Zaha a Roma

Still under construction, this will be an extremely interesting
building for a number of reasons: the architecture, the concept (hey,
this IS the 21st century), and what it will do to a very backwater
neighborhood of Rome. There will now be an axis between MAXXI and Parco
della Musica (that includes the poor old Palazzeto dello Sport); who
will cut in for the next dance?

The pay as you go future

Sometimes, even comfortable Brits can shake us out of our complacency. I just got around to seeing Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46, which was first screened at the Venice Film Festival in 2003.

Shanghai, from Code 46

The screenplay, a cooperation between Winterbottom and his longtime writer associate, Frank Cottrell Boyce, hits on all the right cylinders: the cordoning off of the power centers of world cities even as the the rythyms and languages of India, China, Latin America and the third world overtake the anglo culture, pervasive privacy intrusions by quasi-governmental investigators (I love the firm name they chose, “Westerfields”), and ethical dilemmas resulting from easy human genetic engineering, to name a few of the topics that enmesh a simplistic love story.

Winterbottom chose to wing across the axes of population and the growing centers of world power: Shanghai, Dubai, and Rajasthan. The division of this not-so-future world between the cities and the fuera outside the checkpoints is where we are going. Maybe what was not so clear in the film is the police state required to keep the majority of the world’s population fuori le mura. What is clear is that everywhere you want to go, you have to present proof that you belong to the first world. Little holographic papeles show that you have “cover”. Without them, you might as well be Tsotsi.

All the details are telling: Tim Robbins’ P.I. character who flies from his oh-so-tidy Seattle home (wife, genetically engineered perfect child) to practice his powers of ESP on suspects in Shanghai and tells his mate, “I’ll be back in 24 hours.”

For the doomed lovers, the only escape from their inside lives is to venture out. The trip is to Jebel Ali (can anyone say “Dubai Ports World”? John Hagel can). From there, you have to go without “cover”, without the protective cocoon of technology, to make a connection with your past and with the human race. But you’re not really fuera. If you slip off the road, the helicopters and SUV’s of the state are on the accident scene in a matter of seconds to make sure that your memory is erased and your dissident lover is disappeared. Lo siento, but it’s verdad.

The mother of all snowstorms

Upper east side, 2/12/2006 Palermo "Annunziata" at the Met

It was the best of times, even though, or possibly due to the fact that, life itself (as well as all the trains, boats and planes) was running at half speed. The only depressing note in this otherwise
strange world (strange in that it was almost identical to the feel of the Chronicles of Narnia movie) had nothing to do with the snow.

If you travel anywhere in this country, you had better rent a car or pay for a room in a hotel, because you are not going to be able to leave your bag anywhere else in the city. Forget trying to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Forget the quaint notions of “cloak rooms”, or “deposito bagagli”. These niceties have long since been eliminated due to the one in a million chance of someone putting a malevolent device inside a rolling suitcase. Maybe Bloomberg’s ultra-efficient 21st century New York could afford to put bomb-proof concrete baggage checks every 20 blocks or so up and down Manhattan, now that they have been systematically scoured from the important places of our culture (the places that tourists like me must visit, trundling roller bags over the snowdrifts that barricaded the corners of the Upper East Side almost as high as the fortified walls of Palermo).

Finally, I was able to find someone to take pity on me in my quest to see six paintings by Antonello da Messina. A Madison Avenue shopkeeper with a heart of gold whose identity will be withheld from the authorities reading this blog accepted my bag for 90 minutes so that I could share the mystical combination of quiet contemplation of a renaissance room in a quiet city with my son.

No direction home

Taliesin sky V-dub
No direction home Mad mailbox

The fiddler, he now steps to the road
He writes ev’rything’s been returned which was owed
On the back of the fish truck that loads
While my conscience explodes

The more you hear Highway 61 Revisited the more it resonates with
the feeling of angst and doom anyone born in 1951 feels today. The road
from Hibbing to New Orleans is the road from Joe McCarthy to Karl Rove,
from My Lai to Tikrit, from Esso to Enron.

In Scorsese’s tribute, Joan Baez had it right when she said that for
the people who heard Dylan’s music, it cut right through to their
hearts. After a few beers at the Corte Madera Oktoberfest, even the
walk back to my house could be Highway 61, or even Rue Morgue Avenue.

You raise up your head
And you ask, “Is this where it is?”
And somebody points to you and says
“It’s his”
And you say, “What’s mine?”
And somebody else says, “Where what is?”
And you say, “Oh my God
Am I here all alone?”

See for yourself…

Archigram 2005

The High Line (Diller Scofidio + Renfro)

30 years in the making. Apparently the money and design (by New York architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro) have been found to create a new vision for reusing the elevated tracks on New York’s lower west side: The High Line.

Every city in America with an industrial past could use a little help like this.


Time Warner Center, New York, April 2005

New York, 3 weeks ago. When corporate greed meets Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, look out. This building (the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle) is from some angles a futurist dream, from others just a hulking mass overshadowing the kitschily lovable 1960’s ex-Huntington Hartford Museum of Art by Edward Durrell Stone (right foreground).

Apparently, David Childs’s rehack of the Daniel Liebeskind’s World Trade Center skyscraper has been sent packing by the NYPD. Is this a good or a bad thing? Maybe the good citizens, unenlightened as they are because of the draconian powers of the Port Authority, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and Larry Silverstein, will get another chance at a redesign, maybe even one that will let them see this huge development in drawings, before it is cast in terrorist-proof cladding. Hopefully Childs will consider the Freedom Tower from all angles and not aim for one dramatic shot from the Statue of Liberty.

Recent news does not bode well for the preservation of the Ed Stone building, either.

Goin’ digital

My 20 year old travel companion   4 dimensional candleholder

We’ll be on the right coast this week, with a new content grabber, the Canon PowerShot S70, wide enough for architectural photography. If the weather smiles on us, there may be things to discuss. Hopefully, the author will find that the transition from emulsion (and a 10-pound SLR with bulky shift lens) to CompactFlash is as liberating as the transition from handwriting to WordPress.

What will be interesting for my techie side is what you can do in post-photography to build architectural images, given 7.1 megapixels and some good tools. Panorama Tools (or a freeware replacement for it) should help compensate the loss of a real tilt-shift lens. The transformations of this little software package are pretty astounding. I like the attitude of the developer, Helmut Dersch, when he states that with his software and the right equipment “previously impossible effects can be realized.” Off we go.

Err. Guess what–every silver lining has an IP cloud around it. Apparently the folks at Pictosphere feel that they own Helmut’s stuff:

We believe Helmut Dersch has made a non-profit contribution to the field of spherical photography, as have many of those who use his software. We plan no legal action in enforcing our patents against Dr. Dersch, nor against non-profit users of his software in the United States. While this is our policy, it should be clearly understood that we believe the “PT” suite of software tools uses technology encompassed by our patents, and that if you are using the tools commercially in the United States, you need to purchase the appropriate Pictosphere™ license (e.g., Click Away™) in fairness to us. We have invested considerable resources and many years to open up the spherical industry commercially to a legal, non-click-fee solution, and we believe this will benefit everyone in the industry. Furthermore, you need to be aware that other than for PT-Viewer, you may have third party exposure if you are using the “PT” tools commercially, (although it may not be worth it for someone to prove in court whose tools you are really using). We are distributing PT-Viewer under the GNU license, alongside our product. Because, as has been previously stated, a Pictosphere™ Click Away™ software license includes a license to Ford Oxaal’s patents, and because Ford Oxaal’s patents alone, so far as we know, cover PT-Viewer, Click Away™ users are free to use PT-Viewer.

And poor Pictosphere is trying to extort from the big boys: iPix and their ilk. Ain’t patents wonderful. The underlying math of mapping pixels from one space to another is in every graphics textbook around. I’m not “commercial” so I’m not going to worry (yet).

The web that will be

Kentfield map

It would be nice to have the web be the platform for software development, and after several years of the doldrums, the folks at Google and Yahoo! have grabbed the attention of developers everywhere. They are starting to share former secrets on development sites.

Some of the things that might make it happen for developers, now that the box has been opened again:


Web sites, such as Position Is Everything are continuing to expand the knowledge required to produce acceptable user interfaces in a web browser.

X Forms

Coming, eventually, to everyone. Now available as a Flash 6 plugin, or in Mozilla (beta). Watch this space. Or another X-language: Laszlo.

XPath and XQuery

There are commercial and open source XQuery servers now available, so getting simple access to XML databases of all kinds is getting easier. When all the web’s content is expressible as XML queries, what could happen? Ask Udell.

Ajax (asynchronous HTTP using Javascript)

The talk is heating up, and we’ll probably find that Ajax works its way into a slew of new possibilities.

REST (keep it simple web services)

REST is back because of Yahoo’s bold decision not to jump on the SOAP + WS-yada-yada-yada bandwagon.

Beyond HTML and Javascript, you get into the more robust and complicated platforms:

Java Web Start

Java is still out there as a client-side solution, even though Microsoft would wish it away. If it had a true open source following, which could happen any day now, Java Web Start could provide a way to build applications of arbitrary complexity deployed on any platform.

Servlet Engine in a Box

Using existing technologies it is pretty easy to package any application inside a desktop web application server and avoid all installation problems.

Mono (Cross-platform .NET)

Using a cross-platform system with rich user interface and networking, the
mono project is trying to regain the write-once, deploy anywhere philosophy that Java first started.

The human landscape   Central do Brasil

I wanted to express my affiliation with observers of the edges of landscape. There is something deep and moving about understanding the contradiction between the smallness of the individual when seen in the context of a frontier landscape and the immense power that human civilization has had in changing the face of the planet. Some of the best observations of this dilemma can be seen in films of the last 50 years, when directors found the striking point of view of the wide angle lens.

J. B. Jackson was the premier American commentator on how our country’s unique cultural history, especially in the wild West, has evolved from its original inhabitants to the time of the automobile culture of the 20th century.

When and if I get the time, I want to go back to the films of John Ford.

Michelangelo Antonioni was one of the first filmmakers to understand how the landscape can frame human stories. His placement of troubled characters in abandoned, unexpected urban and desert locations highlights the universality of their plight.

Abbas Kiarostami’s 1997 film, Taste of Cherry, leads to contemplation on the meaning of human life in an era of ongoing sprawl and militarism.

Walter Salles’s recent pictures, Central do Brasil, Behind the Sun and the Motorcycle Diaries are other sources of contemplation on the “lost” places of human settlement and the exploitation of the subsistence workers who live on the edge.