So as Dogen said, “Time goes from present to past.” This is not true in our logical mind, but it is in the actual experience of making past time present. There we have poetry, and there we have human life.”
- Shunryu Suzuki
A number of years ago I read a book called On Intelligence by Jeff Hakwkins, who is the inventor of the palm pilot among other things, and who turns out to be an avid amateur neuroscientist. The theory in his book which interested me most was that your neocortex (the layers of membrane that sit around your brain) are memory storage units and what you actually see when you use your eyes is a memory of what was there, or what you have seen before. Only if something drastic changes does your brain have to use some energy to look again.
This sounded like an interesting theory; how could your brain, something much slower than a modern computer chip in terms of processing electrical inputs, be able to do so many complex things so quickly? It’s powerful not to have to think every time you do something. Not having to think about the size, shape and feel of a cup reduces the amount of power required from your brain to pick it up. Once again, an elegant solution by your body and brain.
A quote from On Intelligence :
” Imagine you are about to have dinner in an unfamiliar restaurant and you want to wash your hands. Even though you have never been in this building before, your brain predicts that there will be a restroom somewhere in the restaurant with a basin suitable for hand washing. How dies know this? … You look for expected patterns that let you find the restroom quickly. This kind of behavior is a creative act; it is predicting the future by analogy to the past. We don’t normally think of this as being creative, but it very much is”
Recently I noticed a phenomenon in my own life which made this theory really come to life. I am a new parent, and one of the things that new parents do on a regular basis is to check that their precious new baby is still breathing.
This might sound simple : just look at the baby and see if his chest is moving up and down, right? Wrong. I found when I did this that at a glance I could not see any movement (worrying) but if I looked again much more closely engaging my brain more completely I could pick up the slight movements which showed that my new baby was indeed breathing. Very strange, until I thought of Jeff Hawkins’ theory. What was I really seeing when I glanced, just a memory? I think so, my brain was giving me the minimal amount of information to tell me that my baby still exsists and is sleeping on the bed but not wanting to use up more energy it skimmed over the vital information of the small movements of his chest which show me that he is breathing.
I really enjoy when theory comes into practice: when you see an idea that seems very abstract realize itself in reality. The next time you look at something, look again. There might be a whole world of detail you are missing.
Read On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins
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It is hard to win when you are playing by someone else’s rules or, worse still, do not entirely understand the rules. By redefining the “meaning” of your project you become an expert in the rules of the game, and one of the people defining those very rules.
The Meaning to Tasks model uses the idea of a “project meaning”.
It supports a practice for teams and individuals to create fundamentally new meanings for projects, products and services. By working in this way the meaning of everyday projects are changed, and projects created are differentiated from the rest of the market through innovatively integrated strategies, rather than solely through feature-level improvements.
To read this article in full, click here to download the PDF.
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In late January, Buscada attended the first of a series of meetings hosted by MAPP International Productions to plan a new arts and community-engagement project about global interdependence, inspired by the interdependence movement championed by Benjamin Barber and others.
The meeting brought together a collection of artists, writers and performers to explore ideas of civic engagement and art practice.
We took this opportunity to ask the diverse group one deceptively simple question :
How do you get people to engage in dialogue?
This is the beginning of a new project in collaboration with MAPP International Productions to understand the processes and practices of engaging civic dialogue, art practice and pedagogy. This project is a continuation of our work begun with The America Project Teaching Method.
How do you answer this question for yourself? How do you encourage dialogue? We hope this is the start of a long and productive conversation.
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Making a sketch is often the first step towards thinking about a design problem. But I’ve found that oftentimes making that mark feels daunting – it is the first sign of my imagination committing to a solution. A mark feels risky – the idea is now out in the world for more than just me to see.
I often think of sketching an idea as making a visual list. Making lists helps move ideas forward, another kind of decisive first mark. I also think about list-making as a process :
1. Make the list (Thinking out loud, possibly in collaboration)
2. Looking through the list again and re-ordering it. (Fitting it to the needs of the idea)
3. Reviewing your new list (Critique and time for contemplation)
4. Fixing the list and deciding to follow its order (Deciding on a course of action)
With sketching, or visual thinking, these steps happen simultaneously, still holding a lot in common with a simple list.
Here’s an example from one of our recent projects with MIT’s Wolk Gallery for a exhibition promotion piece.
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Most New Yorkers know SPURA, but often, unless they’re Lower East Siders, they don’t know that they do. Many have walked through the LES along Delancey Street, noticing the parking lots on the south side of the street near the Williamsburg Bridge. Or, they’ve walked down Norfolk to Grand Street, noting the unevenness of development and an odd sense of unfinished-ness they can’t put their finger on.
This is SPURA, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. It is more than six square blocks that 42 years ago were subject to highly contested “slum clearance” – resulting in the displacement of many people - and an unfinished “renewal,” with few planned buildings actually built.
These decades-old events have resulted in one of the largest and longest-standing undeveloped city-owned plots of land. SPURA is at the center of Lower East Side debates on affordable housing, debates which have sometimes been painful and highly race- and class-based. There are passionate communities involved in the question of SPURA, communities which for 42 years have been unable to reach productive dialogue and negotiation.
Each year for the past three, I have taught a class called City Studio which takes a visual urbanist approach to SPURA. I teach students creative ethnographic, visual, archival, and community-based methods to understand and represent SPURA’s contested urban space.
My classes research in archives and with community members, take part in community planning processes, and work in partnership with our community collaborators, GOLES, Place Matters and the Pratt Center for Community Development. Finally, each year’s class creates and curates an exhibition to help envision the site’s past, present and future(s), and try in one small way to spark, and create space for, productive and peaceful dialogue on the area.
This week was a big one for SPURA itself and for my class.
Today saw City Studio 2010′s final critique (one project, “Framing SPURA”, above) – and it was one that bodes very well for our exhibition which will open at common room 2 in February 2011. Images from all of the projects in the final critique are here, on flickr.
This week, SPURA itself has been in the spotlight. The question of SPURA has been under consideration by Community Board 3 for the past few months, in fascinating conversations, and some heated debates since October about the possibilities for affordable housing on the site. This Monday saw the debates grow more heated – but led a step closer toward agreement, and, importantly, to the potential for a larger stake for affordability on the site. The next few months will be crucial for SPURA – and what its development means for those displaced from the site, for those living in the neighborhood, and for the city at large.
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This fall, we’ve been developing an exciting new collaborative curatorial project, working with the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition and Ruth Sergel. In honor of the upcoming centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on March 25, 2011, we’ve developed and designed the Triangle Fire Open Archive, a curated online archive of community-created objects and stories. We’re encouraging people to submit objects culled from personal & public collections, and to use these objects to tell their own stories relating to the history of the Fire, or to the labor, immigration and gendered issues of the Fire that are still critical and resonant today.
Through the collaborative curation of the Open Archive, we’ll be able to see objects, and read narratives, never before seen together.
On Monday December 13, we had our first evening of collecting objects, working with Lucy Oakley and Marci Reaven’s class at NYU, who have recently curated the soon-to-open Grey Art Gallery exhibition, “Art/Memory/Place: Commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire”.
The students did a phenomenal job of writing new reflections on their favorite objects they’ve found in researching the Triangle Fire – some drawn from public collections (as above, a portion of an image from the Kheel Center), and some drawn from their own family albums. Many contributed these objects (in digital form) to the Open Archive, and we’re thrilled to have started down the path building the Triangle Fire Open Archive with them.
We look forward to many more people getting involved, contributing objects, and telling stories through the Open Archive in the months to come – either through our online tool or at our open public events, when we’ll help photograph and digitize people’s objects.
All the digital material collected will be donated and archived by the Kheel Center which hosts the preeminent website on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The site will go live in January of 2011 – we’ll keep you posted!
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In the Fall of 2009 I embarked on an experiment with my colleague, landscape architect Elliott Maltby : co-teaching a hybrid design and social science studio on public space at Parsons the New School for Design. I reflected on the interdisciplinary process of developing our “Public Space Critical Studio + Practice-based Seminar” on this blog few months ago, here.
Once the class was over, Elliott and I did some deeper reflecting, and wrote an article on our experience of developing and teaching “hybrid ways of doing.” I am pleased to announce that this article, valuable for anyone thinking about interdisciplinary collaboration and teaching, is now available in the most recent edition of the International Journal for Architectural Research. “Hybrid ways of doing: A model for teaching public space” by Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani and Elliott Maltby is downloadable here and from the project as featured on Buscada.
We welcome your experiences with this kind of teaching and thinking.
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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.
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An exhibition by students of the City Studio at Eugene Lang College, the New School & Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, in collaboration with SPURA Matters.
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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(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
- 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.
- 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.
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