Monday, March 30, 2009

Time Suck

The absolute last thing I should be doing today is surfing the Web, but sometimes you get hooked on a site. The Visual Dictionary has been around since 2006 amassing photographs of words in the real world. 7500 images later and you'll be surprised at how easily you can get sucked into this collective archive...

And my own personal addition:

Friday, March 27, 2009

Baltimore Design Convo #7: April 8

Click on the image for a larger version.

The monthly Design Conversation, part of the Baltimore Design Center initiative, is set for Wednesday, April 8. Jerryn McCray hosts this month's event around the theme of "tools." All are welcome and encouraged to come. Bring your ideas and insights, or just pop by to drink some cold beer and listen.

Design Convo # 7: Tools
Wind Up Space
12 North Avenue
April 8
6:30 - 8:30 p.m.
For more details:

The conversation was pushed back from its standing first Wednesday of the month date because there is another fantastic design event happening on Wednesday, April 1. AIABaltimore continues its spring lecture series with Ann Beha of Ann Behan Architects in Boston.

Today the City From Below conference kicks off. There's an interesting line up of programs and speakers examining many aspects of urban planning, social justice, and design. A full program and schedule can be found on their Web site.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The River House

I am a big fan of Ziger/Snead architects in Baltimore. They have a portfolio of incredible public structures, such as the Brown Center at MICA, but their private residences are equally impressive. A recent project for a waterfront home in Virginia just got picked up by an online component of Wallpaper* magazine. It's a department called "Interactive Floorplan." Check out Ziger/Snead's River House design by clicking here (and be sure to check out some of the other intereactive floorplans.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Illuminati

New York city at night.Photo from Wikipedia.

As we look for ways to cut our energy consumption, a few aspects of our lives have been targeted as quick fixes, most notably lighting. Between turning off lights when not in use and replacing existing bulbs with compact fluorescents, we have the potential to save enegy, but another debate has emerged over quality of lighting. The quest for energy efficiency has led manufacturers to focus more on light output per watt of electricity than on the color of the light being emitted. It can be a jarring difference from the warmer hue of traditional bulbs. There's also a rather interesting paradox in C.F.L.s used in homes. The bulbs need time to heat up in order to reach their optimal light dispersal. Most people turn lights on and off frequently in order to save energy, never allowing the bulb sufficient time to warm up. It's not unlike coming into a dark room after being in the bright sunlight—there is a very gloomy appearance that slowly comes into clarity. At full capacity, the bulbs often let off a garish and oddly toned light. People have been complaining about the psychological impact of C.F.L.s and the fact that it completely changes the experience and feel of home.

What about lighting in the city? There's been lots of research into the impact of light quality and quality of life. Crimes are higher in areas where lamplight is too dim or emits an orangish hue, for example. There is an article in this week's New Yorker about how the Municipal Arts Society recently launched a campaign against the durable and efficient sodium lights used in parts of Manhattan. They object to the yellow-orange hue that these bulbs emit. "There is this negative subliminal response," lighting designer Howard Brandston told the reporter. "The connotation, mainly, is crime."

Vanessa Gruen of the M.A.S. addd that "yellow light muddies the colors of the surrounding neighborhoods and causes trees to look brown. It makes people feel less secure, because the colors around them are not true."

The effect is even worse when brought indoors. Brandston pointed to the example of a government designed energy-efficient medical facility that used the bulbs. "Doctors had to take the patients outside in the middle of winter to evaluate their skin color," he said.

And speaking of lighting the city at night, the city of Baltimore is looking for people to participate in a new Preakness Parade of Lights. The illuminated parade will march down Pratt Street on Preakness Eve, which is Friday, May 15. It'll kick off around 8:00 pm. If you want to create your own illuminated piece for the festivities, click here for more details. Entries must be submitted by April 15.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The New Polaroid?

Lomo to the rescue: The new instant back attachment for the Diana.

When news broke last year that Polaroid was discontinuing its instant camera many were distraught (particularly John Waters, who has snapped a Polaroid of every person coming through his home for decades).

Lomography, the line of retro styled cameras with the cultish following, has added a new element to its Diana + camera. It's called the Diana Instant Back + and it uses Fujifilm Instax Mini format film, which the company is quick to say "is in constant production and easily available." The piece attaches to the rear of the camera and lets you develop images instantly.

Lomos are more finicky than your standard Polaroid, making it less of a a true point and shoot/documentary kind of a camera (I've got the Colorsplash, which is fun, but takes some getting used to). The possibilities for different photo effects, however, are vast. The Diana + has about 12 different attachments, including fisheye, wide angle, and close format lenses. You can get the basic camera with all its whistles and bells for about $240.

Pinhole effect.

Nighttime open aperture

Fisheye lens

Cross processed technique.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obit Magazine: Finding Life in Death

Screen Grab: Obit magazine.

had to go in for surgery on Friday and for the last week I've been recuperating at home. All is well, but it has taken me out of the loop for a few weeks. My friends and family have supplied an amazing array of food, DVD's, books, and music with the hopes that I won't go batty from this forced repose (they know me well). I've spent a lot of time with one book in particular called When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. You may think it a rather dire title for a friend to suggest in the midst of such a recovery, but the book is the perfect antidote to the thoughts that arise when faced with doctors, hospitals, and all the attendant glory of our health care system. Not to mention, well, our own health.

Chodron is a practicing Buddhist and the book centers on the idea that life is never about stasis; rather it is about flux. Life is about the unknown and how you respond to the not knowing. "Fear of death is the background of the whole thing," she writes. "It's why we feel restless, why we panic, why there's anxiety."

Sometime this winter I started receiving an eblast from a magazine called Obit. It's been around since April of 2007, but I hadn't heard of it. Now I see it everywhere, including this critique by Rick Poyner for Eye magazine. Here's how the editors of Obit describe their content:

Death gives life its immediacy. Because we know it will end, we savor and value life all the more. Obit examines life through the lens of death. Whether it’s the loss of a person, a place, an object or an idea, life’s constant change presents an opportunity for examination, discussion and even celebration.

By examining the transformations we face, we can understand how the past influences our time and our future. Obit aims to offer a forum for ideas and opinions about life, death, and transition that you will find nowhere else.

Obit Magazine provides comprehensive coverage on how the loss of a person, a place, an object or an idea presents an opportunity for examination and discussion. Obit is not solely about death. It asks the question, "What defines an important life?" It is a forum for ideas and opinions about life, death, and transition written by some of the most respected journalists in the American media.

There are articles covering everything from the spiritual and artistic to the scientific and the humorous. There's reportage on business, politics, and sports. There are blogs and opinion pieces and, of course, there are obituaries. There are some interesting pieces on urban planning and cities, too, such as Thomas J. Campanella's After the Inferno, which asks, "Did the Mandarin Hotel fire signal the demise of the Beijing building boom?"

The hotel fire in Beijing.

The range of articles is fascinating. The undercurrent is always about endings–and, conversely, new beginnings—and this approach is incredibly refreshing. It's a wonderful spin on our culture's normal fear and denial of the obvious. We want firmament. We want security. Current events serve as a vivid reminder of just how easily the rug can get pulled out from under us. This magazine challenges our mindeset by embracing the ephemeral and celebrating all of the things that make us so wonderfully creative and flawed and loving even in the face of the inevitable. It's a reminder to examine and accept the passings as we would the beginnings.

Which brings me to another wonderful passage from Chondron's book. "Sometimes it seems we have a preference for darkness and speed. We can protest and complain and hold a grudge for a thousand years. But in the midst of the bitterness and resentment, we have a glimpse of the possibility...We hear a child crying or smell that someone is baking bread. We feel the coolness of the air or see the first crocus of spring. Despite ourselves we are drawn out by the beauty in our own backyard."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sign of the Times

Obama continues the branding, this time without Shepard Fairey. This new logo, designed by Steve Juras, will appear on all projects funded with stimulus money. "The most important bits of direction were: Don't make it too governmental; don't make it too ponderous, or too serious," Juras told NPR. "And then also make sure you include references to education, health care and energy."

Uhm. OK. So we've got moving gears, a budding plant, and some stars. I'm not seeing education in this. Or energy for that matter. Though I'm probably supposed to pick up on that green color as a visual cue for green energy. You could convince me that the gears represent health care since they are clearly misaligned and likely move very, very, slowly.

I like the idea of a logo meant to make progress visible, but I'm going to have to give the execution of this one a thumb's down.

Monday, March 9, 2009

An Expanded Definition of Waste

Blueprint for the Panopticon prison model created by Jeremy Bentham in 1791

Last Wednesday, the topic of the Design Baltimore Conversation was "waste." We had a great line up of speakers exploring a number of different topics, from creating and running a store stocked with entirely free items, to developing a three-tiered system that collects compost as well as recycling and trash, to the development of urban land from refuse.

The host of the evening was artist and professor Hugh Pocock, who had a wonderful way of framing the topic of waste for the 75 or so people in attendance that night. "There's no such thing as waste, it's just a relationship between energy and money," he said. He went through a series of slides showing the dueling roles of sun energy and money energy. He then paused on an aerial shot of an enclosed room showing about a dozen men lounging on cots. Some stared at the ceiling, others appeared to be napping. All were in various states of repose in what could be a shelter or a school gym. Turns out to be a photo of a prison and here is where Hugh discusses the waste of unrealized human potential. On all levels, he concluded, "We're having to deal with the consequences of poor design. So how to cope with an unsustainable system?" he asked. "Can we design a community with no waste? Imagine a culture with no prisons?"

There was an article last week in The New York Times titled Greening the Prison-Industrial Complex. The piece focuses on some of the sustainable intitatives in prison design and the technology that is saving energy (as in the fossil fuel and money energy Hugh characterized).

Raphael Sperry, an architect behind the Prison Design Boycott Campaign, ended the article with a wonderful quote about that other wasted resource: Humans. “Sure, saving 50 percent on energy when you’re locking people up is a savings,” he says. “But not locking them up at all would be a larger savings—and would also address social justice concerns.”

I interviewed Raphael last year for a piece that I wrote on prison design. You can read that piece by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Emily Pilloton Lecture

Emily Pilloton, founder and executive director of Project H will be giving a free lecture in Baltimore tomorrow night. For those of you who aren't familiar with Pilloton's work, check out her manifesto about the future of design practice. It's one of the more articulate pieces advocating a new approach to design thinking and to business and funding models.

The 411:

Falvey Hall in the Brown Center at the Maryland Institute College of Art
Thursday, March 5

"Emily Pilloton is founder of Project H Design, an organization that is bringing simple technologies to people who need it. Find out how this young designer and activist has captured the world's attention, spearheading an international movement—from Los Angeles to Mumbai—to make design work better for people and the environment."

Sponsored by the Graphic Design MFA Program and the Department of Environmental Design, MICA.

And a reminder that TONIGHT is the monthly Design Conversation at the Wind Up Space.

Monday, March 2, 2009

March Design Conversation

(Click on image for a larger version)

It's that time again:

Baltimore Design Conversation # 6


Wednesday March 4, 6:30-8:30 pm
at the Windup Space 12 W. North AVE @ Charles ST.

The Baltimore Design Conversations are an open forum for design ideas, questions and answers from Baltimore and beyond.

"Waste" presentations curated by Hugh Pocock include:

Keith Lasoya - Waste Neutral Group

Baltimore Free Store

Fred Scharmen - Masonville Cove

Annika Bloomberg

Please feel free to pass this along to others who might be interested. All are welcome. For more information, contact

Hope to see you on Wednesday!