Tag Archives: design

New year, new things…

I like the beginnings of things. A new note book, a new blog post, new car smell… So perhaps it’s no surprise that I also like new year resolutions. I don’t make many, but I do tend to keep them. This year, I’ve decided on a new approach. This year, I’m not making any resolutions. 

And I’m not alone. Bob Borson, over at LifeofanArchitect did a neat blog on goals vs resolutions recently. Likewise, the ThesisWhisperer posted about having a theme instead of a resolution in 2013. There’s also a Scientific American article by Melanie Tannenbaum on why sharing your resolutions isn’t the best way to keep them. And finally, to round out the topic, Fast. Co got in on the action by suggesting you reframe resolutions as questions. 

So, just quietly, I’m moving my resolutions into goal questions, gathered around a theme. I’m going to share a trivial one here, my bigger ones will be staying private.

The traditional resolution to “get fitter” has become the question “How can I design exercise into my daily life?”. And it turns out there are lots of things I can change to increase the amount of exercise in my life. I can plan and undertake asymmetrical commuting (ride/run to work, bus home, then the reverse. Bonus: Sydney traffic and public transport is so bad that it’s often comparable timewise). I can pre-make bigger meals, so when I come home sweaty and starving I can eat healthy leftovers, instead of waiting to cook something. I can change my running route to include a body of water so I can’t take short cuts. I can choose to turn chores into opportunities, for example, running to the far store for juice instead of a short walk to the near one. I like tangible progress, so plotting my increasing speed/distance with Excel is rewarding for me. I know I do best with routines and some social aspects to my fitness, so I’m really looking forward to three months of AFL preseason (one week to go!) starting up next week.

Here’s to success!

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Flawed systems and forgetting keys

Generic photo of keys. You've seen one bunch, you've seen 'em all. Every time I return to the house, I place my keys in a designated zone. Every time I leave the house, I pick up my keys and check that I’m carrying my wallet, keys and phone using the ‘three pocket pat down’.  I’ve been doing this for many years, in many houses. But this year, my system has repeatedly failed me and I’ve locked myself out on several occasions. It’s a new trend and it’s very annoying.

But I’m convinced it’s a flaw in my system that can be iterated out.

First iteration

Incident: I discover during my pat down that I am lacking keys AND phone. Sadly, I have already shut the door behind me.

Problem: Right system, wrong place. Pat down occurs too close to door. Normal motion carries me out the door before I have confirmed I am carrying keys.

Reason previously avoided: In previous accommodation, key zone was located in bedroom, not hallway. Pat down occurred on way to front door, not during exit.

Solution: Move key zone further away from door.

Second Iteration

Incident:  I grabbed my thumb drive from the key zone – and left my keys behind.

Problem: Right place, wrong item. Too many items can be stored in the key zone.

Reason previously avoided: Key zone was a table too small to store other items. New key zone is on a low boy, which has other items on it.

Solution: Redefine key zone boundary – a bowl on the low boy, rather than an area.

Third Iteration

Incident: During my pat down, I mistook my car key for my house keys, and believing myself to be carrying my house key, I left. 

Problem: Car key and house keys have a similar weight/tactile feel through clothing layers.

Reason previously avoided: car keys and house keys were on same key ring.

Solution: add distinctive item to car key ring.

So there you have it folks. For me, keys need to be stored in a small, distinctive location not too close to the door and have distinctive key rings. Fingers crossed I’ve designed out getting locked out!

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Laser tag, architecture and urban warfare.

Lego Laser Darth [technically a lightsaber]

I got this from the interwebz. If it’s yours, happy to add attribution/remove.

Every so often, I like to go and get my nerd on. This impulse manifests in a variety of ways, but of late, I’ve been getting my laser tagging butt handed to me by teenagers on the regular. Being a geek and a nerd means that I like to spend the time while I wait for reanimation thinking about the spatial implications of laser tag, architectural theory and military strategy. Because I’m cool like that.

I’ve been to a range of laser tag venues, and they tend to have common features. Arenas are often in spaces that are effectively a secondary enclosure in a larger building (such as a shed or shopping centre). As a result, they are usually completely internal (no external aperatures or light) and can be sunk into semi-darkness at will. In addition to the the hard boundaries that this secondary enclosure represents, there are often a range of smaller insertions. These take a range of forms and include fixed insertions such as columns and walls, (usually slit to provide apertures through which you can shoot and be shot); enclosures (areas bounded by a perimeter hard wall, an insertion wall and usually incorporating overhead horizontal elements); movable cover (such as inflatable opaque balls) and ramps to access elevated areas (anywhere between a full story above or a mere half meter).

Less tangibly, the ambient noise of electronic music and the artificial ‘explosions’ and updates that issue from your equipment distract you from the faint smell of sweat (or if you’re particularly unlucky, Lynx deodorant) of your equipment. Some venues will also pump smoke machines periodically, which allow you to follow the line of your laser rather rely on the small dot it makes on your target [nerd fact: most indoor laser tag games are actually infrared with laser targeting systems]. Due to the health and safety concerns innate in an activity that require you to move around in a gloomy obstacle strewn room, glowing tape and padding are used liberally. This covers the physical elements of the arena.

The second element of laser tag is the strategic element. The characteristics of the laser tag encounter are usually negotiated between participants prior to commencement. Options include dividing into equal two groups (A vs B, a symmetrical warfare scenario in which friendly fire is impossible), dividing into small teams (A v B v C…, multiple opponent mode, usually symmetrical and friendly fire is impossible), or simple ‘every man for themselves’ scenarios (where shifting alliances may emerge, but all fire is hostile). ‘Base protect’ versions of the team games are also popular. Further variations are possible to ensure that players of different skill levels can play together (eg more skilled players may need to shoot a beginner several times to deactivate them), while higher skill level players may have a reduced number of ‘lives’. The type of match selected (as well as personal game play preferences) can have a profound effect on the use of space in the arena.

Eyal Weizman has written extensively on the Israeli Defence Force’s (IDF) concept on “walking through walls”, the result of the rather unlikely union of architectural theory and modern urban warfare. This approach includes several elements, but in particular relies on drastically reconfiguring the concepts of movement. Soldiers avoid open spaces such as roads and paths instead travelling by erupting into private apartments through walls and roofs and emerging unexpectedly through party walls and floors. For example, it is possible for the IDF to subvert a planned ambush by literally cutting through a building to emerge behind a group located around a corner, rather than following conventional paths.

While the goals of laser tag players are often geared around maximising the number of encounters (and thereby points) rather than systematically and physically advancing through and occupying territory to assert control, the basic premise that abandoning preconceptions about how space can be used or occupied and replacing it with a creative approach holds.

Despite the fact that laser battles take place in small, purpose built arenas where there is either arbitrary or no territory to defend and there are no pre-existing assumptions regarding thoroughfares or public/private spaces to disrupt, a lifetime of expectations and conditioning on how to use space and evade physical projectiles is still evident. You cannot lob a laser ‘over’ or around something and walls can obstruct as much as they protect. Skilled laser tag players quickly learn that proximity can provide safety by making shot angles too tight, while distance offers no protection from a light beam. A deactivated player can be used as a physical shield (thank you Ender Wiggin) or use the temporary increase in stealth and mobility that a darkened vest offers to relocate. Everywhere hides a potential enemy – and every enemy is a potential target. In a multiple opponent game, your side is someone else’s front and you can never be sure whether you’re ‘behind’ a column – or if someone else is behind you.

Since playing laser tag, my understanding of what role simple architectural elements like narrow windows, sill heights, ramps, corridors, balustrade walls, tapered columns and zigzagged corners has rapidly expanded. An enclosure with two exits may be easier to escape – but harder to defend. Ramps and doors are natural constriction points and are thus easier to defend single handedly. A change of direction or a zigzag can offer safe haven and elevation is almost always your friend. And just as important are the abstract lessons. Doing the simple things well can be the difference between triumph and disaster. Switching between two ideas half way through because you got ‘bored’ will only result in chaos. There’s a time to be creative and a time to learn from history. And so on. But now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to a dark room to point glowing sticks at people. I’ll be the one walking through walls.

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What’s the fuss: Behind the Denise Scott Brown campaign for Pritzker recognition

If you’re a casual dabbler in architecture and design pastures, you probably haven’t heard of the Pritzker Prize. If you’re enmeshed within these rarefied fields, you’ve probably resorted to describing the Pritzker as ‘like the Nobel prize for architecture’ [or if dealing with a mathematician, like the Fields medal for architecture, but without the age limit]. In short, it is a $100 000 cash prize and bronze medallion awarded annually since 1979 to living architects who have made substantial and consistent contributions to humanity through architecture. It is a Very Big Deal.

Currently it also has a small public perception problem: the jury (the exact composition of which changes over time) doesn’t appear to like women or collaboration very much (it also skews towards recognising Western Europeans, but that’s a separate post).

This was certainly the case back in 1991, when the jury rather superciliously announced that the prize was for individuals* rather than partnerships or firms, and thus it would be awarding the Pritzker to Robert Venturi. Alone. As though over 22 years of design and writing collaboration with life partner Denise Scott Brown were somehow separate to his success. A strange choice, and not uncontroversial at the time. In the two decades since, Denise Scott Brown has expressed her not unreasonable disappointment at her exclusion on several different occasions and forums.

At a recent (March 2013) Architect’s Journal Women in Architect lunch, Denise Scott Brown made the following comment (through a pre-recorded message):

“They owe me not a Pritzker Prize but a Pritzker inclusion ceremony. Let’s salute the notion of joint creativity”

For whatever reason, this comment has generated a slew of responses. It’s been reported on blogs dezeen, architizer, archinect, artlystarchdaily and Australian feminist site Parlour [disclosure: in addition to my attributed work, I have previously copywritten and sub-edited for Parlour]. It’s seen a supportively titled column from Rory Olcayto in AJ (the paywall prevents me from reading the content in full) and spawned a change.org petition supported by high profile advocates for gender equity such as Jeremy Till.

Despite the trumpeting blog headlines and petition (which I have signed), DSB is not campaigning for or demanding a Pritzker. She’s doing something considerably more radical and dangerous. She’s advocating for an entirely different way of thinking about how authorship and attribution is recognised and celebrated in architecture. Wrapped up in the Pritzker (and architectural culture more broadly) are a truck load of implicit assumptions about authorship and individuality. By calling for an inclusion ceremony rather than a prize, DSB is both nodding to and swerving around the prize and authorship systems. Once again, we’re Learning from Scott Brown… and I, for one, salute her.

For more scholarly unpacking about the ways that both gender and authorship are implicated in Pritzker Prizes and architecture more widely see the following texts by Hilde Heynen (paywalled), Naomi Stead and Denise Scott Brown herself.

Aside on the “pipeline” argument: the median age of Pritzker winners is 61. In 2013, a 61 year old graduate who went straight from school to university would have graduated in 1974. Since the numbers of female students has increased steadily since then, we’d assume to see the number of women winning the Pritzker to increase steadily in coming years. However, I’m expecting to see a shift towards older recipients (2013 winner Toyo Ito is 72) and an extra lag that will be attributed to delays in women’s careers due to children responsibilities before seeing any measurable increase in recognition for women.

*Strangely, the ban on partnerships was not in effect in 2001 (Swiss duo Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron) or in 2010 (Japan’s Kazuyo Sejima and collaborator Ryue Nishizawa, SANAA). But in 2012, it again chose to snub partners who are also wives with the sole recognition of Wang Shu (and not collaborator and wife Lu Wenyu).

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