Category: architecture

User Experience and the Security State: JetBlue's New Terminal

March 11th, 2008 — 5:58pm

The design of JetBlue’s new ter­mi­nal at JFK as reported in the NY Times is a good exam­ple of the inter­sec­tion of user expe­ri­ence design, and the spe­cific tech­ni­cal and polit­i­cal require­ments of the post-9/11 security-oriented state. The lay­out of the new ter­mi­nal is focused on direct­ing pas­sen­gers as quickly as pos­si­ble through a screen of 20 secu­rity lanes, and includes thought­ful fea­tures like wide secu­rity gates to accom­mo­date lug­gage and wheel­chairs, and rub­ber floor­ing for areas where peo­ple end up bare­foot.
I’m of two minds about design­ing expe­ri­ences and archi­tec­tures specif­i­cally to enable secu­rity pur­poses. Any­thing that improves the cur­rently mis­er­able expe­ri­ence of pass­ing through secu­rity screen­ings is good. (I am wait­ing for reports on peo­ple who show up at the gate wear­ing only a speedo one of these days, just to make a point.)
But in the long run, do we really want expe­ri­ence design to help us become cul­tur­ally accus­tomed to a security-dominated mind­set? Espe­cially to the point where we encode this view of the world into our infra­struc­ture? Lurk­ing not so qui­etly below the sur­face of the design of the new Jet­Blue ter­mi­nal is Bentham’s Panop­ti­con (full con­tents here). The new terminal’s floor plan is a clas­sic fun­nel shape, dis­turbingly sim­i­lar in con­cept to the abat­toir / apart­ment block described in the famous Monty Python Archi­tect Sketch.
Pace lay­er­ing makes clear that archi­tec­tures change slowly once in place. And author­i­ties rarely cede sur­veil­lance capa­bil­i­ties, even after their util­ity and rel­e­vance expire. Should expe­ri­ence design make an archi­tec­ture ded­i­cated to sur­veil­lance tol­er­a­ble, or even comfortable?

Comment » | architecture, Ethics & Design, User Experience (UX)

A New Kind of Architecture? JG Ballard on the Bilbao Guggenheim

October 9th, 2007 — 12:36pm

JG Bal­lard is one of the most archi­tec­turally ori­ented writ­ers I know. His writ­ing evokes the phys­i­cal and men­tal expe­ri­ences of spaces and places deftly and vividly. No acci­dent then that Ballard’s work is con­nected to psy­cho­geog­ra­phy by many (an idea I’ve men­tioned before as well). And so it is a plea­sure to read his piece on Gehry’s Bil­bao Guggen­heim, The lar­val stage of a new kind of archi­tec­ture, in Monday’s Guardian.
From the arti­cle:

More to the point, I won­der if the Bil­bao Guggen­heim is a work of archi­tec­ture at all? Per­haps it belongs to the cat­e­gory of exhi­bi­tion and fair­ground dis­plays, of giant inflat­a­bles and bouncy cas­tles. The Guggen­heim may be the first per­ma­nent tem­po­rary struc­ture. Its inte­rior is a huge dis­ap­point­ment, and con­firms the sus­pi­cion that the museum is a glo­ri­fied sales aid for the Guggen­heim brand. There is a giant atrium, always a sign that some corporation’s hand is slid­ing towards your wal­let, but the gal­leries are con­ven­tion­ally pro­por­tioned, and one can’t help feel­ing that they are irrel­e­vant any­way. The museum is its own work of art, and the only one really on dis­play. One can’t imag­ine the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo or Picasso’s Guer­nica ever being shown here. There would be war in heaven. Apart from any­thing else, these works have a dimen­sion of seri­ous­ness that the Guggen­heim lacks. Koons’ Puppy, faith­fully guard­ing the entrance to the enchanted cas­tle, gives the game away. Archi­tec­ture today is a vis­i­tor attrac­tion, delib­er­ately play­ing on our love of the bright­est lights and the gaud­i­est neon. The Bil­bao Guggenheim’s spir­i­tual Acrop­o­lis is Las Vegas, with its infan­til­is­ing pirate ships and Egypt­ian sphin­xes. Gehry’s museum would be com­pletely at home there, for a year at least, and then look a lit­tle dusty and jaded, soon to be torn down and replaced by another engag­ing mar­vel with which our imag­i­na­tions can play.

Nov­elty archi­tec­ture dom­i­nates through­out the world, pitched like the movies at the bored teenager inside all of us. Uni­ver­si­ties need to look like air­ports, with an up-and-away hol­i­day ethos. Office build­ings dis­guise them­selves as hi-tech apart­ment houses, every­thing has the chunky look of a child’s build­ing blocks, stir­ring dreams of the nurs­ery.

But per­haps Gehry’s Guggen­heim tran­scends all this. From the far side of the Styx I’ll look back on it with awe.

Comment » | architecture

Why Failed Societies Are Relevant to Social Media

June 18th, 2007 — 10:08am

For reg­u­lar read­ers won­der­ing about the recent quiet here, a notice that Boxes and Arrows will shortly pub­lish an arti­cle I’ve been work­ing on for a while in the back­ground, titled, “It Seemed Like the Thing To Do At the Time: The Power of State of Mind”. This is the writ­ten ver­sion of my panel pre­sen­ta­tion Lessons From Fail­ure: Or How IAs Learn to Stop Wor­ry­ing and Love the Bombs from the 2007 IA Sum­mit in Las Vegas.
I’ve writ­ten about orga­ni­za­tions and fail­ure — Signs of Cri­sis and Decline In Orga­ni­za­tions — in this blog before (a while ago, but still a pop­u­lar post­ing), and wanted to con­sider the sub­ject on a larger level. With the rapid spread of social soft­ware / social media and the rise of com­plex social dynam­ics in on-line envi­ron­ments, explor­ing fail­ure at the level of an entire soci­ety is timely.
In The Fish­bowl
Failed or fail­ing soci­eties are an excel­lent fish­bowl for observers seek­ing pat­terns related to social media, for two rea­sons. First, the high inten­sity of fail­ure sit­u­a­tions reveals much of what is ordi­nar­ily hid­den in social struc­tures and pat­terns: Impend­ing col­lapse leads peo­ple to dis­pense with care­fully main­tained social con­struc­tions.
One source of this height­ened inten­sity is the greatly increased stakes of soci­etal fail­ure (vs. most other kinds), which often means sud­den and dra­matic dis­rup­tions to basic liv­ing and eco­nomic pat­terns, the decline of cities and urban con­cen­tra­tions, and dra­matic pop­u­la­tion decrease. Another source is the very broad scope of the after­ef­fects; because a fail­ing soci­ety involves an entire cul­ture, the affects are com­pre­hen­sive, touch­ing every­one and every­thing.
Sec­ondly, soci­eties often com­mand sub­stan­tial qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive resources that can help them man­age cri­sis or chal­lenges, thereby avert­ing fail­ure. Smaller, less sophis­ti­cated enti­ties lack the resource base of a com­plex social organ­ism, and con­se­quently can­not put up as much of a fight.
Exam­ples of resources avail­able at the level of a soci­ety include:

  • Lead­ers and plan­ners ded­i­cated to focus­ing on the future
  • Large amounts of accu­mu­lated knowl­edge and experience
  • Sophis­ti­cated struc­tures for deci­sion mak­ing and control
  • Mech­a­nisms for main­tain­ing order dur­ing crises
  • Col­lec­tive resilience from sur­viv­ing pre­vi­ous challenges
  • Sub­stan­tial stores of resources such as food and mate­ri­als, money, land
  • Tools, meth­ods, and orga­ni­za­tions pro­vid­ing economies of scale, such as bank­ing and com­merce networks
  • Sys­tems for mobi­liz­ing labor for spe­cial purposes
  • Con­nec­tions to other soci­eties that could pro­vide assis­tance (or poten­tial rescue)

Despite these mit­i­gat­ing resources, the his­tor­i­cal and arche­o­log­i­cal records over­flow with exam­ples of failed soci­eties. Once we read those records, the ques­tion of how these soci­eties defined them­selves seems to bear directly on quite a few of the out­comes.
I dis­cuss three soci­eties in the arti­cle: Easter Island, Tikopia, and my own small startup com­pany. We have insight into the fate of Easter Island soci­ety thanks to a rich arche­o­log­i­cal record that has been exten­sively stud­ied, and descrip­tions of the Rapa Nui soci­ety in writ­ten records kept by Euro­pean explor­ers vis­it­ing since 1722. Tikopia of course is still a func­tion­ing cul­ture. My startup was a tiny affair that serves as a use­ful foil because it shows all the mis­takes soci­eties make in a com­pressed span of time, and on a scale that’s easy to exam­ine. The Norse colonies in North Amer­ica and Green­land are another good exam­ple, though space con­straints didn’t allow dis­cus­sion of their failed soci­ety in the arti­cle.
Read the arti­cle to see what hap­pens to all three!
Semi Ran­dom Assort­ment of Quo­ta­tions
In the mean­time, enjoy this sam­pling of quo­ta­tions about fail­ure, knowl­edge, and self, from some well-known — and mostly suc­cess­ful! — peo­ple.
“Tech­no­log­i­cal change is like an axe in the hands of a patho­log­i­cal crim­i­nal.” — ALBERT EINSTEIN
“It is not the strongest of the species that sur­vives, nor the most intel­li­gent, but the one most respon­sive to change.” — CHARLES DARWIN
“It is impos­si­ble for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” — EPICTETUS
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — THOMAS EDISON
“It is on our fail­ures that we base a new and dif­fer­ent and bet­ter suc­cess.” — HAVELOCK ELLIS
“Life is a process of becom­ing, a com­bi­na­tion of states we have to go through. Where peo­ple fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it.” — ANAIS NIN
“We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us.” — RABINDRANATH TAGORE
“Who­ever longs to res­cue quickly both him­self and oth­ers should prac­tice the supreme mys­tery: exchange of self and other.” — SHANTIDEVA
“Fail­ure is instruc­tive. The per­son who really thinks learns quite as much from his fail­ures as from his suc­cesses.” — JOHN DEWEY

2 comments » | architecture, Ideas, The Media Environment

New Urbanism In Practice After Katrina

December 8th, 2005 — 2:46pm

Katrina’s ill winds are bring­ing some good, in the form of increased aware­ness of and will­ing­ness to con­sider New Urban archi­tec­ture and urban plan­ning options for the rebuild­ing Gulf Coast towns.
I first encoun­tered New Urban­ism while read­ing William Kunstler’s The Geog­ra­phy of Nowhere. Kun­stler has writ­ten sev­eral addi­tional books explor­ing the cre­ation and evo­lu­tion of the mod­ern Amer­i­can sub­ur­ban­scape since The Geog­ra­phy of Nowhere, all of them mak­ing ref­er­ence to New Urban­ism. It’s recently popped up in two arti­cles the NY Times. The first, Out of the Muddy Rub­ble, a Vision for Gulf Coast Towns, by Brad­ford McKee, recounts the efforts of archi­tects and plan­ners from a vari­ety of per­spec­tives, includ­ing mem­bers of the Con­gress for the New Urban­ism, to put forth a viable plan for the healthy rede­vel­op­ment of dam­aged Gulf Coast towns.
If you’ve not heard yet, New Urban­ism advo­cates the cre­ation of walk­a­ble, human scale com­mu­ni­ties empha­siz­ing mixed use envion­ments with pat­terns and struc­ture that allow peo­ple to meet daily needs with­out reliance on auto­mo­biles. In short, New Urban­ism is an archi­tec­ture and plan­ning frame­work that actively opposes sprawl.
Sprawl ben­e­fits the short term at the expense of the long term. Crit­ics of New Urban­ism often choose to inter­peret it as a school that restricts the rights of indi­vid­ual prop­erty own­ers, rather than as a series of pos­i­tive guide­lines for how to design com­mu­ni­ties that are healthy in the long run. But of course that’s always been the short-term view of the long-term greater good…
The dra­mat­icly dif­fer­ing points of view in favor of and opposed to New Urban­ist approaches come through very clearly in this exchange:
The Miami archi­tect Andres Duany, a prin­ci­pal fig­ure in the New Urban­ism move­ment, urged the casino own­ers to inte­grate the casi­nos more seam­lessly among new clus­ters of retail stores and restau­rants rather than as iso­lated estab­lish­ments.
Describ­ing his vision, Mr. Duany said, “You step out onto a beau­ti­ful avenue, where you can get a chance to look at the water and the mar­velous sun­sets and the shops, and walk up and down to restau­rants and eas­ily find taxis to other places.“
But Mr. Duany’s design sharply clashed with the casino own­ers’ main pri­or­ity.
“A casino owner wants peo­ple to stay on the prop­erty,” said Bernie Burk­holder, pres­i­dent and chief exec­u­tive of the Trea­sure Bay Casino, in Biloxi.
“As running-dog cap­i­tal­ist casino own­ers, we need to under­stand that the com­mu­nity fits together,” he added, “but we need an eco­nomic unit that will hold the cus­tomer.“
The sec­ond: Gulf Plan­ning Roils Res­i­dents also by Brad­ford McKee, pub­lished a few days after the first on Decem­ber 8, 2005, cap­tures some of the reac­tions to the plans from Gulf Coast res­i­dents. Nat­u­rally, the reac­tions are mixed.
But it’s impor­tant to remem­ber that sprawl is a very tem­po­rary and sur­real sta­tus quo, one that cre­ated the utterly improb­a­bly eco­log­i­cal niche of the per­sonal rid­ing mower. If that’s not a hot-house flower, then what is?
Some links to resources about New Urban­ism:
Con­scious Choice
New Urban Time­lines
New Urban News
Con­gress For the New Urbanism

2 comments » | architecture, Civil Society

When You Can't Find The WC, Build Your Own...

May 26th, 2004 — 3:00pm

Instruc­tions from the Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders field man­ual
“The sim­ple pit latrine is one of the sim­plest and cheap­est means of dis­pos­ing of human wastes. If well designed and built, cor­rectly sited and well main­tained, it con­tributes sig­nif­i­cantly to the pre­ven­tion of feco-orally trans­mit­ted dis­eases.“
I’m not sure how you’re sup­posed to down­load and print these from the Web if you’re in a loca­tion with­out plumb­ing, but then again I sup­pose that’s what satelltie phones are for…

Comments Off | architecture, Objets Trouves

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