17 Things About Brutalism
Thursday, July 30, 2015
17 Things About Brutalism
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
From the inception of American architectural education, our discipline has always been an unstable hybrid. William Ware, the founder of MIT's program, observed in 1866, after studying architectural education in Europe, that: "the French courses of study are mainly artistic, and the German scientific, and the English practical." His program, one of the first in the nation, would represent an attempt at synthesis.
Saturday, January 31, 2015
The globalizing sureness with which "there is no metalanguage" and "everything is a metaphor" are spoken in postmodernism means that postmodernism is nothing like what it takes itself to be, and is indeed just another version of the (white, Western, male) historical project. The ultimate goal of this project, it seems, was to set up a weird transit lounge outside of history in which the characters and technologies and ideas of the ages mill around in a state of mild, semiblissful confusion.
For now the possibility that we have loosed the shackles of the earthly to touch the face of the "human form divine" (Blake) seems like a wish fulfillment. According to hyperobjects, themselves, who seem to act a little like bit like the gigantic boot at the end of the Monty Python credits, outer space is a figment of our imagination: we are always inside an object.
Just as a hard drive is a surface on which data is inscribed, so London is a series of surfces on which causality has been inscribed. There is no difference between causality and aesthetic appearance (aisthesis). - Appearance is the past, essence is the future. The strange strangeness of a hyperobject, its invisibility - it's the future, somehow beamed into the "present". The futurality is meant by the term attractor, as in the Lorenz Attractor, as entity occupying a high-dimensional phase space that traces weather patterns.
Ideology is not just in your head, it's in the shape of a Coke bottle. It's in the way some things appear "natural" - rolling hills and greenery - as if the Industrial Revolution had never occurred, and moreover, as if agriculture was Nature. The "landscape" look of agriculture is the original "greenwashing".
This confusion of sensual and real, in the terms of A House is a House for Me, is like thinking that bread really is a house for jam, and jam alone. Rather than simply an idea that occurs to me, and perhaps to the jam, when it finds itself slathered in there. Marmalade wants in on the bread? Too bad, marmalade is an artificial, unnatural parasite! Peanut butter? Illegal alien! Only jam is "natural", such that bread is only made-for-jam. See the problem with Nature? In OOO-ese, reification is precisely the reduction of a real object to its sensual appearance-for another object. Reification is the reduction of one entity to another's fantasy about it.
… what I call the strange stranger, the stranger whose strangeness is forever strange - it cannot be tamed or rationalized away. This stranger is not so unfamiliar: uncanny familiarity is one of the strange stranger's traits. Only consider anyone who has a long term partner: the person they wake up with every day is the strangest person they know.
Wednesday, July 09, 2014
|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|
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|
|Salyut 1, 1971|
The Salyut series evolved into the Mir station, which lasted for 16 years until it was de-orbited in 2001.
|Mir, circa 1995|
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|
|Skylab, ca 1975|
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|
|One of several design proposals for Space Station Freedom, ca 1986|
|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|
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|
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|
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|
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|
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
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
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
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
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.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
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
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.
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.
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."
Neil's walk will be held a few more times throughout the end of the summer. There's one tomorrow.
Monday, August 02, 2010
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”
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.
“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
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
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!":
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.
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.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
"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."
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