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Urban Encounters: Routes and Transitions Conference 2010

Gabrielle (principal of Buscada) is co-founder of Urban Encounters, a project on the dialogue and practice of visual urbanism. The Urban Encounters conference is now in its 3rd year. This year’s event takes place May 29, 2010 at Tate Britain.

Buscada collaborates with Urban Encounters to curate, participate, organize and publicize the event through multiple media.

Visit urbanencounters.org for more information
Follow Urban Encounters on Facebook

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Urban Encounters: Routes and Transitions
Symposium
29 May, 2010, 10am – 7pm (with reception)
Tate Britain

Tickets: £25 (£15 concessions) Please visit Tate Ticketing.

Download the Routes and Transitions poster

Urban Encounters: Routes and Transitions explores the dialogue and practice of visual urbanism to bring together international researchers, academics, photographers and artists concerned with the transitional nature of contemporary urban space. It will be of particular relevance to those engaged with urban image-making, analysis and research. This third annual conference will address how photographic practices and archives intersect with an understanding of local and global routes as “places”, considering the temporality of place and the cross-cultural juxtaposition of locales.

This conference approaches the city as a palimpsest of routes and its panels will consider local, global and remembered routes through film, photography and other visual urbanisms. Considering the cultural geographies of migration, change, place, identity and the process of making transitions, the conference will facilitate an on-going interdisciplinary dialogue about the growing field of urban visual practice, method and enquiry.

This symposium is the center of the Urban Encounters Festival, which takes place in several UK-based and international locations this spring, including the London-based galleries Photofusion and Viewfinder, and at the events Urban Encounters: City to Sea at Bognor Regis, UK and Urban Encounters at the Festival of the Image, Manizales, Colombia.

Keynote speaker: Camilo Vergara, photographer


Speakers:
Michael Keith, Oxford University
Yazan Khalili, Goldsmiths, University of London
Nirmal Puwar, Goldsmiths, University of London
Kuldip Powar, independent filmmaker
Suki Ali, London School of Economics
Manuel Vazquez, Independent photographer
Michael McMillan, independent curator
Joseph Heathcott, The New School
Lasse Johansson, Fugitive Images


Discussants:
Paul Goodwin, Tate Britain
Caroline Knowles, Goldsmiths, University of London
Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, Urban Encounters co-founder / The New School
Paul Halliday, Urban Encounters co-founder / Goldsmiths, University of London
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Cookbooks + activism in Somerville + Hawaii

One of the most inspiring things I did in the past few months was to take a trip with my friend and colleague Amy Reddinger to visit Elizabeth Ahn Toupin in Somerville, Massachusetts. An English and Women’s Studies professor, Amy has been writing (in part here and here) about how the complexities of Hawaiian statehood and identity are evidenced in postwar Hawaiian cookbooks. These are cookbooks that differed greatly depending on whether they were written on the mainland and exoticized the island, or written on the island, and hinted at deeper issues of identity and politics. Of course, these books were sometimes written for, and received in distinct ways by, different audiences. Amy’s work considers how these cookbooks engage the “intersection between American nationalism, colonialism and the domestic realm” and her work makes visible  what she calls the “complex discourse on race, national identity and Hawaiian statehood that emerges in the post World War II discourse of domesticity.”

In particular, Amy has noticed that some of the prominent Hawaiian cookbook writers were also active in the statehood movement, and so, has been investigating this connection further. It was one of these investigations that brought her to visit the aforementioned Elizabeth Toupin, an eloquent and fascinating woman who has written many cookbooks, as well as being a Dean at Tufts and a social researcher, among many other things. Our afternoon at Toupin’s home in Somerville was one of delicious food, heady conversation, and the exploration of many well-thumbed and annotated books. It was also exciting for me to cross a multitude of disciplinary lines to work with Amy and to get to know Liz. In my role of photographer and ethnographer, it was a privilege to be there and I look forward to the rich work of Amy’s that I feel sure will emerge from those conversations.

- Gabrielle

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Exploring SPURA

Exploring SPURA

An exhibition by students of the City Studio at Eugene Lang College, the New School & Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, in collaboration with SPURA Matters.

Opening Thursday February 4, 2010 6-8pm
February 4 – April 3, 2010

common room 2
465 Grand Street (enter on East Broadway)
NYC, NY 10002

The Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) is the largest undeveloped city-owned parcel of land south of 96th Street, and it has been a contested site since it was cleared for “renewal” more than 40 years ago.

Please join us at a new exhibition by the New School’s City Studio, Exploring SPURA, which delves into the experience of living at SPURA now – the resources and restrictions – as well as the stories of today and the experience of the SPURA diaspora, displaced many years ago. The exhibition springs from the City Studio’s research in the community and hopes to continue encouraging productive conversation about the site’s future.

The question of SPURA is a timely one, as plans for its development are in discussion once more at the Community Board. Come join the conversation!

The 2010 City Studio creators of Exploring SPURA are: Sarah Charles, Jamie Florence, Leijia Hanrahan, Anke Hendriks, Lila Knisely, John Lake, Claudie Mabry, Katie Priebe, Adam Schleimer, Kaushal Shrestha, Emily Winkler-Morey and Hannah Zingre. Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani is the professor and exhibition curator.

The City Studio course of the Urban Studies department, Eugene Lang/New School explores the life of a small urban space, through archival, ethnographic, visual and participatory research. SPURA Matters is a visioning project for the SPURA site to get people talking about SPURA’s future. It is a collaboration between Good Old Lower East Side, Pratt Center for Community Development, and Place Matters/City Lore.

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From vision to tasks : Making design decisions clearer

(Click the image to see a larger version)

This conceptual model addresses the interrelationship between several layers of a design process – from broad vision to specific goals to strategic approaches to actionable tactics, and finally to essentialized tasks.

Using this kind of conceptual model for a project allows for a number of desirable outcomes:

1. It acts as validation process for new ideas that may be created through the design process.
2. It is inclusive of user and business goals and allows the two concepts to exist in a common holistic project structure.
3. It allows for the questioning, iteration and/or reshaping of the vision and goals for a project.

The important question to ask as this structure is created is how does each successive step support the ones above it?  This question can lead to two conclusions:
- the goal, strategy, tactic or task does not support the next node in the tree
or
- the next node in the tree needs to be modified to make it work with the new creative thought that has been created

Like all processes I advocate for, there is no “right way” to start this process:

- If you have many specific ideas, list them out and start grouping them into concepts to see what strategies emerge. Then, work your way up the nodes of the tree.
or
- If you have burning vision for a project or product, start at the top of the tree and lay out all the nodes in the tree that will support this vision.
[Diagram : Example concept map.]

(Click the image to see a larger version)

Here is a simplified example of this concept model as mapped out for a company that aggregates content, such as a search engine or blogs etc.

This strategic tool is useful for validating new ideas in a process. Running a new idea through the exercise of asking “what strategy or goals does the idea support?” clearly shows its pros and cons.

Crucially, a team that has created this tree structure, and agreed that the points on the tree make sense, has a baseline starting point when new nodes are introduced the team. This is important because no matter where the idea comes from – CEO or intern – the idea must support the team’s agreed upon structure. If the new idea does not support this structure, either the current structure is wrong (possible though less likely after fully following this process) or the idea has flaws that are exposed by running it through this process.

- Kaushik


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Design + Social Science

As part of the workshop that Jilly Traganou, Lydia Matthews and I ran this past week at the New School’s Design and Social Science seminar we asked participants to identify and diagram a time of compelling interdisciplinary collaboration. We particularly asked participants to identify the material and immaterial (social, cultural…) conditions that enabled this compelling interdisciplinary moment. The results were fascinating. Planning our workshop activity beforehand, we had to think of what our own answers would be to this admittedly difficult question.

I feel lucky to have had some powerful interdisciplinary moments in my education and teaching life (not least in my collaboration with Kaushik on Buscada), but the one that sprang to mind was one that has informed (and absorbed) much of my thinking over the past few months. I recalled the blackboard shown above.

It shows a portion of my start-of-semester working process with landscape architect Elliott Maltby to develop the syllabus for our Public Space Critical Studio + Practice-based Seminar which we are co-teaching this semester, Fall 2009 at the New School. Blue post-its are my methodological and ethnographic readings, green post-its are Elliott’s design readings. Many of our readings overlapped – and sometimes we would find the same readings posted twice, on both green and blue post-its. Though we had had conversations, this process made powerfully visible our own intersecting thinking, through our intersecting literatures. This process made it clear to us that we could indeed collaborate on the class, showing us that we had often come to similar ideas via different routes.

- Gabrielle

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Digital Hollywood

I just returned from the Digital Hollywood conference in Santa Monica, CA, I talked on a panel which was trying to understand how to best leverage video archives and assets for both large media companies and smaller non-profits.
I showed the PBS video platform on which I was the design lead. I discussed how the new tools we developed give PBS access to their own rich archive, and allow them to program in a new way online. These online video platforms in effect allow PBS to return to being true network producers: categorizing shows by content topics, not by the time-slots of linear TV. They are now able to create new channels of content by combining new and old shows with valuable web content for context.
New Model for video online
Step 1: Inputs
Archival video
New video productions
Live / Social web video
Step 2: Curation mechanisms and tools
Automated meta-tags
Editorial tools
Step 3 : New video Streams collections created
Topic-based
Editorial
Geo-tagged
Date-based
Author-grouped
Program-based
Step 4: Feedback loop
This model allows for easier access for the consumers of video, and allows companies who created video based content new and creative was of automatically and editorially creating new streams of video. Archival video juxtaposed with new and social web video to create new and unique video streams.
The highlights from the panel
Broadcasters are now broadcasting full episodes with much success and reaching new audience instead of cannibalizing old ones.
On the panel, a member of the South Park production company shared some really interesting insights about how their viewers watch South Park online. He explained that full episodes are a big hit online, and that people watch all seasons equally, so it is not just catch-up TV.
A 12-year-old today did not watch Season 1 when it first aired, so it is now new to them. This is a phenomenon of long term video archives: a  stream of younger viewers discover content for the first time, while other viewers tune in for nostalgia.
Digital Hollywood is on multiple times a year at different locations.
Find out more at: get URL :http://www.digitalhollywood.com/

I just returned from the Digital Hollywood conference in Santa Monica, CA, I talked on a panel which was trying to understand how to best leverage video archives and assets for both large media companies and smaller non-profits.

I showed the PBS video platform on which I was the design lead. I discussed how the new tools we developed give PBS access to their own rich archive, and allow them to program in a new way online. These online video platforms in effect allow PBS to return to being true network producers: categorizing shows by content topics, not by the time-slots of linear TV. They are now able to create new channels of content by combining new and old shows with valuable web content for context.

Highlights from the panel

Broadcasters are now broadcasting full episodes with much success and reaching new audience instead of cannibalizing old ones.

On the panel, a member of the South Park production company shared some really interesting insights about how their viewers watch South Park online. He explained that full episodes are a big hit online, and that people watch all seasons equally, so it is not just catch-up TV.

A 12-year-old today did not watch Season 1 when it first aired, so it is now new to them. This is a phenomenon of long term video archives: a  stream of younger viewers discover content for the first time, while other viewers tune in for nostalgia.

Digital Hollywood is on multiple times a year at different locations.

Find out more at: get URL :http://www.digitalhollywood.com/

Kaushik

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The importance of the design cycle : Framing the opportunity

A design process must not be a straight-jacket on creativity. On the other hand, creativity in design needs to have some form of validation; otherwise it reduces its own ability to create new opportunities.

This simple cycle is inclusive of multiple design tactics but is rigorous in how it judges the results of any design. The designer/s can enter into the cycle at any point.

If you have a great idea, start by making it.
If you need to define a problem, start by thinking and analysis.
If you already have a product or service, try critiquing it.

The most important next step is to go to the next point in the cycle.

In the design industry, many designers / product owners only go through this cycle once and then bounce between “making” and “critiquing.” This can easily turn in to a vicious cycle of iterating on tactical designs that do not really address the problem. Often, in this “bounce” the process lacks a  critical piece of thinking or analysis which might unlock the true nature of the problem.

At every point of the design process it is critical to reconsider, or query, the problem, checking in to see that you are designing for the right problem.

Following the cycle is not easy. It requires you to question opinions you have formed in the course of a project which can be hard to let go of. These opinions or decisions may have been hard fought victories with other project team members / clients  and seem irreversible; but nothing is irreversible if the problem itself has changed through your considered process of thinking and analysis.

This process happens at every stage of a project from concept to production and brings fresh insight to every step.

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Framing the question, City Studio style

At the New School, I teach a class in the Urban Studies department called City Studio. The goal of this class is to collaborate with a community organization and to understand a contested urban space. The outcome of this class is to develop a project for the public that helps the broader community visualize our contested site. In 2008 and 2009 we have focused on the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) – located on the Lower East Side, and one of the most contested urban renewal sites. It is still the largest parcel of undeveloped land in NYC south of 96th Street, as noted by the New York Times, here.

City Studio 2008 developed an exhibition called “Visualizing SPURA” which appeared at common room in the Spring of 2009.

Now, this year’s class is grappling with this complex site, and the new questions that have developed, as last year’s community organizing by SPURA Matters (a collaboration of community organizations including GOLES, Place Matters and the Pratt Center) has furthered the conversation in the community.  So much so, in fact, that Community Board 3 has once again begun to consider the question of development at SPURA.

At this point in the semester, City Studio is starting to develop our research questions about the site, and how we might contribute to furthering the conversation. A brainstorming session in class, pulling from each student’s own research questions (defined in an earlier paper) resulted in some exciting connections – as seen here.

This week, our research groups present their work plans for public projects, and things will start to develop quite quickly.

- Gabrielle

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Function and Purpose : Understanding where the opportunities for innovation are

An important principle in designing anything is trying to understand what the function and purpose are for something, and how these are different.

What is it that someone is trying to do? This is the function.
What is someone trying to achieve? This is the purpose.

A simple example,
Function = I want to make some tea
Purpose  = I need hot water, I need a tea bag and I need a container for two things to come together.

“A kettle” may seem the obvious answer to this riddle. Yet, there are myriad ways in which the purpose can be met without using a kettle.

[Example] A cup which on contact with water starts a chemical reaction which heats the water.
[Example] Boiling water and a tea bag in a cooking pot.

The question is: Are there new ways of satisfying the purpose, which work better than a kettle and a cup?

Stating the problem in this way allows designers to think about a problem conceptually and allows them to think critically about current conventions and while allowing them to see the atomic elements of the problem.

The purpose can also be broken down into sub-purposes, giving us a more granular way to look at a problem.

Thinking about how purpose can be broken down also allows you to think about the best possible outcomes for each given purpose.

The best outcomes for a given purpose or sub-purpose can also be validation tools that allow you to:
- measure the success of a design concept
- have a uniform way of comparing your design idea against other existing design solutions.

If your design solution allows for a much better outcome to a purpose, this is the starting point of creating a design which really innovates and does not just incrementally iterate on a problem space.

An excellent book which uses similar principles is “What Customers Want: Using Outcome-Driven Innovation to Create Breakthrough Products and Services” by Anthony Ulwick. This book concentrates on product design, but I think this process and way of thinking can be applied to products which are much more conceptual, as well as in identifying whole new markets of opportunity for innovation.

- Kaushik

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The America Project: A Teaching Method for Collaboration, Creativity and Citizenship

Just released, a new project designed & edited by Buscada!: The America Project: A Teaching Method for Collaboration, Creativity and Citizenship. Building on the work of Sekou Sundiata and dance & be still arts, this guide was  produced by MAPP International, written by Kym Ragusa and edited by Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani. It is a great resource for teaching and civic engagement.

Here’s the guide in process:

and in its completed form:

The guide, published

Read more about The America Project at: http://mappinternational.org/america-project

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