Archive for the ‘Interviews and Reviews’ Category

Ma Qingyun asked us to answer 10 questions on cities of expiration and regeneration

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

(projection of a new urban growth, from the simulations of the urban planning office of the city of Shenzhen, 2007.)

Head Curator of the Shenzhen biennale Ma Qingyun (who’s also Dean of the USC school of Architecture and planning consultant to the Beijing Olympics) asked all participants and exhibitors to answer 10 questions on the theme of urban expiration and regeneration. The results were published in a 32 page newspaper distributed to all visitors. I can’t find this gem of aggregated thoughts on the future of our cities, but here’s what we contributed:
1. What do we need and get from the city? Conversely, what do we provide for the city?

What we now get from the city is what we can take from it. Our demands exert pressure on the city to adapt to us, and inspire opportunists to shape the city for our further taking.

The city always responds, but we should not confuse that reaction with meaningful spontaneous responsiveness. We have allowed the city to develop without our collective wisdom. We have built mute cities that cannot learn independently.

The city should function as a permeable system of exchange where a dynamic populous with an uncertain future can participate with it in a process of mutual inspiration and complete material and metabolic recycling.

2. Can we trust our judgment of the future?

As the future is something collaboratively created, judging the future is judging our own ability to cooperate in envisioning, illuminating and realizing it.

Can we trust ourselves to envision the future that is most harmonious, equitable and prosperous?

Can we trust each other to mutually build that future?

Can we trust that given our current organizations and practices, there will even be a future?

3. Should we invest in intelligence that maximizes a building’s performance in a given time period or in sentiments which demand its perpetuation?

Building intelligence maximizes ecological integration and democratic participation in the creation of spatial experiences.

We should invest in building intelligence that understands its own context. Then buildings will be extensions of the environment, and evolved and flexible extensions of our life-supporting selves.

4. How can we maximize our needs today?

We can maximize our needs by reconsidering our wants.

We must commonly alter our wants so they reflect what is needed for a healthy interconnected civilization on a delicately finite planet.

5. Should buildings have expiration dates?

Unlike perishable food products, we just can’t tell when buildings should expire. But as technology advances and needs change, buildings render themselves no longer valid and should expire and perish as improved building or non-building solutions emerge.

Rather than look at the expiration date on a building, the building should engage in dialogue about its own existence vis a vis its occupants, their use of the building, and the state of building technologies at large.

Buildings should consider their own life, and play a part in their own decomposition, material redistribution and unrecognizable displaced reassembly.

6. Should a city stay in its current form forever?

No. A good city, like a good tool, should reflect its purpose and function.

Cities should be constantly learning, improving and reflecting the collective and imaged ethos of its occupants.

The physical form of a city will inspire and catalyze cultural crystallizations that will be inscribed in formless media. The content of the formless media will change the form of the city as reflected in the configurations of our past and possible experiences.

7. Can we envision a city composed of temporary buildings, instead of eternal monuments?

Yes, please see 5.

8. What is the polar opposite to the city?


9. What is the essence of agriculture?

Humans should be integrated into the natural world in a process of collaboration not control.

10. Is agriculture the next form of urbanism?

If we define agriculture historically as the cultivation of organisms, then some of the most profound innovations in agriculture are on the near horizon of biotechnology.

The communities and buildings of cities will be the fields and fertilizer of the new age of agriculture, sprouting living things that help us find new life. Organisms will take root that produce endless harvests, including energy (food and otherwise), medicine and environmental assistance.

Our deepest societal values and civilizational needs will make themselves known through our collective biotechnological agricultural practices.

How we engineer the undertakings of living things will establish the next form of urbanism as a platform for the birthing and reflective pondering of life itself.

* * *

are the answers from Neville Mars, a Dutch expert on Chinese Urbanization now living in Beijing.

Joshua interviewed by the technical Research Center of Finland on the future of Social Media

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

During Joshua’s participation in the European Futurists Conference, Sirkka Heinonen & Minna Halonen of the Technical Research Centre of Finland interviewed him for their extended research on Social Media.

Here’s an excerpt of the interview, which is now included in a formal report entitled “Making Sense of Social Media” (available here in pdf). Other excellent thinkers in the report include amongst others Bruno Giussani and Nicolas Nova.

How do you define the MeWe generation?

It is the first generation where a critical mass has been reached in the proportion of people present, information acquired/created and activities coordinated online.

The MeWe generation is a temporally defined group of people with a common experience regarding the participative possibilities of the dominant communication technologies of the age. Using the term “MeWe generation” implies a new mode of generational definition that relates to a common condition of technological adoption and use. This should be contrasted to other socio-historical definitions of a “generation” that denote predominant cultural experiences within a given time.

The recent technological conditions of the internet and the access to it that provide the medium for interactions of the MeWe generation mark the incipience of a pop-internet. The internet is less considered to be a separate part of social life – something external that can be spoken of – and more of an unspoken and taken-for-granted public good, a sort of infrastructural entitlement used automatically as part of what is considered to be a ‘normal life’.

The MeWe generation is born directly into technologically advanced societies, discovering and identifying the web as a system of social and cognitive extension and as an evolving apparatus for new forms of communication and adaptation.

The modes of cultural production in the MeWe generation offer a flexibility within the participative corridors of the web’s structures and formats that effectively unite and integrate communication, expression and output. If social media encourages open interpretation and continued recontextualization of information based on social interaction, leading to varying scales and durations of social cohesion, it gives the MeWe generation the ability and responsibility of governing and orchestrating its own social development. This generation, with common access to shared mediated landscapes and the tools to commonly churn information through that media, have accelerated the socio-informational productivity of networks and produced sensations of continued connectenedness possibly in place of more meaningful behaviours.

To demonstrate the generational gap between the MeWe generation and its predecessors, just yesterday (during the futurists conference) another participant was able to demonstrate a similar knowledge of popular internet culture without us having met before, leading to instantaneous bonding. It is evidence of the virility of the information mediating relationships in the MeWe generation, and shows the role of that information as an a facilitator of closeness. The often banal content which may be momentarily entertaining serves as a kind of social grooming for the maintenance of ongoing global relationships, and facilitates a later proper introduction between people of the same generation.

Do you think or see that young people could have more to say in societal decision-making through social media or is there some kind of scare that they want to connect with their peers only?

Young people rapidly progress through stages and exercises in identity formation, mostly related to their social existence. Social media gives young people a new tool to play with self-presentation and relationships. The question is whether social media, with its boundaryless structure, crystallized mnemonics and non-physiological acceleration of the appearance of intimacy is too invasive, virtual and imprisoning for healthy self-development. Not to mention the preservation of those things in our society which we hold to be dear.

Social decision-making encompasses the entirety of the material and immaterial world and calls upon people to act and behave responsibly with an idea for the future of their own society. While young people utilize social media amongst themselves they may not appear to be preparing for social decision-making. But what is evolving is a new means for social communication and coordination that complements and potentially surpasses what is available today.

We all hope that young people develop themselves with positive social traits while using social media to learn new modes of bottom-up social decision-making, instead of lacing themselves tighter into each other.

Expressing our identity and digital identity or identities is very important. But do you see any threat in there from the personality point of view? If you are used to having multiple and shifting digital identities, can it shake your personality?

Yes, absolutely. Identity is derived from social relationships, which social media seems to enhance. But many are now questioning the supposed benefits of social media to genuine improvements in the development of a healthy and well-adapted personality.

The constant use of the modifier ‘social’ needs to be questioned by way of evaluating the types of sociality that are produced. Social technologies and those who promote them prey on this notion that pure connectedness is our natural state. Whereas these socialities are guarantors for the liquidity and velocity of what passes through people. It is true that an aspect of our identities is what we care about, and that social technologies allow us to come to know each other and be inspired by each other by those cares. Yet just because we can share does not mean that we can relate. Sharing information is very different than sharing wisdom.

Relationships are highly varied in mode and purpose and this is coming into greater light as social media can both proliferation casual connections maintained with shallow transparency for the sake of cordiality and connectivity, and meaningful, compassionate relationships based on the promotion of what is good.

Social networks have always existed; they are only now visible. They can function at varying depths and for varying purposes. We need a better understanding of personality formation through digital mediation. We need to understand the nature and mechanisms of the relationships that promote complete social welfare, and recognize that social media plays only one role in our efforts to improve ourselves.

Coming back in our discussions to your comment on “laggard” email I have noticed the same trend. Many young people do not use e-mail any more. How about you, do you still use it?

I love to use e-mail because it contains a social protocol that allows for a degree of rumination and delay. It is an accepted medium for longer-form expression and explication, which leaves room for thought development.

With the migration to other forms of communication, those of us who use email are fortunate that it is coming to represent something more solid and intentional, akin to hand-writing a letter and delivering by post.

Can you foresee, maybe there is another mode emerging from social media, e-mailing, messaging, chatting?

The most interesting breakthroughs will come from the proliferation of access points to the reception and delivery of our social-media in geo-physical space. I will be closely watching the worlds of pervasive/ubiquitous computing.

Article on REGIONAL in Chinese Cultural Magazine. “Global Movement, Local Participation: the partnership of Gwendolyn Floyd and Joshua Kauffman”

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Mary Ann O’donnell is a professional Anthropologist, Sinologist and Artist. After a PhD that saw her pioneer work in Shenzhen, she became one of the first international experts full-time on the ground there. Her research, guidance and insight were instrumental to our work in Shenzhen and Greater China. She wrote the following article about REGIONAL’s partnership after our second extended stay in Shenzhen. It appeared in translation in a notable Chinese cultural magazine at the time of our residency there. (link to Mary Ann O’donnell)

Global Movement, Local Participation:
The Partnership of Gwendolyn Floyd and Joshua Kauffman

For Gwendolyn Floyd and Joshua Kauffman, thinking globally and acting locally is a passion, a way of life, and a job. They have recently founded Regional, an interdisciplinary design and research network which “applies original analysis of global society, culture and commerce, uncovering and developing opportunities for profitable innovation and meaningful cultural intervention.”

In their Bienniale installation Foreground, for example, Floyd and Kauffman have contributed to ongoing Shenzhen discussions about the relationship between urbanization and environmentalism. According to the designers, “Foreground is derived from GIS data of a recently removed Shenzhen mountain ridge.” Over the past twenty years, Shenzhen has aggressively reclaimed land from both its eastern and western coasts. In everyday conversation this process is called “moving mountains in order to fill the ocean (移山填海).” The result has been a general flattening of the landscape. With Foreground, Floyd and Kauffman respond to this transformation by using bamboo to re-construct a mountain that no longer exists. The mountain ridges soar above the central axis of the Biennale, lightly resting above late 1980s era factories. The contrast between the structure and the ground actualizes the difference between Shenzhen’s pre- and post-urban topographies, creating a visible and material history for the area. More importantly, the installation enables Bienniale visitors to imagine the lay of Shenzhen’s land before urbanization and, in doing so, re-imagine how the city might reproduce itself in the future.

The designers chose to use bamboo because bamboo simultaneously evokes the ancient and the contemporary, the constructed and the natural, the quotidian and the majestic. On the one hand, archeological evidence suggests that the Chinese have used bamboo for over 7,000 years. Indeed, during the Han Dynasty, craftsman used bamboo to build a palace for the Han Wudi Emperor. However, bamboo was also used to make arrowheads, chopsticks, musical instruments and furniture. On the other hand, as urbanization and industrialization degrade the environment, bamboo is an ancient, renewable, and low-cost building material. In southeastern China, where bamboo is abundant, many Dai people live in bamboo stilt houses, complete with bedrooms, kitchens, and balconies. Meanwhile in Shenzhen, bamboo scaffolding enabled the construction of many of the city’s skyscrapers.

Foreground provides a useful introduction to the designers’ very global, but locally realized passions, social commitments, and work. In a word, Floyd and Kauffman are ‘regionalists.’ They aim to create platforms for global and local collaboration, specifically cultivating spaces where local terms can be deployed and understood in global contexts. In their ongoing Cuba project, for example, they analyze and provide creative solutions to understanding the problem of self-representation in a global tourist market. During an interview, Kauffman explained that Cubans don’t have ready access to the internet, but visitors to Cuba do. What’s more, these tourists regularly upload images of and commentary about their Cuban experiences, with the result that non-Cubans are creating, manipulating, and deploying images of Cuba in an online context, which excludes Cuban participation. Thus, Regional’s Cuba project explores how contradictions between technological haves and have-nots shape global tourism and, by extension, local societies.

Regional’s projects represent a new generation of global engagement. When David Brower first coined the term “Think Globally, Act Locally” in 1969, internet access was not universal, international flights were limited and expensive, and the Cold War separated the world in mutually exclusive zones. Today, young Chinese watch Korean telenovelas, American sitcoms, and Indian movies online, international flights are common and cheap, and the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border is open 24 hours a day. Being global is no longer a question of imagining one’s place in the world, but actively engaging that world. Floyd and Kauffman represent a new generation of global citizens, who live and work abroad, defining themselves in terms of international understanding and cooperation.
They further elaborated these ideals during an online interview, “Wherever we investigate and create we employ the same cultural and historical sensitivity. To make ourselves conversant in the cross-contextual situations in which we operate, we re-situate our research and questioning long before we physically transport ourselves. In North America, Europe and Asia, our advanced preparation of coming into contact with experts and locals is the same. Where things feel most different is when we arrive in our new temporary homes and allow ourselves to be the subjects of cultural dialogue, where inevitably our appreciative inquiry, and intercultural absorption and interaction is fully exercised.”

Significantly, access to education, technology, and local resources enable this model of global localism. Floyd has studied architecture in Germany, cultural theory at Brown University and design at the Design Academy Eindhoven (the Netherlands), while Kauffman designed his own degree in globalization at Duke University and studied film at the Canadian National Film Board. To create Foreground, the team used GIS data to map design the installation. Moreover, much of their initial impressions of Shenzhen were formed through online research and interactions. In fact, I first met Floyd and Kauffman online; they sent me an email, after which we began a virtual dialog about Shenzhen several months before we met. At the Bienniale, Floyd and Kauffman worked with local contractor, Li Wenjing, who oversaw purchasing materials as well as project construction. Shenzhen University School of Architecture student, Huang Lu (Laura) provided translation and facilitated cross-cultural communication. She also gave Floyd and Kauffman Chinese names. Gwendolyn became Wen Linlin, nomenclature that whimsically echoes her English name, while Joshua became Shu Ya, literally “Book Asia”, a name simultaneously formal and fitting.

I close this essay on a personal note. When I first came to Shenzhen in 1995, globalization referred to export-oriented manufacturing. There were few foreigners here, and among that motley crew, even fewer interested in engaging Shenzhen society. The fact that Foreground has been built and installed in Shenzhen speaks not only to the globalization of young westerners like Floyd and Kauffman, but also to the profound and deepening globalization of Shenzhen’s culture.

Foreground is installed along the central axis of the Overseas Chinese Town bienniale grounds.