Lebbeus Woods, an architect whose works were rarely built but who influenced colleagues and students with defiantly imaginative drawings and installations that questioned convention and commercialism, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 72.
In an era when many architecture stars earned healthy commissions designing high-rise condominiums or corporate headquarters, Mr. Woods conceived of a radically different environment, one intended for a world in conflict.
He conceived a post-earthquake San Francisco that emphasized its seismic vulnerability. He flew to Sarajevo in the 1990s and proposed a postwar city in which destruction and resurgence coexisted. He imagined a future for Lower Manhattan in which dams would hold back the Hudson and East Rivers to create a vast gorge around the island, exposing its rock foundation.
“It’s about the relationship of the relatively small human scratchings on the surface of the earth compared to the earth itself,” Mr. Woods said of his Manhattan drawing in an interview several years ago with the architectural Web site Building Blog. “I think that comes across in the drawing. It’s not geologically correct, I’m sure, but the idea is there.”
Mr. Woods’s work was often described as fantasy and compared to science-fiction imagery. But he made clear that while he may not have expected his designs to be built, he wished they would be — and believed they could be.
“I’m not interested in living in a fantasy world,” Mr. Woods told The New York Times in 2008. “All my work is still meant to evoke real architectural spaces. But what interests me is what the world would be like if we were free of conventional limits. Maybe I can show what could happen if we lived by a different set of rules.”
He spread his message from many platforms. He was a professor at Cooper Union, spoke at symposiums around the world and built sprawling temporary installations in Austria, Italy, Southern California and elsewhere. He also wrote a well-read blog.
Earlier this year, in a post explaining why he chose to become an architect, he said winning commissions was not a major motivation.
“The arts have not been merely ornamental, but central to people’s struggle to ‘find themselves’ in a world without clarity, or certainty, or meaning,” he wrote.
Mr. Woods often criticized what he saw as a complacent and distracted status quo in his field. But his colleagues said his commitment to creating an alternative showed that he had hope.
“If he really felt as cynical and skeptical as he sometimes would say, then why the hell draw this stuff?” Eric Owen Moss, an architect and longtime friend, said in an interview on Wednesday. “There’s an incredible amount of power just in the draftsmanship. He’s like Durer — you know, woodcuts, 15th-century stuff. There’s content — intellectual content, social content, artistic content, political content — but the very act of making these sort of remarkable things and his drawing capacity made a kind of new language.”
Christoph A. Kumpusch, a longtime friend and colleague who, like Mr. Woods, taught at the Cooper Union in New York, said Mr. Woods “wanted life and architecture to be a challenge” and “always wanted us to feel a little uncomfortable in order to make things change.”
Mr. Kumpusch collaborated with Mr. Woods on the only permanent structure he built, a pavilion for a housing complex in Chengdu, China, designed by Mr. Holl. Called the Light Pavilion, and completed in October, the pavilion is reached by several glass and steel bridges and ramps.
Lebbeus Woods was born on May 31, 1940, in Lansing, Mich. His father, an engineer in the military, died when he was a teenager. His survivors include his wife, Aleksandra Wagner; their daughter, Victoria; and a son, Lebbeus, and daughter, Angela Bechtel Woods, both from a previous marriage, and seven grandchildren.
An exhibition of work by Mr. Woods will be on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art beginning in February.
“Outside-the-box” thinking has become a cliché used in advertising, corporate strategy and politics, Mr. Moss said, but Mr. Woods took it to another level.
“There’s another box, and he’s outside it,” he said, “He’s outside all the boxes.”
Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?
I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.
I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.
Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.
Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.
Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.
After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.
I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.
Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.
No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.
Come join us someday at Special Olympics. See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged.
A friend you haven’t made yet, John Franklin Stephens Global Messenger Special Olympics Virginia
Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)
Very few writers really know what they arc doing until they’ve done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow. One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, “It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do—you can either type or kill yourself.” We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid. The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time. Now, Muriel Spark is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning—sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone, typing away, humming. But this is a very hostile and aggressive position. One might hope for bad things to rain down on a person like this.
For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.
The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be some thing great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go—but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.
I used to write food reviews for California magazine before it folded. (My writing food reviews had nothing to do with the magazine folding, although every single review did cause a couple of canceled subscriptions. Some readers took umbrage at my comparing mounds of vegetable puree with various ex-presidents’ brains.) These reviews always took two days to write. First I’d go to a restaurant several times with a few opinionated, articulate friends in tow. I’d sit there writing down everything anyone said that was at all interesting or funny. Then on the following Monday I’d sit down at my desk with my notes, and try to write the review. Even after I’d been doing this for years, panic would set in. I’d try to write a lead, but instead I’d write a couple of dreadful sentences, xx them out, try again, xx everything out, and then feel despair and worry settle on my chest like an x-ray apron. It’s over, I’d think, calmly. I’m not going to be able to get the magic to work this time. I’m ruined. I’m through. I’m toast. Maybe, I’d think, I can get my old job back as a clerk-typist. But probably not. I’d get up and study my teeth in the mirror for a while. Then I’d stop, remember to breathe, make a few phone calls, hit the kitchen and chow down. Eventually I’d go back and sit down at my desk, and sigh for the next ten minutes. Finally I would pick up my one-inch picture frame, stare into it as if for the answer, and every time the answer would come: all I had to do was to write a really shitty first draft of, say, the opening paragraph. And no one was going to see it.
So I’d start writing without reining myself in. It was almost just typing, just making my fingers move. And the writing would be terrible. I’d write a lead paragraph that was a whole page, even though the entire review could only be three pages long, and then I’d start writing up descriptions of the food, one dish at a time, bird by bird, and the critics would be sitting on my shoulders, commenting like cartoon characters. They’d be pretending to snore, or rolling their eyes at my overwrought descriptions, no matter how hard I tried to tone those descriptions down, no matter how conscious I was of what a friend said to me gently in my early days of restaurant reviewing. ”Annie,” she said, “it is just a piece of chicken. It is just a bit of cake.”
But because by then I had been writing for so long, I would eventually let myself trust the process—sort of, more or less. I’d write a first draft that was maybe twice as long as it should be, with a self-indulgent and boring beginning, stupefying descriptions of the meal, lots of quotes from my black-humored friends that made them sound more like the Manson girls than food lovers, and no ending to speak of. The whole thing would be so long and incoherent and hideous that for the rest of the day I’d obsess about getting creamed by a car before I could write a decent second draft. I’d worry that people would read what I’d written and believe that the accident had really been a suicide, that I had panicked because my talent was waning and my mind was shot.
The next day, though, I’d sit down, go through it all with a colored pen, take out everything I possibly could, find a new lead somewhere on the second page, figure out a kicky place to end it, and then write a second draft. It always turned out fine, sometimes even funny and weird and helpful. I’d go over it one more time and mail it in.
Then, a month later, when it was time for another review, the whole process would start again, complete with the fears that people would find my first draft before I could rewrite it.
I have come to believe that the best and most cost effective technology upgrade that one can make is to themselves. I’m not talking cyborg implants here. I’m speaking about knowledge. That is, increasing your skill, aptitude, and understanding when it comes to any device, application, or tool.
For instance, one of the best technology upgrades I have ever made is to learn the keyboard shortcuts in Mail.app to the extent to where I can perform all of my regular tasks without touching the mouse. I can read, reply, send, forward, archive, mark as junk, etc. completely with the keyboard. I did this by, very intentionally, making note of each time I reached for my mouse while using Mail.app. When I did I would use it not to perform the intended action but, instead, to go look for the keyboard shortcut for that action. I then, used the keyboard shortcut to do what I needed to do. I did this enough that pretty soon I learned. Though this added a bit of time and effort at first, it has payed off tenfold since. I now spend a lot less time dealing with email simply because I now save a second or two on every action. When multiplied, those seconds quickly turn to minutes and hours.
There is not a single feature that has been added to Mail.app by Apple in my memory that has provided the reward that I feel having upgraded my knowledge and usage of it has. In fact, while we are on the subject, when you know an application deeply upgrading the app and new features can be a double-edged sword. For, new features means more to learn and upgrades sometimes mean things you once knew or expected have now changed and have to be re-learned.
There is also an argument here for using the simplest technology needed to do the job. Because, less features means ease of learning and a quicker path to depth of knowledge. Think of the difference between learning TextEdit deeply and learning the much more feature rich (bloated) Microsoft Word. The path of deep knowledge to one is certainly quicker than the other.
The point here is that we are very easily taken in by the promise that buying or upgrading to some new thing will measurably improve our lives. I propose that, if we learned how to fully use what we already had better, such depth of knowledge and skill would have a far greater and more lasting impact. That, especially with those tools we use every day, getting better at them will reap the greatest reward. There is likely some feature or use-case that we don’t even realize we need until we know it and when we do we will be thankful we learned it.
So, with this said, here are some strategies and ideas to think about:
Consider the least technology possible/needed to get the job done. The less complicated the device or application the easier it is to learn.
Consider upgrading only when there is an overwhelming reason to do so.
Money is not the only upgrade cost. Time and attention are as well (the cost of these is greater).
Learn and then use the keyboard shortcuts of programs you use often. Seconds matter (and scale).
Dig into the preferences and settings. By digging around, you might find a feature you have been looking for. Or, better yet, one that could change your game in ways you never knew.
Force yourself into the mindset that this is all you have. In other words, imagine this is the last working technology on earth. How would you still get the job done? How would it help you create? How would it help you work? How would it help you survive? (I wrote a book on my iPad not because other technology was not available to me. I did so in part because it forced this question.)
I’m still forming my thoughts around this idea as I’m going to be giving an upcoming talk on this very subject. Therefore, do not be surprised if you see similar posts by me surrounding it. In fact, I welcome further discussion anyone wishes to engage in about this. Email or App.net are preferred.
What music is to the spirit, reading is to the mind. Reading challenges, empowers, bewitches, enriches. We perceive little black marks on white paper or a PC screen and they move us to tears, open up our lives to new insights and understandings, inspire us, organize our existences and connect us with all creation.
We have taken our places. This evening’s performance, sold out months in advance, is about to begin. The programme, handwritten in a traditional script on a rolled parchment, tied with string, tells us to expect a prologue, two chapters and an epilogue, without interval. I’m nervous with anticipation but I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that it’s not because I am waiting for the curtain to rise on a Wagner opera or a Shakespeare play. I’m actually waiting for my dinner.
This is no ordinary meal, however. It’s the 19-course tasting menu at one of the world’s best restaurants, Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm. Ranked number 20 in Restaurant magazine’s influential annual survey, it earned two Michelin stars in its first two years and is almost certain to get a third. Food doesn’t get much, if any, better than this.
Yet there seems something wrong about the effort and expense that fine dining like this involves. And when the average bill is the stiffest in the Nordic region, around €350 (or £280) per head, that unease can turn to moral outrage. What on earth could justify spending so much money on what is ultimately just fuel for humans, especially in a world where almost one billion people still go hungry every day?
Answering these questions was the main reason I was at the table at all. I was writing a book on food and philosophy and felt I needed to experience some of the extremes of food luxury. Of course, I also love eating, so it was a wonderful excuse. But I really don’t think I could have justified the reservation without some rationale other than pure pleasure. After all, this was going to be the most expensive three hours of my life.
Earlier, I had interviewed the head chef Björn Frantzén and he had played down expectations. He told me that he likes eating the sausages sold at football matches. Also that ‘I know there’s so many things wrong with it, but I think McDonald’s is nice’. And that ‘At the end of the day, let’s not forget, it’s a restaurant, you go to a restaurant because normally you’re hungry and it’s just food.’ As it turned out, he could not have been more wrong. This is not just food, and hunger is not the reason to eat it.
Take, for instance, the bone-marrow with caviar and smoked parsley. Delicious but, for all that, you might say it’s just an ephemeral experience. The obvious rejoinder is that of course it’s ephemeral: all experiences are; life itself is. The difference is that unlike, say, opera, when you are eating food you can never forget that fact. Certain aesthetic experiences of high art create a sense of transcendence, a feeling that you are somehow transported beyond the merely mortal realm to taste something of the divine. Indeed, that is precisely why some people believe art is so important.
I would argue the other way. The problem with art is that it can fool us into forgetting that we are mortal, flesh-and-blood creatures. The culinary arts, on the other hand, remind us that we are creatures of bone and guts, even as they delight us with creations no other animal could ever produce. Fine food is about the aesthetic of the immanent, not the transcendent. A mouthful of Frantzén’s diver scallops, truffle purée and bouillons transports you to heaven while never letting you forget it is a perishable place on Earth. Through experiences like these you come to know the potential intensity of being alive, what it means, as Thoreau recommended, to suck out all the marrow of life.
So yes, eating is ephemeral, but some experiences are so extraordinary they are worth it for their own sakes. Life is not just about such peak moments but it is very much enriched by them. ‘Mere experiences’ can also provide a kind of first-hand knowledge of the heights to which skill, flair and determination can take us. Perhaps it doesn’t matter which of the myriad forms of human excellence we most enjoy.
You have to be obsessive to push your cooking to such limits of originality and ingenuity, always at the edge, looking to create ‘the perfect restaurant, the perfect service, the perfect plate, the perfect menu’. To pursue excellence so doggedly, the restaurant has to come first, certainly above creaming off profit. ‘Let’s say the average spend here is, to make it easy, €350,’ says Frantzén. ‘It costs us €349 to sell for €350. Everything goes back to the customer. Everything. Our margin is almost zero.’
Even if the economics justify the expense there is still, of course, a great deal of conspicuous consumption in high-end dining: showing off, being seen, being served by the servile and paying over the odds to do so. But the same is certainly true of opera. Any expensive art is going to attract a mixture of the true connoisseur and the conning poseur. However, this kind of restaurant is not just for show. You can’t get away with serving inferior food on silver platters as you might once have done. Frantzén and Lindeberg define the mood of the restaurant as ‘casual elegance’: focused on the cooking rather than the prestige the customer can glean from being seen there. This is progressive, not decadent.
The meal I had was without doubt the most incredible eating experience of my life. So many dishes were outstanding that there came a point at which the very word was meaningless. How can more things stand out than not? Perhaps that’s why, for all the wonder of the evening, it really would be wrong to do this kind of thing too often. The extraordinary should not be allowed to become ordinary, no matter how good it is.
There is also an inherent risk in splashing out at a really expensive restaurant, one that worried me when I bit into the very first dish of the evening, beef with lichens and ash. It was pretty tasty, but nothing amazing. Taste is so personal that you could save up for what is supposed to be one of the great gastronomic experiences in the world and be left cold. But again, the same can be true of great art, which you can admire without loving. As Frantzén said, at even the best restaurant ‘I might not like everything. I can leave and say, “It’s not actually my cup of tea, but they’re fucking great.”’
So as the bill arrived and, along with it, a wax-sealed brown envelope containing a typewritten copy of the menu with a list of the wines we have drunk, two questions arose. Could I justify the cost? And was it worth it? Despite the case I’ve made, I’m not sure I can confidently answer the first in the affirmative. But to the second, my heart and head both scream yes. It’s a contradiction some will find easier to digest than others.
“So it dawned upon me how important it is to be a creative. Because it means you have within you infinite capacity to experiment. You are unafraid to go somewhere new because you are creating a new thought process about your own creativity. You know that if you stop and no longer challenge yourself, you cease to be creative. You become still, silent, and the bow no longer connect with the strings and music is not made. And you do not exist. You show you do not have the courage to exist. Creativity is courage. The world needs more fearless people that can influence all disciplines to challenge their very existence. Creativity is reflection aimed not at yourself, but at the world around you.”—John Maeda
As I thought about what happened, I continued, increasingly, to be horrified by it. You are agents. Your role is to help and encourage my career and my creativity. Your role is not to place me in personal emotional turmoil. Your role is not to threaten to destroy my family’s livelihood if I don’t do your bidding. I am not an asset; I am a human being. I am not a painting hung on a wall; I am not a part of a chess set. I am not a piece of meat to be “traded” for other pieces of meat. I am not a child playing with blocks. This isn’t a game. It’s my life.
What I have decided, simply, after this period of time, is that I cannot live with myself and continue to be represented by you. I find the threats you and Rand made to be morally repugnant. I simply can’t function on a day-to-day business basis with you and Rand without feeling myself dirtied. Maybe you can beat the hell out of some people and they will smile at you afterward and make nice, but I can’t do that. I have always believed, both personally and in my scripts, in the triumph of the human spirit. I have abhorred bullying of all kinds — by government, by police, by political extremism of the Left and the Right, by the rich — maybe it’s because I came to this country as a child and was the victim of a lot of bullying when I was an adolescent. But I always fought back; I was bloodied a lot, but I fought back.
I know the risks I am taking: I am not doing this blithely. Yes, you might very well be able to hurt me with your stars, your directors, and your friends on the executive level. Yes, Irwin and Barry are friends of yours and maybe you will be able to damage my relationships with them — but as much as I treasure those relationships with them, if my decision to leave CAA affects them, then they’re not worth it anyway. Yes, you might sue me and convince UA and God knows who else to sue me. And yes, I know that you can play dirty — the things you said about Guy in your meeting with me are nothing less than character assassination. But I will risk all that. Rich or poor, successful or not, I have always been able to look myself in the mirror.
I am not saying that I don’t take your threats seriously; I take your threats very seriously indeed. But I have discussed all of this with my wife, with my fifteen-year-old boy and my thirteen-year-old girl, and they support my decision. After three years of searching, we bought a bigger and much more expensive house recently. We have decided, because of your threats and the uncertainty they cast on my future, to put the new house up for sale and stay in our old one. You told me of your feeling for your own family; do you have any idea how much pain and turmoil you’ve caused mine?
I think the biggest reason I can’t stay with you has to do with my children. I have taught them to fight for what’s right. What you did is wrong. I can’t teach my children one thing and then, on the most elemental level, do another. I am not that kind of man.
So do whatever you want to do, Mike, and fuck you. I have my family and I have my old manual imperfect typewriter and they have always been the things I’ve treasured the most.
Barry Hirsch will officially notify you that I have left CAA and from this date on Gay McElwaine will represent me.
By ALICE RAWSTHORN NY Times Published: October 21, 2012
VIENNA — Walking through Vienna Airport recently, I noticed something odd about the signs. It wasn’t that they were misleading, on the contrary, they seemed to relay the right information in the right places, but that they looked slightly blurred. The characters and symbols on most airport signage are crisply defined, but some of these signs appeared to have been drawn by hand.
The oddness is intentional. The designer of the signs, Ruedi Baur, devised the blurred effect as part of his efforts to make Vienna Airport seem different from other airports at a time when most of them look pretty much the same. A fierce critic of the identikit school of airport design, he was determined to ensure that his signage reflected the spirit of Vienna. “The sociologist Marc Augé has described airports as ‘nonplaces,’ not destinations, but somewhere in between,” he said. “My job was to create a system of signs that makes this airport a place, not a nonplace.”
Why not, you might think, especially as the project seemed so promising when Mr. Baur started work on it eight years ago. Based in Paris, he had recently completed an innovative, widely praised signage scheme for Cologne-Bonn Airport and was commissioned to do the same in Vienna where the airport was to double in size by constructing a new building and renovating an old one. The senior management there was sympathetic to his goals, as were the architects, Itten Brechbühl and Baumschlager Eberle.
The first phase of expansion was completed this summer when the new building opened, replete with Mr. Baur’s signs. But the project has not gone as smoothly as he had hoped. New personnel joined the airport’s management during construction and decided to change aspects of the original architectural scheme, which affected the signage, and to drop two important elements of his planned system. He has also had to modify some of the signs following complaints from people with impaired vision amid an online rumpus that his artfully blurred signs are not legible.
Whatever else an airport signage system succeeds in being, it must be clear. If the signs do not communicate the relevant information quickly and easily to everyone who needs it, they will have failed, but pulling this off is tougher than it sounds.
Airports are often large, labyrinthine spaces in which thousands of people need to be guided to particular places at specific times. Some of them will be familiar with the airport, but others will be there for the first time. They may well speak different languages, and range from veteran flyers to nervous ingénues and terrified flight-phobia sufferers. Somehow, the signs need to guide each of them through the building so efficiently that they never worry about getting lost, as well as conforming to a minefield of safety regulations and competing against a blizzard of advertising imagery.
No wonder that the first wave of modern airport signage systems, in the 1960s and 1970s, were characterized by discipline and uniformity. Often, they were the work of gifted design “despots” like Benno Wissing, the Dutch designer whose 1967 signage for Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam was renowned for its lucid typography and rigorous color coding. To avoid confusion, he banned any other signage in his chosen shades of yellow and green from Schiphol, including Hertz’s car rental signs.
Clarity was also the goal of the Swiss designer Adrian Frutiger at the turn of the 1970s, when he developed a signage system for Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris. He designed a special typeface in which each letter could be read from different angles by distracted passengers while racing through crowded terminals.
Like Wissing’s signs at Schiphol, Mr. Frutiger’s scheme at Charles de Gaulle was a wonderful example of design that fulfilled its function sensitively and elegantly. Sadly, it has since been neglected, but Wissing’s work has been lovingly maintained and updated by the Dutch designer Paul Mijksenaar. Other airports have tried to achieve the same lucidity, but have generally settled for less sophisticated designs, which have produced indistinguishably bland signs that make it hard to tell one airport from another.
There are rare exceptions, like the elegant signs devised by the Swiss designer Ruedi Rüegg for Zurich Airport until his death last year, but experiments, like Mr. Baur’s work at Cologne-Bonn Airport, are unusual. The signs there feature pictograms seemingly drawn by hand in a deliberately naïve style, which seems distinctive in the context of an airport, and so familiar that you feel as though you have been there before.
Mr. Baur sought to achieve a similar effect at Vienna with the blurred signage that looks as if someone has scribbled on it in thick pencil, specially created pictograms with light shadows and a series of delicately translucent glass paneled signs.
He believes that these “subtle, playful effects” give the airport a distinctive character, together with the choice of typeface, Fedra Sans, which he commissioned from the Slovakian designer Peter Bil’ak for a previous project and contains all of the Central European accents, making it very apt for use in the Austrian capital.
Some of the glass panels have proved too subtle for people with impaired vision, who have complained that they are not clear enough. Mr. Baur says the problem was caused by the late changes to the architectural program, which left some of the panels inadequately lit. He and his team are now trying to rectify that.
But he is less optimistic about the chances of persuading the airport to reinstate two lost components of his original scheme: a panel by the baggage carousels welcoming passengers to Vienna with Austrian-German greetings and his pièce de résistance, a giant LED screen that would have traced the progress of flights as they approached the airport.
Does his grand plan work without them? I can’t pretend to have spotted explicit references to Vienna on the airport signs, but they were discernibly different to the “identikit” variety: definitely odd, but agreeably so.
In 1969, publisher John Martin offered to pay Charles Bukowski $100 each and every month for the rest of his life, on one condition: that he quit his job at the post office and become a writer. 49-year-old Bukowski did just that, and in 1971 his first novel, Post Office, was published by Martin’s Black Sparrow Press.
15 years later, Bukowski wrote the following letter to Martin and spoke of his joy at having escaped full time employment.
Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.
You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”
And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.
As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?
Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”
They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.
Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:
“I put in 35 years…”
“It ain’t right…”
“I don’t know what to do…”
They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?
I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.
I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”
One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.
So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.
To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.
You are overwhelmed, overscheduled, and dejected, because you keep trying to have it all—or at least most of it. You want a fulfilling job and personal life, and it’s not working. The way out? Work more. Hate to break it to you, but career and home aren’t the only poles. There is another: all those beautiful, disregarded side projects.
Does that make you want to pitch your desk lamp straight into my face? Fair. But that itchy desire only means I’m right. Obviously, neglecting your family and home eventually gets them both confiscated by people with clipboards and badges. But if you want to be a maker of things—or at minimum avoid a quietly desperate life in front of the television—you have a responsibility to head down to the workshop. Even the coolest jobs get stultifying with repetition, and the only way to break that cycle is to bring another job into the mix.
In fact, the cooler the day job, the more important it is to get outside of it. “If Marvel Comics asks you to write Spider-Man, it’s an honor of the highest order,” says Brian Michael Bendis, writer of flagship Marvel titles like Ultimate Spider-Man and New Avengers. But Bendis has also created a bunch of his own comics, including the police procedural/superhero book Powers. “For me, having both Powers and Spider-Man is best. With creator-owned projects, there are a million ways to do a million things on every page. You’re looking for a truly unique idea, and when you find one, you have to wrestle it to the ground. It’s hard.”
And it’s supposed to be. Have passion, yes, but acknowledge that side projects are still work. They shake things up, just like switching up your workout helps you stay one step ahead of your torpid metabolism. They scramble the synapses. It’s bracing stuff.
Even better, side projects can lead to a whole new life. Tina Roth Eisenberg started the blog Swissmiss in 2005 as a sort of proto-Pinterest, a visual archive of things she thought were well designed. That little side project turned into a design studio with the Museum of Modern Art and the Food Network as clients. Eisenberg loved it … until she didn’t. What kept her enthusiasm up was a bunch of different side gigs: a lecture series, a list-making app, a temporary-tattoo business. Eventually those jobs turned into moneymakers—and let Eisenberg stop working for clients. “People call me the queen of accidental businesses,” Eisenberg said in a recent speech. “While I was really thinking about what makes me happy, I realized, wait a second: I’d done it—just on the side.”
Not every story will end as happily as Eisenberg’s, but reinvigorating a job with another job can be habit-forming. That’s why movie stars take to the stage. It’s probably why Mad Men star Jon Hamm plays the voice of a talking toilet on Bob’s Burgers. Stripped of the responsibility to panic over the microcrises of something that has become, on a macro scale, boring, your brain can find new ways to focus. You start a new gig, and every crisis is macro. It’s never boring. And the skills you learn dealing with the new job port over to the old one. “A couple of times a year Marvel gets together. We workshop our book ideas in a big, tough room,” Bendis says. “But the second we walk out, we’re talking creator-owned stuff.” For Bendis, the Marvel retreat is a chance to reconnect with his mainstream work and learn about the crazy, off-the-wall stuff that his colleagues are working on. Side projects are an engine for generating more, better ideas. And that’s good. Unless your idea is just another take on Fifty Shades of Grey. The world’s all set on those, thanks.
@jordanmoore: A couple of weeks ago you discussed simulation technology and how we use it to simulate “all we have left: the past”. Do you think designers are harking back to an easier time, when their works were less transient – and that digital is a format where it is difficult to leave behind relics of our work, and provides no assuring sense of longevity?
This is an extremely complex matter that I have been thinking about for the last few months. I am not seeing clear enough to give you a short answer and this is not the place to answer in full, but I’ll give it a shot.
What I know is that this nostalgic trend a lot of people are talking and writing about these days has something to do with that the socio-economic change driven by the analog-to-digital transformation. The main progress that we have made in the last 30 years is not aesthetic or mechanical. What we have seen since the mid-90s is a progress in simulation technologies. Cars look more or less the same, music and fashion is also moving into a state of simulation of what is supposed to be authentic. And often the simulation outperforms the original.
A simulation or a copy that outperforms the original is the basic principle of evolution in design. Progress in design is never a big jump. It is always a processes of copy and improve. Big jumps, as in the advent of the iPhone, are only possible if a lot of that process of copy and improve is kept in the dark. Then it looks like a genius was at work, creating something completely new. But I have never seen any genius innovation out of the blue in technology. The more we learn about Apple’s design process through the Samsung court case, the more we see that in that regard Apple is no different from anybody else.
The absolute masters at copy and improve are the Japanese. And I’m not just talking about Japanese cameras, watches and electronics. A lot of French and Italian restaurants there out-cook authentic restaurants in France and Italy. Not only do they make better food – a good French restaurant in Tokyo tastes, looks and feels more French than most French restaurants in Paris. It is a funny experience. They simulate Frenchness so well, that you feel angry and insulted at first, then you feel sorry for the original. This is not just my romantic impression, Japanese pizza bakers often win pizza world championships. Tokyo has more Michelin stars than Paris. French and Italian tourists get confused when you show them some of these places. While you don’t fully trust this better copy to be really better (especially as a European), after a while you don’t care about original or simulation anymore.
Or take those incredible new old coffee shops in San Francisco. They are evoking an originality and a quality that has never existed before. Coffee in the 70s mostly tasted like shit. And I don’t think that coffee in the 20s was much better than in the 70s. Logistics simply didn’t allow that quality. We actually have much better product quality now than we used to have, but like our grandparents we imagine that once upon a time everything was more solid. We imagine this by looking at the really solid stuff that has survived.
To get back to the question: I believe that the traditionalist trends in music, fashion, and TV, as well as Apple’s use of old metaphors and Microsoft’s return to Swiss graphic design in Windows 8, is a sign of a creative process at its beginning. We are about to experience a back and forth from the digital to analogue that will eventually lead to a different understanding of reality. As different as this future reality is, it won’t necessarily look that ‘new’. It might look like the spoof of that Mad Men episode called The Carousel. When you first look at this, especially after watching the original, it feels ridiculous. You think “something is lost” or “there is no emotion”, but the more you watch the satire the less you will see a difference and realise that the old, analogue reality was as constructed as the digital one. There is no authentic reality and there never was.
As we can learn from that episode ‘new’ always was and always will be a good sales argument.
"The most important idea in advertising is ‘new’. It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion."
Advertising is not what it used to be. Classic advertising has become that weird thing from the past. It still kind of works, but it’s becoming more and more obvious how surreal advertisement is. What used to be advertising now is ‘The Web’. The web is how we now make buying choice; the web is where we get our product information. So the promise of ‘new’ doesn’t work that well any more, because:
Online, things just get old really fast. After the 50th retweet, new is old. And with the right account it takes less than a second to get that 50th retweet.
'New' is very easy to say, but innovation is very hard to do. A lot of things that used to be sold as new, actually were just old things with a new package. If you promise 'new' and don't deliver, your product will not be seen as “a kind of calamine lotion” but as snake oil.
The appeal of ‘new’ is part of a modernist bias. That bias is about to become conscious.
I believe that culturally, we are about to witness a capitulation in front of the modern ideology that ‘new’ or technological ‘progress’ is generally better. The above cited same Mad Men clip goes on explaining nostalgia as a “deeper bond with the product”, calling it “delicate but potent”.
The nostalgic trend is not the next ad strategy. And I don’t think that it’s just an escape back to the past. It is as a sign of distrust against the supremacy of ‘new’, that technological progress does not necessarily equal improvement. Progress can mean ‘improvement’, but it can also mean ‘even more trouble’. Whether you ‘believe in’ or ‘accept’ global warming or not – you have probably learned that we cannot escape environmental entropy with more technology. Less, more intelligent technology is a smarter way, but we might fool ourselves there. We do not fool ourselves when we accept that less consumption will lead to less chaos, but that’s much harder to accept than the idea of a deus ex machina that will save us all from the mess we are heading into.
The entropy of the ‘new’ is not a mere technological problem; we witness the same entropy affecting information. The incredible access to information we have does not lead to an overflow of information. But it doesn’t lead lead to more clarity. It leads away from the ‘either or’ ideologies that claim to know for certain which principles human knowledge must follow. The nostalgic trend is in essence postmodern. That everything you say describes a human perspective, not a divine cosm. I used to make fun of the word postmodern; I still dislike it, because the essence of postmodernism is exactly that it is not an -ism, that it has no global belief. But I am quite certain that the nostalgic trend marks the end of modernity. Especially since it treats modernity as something of the past, something that in some ways is desirable, in others not. There is a lot to say here (for instance how hard it is to fool ourselves into our grandparents’ nostalgia of our past that the internet documents in detail), but let’s move on …
Self-love makes the world go round. But, alongside cooperation, could self-love give birth to deception? Could the imperative of self-regard be so great, in fact, as to lead to self-deceit? In his new book, Robert Trivers, a master of evolutionary thought, roams from stick insects and brain magnets to plane crashes and Israeli-Palestinian wars in service of a corollary to Aristotle’s hard-boiled thesis. We humans deceive ourselves, Trivers argues. We do so often, and almost always the better to deceive others for our own personal gain. From misguided estimates of self-worth to false historical narratives of nations, the self-love that spins the world is itself fueled by self-deceit. And the price can be substantial.
Deception comes before self-deceit, and nature is riddled with it. A third of the 26,000 species of orchids propagate by deceiving pollinators into believing that they are enjoying a non-existent reward. Foraging octopi, who can change the color patterns on their skin at a rate of three times per minute for four hours at a time, bamboozle would-be predators into complete confusion. Male antelopes use warning barks to fool frightened females into sticking around rather than search for another mate. Cuckoos and cowbirds trick other species of birds into believing that the eggs they furtively lug into their nests are their own, carrying on carefree as the duped foster parents shoulder the burden of nestling and feeding the newborn hatchlings. The opossum feigns death, viral DNA hoodwinks bacterial (and every other kind of) DNA, the Viceroy dupes Monarch-wary would-be munchers.
Even the tiny blister beetle cuts an unassuming figure of deception: shortly after they hatch from their eggs, hundreds and sometimes thousands of baby beetles shimmy up a blade of grass to form a female digger-bee look-alike aggregate, emitting a female digger-bee pheromone, or perfume. When the innocent male bee comes along with thoughts of mating on its mind, it mounts the fake female and is soon covered with tiny cling-ons. These, in turn, jump ship again when the male encounters a true female bee, stowing away on her body into the bee burrow, where they will feed off the hard-won pollen she has collected and, eventually, her own larvae kin.
Between parasite and host, male and female, parent and offspring, predator and prey, plant and animal—deception is everywhere. But if nature is a picture of guile, what about us humans? Fake crying, pretend laughing, and temper tantrums in babies and children are evidence that deception starts early; the heartache of female and male promiscuity and the guilt-inducing manipulations of old age are signs that we never outgrow it. Trivers likes the sexy examples. Did you know that women’s waist/hip ratio is slightly more curvaceous and symmetrical when they are ovulating, and that in some studies they have been shown to be more likely to appear in a nightclub on these days without their partner and baring more skin? Did you know that homophobic males are more likely to be aroused by homosexual porn than non-homophobic heterosexual males? Or that in Jamaica to “cut a man a waistcoat” is to produce an extramarital offspring who looks just like the hoodwinked dad?
Deception is rife in humans for the same reason it is in nature: there are inbuilt clashes of interest, whether it be sexual strategy when it comes to females and males, parental investment when it comes to mothers and fathers, or resource allocation when it comes to parents and offspring. An expert in detecting conflict where others see harmony, Trivers worked out the evolutionary logic behind such relationships in the early 1970s, spawning entire fields in behavioral studies and genetics and giving rise to a number of predictions. One of the starkest of these was the idea that because fathers and mothers have different interests when it comes to the fetus (dad wants the baby bigger than mom does), identical genes on the chromosomes that they have each bequeathed will battle each other over control of embryonic growth. Sure enough, in the 1980s, biologists began to discover genes whose expression levels depended on from which parent they had come. And the gene knows where it came from, following the basic logic of genetic conflict Trivers described years before genomic imprinting was discovered.
Deception, to be truthful, is less of a mind-twister than self-deceit. Like Hume and Smith before him, Trivers understood that giving could serve one’s interests if the rewards of cooperation outweighed its costs. Using the logic of game theory, he showed that the principle of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” made evolutionary sense. Soon “reciprocal altruism” helped explain otherwise beguiling sacrificial behavior. But benevolence requires a strong sense of justice because a sense of justice is necessary to appreciate dishonesty: after all, in games of trust, especially with lag time, cheaters can wreak havoc. And so, over evolutionary time, an arms race honed in social mammals a growing intelligence. Trivers finds it ironic that “dishonesty has often been the file against which intellectual tools for truth have been sharpened.” But one of the outcomes of this Darwinian dynamic may have also been a genuine instinct for fairness, born of the need to distinguish trustworthy partners from charlatans.
But if evolution has done such a grand job of fine-tuning our senses in the service of detecting deceit, why does all the hard-won information that we extract from the world through our senses often become muddled and deformed in our brains? Why do we project our own traits onto others, repress true memories and invent false ones, lie to ourselves, rationalize immoral behavior, and generally deny inconvenient truths? Seventy percent of people rank themselves better-looking than average, according to a study cited by Trivers; 94 percent of academics (shocking!) think they are better than average, too. Why is this? The answer, Trivers would have us believe, is that the possibility of deceit raises the probability of ever more subtle mechanisms for spotting deceit, which in turn raises the probability of mechanisms for self-deceit. Trick yourself to trick another: what better way to conceal the truth? Self-deception is not a defensive measure meant only to make us feel better; it is a weapon instilled in us by natural selection to help deceive others for our own good.
SELF-DECEPTION is everywhere. There is rampant self-inflation—80 percent of school children, to provide another example, place themselves in the top half of students in leadership ability—but there are other kinds, too. “Confirmation bias” is one: we are all much more likely to seize upon facts that chime with our views and disregard—to the point of not seeing them—those that challenge them. Forms of self-deception occur also in situations of “us” and “them”: randomly divide a room of people into two groups, say “Reds” and “Blues,” and see how quickly bad traits are generalized to the out-group while good traits are imputed to the “ins.” If a “Red” steps on your “Blue” toes, for example, you are more likely to say “he is an inconsiderate person,” whereas if it was a fellow teammate you would simply report that “he stepped on my toes.”
False personal narratives are another example. For years Joseph Ellis, a historian of the American founding, told his students that he had been a war hero with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam when in fact he had been a graduate student at Yale and then a professor of history at West Point. Ellis was caught and apologized; but most of us constantly create fictional narratives about ourselves and think nothing of it. Indeed, much of self-deception is unconscious: with typical candor Trivers tells us how, while lecturing, he often steals chalk from himself only to discover later that he is out of chalk with which to teach.
Neurophysiology provides some fascinating evidence. Humans, it turns out, are more physiologically aroused by the sound of their own voice than that of others, but unconsciously so. In a classic experiment from the late 1970s, a group of people were each asked to read the same text. The recordings were chopped into short segments and a mosaic master tape was made with snippets from different voices. The participants were then hooked up to a machine measuring their galvanic skin response, which is normally twice as high for hearing your own voice than the voice of another. Then people were played the tape and asked to press a button when they heard their own voice. While some subjects denied their own voice and others projected it onto the voice of others (claiming that someone else was actually them), in all cases the skin had it right.
What is going on here? Information from either side of the brain reaches its target via a bridge, the corpus callosum, which connects left to right, the left hemisphere controlling the right side of the body and the right hemisphere, the left. Have you ever noticed that you are searching for an object—say, keys—and only spot it in your left visual field when you actually say the word “keys” aloud? Presumably, information is not being freely shared between the two sides of the brain across the corpus callosum, but when the right brain hears the object of desire being named, suddenly the left visual field and tactile side are awakened. Trivers believes this is related to self-deception. As is often the case, his evidence stems from his own experience (a trait he shares, by the way, with Darwin): Trivers has noticed that “inadvertent” touching of women comes exclusively from his left hand and invariably surprises his left brain which controls the motor functions of his right side. The left, linguistic, side is more conscious and engages in self-promotion; the right side is less conscious and more honest. The implication is that we have evolved a brain architecture that allows self-deception to do whatever is right by us. Sometimes the truth is worth concealing, especially from ourselves.
Social psychology concurs. Across cultures, it is claimed, moral hypocrisy is the rule: people tend to judge others more harshly than themselves for the same infraction. But put people under a form of cognitive load—say, have them memorize a string of numbers while making a moral judgment—and the usual bias toward self disappears. “This suggests that built deeply within us,” Trivers writes, “is a mechanism that tries to make universally just evaluations, but that after the fact, ‘higher’ faculties paint the matter in our favor.”