I have not written anything in many months. I think I’m going to try a new approach. I think it’ll be more interesting to write broadly about things that I have stumbled across.
Bit of a shameless plug between posts.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have taken part in Birmingham’s first Still Walking Festival. It has included ‘Radical Truths’, a cycling tour of Birmingham’s former bike manufacturers led by the nice guys at the Birmingham Bike Foundry, Stirchley.
It has also included a walk of the Queensway ‘Concrete Collar’ that surrounds the city led by architect, urban designer and my PhD supervisor Joe Holyoak. Both events were a lot of fun, and I was asked to be a guest blogger for the Walk the Queensway event which you can read here.
Photo credit: Katchooo, Flickr
‘Form ever follows function’ (Sullivan, 1896)
“First, we shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us” (Churchill, 1943)
‘First we shape our buildings, then they shape us, then we shape them again – ad infinitum. Function reforms form, perpetually.’ (Brand, 1994:3)
Stewart Brand’s reworking of both Sullivan and Churchill’s quotes is a very important observation. His book How Buildings Learn has undoubtably changed the way I think about buildings. Rather than just a focus upon the use of space, he stresses the need to understand buildings through the use of time. It is a verb and a noun, and it involves people.
Things change as are needs change, both people and buildings learn; neither are timeless, they both age. Some do it more gracefully than others. If a building can no longer be useful, it often ceases to be used. We cannot predict the future needs of a building nor of people, but we can make the possibility of adapting it easier or harder:
This dome leaks and its hardly the easiest building to make changes on - whether that’s dividing walls inside or adding an extension when you need more room. Plus I’d constantly by fearful of golf-playing giants (and judging by the owners’ UFO I would have thought that they are probably scared of that, too).
Of course this is an extreme example, but still, the argument Stewart Brand makes is build for change because not everyone wants to stick to the architect’s original plans:
A few thoughts: It’s a Sunday and I’m sitting in a coffee shop with my laptop. Sharing my table is a friend of mine who works in a very different field to myself, although we share a lot of similar thoughts and ideas. He also lent me some good headphones, so listening to Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings ‘Naturally‘ sounds incredible (I recommend it, by the way). I’m writing this blog post which isn’t necessarily essential work but something slightly different.
Albeit a simple, somewhat prosaic, example, this nicely frames some of my recent ideas towards working. I do not wish to claim that I am saying anything new at this stage, but I want to build upon this.
Now it is worth noting that mobile working is not a new concept. Frank Duffy highlights this in ‘Work and The City’ through the example of Samuel Pepys, whilst the coffee shop has long been a place of work and discussion (thinking back to David Harvey’s ‘Paris, Capital of Modernity’ – one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a long time).
In a contemporary context, as a result of wireless technologies, a shift in much work towards ‘post-Fordism’ amongst other factors, work can no longer be conceptualised as, confined to or reduced to, a five-day week from 9am to 6pm (or occasionally 10am-4pm if you’re lazy like me). Mobile, flexible working allows (forces?) people to work on trains, in coffee shops, in hotels at what ever time they want or need to. Again, I’m saying nothing revolutionary, here.
I’ve currently been working in a co-working space in part to think about my research about workspaces, but also to rejuvenate my own work and sanity. One aspect which I find fascinating is how the co-work space provides a location for all different entrepreneurs, mobile workers, students etc. whilst fostering an enjoyable environment and a pleasant atmosphere, all the while creating a network of friends and loads of interesting conversations. This has got me thinking, what does the future of office work look like? If co-location and synchrony are becoming less important for certain types of jobs, how will cities develop in relation to this? Industry shaped the urban fabric in the 19th century, and transport helped facilitate the growth of the suburbs in the 20th century. Cities often have business districts, quarters and similar focal points for specific types of working, which can often mean that they lie deserted at certain times and huge numbers of desks sit empty. Can new ways of working simultaneously make work more enjoyable whilst creating healthier cities both socially and environmentally?
Now, thanks to my aforementioned co-working friend, I was pointed in the direction of ‘The Idler’. I’ll properly read some of their publications, but from my brief overview, it appears to fundamentally question how and why we work. In a suitably idle way, I turned to Wikipedia to locate a nice quote:
[a] characteristic of the idler’s work is that it looks suspiciously like play. This, again, makes the non-idler feel uncomfortable. Victims of the Protestant work ethic would like all work to be unpleasant. They feel that work is a curse, that we must suffer on this earth to earn our place in the next. The idler, on the other hand, sees no reason not to use his brain to organise a life for himself where his play is his work, and so attempt to create his own little paradise in the here and now.
The Idler has more control, freedom and choice over their work. Surely this autonomy is what we should all be looking for in order to make the inevitability of work much more enjoyable? For me, this involves a blurring of what is work and what is not (whilst not being exploited or trapped by this), and the spaces in which we can do this is a fundamental aspect.
Okay, so this isn’t strictly on the topic of workspaces, but the very nature of the blog allows for this I’d say.
I stumbled upon this website today, entitled, Paris vs New York. I’m a bit of a sucker for minimal graphic design and thought I’d share a few to brighten up the blog slightly.
Various prints and books are available from his blog, just follow the link. Click pictures for larger size.
Where would you rather live, and why?
An interesting video to watch – and it’s animated. Hooray!
Via @RachelGillies and @MoseleyExchange
It would probably be fair to argue that as a discipline, geography is under the radar within many realms of design. Whilst geographers are familiar with working alongside architects, planners, policymakers, local stakeholders, to name just few from my own personal experience, the great strengths of geography often remain hidden, or least, undervalued.
Whilst this is due to a series of complex reasons, I would perhaps suggest that this is in part, the way in which geographic research is disseminated. I have become increasingly conscious that there is a need to discuss my developing research amongst a range of professions and disciplines, both to improve the quality of my research, but also to create discussion between different people.
This would most likely be quantified in terms of ‘impact’. I expect that the discipline of geography will increasingly seek to have wider impact in order to sustain itself, or indeed “stay relevant” (a phrase I’m hearing an awful lot of late). I don’t consider this to be a bad thing. I believe that geography and geographers have a whole host of useful ideas, tools and methods which can help explain and critique interactions and social habits within, across and over space and time. It may sound vague, but with the ability to look at a range of scales of human interaction, over and between spaces/places, this ambiguity, represents the possibilities of geography.
Is work and research becoming increasingly collaborative? Multi-disciplinary? Or as was suggested by Prof Alister Scott at the Great Regional Debate 2012 at Millennium Point, trans-disciplinary? I quite like the last suggestion.
Steering this back towards the practice of design, this was put quite nicely by Ian Oas at InformeDesign, created by the University of Minnesota. (
) The short introduction has got me thinking which is always considered useful. I recommend giving it a quite read.
To be continued… (*dramatic*)