A week or so back, a bright guy I met at PICNIC named Lincoln Schatz asked me if I mightn’t list for him a few things I’d been reading lately. I got about halfway through before I realized that I was really compiling a manifest of books I’d been consulting as I put together the pieces of my own.
So this is for you, Lincoln – but I bet it’d also be particularly valuable for readers who are coming at issues of networked urbanism from the information-technological side, and would like a better grounding in sociological, psychological, political and architectural thinking on these topics. (There’s also a pretty heavy overlap here with the curriculum Kevin Slavin and I built our ITP “Urban Computing” class around.)
Not all of these were equally useful, mind you. Some of the titles on the following list are perennial favorites of mine, or works I otherwise regard as essential; some are badly dated, and one or two are outright wank. But they’ve all contributed in some wise to my understanding of networked place and the possibilities it presents for the people who inhabit it.
Two caveats: first, this is very far from a comprehensive list, and secondly, you should know that I’ve provided the titles with Amazon referral links, so I make a few pennies if you should happen to click through and buy anything (for which I thank you). At any rate, I hope you find it useful.
UPDATE 19 October 20.49 EEDT
Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions. Please do bear in mind that, as I noted, this is not a comprehensive list of interesting urbanist books, but an attempt to account specifically for those works that have been influential on my own thinking. With a very few exceptions, I’m no longer looking for new insights, but for ways to consolidate and express those deriving from my encounter with the works listed.
That said, I’ll continue to update the page as I either remember titles that ought to have been included in the first place, or in fact do assimilate new points of view.
– Alexander, Christopher, et al.: A Pattern Language
– Ascher, Kate: The Works: Anatomy of a City
– Augé, Marc: Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity
– Aymonino, Aldo and Valerio Paolo Mosco: Contemporary Public Space/Un-Volumetric Architecture
– BAVO, eds.: Urban Politics Now: Re-Imagining Democracy in the Neoliberal City
– Bachelard, Gaston: The Poetics of Space
– Baines, Phil and Catherine Dixon: Signs: Lettering in the Environment
– Banham, Reyner: The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment
– Benjamin, Walter: Selections from The Arcades Project
– Benkler, Yochai: The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
– Borden, Iain: Skateboarding, Space and the City
– Brand, Stewart: How Buildings Learn
– Canetti, Elias: Crowds and Power
– Careri, Francesco: Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice
– Carter, Paul: Repressed Spaces
– Crawford, J.H.: Carfree Cities
– Davis, Mike: Planet of Slums
– De Cauter, Lieven: The Capsular Civilization
– De Certeau, Michel: Chapter VII, “Walking in the City,” from The Practice of Everyday Life
– DeLanda, Manuel: Part I, “Lavas and Magmas,” from A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History
– Design Trust For Public Space: Taxi 07: Roads Forward
– Di Cicco, Pier Giorgio: Municipal Mind: Manifestos for the Creative City
– Dourish, Paul: Where The Action Is
– Flusty, Steven: Building Paranoia
– Fruin, John J.: Pedestrian Planning and Design
– Gehl, Jan: Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space
– Goffman, Erving:
• Behavior in Public Places
• Interaction Ritual
– Graham, Stephen and Simon Marvin: Splintering Urbanism
– Greenfield, Adam (that’s me!): Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing
– Hall, Edward T.: The Hidden Dimension
– Hammett, Jerilou and Kingsley, eds.: The Suburbanization of New York
– Hara, Kenya: Designing Design
– Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri: Empire
– Haydn, Florian and Robert Temel, eds.: Temporary Urban Spaces
– Holl, Steven, Juhani Pallasmaa and Alberto Pérez-Gómez: Questions of Perception
– Hughes, Jonathan and Simon Sadler, eds.: Non-Plan
– Ito, Mizuko, Daisuke Okabe, and Ken Anderson: “Portable Objects in Three Global Cities: The Personalization of Urban Places”
– Iwamoto, Lisa: Digital Fabrications
– Jacobs, Jane: The Death and Life of Great American Cities
– Kaijima, Momoyo, Junzo Koroda and Yoshiharu Tsukamoto: Made in Tokyo
– Kay, Alan: “User Interface: A Personal View,” in The art of human-computer interface design (Laurel, ed.)
– Kayden, Jerold S.: Privately Owned Public Space: The New York City Experience
– Kieran, Stephen and James Timberlake: Refabricating Architecture
– Klingmann, Anna: Brandscapes: Architecture in the Experience Economy
– Klooster, Thorsten, ed.: Smart Surfaces and their Application in Architecture and Design
– Latour, Bruno:
• Aramis, or: The Love of Technology
• Reassembling the Social
– Lefebvre, Henri: The Production of Space
– Lynch, Kevin: The Image Of The City
– McCullough, Malcolm: Digital Ground
– Mollerup, Per: Wayshowing: A Guide to Environmental Signage Principles and Practices
– Miller, Kristine F.: Designs on the Public
– Mitchell, William J.:
• City of Bits
• Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City
– Moran, Joe: Reading the Everyday
– Mumford, Lewis: The City In History
– MVRDV: Metacity/Datatown
– Neuwirth, Robert: Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World
– Nold, Christian, ed.: Emotional Cartography: Technologies of the Self
– O’Hara, Kenton, et al., eds.: Public and Situated Displays: Social and Interactional Aspects of Shared Display Technologies
– Oldenburg, Ray: The Great Good Place
– Qiu, Jack Linchuan: Working Class Network Society
– Raban, Jonathan: Soft City
– RAMTV: Negotiate My Boundary
– Rheingold, Howard: Smart Mobs
– Rudofsky, Bernard: Streets for People
– Sadler, Simon: Archigram: Architecture without Architecture
– Sante, Luc: Low Life
– Sennett, Richard: The Uses of Disorder
– Senseable City Lab: New York Talk Exchange
– Solnit, Rebecca: Wanderlust: A History Of Walking
– Suchman, Lucy: Plans and Situated Actions
– Tuan, Yi-Fu: Space and Place
– Varnelis, Kazys, ed.: The Infrastructural City
– Wall, Alex: Victor Gruen: From Urban Shop to New City
– Waldheim, Charles, ed.: The Landscape Urbanism Reader
– Watkins, Susan M.: Clothing: The Portable Environment
– Whitely, Nigel: Reyner Banham: Historian of the Immediate Future
– Whyte, William H.: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces
– Wood, Denis and Robert J. Beck: Home Rules
– Zardini, Mirko, ed.: Sense Of The City: An Alternate Approach to Urbanism
As most of you know, I pay a decent amount of attention to products offered under the Puma brand. Even when a particular item or line doesn’t quite do it for me – and this happens more and more often with every passing year, presumably because I’m ever more decisively aging out of their target demo – there’s generally something ever so slightly more interesting about the stance and overall aesthetic of the things they sell than those of competitors Adidas and Nike.
Nor should it come as any surprise that I’m going to be especially interested in a line called “Urban Mobility,” which has at various points over the last two years consisted of shoes, baggage, clothing, and even a white-labeled Biomega bike.
In Puma’s conception, urban mobility apparently has to do with affording the wearer free movement of the body, protecting him or her against inclement conditions, and offering plenty of pockets. These are not clothes for sitting in cars, riding on buses, or waiting on subway platforms, in other words; apparently, getting around the city is something that must be negotiated parkour-style, in the remorseless arena of the physical, unaided by anything infrastructural.
I’m not necessary put out by the fact that the line invests the act of getting around the city with a glamour entirely missing from most of the actual, everyday transactions involved – after all, isn’t that kind of the point of fashion? Nor am I even that surprised by the relative functional underperformance of the garments and luggage, their elevation of (nice-ish) typography and silly posturing over any real utility. (Though if you’re going to do “urban mobility,” you might as well do it.)
No, the biggest disappointment to me in all of this, by far, is that not a single one of the artifacts included in the Urban Mobility line partakes of or refers to the networked information real-world city mobility is increasingly built upon. It’s not just a question of Puma being a maker of stuff, not services; remember, even the abortive Trainaway offering included online and audio components. It’s a failure of imagination and understanding.
At the very least, how hard would it have been to gin up an Urban Mobility iPhone app? I mean, sure, it’s the kind of flavor-of-the-month thing I generally decry, an initative which would at first blush appear heir to all the sad-ass metooism of most such marketing efforts. But in this case there would at least be some logic and justification underwriting the effort, considering that urban mobility is manifestly what people do with these devices.
I know, I know: I’m being too literal. I’m failing to grasp that concern for function is too often the death of fantasy. More importantly, I’m failing to account for the fact that the whole collection is past its sell-by date (and doesn’t seem to have done that well to begin with). I’m showing my age, my lack of edge, whatever. Mark my words, though: such efforts are going to feel increasingly weak and incomplete without a networked component of some type, and the more so the greater the degree to which the posture subtends a domain in which the informatic is primary.
Last week was without question the week of Design and the Elastic Mind in my personal universe. With not merely multiple friends but multiple sets of friends and co-conspirators represented in it, a constellation of related events dominated my social life every bit as much as the content of the show occupied my thoughts.
It’s that content that I want to say a few words about, now that I’ve had a few days to digest it. I will certainly need to go back and see the show at some quieter time, or times, in order to render a fairer and more lasting judgment, but I did want to get these thoughts out before that initial impression fades.
Here’s the thing: curatorially, “Design” is a mess. Overly ambitious, overreaching, it tries to shoehorn too many entirely unrelated phenomena into one proposition, while at the same time failing to draw at least some of the really interesting connections that should have been made. (This is me all over the place, so YMM certainly V, but I was particularly disappointed that the show didn’t connect the dots between Aranda/Lasch’s awesome generative-algorithm piece Rules of Six and Tomás Gabzdil Libertiny’s equally beautiful, made-entirely-by-bees Honeycomb Vase.)
Many of the more conceptual pieces – and here I’m thinking particularly of Noam Toran’s and Dunne & Raby’s – need a good deal more explication, at least if visitors outside the particular social/intellectual fold in which these artifacts were produced are not to take them at face value, which is something I overheard happening. The show’s Web site is all but useless, and the attempt at information-design graphics bizarre and ineffectual. (What was up with all those weird little illegible “scale” icons?) Honestly, I would have had much, much more respect for Paola Antonelli and MoMA had they merely called their show “Here’s A Bunch Of Really Cool Stuff,” and left it at that.
However. All that said, it’s a great show. It’s great because these are exactly the ideas and materials and practices and strategies that I’d want an authoritative institution like MoMA presenting to its audience at this point in history. It’s great because it doesn’t need to be coherent to be important. It’s great because you can never say “selective laser sintering” too many times. Never least, it’s great because of the sheer and considerable beauty of so many of the artifacts on view.
I mean, of course I’m biased, but Stamen’s Cabspotting in the new, bespoke colorway produced for the show? Stunning – but not more stunning than Joris Laarman’s Bone Chair, Rules of Six, or Brad Paley’s TextArc.
So, if you can unpack the actual projects on display from the relatively unconvincing rhetoric surrounding them – and fortunately, this is not difficult – you will have a wonderful time at “Design and the Elastic Mind.” You will definitely see minds being blown and fun being had, simultaneously, which is a neat trick for any cultural institution to pull off, and especially one so set in its tracks as MoMA. There is of course always abundant reason to be depressed about the state of the world, but in some of the specific strategies, philosophies and processes on view here there’s also just enough support for reasoned hope. Experienced in the presence of others’ (occasionally perplexed, but genuine) delight, if the prospect of that hope doesn’t get you out to MoMA to check this show out, then nothing will.
In what I’m still not sure wasn’t some kinda disservice, last month my friend Derek took me more or less by the hand and walked me down to a boutique I’d been hearing about for years but had never yet visited: the surprisingly accessible cognoscenti bolthole called Atelier New York.
Good god. The Atelier vibe is somewhere in the fertile delta between monastic, SM and post-apocalyptic, making for the kind of environment in which the act of consummating a purchase feels simultaneously corrupt and all but sacramental.
Needless to say, I was at home immediately. Just about everything in the place is either grey or black. Racks of Raf Simons, Label Under Construction, Ann Demeulemeester, Yohji – the hard stuff, the stuff that’s just about impossible to find even in New York. Accessories? Yeah. Capacious bags made out of single pieces of cowhide, leather origami held together with sterling staples, like that.
I was back today, downtown on an unrelated mission. I got out with a pair of exquisite boots from The Viridi-anne, most of my sanity, and some fraction of my bank account. Boy howdy, this store is not for the weak of heart. You’ve been warned.
Man, I love living in a time in which the borderlines between art, craft, architecture and engineering seem to get blurrier with every passing day.
Marked as today’s Exhibit A in this regard is Eric Howeler and Meejin Yoon’s lovely Hover project for New Orleans. Hover is a suspended canopy of textile cells, each of which harvests solar gain by day and emits that energy as a gentle LED glow at night – a single, self-contained intervention that provides shelter, shade and public illumination, all without drawing on the grid.
It’s not too much to say that this is the kind of wise and aesthetically-guided use of technology that makes me hopeful about the future of cities. I continue to think that Howeler and Yoon are doing some of the most creatively multidisciplinary design work out there, and anticipate with a certain glee the day they have the resources to scale that work up. ‘Cause, let me tell you, that day is coming.
…an unexpected half-hour to shop at the notorious timesink called Jim Hanley’s Universe, where I picked up two volumes of Brian Wood’s DMZ, Jason Lutes‘s Berlin: City of Stones, the first ish of Tsutomu Nihei’s nihiltastic BLAME! (thanks, George!), and – calloo callay – the looooong-anticipated League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. On its very day of release. Score!
You’d think that’s enough popkultur glee for one day. Nej.
Somebody namechecked Owen Hatherly in comments here yesterday – I confess I wasn’t familiar with the name, but that’s what Google’s for, right? Two clicks later and I’m happily kneedeep in the man’s reflections on Communist couture from Huey and Angela to Erich (Honecker, that is). Yes.
Bonus: I followed up – counter to his intentions, I am sure – on Owen’s dissection of Black Box Recorder, a band I’d previously not heard of and whose gorgeous chilly pop spaces I’ve now spent an hour binge-downloading. (Did you really think I’d be able to resist an act with songs named, e.g., “The English Motorway System” and “British Racing Green”?) Latent fascist tendencies be damned: hello, delicious.
[F]or the young, everything else (fashion, slang, sexual styles) flowed from rock and roll, or was organized by it, or was validated by it – and that therefore rock and roll was not just the necessary first principle of any youth revolt, but that revolt’s necessary first target.
– Greil Marcus, “Anarchy in the U.K.,” in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, 1980
As a coming-home present, Nurri flabbergasted me by somehow tracking down and placing in my hands a book we had paged through in the San Francisco Kinokuniya three or four years ago, but never caught the name of: We’re Desperate: The Punk Rock Photography of Jim Jocoy, SF/LA 1978-1980.
I insist that you order this book. If you have any love for the vital creative upwelling that was the first wave of American punk rock – and especially if you lived through that moment, or its immediate offspring – you really do need to have these images close at hand. Everything in them is fresh, handmade, dangerous, naïve, tender, as yet uncoopted and unrecuperated. Jocoy was something mighty damn close to an August Sander of the early Scene, and it’s enough to make you want to cry, when you consider everything that came after.
You’ll recognize a few faces – Exene, Iggy, and Jello are all here, as well as lesser-known lights like Dianne Chai and Randy Stodola of the Alleycats – but really it’s the anonymous kids that make We’re Desperate what it is. As I described them in a 2004 Metafilter thread: “There were maybe a hundred of ’em, and no two looked the same. You had your Hefty bag dresses and your tempera-on-Kraft-paper ‘suits,’ your fetish trappings worn over SCUBA gear, your goldplate ultra-Elvis, your hand-me-down biker jackets and your Valley Cong – none of it yet ‘commoditized’ in any way, except as collages of decontextualized consumer detritus. Fat girls in mohair, diffidently queer Chinatown hoods with bad skin and dorks on loan from the marine-biology department looked you dead in the eye, daring you to call their bluff – they knew they were beautiful.” Actually looking at these pictures again, I got the details wrong, but the gestalt dead on. Dead on. They were beautiful.
Nostalgia for the gutter? Not really. More a sense – however illusory, however self-congratulatory – that once upon a time, this stuff mattered. That the notch of a collar, the color of a bootlace or the depth of a cuff, to say nothing about certain ritualized postures of the body, could encode a precise statement about one’s relation to the world and communicate this instantaneously to anyone properly equipped to decode it. (Of course, I would think this: it was Marcus, after all, that first pointed me at Dick Hebdige’s utterly essential Subculture: The Meaning of Style, which in turn gave me semiotics, the Situationists, Jean Genet and the Mods…and neatly made Marcus’s point for him.)
Anyway, consider this the strongest kind of recommendation. We’re Desperate is more than an important document. It’s a reminder, a goad, and a call to greatness.
Going to see the way-multitalented Meejin Yoon speak tomorrow, details forthcoming. (Multi– doesn’t really seem adequate for someone whose ambitions sprawl across interactive fashion, lighting design/environmental architecture, and book design. She’s kinda my hero.)
H/t: The Varnelisator.
UPDATE: Talk kicks off tonight at 18.30 EST on the lower level of Columbia’s Avery Hall. See you there? Thanks, Derek.