December 7, 2006

8: Gershenfeld & Kahn

Prompt: Read both articles by Gershenfeld and Kahn and speculate on the relationships between the two and what they are trying to say.

screambody2.jpg screambody1.jpg
The "Screambody", an invention by Kelly Dobson, a student at MIT.

After reading these two articles, I realized the connection between the two: expression.

Gershenfeld's article talks about his course at Massachussetts Institute of Technology entitled "How to Make (Almost) Anything". It is a program that allows students to make machines that can make anything in their wildest imaginations: things like the "Screambody" that allows someone to scream whenever they want to in a public place, or like the "Alarming Clock" that requires a wrestling match to turn it off. These two inventions are examples of things that people felt they needed in their lives, so they used their creative abilities to design it and fabricate it into reality.

Kahn's article was much more complex of a reading. He talked about the natural desire of a person to design something they need or feel is useful or beautiful. He also talks about silence and that sometimes something new is needed to fight that silence in design.

I found that these two were related because we all have the desire to invent because of our personal thoughts about what we do and do not need. We are all able to express ourselves, as many people like to do that creatively and artistically. Kahn argues that as designers, this is one of our strengths because we will be able to use this desire to funnel our energy into something we believe is important or necessary in the world. I found these articles very interesting because they inspired me to follow my thoughts and feelings and strive to think creatively about the way everyday things are incorporated into my everyday life.


November 25, 2006

7: Technopolies

Prompt: In text and image, comment on the idea of technopolies (as you understand them) to an understanding of technology as an order of nature.


“Every technology is a burden and a blessing.� Neil Postman

Technology is everywhere. It is inescapable. It surrounds us at every minute of our daily lives: when our alarm clock wakes us up in the morning, during our jobs or schooling, and even when we like to unwind after a long day and plop down on the couch and relax. One could say that, especially as people living in one of the most technologically advanced countries on the planet, our modern culture revolves around technology. It not only changes how we act, but also what we think and how we think it. As an example of this I decided to include an image of transportation as a technopoly because of the changes we have experienced over time.

In this example I have shown some basic advances in the subject of transportation. For hundreds of years, the most common form of transportation was either walking or by horse. Travel was considered very significant and was incredibly difficult. As we move forward in time, we see the invention of boats and how they managed to create a whole new technology in itself: cross-continental trade. Moving on, we see the invention of the bicycle and the car and the implementation of simple travel for the common man in his everyday life. On an even larger scale, we then saw airplanes, which changed travel into an entire industry in that people were able to very easily and quickly travel across the world. Then of course came the rockets and the space shuttle, making travel on the Earth seem insignificant on the grand scheme of things. The development of transportation over time is a prime example of the way technology is able to change the way we see and feel about the world in a sense of being able to fully understand it. In this example, these innovations have not added themselves to the world, they have changed it entirely.

I think there is definitely a misinterpretation issue when it comes to the subject of technology. Many people think that the word itself refers solely to obvious popular advances like televisions, computers, or cellular phones. In reality, these are our initial thoughts because these products have been developed within our lifetime. We wouldn’t generally think that a printing press or a cotton gin is that magnificent or “cutting edge�, but that’s only because they were invented hundreds of years ago and we have been around them all of our lives.

In Postman’s reading, he talks about the way technology is and will continue to control the way we live today. His term technopoly, in my mind, refers to the monopolization and unavoidable influence that technology has on us. I agree with this for many reasons. First of all, I don’t think I could survive for one day without the technological advances we are affected by. At first I think this thought is ridiculous, and that it is pretty pathetic that I feel this way. But when you actually think about it, technology is, like I said, unavoidable. Sitting here at my desk, I quickly realize that I am unable to find an object that is not in some way directly affected by modern developments in technology. A clock, pencils, a lamp, a stapler, a paper shredder, a notebook: all of these things were invented at one point or another, and have gone through many iterative processes to find the most successful and efficient design for its use. When you really stop and think about it, almost everything and anything can be considered to be an expansion of technology.

After reading this article and doing some deep thinking on the subject, I’ve come to my own personal conclusion that this technopoly we are experiencing with our inventions and new modern products is something we will never be able to avoid or prevent from proceeding in its path. We must learn to accept the fact that the world will continue to change as we become more aware of its capabilities. Our evolution into an even more intelligent species will create new complex situations and opportunities for change because of the spiraling effect these advances can have upon the world. As new products develop, another will soon thereafter either take its place or propose to provide an alternative solution that is more efficient, effective, and hopefully more resourceful and ecologically responsive.

I agree with Postman’s statement of seeing technology as a burden as well as a blessing. However, I also believe that if we as designers are someday able to better channel technology to be more environmentally and ecologically based in its structure, we will be able to create more useful and less harmful advances that will provide more benefit to humanity than they do harm. If we are able to grasp this concept of a technopoly as an inevitable and continuous system of our nature, we will be more prepared to alter these advances for the greater good before they cause any significant damage to the world’s society and physical environment.

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November 4, 2006

6: Math in Nature

Prompt: Find a series of images (individual or part of a series) that somehow connect design to mathematics; comment.


Math surrounds us. It is a part of almost everything we see, even if we don't realize it at first. Humans pride themselves in being able to decipher some of the most difficult mathematical problems in history, when ironically, mother nature is actually the great mathematician. From flower petal arrangements to tiny little snowflakes, math makes its appearance in groups of objects, symmetry, geometrical patterns, and much more.

For this entry, I decided to discuss natural mathematics we can find outdoors in our everyday lives. For example, on a leaf of a plant we can see its natural organization and how it is separated by its veins and seeds. Moving up in scale, we see that many plants create almost perfectly symmetrical stems of leaves in which a complex system of organization arises. Further on up, we can see a pattern of rings in a tree stump (which is rumored to tell us the age of the tree). Then we move on to how large pieces of land are separated and sold of to different buyers and farmers. A view of farmland from the air is almost mesmerizing because of its complex organization and equal separation. Finally, the earth itself is an example of mathematics in nature. It is perfectly round, and is made this way naturally because of the gravitational pull apparent on its surface.

There's no way to escape math in our natural world. We must learn to embrace it and use it to better understand our surroundings and our environment as a whole.

October 24, 2006

5: Oppositions

Prompt: Observe and document some oppositions - and their possible resolutions - around you.

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An opposition I found that hits close to home for me personally, as I'm sure does to all of the U's thousands of students, is the weather fluctuations in Minnesota. The cold climate creates problems for students that have no choice but to use walking as their main mode of transportation, and there are only a few ways in which they can avoid the harsh winter weather. Some possible solutions to this opposition on the U of M campus - although seemingly maybe a little far-fetched - are an expansion and better organization of the tunnel system, or an increase in the number of buses used on campus when temperatures hit their "all time low" like we have always been used to hearing about (thanks again, global warming). These solutions would better allow students to overcome the opposition of cold weather on campus.


Another problem I see in Minneapolis and the surrounding areas today of the opposition of sprawl, or the way humans continue to take up space that sometimes can be avoided or is a wasteful design. A good way to tackle this issue could be to organize it more clearly (i.e. grouped community housing, regulation and organization of city street systems, etc). This could help Minneapolis in a way that would prevent it from becoming overtaken by excess building structures and wasteful additions to the landscape that could be minimized or even completely eliminated.

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October 8, 2006

4: Phenomena

Prompt: Find and document, both visually and textually, a phenomena. It should include things, frameworks, and clockworks.


For this entry, I decided to choose a phenomenon that many people are familiar with as one of the main mysteries of the world - Stonehenge. Existing today in Amesbury, United Kingdom, this massive structure has caused many controversial arguments through centuries of its study. It is thought to have been built between 3100-1800 B.C., and is presumed to be a way that ancient people observed and predicted the coming of astronomical phenomena like solstices and eclipses.

This structure can be described as phenomenal because it possesses things, framework, and clockwork.

An example of things in this phenomena are the stones themselves - huge, multi-ton slabs of rock that are arranged in a circular fashion. A framework, in the case of Stonehenge, can be classified as the way the rocks are aligned, in a set of circles thought to be used to measure the shadows of the sun and estimate the distance between stars to predict when another important astronomical event would take place. A clockwork at Stonehenge is daylight. The structure is oriented northeast-southwest, so each morning when the sun rises it hits the structure and the sun's rays appear perfectly aligned within the horseshoe-shaped ring in the middle.

Stonehenge is a phenomena because it is something that cannot be fully understood. It is something perceived by the senses and that exhibits behavioral characteristics and boundary conditions.

I think that Stonehenge will continue to be one of the world's biggest mysteries - something that we will never be able to understand completely because of our lack of our knowledge about its history, the people who put it there, why they built it, and how such ancient people were able to understand something about the ways of the world that we to this day cannot.

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General Facts/Info:

October 1, 2006

3: Genius Loci

Prompt: Choose a place that you find meaningful. Find it’s Genius Loci.
Describe it in text and image.


The term genius loci, in reference to Christian Norberg-Schulz' article of the same name, is coined to be an ancient Roman concept and is defined as "a guardian spirit". According to Schulz, "every 'independent' being has its genius". But with a little help from the Internet, I discovered an easier, broader definition that I can better relate to, in which the term is considered to be "the overall distinctive atmosphere or spirit of a specific place".

When I was trying to think of a place that was meaningful to me to respond to this prompt, I instantly triggered an image of the Minnesota State Fair in my head. The fair is meaningful in different ways for me. At times I love it, because it’s a place where you can surround yourself with people who are all there to have a good time and enjoy themselves. But other times I can’t stand being at the fair. Some days there are plenty of things to complain about – the heat, the overly-crowded streets, and having to walk quite a long way to get to where you want.

To me, the genius loci of the State Fair is the pride and cultural value us Minnesotans have in one of our most famous pastimes. After all, the Minnesota State Fair is one of the largest state fairs in the country. Whenever I’m at the fair, regardless of my mood, I always have the feeling that I’m immersed in the culture of Minnesota. Sure, you can spend the day eating and drinking some of the best food you’ll ever encounter, but you can also spend time learning about the interests of the Minnesota’s citizens and all the different political, social, and environmental issues apparent in our state.

The millions of people that visit the State Fair every year are what make the fair what it is. Without this “spirit� the Minnesota State Fair wouldn’t be as popular as it is today.

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September 27, 2006

2: Social Design

Prompt: Find a social design issue; document it. Become an advocate for it.


Some say that every American, someplace inside, has a soft spot for baseball.

An important social design issue I decided to support in this entry is the current plan to introduce a new Twins ballpark to downtown Minneapolis. This is an important project, in my opinion, because I believe it will truly have an impact on the Twin Cities.

Not only will it affect the Twins aficionados (even though I myself hold personal pride in being a hardcore Twins fan), but it will also have a large positive impact on the social economy of the city. Beside bringing more Minnesota pride to Minneapolis, the ballpark will stimulate the economy in ways that it has never experienced. Minnesota is not really known for its sports teams - maybe that's because we don't support them enough financially to mirror teams like the Chicago White Sox or the New York Yankees, teams who, I can imagine, profit millions upon millions of dollars in game and merchandise sales each year.

Many people disagree with the creation of another landmark in the Twin Cities, believing the new stadium to be a waste of the city's tax dollars. Sure, a proposed $522 million dollars does seem a bit on the spendy side, but I believe we will actually see profit from this splurge within the decade. Others complain about the rise in sales tax by 0.15 percent in Hennepin County. It does seem a bit unfair that my own county will experience a significant rise in their sales taxes, but I think it will be worth it in the long run. Besides, what price can you put on a tradition of our culture?

The new design of the Twins ballpark will be a beautiful addition to Minneapolis. The design calls for natural materials from different parts of Minnesota to be used in the construction process, like native Mankota-Kasota limestone mirroring Minnesota natural stone formations along the Minnesota riverside. The design also reflects the spirit of the citizens of Minneapolis.

"The design reflects Minnesota's abundant natural beauty and its citizens' vibrancy," said HOK S+V+E senior principal Earl Santee. "This ballpark will preserve and honor the state's wonderful baseball tradition and add an exciting new dimension to the quality of life. It will be an inviting landmark for all of Minnesota and an intimate home for America's pastime."

I have a question to ask those who oppose the plan: what price do you think New York fans would put on Yankee stadium? It may sound a bit cliche, but I bet they'd say it was priceless.

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September 18, 2006

1: The Midtown Global Market

Prompt: Visit the Midtown Market on Lake Street. Observe; define energy. List the ways you might create, use, and exchange it here.


The Midtown Market on Lake & Chicago was not what I expected it to be. I initially pictured a market much like those I have encountered in the past - cluttered, cramped, hectic and busy. But what I found when I finally got there was something completely different. Immediately I felt like I was embarking upon a close-knit community full of bright colors, exotic smells and a calmer, although still apparent, attitude of the "hustle and bustle" of everyday life in a large metropolitan area.

Soon thereafter I began to question my thoughts of this space as a "community". Within a specific community, shouldn't people have things in common with one another? Shouldn't similar values and morals be apparent throughout all aspects of that community? How was it that this space, although different culturally in a countless number of ways, feel so functional and connected?

The answer was simple. A community can't anymore be classified and compared by one set prototype - the world is changing into an intertwined web of people of differing cultures, morals, and values. Because of this a place can't be successfully characterized by its looks alone (ever heard the saying "you can't judge a book by its cover"?) It's what is going on inside, at the heart of the space, that illustrates that specific space. And what I found at the heart of the Midtown Market was an intense cultural energy - something that can't always be found at a regular shopping mall or grocery store. The Market had the ability to create, use, and exchange its own energy using the basis of what it was built for: a place with extreme diversity and powerful cultural distinctions.

The word energy can be defined in many different ways. Scientists view it frequently as a product that fuels life's processes and reactions. Well, the scientific definition is all well and good, but through thinking more as an environmentally-aware designer I have constructed my own opinion on the topic. I see energy as the "spirit" or "life" of a space, something that is created by those who inhabit it and make it a part of their own lives.

I believe that the energy at the Midtown Market is a good example of my personal definition. It is the people themselves - the workers, the shoppers, and the admirers - that create this intense energy within it. Energy is used and exchanged in this same way... through the people. Their cooking, their displays of their art and merchandise, and most importantly their interactions with others out of their cultural norm, all exert and consume energy. Perhaps this is how energy seems to never leave this space; instead, it circles around until it is able to be exchanged and reused.

I was able to learn something valuable from this experience. A place cannot only be distinguished by its architectural structure alone - it is through the lives affected by it that we are able to view and understand its true meaning and its importance to the surrounding environment.

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Image: My own.