December 7, 2006

Kahn & Gershenfeld : Nature & Man

Writings by Louis Kahn, Silence and Light, and Neil Gershenfeld, Fab, both discuss an apparent interdependent relationship between nature and man, the manufacturers of expression.

Kahn explains that “what nature makes it makes without man, and what man makes nature cannot make without him.� Using analogies of silence and light, he also alludes to what man makes it cannot make without nature. Through this relationship of nature and man is manifest the presence of the two and their desire for expression, transformed.

“The beautiful in the material is transformed from wonder to knowing which in turn is transformed to the expression of beauty that lies in the desire to express.�

Gershenfeld also speaks of transformation as a tool of both nature and man. He uses nature as an interesting analogy to the working of the computer: “The universe if literally as well as metaphorically a computer. Atoms, molecules, bacteria, and billiard balls can all store and transform information.� Kahn’s discussion reiterates this idea that everything in nature has the ability to store and transform information, and adds how this ability stems from the desire to express:

“Because nature, in what it makes, records how it was made. In the rock is the record of the rock, and in man is the record of man. Man, through his consciousness, senses inside of him all the laws of nature, except that his instrument is usually very poor, which he gets from nature, in the way of a brain… But regardless, the quality which he inherited… that which is the nature of man, he inherits, just like his physical being, in this he senses the desire to learn to express.�

Gershenfeld, in turn, reiterates the idea that man “senses the desire to learn to express� through his experience at MIT. Thecourse in “How To Make (almost) Anything� attracted students beyond his expectation. The reason for this attraction of such students was the opportunity to make the things they desired in life, the things that did not exist but was irrefutably in personal need, and use them.

Both nature and man are manufacturers of things that can store and transform data and through this creation is manifest the desire for expression. Man learns from nature and uses this knowledge to create expression (e.g., personal fabricators manufacturing objects). Nature in turn reflects the desires of man in beautiful expression (e.g., light illuminating form).

November 28, 2006


From my understanding, technopolies are populations of people that thrive on incessant innovation. Technopolies form as a result of new technologies being introduced which are defined by their benefits, but also by their consequences. A new technology that may benefit one part of the population may also be detrimental to another. Neil postman uses television as an example:

“many people find it a blessing [television], not least those who have achieved high-paying, gratifying careers in television as executives, technicians, newscasters, and entertainers… On the other hand and in the long run, television may bring a gradual end to the careers of school teachers, since school was and invention of the printing press and must stand or fall on the issue of how much importance the printed word has.�

The computer and the internet could also be included in this example, as they have gradually made education virtual and mobile, reducing the need for instructors and even physical settings for education.

Following Lance Levine’s lecture on technology as an order of nature, it is safe to say that technology’s ability to create such technolopolies has come a long way. Beginning with the innovation of architecture throughout history, technology has had a meaning, a purpose. Architectural innovations in history, such as the Gothic cathedral, illustrated power and attempted to rectify reason and faith, to manifest heaven. By now it seems that technology has lost the integrity of meaning and purpose that it once illustrated. Or perhaps the meaning is so intense that it is lost within itself. The intended meaning and purpose of the Gothic cathedrals was clearly illustrated in its physical form, however, the intended meaning and purpose of such technology as, for example, the television is not as apparent. Was television created as a source of information flow? Or was it created as a source for entertainment?

In our society [American], technology is so abundant that the prospect of new technology is instilled in us, we expect it and it may not even phase us. In fact it seems to be the main focus of every part of our society, even in design. Isn’t it important for designers to be innovative, to think outside the box and do something that has never been done before? But what consequences does that have for design that has come before us? Or do the innovations in design that came before us influence our designs? Will our designs influence future innovations in design?

Will we know what it all means?

November 7, 2006


When relating mathematics to design, proportion is the first thing that comes to my mind.

“Proportion is a correspondence among the measures of the members of an entire work, and of the whole to a certain part selected as standard. From this result the principles of symmetry. Without symmetry and proportion there can be no principles in the design of any temple; that is, if there is no precise relation between its members as in the case of those of a well shaped man.� -- Vitruvius, The Ten Books of Architecture (III, Ch. 1)

Mathematical proportions are rooted in nature and have defined architecture (design) throughout history in all parts of the world. In every design there are mathematical relationships that control the interrelationships among components of the design.

Nature is its own designer. As humans and as part of nature’s design we can only be filled with admiration for achieving such beauty. Perhaps that is why designers throughout history have worked so hard to imitate nature (a form of biomimicry?).

Logarithmic spirals are known for a unique mathematical property: geometric progression. As the size of the spiral increases, the continuous shaped remains unaltered with each successive curve. The distances between each curve increases in geometric proportion. Logarithmic spirals are clearly a natural design.

Nautilus Shell 2.gif
Chambered Nautilus.

Weather Spiral 2.gif
Low-pressure system.

Galaxy Spiral.gif
Whirlpool Galaxy.

In the attempt to imitate such beauty, man hasn’t done too bad.

Vatican Stairs.gif
Spiral staircase in the Vatican Museum, Rome.

October 23, 2006

Time is of the Essence

"I'm late, I'm late..." - White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.


The White Rabbit shares a similar opposition with the rest of us... man vs. time. It is an opposition that man attempts to overcome every day. We find ourselves always trying to "find time" to do this or that, or trying to make up for "lost time." To the design student the opposition of time is all too familiar. There is never enough. Time is money and everyone is looking to get richer… quicker.

As usual man does all it can to overcome opposition and time is no exception.

We drive in cars and fly in airplanes in order to get places faster. We call or email each other rather than visiting or writing and we don’t even have to be at home to do so. We purchase just about anything we want online and have it delivered right to our front door. We have fast food so we can eat on the run. We call ahead or make reservations so we don’t have to wait in lines. We use credit cards instead of having to take cash out. The list of resolutions can go on and on; however, the one thing man cannot do to resolve the opposition of time is buy more than each one is given in life… walk and don't run through it, spend it wisely.

October 9, 2006


For this prompt I found it particularly difficult to select a 'phenomenon' where I could clearly discuss it in reference to its 'things', 'frameworks', and 'clockworks'. Fortunately, this week's forcast reminded me of a phenomenon that is all too familiar to Minnesotans and no matter how much we are hoping it holds off until at least after Halloween, it is just around the corner. If you hadn't guessed already, the phenomenon I am referring to is snow. We love freshly fallen snow, the soft fluffy stuff that is easy to shovel, but we loathe the heavy, wet stuff that falls later. We love to have snow for Christmas, but hate it once the holidays are over. It is a love hate relationship.

Snow as a phenomenon...

Things. Snow consists of a multitude of snowflakes. Each snowflake can be a phenomenon in itself.

Frameworks. Snowflakes can be light and fluffy or dense and heavy packed. The relationship between snowflakes (i.e., light and fluffy or tightly packed) depends on external pressures. How snowflakes take on their geometric symmetry and ornate crystalline shape has yet to be clearly identified.


Clockworks. Snow follows the pattern of precipitation. Snow falls, stays for a period of time (sometimes too long), melts, evaporates, condenses and falls again; however water that was once snow may not always return as snow. However it falls, it always follows the same pattern.

Firenze, Italia

Firenze 9_edited.jpg

Firenze, Italia (Italian for Florence, Italy) is a place I discovered while studying abroad last semester and it is a place that has since been very meaningful to my life. Firenze is not only a city full of history and beautiful architecture, but it is also a city full of life and tradition. I have had the fortunate opportunity to do a lot of traveling; however, Firenze is a place I spent the most time (five months) and was really able to form a bond with a place I never had before… besides home of course. It is one thing to visit a place like Firenze, but to actually live there and integrate with the people; the culture was truly an amazing experience I will never forget and hope to return to soon.

There is not doubt in my mind that Firenze’s genius loci is responsible for making this place meaningful to me. I do not really even know how to being describing this place and was having trouble organizing this entry, so I decided to list all the things that make Firenze… well Firenze… all the things that make it different from home, but make it feel like home at the same time. These are the things that I feel make up its genius loci.

Narrow cobblestone streets. Clothes drying out every window. Motos, scooters and small cars whizzing by. Tourists, lots of tourists. Museums: The Uffizzi Gallery, The Bargello, Palazzo Pitti, etc. Outdoor cafes. Santo Spirito open air market. Designer shopping (Gucci, Armani, Prada, etc.) around every corner. Contraband. Internet cafes. Red tiled rooftops. Cold tile floors instead of carpet. Amazing street artists. Gelato. Pigeons. Begging gypsies. History. Plaques on the sides of buildings marking flood levels of the Arno through history. Wine. Layered façade of buildings along the Arno. Alternating heights of buildings butting up against each other. Shutters on every window.

Jogging along the Arno. Fighting off thousands of tourists everyday walking through the streets. Going to Fiorentina games and cheering with the crazy futbol fans. Speaking Italian… trying to at least. Having to walk everywhere. Having to walk six blocks with laundry. Eating the amazing food.

Firenze 5_edited.jpg

Firenze 3_edited.jpg

Firenze 6_edited.jpg

October 4, 2006


In selecting a social design issue for this prompt I wanted to be sure to select an issue that I had experience with and would be able to be an active advocate for. Many issues came to mind (e.g., homelessness, poverty, unemployment, immigration, child abuse, accessibility, cultural sensitivity, etc.); however through recent design projects I have encountered one recurring issue that seemed suitable for this entry and that is the issue of sense of community or community cohesiveness. It may not appear to be as significant a social issue as poverty and unemployment; however a sense of community and community cohesiveness may significantly impact other issues we encounter in society such as poverty and unemployment.

I should clarify that although the two terms ‘sense of community’ and ‘community cohesiveness’ sound like the same idea I interpret them as being two distinct aspects of a community; however I also see them as being interdependent. ‘Sense of community’ is a more psychological sense of community, the experience of community, and the attitudes and perceptions members of the community share in their ability to identify with their community. McMillan & Chavis developed a theory composed of four elements that constitute a ‘sense of community’:

• Membership – emphasizing the “spirit� of community stemming from “the spark of friendship�.
• Influence – members of the group must feel they have influence over the group [community].
• Integration and Fulfillment of Needs – a sort of “economy of social trade� where members of the community have shared values leading to the exchange of communal benefits for participating members… you must give to receive.
• Shared Emotional Connection – the “definitive element for true community�, frequency and quality of interaction, individual and group investment, spiritual bond

‘Community cohesiveness’ on the other hand describes the efficacy of connection, interaction and participation between community members and groups. The degree of community cohesiveness depends on a sense of community and how it is established among community members.

Helping people identify with their community is not the only benefit; other issues may be resolved through establishing a sense of community and building community cohesiveness. Studies have shown that stronger communities experience less violence, crime, and vandalism. When neighbors or members of a community interact more often, get together socially and are more familiar with each other in general, they watch out for each other and help each other out. A neighbor who is ‘friendly’ and interacts with another neighbor will more likely do something if their house were being broken into or help out if another’s house is on fire, which actually happened in my neighborhood. Neighbors who talk more may be able to network and help out someone who is experiencing troubles finding a job. Businesses who are active participants in their communities contribute to the cohesiveness. Nobody likes to feel out of place and feeling out of place in the community in which you live is no exception, in fact it may be more important to feel belonging to your community than perhaps at work. Designers have the ability to help create stronger communities in this sense.

Studying interior design has introduced me to projects where establishing a sense of community and building community cohesiveness are important to the clients and the businesses they are supporting in the spaces they need designed. Design can be very instrumental in supporting or facilitating sense of community and community cohesiveness. Creating public spaces that promote neighbor interaction can create a sense of belonging. Consulting with members of the community when designing new housing, public spaces, etc. will encourage member involvement and investment as well as make them feel as though they are a part of something bigger. Work with existing structures and spaces found in the community to maintain already established bonds between the members of the community and their environment. Physical and social environments, in which people live and work, help form an identity, especially in local spaces such as communities and neighborhoods.

As far as becoming an advocate for this social design issue, I suppose I have already done so and not really known it. Through my design work as a student I am an advocate by working on projects that require establishing a strong community connection, but also I am an advocate in my own neighborhood as well. In my neighborhood where I grew up the sense of community and community cohesiveness was very strong; and much of that was due to the parties my family hosted for the neighborhood. Every year it was my family who would host the neighborhood block party, which is now commonly referred to as National Night Out, as well as random neighborhood barbecues and our annual two-day Holiday Open House. I was always there to help and get the word out and make sure everyone came. Even now when my parents are getting to the point where they become exhausted from the time it takes to put on such events, I make sure they happen anyways. I enjoy seeing my neighbors and many of them have seen me grow up over the years. It is important to bring people together. It makes me feel safer knowing I have an entire neighborhood of people who would be willing to help me or my family in a time of need. I think the feeling is mutual.

September 19, 2006

Energy at the Midtown Public Market

en∙er∙gy [en-er-jee]

the capacity for vigorous activity. exertion of vigor or power. vitality and intensity of expression. a source of usable power. the force driving and sustaining activity. enterprising or ambitious drive.

activity. verve. intensity. renewable. drive. force. power. vitality. initiative. enthusiasm. work. spirit. passion. reaction. stamina. effectiveness. juice? strength. efficiency. endurance. potential. friction. dynamic. current. solar. geothermal. wave. hydro. desire. resilient. determination. pep? perseverance. capable. kinetic. competence. ability.


Energy is the essence of life. Defining energy can be difficult due to the multi-faceted nature of the term. I perceive design to be the culmination of energy. Design supports activity, begins with passion, strives to be efficient and so on. Observing energy can be interesting as well as provocative.

The Midtown Public Market is a great place to observe the nature of energy and examine how design can influence energy. My visit to the Midtown Public Market had been my first; however, immediately I became engaged. The people, the music, the food (especially the fresh produce), the art. The colors, the smells (mmmm the smells), the sounds (music and people). What I liked the most was being able to come into connection with the people who had, in some way or another, a direct involvement with the production of the goods sold throughout the market. It’s more personal. I have lived in a suburb most of my life and have only been exposed to the larger scale supermarkets (e.g., Cub, Byerly’s, Kowalski’s) and shopping centers (e.g., Target, Marshall Field’s). Since coming to the University and living, being exposed to the city more often, the atmosphere feels different. In places like the Midtown Public Market I see the connection of the community and it’s much more natural in comparison to the warehouse style shopping experiences back home. The energy is in the people, the connections being made and the transactions (both monetary and information) taking place.

Creating Energy in the Midtown Public Market.
As a consumer…
• Interact with vendors. Ask questions. Where do they farm? What inspires their creativity (artists)? How much does this cost?
• Interact with other customers. “Your girlfriend would love these flowers�. “Which one do you like better�. “I was looking for something like that, where did you find it?�.
• Examine the goods. Are the tomatoes ripe? How fresh are the lilies? Would my brother like this? Touch, feel, weigh, taste, smell, try, play. How much does it cost?
As a designer…
• Create spaces that allow for and facilitate social interaction.
• Provide dynamic circulation throughout the space.
• Create by observing what already happens and needs to happen.

Using Energy in the Midtown Public Market.
Had trouble separating the using from creating and exchanging. Let me re-visit this and come back to it later…

Exchanging Energy in the Midtown Public Market.
• Buy something.
• Help someone carry their items to their car.
• Converse with someone, tell them a story, or be a listener.

Inquiry by Design

'Inquiry By Design' is a sort of philosophy I have come to embrace through my years as a student studying design. It was inspired by a book by John Zeisel of the same title. 'Inquiry By Design' is characterized by the notion of asking, examining, investigating, questioning and therefore learning through design. It involves observing behavior, interviewing, analyzing... effective researching to enhance design. Research doesn't have to be scientific, just exloratory. How can we make design better? By learning from what has already been accomplished, by measuring the qualities and analyzing impact. That is 'Inquiry By Design'.

I have a passion for researching about design, specifically how the environment impacts human behavior and vice versa. In many ways this course has been designed to evoke this sense of inquiring through design and will enable me to work out this passion. This blog will be my tool in expressing to others my thoughts and ideas about design and its impact on our lives. To all those who take the time to read this blog... I hope you enjoy it and to those who are using this same tool of expression... I look forward to reading yours.

Best. M.