December 8, 2006

Interpretations of Articles

Gershenfeld talks about an interesting reaction that he observed when MIT students heard of a class he was proposing titled “How To Make (almost) Anything.� The students at the college were thrilled about the prospect of being able to fabricate anything that they saw fit, all for their own personal benefit. The students were eager to express themselves in their own way and create something that would be exclusively for them and fit their need. Gershenfeld goes on to describe the various degrees of success of his class, but the key point was what a large response the students gave at the thought of being able to express themselves and create.

Kahn wrote a much deeper article, one that was a bit harder to follow. He talked about how people are naturally inclined to create and design to express themselves, how they wish to design things they need or just things they find beautiful. He regards this in terms of silence, and how our world can begin to be filled by it. And the design and creation of things by people is how we fight that silence. Silence, then, would be the void of design, the absence of creation. Without creation we are isolated, and it is through this design process that we are able to think and communicate more freely.

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Both of these articles, in very alternative ways (one directly one abstractly), talk about the basic nature of the human, and how on some subconscious level every person feels the need to express themselves and create something. Innovation and invention has been the key to the evolution of the human race, and that is an aspect that is found in every one of us to this day. We all want to create something to call our own. There is obviously a sense of satisfaction that comes from it, a sense of pride in creation. Every person does this in some way, from rearranging their living room to doodling on a piece of paper, every person tries to express who they are by creating or designing something. It could be that simply going out and buying something for ourselves that have been designed for a larger market by other people is like admitting defeat. It is saying that we were unable to create our own things to suffice our own need, and we therefore had to rely on others to get this accomplished. All that is shown with certainty is the fact that people enjoy creating, and as humans we all have this urge, this desire, this basic need to design and create something to express ourselves.

November 29, 2006

Technopoly

Neil Postman seems to be quite concerned with the direction of American life. He has even labeled how our society, and other typically “Western� societies live, and that is in a technopoly. This term, at least according to the text provided, is very vague. There is no true definition for the word, so one can only venture a guess, at this point at least, as to what he is referring to and how that is the order of modern life. A technopoly seems to be the natural progression of a Society in regards to the use of tools and technology. He says that there is a taxonomy of cultures in the world today: a tool-using culture, a technocracy, and a technopoly. The use of technology in all three societies is met with varying acceptance and impact. In a tool-using society the concept of technology is done out of necessity, and in many ways in not the key focus of their lives. Postman then said that in a technocracy everything, such as beliefs, religion, customs, must fight for their lives as new tools and technologies attack the culture. In my understanding of this taxonomy, I see that there is a sort of progression of the role that technology plays in society. It starts out of need, and then becomes the objects for which the society begins to focus, disregarding things like politics and religion.

And that evolves into a technopoly, which would be a world in which religion and social morals play no role, and the entire culture is driven by the efficiency of new technologies. Postman even said that new technologies alter the structure of our lives and what we think about. It only seems natural that the progression of this would be to the point where our only sense is technology, no longer social values and traditions, and this final stage is a technopoly. Postman said that America is the leading example of a technopoly, and that it is indeed a scary and unrealized thing. In this context it seems fitting that a technopoly is the use of technology to replace the absence of social traditions and morals.

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There are several examples within the American culture that prove this, but the finest example of the efficiency of technology replacing social morals is looking at the production of large corporations, more specifically the exploitation and outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries. This modern business practice, which is utilized by many “Western Society� corporations, is commonly referred to as “The Race to the Bottom.� In this business model large companies send American production jobs overseas, in order to achieve the lowest overall production cost to create the largest profit margins. This practice not only takes jobs away from Americans and raises unemployment rates; it simultaneously exploits the populations of Third World countries, making it nearly impossible for the poverty stricken nations to ever rise economically.

Life in America is no longer under attack by the presence of new technology, it has gotten to a status where technology has become our lives, and this is what I feel that Neil Postman was illustrating with his term Technopoly. But a look at the taxonomy of societies that he mentioned shows this not as an out-of-place occurrence, but more a natural progression throughout time. And this is where the concept of Technopoly can be seen as order of nature. This current state of technological life is just the latest step in the evolution of man and society. According to Postman this seems to be a process without regression, and what is gradually being lost shows no sign of resurfacing. Many famous philosophers have commented on life in this manner, that what is now lost by our society will not be regained. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Society acquires new arts, and loses old instincts.� This means that for everything we gain something has to be lost. Emerson also wrote “Civilized man has invented a coach, but has lost the use of his feet.� Neil Postman certainly was not the first to comment on the presence of technology in society, but has made it aware to what degree things are lost because of the encroachment of technology.

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We are now at a point in our lives where we can no longer visibly see the presence of traditional American culture. America is now just a conglomeration of various technologies and rituals, all of which are in complete opposition to the concept of a preserved historical culture. We have lost the sense of tradition and traditional values that we used to hold dear. It used to be a privilege in America to vote, and women and minorities had to fight to earn the right to vote. Yet voting in America is reaching new lows, with the majority of the population not even caring enough to cast their vote. In some senses America has followed this course of natural evolution that Postman talked about and has evolved from a strong sense of tradition and interest in religion, to a point where those same social values no longer matter in our lives. And the evolution does not seem to be reversing in our future, we seem destined to be driven by technology to the point where there are no longer independent cultures and societies, just one mass network all revolving around technology.

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Yet I must close with one thought. Before we are ready to admit the idea of technopoly, we have to understand that our world may not be on a slippery slope to the complete disembodiment of culture. The Wachowski brothers wrote “Hume teaches us that no matter how many times you drop a stone and it falls to the floor, you never know what'll happen the next time you drop it. It might fall to the floor, but then again it might float to the ceiling. Past experience never proves the future.� Therefore, how can we be certain that this process is indeed irreversible? How can we say that we won’t suddenly wake up and have a new admiration for tradition and culture and social values? The events of the past do not dictate the future. Everything we know about life and history is but a small part of a much larger existence, and everything we experience may be predestined and insignificant. Then it would not matter whether that we currently do not hold strict traditional values in America, because it will most likely change. And that is something that I feel much better about.

Amor Fati.

November 7, 2006

Design and Math

Nearly every thing that gets designed in some way incorporates mathematics. Nearly everything has some aspect that needs math to overcome an obstacle or opposition. From gravity to the exploitation of materials, everything has involved math in both the design of the end product, as well as the construction process. Nearly any picture of any object could be described in the math that was involved in the design process.

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Stonehenge is a great early example of the math involved in design. The monument in Wiltshire, England shows how mathematics was used in the design process long ago. The creators of Stonehenge needed to not only use mathematics to determine the exact size and placement for the stones, but the long process of getting the stones to the location. Up to 43 of the 4-ton stones were transported from 250 kilometers away, which must have involved a great deal of mathematics to move across the country, which is believed to have been a series of logs to which the stones were rolled across. It is a standing monument to the use of mathematics involved in design.

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The Great Pyramids of Egypt are another standing testament to mathematics involved in the building and design process. It isn't exactly known how the Egyptians moved the giant stones and constructed the pyramids, but it can be said that a great deal of advanced mathematics must have been involved in place of the lack of technology.

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Modern bridges are another great example of the amount of mathematics that is involved in the design process. There are several forces of physics that bridges must be designed to overcome, and these are mathematically computed into the overall design image that the architect or engineer had for the bridge. Not only must the bridge stand against gravity, but it must also handle the load and stress of traffic, as well as the horizontal forces of sheer winds. Not to mention bridges built in disaster areas that must be able to withstand things like earthquakes and hurricanes.

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Similar to bridges, dams are designed based around mathematics in order to withstand the forces that they are subject to. But dams are also unique because of their exploitation of materials. The concrete used is designed specifically to be manipulated into the structure so it can help counteract the forces that the dam is subject to.

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Aviation technology is one field that is as much about mathematics as it is about design. Aviation is solely about the manipulation and control of natural forces and certain properties of physics. The lift needed to get a large airliner off of the ground had to be meticulously calculated, and the aerodynamic properties of the fuselage of aircraft had to designed based on mathematics in order to create the least amount of drag.

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The Bugatti Veyron, or anything in the automotive industry, is another examples of designed following the application of mathematics. Similar to the aviation industry, automotive designer of the Veyron had to design its hull to be as aerodynamic as possible. But the designers also had to counteract the forces of lift, and had to specially designed stabilizer wings for the car to keep it planted to the road during high speed runs, in order to give the car optimal handling at great speeds.

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Finally, my favorite example of mathematics involved in design is the Nike Free. The shoe had set before it a set of parameters that it had to meet, and the shoe designers then had to use math to make the design possible. The designers were given the idea of a shoe that would be as light and flexible as possible, so as to mimic the benefits of running barefoot. The designers then had to create the idea of a shoe that could bend and twist freely, and offer the least amount of resistance to the legs, and therefore be very similar to running barefoot. The design for the sole of the shoe turned out to be a rubber base that was then sliced into small block, which remained connected to, together by a thin piece of rubber. This allowed for the most flexibility while still offering durability and comfort.

So the design process is very much involved in the field of mathematics. It all goes back to the principles of oppositions, and the resolutions to them. Every resolution involves a great deal of math in order to overcome the opposition.

October 23, 2006

Design Oppositions and Resolutions

The designed environment that surrounds us is constantly faced with oppositions that it must resolve and overcome. And that is the thing; most everything in our designed environment has in some way dealt with one or several oppositions. Most of the buildings and built spaces have at least dealt with the opposition of man and land in the form of topography. Nearly every building around us (I say nearly because I have yet to check every building) must have dug away the earth in order to poor the foundation to the building. And if the building were to just be sitting on a plinth, then some sort of anchoring stakes certainly must have been pounded into the ground. As another form of default, every building or built environment is forced into the opposition of climate and enclosure. No area can exist in the Minneapolis area and not be subject to the climate of the region. So it is easy to see that the built environment around us is subject to oppositions. But there are several ways to deal with and resolve these oppositions, and that is what can be noted and studied in the area around us. It is much easier to analyze how a specific structure resolved an opposition than to study the opposition that is there. I have three oppositions in one site that were each dealt with in very unique ways, but have a variety of different ways to resolve each opposition.

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The site is the new Guthrie Theater, and it has three layering oppositions that it overcame. First, Jean Nouvel was faced with the opposition of permanence and entropy. How could one design a building that was to replace an existing building and not deal with this opposition? Then, once the idea was conceived for the theater, it was faced with the opposition of topography, and how to deal with the Mississippi River, which it wanted to bring focus to? And finally, once the idea for the cantilever walkway was thought of, it was subject to the opposition of Gravity and Movement. There are multitudes of ways to deal resolve each of these oppositions. For the tribute aspect of the theater, Jean chose to cross the opposition, and designed the new Guthrie Theater in a way that stood out from the old one to give the theater a new presence. But what if Jean chose to let the task of making the new design a tribute to the old one sculpt the form of the building completely. Then the building would look quite unlike the blue steel structure standing today, and would instead be in very close likeness to Ralph Rapson’s building from 1963. Next was the topography aspect, and how to deal with the new Guthrie’s site. Jean chose to let the river sculpt the design of the building and become a focus of the Guthrie. With the choice of building material and the lookout onto the river, it seems that the Mississippi and the Guthrie almost become one. But he very well could have just resolved it adequately, and focused on the technical aspect of what is only necessary for building near a river. He could have designed the building around a sturdy foundation that would resist the effects of flooding and had a good water run-off system. Or he could have crossed the opposition and took the river aspect of his building completely out of his design. He could have chose to ignore the river, or altered it in some way so as to make it seem that the river wasn’t even there in the first place. And finally, for the cantilevered walkway, it had to overcome the opposition of gravity and movement. Jean once again chose to cross the opposition, and designed his outlook point in a way that seems to defy gravity. But this could be designed like masonry bridges and envelop the opposition of gravity and movement. The lookout point could have been designed into some sort of arch or bridge, which takes the extremes of the potential response and shape that into the limits of the form itself. Paired with that, the lookout point could have used redundancies as responses, and also integrated a sort of suspension cable system as a fail safe in case the bridge’s supports were to collapse.

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So a close look at any site or structure around us shows that one, if not many, oppositions had to be dealt with in order to arrive at the space that we have today. But if each opposition had been resolved in some other way, then our designed environment would have been shaped in a completely different manner, and nothing as we know it today would be the same.

October 9, 2006

Phenomena

A phenomena, as defined in class, means “to show, be seen, or appear.� But that fact alone isn’t what makes phenomena so interesting. Many things just appear in our lifetime, everyday in fact, and we are just accustomed to the how and why of that particular thing that we don’t even pay attention. But when something appears and we have no idea how the thing works, that is when a phenomenon becomes, well, phenomenal. We could have every understanding of what makes up something and how it all flows together, and yet we still can’t explain these phenomena that are just there and seem as though they shouldn’t be. The scientific community seems to have a couple of them, which defy everything that scientists have established to be happening or what should be happening. So I figured that is where I will draw my example from, I will use a phenomenon that is completely unsolved and defies all of our logic, and yet is still occurring. There are many good ones, such as The Placebo Effect, The Wow Signal, and Cold Fusion. The one that I find most interesting is the theory of Dark Matter and our universe, a concept that was established in the 1970’s. The concept of gravity is that anything with mass-produces a force on any thing around it, an attraction if you will. And the larger an object, the larger the gravitational forces are. Now apply these basic principles to the universe, and everything makes sense. Asteroids are drawn towards the gravity of moons, and moons are held in orbit by the gravity of planets, and all the planets in a solar system revolve around a much larger body, like a star.

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But when you apply these principles the entire universe, the whole thing should be theoretically be falling apart. Each galaxy revolves around its central point, and they should all be floating away from one another. And yet there is a central point that was found by Vera Rubin in the late 1970’s, a point that seems to keep all of the galaxy’s tied together some how. We just don’t know why this is happening. And that is where the theory of Dark Matter has been established. It is a phenomenon that makes up 90 percent of the universe, and it has no concrete explanation. But scientists have long since figured out the principles that govern most everything else in the universe. The universe is made up of things, all with quantified measurements. Lets look at our Solar system for starters, which is made up of planets, moons, the sun, asteroids, gases, and the occasional meteor and comets. The moon, for instance, has a diameter of 3,474 Kilometers and has a mass of 7.35 x 10^22 Kilograms, is 384, 467 Kilometers away from the Earth, and is likely around 4 billion years old. The Earth, in comparison, has a mass of 5.98 x 10^24 Kilograms and has a diameter of 12,715.43 Kilometers. And all of these things come together to make frameworks. Our solar system is a framework, with all of the eight of our planets making up the solar system (though when I was a kid there were nine planets). Each solar system is a framework of planets and moons that are centered around one or more stars. And the universe itself is a framework, being made up of the smaller frameworks that are galaxies. There are also clockworks involved. Our planet has a clockwork with the moon, and the moon has a set pattern of orbit around the Earth. And the solar system’s clockwork is made up of the forces of gravity, which keep all of the planets in a set rotation around the sun, which then creates our planet’s clockwork of the seasons in a year.

So it seems that we can explain how the universe works, according to the applied principles of gravity that govern each solar system. But that isn’t what governs the universe; it is governed by some unexplainable phenomenon, which we are just calling Dark Matter. So we can explain, measure and identify all of the things, frameworks, and clockworks that make up our universe, yet there is 90 percent that is unexplainable, which is one magnificent phenomenon.

information gathered on the internet from the following sites:
-http://www.newscientistspace.com/article.ns?id=mg18524911.600
-http://geography.about.com/library/faq/blqzdiameter.htm
-http://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/kids_space/moon_awaits.html

October 2, 2006

Genius Loci

Although I have only been there a few times, one place that I find special to me is the Loring Pasta Bar, specifically at night on a warm evening. I think part of my attraction to the restaurant is the fact that I have not been there often, which gives it a certain sense of romanticism. Although in essence the whole space seems to be its genius loci to me, it can be argued that the main dining area next to the street windows is its true genius loci. Just sitting at a table at night, with candles lit everywhere around you casting light on the exposed brick walls, and a warm summers breeze blowing in through the windows explains everything about the atmosphere and presence of the Loring Pasta Bar. Sitting at a table there shows the presence of the space, and you can immediately identify what it is trying to be. The space is trying to express itself in the form of love, romance, comfort, warmth, and enjoyment.

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But the space is more than just the independent items that make the space up. It is about the company you are with, the conversations, the connections you are making, the memories you will have, and the things that you will share, all within the space. And the dining space inside the Loring Pasta Bar very successfully does this, but in a way that isn't cliché and overdone. It doesn't try overly hard to be what it is, it somehow just accomplishes it. In comparison, the restaurant Chino Latino in Uptown tries to achieve the same thing as the Loring Pasta Bar. But in Chino Latino you don't feel comfortable, you don't feel intimate, you don't feel close. The noise, the atmosphere, even the candles, everything there seems to be overly done, and done wrongly. The Loring Pasta Bar has some how done everything that Chino Latino was trying to but couldn't. Loring seems close despite the wide-open floor space and high ceilings. It seems intimate despite the ongoing conversations of the people sitting next to you. Everything that is noticed as a flaw in other restaurants seems to melt away in the Loring Pasta Bar, and that is what its genius loci was aiming to do. But I am careful to make the distinction of the Loring Pasta Bar as a space and not just the building that it is in. If you were to look at just the building then it wouldn't have the same genius loci, and certainly the current genius loci would not be fulfilled. You would just have old glass partitions and brick walls and nothing more. Conversely, if you were to just take the interior aspects of the Loring Pasta Bar, such as the tables and candles, and put them into any other space the some effect would not occur, as I pointed out with Chino Latino. So it takes both the building's characteristics and the aspects of the interior to make the space whole, and to give it the genius loci it has.

September 24, 2006

Social-Design Issue

After having lived on the Mississippi River my entire life, I have noticed that the river itself tends to go unoticed. It seems that living within the area of such a grand thing as the Mississippi River has caused us to disregard and not pay attention to it. I see it as a growing problem. People don't appreciate what they have right in front of them, and they don't take advantage of what the river has to offer. It seems people from other states are much more interested in it than we are. I never really understood how poorly used our states riverfront was until my first visit to the city of San Antonio. The city was developed on the San Antonio river, very similiar to how Minneapolis and Saint Paul were developed on the Mississippi. But it is a night and day comparisson as to how much the city of San Antonio utilizes the river, and what sort of draw it can have. They transformed the banks of the river into a place that invites Flâneur, which is a french term that means to stroll about. The city has developed the area into a place of both public and private sectors. The San Antonio Riverwalk is at its core a series of paved paths that travel along side the river, most of which are surronded by tropical vegitation. Along side the paths are an assortment of retail buildings, eating establishments, open public places, and also private residences.

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And with a stroll along the banks of the Mississippi River I discovered a lack of inviting public places and any sort of draw the to the river. Even with the few parks on the river, very few of them offer immediate access to the river itself, such as Minnehaha Park and Fort Snelling park. Even worse are the downtown areas of both Minneapolis and Saint Paul. In Minneapolis, the only sort of eating or shopping districts on the water is St. Anthony's Wharf, which is at least fifty feat off of the river, and has a large factory blocking the view of the river. Even districts that try to utilize the river fall well short, such as the Mill City district. They focus is on the Stone Arch bridge, but on either side of the bridge is no quality access to the water front (I do understand that the lock and damn to the north does limit the accessibility).

I feel that Minnesota as a whole could could have a much larger draw for tourism (both visiting people and those in state) if there were more development on the river and it was a much more public space. I strongly feel that the city of Minneapolis should better utilize the river by placing paved trails right beside the river, with plenty of places to stop and relax while taking in the view of downtown. There should also be more shops and restaraunts on the East side for the river that offer dining views of both downtown and the river. And even though there would be a lot of new buildings on the river, proper use of vegitation and trees vould still maintain the natural green space appeal of the river, and make the trails could double as a park. I stronlgy feel that the Mississippi River is our greatest asset, but also Minnesota's most under appreciated resource.

September 18, 2006

Midtown Market

Midtown Market, as a concentrated forum for commerce, constently creates, uses, and exchanges energy in both the sense of the people who are there but also as a space in itself. Upon walking through the door I immedietly got a sense of motion and energy. The energy in the market was very ranged and depended upon how you percieved it. Energy could be found in the very basic forms, such as the light bulbs abouve casting down light into the space and the ovens and cookers that were producing heat. The people themselves, be them shoppers or workers, are in essence a vessel of energy. But one can also create energy by interacting with another person. A simple hello can change the mood and emotion of a person you pass by and alter their current energy level. Another simple form of energy were the foods being sold there, being nothing but different forms of proteins and sugars that a person could consume to take in energy. Energy was also being exchanged with currency, but to understand that you have to look past the simple peices of monetary paper. You have to understand where that money will go, and how it will provide food and shelter to the store clerk's family. But also there is an energy in the origin of the money, knowing that the consumer had to work at their job and expend energy in order to have the money to buy things at the market. This whole process of buying/selling something is a incredible exchange of energy, from the product itself to the energy put into earning the money to the things that the money will provide in the future. The last sense of energy were in the cultural significance of the products being sold. You can begin to imagine the amount of energy it took to pass down the practice of making the products, be it a sculpture or a piece of baked fish, from one generation to the next. This transfer of knowledge from the elders down to their young is an incredible act of passing energy not only across tiem but also space, as the knowledge is brought along and spread as a generation moves between places. So when you buy something from a vender, you are not just buying a single object, but you are buying all of the knowledge and effort put into creating that object that has been passed down through the years. Midtown Market is not simply a space of commerce, but a means of exchanging thoughts, emotions, and knowledge.

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