Sunday, December 10, 2006

Diagramming Sensation

How do you diagram a sensation?

It can be done via expression through alternative sensations.

By way of articulation in other media than the one of focus.

It can be done with music, with a collage, with a photograph, with a sketch.

I have seen numerous times when architects, in an attempt to say what their project is going to express -- feel like -- they will present their initial ideas with a board or two of photographs of the site (selecting images that focus on the elements they find relevant and important) and photographs of other sites (that either contain elements they would like to bring to the site, or elements that express a rendering and combination of site elements forging a desired sensation).

It can be done with models, diagrams, paintings, sculpture, words, events...

It could be done with a video, from an Eisenstein "montage" or narrative sequence. (I cite my course "City within a City" as a beginning departure into this... suggesting that architectural principles can be related to cinematic sensation-making.)

It can be done with a poem or with verbose, descriptive musings... as a touch to conflagrate meaning.

Using analogy, metaphor, fable or fiction, prediction or curse. To the highlight of one or many.

It can be done with a sign, such as historical referencing to something else we recognize. It may be integrated into any of the above media or exist as its own media ornament affixed to the media of focus.

All of these may produce their effect directly through an intensity in exposure quick and fast, or subtly through suggestion... leaving unanswered questions later raised by the affected subject.

One may use personal experience as motivation. One may use heresay. Or well-known verse, or historical and contemporary news items.

A method of attack: isolation | contextualization. A yin-yang of sorts?

Isolation: reduction, subtractive, selective, elimination of all other sensations, detailing of focus and pushing others out of focus, Not unlike watching a little girl walk her dog across the street. Portraiture, Crisp. Piece.

Contextualization: extension, additive, indiscriminating, integrative, hybrid merge across sensations. Not unlike comprehending the events of day while lying in bed. Collage. Blur. Pieces.

and to what... to sell a message worth feeling. Clarity of a complex idea.

Like observing an amazing painting, we look for ever and desire nothing less than to keep looking and returning to look. The artist has run threads of conductive material spun from the fibers of the painting and crossing into the observers body like strings of a harp -- taut and capable of carrying the vibrations. And as we look, the vibrations cross from that painting to our skin and into us. The clarity of transfer is firm and stable and we know we have recieved the message... only thing is that we may not immediately understand the message. The vibrations sent across the wires cary a tune vibrating our frequency and making us move. And only maybe, until later, we will make sense of the message -- or maybe even right then and there. The body moves in response quicker than we know to tell it to do so. As is producing a replication of sensation, the transfer of spirit, essense.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

gazprom/otion city

Mega-architecture with thumping statements vibrating like the presence of a triumphal-arch.

Gazprom City, a new business complex likely to be built in Saint Petersberg, Russia. It has much local opposition (including the local architects' union and the director of the Hermitage Museum). Some say its innappropriate. Some say it will even ruin the skyline. But Gazprom, the state energy company, has connections and support from up top.

A very interesting case of development, and a very interesting case of opposition.

The New York Times reports on it here: "Russian Window on the West Reaches for the Sky"

See more images here on the Gazprom website:

Personally, I really like Jean Nouvell's design. Makes me think of a climbing tower of babel mixed with Russion constructivism (hence reminiscent of the Tatlin Tower), and an air of transparency and elemental exposure relevant to the developing cultural narratives and themes of our time.

Monday, November 27, 2006

how to build an African middle-class

Sometimes it can be hard to appreciate knowledge one has already gained. If we look back at ourselves and our experiences, over time we find that whom we've become is inextricably linked to those experiences, those thoughts in our minds, those activities we've been engaged with, those people we have met, and those landscapes we have been part of.

If you have a college degree, like myself, let's try a little experiment. Try imagining what you'd be like if you hadn't gone to college. Would you be where you are today? I'm not simply asking if you would have had the same amount of opportunities presented (although that is also very relevant), but rather asking if you think that, as a thinking human being, you would be thinking and contemplating things the same way... would you?

I do not think I would be the same. It is comforting to say, "yeah, I could think (think as a verb) myself to where I am now", but consider all those classes you took, those projects and papers, and of course we can't forget those experiences where we become ever more aware of ourselves and of the world. Education has given me access to new ideas, to new views, to an appreciation of the diversity and complexity of views... and to the ability to question, revise, and rethink my own views and the views of others.

Education is power. Education is power to change, mature, evolve, take action, make new connections, and advance the mind into new realms of thought. Education comes in many different forms and is all around us in the world. One educates themselves, or allows others to educate. One can be educated consciously, subconsciously, spiritually, and physically. School, as a paradigm, does not necessarily equate education; but as an institution, it renders an environment where the formation of knowledge advancement through formalized education is paramount. But in all cases of education, it takes an investment from the student and the teacher, whomever they may be. And in most cases, formalized education costs money.

It is with all this said, that I am really impressed and awed by Martin Fisher, social entrepreneur, who produces the "Super-MoneyMaker" (a "one-person, leg-powered irrigation pump") and founded the non-profit ApproTEC. I read about Fisher today via a link on Chris Coldewey's blog to an SF Chronicle article written in 2002.
"The pump and other mechanical devices designed by Fisher have made 26,000
desperately poor Africans rich entrepreneurs, by the standards of their
homeland. Farmers whose annual income was less than $120 have increased it to an
average of $1,400. It has opened up their lives the way it would alter that of
an American who started making $110,000 a year instead of $10,000."
It is not simply the advent of the pump that is so amazing -- as one will find by reading the San Francisco Chronicle article about Fisher and ApproTEC -- but its application and where it has been applied.

Fisher has been interested in creating an African middle-class, and his work is a key. First employed in Kenya, the pump is a virtual money-generator and is bringing people out of poverty, and giving them the ability to shape their futures and afford education for their children. This is amazing -- a true investment and gift in the future of people.
"With Kenyan Solomon Mwangi, who is now their operations director, Fisher
and Moon worked on their new low-tech devices: a building-block machine that
uses soil and a bit of cement; a sunflower oilseed press badly needed in a
country that imports 80 percent of its cooking oil. But 90 percent of their
business comes from the micro-irrigation pumps based on a design by IDE, a
Denver nonprofit. IDE has used an approach similar to ApproTEC's to sell 1.3
million pumps in Bangladesh. Fisher redesigned the pumps to be portable for
storing inside at night (Kenyan farmers worry about thieves), to spray water
(Kenyan farmers -don't use ditch irrigation) and to have a shorter treadle
stroke (most Kenyan farmers are women who wear long garments and -don't want to
appear to dance provocatively on the machines).

"But anyone who focuses only on ApproTEC's gee-whiz low-tech machines
will miss the main reason for the nonprofit's startling success: Fisher and Moon
ask poor Africans what they want and need. They analyze the limitations under
which 90 percent of Kenyans live, in extreme poverty in areas with poor roads,
little transportation, no electricity and no telecommunication. They fashion
devices that are inexpensive to produce, buy and move around. They work with
factories to mass-produce high-quality devices. They use mass marketing and
distribution methods more characteristic of business than traditional foreign
aid. Then they closely monitor the results.

"And the system works. Today, ApproTEC has 65 permanent and 60
part-time staff, five offices in Kenya and Tanzania and a $2 million annual
budget. Janet Ondiak, Jane Mathendu and 20,000 others can hardly believe they're
living their dreams.

"When Ondiak's husband died, she barely kept her family alive on the
food she managed to grow on 1/8th acre of land. She owned 2 acres, but even with
all six children lugging buckets of water, they were able to irrigate no more
than a small area.

"One afternoon, she saw a demonstration of the Super-MoneyMaker
irrigation pump in her local village. She worked for six months to scrape
together $75 and bought the pump. Today, she has three full-time workers who
irrigate her entire 2 acres. Last year, she made $2,500 in profit from selling
vegetables grown on her land. She recently opened a small shop from which to
sell her food. She can now pay for all six children to attend school."
Read the full article: "Martin Makes a Middle Class: Stanford grad Martin Fisher has gone low-tech in search of solutions for Kenyan farmers". San Francisco Chonicle, 2002.

"walking in the city", images, wayfinding, and perception

Geoff Manaugh at Worldchanging writes an article "Walking the in the City" about Shanghai revising a vast amount of its street names and signs, and an architecture exhibition in London recommending the city standardize its sign-system to help people get walking.

I've been interested in wayfinding for a long time. I highly recommend the book "Wayfinding in Architecture" by Romedi Passini. I also highly recommend Kevin Lynch's "The Image of the City" in regard to thinking about how people compose cognitive maps of cities through experience.

I agree that mystery in a city is beautiful. There is nothing I love more than to be dropped in a new city by way of train or bus and then to find my way and whereabouts. And even if one has a map, the process of aligning the physical and real landscape with the coordinates and presumed organization of the map is an exciting experience.

Organizing a wayfinding system as a means to get people out into the streets is a good idea, with a kind and conscious social motive.

The discussion of wayfinding should expand to include new media mapping technologies, such as Google Maps and Google Earth, both of which, through use, augment the process by which we psychologically perceive the world.

Has anyone explored a city by way of Google Maps and Google Earth and then attempted to explore the same city in the real by way of 'memory'? It is a fascinating experience. I did it this past August with San Jose, California, a city I've always been geographically close to but quite far away from in my knowledge of its composition. I must admit, I was afraid at first that my exposure to mapping software might have corrupted my ability to wander into the unknown... but I was wrong, it simply added another layer to the experience... instead, I was confronted with assumptions based on an aerial and plan-aligned view. An interesting part of the experience was then how my mind -- with a rendering of the city from an aerial photograph -- imagined what it would be like to zoom-out from where I was standing in the urban fabric and see the city from above. Eventually, though, I find myself wandering 'off-map' and into areas not drawn to by visual cues in the aerial photography.

It is also fascinating to revisit locales discovered in the real world in mapping software. I was in the little village of Vytina in Greece a little over a year ago and hadn't known the place existed until my visit. A wonderous experience it is to then find the location in Google Earth, become lost beyond the known landmark, and then lost a-wandering into the periphery of one's memory.

A similar affect occurs when reading a city first through photographic images, artworks, and literature depicting particular views. One is exposed to an image of a place and is then placed in a position to position oneself within the image when experiencing the site in reality.

After having studied in Firenze, Italia last fall, and then returning home, my memories of my apartment and the streets of Firenze are very real in my mind. I can literally navigate and explore my kitchen via thoughts. But I have noticed an interesting situation when I situate my mind in the space: when passing my eyes across the counter top, the table, the floor, the ceiling, the cabinets, opening the refrigerator and seeing my cheese, and then turning to look out the window, at the moment of looking right out of the window, the experiential memory snaps to a photograph I had taken of the view out of the window. From the fluid and exploratory memory space to the rigid and flat image-rendered space. It is as if I am in a 3D environment and a life-size 2D image -- immersive in its own right -- has been stuck right before me, stitched to the ethers of air holding it in place.

It will be quite fascinating then to watch Photosynth develop as a tool for seeing the world. Photosynth compiles batches of digital photography (they could be collated from a site like Flickr) and then organizes them into a 3D environment where the exact coordinates of objects in each image are aligned with the coordinates of the environment; thus allowing one to explore a 3D world composed of 2D images! One also has the option to turn on identifiers which show exactly where within the space each photo was taken. Developed by Microsoft Live Labs and the University of Washington, Photosynth aspires to blend the real and virtual to a point of tangible convergence.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

EastSouthWestNorth reporting on Friedman's China visit

EastSouthWestNorth blogs a partial translation of an article about Thomas Friedman's visit to China from the Chinese-language "Observe East Weekly Magazine". Apparently Friedman was received with mixed results. The author also comments on Friedman's ability to simplify very complex topics to the point of obscuring the real core of the issue.

Excerpts from the translation:
"While Friedman's trip to market his book has raised his name recognition in the Chinese-language world, he was criticized by many commentators. China Daily writer Raymond Zhou thought that the book was repetitious because a single idea was being repeated a dozen times over two or three pages, and that Friedman's understanding about China was inaccurate...

"Friedman is a focused person. While chatting with him in the car, all the themes were driven by him -- he is not a reporter filled with curiosity. He seemed only to want the answer to the question, or even the answer that fits his globalization theory version 3.0. I have no right to speak about India, but if the Chinese were to read carefully the section about China in "The World is Flat," they would think that Friedman's China is really completely unrelated to the China that we are familiar with."

About a year and a half ago I attended the Institute of Reverential Ecology's 2005 retreat, "Creating a Sustainable Future: Ecology, Ethics and Design", outside Santa Barbara, and heard Vandana Shiva comment on Friedman's book "The World is Flat". Shiva, a published author, environmental scientist, and community activist in India, explained how the world is not flat as Friedman claims. Instead, global consequences actually are round. While a playing field of competiveness on a global-scale is flattening, American Corporations hiring the booming business of call centers in Mumbai can actually negatively impact other areas of Indian society and economy. To this she pointed to Indian farmers moving from rural countryside to urban cities to claim new, "better" jobs; Shiva expressed that the lives of city dwellers arn't as holistic as farmers and that once moving away they give up their ability to self-sustain in a localized community.

While I have to admit I don't agree with what came across as a "rural is better" sentiment, I think she has hit the nail on the head when it comes to inspecting some of the overlooked wrinkles caught inside the argument for a flattening world. Globalization does have global -- and thus interconnected and systemic -- consequences that can come full circle.

What I think of the Iraq War.

I do not support the Iraq War, or any war or any militant actions.

I do support the lives of American youth troops (our generation, our peers).

I know this is a simple message, but it needs to be said. What are your views?

Watch these videos...
"soldier crying for their life in iraq" -
"war crime in Iraq war Irak mosque cami ─▒rak america mosque" -
"Iraqi People Speak - iraq the oil factor" -
"The Denial Machine", a CBC Canada Documentary -

Read these blogs written by people living there...
Lists of local blogs and blog portals:
The same blogs are accessible inside the Global Voices Online blog aggregator under 'iraq':

"Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." - Yoda... someone whom I think we can all agree had a good head on his shoulders.

Thursday, November 16, 2006 local: San Francisco bay area

I've just signed on as a writer for the SF bay area local edition of We are writing about tools, methods, resources, events, orgs, businesses, art, and people in the bay area that are changing the world to make it a more sustainable place.

Know of anything going on in the bay area region that is newsworthy and worldchanging? Please feel free let me know and I'd like to see if we can write about it.

Visit the blog at

My first article is about the UNESCO DigiArts "Scenes and Sounds of My City" project observed at the ZeroOne San Jose /ISEA 2006 electronic arts festival and symposium. The project is really cool and had international youth using new media to record reflections of their home cities! Read it here.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I have an idea for Gmail that I'd like to see implemented.


Yes, those simple things that have become so popular. I'd like a text field under the message body text box where I can enter tags (words, phrases, links to other emails and sites, etc.) associated with that particular email.

I'd like this to be a separate text field outside of the main message body because sometimes I'd like to add tags that include words not include in my email; plus it's an easy and organized way to keep track of the data in my Gmail account. A tags feature also works well with Gmail's use of a searcheable archive.

You could access this text field by using a link-button similar to the new "Reply on top" link-button available for written messages.

Monday, October 16, 2006

What does our sustained participation in Facebook mean?

Given the state of social-network communities today, the nature of sustained adult friendship, contact and communication between people in the future will be different from the friendships observed in our parents' generations.

Friends, social cliques, groups, organizations, companies, cohorts, and neighborhoods will be woven together not only by their physical associations and shared interests but also by those social networks, such as Facebook, that the users were already part of and have been participating in for a large portion of their lives.

Assuming we all stay involved, the Facebook users today who will also be users in the future will be able to keep in touch with their past friends, aquaintances, and associates with much more ease than in the past.

College friend networks will run deep as we all age.

Travelling to a new part of the world? See who you know or whom others might know already living there.

Changing occupations? Maybe you know someone with a shared interest.

Looking to reconnect after paths went different ways? Social-networking communities provide a crucially sustainable link.

The future of habitat and living will be augmented by the presence of existing social-network systems. Access to a gated country-club community, your new apartment complex, the local farmer's market, or even a low-income housing project will be accompanied by an interest by those desiring participation to establish 'friend' status with those on the inside. These connections may be free and friendly, or they may be a commodity or even a stimulus for hostility.

Of course, not everyone will participate in the networks. Some may cut themselves off from the networks in attempts to shape power structures, institute new forms of network-observation, or even as a way to construct their own "autonomous" communes.

Our physical lives will evolve in proximity to social-network lives. We will be able to observe our physical lives from our social-network perspective (as we can do now in uploaded photographs), and we will be able to observe our social-network lives from our physical perspective (such as in-person communication outside the network's known grid).

Our children will belong to social-networks just as we do. But unlike us, it is likely our children will inhabit the networks adjacent to their parents, as well as with their parents' social-network data histories (our photos, bio-stats, notes, blog entries, connections).

The presence of these intergenerational data histories in intergenerationally co-inhabited networks will alter how youth, born in the future, think about history, their ancestors and the stories and images of the past.

What else does our sustained participation in Facebook mean?

How many friends do your parents have from long-ago? How have they kept in contact? If many of the connections could have been sustained through Facebook, what do you think the world would look like?

Monday, October 09, 2006

limits to growth and equity in social network communities?

An urban planning problem emerging in social-networking sites?

Social networking researcher dana boyd suggests in her recent blog entry that facebook opening its doors to everyone is problematic, that social networking sites can't sustain "conflicting social contexts":

Facebook used to be only available to those with .edu, high school, and corporate email addresses; now it's open to all.

So I ask:

If an all-access facebook will ruin its sacred purity, does this propose that a limits to growth exists in social networking communities?

Does exclusivity define place?

Do borders define contexts?

If different and "conflicting social contexts" (students, non-students, and as danah puts it, those "obsessed with youth - parents, authorities, pedophiles, commercial enterprises") are able to live within the same networked community, do they have to be separated into different (virtual) neighborhood quartiers?

Is it okay for everyone to potentially mingle like in a real city or ideal agora? or, are enclaves the answer?

And are population levels, and one's origins, related to the "quality of life" for a real urban or virtual cyberspace place?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Computer Labs have a future in k-12 environments

I currently work at a high school where one of my main responsibilities is to manage the school's computer labs. The school is aware that mobile technology would prove to be very helpful in education... there are some schools now with mobile laptop labs, there are wifi enabled campuses, and then there is the ability to give all the students in a classroom Palm pilots and networked them together. There are rich benefits when computing becomes further situated in the classroom... untethered computing arises new opportunities for tethering computing to a particular class context and the teacher's needs and wants...

But an interesting architectural problem arises, too: with computers more able to become part of actual classrooms, there might be less reason to have an actual "computer lab" in the high school. Does this suggest that a room for computers only exists because of the size of old computer hardware? Will networked, situated technologies mean the demise of rooms meant for computer use, particular contexts dedicated to (and with meaning attached to) computing?

On the other hand, computer labs, as a distinct space, can function like an internet cafe and spawn discussion and physical interaction in situ with computing. But in an internet cafe space anything is game and, for a school setting, this isn't always appropriate.

But if we open the school up to various new 'web 2.0' and situated technology applications, there is bound to be another problem arising, that of the educational setting's need to monitor and regulate the use of the software in order to maintain standards of safety. The issue of monitoring these new technology applications is definitely a hot topic in the realm of educational technology as ca be seen in the recent blog article in TechLearning. Educators and administrators really should take on the challenge of learning how to effectively apply these extra-institutional tools inside the institution. Schools have an opportunity to also instruct the foundations of appropriate use of these new technologies.

What if the relationship of technology and educational spaces is reorganized: rather than seeing situated technologies as mostly tools for helping users (say, the students) become more context-aware (outside of class), how about also using situated technologies to help situate an architectural context for computing itself? In other words, one solution is to make a place where situated technologies and social software can be monitoried and appropriately used at school... thus justifying the presence of a "computer lab" and the use of new technology applications and uses.

In a mobile lab setting with internet-enabled laptops or Palm pilots, teachers run the risk of students surfing away from the curriculum and there becomes an increasing need to impose restrictions and regulations on technology use. It becomes a battle between use-cultures: those in charge know one way of using technology but the students are fluent and engaged in another.

But by locating the students into the architecturally-defined, computer lab space, students can use the technology they are fluent in and teachers can learn how to administer these technologies into their curriculum in a controlled environment. Plus, the technology doesn't have to compete with what some teachers might consider learning experiences best befitting analog curriculum (like "books" and non-mediated discussions).

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I work afternoons in a high school library and can surf the shelves for interesting reads... I just opened the book "Natural Capitalism", and to my pleasant surpise, discovered this brilliant and relevant poem...
"Loaves and Fishes"

This is not the age of information.
This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

--David Whyte

Monday, August 28, 2006

The spoils, or rather spills, of War.

I just read the San Francisco Chronicle's cover article on the massive oil spill along the coast of Lebanon, stretching from the Jiyeh power station (see map) south of Beirut on upwards--and coating in black oil--the coast to fishing towns such as Byblos. A UNESCO heritage site and 7,000 years old, Byblos is seen by some scholars as the oldest "continuously inhabited city in the world". This town, as is remarked in the article, has become a tourist destination with a quaint, old 13th-century Crusader Castle and depends on local fishing for survival. Now the town (and others like it) will have some trouble keeping its head above the (oil-soaked) water because of the spill.

How did this catastrophe come about? Upon bombing the Lebanese power station in Jiyeh on July 15th, the work of Israeli forces lead to "between 10,000 and 15,000 tons of heavy fuel oil" spilling into the eastern Mediterranean Sea. This was about six weeks ago, and now "the slick has spread an estimated 90 miles north and now could threaten the coastal waters of Syria and Turkey."

Hailed as " 'the biggest environmental disaster in the history of the eastern Mediterranean' ", this is amazingly horrific and causes likely-irreparable damage to the coastal ecosystem, the towns and human life supported by it, and the economic aspirations of a region that was hoping to continue to grow its tourist industry.

The spoils, or rather spills, of war. Very sad; so delicate a world torn by aggressive, emotional hands. It's not kind to mankind to say this but it's true: it's one thing for people to destroy people, as people can create people; but it is another thing when people destroy non-human life in the course of destroying people... irresponsible and senseless destruction. I sincerely hope this serves as a lesson to mankind now and in the future.

It is so easy to destroy life through the emotions in our voices, so difficult to call it back again when we have strained our throats and can no longer speak.

Further Information (listed by date, oldest to newest):

Aljazeera News (English version): "Lebanon oil spill crisis" (July 29, 2006) "Lebanon Oil Spill Makes Animals Casualties of War" (July 31, 2006)

BBC News: "Environmental 'crisis' in Lebanon" (July 31, 2006)

UN News Centre: "Oil spill caused by Israeli attack hits Syrian coastline" (August 2, 2006)

BBC News: "'Damage is done' to Lebanon coast" (August 8, 2006) "Lebanese Oil Spill May Rival Exxon Valdez Disaster" (August 8, 2006)

Jersualem Post, Online Edition: "Israel asked to help clean up coastal oil spill near Beirut" (August 14, 2006)

Greenpeace: "Oil spills - Philippines, Indian Ocean and Lebanon" (August 18, 2006)

Watch a video with footage of the oil spill on

UN Environment Programme Press Release: "Aerial Surveillance of Lebanese Oil Spill Takes Off" (August 21, 2006)

San Francisco Chronicle: "An environmental disaster emerges on Lebanon coast" (August 28, 2006)

(source of map graphic: BBC News)

What is AMERICA? As seen by a Wal-Mart calendar

(click to view larger image)
Discovered this "AMERICA" calendar in Wal-Mart during my first visit to a Wal-Mart (went down in Walla Walla, WA a week ago; I was 23 years a virgin!)... 12 images to summarize America...

Monday, July 17, 2006

cingular at the embarcadero and solar glow

Cingular wireless is currently inhabiting all of the advertising space at the Embarcadero BART station in San Francisco. They've done a really great job and have been very creative. The square-panels of advertising billboard space on the walls, which are arranged in groups of six panels, are transformed into clever statements about the wireless carrier, and they also take advantage of the billboard arrangement. For example, the statement, "commu nicate wit hout so m any interr uptions" is nicely broken up (notice the spacing) to relate the message with the square-panels. Really cool. Cingular has also installed very large floor advertisements at both ends of the escalators used for accessing the BART platform.

I encountered the Cingular ads while waiting at the Embarcadero station to head home. Today was the fourth spare-the-air day (the state is picking up the tab because the air quality is quite horrible) in the Bay Area, and I decided to head into the city. The ads nicely wrap the station into the world of the advertisement's message.

Before heading into the BART station, I walked by the pier terminal building and turned to see a very interesting solar reflection in the highrises behind me. As is visible in the photo below (taken with cellphone Razr camera), the sun, which is the bright spot in the second building to the right, is actually right behind that building in about that same place. The sun is being reflected off of the building in front of that building (the building farthest to the right) back onto the building where we see the sun's reflection. The effect was quite magnificent: the sun's presence placed where it is in the sky in front of the building, while the real sun's glow in the sky comes up around the edges of the second building to the right and provides it with the contrast of a wonderful backlit, white glow (the image doesn't capture this)!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

sustainability and gettin' freaky

I'm planning on attending a party tonight, which I hope to be a great deal of fun. Of course, it makes me think of relations between the sexes and that funky social dance that happens between people ("with eyes locked, love was found" or "with eyes locked, it was time to grind dem hips").

When I first got a car three years ago, I was excited to drive around. There is a thrill in having the windows down, wind blazing by, sitting low in the seat with music so loud the bass rumbles through my body. "Cars, man, they are hot and cool."

But then there is the reality of the situation: cars are destroying the world in many ways (oil consumption, urban sprawl, detached lifestyles, less dependence on public transportation), and people need to shift away from them as much as possible. With a gallon of gas at $3.15 and higher and co2 spewing-out, cruising down the street to check out (and impress) the ladies isn't cost-effective or globally-responsible, it's pretty ignorant and reckless.

So when I go to this party, I don't think I will be cruising around like an animal. But when I'm at this party, how might I attempt to "party like an animal", not take myself too seriously, have some fun and smiles, and engage in the party event in a sustainable and responsible way?

Then again, partying might be a form of sustainability itself; isn't it participating in relationships, socializing, human development, learning the ropes of life, and engaging in the process of mating?

We need some theories on the intersections of sustainability and debauchery, sustainability and drinking, sustainability and beer-pong, sustainability and humor, sustainability and acting silly, sustainability and gettin' freaky!

On Blogging

Okay, so it's been a while since I've posted a real post here, and I'm excited about getting back into this. I recently graduated UC Santa Cruz this spring, and have been spending the summer researching and conceptualizing for an airport/airspace experiences collaborative art project, touring San Francisco (I grew up in the bay area and yet only now, coming home after college, am I realizing how amazing the city is! A nice touch of irony), researching architecture schools, and browsing volunteer and work opportunities. There's been a lot of time spent at home, sitting at the computer, hanging with my family and friends, and bicycling around my town (although, in contrast to my indoor computer usage, getting more time outdoors would be great).

I forsee my use of the blog as being an opportunity for me to share insights, ideas, and weblinks I've discovered and find interesting. I hope to also use the blog as a place for sharing stories and experiences from my adventures and travels. ...and, of course, I hope readers will write back for some nice e-conversation. I began this blog Fall 2005 as a way to document and share my study abroad experience in Firenze, Italy, where I studied in the pre-architecture program of Syracuse University Florence (a great school). I'll be honest, my blog posts from last Fall are pretty interesting!

I highly recommend reading blogs. They're hot stuff, and a great way to learn about all kinds of things written by all kinds of people. I ussually frequent on a daily basis an increasing amount of blogs, but over the past year my favorite has been With various news and information about technology changing the world for better (or for worse), Worldchanging is a web-experience worth delving into; heck, it might change you! There are posts on technology, projects, people, ideas, and movements that have been, are, or will change the world. The site's authors strive for a green and sustainable future. posts range from megacities in China and their futures, to emerging concepts such as the participatory panopticon (a personal favorite) and "g/local" (danah boyd's term), to solutions for climate change problems, to urban augmentation systems like denCity and Cabspotting (hello, SF!), to insightful interviews with folks like Adam Greenfield (author of "Everyware", a new book on ubiquitous computing), to creative attempts at economically-efficent green, collaborative architecture. So the site, basically, covers a lot of ground, and is worth browsing often. (The interests of architecture, media and sustainability tend to be reflected in the selection above).

Yesterday I discovered the blog Resarch, written by Brett Steele, director of the Architectural Association in London, and have been enjoying the many fascinating links Brett has posted. Through the Resarch site, I also learned of Infoaesthetics, a terribly interesting blog about information and communication graphics. As tied to my research with the airport/airspace experience project, I discovered these very interesting global mapping projects using images from around the world:

Geograph -

Degree Confluence -

PLEIX's Netlag World Webcam Map video -

LIFE24 Picture Mosaic, world view -

World Processor -

Time Graphs on Flickr -

USA Air Traffic-

Google Search Activity Map -

And three more interesting sites:, which is another great resource with tons of interesting and catagorized visualizations -

A visualization of the universe, a project which created an simulated image of the universe. astounding! This was found on the visual complexity site. -

Generic Mapping Tools, a program for use with Gimp to construct maps with complex data -

More on my research and explorations soon!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Reflecting on UCSC's LRDP as the start of a process for creating the future

An opinion-editorial about the UCSC 2005 LRDP and graduation that I wrote for the Santa Cruz Sentinel that wasn't published. An earlier version of this essay is included in a forthcoming book about the 2005 LRDP process by fellow alum and photographer, Lucas Barth (for details contact lucas_barth at hotmail dot com):

As a student at UC Santa Cruz, I was involved in the 2005 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) process, and participated in the design of the planning framework for UC Santa Cruz’s future. Throughout the 2005 LRDP process, my fellow student representatives and I learned that many diverse perspectives on the campus and city exist. We learned how valuable it is for the entire community to be listen to each other, stay involved in the planning process, understand what the 2005 LRDP is, and have a sense of where things are going.

The 2005 LRDP planning framework points the campus in a direction using a collaboratively produced land-use map, principles, and recommendations for how potential growth can relate to the existing campus and city contexts.

As a departure point, the path we take from the 2005 LRDP has not already been defined by the 2005 LRDP itself (or the Environmental Impact Report (EIR)) but will literally be created by participation in what happens after the long-range development planning process: implementation.

Being a graduating senior I’m thinking about the future again. Understanding the value of the 2005 LRDP process has taught me a lot. My fellow seniors and I are moving on. And yet, as our time here is ending, UC Santa Cruz is also a beginning.

And in regard to the 2005 LRDP, there is much planning still to do. Like college commencement, the 2005 LRDP and EIR should just be the beginning.

The UC Santa Cruz community must not jump into projects, but first insist on planning them, and be part of the implementation of the 2005 LRDP. Get involved in the process of growth and change, and be there to engage others! As my peers and I discovered while giving input into the 2005 LRDP Committee: we have a rare and awesome opportunity to guide the course of the future.

How will campus community be involved in historic academic planning to guide enrollment numbers and academic access? How will we be involved in the projects attached to the 2005 LRDP EIR (they’ll be the first to be implemented)? How will we be involved in future area planning looking closely at how new projects will relate to their contexts? How will we find ways to tie our academic work and volunteering to collaboration between the campus and community? How will faculty collaborate with their students, and inspire them to be active campus stewards and civic participants (and thus mitigation measures in themselves, making the campus and city a better place)? How will we foster community, help develop the living and breathing places of UC Santa Cruz, shape lives departing into the future of the world?

In consideration of the proposed increase of 6,000 students, there is real concern the growth will affect the quality of student life. How will UC Santa Cruz treat its students? This is a question about the nature of UC Santa Cruz as a place, and whether or not it will be a place kindling of the values and experiential opportunities sacred and relevant to the campus and its context.

The college system at UC Santa Cruz has been a very important part of my campus experience. I believe the colleges are important to the quality of student life and are meaningful places on our city on a hill. In years to come, new students will live where I once did at Porter College.

Throughout the 2005-2020 LRDP planning process the value of the college system was repeatedly discussed. The 2005 LRDP Committee and those who provided comments during the process explored the future of the college system. 6,000 more students will change the scale of relations; it will change the campus, the community, how people interact with the campus and each other, and potentially also the college system. Yet it is important to remember, change is not a question of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but a question of ‘how’.

UC Santa Cruz is greatly shaped by the college system; with it the campus feels smaller and more intimate. Each college creates an important sense of close-knit community. Personally, I believe the college system is a vital part of UC Santa Cruz and respects the need for supportive community woven into the campus’ built-natural interweave. I’m going to miss the college community, the smell of the redwoods, the winding paths, the light in the trees, the views, the air, the people! So, how will growing the student population affect the campus and the college system?

Some potential changes (of which participation in the implementation process of campus planning can shape): colleges size may grow, college programming may change and administration may be centralized; or to accommodate the growth, new colleges will be added or alternative housing models will be used to meet diverse preferences. More students might gain access to a University education with expanding resources, and students can see and meet more fellow students when walking across campus. Or, the change in numbers will lead to new ideas on the role of the colleges in the academic experience and restructure programming and housing costs, and as a result more students may prefer to live on campus (or conversely, off-campus). These are all potential futures…

The question of how student life and the college system will be affected by campus growth interconnects all elements of the 2005 LRDP, and requires much more discussion. The 2005 LRDP respects the importance of the college system, and as a planning framework, will be used in coming years to guide interpretations of the college system and its future. The future of the college system—and thus the nature of student life and its quality—will depend on how the 2005 LRDP is implemented.

As the community now waits to see the EIR revised, we should consider the 2005 LRDP’s flexibility as allowing us to embark on a journey to define our collective future. We must examine the campus’ transition and planning processes and get inside of them. We must ask ourselves, in any scenario, how will the campus and city function as a place? Akin to the question of impacts to student life and the college system, we need to ask: How will we participate in the implementation process making this place, this university?

My fellow seniors and I are now contemplating the world beyond UC Santa Cruz, where we might go, and what that future might look like. We need to take the risk and opportunity to shape the future. The 2005 LRDP as a departure point can help the campus do the same; it is about long-range planning. It is now up to the campus community to use it as a guide, and participate in the practice of making places for the future with respect to the past.

(Matt Waxman, a graduating senior from Porter College, served as Primary Contact Student Union Assembly Representative to the 2005-2020 Long Range Development Plan Committee.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

growing into web 2.0

My response to web 2.0 discussions on the Institute for Distributed Creativity (IDC) listserve, an ethnography and critical commentary about my web usage:

Hi, my name is Matt Waxman. I am a fifth year senior at UC Santa Cruz and will be 23 years old this Summer. I'd like to take a stab at this whole web 2.0 thing, participation in it, and maybe ground the newness and it's ideas in personal experience and the world around me.

From my experience, it seems my generation of youth grew up during the internet's grand explosion into cultural consciousness and any transition from an "old" to "new" kind of web-usage. By tracing my own history of using the internet and social networking sites, and observing internet use by people in similar ages to me, I believe the idea and relevance of a web "2.0" can be observed.

I started using the internet in Middle School. At that time, many people were already using the internet, but for many of my peers and I, we only used the internet from school computers. My family got the internet for the first time on a 56k modem (my parents were waiting for that technology to be more economical with monthly rates) during my sophomore year in High School (1998-1999), and it was a very big deal to have access from home (and the phone line being occupied was always a constant issue). I should add, from Middle School on, I grew up in the town of Moraga, middle class suburbia in the San Francisco Bay Area.

For my peers and I, at 15 years old at the end of the 1990s, the internet was very new. Personally I loved to explore the internet and became very fascinated by online design communities coming from forum/portal sites like I also became very fascinated with web design and web programming and taught myself mostly by looking at other people's source code (plus Wired tutorials and code archives always helped). Other things people the same age used the internet for: other forms of creative expression, research, porn, and communicating with other people (this includes email, early social networking forums, and building personal homepages).

The internet and my fascination for web design ate up a lot of my time during high school. When I wasn't using the computer--which I'll stress again, because of the internet was less than healthy in retrospect--I would sometimes be outside, go over to a friend's house, go skateboarding, or go back to doing some of the activities I would do a lot before the internet, such as Legos and drawing.

It wasn't until freshman year in college (2001-2002) that I first learned about AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), and it was from a girl on my dorm hall (who I'd later talk to on AIM even though she lived three doors down). Now, I think I knew a lot about the "cutting edge" in online design, but social communication came a little slow to me. Nonetheless, I think this in itself is quite relevant, as most people don't participate in these communication infrastructures right off the bat, it takes time to catch on. I should add that I quit using AIM at the end of my sophomore year in college because it had become an addiction and it was eating up time which I could use for extra-curriculars and studying. I have only met a few other people in college who have also quit AIM, most students still use it, and it still remains a very large part of their social and personal lives.

I should also add that at this time (in fact I think it was all the way through my junior year in college) there was no massive, campus-wide (and national) addiction to sites like Facebook and MySpace on any scale like we have now. I did have a few friends who used Friendster; but in contrast to the permeating, everyday social-consciousness and colloquial referencing emanating from Facebook and MySpace, Friendster cannot compete. I don't think Facebook and MySpace even existed as they do now either--and if they did, most people didn't know about them yet.

In June of 2004 I first received an email from the website (which seems to be the less-popular and parallel version of the popular, and assumed it was spam. It took a couple of months and talk with friends and my brother to learn that it wasn't spam, and was actually worth joining. At first I was skeptical and found the idea of adding "friends" bizarre, but loved the idea of connecting with friends and loved even more the ability to read profiles and look at pictures of people (the voyeuristic and self-showcasing is great). A few months later, at the end of 2004, I added myself to (which is now just because "everybody" was on that network.

I've remained on Facebook ever since; I can't say I'm addicted but I do have my binge runs now and then. In the single year of 2005, Facebook really exploded with intense campus-wide and nation-wide networking. One of the most interesting experiences I remember with Facebook occurred at the beginning of Summer 2005 when I received a facebook message from a girl who was going to attend UC Santa Cruz in the Fall. I just so happened to be the first person listed in her "social network" (a list of people connected to people you're connected to), and she had decided to message me asking about college. I responded with a lot of tips and info. Amazingly, for that girl, college has had and will always have Facebook as an important part of the college experience. For her, college does not exist without Facebook and online social networking. A few weeks ago I was speaking with a different freshman who had been using Facebook all year and uses the site constantly. She was very surprised to learn that when I began college, Facebook didn't exist... she said she hadn't really thought about it, and assumed it had always been here.

I believe it was in 2005 fellow students really started to join MySpace en-mass. I have a MySpace account but only use it to view people's photos on MySpace when necessary (you can view MySpace profile pages without login). In contrast to Facebook, I believe MySpace has attracted many more people because anyone can join (not just college kids like Facebook), you can really modify (sort-of) the look of your page, and there are many special features. I have to admit, as I don't use MySpace, I can't really speak from "personal experience" but only from observation. Students use MySpace everywhere and all the time. I've seen students using it while sitting in class, doing nothing but looking at the messages people have left for them and looking at photos of their friends and themselves. (...might this be a downside of having wireless internet in classrooms?) References to both Facebook and MySpace also seem to frequently pop-up in dining-hall, party, and meeting conversations.

A few weeks ago I entered upon a group of students discussing the injustice of University officials using photographs and text on Facebook as proof that some students had consumed alcohol and drugs when cited. Most of the students at that meeting seemed visibly upset, and they spoke of drafting a petition on Facebook to try and ban authorities from entering Facebook. To be honest, I find this ridiculous, and it seems to me these students are still learning the consequences of engaging in new social spaces: if you don't want to get in trouble when a photo gets posted, it is really your responsibility to not be in those photos. Facebook also has a "Flyer" function where you can pay to advertise with "flyers" (small banner-ad sized announcements) across a school's network. The "flyering" and the events announcements on Facebook work well, and in some cases, seem to be more effective than physical flyering when people spend an increasing amount time in front of the computer.

It's almost halfway through the year 2006 and these websites continue to thrive with activity. We now also have sites like Flickr, YouTube, GoogleMaps, etc., which are quite different but very much related and in the same vein of internet experience. Facebook continues to grow as well. Fall 2005 they added the ability for students to add unlimited photos, and last week they added connectability to Facebook via cellphone text messages (just type "FBOOK"!) and the ability for users to post "status" messages saying what one is doing at the very moment (in response, I've heard students ask each other why Facebook is trying to be like AIM). Also (I think it was Summer or Fall 2005) Facebook extended their networks into High Schools, and very recently into some USA business and regional network categories (I'm part of the UCSC network and the San Francisco network... and can thus surf profiles of people from different Universities also connected to the San Francisco network, and also find people on the San Francisco network who are connected because their office network is, such as Google.) I think Facebook should add more international networks, they now only have London, Paris, and a few locations in Canada.

What is going on? Due to the internet and online social networking, High School and college experiences--and I'll add, Youth experiences in general--of youth today (right now!) are very different from my High School and part of my college experiences... and I graduated from High School only five years ago! It is important to note that the internet existed while I was in High School and was a younger youth, but that internet experience greatly contrasts the internet experience of current younger youth.

It is the very fast, visible shift in the consciousness of what-is-the-internet, and hence what-is-the-world, among young internet users that tells this tale. In many ways this story can be compared to the story of television's evolution: the television I grew up with (and felt like always existed because it always existed in my world) was very different from the television my parents grew up with. Web "2.0", I'll gather, is one way of expressing a recognition of this new kind of world people inhabit, a physical world constructed by a new version of mediated experience.

And calling it a "2.0" is in some ways relevant, as well. As experienced by the college freshman at UC Santa Cruz, the new version of living with the internet is assumed to be the only way of living with the internet; a consciousness of only a web "1.0" no longer exists.

(Read Trebor Scholz' post which my post was initially written in response to.)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

City within a City

I've been thinking a lot about how the Airport is a City within a City. Cities are always in relationship to their contextual environments. A truly effective city is a dense heart of efficient and complex, spirited and contradictory, human habitat. Cities may recycle and reuse their energies and products, but they continue to draw the vast majority of their energy from the natural resources which surround them. Non-renewable energy sources and renewable energy sources yielding power and life to sustain the city and it's people come from the hills, the forests, the lakes, the mountains, the ocean, the desert, the sun, and the wind; water for life, and coal, oil, photovoltaic cells, wind turbines, to name a few for electricity, transport, and industry. The Airport, the globally distributed City within a City, as a functioning city, also feeds off its surroundings, the city of its outer context. The people, energy, financial support, products and shipping orders, all fuel and support the purpose for the Airport's existence and sustenance.

So, the Airport really is like a contemporary city in its internal habitat provisions (shelter, food, mobility, commerce, even space for arts), and also in its patterns of external resource consumption. The Airport, as a City within a City, looks towards the cities around it as consumption resources.

The Airport, the City within a City, is like an interiorized city, bubbled into a container whose own structure is that of a city. But to disembark from the destructive paradigm of continuous "natural capital" consumption furthered in urbanized locales around the world, the Airport City within a City could be seen as more progressive, even more sustainable in theory, as in a more directly symbiotic, interconnected relationship with its "natural environment", the surrounding city, than the original city is itself. In consideration of the modern city, the modern Airport city gives back more to the original city of its context than the original city gives back to its natural environmental context. Of course, the Airport pollutes like crazy and consumes like crazy, draining natural capital from the natural environment right through the city of its context. But as a paradigm, the Airport City within a City is a fascinating model for how a massive mechanistic and industrial system can be within a "natural" and symbiotic relationship to its mechanistic and industrial urban context.

In this sense, the Airport City within a City is an ironic paradigm of contradictions. The Airport City within a City is a model of postmodernity (industrial and mechanistic functions, forms, flows) and sustainability (interrelationships, context responsiveness, and a system of sustenance). The Airport City within a City is continued, infinite growth and limited, contained space; speed and globalization and locally-based rhythms; draining resource consumption and contextual recognition and responsiveness; and respect for the needs and wants of the passenger's human scale and the industry's global scale. I'd say this mix makes the City within a City a critical paradigm of our twenty-first century global-local human lifestyle.

Noise produced by airflight, for example, becomes what I'll call a "context impact", which is (by the way) one of the impacts considered by Environmental Impact Reports under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). (Within CEQA there are also special guidelines for development within airport plans.) These "context impacts" are the most perceived impacts between the Airport City within a City and the Airport's context city (as can be observed with Amsterdam as Schiphol Airport's context city). They build sociological and environmental relationships which, in a modern perspective of environmental analysis, means impacts to quality of life and environment that are calculateable by contingent valuation, evaluateable by cost benefit analysis, and are mitigateable by use of measures that dampen the problem. Interestingly, the "context impacts" of the Airport, while being therefore within the realms of economics, equity, and ecology (which by the way, make the tri-fold framework of "cradle-to-cradle" analysis professed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart), impact most directly the city's human quality of life issues. And even more interestingly, the “context impacts” monitored by airports are basically limited to noise (the sound of jets in the air), safety concerns (such as crashes and need for emergency landing space), overflight (flight patterns and visibility), and airspace protection (potential hazards to flight such as tall builds and areas where birds may collect); all impacts that are initially more perceptual than tangible in the same way as a visual image. (See California Airport Landuse Planning Handbook, pp summary-8) In short, City within a City context impacts are from man-made to the made-made. City context impacts are more from the man-made to the environmental.

McDonough and Braungart's "cradle-to-cradle" methodology (the most level-headed and progressive "eco-effective" model for design) recommends designing systems, products, processes that treat waste as food in the interconnected arenas of economics, equity, and ecology. Technically speaking, this can be quite complex. The rubber within a shoe sole contains countless different chemicals and to break it down, and to remove the harmful ones, and produce a shoe (as Nike is prototyping) whose rubber is actually beneficial to the environment, is quite complex. On a larger urban planning scale, McDonough's "Huangbaiyu Cradle to Cradle Village Master Plan" in Benxi, Liaoning Province, China, will attempt to implement the cradle-to-cradle concept for a new, developing community.

But to jump back to existing urban centers, and look at the Airport City within a City, we already have a cradle-to-cradle "closed-loop" system (although horribly dirty) in place: the Airport City in relationship to its context city. The Airport, looped into a vital give-and-take relationship to the context city, is then the principle place for revitalizing the city and transforming existing cities into having healthier relationships with their context (host?) cities. From within the City, the Airport City within a City can guide healthier environmental relationship from its existing web of contextual recognition and responsiveness. The Airport, the City within a City. is the gateway to transforming the global-local lifestyle, just as it was the product of modernity that transformed the city of today into what it is.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Natural Air - Port Cities

Foster and Partner’s new Philology Library, at the Free University in Berlin, helps to create an interior reading environment that emulates the sense of the ambient environment for reading outside—one can sense the clouds moving above—but the environment is not virtual, it is rather reflective of the environment’s conditions and responsive to them. Behling, Foster’s sustainability leader, “compares it to sitting with a white umbrella under a tree and watching leaves cast shadows to create a beautiful play of light and pattern”. Ironically this makes me think of interior thematized environments that have been constructed to simulate elsewhere or external localities and their ambient effects... such as the interior external environments in Las Vegas' Venetian, Paris, New York New York, and Caesars' Palace hotels... and Disneyland and World, too. Yet it is part of the architect’s job to satisfy needs and wants, including those of a satisfying experience felt while mingling with nature's elements.

As I sat outside today in front of the Science Library going through my notes for my research, I was greatly enjoying the blinding sunlight coming across the red brick tiles, and the heat of the rays, and the light breeze, and the sway of the shadows through the trees, and the light sounds of chatter and leaves and birds—all that ambient stuff. Is it wrong for architecture to replicate feelings of these things, whether intentionally simulated, or in their distilled essence?

The other day during Political Economy and the Environment class I appreciated the benefit of biomimicry. Water, the subject of our current discussion, is really an amazing thing; useful in both a biological and metaphorical capacity. Professor Haddad talked about how plants are able to use water. Because of the way water molecules are designed, the plants can then suck them up through their roots, and the water flows upward! This is amazing. Water treatment plants, by the way, use a distilled and strengthended natural process: they do the same things as wetlands, but process and clean the water at just a faster rate. So if we look at nature and its processes, designs, systems, we can find some useful ideas on how to solve design problems of our own.

So, Foster and Partners’ library uses some ideas of biomimicry in both its aesthetic and technical design—“green”-wise, it apparently is a product from years of research, as well—to create an experience that is satisfying and healthy.

Anyway, back to airports. If airports are interior spaces (aside from the post-modern connotation, “interior” really doesn’t say much just yet) that people pass through like external environments (they contain destinations and gates inside of them that are connected by routes) like streets, alleys, paths of any sort, then it would make sense for airport spaces to reflect things people like in satisfying and healthy external environments.

But since airports are not simply external environment passage spaces (spaces, for the most part, used strictly for the movement of people or goods), they are more like external environment places of destination that can contain passages and destinations, gates, inside of them: like parks, piazzas, malls, forests, and a city’s downtown district, to name a few.

So an airport is similar to a park, piazza, or downtown because it is relatively “public” and used to connect people to other places but also is a destination in its self. Although, unlike a park, piazza, or downtown, people generally do not go to airports specifically to relax or enjoy oneself. In that sense, then, airports are more like malls because their purpose is more functionally rooted in facilitating a type of commercial transaction. But then again, many people go to malls to just hang-out… but maybe that’s because the mall has replaced the park, piazza, or downtown in postmodern life…

But rather than trying to draw analogies with other types of spaces to the airport, I think an airport is rather something quite unique. Airports have “airport-ness”; that’s what 1950s architecture critic G.E. Kidder-Smith said in his book The New Architecture of Europe (pp 170, Gordon). But I have to content I think his “airport-ness” was supposed to reflect a different ideal, one rather obsessively modern, functional, pure, sleek, fast, and all that 20th century Industrial-Age fashion. But at the same time, his eye was right about the meaning of the airport: that its heart and soul, purpose and life, was totally different from any space, environment, facility, ever before. An architecture of airports wasn’t meant to have neo-classical columns or Spanish architectural flair of the regional ilk; airports were doing their own thing, and their bodies were meant to reflect the growing muscles and bones inside of them.

So, if airports aren’t really anything but airports, like a seaport isn’t really anything but a seaport, then how does it still function and feel like an external environment of sorts? Maybe that’s because, also like a seaport, you can place all kinds of non-seaport stuff inside of a seaport and extend it way beyond a simple seaport… like the way Barcelona’s waterfront is so many amazing things, from restaurants, to museums, to exhibition space, to beaches, to clubs, to apartments, to promenades, to road- and transit-ways, and also that thing called a harbor.

Then maybe an airport is an airport and nothing else, but it grows like an external environment (and people move through it like one), and can be developed like a seaport. That would make the airport strikingly close to a real city, especially given the fact that airports have hotels, businesses, insanely consumptive infrastructure systems, and all the other living, modern city components… some airports even market themselves like cities, a destination for tourists in themselves…

The Frankfurt Airport City in Germany is like that. There are over 500 companies employing over 65,000 people at the Frankfurt Airport City. The “City” gets over 50 million international passengers a year. The city’s website also boasts that the its location in Germany makes it a good place to shop and sell because there are “35 million well-heeled consumers [living] within a catchment area extending 200 km from the airport in all directions — that is equivalent to about 43 percent of Germany's population”.

But, wait, did you catch that? Frankfurt Airport City, because of its geographic location (“heart” of Europe, they tell the traveler), is also a city because of the cities around it. The cities around the airport city feed off of the airport, and the airport city feeds off of them; a symbiotic relationship between “real” cities (note the plural) and “airport city” (note the singular).

But an airport city can be “real”, it’s not fake, it just looks a little different and people use it a bit differently. So maybe the question of what an airport is—what type of environment it is—is a question of how real is a landscape, or nature, or any kind of pure ideal that can be doctored and regrown, manicured and planted, or left alone to “organically” become old, wizen, haggard, diverse, multifaceted, and “natural”?

New Views

Architecture gives people new views that could not have been attained without the built structure. My apartment room window looking out into the trees could only have been imagined by the architect before having been created by the building or some other structure that augmented the human view by relocating the body in space (such as a very high ladder).

Cars, mobile vehicles, even bicycles, give also a new view of perspective on the landscape that is unattainable without them. Airplanes also give a new view, but theirs’ is particular. Objects totally detached from the Earth’s topography, airplanes have a very different continuity to ground-based perspectives.

Looking out of an airplane window, one’s body position has no real fluid continuity to the contextual topography of its surrounding landscape. Looking out of my apartment window into the campus forest feels normal, natural, and the fact this view could not have been seen before does not immediately strike anyone—there is a fluid sense of mobile continuity between the new view position and the surrounding landscape, that of which is part of the view. View and viewer-location share a common context. Airplanes dislocate this, taking the body and the view to unattainable heights.

The closest ground-rooted experience to this airplane dislocation in physical architecture is the skyscraper. Looking out into the city from high above, the view’s vertical projection and height above the Earth’s topography surpasses the immediate sense of contextual normality for the body; but still continuity is reached: the building is touching the ground, fluid movement between the skyscraper office high above on the 365th floor and the ground can take place, and the city seen within the view shares a lasting contextual relationship to the skyscraper’s space. A grander example of the tree-top view I see from my apartment window.

Coordinate(d) Airspace

The idea of COORDINATES is really fascinating me for our research project on international airports. in the airport history book I’ve read, “Naked Airport”, there is talk about how postmodern architecture of airports attempted to resettle the "older coordinates" that had been disrupted by the post-war decentralized airport structures.

What precisely were the old coordinates? flat Cartesian space? the broad expanses of land and openness Le Corbusier saw as seminal in his 'naked airport' concept, a vision seen from the plane to the port yet aligned in elevation not plan?

The coordinate(d) space of the old was aligned primarily from the view upon land as seen in elevation, but with aircraft and the repositioning of the body into the craft's own air-space, the new view upon the land became aligned from above, as if in plan not elevation. What did this do to cartographic and 2D projections of space, to notions of perspective, to the whole concept of the 3rd dimension as depicted through non-3D measures (i.e. image based representation instead of literal, physical architecture)?

Did the coordinates of visually represented space, as known in the post-renaissance world, become realigned upon a new axis? Is there a new evolution of visual representation--the next step after Brunelleschi's discovery of perspective--underway? Must humans now grapple with a new sense of space as projected from another kind of 'perspective'? Does this perspective also manipulate the convention of the 3rd dimension of depth, and of time that can move within it's limits and bounds? And is this process of experiencing this difference experienced in the dislocation of the "older" coordinates...

I'd say yes. And that in fact, cinema and the visually projected cinematic narrative are in part manifestations of this newly coordinate(d) space. Cinema in particular relocates the human experiencer to position of 'viewer' upon the cinematic landscape. The coordinates of perspectival space become re-projected in motion before the eyes; depth is not only seen in the 2D but read in the image's oneiric immersion. A new space--cinematic spatial coordinates--wrap around the 'viewer', a viewer's perspectival position is relocated into the cinematic space while their body remains sedentary, stable, motionless. Motion of the cinematic order--images of a physically far away world passing by--slide the coordinates of the new across the coordinates of the old; interstices dislocate the body to new planes of perception, position, and place.

AIRSPACE - viewer-ship; dislocation in between the places and times; realigned orientation to Earth-bound perspective; priority of plan where before we saw elevation and section; priority of elevation and section where before we imagined plan; a new coordination of coordinates inside context, place, experience.

Coordinates themselves also function as the limiting figures connecting vectors into shapes, diagrams, maps, and particular spaces. Coordinates are a mapping and form-making tool. Coordinates can be applied to any surface to make it manipulatable. In 3D computer graphics technology, a sphere can be coated in a matrix of points for extrusion, etc. Surfaces simply become transformable into the third dimension with coordinates. The flat image can now exist in the 3rd dimension with coordinate mapping; an act not simply of perception but technological manipulation.

Edges of coordinate space may define the plausible limits to its own spatial existence, and can infer further spaces beyond the visible. The negotiated boundaries of Nations are coordinated to align to regulatory coordinates. Space above the surface of the Earth, extending into the air, is also regulated by coordinate domains. Movement across, between, inside all coordinated space is defined by the whereabouts of the object within the coordinate structure and its position relative to the absolute position of the regulatory coordinates. Airflight is in its very nature subjected to physically coordinate(d) space, as noted by David Pascoe in his introductory “Airspace” musings on regulation air spaces.

The beauty of coordinate(d) airspace is that it is assumed to be Cartesian in all dimensions: the ultimate mobile utopian freedom.

Movement can plausibly transpose things at any level or orientation. “Air”-space prioritizes air’s substance, its imperceptible materiality. We can feel wind in our hair and the smell of a sea breeze, or sense lack of oxygen but in representation air only takes form through the characterizations of its edges and limiting factors. Coordinates become opportunities for defining materiality to the space in-between the matrix’s points. Renaissance Raffaello and Botticelli understood this. Raffaello added corporeality to space and imbued it’s essence; he would emphasize color around the air, began to manipulate the perspectival depth, and characterized movement and light passing through what is empty by touching what is around the emptiness. (See Raffaello’s “Madonna of Foligno”) Botticelli, master of the line, drew each figure in concrete shapes by the out-line, the painting’s spatial divisions coordinated by the line’s positioning. (See Botticelli’s “The Annunciation”) Spaces of air or non materiality were made just as relevant to the eye as the substances of material bodies. Voids were materialized by clarifying the limits to it; coordinating its relations, giving the space—the air—substance.