One mound at a time

I’ve been on the road most of this month talking and meeting and transitioning (see above) like mad – but not actually dong anything practical. So yesterday I spent the day up in the mountains helping to construct a bio-intensive, multi-layered planting bed under the instruction of a noted agro-ecologist called Robert Morez.
The technique involves layering all sorts of bio-material to create a mound that will supply nutrients to plants, and retain water effectively, for three to four years. The mound is a synthesis of Robert’s scientific work over decades combined with his practical experience working in Burkina-Faso, Togo, Benin, Maroc and Tunisia.
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What should Aalto University do, and be?

A major new university is to be named after the Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto. Aalto University which opens in 2010, is the result of a merger between the Helsinki School of Economics (Finland’s top business school, with 4,000 students); the University of Art and Design (one of Europe’s top design and art schools, with 2,000 students); and Helsinki University of Technology (the main technical university, including the country’s principal architecture school, with 15,000 students).]
Four hundred people are already busy preparing the new university, but I was asked to speak at symposium in Helsinki called “Beyond Tomorrow” about what the new university should do, and be.
Here is what I said.
The University has stated that it will will “make a positive contribution to Finnish society, technology, economy, art, art and design, and support the welfare of both humans and the environment”.
I propose that Aalto University should stand for something more precise than this: an unconditional respect for life, and for the conditions that support life.

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The Landfill Designers (Programme for BBC Radio 4, 2009)

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The term ‘planned obsolescence’ was coined in the 1950s but has never been more relevant. Our desire to possess the latest style can mean more in landfill, and more children in China and India sifting through toxic waste. But some argue that a fast turnover in products stimulates innovation in new technologies and reusable materials. So, are scientists and designers deliberately planning for failure? John Thackara was commissioned by All Out Productions to help write and be the presenter of The Landfill Designers, a thirty minute documentary for BBC Radio 4.

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Doctors with iPhones

I’ve been back from New York a week and I’m still mesmerised by the story of Hello Health. Tamara Giltsoff, a service designer, introduced me to this wondrous new outfit who are making it easy again to see the doctor.
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The Hello Health website tells the story better than I can, so I’ll quote it direct: “Once upon a time, going to your doctor was simple. You knew his first name, or perhaps just called him ‘Doc’. He lived just down the street and made house calls. And if you were sick, you would see him that day, because, well, you were sick.

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After the High life?

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I was taken on a sneak preview visit to The High Line in New York. It’s an elevated public park on a 1.5 mile elevated railway that runs along the West Side of Manhattan. Everyone is rightly proud that this historic rail structure has been saved from being razed by developers. 150 million dollars have been found to to create a “one-of-a-kind recreational amenity…a linear public place where you will see and be seen”. It’s a spectacular site, and the work is being beautifully done – but the project feels strangely out-of-date before it even opens. The High Line website features “before” images (above) of the site before restoration, with masses of weeds and greenery. The project now, that I visited (see below), features concrete walkways, high-design benches, and artful planting. What I missed, amidst the designerly order, was the sense of abundance it had when still abandoned. The good news is that Phases 2 and 3 of the project venture into vast unused railway yards – perfect sites for city farms.
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Clean Growth: From Mindless Development to Design Mindfulness

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I’ve written this White Paper, called Clean Growth: From Mindless Development to Design Mindfulness for Design Innovation Scotland. It’s the first in a series whose aim is “to stimulate thought and debate about…radical solutions to real-world challenges”. The intended readers are regional economic development professionals and policy makers.

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With the iBorg in New York

The May edition of Doors of Perception Report (our monthly email newsletter) is now available
here

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Call from system: Chill !

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Mobile phones tend to be personal devices and Intel plans to take that further – a lot further.
Researchers Margaret Morris and Farzin Guilak are developing “mobile therapy” – a system of just-in-time personal coaching, by the system, that is triggered by physiological indicators of stress.
Mobile Heart Health, as it’s called, uses body sensors to help people “tune in to early signs of stress, and modulate reactivity that could potentially damage their relationships”. Breathing visualizations and “cognitive reappraisal cues” appear on your cell phone when a wireless ECG detects deviations from your baseline heart rate variability.
The only flaws I can see in this otherwise elegant project are first, that’ll I’ll be tempted to use my handset as a club on someone when it starts flashing cognitive reappraisal cues at me like that.
And second, my heart will literally explode the first time a cellphone tells me to calm down.

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New York: bat hunting

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Conditions for my talk on Monday were sub-optimal: there was a typhoon *and* a high-energy dispute between students and The New School, parts of which were occupied recently. [Fond memories: I, too, was a revolting student once; during one sit-in I became a dab hand at coooking chicken and rice in a dustbin for 200 people. Luckily, Monday’s typhoon meant there was no picket line – and in the event we had a great turnout].
On Thursday I hope to go bat-hunting in Central Park

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