What Kind of Society is it When You Can’t Even Buy a Chair?

“What kind of society is it when you can’t even buy a chair?” asks Donald Judd in “It’s Hard to Find a Good Lamp” at Icon Magazine. While the Icon bills this as “Donald Judd gets grumpy about furniture from beyond the grave” (hence this as the second grumpy post of the day), it’s really not fair to call this grumpy. Judd has a point.

A pathetic idea of expression debilitates virtually every aspect of our lives. Why can’t designers, especially second-rate designers (which is most of them) simply leave well enough alone? Once I have an option of a decent chair for not much money, then I can go for a nutty chair.

There’s this strange idea out there that we have to meddle with everything. Stop! Enough already. Take the Mac OS. What is it with those stupid three buttons at the top left corner? Why are they rounded? Why are they even there? Two of the three are unecessary. The close button is obvious enough, but the minimize button is annoying to use (much more annoying that windows, which makes it relatively clear which window you have minimized and which doesn’t consume 1/2 as much screen real estate with its relatively sensible bottom bar as the Mac’s ludicrous dock does) and the maximize button is, well, just a mystery. Because of their broken functionality, I barely ever use them. Moreover, why are they round? Why are tho top corners of my windows round when the bottom ones are square? Why this infantile attempt at design? Seriously though, it looks comical. If I’ve compared the Mac OS unfavorably to Windows, rest assured, Windows looks lo awful it’s hard to know where to begin (ok, I know where to begin…with those insane bubbles that unceasingly chat with you at the bottom right of the screen.).

Does anyone seriously think that such feeble attempts at empathy actually engage the user somehow? Or is this somehow a dark leftover of post-Fordism?

If you haven’t read Donald Judd’s writing before, do so now. His punchy, telegraphic style is unique, a delight to read.

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Architecture and Situated Technologies Symposium

From Thursday to Saturday, 19-21 October, 2006, I will be taking part in the Architecture and Situated Technologies symposium @ The Urban Center and Eyebeam, NYC.

Here is the description from the organizers of this promising event:

Since the late 1980s, computer scientists and engineers have been researching ways of embedding computational intelligence into the built environment. Researchers at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) began to look beyond the model of personal computing, which placed the computer in the foreground of our attention, to one of “ubiquitous” computing that takes into account the contingencies of human environments and allows computers themselves to vanish into the background. Recently, the UN released a report produced by the International Telecommunications Union predicting an “Internet of Things”, where the “users” of the Internet will be counted in billions and where humans may become the minority as generators and receivers of information. As GPS modules, RFID tags, sensors, and actuators are becoming available in ever smaller packages, everyday objects and spaces are being networked with computational intelligence. Current research has focused on how situational parameters inform the design of these technologies. Incorporating an awareness of cultural context, accrued social meanings, and the temporality of spatial experience, situated technologies privilege the local, context- specific and spatially contingent dimension of their use.

This symposium, organized around the notion of an "encounter," will attempt to articulate new research vectors, sites of practice, and working methods for the confluence of architecture and situated technologies. What opportunities and dilemmas does a world of networked objects and spaces pose for architecture, media art, and computing? What post-optimal design strategies and tactics might we propose for an age of responsive environments, smart materials, embodied interaction, and participatory networks? How might this evolving relation between people and "things" alter the way we occupy, navigate, and inhabit the built environment? What is the status of the material object in a world privileging networked relations between "things"? What distinguishes the emerging urban sociality enabled by wireless communication technologies? How do certain social uses of these technologies, including (non-) affective giving, destabilize rationalized "use-case scenarios" designed around the generic consumer? How do distinctions between space and place change within these networked media ecologies?

Through a combination of workshops, presentations, and panel discussions, the symposium will attempt to stage a set of encounters between invited participants, an audience encouraged to participate, and the City of New York.

Organised by: Omar Khan, Trebor Scholz, and Mark Shepard

Participants include Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Richard Coyne, Karmen Franinovic, Michael Fox, Anne Galloway, Charlie Gere, Usman Haque, Peter Hasdell, Natalie Jeremijenko, Sheila Kennedy, Eric Paulos, Mette Ramsgard Thomsen and Kazys Varnelis.

Co-Produced by: The Center for Virtual Architecture, The Institute for Distributed Creativity, and the Architectural League of New York

Reservations/advance ticket purchase are required.

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Networked Publics Book Draft On-Line

As a culmination to the Networked Publics program, the faculty research group that I have been working at for the last year, we will be publishing a collaboratively written group book with the MIT Press. Three of drafts of our essays are finished (on place, culture, and politics) and available online at the Networked Publics site.

Throughout the Networked Publics program, we have tried to employ collaborative scholarship whereever possible and effective. Readers, colleagues, and friends are invited to to contribute by posting comments at the end of each essay (note that easier to read versions of the essays can be also be downloaded from the appropriate pages). Our hope is to take the comments that we receive and append them to the essay in a virtual symposium to follow each chapter.

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Architecture Machine Lab Videos

The Institute for the Future of the Book has put up a web page containing videos from the Architecture Machine Group, which later evolved into the MIT Media Lab. Two things immediately fascinate me about this project. First, as Institute for the Future of the Book Director Bob Stein has pointed out, much of this material is still visionary and like the work of Kit Galloway and Sherri Rabinowitz, still hasn’t been made real. Second, what fascinates me is that this project, which is so foundational to our notions of the user interface begins in the discipline of architecture and is fundamentally spatial in character.
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Programming Cities

Social Fiction presents a provocatively-titled workshop: Programming Cities. From the description: “Programming for Cities” is a workshop that reinforces a long existing link between code and architecture.

“Many fine buildings can be reduced to a few lines of code, and a quick glance backward in time shows that is a consequence of architectural theory.

This workshop will start with a short but broad overview of this longstanding connection between programming and architecture. After this the basic elements (about 6 of them) of programming will be discussed. The main part of the workshop will be consisting of a hand-on approach to design a city from code.”

This sounds like a fascinating project… If only there were more!

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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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