“All’s well that ends.” That was Robert Sumrell‘s tag line all year long. For me, its been a good year, although not without its share of frustration. But I’m adept at triumph over adversity, so I got most everything I set out to do completed, even if at times the effort required was superhuman.
The Infrastructural City, Networked Publics, and the Philip Johnson Tapes are out, although at times I wondered the first of those would ever see the light of day. My plan to have the books published a semester apart was undone by forces beyond my control. Promoting the books is going to be a lot more difficult now and that annoys me to no end. Next time I’m going to have to be a lot more strict in terms of the contracts I sign with publishers in terms of delivery and who I work with as my designer. On a positive note, Michael Bierut and Yve Ludwig were phenomenal as the designers of the Philip Johnson Tapes as was my student from days gone by Israel Kandarian, who came up with the cover concept for the Networked Publics book. Susan Surface gets a special mention for saving the summer for me as the graphic designer for the Netlab.
The highlight of my year was that Robert moved to the city, giving us an opportunity to teach the fall Netlab studio “This Will Kill That” together and to bring new life to AUDC. Early signs of what we’ll be up to can be found in Perspecta 41. I was thrilled that our studio did fantastic work. With another year drawing to a close, I’m glad that once again, I’m at Columbia.
I was also delighted to teach a course in the fall semester at MIT. My students were excellent and I learned so much from them. Going to Cambridge every Tuesday was a real treat: great friends at a great school.
When it comes to this site, January 1st brought a new look, still in Drupal but based on Daniel Eatock and Jeffrey Vaska‘s Indexhibit software. I was, perhaps, wrong that 2008 was the year that blogs stopped looking like blogs although it was a year in which Wired’s Paul Boutin suggested that Facebook and Twitter had stolen blogs’ thunder.
Those of you on Facebook know that it certainly captured my attention—as it did for so many people (AG, you’re the only exception left among my friends, I think!) and although Twitter didn’t really engage me, I’m going to try to make more of an effort to understand that scene in 2009. Twitter is still very much for the geeks, but these days the geeks are often ahead of the game. After all, if the best thing about Facebook is the status updates, maybe that’s enough right there?
My planned series on new radical architecture took a back seat thanks to the three books, and the planned book on Network Culture got delayed too but I soldiered on.
I read a number of great books in 2008, including Nicholas Carr’s The Big Switch: Rewiring the World From Edison to Google, Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Sanford Kwinter’s Far From Equilibrium: Essays on Technology and Design Culture, Felicity Scott’s Architecture or Techno-Utopia: Politics After Modernism, Kevin Phillips’s Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism as well as Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. I had hoped to post reviews of some of these, but I was never able to pull it off. It’s a real shame. Read them. I did manage a review of Far From Equilibrium for Cite. Print that pays by the word still captivates. I was also fascinated by Warren Neidich’s work on neuroaesthetics and hope to engage with that topic more in the future.
While at the DLD conference in January, I saw the amazing Anish Kapoor show at the Haus der Kunst. In the right venue, he’s one of our best artists.
As my long-standing prediction that the real estate market would implode became reality and—preposterously late—even the New York Times finally admitted it, I turned my critique against all pundits that think the suburbs are the source of all evil. I pointed out that cities are going to be hit hard but that this may be for the better…they have long ago become urban playgrounds for the well-off, instead of places of diversity like they once were.
2008 was also the year that objects became suspect. Designer Philippe Starck retired, concluding “I was a producer of materiality and I am ashamed of this fact.” “Everything I designed was unnecessary. … design is a dreadful form of expression.” As we drown in cheap doo-dads made in China, it’s hard to disagree.
Instead, I proposed that we have all the technology we need for quite some time. iPhone version 2.0 took locative media out of the proximate future and into the everyday. Now what do we do with it? The key is going to be to figure out how to make this stuff really sing—without letting it become an excuse for the coils of the late capitalist serpent to tighten further around us. In particular, I warned about the dangers of surveillance society and echoed Nicholas Carr’s concerns about the centralization of everything. For architects, I wrote an article about the Architecture of Hertzian Space in A+U. For cartographers and users of maps, I wrote Design in the Age of Intelligent Maps for Adobe Think Tank. I also began sketching out a history of the present with my essay Simultaneous Environments. Social Connection and New Media at Vodafone Receiver.
As a Ph.D. carrying historian, I wrote a manifesto about how historians need to go beyond the microscopic and inconsequential, to think big, make mistakes and risk everything while Enrique Ramirez and I looked back to twenty years ago and how the postmodern music of its day reshaped our perception of the city. Sonic Youth was—and is—so more important, than the cheap condos of the day.
Finally, in what was unquestionably the most controversial post this blog has ever seen, I asked if there was much significant new architecture built in this decade. If I came to that question thinking I knew the answer, I was secretly hoping to be dissuaded. Sadly, I wasn’t.
Has 2008 shown us that the owl of minerva has flown on the sort of architecture that defined the last two decades? Has the legacy of the Deconstructivist architecture show finally been put to rest as architecture has been unloaded of meaning and value? Do we have the energy and the courage to realize this and figure out what’s next?
On a personal note, I said goodbye to my cat Daisy forever. My constant, funny companion was by my side or on my lap for the majority of my blog posts and all of my books as well. My friend long before I started this blog, life without her is much poorer.
Here’s to 2008: all’s well that ends. As we lay it to rest, I hope that the next year is a real improvement.