Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

Postcard Tourism

September 1, 2014

We live in the era of the selfie, and like any trend, there is a plethora of pundits and pontificators prattling purposefully about the privations of said practice. Time Tells reminds you that everyone worries about everything when it is new, but if you look closely you see it isn’t.
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A quarter century ago I did this thing where I took my picture in front of heritage sites with my arms raised high in the air. Yes, we had selfies back then even if we had to get someone else to take them, or use the timer that those old-fashioned cameras all had.

vince in saigon 2001

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When I backpacked around the world in 1986, we had a phrase: “Been There, Done That, Got the T-Shirt.” Today we got the selfie to prove we were there.

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This goes way back. Richard Halliburton took his picture in front of the Taj Mahal in 1925. The Grand Tour predates photography, but the message of travel and exoticism and the appropriation or possession of cultural sites goes ALL THE WAY back. What is a Gandhara Buddha if not a kind of Alexander the Great selfie?

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Take a look at that last photo – the Machu Picchu selfie. I am as guilty as everyone else of engaging in this postcard tourism. And it’s a damn shame, and I will tell you why. This is Peru, the country with more heritage sites than any other in the Western Hemisphere. And everyone goes to see this one. Why? because it’s important? No, it’s of tertiary importance at best. It’s 300 years younger than Notre Dame de Paris, was occupied for less than a century, and the craftsmanship of the four sites you see on the way to it are much more impressive.

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But look at it. It’s gorgeous. It’s like a celebrity – all good looks and charm and not much substance behind. What does everyone remember about the site? Not a monument, but Huayna Picchu, that wonderful soft-serve ice cream cone of a mountain that is in the backdrop. Look at that. ANYTHING would look cool in that setting. A rusted truck would look awesome there. Anyone standing there would look super fantastic in a selfie! Top of the world, ma!

monjas D wall

view to circum wall

castullo supports

Now this is Marcahuamachuco, about three hours from Trujillo in the north of Peru. It gets a fragment of a fragment of the tourism that Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley do, but it is a thousand years older, steeped in mystery – and ALSO on top of the world – you get a 360-degree view of mountains as you wonder at these 3-story stone structures – both round and rectangular, built 1600 years ago for some ritual or seasonal purpose not yet know. During that 3-hour drive from Trujillo, itself a World Heritage site, you will pass about 4000 archaeological sites. 4000. Peru has a fascinating history going back thousands of years and covering dozens of unique cultures and EVERYONE goes to see the youngest site of the shortest-lived empire.

It’s as if tourists came to North America and only went to Las Vegas and Disney World. Oh, wait. They do that. Never mind.

But Vegas and Disney are like replacement windows – you can keep putting a new one in and imagineering it better to suit the visitor experience. Nothing there needs to be old or authentic or conserved. That also means you can dump a very large number of tourists there without worrying about the wear and tear on the attractions, because they are replacement windows, which means you just keep replacing them.

The problem with actual World Heritage sites is that they do react to the wear and tear. Angkor is being trampled by tons of tourists – probably 4 million or more this year, which is not good for its historic fabric.

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Vishnu as pivot in the churning of the sea of milk. There’s a metaphor here somewhere…

So Global Heritage Fund has been working for over six years three hours beyond Angkor at Bantyeay Chhmar, which is as massive and significant and well crafted as anything at Angkor, but gets less than 2000 visitors a year. Partly there is a limited tourist infrastructure and this region was not secure in the 1990s, but the basic point is that we need to spread the tourism out, people! You don’t all have to do the same thing!

BC bas elephant

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Hey it’s Jayavarman VII! I loved him at the Bayon!

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So there was an article quoting both Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet and a GHF Board Member, and myself. We talked abut Ciudad Perdida, which I wrote about at the time of our visit last year here.. We actually determined the carrying capacity of the site (and the 3-day trek to get there) and while we have grown tourism from a couple hundred to 8000 people a year, adding $26 million to the local economy, we know we can still double tourism before we will see any negative effect on the site or the environment around it.

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We tend to find these “undiscovered” places at Global Heritage Fund, partly because circumstances make them available (removing landmines at Banteay Chhmar or the Plain of Jars in Laos, getting rid of narcotraficantes in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia, etc.) and partly because we see the incredible imbalance of celebrity-site tourism and want to remedy it so that more people in these countries can share the wealth of the tourist dollar.

vm ilkley moor87
Wirsta bin sin I sae thee on Ilkley Moor bar tat?

LIDAR in Cambodia

May 2, 2014

Last night we had a lovely Global Heritage Fund event at the Metropolitan Club featuring Dr. Damian Evans of the University of Sydney, who made headlines last year for discovering a new ancient Khmer city at Phnom Kulen northeast of Angkor.
May 1, 2014:  Global Heritage Fund Presentation by Dr. Damian Evans, University of Sydney
GHF photo by Bob Stanton

LIDAR, or more specifically airborne LIDAR, is a laser-scanning technique that manages to provide accurate maps of the surface topography of a place despite layers of vegetation and trees. It allows you to see landforms that may be hidden to the naked eye. Like all good modern technologies, it does what used to be done a whole lot faster. Evans described the past work of a French archaeologist Jacques Gaucher who cut through the vegetation over many years at Angkor Thom to find the surface indications of settlement within the temple complex. LIDAR accomplished the same thing in a few hours, and also demonstrated that the settlement patterns extended well beyond the city walls, a fact Gaucher had not investigated.
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Entrance to Angkor Thom with deva
The technology is theoretically simple, as we learned in the Q & A. Basically it sends millions of laser points down into the jungle and they bounce back when they hit something. The beauty part is the (very expensive) software that reads the data and then strips away the 95% of it that hit trees and bushes and surface objects and just leaves the layer showing the actual surface.
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All we have left in Angkor and related sites are the stone temples, the homes of the gods. Even the god-kings like Suryavarman II (Angkor Wat) and Jayavarman VII (Bayon) lived in wooden houses along with as many as a million people in what Dr. Evans noted was the LARGEST metropolitan complex in all human history before the Industrial Revolution.
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Angkor Wat 2012

LIDAR reveals the remnants of where the lost wooden structures stood, and perhaps more importantly, the hydraulic systems that made this massive conurbation possible. It is the small holding pools next to mounds of settlement detrita that make up the largest part of these scans and the best evidence for the everyday, non-durable society that made those great stone temples.
May 1, 2014:  Global Heritage Fund Presentation by Dr. Damian Evans, University of Sydney
thanks to elephants. GHF image by Bob Stanton

So the technology is more than a new way of doing things because it suggests we study the whole of a society and not just its stone artifacts. My blog two years ago about visiting Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat in a short period of time, revealed how I was struck by the hydrology of both places. More than their architecture, the engineering that made food production and thus population (and thus architecture and art) possible was what struck me in both the Inka and Khmer contexts.
BC bas elephant
elephants are cool, but you need irrigation first

Not only does LIDAR do in hours from the air what used to take months on the ground with a machete, but it suggests new ways of looking at heritage and new ways of understanding it. When my friend and colleague Simon Warrack showed me Damian Evans’ LIDAR scans of Angkor last year in New York I was immediately blown away: I saw intricate, deliberate patterns in places I had been where I had seen NOTHING. LIDAR captures all the lost palimpsests and creates new, robust databases and new areas of inquiry.
BC bas Khmer detS

Dr. Evans concluded by discussing the Global Heritage Fund site at Banteay Chhmar, where we have worked more than six years, restoring an amazing bas-relief wall describing the exploits of Jayavarman VII, a face tower reminiscent of the Bayon, and crafting a plan for the complex while working with the community tourism bureau.
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I concluded our event last night with a call for action. Last month during a storm, another section of bas-relief wall at Banteay Chhmar collapsed, leaving the stones vulnerable to theft and the wall vulnerable to further collapse. Global Heritage Fund is seeking your support to help restore this wall, so please donate at www.globalheritagefund.org.

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Many thanks to Dr. Damian Evans, Joyce Clark and all GHF members who attended the event! More Bob Stanton photos below of Dr. Evans with me and our lovely host Joyce Clark and myself.
May 1, 2014:  Global Heritage Fund Presentation by Dr. Damian Evans, University of SydneyMay 1, 2014:  Global Heritage Fund Presentation by Dr. Damian Evans, University of Sydney

Conservation at El Mirador

March 19, 2014

I finally had the opportunity to visit El Mirador, the longest-running Global Heritage Fund project in Guatemala. The preClassic Maya site lies in the Peten region at the northern edge of the country, in the heart of a surviving rain forest. Howler monkeys greeted our arrival by helicopter.
View from La DaS
This is the Kan (snake) kingdom of the Maya, a series of cities and ceremonial sites that represented the most advanced civilization in North America two thousand years ago. Today many of these sites are part of the Mayan Biosphere Preserve. We are conserving BOTH culture and nature here, which is important, because you see the deforestation in the area around the park and it is disheartening.
top La DaS
View from La Danta, the largest pyramid at El Mirador and the largest pyramid BY VOLUME in the world.

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Dr. Richard Hansen, who has been working with GHF for almost a decade, looking up La Danta

As I said in a blog not too long ago, we are seeing a confluence of heritage and natural area conservation. Not only does World Heritage recognize both (and “mixed” sites) but many of our projects are both national parks or preserves and cultural heritage sites, like Ciudad Perdida in Colombia and El Mirador. Saving the heritage helps save the rainforest.

VM on La DantaS
Me on La Danta

At the same time, conservation of excavated temples and artifacts is made more difficult by the rainforest. One of our principal efforts in 2013 was to construct this shelter over the famous Popul Vuh plaster relief mural. This will help conserve this fantastic ancient artwork.
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PV himselfS
This is Hunahpu, one of the hero twins of the Popul Vuh, he is carrying the head of his father after defeating the bad guys in the ball game

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Dr. Richard Hansen explaining the myth

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A similar cover helps conserve the temple of the Jaguar nearby.

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The site is vast, occupying a basin that stretches north of the border into Mexico and represents not only a rich and well-preserved ancient civilization, but a rare and intact stand of native rainforest. My visit was brief but the impact was great.

View down escala La Da grpS
descending the pyramid (but not all the way into the underworld

During the summer field season over 300 workers are employed here in archaeology and conservation. The next step is to develop an ecologically sensitive way of visiting the remote jungle site – if you want to avoid the helicopter now you have to trek for two days (and there are chiggers and other nasties). Hansen’s preferred solution is to use the historic roadways, made of many layers of lime, that link the sites in the basin with the world outside the rainforest. In the meantime, work goes on and the faces carved millennia ago emerge in the jungle…
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To support GHF’s work at Mirador, click here!

What Hath God Wrought

February 1, 2014

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This is last March before the drought

Living in Silicon Valley is fascinating in a variety of ways, from the absurdly non-existent weather (we think “Polar Vortex” is something treated with antidepressants) to the car culture, massive amounts of wealth, and the odd internationalism of the computer industries which draw people from every nation on earth. There is also the famously laid-back West Coast ethic and a blissful isolation from the vapidity and noise of national politics. California is the world’s eighth largest economy, and like the second, it has a functional single-party system. Also like the second, it is the most capitalist place on earth – it’s not how much money you make: it’s how much money your money makes…
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Even the appliances are laid back. My washer and dryer stay outside

I like to joke that in Palo Alto there are two types of businesses: start-ups and wealth management. There is also Stanford University, although I suppose it also falls under the category of wealth management as the most successful fundraising entity on the planet. But there is something to the ethic of innovation that characterizes Silicon Valley, that drew Zuckerberg from Harvard, that formed Steve Jobs, that made garages the seedlings of the world’s biggest corporations for several generations.
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add a sense of Mission

The famous Jobs quote where he talks about understanding that the world is made by other people and can just as easily be re-made by you – is true every day around here. If you go back in this blog, you can see my struggles with technology. I didn’t understand the iPad when it came out, but I understood that within a week every fifth person in China had one and now I can’t eat a meal, contract a service or even talk to another human without an iPad.
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You only think cars need wheels because other people say they do

Innovation and that old “thinking outside of the box” really are everyday here. In fact, they are tradition. A tradition of not thinking traditionally.
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Plenty of traditional architecture, though. Which, as every preservationist knows, is where new ideas come from

Yet despite the promise of the wireless world and the depth of our relationships with our smart phones in 2014, this is still a place, and the tradition of this place goes back before the garage of Jobs to the garage of Hewlett Packard, which was actually preserved as a relic of 1939 and birthplace of Silicon Valley. Why a place when we live in a wireless network – why not another place?
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well, this helps

But that is the logic of capitalism, which overrides the apparent logic of technology any day. You know the idea that professional people can live anywhere they want thanks to the communication network that connects us all – how old is that idea? 2000? 1996? Try 1844. Samuel Morse’s telegraph. What Hath God Wrought? They all predicted there would be no cities now that you could communicate over wires. Which is why there have hardly been any cities built anywhere since 1844.
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not

You see there is a logic to concentration that overrides the ability to be distant. This is why H-P and Intel and Apple and Google and Twitter are all here. The logic of capitalism states that if there is a successful business, the best place to build a similar successful business is right next door – you have the talent and treasure to make it happen. We thrive in this sea of collaboration, in this physical network that has transformed the world into a virtual network.
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Because the most high-tech way of moving things is to run a wire underground and keep it constantly moving. Grab on for a ride, let go to stop.

The Grammy Theme: Obsolescence or Transcendence?

January 28, 2014

A little shy of a year ago I wrote a blog about (among other things) the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis song “Thrift Shop” because 1. I like it, and 2. I was amazed that such an anti-consumerist sentiment could be a hit song.
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Not stealing pictures of Grammys so go find your own

Now the Grammys have not only showered the song and its artists with awards, but they gave out other awards to songs that question or outright TRASH the materialistic morality of the industry, like the Song of the year “Royals” which was the absolute inverse of the Lil’ Kim product placement songs that ruled the roost a decade ago. Little Lorde (younger than my daughter) parodied product placement and created a youth anthem in opposition to consumerism.
McDonald's and Mobil @ nite
those prices are as obsolete as a Maybach now…

Throw in the post-apocalyptic Radioactive by Imagine Dragons and Jay Z’s OMG-Fame-is-too-much-what-do-I-do duo with Timberlake (Holy Grail) and you have an anti-consumerist theme that, like I said in my 2013 blog – had been sort of invisible for twenty years. Not coincidentally, Jay-Z name-checks and quotes Kurt Cobain and Smells Like Teen Spirit, so maybe we are being welcomed to a new age, or back to one that questioned the high life.
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yeah, well

What was the other runaway winner? Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, which lyrically is only a portion of an emotion but sonically is ALL of the 1970s. The striving of the song’s protagonist has a human (sexual) objective and no consumerist reference whatsoever, notwithstanding “Robots.”
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so, like, they aren’t following the rules I think…

One might be tempted to see this as a commentary on the collapse of the recording industry, which has failed to come up with a viable economic model for nurturing musical talent in the digital age. But maybe it is a return to the DIY era of the late 70s and early 80s – that is sort of how Lorde got into the business. And it’s not like there was an era of the music business that was pure and fair and free of payola….
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but there were eras that were colorful
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and obsolescence rarely lasts forever anyway…vm point 83
On second thought, let’s just leave the 1970s alone….

Recycling Recycling: Symbols of empathy

January 18, 2014

My town is about to join a long list of local communities and counties that are banning plastic bags from stores. LA just became the largest city to do so. Because environment. Like most such actions, the benefits of the ban are primarily symbolic and inspirational, which is how we have approached recycling in the United States for well over seventy years.
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Humans need symbols, and the most effective ones are visual. When I was in high school baby harp seals, over-the-top cute and cruelly clubbed, became extremely effective symbols for wildlife preservation. Of course, if the animals were less than cute (snail darter) they might become symbols for the opposition.
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like this threatened newt in Yunnan I shot (photographed) in 2008

But back to recycling. Famously, in World War II Americans recycled metal, rubber, newspapers and more to help the war effort. The idea was that we recycled these things into jeeps and tanks and bullets and telegrams or whatever to aid our soldiers overseas. Economists debate the actual economic and logistical impact of these drives, but no one doubts their symbolic ability to motivate patriotic support of the war effort.
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The next burst of recycling started with the oil scare of 1973 and I remember recycling newspapers from at least 1975, which in that case required careful straightening, bundling and delivering to a recycling station 2 miles away. Our hate affair with plastic bags begins at this point as well, since about that time the great question of eternal duality began”: “Paper or plastic?”
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Please put my plastic bottles in a PAPER bag

I actually never understand that duality: Why does it have to be either/or? Why can’t I have some of both? I would be happiest if I came home from the grocery store with BOTH plastic and paper bags – I can use the one for the little garbage cans and the other for the recycling, right? But the checkout clerks force you into one camp or the other. Paper AND plastic??? what are you, sick??

Which takes us right over the barbed wire into the no-man’s land of NO PLASTIC BAGS. And I understand this too, based on an experience I had 20 years ago in the Illinois River Valley.

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near here

I was tasked with fighting against a huge landfill in LaSalle County. In the process I visited local landfills and while I remember the earth movers and dump trucks the enduring image of the landfill was PLASTIC BAGS. They would catch in trees next to the landfill and for a mile or more around it. They looked awful blowing in the wind and they hearkened right back to that 1971 environmental commercial where the Italian-American actor dressed as a Native American shed a tear seeing what us consumers had done to the rivers and trees.

The plastic bag is the enduring image of the pollution of the landfill, and the landfill in turn is what we are trying to avoid by recycling. Even though the landfill is mostly yard waste, paper and construction debris, not plastic bags, and the biggest lesson I learned in that (losing) battle was about “special waste.” Do you know what “special waste” is? It can be put in lots of landfills because it is NOT toxic waste. It is diluted toxic waste. Cool, huh?

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There are many reasons to ban plastic bags – they end up not only in trees but in the ocean, where they kill the hell out of marine critters, so that is a good reason to ban them. But if you are thinking about landfills, your reusable bags could be taking up more space. The value of the ban is less the direct benefit to the environment than the symbolism of the action.

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I feel better already

The deeper problem is of course how can you possibly use consumption to fight consumption? That is the pernicious logic that renders the paper versus plastic divide nonsensical: which consumer choice will you use to fight against living in a consumer society? Because you can’t win it unless you change it structurally, not symbolically. That means cutting out not just the plastic but the purchases themselves. Interestingly, that actually happened in World War II – I have my grandfather’s ration book to prove it.

Megafauna, Megaliths and Megamalls

November 29, 2013

My first coherent memory of the term Black Friday was in 2008, when we had two Chinese students staying at our house for Thanksgiving and they went out all night to “celebrate” this American consumer tradition. History tells me that the term dates to the 1960s, and of course I was well aware of people starting their Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving throughout my life. I was a rare participant, having suffered lifelong from male-pattern-shopping-disorder.
in Costco2
Despite advanced degrees and extensive world travel, I am unable to appreciate the beauty of this image. What’s wrong with me?

Now, the casualties from this year’s simultaneous shopping frenzy are already mounting as I write this, so as a historian I immediately think of parallels in earlier civilizations, such as the human sacrifice found in many MesoAmerican cultures. You can argue there is a difference between religious beliefs and consumerism, but you can also argue exactly the opposite, and indeed in history the distinction between belief and ritual is entirely academic.
Klaus-Peter Simon_2012
Here is an image of the world’s oldest “ceremonial” site, Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, 5,000 years older than Stonehenge. (at Global Heritage Fund we are trying to conserve it through community development projects) Some have called it the world’s oldest “religious” site but we have no idea if and what religion possessed these hunter-and-gatherer societies of the Fertile Crescent at that date. We can only know about the site’s ritual use, and even much of that is still theoretical.
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Even if we know what she is doing, we don’t know what she is thinking

The world is full of early megalithic structures, places like the Celtic stone circle in Austria seen above, or Göbekli Tepe, or Stonehenge, or the famous Easter Island statues, or the Spinx for that matter. Pyramids themselves, found in the Fertile Crescent, Egypt (duh), and of course throughout the Americas, are a kind of megalith, even if the earliest ones are rammed earth, or in this case, adobe brick.
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Lima is full of huacas (pyramids) like Rome is full of Baroque churches

So, we have the ancient ritual sites and their megaliths, and we have our modern ritual sites, which are megamalls, and progress is certainly measurable because we sacrifice a miniscule fraction of the number of people they used to sacrifice at these various ritual sites. So where do the megafauna fit in?
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Traditionally we ascribe the rise of religion to the abandonment of the huntering and gathering lifestyle for settled agricultural societies. If you are always on the move, you can’t build a temple, right? Göbekli Tepe conflates that, since it was built by pre-agricultural society, although there are intriguing connections to the early domestication of plants and animals. Every historical shift has a push and a pull, and the ready availability of plants and animals in the Fertile Crescent and Eurasia in general was a pull, but the demise of megafauna was likely a push.
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Is that a dodo?

One of the quaint truths about human societies is that they almost never, ever live in any sort of harmony with nature. We love the myth of people living in harmony with nature, and that myth meant Avatar made a boatload of money, which is too say that myth FED our expansive economic ecosystem that depends on consumption of more resources than our environment can sustain. That is ironic in the original sense of the word, BTW. It is relatively easy to see in the fossil record how prehistoric humans on every continent wiped out the megafauna: giant kangaroos, mastodons and woolly mammoths, huge felines, etc. We might wonder at how they could have managed these huge kills, but the “big game hunter” still exists – the human impulse is to go big. And when a tribe managed a big kill, they got a big payoff in terms of calories and clothes and tools. So we killed off all those big beasts. Probably a very male thing.
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Unlike architecture. Hard to see the male imagery in that…

While the men were going big in the hunt, the women were gathering fruits and nuts and berries and eventually emmer wheat and barley and THEY probably figured out the idea of agriculture, which was much less dramatic than the big hunt but more productive in the long terms of calories and clothes and sustained societies better. Besides the Ice Age was over and nutrients in the soil were OFF THE HOOK.
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3000 year old bread. Stale, but nutritious.

SO, if you go to the Fertile Crescent today you see lands of milk and honey where everything grows in blue peace with the environment, yes? Well, no. It’s more like lots of desert, because of the lovely human tendency (all genders pull together on this one!) to exploit our resources until we totally run out.

I remember touring the archaeological monuments of the Burren in County Clare, Ireland, where our guide pointed out from one summit the remains of eight significant prehistoric monuments, wedge tombs and dolmens and the like, and noted that there was only one contemporary house in the same viewshed, because the land was much MORE populated five thousand years ago.
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You know, before it got gentrified

Now comes the time in the story when I make an analogy to heritage conservation. So here goes. In preserving and conserving historic sites, we tended to start with the megafauna: the huge monuments like Pyramids and Great Walls and Palaces and whacking great ginormous temples….
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cahok world hertS
coba pyramid
roy palace

Then we got a little more sophisticated, which is to say feminine, and started cultivating our cultural landscapes, but since we did it in a curatorial (male) fashion, we tended to demolish as much as we conserved, so we got historic landscapes that were more like petting zoos than living landscapes…
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Skansen, the granddaddy of them all

But then we started listening to the likes of Jane Jacobs and tried to imagine actual sustainable environments that retained their roots: both in architectural design and place history, and we imagined we could sustain these historical cultural landscapes in a living, evolving way…
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And that’s as far as we have gotten. Happy Black Friday!

PS: I treated the monuments to landscapes argument a year ago here.

Skeuomorphs

August 10, 2013

A skeuomorph is “a design feature copied from a similar artifact in another material, even when not functionally necessary.” Like the body shape of an electric guitar.
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“i sing the body electric…”
Examples include the shutter sound on a digital camera, lightbulbs shaped like candle flames, the newstand app that looks like a wooden bookshelf, and plastic lumber with wood graining.
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I announced my intention to write a blog about skeuomorphs in architecture and my dear friend Elizabeth Milnarik pointed out that “architectural history = skeuomorphism, or the rejection of skeuomorphism, more or less.” She is right.
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“…meets some fragment huge and stops to guess…”

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The classical (in every sense) example is the capital of the Corinthian column, derived in the 5th century BC by the sculptor Callimachus when he saw acanthus leaves growing around a votive urn or basket, according to Vitruvius.
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The Greek and then Roman temple is itself a collection of forms borrowed from other materials and rendered into stone.
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These forms have been in turn borrowed on the largest architectural scale to signify the elevated nature of government buildings,
VA State Capitol
houses of worship,
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banks,
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and homes
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Khmer architecture in stone is based on wooden precedents, which explains not only its rampant skeuomorphism, but also its goddawful engineering.
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the spindled windows and
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the shingled galleries and
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the carved corners and
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the constantly collapsing corbels

Chinese architectural tradition, even when it remained within familiar material (wood), often exaggerated and/or multiplied once-functional architectural features for aesthetic effect. The duogong bracket system originally provided structural support from column to roof purlin, and cantilevers called ang allowed the adjustment of roofline curves (in itself practical originally, since it protected structural elements from weather and allowed more light and air within).
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Eventually the duogong became decorative and nonfunctional
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those ang are SO retro!

Gothic architecture, as its name implies, is a kind of skeumorphism squared, retaining distorted features of previous architectures, the natural or wooden forms long forgotten.
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“…oppresses like the Heft of Cathedral Tunes…”
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Oh look! It’s the transition from Romanesque to Gothic at Durham Cathedral!

The Renaissance and the Baroque totally doubled down on the whole skeuomorph thing, refining forms with forms and creating a massive vocabulary of design elements completely abstract in their relation to any original natural inspiration.
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“…getting and spending we lay waste our powers; little we see in Nature that is ours..”
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sort of like heavy metal

Modernism of course was a rejection of historical styles, which is to say a la Milnarik a rejection of skeuomorphism, most neatly summed up in the German phrase Neue Sachlichkeit which can be translated as new objectivity. A plain box devoid of ornament seems an apt expression of engineering and need.
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But the fact of the matter: there is always that attempt to sweeten, to make forms subjective, even without ornament.
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now the soundtrack should be New Order
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the practical aspect here is the separate architect/lover’s entrance, not visible

Frank Lloyd Wright understood architectural ornament as “the conventionalization of natural things, revealing the inner poetry of their Nature.” The Egyptians conventionalized the lotus; the Greeks the acanthus; civilization itself was “a conventionalizing of our original state of nature”; and architecture “the highest, most subjective, conventionalization of Nature known to man”.
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This is a conventionalized hollyhock
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Wright didn’t need to retain skeuomorphs that would make you feel more comfortable. He didn’t care if you were comfortable..
Wright apprentice Barry Byrne designed modernist Catholic churches, assiduously avoiding skeuomorphs in an idiom that almost requires it. You can buy the Byrne book here.
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But enough about the big styles, what actually got me going is one of the most basic and baffling skeuomorphs: the square chimney. We have so long identified the square chimney as the appropriate form, even though the structural element is circular, a tube. This is given away by the Victorian chimney pots, which follow the shape of the smoke vent even as the masonry does not.
euclid lake NE
I see a chimney. I know it is a chimney because it is brick and square
box chimney op
So I see new houses built, or old ones with new fireplaces added like this, and they put cylindrical metal chimney tubes, and then they add rectangular plywood boxes around them – because that is the shape they are supposed to be – and then cover the plywood with fake brick – because that is the material they are supposed to be.
TC at LHS showS
Terra cotta is a material whose sole rationale is skeuomorphism, more easily rendering detail than carved stone or other masonry material.
new terra cotta n wabash
I suppose the most ubiquitous, and arguably outrageous skeuomorph is the Palladian window, which is based on a Roman triumphal arch, so it was never a window at all but now it is everywhere, not because it helps the window to DO anything, but because it signifies classicism just like those columns and pediments…
palladian
i got a classy house
221 s pall det1111s
actually this is our house back East
office PAS
and this is my office here in California
flw home best crop
Even Frank Lloyd Wright was not immune to Palladian temptations..

nasty replacements taylor OPs
Speaking of windows, the whole multi-paned window like the one you see here – which is a nasty, short-lived plastic replacement window that won’t last as long as Real Housewives of Atlanta is perhaps the most common architectural skeuomorph. The multi-paned window goes with Classical and Georgian styles.
campbell ctr bldg cls
So, this 19th century building in Mount Carroll, Illinois has the multi-paned windows, just like this ACTUAL Georgian Building in Trenton, New Jersey:
trent hs copy
But the fact of the matter is that by the middle of the 19th century you could produce reasonably large sheets of glass almost anywhere, so the old crown (English) and broad (German) methods of manual glass production were over with and you could produce windows like this throughout the civilized world in the 1850s:
ital details midway
In fact, technology would have allowed a single pane in each sash but the popular Italianate style went for paired things (brackets, arches, panes). We still see multi-paned windows everywhere, which are skeuomorphs for something that has not needed to exist for 200 years. The modern ones are just strips of plastic that reduce the amount of light you get inside. but they SIGNIFY Classicism or Americana or Oldy-Timeyism or something.

It is the signification carried by certain forms – and perpetuated by form-givers – that ultimately explains the skeuomorph. Architectural history is indeed a history of skeuomorphs and the rejection thereof, so Elizabeth is right. Or Wright.
heurtley super bestS

the quantum mechanics of culture

July 18, 2013

MEANING DOESN’T MATTER; ONLY MOVEMENT HAS MEANING
– written in magic marker across the top of my windscreen in 1984 -

airstream5

When I studied history in college I reasoned that historical events were “overdetermined,” that is to say that they could not be explained by simple cause-and-effect. The causes of World War I, for example, are a big mushy stew of militarism, a rising capitalist industrialism, a Byzantine network of alliances and treaties, and a global economy still shedding the creaky structure of mercantilism. The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo was the “event” at a point in time and space which purportedly set these multiple causes into motion.

In quantum mechanics you can’t have a point in time and space, especially if there is movement.

stein siegel

Everyone who hates history class knows it is about memorizing dates. I like memorizing dates but I remember having a big argument (before a big history test) with my college roommate about the nature of dates in history. He felt that historical events had a discrete beginning and end. The Civil War began in 1861 and ended in 1865. I disagreed, saying you could always push the boundaries of an event forward and back. The Civil War really began with the 1860 election, or the Dred Scott case, or the Compromise of 1850 or the Missouri Compromise 30 years earlier or the three-fifths rule in the Constitution or the African slave trade or…. the point is it just goes on. You could argue it ended in 1865 or with Reconstruction or the Voting Rights Act or you could argue that it is still going on in Sanford and Austin and Raleigh.

In string theory the attributes of subatomic one-dimensional elementals resonate over time, causing matter and its opposite.

arch bldg brise tamu

You start pulling the threads of history and you get more and more entangled. I like the messiness of history, as I note on my website and over the years in this blog. Overdetermined in cause and effect, indeterminate in time, rich in detail. In the post-Enlightenment world we have also seen history in a positivist trajectory, something most human cultures (and religions) in time have rejected. See my post on 2012 and the End of Linear Time.

Liongrv gdn cool door cS

Historians are always playing catch-up with science and medicine, those disciplines which can legitimately claim some crazy-ass accomplishments over the last couple of hundred years. We’ve doubled lifespans, cured diseases, gone from a 90-second powered flight to the moon in 66 years, and the latest plane crash had a 99 percent survival rate. But in history we still fall back on great leaders and military tactics, even though these approaches have been challenged for the entirety of my life. Humans, by nature, gravitate to singular explanations. But science and medicine have made their advances by rejecting simple agency, so should we all. Yeah, it’s harder. You have to think and work and stuff.

M-theory posits a universe with 11 dimensions, which is 7 past Time.

adalaj stpvwS

My doctoral work began as an investigation into the role of Modernism in historic preservation: how had a movement defined by forward-looking optimism that technology could solve societal ills also give birth to a retrospective nostalgia for more primitive urban and architectural forms? This research takes you of course to Sigfried Giedion, who wrote “Space, Time and Architecture” in 1941, an expansive and historical take that saw (a certain strand of) contemporary architectural practice as not only the culmination of centuries of slouching toward perfection, but also an expression of the radical new scientific understanding of the 20th century, namely Einsteinian space-time. Technology had made a quantum leap (haha) and architects were giving form to a new understanding of the world.

great interior2s

Exactly 20 years later Jane Jacobs totally dismantled Giedion as a faux-Einsteinian, treating cities as two-variable or statistical (disorganized complexity) problems when in fact they were biological (organized complexity) problems.

Here, kitty kitty. Schrödinger suggested a quantum biology when he introduced quantum physics.

embarcadero swirlS

My actual dissertation investigated the multiple motivations behind the creation of historic districts in the United States over the last century or so. It was a crude attempt at defining how some things were “overdetermined” and looking for strings across time and place that might provide insight not only into the creation and disposition of historic districts, but the nature and trajectory of the preservation movement itself. I found historic districts served a variety of motives, often focused on development and often expressive of a desire for a local democracy of the built environment (or partial secession, depending on your perspective)

Sf Ital rowhousS

In quantum entanglement, the measurement of a value in one element of a pair causes the other to take on a correlated value – with little regard for time, space or separation of the pair.

“Entanglement” seems like a better word that “overdetermined,” not only because it resonates more neatly with the social and political, but also because it challenges the idea of agency itself. Maybe historic preservation is the correlated pair of modernism, each spinning in the opposite direction.

ruins III 2011s

Heritage preservation has graduated from its Euclidean approach of looking at individual monuments in space to embrace cultural landscapes combining tangible and intangible heritage, like some sort of quantum field theory.

stein above3

The deeper you dig into quantum mechanics, which is an attempt to understand the basics underlying everything (matter, gravity, etc.), the more fugitive your goal becomes and the more weird the particles (or waves) become. But that fugitive state is what attracts me to this perturbative analogy.

flute columns

What are we trying to preserve? A window into the past? An archive of information or potential information? A masque of earlier culture? A design, and if so, the intention or the result? A ruin as a palimpsest that reveals time by its decrepitude? Beauty? An object? A practice? The practice of making a kind of object? It is always fugitive, though, because as soon as you preserve whatever it is, you have re-enacted it in a different time. The more correctly you measure its historical spin, the more impossible you make its contemporary correlation.

st basils day82

To preserve heritage sites we need to engage the local community, find an economically viable use – in short, construct a future for the past. This is way beyond particles or particulars and well beyond waves and trends and it seems to me quite entangled and every attempt to define or measure it causes another spin and the meaning slides and the matter resolves….

st basilz nite b

photos: airstream show, Palm Springs, 2011. Stein (town in Austria) history plaque designed 1977, photographed 2005. Texas A & M, 2007. Suzhou, 2012. Adalaj stepwell, Gujarat, 2008. Palo Alto Methodist Church, 2012. Embarcadero paving, 2011. San Francisco Italianates, 2013. Ruins III sculpture, Chicago, 2012. Stein, 2005. Columns at Sabratha, Libya, 2013. St. Basil’s Moscow, 2013, day and night.

Tagging Pops: Techno Tempo NorCal 2013

March 28, 2013

Here are the things I want to blog about this week: Driving in Northern California; the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis hit “Thrift Shop”; automated toll collection; and my addiction to my iPhone. How do we tie all this together?
horses on the hill mar2013s
horses maybe? I saw these horses yesterday on my way to work, while driving. And I took the photo with an iPhone. And I was listening to “Thrift Shop” on the radio that morning. Okay, that works.

Driving in Northern California

So, like everywhere else in the world, they have traffic jams and rush hours and traffic reports telling you where the accidents are. But is seems like there are more accidents. I saw a couple last week, and my commute is fairly long so the odds of me seeing one are higher.
communte18s
this is part of my commute
commute nr PA 280s
this is another part. No, it isn’t always beautiful.
lex res commuteS
commute flowers3s
Okay, I lied. It IS always beautiful.

Now, Californians are of course known for being more laid back and friendly and even disconcertingly intimate to those of us from less evolved parts of the country. And this extends to driving in one striking way: they are enormously polite about “letting you in” when merging or at an intersection. Enormously. Unfailingly. There is one intersection on 17 where the signs actually say that those coming from the left have the right-of-way and won’t stop and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM does, and lets you in. Awesome, Dude!
cutie carS
This is what I mean by “disconcertingly intimate”

On the other hand, they tend to gun it and brake suddenly. Like, really suddenly. Like they have these false hopes that now traffic is moving quickly so they go for broke and then all of a sudden it is like everyone stopped. I guess that is why all the accidents. That and texting or sexting or whatever.
commute 280 00s
Did I mention that EVERY SINGLE CAR is a Prius?
emerson priaeS

Automated Toll Collection

Last week I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and paid $6 cash toll FOR THE LAST TIME EVER. Because now they are forcing automation on toll collecting. You either have a FASTTRAK or FASTPAS or whatever they call it here, or a little camera takes a picture of your license plate and SENDS you the bill. Like when you blow a stop sign or skip a toll booth. In addition to obviously saving labor (hmmm) and speeding up traffic (yay) it also means a cash windfall (d’oh). You buy the fasttrakpas thing and have to load $40 or so on it, which means the toll contractor (do they have governments anymore?) keeps the float on your money until you spend it down. Nothing new here – same deal with my subway pass in Chicago, the fastpastrak we had in Illinois, and so forth. It is not place-specific but it is the techno tempo, which is to say the technology of the times.

golden gate consS
This is so you can compare that famous GGB vermillion with traffic cones and Jersey barriers

iPhones

When this blog started in 2005 I sometimes complained about technology, and I was sometimes a Luddite, like in that 2007 post about owning an iPod for three days. Or that one from 2006 that is even more lyrical. I love that line about burning coal and endorphins.

I’m sucked in now, six years later. Burning it. I drive a car two hours every day and I have had an iPhone now for in actuality maybe four or five months but in terms of my day-to-day functioning it is more necessary than my gall bladder. It IS my watch and my alarm clock and my parenting device and my primary relationship, really. We still relate to other people, but now our language is not formed simply by air whistling past teeth and palates and lips but also by a million switches on a piece of sand smaller than the space between your finger and your fingernail.

One more quote from me from 2006: “They become an item of identity, and their actual functioning –what they do – is entirely secondary to the fact that you need them with you all of the time. Cell phones are not used for emergency calls or even necessary calls – they are used for identity establishment and as relationship dummies.”

You don’t have to take this as critique – those of us in the Derrida generation are copacetic not only with the shifting sands of time but also the shifting sands of referentiality. Speaking of which (pulling a muscle reaching for a distant segue…)

Thrift Shop

So what about “Thrift Shop?” I loved this song when I first heard it, having never heard of the reasonably famous artist(s) behind it. Hooks, beats, voices, dynamics, it all worked. It was also amazingly 1980 in its anti-consumerist sentiments, something that vanished from popular music sometime between the dissolution of the Clash and the rise of WHAM! Derrida generation but still with that crypto Judeo-Christian morality that infected both hippies and punks. Key Macklemore lyric in this regard:

“Fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant (expletive)
I call that getting swindled and pimped
I call that getting tricked by a business
That shirt’s hella dough
And having the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don’t”

Wow. Most rap songs are all about getting swindled and pimped and tricked by a business. It seems that mostly pop and rap songs ARE ALL ABOUT extolling the virtues and rising the prices of everything from Patron to Mercedes Benz to the extent that TEN YEARS AGO almost half of the most popular songs mentioned consumer brands BY NAME (Lil’ Kim set the record with 14 placements in one song.) Two years ago a study noted that for every hour you listen to rap/R&B/hip-hop you will get no less than three brand name alcohol references. So this is a bracing counter to the popular punch drunk pablum we are used to. The bottom of the hook is “I only got twenty dollars in my pocket” which is, again, the opposite of the whole gangsta aesthetic. Heck, it is the opposite of pretty much every aesthetic except maybe the old hippie one.

Ah, old hippies. Northern California. The “hella” is of course the key California word, although the sentiment is not because this place is as BESTBUYREINORDSTROMMACYSLOFTGAPOLDNAVYPOTTERYBARNFOREVER21BATH&BODYWORKS as anywhere else in the world. If anything, they are more so because it is high end market. In the valley it is easier to find an Apple store than a McDonald’s (they disguise them too sometimes). I could also probably find you a Tesla or BMW dealership more quickly than Ford or Chevy. Local loco locavorism insures a suite of regional vegan restaurants and cup-at-a-time coffee shops, so it is very ALTERNATIVE but it ain’t anti-consumer.
biofuel oasisS
Popping Tags at the Biofuel Oasis!

So my daughter and I sing along to “Thrift Shop” (I’ll wear your granddad’s clothes, I’ll look incredible) as I drive, guided by the tomtom in my iPhone, past mountains and horses and Teslas and Philz Coffees, not wondering whether what we experience is what was promised thirty years ago, or what it will be like in 30 years, or the meaning of it all or meaning at all, just difference and how technology is what we are and where we are as much as it is an extension of us because like placemaking it is a reciprocal relationship, it is toolmaking but it is making us at the same time. Which I wrote about two years ago here.

Oracle stadia east bayS
I think this speaks for itself. Oracles usually do.


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