Monday, 16 June 2014

Book - Building as Ornament


The ornament is returning slowly to the architectural discourse. It has not really been absent though merely denied, but it is returning as a more prominent topic now.

A key text is Adolf Loos' Ornament and crime (Ornament und Verbrechen) (1908) that was widely interpreted as at the easement of ornament in architecture. More recent interpretations (for example Gleiter, 2012) however is more differentiated. Already the title in which Loos uses and hints at this. Nevertheless ornament was denied a role in modernist architecture and is still a minefield for architects today.

BE the buildings Image taken from designboom / A proposed project spelling out the letters 'BE' for buildings in Brussels by JDS in 2007.

The way for the reintroduction of ornament has been paved by technology interestingly enough. In the late 80ies and especially the 90ies CAD tools have presented the tools to begin to design with patterns including options to manipulate the pattern based on conditions. This has also the been linked to production and printed glass or pierce metals facades or even brickwork layer by robots (Bearth & Deplazes with Gramazio & Kohler, 2006).

This has been accompanied by theoretical writings, exhibitions and journals. For examples the exhibition at the SAM Re-Sampling Ornament in 2008. The architecture journals ARCH+ (1995/2002), l'architecture d'aujourd'hui (2001) or AD primers, Ornament: the politics of architecture and subjectivity (2013) for example have published on ornament during this early phase. Authors who have contributed to the now re-emerging discussion on ornament include Jörg H. Gleiter ((orig. German, 2002. Die Rückkehr des Verdrängten)), Michael Dürfeld (The Ornament and the Architectural Form (orig. in German, 2008. Das Ornamentale und die architektonische Form)) or Farshid Moussavi (The Function of Form, 2008).

The new possibilities in design and production using new technologies have allowed to re-imagine the relationship between design, production and product. Whereas at the time Loos wrote Architecture and Crime the industrialisation introduced the production of exact replicas into the thousands of one single product, the new technologies based around computers allow for a trance dent workflow and individually adapted and styled objects whilst still machine and mass produced. Hence the conditions have fundamentally changed.

What can be observed is, though very slow moving, a shift from an understanding of ornament as decoration to an interpretation of ornament as process in the sense of structure and narrative.

A special take on this is presented by Michiel van Raaij in his new publication Building as Ornament. Whilst van Raaij focuses on iconographic architecture he proposes building as ornament as a term to frame part of this discussion in a new way implying links to a theoretical discussion with references to a long tradition.

Fire station 4 Image taken from 52weeks / The Fire Station 4 in Columbus by Venturi Scott Brown and Associates in 1968.

Van Raaij's idea is to try and focus on the story the architect tries to tell through an iconic building. He argues that "Iconography is the use of images from outside architecture in architecture" and that the focus of the book is on "iconography that explains the function, social status, organisation, load-bearing structure and/or context of the building". He makes the link to ornament using the narrative in the sense of explaining something.

The book brings together over 100 examples to illustrate this notion. This ranges from the Yokohama International Port Perminal by FOA, 2004, to the Bird's Nest Stadium by Herzog de Meuron in 2008 or the People's Building in Shanghai by BIG, 2004.

Whilst the book does not offer a theoretical framework for the introduced terminology or a broader discussion on the theoretical dimension of such a 'new' aspect of ornament in architecture, it presents a conversation. The publication is on one had a collection of projects that fit the description iconographic architecture and it is on the other hand a collection of interviews in which the author van Raaij discusses iconographic architecture with architects and architectural historians.

Signal Box Image taken from architecture.com / The Signal Box in Basel, Switzerland by Herzog de Meuron in 1994.

The interview partners are, in order of appearance: Auke van der Would, Charles Jencks, Denise Scott Brown, Adriaan Geuze, Michiel Riedijk, Alejandro Zaero-Polo, Ben van Berkel, Steven Holl, Winy Maas and Bjarke Ingels.

All of the interview partners of course have a different angle on the topic and in some conversations the focus is more on icons, narratives, construction or material. Some do specifically discuss ornament as in the recently emerging debate, so for examples the interview with Denise Scott Brown where she discusses aspects of the design for Fire Station 4 in Columbus. She emphasises the very same topics of structure and narrative the ornament discussion is moving towards. Other interviews do however not even touch ornament.

There is loads of material and a very interesting discussion around icons in architecture and iconographic architecture to be found in this book. This is clearly the focus of van Raaij's work and his personal interest. He has been running a blog on iconic buildings for a long time and he knows the projects in this field. The real contribution of this book is definitely to hear the architects, as described by van Raaij as the Generation OMA, to talk about icons and iconographic design processes in architecture. There are some very personal statements in these discussions that shed light on some of the famous icons this current generation of architects have developed. It demonstrates that there is more to the discussion of iconic architecture than it just being a land mark put up by an architect to make a bold statement.

Through out the book the terms ornament and icon/iconographic architecture are used interchangeably. And it turns out that ornament only plays a small role setting the stage in this nai010 publishers book. Even though one could have expected quite some potential in this take on ornaments, not as a complete explanation, but as a special case of ornament on the level of the building. More contextual material would be needed to define a clear standpoint.

However, the chosen title, it has to be said, is very cleverly chosen. It is catchy, provides a lot of historical context, touches the nerve (both of time and architects still hating ornaments, as they have been told to do in architecture school?) and it is simple enough to be self-explanatory whilst allowing room for imagination. Nevertheless for the reader who is looking for the specific topic on ornament it might mean to be disappointed, but not without discovering an interesting collection of personal discussions on iconic architecture.

Building as ornament cover Image taken from designboom / Book cover.



Van Raaij, M., 2014. Building as Ornament. nai010 publishers, Rotterdam.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Book - Hugh Maaskant. Architect of Progress



A very special figure in the architectural history of the Netherlands has finally a architectural monograph dedicated to his work in a new international edition: Hugh Maaskant. Architect of Progres.

It is not just the architect Maaskant himself, but especially also the context he was working in and his home city of Rotterdam that makes this a very interesting and insightful book. Rotterdam was the very logic or 'functional' city with its strong focus on the port and its logistics and with this was the ideal context for the rational and functionalist strategies of Hugh Maaskant.

The story is beautifully put together and researched in detail by author Michelle Provoost who spent almost a decade researching and tracing Maaskant's work finally summarising it in her PhD thesis that was originally published in Dutch as Hugh Maaskant. Architect van de vooruitgang (Hugh Maaskant. Architect of Progress).

The new international version of the book is also publisher by nai010 publishers, designed by Simon Davies with Stephanie de Man and also features an essay by photographer Iwan Baan.

Groothandelsgebouw today Image taken from baunetz / One of the court yards of the Groothandelsgebouw (1945-1953) today. Part of the photo essay by Iwan Baan.

Provoost makes it clear that Maarkant was a modern architect and clearly saw himself as a modernist architect. However she ale points out that Maaskant did not share the ideological background with the modernist movement. Provoost claims that in Masaskant's work social criticism is absent and "that he was not a 'critical' architect but a 'consensual one." (p. 13).

Interestingly, it appears that Maaskant did exclusively focus on construction and realisation. He was not interested in theory and intellectual reflection on his own work. He was a businessman with a keen sense for strategy and opportunities without artistic leanings.

Akragon Image taken from fotorob on flickrFlu / Akragon (1955-1970) sports tower in Rotterdam by Hugh Maaskant.

Nevertheless his work is still inspiring today. The clarity of his functionalism approach, the rigour of his style and the dedication to detail and design in his works are part of what makes the fascination. And this fascination is bleed, not only for architecture students, architects or architecture historians. The interest group is much larger. Michelle Provoost's original Dutch publication was sold out within the first year. The interest in this period and Maaskant's work in particular is amazing, his work is still captivating today.

Scheveningse pier Image taken from Wikipedia, article 'Scheveningse pier' / Scheveningse pier (1954-1961) in Scheveningse by Hugh Maaskant.

As Provoost points out in the preface, her work on Maaskant and the wider subject of urban planning in and around the city of Amsterdam has helped to shape a new approach to and appreciation of the past and lead to a number of MAAskant's buildings being refurbished or reused, saving them from being replaced by a new wave of renewal. This kind of continuity might not be what Maaskant's approach to architecture was in his time, but it is what we have learned from his work and what Provoost beautifully demonstrates in this book. It is not about critique but this lesson is about understanding the work in a wider context, commenting it to draw inspiration for the present.

Hugh Maaskant Image taken from naibooksellers / Book cover.

Provoost, M., 2013. Hugh Maaskant - Architect of Progress nai010 publishers, Rotterdam.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Book - Inside Cern Science Lives



What does science look like? This might evoke black and white images of the cities and sixties showing male scientists in white lab coats bent over a table where some assistant has layed out various tools and models. Materials are steel, chrome, glass and colourful plastic. Shown in the background is probably a black board with some formulas and equations written on.

But what does science really look like, today? In a new Lars Müller Publishers publication Andri Pol shows the reader some inside glimpse of one of the biggest scientific research labs in the world. In Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research he has been documenting work and live in and around CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

Inside Cern 'layered equations' p.233 Image taken from uncubemagazine / 'layered equations' p.233.

Andri Pol is a Swiss freelance photographer with a specific focus on the everyday. This is also how he portraits the places, labs, offices, scientists and atmospheres at CERN, with great curiosity and respect.

There are no pretty pictures to be found in this documentation and there are no glorious moments. Its all about the effort, the struggle and the dedication. Flipping though the pages only unveils a great range of colours and oddly chosen angles or frames. The book does not work that way. The photographs are actually rather complex compositions with a lot of depth each with not just one but often a number of aspects.

Whilst there is a lot of equipment and machines visible there is an emphasis on the people who are involved at CERN in some way. Being this the scientists, indeed sometimes in white overcoats and blue shoe protectors, technical staff or students. People from all over the world come together at CERN working in teams. This is often shown, science is discussion and exchange.

The documentation portraits also the atmosphere at CERN. Beside the highly technical installations there is very little shiny and new infrastructure. In fact most of the facilities seem to be rather pragmatic and often improvised. It is clear the focus is somewhere else. This place is not about design and style, but about customablilty, flexibility and improvisation. That does not mean that self expression is absence. On the contrary the numerous portraits of individualised desks, doors, books and computers themselves tell a story.



Inside Cern 'calibrate' p.243 Image taken from klatmagazine / 'calibrate' p.243.

Only on the last few pages the photographs stet to show some of the machinery of the actual Large Hadron Collider (LHC), photographs that look similar to what is usually circulated in the meadia. By that point the reader is already so deep immersed in the atmosphere at CERN that is seems to be most natural thing to walk past this monster of infrastructure that doesn't even fit on a photograph. In many ways all the other photographs tell a much more telling tale of the LHC than the tons of steel, cable and concrete.

Inside Cern 'thinking' p.249 Image taken from uncubemagazine / 'thinking' p.249.

This being a Lars Müller Publisher publication it does not come as a surprise that this is a very beautifully made book. A lot of care has gone into the design of the book and the selection of the photographs. Even though it is mainly a picture book a real narrative is being told here something that captivates the reader. This book certainly tells a very different story about science today. It is of course documenting science in a unique biotope of research and collaboration creating a special place between Switzerland and France. But what it shows is the fascination and dedication of the individuals working in this field and manages to transport this.

If this is not quite yet enough. Google has collaborated with cern and it features on Street View. Try this link to go on a virtual walk around CERN and the LHC.

Inside Cern book cover Image taken from amazon.com / Book cover. More details also available on the book website at insidecern.com.

Pol, A., 2011. Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research. Lars Muller Publishers, Zürich.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

3D Printing - the Form 1


Over the past few years printing three dimensional objects has become widely popular with new tools now becoming available at low costs ready to use. Whilst 3D printing has been around since the 1980s only now have consumer gadgets found their way onto the market.

Most of the models currently available are using the extrusion technology where material is liquified and then added layer by layer where it hardens keeping its new shape. Such printers like the RepRap series, the xxxxx or the makerBot are very popular. The main draw back with this is the limitations in accuracy and roughness of the surface finishing.

An alternative is the Form 1 which uses Stereolithography (SL) technology. This process is based on photopolymer that is cured using a laser resulting in very high accuracy and smooth surface finish. It requires however a cleaning process to finish off the model after the printing.

DSC06838 Image by urbanTick / The Form 1 printer is after plugging in and filling up ready to use. It comes neatly designed and is operated with just this one button.

The Form 1 is produced by FormLabs which came out of a Kickstarter project. They managed to secure plenty of funding for the proposed product and have stated shipping about a year ago in early 2013. We have no finally managed to get hold of one of these cool machines and been able to play around with it testing various builds and models.

In short it works great and is very easy to handle. Basically out of the box, poor some photopolymer in the tray and your good to go. The software to send the 3d object to the printer can be freely downloaded at FormLabs. It loads .STL files places them in a virtual cube representing the build volume (125 x 125 x 165mm ) of the printer.

A good place to start for 3D models is either on shapeways or for free on thingiverse. Both are community based platforms to share 3D objects. Users can comment and upload images of their own builds for each of the objects. The discussion often gives hints and instructions if it is a more complicated project.

Once loaded in the software the object can be rotated resized and moved if other objects need to fit in beside. The software also helps with the support structures. These are important during the building process both for stability of overhangs, but also to secure the object in place during the process.

DSC06799 Image by urbanTick / Printed parts hanging down from the build platform of the Form 1.

The Form 1 creates the object upside down. They each hang on the built platform and grow out of the tray with the liquid photopolymer. The laser is based in the bottom of the device beneath the tray with has a transparent bottom. The fancy transparent orange hood of the Form 1 blocks in the laser beam in case it goes off target. It is save to operate the device on your work desk.

Once all the digital objects are in place and each has their supporting structures the model is sent to the printer. After the data is transferred the printer can be disconnected. Very handy, you can prepare the model on your laptop, once ready plug in the printer and upload the model. It will start working straight away on the first layer and once the upload has completed the computer can be disconnected and the printer runs the object independently. Time to prepare the next batch.

Simple small things will require an hour or two, bigger and more complex objects can take several hours. Time ask depends on settings such as kind and density of support structure and resolution and layer thickness. The FOrm 1 offers three resolutions 0.1mm, 0.05mm and 0.025mm. Whilst some extruder based Machines will also print at 0.1mm or 100 microns the SL technology will produce a still smoother overall finish. The difference between the three options is really marginal if considered for rapid prototyping.

DSC06837 Image by urbanTick / Cleanign tray with the required tools and cleaning containers.

Once the printing is complete the objects have to be taken off the build platform und washed in 90% alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) to get of the uncured resin. To get the object off the platform a scraper tool is necessary. This task is still quite fiddly. It sticks often very well and with other objects on there too there is little room to manoeuvre. Getting the alcohol here in the UK to soak the parts can be tricky. If your lucky the chemist down the road will sell 70% isopropyl alcohol. It works too with mane a little longer soaking times. Online it can be expensive and amazon does mainly 99.9% requiring not as long washes. Boots will do something similar 90% ethanol mix, surgical spirit. Seems to be working too, but again a bit stronger than recommended.

Once soaked and washed the parts can be taken out and its time to free them from the support structure. They can easily be broken off or cut with a sharp little tool. FormLab includes all the necessary gadgets including tweezers, scraping tool, pincers and a large pack of rubber gloves to handle the parts during this after print process, very convenient.

DSC06805 Image by urbanTick / Smooth surfaces and a perfect fit are the characteristics of finished parts using the stereo lithography of the Form 1.

Parts coming out of this process are really smooth and detailed. We have been working with clear resin producing some really nice semi transparent objects. FormLabs offer also grey and white resin that can be used depending on the design or further use of the model.

The accuracy is pretty good of the finished models. Lego pieces for example do fit with the original parts, so that figures can be extended or attached to objects. We printed this saddle for Lego figure to ride a HexBug for example. The material is quite sturdy once completely dry. We have printed some bracelets from it. What is much more difficult are movable parts. individual chain links work well but large pieces often get stuck at once end. Not sure how this can be improved in the model or has mrs to do with the printer setup.

The handling of the digital model in .STL format, setting up the print and printing is all straight forward and extremely simple. The cleaning process however can be a bit of a struggle and requires some getting used to. It can also get messy especially if you have a build that failed because it might have not correctly attached to the build platform and fallen off. The handling of both the cleaning liquid and the resin have to be done carefully and both, in their liquid form, need to be disposed of as chemicals, your coal chemist might take them. All this makes the process quite a bit more challenging than the extruder alternative. It requires more planning and greater care. Based on this some comparisons between the two processes of SL and extrusion have often rated extrusion more consumer friendly and easier (e.g. popular mechanics).

However what you get from SL and the Form 1 in particular are beautifully detailed and smooth objects with a very high standard finish.

DSC06861 Image by urbanTick / Polyhedron sphere printed on the Form 1. Model can be downloaded from georgehart.com

Beyond the process of printing itself of much interest is the wider process of production including design. This is really where this new technology and the available tools become interesting. The ways the possibilities might change existing chains of production to the point where some goods are actually manufactured in the end users home. A lot of research is currently being undertaken e.g. at MIT in collaboration with Hyperform. Of interest will also be strategies to integrate options for prototyping in existing workflows and an increased combination of digital and physical prototyping. So there is a lot of material to explore now that the printing works.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Book - Deventer a Story About Project Making


Is architecture real? At times the discussion seems to imply that there is a certain degree of disconnectedness between real live and the abstract concepts architecture is thought of. Does it still have anything to do with real live? The large scale landmark projects of star architects work more for the marketing of location than a real sense of place is often claimed. Glossy magazines and picture books often can't help to shake off such impressions. But a story can.

The story about architecture comes with a lot of context and discussion worked into the narrative. It creates a sense of the current debate whilst not neglecting the plot, the everyday struggle to achieve a sustainable project especially in its social context.

The book is unusual in two points. It comes as a novel and there are only a hand full of illustrations. It sets out to follow two projects an the leading architect in the city of Deventer in the Netherlands telling the story of muddy fields and yellow large scale machinery in rainy weather, long arguments over the phone, the mine fields of different interests and visions for change. Its about everyday live, architecture as real as it gets. It still conveys a hint of glamor and the ghost of cleverness is present every now and then, so not all is lost.

Deventer was published in 2013 by Nai010 publishers and is the fourth novel by writer and editor Matthew Stadler. Stadler has written a lot about planning every since he lived in the Netherland to research for one of his early novels The Dissolution of Nicholas Dee. Later he wrote for the magazine Wiederhall and later New York Times and New York Times Magazine.

Deventer Image taken from Wikipedia.org / Nederlands: Topografische kaart van Deventer (woonplaats).

There is nothing spectacular about the projects portrait in Deventer, in a design or art sense. They are as normal as could get. What is of interest and concern is the possibilities, the ideas and the process that need to be forged by all concerned parties in order to create something fitting for the community, the location and the owners. Stadler reports on what is happening and continues to weave in contextual information after every other sentence. He lets the protagonists talk about details and everyday worries as much as ideas and theories, thus creating a dense atmosphere where struggle and effort create a sense of suspension capturing the reader.

The book portraits a model of community development and reports on the mechanisms of collaboration, but it is not a guidebook for professionals. It is rather an inspirational tale that has the power to motivate initiatives for their independent struggles to create and strive to change in order to improve their community.


Stadler, M., 2013. Deventer, Rotterdam: Nai 010.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Book - Urban Fabrics Inside Out


Two new publications set out to investigate the urban structure from a different angle than the ever same physical structure perspective. Whilst it might not as such mark a general shift in the way cities or urban areas are investigated these two publication both take a very strong position stressing the social aspects, the experiential and the lived city. It is about people, individuals as much as society and culture.

Both books are part of much larger ongoing research project supported by large national bodies, but operating internationally.

The first of the two books is Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century. edited by Roger Keil published by Jovis. It is in fact some kind of half time summary of the ongoing project (2010-2017) Global Suburbanisms: governance, land, and infrastructure in the 21st century. Here the group not only reports on findings, but it is also a tool to define the status quo and look ahead at what is to be achieved further down the line. The project is mainly supported by Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada but investigates case studies from around the world. One of the very striking themes in this project is to bring case studies of all those areas of urban sprawl from around the globe together and compare/contrast them.

The second book is Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town edited by Marco L. Rosa and Ute E and published by Jovis. Weiland and is a publication that draws on the Urban Age project at home at LSE and famously sponsored by Deutsche Bank. Here the Project is already into its sixth year and a number of books where published in its context. Most prominently the Endless City (2008) and Living in the Endless City (2011) both by Burdett and Sudjic. This new publication specifically focuses on the Urban Age Award which is organised by the Alfred Herrhausen Society as part of the Urban Age Conferences. With a focus on what is happening on the ground it is based on interviews with different stakeholders in each of the projects world cities. Those five cities are Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Mexico City and Cape Town. The editor of this new publication Ute Weiland has for the past five years coordinated said awards and worked closely with the local contributors in all five cities.

What is special on those two publications is the angel they portrait the urban world and the focus they chose for the respective research projects. The main topic is the rapid urbanisation, the fact that 80% of the world's population will be living in urbanised areas by 2050 that urban means collective and that cities are in constant flux.

The publisher house Jovis has already a bit of a history with similar publications. There is for example Matthew Gandy's Urban Constellations (2011) as one of the recent publications in this area. In fact Keil does specifically refer to Gandy in his introduction and the two books even share partly the same title.

Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century. being a work in progress brings together a body of writings much more experimental and investigative in comparison. Whilst this might be interpreted as a lack of focus or clear scope at times, it does surprise the reader with raw concepts and very direct lines thought making for a joyful read. Further more it does not require to be read from cover to cover, rather it can be picket up to read just one of the essays and read others maybe later.

It is structured along four topics: Foundations, Themes, Essay and Images and Regions. The first topic presents some 'foundational thinking on suburbanisation'. The second topic 'elaborated on those themes with emphasis on redevelopment, risk, boundaries, water, sewage, and transportation. These topics intertwined with the research project's main points of Land, Governance and Infrastructure. Whilst this organisational structure whilst they might make sense from a project point of view it not as easily accessible for the generally interested reader.

book cover Image taken from the bad-news-beat.org / The waste lands of Fort Mcmurray AB.

The are pieces like "Forth McMurray, the Suburb sat the End of the Highway" by Clair Major describing the context of one of Canada's two purely business driven settlements just north of Edmonton fuelled by the large oil sands. Or on the other hand an Essay by Alan Mabin "Suburbanisms in Africa" where he discusses not just the suburbs as places but mainly suburban as a term and its meaning in a culturally very different context. He for example points out how difficult it is to translate the term suburb or indeed suburbanises to other languages. For example in places such the urbanised areas of South Africa where beside the local/traditional languages plus English, French and Portuguese all compete for the meaning full expression such terminologies become very fluid in deed creating a complex concept of their own undermining all efforts to frame the topics with key terms.

The project plans a very comprehensive dissemination strategy including conferences and article, but also summer schools. So there will be much more to come from this project and research collective. Preview PDF for this publication is available HERE.

book spread Image taken from the perfact.org / Book spread Handmade Urbanism showing sketch illustrations.

Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town has its focus on what is happening on the ground in each of the five metropolis regions and is being supported by the worldwide operating initiative Urban Age Award sponsored by Deutsche Bank.

The premise of the initiative is that empowering the local population and supporting them to organise their own projects will lead to more sustainable and lasting projects and increases the communities resilience. These aspects are investigated through the interviews and discussions each locations is portrayed by. This is frased by Wolfgang Nowak, the initiator of the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award in his interview as: "I am not one of these people, like a Florence Nightingale, who stands and gives out soup to the poor (she has in fact done a whole lot more, for people and science). What we want is to enable the poor no longer to accept soup queues and produce their own soup." (annotation added)

The book structure is organised along the cities. This main body is introduced by a series of essays creating a context for the project. These are by Wolfgang Nowak, Ute E. Wieland and Richard Sennett. These essays are not extensive in length, but try to be very concise.

The main part of the book presents a range of information about each location. There are basic statistics and data key figures information, and a short introduction to each of the three shortlisted projects. This is then followed by a series of interviews with local stakeholders. Experts from the jury, the local government as well as the project initiators.

The book also comes with a cd so you can in addition watch the documentary about the award and hear a bit more about community-driven initiatives. Runtime only 5:30. Also the publisher offers a online preview in PDF for this publication, available HERE.

Both books provide a good overview and outline of these kind of projects. Both projects have a large scope but the struggle between global level of organisation and local level of operation is very apparent. It leaves the reader wondering what exactly do we take from all this? Urban Constellations is the one that makes for a good read with experimental thoughts and Handmade Urbanism is the more descriptive discussion type of publication.

Graphically the two books have very different approaches. Handmade Urbanism translates the topic literally and all illustrations are hand drawn sketches and symbols. Urban Constellations makes extensive use of photographs documenting places mainly views onto or into suburbs. It however a rather weak part of the book, the illustrations do not live up to the surprises the essays manage to challenge the readers with.

book cover Image taken from the Perfact / Handmade Urbanism book cover.

Keil, R. ed., 2013. Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century., Berlin: Jovis Verlag.
Rosa, M.L. & Weiland, U.E. eds., 2013. Handmade urbanism: from community initiatives to participatory models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town, Berlin: Jovis Verlag.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The End of the Virtual? - Touch ID on the New iPhone 5s for the Real Online Self


Since the announcement of the new Apple iPhone 5s and the built in fingerprint scanning technology branded ‘Touch ID’ the discussion around security, data protection and privacy has been relaunched. It is an ongoing topic in the industry, both on the hardware side amongst producers of devices and the software side with developers of applications and services, but specifically for end users and consumers.

Until now, it was the password, or PIN, that protects and restricts access to the virtual world of data. This has led many of us to come up with creative procedures to create and remember a complicated sequence of letters, numbers and symbols in order to keep personal information secure. It has always been the debate as to how complicated these passwords need to be and how user-friendly this practice is, and often 'better' and ‘easier’ solutions for users were wished for.

Now Apple has implemented such a solution with their latest top of the range device. The iPhone 5s features a fingerprint scanner in the 'Home' button to uniquely identify a user (up to five different prints can be set up) and grant access. The ‘fingerprint identity sensor’ also allows users to shop on the iTunes Store, Apps Store and iBooks Store where the Touch ID approves purchases.

The new feature is branded by Apple as ‘convenient, highly secure and ahead of the future’. However, the technology and its implementation in mobile devices is nothing new. Motorola’s Atrix smartphone was introduced back in 2011, but also laptop manufacturers have trialled and implemented fingerprint scanner technology in the past decade [REF]. Other manufacturers, namely HTC, are gearing up to release gadgets with similar technology and features.

Although the technology is not new, it is the fact that it is being introduced on such a large scale that makes it a ‘hot topic’. According to TechCrunch, Apple has currently (2013) an estimated user base of 147 million iPhone users, plus about 48 million iPad users. Of the new iPhones (iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c), Apple sold 9 millions in just three days after their launch on the 20iest of September 2013. This is a new record, as previous implementations settled on a much smaller scale. This means that the iPhone 5s is already used by a large number of people. It could therefore be classified as ‘mainstream’ and ‘cultural commodity’. The introduction of this technology can therefore be expected to be used by a much larger customer base as any other similar implementation of biometrics so far.

In this context, the introduction of a unique and personal identifier, the fingerprint, is a smart move. Smart, because everybody knows and understands the idea of the fingerprint. It is in use as signature and plays an important role in crime investigation and law enforcement for over a century. Through its use in detective stories and crime thrillers it has also found its way into everyday culture. It is this very idea of the fingerprint as a unique identifier - ‘’your iPhone reads your fingerprint and knows who you are’’ - that Apple has turned into a selling point to the products advantage.


Image taken from fingerprintingscottsdale / Fingerprint identification plate.

It can be speculated that with the introduction of Touch ID, similarly to the introduction of the touch screen, Apple changes, once again, the way we access electronic devices and use the Internet. Whether this is intentional and whether the use of the fingerprint has played an main role in the development of the newest iPhone generation can only be speculated. A range of problematic aspects in connection to the use of this technology in electronic devices shall be discussed in the following. The points raised function only as an introduction since the topic is vast and might have implications that are yet to be discovered. We debate if the technology used in the iPhone 5s might even be the ‘End of the Virtual?’.



..Security concerns

Official concerns regarding the introduction of the Touch ID were raised amongst others by US Senator Al Franken (Chairman Senate Judiciary Subcommittee) in an open letter to Apple's CEO Tim Cook (PDF, WEB). The letter states "…while Apple’s new fingerprint reader, Touch ID, may improve certain aspects of mobile security, it also raises substantial privacy questions for Apple and for everyone who may use your products". Al Franken supports his concerns by saying that "Passwords are secret and dynamic; fingerprints are public and permanent". This means, once someone has access to someone else's fingerprint, this access cannot be reversed and the security token can not be changed. ‘’...if hackers get hold of your thumbprint, they could use it to identify and impersonate you for the rest of your life’’.


Image taken from maskable / The Touch ID explained during the introduction of the new iPone 5s at conference key note.

In this context, Al Franken also questions the filing and transferring of the fingerprint data. He demands to know if the fingerprint data stored on the phone is also being transmitted electronically to either Apple or others, and if this data is being saved on computers used to back up the device (referring to the earlier iOS version that stored unencrypted location information recorded by the device in backup files on computers). He wonders further how iTunes, iBooks and AppStore and potential future services interact with Touch ID.

These practical concerns are connected to the only recently refreshed high level discussion on data privacy with information on mass surveillance programs leaked by Edward Snowden, an American computer specialist and former CIA and NSA employee, to the Guardian in May 2013 [REF ] regarding the secret PRISM program. Similar discussions have been on the table in recent years specifically related to social media and the challenged public/private practices in an online context (Neuhaus und Webmoor, 2012, earlier blog post on urbanTick, 2011).

It seems that Senator Franken’s concerns are not ungrounded. ‘Apple's fingerprint scan technology has been hacked' was announced by the Computer Chaos Club, CCC, only two days after the iPhone 5s had gone on sale. The claim was backed up with a video demonstrating that ‘fingerbiometrics is unsuitable as access control method’. This 'hack', however, focused on the physical reproduction of a fingerprint and did not bypass the new Touch ID technology. Despite this, the attack by CCC proves how easily the new security system can be tricked and everyone with a camera, scanner, printer and a good stock of graphite powder, glycerene, and wood-glue/super-glue/theatrical-glue can repeat the procedure.



The ‘iPhone touch defeat’ also proves that users’ fingerprints are not secret, meaning that anything touched by users will have fingerprints on it, including the new phone. Senator Franken has referred to this with the ‘fingerprint being public’. And here is the real flaw of the technology. If someone gets hold of the device, he or she has basically access to ‘the lock and the key’, as the phone will be covered with fingerprints that can be reproduced to unlock the security system. Even though the chances of guessing the correct fingerprint is 1:50'000 compared to 1:10'000 with a normal 4 digit numeric key (except 1234, source Apple), now that the 'key' is on the phone in the form of 'touches' this number is meaningless, or at least reduced to 1:10.

Another question raised by the introduction of Touch ID is the digital reproduction of the fingerprint. Apple has explained that the information is not stored as a digital image. Instead it is being translated by the device into a sequence of numbers (a mathematical representation of the fingerprint derived by an specific algorithm). This implies that the print can only, if at all, re-engineered with physical access to the device. This is being discussed extensively on tech blogs, for example on The Unoffical Apple Weblog (source TUAW). In reference to these statements, it seems only a question of time until the A7 chip inside the phone is cracked.

However, the main argument highlighted by Apple is not security, but convenience. ‘’You check your iPhone dozens and dozens of times a day. Entering a passcode each time just slows you down’’. It seems as if it is annoying for customers to input four digits, or on Android models a swipe pattern. In this context, the fingerprint scanner is put forward as the user-friendly solution. With just one touch the phone is activated, unlocked and ready to use. However, when considering the security concerns discussed above, it is questionable if winning a few seconds to start up the phone is important and desirable.



..Security versus convenience

CNet askes on its website: “Should we trade our biometric data and privacy for the sake of convenience?”. The answer to this question seems straightforward: Biometrics, or biometric authentication, can be useful, but it should not be used in mobile devices as the technology is not yet error-prone and these devices can easily be lost or stolen. This seems the common agreement amongst security experts (for example in Der Spiegel). In addition, as Schneier, then President of Counterpane Systems, argued in 1998, ‘’biometrics are unique identifiers, but not secrets’’. This means, they are easy to steal and reproduce. ‘’Once someone steals your biometric, it remains stolen for life; there is no getting back to a secure situation’’. So the big question a lot of people should be asking themselves is not how quick they can access their data, but what they are giving away when using Touch ID.

In this context, it seems important to repeat that Touch ID does not actually store an image of the fingerprint, and the data is not available to any other application other than Apple apps nor stored at Apple’s servers or backed up via iCloud. For now, at least. There is no guarantee that this will be the same in the future, especially as the prospect of a vast biometric database is the dream of any national security agency, marketing company and hacker community. This means third parties will pay a lot of attention to these developments and probably exert some force to get access to some of this data. It would therefore be important to know ‘how does Apple see the actual fingerprint data and how are they going to handle it, now and in the future?’.

Whilst there are regulations as to when third parties can be forced to hand over data in connection to crime investigation, it is a complicated matter with Touch ID as the technology enables new ways of ‘tracking’ people. For example, a user logging in with Touch ID does not only confirm his or her location, but also his or her identity. This means the iPhone 5s could act as a means of evidence - ‘I was here’. So far, Apple has stated that they do not share any information with others - although the technology can be used to verify purchases. The question is therefore, as Senator Franken asks: ‘’Does Apple believe that users have a reasonable expectation of privacy in fingerprint data they provide to touch ID?’’.

There might also be some legal implications for the user of the Touch ID technology. It has been pointed out, for example by Marcia Hofmann of Wired, that the shift from PIN as an ‘known’ key to a fingerprint as a ‘what we are’ key might strip users of the right to the in the US called 5th. This Amendment protects the individual from giving evidence against him/her self. At the moment, this only applies to things one knows, knowledge, thoughts, so on and not to things one has, keys, written notes (if you write down the password on a piece of paper) or is, biometrics. Hence, on trial a person can not be forced to provide the password to a device or to decrypt information since the password is something he/she knows. A key, however, would be something the person has and this object, according to current law, can be requested. The fingerprint belongs to the person, it is part of the human body, a thing, and hence it belongs do the category of information that can not be withhold. This means access to devices or data via fingerprint scan can be enforced. This fact, in connection to Touch ID, might mean that consumers need to give up on one of their basic (human) rights, the right to withdraw information.



..Personal data and biometrics becomes mainstream

A further concern connected to Touch ID is that biometrics are becoming mainstream. Currently, the use of biometrical authentication in the public sphere is limited. Its main use is in passport and immigration control, where retina and fingerprint recognition, actual or as part of a passport, is used to identify ‘travellers’ and reduce queues at border control. Here, the data is usually linked up with secondary information or other means of verification. For example, users of a retina scan machine need also to provide their passport for optical scanning. This means, the replication of a retina scan alone does not provide access to ‘free travel’.

However, the implications of ‘normalising’ biometrics and using biometrics in everyday applications are not only connected to the risk of individuals being permanently tracked and surveilled, but also to the risk of biometrics becoming unsafe. As Schneier argued, ‘’Just as you should never use the same password on two different systems, the same encryption key should not be used for two different applications’’. This means, it is not a good idea to use your thumbprint to access your mobile phone, open your front door and unlock your file cabinet at work, as data theft would automatically lead to a catastrophe.

It could therefore be said that biometrics are not safer than other security means. With Apple suggesting to customers that ‘’Your fingerprint is one of the best passcodes in the world’’ seems therefore misleading. The question really is how much consumers are willing to trade their personal information and data for the ultimate and smooth technology experience.

In addition, in today's context the distribution of personal information is no longer directly manageable by the individual, as user information is being left behind with every move online and regular real world services. Shopping online, borrowing books at the local library, and visiting the GP, all activities leave a ‘digital footprint’. It has become complicated to the point where it is impossible for the user to understand and control what information is left behind when using a mobile device, especially when using online and server connected apps and services. These apps are often pre-installed on the device and updated automatically. Also, the companies behind those apps are often unknown and it is unclear what kind of information they collect, store and and how this information is used or shared with third parties.

In this context, the introduction of a truly unique identifier, the fingerprint, will not only add to the information left by users, but also add to the possibility of users being personally identified across the entire range of services. This in turn changes not only the discussion around online security but also online identity. Until now, users could ‘create’ their online identity by using a pseudonym and an avatar (an icon-sized graphic image). This 'chosen' identity could then be adjusted or changed, any time. In the beginning of the Internet, individuals would often create and use a whole range of online identities. This has changed. Nowadays users prefer online interactions supported by ‘authentic identity’ as reported by the Guardian. This means they want to know with whom they communicate.

This practice has been taken to a new level by Google with the Google ID, an unique ID tied to an individual/account which was introduced in connection to Google+ in 2011. Facebook uses a similar user identification. Both sites, Google and Facebook, make it difficult for users to create and use multiple accounts, and it can be assumed that through this the number of IDs per individual has been dramatically reduced. This of course makes it also a lot simpler for Google and Facebook, and their respective partners, to target marketing and individual advertisement. Despite this, users often create and use different accounts for their private and professional networking. With the new Touch ID, this will no longer be possible. They will have only one account.

How individuals are uniquely identifiable online through the use and manipulation of devices is being researched widely. Besides the PIN and the here discussed biometric identification, alternative methods to provide security, in particular in connection with mobile devices, is being developed under the umbrella term of “Implicit Authentication” (via Quarz). In this case, the security is based on an ongoing security check as opposed to the one-off security check at the start of a session, for example by unlocking the phone. The idea, for example focused on by researchers at the Palo Alto Research Centre, is that the individual user displays very specific, habitual characteristics in behaviour and usage or even movement pattern that can be used to continuously monitor the usage. This will allow to determine sudden change in which case the device will immediately shut down and deny access. Such parameters being researched include location and movement patterns, the way we walk, speed and style of data input on the device, activity pattern and timing, or the subtle way the user's hand shakes.

These methods seem, as the research shows, to deliver reliable results. At the same time, however, this extends on the privacy discussion, as data is collected on users' bio-sensorial functions. The technology also puts pressure on individual to profile themselves. The security of such a dataset is a very different issue again, including and extending into the field of personal health and medical information. Nevertheless it represents a big move towards the identification of 'unique' individuals and verifying much more than the Touch ID in itself does.



..The end of the virtual?

The introduction of Touch ID or alternative biometric/behavioural authentication methods will prevent users from creating different online identities, as the fingerprint is ‘THE ID’. This means it is really you, who bought that song on iTunes, uploaded that image on Flickr and accidentally deleted that file on Prezi. And it is the very same person who called the client on Skype and tweeted about Beyonce’s concert on Twitter. It is also the same individual who banks with HSBC, shops with Sainsbury's and hangs out at the Barbican. The point is that ‘being online’ becomes very much like ‘being offline’. Events, happenings and activities become uniquely and reliable tied to users, the individual becomes authentic and unique. Is this the end of virtual?

When looking at the introduction of Touch ID it seems so. It really is the case of as Apple put it ‘’your iPhone reads your fingerprint and knows who you are’’. Subsequently any activity becomes real and unique, and also identifiable as such by online friends and fellow users as well as service providers and traders. However, as suggested by Apple, this does not only make your life easier, but also that of marketing and consumer related businesses. At the same time, it too makes the individual responsible for his or her online activities not dissimilar to the responsibility one enjoys in person as an individual in the real world. It will no longer be possible for users to hide behind one or multiple pseudonyms or avatars. This will certainly transform practice, as both, providers and users, will have to accommodate this ‘new authentic self’ and a completely new reality of online practice.

In many ways, this discussion is related to the ‘Internet of Things’ concept which has enjoyed raising attention over the past five years. Whilst the Internet of Things is about ‘real’ objects being connected to the web, to each other and to 'users', Touch ID is about ‘real’ humans. An interesting aspect raised by the Tales of Things project at CASA UCL was the fact that the ‘real’ object was required to access information. This means, access to content is based on 'real world interaction'. With Touch ID, it is very similar. It requires me, the user, to unlock information (at least once, until may fingerprint has been ‘hacked’) and interact, both online and offline. This ultimately connects the online world to reality.

This means, with and through Touch ID the online experience becomes real in the sense that it confirms that the person logging in at this moment, at this location really is the specific individual and not someone else or a bot. At a first glance, this seems great. From a security and privacy point of view, however, this raises a whole bunch of new questions and concerns that need to be addressed to enjoy this 'brave new online world' with yet new possibilities for both users and services. For example, national agencies and businesses might be extremely interested in this kind of data as it is the ultimate proof of someone's activities at a given time and location. Hence, this information on habitual activities individually verified seems much more desirable for ‘outsiders’ than the actual fingerprint. Touch ID reveals what, when and where a user has been, all confirmed by his or her own fingerprint whilst unlocking or just using the device - meaning the virtual has become its realest so far with consequences and possibilities we can only begin to speculate on.


Image taken from mymodernmet / Real life person and their avatars by Robbie Cooper.



..Summary

Since the launch of the new iPhone 5s by Apple, the discussion revolving around online security and privacy has been re-activated. Experts agree that with the introduction of Touch ID the use of biometrical data as a security measure in mobile devices needs to be regulated, especially in terms of storage, handling and exchange of the biometric data processed. However, when looking closer at the implications of the finger-scan-technology developed and introduced by Apple, it becomes clear that the technology not only influences the usage of our personal data, the law and rights users have, but also the way we are present online. Especially since the fingerprint, or any other to be implemented biometric or personal pattern based verification, is ‘THE ID’. With biometrical authentication, there is no way of hiding behind a pseudonym or an avatar. It is really you, the user, who activates and uses the device (at least once, before the device is ‘hacked’). This means, the new iPhone 5s links the virtual world with reality and brings them as close as they have not been before, almost merging them in practice and consequence. The online self becomes authentic. As speculated in the article, this could be the end of the virtual and the beginning of a new web and online experience where we meet real people, make real conversations, buy real goods, but also carry real responsibility.


Image taken from mymodernmet / Real life person and their avatars by Robbie Cooper.



Article written by Sandra Abegglen and Fabian Neuhaus Simultaneously published on Everyday Click and urbanTick.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Book - Close up at a Distance



What do we see, when we see the world? In today's world transcended by digital technology and flooded with representations, models and mashups the question of 'what are we looking at?' becomes more important. The many layers of data and visualisations in many cases start clouding the subject or in some cases appears completely detached from it and develop a dynamic of their own.

The kind of critiques are nothing new and have been heard through out the past decade. How perception is manipulated with information has been discussed for example in the book How to lie with Maps by H.J. de Blij , 1992. Here de Blij presents examples of representations and how they are used to favour certain aspects. Or also indeed The Power of Maps by Denis Wood, 1992, You are Here by Katharine Harmon, 2003 or the Atlas of Radical Cartography edited by Alexis Bhagat and Lize Mogel, 2008, to name a few of the recent cartography/mapping books of the recent years.

In a new Zone Books publication Close up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics Laura Kurgan presents her research work and offers a theoretical discussion on the usage and employment of representations. Whilst most of the presented works have been seen around the web in the past few years, the book offers a bunch of new perspectives by bringing the series of works together and wrapping them in a theoretical discussion. Laura Kurgan is Associate Professor of Architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning at Columbia University, where she is Director of the Spatial Information Design Lab and Director of Visual Studies.

Whilst Lying with Maps focused heavily on the map and its technical aspect such as projection, Kurgan goes deeper and explores the fundamental relationship between the visual and a visualisation as much as the technicality of production. The projects presented n the book take the read far beyond the mere representation of physical geography. The author emphasises the power within the techniques of spatial representation and unmasks the promise of truth associated with such representations of abstract knowledge.

Million Dollar Block Image taken from the NASA / This photo of "Earthrise" over the lunar horizon was taken by the Apollo 8 crew in December 1968, showing Earth for the first time as it appears from deep space.

The introduction to the book summarises this approach in a very nice way. Kurgan presents the series of 'Blue Marble' photographs released by NASA over the past 55 years and discussed the evolution from the initial 'Earth Rise' photograph actually taken by the astronaut on the Apollo 8 mission orbiting the moon to the 2012 version 'Blue Marble: The Next Generation 2012' assembled "from data collected by the Visible/Infrared Image Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NNP satellite in six orbits over eight hours".

Million Dollar Block Image taken from spatialinformationdesignlab.org / Million Dollar Block by Laura Kurgan and Spacial Information Design Lab. Map shows Government spending on incarcerate of individuals per block. Bright red represents more than 1 million $ of spending a year.

The example puts upfront the discussion and the shift from a photograph take from outer space, but still 'as seen by the human eye' through the lens of a camera to the '360-degree composite, made of data collected and assembled over time, wrapped around a wireframe sphere to produce views dynamically selectable and constantly updatable.

The second part featuring projects developed over the past 20 or so years take the reader from basic and playful but very intellectual GPS experiments to ware zones in Bosnia, Iraq and Kuwait and to inner city migration facts. Its a tour de force with a lot of depth. Definitely a book for anyone interested in the representation of spatial data.

book cover Image taken from the MIT Press / Book cover.

Kurgan, L., 2013. Close up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics, New York: Zone Books.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Book - Contagious Architecture


Computers have changed the architectural process fundamentally. In most areas the practice has embraced the possibilities of the software tool and has alongside the technology transformed not just the way architecture is produced but foremost the way architecture is thought.

Whilst CAD offers flexibility and speed, 3D software visualises models and simulation tools are employed to help with strategic design decisions, its the algorithm used in parametric design where the computer code actually becomes part of the process of designing.

A new The MIT Press publication by Luciana Parisi. Parisi is senior lecturer at the centre for cultural studies at Goldsmith, University of London. She publishes a comprehensive and thought provoking discussion of the practice and the thinking of parametric design in the field of architecture. However in this text Parisi does not just simply present the software logic and practice. Instead, as she states right at the beginning:

"Algorithms do not simply govern the procedural logic of computers: more generally, they have become the objects of a new programming culture. The imperative of information processing has turned culture into a lab of generative forms that are driven by open-ended rules."

A definition of Algorithms is provided in the notes of the book referring to David Berlinski, " an algorithm is a finite procedure, written in a fixed symbolic vocabulary, governed by precise instructions, moving in discrete steps, 1, 2, 3, whose execution requires no insight, cleverness, intuition, intelligence, or perspicuity, and that sooner or later comes to an end." (Berlinsky, D. (2000). The Advent of the Algorithm: The Ideas that Rule the World. New York: Harcourt.)

Whilst the book is heavy on theory a few examples are provided. All examples are carefully chosen and do not at all make up a showcase. They illustrate specific points of discussion in the text and at the same time serve are points of reference to push the thinking forward.

Image taken from archdaily.com / Kokkugia, Taipei Performing Arts Centre, 2008. Roland Snooks + Robert Stuart-Smith. The competition was won by OMA.

Image taken from corpora.hu / DoubleNegatives Architecture (dNA) Yamaguchi Centre for the Arts and Media, 2007. Sota Ichikawa.

Image taken from new-territories.com / R(&)Sie(n), Une Architecture des humeurs, 2010-2011.

What is most interesting about the concepts of algorithmic architecture discussed in this book is the fact that from the very beginning time and space are folded into one and remain present aspects of the process at any time. Whilst the use of digital tools in architecture has transformed the practice in many ways, the continuous presence of time and space as one in architectural theory is probably the most fundamental. This transforms the way architecture is thought of from a physical object to a transformative process.

This is a very specialist book and runs deep on the theory of parametric architecture and algorithm based design. It is however not just for architects and experts who work with algorithms themselves, but is definitely interesting experts from a range of fields including theoretical works. The way Parisi pushed the thinking ahead creates successfully a niche in timespace for parametric design to develop an identity.

Image taken from the MIT Press / Book cover.

Parisi, L., 2013. Contagious architecture: computation, aesthetics, and space, Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Rotterdam Timelapse



In preparation of a trip to Rotterdam some impressions from the self styled creative city of the Netherlands. A curious place completely rebuilt after being bombed during World War 2 and since developing a dense layering of ever changing approaches to planning and layout.



It is also the town with the tallest and possibly most high rise buildings in the Netherlands. Numerous residential high-rise buildings are lined up in the very centre, all above 100 meters. Something quite unusual for Europe. On Dak van Rotterdam (the roof of Rotterdam) you can hope between the 360 views of the city from a whole range of the tall structures. one of the interesting tall structures currently under construction is the De Rotterdam designed by OMA.

And of course the main feature of Rotterdam is the international port handling a large percentage of all traffic in and out of Europe. This leads to a lot of traffic on the river Maas.


Sunday, 24 March 2013

Book - Cycle Space


Cycle Space: Architecture and Urban Design in the Age of the Bicycle by Steven Fleming is a nai010 publishers book. It aims to takle the questions surounding the rebewed popularity of cycling in the urban areas of the western world from a architects point of view.

The book is cleverly organised in chapters mixing examples and theory. The author understands to weave experience and references to creat a dense fabric around the topic of cycling in our cities today.

In eight chapters the reader is taken on a tour around the world starting in Amsterdam, probably considered the ultimate cycling city, under the aspect of cycling is practical, to New York where cycling is reported as political, back to Copenhagen wher it is all about design, down to Sydney, where Cycling is prestigious, to Singapore for free cycling, to Portland where cycling is cool, to Chicago for green cycling to finally end in Paris the city of teatrical cycling.

This broad approach aims to creat an universal picture of cycling, locally working out the specifics to feed them into a discusiof cycling on a global level. Whilst it is a big strech the depth of the local examples is actually a large plus of this publication.

Cycling is a very direct and individual experince of the city and local knowledge is key to finding the suitable route. The author is from down under and knows his place inside out, but makes an efford to get to know all the places featuring in the book. Linking up with locals and drawing on their unique knowledge is key to a successfull portrait in the book. In this sense the reports are presented as well informed, packed with insider tips.

This on the other hand also renders the accounts very personal making them challenging to generalise in an objective sense urban planning discussions are usually held. However the topic might require the exploring of new territory regarding the synthesising of strategies for the development and implementation of ridable cities.

cycleSpace03
Image taken from the book / Sample spread of the book Cycle Space.

Overall it is a well structured book with clear insight both regarding first hand experience reports and theoretical background. The reader is being presented with interesting portraits. Although it is difficult to get into different environments if your not really living it, being a local is not easy, but with great support and advice workable. It provides an insightful discussion of the cycling topics both as actual challenges faced by planning and political authorities, theoretical with references to planing ideas such as modernism, but also current project recently being built for cycling.

Te author makes a clear case that planning for cycling clearly has to go beyond the integration of bike infrastructure in new and renewing projects in urban areas. However it has to be noted that it is not enough to just reduce it to brown fields. Very few cities in Europe for example have the concrete storm flood water ways the author preferably refers to as ideal sites for cycling.

Cycling is a networked based activity and as the author of the book remarks on different occasions mainly based on en-route, in-context decision making. Whilst cycling, similar to pedestrians, one craves for the freedom of choice and options. Variety, possibilities and flexibility is what makes cycling exciting and this is too perfectly portrayed by the author already in the introduction. In this context the call of the book for separated and specific, exclusive cycling infrastructure seems not quite fitting.

The bolder, and possibly cheaper call, would bee for shared infrastructure. After all at the crossroad we all meet and have to negotiate anyway. Why not work towards a slower city with room, acceptance and respects for all road users equally? Probably because it is a learning curve, in most of the portrait cities a steep and tough one, but arguably the sustainable long term goal. It could be argued that isolating one selves as cyclists to exclusively cycling infrastructure is not only something cities like NY, London or HK simply can't possibly achieve in a reasonable and useful timeframe, is way too costly as it means parallel, hence double costing, but will not necessarily evolve towards better understanding of users of the same road space.

cycleSpace02
Image taken from the book / Sample spread of the book Cycle Space.

Progress as such can not just be pushed towards the urban planners as their responsibility. It is a mindset that has to be embedded in society as a concept to be backed by acceptance and become everyday practice. Politics and general believes have to grow accustomed to the idea of cycling. In London for example one of the big problems beside a lack of space is the fact that every body else on the street,including pedestrians do not expect or consider cyclists. They are still alien to the idea of other road users might be cycling. This is not something urban planners can change, it needs a collective effort to establish cyclists in all areas as equal road users.

To sum up the discussion, this is a book not short on personal statements, creating occasional controversies, which makes it a very interesting read. The topic is definitely timely and most of the major cities are currently evaluating their cycle infrastructure. By giving such a broad overview covering different locations the book has something for everyone. It can not be taken as a manual but a valuable contribution to the still itself organising discussion on the state of cycling and the possible reactions to it of the urban environment.

cycleSpace01
Image taken from the book / Book front cover.

Fleming, S., 2012. Cycle Space - Architectural and Urban Design in the Age of the Bicycle, NAI010 Publishers.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Urban Playground



The city can be boring, repetitive and grinding at times. Its the same old routine every day, a miserable day. But hey there is no need, it can be so different. Just think, it could be this exciting world of your own. A park, an ocean a dolls house. And then the city turns into a an adventure play ground, a huge entertainment park.

This is just how Fernando Livschitz for BlackSheepFilms imagined his city. A series of shorts show cities as playgrounds Buenos Aires - Inception Park, CONO Egypt Amusement Park TVC اعلان كونو الملاهي - كونو متفائلين and NEW YORK PARK.

And remember, the next time you leave the house, think of what the city could be to you.