Report from Umeå

Above: a beautiful and violent sunrise at 8:15 am (the picture was taken from my bed!). No snow yet, which is rare, but the light is really something—that is, until the sun sets at 2:30 in the afternoon.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been a visiting researcher at the HUMLab digital humanities lab at Umeå University in Sweden. The community here is wonderful: a great group of postdocs, researchers and happy geeks of different stripes, all exploring technology and digital strategies in their work. How does an anthropologist model a site and its spatial relations? How do we create ideas of futures in literature, text and image? How does religious practice play out in the digital world? It’s been a fascinating set of discussions and scholars to meet and I’ve liked how it’s stretching my brain. I’ve given three lectures since I arrived: in the QUMU lecture series on qualitative methods, in a cognitive psychology class, and my first weekend, as a part of the Umeå Institute of Design Fall Summit (which I wrote about earlier). It’s been great to connect with students at the design school, too: I’ve spent a lot of time with Adam Henriksson, Lorenzo Davoli and look forward to our future exchanges. I feel sad to be leaving so soon.

Um, and I turned 40. 40, it turns out, is awesome. They don’t tell you this when you’re 30 and I think it’s because if we all knew that it was awesome, we’d adjust our ages upward.

My final week here will be even busier, as we host the Critically Making the Internet of Things conference. I’m giving a short talk on pneumatic tubes, moderating a virtual and live discussion with Anthony Townsend, Haiyan Zhang and Liz Goodman participating from afar, and hosting a workshop called Future Things with HUMLab postdoc Mike Frangos. I’m really looking forward to seeing friends like Bruce Sterling, Jasmina Tesonovic, Anne Galloway (double yay: I miss Anne a lot) and Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and seeing their reaction to Umeå in the winter.  In addition, I’m doing lots of writing writing writing, wrapping up two chapters of the dissertation and finessing another, preparing for job talks in the US, and putting together ideas for classes I’d like to teach.

Hard to imagine that in one week, I’ll return to the States, soak in LA’s sunlight as we hit end-of-term reviews at Art Center for our Graduate Media Design students, a visit to San Francisco, and visits to Madison and then Minneapolis for the family. In 2012? I think I’m staying put.

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.


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.

A front page story

Last week, we were in Düsseldorf and visited my favorite bookstore, Müller and Böhm in the Heinrich Heine Haus. I’m chuffed that Enrique and I are featured on the front page of the website. Last year, I wrote about the book chain they created when they moved into the Heinrich Heine Haus… that’s what they’re linking to on their page. I’m delighted!

And yes. Girlwonder. I’m going to be publishing here again and announcing some other projects as well in the next weeks.