Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Global Cities at the Tate Modern

The Creative Review blog remarks on density models developed by Richard Burdett and a team of designers and architects at the London School of Economics:
Global Cities addresses the major issues facing today’s cities – size, speed, form, density and diversity. It evolved out of a previous exhibition included in last year’s Architecture Biennale in Venice. The density models first made their appearance there, where styrofoam forms ingeniously represented the populations of 12 of the world’s major urban centres. For the Tate show, only four models were made, representing the populations of Greater London, Cairo, Mexico City and Mumbai, allowing a more sophisticated model to be developed.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Praise and Curse of the City

In The Uses of Disorder, Richard Sennett argues in favor of anarchic cities. Overly controlled spaces don't allow people to grow into adulthood and are deadly dull. Some Web 2.0 social spaces are open to the kind of participation and conviviality from which challenge, complexity, and maturity can develop. This photograph is one of the 46,456 images contributed by 2,452 members of the Flickr pool titled "The Praise and Curse of the City."
Perhaps the Internet can gain the qualities of social life present in the best kinds of urban areas. With participation on such a generous scale, sites like Flickr offer more than just access to new images; technologies like tagging also allow us new categories of understanding, categories that would never be part of a top-down, planned design.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Media Wall

Metropolis magazine examines the media wall, part of the IAC Building in New York. Produced by Bruce Mau Design, the media wall is the latest example of the stitching together of the digital and the urban landscape on a grand scale.

The media wall is technologically innovative, and not all of the problems of connected with projecting a 120 foot high definition image have been solved. The project is also innovative in its relationship with the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU to experiment with media forms approriate for the scale of the wall, the audience of thousands of drivers on the West Side Highway, and the short (when traffic flows smoothly) time frames.

The monumentality of this wall is also designed to be appropriate to the scale of IAC, the corporate vision of Barry Diller which includes more than 60 interactive brands from the Homeshopping Network to Ticketmaster and has a worldwide audience of 239 million people.

Monday, July 23, 2007


A video travelogue that accompanies James Fallows article in the Atlantic magazine provides a useful overview of the rapid growth of Shenzhen. The flows of investment, trade and production integrate cities into a global system, a system profoundly reshaping the context for urban communication. American investment centers, port cities, and the industrial heartland are all affected by the scale and flow of the activities in Shenzhen.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Best Supermarkets in the World (?)

Andreas Gursky's photograph titled "99 cents" illustrates the empty, and repetitive-albeit colorful choices that fill typical shopping spaces in urban America.

The blog KITSUNE NOIR offers a list of more compelling retail spaces in their post on the best supermarkets in the world.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


The line between the real and the virtual becomes more intertwined everyday. The Australian blog nownow pairs images of physical workspaces with images of computer desktops. Some of these pairings are straightforward connections between neatly arranged icons and tidy surface areas but other relationships are unexpected.
These pairings might be useful to think about the kinds of relations and patterns, whether physical or mediated, that support creativity and innovation. Malcolm Gladwell drew upon the urban insights of Jane Jacobs to analyze communication relationships in offices in his essay, Design for Working.

This Ain't No Disco It's where we work offers dozens more images of some of the most innovative global web design firms.

Chris Jordan

Many of the phenomena associated with contemporary social life are so abstract and overwhelming as to out pace our ability to understand them. Photographer Chris Jordan recent portfolio addresses the issues of cigarettes, guns, cell phones and other wonders of modern science and technology.

This photograph depicts two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every five minutes. These bottles are simply one element in the general effort to redefine public goods as private commodities. Public drinking fountains are free, yet pervasive advertising and the convenience of instant access results in the production and disposal of plastic packaging on an unfathomable scale. At least the city of New York has a marketing plan for city water.

Social History of Helvetica

Typography is one of the ubiquitous, yet little noticed elements of urban communication. Here is a link to the Chicago Reader review of British filmmaker Gary Hustwit's documentary about the typeface with utopian aspirations...

Monday, July 09, 2007

How Children Lost the Right to Roam

A recent article in the Daily Mail maps a dramatic reduction in a child's area of movement over four generations. Freedom, autonomy, development are not innate traits. A child, like other organisms, requires an environment conducive to development and growth, which deeply shape the experience of time, place, and connection to the world. It is easy to slip into a false nostalgia about past golden ages, but maps like this might clarify the tradeoffs between the kind of education gained from time spent in the woods and time spent in Second Life.

Burtynsky Documents China

Jane Jacobs is best known for her celebration of urban life on a small scale, especially the Greenwich Village. But her concerns were always part of a larger framework. She noted that cities pursuing economic growth through exports are vulnerable; a huge commitment to a specialized infrastructure that is profitable at a moment in time cannot easily adapt to changing circumstances. Ed Burtynsky's powerful photographs show the kind of monotonous, specialized social spaces that are required by the kind of export-oriented production in China. These spaces are the subject of Jennifer Baichwale's film Manufactured Landscapes, which is reviewed by Dennis Hartley.

Eventually, Everything Connects

Charles and Ray Eames dramatized one of the fundamental lessons of ecology in their film powers of 10 in showing phenomena nested in contexts at a greater level of scale. The blog information aesthetics provides a link to the Simpsons' take on Powers of 10.

Anti-sit Archives

Transfer: The Anti-sit
blog documents the almost baroque interventions made to urban spaces. Iron structures reinforce a moral code: private property owners construct uncomfortable iron points to prevent bums from loitering. Individuals whose options are so limited that a sidewalk provides the creature comforts of rest and warmth are barred from even these minimal satisfactions.

The ugliness and meanness of these structures should signify to every passerby that these private interventions are a poor substitute for the fundamental policies needed to address conflicts over public space, poverty, substance abuse and the treatment of mental illness. Iron points hide social problems by moving people to other spaces, but they don't solve them.