will the creative class be the new blue collar class?

I have been reading Nicholas Carr’s The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google this week and I am going to put up a post with my reaction sometime relatively soon. But suffice it to say that it should be mandatory reading list for everyone with a passing investment in where network culture is heading. At the Guardian the other day, Carr expanded on his argument by proposing that one consequence of the move toward utility computing would be a decline in white collar jobs. See here.

Carr’s observations dovetail with the Writer’s Strike… Hollywood is one of the few places in the country that still has a powerful and—on the ground at least—popular union system. I wish the union well, of course, but after reading Carr’s article I can’t help but think that this is a nasty byproduct of network culture. Maybe the studios—themselves big media dinosaurs—think that the only way they can come to terms with the changing conditions in the industry is to dig in their heels? Is this Detroit or Pittsburgh in the early 1980s? 


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Whenever I walk from to Sunrise Mart for lunch, I make it a point to avoid the construction site on Spring and Varick.

After all, anything by Donald Trump and Bovis Lend Lease can’t be good. In terms of quality or safety, New York’s construction is little better than Los Angeles’s, even if the buildings appear to be made of real materials such as steel instead of wood.

So, it is that a scant three days after I told my friend Mimi that we were not, under any circumstances, walking under the scaffolding at that site she sends me this item: Worker is Killed in Accident at Trump Soho Tower. Another outrage from the man who put "You’re Fired!" on national television. Of course the global élite that will inhabit this structure one day will be to uninformed to notice, but just think of the quality of construction in the building. Nice place to live.  


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Starbucks, then and now

Starbucks has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons, a victim of corporate-think and the problems of scale, although there has been hope in the return of Howard Schultz, the founder and former CEO.

In New York, at least, the Starbucks are dirty, nasty, and cramped. I can’t imagine spending any time in them (although I confess that I do like the older one in Penn Station because it is so unlike the rest of the terminal). But let’s face it, not only is the experience so-so, but the coffee is horrible. So I run into Dunkin Donuts or Au Bon Pain, either of which actually knows how to make a better brew and run, either back on the street or back to the studio or studio-x. Granted, Starbucks breakfast sandwiches (especially the peppered bacon one) and donuts are fantastic.

Still, the fall of Starbucks demonstrates two things to me. First, they didn’t get Wi-Fi. This had the ability to lure people in, but nobody wants to pay for something they already pay for at home or get for free elsewhere. Second, they got lazy about the Starbucks experience. People wanted a generic non-place that they could use as a base or resting-point while out and about. See what Anne Friedberg and I wrote about here. Dirty, nasty, and cramped doesn’t make it.  

I’ve spent some time this month going over the site and fixing various dead links and so on, things that haven’t worked since the move to Dreamhost last year. In doing so, I ran across the 243-page Starbucks project that a group of my students did years ago. If the condition has changed for Starbucks, the Starbucks books is still a model of research in the studio.

See here.   



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spring appearances

I have a preliminary roster of appearances for the spring together. Many thanks to everyone who invited me!

Usually there will be a handful of last minute engagements as well that I’ll let you know about via the blog. 

Digital Life Design 21 January

[my panel, Future city, includes Patrik Schumacher, Charles Renfro, Elizabeth Diller, Bjarke Ingels, Richard Wurman]

Clemson University 1 February

Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design 6 March 

book launch for the Infrastructural City. Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles

University of Limerick sometime in March

University of Houston 10 April


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2008: the year that blogs stop looking like blogs?

Looks like I wasn’t the only one to rethink the way their site looks: Régine Debatty’s wonderful We Make Money Not Art had a radical redesign yesterday. As with my redesign, the goal seems to be to have non-RSS visitors have a cleaner experience, eliminating the endless blog-scroll-of-death.   

In Régine’s case, she’s kept an overview page with multiple stories but reduced the "teasers" on these to little more than images (how will she deal with entries that have no images, I wonder?) while the entries sit by themselves, much as my entries do. Its nice to see a continuity with the existing site and the search bar as title bar is fabulous. I’m surprised to see that such a radical redesign is possible within Movable Type, kudos to Régine and her designer.  

Then there’s Brett Steele’s redesign of his site. Brett’s abandoned his old resarch.net site and now has brettsteele.net an interesting WordPress-driven site that he hopes reminds us of the New Yorker and the Economist. Brett’s design freely mixes his blog with announcements about his appearances, what he’s reading, the classes he’s teaching and so on.    

Over at aggregät 4/5/6, Enrique is experimenting with different platforms as well.

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Unreal Architecture

I wasn’t expecting that my first entry into the new radical architecture series would be produced by a large firm known for constructed the Radio Shack campus or the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

But as I read Monday’s email from ArchNewsNow, that turned out to be precisely the case. Last year, my colleague at NYU, Alex Galloway predicted that architecture would soon adapt rendering engines from video games. This has happened much sooner than I expected as HKS has adopted the Unreal Engine to produce interactive visualizations as Business Week recounts in this story on Unreal Architecture.

And it’s about time. If Mayatecture’s days were numbered before, it is doomed now. But punning aside, the devices that architecture uses for projection are constituent for its production. So if video games have replaced cinema and television as the dominant mass cultural form, then architects should respond appropriately. 

The transformation promises to be immense. Take the means that we experience projects in the studio. For the most part, rendering engines based on cinema have produced static images or animations that offered no interactivity. If such technology takes hold the ubiquitous powerpoint or plotter image as well as the long zoom and pan on the object floating mysteriously in a field of black will be history, as well the row of critics staring obediently with their mouths agape.

Instead critics and audience alike will be riveted to their laptops, running through projects to understand them. Narrative and procession will become important again. Surfaces will cease to be interesting, except for the effects they produce as you pass them at a high rate of speed. Perhaps we’ll see the critics shooting at each other with rail guns? Take that, you gratuitous formalist! 

More at the Archengine site. 


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new radical architecture

For the immediately foreseeable future (a way of saying, I’d like to imagine this would last a year, but I’m expecting I will be done with it sooner), I’m setting out a series of projects by architects that embody a radical spirit in architecture at a rate of about one a week.

Two friends (whose work will appear here in that series) recently recounted how Jeff Kipnis told them that the rising generation of architects needed a critic to theorize their position and suggested that perhaps I should take on that role. My response was, well, yes, I would like to, but the amount of time I’ve committed to my own projects makes it unlikely that I’d be able to do that. But they did have a point and just maybe, through this project I can help nudge criticism in a better direction. Surely a decade from now we can’t possibly be talking about cool form, right? 

So this research project is not only for me, but for a broader constituency of architects as well as for the readers of this blog who are not in the field. By all means please make suggestions. Your help in finding projects I may have missed or not looked at carefully enough is critical for me. At the scale of the blog rather than at the scale of a museum exihibit (which is more influential today anyway?), I’m intending this to be something like the collection that Amelio Ambasz put together in his Italy: A New Domestic Landscape, a book that should be in every designer’s library.

In the broadest terms, my invocation of radical architecture refers to the neo-avant-garde work of the late 1960s and early 1970s that sought to reconfigure the individual’s relationship with the world. Often this work, by groups like Archizoom, Superstudio, Utopie, or UFO employed technology but was critical of its use in the existing order. New radical architecture, then, refers to contemporary work that embodies that quality. 

Of course there are differences too. A key difference is that the work of the previous era was concerned with a critique of industrial culture and advocated, above all else, the process of individual liberation. See for example, this statement that curators Francisco Jarauta, Jean Louis Maubant and Frederic Migayrou put together for the CAAM’s show Arquitectura Radical. 

Andrea Branzi, a member of Archizoom Associati first defined it thus – "Radical architecture is part of a bigger movement that liberates mankind from the trends of modern culture. This is an individual liberation that is understood to be a rejection of all formal and moral parameters that act as inhibiting structures making it difficult to fulfil oneself as an individual. In this sense, the term "Radical architecture" refers more to a "cultural place", an energetic tendency than to a unitary movement.

But today that historical struggle of the liberation of the individual is over (notice I say that, not the), revealed as a process inherent in the deveolpment of flexible consumption out of mass society. In network culture, the myth of the individual is itself something we must struggle to overcome.

So what is today’s radical architecture? My sense is that Iain Borden gets at the heart of the matter in this statement in the book Urban Futures when he explains that radical architecture is "not simply the novel, but is to do with something more substantive and transformative…"

I’ll be posting projects to the blog, but for reference they will also be available in one spot at http://varnelis.net/topics/new_radical_architecture. An RSS feed for the topic can be found at http://varnelis.net/topics/new_radical_architecture/feed 

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how to misuse technology / fall of a giant

I noted two interesting stories about technology gone awry in the last week.

The first is about the misuse of GPS technology in Europe. Looking for shortcuts, truck drivers use GPS devices with maps that don’t adequately show just how small streets in older towns really are. The results are dangerous conditions and traffic jams as giant trucks wander into historic villages. See here.

The second explores the consequences of mobile phone use in automobiles and how a study now prove it makes traffic worse, which of course creates a feedback loop. See here.

Derek Lindner points out that Levitt & Sons is bankrupt. See here and the IHT.

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