Expanding our definition of “now”


I’ve been reading a lot recently about “third” places – not your home (#1) or your workplace (#2), but that “informal public gathering place” where everyone knows your name.  Or so Cheers would have you believe It got me to thinking about the value and importance of different kinds of social interactions.  There’s not a hierarchy, per se, between those relationships you have with people you welcome into your home and those relationships with people you gather with at the corner pub.  They’re both essential.  I’ve been operating, without knowing it, that the best relationships and interactions were those appropriate to one’s private home. I’ve been seeking out people whom I can invite over for dinner or with whom I can, I don’t know, watch a movie and paint my nails.  Something along those lines.  I’ve been forgetting the role played by those whom I see at the coffeeshop in the morning and the regulars who nod and smile at the library.

And so the idea of a “mootspace” intrigues me.  Do truly democratic spaces already exist? If so, where? And if not, is it as simple as Field of Dreams makes it sound: “if we build it, they will come?”  Is building the space enough? Is providing opportunity enough?  Or are there other ways to seek input and communication and consensus (if those are even the democratic ideals we’re going for)? Hmm.

Also, the quote from Suzi Gablick: “calls for an end to alienation of artists and aesthetics from social values in a new, inter-relational, audience-oriented art” is spot on.  We should always consider the future life of what we make by considering who our work is serving.  We as artists/designers/craftsmen/makers/whatever you want to call yourself have a unique opportunity and ( very serious)  obligation to serve people other than ourselves.


The guy on the TED talk mentioned briefly the idea that when you show people a record of where their plastic water bottle goes, proof that it still exists on the planet, that it didn’t disappear when you tossed it in the trashcan, then you might be able to promote some behavioral changes. In other words, show people proof of what’s going on, and they then have something to react against, against which to measure their individual impact and begin to examine how they might influence/change that impact.  Seems clear. and obvious.

Saw this in action this morning at church.  It was Ministry Sunday this week, the week during the year when the parish asks people to consider participating/volunteering in one or multiple of the ministries that keep the church running.  This could mean staffing the food pantry, or coordinating donuts and coffee after Mass, or singing in the choir, or visiting the sick or the homebound, etc.  Anyways, at the end of Mass, the priest invited anybody who had, over the years, delivered food from the food pantry to families or individuals who needed it to come forward and be recognized by the congregation.  And I thought that 1, it was wonderful that people get applauded and thanked for something they did/do that may go unrecognized or may be an invisible task, and 2, how useful it was for me to see just how many people in the church were actively participating in this one ministry. It made me think that if all these people made time for this, perhaps I could too.  Note to self: thanking volunteers – and being able to visually see the number of people involved – is great for enlisting more volunteers.

Conclusion: Seeing evidence gives you something to react against or with.


Not much to say about this just now, but the idea intrigues me.  I love the word “sustain.” Not “sustainability,” with all the baggage that comes along with that term, but simply: “sustain.”  Don’t you want something that sustains you? That lasts, that endures, that supports, that grows? How can I be a part of sustaining things?

And as a last note from the Dutch floating city talk: Dubai as “a country with a strong vision”?  I’ve never heard Dubai described that way.  And while I suppose it’s true, the results of those strong visions are beyond absurd.  Case in point: the palm tree islands. Floating towers?

I have two can openers.

Don’t ask me why but when I think of adaptive design, I think of suicide booths. I know they are make believe, but they seem like a viable alternative to floating houses. They’re cheap, at only a quarter a pop, just about everyone can afford to use one. 6.7 billion x 25 cents is like 1.7 billion dollars just waiting to be made by any cutthroat corporation savvy enough to step up to the plate. I bet most people would be willing to pay upwards of 5 or 10 dollars. Half of the products out there are killing us slowly one way or another anyway. Imagine the positive impact on the environment if our population suddenly began to decrease instead of increase! We wouldn’t even have to make any new stuff, there would be so much extra stuff laying around.

Seems like most peoples idea of now is RIGHT NOW! Not a week or a year. People can’t even wait for a car to turn off Burnside for 5 seconds, they have to floor it into the next lane just so they can make it to the next stoplight faster (this is one reason I think suicide booths would be a hit). No one has any patience any longer. Patience would go a long way in shaping design as far as consumerism is concerned. If people would wait to buy things until they find exactly the right thing, instead of buying whichever thing they can get their hands on, the day they decide randomly that they needed new shoes or a new can opener. People need to stop buying stuff just because they feel like their lives aren’t going the way they were hoping and they just gotta get that thing that will fill the void (suicide booths). Then the crappy can openers would stop being made. No one would buy them, find out they suck, and toss them in the trash. Only good can openers would be produced, since only good can openers would get purchased. All because we thought about the can opener that would be the best can opener for us.

I don’t know if everyone should be involved in the design process at the development stage. Not everyone should have a say in how a can opener should be made. Some people can operate can openers, but really have no concept of how they work.
Everyone should buy good can openers when they need one. Maybe cans should all have pull tabs, then we wouldn’t even need can openers at all.

I love the Netherlands

Out of all the week 9 readings, I was most interested in the Floating Architecture for a Changing Climate.  The Netherlands’ architect, Koen Olthuis’, inspiration and vision is to live with the water and not push the water away.  Meaning to design floating houses that will live on the water adapted from the history of Dutch floating house boats.  These house boats were originally designed for the poor as an easy solution to finding housing.  The inevitable rise in sea level that comes with climate change is making it very difficult to control the water rising over the land.  The Netherlands is 26% below sea level.  Since water dominates most of the Netherlands, the Dutch constructed a water system consisting of dykes, polders and weirs.  But, these water systems can no longer keep up with the rising sea waters.  Instead of cursing their fate, architects are designing and thinking of new ways to float on the water.  The Dutch government agrees and is willing to try out the Netherlands’ new theme of living on the water.  This has led other countries to start to think about living on water instead of dry land.  Apparently, building a house boat is easy according to Olthuis; all you need is to fill a concrete box with some kind of plastic foam, flip it over, and you have a stable platform that floats.

When I was 25, I took a long backpacking trip around the Netherlands.  I was amazed that you couldn’t go a mile without seeing some type or water, whether it was a river, canal, or dykes.  I was naive at the time, not understanding that some of the Netherlands was under sea level.  I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that basically I was standing on water.  There are no basements in the houses and there are many floors stacked on top of each other.  I also recall observing lots of moss growing everywhere, even on cement.

When I first saw the numerous house boats that were floating in the bigger canals, I wished I could have gone inside one to see what they were like.  They float because of their unique foundation.  These house boats created clusters of curved lines and colored wooden planking.  I jokingly said to my boyfriend at the time, we should buy a floating house and move to the Netherlands.

I just walked over to my window and closed it. . . The room got warmer. How’s that for interactive architecture!

To be frank, placing tracking devices on my garbage to guilt me into worrying about where my trash ends up is not going to make me eat less hotpockets when I’m stoned on a Wednesday night. Creating a kitschy robo-house may be an interesting way of exploiting new computer technologies and bring about an awareness towards energy consumption. But it is in no way adressing real design solutions of have and have-not.  I whole-heartedly feel that education, exposure and awareness are the key to affecting change, however I am very skeptical of the current trend towards the “heroification”(© J. Tietze) of designers.

As a boat builder by trade I can assure you that the massive production of floating homes is not a viable solution to climate change. Marine vessels and structures require a massive amount of energy materials and chemicals to maintain. Almost all the wood used in maritime construction is exotic, threatened, rain forest timber, and in the cases where more sustainable lumber is used it must be slathered with caustic sealers and paints. These sealants are then perpetually sloughing off of the vessel poisoning the harbors where it rests. This coupled with the constant upkeep, repair and replacement required to dwell in a marine environment show that this is not a practical design solution to the melting polar ice caps.

Decades of paint crumbling from the hull of a ship.

The two movies were both proposing new ideas of development as if they were some new and society altering solution. The idea of a building that reacts to real-time happenings is not a new concept (see my automatic thermostat) as well the idea of a floating home with a modern design aesthetic, a drive along the Columbia river to view an array of rotting once modern floating homes will attest to that. The spokespeople for both these ideas seem to be elevating the worth of their work in some sort of an attempt to elevate their own personal worth. The concept of a floating modern home is nothing more than a cool idea, that’s it. It is not the solution to rising tides, moving onto higher ground is the solution for that. With all this being said, none of these ideas are worthless endeavors. Beautiful floating homes are wonderful objects, A house that tells a story with water droplets is a truly engaging concept, I just tend cringe at the design worlds misappropriated nobility. These design solutions are no more revolutionary than a third world, or jury rigged solution yet we feel no desire to hoist these people on the shoulders of society as heroes.

Why is that? Oh right, capitalism, “If you sell a man a fish he has to come back to your store every night to make sure his family has something to eat. If you teach a man to fish. . .  you go out of business” The media, universities, and museums are looking to promote something new shiny and above all, profitable.

A novel solution for a staircase but too low brow to warrant a TED talk from it's creator.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”- William Morris

A statement by William Morris, the father of the arts and crafts movement, that seems a bit antiquated when put up against the dazzling intrigue of modern technologies.

Mootdesign(or perhaps redundant)

Adaptive Capacity:Design as a Social Strategy for Designing “now” and “co-futuring”(Now there’s a mouthful) begins by saying that “During the past two centuries ‘design’ was self-absorbed in its own culture. An unholy battery of academic posturing is stitched together for us to try to decipher. The article also deems design in its current standardized role as simply responding to the whim and fancy of corporate market interests and the greater global economy. The rhetorical and cliche notion of altruism(too give is also to get) is juxtaposed with what design ought to be doing and sometimes attains. The ideals of beauty and aesthetics are debased to merely encompass market wants and trends. Beauty I would say transcends definition and cannot be lessened by market forces(or your perception of their inherent value). To quote another term the new vision coined as Beautiful Strangeness is the solution for capitalism/consumerism gone awry. Yet I cant help but wonder where do corporate interests derive the needs of the masses? Are they simply fabricated by some malignant mad-marketing campaign. Doesn’t society currently get a democratic say of what is  fabricated and desired? Needs and wants exists because society desires them. Economic degrowth as opposed to the blind juggernaut of ungenuine(its a real word wordpress), and the morally corrupt methodology of today’s industrial machine unloads upon us is proposed as a solution. Yes, ” sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” I agree that responsibility in the end is a collective imperative. Yet, I don’t think we can accurately predict what the needs of the future will be.

Here ill say it, I have no interest in being an activist. Philosophically speaking I belive that which we resit persists.  But i do agree that designers can take the role of facilitators, authors, co-creators, co-designers and ‘happeners’ ‘(i.e.  making things actually happen)… ‘designers  as  connectors and facilitators,  as  quality producers,  as visualizers and visionaries,  as  future  builders (or  co-producers). Designers as promoters of new business models.  Designers as catalizers  of  change.’

Ill ask this, what is positive behavior change? The Mootspace already exists in the ether. Every time you think your voice is heard.  Its your belief which makes  it a reality.

part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Q-I0iVBDmC4

part 3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nnb9_njsJbs&feature=related


part 4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdhbgEvTa2c&feature=related

By default, we are all engaged in participatory design. We are integrally connected to the universe and fearing tomorrow (or today for that matter) is counterproductive to say the least. Every person you come across is a co-creator. The future will be beautiful, and perhaps strange, hopefully for you in a good way.

Sense-ing for change

After the lights went out in Carlo Ratti’s TED talk I was instantly intrigued.  What can I say, I am a sucker for shiny flying objects. But I was most fascinated by the slide he showed about the trash tracking.

I was really impressed they were able to get 3000 people to participate in Seattle, which for me made for a stronger more legitimate survey.  We have often talked about where our trash goes and where it ends up, but it was made quite real to see on a map just how far our trash can travel.  I was flabbergasted to see that a few pieces of trash went all the way across the country to Florida!  “Why is that even happening?” I asked myself.  Ratti goes on to say that hopefully by showing people this type of data they can spread the knowledge of awareness, and through that, change peoples behavior.  I believe that this is one of the best examples of how this sensing can help us change.  There is something about seeing this information manifested visually that has a larger impact than a sentence listing a statistic.

I am a less interested how the sensing and responding affects architecture, and am more interested in how it can assist us with medical knowledge.  Having two roommates in the medical field I am constantly reminded how our health care system is strongly rooted in treating symptoms instead of treating the entire person.   Doctors look for the quick fix, often with a medicated result, instead of reviewing the whole person to find and treat the root cause of their symptoms.  Which is why after perusing sensables website I was drawn to their project Health InfoScape.

The goal of the Health InfoScape is to “analyze data from over 7.2 million anonymized electronic medical records, taken from across the country (the US), we are seeking to uncover statical relationships between space, geography and health”.

And I also love this statement from the projects site.

“We often have a tendency to think of illness as an isolated event, but our first analysis details the numerous (sometimes unexpected) associations that exist around any given condition. This gives us new insight as to how closely connected some seemingly un-related health conditions might be. Such results force us to re-examine conventional categories of disease classification, as the boundaries between traditional disease categories are thoroughly blurred.”

Although the visuals are a bit more convoluted and harder to relate to than the trash experiment, I hope that this type of visual data can help change the way our health system operates today.  I think we have for quite sometime been linking our environment to our health, but maybe we need to go deeper, make more connections from larger amounts of data.  Which is just what Health InfoScape plans to do in the future with this process.

Looking at you looking at me

I was struck by Carlo Ratti’s description and implementation of Real Time Control Systems.  This is the sort of futurism that gets people really fired up.  These concepts are the new way in which large swaths of our local and global populations will interact both with each other and with their broader geophysical landscapes.  This will include the ways in which we interact with the virtual qua reality worlds constructed on servers around the globe.

Previously I found conclusive evidence that gravity exists in Second Life (see video).  Poking around I found a wiki founded by Annie Spinster, an artist and designer based in England.  The project of Spinster’s I found most fascinating was Jiggle-Ometer, an open source hardware based system in which someone could directly interact with something in Second Life through an array of sensors.  It is developments

It is developments like this and Carlo Ratti’s that continue to blur the demarcation between virtual and physical and pushes the threshold into tighter and tighter tolerances.  Whereas Koen Olthuis is working towards an easily implemented architecture to adapt to climate change in the form of rising water levels, I think an equally important question is what will distract the population from how difficult their lives are becoming.  With the air of gentrification implied in the N.P.R. article/ video what will the rest of us do to convince ourselves that our lives aren’t too bad?  Maybe we will continue to retreat into popular culture, into a version of reality that we can identify with.  That is part of the draw with reality TV.  The characters portrayed are easy to identify with, there is an immediate human connection whether that is sentimental or ridiculous we can recognize ourselves in those characters.

Virtual reality through interfaces such as Second Life may continue to garner market share.  Especially as open source hardware options become more ubiquitous.  People will have the ability to shape their entertainment through familiar physical processes.   The shift from spectator to participant will increase in both speed and scale.  What Carlo Ratti termed the self organizing power of networks will work to not only generate solutions to the wicked problems of our society and culture but to increase the methods in which we can escape the weight of our problems.