weeknote 13: greetings from montreal

Greetings from the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal! I’m here on a Collections Research Grant to use the Cedric Price Archive. There are about 30 scholars in residence right now from the US, Canada, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium and points beyond, some younger, some more advanced, some traditionally academic, others less traditional like Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG. That doesn’t even include the curators, archivists, librarians and other people who work here — they’re lovely as well. When you walk through the Study Centre, you never know what’s going to be on the tables… Susanna, from Venice, found a drawing of Peter Eisenman’s House VIII, not published. Zubin, from Montreal, is trying to make sense of the narratives in John Hejduk’s Masque drawings. Geoff found Oilstrike, a game sponsored by BP from 1970 — the irony. Samantha Hardingham, the one person in the world who publishes extensively and intensively on Cedric Price, was here this week as a part of her long research project in which she is looking at every single project he did. In any case, it’s a wonderfully convivial experience and a total delight to be here.

While I’m here, I’m looking at several Cedric Price projects that deal with information and technology, most of which have not been published about to any great extent. These include some crazy projects: a 1966 proto cybercafe for Tottenham Court Road in the Oxford Corner House; a 1967 design charette called Atom for a new town around a nuclear reactor that would have a “town brain” and a “life conditioning” unit that would educate its citizens; the British and Midlands Headquarters that incorporated the information flows and planetariums from the Oxford Corner House project — and Cedric Price’s own plans for an information storage and retrieval system to be used in his own office. It extends the work I did on my master’s thesis, which examined Price’s Generator project– a 1976-79 plan for an intelligent set of cubes on a landscape that would get bored if not moved and recombined.

On Monday, I presented to the scholars here on the Oxford Corner House project, a talk titled “Storage of Information Becomes Activity” — a note scribbled on a drawing from a different project, but that seems to indicate so much of what Price is doing with his kit of parts buildings, the mobility and the information screens and the learning and the computers. I’m coming to the conclusion that Price really did see architecture as information architecture in a very literal sense: a structuring of information, an organizing of it into activities, and then an organizing of architectural objects and tools to accommodate the movement through these informational exchanges.

The archive is a treasure trove and it’s a delight to look at more projects than just Generator, for which I was here in 2006. Some of it is laugh-out-loud funny, like the image above of the Inter-Action Centre, one of the few things that Price built (built 1977, demolished 2001) — or the letter that not only requested information on hovercrafts, but a demonstration. Some of it is amazingly futuristic, like the information flows and technologies suggested for the Oxford Corner House. I’ll publish bits of it here as I crunch through the material.

Finally, Montreal is one of my favorite cities. I’ve been here three times, twice in 2006 in late fall (brr!) and once for Design Engaged in 2008. This time, I’ve had a chance to relax into it– though I’ve been too socially busy to relax. It’s beautiful in summer, one reason why I decided to do the fellowship in July, not October. Where I’m staying on the other side of Mount Royal, there are huge maple trees and rolling hills. It all draws to a close in just under a week, when I go to Minneapolis for my 20 year high school reunion. (Shaking head.) That’s going to be its own archive.

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!

pinball 1973 (a lesson)

From one of my favorite Haruki Murakami books, not published in the US.

Where there’s an entrance, there’s got to be an exit. Most things work that way. Public mailboxes, vacuum cleaners, zoos, plastic condiment squeeze bottles. Of course, there are things that don’t. For example, mousetraps.

* * *

I once set a mousetrap under my apartment sink. I used peppermint gum for bait. After scouring the entire apartment, that was the only thing approaching food I could find. I found it in the pocket of my winter coat, along with a movie ticket stub.

By the third morning, a tiny mouse had flirted with fate. Still very young, the mouse was the color of those cashmere sweaters you see piled up in London duty-free shops. It was maybe fifteen or sixteen in human years. A tender age. A bitten-off piece of gum lay under its paws.

I had no idea what to do with the thing now that I’d caught it. Hind leg still pinned under the spring wire, the mouse died on the fourth morning. Seeing it lying there taught me a lesson. Everything needs an entrance and exit. That’s about the size of it.

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.


Recently, I’ve started running. I’ve never thought of myself as an athletic person at all — my parents tell stories about me, age 3 and 4, hiding behind the gymnastic mats in the gym of my nursery school, reading books. Although I’ve joined more than one health club in the last 15 years, it’s never really stuck.

But now it has. In January, I started going to the gym. At the outset, I could only run 20 minutes on a treadmill, barely 2 miles, without getting winded. Within 6 weeks, I was able to run nearly 6 miles at the gym, and if boredom hadn’t gotten me (not to mention the MTV show America’s Next Dance Crew ending), I could’ve kept going. Now I’m running outside. Princeton has a gorgeous tow path along the Delaware and Raritan Canal. It’s scenic and car free, the crew team on the left, angry geese protecting their nests on the right. Today was a lovely 72 degree evening, one of the first truly gorgeous spring days. I ran (and for about a mile, walked) 4.36 miles. I’m not particularly fast and that’s fine. That’ll come in time. Running makes me realize that Sleater-Kinney, the Doves, New Order, the
Pretenders and My Bloody Valentine are great running music, right at my
pace, and the Happy Mondays are great for lifting spirits when I start feeling tired.

Running started out feeling like a solo activity, me against myself. Now, running feels like an entity separate from me. I need it and it also needs me. It doesn’t ask all that much of me, just that I go and do it. It gives back to me. It boosts my spirits. Not sure how this happened to me: I’m the last person in the world who expected to become a runner.

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!

Spiro Pina, 1973-2009

My dear friend Spiro Pina passed away on Tuesday, March 17, after fighting a Type IV glioma, a very aggressive form of brain tumor. He leaves behind many people who love him, not the least of which include his wife Meritxell, his three year-old daughter Eulalia, his mother, stepfather, father and grandmother, three half brothers and hundreds of friends and admirers. Spiro was a two-time Olympic competitor (’94 and ’98) with the Greek luge team. He spoke many languages and traveled everywhere.

When you lose someone who’s so young, you say all kinds of kind things. But if you were talking about Spiro, they’d all be true. He was that brilliant. He was that gracious and kind. He made you feel good being included, being in his company. He really lived the kind of life that I could only hope to emulate, but I simply would never come close. His best gifts were wisdom and compassion.

I met Spiro when he was 19 and I was 21. He was adorable, funny and kind — shining brown eyes and curly hair. We were exchange students in Montpellier, France in 1993, which is where I also met Jenn and Brett, my best friends, but we were also from the same area of St. Paul, so we knew many of the same people. Whenever I came back to the Twin Cities, I would see him — we would go to the record store, to see live music at First Avenue and at street fairs in summer, we’d enjoy a glass of wine at the New French Cafe. Usually, Brett would be there with us too.

When I think of Spiro, I think of travel. Spiro, Brett and Jenn came to visit me in New York when I moved there in 1995. Jenn and I still laugh about Spiro doing the “$240 worth of pudding” sketch from the State as we waited for brunch on a sunny Sunday in the West Village (“Awww yeeeah.”). In November 1998, he stayed in my apartment in San Francisco, meeting me there when I returned from a trip to Oslo. “Before I say anything else,” he said after I walked in the door, “I should tell you that Jesse Ventura won the gubernatorial election. He’s the governor of Minnesota.”

Not long after that, he told me and Brett about meeting Meritxell. He was gobsmacked, smitten. It was beautiful. And it can’t have been much later that (maybe a year) that he said he was going to ask her to marry him. Brett and I were in Barcelona with at least 200 other people over Thanksgiving 2002, celebrating their wedding in a church in the central city and a reception at the beach.

There’s one picture that sticks in my head. It’s one I only glimpsed for a moment at the end of his wedding: he and Meritxell together, brilliant sunlight, and he jumping up and clicking his heels.

Spiro, I miss you. I’m sorry your family doesn’t get to hold onto you as long as they should. I’m sorry that you had to go. The world has been a much more ebullient, beautiful place with you in it.

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!

Happy trails, Jenn!

….and she’s off.

My best friend, Jennifer Bove, is moving across the country. She’s joined Kicker Studio, a design consultancy that says, “We do interaction-infused product design for: consumer electronics / appliances / mobile devices /kiosks and touchscreens / interactive environments /robots / responsive objects.”

Jenn and I have known each other 16 years as of this month. We met as exchange students in Montpellier, where we became part of an inseparable trio with Brett Lund. Over most of the years I’ve known her, we haven’t lived in the same place: I was in San Francisco, she was in Washington DC and then New York. But other years, we’ve been much more proximate. When I was a professor at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, Jenn was a student and we lived next door to each other. And for the last 3 years or so, she lived in New York and I lived in the next state over, so I saw her at least every two weeks if not more frequently.

I’ve never had a friend like Jenn. She’s the person with whom I feel the most comfortable. She’s brilliant and funny and friendly. She ran the Jennifer Bove Home for Wayward Girls, where I stayed frequently, in Carroll Gardens. I already miss her.

San Francisco, she’s all yours as of this weekend. In the meantime, she is chronicling her road trip on her website. Be good to her and make her fall in love with the city and with northern California, okay?