More Summer Reads: Internet, Storytelling, Brains, Future Planet #books #trends

Last week I got a box of books and posted the first half in a video. Those books covered architecture, cities, and sustainability.

Here’s the second half of the box. These books are about the world of ideas. How the internet is changing our perspective, even changing our brains. How to turn an idea into reality, overcome hurdles, and stop wasting time on planning and capital raising. Creating a story of your life, and using that story to make your life more what you want. Building passion into a business.

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Happy reading, and thanks for watching my newest video.

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Summer Reading: A Box of #Architecture, #Cities, and #Sustainability

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Are you always looking for good books? I sure am. Today I got a whole box of new titles, to which I usually do a celebratory dance –new books days bring a flood of ideas and inspiration right to my doorstep. Whoowee! What’s inside??  the best gift to myself. We are in a golden age of books, a time when a brilliant meme can burn through the global brain in days if not hours.


In this video, I share the half that deals with architecture, cities, and sustainability – 9 titles in all. The other half of the box is filled with books on big ideas, media, and social change – it’s an even dozen. Look for those in another video. Plus I have a few stragglers (I ordered 30)… so if this works, you’ll be seeing more of these book box vids – it’s a quick way to share a small mountain of useful information, I hope. And I might not share these books otherwise; they go straight into my research or get shelved for future reference.


Don’t look for fiction here. I rarely buy novels or short stories in print form because I love to read on the kindle. But I hate to research on it. You can only look at one book at a time and you can’t view as quickly, accessing multiple tabs simultaneously. My desk is covered in books while I write. So you won’t see any big boxes of novels arriving at my door. And I savor them more slowly too, not urgently - maybe one/week or 10 days, I’d say 30-40/year, versus devouring say 150 to 200 non-fiction books.


You will also find me on Goodreads – drop me a note b/c I only follow a few people there. I add more fiction on goodreads b/c fiction friends got me started; 25 bks posted, 3-4,000 to go. but you can convince me otherwise, esp if you’ll post your reads too. I’d love to have more architecture, urban, sustainable design, futurist friends there.


Do any of the books intrigue you? if so, I’ll share my impressions, post-reading. Or have you read them? What did you think?


And…what are you reading? The next box is filling up – I love good book tips.

Architectural Photographer’s Mantra: Andy Marshall’s (@fotofacade) Beautiful Book (and My First Vlog)

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Welcome to my first attempt at a video-blog. It’s a trial and I hope the beginning of many more. 

I want to thank Andy Marshall for sending me his elegant book, “Andy Marshall: The Architectural Photographer’s Mantra.” (That link sends you to an online flipbook version.) It’s filled with his stunning work, embellished by pithy phrases describing his philosophy. Through reading, you gain appreciation for architecture and see cities in a new light. It’s a real prize.


I won this book in a fun little contest sponsored by Masco Salvage and Andy, broadcast on twitter. In celebration of their work on the Walcot Arts Trail, they posted an image of a heavily worn wooden sled-like contraption, which I correctly identified as a threshing board. Thank you both for the contest, well done.     


Andy (@fotofacade) is one of my favorite people on twitter. I am most appreciative of both the book and kind note, which arrived safely in Kansas City. Thank you, Andy!


I have been contemplating videos for a bit (truth be told, I bought a flip cam a year ago). While I am not yet comfortable in front of the camera, I hope to make more videos because they are easily accessed. It opens up a whole new world for architecture and urban ideas. 

  1. Walk-throughs of places or buildings under construction or completed.
  2. Conversations with people who create cities including architects, owners, futurists, community advocates, and so on.
  3. Comments on significant ideas that get my ire up or inspire me. 
  4. Book reviews – I read several every week, and I find my reviews just don’t get written. 

It’s a more personal way to share ideas, I think. And can become quite spontaneous – I hope.


Do you think it’s a good idea? 

Groundhog Day, New Habits, and Other Restarts


I have committed a cardinal error of blogging: no new posts for two months. OH NO! After building a fabulous community of readers, I allowed other tasks to interrupt my trail of commentaries, images, and ideas on 21st century cities. Now I am asking for redemption, a second chance to win your trust.

Today is Groundhog Day, which also happens to be the title to one of the best movies on errors and redemption. In brief, an arrogant TV weatherman, played by Bill Murray, lives a self-centered existence. He trounces on the feelings of his co-workers and curses his annual mandatory trek to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He scorns the people, the town, and even poor Phil, the prescient rodent. When a snowstorm traps him and his crew overnight, his nightmare implodes.

In short, this TV weatherman is having the worst day of his life. To top it off, the day just keeps repeating itself, over and over, in an endless loop. Same music each morning, same people on the street, same child falling out of a tree. That is, until he gets it right.

Through repetition, improving one act at a time, he finds joy in the day, beauty in the small town, and pleasure in his teammates, especially the TV producer played by Andi MacDowell.

The blind man found sight, the error of his ways, corrected his actions and sought redemption. He discovered grace. By repeating the same day, only changing his behavior and attitude, he finally got it right. Fully redeemed, born anew, he could move on.

Repetition is the beginning of habits and ritual. Ritual becomes myth, the framework of our beliefs.

Now I don’t actually relate to a pompous weatherman. But like Murray’s character, I am asking for another chance to earn your trust. I am committing to regularly post ideas on this blog and ask: Will you join me?

Because, according to Gandhi, ritual and habits build values and even our destiny.

To start fresh, I am devoting this first post to forming new habits for a new plan, and to friends and colleagues who are up for a challenge.

The Power of Rituals

Recently I have pondered the power of ritual, the benefit of habits and knowable patterns. Like a rudder on a sailboat, ritual lets us explore new territories without getting lost. The steady control of known patterns below enables creative spontaneity above board.

“Rituals have the function of celebrating the whole over the part,” says scholar Mary Douglas (Natural Symbols). An ordinary act that carries significance, such as spring planting, is given ceremonial significance by prayer, song, dance or some other type of noted celebration, even, as in “Groundhog Day,” logging a varmint’s shadow. Through re-enactment, the act becomes a sacred act. Our actions weave into a mythic narrative.

What Are Ritual and Habits?

No doubt, as a culture, we are addicted to novelty and innovation. Newness sells. Yet to be able to invent, we need to be grounded. We rely on ritual to know who we are and what matters.

In my mind, novelty and ritual are two sides of the same coin; they complement and offset each other. Novelty expands into the unknown, it’s the power of more; and ritual operates as a familiar, stable pattern, the power of less. Novelty carries risk, an open system; ritual avoids unknowns, a closed system.

Habits and rituals are frequently used interchangeably, yet they are different. Habits are routines of behavior, repeated so that we gain proficiency and can perform them subconsciously. Rituals add the layer of meaning to a set of actions, creating a performed rite. We build a narrative around the enacted ritual. For instance, breakfast can be a habit where we internalize the action, even dulling the senses. Or it can be a ritual of breaking fast, a daily awakening, a rite.

Plus rituals re-enact mythic narratives and inculcate values. When we share these rituals with others, they become social myths and show us how to live.

But don’t let me sell habits short. Good habits pave the road towards any goal. Strong habits become best practices. Daily progress depends on habits.

Repetitive actions, whether habits or rituals, keep us on track, allow us to know what to expect. They organize our lives and enable automatic execution that frees us to meet larger goals, explore, and innovate. They are the rudder that enables creativity and the stabilizers that frame our identities.

To renew my commitments, I need new habits, new patterns of activity that underpin my work, give me a daily plan, and clarify what I need to do first.

What Comes First?

In The Power of Less, Leo Babauta ( ) offers a two-part philosophy towards accomplishing life’s most important aspirations.

  1.  Identify the essential.
  2. Eliminate the rest.

Here’s the nutshell version: Create a list of three goals that will take from one to six months. Large goals are given monthly sub-goals, then weekly and daily tasks, dubbed Most Important Tasks (MIT’s). Each day begins with three MIT’s of which some must relate to large goals.

That gives a blueprint for what I should do first. Equally compelling are his ideas about HOW to get the work done: learn new habits and get into the flow of the work. YES! I agree wholeheartedly, my best work depends on these two gems. 

Changing Habits: The 30-Day Challenge

  • “Focus on one habit at a time, one month at a time, so that you’ll be able to focus all your energy on creating that one habit.”

Excellent! Surely I can stick to one habit for thirty days. That’s doable, right?

My selected habit: work in my new office for thirty days. I have a beautiful garden office but with minimal workspace and loaded with distractions and interruptions. Form over function. Last summer, I built another office upstairs with bookcases, file cabinets, work tables, and pin up space galore. Ready to go. True confession: I rarely use it. Consequently, I don’t get as much done as I could. I know it. Oddly, I love to go up there. But… I don’t. The familiarity of this garden space, its beauty and convenience capture me every day. Upstairs is more, well, closed. On purpose. It’s a workspace, for goodness sakes!

Ok, that’s a huge goal and also Habit Number One. Further instructions are: write it down, post it publicly, report daily, and after thirty days: Celebrate!

The reason the 30-Day Challenge works? Commitment, public accountability, encouragement, and inspiration through small successes and cheers.

That’s it. Simple, yes? You might like to start a challenge with me? If you are ready for a new habit, post it, and we can watch out for each other via twitter and here.

All I have left to do is go upstairs. Tomorrow, ok?

Flow: Just Do One Thing Really Well

  •  “Immerse yourself in the task. Focus completely. Forget about everything else and let the world melt away. Get excited about the task and have FUN!” 

Single tasking occupies major real estate in The Power of Less. Yet it makes sense. If you want to do something well, get into the flow, just do it, nothing else.

Fact is: single tasking is nearly impossible. Temptation lurks. Commitments to write other articles and blogs, give presentations, workshops, attend events and meetings, do twitter, email, music, sketching, phone calls, ten websites open, thirty books on my desk and several projects are littered across the office. Not to mention, personal duties like getting meals, errands, home and personal maintenance, family and friends, volunteer activities, meditating, working out, running, gardening, golf, reading and so on. And that is now that I have a simplified life focused on research and writing. Distractions exist and I multi-task compulsively. And I WANT to do these things. That’s the rub.

The big payoff for single tasking: flow. Flow is when you’re cruising through work, ideas abound and your mind, body, soul are in sync. To get in the flow, schedule big things first. Set aside the daily duties. Begin with a list of 3 MIT’s, make sure each task is doable today, and focus on one exclusively at a time. Declutter the rest, just put it all out of sight. It doesn’t mean you don’t do those other things; many are have-tos and want tos and actually support the big projects. The point is, you just do MIT’s first. Period.

Flow means focusing, being immersed in a project, letting go of time, and forgetting the rest of the world, letting it slip away. Focus on just one thing, and do it fully.

Sounds a bit like self-hypnosis. It may be. Or it may be just the opposite – heightened awareness.

Tomorrow, block out time early. Do not allow distractions, appointments, twitter, nada to interrupt. Start with 3 MIT’s, and pick the most important one, that you’re passionate about. Not too challenging and not too easy; just right to capture your energy.

A friend of mine, Linda Moore, says: put the big rocks in the bucket first, and then add the small ones later if you have time. It’s the only way big rocks fit. That’s my plan.

Only Three Most Important Goals – The Short List

  1. My first claim, to write a book, represents my greatest dream at this time. And of course, I want it to be excellent, worthy of the hours that people, perhaps you, will spend reading it. It needs to be valuable, a substantial effort that significantly contributes to the knowledge we have about cities. Will I be able to complete a final product in six months? Probably not. I believe that I can write a proposal, an outline, and a full first draft. Those will be my sub-goals. Furthermore, that the book gains valid support from a publisher and/or readers.
  2. My second claim concerns this blog. While I have written a number of entries, with many looks, for which I am immeasurably pleased, thanks to you, let’s make this community expand and communicate more. Create a place where you connect with others, seek their opinions and mine, and we talk about the future of cities, architecture, the planet, your life, your dreams and fears of the future.
  3. My third claim involves discipline and habits. My goal is to balance planning/organization, community/communications, and creative production in my daily habits. In fact, my life depends on creating better balance between creativity, communications, and organization. I love to search, find new ideas, twist them to my own devices, and share them. Now I need to focus on the editing and development, while still maintaining the adventure and building community. The first step will be working in the upstairs office.

The possibility of failure looms. And of reward, the potential of making a contribution, and changing how we think about cities and the future. 

Because I really don’t want to write just any book or any blog but one that makes you clap and bothers your sleep and keeps you glued to the writing.

What Are Your Most Important Tasks?

Share your big goals, your MIT’s and I will watch them with you, encourage your progress, ask how you’re doing. Pick your own start date, and then tweet your progress or post it here.

Will you join me? Your comments will complete the circle of innovation. Tell me the ideas that resonate or infuriate you. Your thoughts matter. That is the greatest lesson. And the finest gift – your attention and your ideas.

With these images in mind, I am beginning a 30-day challenge. Each day, I create a list of tasks that will accomplish these goals, and work on MIT’s first. At the end of 30 days, I should have Number 3 completed (or failed miserably), and the other two underway.

Let’s get going!



Images of Future Cities: Courtesy of Makers by Cory Doctorow


While reading Makers, you get caught up in the lives of Lester, Perry, Suzanne and the rest. There are villains and heroes, celebrations and catastrophes. Doctorow gives an addictive read; my thumb rapid-clicked the Kindle page button to move the words faster and faster.

While I was captivated by the story, that’s not my focus here. I’ll save the story for you to read – no spoiler alert required.

The wealth of new images in Makers lets us peer into one scenario for 21st c cities. In this future, we live on a whimsical, resource-limited planet that I might love but also fear, particularly as an architect.

What Can Makers Teach Us About Possible Futures?
Here’s nine intriguing images, all plausible enough, and a few that scare the bejeezies out of me.

  1. New Work. “Capitalism is eating itself.” In the “New Work” program, big corps fund small teams of inventors, build production and distribution systems, and reap profits for a few months till the copycats undercut prices. An entire product line evolves from bright idea to obsolete in 6-9 months.
  2. DIY Inventors. While the idea is not new, garage inventors play a far more significant role when innovation and production move at light speed. These 21st c mechanics twist left-behind appliances, toys, computers, ie, today’s consumer goods, into adaptive reuse products and environments.
  3. Dead Malls or Ghost Malls. Abandoned big box retail and indoor malls called dead malls and ghost malls become hotbeds for creative start-ups and shanty towns. In Makers, even shelter evolves from found objects.
  4. Shanty Towns. Homeless folks flock to former suburbs and build elaborate slums, rather than living crammed into urban doorways or under bridges. The construction style seems born from the squatters villages in Mumbai or Delhi, except apparently with better infrastructure and code compliance. Structures reach 3-4 floors and sport skywalks and whimsical shapes. Shops occupy first floors with residences and restaurants above. Children play in streets and community order is maintained through ad hoc leadership. Idyllic? Yup.
  5. Transportation. Crowded planes sound more like today’s bus travel experience, but otherwise seem unchanged. Corp jets sit idle and are cast off for parts. Fewer people have cars, taxis still exist, and walking 30 minutes to get lunch is normal. The main characters’ vehicle consists of two Smart Cars mashed together for more interior space.
  6. Cities and Architecture. Reused malls, poorly maintained public streets, crowded airports all sound feasible, although a bit frightening. It’s today’s cities only dirtier. New forms of architecture include the shanty towns described in quaint, organic terms. Coffin hotels sound a lot like Tokyo’s capsules.
  7. Robots. As an early example in the book, Boogie Woogie Elmos are reprogrammed to drive a stripped down Smart Car. A synchronized Elmo-robot team operates pedals, wheel and gear shaft, and responds to voice commands. Other robots rearrange and construct theme parks in response to visitors’ feedback. If you like something, just rate it with your joystick, and it moves forward in the exhibit; hate it and its banished.
  8. 3D Printers and Scanners. This equipment produces anything from a doll to a car part to a door. Once programmed, 3D machines and robots do all the heavy lifting; really they are the Makers in this book. Seemingly, theme park exhibits transform completely for our satisfaction – and so I imagine, why not the real world? Sure to send quivers into any AEC pro.
  9. Goop. The raw material inserted in the 3D printer, referred to as a type of Silly Putty, becomes a high-tech commodity. 3D printers can be programmed to only accept certain types of goop, much like printer cartridges today. Free printers are loss-leaders while profit comes from selling goop. Goop can be made of recycled materials melted down and mixed with epoxy. The key ingredient for all products, whether assembled by robots or extruded from 3D printers, is junk.

What Do I Love and Fear About Makers’ World?
Innovation celebrated, freedom from big business, robots constantly building cool things, rides that reinvent instantaneously, handmade cities with lively communities – what a fantastic world!

OTOH grand gestures seem completely missing in action. No mention of beauty other than humans and some of the Disney experience. The rest sounds like Frankenstein cities, assembled from cast-offs and gerry-rigged to new uses.

Architects and engineers would be part of the design/build crew – making, remaking, and programming robots. The rapid-fire change means we would learn from failures faster, do it better tomorrow. That’s fantastic, actually.

Does Makers Include Architects, Engineers or Contractors?

As it is now, we fear our mistakes since a botched design can live for decades. Or as Frank Lloyd Wright said: we plant ivy.

Frankly, some lessons are not at all clear until a place is built and used. On every project, the designer says “drat!” about something, “aha!” about something else. We live and learn with regrets; find joy in happy accidents. But we rarely get to fix problems. A missed opportunity is just that; gone.

With assembled structures and swarms of construction robots, we could improve a space constantly. Need a bigger assembly space? send the bots. More doors or windows? Better shading devices? Fire up the 3D printer. Thinking on your feet and working with existing resources become a new form of modeling at full scale. Thrilling! Design/build as performance art.

I would truly welcome this world, even though the pressure to perform would be enormous. Imagine, nearly instant turn-around!! Lag-time would disappear.

Yet, I bet architects, engineers, and construction folks would be far less useful or common. The concept of citizen inventors extends to citizen architects and builders too.

Those Professions Formerly Known As…
In this low-scale, robot-constructed world, expertise may be nearly worthless in design and construction. Computer models would set design parameters for spans and fire codes, even for functional uses and types of experiences. Want quiet and peaceful, pick Option 21058; workspace for call centers, pick Option 84205.

Instead, in the Makers world, we survive by the worthiness of our ideas. Buildings are built and perhaps rebuilt or modified in a day. We design, hit the send button, and then boom, it’s built by robot swarms and 3D extractions.

Services are shortened to schematics and oversight. Explaining what is needed, and what is possible will be accompanied by robot-built models. Presentations might be daily events, so gear up communication skills.

While knowledge of the field is essential, with automated design and construction processes, the number of people working at each role could be substantially reduced. Innovators, synthesizers, folks who can think across platforms, communicate ideas, and know how things fit together would be at a premium. Production jobs in today’s world and folks that make it happen may be less essential.

Picture cities as anthills, emerging from a million small actions instead of grand schemes orchestrated by experts.

How Much of a Stretch?
I’ve taken Doctorow’s ideas and asked: what would this mean for entire cities? If we had this technology, these sensibilities and resources, how would we make buildings? Furthermore, what would it mean for those of us that love to make cities? I hope the author is tolerant of my stretch.

Imagining the future is the best way to shape it and the only way to prepare ourselves.

Makers presents a scenario that is far from an architect’s dream. It’s a tough environment for engineers, planners, and contractors as well. Even city leaders and developers would have to step aside for this tsunami of citizen action.

Just as content and media platforms have become free for publishing, if materials and real estate lose their economic clout, and design/build processes are automated, active users will create cities.

Would you choose to live in Makers world?

You can buy it here:
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