Google Earth and Architecture

I recently came across the brief synopsis of a book titled Distributed Urbanism. The synopsis briefly discussed the author’s interest in how cities and technology are changing and how architects are responding. This quickly brought to mind many experiences while in school involving the use of Google Earth as a research and design tool. The tool certainly has its value and place, but I also feel that it is easily abused, or valued too highly. I’ll try to explain my thoughts below.

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Teaching Los Angeles

Los Angeles is so often criticized in this century as a failed city, an anti-city lacking the traditional hierarchies and radial density gradient that we have come to take for granted as key characteristics of functioning large cities.  That which in our minds constitutes Los Angeles is made up of many sub-cities, analogous to the outer boroughs of New York.  However, while the boroughs of New York are more or less subservient to the traditional model of radial density, with Manhattan as the official and functional nexus, the sub-cities of Los Angeles each contain their own density gradients, resulting in a multiplicity of hierarchies that makes for a unique, if exasperating, urban condition revolving around the individual’s desire to encapsulate himself using cars, homes, and gated communities, perpetually avoiding the idea of the collective Los Angeles.

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Coney Island then and now: A look at the Pyrotechnic Insanitarium 100 years on

On a recent trip to New York City, I finally made it to see a long time fascination of mine: Coney Island. My interest in Coney Island stems Rem Koolhaas’s analysis of the island in Delirious New York. In his essay, Coney Island: Technology of the Fantastic, he outlines the role Coney Island played in generating the 24-hour metropolis and consumer culture that transformed New York City at the turn of the 20th Century.

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What is the value of monumentalism?

I recently read an interesting article from Greater Greater Washington about the issue of Monumentalism. The author points out the conflict that arises between the life of the city and the value placed upon the monumental views of the mall, avenues and important buildings. The author, David Alpert, best describes it writing, “Monumentalism’ puts postcard D.C. above human D.C.”

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Language, Architecture and Anthropology

In the past year I have become increasingly critical and curious as to why many architects insist upon, or at least have a habit of, using jargon and speaking in a superfluous manner. In my experience, this trait is particularly acute in academia, where it seems that the more convoluted and lofty you sound, the wiser you are and the better your projects or opinions are. This trend does not serve a clear purpose or hold much value in my opinion, but there are surely reasons for its prevalence.

The following paragraphs will seek to shed some light on the anthropological drivers of this behavior and the role it plays in architecture.

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Surveillance, Alibis and Streaming Autobiographies

Artist Hasan Elahi developed a surveillance and security project he calls “Tracking Transience: The Orwell Project.” Inspired after the Department of Homeland Security erroneously detained him, the project compiles GPS data, photographs, purchase records and maps to present an up-to-the minute account of his whereabouts.

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Social Sharing, Awe and Architecture

An article in the New York Times reported on a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania questioning what kind of information travels fastest through social networks and why? A six-month intensive study of the most-emailed articles in the New York Times revealed some very interesting trends.

Allard Schmidt: "This picture was taken a...

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Information Overload + Architecture

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

–      Herbert Simon, Recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics, 1978

Information has never been more abundant than it is today, and it seems as if the trend will only proliferate in coming years and decades. More information and more outputs and means of absorbing information are inevitable developments. But what will be done with this information. Excesses of information have already begun to show potential drawbacks and weaknesses, such as the attempted Christmas Day bombing in 2009. Authorities asserted that they had all the information, but failed to connect the dots because they simply had too much information to act on (see The Blindness of Surveillance).

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Storytelling and Politics + Consequences on the Built Environment

This interesting article published by the BBC outlines two men and the books they have written arguing that storytelling influences voters far more than facts or logic. I think that these are quite poignant observations given our evolutionary bias to storytelling as well as the increasing absurdity of American politics. The authors propose that voters may even vote against their own interests because they have such strong attachments to stories surrounding the issues, regardless of logic or facts that may counter the storylines.

Cover of "The Political Brain: The Role o...

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Multidisciplinary Collaborations

The Spaces of History/History of Spaces conference scheduled for April 30, 2010 at University of California at Berkeley looks fascinating. Beginning with the framework of collaborative efforts to understand historical processes through space and the built environment and the writings of Lefebvre, Foucault, Gregory, Harvey, Soja and Latour, the conference seeks to answer several questions. In addition to seeking new approaches to studying the built environment, the conference will explore several pertinent questions, including:

How has the “spatial turn” in the humanities and social sciences transformed the ways in which history of the built environment is theorized and researched?

What are the potentials and biases in the use of particular research techniques and narrative forms?

How might such interrogations help us conceive new pedagogies for design and planning?

Wundt group of reseach

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This conference is full of potential to further explore and understand the connections between the humanities, social sciences and the built environment, as well as refine methods for continued learning and discovery. The multidisciplinary and collaborative approach is extremely valuable and opens broad avenues of possibility. What will be interesting to see is how knowledge communicated and developed at this conference can be practically applied beyond academia.

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