The power of nightmares – to shape architecture

Freedom Tower designs by David Child - from the NYT

Via, Nicolai Ourousoff on the compromised, redesigned “Freedom Tower” in the New York Times (reg. reqd.)

“…if this is a potentially fascinating work of architecture, it is, sadly, fascinating in the way that Albert Speer’s architectural nightmares were fascinating: as expressions of the values of a particular time and era. The Freedom Tower embodies, in its way, a world shaped by fear.”

The original design, with it’s open-air structural crown dissolving into the sky was a fairly poetic commemoration of what happened in NYC on the 11th of September. As poetic and hopeful as commercial architecture tends to get, anyway.

It reminded me (and others) of Jean Nouvel’s unbuilt “Tour sans fin” – itself a product of a different, hubristic hopeful time.

Jean Nouvel's unbuilt Tour Sans Fin, La Defense, Paris

Jonathan Glancey on Nouvel’s Tower in pre-war-on-nouns May 2001:

“we could learn much from Nouvel’s unbuilt project: how to build heavenwards without being lumpen or incurring the wrath of God. “

Nouvel himself, happily, seems to still be preserving the spirit of those times. Dina Mehta writes of his self-curated show of work: “The Louisiana Manifesto” at Worldchanging – from which this quote:

“Instead of the archaic architectural goal of domination, of making a permanent mark, today we should prefer to seek the pleasure of living somewhere.

Let us remember that architecture can also be an instrument of oppression, a tool for conditioning behaviour.

Let us never permit anyone to censure this pursuit of pleasure, especially in the domain of the familiar and intimate that is so necessary to our wellbeing.

Let us identify ourselves.”

This new “Freedom Tower” as Ourousoff points out, does not seem to identify the vibrant resilience of New Yorkers and NYC itself, as much as the psychopathologies of its political classes.

P.s.: See also Deyan Sudjic’s “The Edifice Complex”

The music of “The Power of Nightmares”

Found at, and cut/pasted here for my future reference more than anything else:

John Carpenter – The theme from The Prince of Darkness – the 1987 movie. Plus the repetitive piano bit from Halloween in the haunted house.

Brian Eno – From Another Green World – Big Ship – and In Dark Trees

Charles Ives – Symphony number two – 5th movement. Putnam’s Camp from Three Places in New England. Plus a bit from Central Park in the Dark

Ennio Morricone – Theme from the 1970 film Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion And a Morricone piece from the 1980 Pontecorvo film Ogro

Shostakovich – Lyric waltz from the Ballet Suite No 1 and a bit from The Young Lady and the Hooligan

John Barry – The Ipcress File

Soundtrack to The Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea – Paul Sawtell and Jerry Goldsmith

Colours by Donovan

Baby It’s Cold Outside – the 1949 version by Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting

The best noises come from Skinned – which is a whole lot of samples from the archives of the band Skinny Puppy

Also, all three episodes in streaming realplayer format can be found here – found via Arthur magazine, which also links from its blog, Magpie, a Village Voice piece by the author of the films, Adam Curtis.

Stupid 20th Century Crap: The D & AD

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Stupid 20th Century Crap (the militaryindustrialcomplex, fast food, the petroleum economy, Cliff Richard) will haunt us for hundreds of years. But we can stop some of it now if we work hard at it.

I just did my bit by posting this in the feedback form of a very 20th Century brokenated website of a very 20th Century organisation promoting a very 20th century notion of design.

“Why create a link saying ‘book tickets’ only to link to a PDF? 1995 called, they want their internet back.

Then again, your notions of design authorship and superstardom are so thoroughly 20th Century perhaps this is to be expected. Icons? Puhleaze.”

Frank Nuovo is the head of design at Nokia of course – but vast teams of people contribute to the design of technology.

The D&AD is just propegating a myth of solo superstar design authorship to an audience that wants to believe. I have a big head of ranty steam built up about this, and the Hillary Cottam nonsense that I need to vent really, really soon.

Clayton Cubitt interviews Tom Carden on “Generative Art”

Tom and Clayton collaborated on a set of beautiful images this year, and now Clayton has published a short interview with Tom on his site.

Tom discusses with Clayton his reaction to the finished work and the process they shared to create it; but also his route to generative art, it’s history and his influences:

“Before mass access to computers, people used other hardware, tools, toys and rule-sets to make algorithmic and process-driven art – pendulums, spirographs, Indian rangolis, Celtic knots, mandalas and so on – and a lot of the methods people use in computer generated art were investigated by mathematicians by hand before computers were available, such as Fibonacci series and the Golden Ratio. Casey Reas has looked into Kinetic Sculpture in some depth, and that’s something I keep intending to read up on. I’m sure that before computers were around the same things that people like about generative art were satisfied by fireworks, fountains, may poles, crop circles, wax lamps and oscilloscopes. Grid-based games such as Go and Othello are very reminiscent of the patterns created by certain types of Cellular Automata, too. The main advantage with using a computer is speed, such that there is now scope for using any of these systems over long periods of time and with minute variations.”

Beautiful stuff – congratulations to both artists.


In a page that reads like a shooting-script from a BBC4 Quatermass revival crossed with Warren Ellis’s Planetary Gun Club, we learn of the developing fate of the world’s first solar-sail spacecraft, launched from Russian Nuke Sub, by a club of private investors:

21:50 UTC
Cosmos 1the first solar sail was launched as scheduled at 19:46 UTC today from the nuclear submarine Borisoglebsk. The three stage separations occurred normally, and 15 minutes after launch a doppler signal was received at the temporary ground station at Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka. The signal lasted for around three minutes, and was then cut off for unknown reasons.

No signal has been received from the spacecraft since that time. The portable telemetry station at Majuro in the Marshall Islands did not receive a signal during the time it could have been in contact with the spacecraft. The next possible contact will be with the ground station at Panska Ves in the Czech Republic.

The fact that the spacecraft has remained silent does not necessarilly mean anything is wrong, according to Project Director Louis Friedman. Contact with the two portable stations at Petropavlovsk and Majuro was always considered marginal. We are now waiting for the contact periods with the permanent stations in Paska Ves, Tarusa, and Bear Lakes.

Prototyping mobile applications with Flash Lite

Quite a long post this, and it might state an awful lot of obvious things, but that’s the reason I have this place – if I state the obvious to myself it helps me think what’s next – sometimes. So bear with me while I walk you through one of this weeks personal ‘a-ha’ moments

Yesterday, had the final presentation from Fjord, who’ve been working on a prototype for us. The proto looked good and did the job, but the real eye-opener for me was when Olof and Jonathan, both part of the Fjord team (along with Celia), went through what they had learned from trying to push the capabilities of Flash Lite in producing the demo.

It’s early in Flash Lite’s life, and it obviously has vast potential for creating very compelling services and user-interfaces on mobile devices, but it needs to mature a little first. I’m not going to speculate here on what it’s future potential as a content or experience platform for mobile might be, however, I think it is safe to say it is already a really game-changing tool for rapidly prototyping mobile user-experiences, for a few reasons I can think of:

Freed from functional specs (alone)
As Jason Fried says ‘there’s nothing functional about a functional spec’ – often with designing mobile user-experiences, the functional spec is the key boundary object shared between the designers, the developers, the engineers and the marketers. It’s often unfortunately a lousy, stodgy way to work – with the spec being something that one imagines might be definitive, but in fact too often allows for ‘creative reinterpretation’ and compromise, whilst at the same time managing to be constricting and inertia-inducing.

Having an interaction design rapidly prototyped in Flash Lite as an additional boundary object means that everyone in the team will grok the user-experience you’re trying to create and the benefits you’re trying to provide. And not only grok it, but if you’ve done a good job – be excited about it, hopefully.

The relative cost of creating a series of Flash Lite protos to do this within a development team is tiny when balanced against the disaster of finding out too late that the specs, wireframes or whatever else have been misintepreted.

Design, test, redesign, test, redesign again etc
Obviously the reason it’s a disaster is that coding is costly in terms of skilled people’s time. I’ll continue stating the obvious by saying coding is damn hard.

I can’t do much beyond

10 "foe is cool"
20 goto 10

And I have tons of respect for people who can. Unfortunately, their time is often best spent, well, coding – at least in the eyes of those who employ them to deliver solid software for mobile devices on time.

This doesn’t leave a lot of their time free to collaboratively ‘sketch’ in software the sorts of disposable prototypes necessary to iterate and test a service effectively and quickly – as perhaps those involved in developing “web2.0” services are becoming used to. Also, in my experience, once stuff turns into code, it has a tendency in any organisation to start to calcify into a finished thing.

Often, paper prototypes or other abstractions can be used to push the experience design along before committing to code – but having a tool like Flash Lite means that you can get to a more concrete, less abstract test of the experience, without spending too much time.

If you don’t polish the visual aspects, keeping it at a ‘wireframe’-like level of detail – then you almost have an ‘animatic’ of the experience that you can put in the hands of a prospective end-user; which also you can quickly pull apart, reconfigure and test again. This should result in iterative improvements to the design which you can then take to the next level – coding.

It’s different when it’s in your hand
Which is the rather innuendo-laden point underlying both of those above. While both paper-prototypes of web/laptop/pc based software or services can give good results in testing and wireframes/screen-flows can make for a good abstract of a user-experience to build to – I think for mobile services they fall down as a measure of the experience.

The handset is – just that – a hand-bourne device that projects into your world, and the service you are designing with it, rather than the experience of even say a 12″ laptop, where you project yourself through the proscenium of the screeninto that user-illusion.

The interactions with the device, the UI and the service are both embodied and situated – whether it’s the embodied muscle memory one employs while thumbing frequently used commands on the device, the socially situated context of use of mobile devices or the plain fact that they are most often used while multitasking one’s way through a visually and aurally distracting world. These factors have a profound effect on our interactions with the device interface – in other words – it’s different when it’s in your hands.

Having a Flash Lite animatic on the device itself makes for a remarkably different evaluation of a candidate design by users and sponsors than the equivalent wireframes or even a flash mockup on a pc screen; and as described previously, the meagre bucks that are spent getting that bang are well worth it.

There are some beefs with Flash Lite that Olof and Jonathan pointed out – it chokes sometimes when doing complicated things, if you want to simulate an even slightly complex app then you have to do some scripting gymnastics tomaintain things like state across the movie and the text handling from the device keyboard is less than optimal.

I’m sure that Macromedia/Adobe will straighten this out in subsequent releases for s60.

I think it will be worth trying a simularly process with the newly-extended Python for s60 to understand it’s strengths and weaknesses for ‘sketching software’ for mobile devices.

Python might be suited to a ‘second-round’ level of design iteration, where you start to flesh out experience more and geet closer to a finished design for final development.

Of course, using a scripting language, even a high-level one like Python takes us back to the problem of coder time and attention that I mentioned above.

As Russell Beattie has pointed out – the experience of the mobile web is lagging that of the tethered significantly for many reasons – but I strongly believe from what I’ve learnt from Fjord and this project that Flash Lite is one of the promising tools for prototyping our way forward, at least on the user-experience side.

Don’t call it a comeback

I finally got the guts to delve into the depths of my webserver and set up WordPress.

It was surprisingly painless even for an Eloi like myself, once the heavy-lifting of setting up the database had been done for me (thanks James and Stef)

Managed to import the entries from my (non)secret blogger blog I’d been running as a scratchpad during my downtime, and now to try shoehorning in 5 years of Typepad-formatted nonsense.

I’ll stick with the default theme for now, as it’s going to take a while for me to get my head around the thing, but happy to be back!