Japan’s Real Estate Bubble. A History Lesson

The Nikkei took a tumble this week, but those of us sitting in the US might not have noticed that it had run up from 11,400 or so a year ago to well over 16,000 earlier this month. But it’s still far short of the all time height of 38,957.44 on December 29, 1989. Why is this interesting to me? Two reasons. First, recall that in the collapse of the Nikkei in the early 1990s also spurred on the collapse of the real estate market in Los Angeles as commercial investors pulled out. Second, the collapse of the Nikkei was paralleled by the collapse of Japan’s housing market, as the International Herald Tribune reminds us. Neither stock market nor real estate prices go upward forever. 14 years after Japan’s housing market burst, it still hasn’t recovered. Obviously I need to do some more research into this condition though. An powerful country’s stock market and real estate market goes bust, and yet it keeps on going. 5 years ago our stock market went bust, but an artificial housing boom fueled by low interest rates and questionable lending practices helped the U. S. economy keep going. But what happens if that goes away? What then?
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Beyond Locative Media, II

Marc Tuters and I just finished our essay “Beyond Locative Media” and posted it to the Networked Publics site. It’s my first real product with the group””?apart from the site itself of course and it moves pretty far afield from regular territory for me (although in fairness, I did organize New Spaces, New Cartographers and AUDC‘s Site : Nonsite : Quartzsite received a bit of attention as a locative project). Marc is one of the experts in the field and his contribution as co-author was invaluable! It seems incredible to me, but the end of the article cried out that I draw on the conclusion of my dissertation. What I imagined as a Benjaminian fantasy of genealogical vision then actually seems plausible now.

After finishing a draft, I stayed up a bit later to post it to the web and, since so many of the footnotes were to web sites, i turned them into URLs, incorporating them into the text. This kind of hypertext heavy annotation isn’t easy””?or quick””?to produce, although the help of the desktop blogging tool Ecto cut hours of work and error off the time and Drupal was crucial as well (although the pretty footnotes just look like they work). But it’s funny that I’m drawn back to an aspect of my dissertation that I never thought I’d revisit since while I was writing that document, I also imagined that this kind of rich kind of hypertext would have been the perfect way to do it.

2006 seems like an excellent year to wrap up longstanding projects! More on what some of those might be later.

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Travel Time Maps

I recently ran into an interesting weblog, Computing for Emergent Architecture, “an experimental weblog by the staff, students and alumni of the MSc Virtual Environments / Adaptive Architecture & Computation at the Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, University College London.” It seems like while the US is still stuck in the “new forms, new materials” model of architectural design, the British are leaping ahead toward using programming to build adaptive, and emergent architecture. One recent post discusses a tube map planner they’ve programmed in which the temporal distance between stations is represented spatially. The result is a kind of real time homonculus map of the city. The “Travel Time Tube Map” itself can be found here.

At City of Sound, you can view a map of the Europe in which real distances seem shorter thanks to high speed trains. The map is from Barcelona: The Urban Evolution of a Compact City, by Joan Busquets, published by the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
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tweaking the site

After the large content posts of the last few days, I thought it wise to let readers catch up while I tweaked the look of the site a little. This is where Drupal comes in useful to me. All I needed to do was play with cascading style sheets a little and the site changed. I’ve tried the site in Firefox and Safari on Mac and Internet Explorer and Firefox on PC. Font rendering on the PC looks much less elegant, but on the whole the site should be fine on either machine. If you find the text too small, it is resizable so feel free to make it bigger. Those of you reading this site via RSS will not see any difference, but maybe it’s time to visit the actual site again?
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Owens River Valley Driving Guide

owens lakeAt long last, I have revised my Owens Valley Driving Guide for the drupal-ized varnelis.net site. Lots of new images abound. Many of these appear from time to time in the flikr stream on the left side of my home page.

Today we are accustomed to the idea that the city’s reach is all-pervasive. Telecommunications and high technology penetrate everywhere, agriculture is industrialized, and widespread tourism together with unceasing migration have undone traditional settlement patterns. The most remote corners – national parks, Antarctica, the Himalayas – exist not in opposition to the urban but rather remain their natural only through special dispensation from the city. Crisscrossed by infrastructural grids – water, power, scientific research, and tourism – deployed to serve the needs of urban life, nature is as thoroughly visited, studied, and reshaped as the urban.

This guide visits California’s Owens River Valley as a case study for understanding the reach of the city and the reshaping of nature. This forgotten land has made possible the massive growth of Los Angeles, even though it lies hundreds of miles away. In popular history, the Owens River Valley was an idyllic California Eden, a bountiful farming region under the eastern Sierras, until Los Angeles stole the flow of the river to fill its aqueduct. Passions over water still run high in the”ÀÜValley but as this guide demonstrates, water is only one of a series of infrastructures overlaying its terrain. Between the Sierras and the White Mountains water, power, and a myriad forms of tourism intersect with a sublime landscape, at once beautiful and toxic, natural and reshaped by man.

We have no record of the natural state for the Owens River Valley. Its indigenous peoples, the Paiutes, redirected river water into channels to irrigate their crops. After a bloody war, white settlers extended these systems, turning the more typical desert scrub of the Valley into heavily irrigated farmland. Had this state endured, the Owens River Valley likely would have turned into a landscape of industrialized agriculture similar to California’s present day Central Valley. The redirection of Owens River water to Los Angeles, the concurrent purchase of much of the land in the Valley by the city – L. A. is the largest landowner there – and the establishment of national park boundaries to protect the watershed all forced the territory toward an artificially enforced wildness.

Only some seven miles wide, the Valley is bounded by the 14,000 foot high east face of the Sierras on the west – among them Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower forty-eight states – and by the 14,000 foot high White Mountains on the other. The result is the deepest valley in the United States, indeed, one of the deepest on Earth. In this unique scenery are some of California’s best spots for hiking, fishing, skiing, and mountain climbing. Today tourism brings the people of the city to the Valley.

The guide is arranged from north to south, centered on the only road that unites the region, US highway 395. It covers the area from just below the Valley, through the Valley’s four towns, then up the volcanic tablelands to Mono Lake. We begin just south of the Owens River Valley, near the town of Pearsonville, 180 miles north of Los Angeles, at the Inyo County line.

This project, which took some five years to complete, is based on a driving guide I put originally together for my course at SCI-Arc, the Infrastructural City. A book, done in collaboration with the Center for Land Use Interpretation was published in 2004. You may download a pdf of this book or purchase it at their on-line shop.

The Owens River Valley Driving Guide is here. Technorati Tags: california, exurbia, owens river valley, tourism
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Nikon Cutting Back Production of Cameras

Today it’s time to reflect for a moment on the continuing, rapid, inroads that digital cameras are making against film in the field of architecture history. Nikon announced this week that it is discontinuing most of its 35mm camera models (leaving only the F6 and… I think, the F10). What do I say to this? The evolution of my photographic work really took place after I had my first digital camera. Many of my images were taken with a Pentax K1000, a classic camera, but a little limiting in its lack of automatic settings and my stock lens wasn’t that great. Later on, I moved to a nice little Olympus point and shoot that decent enough shots and then to a series of point and shoot digital cameras. After a visit to Lithuania with my old family friend John Vinci, who had given up his Hasselblad for a Contax G2, however, I saw the light. This fantastic camera is just a little bigger than a point and shoot, but has interchangeable Zeiss optics that are able to take advantage of the rangefinder’s lack of mirror to produce sharper images than any 35mm SLR lens I’ve seen. The image at the start of this article is taken with the G2. The editors at first didn’t believe that a 35mm image could be good enough for a full-fleed magazine page, but after seeing what the G2 could do, they were fine with it.

That got me addicted to quality camera gear and I’ve set up a decent Canon EOS kit based around a digital 20D and a bunch of their L glass. With a “prosumer” Nikon film scanner, I am able to pull out some pretty big images from the G2, bigger than the 20D, however, because the grain bleeds across the pixels, the scans look less sharp blown up than the digital photos do. More important is the question of the lens. Even though L glass may be big, expensive and nice looking, it doesn’t compare to the lenses I have on the G2 (then again, to be fair, I am using zooms on the SLR and fixed lenses on the G2) in terms of what it can produce. I recently put together a show for AUDC and found that the images I chose were nearly all from the G2. The product just looks better. And of course the G2 is much smaller, easy to hide. Unfortunately, Contax was very poorly managed and discontinued its G2 and couldn’t see fit to follow up with a digital rangefinder (I’ll admit that I suspect the latter is harder to do than it might seem, although of all companies, Epson has tried). eIt certainly doesn’t say “watch out, photographer!” We’re about to take a photo trip next week, back to Quartzsite, Arizona, and it’ll be interesting to see what platform dominates that trip. On the other hand, I love the latitude of shooting in RAW format.

Last year, Kodak announced that it was discontinuing the slide projector. More importantly, digital projectors have moved up from VGA into XGA and beyond. This makes it possible for me to project at comparable levels to 35mm. I find that most university 35mm projectors are poorly maintained (I begged and begged SCI-Arc for functioning focussing remotes, a $30 part and they never did get them for me during my 8 years of teaching there) and the lenses aren’t usually in good shape. Digital projectors are generally newer and their expensive bulbs mean that the projector is tossed every year or two. Moreover, the brightness seems to captivate people, since they are, as Morris Lapidus once said, like moths, drawn to the light. And of course, if I can put all of my 15,000 slides into 30 or 40gb, it would be fantastic to carry around all of my images with me. So a big project this year is to digitize my slide collection. Every morning before going to work, when I return, and prior to going to bed, I load up my Nikon Coolscan slide projector. The quality is decent enough and I’m noticing the film base turning on some images, particularly the odd Kodakchrome, so I don’t want to wait, even if resolution might creep up in the next year.

On the other hand, the switch to digital means it will be much harder to use Wölfflin’s comparative method of two slides, side by side. And of course, there’s the thorny question of assigning metadata to all this! Lev tells me he hopes to have a metadata holiday one day, just go to an island and start assigning it. Maybe a good move! Technorati Tags: architecture, art, network culture, photography, slide projectors

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