Sunday, October 9, 2011


If you don't want to read all this just skip down to the link to Interboro's PS1 project.  It's totally sweet.

I went to the afternoon session of the POWER conference this past Friday.  A few points transcribed from my typically cryptic/sloppy note taking follow.  If I don't name check a speaker below, I think it is a thought I had on my own.

"Power Points" session, focused on power of information.
--The scale that some presenters were working at seemed too global or abstract to be interesting or useful.  Loose talk about data 'flows' without addressing what that data is in some specific way is super boring.  There's a lot of info, an overload, too much, it's trans-national, etc = so what.
--Information does equate with power (Sorkin I think, but skype sucks).  And power over people at that.  Super relevant to how we've been starting to look at the PowereHouse installation as a way to track goings on and presence along the edges of the PowerHouse property, and work with that information in a database.  I do think aggregation as a tactic works against some of the problematics of wanting to know what people are up to (regardless of their attitudes on the matter).  Perhaps as a counter to Foucault's classic equation of Knowledge with Power, which operates more on a highly individualized level.  However, I do think that there should be a fundamental kind of equity in the project where either infromation about the collectors (the interior of the powerhouse?) is rendered transparent as an exchange, or the information that is gathered is made legible in its collection.
--I find Keller Easterling to be a fairly opaque speaker.  I can't tell if the failing is mine or hers, but other folks seem to like it.  Two, perhaps generative, concepts from her talk: 'space as medium of information', and 'information that escapes text and codes'.  There was some discussion in our last group meeting of how to express data in a less immediately semiotic way, and a desire for the installation to register and transmit info in its presence, spatial effect, movement, rather than a direct 'blinking light interval = number of people per hour' kind of way.  no easy answers here.
--Sherman's distinction between 'puzzle' and 'mystery' obtains to what we might do with data.  We don't want a puzzle as its motor would rely on withholding information (see power/equity above), and its lifespan synchronous with a 'solution'.  But we can't totally create a mystery either, as we're dealing with a designed and ultimately discrete set of data.   Sherman also  makes the point that information without comment or curation does not in itself equate with empowerment (flip side of Sorkin above).

"Design Empowerment" session focused on design tactics that empower.
--Tobias Amborst was dynamite.  His discussion of the research into 'Blots' (urban lots that grow into blocks as the owners buy up and occupy their immediately adjacent vacancies) was a great example of what comes from real close observation of extant conditions (often absent in any detailed way from arch work/proposals). I'd like to get my hands on the book he has coming out also.  Simple examination of existing urban tactics of 'inclusion and exclusion'.  His example of a Map, as information (curated, presented, and edited) that empowers seemed apt.  Finally the mode employed in their PS1 project ( does not get taken up nearly enough by designers attempting work in existing urban contexts.  Ask the people there what they want... and then use the privilege of your position (and funding) to give it to them.
--Hoeber's (ideo) suggestion to design for behaviors (rather than an average), and the nexus of desirability, viability, and feasibility could be useful.
--The speculative proposals from UrbanLab were NOT compelling.  I am really sick of proposals that take on huge structural/social/geographic issues by proposing to build a lot more crap.  What if the answer to a shortage of water in the Southwest is to NOT FUCKING LIVE THERE...   Beavers think the solution to any problem is another dam...
--Good work form CommonStudio, 'small' projects seemed organizationally pretty large.  The critical work they were doing seemed less about the objects themselves, and more about the working relationships and organizational structures they were setting up.  a great, if exhausting to achieve, example.

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