Starlit Ruminations on the Eve of a New American Year: A Tale of Tapestries

Starlit Ruminations on the Eve of a New American Year: A Tale of Tapestries

Dusk draws near. Daylight fades from the Western sky, becoming indistinguishable from the city lights reflecting off of the tapestry of clouds. Music and cheers emanate from a nearby student house. A lone train horn carries through the still summer twilight. Solitary crickets drone away, perhaps in tune to the vibrant and abundant energy of the season. Poised on my porch, pen in hand, I reflect on the tapestry of life around me.

The city in the summer is rich with life. Trees and yards burst with bright green and the sweet shades of summer. Hot sun and summer storms present an ever-changing continuum of weather and sensory experience. The city, ever under construction, swells, grows and restructures under the constant pressure of urban evolution. A creation almost beyond imagining, hundreds of square miles altered and formed, destroyed and recreated by human hands.

Inch by inch.

Towers capable of supporting thousands of lives jut into the clear Colorado sky in defiance of gravity and physical forces. Each bolt, joint, panel, pane, brick, and column, from large to small, created by the minds, will and bronze of humanity, coalescing into an astounding testament to desire, ambition and time. Age-old waterways merge with urban networks, a tapestry of landscape and concrete, woven together into patterns never before seen.

The populace embraces the city of their creation, delighting in sights and sounds natural and fabricated. Rocky mountains provide a natural backdrop to carefully designed urban oases. Avenues frame views to the towering peaks and the structured public spaces accommodate a populace in revelry. Smells of blossoms and mountain air mix with farmers markets and food carts while a thriving arts community captures fragments of the world, preserving intricate slices of the interaction between humanity and the world. Thought about objectively, it is utterly fascinating and humbling to behold the tapestry we have created.

So here we are, a point we have been moving towards for 237 years. From my post on the porch the world seems bathed in a glow of golden summer light, the light of memory, dreams and nostalgia. Politics of the day and dreary global news fades away; opportunity, awe, and happiness remain.

Tomorrow begins the next stitch in the tapestry, another chance to create something anew, to build something unimagined. The city and its populace surge into the future, but not as an aimless ship lost at sea. One can design a space of delight, write an inspiring essay or melancholy ballad, capture the world in art and create relationships of substance. One can, each and every day, contribute to this incredible tapestry we are so lucky to be a part of.

As the night draws in, fireworks create an amazing tapestry of color across the endless sky….

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Crowdfunding? What it is and Why You Should Care

This article will  outline the basics of Crowdfunding, defining what it is, how crowdfunding campaigns generally operate, and why you should care.

Crowdfunding is a method of raising monetary funds for almost any cause through alternative channels. Typically based online, crowdfunding campaigns seek to finance projects through a high volume of smaller donations, hence Crowd. There is really no limit to what types of projects can be funded; start-up salsa companies to a pedestrian bridge in an urban center are equally valid pursuits. There are several principles that apply to every campaign.

Select a Model of Campaign

Why are people donating? What is the draw or motive? Different types of campaigns will be seeking different types of donors, and it is important to envision your crowd to determine what will motivate them to donate.


These campaigns offer some sort of reward for donating, often with a greater reward for a greater donation. Be it a free jar of salsa or your name publicly displayed on the new bridge, these donors receive some sort of scaled reward for their generosity.


These campaigns generally see success by engaging a crowd or community who all support an underlying cause. Rewards can be an additional option to further entice donations, but the vast majority believes in what you are doing, whether starting a foundation or financially supporting someone with an illness. The community comes together to support the cause.

Connecting the Crowd to the Cause

In both situations and all the grey areas in between, social networks are vital to spreading the word and connecting people to the campaign. Social media outlets can be utilized to gain an audience and find followers outside of your normal network and geographic area. In addition, word of mouth is important. Utilize your network to connect to friends and friends-of-friends and so on.

Challenges and Considerations

Consider your crowd carefully and tailor your campaign to meet their interests, needs, and means.

Think realistically about who your crowd is. Those who show up in support may not be those whom you originally envisioned. Your crowd always will start close to home and with 1st degree connections.

OK, so why do I care?

Crowdfunding offers opportunities to raise money for any project, venture or idea without the difficulty of finding a sole donor or taking out a loan. This flexibility opens the doors for many people to pursue business or community ideas that may not otherwise have the means to do so. Use your imagination! An incredible variety of projects have been successfully funded and brought to life through this process. Dust off your old dream book and find something to pursue!


The resources listed below may help jog some ideas, or allow you to find inspiration and answers to various questions. – this is a website specific to the emerging crowdfunding industry. A great place to start. – The largest online-based crowdfunding platform. Check out some live campaigns to see what works and what works even better. Get a feel for how you want to shape and communicate your campaign. – This links to a research report published by the American Institute of Architects and covers examples and methodology through which crowdfunding may be applied to architecture.

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Lessons from Jane Goodall

This spring I had the opportunity to see Jane Goodall speak In Denver. She was full of energy and insights and watching her presentation and presence on stage, you could not believe she was about to turn 79. She had lost no passion, sharpness of mind, eloquence of speech and did not appear disinterested in speaking yet again on topics she had discussed and presented innumerable times before.

English: Jane Goodall is holding her stuffed c...

English: Jane Goodall is holding her stuffed chimpanzee, which accompanies her during travel. Jane Goodall is a famous animal scientist for studying chimpanzees. Photo taken by User:Jeekc in Hong Kong University, Hong Kong on 24 October 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Her speech was well paced and balanced, and left the listener with a lot to think about. She began back in her youth, tracing the unlikely path she took from a young girl to a world-renowned anthropologist and researcher. The foundation of her luminous career could be traced to her early childhood curiosities and the unwavering support of her mother. She spoke of her insatiable interest in animals, and how she wanted to read as many books about them as possible before learning how to read. Once she could read her favorite activity was to sit in the tree in her front yard and read. She also noted on many occasions that her mother always offered unwavering support of her daughters interest, and allowed her to explore the local fields and farms as she pleased. These childhood experiences solidified a lifetime of passion for the living world.

In addition to her passion, she also embraced opportunities that allowed her to traverse her unlikely career and educational path. She worked very hard in order to save enough money to go to college. She was educated to become a secretary at her mother’s suggestion, convincing Jane that secretaries were needed all over the world, including Africa. She got a job offer to be a secretary in Nairobi, and from there began to get connected to the anthropologist Louis Leakey. He hired her on as a secretary to help organize his research notes, and from there he noticed her brilliance and passion and selected her to help with his next project. She ended up studying Chimpanzees in Gombe National Reserve in Tanzania and the rest is history.

What can be learned from her brilliant career? Can we apply some of those lessons to our own aspirations? I think the answer is wholeheartedly yes. There are many ways a career, and life, can take shape and outcomes contain no certainties. However, discovering and pursuing a passion or fascination of something and following it until the end seems a good way to start. Further, embracing unusual or unexpected opportunities can completely change the trajectory of a career. Lastly, recognizing and valuing your support network is an invaluable asset.

Architecture is a difficult career full of ups and downs, continuous learning, obstacles and opportunities. Many architects don’t peak until they are in their 40s or 50s, so one must be fully committed to the practice and have the patience to continue to pursue their passion. Obstacles and opportunities arise frequently and the way they are handled can often define one’s path and happiness overtime.

It’s an exciting narrative to be written and explored, and a little wisdom from Jane Goodall may help along the way.

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Non-Linear 2

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Non-Linear Graphic Narratives

For several years I have been interested in non-linear narratives and their application to architectural process, design and experience. While on a recent trip to Utah, I began to contemplate the disconnect between the way we experience and remember events compared to how we later tell about them, or show them with photo albums. I am now experimenting with graphic representations of events that more accurately capture the raw experience and our memories of them. It is a fun project, and I am excited for what it may reveal.

Non-Linear Graphic Narratives

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Spending time with Spent

I recently purchased a book on the long-time suggestion of my anthropology professor in college. Spent: Sex, Evolution and Consumer Behavior takes a look at modern consumer behavior from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. Seeking to illuminate the unconscious decisions we make deciding upon each of our purchases, Geoffrey Miller examines both fundamental evolutionary behavior as well as the contemporary world of consumerism, marketing and branding.

From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, we spend a tremendous amount of time and energy to broadcast our most favorable traits, including extraversion, openness to new experiences, kindness, general intelligence, creativity and more. Miller argues that today, we use the products that we buy and the brands we represent as tools to signal the traits that we would like to make the world aware of. What’s more, is that we also attempt to use superior products to deceptively make up for inferior traits.

Topics examined and discussed thus far include:

  • Fitness indicators
  • Marketing and Culture
  • Marketing vs. Memes
  • Consumerist Narcissism
  • Consumerist Delusion
  • Trait Signaling
  • Conspicuous Waste, Precision, and Reputation

So far, Spent has been intriguing and insightful. I have learned more about the ties between anthropology and modern culture, and my interest in the topic has been reignited. What is of great interest to me is how this field of research may be tied to architecture. If it holds that we use the products we buy to help display our desirable traits, then I imagine that we also use the rooms and homes we live in to do the same. If we rent, perhaps the place we rent, the neighborhood it is in, and how we occupy it says what we want it to about us. Similarly, if we buy or build a new home, how do we use our homes and dwellings to advertise our biological potential as mates? I have been interested in this topic for over two years, but never quite new how to phrase it, or where to begin. Now I do, and so begins our next project.

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CCTV and Public Transit

In many cities and municipalities around the world CCTV cameras are being added to trains, buses and other facets of public transportation. With the goal of improving public safety and decreasing the incidence of crime and anti-social behavior, cities are investing in new and improved surveillance infrastructure. In many locales, the camera feeds from each train and bus are linked to a comprehensive CCTV system that monitors all activity on public transit twenty-four hours per day. The following paragraphs will outline more about CCTV implementation on trains and buses.

In the wake of 9/11, CCTV cameras have become much more commonplace in metropolitan areas around the world. On trains, subways and light rail, it is common to find cameras capturing footage in every coach, usually with one camera on each end of the coach. The passage between coaches is also monitored, as well as the entry and exit points. Buses are monitored in a similar fashion, attempting to leave no gaps in the camera coverage. Footage from these cameras are usually linked to a live command center that monitors each feed from each camera, watching for unusual or suspicious activity.

Proponents of CCTV systems on trains and buses highlight the increase in public safety and public awareness. Pointing to previous studies of CCTV cameras deterring petty theft and crime, they support the extension of these networks in the public realm.
Opponents of this trend question how extensive public surveillance systems may become before they are an invasion of privacy. Further, they often question the validity of numerous claims and assumptions that cameras truly make the public realm a safer place, and cite that cameras are more often used to solve crimes than to prevent them.

Citizens on opposite sides of the issue are far from agreement, but it seems nearly certain that CCTV cameras and systems will continue to proliferate in public environments.

Aside from this debate, it is interesting to consider ways in which extensive surveillance on public transit may create opportunities to understand the metropolis in new ways. This voyeuristic perspective could reveal subtleties of behavior, routine, demographics and use of public transit. In addition, cameras with views of the exterior of the transit modality and passing cityscape would reveal new ways to experience the city and insights into the fabric of the city. In a culture captivated by the media image and synthetic realities, opportunities continue to abound in the realm of surveillance and the city.

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Spatial Humanities

I recently came across an article in the New York Times about the relatively new field of spatial-humanities and its application of GIS to discover, interpret and broadcast current and historical information in digital, spatial maps to broaden understanding of space, place and people. Widely used by historians to reconstruct events and locations in more accurate and comprehensive ways that before, it is also used by archaeologists, literary theorists, and others to analyze real and imagined landscapes.

Prominent projects conducted thus far include a complete digital recreation of the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as of Salem, Massachusetts during the witch trials. Studying Salem from a spatial humanities approach revealed never before realized facets of church affiliation, judge behavior, courtroom habits, types of evidence admitted, and more that contributed to the hysteria of the time. David Bodenhamer, a historian at Indiana University, says that GIS technologies “make it possible to analyze complex and changing patterns of political preferences, religious affiliation, migration and cultural influence in fresh ways by linking them to geography.”

Others have chosen to use spatial-humanities to create maps on globalization and trade, urban studies, and even digital musicology, in which scholars create spatial representations of harmonic form.

The Scholar’s Lab at the University of Virginia Library has created a website to give access to the new field of spatial-humanities, including current projects, readings and research and how to get involved. Projects and groups abound in diversity, including architecture, anthropology, archaeology, literary space, political science, psychology, linguistics, geography, environmental history, and more.

So where does this come into play for architecture? Uses abound, as many existing projects demonstrate. Hypercities explores the historical layers of city spaces in an interactive and hypermedia environment, allowing users to see where cities have been, how they have gotten to where they are, and where they may be heading. Imagine being able to create a digital map, complete with layers including the previous 20 years of population density and demographics, changing shape of public and private space, successful and failed development, as well as up-to-the-minute information of numbers of people checking in with foursquare, local ticket sales, apartment vacancies, daily traffic density, etc. This would not only reveal tremendous depth of information about the ephemeral city, but also how people use and interact with the city, and how the culture and dynamic of a neighborhood has metamorphosed over time. Further, this would all be a presented in a spatial and digital manner, allowing users to turn layers on and off to see different spatial and cultural relationships in the city.

As a tool for anthropologists, sociologists, architects, city planners and more, there is tremendous potential to understand the city and its inhabitants in new ways, which can only lead to new methods of collaboration and new ideas for how we design and build for ourselves.

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Walk the City Blindfolded

Ruminating over old notes, projects, travels and the like I happily remembered an exercise, or field trip, I participated in while studying in Copenhagen. As often occurred, the class time for my urban design theory class was devoted to a walking field trip. These were always memorable and educational days, walking through the cobbled and serpentine streets of Copenhagen, where stately and patinad buildings stand side-by-side with contemporary design. Doing so blindfolded stimulated us to pay more attention to our remaining senses, bringing a whole new level of experience and appreciation to the city.

Strolls through these parts of the city are always awash with life. Wafting, blowing, hinting and delighting, smells abound in the air of the city, the air of the harbor and canals, the bakeries, cafes, sidewalks, gutters and garbage. A cool breeze brings warm smells of rolls and coffee, chills from the water, and the premonition of rain from the skies, from the clouds, grey canvases creased with strokes from the wind, laden and permanent over the land, cloaking the sun and damping out precious hours of daylight. Already the shadows of the passages seem to darken. The nose awakens, ancient olfactory machinations, aware of more in the air. Damp, moss covered corners, dusty crevices, sharp tinge of urine, stale smell of spilled beer. Echoes, reverberations, vibrations, clues, phantoms fill the auditory space of our worlds. Painting a three-dimensional panorama invisible to our eyes we understand more of the physical world and spaces we occupy. Sounds from the street recede, replaced by strengthening echoes from our footsteps, our conversations, our belts of laughter and hushed whispers. Under echoing footfalls, old and worn cobblestones greet the feet. Thin shoe soles do not impede the nerves and skin from contouring, tracing the outline of each cobble, worn corners, imperfect gaps of patterns and intervals that never repeat, lain with the uniquely creative and imperfect laboring hand. Fingertips are reassured by rough brick sliding coarsely by in the darkness, scraping fingernails add to the acoustic space while imperceptibly being ground, filed, shaped. Minute imperfections unable to hide from the sensitive skin, acutely aware of even the slightest deviance from perfection, appreciating the endless story told upon the face of brick after brick. A gasp, a rush of blood, flush of the face, pulse quickening step into the abyss. A loss of repetition in the footfalls, a dislocation of the ground plane, hands flinching to seize the unseen for support. Laughter and apologies from nearby friends and classmates, forgot to the mention the step down, won’t happen again. Winding down a street, feeling the shape of the city, the shape of the constructive forces of centuries past, cross streets and alleys signified by the opening and closing of sounds, bikes bells, conversation, echoes, distant sounds barely able to address us. A bustle is approaching, sounds of commerce, rush, heavy pedestrian traffic, walking faster, energizing the air, feeling the space of the city, the crush of the crowd. Cobbles smooth out underfoot, pace quickens, less to feel here on the recently lain cobbles, full of intricate tone and pattern (or so your friend tells you). Conversations from passerbys, sounds of transactions and inquiries, cinnamon roles, hot dogs, ice cream, meat, coffee and more roll in wave upon wave across the nose. Strangers unseen brush by, bumping shoulders, rustling coats, fragments of words bounce away in the turbulence, light smells hang ephemerally in the air, sweat, stress, masks, memories, desires. Seated upon a bench, feet value the rest from labor, leg and back muscles relax, re-adjust as they feel out the contours of the bench, the chill of metal, the spacing of the slats. Light rushes in as the blindfold is removed, squinting, blinking eyes welcome the contraction of the pupil, a return of focus to the scene, a return to the dominance of the eye.

Simple outings as powerful reminders of the deep and envoking world enlightened by the senses. A chance for a retrospective on the ocular-centric culture of our day and lives, and the archaic, embedded, indescribably rich experiences open to us if we close our eyes. Considering how much our senses contribute to how we feel about a place, how we define a place, as well as remember it, ample energy should be given to address all of our haptic system in our designs, large and small.

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Architecture, Energy and Radical Ecology

I have recently been in contact with a friend and colleague of mine who is currently pursuing his Masters in Architectural Design at The Bartlett School in London, England. Following his blog, as well as corresponding with him, has made me highly interested in his work, and motivated me to resume my own writings and explorations.

His project, a richly complex narrative of architecture, energy, empathy and ecology, addresses layer upon layer of historic and modern societal issues, including energy flows, infrastructure, power hierarchies, resource and labor exploitation, globalization, empathy, decentralization, individual subjectivity, technology and open-source networks.   For anyone interested in these topics and the possibilities of radical architectural and ecological shifts, I highly recommend you browse his writings, illustrations and animations.


For further insight into a piece of his project, watch this video summarizing Jeremy Rifkin’s “The Empathic Civilization.”

RSA Animate – The Empathic Civilization

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