Wednesday, May 30

New Urban Cartography

We have a couple of reports from the urban cartography department today, followed by some personal thoughts about the kind of futures this new urban cartography might be pointing to.

First up is truliaHindsight, which maps the growth of cities over time through a massive online real estate database. The image below (Las Vegas, NV) is indicative of the data overlay you will see over most American cities: a massive housing boom in the 1950's that begins a trend pushing the city edge further and further away from the core. truliaHindsight is just one example of how massive information databases are being used and re-used in new and sometimes very surprising ways. Imagine combining this overlay with 200 years of census data... a thesis project on environmental racism just waiting to happen.

The truliaHindsight website was designed by Stamen Design in San Francisco. One of their more abstract pieces of urban cartography is called Cabstopping.
"The patterns traced by each cab create a living and always-changing map of city life. This map hints at economic, social, and cultural trends that are otherwise invisible."

Their map is part of a bigger project that
works "across the domains of art, design, cultural geography, cartography, information design, sociology, hydrology, marine sciences, and history" for The Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception (a place that I apparently need to visit). Some very cool timelapse videos of these maps can be found here.

Going from abstract and invisible to concrete and very visible, we end with a new project from granddaddies/ mommies of all things searchable. The Google Maps team recently released a new hybrid web application called Street View in which you can navigate through the Google Map as if you were a pedestrian on the street. The people/ hours that must of have gone into this thing are staggering.

It starts out looking like the familiar Google Map, but within the space of a few clicks, you are standing at the intersection of Liberty and Church Streets, looking out over void at the World Trade Center from the comfort of my tiny apartment in St. Paul, MN.

Once in Street View mode, you're free to walk up or down the streets, turn in full 360 degrees, and zoom in for a closer look. Below, I do a 180 and go into full screen mode:

How is this achieved? Let's just say keep an eye out for one of these, coming soon to reflective glass near you.

--- Begin personal thoughts on the topic here ---

What all of this brings to mind is William Gibson's early cyberpunk Sprawl trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive - all excellent novels). This body of fiction, as well as much of Gibson's other work, revolves around his extrapolation that the internet (in its infancy at the time - mid to late 80's) would move beyond information on a screen and become an inhabitable place. In fact, Gibson ended up coining the term "cyberspace" to name his then fictional invention.

Gibson's "cyberspace" literally translated in the film Hackers.

If the Google Street View is any indication of what is to come, we can begin to imagine all manner of information being mapped onto a virtually inhabitable simulacrum of our world. Unlike the cyberspace that Gibson describes in Neuromancer:

"...a graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding..." (69),
this new cyberspace will be much more familiar to us. It will look and behave in ways we understand - dangerous because the line between real and virtual will be that much more hazed. As the possibilities for exploration, learning, and knowledge building expand - so too will the potential for surveillance, misuse, and abuse.
"Emergent technology is, by its very nature, out of control, and leads to unpredictable outcomes." - William Gibson
Can Google Life really be that far off?

Friday, May 25

Chernobyl Fungi Feed on Radiation

Today we have a science fiction-esque follow up to my previous post about Chernobyl tourism in Prypiat, Ukraine. National Geographic reports that three types of fungus have been discovered to grow larger and faster when fed radiation. Scientists were inspired to further study after observing strange fungus growth on the ruins of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

From the paper, published and available at PLoS ONE:

Melanized microorganisms inhabit some remarkably extreme environments including high altitude, Arctic and Antarctic regions. Most dramatically, melanized fungal species colonize the walls of the highly radioactive damaged reactor at Chernobyl and surrounding soils.
The melanin in the fungi apparently gives it a blackish hue. This "pigment may play a role in the fungi similar to that of chlorophyll in plants." The paper points towards further study of melanin and its future potential for energy capture and utilization. In an interview with Ira Flatow on NPR's Science Friday today, lead scientist Ekaterina Dadachova said that this could mean the farming of melanized fungus as a bio-fuel in areas too extreme for conventional farming. Possibilities include underground or even in radiation abundant outer space.

Sadly, I haven't been able to turn up any images of the Chernobyl fungus online. Anybody up for a holiday in Prypiat?

Friday, May 11

Friday Photography | Visualizing the Numbers

Photographic artist Chris Jordan is doing an interesting series called "Running the Numbers" that means to visualize the sometimes abstract statistics that define American material culture.

Depicts 1.14 million brown paper supermarket bags, the number used in the US every hour.

Partial zoom:

Detail at actual size:

Depicts 75,000 shipping containers, the number of containers processed through American ports every day.

Detail at actual size:

Depicts 426,000 cell phones, equal to the number of cell phones retired in the US every day.

Partial zoom:

Detail at actual size:

Very sobering. In any case, Happy Friday!

Wednesday, May 9

Darfur & the Representation of Atrocity

I conceived of and put together the images in this post almost exactly one year ago. It would have continued to collect dust in my hard drive had it not been for the latest issue of NEED magazine which also featured the artwork of war-afflicted children.

The concept began simply enough. I was researching the genocide in Darfur for a post and wanted to find the appropriate imagery. But the more and more I saw, the less and less I felt capable of coherent comment or action. To make matters worse, new death tolls were coming out almost weekly at this point, each new figure more and more humbling.

The problem I had was that none of the photographs coming out of Darfur could convey the emotion behind the circumstance. There was something missing. Then I came across a website that was publishing the drawings of child refugees in counseling. The children had reportedly not been prompted to draw images about war or strife, this was their subconscious doodling.

Having just poured through hundreds of photographs depicting the conflict, I was immediately stricken by the raw immediacy the drawings possessed. The photographs I kept seeing portrayed genocide in a past tense, but in the drawings, the atrocities being committed were happening before my eyes, as if in real time.

When I put drawing and photograph together I began to see a more complete story, both present and past, both real and imagined, and somehow so much more then the sum of their parts. And I suppose that is what led me to finally putting them up today: thinking about how we represent and relate to such atrocities when they are happening, right now - in the present tense, half way around the world.

Looking at these again, the question I asked myself was “Why did I feel so ashamed by the juxtaposition I had created, enough so to pack it away, not able to think about it again for a full year?” I think I might have an (at least partial) answer:

By making the relationship between what had happened and what was presently happening more understandable, I had subconsciously realized the difference between "I could have done something", and "I should be doing something."

The photographs in this post were all taken by Brian Steidle, the drawings are by the children of Darfur.

Monday, May 7

Odegard & AFH:MN Present an Evening with Travis Price

If you live in the Twin Cities area and are looking for something to do this Thursday evening, look no further. The environmentally and socially conscious local carpet and design firm Odegard Inc. and Architecture for Humanity Minnesota have teamed up to bring you what is sure to be an inspiring and lively evening with architect, philosopher, and author, Travis Price.

". . . pioneering architects and designers are going back to the earth with what critic Vincent Scully calls a 'reverent appreciation for the political landscape.' . . .'such a sustainable world architecture,' says Christopher Alexander , may represent the pursuit of a 'spiritual purity of maker and artifact' . . . Mr. Price designs in both the spiritual and material worlds."

Timothy Jack Ward,
The New York Times
Mr. Price's "intellectually and visually robust" presentation will be inspired by his new book The Archaeology of Tomorrow: Architecture and the Spirit of Place.

Thursday, May 10th
Wine & Hor d'oeuvres at 6 pm
Presentation begins at 6:30

Odegard 210 North 2nd St
Minneapolis, MN

For more information see the online flier. Hope you can make it!

Sunday, May 6

MoPo 2007, Splitted

Well, about 3 weeks have passed since Eikongraphia released their take on "the twenty-five Most Popular Architecture Blogs of this moment." Titled MoPo 2007, the list was updated 5 days later and more accurately titled MoPo 2007, Splitted. It seemed there was quite a bit of confusion surrounding the first list, something the author tries to clear up in the second list:

The MoPo was actually meant as a satirical joke, as a comment to all selections, lists, awards, prizes, and medals out there. I thought the OMA-AMO reversing of PoMo (Jencks’ Post Modernism) made that clear. With 34 comments, and about the same amount of blogs republishing the list, we can clearly say I am not that good a comedian.
The list seems to have helped to bring some transparency and organization to in the small world of architectural blogging. And maybe more importantly, as others have already pointed out, the list serves to separate ourselves from the rest of the blogosphere and to hopefully give more visibility to us all.

The list is, by the authors own admission, not complete nor fully accurate. His methods for creating the list are as follows:
The mapping of popularity remains the same, with valuing the popularity of architecture blogs by linking blogs (Technorati), subscribers (Bloglines), and hits (Google, and Google Images). As a method it is still not perfect, but these parameters are objective, so it works at least partly.
Overall, I think the list was a gutsy but necessary undertaking and I commend the author for taking it on. It has turned me on to quite a few great blogs that I probably would not otherwise be reading. And likewise, I have definitely seen BLYGAD's daily hits increase since it's inception, as I'm sure many other lesser known blogs on the list have found. For those two reasons, if no others, the list has been successful. So without any further ado:
Top 25 Individual Architecture Blogs
2. City of Sound
3. Pruned
4. Tropolism
5. Archidose
6. Gravestmor
7. Jetson Green
8. Eikongraphia
9. A Barriga de um Arquitecto
10. Subtopia
11. Anarchitecture
12. Mirage Studio 7
13. Life Without Buildings
14. Missrepresentation
15. Brand Avenue
16. Architecture.mnp
17. Archispass
18. Architechnophilia
19. Part IV
20. Bird to the North
21. eCar 2.0
22. Archlog
23. Progressive Reactionary
24. Blog Like You Give A Damn
25. Arkitekturbloggen

Top 25 Collaborative Architecture Blogs

1. Worldchanging
2. Inhabitat
3. Archinect
4. Things
5. Edgar Gonzalez
6. Dezeen
7. Plataforma Arquitectura
8. Dezain
9. Urbanity
10. Noticias Arquitectura
11. Death by Architecture
12. …
You'll notice the blogroll to the right has been appropriately updated. Happy reading!