About Speedbird

“Speedbird” has been the callsign for aircraft belonging to BOAC and its various predecessors and descendants since 1939.

To me the Speedbird symbolizes many things: the lost glamour of travel, the high Modernist moment in design and architecture, and above all, a time when Western culture still believed in a future.

Who writes Speedbird?

My name is Adam Greenfield. Over the last decade, I’ve written and consulted pretty widely on issues at the intersection of design, technology and culture, with an increasing focus on how these things interact in (and condition our experience of) cities. I’ve been fortunate enough to explore these issues from a variety of angles:

– As an information architect for notorious Internet consultancies marchFIRST and Razorfish in Tokyo, and later as Nokia’s head of design direction for service and user-interface design (say that three times fast), I helped build systems that have been used by millions of people — and saw for myself just how the world’s largest corporations understand the technology all around us.

– My first book, Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing (2006), offers a humanist take on the colonization of everyday life by information technology, and I like to think it stands up pretty well. It can be purchased from Amazon.

– With Mark Shepard, I co-authored the first pamphlet in the Architectural League of New York’s splendid Situated Technologies series, a sweet little number we called Urban Computing and its Discontents. (Buy here, or download the free PDF. Be sure to check out the other pamphlets in the series, too.)

– My pamphlet “Against the smart city,” named by Verso as one of the best books of 2013, can be purchased for Kindle here or as a physical POD book here.

– My most recent book, Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, was published by Verso in 2017. The Guardian called it “tremendously intelligent and stylish,” while Brian Eno says it’s “essential” and Saskia Sassen thinks it’s “brilliant and scary.” (Yes, I can now die happy.)

– I’ve taught courses for NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (with Kevin Slavin) and in the MArch Urban Design program at the Bartlett School of Architecture (with Usman Haque).

– With my wife, Nurri Kim, I co-founded the undisciplinary design collective Do projects, which publishes books, pamphlets, and editions, and otherwise underwrites explorations into space and experience. Over the past five years, through Do, Nurri and I have conducted “walkshops” in cities around the world: participatory walking tours in which we look for and try to understand the physical appearances of networked informatics in urban space. These are generally a lot of fun, and we invariably learn something about the place we’re visiting.

– Just on the off chance I could successfully jump back across the gap separating theory and practice, in 2010 I founded Urbanscale, a New York-based firm dedicated to “design for networked cities and citizens.” Urbanscale is on hold for the time being — but I do mean just that, i.e. “on hold” is not a euphemism for “shut down.”

– I occasionally contribute pieces on questions of city life and urban design to the Guardian. I also present on these and related topics fairly often, and all over the planet; if you’re interested in having me speak at a conference or other event, please do get in touch, or feel free to contact my speaking agent directly.

— Finally, if you’re really curious about the trivial events of my everyday life, what I’ve been reading and so on, you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter. (I’m no longer on either Twitter or Facebook, so don’t bother looking for me thereabouts.) Thanks for your interest in my work, and I look forward to hearing from you.

About the header image

I’ve long been obsessed by José Moscardi’s photo of a 1969 student demonstration in the central void of the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism building at the University of Sao Paulo. What we see in this picture is the clash of two organizing principles: the magisterial clarity of Vilanova Artigas’s structure, literally imposed from the top down, occupied and completed by self-organized action — order from the bottom up.

I very much doubt whether anyone present experienced this moment as anything like a harmonious reconciliation of opposites. Perhaps Vilanova Artigas himself might have seen such demonstrations as a fulfillment of his hopes for the FAU-USP building, and its capacity to support the most vibrant modes of expression, but it is likely that most of the protestors — heirs to the wave of demands for self-determination that had washed over Paris, Chicago, Prague and Mexico City the previous year — understood the structure, and brutalism more broadly, as an extension of the frankly fascist project of the Brazilian state by other means.

With sufficient time and linguistic-cultural distance, though, the image can be read as depicting two kinds of possibility (and two orders of beauty) interpenetrating and giving life to one another: the orderly grid above cradling and giving form to the righteously chaotic multitude below, the whole looking in black and white like nothing so much as the static that used to roil the surface of pre-digital television screens. Or, at least, that’s how I read it. It’s an image I reflect on whenever I’m offered a choice between the two opposing poles of an invidious, shallow and destructive binary.

Miscellany

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