A Search for Ideas: Inspirations at the Source

As this blog is a medium for venting and analyzing current phenomena in hopes of spawning new ideas, this week I have again searched the Web for resources and would like to share what I find most inspiring. But rather than providing items that each draw from a range of sources as I did previously, I am instead aiming to share original, more specific nodes for ideas; each item I found highlights its author's unique philosophies. Referencing the Webby Awards and IMSA criteria for evaluating websites and blogs, I have added the ten items I found to my sidebar linkroll. As someone forming my own ideology, I find the personal accounts of currently developing theses to be particularly exciting. Xárene Eskandar's Tentative Architecture, a UCLA Master of Fine Arts thesis project, which I mentioned in my last post, contains extremely insightful proposals about immaterial architecture. The site is animated and ordered, yet it does not make use of the web's potential for interactivity. The two other theses are both blogs. Mantone's blog is undermined by instances of casual language and an absence of credible background information, but the insights pertaining to architecture and communication are exceptionally profound. It is also interesting to trace the evolution of Mantone's thesis statement. The other blog is by Raphael Zollinger, a grad student at NYU who provides frequent reports of detailed progress on his thesis for interactive computing for design. However, the blog would be even more interesting if there was dialogue being generated.

The majority of my findings are websites of professionals. Design websites are of Troika Design Studio and Hoberman Associates. The Troika Design Studio's website is clearly and attractively structured and contains in-depth images, videos, and text describing the studio's ingenious projects. The Hoberman Associates site is also visually appealing and well organized, however the projects, which focus on transformable design, have very brief descriptions. Both of these sites could be further improved by adding interactive elements. Information analysis websites are of the University of Columbia's Spatial Information Design Lab and professor emeritus Edward Tufte. The Spatial Information Design Lab's site is graphically striking and composed for simplicity, yet it does not invite users to participate. On the other hand, while Tufte's website is a bit boring aesthetically, it is currently active with discussion not only between site visitors, but with Tufte himself. Of the professional websites, I find the architecture firms' most inspiring; each fuses architecture, design, data, and technology uniquely. Asymptote Architecture searches for a common ground between architecture and technology. Their website interactively allows users to redraw elements; however the site's advanced use of technology can become tiring because it lengthens in-site navigation time. Activity on LOT-EK's website is also slowed because of animations, but the projects involving mobile architecture are exciting and novel. Finally, while the dECOi Atelier website is graphically disappointing, as it houses a constant ad in the browser, and it lacks thorough information, the content that is listed is about algorithmically generated architecture (pictured above) and is perhaps the most impressive and innovative of all items.


Information: A New Building Material for Architecture

In today's society, information is ubiquitous. Our cell phones, GPS navigation systems, Bluetooth devices, and computers send and receive overflowing amounts of data in the form of emails, driving directions, YouTube videos, and text messages. Digital content is relentless, and it consumes and dominates the lives of many on a daily basis. But while seeming to exist everywhere, information ironically exists nowhere. It is not only immaterial, but elusive as well; appearing frequently, yet briefly. Accessed by means of an internet browser window, a digital inbox, or a display screen, we tend to use data to satisfy only immediate needs and desires, dismissing it upon gratification to an abstruse and ambiguous origin amidst the chaotic universe of the internet. While obviously abundant and convenient, digital content is also insuppressible and incomprehensible; it is something we have come to depend on and cannot keep track of. If immaterial information could be better manifested and organized, we could manage and learn much more about ourselves and the environments we live in.

Design and the Elastic Mind, a current exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art, has publicized this need to understand and order the increasingly complex and digital world. The exhibition scrutinizes "changes in technology, science, and social mores, changes that will demand or reflect major adjustments in human behavior" and showcases "objects and systems" designed in response to these cultural shifts. Among many areas of focus, the exhibit investigates data visualization, which is the transformation of raw information, through collection, analysis, and composition, into more significant and useful forms. Projects displayed at the exhibition, such as Flight Patterns (pictured above), Cabspotting, and Architecture and Justice, each gather various sets of data: flight activity in the United States, taxi locations in San Francisco, and neighborhoods of criminals in New York, respectively. These sets of data, which are typically displayed as complex and labored textual charts, are then organized and mapped into graphic compositions that are legible for the common person to comprehend, analyze, and deduce, demonstrating that data visualization allows for significant insight on information that is regularly overlooked.

But while such projects manifest statistics into graphic designs, what intrigues me is that they suggest possibilities for data to be embodied into architecture and urbanism. If the organization of information into compositions expands its use and aids in society's overall awareness and cognition, could the integration of digital content into the spatial environments that we live in further facilitate and amplify these effects?

In an essay in the most recent issue of Vague Terrain, an online digital arts quarterly, X������rene Eskandar explores integration of the immaterial into architecture and urban environments by discussing the rise of VJ, or video jockey, culture (derived from the musical term DJ, or disc jockey, a VJ selects, plays, and mixes videos rather than music). Eskandar, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles who is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts thesis, explains that VJ culture strongly influences architecture through events such as Video RIOT! in San Francisco (depicted below), in which live and pre-recorded video is projected onto existing architecture to transform space and influence activity. Eskandar also cites a personal experience, where the availability of free wireless internet access encouraged leisure and loitering in an otherwise transitory public space. This illustrates Eskandar's belief that architecture and urban space is enlivened by and gains significance from the implementation of technology. Eskandar claims that architecture of these spaces is not the physical, built infrastructure, but rather the immaterial technologies: video and the internet. In essence, such hybrid spaces "blur the boundaries between real and virtual space."

While I find this proposal extremely innovative and intriguing, and I agree that immaterial technologies are capable of animating, transforming, and creating space, I would like to expand on this thesis. When considering the design of new architecture and environments, technology, media, and information should not simply be superimposed, implemented, or displayed, but instead integrated with architecture and design so that it essentially becomes a building material. While video is additively projected onto existing architecture, as in the case of Video RIOT!, information and data could be more embodied into the design of new architecture in order to more dynamically engage people, spaces, and activity. Extending the field of data visualization, but maintaining the same didactic intention, this idea proposes the synthesis of information into the design of new spatial environments by use of new technologies. In the same way that architectural projects in Second Life are networked with the internet so that changes made by designers and builders are constantly being updated in real time, by incorporating information technologies and their tremendous capabilities into designs, I believe that architecture and environments in the real world could also update in real time to reflect information and its fluctuating, evolving nature. If pervasive sets of data, such as stock exchange results, spatial traffic and density, or current weather conditions, among countless other statistics, were integrated with physical spaces, architecture could create a greater and more fluid stimulus, knowledge, and awareness in society.


Relevant Topics: Architecture, Information Technology, and Everything In Between

Because my research is in a generally unexplored and undefined area shared by architecture and information technology, subject matter is difficult to find on a consistent basis. That is why this week I searched the Web, and its many interconnections, for sites containing content consistently relevant to the topics investigated in this blog. During my search, I referenced the Webby Awards and IMSA, which provide comprehensive criteria for evaluating websites and blogs respectively. To explore what information age architecture truly is, I compiled a list of 10 sites, that collectively cover topics that arise from my discussion: information technology, society, media, architecture, and everything in between. Three sites I found focus on information technology and data visualization, yet each site has its own unique perspective. Information Aesthetics is particularly original, concentrating on the manifestation of data into formal existences, claiming that "form follows data." However, the site is slightly cluttered at the top and its actual posts are not particularly in depth nor critical. Flowing Data investigates statistics from a social viewpoint, searching for applications of data visualization in society. The site is organized in a manner that allows users to search content and see posts, images, comments, and links in equal proportions all on one page, making the site easy to read, use, and navigate. The site's only shortcoming is that its language and content are at times unsophisticated and informal. With authoritative and analytical posts, Junk Charts holds a strong, yet candid, opinion that information representation can influence society. It stressing the importance of proper graphic composition of information. Junk Charts is a highly informative and inspiring blog, and it generates significant discussion; I only wish that its posts were even more frequent. While each of these blogs serves as a solid resource for information technology and data visualization, they do not begin to discuss the manifestation of information in architectural terms; however I did find complementary resources that discuss architecture. Where takes a unique perspective by extensively questioning our understanding of place; however its posts generate minimal feedback, which slightly undermines the site's influence. BLDGBLOG also provides exceptional and relevant content, speculating outside of the mainstream. Additionally, it provides an extremely comprehensive and organized list of sites referencing topics such as architecture, urbanism, design, science, technology, and much more. However, while BLDGBLOG is analytical only sometimes, many of its posts are leisurely, casual, and objective. City of Sound uniquely encompasses, but does not always fuse, technology and media in conjunction with architecture in its posts. It is established in a network of other sites and blogs and its posts are interesting, thorough, and generate feedback; the only flaw is that a couple of its posts comment on content that is not immediately current. In addition to these sites that focus primarily on architecture or information technology, I found four sites that exist in a middle ground. Future Perfect offers an original perspective, discussing the future of technology and society from a product design standpoint; however its entries are thin and tend to generate little dialogue. While Digital Urban also finds a common ground, existing as a repository for content concerning the visualization of the physical world through digital media, the site is heavy on technical aspects and tutorials. The ARCH takes a different route, serving as a frequently updated source for virtual architecture, however user activity and in-depth analysis are lacking on the site. Lastly, Wireless Urbanism is a blog accompanying a student's personal thesis project. Although it is inconsistent in posting developed entries, not an integral part of a community, and not written by a recognized "expert," Wireless Urbanism takes on an original identity as an intensely developing manifesto concerning wireless technology and public space. Each of these resources can be found in my linkroll on the right side of the page.
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