Category Archives: Architecture

Should we stop designing for purpose and use?

This sentiment from Lebbeus Woods, on the meaning and purpose of architecture really resonates with me when it comes to thinking about technology. He’s talking about how people should adapt to space, rather then space be totally pre-conceived with use and purpose in mind. I think the same can be true with technology.


“One of my earliest statements about the meaning and purpose of architecture was: “We should make our buildings first, then learn how to live in them.” Born into a world we did not create, this is always the task facing us: to adapt ourselves to the world as we find it, or the world to us.

Why should we find only architecture limited to some assigned purpose? Why should architecture limit its potential to create space to satisfying the demands for the already known, for some normal ‘program of use’? Architecture should be freed to follow its own rules and ways to its own spatial, and spiritual, conclusions. Architecture should awaken in us new understandings and knowledge, and inspire us to embrace previously unimagined experiences. It should demand from us a level of invention of our own lives at least equal to the level of invention that brought it into being.”

We tend to think that the correct process for the design of software and hardware experiences is with a specific use or situation in mind, with a pre-imagined scenario of how people will interact with a “thing”. But many of the technology tools and objects that we use every day didn’t come with those pre-conceptions in mind. They may have come with SOME pre-conceptions, but invariably they didn’t match the real way in which the technology has ultimately come into everyday use.

SMS (texting) is a classic example, as it was designed as a general broadcast technology rather than for one-to-one communication:

‘According to Cor Stutterheim from CMG, “It started as a message service, allowing operators to inform all their own customers about things such as problems with the network. When we created SMS (Short Messaging Service) it was not really meant to communicate from consumer to consumer and certainly not meant to become the main channel which the younger generation would use to communicate with each other,” added Stutterheim.’

I’d argue that the Internet is shifting our design processes from those with purpose and use in mind, to those that are open and free for interpretation. We’re presented daily with a stream of services that we don’t quite know what to do with, at the outset. Use becomes emergent.

Flickr emerged like this – initially intended as the photo repository for a massively multiplayer online game, it’s value as the public repository for the Internet’s photos (which is what you could argue it is becoming) is unexpected. It’s value comes through the choice to make photos visible publicly by default, rather than private, going against the grain of many other photo sharing sites. Public photos create their own value, as a source for shared experiences, shared themes and the collaborative documentation of the world at large.

Services like Twitter and Facebook are in the middle of the throes of this process, where patterns and etiquette of use are still being developed, much like e-mail in its early years, and even the core purpose of the services has still to emerge.

It’s cheap to try this process online – fairly straightforward for an individual or small group to knock together the notions of a site, and put it out there in the public domain to see what sticks. I wonder what the equivalent is for hardware? Maybe we’re already seeing purposeless hardware happen through sites like Make, which put out recipes for hardware that invites reinterpretation, and new, componentised hardware sensors and devices, that allow us to interpret use for ourselves.

No signs of life

Another sculptural building, the photos of which look suspiciously devoid of people. Come on architects! Show us what it’s like to LIVE in your buildings!

“one of the most recent additions to the cities landscape is the health department headquarters designed by coll-barreu arquitectos. the young firm’s creation is most recognizable for its cubist façade of glass. the glass sheets are placed on irregular angles reflection the city into the building.”



7 Abandoned Cities and Places in Asia | WebUrbanist

Another great list from WebUrbanist, this time of 7 abandoned cities and places in Asia. This North Korean hotel particularly caught my attention. The first shot makes it look like the deserts are swallowing it up, but there it sits in the rest of the shots, right in the center of Pyonyang.

“The Ryugyong Hotel in the capital city of Pyongyang, North Korea, was supposed to be a record-setting testament to the power, pride and ingenuity of one of the most totalitarian and self-insulating nations in the world. The building, meant to be a core monument to the strength of North Korea, was added to city maps and stamps before it was even half-built and was all set to be the tallest hotel in the world. At first the project simply ran out of funding, then as the low-quality concrete of which it was built began to sag and crack the sobering reality began to set it: the structure would need a massive overhaul to ever be completed. Now it goes unmentioned by tour guides, absent from maps and stamps, a symbolic blight towering on the capital city skyline.”


Amazing houses from around the world

An amazing collection of amazing houses from around the world, organized thematically. I’m particularly fond of number 2.

Amazing Houses 1: Beach and Lake Houses
Amazing Houses 2: Cliff and Mountain Houses
Amazing Houses 3: Condos and Townhomes
Amazing Houses 4: Cheap and Crowded Houses
Amazing Houses 5: Greenhouses and Glass Houses
Amazing Houses 6: Haunted Houses and Hotels
Amazing Houses 7: Lighthouses
Amazing Houses 8: Dog and Doll Houses



(Web Urbanist)

drawings by steven holl at MoMA new york

Shannon and I are big Steven Holl fans. At least, we love St. Ignatius Chapel in Seattle. We wanted to get married there originally, but we were neither Catholic nor students of Seattle University, where the building is located, so that was that.

MOMA in New York are planning to exhibit some of Holl’s sketches from February next year. He does these beautiful little images in watercolour, focusing a lot on shape and light. Their essence really comes across in the final product.

“‘pré’ gives a fascinating insight into the central element of holl’s design process: drawing. over the
past 30 years holl has juxtaposed form, color, shape, thought, space, and building in small sketchpads.
from little details to abstract studies his collection of drawings cover his thought processes in their entirety.”

drawings by steven holl at MoMA new york

Island home

Nice and eccentric island construction. reminds me of some of the islands out in the San Juans, only the space around this one seems even tighter.

“The process of renovating the house, abandoned since the 1940s, was formidable, and the weather can be rough; we read, for instance, that “untethered doors at Clingstone are quickly smashed by the wind.”
“This house is always going to have rough edges,” says current resident Henry Wood, an architect. “

Humanscale in architecture

It’s not just me! Finally, someone else who thinks that Zaha Hadid may be a little too focused on the sculptural qualities of her buildings and objects, and not enough on the human scale.

“She may have won the Pritzker, but Hadid is also the ringleader of a disturbing new brand of architect—the computer gamer. In this artificial world the goal is to dream up the most ridiculous, space age, out of this world design. Nevermind reality and its parameters. For this crowd facets such as functionality and livability are cast aside in favor of the all powerful wow factor.”

I used to go to Brunel University in West London, site of what I think is/was the ugliest campus in the world (I know they’ve done some work to improve it since I was there in ’92). I always used to joke that I bet the architectural rendering looked cool, before the reality of the boxy, gray concrete buildings actually came to be. I’m not sure that Hadid is THAT bad, but her own renderings seem to cast people as viewers rather then participators in the public space. Beautiful, organic overhead shots, but interiors empty of places to sit, with walls that are impossible to lean against.