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Costa Rica Inundacion Workshop

Friday, November 24, 2006
workshop schedule

Welcome to InundacionCostaRica! A game for uncovering unexpected urban possibilities! The four day workshop will bring together a range of players for intense conversation about the design of and response to an imagined catastrophic flood. This post outlines the structure of the four day interactive event.

protocolo drawing

Day 1: An introductory presentation (workshop dynamics and terms, 'flood photos' and ‘mcluhan probes’) / The forming of groups (by random method) / Chat / Brainstorming / Gathering of information.

There will be three types of groups in the workshop – the dynamics team (‘actores causantes’), the media and the simulation teams (‘actores actuantes’). The dynamics board will design the catastrophe and organise content to pass on to the media. Three teams will work together – a meteorological, a social and an infrastructural – to design the catastrophe. The media team will consist of two types – the ‘liberal blogger’ and the monopoly-media CNN-style reporter. Finally there will be five teams of characters at the simulation table who negotiate a response to the catastrophe in the form of a narrative script.

Day 2: Brainstorming / Map-drawing / Character development / Interviews.

Each team-type will have filters which structure the development of their content/characters. For example the dynamics team might organise and discuss their information in terms of natural and social scenarios, conflicts and problems. They will produce the 'facts' of the catastrophe. The simulation teams will develop their characters based on three random criteria – a social character, a style and a secret objective. Meanwhile the media teams will do interviews and profiles, and begin blogs which will help them distribute their news. They will be developing strategies to influence players through their delivery of 'information' about the catastrophe.

Day 3: Construction of catastrophe / Interactions / Narrative rounds / Dynamics delivery.

To begin the game the dynamics board will deliver some facts about the catastrophe to the simulation table; for example, 'zone X has one meter of flooding' or 'the electricity system has gone out.' In response each team will produce a brief in a simple format (see graphic below) with a title, a subtitle and a paragraph – the outcome of their discussion about the situation. They will make a short presentation about their brief to the other teams, followed by 5 minutes of free conversation ‘pero puesta en escena'. After the presentations the media will have two minutes to deliver information back to the dynamics board before bringing back the fresh 'real-time' information about the catastrophe. The rounds begin! Each round will take 40-60 minutes and produce a narrative brief which is delivered back to the dynamics board by the media (ensuring a constant cycle of information between parties). A 'scribe' in each team will record the conversation (on a blog?) so that so that there is a ‘multi-narrative’ response.

narrative format

Day 4: Presentation of secret objectives / Team commentary / Public discussion of the experience.

Players learn the secret objectives of their rivals and judge how successful they've been at acheiving them. There will also be an opportunity to review the game with a wider audience and a closing toast!

See you there!

On Costa Rica and its Natural Disasters

Thursday, October 12, 2006
In November 06, m7 will travel to Costa Rica to partcipate in ‘Estrecho Dudoso’ - an international art event arranged as part of San Jose´s celebrations as Iberoamerican Capital of Culture 2006. m7 are organising an iteration of Inundacion! to be played in a four-day workshop. This post collects together information found on the internet about local flooding conditions, which could in turn inform how the framework for the version of the game in San Jose is constructed.

Not necessarily directly related to flooding….I like this fact nonetheless: the idea that Costa Rica is ‘geologically speaking’ rather young: it is only three million years old. It suffers frequent earthquakes caused by the collision of two main tectonic plates (the last serious one was in April ‘91), active volcanoes (in the sixties the Irazu volcano showered ash and clouds of smoke over San Jose for two years) and during its rainy season (May to September), flooding and landslides. The average yearly precipitation is 100 inches nationwide, with excess of rain often causing flooding in low-lying areas of the country along the Atlantic Coast. Droughts sometimes occur in the Northern Pacific section of the country.

The most severe flooding in recent years was in late November and early December of 2002 when a cold front generated rains which inundated 110 communities, with waters rising to a metre and a half in some areas. 7 people were killed, 53 injured, 25,000 homes damaged, 3000 acres of crops destroyed and 65,000 people were affected in sum by the worst flooding in more than 30 years. A month’s worth of rain fell on the night of Nov 23rd alone. The provinces of Limon, Heredia and Cartagon were most severely affected.

CR Turrialba Map

The Emergency National Commission organised the search-and-rescues and provided food, water and shelter for evacuees. It was aided heavily by the Costa Rican Red Cross, who also received supplies from their German and US counterparts. Emergency strategies were informed by a team of disaster experts located in the region known as PADRU (the Pan American Disaster Response Unit).

In May 2004 Costa Rica declared a state of emergency when flooding killed two, forced the evacuation of 7500 and damaged twelve bridges. In January 2005 the Carribean region of Costa Rica received 35 cm of rain in one day, the biggest volume ever recorded in a single day in this region. Five people died and 6062 people evacuated. In September 2005 major flooding was caused by Hurricane Rita, the hurricane that followed close on the heels of Katrina. Meanwhile some 50% of disaster related damage and losses in San Jose over the last 35 years have been caused by floods. Apparently “hypotheses suggest that recurrent flood events are the result of a progressive risk building by hydrometeorological events, and not the consequence of the hydrologic and meteorological dynamics of the rivers themselves”. Hmmm, tell me if you understand what this means!

NASA CR image

Turrialba City suffers particularly severe urban flooding, related to the occurrence of torrential rainfall from humid winds off the Caribbean Sea but also due to “wrong policies in urban and land use planning”. For example uncontrolled urban expansion along river courses has narrowed their channels and discharge capacity so that the amount of rainfall necessary to cause a flood has been decreasing. Flashfloods are caused by small rivers coming down from the mountains of the Turrialba Volcano. The maps below are from flood vulnerability assessments that mapped several different flood scenarios onto information about slope, drainage pattern, grain size, permeability of different areas of the city. The diagram underneath them shows the ´flood risk assessment methodology.´

CR Vulnerabiliyt Maps for Varying Flood Depths

CR Flood Risk Assessment Methodology Diagram

San Jose, perhaps unsurprisingly, seems to be a locus in Central America for disaster-related conferences. These are summaries of a few different ones I found.

A conference on “Components of an Integrated Program for Flood Vulnerability Reduction and the Development of Local Warning Systems in Central America” brought together national and municipal governments, local planning, health, water and emergency managers, representatives from agriculture, transport and energy sectors and NGOs active in environmental, community and infrastructure development “to develop planning processes for management and response, damage mitigation projects in the river valleys and community preparedness for emergency warning and response”. Topics discussed included the design of warning systems, local monitoring and flood forecasting models and the implementation of a preparedness program, presented in the form of local workshops and response simulations.

CR Water Measuring Device

In May 1999 San Jose hosted the "World Meeting of NGOs, Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples on Wetlands" with the participation of 110 delegates from 21 countries and more that 500 local, national and international organizations and coalitions. The representatives were concerned about the destruction of wetlands around the world from dam construction and the serious impact, including increased flooding problems, that dams have on the communities that depend on the resources provided by wetlands. They called for a moratorium on the construction of new hydroelectric dams, including a cluster of eighty small but destructive dams in Costa Rica.

In January 2006, the World Hyperbase of Disaster Reducation Technology Implementation Strategies had a third meeting in San Jose. The Hyperbase is a plan for an evolving public database of disaster-reduction information. Rather than just providing information about hazards, the goal is for the project to contain useful mitigation experiences, procedures and methodologies for prevention. At the conference participants discussed its content, its architecture and its management. Will it be an active catalyst or a passive library for example? What is the relationship between the ‘knowledge producers’ and the ‘change agents’ (users)? How can they make it accessible to a wide variety of users with limited access to technology? Will the architecture be a traditional database or a self-organising system? What will motivate people to contribute to it, “in short be sure that if you build it, they will come”?

To imagine the database from the perspective of users they created three stories, using the scenario of a library (“who goes in and out, what is on the shelves, why are people going there, what advertising or events led them there”), an interagency agreement with technological implementation, and a local government using it to prevent flood loss. Interestingly they used Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point as a reference in a discussion about how to get more grassroots actors to care about risk reduction. The conference notes also record that “around 8pm there will be a surprise” but unfortunately that was the last of the text. Perhaps Malcolm himself showed up!

In March 2006 The International Workshop on Flash Flood Forecasting was held in San Jose, co-ordinated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstrations National Weather Service and the World Meteorological Organisation. The conference provided information on types of flash flood prediction capabilities for ‘at risk’ regions in developing countries, determined weak links in the warning systems and engaged in dialogue with potential donor organisations. The workshop which perked my interest from the list was entitled ‘Ice Jams and their Hydrological Implications’ by a Mr Sergei Borsch from the Federal Service for Hydrometeoroloy in Russia! In looking up exactly what an 'ice jam' is ('an accumulation of broken river or sea ice caught in a narrow channel') I also discoverd there exists in technical terminology ice aprons, ice blinks, ice fogs, ice veins, ice quakes and ice cakes!

San Jose has also hosted a group of Latin American Disaster Researchers known as La Red, who argue that not enough attention is given to small and medium size disasters that are more common than the catastrophes that catch national media attention. They have developed a computer based accounting system called DESINVENTAR for compiling chronologies of these disasters. The information “underscores the vulnerability of people in rapidly growing megacities in a period of economic stringency” and demonstrates how the cause of floods is often not rainfall itself but "uncontrolled development of green spaces and natural water catchment areas, along with broken or refuse-choked drains."

The NWP (Netherlands Water Partnership) also seems to be developing some kind of dialogue with Costa Rica on the theme of ‘Global Climate Change and Urban Flood Mitigation.’ Their program explores how to integrate urban flood planning with urban planning….how to incentivise local actors to consider flood risk and the ‘long horizon’ in the context of uncertainty about future climate change….and how to use flood management not simply for safety but also to ‘minimise economic damage’ and to ‘improve spatial qualities’.

Lastly, I also came across a PHD report entitled Developing a Paradigm for Disaster Recovery in Central America.’ Although the four case studies were from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador there was some interesting, more general content in the introduction. For example: “disasters are not solvable problems. They are physical, political, economic and social events to be mitigated, managed and learned from.” In Central America where “disasters are woven into the fabric of community life” the generic recovery model, used to organise and manage post-disaster efforts involves “a series of linked actions are programmed, ending in a return to normalcy.” But a second paradigm is gradually emerging – the transformative path. This emerging paradigm “views disaster recovery as a mechanism of social transformation at many levels, but predominantly local and regional.” The report explores four examples of the latter paradigm using a comparative conceptual model based on vulnerability, community assets, claims and access, where “the ability of a community to sustain any improvement over time is a function of both its internal capacities (the degree of horizontal integration) and its external capacity (vertical integration) to utilise the non-local resource within its sphere of influence (national, state and international cooperation).” Etc!

CR Flooding 02

On Networked Publics

Wednesday, October 04, 2006
In my unintended tradition of profiles about American architectural academics, here’s another. This one is Irish but has been living in Los Angeles and is now moving to New York. Ladies and Gentleman – Kazys Varnelis. He’s going to be Director of the new Network Architecture Lab at Columbia, a research unit which “investigates the impact of computation, communications and telematics on architecture and urbanism”. Before that he was at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Communications ‘Networked Publics’ program, which explored “the roles of audiences, activists, citizens, and producers in maturing networked media ecologies, including the changing relationship between production and consumption, viral and peer-to-peer distribution, and networked lateral political mobilization.”

He was interviewed recently by Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG, whose blog is full of weird and wonderful references from literature, science, architecture, art, philosophy, to, well, anything and everything that has form in some way. The first bit of the interview that I’ve sampled is naturally related to questions about Walmart, logistics and architectural roles:

Varnelis: "Building code and computer algorithms are not actually that dissimilar....Of course, the idea of architectural code is also a question of logistics. With the rise of the internet, ever more sophisticated forms of logistics are being put to use by very large, very powerful organizations – Amazon, FedEx, UPS, Wal-Mart, Home Depot....(At NetLab) We’re going to be running a studio on the role of logistics – how do you load a space, or organize a space, and what kind of activities might you prescribe for that space?

BLDGBLOG: Speaking of logistics, Wal-Mart has suddenly and – at least to me – unexpectedly become a kind of one-man cartographic avant-garde. In other words, Wal-Mart’s attempt to track all its goods in real-time has led to literally classified techniques for understanding economic geography, the most sophisticated modeler of data sets outside of, say, the NSA or DARPA – and yet it’s all to sell bath towels and non-stick pans. What do you make of Wal-Mart’s sudden ascension to the heights of geography, and how has Wal-Mart’s use of radio-frequency ID chips (RFIDs) facilitated this mastery of commercial space-time?

Varnelis: One of the things that’s both amazing and kind of frightening about RFIDs is that they remain with you long after you leave the store. There’s no reason why RFIDs couldn’t already be the subject of incredibly sophisticated, long-term forms of tracking – or why, if you enter Wal-Mart already wearing clothes tagged with RFIDs, you couldn’t be greeted with highly specific and individualized forms of product information. Let’s say Geoff walks in, and he’s already bought two t-shirts and a pair of pants: from the RFIDs still embedded in his clothing, the store will know exactly who he is, even what he might be shopping for.

Paco Underhill must be excited.

Some of his thoughts on reality vs fiction and on documentaries vs novels:

Varnelis: Reality is ever more perverse and ever more fascinating. Proportionally, more and more people are reading nonfiction today. The documentary, which, twenty years ago, was this kind of weird, unpopular genre that was maybe only shown on PBS, is now being watched by millions of people. Whether that’s March of the Penguins or the Al Gore movie or a reality TV show, there’s a kind of obsession with reality now, an obsession with finding new ways to represent and document existing conditions. It’s a counterpart to the culture of political surveillance: working with the fact of being watched everyday becomes one of the quickest available routes toward cultural participation.

Fiction just seems to be adrift. Where fiction does thrive, it’s in video games – and those aren’t so much fiction as alternate realities. In either case, the world is bizarre enough. The new content we are seeking is already out there. Right now we’re captivated by the proposition that reality is the strangest thing we can think of. Sixteen years ago, a friend of mine went to Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong, and I have yet to see an architectural project that rivals that. Or Quartzsite, Arizona, for that matter.


On the ‘myth’ that the Internet is good news for democracy:

Varnelis: It’s become clear that the converse is also true, however: that the intense centralization of networking infrastructure makes it all too easy to track and control internet traffic. Over a decade ago, Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron identified The Californian Ideology as a dominant strain in thinking about networking technology. Drawing on counterculture individualism and misunderstanding the basic structure of the internet, they suggested that the supposedly distributed nature of the internet would give nearly-unlimited freedom to the individual. But the Californian Ideology is incredibly naïve. By adopting a laissez-faire attitude, we’ve failed to realize how tight the noose has gotten as government and industry collude to create unprecedented forms of control.

As well as public space in the age of the networked city:

Varnelis: "I would caution against thinking that this is some new and frightening division between the public – which is usually theorized as good – versus the private, which is usually seen as atomized and isolated and bad. This new digital geography is not a reversal of the public sphere; it’s just a mutation. The “public” simply doesn’t exist the way it used to. If you look at “the public” – even when it consists of fragmented demographics – there are still greatly shared experiences by various clusters of individuals.

There’s a fascinating book called The Clustered World by Michael J. Weiss that talks about this. The company that does this analysis, Claritas, has a website where they break down American consumers into, I think, 48 distinct clusters – and they’re really dead-on. These groups are dispersed across huge geographical distances, but they’re connected telematically – those are real links – whereas you might go just five miles away and feel totally alienated. So it’s hard for me to buy into the argument that we need to endlessly lament the end of the public sphere – when different kinds of human relations are clearly coming into being."


His comments on the changing nature of public space reminded me of similar comments, within a more lower-tech frame of reference, by (another American academic, sorry) Margaret Crawford, an academic who was once part of the school of thought “which bemoans the loss of public space and makes dark predictions about how that loss is contributing to the erosion of democratic values”. She contributed a chapter to Michael Sorkin’s ‘Variations of a Theme Park’, positing the idea that the entire world had become a gigantic shopping mall. She has changed her position in the last few years though - "I don't think public space is dead, just changing. We can't even say what public space is. In fact, there are different public spaces that address different publics." As part of the Everyday Urbanism movement she has spent time closely examining the garage sale phenomenons of Los Angeles. Crawford calls the process by which groups use unauthorized means to transform the urban landscape "reterritorialization."

“Selling used merchandise at garage sales is a flourishing business in many parts of the city. Although city ordinances generally impose limits on the number of sales an individual can hold per year, these limits are frequently ignored, and yard sales sometimes become permanent, in effect a store on private property. Garage and yard sales tend to intersect with other venues at which used goods are sold, such as flea markets and antique stores. There's an entire informal economy that's very rich and that brings about a lot of cross-class activity. It's a whole neighborhood web held together by used things."

garage sale

Garage sales change the meaning of the single family home by activating the front yard, which is usually the ‘buffer space’ to keep people out. Though ‘these activities seem trivial’, Crawford sees them as a way in which people ‘demand to use space, which can be seen as a new form of urban citizenship. For many of these people (in particular illegal immigrants who have fought to be accepted as entrepreneurs rather than criminals) this type of action is more significant than electoral politics”. Nor are these yard sales a leveraging point only for the poor:

“During the early 1990s, when real estate prices plummeted, leaving many homeowners with mortgages they could no longer afford, yard sales sprouted along the manicured streets of Beverly Hills. Owners of million-dollar homes could be seen offering leather jackets and other luxury goods at bargain prices.”

garage sale weekend


While assembling this post I unearthed a host of conferences with broadly similar themes related to 'Networked Publics'.

- 'The Architecture and Situated Technologies Conference' (held by the Center for Virtual Architecture and The Institute for Distributed Creativity) is set to take place in a couple of weeks. The conference is not interested only in scenarios where “everyday objects and spaces are networked with computational intelligence” but in how ‘situated technology’ can incorporate “an awareness of cultural context, accrued social meanings, and the temporality of spatial experience". Situated technologies “privilege the local, context- specific and spatially contingent dimension of their use”.

One of the questions the conference 'poses' - "How might this evolving relation between people and "things" alter the way we occupy, navigate, and inhabit the built environment?" - refers to a recently released UN report by the International Telecommunications Union predicting an ‘Internet of Things’, “where the “users” of the Internet will be counted in billions and where humans may become the minority as generators and receivers of information” (the majority being automated sensors, radio frequency tags, GPS modules etc).

- Breaking the Game is a series of offline interdisciplinary workshops and an online symposium to connect “a growing community of artists and designers who mine the resources, code, and aesthetics of video games"....opening up the "art of game modification" to the "contingencies of everyday life." One theme of the workshop is 'Overclocking the City' and proposes that "we look more critically at gaming technologies and culture as storehouses of tools, code, interactive strategies, possibilities for social networking, new spatial/perceptual metaphors, and graphical worlds that can be used, manipulated, and re-energized for purposes that lie outside corporate goals of the game industry. We propose using these popular technologies to help cure ourselves of old habits of thought, not necessarily for designing better working buildings, but for designing new kinds of perceptual experiences that might influence, disrupt, expand and integrate with the social and material practices of our public urban spaces."

My favourite example question is: "how might anthropological fieldwork and ethnography change if its practitioners had to create a 3D virtual world rather than an essay or a book; if anthropology's disciplinary object was an updatable, media-rich, networked, and navigable space, rather than a text?" Interessante, no?!

- CONFLUX is the annual festival of ‘contemporary psyschogeography’, also happening in NYC (where I guess you just spend your time going to conferences if you live there). Projects range from "interpretations of the classical approach developed by the Situationists to new methods being developed today in cities throughout the world." The city becomes "a playground, a laboratory and a space for the development of new networks and communities. Preemptive Media have designed AIR [Area's Immediate Reading] - a public, social experiment in which people are invited to use portable air monitoring devices to explore their neighborhoods and urban environments for pollution and fossil fuel burning hotspots.


And lastly, if you like the world neatly packaged and categorised for easy digestion, here is Kazys Varnelis's user-friendly matrix for understanding our contemporary condition of ‘transcontemporaneity’.

Kazys Diagram


"If you are a utopian modernist, the prognosis isn’t great. Architecture is the last thing horizontality needs" (Kazys Varnelis on his support for 'altomodernista's fotolog).

On Military Operations and Urban Planning: Part One

Friday, September 29, 2006
“I spoke to an Israeli reserve soldier shortly after the battle of Jenin. I was interested in the relationship between planning – not physical planning, but the attempt to foresee scenarios and act accordingly – and urban warfare. What he said was not surprising in its essence, but in its intensity. He spoke of his perception of total chaos, where all the plans and preparations became irrelevant, the battle completely unexpected, dense, full of contradictions, with characters changing their role from woman to man, from civilian to combatant, from friend to foe. Chance played a more important role than the ability to calculate and predict. It has become impossible to draw up scenarios, plan next steps, or draw up single-track plans to follow through. This really shows that, as far as the military is concerned, urban warfare is the ultimate post-modern warfare: the belief in a logically structured, single-tracked and pre-planned approach is lost in the complexity and ambiguity of the urban reality”

(from an interview with Israeli architect Eyal Weizman, 'Military Operations as Urban Planning')

In April I went to a symposium in New York entitled ‘Should the Future be Designed? Alternative Approaches to Activism, Politics and Professional Practice in the Design Disciplines’ . M. Christine Boyer, a Princeton academic, explored some parallels between military and urban planning desires to control the city. Ultimately she argued that the military had developed far more sophisticated tools for understanding the dynamics of urban contexts than the planning profession.

A brief search on the internet reveals that ‘Urban Operations’ (or MOUT - Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain) is indeed a topic of urgency in military strategy research (it also happens to be the name of an earnest new design firm in Los Angeles, whose work promises “to critique culture either through suggestive methods or more direct strategies”, for example the “design of furniture whose proportions revolved around collections of consumerist technologies”).

So what are these tools the military are developing for dealing with the fact that “the Clausewitzian definition of warfare as a symmetrical engagement between state armies in the open field are over?” Some concrete examples I found on the web range from the constructive to the virtual and include:

- DARC (Direct Action Resource Center) provides one to one mockups for war games in middle America. Their 6,100-square-foot "main shoot house" is made to simulate an apartment or office building and "is flexible enough that a group could have a full training week and never see the same floor plan". On the other side of the facility is "Little Mogadishu" - an urban assault course with low concrete buildings laid out like a village in a third world country.

While army training has decreased there recently because troops are all engaged in real battle, civilian demand has gone up (since September 11) - including clients from wealthy European and Mexican families that face a high kidnap risk and corporate team-building events. In 2002, DARC also branched out into new territory: the extreme vacation - a three-day, $3,500 package for "stockbroker, lawyer, doctor, dentist types", who "regretted not going into the military".

- Sophisticated computer software such as URWARS which provides simulations that help prepare users for urban warfare. URWARS "takes into consideration the behavior of friendly, hostile and neutral forces" (called agent-based modelling and using behavioural codes), as well as "static spatial information such as the location of buildings, major highways, residential roads, sewers, subterranean entries, subways tunnels and waterways", using commercially available geographic information systems.


- New strategies of attack (“methods for adapting to the chaos and unpredictability of the city”) which use biological references such as ‘swarming’ - "a convergent attack on a target from multiple axes, either preplanned or opportunistic, rather than the old-school military column", as well as ‘worming’ where soldiers move through walls by cutting routes through buildings....“realising that about 70-80 percent of the military casualties occurred outside buildings, Israeli infantry started tunnelling their way through the urban fabric, like worms in apples…mainly through the second floor because the entire ground floor was booby trapped”, “the existing urban syntax of streets or internal stairs was replaced with another circulation system”.

Israeli architect Eyal Weizman explores the relationship between military strategists and architectural profession in a book called A Civilian Occupation: The Politics of Israeli Architecture. In an interview he reminds the reader that “cities were always exposed to war and organised according to the logic of defense. Each period’s urban form related to the available technologies of destruction”. His work charts some of the more recent interactions between military and planning professions. Gratuitous cut and paste follows:

"Militaries around the world have become acutely aware of their failure to develop suitable doctrines and technologies. The existing military arsenal of weapons is better suited for ‘classical’ armoured warfare on the great Russian plains than to urban combat…."


"Military academies across the world show great interest in urban studies, in gaining more understanding of the ways cities work. Simon Marvin, Professor of Planning at the British University of Salford, has shown how armies set up many new urban research programs and allocate huge budgets for the study of cities."


"Suddenly, architects and planners are in high demand as a valuable source of knowledge”

“The military tends to deal with the problem of taking over a city in a way similar to the way a planner deals with issues of development. Both look for ways to control an area by manipulating its infrastructure, reshaping and replacing the built fabric, or attempting to manage the local population’s various cultural sensitivities"

Urban Terrain

The collaboration does not only happen in the planning offices: "The large bulldozers employed by the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza to destroy homes were the most effective strategic urban weapon. Each one of these mammoths is manned by a crew of three, including an engineering officer – usually a civil engineer or an architect on reserve duty. The reason is that they best know how to topple a building, to which side the debris must fall, etc"

Weizman also constructs a possible role for the architect in opposition to the development of military tactics:

"This new military ‘science’ and these methods must be looked at and studied very carefully. NGOs and humanitarian organisations must understand that war crimes have clear spatial dimensions and that there is therefore a role for the professionals of space – architects and planners – in their analysis. For example: until recently, the destruction of urban warfare was reported and analysed as a purely statistical issue, relating to numbers of destroyed homes, the extent of economic damage, etc. Current human rights research has tended to divert attention away from space and urban form. But besides a quantification of destruction, we can see a much more serious phenomenon in which the urbicide of Jenin was an attempt to subjugate a population on the basis of denying it the advantages of urban life....Architects and planners have the responsibility to use their ability to help make people understand the repercussions involved in formal aspects of warfare – and the crimes of an attack on urbanity"


"In a sense, we should no longer speak of war in the city, but of war of the city, by the city. The city has become no longer the locus, but the apparatus of warfare."

On ‘Enduring Innocence’

Friday, September 22, 2006
I have never read Keller Easterling's books. But I think it would be interesting to. This is a ‘cut and paste’ blog. Excuse me. My bold italics throughout though.

Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and its Masquerades (recently published)

"In Enduring Innocence, Keller Easterling tells the stories of outlaw "spatial products" -- resorts, information technology campuses, retail chains, golf courses, ports, and other hybrid spaces that exist outside normal constituencies and jurisdictions -- in difficult political situations around the world. Jurisdictionally ambiguous, they are imbued with myths, desires, and symbolic capital. Their hilarious and dangerous masquerades often mix quite easily with the cunning of political platforms. Easterling argues that the study of such "real estate cocktails" provides vivid evidence of the market's weakness, resilience, or violence.

Enduring Innocence collects six stories of spatial products and their political predicaments: cruise ship tourism in North Korea; high-tech agricultural formations in Spain (which have reignited labor wars and piracy in the Mediterranean); hyperbolic forms of sovereignty in commercial and spiritual organizations shared by gurus and golf celebrities; automated global ports; microwave urbanism in South Asian IT enclaves; and a global industry of building demolition that suggests urban warfare. Enduring Innocence resists the dream of one globally legible world found in many architectural discourses on globalization. Instead, Easterling's consideration of these segregated worlds provides new tools for practitioners sensitive to the political composition of urban landscapes"

Her other book is called Organization Space: Landscapes, Highways, and Houses in America (2001).

"The dominant architectures in our culture of development consist of generic protocols for building offices, airports, houses, and highways. For Keller Easterling these organizational formats are not merely the context of design efforts--they are the design. Bridging the gap between architecture and infrastructure, Easterling views architecture as part of an ecology of interrelationships and linkages, and she treats the expression of organizational character as part of the architectural endeavor.

Easterling also makes the case that these organizational formats are improvisational and responsive to circumstantial change, to mistakes, anomalies, and seemingly illogical market forces. By treating these irregularities opportunistically, she offers architects working within the customary development protocols new sites for making and altering space."

Enduring Innocence

On Archinect there is a really fantastic interview with her. You can read the whole thing here, but here are some specially selected segments:

Urban Slot Machine : A conversation with Keller Easterling

MW: Your previous book, Organization Space, centers on landscapes of physical and direct connectivity. while Enduring Innocence focuses on the encoding of the system of a network and its dispersed points – ports, Wal-Mart, and megachurches. In the interim between the two books, what factors or observations led you from Organization Space (1999) to Enduring Innocence (2005)?

KE: In the interim between the two books I worked on a project called Wild Cards: A game of Orgman that tracked a suite of companies that exported spatial products. It was a moment when there remained in the globalism discourse some remnants of globalization as "Americanization." This study was a web installation that appeared to be a slot machine in the global gambles over space-making, a game where everyone was both importing and exporting. .....The Wildcards study gradually revealed an entire pantheon of characters, myths, costumes, rituals and bizarre fictions that attached themselves to different products. It was not just the old story of the sentimentality that often accompanies power, but an assortment of fictions and stories that were able to float over a logistical revenue stream. The ways in which this naturalized, instrumentalized fiction mixed perfectly with the techniques of political programs all around the world should also not have been surprising.

Architects have more to learn than to teach about global studies, but these formats proved to be good indicators of market aggression and political disposition. Their bid to remain intact and exempt from political responsibilities is itself a special form of violence. So the behavior of these formats led me to speculate that we have something valuable to contribute to discussions of globalization.

More than any other profession I can think of, the work of architecture engages multiple realms from finance to logistics to the heights and depths of frivolity and fiction that ultimately rule the world. Some think that work in the communication stratosphere is the truly powerful position. But with architecture one also engages the heavy material of global economies, moving from communication and branding to shipping to the physical/financial shape of a golf course to the designing of functional expressions between layovers and shopping to the indexing of global labor and materials. Would it not make us powerful political animals to simply be aware of this nexus of movements and begin to index and make ethical choices within it?

MW: Absolutely, even if only to participate ourselves in the pirating and trickery … and this sits well with the book's "masquerade" subtitling. In coming back to the Wildcards project, how do you position your work and research alongside the historical trajectory of game, chance, and play in architecture and urbanism?

KE: Urban design hails the power of the circumstantial, but it seems as if we still have very few techniques for designing within it. Urban design still often prefers control and even prefers the specification of building envelope as a means to that end. Game theory and political theory are not very different. They develop logics that are not designed to deal with deception and folly. Strange, since urban design and planning as they are accomplished every day, must dig their way out of a pile of circumstantial detail that is most sturdily arranged by bureaucracy. One wonders what opportunities or epidemics might appear if its administration was arranged in a more entrepreneurial fashion. The orgmen of the world are certainly operating within a gaming environment. Urbanism is a slot machine.

In the book, the character who delivers is probably Gregory Bateson. His theory of laughter as the result of errors in logic allowed some point of translation between theories of laughter (e.g. Gilbert Ryle, Henri Bergson) and the logical formats for spatial products. The pirate and the comedian do the same thing: they upset the accustomed construct with extrinsic information or an incompatible logic or inversion. Spatial products are in constant battles with each other, killing each other or altering each other with an incompatible logic. A new marketing wrinkle or a tiny shift in desires can bring down an enormous organization. The book asks a question about whether we as architects are capable of making these "jokes." It seems like an opening worth pursuing in a myriad of different ways. To offer one example of an approach, I wrote a bit about a germ, a detail in the world that is designed but that propagates without complete control. The germ was offered as a joke to upset spatial logics.


(Postscript: does all work and no play in fact make Keller a dull girl?
"I don't understand the concept of leisure and don't know how to comment on it as a result.")

On Walmart and Katrina

(from the 'Disaster' book again)

All over the web you can find stories glorifying Walmart’s role in the post-Katrina tangle and their ability to leverage supplies in a way that FEMA was unable to (Walmartfacts.com, Stephen Hibbs, an assistant Wal-Mart manager in Dallas is quoted: “After Hurricane Katrina, my father called me to let me know how proud he was that I worked for Wal-Mart. That’s exactly how I feel every day” ). It’s much harder to find mention of of government official Douglas Doan, who had the idea to tap Walmart as an emergency supplier.

“A few hours after the world first learned that the New Orleans levees had crumbled, the phone rung on Douglas Doan’s desk, at the Dept of Homeland Security in Washington. A very angry man from Walmart was on the line.”

Ray Bracy, the company’s vice president for federal and international affairs, was furious that the National Guard was looting Walmart and he wanted to know what Doan was going to do about it. But the National Guard were not being greedy. They didn’t have the supplies to give the people they rescued, so they were breaking into Walmarts to get them. The chainstore was “involuntarily serving as the region’s FEMA warehouse”.

Cops Looting

Doan broke with federal procedure by suggesting they change the term from ‘looting’ to ‘unusual procurement’. “Walmart’s supply and distribution system was the envy of the world. Could it be harnessed to provide the goods that FEMA seemed unable to deliver?” Walmart would keep track of what was leaving their stores using their sophisticated inventory system("Unlike FEMA the company had the ability to track every liter of bottled water delivered and taken from its stores”) and send the bill to the government later.

In Walmarts emergency command center, the director of ‘business continuity’ was busy co-ordinating their own contingency plan for their 89 flooded and damaged stores, with the help of managers, trucking experts and loss prevention specialists. “Johnson already had scores of Walmart trucks moving into the disaster zone, some under police escort, carrying more than forty generators and several tonnes of dry ice to deliver to stores that had no power but millions of dollars of perishable food in the inventory.” A replenishment team was reordering likely demand items like mops, bleach and water. Following Doan’s arrangement, over the next two weeks officials also tapped Walmart for tyres for the Port of New Orleans entire fleet of emergency vehicles and chainsaws and generators for rescues.


“When the calls went up in Washington over Homeland Security’s disappointing performance, Doan saw the deal with Walmart as a shining example of a big, bloated bureaucracy showing a little creativity in getting the job done.” But Homeland security’s auditors were furious that they had received the bill for supplies distributed by nondepartment agencies like the National Guard and that the ‘detailed and unyielding’ regulations for procurement had been flouted. The Department threatened to pursue legal action against Doan, though it never followed through. In the end Walmart got a check for $300 000, “for the exact emergency supplies that were needed most.”


So how do Walmart's supply-chain logistics work?

"The company is revered for its efficient and highly centralized logistics, which have sometimes allowed it to capitalize on natural disasters. Learning from its database that during hurricanes people eat more strawberry Pop-Tarts, Wal-Mart has in the past responded to dire weather predictions in Florida by making sure stores in that region were stocked accordingly." (The Nation)

Walmart’s “Right Product, Right Place, Right Time” supply-chain strategy relies on techniques such as predictive-analysis software and RFI (radio frequency identification). The latter allows goods to be located along the entire process chain, "transmitting product information such as price, manufacturer, expiration date and product weight". "Managing orders can be optimized, losses reduced and out-of-stock situations avoided, assuring an even more consistent availability of goods for the customer." The data flows from the external tagging device into online planning and execution systems. Web-enabled trading networks are becoming ever easier to create with increased software synchronisation.

Predictive Analysis

Two recent Walmart innovations include the move “from a category-based network to a velocity-based network" where the fastest-moving, high-volume items are delivered to the store in one go. The retailer is also facilitating an initiative called “Store of the Community,” which is designed to distribute more unique product assortments to individual stores.


What did the critics say about Walmart's role during Katrina?

The left-wing paper the Nation was irritated with the hype over Walmart’s superior performance. “According to the conservative wingnuts at the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the superiority of Wal-Mart's Katrina response shows that the private sector is simply more effective than the government. Well, yes, oddly enough, when you starve a government by draining its resources and electing officials who don't believe in it, nothing seems to work. Companies like Wal-Mart play a major role in that eviscerating process. Not only does Wal-Mart give more than two-thirds of its political contributions to anti-government Republicans, it weakens local infrastructure by draining public coffers. According to the advocacy group Good Jobs First, Wal-Mart has received more than $1 billion in public subsidies just for building its stores (not counting the cost to state and local governments of picking up healthcare costs of Wal-Mart employees). And Sam Walton's heirs, through their family foundation, are lobbying vigorously for the abolition of the estate tax, which will almost certainly weaken the government's ability to respond to future Katrinas.”


Indirectly related:

More on Douglas Doan: As an ex-military/investment banker, he had a reputation for using business enterprise to help government security in areas like the global shipping industry. “Companies like Walmart wrote the book on supply chain security. Why should the government reinvent the wheel?” In 2005 he helped Mexican melon farmers to create their own road across the border when increased security checks meant they were losing their produce to the heat. He was also the first man in Virginia to cultivate cigar tobacco in 150 years. After the Walmart affair, ‘undaunted’ he came up with another plan to get local restaurants back on their feet, by contracting them to provide an alternative to the packaged food that was being shipped in from Florida and Ohio for $14 per storm victim per day. Despite the plan of local chefs to provide seafood pasta and beef with red wine sauce for $13 a day (a total savings of $26000 a day), the plan was cancelled by auditors for violating “long standing contracts for peanut butter sandwiches and canned beans”. On quitting his position, Doan said of the government bureaucracy: “If 9/11 represented a failure of imagination, then four years later we have yet to learn our lesson.”

Fortune 100 companies were meant to be linked to the government by CEO COM LINK, a secure communications network that could connect CEOs with senior White House officials in 30 minutes. It was initiated after 9/11 when AT&T lost a major communications node, FEDEX had all of its delivery air fleet grounded and Home Dept had boots resistant to the heat of smouldering debris, but couldn’t reach anyone to offer its supplies. After Katrina many CEOs ordered their staff to inventory resources they had to share but most were unable to reach anyone yet again. “The member companies of the International Bottled Water Association repeatedly called the DHS offering to send truckloads of free drinking water into the region. It eventually used church groups instead to ferry 10 million bottles into the disaster zone.”

On Dingpolitik Etc.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006
(Some links after reading Bruno Latour's article 'From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik: Making Things Public'....all his quotes are in orange)

"What would an object-oriented democracy look like?"

"In the object-oriented conception, "parliament" is a technical term for "making things public" among many other forms of producing voices and connections among people. By this comparative visit, we seek to learn how parliaments —with a small p— could be enlarged or connected or modified or redrawn."

"You might need more than imitation to build the new political assemblies. Covering the Reichstag with a transparent dome —in effect fully opaque— as Foster did, doesn't seem nearly enough to absorb the new masses that are entering political arenas. If it's true that a parliament is a complex machinery of speech, of hearing, of voting, of dealing, what should be the shapes adjusted to a Dingpolitik? What would a political space be that would not be "neo"? What would a truly contemporary style of assembly look like?

In effect, this is what LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre) are attempting to explore. They held a competition recently that called for the design of a ‘Lift Parliament’, a space that will be at the center of their biennial Festival in June 2008. The portable/flexible structure, which will host a programme of events and meetings, is described as "a new concept in performance space where artists from around the world and the people of London can gather together to share stories, exchange knowledge and imagine and rehearse new futures......the Lift Parliament responds to a shared hunger for alternatives. Different ways of negotiating a relationship with the world. Different conversations, customs and performances. Only by rehearsing such new practices together can we imagine them into being."

AOC proposal

The process of creating it aims to involve ‘users and shareholders’ as ‘collaborators’ through a ‘unique curatorial process” with the winning architect. Their website says optimistically: "In such a Parliament, we could learn a new political literacy together: a shared understanding of how we connect not only in mind but also in space. The Parliament becomes a true public space, in that it emerges from creative practice by users, taken beyond its physical boundary through broader conversations, stories and memories. A civic moment, not a civic monument."

Jeremy Till, a UK architect and educator in London wrote this (skeptical) article to accompany the competition, entitled The Architect and the Other, with a subheading 'Can Architecture be Democratic?' As a sidenote he also edited a book recently called Architecture and Participation (2005), with a series of essays by contemporary practitioners, and historical and political perspectives on participation in the architectural profession.

The winners of the Lift Parliament competition – AOC (Agents of Change) – also make games! Here is "a game of urban cultivation" called Polyopoly - "Players invest Time, Skills and Knowledge in Sites, cultivating Assets, Amenities and Landscapes for the generation of individual and collective wealth. It proposes an alternative to the Monopoly mindset."



"In other words, matters in dispute — taken as so many issues — bound all of us in ways that map out a public space profoundly different from what is usually recognized under the label of "the political." Procedures to authorize and legitimize are important, but it's only half of what is needed to assemble. The other half lies in the issues themselves, in the matters that matter, in the res that creates a public around it. They need to be represented, authorized, legitimated and brought to bear inside the relevant assembly."

‘Nanocafes’ were recently profiled on Worldchanging.com, meetings where ‘citizens can talk democratically with the experts about the integration of nanotechnology into our society’ over a fair-trade coffee.

"Most people don't always know how much science affects their lives, and scientists and policymakers rarely ask them what they think about it. The Nano Cafés will give people access to the normally somewhat mysterious realm of science research and bring them into a lively conversation about the impact of recent research."


"To the possible dismay of political scientists, the very idea of a political assembly does not gather much interest. This is where things become really complicated and thus interesting: How to devise an assembly of ways of dissembling instead of sending a convocation to gather under the common dome of "One Politics Size Fits All?"

This question has not yet crossed the minds of politicos in Arizona where a candidate for Governor has launched a proposal "to award $1 million in every general election to one lucky resident, chosen by lottery, simply for voting — no matter for whom — has qualified for the November ballot" ('Arizona Ballot could become Lottery Ticket', New York Times)

"If some see the erosion of democracy in putting voting on the same plane as a scratch-and-win game — and some do — Mr. Osterloh sees the gimmick as the linchpin to improve voter turnout and get more people interested in politics.....“Basically our government is elected by a small minority of citizens,” said Mr. Osterloh, 53, a semiretired ophthalmologist."

"“People should not go vote because they might win a lottery,” Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, said. “We need to rekindle the religion of civic duty, and that is a hard job, but we should not make voting crassly commercial.”

"“It’s clearly illegal,” said Jack Chin, a professor at the University of Arizona law school who has studied voting rights issues."

"“We’ve certainly tried everything else, and people don’t seem to turn out,” said Roberto Reveles, president of the We Are America. "


"Politics might be better taken as a branch of disability studies."

On Hurricane Pam: The Perfect Storm

(Notes from Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security)

Hurricane Pam was a simulated computer storm surge, modelled by consulting company Innovative Emergency Management (where“employees often wear t-shirts and jeans or shorts with tennis shoes or sandals” according to the website) in the spring of 2004 for (a modest, apparently) $800,000, as a ‘training exercise designed to get local and federal disaster responders thinking about how they might deal with the after-effects of a catastrophic storm that hit New Orleans”.


The Hurricane Pam scenario was a plan ‘with a twist’…."the exercise made the readers – the local emergency responders – the authors as well”. It was meant to break from the tradition of "cookie-cutter wargames scripted by a Washington contractor” and years of “dense, jargon-filled” federal hurricane plans that sat, unread, on shelves of local disaster offices.

“Pam took a bottom-up approach, inviting the participants to take a crack at writing their own game plan for coping with ‘the Big One”. Low-tech was the guiding principle and it also departed from the “the traditional mindset of disaster planners that the best way to practice is to present the absolute worst-case scenario” - Hurricane Pam was a mere Category 3 storm. Most important was that the plan would be absorbed by the very people who needed it most. “A lot of times people don’t read the plan….the intent of this planning exercise was to engage” Madhu Beriwal said.

There were fifteen sections to the plan, covering everything from rescue efforts and medical care to clearing the city’s streets of water and debris and handling hazardous waste spills. For each section there was to be a workshop where disaster officials would present the mock hurricane to first responders as a ‘skeleton’ and stage a series of conversations. Locals would consult the scenario, draft a list of supplies and manpower from the resources they possessed at that moment and then fire questions at each other, recorded by IEM stenographers. “The answers would come through discussion and argument with locals and state responders, not from Washington officials 1100 miles away”. The first workshop, on search-and-rescue, brought together 270 people including federal agency representatives, the military, state troopers, school superintendents and volunteer firefighters.

“Participants figured they would need 308 boats, 800 body bags, 400 flashlights, 150 paddles and 12 spare bilge plugs for small craft….”I was like, whoa fellas, twelve boat plugs?” We’re getting down in the weeds here” said Jesse St Amant, of Plaquemines Parish. But getting down in the weeds was precisely the point. a failure of FEMA’s previous disaster plans was that they didn’t have enough details, precisely because they were cooked up by people in Washington who have no clue as to what a boat plug is."

The Hurricane Pam plan is full of FEMA promises: bedding for 100 000, mobile communication centers, video uplinks for teleconferences. But "when it was actually put to the test, it would have trouble supplying even flashlights, let alone the staggering amount of water and ice specified by the Army Corps of Engineer". In addition only three of the fifteen workshops took place. FEMA cancelled most of the followup sessions scheduled for the first half of 2005, claiming it was unable cover travel expenses its own employees ( it was later revealed that the shortfall amounted to less than $15000). On the other hand in subsequent disasters in Louisiana locals have excelled in the areas that were covered during the Pam workshops, for example evacuations. 90% of the city evacuated during Katrina, while in the past the average has rarely exceeded 60%.

But even Pam failed to forecast “the ultimate doomsday scenario – the utter collapse of New Orleans’ flood control system.”

Monday, September 18, 2006
El Jugador