IFLA 2011 Zurich: Keynote of Kongjian Yu

One of the greatest inspirations to further my interest and research into the urban condition and how our interventions can impact it more positively, or at least do less damage!  Prof. Yu was, according to local Landscape Architects from Cape Town who attended this conference, one of the most inspirational and interesting speakers.

Keynote speech of Prof. Dr. Kongjian Yu, Turenscape, Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning, Beijingat the IFLA World Congress 2011 Zurich, Switzerland, June 27-29, ifla2011.com.

Prof. Yu is the founder of the Turenscape landscape architecture firm and the Graduate School of Landscape Architecture at Beijing University. Through his lecturing and the projects he has been involved with, he has rapidly become one of the leading contemporary landscape architects in China and enjoys significant international renown.


Zombie Books, Research Demands, & Communities of Practice

On the problem of pursuing active research within the design orineted diciplines and fostering the much needed research in the field of Landscape architecture, whcih is largely non-existent here in South African Landscape Architecture academia, where even the oldest landscape architecture program, at the University of Pretoria, is under threat of closure due to lack of support from government and industry , from praxislandarch come suggestions of how LA faculties might take part in new ways of communicating and collaborating through “Communities of Practice” …

Zombies? Well, you’ll have to read past the break for those! Until then, some rather dry … that is, critically important … discussion of research in landscape architecture.  : )

Practitioners in the academy are often an awkward fit. Professional education (e.g., landscape architecture) sits alongside natural science, social science, and humanities disciplines in university settings, and yet the culture of academic programs in the professions can differ sharply from the rest of the campus. Longer hours spent in studio classes, more time spent on outreach/service to communities, and research focused on applied problems are typical differences for faculty in professional design programs. Research productivity differences between practice-oriented faculty and faculty in other academic disciplines can be significant. On university campuses across the U.S., there is increasing demand by administrators for greater research output by all academic units, and these demands have created consternation in some landscape architecture circles. How do we maintain the traditional culture of professional education in landscape architecture and also begin to resemble more our research colleagues in natural science, social science, or the humanities?

The answer for some landscape architecture academics has been to adopt the research strategies of either natural science, social science, or the humanities, in some cases aided by Ph.D.s in a traditional research discipline. Urban and regional planning programs are largely populated with Ph.D.s in political science, economics, and other social sciences (usually with a lawyer thrown in for good measure), but with few faculty who have ever practiced planning. Could that be the future of landscape architecture education too?  For some clues to another possible future,

Creating a strong community of practice

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Neri Oxman’s Materials Revolution

How we change the focus of design from a personal and arbitrary form and function to a self-forming process has received a lot of attention in landscape architecture and ecological restoration, but is usually resisted in the field of architecture and design where the cult of personal expresion still seems to be king – here is an alternative view from asladirt

At the 2011 GreenBuild, Neri Oxman, director of Mediated Matter at MIT Media Lab and one of the few who made Fast Company’s top 100 creative people list, wants to “introduce a new dimension or sensibility” into materials production. Proposing to turn the design and engineering worlds on their heads, she said we should no longer “design against an objective function, but instead design for multiple functions in one system. It’s about continuity, not repetitive, modular approaches.”

Oxman is focused on how to use design processes to “mediate between matter and the environment.” She said the natural world uses a range of principles, which is why we easily recognize so many forms. Natural objects are the result of some internal logic that generated the form. She thinks this logic can be harnessed to create building, medical, and even furniture innovations, but is still trying to figure out whether this would lead to a more sustainable future.

Some future predictions: In 10 years, Oxman sees materials as “the new software,” and integrated into everything we do. The circuit board will be obsolete. The material itself will be smart. Materials will know how to change for its distributions. For example, buildings could have breathing skins that help modulate the interior temperature. By 2100, there will be “biofabrication and construction.” Then, one thousand years in the future, there will be “CAM-DNA.” In this example, a chair would be created out of DNA material and would grow with humans over their lifetime. Materials would think, respond, and compute things themselves. When hearing all of this, one professor at Harvard told her that the ideas were great, but the cost would be out-of control high.


French for "single shell," Monocoque stands for a construction technique that supports structural load using an object's external skin.


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Is the Internet making us stupid?

An op-ed from Milan by Stefania Garassini from Domus  seems a fitting question on the day Steve Jobs died…….

Al Gore at his desk. Some desks reflect the complexity of their owners’ lives although, for them, everything is where it should be and there is order

How positive is the computer’s impact on our knowledge and thinking patterns? The most recent books on the matter take a step back from the internet and invite rebellion

Professor Joseph Weizenbaum had his first suspicions when he saw his secretary crouch down waiting for him to leave his desk and then leap at the computer keyboard and embark on a frenetic dialogue with ELIZA – only ELIZA was not her best friend but a computer program invented by Weizenbaum in 1964 to test the machine’s ability to recognise natural language. The software conversed with users, asking questions and giving answers in the style of a Rogerian psychoanalyst. It even became a sort of confidant for many and to such a degree that some psychologists suggested adopting it to cover hospital-staff shortages. While the debate on artificial intelligence raged and computer experts were busy studying systems that would teach machines to think like humans, Weizenbaum dissociated himself from the distorted applications of his creature and wrote an essay (“Computer Power and Human reason”) predicting that computers would quickly spread to a wide range of contexts in our lives, which would be transformed – not always for the better – by its presence.

The story of ELIZA is told by American journalist Nicholas Carr, who in his recent Is the Internet making us stupid? confirms Weizenbaum’s worrying prophesies and confirms – backed up by neuroscience data – the irreversible changes that the use of computers and the Internet have already made to the way our minds work. If technological tools really are not neutral but alter our knowledge and thinking patterns deep down, as predicted by Marshall McLuhan, then the impact of the computer is far greater than that of all its predecessors – from the plough to the TV– because it does not simply extend the capacity of our senses, it simulates mental activity. Inevitably, it implicitly imposes its models on us via the use of certain programs that have an imperceptible influence on the way we develop our thoughts. The most obvious example is PowerPoint, the ubiquitous presentation software that has irritatingly come to standardise the style of reports. Creativity is no longer inventing something original, it choosing from a ‘menu’ of existing options, in exactly the same way as we have to reduce our complex personas to a scanty set of details to insert in the fields of a database when describing who we are on Facebook. We are reminded of this by Jaron Lanier, the inventor of virtual reality, a brilliant programmer and today a fierce critic of the excesses of Internet use, in hisYou are not a Gadget. (Alfred A. Knopf).

Read more of the article and how to fight back

Also by this author: Living with complexity


Steve Jobs Is Dead – long live his legacy

Like millions of others I was saddened to see a bill board on a telephone pole this morning that one of our ages greatest visionaries and entrepreneurs has passed on. From when I first learned ‘basic”  programming on an Apple II computer with 64 meg of ram I have been hooked – not being able to afford a Macintosh, I have had several Ipods and still think, as reportedly said by Bob Dylan ” shuffle changed the way I viewed music”, I had to wait many years for my own Mac as the firms I worked for, later even the one I owned,  economically used PC clones and Microsoft’s abominable software. Now writing this on a MacBook Pro with my Iphone in my pocket and contemplating how I can justify an Ipad 2  to my loving wife. I wonder how Apple will fare in the future and who will there be to flamboyantly launch unimagined techno-dreams to us aging hippies with which to be brought into the 
future in a way we can grasp and love. 

From Apples Websie:
Watch a video  commemorating  Steve’s life from the Gaurdian  here:

ISTANBUL: The city too big to fail

New emphasis on sustainability and resilience  from the Urban Age team

As Urban Age changes its focus to Istanbul, Deyan Sudjic frames the city’s urban history through cultural, economic and political comparisons with global cities around the world.

Skyline of IstanbulPlaying host to several civilisations and empires, Istanbul’s silhouette is defined by minarets, spires, columns and more and more tall buildings. The historical peninsula sits at the intersection of the Marmara Sea, the Bosporus and the Golden Horn.

Istanbul is a city as beautiful as Venice or San Francisco, and, once you are away from the water, as brutal and ugly as any metropolis undergoing the trauma of warp speed urbanisation. It is a place in which to sit under the shade of ancient pines and palm trees for a leisurely afternoon watching sun on water, looking out over the Bosporus. But also, in some parts, to tread very carefully. Istanbul has as many layers of history beneath the foundations of its buildings as any city in Europe. In 2010, it will become the European Cultural Capital. Depending on how you count, Istanbul has been the capital city of three, or perhaps four, empires. It is still shaped by the surviving fragments of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman civilisations. It has Orthodox Christian churches, Sunni mosques, and Sephardic synagogues. It has vast classical cisterns, ring upon ring of ancient fortifications, souks and palaces. It also has desolate concrete suburbs of extraordinary bleakness, urban terrorism, and a rootless, dispossessed underclass struggling to come to terms with city life.

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Getting in tune with new retailing

We all need to understand the speed with which digital communication is altering the way we use the city and its functions and be concerned that the shrinking world where we experience each other is becoming more and more mediated by thin media and while I agree that outdated laws and  rules with regards to cameras etc are archaic and out of touch, I cannot but help think this poor fellows life is impoverished by his choices to say at home! By: Lee Radmall on BizCOMMINITY.com

“My wife recently got ejected from a retail store and even threatened with legal action. No, my wife is not a shoplifter or a retail espionage agent, she is a just a modern woman shopping for her family in the digital age. Now I understand that the security staff and store management are executing an executive mandate but what is more worrying is that the retail chains themselves are not seeing the overriding change in how consumers are shopping.

Traditionally it has been a rule that you cannot take pictures within retail environments. Goodness knows why, anything at retail is already part of public domain and if a competitor wanted to copy something, it already exists. Obviously you have the ‘me too’ competitors but good companies are more concerned with moving onward than protecting generic parts of their customer offering that are easy to duplicate and offer no real differentiation.

I understand that the security staff and store management were executing an executive mandate but what is worrying is that the retail chains themselves are not seeing the overriding change in how consumers are shopping.

I am not sure how things work in your household but in mine, my wife is the designated shopping specialist. She buys clothes for her, my baby boy and me. For me, shopping for clothes is a distraction from more important pursuits such as watching Discovery in HD or putting in several hours into the hottest PlayStation game. My simple solution to shopping for clothes while not actually being there is for the designated shopper to take pics on his or her Blackberry and send these through BBM. The digital conversation usually goes something like this:

Wife: Hey I found this t-shirt. What do you think?
Me: Err…looks cool not so sure about the floral print.
Wife: How about this one? Has that nice collar that you like.
Me: Do they have a belt that works with that?
Wife: Check out these options
Me: Option 2 looks nice but buy all three. You can never have enough belts.

Viral marketing at its best

This is not just a sample of one; this is how consumers are shopping now. If it is not a wife for her husband, it is a bunch of girlfriends sharing and swopping shopping advice. One of the most amazing things about this trend is that two friends do not even have to be in the same country to give each other real time fashion advice.

Now if I were a forward thinking retailer, I would be finding the best way to encourage my consumers to take good pics within my store or even better, find a way to encourage consumers to send their product pics to as many friends as possible. This is viral marketing at its best and it is free.

Therefore, my advice to retailers is embrace the change and the next time one of your customers walks around your store snapping fashion pics, put away the handcuffs and train your staff to offer to model the garments while your consumers take their snapshots.

Every top company in the world has a digital presence and is using this as a powerful interface to talk to their consumers and encourage open debate through blogs and Twitter – why not include actual customers on the floor?”

This is not all we are doing with our phones while shopping – here are some more things we like doing: