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


Welcome to the Real Urbanverse. To start: the future of architects

Welcome to the real Urbanverse

This week, I’m presenting at AIA national convention along with two of my esteemed architectural colleagues, Jody Brown @infillnc of North Carolina and Bob Borson from Texas. We’ll be sharing our best blogging and social media tips. There’s a huge flaw in this scenario: I have hardly been posting during recent months.

In honor of the event (which frankly got me in gear), welcome to the new location for Urbanverse. Thanks for stopping in.

Similar to the posterous urbanverse, my trouble-free starter blog, I’ll cover the intersection of architecture and architects, cities and sustainable design, especially with an eye to the future. Sometimes I’m in the story. Most of the time, I’m an interpretor, part-guide, part-scout exploring the urbanverse, an unlimited zone of ideas, images, and people.

Let’s get going. Here’s a topic near to my heart that deserves a closer study, the future of architects (and professions, experts, creative fields, built environment, design schools, they are all related).

An intelligent conversation about architects

Over the past couple of years, an avalanche of criticism slammed architects. We are whiny, navel watchers, the worst profession for getting hired, fetish-driven egomanics, and cheap (even cheating) employers. We’ve created unhealthy, unwelcoming car-obsessed cities full of oversized, energy guzzling ugly buildings. The architecture profession is a place of haves and have nots, frequently practiced for passion more than profit.

Actually that last line is true.

Too much of what is written about architecture combines sensationalism with short-term thinking and amounts to whining or piling on or both. When does the fact that the architecture profession is changing become old news? When do we get bored with one more essay on

  • terrible experiences (low or no-pay interns, disconnected architecture education, stuck in the backroom, lack of respect), or
  • terrible design (starchitecture superficiality, bland buildings which are not architecture, unwalkable districts as unlivable, unhealthy, and un-green)

before we make serious changes? Before we agree to resolve and act or agree to shut up, quit reading or producing these truly unnewsworthy pieces, and move on? When can we say enough of this limbo-land of public thrashings?

Are we stuck?

No profession can advance if it clings to entrenched topics. Either we act to improve by exposing our conversations as ideological, chronic debates with no attempt at movement or solutions, and then agree to collective misery. Or we make changes at the heart of the problem. We pull things apart, look at the environment and technology which we can expect in the next 10, 20, 50 years, and figure out what we bring to it.

Because what I see beyond short term negativism is equally poisonous denial. Let’s call it self-preservation of the status quo. Case in point: recently I heard three deans whom I respect deeply describe the future of architecture schools with a completely optimistic outlook: high demand for their programs, attracting the best of the best students, and offering inspirational projects and travel. While they acknowledged resource limitations and a lack of jobs for graduates, their programs, they could say with certainty, are safe. They saw no imminent danger (or at least none that they were willing to confess in this public forum).

Frankly academics are not any more to blame than any single person or group among us, nor do they alone have the cure. It’s a collective situation that we have accepted and even promoted. When does the way that we have fashioned our roles become the ticket to our demise? Where is the acknowledgement of the sea change the profession faces? Moreover, the built environment and the planet? How can we hope to lead if we are so myopic, so focused on baseline scenarios? Or do we imagine that the threats are just so mindboggling that the only option is to forge ahead as planned?

How do we contribute to the creative universe? Do we consider the range of alternative conditions and influences? Are we ready to see emergent possibilities, and invent the most relevant, poignant, beautiful, resilient solutions? Have we taken assessment and made a conscious choice to shape the function of the architect in the 21st century?

Or are we accepting these cheap punches as though they didn’t happen, as though they didn’t matter? Are some of them more poignant and urgent than others?

Isn’t it about time for some intelligent conversations? Not doom and gloom, and certainly not a bed of roses. But the ability to look at the territory ahead and see how we can most fleetfootedly adapt and contribute.

“When one faces the fold [of transformational change], one is relieved of the intellectual dishonsty involved in holding either branch of the fold as a single-point forecast. One is relieved of the naivete of callow optimism, even as one is spared the amoral defeatism of the all-knowing cynic.

“You have looked at the dark side; you have seen the very real risk; and stil lyou are able to move ahead constructively.” Jay Ogilvy (2011)

What’s my proposal?
Architects are a gentle, genteel group, as a rule. And we’ve come a long way based on society’s need for our services. I’d say that comfortable platform is in trouble. Automation and a massive recession gave all corporations the right to not hire while still staying afloat. Architecture is even more paralyzed, at the extreme, I think it’s fair to say. (and statistically verified.)

Here’s a few ideas about practicing architecture, primarily from a western-centric perspective. I’ll supply more detailed back up eventually.

  1. There may be half as many traditional architects in the next fifteen years.
  2. Contrary to much conversation, you can become reasonably wealthy as an architect.
  3. Licensing and the accreditation process are becoming irrelevant for most practitioners.
  4. When people complain about cities, they blame architects, among others.
  5. There are people who are practicing as future architects today.

I’ll use futures methods to reconsider the profession of architecture, and include some of my experiences and those of many colleagues. By the time we move through the analysis, you might agree with the statements above. Or we will know where we disagree. Eventually, none will surprise you.

At that point, you and I will be looking ahead. We might even be ready to act. Most critically perhaps, we will be more comfortable with the unknowable and uncertainty of the future. The future architect is comfortable with a universe of constant change and able to act responsibly and creatively.

Urbanverse at AIA
First, I’m heading for Washington DC to chum around with some 20,000 of my colleagues at the American Institute of Architects annual convention. If you are there, please come look us up:

  • Thursday 17 May 2012, 2:00-3:30 pm. Architects Who Blog, Room 204A

Be there!

Speak Your Mind

In the meantime, chime in. I’ll welcome long and short posts.

What are the biggest problems in architecture and for architects? Do you have the career of your dreams? What opportunities will emerge? What do you care about? Does architecture matter?

I’ll be responding to ideas, and incorporating in the next postings.

  • Use #futureofarchitects on twitter.

Thanks much for reading the entry blog on Welcome!


Future of Design #futrchat follow up


Last Thursday, I co-hosted the tenth Association of Professional Futurists (APF) futrchat on twitter. Since we set up the Profuturists posterous blog, I haven’t been cross posting those chat blogs here. I should have, especially given this month’s topic, the Future of Design. Maree Conway was my co-host and Design Intelligenceserved as the first geo-host. They were simply fantastic, thank you both!

futrchat experience
In one hour, ninety people from eleven countries posted over 800 comments. Participants came from many backgrounds, futurists, foresight professionals, architects, designers, planners and emergent thinkers of all types. Big business like IBM and Cisco, media like Architecture Record and Reed Construction Data, and institutions like American Architecture Foundation, American Institute of Architects, and International Interior Designers Association came. Plus a slew of brilliant individuals.

And we had a blast. It’s hard for me to describe the onslaught of asynchronistic, collective intelligence experienced at this firehose wide-open pace. You simply cannot digest it all during the chat. Now the ebook seems very calm, orderly. and takes only a bit of time to skim. In contrast, the futrchat experience is not orderly; it’s flat-out chaotic. Yet relevant, useful ideas emerge. You can find patterns and threads. It’s a window into many other worlds through links and exchanges. And ultimately, it simply gives you insights and perspectives from so many people that would be otherwise impossible to access without extreme effort.

We covered design in the broad sense of design and design thinking that applies to objects as well as organizations and issues. One of the questions even dealt with economics – Can design shape future economics? 


Future of Design ebook

Here’s the ebook of the conversation. I generated a table of contents and list of links that were mentioned, indexed participants names/twitter accounts at the back and highlighted some of the best comments, although not all, there’s many others that are equally valuable.

You can read the Future of Design futrchat in the cool ebook format (which I recommend as a higher quality reading experience, and regrettably cannot be embedded here) or by pdf below.

Thanks to all that came to the Association of Professional Futurists futrchat. Next month’s futrchat will be Thursday 18 August 4:00-5:00pm ET/NYC; 9:00pm BST/London; Friday 6:00am Sydney. It’s open to all.

More resources
Before the event, I posted a blog about the future of design on the Profuturists posterous.
After the event, I posted a follow-up blog on the Profuturists posterous.
Previously on this blog, I’ve covered design futures.
And I have a number of links about design on delicious that are worth seeing.

Your ideas — 
If you had been there, or if you were there, what would you say about the future of design? Do designers need to be futurists, or do we even have a claim in that space? Are futurists necessarily designing? Is design innovation essential for us to survive on this planet? What do you think?

image: Seed Cathedral  detail, UK Pavilion Shanghai Expo 2010 by Thomas Heatherwick architect
Bourdeaux Water Gardens by Catherine Mosbach 

Download this file


21st century cities: C is for Co-creation

Here’s my January series: the ABC’s of 21st Century Cities. In previous entries, I explored Artificial Intelligence  and Backward Futures. Today is Co-creation.

“People don’t want to consume passively; they’d rather participate in the development and creation of products meaningful to them.” Toffler

What is Co-creation?

Co-creation is so new to city applications that we have to cobble together multiple terms to frame it.

  •     According to Bernd Nurnberger  (@cocreatr), co-creating is “a capability and willingness of a team member to shift roles as driver or passenger, so that the team does reach shared targets.” Future co-creation emerges from open communities where interaction and improvements occur spontaneously.
  •     Collective intelligence   is defined as “the capacity of human communities to evolve towards higher order complexity and harmony, through… variation-feedback-selection, differentiation-integration-transformation, and competition-cooperation-coopetition.” Design charrettes and Gov2.0 such as Open Cities and CityCamps are formal community development efforts and employcrowdsourcing.
  •     Collective wisdom considers “multiple opinions and forms of intelligence. Wisdom in groups is demonstrated by insight, good sense, clarity, objectivity, and discernment rooted in deep caring and compassion.” We connect on political, social, and economic strategies and understand psychological, spiritual and cultural roots.

Co-creating and collective intelligence/wisdom are forming a hybrid movement, a calling to reclaim our participation in groups as positive, useful, healing, life affirming. We alter the way that we see the world in order to solve problems together.

Have you ever considered your city as a place that feeds your soul? And the souls of everyone? That is the mission of co-creation.

What is co-creation for cities?

Design professionals and planners have explored public participation methods for decades, without moving into co-creation.  Co-creation in cities is grounded in two fundamental theories, systems and anticipatory learning.

  •     From Draper Kaufman’s rules for complex adaptive systems: “Everything is connected to everything else. Real life is lived in complex world system where all subsystems overlap and affect each other. You can never do just one thing.”
  •     Anticipatory action learning begins with questioning and is open, inclusive, environmentally sensitive, dynamic, reflective, and occurs in real time. It aims at deep authentic understanding of issues and points of view and frequently leads to transformative change.

How will it work?

Christopher Alexander calls emergent forms of design and construction the timeless way of building. “It is the process which brings order out of nothing but ourselves; it cannot be attained, but it will happen of its own accord, if we will only let it.” Designing a city can be like creating a story; then make a city that fits, not the other way around.

  •     Co-creation depends on new models based on networks, flows of ideas and resources, connections, places, and people. Furthermore, the process is emergent, generative, analytical, dynamic, and reflective.
  •     Co-creation blends human dimensions with technological innovation.
  •     Initially, you will play with virtual representations of cities in data-rich, learning, self-improving game-like virtual environments.
  •     Future co-making and co-constructing, as done in the past and in informal developments now, will be based on adaptive quality of life solutions and responsiveness to people’s needs and aspirations.

How can it happen?

According to Chris Anderson, when rival dance teams challenge each other via Youtube, “crowd accelerated innovation” creates “an upward spiral of invention.” The dancers form a global laboratory of continuous innovation and self-improvements.

Although city development is a long way from dance teams, can you see how the pattern works?  From a collective imagination, designs are grounded in place, drawn from and by the community and experts. As you design, you publish, and others build on it, constantly improving locally and virtually.

Several urban trends fuel this paradigm.

  •     New urbanism and transect patterns reshape urban patterns reduces gaps between buildings. The city assumes a more organic feel.
  •     Prefab and self-constructed cities take the movement one step further. Cory Doctorow illustrated this scenario in Makers.
  •     Automation, social technologies, resource limitations, prefabricated and self-constructing parts, and the huge collective global imagination will make formal processes obsolete.
  •     Cities need to attract people. We will comparison shop different cities and know the differences.
  •     We are more aware of the consequences of lifestyle choices in part due to sustainability debates and will insist in more responsive development.
  •     Some cities will continue to build in formal patterns and structures.

When co-creation creates better cities, makes designing cities better, developers, bankers, experts, and government officials will agree. Eventually traditional processes will be seen as too cumbersome and slow. We will clamor for a simpler way. Successful cities will employ all their resources to become exceedingly beautiful, responsive and charismatic including the killer app: co-creating.


Lessons from slums

Informal developments or slums grow like herds of wildebeests racing across the landscape of Rio, New Delhi, and Lagos. A sanctioned construction site creates discontinuity. Then one informal dwelling begins, then another and another. Soon a mass of dwellings swarm across the terrain. And once there, they stay.

Dharavi slums in Mumbai have tightly woven patterns with frequent open social spaces.

  •     The community is vibrant, dynamic, interactive, and constantly tinkering with built environment.
  •     Like Venice centuries before, the density of the place creates its own emergent form that only its residents know.
  •     While the Mumbai slums are terribly dangerous examples of life safety and few formal rights, the architecture is feeds the community.

In contrast, public housing in LA does nothing to spark social life; you might say the same thing about traffic congestion, strip malls, and bland subdivisions. When we supply unhealthy boxes for people to live in, they lose their sense of worth and connectedness.

  •     The key to co-creation is weaving together resources of users and experts. We all constantly adapt and improve. No building is ever done.

“To use a building is to make it, by physical transformation or by inhabiting it in ways not previously imagined or by conceiving it anew.” Jonathon Hill

City stories and other radical acts of reclaiming place

Like the informal development in emerging markets, DIY/co-created cities reveal people’s concerns and their solutions. Daniel Pink calls this phenomenon “high concept, high touch.” In the modern, information era, people used their left brain, rational thinking. In the 21st century conceptual age, we tune into our right brain, creative ideas.

We need to put storytelling back into our cities.

  • Underbelly Project, New York City artists took an abandoned subway and secretly created artwork on the surfaces. The installation was open for one night to a select few.
  • German Guerrilla Bench appears to be a transformer and opens into a bench.
  •     Sydney Opera House Media Façade portrays the future of media installations. With a projector, you can add messages and images across the face of a building.
  •     Guerrilla Gardening in median strips and other unclaimed spaces beautifies forlorn streets.
  •    Container City stacks shipping containers into a stunning mixed use village.
Would you want to co-create a neighborhood or district?

Is a co-created future one that you would welcome? On the one hand we just want our cities to work well for us, to live  in an area that is beautiful, healthy, and suits our lifestyle. Yet seeing a group of people around the world improve cities again and again. Having the city, designers, and developers working as partners would be thrilling. A constantly better place to live. When we see the city as a whole, we begin to understand deeply grounded interconnections. We stop wasteful development patterns and use limited resources including ourselves towards the greater good. Far from a Pollyanna approach, it’s survival. In our healthiest, most sustainable, life affirming forms, cities and people will be constellations of connections, linked through unanticipated discoveries.

Next article, D is for Disasters.

Images: VM Mountain Dwellings by BIG on ArchDaily; Give a Minute Chicago Civic Engagement Project on Sustainable Cities Collective. More reading: participation,co-creating.



The future of harmony and cities #architecture

During the past month, Venezuelan architect Ana Manzo @anammanzo hosted a series about harmony on her blog The Place of Dreams. Mine was the 14th post. Who knew that architects, designers, contractors, and related folks could find so much richness in one word? You can read the entire series here.    

What is harmony?

My blogging friends defined harmony beautifully onAna’s blog. They found harmony in rock and roll, poetry, nature, relationships, ancient sacred ground, and architecture. Diverse elements cooperate into a completely new sound, different and more complex than the individual notes. Harmony is not a state or condition; it’s a perfect balance achieved by coordinating diversity. Through complexity, we find unity.

Ana said harmony is love. I think that’s right. Love sees us and accepts us as we are. The Greeks agreed. They invented the word – harmonia – to mean joint agreement or accord. It’s compromise, joining, and fitting together. 

My question is: are we becoming more harmonious? And how do we find harmony in cities? First, I want to add one more idea to harmony – rebellion.

Is harmony always good?

Are there times we prefer life beyond accord?  Foucault fretted over harmony, which he saw as oppression, pressure to conform. That’s the rebel’s voice. I would call that pushing limits, testing the edges of conformity. In harmony, the notes desire each other, respect difference, and create a new sound, unlike any single note. They seek a community of notes, joining the most extreme, and all are transformed, transcendent, into a richer, more complex voice.   

We need single notes too. They come first, the ingredients of harmony. And the further they push, the more complex, varied, intriguing harmonies emerge. Individual notes must be celebrated. Sometimes I wantMonk.   

How does harmony work in architecture?

Architects argue about harmony. Christopher Alexander believes that great towns and cities blend the parts into the whole. “When you actually get all those elements correct, at a certain point you begin to feel that they are in harmony.” Peter Eisenman claims that disharmony and harmony exist in the cosmos; we need both. He fights for individual expression.

Is it possible that these opposites are two sides of the same coin? These modern lions fight over the same terms. Disharmony and incongruity aim at order, as does harmony. Some choose to conform and others fight. That is a mindset, the either/or way of 20th century thinking.


Here’s true harmony to me – both/and.

Both compatible buildings and buildings that contrast. Exceptions prove the rule. Are Bilbao’s historical buildings more memorable next to Calatrava’s Zubizuri footbridge?


Do you

feel greater attraction to the Nelson-Atkins Museum thanks to Holl’s ultra-modern addition?


Does the

Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial open your eyes to the heroics of the neo-classical monuments? To me, thats the role of harmony to celebrate difference. And we still need powerful, single notes.

Too much conformity, you get suburbs or Disney-fake, like a one-dimensional painting. Too much clashing, you get single notes competing, Las Vegas-style. If single voices are never heard, if remarkable buildings are never seen, the city goes flat. 

What is harmony in society?

Harmony, you might say, begins inside of us and informs our relationship with the universe. It works through me to we, to things, to nature, to cosmos.

Claire Graves invented a developmental model of humans, societies, even civilization calledSpiral Dynamics. The nine tiers of self-awareness (color -coded) ormemes move towards greater harmony and connectivity – instinctive (beige), animistic (purple), egocentric (red), authoritative (blue), achiever (orange), consensual (green), integral (yellow), holistic (turquoise), next? (coral).

With more people, interconnectivity expands – or needs to. So we learn and adopt better models. It’s also what gives us hope – belief in a better future. With environmental problems and planet limits, our technological and social developments are barely staying ahead of our need to live together, our urge for harmony. Sometimes we fail catastrophically.

Plus you never forget those former memes; you incorporate them and add more parts, more skills and choices. You become more fully human. As societies, we are more connected than we possibly imagined. In short, we continually strive for greater harmony.


What is greater harmony in cities?

We started with caves and we ended in suburbs? Be still my heart! Surely we can improve on that. These one-note communities were just a stop on the way, an orange meme. Sometimes we really blow it, given too much power too soon, a baby with matches. And then we are forced to fix our errors, where the hardest part may be admitting it.

Jane Jacobs claimed, “Designing a dream city is easy; rebuilding a living one takes imagination.”

Here’s how I see these memes in cities. Beige – caves. Purple – primitive tribal villages. Red – Ancient Greece, Rome. Blue – fortressed cities, castles, cathedrals. Orange – industrialization, skyscrapers, suburbs. Green – new urbanism, sustainable design, revitalization. Yellow – living cities, restorative. Turquoise – adaptive, co-creating, biomimicry. Coral – too soon to know; biogenetics, nano, neurotech, transhumanism, singularity?


Harmony Tattoos

We are re-calculating, re-examining our lifestyles. How to become more harmonious, to live with seven, eight, or nine billion people? How to be in balance with the planet, to replenish resources rather than deplete them? And how to cultivate quality.

How do you love life? How do your clothes, home, city, your tattoos express that and feed your spirit?

The moderns (not in design, but in thinking) believe in an oppositional blue/orange mindset. My way or no way. Green thinkers want to cooperate, create communities, and build sustainably. Yellows adapt on the fly, see wholes and parts, and are comfortable with constant change, in other words, harmony. Different notes combine to express entirely new sounds while still celebrating you. 

Our cities need to be that way. I’d say the first harmonious cities will be yellow.  

Harmony is love and we grow towards it. Not harmony all sugar and sweet, pastoral utopias, but with all the tangs and twists of human nature wound together as separate strands for resilience. It’s the tattooed city, visibly expressing who we are and who we want to be.

  • What color is your city? What’s harmony to you?

Images, videos:  Thelonious MonkRound About Midnight; CalatravaZubizuri Foot Bridge, Bilbao, Spain; HollNelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, USA; Maya LinVietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington DC.


Where do you find happiness? Holl’s Museum Add’n in Kansas City, guest post for @Antony_DiMase #architecture

Antony DiMase of DiMase Architects  in North Fitzroy, Australia invited me to sharea place that makes me happy. Their blog series  Places That Make Me Happy was inspired by my Hilarious Cities essay. His firm does beautiful work, check them out. They constantly explore ways to help people see architecture differently and be a bit braver about design. You can find my original post here.


For decades, I grumbled about the complete lack of world class modern architecture in Kansas City. Great places make us better humans. When we see it and experience it every day, we become more creative, even visionary. Excellence breeds more excellence.  Call it the reverse of the “broken window theory.”

When the Board of Trustees for the 1933 Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art initiated an international competition to select the architect for the new Bloch addition, I leaped for joy. Of the six star architects, only Steven Holl defied the committee’s instructions to connect with the broad Beaux Arts entrance façade. Instead, his addition attached to the short eastern end of the building. Even more compelling, instead of an above-grade structure that would diminish the park-like setting, Holl buried the addition and mounted five channel glass “lenses” on the roof for daylight. His radical originality springs from these two acts of rebellion.

Those five lenses are among the most ingenious inventions of the last decade. Holl defines their counterpoint with the existing building as the stone and the feather. The massive heft of the original limestone structure sits solidly on the ground while the white channel-glass boxes seem to dance lightly down the sloped landscape. Their glow at night is pure architecture magic.

My favorite space, the Naguchi Gallery near the extreme end of the building, opens directly onto the main lawn. After experiencing a series ramps and underground galleries, a panorama of the original building bursts into your view, framed by an expansive window panel. The effect is sublime; it always brings tingles to my skin.

When I seek inspiration, I skip to the Nelson and visit Holl’s masterpiece. I am happy now.

  • What places make you happy?  

Images: interior, south lawn, distance shot Steven Holl Architects; connection detail Goldberger inThe New Yorker; at night w/ trees Washington Post. 

Giving thanks for imagination, creative genius, and flow. #letsblogoff #architecture

In tribute to November’s annual eat-fest, the Let’s Blog Off  gang asks: What makes us thankful? You can read my blogging friends’ thoughts on Thanksgiving here . They will make you laugh, cry, remember, relate, and even get organized. I am thankful for people who dare to imagine and push boundaries. Maybe people like you?  


One of my very closest friends knew a lot about imagination. You could say

 Gordon was a creativity guru or a midwife to ideation. He used metaphoric stories to reveal the mysteries of originality and release the visions you hold deep inside.

For instance, a cow chewing its cud for hours performs the miracle of making milk. Creativity is like that. The imagination needs freedom to gestate. You can’t measure it, you can’t see it, and you sure as hell can’t sell it until the idea is ready. That peculiar work of invention frustrates bean counters no end. Yet new ideas depend on wandering, experimenting, failing, and recreating, on linking thoughts and images in strange wondrous ways and allowing explosions.

I live for the moments of feeling that rush of ideas, the joy of inspiration, being in the flow. It’s an out of body time where I may not notice food or drink and surely not time passing. I’m the cow in the field imagining a world that does not yet exist.

Every day someone is creating something so startling that you can hardly breathe when you see it. Your body reacts, prickles on the neck, tears of pure awe. You feel their genius. Yet few seeds of brilliance ever escape the womb of the imagination. We forget them before we can draw or write. The sketch doesn’t fulfill the vision. Others throw up roadblocks; it’s too large, too small, too bizarre, too too too many lines. Who knows, someone says it’s just too… And it will never be built.

Revelations 2010

This year,ultra towers,kinetic structures,new towns,urban agriculture, andflying security robots transformed our images of 21st century cities. A few are absolute revelations. I am thankful for the spectacular ideas and courageous acts of imagination and fortitude that survived the maze of barriers and naysayers. 


1. The Seed Cathedral reframes architecture as sustainable and ephemeral – a new paradigm beyond theCrystal Palace and theblur building. 60,000 shimmering filaments carry Millennium seeds that will give birth to a future bio-diverse forest. 



2. In the aftermath of the catastrophic Haiti earthquake,Architecture for Humanity bypassed the usual routes of bureaucracy and organized working communities of Haitians toenvision a vibrant future, starting with new housing and schools. 

3. Living City Design Competition recognizes cities that are making extraordinary efforts to envision a socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative civilization. Can your city meet the challenge? Submissions due in February.



4. The secretive

Underbelly Project flaunts the work of street artists on subterranean walls of an abandoned New York subway station. Watch an inspiring short video via the NY Times. 



5. Outside Mexico City,

Container City adapts lowly shipping containers into a miraculous mixed use village. Imagine what we can do with junk.



6. Non-Sign II near the Canadian border conveys a simple message of… air.

7. Of the hundred-odd books I devoured, a few absolutely blew my mind. Do not miss:The Original Green by Steven Mouzon (drawn from deep knowledge, a manifesto on society, sustainability, and architecture),Cartographies of Time by Rosenberg and Grafton (stunning images of ancient to contemporary timelines reveal belief systems through the ages), andThe Watchman’s Rattle by Rebecca Costa (has innovation outpaced our brains?)


What sparks your imagination?

Do you look for people with purple hair, unexpected shoes, carrying a tube or drawing tools, or walking with a different gait? They hold some particular energy, the bodacious ideas churning in their gut, planning to capture the thing before it disappears. Perhaps that person is you.

It’s a bit of madness, by some standards. We all have it. We may camouflage it, forget it, fail to cultivate it, but we surely flung it around as children. Back when we wore fuscia boots, finger painted, and skipped. Someone somewhere told us our drawing, singing, dancing were not good enough and bang!  The imagination snapped inwards, afraid of further castigation. Is yours still hiding, damaged by thoughtless words, snooty looks?   

Gordon’s final lesson: you have a masterpiece inside you. If you go to your grave without painting it, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you. 

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the ideas that you share and the miracles you create. 

What makes you thankful?

    • Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.

      You might say, “The world outside is vast and intricate.

      There are wheatfields and mountain passes,

      And orchards in bloom.

      You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up

      In the dark with eyes closed.

      Listen to the answer.

      There is no “other world.”

      I only know what I’ve experienced.

      You must be hallucinating.  –Rumi

Images:Imagination Allows by Gaping Void Hugh McLeod; Lead Pencil StudioNon-Sign II, Blaine, WA;Container City, Mexico;Seed Cathedral at Shanghai Expo by Thomas Heatherwick;The Underbelly Project, New York City;Boatanic Floating Farms, Amsterdam 

21st Century Cities and Architecture Need Possibilianism #sustainability #poptech


Have you heard of PopTech? Some say it’s TED for brainiacs, arguably more cutting edge, always looking for emerging thinkers. Andrew Zolli, lead curator, attended the same Futures Studies masters program in Houston I did (and where I teach), although our paths unfortunately never crossed.

PopTech is posting the best videos now; here’s one worth watching.   


Cowboy up or geek out?

The annual PopTech event was held in Camden, Maine last week. Neuroscientist and fiction writer David Eagleman gave one of those rare “don’t miss” talks about a notion he’s devised called: Possibilianism. Rather than simply “anything goes,” he says that science allows for any possibility that can be proven using the scientific method. In other words, we need to think of many alternative hypotheses and then apply the tools.

Approach ideas with an open mind. Rather than firmly committing to a single answer or “cowboy up” with a certain solution, we engage in active exploration. For the largest questions in the universe like dark matter and how the brain works, we don’t even have any good answers yet. So we need to “geek-out” until we have the needed data. Be comfortable to multiple possibilities. That’s what he means by possibilianism.

In short: Praise uncertainty.

I think it’s very clear that we made mistakes on cities and building design. We use too much energy, overheated the planet, and created cities of haves and have-nots where some parts are nearly unlivable and others are sadly ugly, lacking beauty or lovability. Plus sitting all day at work and in cars makes us unhealthy. That’s not to say all cities or all parts of cities fit this image but let’s face it, it’s enough that we need to make some serious changes.

Think about it: What else could we have done?

We need a heavy dose of possibilianism.


Here’s a wild thought: What would happen if tomorrow you woke up and your car was gone? Your neighbors’ cars and the pickup trucks were missing too. There were no taxis, only large-haul trucks and delivery vehicles too busy to carry passengers. Boom, you were caught with your feet and an old bike as transportation. What would you do?

I bet you would call into work and say you couldn’t make it. You would cancel all other appointments and walk your kids to school. Soon you would be taking the bus or rail and walking or riding your bike for shorter trips. Delivery trucks would replenish your kitchen pantry.

Over time, you would become physically fit, your wallet would be a little thicker with cash, and you would know people that share your routes. Plus, since transportation emits 28% of greenhouse gases, cities would immediately experience an impressive leap in sustainability. 

Cars are so deeply embedded it’s truly a challenge to imagine car-free lives, isn’t it?!

Car-fee cities


We don’t start completely from scratch. Several urban theories and their flagship examples lead the way on car restrictions, specifically,

CarFree Cities, New urbanism, Eco-towns in UK, and to some degree, the Slow City Movement

Many sections of cities and islands, most famously Venice Italy, are fully pedestrian.

  • Freiburg Germany (pictured) reclaimed the center of the city for pedestrian uses.
  • Curitiba Brazil created one of the most efficient networks of buses (BRT) in the world.
  • Bogota Colombia employed a combination of BRT, bike paths, and pedestrians-first policies.

A few new towns will be zero carbon, reduced-car developments for environmental purposes.


No doubt, we will not go gently into that good night of car-free cities. Too much has been invested, particularly in America and in perimeter development globally, China being the most eager recent adopter. Cars have the obvious benefits of convenience and security, and have long been status symbols (now not having a car shows status among some groups).

Plus, honestly, given an open road, cars are a blast! Dont all addictions begin with pleasure?

Two options – with and without cars – is bogus!

If we’ve learned one thing from the crazy world we live in, it’s that choices are not black and white, either/or; they are both/and. An entire constellation of possibilities waits for our imagination to ignite.

My car-free fantasy is a game of “what if,” a thought experiment played to its extreme. Imagine the possibilities, what would that option solve and what would it destroy?

That’s where possibilianism leaps in.

If you were designing a brand new city for you and your loved ones or making radical changes to your city, what would you choose? How would you create vibrant, thrilling, beautiful places to live? What would be your criteria? How many options can you imagine?

How would that new place be better than how you live now? How do you envision your better life? And how can you bring some of those possibilities into your real life?

Think about it: Are you a possibilian?


Related lists: “Green cities: Where to travel green” compiles 6 lists of top green cities.

Images:EPA Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector;Freiburg Germany;Tongzhou China,Tjibaou Cultural Center in Noumea, New Caladonia by Renzo Piano Workshop


Note to America: #Architecture and the Future Matter #design #worldexpo


The Biosphere: A powerful statement of the future

Recently Bing featured a stunning image of Buckminster Fuller ’s design for the US Pavilion at the 1967 World’s Exposition in Montreal. When I opened it, I literally gasped; the still futuristic image seemed to float above normal terrain. The Biosphere put a new stamp on the future and epitomized the Space Age.

Fuller joined the forces of architecture, engineering, and technology to express a new way of living. And through his genius, he inspired a generation of Americans; in fact, of the world. Bravo, Mr. Fuller!

USA Pavilion for the 2010 World Expo


Fast forward to today, the

US Pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai featured two wings in the shape of leaves, joined by a cone. What is that? The makers call it an eagle. Huh? A logo made into a building? No strong statement of design, environmentalism, or humanitarianism comes to mind.

What does it stand for? a design-numb Corporate America. (yes, some US corps understand good design; MIA here.)

This structure looks like a poor stand-in for what should have been an image of the American Dream, an architecture of the future. Where is the hope, the vision, the statement of who we are as a people or where we are going?

No one had any doubt that America led the world in innovation in 1967. If anyone is looking to us for vision or inspiration based on the 2010 American pavilion in Shanghai, they would be severely disappointed.

Has that day of 1967 passed?

If you think that the age of inspiring world expo pavilions has fizzled into the history pages, just examine the UK Seed Cathedral pavilion or the Swiss and Spanish pavilions.


Yes, it’s true; I have a nearly delirious case of pavilion envy. Those buildings are remarkable! They not only sing the praises of the architects and the countries; they offer a glimpse of what we might experience down the road.

In other words, the reason we build these outlandish structures like the Eiffel Tower and the Space Needle is to influence and shape things yet to come. That’s the whole purpose. To shine a bright light on the path to the future. And to inspire through the power of that vision.

Come On, America

Hey Americans, if we think that this average architectural statement offers the best of the best, we should be very worried. Because boxes shaped like leaves and cones never moved anybody to dream, much less to act. That disappoints me; no, it really makes me mad. The people that built this pavilion are saying – nothing’s new, nothing special’s going to happen, it’s just more of the same. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

We are living in one of the most enthralling, mind-numbing, exuberant times in history, a virtual windfall of daily discoveries. Yet without an urgency to design the future, to visualize the world ahead, to roll the dice on a seemingly impossible idea, we are already dead. We lose our capacity to aspire, transcend ordinary life, and stretch our imagination.


We can do better. Look at Jeanne Gang’s

Aqua Tower, Holl’s Nelson-Atkins Museum Addition, Bohlin Cywinski’s Apple Pavilion – all capture the spirit of our future selves. While there’s no such thing as one true American architecture, these buildings clearly express visionary futures designed by exceptional American architects for forward thinking clients.

Maybe the burden of “American Pavilion” confused some literal minded deciders. “We’ll make a building like an eagle. That’s American.” Pshaw. Our standards for excellence, our design aspirations, must surely seek a higher standard.


Architecture Futures

We need a pavilion that dares to venture beyond sure thing; explores crevices of materials and shapes never seen; surprises, no, it bamboozles us with its energy. It’s a revelation. From that moment on, our lives are changed immeasurably; we see the world through new eyes.

Next expo, let’s build architecture that matters, that transports us to the future, stretches us beyond the ordinary, and willingly risks everything to do it. In fact, that capacity to dream – unforgettable, life-changing dreams – proves we have a future. 


Images: Biosphere on Montreal Attractions, USA Pavilion, Swiss and Spanish Pavilions on ArchDaily, Aqua Tower and Nelson-Atkins on New Yorker, Apple on Galinsky.  

Michelle Kaufmann Studio’s New Line of Net-Zero Prefab Designs #LEED #architecture


For forty years, architects have predicted prefab would become a major housing option. So far, it’s always sidelined by the flexibility and quality of stick-built. This month, Residential Architect features architect Michelle Kaufmann’s three new net-zero models.

Katy Tomasulo, Deputy Editor for EcoHome, writes in RA:

The Zero Series homes—Vista0, Ridge0, and Contours0—are designed to produce as much energy as they use, along with being healthy, efficient, and comfortable through the integration of efficient design and healthy, durable, and resource-conscious products. At the same time, the units, which range in size from 422 square feet to 2,643 square feet and start at $66,500, fill a need in the industry for more affordable options for architect-designed green homes.

“They make it more accessible to have thoughtful, green homes,” Kaufmann explains, adding that widespread acceptance of green modular housing means they can’t take more time to build, cost more than regular green homes, or be difficult to buy.

After permitting, the units can be built and installed in about four months. Building permit barriers have long been the fly in the ointment because city inspectors want access into wall and ceiling cavities. Once the drywall is installed at the factory, inspections of wiring and plumbing is impossible. Now factory certification programs are accepted in many jurisdictions, paving the way to prefab.

The houses are said to be less expensive than site built and offer some flexibility in configuration, size, and product selections. The basic models meet LEED certification, with upgrades such as solar panels in order to qualify for higher levels.

After seven years in business, Kaufmann’s prior Oakland CA venture fell victim to the recession last year. An established industry frontrunner in green prefab, Michelle Kaufmann Designs is now a subsidiary of Blu Homes, an east coast prefab home manufacturer.

Will prefab ever go mainstream? If so, is that time now? If not, what holds it back?