All posts in International

Placeholder Alt Text

Location, location, location

How Baidu Maps turns location data into 3-D cityscapes—and big profits

Level 3, number 203. Turn right 10 feet. Go straight for 15 feet. The best way to experience data's strong grip on everyday life in China is to open up Baidu Maps, a mapping app by China’s biggest search engine company, and walk around a shopping mall for one afternoon. Inside the building, a network of Bluetooth beacons, Wi-Fi modems, and satellites from a global navigation satellite system whir and ping through the air and the ionosphere to determine your precise location. The map on the Baidu app tilts to reveal an elaborately modeled 3-D cityscape.

The resolution of Baidu Maps is stunning: Entire cities are modeled in 3-D. Within public buildings, the floorplan of each building level is precisely mapped. As I stand inside the Taikoo Hui Mall in the city of Guangzhou, China, I search for a store within the mall. Baidu Maps reveals which level the store is on and how many meters I need to walk. Strolling through the mall with the app tracking my location with a blue dot on the screen, life starts to feel like a virtual reality experience. The difference between the map's 3-D model and the reality beneath my feet is smaller than ever. The 3-D model makes an uncanny loop: Virtual models were used by architects and designers to design these spaces, which now unfold on a messy plane between real space and screen space.

China now has its own tech giants—Alibaba, JD.com, Tencent Holdings, and Baidu—homegrown behind the Great Firewall of China. Like their American counterparts, these companies have managed to surveil their users and extract valuable data to create new products and features. Baidu began as a search engine, but has now branched out into autonomous driving, and therefore, maps. The intricacy of its 3-D visualizations is the result of over 600 million users consulting the app for navigation every day or using apps that rely on Baidu Maps in the background, such as weather apps that rely on its geolocation features.

The tech company, like its counterparts such as Google, take advantage of multiple features available in smartphones. Smartphones possess the ability to determine users’ positions by communicating with an array of satellites such as GPS (Global Positioning Service); GLONASS, Russia’s version of GPS; or BeiDou, China’s satellite navigation system. Such satellite systems are public infrastructures created by American, Russian, and Chinese governments, respectively, that enable our phones to determine users’ precise longitude and latitude coordinates. The majority of apps and services on smartphones rely on location services, from food delivery to restaurant reviews. However, satellite navigation systems are still imprecise—they are often a few meters off, with anything from the weather to tall buildings affecting accuracy.

However, smartphones contain more than satellite signal receiver chips. A slew of other sensors, such as accelerometers, light sensors, and magnets are embedded in the average smartphone. In 2015, Baidu invested $10 million in IndoorAtlas, a Silicon Valley startup that specializes in indoor mapping. The company's technology is at the forefront of magnetic positioning, which allows indoor maps at 1-meter accuracy to be created simply by using an average smartphone. This technology relies on the Earth's geomagnetic field and the magnets in smartphones. By factoring in the unique magnetic "fingerprint" of each building based on the composition of its materials, such as steel, a building's floor plan can be mapped out without any data provided by the architect. However, this strategy requires user data at scale; multiple user paths need to be recorded and averaged out to account for any anomalies. Gathering large amounts of data from users becomes an imperative.

Floorplans aside, magnetic positioning is not the only dimension of user location data collection that allows data to become a spatial model. As people drive, bike, and walk, each user generates a spatial "trace" that also has velocity data attached to it. Through such data, information about the type of path can be derived: Is it a street, a sidewalk, or a highway? This information becomes increasingly useful in improving the accuracy of Baidu Maps itself, as well as Baidu's autonomous vehicle projects.

The detailed 3-D city models on Baidu Maps offer data that urban designers dream of, but such models only serve Baidu's interests. Satellite navigation system accuracy deteriorates in urban canyons, due to skyscrapers and building density, obscuring satellites from the receiver chip. These inaccuracies are problematic for autonomous vehicles, given the "safety critical" nature of self-driving cars. Baidu's 3-D maps are not just an aesthetic “wow factor” but also a feature that addresses positioning inaccuracies. By using 3-D models to factor in the sizes and shapes of building envelopes, inaccuracies in longitude and latitude coordinates can be corrected.

Much of this research has been a race between U.S. and Chinese companies in the quest to build self-driving cars. While some 3-D models come from city planning data, in China's ever-changing urban landscape, satellite data has proved far more helpful in generating 3-D building models. Similar to Google's 3-D-generated buildings, a combination of shadow analysis, satellite imagery, and street view have proved essential for automatically creating 3-D building models rather than the manual task of user-generated, uploaded buildings or relying on city surveyors for the most recent and accurate building dimensions.

None of this data is available to the people who design cities or buildings. Both Baidu and Google have End User License Agreements (EULAs) that restrict where their data can be used, and emphasize that such data has to be used within Baidu or Google apps. Some data is made available for computer scientists and self-driving car researchers, such as Baidu's Research Open-Access Dataset (BROAD) training data sets. Most designers have to rely on free, open-source data such as Open Street Maps, a Wikipedia-like alternative to Baidu and Google Maps. By walling off valuable data that could help urban planning, tech companies are gaining a foothold and control over the reality of material life: they have more valuable insights into transport networks and the movements of people than urban designers do. It's no surprise then, that both Baidu and Google are making forays into piloting smart cities like Toronto’s Quayside or Shanghai's Baoshan District, and gaining even greater control over urban space. No doubt, urban planning and architecture are becoming increasingly automated and privately controlled in the realm of computer scientists rather than designers.

In Shoshana Zuboff's 2019 book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, she examines how tech companies throughout the world are employing surveillance and data extraction methods to turn users into free laborers. Our “behavioral surplus,” as she terms it, becomes transformed into products that are highly lucrative for these companies, and feature proprietary, walled-off data that ordinary users cannot access, even though their labor has helped create these products. These products are also marketed as “predictive,” which feeds the desires of companies that hope to anticipate users’ behavior—companies that see users only as targets of advertising.

Over the past several years, American rhetoric surrounding the Chinese “surveillance state” has reached fever pitch. But while China is perceived to be a single-party communist country with state-owned enterprises that do its bidding, the truth is, since the 1990s, much of the country’s emphasis has been on private growth. Baidu is a private company, not a state-owned enterprise. Companies like Baidu have majority investment from global companies, including many U.S.-based funds like T. Rowe Price, Vanguard, and BlackRock. As China's economy slows down, the government is increasingly pressured to play by the rules of the global capitalist book and offer greater freedom to private companies alongside less interference from the government. However, private companies often contract with the government to create surveillance measures used across the country.

The rhetoric about the dangers of Chinese state surveillance obfuscates what is also happening in American homes—literally. As Google unveils home assistants that interface with other “smart” appliances, and Google Maps installed on mobile phones tracks user locations, surveillance becomes ubiquitous. Based on your location data, appliances can turn on as you enter your home, and advertisements for milk from your smart fridge can pop up as you walk by the grocery stores. Third-party data provider companies also tap into geolocation data, and combined with the use of smart objects like smart TVs, toasters, and fridges, it's easy to see why the future might be filled with such scenarios. Indeed, if you own certain smart appliances, Google probably knows what the inside of your home is like. In 2018, iRobot, the maker of the Roomba vacuum, announced that it was partnering with Google to improve the indoor mapping of homes, and now setting up a Roomba with Google Home has never been easier. Big tech companies in the U.S. would like us to believe that surveillance is worse elsewhere, when really, surveillance capitalism is a global condition.

Over the past 30 years, cities around the world have been the locus of enormous economic growth and corresponding increases in inequality. Metropolitan areas with tech-driven economies, such as the Shenzhen-Guangzhou-Hong Kong corridor and the Greater Bay Area, are home to some of the largest tech companies in the world. They are also home to some of the most advanced forms of technological urbanism: While Baidu may not have every single business mapped in rural China, it certainly has the listing of every shop in every mall of Guangzhou.

The overlap between cities as beacons of capital and as spaces where surveillance is ubiquitous is no coincidence. As Google’s parent company, Alphabet, makes moves to build cities and as Baidu aggressively pursues autonomous driving, data about a place, the people who live there, and their daily movements is increasingly crucial to the project of optimizing the city and creating new products, which in turn generates more wealth and more inequality. Places like San Francisco and Shenzhen are well-mapped by large tech companies but harbor some of the worst income gaps in the world.

The "smart city" urbanism enabled by surveillance and ubiquitous data collection is no different from other forms of development that erode affordable housing and public space. Reclaiming our cities in this digital age is not just about reclaiming physical space. We must also reclaim our data.

Placeholder Alt Text

1917–2019

I.M. Pei passes away at 102
Legendary architect, founder of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners (originally I.M. Pei & Associates), and 1983 Pritzker Prize winner I.M. Pei reportedly passed away last night at age 102. Pei’s influence could be felt all over the world, from the National Gallery of Art, East Building, in Washington, D.C., to the iconic pyramidal glass entrance to the Louvre in Paris, to the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong. Pei’s lesser recognized, but still no less impressive, Brutalist museums like the 1968 Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, or the 1973 Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, New York, reflected Pei’s relationships with modernists like Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer and their work, and introduced groundbreaking modern architecture to smaller cities. Not all of Pei’s most notable work still stands, and some of his grandest designs stayed on the page. Sunning Plaza in Hong Kong was demolished in 2013, Terminal 6, the Sundrome of New York’s JFK International Airport was pulled down in 2011, and the 102-story, nuclear bomb-resistant Grand Central replacement, the Hyperboloid, never got off the ground (but was later immortalized in Never Built New York). Pei, originally born in Guangzhou, China, in 1917, moved to the United States in 1935 to attend architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania. Pei was unsatisfied and eventually left for MIT, before graduating and later attending the Harvard Graduate School of Design. AN will follow this announcement with a longer obituary.
Placeholder Alt Text

Plyed and True

SABO project turned to plywood for this Paris duplex
Sometimes simpler is better. When Alexandre Delaunay, founder of the Paris and Brooklyn–based SABO project, was approached to design a home for young Parisian family in the 15th arrondissement, he decided to use clean, custom plywood millwork and let the objects in the space speak for themselves. The family had purchased the 1,658-square-foot duplex in a building typical of 1950s-era Parisian housing stock, and both sections needed renovations. SABO stripped the ceilings of both floors back to the concrete slab, centered the flow of both floors around the freestanding spiral staircase, and flipped the home’s programming on its head. Check out the rest of the project on our new interiors site, aninteriormag.com.
Placeholder Alt Text

Ancient History

Studio Libeskind reveals Ngaren, museum of human history in Kenya
Studio Libeskind has revealed its design for a vertical monument to humanity just outside of greater Nairobi in Kenya. Ngaren: The Museum of Humankind, commissioned by paleoanthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey, will present over two million years of human history in a building inspired by the forms of ancient hand axes and other primitive tools. “Ngaren is not just another museum, but a call to action,” said Leakey in a press release. “As we peer back through the fossil record, through layer upon layer of long extinct species, many of which thrived far longer that the human species is ever likely to do, we are reminded of our mortality as a species.” Ngaren’s monolithic massings will sit overlooking Kenya’s portion of the Great Rift Valley. The 3,700-mile-long trench cuts across several countries, and the Kenyan site is where Leakey first discovered the nearly complete skeleton of Turkana Boy in 1984. The fossilized remains, dating back 1.5-to-1.6 million years old, is the most complete early human skeleton ever uncovered. The design of Ngaren reflects the primordial feel of the content within, with Studio Libeskind likening the museum’s form to a stalactite, a comparison furthered by the team’s use of stone-colored concrete. From the renderings, it appears that the museum will jut out from its clifftop site similar to a natural rock outcropping. A main entry will be dug into the hilltop. Inside, visitors will be able to engage with multimedia exhibition galleries that will explore millions of years of history, and the continued impact of, war, climate change, disease, evolution, biodiversity, and other factors that have shaped our species. Ngaren is expected to open in Loodariak, Kenya, in 2024 if the fundraising goes as planned. Currently, the project has $4 million of a total $7 million raised on the online social investing platform Rabble.
Placeholder Alt Text

Big in the '80s

Throwback: Bob Hoskins talks about urban planning in London’s South Bank
The actor Bob Hoskins was the star of the 1980 film, The Long Good Friday, a London gangster movie that reflected on major anxieties, opportunities, and economic changes taking place in the U.K. In 1982 Hoskins led Barry Norman and the BBC on a riverside walk along the South Bank, and while pointing to new concrete office blocks he calls “Mars Bars” he confronts change in the guise of urban development along the Thames. The coming redevelopment Hoskins claims (and was he ever right) will make the 1960s “redevelopment epidemic look like a rash.” Next to a Coin Street vacant lot, once the site of row houses, but torn down for the 1951 Festival of Britain, he points to another Mars Bar. You see that (the BBC overlays outlines the proposed structures) is what happens if you “don’t consult with local people.” In 1970 “a big property group said they would build flats, shops, and a hotel if they could build a great tower for their staff. Once they got that tower the company brass pushed off down to Surrey and their building was sold off and the new owners are new doing up a bit to let and now they say they are moving out of the tower as well.” Now thanks to these planning decisions what we have is an area that “looks and feels completely dead.” Hoskins was not just a great actor but with deep understanding of culture implicitly understood bottom-up planning. We need planners with his insight and passion.
Placeholder Alt Text

At CAC

Retrospective of Valdas Ozarinskas considers an architect without architecture

Envision an entirely different turn in architecture after deconstructivism. What if, instead of neo-modernism and algorithmically generated formalism, architecture had pushed forward with conceptualism and a Brutalist take on the postindustrial world? An Architect Without Architects?, a recent retrospective on the work of Valdas Ozarinskas (1961–2014) at the Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) in Vilnius, Lithuania, gives a glimpse of such a possibility.

Ozarinskas was born in the northeastern Lithuanian town of Ignalina, where in 1974 the Soviets began to construct the largest nuclear reactor in the world, a facility that would later provoke concern within the European Union due to its lack of a containment building, a design it shared with the destroyed reactor at Chernobyl. After military service, Ozarinskas studied architecture and graduated from the State Art Institute (now the Vilnius Academy of Fine Arts). His first works were informed by deconstructivism, although he aligned himself less with the colliding planes of Malevich and more with Tatlin’s faktura. The retrospective opens with one of Ozarinskas’s first projects, the 1989 Tarakonas (cockroach), designed with Audrius Bučas, with whom he would frequently collaborate. An abstract composition made of debris found at construction sites, Tarakonas is depicted in photographs floating in the air and of indeterminate scale, perhaps a building, a light, a space probe, or a threatening insectoid robot. Though it is a take on Productivism, Tarakonas was made not at the beginning of the Soviet era, but at the end, when utopian ideal had been displaced by dystopian reality.

During the 1990s, after Lithuania regained independence, Ozarinskas became the deputy director of the CAC under visionary director Kestutis Kuizinas. There, Ozarinskas had the opportunity to explore his architectural imagination more freely. Built in the late 1960s by Vytautas Čekanauskas, the exhibit hall was inspired not by Soviet architectural dogma but by Aalto and European modernism. If the CAC was a significant building, by the time Ozarinskas became deputy director it was in desperate need of an update. Working with a minimal budget, Ozarinskas traced surgical interventions into the space by installing industrial steel doors in the galleries and repurposing found objects such as a glider wing which, suspended by cables, still serves as the reception disk. The result, akin to the earliest moments of Brutalism at Hunstanton, dragged rough poetry out of the simultaneous deprivation and optimism of the first years of reconstruction.

Ozarinskas is best known for collaborating with his wife, Aida Čeponytė, his longtime collaborator Bučas, and architect Gintaras Kuginis as the Private Ideology group on the Lithuanian pavilion at the Hannover World Expo in 2000. Here, Lithuania made its first appearance in a World Expo since attaining independence, and Private Ideology set out to insert Lithuania into the globalizing world with a structure based on the theme of flight. The result deliberately recalls the shape of a jet engine, while also evoking a science fiction flying craft. An international success, the pavilion brought disdain at home from the conservative Lithuanian Architects’ Union, which wanted instead to promote the sort of weak “folk” pastiche commonly found at Vilnius’s most touristic restaurants.

Having little opportunity to practice as an architect after 2000, Ozarinskas immersed himself in the art world. Like the central figure in Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, Ozarinskas compulsively sought out objects in the “Zone” of post-Soviet Lithuania. A display case full of Ozarinskas’s jewelry reveals not precious metals and gems, but repurposed industrial parts and even some items that look like they might be from disassembled weapons. In the CAC cinema, which Ozarinskas and Bučias also designed, the exhibit featured black pillows of heavy rubber, lined with grommets and outfitted with an integral handle. Originally created for a 2001 concert by minimalist electronic group Monolake, these would reappear in his exhibits from time to time as seating; we’d sit on them as night bled into morning while Ozarinskas described how they could be an end to architecture, a reduction of all human needs to a piece of furniture for nomads.

In the 2002 Lux Europae light festival in Copenhagen, Ozarinskas and Čeponytė installed another controversial project, this time a reflection on the role of the Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania’s economy. The Ignalina plant, at this point, generated 90 percent of Lithuania’s electric power, which was its dominant export, but was slated to be decommissioned as a condition of the country’s ascension to the European Union. For the 2002 exhibit, Ozarinskas and Čeponytė suspended a series of cathode ray tubes from the ceiling of a Copenhagen train station, their cabling and suspension hidden in high tech orange fabric bringing to mind anti-radiation suits worn by nuclear power plant workers. On the monitors flickered footage Ozarinskas had found from the reactor on Lithuanian television and that he depicted as a live feed from Ignalina. The result again brought round condemnation from conservatives in Lithuania who claimed the exhibit harmed the national image and demanded it be shut down.

The final two projects in the retrospective—and of Ozarinskas’s life—index the anxiety provoked by the global financial crisis, which hit Lithuania hard. For a 2010 CAC exhibit entitled Formalism, Ozarinskas and Bučas filled the main gallery of the CAC with a gargantuan, 25-meter-wide version of the Monolake pillow. The optimism of 2001 had ended, however, and Ozarinskas described it as a “story of our failures,” a black mass that smothered everything. Ironically, the Black Pillow achieved international success, being exhibited at the Liverpool Biennial in 2012. Having left the CAC, Ozarinskas found himself at the Antanas Mončys House museum in the seaside town of Palanga. His last show, Filters, was composed of a set of 300 x 137 cm photographs taken through welding filters. Rather than being continuous black fields, each photograph had a distinct texture, promising—but nevertheless denying—a hint of something visible beyond and reminding viewers of the darkness inherent in Malevich’s reduction to what he called “the zero of form.” Ozarinskas died five days after the exhibit opened, at the age of 53, leaving behind a rich legacy of work still virtually unknown in the West.

Placeholder Alt Text

Economy Air

Mexico City’s cost-saving replacement airport to break ground in June
After the cancellation of Foster + Partners’ $13 billion NAICM (Nuevo Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México) via public referendum last October, the Mexican government opted to replace the scuttled Mexico City airport with a cheaper alternative. Come June, according to Mexico News Daily, ground will be broken on the $3.8 billion Felipe Ángeles Airport at Santa Lucía Air Force Base. The design is extremely sparse compared to the spiderlike central airport proposed before it, and the first phase will feature a terminal, two runways, control tour, and a 4,000-car capacity parking lot. The Felipe Ángeles Airport, rather than building on new land, will expand the Santa Lucía Air Force Base, and the project is being overseen and built by the military college of engineers. Brigadier General Ricardo Vallejo told Mexico New Daily that the airport should be open to travelers in June of 2021 and would accommodate up to 20 million passengers a year, growing to 80 million a year over the next five decades. A new 29-mile-long highway will also be built to connect the northern Felipe Ángeles Airport to the existing Mexico City Benito Juárez International Airport (MEX) at a cost of $528 million. The new airport is part of the Mexican government’s plan to split the traffic that the NAICM would have accommodated between two separate locations; currently MEX is operating at 50 percent over capacity. Additionally, the original Mexico City airport will gain a third, and possibly fourth, terminal to cope with the increased traffic. The NAICM was canceled after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador pledged in 2018 as part of his presidential campaign to hold a public referendum over the project. With 70 percent of the public in opposition, the travel hub was canceled. Although $5 billion had already been spent by that time, opposition to the project had been mounting on a number of fronts. The total cost of the airport, once demolition of Santa Lucía and the original MEX was factored in, was estimated at $31 billion. Additionally, NAICM was being built on the wetland plain of Texcoco and would have sunk by up to 16 inches a year. Because Texcoco is so low-lying, it would have also been inundated by stormwater runoff from the surrounding city.
Placeholder Alt Text

Image Object

AMO/OMA and UNStudio on designing in the age of social media
What does it mean for architecture publishing when everyone publishes? PLANE—SITE invited AMO/OMA and UNStudio to talk about how they see the role of social media in architecture and the relationships between image, object, and experience in their new short video “Building Images,” created for the World Architectural Festival 2018. The two firms and their representatives propose an array of different fears, hopes, uses, and possibilities of social media. AMO/OMA partner Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli is curious about what we capture and how we look—our desire to get at an “authenticity” of real life that instead might just suspend us in a state of “permanent voyeurism.” Of photographing and witnessing so many plural photographs of buildings, he says that there is “an obsession to unveil what are the mechanics behind the project…not just the final output.” UNStudio’s founder Ben van Berkel takes particular interest in the resonances and oscillations between the instantaneousness and ephemerality promoted by social platforms like Instagram and how these timescales relate to architecture, which he points out, is generally meant to last; it’s slow to come up and slow to come down. In this case, AMO/OMA architect Giacomo Ardesio suggests, it is even more important to have a gluttonous stream of images. It makes a building last beyond an individual moment of embodied experience—which is especially important for many of the more temporary works AMO designs—and also documents people’s own intimate experiences, as well as their social ones, with the space. Instagram photos can show how the buildings might be “engaging visitors beyond the program it is meant to solve.” Instagram gives architects and everyone “a more complete view,” says AMO’s Giulio Margheri. He means this both in comparison to a pre-social media era but also against the more “refined” photos of architecture magazines and shelter publications that used to be the only insight into a building short of being in it. But, van Berkel says, all this focus on social media might make some run the risk of being “one-off architects.” It also, like much of the internet, can flatten things: people flock to the same places to take the same photos, overrunning streets and turning them into photo ops. And so often Instagram photos aren’t really of buildings (though some certainly are); a building is just background, or so it seems. But what if we consider a building a background with its own agency? This is a theoretically interesting question, but one that also has a practical side that UNSudio explores by using Instagram and other social media as part of their post-occupancy analysis, in addition to measurements, sensor data, and interviews. It lets them ask, urban designer Dana Behrman says, “how do [people] actually appropriate the spaces?” This question often leads to surprising answers, and she cites the ways that the Arnhem Central Station UNStudio designed has been used as a site for performances.  And even the desire to get behind things that Laparelli seemed cautious of could be a good thing according to some. “Everyone produces images, the whole landscape has democratized,” says Machteld Kors, communications director of UNStudio. “People want to see where things come from, and how things are made. The storytelling in projects is becoming more and more important.” What "Building Images" shows is that perhaps it is architects who are trying to get behind the operations of things, asking why people show themselves in a certain building in certain ways. 
Placeholder Alt Text

Probably Not A Metaphor

Trevor Paglen’s orbital sculpture lost forever after government shutdown
After a successful Kickstarter campaign last year raised $76,000 for the launch of the Orbital Reflector “art satellite,” the installation has been lost in space. The project arose from a collaboration between American artist Trevor Paglen and the Nevada Museum of Art. Once the diamond-shaped balloon was fully deployed, it was supposed to circle the Earth for two months, reflecting sunlight back to the ground at night. Once the small “CubeSat” carrying the balloon reached space, it was to separate from the rocket, establish a unique orbit, and inflate the balloon using a compressed nitrogen cartridge. Orbital Reflector was supposed to have been the first piece of public art visible from space, with a truly global reach (edging out Pepsi’s attempts at low Earth orbit advertising). The 100-foot-long reflective polyethylene balloon was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket alongside 63 other satellites on December 3 of last year, but was unable to deploy as scheduled thanks to the ongoing government shutdown. Each satellite requires a unique ID number so that it can be tracked at ground level; unfortunately, the Combined Space Operations Center, a division of the Air Force that allocates those identifiers, was unable to perform this task during the government shutdown. The Nevada Museum of Art lost contact with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who had requested the team wait for their go-ahead before expanding the balloon, during that time as well. Now it seems that the team has thrown in the towel. According to a letter dated May 1 posted on the Orbital Reflector website, communication with the satellite has been lost. “Orbital Reflector successfully separated from the rocket,” reads the final update, “and was deployed within a cluster of similarly sized spacecraft. To avoid collision, Orbital Reflector was set to inflate once it drifted away from potential impacts, and after it had received final clearance and approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The satellite’s electronics and hardware were designed to function during this waiting period but were not hardened for long-term functionality in space. From the start, the satellite was designed to be as light and functional as possible to allow for eventual disintegration. “By the time the government was re-opened and the Air Force renewed its attempts to sort out the cloud of satellites, communications from spacecraft had gone silent. At this point, it became clear that tracking Orbital Reflector, either before or after its inflation in space, would no longer be a viable outcome.” With the satellite dead in the water, the project’s Kickstarter backers at least received the pins, patches, and postcards they had pledged for.
Placeholder Alt Text

And the winner is...

Graham Foundation announces 2019 architectural research grants winners
The Graham Foundation recently announced the winners of 63 grants for projects that ranged from exhibits on suburban housing stock to research on the effects of MTV on postmodern space. The Chicago-based foundation awarded more than $460,000 to awardees from around the world, selected from more than 500 proposals. In total, more than 4,500 projects have been funded by the Graham Foundation since 1956. New domestic formations, the topography of epidemics, and an examination of architecture's relationship to riots are among the projects awarded Graham funding. Below is a selection of the exhibits, publications, programs, and research projects that were among this year's awardees, with text provided by the Graham Foundation. Lap Chi Kwong and Alison Von Glinow  for the exhibit Smuggling Architecture "The history of the suburban house has been and continues to be codified in a handful of builder's manuals that offer a huge selection of home plans to pick-and-choose buyers. These builder homes are living artifacts: a domestic typology rigidly embedded within the American landscape. Smuggling Architecture seeks to reclaim the suburban housing stock that has been neglected by modern architecture. The exhibition optimistically smuggles meaning and value into the interiors of generic suburban house plans through architectural orders." The Extrapolation Factory, practice founded by Elliott P. Montgomery and Chris Woebken for the public program Metro Test Zones "Metro Test Zones, a new initiative from The Extrapolation Factory, proposes studying the way think-tanks work and distilling those approaches to make them accessible to communities and individuals. Providing tools for visualizing dreams from all sorts of cultural perspectives opens up new rhetorical spaces for questioning the world with greater potential for change." Frida Escobedo and Xavier Nueno for the research project An Atlas of New Mexican Ruins "If archeological ruins were rearranged during the postrevolutionary period in museums and historical sites to construct Mexico’s postcolonial identity, “designed ruins” have become the testimony of the undoing of the Mexican nation-state under the close supervision of transnational institutions and corporations... An Atlas of New Mexican Ruins aims, through a series of visual and theoretical case studies, to explore the destructive—although productive—architectural work of neoliberalism in Mexico." Nahyun Hwang & David Eugin Moon for the exhibit: Interim Urbanism: Youth, Dwelling, City "Youths represent a dynamic yet precarious section of today’s populations. No longer belonging to safe spaces of childhood, but not yet, if ever, integrated into the expected paradigms of traditional family structures, a large portion of today’s youths, while seemingly spontaneous in lifestyle choices and welcoming mobility, occupy the vulnerable spaces of the in-between and the prolonged interim. The project investigates the spaces that youths reside in, as they intersect with sustained sociopolitical and economic uncertainties, inequalities, and emergent lifestyles." Nandini Bagchee and Marlisa Wise for the exhibit: Homesteading and Cooperative Housing Movements in NYC, 1970s and 80s "The exhibition Homesteading and Cooperative Housing Movements in NYC, 1970s and 80s, tracks the impact of collective, self-organized practices such as squatting, homesteading, and resident mutual aid in New York City and examines the way in which they have shaped the city. By analyzing ownership models, construction methods, spatial techniques, and material practices deployed by the cooperative housing movement, and presenting them through an immersive and interactive environment, the exhibition asks audience members to imagine new models for equitable development and spatial commoning." Heather Hart  for the research project Afrotecture (Re)Collection "This work is unearthing, interpreting, and constructing architectures for liminal spaces that emerge from the intersection of notable African American narratives, architectural form, and theory. What might happen if the balcony of the infamous Lorraine Hotel—the Memphis, TN, establishment where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968—was replicated in a gallery space? Beatriz Colomina, Ignacio G. Galán, Evangelos Kotsioris, and Anna-Maria Meister for the publication Radical Pedagogies "Radical Pedagogies is a collaborative history project that explores a series of pedagogical experiments that played a crucial role in shaping architectural discourse and practice in the second half of the twentieth century. As a challenge to normative thinking, they questioned, redefined, and reshaped the postwar field of architecture. They are radical in the literal meaning stemming from the Latin radix (root), as they question the basis of architecture. These new modes of teaching shook foundations and disturbed assumptions, rather than reinforcing and disseminating them. They operated as small endeavors, sometimes on the fringes of institutions, but had long-lasting impact." Sara R. Harris and Jesse Lerner  for the film These Fragmentations Only Mean ... "In the late 1980s, the artist Noah Purifoy retired from his position of many years on the California Arts Council and moved from Sacramento to a remote desert site just north of Joshua Tree National Park. There, over the last fifteen years of his life, he created a complex series of assemblage sculptures and precarious architectural constructions that sprawl over ten acres of the high desert land, administered by the Noah Purifoy Foundation. With the support of the Noah Purifoy Foundation, this remarkable site is at the center of this documentary project." The full list of grantees is below and at the Graham Foundation site. EXHIBITIONS Florencia Alvarez Pacheco, (Buenos Aires, Argentina) Petra Bachmaier, Sean Gallero, and Iker Gil (Chicago, IL) Nandini Bagchee and Marlisa Wise (New York, NY) Shumi Bose, Emma Letizia Jones, Guillaume Othenin-Girard, and Nemanja Zimonjić (London, United Kingdom and Zürich, Switzerland) Nahyun Hwang and David Eugin Moon (New York, NY) Lap Chi Kwong and Alison Von Glinow (Chicago, IL) Sahra Motalebi (New York, NY) Anna Neimark (Los Angeles, CA) FILM/VIDEO/NEW MEDIA PROJECTS Rodrigo Brum and Sama Waly (Cairo, Egypt) Dani Gal (Berlin, Germany) Sara R. Harris and Jesse Lerner (Los Angeles, CA) Sean Lally (Lausanne, Switzerland)Lisa Malloy and J.P. Sniadecki (Evanston, IL and Redmond, WA) PUBLIC PROGRAMS The Extrapolation Factory: Elliott P. Montgomery and Chris Woebken (New York, NY) Anna Martine Whitehead (Chicago, IL) PUBLICATIONS Pep Avilés and Matthew Kennedy (Mexico City, Mexico and University Park, PA) Andrea Bagnato and Anna Positano (Genoa, Italy and Milan, Italy) Claire Bishop (New York, NY) Anna Bokov (New York, NY) Larry D. Busbea (Tucson, AZ) Sara Jensen Carr (Boston, MA) Beatriz Colomina, Ignacio G. Galán, Evangelos Kotsioris, and Anna-Maria Meister (Munich, Germany; New York, NY; and Princeton, NJ) Elisa Dainese and Aleksandar Staničić (Delft, the Netherlands and Halifax, Canada) Marco Ferrari, Elisa Pasqual, and Andrea Bagnato (Milan, Italy) Natasha Ginwala, Gal Kirn, and Niloufar Tajeri (Berlin, Germany) Vanessa Grossman, Charlotte Malterre-Barthes, and Ciro Miguel (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Zurich, Switzerland) Jeffrey Hogrefe and Scott Ruff (Baldwin, NY and Lancaster, PA) Eric Höweler and Meejin Yoon (Ithaca, NY and Boston, MA) Beth Hughes and Adrian Lahoud (London, United Kingdom and Sydney, Australia) Robert Hutchison (Seattle, WA) Pamela Johnston (London, United Kingdom) Seng Kuan (Cambridge, MA) George Legrady (Santa Barbara, CA) Zhongjie Lin (Philadelphia, PA) Brian McGrath and Sereypagna Pen (New York, NY and Phnom Penh, Cambodia) Lala Meredith-Vula (Leicester, United Kingdom) Ginger Nolan (Los Angeles, CA) Todd Reisz (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) Erin Eckhold Sassin (Middlebury, VT) Steve Seid (Richmond, CA) Katherine Smith (Decatur, GA) Susan Snodgrass (Chicago, IL) Penny Sparke (London, United Kingdom) Mark Wasiuta (New York, NY) Folayemi (Fo) Wilson (Chicago, IL) RESEARCH PROJECTS Miquel Adrià (Mexico City, Mexico) Joshua Barone, Phillip Denny, and Eléonore Schöffer (Cambridge, MA; New York, NY; and Paris, France) Kadambari Baxi (New York, NY) Gauri Bharat (Ahmedabad, India) Santiago Borja (Mexico City, Mexico) Michael Borowski (Blacksburg, VA) Frida Escobedo and Xavier Nueno (Mexico City, Mexico) Assaf Evron and Dan Handel (Chicago, IL and Haifa, Israel) Beate Geissler, Orit Halpern, and Oliver Sann (Chicago, IL and Montréal, Canada) Heather Hart (New York, NY) Alison Hirsch (Pasadena, CA) David J. Lewis, Paul Lewis, and Marc Tsurumaki (New York, NY) Onnis Luque and Mariana Ordóñez (Mexico City, Mexico) Jonathan Mekinda (Chicago, IL) Giovanna Silva (Milan, Italy) Léa-Catherine Szacka (Manchester, United Kingdom) Jessica Vaughn (New York, NY) Edward A. Vazquez (Middlebury, VT)
Placeholder Alt Text

Think Globally, Work Locally?

WeWork releases its first Global Impact Report ahead of IPO
WeWork and parent corporation The We Company frequently tout their ambitions about changing the world for the better, but until this point, they haven’t disclosed many material markers to indicate their impact on neighborhoods. That’s all changed with the release of WeWork's first Global Impact Report, which tracks the company’s impact on the global, local, and neighborhood levels. The report comes on the heels of news that WeWork had confidentially filed the preliminary paperwork for a public offering in December of last year. Ahead of an IPO, bolstering the company’s claims that it positively benefits the neighborhoods surrounding its coworking spaces might help put investors at ease—as the New York Times reported, the company’s revenue in 2018 doubled to $1.8 billion, while its losses doubled as well, to $1.9 billion. The study, conducted with research firm HR&A Advisors, pulls back the curtain on many of the company’s operations. For instance, the report highlights the fact that over one-third of WeWork’s members are Global Fortune 500 companies. They also reported that 90 percent of employees in a U.S.-based WeWork office have bachelor’s degrees or higher, compared to the national average of 39 percent. On a local scale, the company touted its ability to draw workers to the neighborhoods around its coworking spaces. Seven-out-of-ten WeWork members had reportedly never worked in said neighborhoods before moving into a WeWork space, and one-in-ten moved closer to their WeWork. The figures also reveal that WeWork is an urban conglomerator of “innovation economy” workers, defined as those in industries that “are a combination of 58 high-value and high-growth industries such as technology, creative, professional services, and advanced manufacturing.” In the U.S., 83 percent of employees operating out of a WeWork are in the innovation economy, compared to the 15 percent national average. Worldwide, 76 percent of WeWork members are in the innovation economy. The report also paints a rosy portrait of how WeWork “pumps” the local economy. WeWork claims that for every member, it creates an additional .7 local jobs in the U.S., and 1.2 local jobs globally. For its 400,000 WeWork members, the company estimates there are another 280,000 “multiplier” jobs created by WeWork members. The company closed out its Global Impact Report by laying out how retrofitting older buildings in dense cities reduces their carbon footprint and detailing the benefits of their various offshoot projects. Education, the Flatiron School, a coding camp, and their initiatives to bring veterans into the workforce are all explored. If The We Company plans on keeping its pledge to expand to banking, neighborhood planning, and whatever else it might be interested in, then this may become the first in a series of “progress reports.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Made in Tokyo

Get some exclusive insight into Atelier Bow-Wow’s New York exhibition

Continuing their influential body of work examining the city from fresh angles and novel frameworks, Atelier Bow-Wow’s Momoyo Kaijima and Yoshiharu Tsukamoto will cocurate Made In Tokyo: Architecture and Living 1964–2020 at New York’s Japan Society. The show, scheduled to open in October, will examine Tokyo in the period between the 1964 and the 2020 Olympics, both of which were hosted in the Japanese capital and marked shifts caused by enormous infrastructural investment. Made In Tokyo, a close examination of the flows of everyday life and urban institutions, will feature models, drawings, and photographs of a collection of architecture and art that developed around the city in this period of extraordinary change. AN executive editor Matt Shaw exchanged emails with the iconic duo as they prepare the exciting exhibition.

The Architect’s Newspaper: What can we expect from this show? How does it relate to your book projects, particularly Made in Tokyo, which shares a name with the exhibition?

Atelier Bow-Wow: What you can see from this exhibition is the Tokyo of the two Olympics, seen through the evolution of various urban institutions. Our book, Made in Tokyo (2001), showed the life of this unique city through the observation of “hybrid” metropolitan structures. By applying this lens to the urban institutions that were being created in 1964 and 2020, the years of the two Tokyo Olympics, we will showcase the change, or metabolism, of the life of Tokyo.

How did you sort through almost 60 years of architecture and development of the largest metropolis in the world? What were you looking for as you made your framework?

The urban architecture that was built between the last Tokyo Olympics and the upcoming Tokyo Olympics can be categorized in two ways: architecture that supports the everyday life of Tokyo (transit stations, city halls, offices, houses, etc.) and architecture that supports the nonroutine life (capsule hotels, stadiums, department stores, etc.). Comparing these two kinds of architecture and observing how the environments, conditions, and social expectations for each type has changed will reveal how life in Tokyo has transformed.

What are the major transitions you identify? What built works illustrate them?

Size. The size of the Olympics, the size of cities, the size of economic impact, the technical environment—namely, the internet—how families should live, the way of working, commercial services, demographics of cities, etc., have all changed drastically.

Were there surprises that you came across as you surveyed the city and its history? What assumptions about Tokyo might be upended?

We are the generation of the previous Tokyo Olympics and cannot hide how surprised we are at the tremendous turnover of city spaces from what we remember in our childhood memories. Since the government handed over the reins of urban creation to the private sector, the logic of capital and industry has entered into every corner of the city and started determining the shapes of life and urban spaces. Although it is widely said that the 70-year period of peace in Tokyo—without war or huge earthquakes—has contributed to cultivating a city that values quality over quantity, I think in reality it is livelihood that is servicing capital and industry.

From the outside, 1964–2020 in Japan seems to be a very positive and optimistic period of growth. Is that true?

Since World War II, we had grown in both population and economically until around 1990. Various urban institutions were created with great productivity and enthusiasm. Especially in the 1960s—15 years after the end of the war—young architects were allowed to creatively contribute to diverse architectural designs. Now, in contrast to those times, the institutions that were built in the 20th century are showing their age and need to be renovated. In high-value areas in central Tokyo, there is an incentive for large capital and organizations to move toward mass redevelopment that increases the total floor space, thus covering operating costs. On the other hand, buildings in the other areas are left to the tides of time and tend to be unoccupied and deteriorating. These buildings are often revitalized by young architects and activities rooted in their neighborhoods. In short, bipolarization is happening, and we cannot be positive about the situation.

Now we are moving to the idea of “revival” and localism of the countryside rather than Tokyo’s centralism. Tokyo has been established on the support of the rural areas, but the fact has become more apparent and Tokyo is getting situated as one of the cities in the network of lives.

You include several avant-garde artworks, including some performance pieces, that are critical of Japanese economic development and consumerism. How do those fit into your narrative? Why did you include them?

They show what “ambiences” are surrounding architecture in each era. Along with focusing on urban institutions, we would also like visitors to imagine the backgrounds and conditions that surround the institutions.

(These responses were translated from Japanese into English.)