Posts tagged “architecture”

Florida Faux, part 2

During a recent trip to Florida I took some time to check out the Disney-founded community of Celebration.

The experience was much more subtle that I had expected; perhaps the true nature emerges more through residency than driving through. Overall, it felt a lot like The Truman Show – a set that made everything a bit too perfect and while one can appreciate just how nice everything is, it lacks a certain organic naturalness.

The town theater is achingly new, yet completely retro. There’s no funk here.

The downtown area is beautiful, branding is kept to a minimum.

Starbucks, the Americanized faux-Italian experience (so faux and so Americanized that you can enjoy it without knowing where it comes from) seems to fit right in (but then Starbucks is the ultimate brand for fitting in everywhere and anywhere).

These electric vehicles were ubiquitous, some turned into rolling advertising vehicles (as has happened with the PT Cruiser, the New Beetle, the Mini, and the Smart Car). I imagine the retirement communities in Florida have a wider general adoption of those vehicles and that’s part of the reason they are seen in Celebration.

Chick-Fil-A branding at a church event.

And about 2 miles down the road, familiar sprawl returns, highlighting the contrast. I think that’s the tallest Starbucks sign I’ve ever seen.

Previously: Florida Faux, part 1

Also: Orlando pictures; Miami pictures.


Miami Beach construction, June 2008

Visitors to Miami Beach encounter hotels (and other architecture) that is old and new Art Deco, as well as various modernist and post-modernist successors (see examples here). This construction site with its orange and stainless look fit nicely with the finished aesthetic seen in the area (note the similarly colored building in the left corner).


More Miami photos here.

Florida Faux, part 1

While in Florida last week I had the chance to learn a bit of history and realized that the manufactured experiences intended to evoke another time/place go back to the earliest days of Florida land booms.

In Orlando, I stayed at the Lowes Portofino Bay, meant to evoke a resort on the Italian Riviera.

Some faux touches included the scooters parked – well, installed, actually – around the grounds…

…and the made-to-look Old Country stair details.

But getting around the place was a nightmare.

In order to convey some sense of authenticity, the architects echoed bits of a townscape, with limited ability to see what was ahead. Although what you could see was devoid of any actual real details – no people, no commerce, no mess, nothing that would help you located yourself or make a decision about what direction you might want to go into. It felt like a rendered videogame background before the branding, characters, and gameplay was added. I just found it frustrating trying to get around, with a very small amount of triumph when I succeeded or found an alternative; but I wasn’t there to work on getting un-lost and I wanted the hotel’s precious Portofino-ness to get out of my way so I could perform basic wayfinding tasks.



Also: Orlando pictures; Miami pictures.

future of the interactive city?

I attended the interactive city summit earlier this week (held in SF as part of ISEA2006: A Global Festival of Art on the Edge.)

It was an unusual event for me to attend, since the bulk of the people seemed to be strongly into the issues around new urbanism, planning, technology of the future civic life, if-you-can-dream-it interactivity, etc. I admit I hadn’t thought about this stuff in great depth and so it was a lot of new thinking; although many of the examples shown were things that go through the design and technology sections of the blogosphere I frequent.

I think like so many events, this one struggled a bit with the identity. They repeated the notion of a summit several times, and one possible output was a document that could be sent to a city planner or a design planner or any number of agencies. But an event with a goal like that – a goal of producing a collective output – needs to really structure and facilitate the discussion and creation of output. The emphasis here was on invited presentations (and some good freewheeling discussion), and on quickie presentations from attendees. I don’t see how that sort of content can accomplish the stated goal. And that’s okay, I think the format wasn’t bad. We had the usual problems with acoustics and presenters with tiny type, presentations that ramble without a clear thesis to support, heavily accented presenters, etc. but I think for the most part it was a pretty good event.

Matt Jones gave a stimulating hyperlinked talk (while the laptop-enabled in the audience checked out links and videos concurrently). He showed us this amazing video of the Sultan’s Elephant – an artistic spectacle that you must check out.

There was a great presentation from Rebar, who did the widely blogged PARK(ing) project, where they created small parks in parking spaces; putting down sod, a bench and a plant in a parking space and feeding the meter for a couple of hours.

Troika spent a lot of their time defending themselves (needlessly?) from their work in the commercial domain, under the rhetoric of art vs. design. I didn’t fully understand their stance. They showed the widely blogged SMS Guerilla Projector; a handheld device that takes a text message from a phone and projects it at great distances. In some experiments they shone messages into people’s apartments, and they bemusedly described people calling the police. Ha ha? Their next slide was about empathy, which they seemed to have none of; creating technology experiences that surprise and sometimes frighten people, so they can study their reactions? They need to take a look at an ethics committee guidelines for human subjects! (NB: I was reminded of the disturbing potential for this stuff when I saw Rob Walker’s post about a popular (among cynical edgy youth, no doubt) text message in Iraq: “Your call cannot be completed because the subscriber has been bombed or kidnapped.”

In an excellent lunchtime discussion we brainstormed on the key issues where technology impacts urban life, and it seemed to me that most of the issues fell into three piles: preserving old stuff, ensuring we don’t fuck up the old stuff (those are different), and enabling new stuff. Of course, today I see this post about the closing of an historic neighborhood store. The post is not significantly high-tech (it uses pictures, and it has a broader reach since it’s on the Internet), and is not significantly unique, but I enjoyed mmediately stumbling across an example of a model that we were just refining.

I took public transit in from Montara both days, trying BART on the first day and MUNI the second day. Thinking I was pretty smart, I drove up to Stonestown Galleria on 19th, parked my car, and took the MUNI right to the front of the place. When I came back after lunch, my brand new car was gone. Towed. The conference was free (including food) but this stupid mistake cost me nearly $300 in fees and taxi! Not to mention stress and wasted time. And somewhat ironic, given the conversations we had been engaging in around surveillance, technology, privacy, and the like. How did they know that I wasn’t a customer at the mall and I wasn’t shopping while my car was there? I parked around 9:35, and the towing receipt read 10:30. What time did they call the towing company in order for them to be writing the thing up at 10:30? Couldn’t have been much after I parked. Did a security guard simply observe me walking away from my car and onto the transit platform? If I had gone into McDonald’s and then come out again, would they have figured it out? Were they monitoring me, or the car in the lot?

I’m not defending my choice, or their response, but it certainly raises some questions about how the heck they knew. Liz Goodman had just mentioned the highway signs that tell you your speed and if you are over, and she commented on the different emotional impact and social perception of a technology that monitors you for your information and a technology that monitors you for someone else’s usage. The highway sign, in her example, doesn’t write you a ticket, or tell the cops, it simply tells you about your behavior, presumably to warn or shame you into driving normally (or to reinforce your choice of compliance). I certainly wondered about whatever technology was used to identify my misdeed.

Context is King

The landscape is forever changing in little ways, writes SF Chron architecture critic John King, and he identifies several defining artifacts of 2006

  • Security barriers
  • Solar panels
  • Traffic calmers
  • Anti-skateboard clips
  • Wireless cafes

Of course, it’s not the list itself that is noteworthy, but his articulate and provocative analysis that underlies the reasons for these newly emergent artifacts. What do these things tell us about what’s going on around us? Context is king, isn’t it? I highly encourage you to check out the article!

Renovating Ronald Redux

The McDonald’s redesign is getting some more attention in blogland. A really powerful rant (even if you don’t support all the points) comes from the consistently acerbic Marginal Utility

So having abetted the atomization of American society, undermining traditional rituals of eating that once fostered polite society and turning food into on-the-go fuel, McDonald’s now wants to present the simulacrum of what it helped destroy, an ambiotronic environment in which the semblance of civility is exhibited for maximum marketing appeal. It wants to cater to the illusion that people have time to hang out, that people enjoy being in public with strangers, that its own food is something to be savored rather than inhaled on the run. The corporation can subsidize a few people hogging the comfy chairs and watching the TVs in order to give its bread-and-butter customers – the harried single people in a hurry – a warm, fuzzy feeling about what they are about to eat, as if a Big Mac can give them access to the laid-back linger-zone life by proxy. But most people, McDonald’s knows, don’t really want to linger. Rest assured, regardless of the redesign, the heart of McDonald’s will remain as hard a plastic as ever.

Renovating Ronald

BusinessWeek writes about a just-launching redesign of McDonald’s stores, trying to bring them up to date. This is sure to be a big design story in the business press, with lots of oohing and aahing about the furniture and so on, but the article points to some serious business challenges that the company faces here (and presumably anytime they want to do some sort of reinvention).

In a recent letter to management at the company’s headquarters in Oak Brook, about 160 franchisees from North Carolina spelled out why they oppose the new plan. They say the roof change erases 40 years of brand building and that ‘there has been no business case presented which justifies the change.’ Says Frederick Huebner, who owns 11 McDonald’s in North Carolina: ‘We don’t want to lose the iconic look of what we’ve got.’ If franchisees balk, McDonald’s can refuse to renew their contract.

Check out the new designs, which seem to bring McDonald’s firmly into the 90s.

Catch that Kid

BusinessWeek describes a curious design research initiative. A UK home builder has a family living in a sensor-filled concept house, where the people are all RFID-tagged. They’ll collect usage data for six months and then use the resulting who/where/when/how-long data to improve the home’s design. Just like using weblogs to redesign a website – you know what people have been doing, but you have no idea why. Unless you ask. And the families in this project will be extensively interviewed by a “consumer researcher” so we figure they’ll get that piece of the puzzle too.

What People Want In Their Homes and Communities

The NYT writes a front-page story about the growth in housing developments in the US in areas that were formerly “the middle of nowhere.” Beyond being generally interesting as a trend, I was intrigued by the (perhaps not novel but at least unique to me) teaser of how they are figuring out what to put into these homes.

One area in which KB Home takes pride is its market research. It asks things like where people want their kitchens and how much more of a commute they can stomach. And it surveys its own buyers to get a comprehensive idea of who they are and why they bought.

In its most recent survey of Tampa home buyers, KB asked people what they valued the most in their home and community. They wanted more space and a greater sense of security. Safety always ranks second, even in communities where there is virtually no crime.

Asked what they wanted in a home, 88 percent said a home security system, 93 percent said they preferred neighborhoods with “more streetlights” and 96 percent insisted on deadbolt locks or security doors.

So KB Home offers them all. “It’s up to us to figure out what people really want and to translate that into architecture,” said Erik Kough, KB’s vice president for architecture. And the company designs its communities with winding streets with sidewalks and cul-de-sacs to keep traffic slow, to give a sense of containment and to give an appearance distinctly unlike the urban grid that the young, middle-class families instinctively associate with crime. “I definitely feel safe here. I feel protected,” said Lisa Crawford, who moved to New River about a year ago with her husband, Steve, and their two children.

“And I can tell you that the people in Tampa are a whole lot different than the people here,” Ms. Crawford said. “In Tampa, there’s a faster pace. I like it here, that it’s more of a community, more of a small-town feel.”

Exchange Evolution

The photo is definitely quaint but still matches our iconic image of how trading (whatever that is; most of us have little understanding of the mechanics of markets or the activity of trading). Maybe we picture men in jackets with numbers on ’em, holding phones and throwing pieces of paper and yelling and yelling. But that era has disappeared as technology has eliminated the need for a central place. Trading takes place in distributed facilities, owned and operated by “banks” (including Morgan Stanley et al) not in centralized facilities owned and operated by exchanges. The Chron today considers the history of the exchange in San Francisco, now a gym.

A 1999 article in The Chronicle reported that only about 5 percent of the 17.5 million shares traded daily there involved personal interaction on the exchange floor.

The romance was ending. Warren Langley, president and chief operating officer of the exchange from 1996 to 1999, wrote in an e-mail that those who had devoted their lives to the exchange “really were in pain as the world of technology and telecommunications made floor-based exchanges obsolete (and made the value of their jobs go away).”

In 2001, the exchange announced a merger with the electronic marketplace corporation Archipelago, eliminating the need for brokers to interact face to face, and sold the trading floor in 2002.

He can see the writing on the wall

If you attended the 2002 IDSA conference, you may have seen architect Bruce Tomb talk about his experience with his others in his community graffiti-ing or removing graffiti from his building, and how he essentially turned it into an ongoing art project. I wrote about it here (six boxes down, in blue) and today the SF Chron has an in-depth piece about Tomb and his building.

The posters are bright, papered over each other and peeling. A public gallery of outrage and passion on a former police station that once housed drug dealers, gang members and drunks in its holding cells, the dozens of radical statements plastered on this wall at 23rd and Valencia streets make up what may be the most outspoken site in the country.

Unbeknownst to most passers-by who stop to stare, behind the poster wall lives a quiet man who furiously defends its aesthetic. With his hair slicked neatly back and black Dickies pants that match the sturdy frames of his glasses, Bruce Tomb does not look like a fighter. But for the past seven years, he has fiercely protected the 25-foot square front wall of his home, the former Mission Police Station.

Tomb, an architect, views the 1950s-style industrial building, in which he lives with his family and operates his business, as a beautiful piece of modern architecture and a valuable part of city history. Some of his neighbors disagree, seeing the boxy structure vacated by police in 1994 for a larger precinct house at 17th, six blocks down Valencia Street, as an eyesore.

Architect calls for boycott on prison design

SF Chron story about an architect calling for a boycott on designing prisons

So the 31-year-old San Francisco architect changed course — and issued a call to action to the drafting crowd that has made national waves. Sperry wants architects — and their brethren engineers, designers and planners — to refuse to design prisons.

He realizes that a boycott is a drastic measure for a profession whose forays into collective activism have been few. Its radicalism tends to be confined to ‘green’ solutions for buildings, such as the Healdsburg winery that Sperry worked on that was constructed out of straw bales.

With earnest sincerity, Sperry sees his boycott as a way to start a conversation about prison reform with an audience largely unfamiliar with the issue.

“Prisons are so often associated with their buildings, so I thought this would be a way for architects to connect the issue with their work, with something they could do about it,” said Sperry.


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