Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The other day i got angry at a font...

I found here, that graphic designer by the name Wim Crouwel said "Helvetica was a real step from the 19th century typeface... We were impressed by that because it was more neutral, and neutralism was a word that we loved. It should be neutral. It shouldn't have a meaning in itself. The meaning is in the content of the text and not in the typeface."
This sentence to me sums up all efforts being made to design the ultimate neutrality right from fonts, built form to day to day conversations, a fantastic example of how in the absence of means to reconcile contradictions the only way forward is polite neutrality of liberal capitalism. And guess coincidentally which companies have it in their logos...
Fuck Helvetica!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

City at crossroads

While working on a regeneration project in Sao Paulo, its modernist grid, dense urban fabric and wide vehicular road network makes for obvious comparisons to New York. I have visited neither of the cities but only attempt to construct very vague ideas of them based on different media and people who do visit and narrate experiences of having been and lived there.

One of the few things that intrigued me during the course of the project was the difference in nature of the  (Google) satellite images for New York and Sao Paulo. It isn't something that one notices immediately but I feel it could be metaphorical of the dissimilarity between the two cities. While the New York grid lies all in single plane, with every skyscraper casting its shadow at exactly the same angle as the entire city is bathed in the warm sunlight, Sao Paulo's multi coloured towers criss cross with one another to hide and reveal nooks and crevices, private courtyards, hidden pockets of lush greenery etc. The ground plane seems to modulate and fold as it attempts to balance these towers that like shards rise above in multiple directions. The schism between the overwhelming complexity of the site and an extremely advanced technology of 'eye' in the sky is apparent, as even such a technological advancement struggles to find apt representations for this particular human conglomeration. The acknowledgement of this complexity turns the satellite image into a multiple point perspective collage that attempts to voyeur into the 'local'. 
Through the course of the project these confrontational complexities within the site seemed to seep not only in the satellite imagery but also within the design, the collaborations and finally the aggressive global capital that tries to spread its roots in the fabric of the city...making the site of urban intervention an extremely contested territory with multiple points of perspective.
One of the very few projects in the professional space that I thoroughly enjoyed working on. It was very similar to the Regeneration project that I was a part of in Bombay but with only more amplified conditions of densities, dilapidation and pressure towards urban cleansing.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rooster's Coop

(Data from HMRC 2004-2005; incomes are before tax for individuals. The personal allowance or income tax threshold was £4,745 (people with incomes below this level did not pay income tax). The mean income was £22,800 per year with the average Briton paying £4,060 in income tax.
Above are the tax ranges, by population and the percentage they constitute. This income does not cover assets owned.)

The difference in earnings is not a gradual gradient, it reveals numbers that are highly polarised. This rather vulgar statistic with top 5 percent earning 60-70% of the income while the rest having to share from the trickle down scraps according to me is far more violent than the London riots few days back. 
A majority of rioters took to looting, as one of the article called them 'disqualified consumers' implying, they too like most of us were consumers but having lost the power to afford had been disqualified. In the absence of any support from the student unions or intellectuals in the city who have distanced themselves from this underclass, the only form of mass unrest possible will be the one with no structure, no intent and no meaning....in complete contradiction to the student protests that took place few months back. This contradiction makes it even more important for the two groups to come together...
While David Cameron made a speech filled with hate, and the opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband seemed to be weighing words completely based on popular public opinion, one person out there somewhere makes complete sense of what happened and why...below is the video of the interview.
In such a scenario I often find myself agreeing with Kostas's argumentum baculinum solutions.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Eye in the Sky

Sometimes while working as professionals designing urban spaces, operating from democratic regions, we often find ourselves designing for regions with dictatorships where mass congregation, demonstrations, spaces of expression are often seen as threats. But still funnily the standards of design and basic Kevin Lynchian assumptions of urban space are uniformly laid out on the site, having ideas of path, edge, node etc all in place matterless of if the site is located in UK, China or Libya. Maybe because this framework seems to be most apolitical and has the necessary simplicity of rationalizing the design without getting into the socio-cultural aspects that may only give rise to 'unnecessary' contradictions that a multinational design office may not be able to reconcile (though examples of designing a military camp for a dictatorial regime after clearing a part of virgin rain forest and getting platinum sustainability ratings for the development are in abundance).
But it would be certainly interesting to see if the arrangement of infrastructure or city forms can be indicative of the nature of administration that 'manages' the region. In other words do cities in Libya or Saudi Arabia show spatial signs of a dictatorial regimes? while cities in India or UK bear witness to democracies? And if not then why is it that the nature of contemporary urban spaces under different systems of governance is more or less the same?
Ofcourse, attempt to understand city geographies through purely satellite images is dangerous but one cannot ignore the difference in the satellite image of Detroit, Venice, Delhi or London is obvious enough to use only this as the most basic tool to start off for now
(At the same time one has to accept the stark similarity of city design and planning of new redeveloped areas across the globe...as if there is some process of homogenisation).
Infrastructure Grid:
(image of Nasa earth at night)
On TED talks, Paul Romer's analysis of NASA's Earth at night composite image and how the visible light grid of different regions could be seen as an indication of development facilitated by different administrations. It does not show the nature of governance but certainly provides one a broad overview of the scale and intensity of developments in different regions.
For further detailed urban light spectrum analysis see here.
Axes and Nodes:
In an article titled 'Roundabouts and Revolution: The "Arab Street" Begins and Ends in a Circle' talks about how the traffic circle becomes the most looked after 'open' spaces in regions where mass congregation of people is seen as a threat. But the author optimistically points to how these circles have become the very stages of demonstration.
Interestingly if one were to overlay this analysis on Canary Wharf development in London one can clearly see how the central axes leads from nowhere to nowhere, spanning between two traffic circles. Providing the area with sufficient road infrastructure to provide police access to control demonstrators. This does not really dilute the argument of spatial configuration and governance rather it poses the question why is there such a stark similarity in the spatial configuration of spaces of dictatorial regimes and a Financial Centre in a democracy?
Maybe the architecture of axes and nodes is designed around easy accessibility and readability of the 'local' enabling some kind of centralised consolidated power either financial, imperial, dictatorial or any other form of totalitarian authority to control a geography.
In Greece the tax authorities are using satellite images to catch tax evading rich elites in Athens suburbs through swimming pools. An article here states "Using satellite photos, the tax authority examined the claim of the residents of Athens's wealthy suburbs and discovered that, rather than the 324 swimming pools claimed by the locals, there were 16,974 of them". This may not be indicative of governance but certainly wealth distribution.
Interestingly the Bahrain revolution is said to have started when a set of Google Earth images mapped the 'rich oases' dotting the landscape belonging to various members of the royal family. But then again we converge on the question how did access and visibility of water come to be an indicator of wealth in a democracy as well as spaces formed under dictatorial regimes?
 In present times where democracies have fascist policies and fascists hide behind veils of charities the boundaries often get blurred between the two, with similar requirements expected from the design of urban form like mass subjugation, crowd control, securing class struture through segregated class based developments and finally designing social condensers. 
As a joke, I like to believe that out there in some office or a university our favourite underpaid intern is working on a street section or a built form typology after which the world will never be the same...