‘In The Bubble’ barter opportunity

If you:
a) possess a copy of ‘In The Bubble’; and/or
b) have read it; and
c) found any errors in it (names, typos, dead urls etc)
…then please let me know. MIT Press are reprinting the book and need my corrections by 28 October. I will give a free signed copy of the paperback edition (due out next Spring) to anyone who tells me about a mistake they have found. Email please to: john@doorsofperception.com

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment

Hypocritical, moi?

The latest edition of the Dutch architecture magazine Archis is on the theme “doing almost nothing”. The new Archis (which is now published jointly with AMO, the research arm of Rem Koolhaas’s design office) includes a diatribe against people who “travel to conferences around the world to talk about global warming, design and sustainability”. I do not deny my own membership of this club – indeed, it cannot have many other members – so I take seriously a challenge by Archis to “ponder on the critical question: whether you are an environmentalist, an ecologist, or a hypocrite”. It’s a fair question: every time I fly, I contribute my share to the 600 million tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year by air travel. I started mentally to prepare an answer for my debate next week with Rem Koolhaas, Archis’ main backer. But Koolhaas has just cancelled: he has to fly to China to attend to a Big Project. Don’t cancel your trip to London: the debate goes ahead. We’ll just have to discuss hypocrisy in design among ourselves. 14 October (14h-16h) Victoria and Albert Museum, London. (bookings.office@vam.ac.uk)

Posted in perception | 1 Response

Design and the growth of knowledge

In this one-morning symposium on November 10, three eminent researchers discuss designing as form of research. Brenda Laurel, Gillian Crampton-Smith, and Kun-Pyo Lee will look at the ways design generates knowledge which can be used beyond the product at hand and thereby generate wholly new ideas. The event is hosted by the Technical University of Delft (Professor Pieter Jan Stappers) and is moderated by John Thackara. The symposium morning is open for all those involved in (interaction) design, including students, design and research managers, designers and researchers. Thursday November 10. Contact: Pieter Jan Stappers: email p.j.stappers@io.tudelft.nl

Posted in learning & design | Leave a comment

Beyond the cranium

Where does the mind end and the world begin? Until recently, philosophers tended to think of the nervous system as a glorified a set of message cables that connect the body to the brain. But philosopher Teed Rockwell thinks that the boundary between mind and world is a flexible one. In his book Neither Brain nor Ghost Rockwell quotes developments in neuroscience as evidence that the mind is hormonal as well as neural; the borders of mental embodiment cannot neatly be drawn at the skull, or even at the skin. For Rockwell, mental phenomena emerge not merely from brain activity but from “a single unified system embracing the nervous system, body, and environment”. At this point Rockwell, man of reason, seems to get nervous, because he describes as “vacuously mystical” the claim that “we are one with everything”. To me this sounds like a logical conclusion, not a mystical one. But I’m not an expert in nonlinear neurodynamics, which Teed’s book is apparently about. (I’ve only read extracts of the book, and I only heard about it because of my interest in architectural tourism).

Posted in [no topic] | 2 Responses

How to deal with cultural emissions

Does tourism kill the toured? An unexpected overnight in Barcelona at the weekend reminded me that cities should be be careful what they wish for. Barcelona is the most-quoted example in the world of a city that has used design and creativity to make itself attractive to tourists. But having come in their hordes, they are eating the place alive. When I first ate at Restaurante Los Caracoles 25 years ago, most of its customers were local. On Saturday night, most of its its customers were foreigners – loud, pink, huge ones. (I do not exclude myself from this category). At least 50 percent of the tourists and conventioneers arriving to eat looked clinically obese. Some found it hard to squeeze through the door. The percentage of obesity among the cooks and waiters working like crazy to feed us was …zero %. Meanwhile, outside on the Ramblas, Spanish families trying to stroll slowly with children were jostled by gangs of drunken Easyjet Brits on their way to party.
Carbon emissions are not the only damaging by-product of tourism. Tourists change local cultures, too – especially temporal ones. Londoners, who hurry, can’t help but impose their own time values on places they go to for weekend breaks. But I have a solution. Visitors to Southern cities should be compelled to spend time in Temporal Quarantine at the airport on arrival. Once judged to have slowed down, they would be given a smart bracelet to wear for the duration of their visit. The bracelet would contain GIS software that would detect any stagggering around, and an accelerometer would detect unseemly pedestrian speed. Anyone caught disrespecting the city’s normal tempo would be subject to compulsory liposuction on the spot. I am told it is is an enervating procedure.

Posted in development & design | 3 Responses

Young words happening in Turin

I generally hate the Olympics but it does sometimes generate curious and interesting side events. Turin, which is hosting the winer Olympics, is hosting the the first electronic Town-Meeting in Italy. In “Young words happening” (great title by the way) young (under 35) people from all over the world will engage in three days of dialogue on key issues of access to information, economic development, and cultural integration. The programme contains some highly questionable definitions of ‘development’ which alone are worth taking part in order to argue with. The technical platform for this elaborate exercise includes a 200 computer wi-fi net and participatory tools used in the debate about the reconstruction of Ground Zero in New York. It is organised by which is organised by Avventura Urbana (Urban Adventure) If you are interested in taking part you can sign up until Friday the 18th (it starts on the 22nd).

Posted in city & bioregion | 1 Response

Yell when you hear a whistle

I’m running a workshop at Experimenta in Lisbon this Friday on ‘designers in the age of fear‘. The design research economy is being massively distorted by our inability to make sound judgements about risk and priorities. For example, Googling “design” and “homeland security” today yields a score of 10,900,000. Enormous research resources have been flowing towards homeland security (HS) and its European equivalents since 9/11. Estimates are that total HS outlays—by federal, state, local, and private entities in the United States—grew from $5 billion in 2000 to $85 billion in 2004, with a forecast that they will grow to $130 billion—and possibly as high as $210 billion by 2010. Yes, three thousand people died horribly on 9/11 – but that same number perish every single day as a result of road traffic injuries – and if you Google “design” and “road traffic injuries” the score is a pitiful 12,600. And guess what: these massive HS outlays on design are often ineffective. For example, I learned today that safety symbols designed to instruct American citizens how to react if terrorists strike may confuse them. According to an article in Ergonomics in Design, the HS symbol meaning ‘Use a whistle if one is available. Shout only as a last resort’ was interpreted to mean, ‘Yell when you hear a whistle.’ Based on published safety standards, the journal authors conclude, up to 79 percent of HS safety symbols are ‘unacceptable for communicating hazard-related information.’ I suppose a few billion more will be now spent to fix that problem and then, when the next disaster strikes, millions of Americans will be instructed to….whistle. (I write about this topic at greater length in the November edition of Interactions).

Posted in perception | Leave a comment

What innovation sounds like

“Quiet in class!”. Silent attention to Teacher’s every word was the required mode of interaction when I was at school. Only speak when spoken to. Teachers themselves were judged by the quietness of their workspace; a noisy classroom meant they were not in sufficient control. All that seems to be changing. Prowling school inspectors now like to hear the babble of group interaction in a classroom. I learned this at a fascinating Demos workshop in London last week. Entitled Open Secrets, the workshop brought toghether 50-odd senior managers from the forefront of public sector innovation in contexts ranging from schools and hospitals to the police. The fact that we met in a delightful primary school in south London, and not in some grim seminar room, added to an upbeat atmosphere. The UK is at a interesting juncture right now. After years of intense research, reflection, and a mountain of policy documents, a lot of people now have a good idea of how public services might be organised differently. But there’s a palpable feeling now that insight and reports are the beginning, not the end, of the innovation process. Everyone is looking for ways to try things out in real situations.

Posted in learning & design | 1 Response

Cellular Doors in London

About one hour after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s article, I attended a small group meeting of Doors persons in London. I cannot report that we avoided discussions of abstract knowledge, or ideas for the sake of ideas – but we had a good time. Kristi van Riet made this mini-movie:

We’re thinking of staging similar meet-and-greet evenings in Helsinki (18 October) and Tokyo (31 December). Details will be announced in the Doors newsletter:

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment