Upcoming adventures

from the summer, of course...

I’m sitting at the airport again, about to embark on a five or six stop trip over the next month. Oh my!

Speaking-wise, my first stop is the ACSA (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture) annual conference in Montreal, one of my favorite cities in the world. I’m giving another paper on Cedric Price and the Oxford Corner House, archival research that I did at the Canadian Centre for Architecture where I spent the month of July.

In just one week, South by Southwest Interactive for my 14th time! Benjamin Bratton and I are doing a panel called “Urban Technology on the Dark Side:” 10 examples of urban technology on the scary, nefarious and strange side.

Also: two separate trips to San Francisco, one for a Cisco Urban Innovation Group event (between Montreal and SXSW), the other for the presentation of the Institute for the Future project I’ve worked on the last six months, and then LA for the major pass-or-fail crit for my thesis students in Art Center’s Graduate Media Design Program.

So: dizzyingly busy, a nice counterpoint to the quiet February I had in Princeton. I’m psyched.


You really wish you could attend these conferences

You so wish you could attend these two conferences.

But you won’t be invited.

You’re more than 34 years too late.

There’s “The Invisible City,” the theme of the 1972 International Design Conference Aspen. It promised to

“address the implications of making the invisible city visible: of changing misuse into use and apathy into engagement. The conference will explore the programs, philosophies and materials that use the resource of our man-made environment for learning. The conference will address the architectural, planning, design, economic and political implications of these educational alternatives.”

Then, there’s the 1976 AIA (American Institute of Architects) Convention in Philadelphia. The conference brochure states, “We live in the invisible city. A place where public information is not public: a place that is not maintained because it is not creatively used.”

Both were chaired by Richard Saul Wurman, at that time an architect in Philadelphia who had grown increasingly interested in the mechanism and system of information and the process not only of designing information… but what now gets called “architecting” it.

More on the 1976 “Architecture of Information:”

“Wouldn’t a city — any city — be more useful and more fun if everybody knew what to do in it, and with it? As architects, we know it takes more than good-looking buildings to make a city habitable and usable. It takes information: information about what spaces do as well as how they look; information that helps people articulate their needs and respond to change.

“The resources of a city are its people, places and processes. It is our collective attitudes toward these resources that either encourage the destruction of the city through apathy and abandonment or reaffirm the necessity of the city to civilized progress and life itself by participation and use. Use as the place for learning; participation as the involvement of everybody in the role of teacher. People telling about what and why they’re doing what they’re doing where they’re doing it–the show and tell is the city itself.

Wouldn’t these be great conference sessions today?

Frank Gehry and Doreen Nelson offered “The School Room: Analogue of the City.” There’s a session called “Space Doctors: Understanding How People Use Public Spaces” led by Don Clifford Miles. Even understanding gets its own architecture: “The Architecture of Understanding” by Marley & Ronald Thomas.

Data visualization? Try this: “Visualization of complex ideas” led by Jonas Salk (yes, *that* Jonas Salk)! “How to spec an ‘interface,’ detail an ‘input’ and supervise a ‘programming process'” — in 1976. The father of computer graphics, William Fetter, offered a session on “Computer graphics and the urban perception,” while Ivan Chermayeff offered “Communication in architectural environments” and Michael and Susan Southworth explored “Communicating the city.”

It is, of course, the conference where Wurman popularized the term “architecture of information” in the keynote speech he gave.

Makes me want to reconvene or revisit some of these sessions. What if we asked people today to take these themes and give talks? Who would our Salk be? Could we invite some of these people to speak?

Google Zeitgeist: A Series of Tubes

Last week, I attended Google Zeitgeist and gave the “Series of Tubes” Ignite talk about the history of pneumatic tubes. The event was mindbogglingly stellar. You’ve probably seen some version of this by now, but here’s the latest. (On the Zeitgeist Minds site, they list Desmond Tutu’s talk from a previous year as a related video. Not sure how that works, but whoa.) Many thanks to Brady Forrest and Tim O’Reilly for extending the invitation.


Speaking tonight at Ignite LA

It’s time to bring the gospel of pneumatic tubes to Los Angeles! I’m speaking tonight at Ignite LA in Santa Monica at the V Lounge, 2020 Wilshire Blvd. Doors open at 7:30, things get underway after 8. I’m told it’s sold out but if you want to go, maybe it’s worth a shot? (If you know me, email me because I have an extra ticket).

I’ll be doing an updated version of the now-famous “It Really is a Series of Tubes” on the history of the pneumatic tube — in 5 minutes with 20 slides. It’s manic and crazy and a ton of fun. Hope to see you there!

Speaking tonight on Infrastructure, “Discussions on Networked Publics,” NYC


TONIGHT! 6:30! Can you make it?

I’m speaking at the Network Architecture Lab as a part of “Discussions on Networked Publics,” a series of panels examining how technology and social changes are transforming the public realm, held at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation’s [GSAPP’s] Studio-X Soho Facility
180 Varick Street, Suite 1610
New York City.
(Just take the 1 to Houston.)

The fourth panel, on “infrastructure” will occur on May 4 at 6:30 pm.
The panelists are:
  • David Benjamin (GSAPP, Living Architecture Lab)
  • Frank Pasquale (School of Law, Seton Hall)
  • Molly Wright Steenson (Princeton University, Girlwonder blog)
  • Mason C. White (University of Toronto, Lateral Office)
  • Moderator: Kazys Varnelis, director of GSAPP’s Network Architecture Lab
“Discussions on Networked Publics” extends the analysis of contemporary culture in the book Networked Publics, published in 2008 by the MIT Press and edited by Netlab Director Kazys Varnelis. More on the book at http://networkedpublics.org. Copies of the book will be for sale at the event.
The event will be broadcast live worldwide via ustream.tv at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/discussions-on-network-publics
Viewers who can’t make it in person are encouraged to submit questions and comments live during the show to @Columbia_Netlab on Twitter. Video from the event will be archived on Vimeo and iTunes.

It really is a series of tubes

Just call me Fallopia. In early March, I gave an Ignite talk at eTech about pneumatic tubes– a five-minute talk where the slides advance every 15 seconds. It’s shot its way around the Internet, but I haven’t yet posted it here before. Enjoy!

SXSW redux coming soon

Just wanted to note that I’ve not forgotten to post a recap of the Tangible Interactions in Urban Spaces panel we put together at SXSW. A few life things (see next post) have happened. I’ll post this week.

Catching up

I’d been chugging along, updating Girlwonder frequently and then school started up again. Somehow, I’m now midway through my final semester of coursework at Princeton.

This month is the month of conferences… today at O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology conference, I present “Shared and Sometimes Stealthy: India’s Mobile Phone.” Then, I go to my 12th South by Southwest Interactive, where I moderate a panel called Tangible Interactions in Urban Spaces on Sunday. Finally, at the end of March, I deliver a paper on pneumatic tubes at the Yale School of Architecture, my alma mater, during the Spatial Illiteracies symposium.

It’s otherwise been a good semester. I’m immersed in Marx (a Marxist theory class taught by Ben Conisbee Baer), global cities, cybernetics and urbanism, and 20th century intellectual and cultural history.

I’ll catch up on more later… I’m off to finish putting together my talk!

Mobile Modalities: Sharing Mobile Phones in Urban India

Next week and the week after, I’m going to be talking about the work I did at Microsoft Research India: an ethnographic study in Bangalore, India on mobile phone sharing and how it plays out in domestic and urban space. I’d love to see you there.

In New York, I’ll be speaking on Wednesday, September 27th at 7:15 p.m. at nycWireless. The details:


568 Broadway at Prince St, NE corner

Suite 404

New York, NY 10012

(lobby sign-in required)

In San Francisco, I’ll be speaking on October 3 at noon at Giant Ant Studio. RSVP is required: please email me or leave a comment if you’re interested in attending. Email is molly [at] girlwonder [dot] com. I’ll pass on further information at that point.

Let me know if you’re coming. I’d love to see you.