December 4, 2006

Kahn and Gershenfeld

I greatly appreciated these last readings, and for me their messages really underscored the importance of this class - and in the broader sense, the importance of the intellectual pursuits we'll engage in over our architectural education career. If I've taken one thing from this class, it's an appreciation for gathering and interpreting everything around us.

I liked Gershenfeld's writing, and I think his unperturbed commentary makes a lot of sense. Fab is poised to dismantle 2-dimensional printing and completely redefine our notions of mass-production. I especially liked how individual representation in mass-production is leading people - in the case of this article, kids in inner-city Boston - to utilize the technology and redefine themselves through their entreprenuership. This underscores the power a technopoly can have in redefining its users. Like Gershenfeld points out, a village in Ghana doesn't need to adapt to the digital, virtual world, but rather can use technology that is relevant. Personally, in the right hands, I think Fabrication technology will level the global "playing field" and will combat some of our deep-rooted problems as a society.

Kahn's piece was fascinating, and I think his attempt to reach the essence of architecture, the essence of a thing, is very relevant to this class. Silence, the void, creates the "desire to be, to express" - to express with the light in which things are percieved. I loved his comment, "Did the world need the Fifth Symphony before Beethoven wrote it? Did Beethoven need it? He desired it and world needs it. Desire brings the new need." Therefore, the world doesn't need any of these things, these experiences we call our reality, but confronted with them, new needs are exposed; a light is shone on those needs. I think this is relevant to Gershenfeld's piece and even Neil Postman's piece - that a new technology can come and wipe out the old, that out of the silence can come this new desire, which manifests itself in the light, in a new territory. In this case that thing is the idea of Fab....and so that desire brings forth the new need....to make best use of the technology.

November 26, 2006

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November 25, 2006

The Electric Guitar as Technopoly? Technopolies in Popular History.

(a gentle disclaimer: These ideas about popular culture history are mine and don't bear any factual evidence. Therefore, in describing my understanding of technopolies, I will not attempt to be "soft" and speculative, but rather assertive as I theorize about the reasons the electric guitar has played such a vital and integral role in our everyday lives. And so let there be music...)

When one thinks upon the popular culture influences of the past 30 years, perhaps MTV comes to mind? Perhaps the internet? Instant Messaging? Text Messaging? All are technopolies, and perhaps some of the most important technopolies in history. I think we overlook the relevance of new communication systems and how they play a role in our rapidly changing society, but when one considers that almost all of our youth is immersed in this technology every day, it might seem more significant. To me, a technology that can completely eradicate the old in favor of the new within the realm of popular cultural is the most significant of all technopolies, because the usually powerless youth are for once on the cutting edge of history in the making. The whole grown-up world might point and laugh at the frivolity of instant messaging or of MTV, but in the end, those who are pointing and laughing will be gone, and we'll be around to write the history books.

Now with that said, what was the first, the most important, technopoly for popular culture history, especially within the past 50-55 years? What was the straw that broke the camel's back? because youth didn't always have the same power, the same sway that they do now. I'm talking about the youth revolution, man....about counter-culture...about rebellion. I'm talking about the ELECTRIC GUITAR, man. In fact, I sincerely believe that without the invention of the electric guitar, we can't be certain that there would even be such a thing as the internet. In fact, for the sake of this piece, I'll argue that there would be NO such thing as the internet. Now that's the power of a technopoly. And our parents said we'd go to hell for listening to rock & roll...

I'll give my 30-second run-down, my plea if you will, as to why the electric guitar is the preeminent technopoly in pop culture history: Before the electric guitar, music was hardly in the mix of popular taste. Folk music could be found in almost every nook of the United States just as spoken word used to be transmitted before the invention of the printing press. Blues music was, for the most part, confined to the musicians who played the blues, just like folk music, and so it wasn't classified as popular music either. Jazz music was closer to the pulse of popular culture, mostly because it was associated with old theater productions in the roaring 20's and continued to be popular as swing dance grew. Enter the electric guitar. The electric guitar captured the spirit of young people everywhere after World War II, and did nothing more with the technology than put an electric pick-up inside the conventional guitar. The results were brilliant, however, because at last the spirit of youth aligned with the technology, and a whole new stereotype was born: the rebellious rock & roller. Rock & Roll highjacked television through programs like The Ed Sullivan Show and Hullabaloo. Conventionally, television was a source for news and few other more conservative programs. Rock & Roll, however, came to redefine and push the envelope of what TV could be. Jim Morrison singing "...girl we couldn't get much higher..." and showing Elvis from the waist up was scandalous, and continues to have an influence in the programing of today. But why? I think because that generation, the Rock & Roll generation, the generation of free love, embraced the progress and the voice that they began to have in mainstream society. They're the ones who sit in our boardrooms today, the ones who call the shots. For this reason, without the electric guitar, the youth would never have earned the voice, the power, that they earned, and in effect would not have gone on to produce the technopolies that continue to redefine our society today. Media would have remained a predominately conservative creature, which means that programming like MTV wouldn't exist, and of course, the internet wouldn't be the product of a conservative media. In fact, I think it's no conincidence that Silicon Valley is just outside of San Fransisco, the center of free love and the "youth revolution" in the '60's.

Of course, it's possible to go back even further. Without the invention of motion-picture there might be no such thing as popular media, and without the invention of the printing press, the media might be non-existent altogether. The point is, and this is what technopolies mean to me, our history is a compilation of minute developments that have incredibly profound implications for the reality we experience today, and the most minor of these technological developments can align with our collective human spirit to drastically change our future forever. Much as another ice-age will come eventually and wipe out existence as we know it, a new technopoly will come and do the same.

Technopolies are an act of nature, always beautiful, always volatile, but always fair. No one is right if they say the electric guitar and Rock & Roll was a good thing or a bad thing. Is it a good thing that our kids only communicate through Instant Messaging? Or that they spend most of their hours on the internet? Or that they get most of their education watching MTV? No one has the right answer. It is all subjective, as is everything in nature. We just have to cope with our technopolies as they continue to redefine us as a species. I just think what we give and take is all part of a grand force of balance called nature, and technopolies are just as much a part of nature as is a blossoming flower. We may see this beautiful thing blossoming in the spring, but it will always grow blighted by the time fall rolls around. And in the spring, a new thing will blossom.

November 7, 2006

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Crown Hall as Math

As I scan my notes from the Mathematics lecture given on Tuesday the 31st, I come across the paraphrased definition of Mathematics that was handed to us (which I've crudely paraphrased again in my notes...) It defines math as the "pursuit of pure relationships."

Through learning about the great architects, I've come to find that the modern movement in architecture was really at its core about proportions, perhaps defined as pure relationships in a structure, just like the classical works of Greece and Rome, up through Burnham's elegant "White City" at the 1893 World's Fair. Of course, new ideologies and philosophies worked their way into the modern architecture, and decoration was out. But proportions remained, and it seems that Mies van der Rohe's Crown Hall is a perfect example of this.

I don't know what the precise proportions in Mies' building are, but it's evident that the uniformity expressed by the columns and rectangular glass panes point towards a clear mathematic product. There is plenty of symmetry, and the plain geometries suggest perfection, the pursuit of the perfect structure, of order and perfect proportion.

I think that this structure parallels or is perhaps a perfect manifestation of this modern pursuit of mathematics and order.

October 23, 2006

Oppositions at the Mall

I had the great fortune (no sarcasm intended) of visiting the lovely Mall of America today. As I'm sure the administrators of this class would love to hear, oppositions were on my mind, and what better place to measure and observe opposition than at the melting pot of consumerism in the Midwest.

My laptop wasn't working well, so I thought I'd better find a convenient place to take it in to get fixed. Here's opposition #1: The needs of the consumer vs. the needs of the supplier. The consumer has demands and necessities that need to met, such as costumer service for broken parts (aka my broken laptop) and convenient store locations, and the supplier needs to find a cost-effective way to support a store that creates revenue while at the same time boosting its image. The resolution is the basic capitalistic system, and a by-product of it is the Apple Store. (Which, by the way, I'm very satisfied with, seriously no sarcasm intended.)

As I was wandering the bustling corridors of the MOA, I couldn't help but notice one basic opposition that everyone experiences first-hand in their lives. Here's opposition #2: The old, more "mature" person vs. the child. Parents, or older people, are more mature if maturity means being prone to follow the basic rules laid out by society. Children who struggle against the scolding of their parents don't care much for way they "should" look walking down bustling corridors. They are more intuitive and more spontaneous, more in tune to the feelings that unite us all. When there's this duality of "maturity" and "immaturity," the resultant is the basic way we carry ourselves. More often than not, and especially at the Mall of America for some reason, that presentation often comes off superficial and too conscientious. I think this opposition, if my explaination isn't making any sense, is best illustrated by the movie "American Beauty," in which conservatism and society causes us to believe that "...in order to be successful, one must present an image of success at all times."

October 11, 2006

Here's another phenomenon...I think?

I am listening to this song and think it's beautiful...It's by a band named Broken Social Scene and I think it owes itself very much so to the topic of phenomena.

Give it a shot:

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October 10, 2006

Guitar Strings

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Phenomenon

As I sit here in my dorm room and mull over all the phenomena I could document for my blog project (it may be an injustice to the project that I don't take a more active approach) I can't help but let my eyes scan my room and take in the most mundane of my things. It is, perhaps, phenomenal that the object closest to me, physically closest to me, sitting on my lap, jumps out of its framework and into this blog entry.

The strings that make up an acoustic guitar, the things that make its sound, are a beautiful thing. They most obviously exist in our sensorium, things you can touch, see, hear. Guitar strings are predictable, in that they create sound by way of vibrations, with sound waves. When a string is plucked, the string vibrates at a certain frequency, a certain harmonic with a period that works like a clockwork, vibrating back and forth and returning to static until struck again.

But how do the guitar strings use their framework to create a phenomenon that is the beautiful sound of the guitar? Music is all about pattern. There is nothing new to the sounds that can be created by a guitar. But the infinite possiblities afforded from the patterns in music playing allow each and every pluck of the string to be a phenomenon. The constraints presented by the guitar are the frameworks.

Hey without phenomena, we wouldn't have songs like "Smoke on the Water." That would be a tragedy.

October 2, 2006

View of the Grand Canal in Venice

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The real spirit of place in Venice

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The Genius Loci of Venice's Grand Canal

Last year I had the incredible fortune of visiting one of the most surreal landscapes in the world. Venice, to me, was incredibly challenging to take in during the three days we were there. A myriad of meandering streetscapes, abandoned alley-ways, and lonely, ethereal canals which give its inhabitant a sense of exclusion and inclusion at the same time. At any moment, I wouldn't know exactly where I was, but at the same time, my line of sight was restricted by the enclosure by which the Venetian courtyards and meandering streets formed, affording me a sense of being solitary and safe in the larger, more daunting mess of Venice.

There seemed to be an exception, though, when I came across the Grand Canal. Standing at the top of Rialto Bridge, which spans the largest of Venice's waterways, the blue expanse of the Italian sky seemed to swallow the charm and character of Venice's meandering streets and lonely canals. To me, there was no longer a sense of inclusion, of which the quaintness and solidarity of the back alleys afforded me. At the same time, it's almost as if there was no sense of exclusion either, in that I had no feeling of being lost, moving methodically and cohesively across the bridge with the rest of the pedestrians.

I think my travels - anyone's travels - SHOULD be about finding the "spirit of place" there. In Venice, that spirit was best embodied to me in the places which gave me an overwhelming sense of exclusion (of being lost and unfamiliar to a new landscape) AND inclusion (of feeling a sense of solidarity in a space).