Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hangouts, Real and Unreal: Experiencing Content Together

With every day that I am not finishing several projects that attempt to emulate some of the power of the online world in architectural or urban space, I, like most of my peers in the profession, are falling further and further behind with each day that virtual space continues to develop new experiences on a daily basis.

Enter Google+.
I have to say, I feel lucky to have gotten an early invite, as there are many things to be very impressed by. The freedom to control who sees what, even the idea of structuring around circles (nice!). They are hard to deny when you start questioning whether it is really a Facebook killer.

But all of that aside, what is truly phenomenal about Google+ is the idea of Hangouts. It enables up to 4 of your friends to video chat with each other simultaneously. Who ever is talking, or talking the loudest if simultaneously, appears in the main window. Best part... you can watch YouTube together. Okay, this might just seem like a gimmicky feature, but really, think about the paradigm this breaks? Since it's creation, the online video revolution has been primarily a solo experience. Sure you can send someone a link, or send it by chat, but you can't really see them laugh or say, "awesome" or whatever their response would be. We love experiencing content together. And it encourages dialogue that would be too slow and meaningless via email. When was the last time you went to a dinner party that didn't end in a YouTube sharing fest based on the previous conversation threads? Truth is, we love sharing content together, at the same time, in the same space. Hangouts don't quite get us there. But they are closer.

So Let's bring it all back to the public space, in real life. It was yesterday, right before I was to try out Google+, that I was telling a friend about a project I have been trying to revive since grad school that asks the question, "What if YouTube was a public space?" As in an "In Real Life" space, a megaplex, where people could create and watch video content in adjacent spaces. And the social nature of this public space would allow us to see what other people were watching in a very open theater experience and wander over to see it (more on this very soon). Truth is, architecture and urban planning take time to develop, and apparently more time than it does to create new social network features. As the "In Real Life" public space and the virtual one move closer together, we need to better understand where one space can enhance the other, and where they can learn from one another.

I could easily see some of Google's other features taking hold within the Plus social network. What if we could see which of our friends were located nearby (for the few of us who use Latitude) and we could see immediately relevant photos and content from that location through Plus? Social networks would begin to be relevant in the every day public experience. Serendipitous bumping into one another would be more rare, but accidentally on purpose would be the new way forward.

And, please + me, I need more friends (in the virtual space, not IRL) And maybe +1 my blog if you fancy it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Swimming Hole Surrounding the City

The +Pool, the work of PlayLab Inc., is an effort to create a floating pool that in the rivers around New York City, reactivating a Past New York summer tradition in a space that is for everyone, but has been for too long overpolluted. Check out there Kickstarter.
It's intriguing to see a project that enables the act of reoccupying a space that was made inhospitable can itself be an act of renewal through the filtration of the water that passes through the pool membrane while the pool is inhabited. At the rate they're going with crowdsourcing funds —it's proof that the people want this to happen— this very well may come to life!
PlayLab has several thought-provoking, playful projects on their site with a focus on the public good that hovers between the practice of architectural, interaction, and urban design. They're the friendly kind of subversive provocations.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Difference Four Years Has Made

This isn't necessarily a gadget blog, but given how much the mobile devices we carry with us are rapidly transforming how we engage with public space and one another, I thought I'd take a minute to share an example of the speed at which this transformation is taking place.

Above is a picture of my current smartphone an HTC HD2, left, and one I had 4 years ago the Samsung Blackjack. I found the old one while cleaning out some boxes and was amazed that it still turned on!
Here's what is impressive about the accelerating development of these mini computers we carry with us:

The screen:
HD2: 8.29 sq in.
Blackjack: 2.49 sq in
That's an increase of 333%

The processor:
HD2: 1 GHz processor
Blackjack: 220 MHz
That's an increase of 455%

The RAM:
HD2: 512 Mb
Blackjack: 64 Mb
That's an increase of 800%!

Having just seen the Ray Kurzweil documentary, Transcendental Man, I have been pondering the equally exciting and terrifying role the ever accelerating pace of technological advancement will effect our lives in the coming years. But it's interesting to look back just 4 short years and see how far we come. I can't imagine what my life would be like without my smartphone now, and yet I very easily got by with a phone that was barely good at email back then. In 4 years I will have to right another post to see where my mobile device will be then. We can only imagine what amazing machines I will write it from.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Berlin-Tempelhof: A Former Airport Becomes a Blank Slate for Urban Outdoor Life

Among the most exciting things that has happened in Berlin since the first two times I came here, is the closing of Berlin-Tempelhof Airport and the conversion of the site into the city's largest park. What is most striking about the space is the fact that aside from some new signage, some magenta paint on the runways and a few basic amenities like a biergarten, the park is virtually the same as it was when it was an airport. Cash-strapped Berlin has forgone the expensive landscaping and programming of the space and left it to the people to make the most of this wide open acreage not 15 minutes bike ride from the city center. And if our experience of the park on a Pfings holiday Monday is any evidence, the people are making the most of a completely unprogrammed experience to make it a vibrant public treasure.

The original terminal structure is itself something to experience as the Nazi regime that built it, in an effort to be grandiose, accidentally predicted the advent of the modern airport terminal years before the jet engine would require such large imposing structures. It's a structure that dominates the site no matter where you view it from. It's still used for concerts and exhibitions, but it does beg the question of whether the site, like many others in Berlin is really being used at its full potential.


This underprogramming may be an advantage as we experienced while biking around the runway. In the absence of ponds, playgrounds, hiking trails and the usual park amenities, people are making the space fulfill needs that they might not otherwise satisfy living in dense urban neighborhoods . The open expanse is one of the few windy open spaces in Berlin, and people have taken to this opportunity with every shape and size of stunt kite, land surfing vehicle, long-board kite surfing, remote control helicopter and anything they can utilize to joyfully trace their own personal territory in the open sky and open terrain.





Biking around the tarmac is a surreal experience where the nearly infinite variety of ways people engage with a blank landscape creates a parade-like experience where you never know what is coming next. Musicians, picnics, stunt-rollerbladers, people in Hawaiian shirts doing unconventional exercises. It begs the question of whether offering a clean blank slate for people to make what they want in the urban outdoors might not be the best use of this former airport? Perhaps having a lack of funds may have been a blessing after all?

The biergarten embodies the most infrastructure you will find at Temepelhof, but even this seems fairly portable and temporary. While this is the most traditional experience you would find in most German parks and probably one of the more investment heavy, it was probably the least dynamic parts of the site.


Lastly, if there was any more evidence needed to prove that people will make the most of an open space, members of the neighboring Neukölln community have established a small cluster of family gardens. It appears that they were built spontaneously with no formalized system to establish them except for a hand-painted bedsheet banner in the middle. While more formal versions of these "Schrebergartens" exist in cities throughout German to provide small plots for apartment-based urban families, this renegade form is truly inspiring.

Tempelhof Airport was only closed a few years ago and already the wilderness is taking over the space. The few signs in the park mention some of the rare birds and insects that inhabit the land. But it's the way the people engage with this park to make the most of whatever short comings they find in their city experience which can be fulfilled in thousands of feet of pavement, open land, and open sky. With some luck, the city of Berlin may continue to let this open-ended urban experiment continue to thrive. Who knows what we may one day experience out on the tarmac.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Impromptu Pubic Gathering

I'm writing from the Admiral-Brucke in Berlin, fascinated by the fact that it's still very much light outside at 9pm and by the gathering of people on this bridge. Besides the fact that these types of gatherings almost never happen in US streets (probably because we can't drink outside of bars and homes) these types of public gatherings are fascinating. How did they get established? How did the largely post-college crowd gathered around me choose this spot while the mostly teen crowd choose the shore of the canal down the steet? It's always fascinating to watch as the individual groups thrive on being near one another but never interact. Despite the fact that cars occasionally role over the cobble stone on either side of the crowd, no one seems to mind. It only took a few rows of stone seat bollards to make this an ideal spot to spend a chill evening.

Location : Admiralstraße 20, 10999 Berlin,
Posted from the field via Blogoway

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fleeting Beauty Inside a Council Flat

SEIZURE, Artangel installation, Roger Hiorns

SEIZURE, Artangel installation, Roger Hiorns

Thinking more about the post from yesterday about ArtPadSF's temporary takeover of a hotel, I recalled a phenomenal art installation I saw in London back in 2008. SEIZURE is an Artangel temporary work by Roger Hiorns in which he poured 75,000 liters of Copper Sulfate into an abandoned "council estate flat" or housing project unit as we would say in the States. The result of the sealing up the unit, reinforcing the walls and waiting a few days for the crystalization process is an abandoned apartment where every surface is covered in brilliant blue crystals! You had to where wellies to go inside. Once you're in, you can't help but try to imagine what the previous apartment looked like as you pass from room to room.

Using these abandoned spaces as platform for fleetingly beautiful, contemplative reinterpretations is something we will only see more of as we give ourselves more permission to alter underutilized spaces and create more participatory experiences in public or seized for the public spaces.

SEIZURE, Artangel installation, Roger Hiorns

SEIZURE, Artangel installation, Roger Hiorns
Looking at the apartment above through a hole in the ceiling through which the Copper Sulfate was poured.

SEIZURE, Artangel installation, Roger Hiorns

SEIZURE, Artangel installation, Roger Hiorns

SEIZURE, Artangel installation, Roger Hiorns

SEIZURE, Artangel installation, Roger Hiorns

SEIZURE, Artangel installation, Roger Hiorns

Monday, June 6, 2011

ArtPadSF Converts a Hotel into a Cluster of Temporary Galleries

ArtPad 2011

ArtPad 2011

After a busy couple of weeks, I'm back with a lot of great finds to catch up on.

First up is ArtPadSF which happened a few weeks ago at San Francisco's Phoenix Hotel. For one evening they converted every room into a gallery that showcased local art. The temporary conversion transformed each room into a unique gallery experience that leveraged the preexisting condition of hotel room furniture to create a unique hybrid that gives the art patrons a sense of what the work would look like in a domestic setting. So often the white gallery walls of typical galleries leave the viewer wanting for more context. It's a brilliant concept that makes great use of a hotel's temporary nature. Can't wait for it to come back next year. the Phoenix is very much a thriving business in the Tenderloin, but I wonder if this concept could be successful in an abandoned motel where every room is constantly evolving based on each artist's latest work.

Thanks to my brother Nick Trincia for letting me share his photos!

ArtPad 2011

ArtPad 2011

ArtPad 2011

ArtPad 2011

ArtPad 2011

ArtPad 2011