Architects Who Blog: A grand time at AIA 2012 in DC

If you have never read Life of an architect by Bob Borson (@bobborson) or Coffee with an architect by Jody Brown (@infillnc), you are in for a treat. Visiting their sites inspires me every time. They reveal what it’s like being an architect, what we do, how we think, and what matters. I’d say they tell stories about being an architect, the culture of the profession, more than blogs about architecture.

In other words, it’s the life of an architect. Or like having coffee with an architect. Aha!

Architects Who Blog #AIA2012

Even more thrilling is the chance to present with them, as I did last week at the American Institute of Architects national convention in Washington DC. We called it: “Architects Who Blog: Connecting Online for Influencing, Educating, and Inspiring about Architecture.” Here’s the slidedeck.

Besides their passion, Bob and Jody are smart, funny, and authentic. They are in short the real deal.

Now why is that so amazing? As architects, we are visually-oriented. That’s cool, maybe obvious, and frankly it simplifies life in many ways. Being surface-oriented is encouraged. (Now I sound like Jody, whose byline is “Architecture + Angst.”)

Architects use images more often than words to express ourselves. Bob and Jody use both. Neither claims to be a good writer (although they are). They in essence write like they talk, which always draws me in. When I read their blogs, I feel like I know them. I want to talk with them, as do many others judging by the comments.

Don’t let that humble spirit fool you. They are both heavy hitters in the architecture blogging category, with millions of visitors to their sites, and thousands of followers on twitter and facebook.

What did we talk about? First, Bob Borson…
Bob showed his world headquarters (his couch), his reach (every country except Iceland, it seems), his progress over time (2 million+ visits, up to 200 comments on a post), and his topics (advocacy, career, personal, humor, community outreach.) He recreated the story of his presentation here.

Two stories stuck with me. Bob interviewed his young daughter about what her dad did for a living. Roughly, being an architect is fun because we draw and talk all day. It takes a long time to design a house, about five hours, and about five days to build it. And it’s expensive, say $300. She would like to be an architect because it’s a good job.

Bob also uses his blog for another passion, the Architect Playhouse Design Competition, an offshoot of Dallas CASA. The charity benefits abused and neglected children. He received entries nationally and internationally. His jury selected two winning submissions, and he is seeking support for construction.

Jody Brown made us laugh a lot… at ourselves

Jody is fearless. For instance, a recent post is entitled: “that awkward moment when I show you my portfolio.” This week, it’s “Shit architects say.” If he’s not killing architecture’s sacred cows, he’s at least making us laugh at them.

Jody explains that initially when he played it straight, his mom was the only reader. So he showed his true self, in all his awesome ideological snarkiness and took dead aim at the culture of being an architect. The clothes, glasses, fussiness, insular snootiness, and starchitects are favorite targets. The sillier it gets, the more I identify with it. Jody helped me see how truly hilarious we are. Need a kick? Read this blog.

Here’s two images that completely broke up the crowd, huge laughs.

According to Jody: Architects need to be part of the conversation. Period.

The crowd and how we get it done
Fellow architects who came to our presentation were the best, thank you much. Your questions were thoughtful and your prolific tweets extended our reach far beyond the convention center. I think we got as many tweets as some of the general sessions. People asked about advertising (Bob has done just enough to cover his direct costs), images (use your own or creative commons images), platforms (wordpress, but you can start at tumblr or posterous), and how we fit it into our lives.

Instagram Photo 
  • Folks waiting on us to start, via Jody’s view from the dais.

All of us struggle to find time to post. I know you have things to say. I want to tell you that it’s important for you to speak up. Architects have left too much open territory online, we are far too quiet. When we do write, it’s usually marketing or one-directional, rather than building relationships, a network, or a reputation as a clear thinker. It is now, folks, time to claim that space. We can’t just talk via design, we need to speak with our voices too.

Jody and Bob post more often and manage to write much faster than me. I’ve taken breaks twice, at great cost to my site traffic. Bob is slowing down. Jody is thinking about it. It’s hard.

I think we can do a tag team. You write a while, I’ll pick up the next stage, and some others can join in. Eventually, we will get a critical mass of architects who blog. Leave comments when you read. Your thoughts keep us writing, and make us better.

One more bonus, I’ve been saving social media sites at my diigo site for urbanverse, aia-sm. That’s over 70 links. There’s another 700 under socialmedia, 80 or so on blogging, and try key words: twitter, social networking, bloggingtips, and blogginghowto, which start in 2009. The most recent ones are aia-sm.

Closing thoughts

I can only say that the AIA convention was far richer because of my online colleagues. Seeing many of you in real life for the first time was the best reason to be there. Genie, Gena, Laurie, Neal, Collier, John, Tara, Cormac, Jonathon, Andrew, Bryant, Craig, Mark, Sybil, Susan, and so many others, I was thrilled to meet you. Especially thanks to Steve Mouzon for making the effort to come by the convention just to say hello. What a delight!

A grand week, folks… people, places, and ideas, a feast.

  • Pictured: Jody @infillnc, Bryant @turnageb, Genie @ebarchdesign, Collier @collier1960, Jonathan @mondo_tiki_man


Urban Futures, Language of #Architecture: How will you change 21st c #cities?

Yesterday, I presented to the Introduction to Architecture class of 2017 at the University of Kansas School of Architecture. What do you suppose they will find when they graduate? What world will they work in over the next forty or fifty years of their career?

Most importantly, what will they each do to change the trajectory of cities? What will they design and build? Where and how will they live?

View more presentations from Cindy Frewen Wuellner

How do you think about the future?

I talked with them first about how to think about the future. I figure that college freshmen are unlikely to be exposed to futures thinking and methods. They got a sampling – types of change, the S-Curve, various macro-history theories of change, and how to apply it to their lives and work. Probable, plausible, and preferred futures with the broad thinking of STEEP scanning and the depth of causal layered analysis.

What do you think might happen?
Few, maybe none had heard of megacities. Really. When I said cities of 10 million or 3 billion more people by 2050, I wonder what that meant to them. Aging, urbanization, various countries growth projections might have just been whah whah whah. They were bright, following along, but i wonder now how those numbers might have been made more real. yet, frankly, it was for context. I’d rather give them the firehose and then they can pick up what has meaning.

Limits to growth I think made more sense. Peak oil, water shortages are realities that they have already heard about. Surely, yes? 21st century living centers on rising prices in food, water, and energy. And this is their century, really even more than mine. I’m a half century person – half in the last millennium, half in this one. Their lives will be entirely spent in the 21st c. They are the first generation to say that.

We talked density, bigger houses, different kinds of transportation. Its fascinating, yes? It will be, I hope they believe that. or maybe I was deep into my own little slice of infinity by this point? seeds, baby, they were absorbing seeds in their brains that will sprout when watered. I’m hoping…

What kinds of cities will you make?
More than anything else, I wanted them feel their place in the world, in space and time, the intersection. And a lot of it is understanding what choices are being made by others, and what choices you make, the contributions, knowingly or unknowingly. Some of it’s scary, I already made that point, probably 1000 times over and some is shockingly cool. Right now, there’s people who are creating, building, living the future today. Astonishingly inventive. this third part is probably my finest…

1. The city as language

Mythic, metaphoric cities. language is more than words, it’s visual, experiential. Living cities, beauty with meaning, people first, making cities more human, less mechanical.

2. The social city

Where IRL meets virtual, means people/you are the manipulators. The dumb city gets smart and social. the explosion of mobile phones brings the internet into the streets. Augmented realities give maps, twitter, sensors, and layers of information. its transformational. NYC phantom city tour, don’t miss that. Heads up display like Vinge’s Rainbows End. For architecture and cities, the implications are huge.

3. Co-creating the city

With the Underbelly Project in abandoned subways in NYC, the artist JR who covers whole walls of favelas with gigantic haunting women’s faces, people that make their cities more inviting by volunteer, clandestine gardening and benches, beyond graffitti. Art that enlightens and inspires. Media facades that make surfaces explode with color, patterns, ideas.

4. Steady state cities

How do we measure quality? We talked triple bottom line, the idea that cities are more than economic engines. They are people first, and should be environmental producers, not consumers. most livable, lovable, walkable, greenest, and all of it affecting the choices we make.

5. Urban diplomacy

How does a city like LA with 17 million people, 200 municipalities, five counties, five watersheds co-exist? Who owns the water? Who owns the skyline? the sidewalk? who makes transportation choices.

Linus Pauling legacy
When I was at the University of Kansas in the dark ages, 1970s, Linus Pauling, the Nobel prize winning physicist, told us ten ways we could destroy the planet. Population, nuclear, air pollution, starvation, water shortages, flooding, poisoning the oceans, trash. Yes, he swore we could create Death by Trash. He blew my mind.

I gave a feast, a firehose of ideas to a shiny group of bright people with fresh minds in a reasonably functional room on the third floor of Strong Hall. Where will they be in 2050? And what will they build?

Many thanks to Dean Gaunt
Thank you, Dean John Gaunt, for trusting me with your class of new architecture students. I enjoyed the experience and hope you and the students gained.

Augmented Reality: Dream App or Disaster for Cities?

FrewenWuellner AR.ppt
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Today I had the pleasure of speaking to Be2Camp Working Buildings in London, courtesy of Martin Brown @fairsnape, an inspiring green building expert. Here’s a recap of my session Dream App or Disaster for Cities?? Here is my slide show; its also on slideshare.

Augmented reality (AR) will change the way that people use cities, and consequently the way that we build cities and buildings.

Vernor Vinge in Rainbows End explored 2025 San Diego where architecture became primitive Quonset huts that were experienced through AR as elaborate neo-classical monuments. An extreme outcome, no doubt some buildings may be stripped of quality materials, replaced by digitized imagery. Uses of AR in buildings and cities are emerging; its time for building pros to get immersed in the conversation.

While AR can be defined narrowly as layers of information over the real world, that view is from the information technology perspective. Building professionals can better use AR if we see it as the link between objects and people, a way of “enlivening” buildings and cities. In effect, AR gives buildings a voice. Furthermore, we extend ourselves into the environment with AR. (see McCullough diagram, Slide 38).

In short, AR wakes up buildings to everyone in the way that they have always been in the foreground for AEC pros. Suddenly everyone knows history, data, uses of different places, the information that was previously in the realm of experts or locals. And it puts the people who use buildings and cities into the foreground for those of us who merely see the multitude of technical issues.

Slide 19. AR has the potential to:

  1. Make invisible things visible. Data, people, history, stories about a place can be tagged to it and then can be manipulated to find aggregated patterns such as in maps.
  2. AR gives power to people and paradoxically takes it away. We gain information and are drowned by it, so trusted voices and analysis become even more critical. Plus we lose control of privacy, such as in the case of London surveillance cameras.
  3. The more virtual becomes real, the less difference there is between virtual and real. If we think virtual has the same qualities as real space, we will substitute them without thinking. Right now, we are most aware of augmentation technology because it is so awkward and novel. However, in the future, they will become invisible. We will in effect internalize it.

Slide 46, 48. Three consequences that will change the way that we build cities are sensors, co-creating, and virtual/real choices.

  1. Sensors. Data from fixed sensors and from people will inform us regarding patterns of behavior, energy, etc. Will we monitor our neighbor’s green choices? Will some uses be higher taxed, like a luxury tax? Green building in particular will benefit from augmented reality, because sustainability data will become social.
  2. Co-creating. Preliminary plans will be shared by city planning departments for review. Rather than appearing in person at long, difficult meetings, people will be able to participate in city planning from the comfort of their home. Multiple suggestions may flood development decisions. If people know how much a development will cost in terms of public infrastructure, will we veto it? AEC professionals will have new skills and responsibilities.
  3. Virtual/Real Trade-offs. Stronger virtual connections make mobility optional instead of necessary. Particularly as commutes are cumbersome and expensive, travel will be by choice rather than by mandate for work. The experience becomes paramount.

Since we build cities based on plans about 10-20 years ahead, we need to stay involved in how augmented reality influences behavior and how people view cities. Some cities will grasp the opportunities and shape AR while others will be left behind. 

The first part (slides 4-19) of the presentation defines AR, the second part (20-41) gives visual examples, and the third part (42-49) addresses consequences for cities, particularly for AEC professionals. Let me know if you want more explanation or have ideas about my approach.

Thanks to Martin and his colleagues for hosting this fantastic un-conference, the second in London on sustainable building. It was a delight to be a part of it. I will be writing more about AR and love to hear what people are thinking about it or using it.