November 28, 2006

Technopolies

The idea of the Technopoly, of a society that is run by technology, is a very interesting and relevant view. We live in a society and in a world that is determined by technology. Many people believe that they cannot in fact live without their technological luxuries. They "must" have all of the newest versions and must be on the cutting edge of what is available. I certainly do not understand why many people feel so strongly in this conviction, but its effects are undeniable. A most recent example is that of the new PS3. This newest gaming system is the center of much attention and people are willing to go to great lengths to get theirs now -- there are even incidents of people beating fellow shoppers in order to purchase this latest technology for themselves. The materialism of our age and society as shown by this behavior both amazes and saddens me.

As Neil postman points out in his “Technopoly,� technology has both positive and negative effects and it is vital to see and try to understand both. It plays out in both the big and small scale and can severely alter a culture or society. It does indeed change everything. I have always been one to take a more negative and skeptical view of technology. I was fondly called a Luddite by some of my friends in high school, referring to those whose strong protests of the Industrial Revolution led them to smash and destroy textile machines in order to impede progress; they were anti-technology. Though I have similar views, I also cannot deny the usefulness and immediate presence of technology in my life. Indeed, I have and use many modern technologies of our society and would have a hard time giving many of them up. But I also truly enjoy a simpler life that is not so cluttered with technology. I love going to places where I can relax and live without TV, without computers, without phones. But I still have and use and enjoy all of these things at my home.

It is important to be aware and be wary of technology. Postmen defines our Technopoly as the surrender of culture to technology. I think this view is accurate. We are so entrenched in our technologies that they not only run our individual and daily lives but also greater cultural values and evolution. The presence and power of technology can be seen in our everyday lives; just watch students as they come streaming out of a class. Invariably, almost everyone begins by pulling a cell phone out to see if they have missed any calls or to make a call, before they have even reached the sidewalk. Our lives are very precisely regimented by our technology and our conception of time. Events and meetings are expected to start and end at precise times, and we get easily upset if something or someone is more than a few minutes late, let alone the disaster of being close to an hour behind schedule. We cannot walk without continually making the motion of twisting our wrist around in order to assure us of our place in time so that we can know with greater certainty how we are doing in the grand scheme of time.

Technology distorts our view of reality. Not only does time become a precisely measured and incremented regimented, but our conception of distance is also altered. Geographical distance is not nearly as important to us as cultural and technological distance. We can talk instantly to anyone anywhere in the world at any moment so long as they have a similar technology as us. We can even travel great distances with relative ease. As a result, our world is very large. While people once were limited in their interactions to those people and places that could be reached on foot or on horseback, now there is no limit to how far we can reach. I now live over 2000 miles from where I grew up. I have friends and strong personal connections to places that are all over this country and in other continents as well. My idea of home has greatly evolved because I can no longer find any one geographical place completely satisfying. I have a connection to many different places and cannot be in all of them simultaneously. Neither can I be with all those who I care about and love at the same time, because they too are moving about the world. With technology we have broken down geographical barriers.

What now limits our reach on the world is technology. We cannot understand or truly connect with places which are not technopolies or which use different technology. For example, while I was studying abroad in Venezuela, my conception of time, space, and technology greatly changed. There was internet and telephones there, but they were not as readily accessible or reliable as we have here. I could not be instantly connected to “home� at any point in time for any length of time. There were restrictions that were beyond my control and often beyond my understanding. I found this very frustrating at times, because it was so different from what I was used to and came to unconsciously expect. The conception of time was also very different there. Time was much less regimented and taken much less seriously there than it is here. 8 o’clock could mean any time between 8 and 11. You just had to be patient and wait and understand that if something was set up it may or may not happen and the timing was very loose. This was partly due to their value of human interaction. If you were with someone, it would be extremely rude to cut them off and excuse yourself to go meet with someone else; they wouldn’t think of it. Where you were in the present, not where you were supposed to be, always took precedence. Their culture and values were not all run and determined by technology.

November 7, 2006

As math infiltrates design...

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Bridges. Bridges are a beautiful integration of mathematics and design. They need to be structurally sound, but the possibilities are endless. They are not simply extensions of roads across open space. They are expressions of that space and give meaning and definition to both the mass and the void. Though engineering is a very integral part of bridge construction, architecture is also an important component as the form is as important as the function. Math is used in both these realms, to both make a sound structure and to make it pleasing to the eye. In the images above, the more traditional suspension bridge is full of mathematical calculations, from the arch of the road bed, to the span of the supporting line, to the design of the towers. It is clear that design is an integral part of bridge construction in the fact that there are so many various bridge designs. Though an arc or semi-circle may provide the most even and reliable support, the manifestations of this singular concept span the design spectrum.

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October 23, 2006

Building on the Sea Side

Though humans have to struggle against the forces of land and nature everywhere they build, one of the most difficult places, and yet also one of the most popular, is along the coast. The ocean is a vast and varied force that fascinates us. We want to be close to it, be able to see it stretch out into the distance, creating one of the true horizons that we can find on this planet. It is always changing, moving, living. We want to hear the rhythmic crashing of the surf, the high cry of the gulls, feel the fresh sea breeze, and smell the salty air.
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We have a strong desire to go as close to the edge as we can and yet maintain our security and comforts of modern living. We want to be able to step out the door onto the sand, not waste anytime maneuvering through our synthetic jungle to get to the beach, to reach the sea. But we also want to have the protection and comfort and commodities of home ready at a moments notice. When we have had enough, we want to step inside and be completely shielded from the elements.

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The built world on the ocean's edge has a lot to contend with. The vast openness of the ocean brings with it strong winds, long hours of sun exposure, and moist salty air. The land shifts nearly as frequently as the sea does, eroding and crumbling. There are jagged rocks and cliffs and shifting sands. There is the sand that gets everywhere and is not stable enough to build on. Even the coast line itself shifts, sometimes very drastically, over the years, pushing in here and stretching out there. And then, of course, there is the high potential for out of the ordinary extremes. "Normal" storms bring with them a whole new level of wind, water, sand, and salt, let alone the extremes of tidal waves, hurricanes, and tsunamis. Common sense and practicality would tell us to steer clear of these disaster-waiting-to-happen zones. But that is hardly what we do. Transportation, economics, tradition, beauty, and a desire for the unobtainable are the driving forces that keep us on the ocean's edge.

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So how is this monumental opposition dealt with and resolved? All of the seven types of resolutions are utilized in an attempt to build on the oceans edge. We make walls, screens, and other wind and water breaks to keep nature out. We build big enough so that the fluidity of the sand does not affect our structures. We also try to make structures that will allow nature to coexist with our buildings; we build on stilts so that we can both go further out into the unknown and also so we can let the dynamic seas pass below. While some buildings build walls of glass to keep out the wind, salt, and sand, others have open airy wall that let everything pass through. We have levies to keep the water out, and we have canals to let the water pass by. With all of the various solutions, they all still try to maintain a view of and accessibility to the sea.

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However, despite our best efforts, we have not been able to master the sea. Probabilistic responses will only take us so far, because with the ocean and its force, there will always be something bigger than expected. This is seen on the smaller scale of severe winter storms, seasonal global shifts like "El Nino", and then of course the big disasters like the tsunami that hit Indonesia and hurricane Katrina that took out New Orleans. All of our built resolutions can be obliterated so easily by the ocean. And yet we will never stop building and trying.

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October 10, 2006

Fall as a Phenomenon

Fall -- the changing of the colors of the leaves in fall -- is an amazing phenomenon to me. There is a scientific explanation for the exchange of chemicals and quality of the angle of the solar radiation that creates this visible change in the colors of the leaves at this time of year, but that is not the phenomenon that I am talking about. The phenomenon that interests me is the beauty of the landscape filled with the brilliant and vibrant colored leaves. The land looks like its on fire. Bright yellows, oranges, and reds transform the lush green world of summer into a living and vulnerable world of change. Fall is a transition time. It is inevitable that when the leaves change, winter will soon come and all of the color and even the leaves themselves will be lost. But in that short span of Fall, when the leaves are in many ways less stable (as they will soon be dying), they fill the land with a look of life, activity, and movement. The rustle of the leaves on the tree; the sound of dry leaves crunching under foot; the delicate and carefree dance of the leaves as they flitter across the ground, touching here and there and spinning and twisting as the wind caries them. This is the phenomenon of Fall. It is the clockwork of the seasons and it comes once a year, between Summer and Winter. The "things" of this phenomenon are the leaves -- as they changes from lush greens to lively oranges and reds. The framework of Fall is the trees -- all the trees that hold all the leaves for those last fleeting moments before they fall for winter. The whole of Fall is much greater than the sum of its parts.

October 3, 2006

Kenwood


Kenwood. Kenwood is the name of a small town in Sonoma County in northern California. It is the name of a vineyard that is located there as well. But to me, "Kenwood" refers to the house that my grandparents have there. They bought it long before I was born in hopes of opening a restaurant there and though that never happened, it has been the site of many family gatherings.

The house itself is a mysterious and odd mixture of grandeur and quiet bareness. It is a big house, or at least big by my standards growing up in a city where there is very little free, empty, "unused" or "unproductive" space, but was not constructed to be so. It is composed of many smaller buildings (very small -- like sheds in most cases) being pushed together to create this main house. Each room is different; each room has its own character. None of it matches or seems to belong together at all, and yet all the oddities work perfectly together.

There is the "four door room" - a room in the middle of the house that is no larger than 6'x9' and has 4 massive doors; the 4' wide solid oak door, the 2.5' wide leaded glass door, the exterior wood door with the stained glass window, and the "regular" door.

The windmill – an old windmill in the back corner of the property that is filled with bats. The actual windmill part of the windmill came down long ago and leans against a fence somewhere becoming apart of the vines and cobwebs.

The “greenhouse� – named for its pealing green paint and having nothing to do with growing plants.

The “honeymoon cottage�. Most of my aunts and uncles have been married at Kenwood – and then they stay in this little shack (about 12'x8' – maybe) afterwards.

“Robert’s cottage� – a place my uncle Robert once started to fix up but that now is filled with spider webs, ladders, paint cans, miscellaneous furniture, and who knows what else.

These are just a few of the oddities of the property, of the physical space. But Kenwood has meaning to me not because of the physical space but because of what happens there and who is there. It is a place of family, of security, of love, warmth, belonging, honesty, and beauty.

Thanksgiving: looking down the 20' table that glows warmly in the candle light and seeing all the faces or my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents; spending the whole day Wednesday baking rolls and pies, learning from my grandfather who has been a cook and baker for the last 65 years; watching my grandmother as she bakes without measuring because she can feel with her arthritic hands when the chemistry of the dough is just right; hearing my little cousins giggle with joy as they make sugar cookies, wearing the aprons that are folded over twice and still drag on the floor and the smudges of flour on their foreheads, noses, elbows, and ears; being apart of the never ending flow of people and hot baking sheets of the elaborate dance of baking for 60 (though there are only 30 people in my family) in one small kitchen and one oven; and then later, the elaborate dance of 30 people showering and dressing for Thanksgiving dinner in one small bathroom; taking a slow walk in the brisk fall air of dusk through the town after Thanksgiving dinner; playing football on the lawn across the street; waking in the morning to look out at the rows of the vineyard as they disappear into the fog; seeing the hillside glow in warm reds and yellows and oranges in the slanted fall light; staying up all night freezing in the "greenhouse" shed that is covered wall to wall with mattresses as my older cousins and I talk, tease, poke, throw shoes, and laugh all night long; lying awake in the dark, knowing that I am literally surrounded by family.

September 27, 2006

Social Design of College

There were many social design issues that I considered. There are so many problems in our society and so much room for improvement in how we construct our designed environment that it was hard to pick one topic; education, homelessness, clean water, adequate housing, public transportation, malnutrition, social awareness…. While all of these and many more topics are very important and must be addressed and studied and understood and looked at, they may not feel that pressing to the average college student. However, one issue that all college students should be aware of because it can most directly affect them is the design of college and how it relates to mental health.

College is a place where extremes are the norm. It is expected that there will be lots of studying and homework, that students will pull all-nighters as a regular part of their schedule, that they will find a way to deal with the new pressures and expectations of living away from home. The college/university environment is designed to test students’ abilities and push them to the limits. It is designed to see how much they can do, not just academically, but in other aspects of their lives as well. There are new temptations and new expectations, and often contradictory messages are received. For any of these and any other combination of reasons, many college students have trouble coping.

Though there are now many more resources available to students to help them deal with a range of issues that arise in this environment of new experiences and challenge, many students still do not seek the help they need. Depression and other mental health issues are still widely viewed as something that should not be talked about, though it is clearly an issue that many students face. According to a survey by the American College Health Association, about 50% of college students feel depression at some point during the year and 21% reported they “seriously considered suicide� one or more times during the past year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. These are very serious and scary statistics and though the awareness of this phenomenon is increasing and colleges and universities across the country now have counselors and programs in place to help students, there are still many aspects of the design of colleges that contribute to the problem.

Perhaps it is inherent in the design of colleges. College is a place and time for people to become independent, responsible, and figure out who they are and where they fit in. The old norms and standards of living at home are left behind in order to explore new territory and the future. But many times this means students are alone or feel that they are isolated. They have to figure it out on their own, and they are not around people who know them well enough to ask the right questions and push for the truth and really know when something is wrong. Instead they are isolated and don’t know how and don’t want to get help. This is the attitude that must be changed. It is okay to ask for help.

September 19, 2006

Midtown Global Market

The Midtown Global Market is a very dynamic place. Though it is contained within a single building, it encompasses regions from all over the world. The markets, restaurants, shops, and events that exist there have a free-flowing and liberated sense of energy. The varied businesses and spaces are open and connected with the area around them, but at the same time they retain their unique identity and sense of roots. It is a place where the mix of ideas, cultures, traditions, and values can grow and develop without becoming one big homogenous, watered down entity. I think because of the way it has been structured physically and the way that it has evolved humanly, has created this place where everyone is welcome, and what’s more, everyone is welcome to be themselves while experiencing what they normally may not have. It is almost as though just the act of being at the Midtown Global Market has given everyone there a common bond and experience that provides a base from which to build. The spaces that make up the whole are defined and intimate without becoming separated and removed. This is an important component of the Market as it allows for this dynamic interchange without compromising the integrity and uniqueness of the components. At the same time, however, the spaces and paths between entities are not void. There is no empty or "other" space that has no identity and that no one lays claim to. Instead, the transition spaces are common spaces, and their identity grows out of the people who occupy it at any given time. These spaces are more fluid and are an integral part of the Market as a whole.