. You can go." The tension unfolds. The crowd has called something up, named it, understood its aggression as masked fear, and then banished it with unqualified impunity. The police, visibly confused at what has been done to them and how, turn and leave.

4) Occupy Fort Myers is recognized as Free Speech.
In what may, in retrospect, be understood as a landmark decision, a federal court in Florida has ruled that inhabitation can be a form of speech, and as such is protected, in certain circumstances, under the First Amendment.

4) Occupy Cal's Architecture School Launches Floating Tents.
The administration at UC Berkeley has, apparently without irony, banned camping on campus. In a symbolic circumvention of this ban, the architecture students at Berkeley have made floating tents, and floating banners to go along with them.

At least one commenter (thanks, @tweeds) has noted the intentional resonance with Archigram's Instant City project  of the 1960s. It is worth quoting in full the description of that project from Wikipedia:

Instant City is a mobile technological event that drifts into underdeveloped, drab towns via air (balloons) with provisional structures (performance spaces) in tow. The effect is a deliberate overstimulation to produce mass culture, with an embrace of advertising aesthetics. The whole endeavor is intended to eventually move on leaving behind advanced technology hook-ups.
#Occupy, with its smartphones, livestreams, projections, tents, inflatables, and pithy quotability, can be seen as a direct manifestation of the same impulse underlying the Instant City. As Chris Heathcote has noted in another context, Archigram were BASICALLY RIGHT. The link between protest, festival, media, and creative spatial practice can't be underscored enough, and the participatory structure of things like the People's Mic as practiced by #occupy is the antithesis of the image of the autocratic planner, designer, and schemer.

In 2004, an unnamed Bush administration aide, widely understood to be Karl Rove (The Architect) told a writer from the New York Times Magazine:

"We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Some on the Left in America have since embraced the idea that they are the "Reality Based Community" that this quote dismisses as merely following and interpreting the creative acts of cultural production in politics. They would characterize the attitude of Rove expressed here as embodying a "Faith Based Community" with no connection to facts.

The creative spatial practices of #occupy suggest a different way: that the arrogance of The Architect in presupposing that his particular acts of reality creation are the ones that others have to deal with, study, and occupy, is now recognized as a symptom of fear. Other models of spatial production, and indeed, even of reality creation - based in collaboration, smaller in scale, briefer in time, and unfolding from a ground of love, not fear - have the potential to defuse the political control over the built environment. Inhabitation is speech, and it can create new realities. The method is less faith, and more magic, and watching this method deployed, it's hard to argue against the message that another world is possible.




Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Licensure and How the Future is Going to Get Even More Weird

I have some thoughts on professional licensure in architecture included in this article in Architect magazine. The article was written by Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, she's done an excellent job of sorting out a sticky set of issues, through which there are no easy resolutions: academics, professional liability, the roles of the many organizations that regulate aspects of the profession, and the "threat" of a Lost Generation. As usual, Archinect has a great discussion about the article as well.

This is a topic that's near to the interests represented here, I've written about it from the point of view of titular protection, alternative examination structures, and here (pdf link), for the AIAS Journal CRIT, popular perception of skill sets.

It's worth bringing up again. Thinking about these issues as a teacher, now that I'm rereading the finished article, makes me begin to wonder, not about a current Lost Generation, but about the next few generations down the line. Re-examining paths to licensure and registration is going to be even more important for a discipline that wants to wrangle the talents of the generation who are currently just starting out. In the past few years I've taught introductory architecture and design to two groups of first year grad students, three groups of sophomores, and two groups of freshmen, at three different schools. I'm here to tell you that these kids are good, and there's a lot of 'em. If the current group of recent grads is seeming ambitious, talented, numerous, and kind of confused, just wait til you meet the ones who will be coming out with professional degrees in the next four years. It's on us to get this licensing and terminology mess sorted out in time for us all to get down to the real work.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Soft Landscapes: Post Natural Ecologies Lecture Mini-Series



Very excited to have been invited by Rob Holmes of mammoth to give his Landscape Studio a version of the talk on the Middle Branch that I delivered at the ACSA Conference in March in Montreal. This will take place in the Red Room at Virginia Tech, this coming tuesday, the 25th, at 5:15. If you're in town, come by. Rob has also invited Brett Milligan of Free Association Design to speak on friday, so it's officially a thing: SOFT LANDSCAPES: Post-Natural Ecologies Lecture Mini-Series.

For background on the Middle Branch material that I'll be covering, start here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

2011-06-11 21.32.40a


2011-06-11 21.32.40a, originally uploaded by ske765book.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Marey_01_unaltered_sm


Marey_01_unaltered_sm, originally uploaded by ske765book.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Working Group on Adaptive Systems



Okay, so here's a new project that's a little while coming: The Working Group on Adaptive Systems.

A friend of mine asked for a Mission Statement, so here it is:

This is a strange time to be doing work in the city. All of the architects want to be planners, all of the planners want to be developers, all of the developers want to be artists, and all of the artists want to be scientists. The Working Group on Adaptive Systems is a vehicle for transdisciplinary research and open ended collaboration that embraces the adhoc, the loose fit, and the multi-scalar, in the service of making things that are real and new.


This is neither a hard launch nor a soft launch, we're skipping launch, we're working through launch. Projects posted here will be continuously added to, refined, extended, scrapped, mutated ... as will the format, so keep checking back for new things over the next few weeks, including brutalist public plaza sculpture with lasers, a greenroof fishfarm over a garage, and campcamping!

Here's that link one more time: The Working Group on Adaptive Systems

Friday, August 06, 2010

Elastic Centroids


Back at the end of June, I visited the geographic center of New York City. It's a pleasant spot, under the elevated portion of the J. The summertime afternoon light filters down, and bounces off the brightly colored signs and storefronts that line the long run of Broadway. Right at the corner, there's a classic Fenced Lot.


centroids


If you need an excuse to see it for yourself, here's a good one: it's part of Neil Freeman's Centroids and Asphalt, created for the Elastic City series of walks. Freeman's work, often with GIS and graphics software, is generated from the difficult-to-see geographic, historic, and material data that compose the structures and streets of cities. The large scale patterns and forms that Freeman finds here are somehow comfortingly familiar and displacingly beautiful at the same time.



(All Streets, Centered, Chicago, by Neil Freeman)


Neil's walk integrates these same concerns: material flow, plant and animal life, social history, and organizational geometry - all in real world terms, all within a few blocks of central Brooklyn.


DSC09225


The best thing about this exploration is that it's conducted *with* the walk's participants, rather than *to* them. A session in front of a rowhouse, listing the inputs and outputs of one specific building, had us all speculating about the difference between a private monopoly and a public utility, privileges and rights, discrete deliveries and continuous flows ...

As Elastic City's founder, Todd Shalom, says in this interview with Neil and Urban Omnibus:

"Walking tours bore me– that’s what podcasts are for. In contrast to traditional walking tours, which seem to re-tell somebody’s or some group’s past experience through data and facts, Elastic City walks strive for a more embodied experience in the present moment. These walks offer to widen the perspectives for participants."


DSC09230


Neil's walk will be held a few more times throughout the end of the summer. There's one tomorrow.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Some Notes


2010-08-02 16.18.20, originally uploaded by ske765book.

More with less: managerial and visionary expertise to examine existing inventories, find efficiencies, and build consensus around reconfiguration.

We like cheap because we like the aesthetics of efficiency.

Moving between disciplines requires a special kind of work in translation and metaphor.

Small and/or weird, and/or free

“Kill the brand, transfer the equity.”

Using default , conservative language to reinforce search engine results, talking to machines, not humans.

“In the bubble”

“Actionable”

“Mission Driven”

Show us what we are and we tell you it’s wrong, we want to be seen as the kind of thing that we aspire to.

Show us who we think we are (Show us what we want to be).

Means over Ends: We draw something that looks cool, without remembering that it looks cool because it’s rare, and it’s rare because it’s expensive. When the time comes to figure out the implementation, we talk ourselves out of it because of the expense and difficulty.

In house labor is cheaper than field labor.

“This is unique, this is a parking garage in Kansas City.” “Do you like it?” “Yeah, it’s different.”

Different variation of a theme: discrete elements hung on an abstract diagram. Switching back and forth between levels, accepting givens and then exploding them to modify them at a global level. No, exploding is different, exploding is “make unique”, embedding something in the world at the next lower level. Editing the rules is fundamentally different, jumping one level up. Model lines and symbolic lines, an overlay of cognition back onto perception. You need a limited reference space (with a scale, conventions, etc.) in order to create and manipulate *stuff*.

We present the big ideas and people either decide they like them or not, then we spend two hours talking about details and politics of parking or carpets or something.

“Slipping” in reference to a deadline implies the future is a pit, an event as something hanging on the edge, slipping down. An indefinite delay or cancellation as a bottomless drop, like falling up into the sky …

These projects generate collateral eddies and flows, that are sometimes tangential to the primary direction, and sometimes swell up and swamp the original vector.

“My favorite reports.”

Ancient Magical Invocation of Doom: “Okay, we’re done, all we have to do now is print.”

“That way we’re improving student life, which was our fourth priority! Oh wait, that’s our third priority, increasing storage space was our fourth.”

Object --> #^# <-- Field

Less new construction, more internal rearrangement – phasing, planning, and adaptive reuse.

Thinking Small.

“They don’t learn to be better designers, they learn to be better operators.”

“Openness to an open-ended process.”

Those moments in meetings where people say: “what do we do next?”

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Sphären_a


Sphären_a, originally uploaded by ske765book.

Just a quick update to point at a new collection of my drawing and photography work assembled on Cargo Collective: link. Those following same here will see a few new things.

Also, there's a tumblr that I finally started using: 7UM6L5

Bigger and better news soon ...


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Adaptive Reuse

I'm thrilled to have an article in the current issue of the ACM's Interactions Magazine: Adaptive Reuse: Things, Containers, and Streets in the Architecture of the Social Web. Many thanks to Contributing Editor Molly Steenson for assistance and advice.

From at least the advent of the homepage, the words used to describe online places have been explicitly architectural and urban. If online organizational structures and real-world architecture have anything in common, this set of similarities has nothing to do with the qualities of form, space, and material that are usually appreciated in buildings. To speak in terms of information architecture, or cyberspace, is inadequate to describe the ways in which all of these structures, built or unbuilt, are produced and sustained by the social and economic systems that surround them.
The piece is, in many ways, a companion to an older article, from 2006, written as the result of a semester long research project in social media, enclosure, and architectures of control: "You must be logged in to do that!":

One does not escape the physical body into a noncorporeal cyberspace as a jailed man escapes from a prison into the wide world. If a body is recomposed as information, it is all the more subject to the specialized techniques of control: distributed surveillance, data aggregation, and the continuous modulation of production and access.
In the newer piece for Interactions, I'm particularly grateful to be able to reference some unpublished work by two friends and colleagues: Kio Stark's recasting of 'users' as 'constituents' returns the production of place into a more humanistic and democratic context; and Eric Leshinsky's usage of the term 'cultural containers' condenses the essential isomorphisms in the way spatial enclosure operates, both online and off.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

2010-04-27 12.02.08.jpg


2010-04-27 12.02.08.jpg, originally uploaded by sevensixfive.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

But Today We Collect Gizmos


"To understand the advertisements which appear in the New Yorker or Gentry, one must have taken a course in Dublin literature, read a Time popularizing article on cybernetics, and have majored in Higher Chinese Philosophy and Cosmetics"
- Alison and Peter Smithson, on advertising


"Its function was to bring instant order or human comfort into a situation which had previously been an undifferentiated mess."

- Reyner Banham, on gizmos


To respond to a problem, it's necessary to bring some kind of model to bear on it, and be ready to discard or change that model if it isn't working. A gizmo is a temporary, easily available, means of organizing an undifferentiated continuum. We collect gizmos because we need to bring many models to bear on the problems we are presented with.


Underneath lies that basic confusion about the American Network landscape - is it a wilderness, or a paradise? For us it would be the objects on the beaches, the piece of paper blowing about the street, the throw-away object and the pop package.


The landscape is informational, the desert is networked. If it is all constructed, or at least made from parts of constructs, the ground can be mined for patterns. Even the navigational gizmos themselves are little else but temporary constellations within social, material, and informational networks. There is the persistent rumor that the skins of the Powerbook G4 and the Guggenheim Bilbao were only feasible to produce during a global dip in titanium prices, after Russia flooded the market in the late 90s. Tablet computers are nothing if not devices to sort through the tangle of text and publishing outlets available, and bring reading back under some kind of manageable control.


Ordinary life is receiving a powerful impulse from a new source. Where thirty years ago architects found in the field of the popular arts mechanical engineering technique and formal stimuli, today we are being edged out of our traditional role by the new phenomena of popular arts advertising interdisciplinary consulting.


Unlike the singular, algorithmic machine, which allows only the variation of parameters, the gizmo is multiple, modifiable, hackable, even (especially) disposable, it is in permanent beta. It is a heuristic, not an algorithm: not the be-all, but the good-enough. The minimum of skill is required in its installation and use, and it is independent of any physical or social infrastructure beyond that which can be ordered from a catalogue and delivered to its prospective user.


The application of a heuristic gizmo is an act of pattern recognition - the intuition that some set of undifferentiated circumstances is isomorphic to some other set that was previously encountered, even if the context was wildly different. A City is Not a Tree, but a maze is, or at least certain types of them are, very much like trees. Simply connected mazes are topologically identical to trees, or in another sense, circles. Mazes of this type can be navigated with a heuristic called the Right Hand Rule: tracing your right hand along the wall of a simply connected maze, you will eventually lead yourself out.


If a maze is connected in 3 dimensions, or is disjoint, other methods must be brought into play, like the Pledge Algorithm, the Random Mouse, or the Recursive Backtracker. Name it, then we'll know what it is. What if you don't know what kind of maze you're in? What if you don't even know that you're in a maze at all? The field of metaheuristics is concerned with ways of determining which heuristic is applicable to a given situation. It turns out that the best way of doing this is often trial and error, with a comprehensive collection of gizmos to draw from. Someone's got to decide whether to hit the Black Box with Maslow's Hammer or Occam's Razor.


It has been said that things hardly "exist" before the fine artist has made use of them, they are simply part of the unclassified background material against which we pass our lives. The application of gizmo metaheuristics requires a certain kind of approach to interdisciplinary work and expertise: try it first, then read the manual. Like a western tourist using chopsticks, there is an attitude of being cheerfully out of one's depth, but willing to learn, and eager to add this new technique to the repertoire and impress the folks back home.


Why certain folk art objects, historical styles, or industrial artifacts and methods become important at a particular moment cannot easily be explained. Techniques, when named, abstracted to their simplest form, and packaged up (Sears catalogue style), seem to want to travel. What can we learn about sustainability from the closed-loop space colony ecosystem diagrams of the the 1970s? How can we talk to civil engineers about the emerging trend of micropractices in stormwater management? A collection of gizmo metaheuristics enables a more fluid code-switching, and a more useful exchange of knowledge within and between disciplines.


Gropius wrote a book on grain silos,

Le Corbusier one on aeroplanes,

And Charlotte Periand brought a new

object Gundam to the office every morning,

But today we collect ads gizmos.


#lgnlgn

#endofarchitecturetexts

#remixrevisitremaster

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Plant: Inputs & Outputs


The Plant: Inputs & Outputs, originally uploaded by ske765book.

The Plant is a sustainable strategic development masterplan proposal for Baltimore. At the the building scale, The Plant is a mixed use prefab construction, containing a small meeting, office, and retail space for a nonprofit cultural institution, with apartments above. At the scale of the block, The Plant generates surplus energy for its neighbors, food from an onsite garden, and improved water quality. Income from The Plant, along with added equity from the block’s other properties, is able to effect change at the municipal level, helping fund a prefab construction supply startup, which is then able to export new techniques and technologies to other postindustrial cities in the larger region.

The Plant was created for the Baltimore Bioneers Conference in the fall of 2008, by the Visionary Green Design and Development Panel: Lisa Ferretto, Eric Leshinsky, Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, Prescott Gaylord, Thibault Manekin, & Fred Scharmen

Click Here for a fullsized version of this diagram.

Click Here for more information.

(see also)



Crossposted from D:center Baltimore for Manifesto/Manifest.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

DSC07916


DSC07916, originally uploaded by sevensixfive.

Triangular voronoi grid distortion with magnets - this will likely be the last of the Voronoi series for a while. View the rest on the Baker Award site, where there are only two days left to browse and vote.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Procedural Buff

Procedural Buff 01

[[This is a late entry to the 2008 call for mural proposals for Eastern Avenue in Baltimore]]

This project rewrites the creation of a neighborhood mural as an urban game, blurring the lines between graffiti, public art, and community interaction.

Pr0cedural Buff 02

When the mural is added to or modified (1), the artist is awarded points. The changes are detected by a webcam (2), and the image is uploaded to the online archive (3). The handheld devices of the other players are notified (4), and given information about the location, color, and configuration of the pixels (5) to update. The first players to get to the mural and make the updates are awarded more points in the game.


Procedural Buff 03

[[based on a photo by Napalm Filled Tires on flickr]]

"There has always been one rule in the game that never falters, dont go over your history no matter how old or wack. I cant imagine going over a Vinny throw up just because, it is a known known here in NYC in which we try to adhere to, let the buff or time erase it, not to say toys dont kill shit but established writers know better." - MARE 139, South Bronx

Procedural Buff 04

[[Banksy vs. Robbo image credits: (1), (2), (3), (4)]]

The project outsources the production of the mural to the local graffiti and street artists in a combination of social network, internet archive, and street game. The mural is the constantly changing result of the interactions between the artists involved. The ephemerality of this kind of urban artwork is foregrounded, and the tendency toward competition between different artists and different styles is systematized and neutralized by the gamelike aspects. This is a mural that can never be vandalized.

Traditionally, the only neutral way that the wall can be refreshed is with a new coat of paint laid down by the property owner or law enforcement: "the buff". This project takes the elements of graffiti and street art that are usually deployed as deterrants: surveilance and concealment, and redeploys them as newly integrated components of a larger system, blurring the line between rivalry and collaboration.

[[for more on Banksy vs. Robbo, see Gaia's writeup here]]

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A jpeg is worth 1000kb

ZORK, Colossal Cave Adventure, and the landscape of the text-based adventure game.

[[This essay first appeared in Gary Kachadourian's print zine "A Brief Survey of Video Game Landscapes"]]

Between its release in 1981 and 1986, the text adventure game ZORK sold almost 400,000 copies, making it the best selling title for its parent company, Infocom. ZORK is not strictly a *video* game, there are no images in it, only words. At 92 kilobytes, the game file is about 1/10th the size of a single still frame from a contemporary game with full motion video. But inside all of this text is an entire world, navigated by the player with simple commands in plain english: "open the window" "go up the stairs" "pick up the knife". The imagery exists within the player's mind, helped along with occasionally evocative text from the narrator:

>LOOK
Dam Base
You are at the base of Flood Control Dam #3, which looms above you and to
the north. The River Frigid is flowing by here. Across the river are the
White Cliffs, which seem to form a giant wall stretching from north to
south along the east shore of the river as it winds its way downstream.
There is an inflated boat here.

The game replaces the visual landscape with its own description, and this has been cited by many as the key to its longlived success and sales record. As computers became more and more sophisticated during the 1980s, graphics became more and more complex, and older games quickly looked outdated and obsolete. ZORK and other text based adventures never relied on images, and so never seemed stale.

This reliance on the verbal over the visual is exploited by the game's designers, clues to the puzzles are embedded in the things the narrator points out, and ambiguity is turned into confusion in some of the game's more difficult to navigate portions. In the maze, 16 rooms have an identical description: "This is part of a maze of twisty little passages, all alike." This sameness is effective blindness, and even though there are vital objects hidden here, the player is forced to grope through on trial and error.

The phrase "twisty little passages" is a reference to Colossal Cave Adventure, a mainframe based text adventure game that was the freely distributed predecesor and inspiration for ZORK. Created by two computer scientists, Don Woods and Will Crowther, Colossal Cave Adventure included its own 'all alike' maze, described in the same way. There was also a complementary 'all different' maze, using almost all possible systematic permutations of the phrase:

Little maze of twisting passages
Little maze of twisty passages
Little twisty maze of passages
Maze of little twisting passages
Maze of little twisty passages
Maze of twisting little passages
Maze of twisty little passages
Twisting little maze of passages
Twisting maze of little passages
Twisty little maze of passages
Twisty maze of little passages

This genre of game was created by and for computer scientists, Will Crowther, in an interview from 1994, speculates: "And why did people enjoy it? Because it's exactly the kind of thing that computer programmers do. They're struggling with an obstinate system that can do what you want but only if you can figure out the right thing to say to it"

The game is a landscape, but this isn't a landscape that can be appreciated visually, it can only be apprehended and understood structurally and functionally. The similarity of the game's structure to the flowcharts used by computer scientists is obvious, it is a network of nodes with paths between them that control how the landscape can be moved through. This resonance is underscored by the fact that, at the same time as the original version of Colossal Cave Adventure in 1975, Will Crowther was working for a defense contractor, helping to build ARPAnet, the networked computer system that would later become the internet.

Will Crowther was also an avid caver. In the 1970s, he was part of a team mapping undocumented portions of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Using surveyors techniques, nodal points are connected by clear paths in a network, this bare bones structure of vector lines is then fleshed out with the specific qualities of various rooms and passages in drawing. Portions of Colossal Cave Adventure are said to be so similar in structure to portions of the actual cave that first time visitors familiar with the game can navigate easily.

ZORK didn't come with a map, early players drew their own. The smallest complete map available on the internet today, is, at 480 kilobytes, about five times the size of the game itself. After 1983, Infocom finally released its own map for ZORK, the key shows the five types of passages that connect the nodes: "Normal Passaway, One-way Passageway, Narrow Passageway (baggage limit), and Passageway returning to room of origin".

Text based adventure games work because landscapes can be understood in ways that have little to do with vision. It isn't the specific form of any one object or space that is memorable here, it is the structure of the underlying system. But this disconnect between form and structure is bridged when it is understood that the structure itself has a form, a branching self-similar network that is as intricate as any graphic representation.

The landscape in ZORK is what it does, and it can only be appreciated and unlocked by interacting with it. The keys to the puzzles are often found when the player takes control over the same kind of network flow that generates the landscape, finding ways to open and close new connections between points. The aesthetic is the product of the constant mix up between the operational and the picturesque, between infrastructure and ruin, between interaction and observation:

"You are standing on the top of the Flood Control Dam #3, which was quite a tourist attraction in times far distant. There are paths to the north, south, and west, and a scramble down. The sluice gates on the dam are closed. Behind the dam, there can be seen a wide reservoir. Water is pouring over the top of the now abandoned dam.
There is a control panel here, on which a large metal bolt is mounted. Directly above the bolt is a small green plastic bubble."

[[Much of the background information on Colossal Cave Adventure was found in Dennis G. Jerz's excellent essay "Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther's Original "Adventure" in Code and in Kentucky"]] [[The original game is available for free download from Infocom here]]

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

DSC07660


DSC07660, originally uploaded by sevensixfive.

Series of prints to be shown at The Depot, 1728 N. Charles St., Thursday, Jan. 28, 9 pm.

It's the Monkey Hustle Art Show, check the facebook invite here.

This work is based on drawings that can be seen at the Baker Artist Award site here (only three days left to nominate yourself over there, btw).

... also, check them out on tiny apparatus.



(and here)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Losing My Edge: Architectural Informatics (and others)


(Disclaimer: This is quick and unconsidered)

It is fascinating to watch other disciplines inch closer and closer to the territory that was once claimed by architects. As the profession of architecture continues to shrink, the ground that is ceded does not remain unclaimed for long, and there is new and interesting territory to be discovered at our borders that we no longer seem to have the resources to explore.

Sustainability Consulting, Strategic Masterplanning, Landscape Architecture - all of these other disciplines are very interested in architecture: its literature, its history, and its scope of services. Now add to that the relatively new fields of Service and Interaction Design. Recent articles here and here (and here(and here!)) have all implied that there is a strange relationship between services, distributed computing and cities, with a parallel strangeness in the design of interactions and the design of buildings.

Despite having several friends who are actively working in these fields, I admit that it is sometimes very difficult to understand what it is that they actually do (besides organize, attend, and speak at conferences). Many of them have backgrounds in architecture, and almost all of them are avidly reading Jane Jacobs, Christopher Alexander, Archigram, Situationists - all of this neglected literature from the 60s and 70s that architects themselves had almost forgotten, in our (perhaps bubble-powered) accelerated criticality (and the inevitable post).

So there are all of these people moving in this direction, and there are a few general observations that are worth making about that:

- They seem to think that they have something to learn from the theory and practice of architecture, so let's help them figure out what that is.

- They are creating their own discourse from scratch, outside of academia. Architectural discourse has been supported by schools for so long that it is difficult to remember any other way. The fields of Service and Interaction Design seem to be supported by something more like the feudal corporate patronage structure that architects relied on in the Renaissance. That's very interesting, no? Not the least because despite any purse or apron strings linking them to the corporate world, they still seem to want to talk about ideas, even some of the more out-there quasi-marxist corners of critical theory that academic architects like to frequent. That's kind of fun, right?

- They have no history. Though some might disagree, this is probably a good thing for now (but not for much longer).

- They bring an entrepreneurial startup culture with them. A lot of the work in this area is coming directly out of computer science by way of the old dot.com and web 2.0 pathways, but the thing is, these aren't the casualties, they are the survivors. Many of the people involved with these offices have lived through several busts, and they are thriving. They know about venture capital, public offerings, and bootstrapping. They have business plans. This is kind of exciting, yeah?


For Archinect's '09 predictions last year, I hoped that there would be this massive flow outward from architecture to other disciplines: underemployed architects as secret agents, implanting methodologies into other fields from the inside out. It hasn't happened. Instead, we've lost even more ground to others who are doing the things we do, and it's like the song says: "... to better-looking people with better ideas and more talent ... and they're actually really, really nice." They want to be friends, they want to talk about cities and buildings.

So in the New Year, let's all spend more time hanging out: architects can trade some of our thoughts on cultural context, historicity, and the public realm for some of you all's ideas about agility, narrative, strategery, and business planning, and we'll all hopefully learn a lot.