the Whole Earth Catalog and the WELL: back to the future

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These two resources, read in parallel, offer a fascinating read. I have mentioned the Whole Earth Catalog before when discussing ecological architecture, but up to now I hadn’t quite investigated what it was about. Fred Turner’s article ‘Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy’ discusses the Whole Earth catalog in detail and how Stewart Brand -the catalog’s master mind- sought to establish a common ground for all dispersed individuals living in communals in the 1960’s by offering a venue where they could communicate and form a single social network. These individuals had stepped away from agonistic politics and the bureaucratic myth of ‘objective consciousness’ and sought to change the world by establishing exemplary communities and change the consciousness of individuals.

The catalog presented reviews of hand tools, books and magazines arrayed in categories (..) It also established a relationship between informational technology, economic activity and alternative forms of community that would outlast the counterculture itself and become a key feature of the digital world

The catalog aimed at creating ‘a countercultural style of consumerism’ by making product suggestions but also to ways of thinking and speaking; a transformation of the self. Personal power believed Brand, develops from the power of the individual to conduct his own education and environment.

After the significant success of WEC (the catalog was fully operational for ten years after which Brand continued to publish additional versions), back in the 1980’s when Brand was approached by Larry Brilliant (founder of Network Technologies International) to help him promote computer conferencing systems, Brand came up with the idea of WELL. By now an online platform (a bulletin-board system then), WELL is based on the countercultural conception of community to create a network forum.

Brand wanted The Well to appeal not just to the Whole Earth crowd but to a wider audience: he wanted hackers, he wanted journalists (…) At the same time, he had a hunch that, in addition to electronic dialog, there should be a strong face-to-face element to The Well (…) He sensed that the most interesting possibility to arise from knitting electronic dialog into the fabric of everyday life would lie not in championing either the virtual or the human-contact model but rather in finding the place where they overlapped (…) But probably the most important of Brand’s early convictions for The Well was that people should take responsibility for what they said

For many members of the WELL, on-line collaboration offered a chance to revivify the spirit of the counterculture farms while also establishing and supporting a new type of individual professional, one that cultivated professional and interpersonal networks and key sources for future employment. The latter was directly related to the changes in 1980’s company culture and the dismantling of hierarchical systems towards the formation of corporations. WELL technology and thematics supported this new type of individual. Interactivity was instantaneous and yet collective: it was possible to exchange smaller, time-sensitive
pieces of information, ranging from data on a not-yet-announced technology to a bit of gossip and the forum could enhance the reputations of its users.

I keep that WELL has been ‘a non-hierarchically organized social form in which scattered individuals are linked to one another by an information technology and through it the experience of a shared mindset.’ As web communication had not yet been centralised, these forms of network exchange were the first manifestations of networked online learning communities: people learned from each other. Whilst WELL perhaps focused more in the interaction part than content sharing, and despite its shortcomings, it represented a more democratic medium for co-existence where everybody had a name and were accountable for what they believed and wrote. Thus we come to the second part of the title ‘back to the future’: on our way ahead we fell behind on what made networked communication so alluring in the first place. The possibility to openly speak our minds but to also stand up for and take responsibility for what we are saying.

References

Turner, F. (2005). Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy. The WELL and the Origins of Virtual Community, Technology and Culture 46 (3), pp. 485-512. Full paper available here

Hafner, K. (1997). The Epic Saga of The Well: The World’s Most Influential Online Community (And It’s Not AOL). The Wire magazine. Full article available here

Local Agenda 21

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Local Agenda 21 is conceptualized in chapter 28 of Agenda 21, which was adopted by 178 governments at the 1992 Rio Conference. Agenda 21 recognized that many environmental problems can be traced back to local communities and that local governments have an important role to play in implementing environmental programs and gathering community support. The objectives of Local Agenda 21, as stated in Agenda 21 are: a) ‘By 1996, most local authorities in each country should have undertaken a consultative process with their populations and achieved a consensus on “a local Agenda 21” for the community; b) By 1993, the international community should have initiated a consultative process aimed at increasing cooperation between local authorities; c) By 1994, representatives of associations of cities and other local authorities should have increased levels of cooperation and coordination with the goal of enhancing the exchange of information and experience among local authorities; d) All local authorities in each country should be encouraged to implement and monitor programmes which aim at ensuring that women and youth are represented in decision-making, planning and implementation processes.’ Adoption of Local Agenda 21 is voluntary. If adopted, the Agenda 21 objectives require local governments to consult with the local community; minority groups; business and industrial organisations to create a shared vision for future sustainable development and to develop integrated local environmental plans, policies and programs targeted at achieving sustainable development. The consultation process is designed to raise awareness and encouraged the formation of business partnerships and information and technical exchange programs. The most appropriate implementation method is not prescribed. Rather local government and the local community agree upon a suitable implementation method for their region. A 2001 survey by the ICLEI found that almost 6,500 local governments in 116 countries are committed to or are undertaking a Local Agenda 21 process. Countries with national campaigns were found to have more Local Agenda 21 participants than countries without.

THE GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH CENTER
Full text available here

blu Marble V finch3d

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I only bumped into this artist because of a post he made on Instagram I read about on Dezeen. Influenced by the group finch3d and their Adaptive Plan 3d algorithm for designing houses Sebastian Errazuriz urged architects through his post to “continue to think and design “architecture” for more abstract systems” in fear that the nature of the profession is changing and fewer architects will be needed in the future.

The finch3d tool is actually pretty fun to watch: a house plan keeps changing while someone presses/slides different buttons of a grasshopper code. Yet I fail to see how that changes architecture. First of all, someone did write that code, probably an architect, choosing what parameters can be changed and how. The very choice of what can be changed is already intentional; it expresses the hierarchical thinking of its designer. By transferring this intentionality to a potential client you only allow him/her to think within a framework that is already set. Unless the client himself/herself writes this code, finch guarantees no more freedom in planning than before.

And by allowing/promoting the use of such tools to the greater public do we really think that we are being deprived of designing? Hasn’t it always been the case in anonymous architecture? US building code for example allows people to freely build their houses on their own as long as they comply to state regulations. So what if that person used the finch tool? And why is the finch tool any different in its conception that the state regulations? They both perceive design as in keeping up with predetermined rules.

So, do I think that architecture is an endangered profession? Do we really risk our jobs by evolving and expanding into new realms? Not really. Experimenting with different design tools has always been a core activity of our profession. But designing is not just designing space, is it? Because then, a code like that could definitely jeopardize what we do. We don’t design space: we design spaces for the people who use them. And it is the elusive nature of human thinking and being keeps us afar from any certainties. It is this incompleteness, the lack of a single answer that drives us and will keep on driving us to explore what it means to be fully human.

Image available here

And then I see Errazuriz’s breathtaking installation: a led lit image of the earth set in an urban void, an unexpected surprise event that invites viewers to contemplate on the “fragility of our existence.” (artist’s own words). And then I think: “go ahead and make as many codes as you like. You will never be able to codify the feeling/the sense of fragility of existence.”Because there are qualities and values in architectural designing that can not possibly be expressed algorithmically.

Architecture can never be generic, nor abstract. In that case, it isn’t architecture, it’s just building. Architecture in my understanding is site-specific, it is contextual, it is a means of communicating who we are not just in terms of our physical existence, but also in relation to others, it is transcendental, just like that earth image suddenly hitting you as you walk by. And if there is ever a code that does that, hell, I am gonna be the first to use it.

Vetements@Harrods: establishing new ethics for clothes production

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VETEMENTS  was started in 2014 as a French clothing and footwear “design collective” and brand founded by Georgian fashion designer Demna Gvasalia and CEO Guram Gvasalia in 2014. The brand was designed by a collective of their friends who had previous experience working for various known brands. Championing a more ‘pragmatic’ approach to fashion, Demna reflects the ‘down to earth nature’ that he says is reflected in what today’s youth wear. Operating from a philosophical and methodological approach to his designs, Demna propelled Vetements to world class status in just three short seasons (wiki).

Vetements is now trying to raise awareness on clothes overconsumption, overproduction and wastefulness by amassing tones of unused clothes on Harrods window displays. Clothing production is the second-biggest polluter on the planet and the company is trying to encourage companies to have their supply meet their demand.

For more information click here and here

Closing the Loop Documentary

Closing The Loop is the world’s first feature length documentary on the zero-waste / circular economy, supporting UN Sustainable Development Goal 12 on Responsible Production and Consumption. The film is presented by global sustainability expert Prof. Dr. Wayne Visser, in collaboration with Emmy and two time Telly Award winning director Graham Ehlers Sheldon. The film ranges across three continents and includes commentary from global experts and centres of excellence like the World Economic Forum and the University of Cambridge. A number of innovative circular economy cases are also featured in detail. The Circular Economy Club (CEC) is a communication and promotion partner of Closing the Loop. A film by Kaleidoscope Futures Lab. and Stand Up 8 Productions.

Garbage Dreams Documentary

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From the doc’s official webpage:

On the outskirts of Cairo lies the world’s largest garbage village. A labyrinth of narrow roadways camouflaged by trash, the village is home to 60,000 Zaballeen — Arabic for “garbage people.” The Zaballeen have survived for centuries by recycling Cairo’s waste. Members of Egypt’s minority Coptic Christian community, these entrepreneurial garbage workers recycle nearly all the trash they collect, maintaining what could be the world’s most efficient waste disposal system. Filmed over four years, GARBAGE DREAMS follows three teenage boys born into the Zaballeen’s trash trade: 17-year-old Adham, 16-year-old Osama, and 18-year-old Nabil. Laila, a community activist who also teaches the boys at their neighborhood Recycling School, guides the boys as they transition into adulthood at a time when the Zaballeen community is at a crossroads.

With a population of 18 million, Cairo — the largest city in the Middle East and Africa — has no sanitation service. For generations, the city’s residents have paid the Zaballeen a minimal amount to collect and recycle their garbage. Each day, the Zaballeen collect more than 4,000 tons of garbage and bring it for processing in their village, where plastic granulators, cloth-grinders, and paper and cardboard compactors hum constantly. As the world’s capacity to generate trash skyrockets, Western cities boast of 30 percent recycling rates — admirable, until you compare it with the 80 percent recycling rate the Zaballeen can claim.

In 2003, following the international trend to privatize services, Cairo sold multimillion dollar contracts to three corporations to pick up the city’s garbage. Shimmering waste trucks now line the streets, but these multinational waste disposal corporations are only contractually obligated to recycle 20 percent of what they collect, leaving the rest to rot in giant landfills. As these foreign companies came in with waste trucks and begin carting garbage to nearby landfills, the Zaballeen watched their way of life disappearing.

Suddenly faced with the globalization of their trade, Adham and Osama are each forced to make choices that will impact their futures and the survival of the Zaballeen community. Activist Laila sighs with despair: “They don’t see that we are poor people living off of trash. What are we suppose to do now?”

Filmmaker Mai Iskander provided this update on the plight of the Zaballeen since filming ended:

Unfortunately, the ability of the Zaballeen to both acquire and process Cairo’s garbage has become harder in the last few years. Cairo’s Zaballeen are still locked out of the trash trade by the multinational companies that arrived on the scene several years ago as part of the Egyptian government’s failed attempt to overhaul the municipal waste management system.

Five years after the multinationals took over, it has become abundantly clear that the privatized waste management system is not working.

One of the multinational companies’ contract was terminated because it failed to keep Cairo’s streets clean. With time, it became evident to the two remaining multinationals that they did not have the capacity to manage all of Cairo’s garbage or find a large permanent constant work force. As a result, the foreign waste companies started to contract some Zaballeen, allowing them access to the garbage in return for their garbage collections service. While these Zaballeen are pleased to once again have access to the garbage, they have not regained any percentage of the fees residents paid for their garbage collection service.

Egypt’s recent decision to cull the nation’s nearly 350,000 pigs (in an attempt to prevent an outbreak of swing flu in Egypt) wiped out a vital source of income for Zaballeen that came from raising pigs who fed off organic waste.

While the current economic outlook for the Zaballeen appears bleak, with garbage piling higher every day and with increasing pressure being put on the government to clean up Cairo’s streets, there is undoubtedly growing international and national interest in the Zaballeen’s industrious and innovative recycling practices.

The ‘Parques Biblioteca’: the Colombian way to achieving social development and cohesion

Spain Library Park: Giancarlo Massanti Architect, Medellin, Colombia, 2005
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They are urban complexes formed by buildings of modern architecture, with large surrounding spaces for public use, green, pedestrian and decorative. These public spaces give the urban complex the name of Park. The central building or axis of the complex is equipped with a library with high-tech computing equipment in broadband, justifying the name of the Library, and hence the compound expression “Library Park”. According to the municipal administration of the city of Medellín, “The Library Parks are Cultural Centers for social development that encourage citizen meetings, educational and recreational activities, the construction of groups, the approach to new challenges in digital culture. And they are also spaces for the provision of cultural services that allow the cultural creation and strengthening of existing neighborhood organizations. ” (wiki)

Spain Library Park: Giancarlo Massanti Architect, Medellin, Colombia, 2005
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Sergio Fajardo, governor of Antioquia, Colombia, and the mastermind behind the impressive edifices (…) Today (2014), he continues to push for educational opportunities across Antioquia (…) he discussed his current project to build 80 library parks in his home department (…) Building dignity and providing quality education for those in some of the department’s poorest communities has been a driving force behind Fajardo’s decision to build the library parks in underdeveloped neighborhoods like Santo Domingo and La Ladera and in towns like Anorí, which was overrun by guerillas for 50 years (…) Improving education in Medellín and Antioquia has also mobilized people living in these once-disadvantaged neighborhoods to study and dream of new opportunities.

Excerpts from Sarah McClure ‘s article: COLOMBIA: Building on Education, full article available here
The trees of inequality, violence, and illegality share a single root.
Image courtesy of Sergio Fajardo Valderrama, available here

Resisting Heathrow’s Expansion through Dwelling

Mural on the wall of an Indian restaurant in the center of Sipson, image available here

Resistance against the expansion of Heathrow Airport has been led largely by an off-grid, eco-utopian community (…) the protesters originally occupied the site of derelict plant nursery in 2010 (…) The principal living space has been created from a greenhouse dating from the time of the plant nursery, one of many that once populated the neighborhood and whose passing was lamented in the mural opposite the post office (…) Some of the dwellings within the enclosure take the form of tree houses (…) whereby beams are secured to trees in such a way that the rope does not cut into the trunk; as the trunk swells with moisture, the ropes slacken to accommodate the process. This ancient practice is indicative of a wider and reciprocal duty of care that exists between tree and protester (…) dwelling as an internal psychological state that can produce oppositional political effects (…) Here dwelling is not about oppositional action; it is about the inhabitation of a site in order to produce a quasi-autonomous sphere in which the politics of its occupants are performed (…) The consideration given to scale, quality, and the public display of lifestyle preferences might be counted as another form of the tactical knowledge that is being cultivated at Grow Heathrow (…) The process of becoming a permanent camp resident is protracted, requiring a series of trial periods; a tent provides the flexibility and portability to make possible these short-term commitments.

Nicholas Ferguson, Dwelling as Resistance, Places Journal, full article available here

Participatory Budgeting

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Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a form of direct democracy at the local level, where all citizens state annually prioritized sectors to be financed before allocating investment resources in projects of their choice in those sectors. It has four key moments: diagnosis, deliberation, decision-making and follow-up (…) The epitome of PB is Porto Alegre (…) Five criteria required to qualify a PB: all citizens participate to the choice of the allocation of resources, this occurs at an administrative level of power (for example a town, but not a quarter), this process has to be repeated over years, a deliberation must take place in a specific institution, and finally citizens should be informed ex post of the status of the budget and the projects (…) The city government’s “Presentation of Accounts” from the previous year marks the beginning of the PB process in March-April. From April until May, regional and thematic assemblies take place with the objectives of establishing thematic priorities by voting, electing councilors for each region, defining the number of delegates, and repeating the budget review for the preceding year at the local level (…) These meetings are open to all citizens and constitute the central and most inclusive component of the process (…) The five thematic areas discussed in the PB at city-level assemblies are: transport and traffic; education, leisure, and culture; health and social welfare; economic development and taxation; and organization of the city, urban and environmental development. (…) One of the main reasons why Brazilian reforms have moved so quickly after the dictatorship has been the passing of a new Constitution in 1988. This Constitution strengthened municipal autonomy, validated the participation of community groups in municipal decision-making, and attributed important social and economic policy functions to municipal authorities (…) there are four keys for a PB to be successful: a strong mayoral support, an active civil society, self-ruling given to citizens for the mechanisms of the PB, and consequent financial resources to fund the projects selected by citizens (…) The main findings are: a better allocation of resources (more equitably and appropriately distributed among sectors and communities), an increase in the financing of basic needs, and a more inclusive, less corrupted democracy.

Adrien Frank, An Overview of Participatory Budgeting, 2015

Porto Alegre, the coordinative model of a smart city

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(Olivio) Dutra (Workers’ Party) was elected mayor of Porto Alegre with 34% of the votes (…) Dutra’s term as mayor of Porto Alegre, starting in 1989 and ending in 1992, was the first of four consecutive terms of the Workers’ Party in the city, totaling 16 years of administration (…) Porto Alegre became a sort of display cabinet for the party in the rest of Brazil: A place where it experimented successful and innovative initiatives such as participatory budgeting (…) participatory budgeting has led to direct improvements in facilities in Porto Alegre (…) According to Fedozzi and Costa, this system has been recognized as a successful experience of interaction between people and the official administrative spheres in public administration and, as such, has gained a broad impact on the political scene nationally and internationally, being interpreted as a strategy for the establishment of an active citizenship in Brazil.

Wiki & Wiki

The process began in loose neighbor assemblies (…) access was open (…) the data were organized so that they could be debated (…) Conflicts between neighborhoods were dealt with by elected reps (…) The system flourished for 20 years but was later squashed down by top down power (…) it began to loose coherence (…) vast waves of migrants were not integrated (…) with the advent of big data, smartphone etc, it is now possible again to coordinate participation at a megacity scale (…) a system including organized, debatable data, online chatrooms that assemble views and feedback is now running in over 250 Brazilian cities (…) use of technology helps people choose (…) people have to get engaged in the data, interpreting it (hermeneutic) and acting on it (…) the coordinative city is democratic whereas the prescriptive is authoritarian

Richard Sennett’s, Building and Dwelling, Penguin Books, 2019, pp. 164-165
Porto Alegre – RS, 11.05.2011 Temática de Habitação, Organização da Cidade, Desenvolvimento Urbano e Ambiental. Local: Teatro Dante Barone – Assembléia Legislativa Foto: Ivo Gonçalves/PMPA, Image available here

Songdo, the prescriptive model of a smart city

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Built on a polder of 600 hectares reclaimed from the Yellow Sea  (…) The idea was to create a genuine ‘business centre in North-East Asia’, attracting investment from all over the world and offering an unrivalled quality of living which would serve as a model to be exported (…) Songdo is also a town under constant surveillance: 500 cameras ensure total grid coverage to regulate the traffic or detect ‘suspicious’ behaviour. Even the opening of a sewer cover is immediately notified to the IFEZ management centre in one of the towers in Songdo (…) As to the environmental aspect, the town, whose name means ‘Pine Island’, is built on a coastal strip which used to be known for the wealth of its ornithology, and includes 32% of green space as compared with 21% in Seoul (…) Sterile and soul-less, the city looks different from Korean cities. There are no poor people, no street vendors, no old people

Le Monde, full article available here

(Songdo) originally conceived as a weapon fighting trade wars (…) to entice multinationals to set up Asian operations with lower taxes and less regulation (…) big tech was added to make the city more attractive (…) technologically mediated/regulated environment (…) control center (cock pit) has an array of giant screens showing what is happening to the city’s air quality; electricity usage; traffic flows; etc (…) the control center makes the interpretation of what any of this information means (…) the whole city operates at the behest of the big data assemblages (…) (Songdo) it embodies a prescriptive model of smart city, a city in the sense of a luxury good (…) it is not smart at all: it operates in a stupefying way

Excerpt from Richard Sennett’s, Building and Dwelling, Penguin Books, 2019, pp. 159-163
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Baby Cages (?!)

Baby cages , image available here

(…) these were actual mesh cages suspended from apartment windows, much like a window-unit air conditioner would be today (…) it was believed that babies who are exposed to daylight during the afternoon hours slept better than those who were not (…) Invented in the United States in 1922, baby cages really took off in London in the 1930s and allowed for city-dwelling moms to offer their young ones a bit of fresh air when heading down to the local park just wasn’t an option (…) The cages became popular in London in the 1930s among apartment dwellers without access to backyards (…) Once installed, a caretaker could simply place their tot inside the wire basket and go about tending the home

Excerpts available here and here