Competition: Big Ideas for Boston

Boston is a city very close to my heart. It was my home for several years during and after my time at Boston University, and of course home to the Red Sox. But for all the things about Boston I love, I have always been dissapointed that the city hasn’t become a league leader in radical urban thinking and bold new strategies.
The ingredients are all there – the city has proven its ability to go after the big idea, having pulled off The Big Dig, one of the boldest urban development projects in recent history. The intellect is certainly there, with the faculty and students of Harvard, MIT, BU, and dozens of other universities based in the area. It always seemed that the city needed more catalysts to bring it all together and go after the big ideas. Well, one has arrived.
SHIFTBoston has just announced a competition for bold new ideas for Boston’s urban future. As they describe on their website:
The aim of this competition is to ignite the spirit of innovation that has long lived and thrived in
Boston. SHIFT seeks to collect new visions for Boston’s urban environment, rediscover Boston’s role
in innovation and reaffirm the city’s position in progressive design and development … The competition is open to architects, artists, landscape architects, urban designers, engineers, students and anyone else who would like to tackle the question: WHAT IF? What if this could happen in Boston? Express your idea of what a metropolis such as Boston needs.
I am delighted to have been asked to be a judge for the competition, giving me a front row seat to what the future could hold for Boston. The deadline for submissions is 11 December 2009. I encourage anyone who wants to go after some bold new ideas for Boston’s future to visit the SHIFTBoston website for more information and to download the call for entry and submission form.

SHIFTBoston Competition LogoBoston is a city very close to my heart. It was my home for several years during and after my time at Boston University, and of course home to the Red Sox. But for all the things about Boston I love, I have always been dissapointed that the city hasn’t become a league leader in radical urban thinking and bold new strategies.

The ingredients are all there – the city has proven its ability to deliver on big ideas, having pulled off The Big Dig, one of the boldest urban development projects in recent history. The intellect is certainly there, with the faculty and students of Harvard, MIT, BU, and dozens of other universities based in the area. It always seemed that the city needed more catalysts to bring it all together and go after new a urban future for the city. Well, one has arrived.

SHIFTBoston has just announced a competition for bold new ideas for Boston’s urban future. As they describe on their website:

The aim of this competition is to ignite the spirit of innovation that has long lived and thrived in Boston. SHIFT seeks to collect new visions for Boston’s urban environment, rediscover Boston’s role in innovation and reaffirm the city’s position in progressive design and development … The competition is open to architects, artists, landscape architects, urban designers, engineers, students and anyone else who would like to tackle the question: WHAT IF? What if this could happen in Boston? Express your idea of what a metropolis such as Boston needs.

I am delighted to have been asked to be a judge for the competition, giving me a front row seat to what the future could hold for Boston. The deadline for submissions is 11 December 2009. I encourage anyone who wants to go after some bold new ideas for Boston’s future to visit the SHIFTBoston website for more information and to download the call for entry and submission form.

IKEA Hacker Oslo

Communal Kitchen, IKEA Hacker style
Communal Kitchen, IKEA Hacker style

A couple weeks ago I was in Oslo, Norway, following up on an invitation to give a talk about IKEA Hacker there. It was an easy invitation to accept – for one, it was a great opportunity to spend some time in beautiful Oslo, and two, the evening was being sponsored by IKEA, which was a pleasant twist – to talk about Hacking IKEA at an IKEA sponsored event.

One particularly rewarding part of the evening came after the talk, when people were chilling with a few beers. At the periphery of the main seating area were some sample IKEA domestic showroom units still in place from their 2010 catalogue launch, which was held in the same venue. As people began to relax, talk and move around, they rather instinctively began using the mock units as domestic spaces. Conversations were held around kitchen tables (as above), couches were colonised by groups of friends having leisurely conversations – it was fascinating to see these showrooms come to life as people spread out and began using them for their intended “real world” function, set inside the usually make believe world of a showroom. If the stoves had have been hooked up, dinner definitely would have been in the cards. Did the IKEA Hacker spirit break down some barriers? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

On Screen: "Parcours VIKEA" by Daredo
On Screen: "Parcours VIKEA" by Daredo

It was a hugely enjoyable time both in and outside of the talk, getting to know Oslo more courtesy of event organiser Paul Amble who gave me a tour of his favourite parts of the city, and also being able to spend time with some great people at IKEA, including Design Director Lars Engsman. Many thanks to everyone at IKEA and in Oslo.

From New York to Amsterdam: A Tale of Two Hotels

Amsterdam's Citizen M, Beethovenstraat
Amsterdam’s Citizen M, Beethovenstraat

A couple weeks ago I was in New York City to give a talk and Masterclass at Eyebeam on my work with open source cultural models. After NYC I was off to Amsterdam for a week to work with the Premsela Foundation for Dutch Design and Fashion, so I thought back-to-back sessions in two great cities would allow me to run a bit of a “pod hotel” comparison between the two.

The Pod Hotel, New York
The Pod Hotel, New York

In NYC I chose the, yes, Pod Hotel on East 51st Street near 3rd. Every room is extremely clean with a pleasing minimal design, and you can basically create your own room experience at the macro level when you book – single, double, king, bunk beds, with private bathroom or shared bath, and so on, with the variables you choose being reflected in the price. There are some nice touches such as free wifi throughout the hotel (not as standard in all hotels as it should be), a decent mini stereo with an external port for you to plug in your iPod to get your own tunes filling the room, but the thing that really stood out for me with the Pod Hotel was the social site you are invited to join once you make a reservation. Once you book your room, you receive an email with login details to enter an area of their website where you will find headings of “drink with me”, “shop with me”, “eat with me” with listings and email addresses of people who are going to be in NYC the same time as you and would like to get together with other travellers to experience the city together.

Artist's Rendering of Life in Citizen M
Artist’s Rendering of Life in Citizen M

Amsterdam’s Pod offering is Citizen M on Beethovenstraat, near the city’s World Trade Centre financial district. It is actually the second Citizen M to hit Amsterdam, after their premiere at Schiphol Airport. Citizen M is an entirely different breed of a pod hotel experience. While its critics may comment on it being insanely over-designed and over-concepted, which is true, there is an entertainment value to these same things which I sometimes enjoy.

Citizen M is a design hotel on steroids. As the press release states:

Here, past the touch-screen check-in and check-out terminals, exclusive partner and renowned design firm Vitra provides even more environments and new furniture. There’s the legendary Marshmallow sofa by George Nelson, the brand-new Vegetal chairs by the famed Bouroullec brothers … above its extra-long bar with many plug-in points and white Eames bar stools are 14 Asian-inspired lantern lamps from Vitra’s Home Collection … There’s even a special corner for kids, featuring colourful child-size Panton chairs, the fabulous Porcupine Desk by Hella Jongerius and cute plywood elephants by Ray and Charles Eames.

The Philips Mood Pad (image copyright Philips)
The Philips Mood Pad (image copyright Philips)

Within the design festival disguised as a hotel, the thing that really stood out for me was that each of the 215 rooms was entirely an customisable environment, controlled entirely by a universal remote created by Philips call the Mood Pad. The Mood Pad is the secret to creating an “Ambient Experience” for the guests. As Philips says:

There are two main elements to the system. Firstly, the Ambient Experience combines a host of various ambient products, including dynamic LED lighting, VoiP phone, free wifi and FlatTV which contribute to a guest’s overall experience of the hotel room. Secondly, Philips has also created a unique back-end network design solution, which enables all different software platforms to work together seamlessly. This means that individual hotel rooms, and all functionality within the rooms, are linked to a central server that manages everything from room temperature and curtain settings, to the welcome message guests receive upon arrival in their room.

Now, it was indeed pretty damn impressive to be presented with a palette of “themes” for your room’s ambience. By pressing the TV theme, the lights dim, the TV comes on, curtains close… the Romance theme brings up chilled lounge music, lights go down…

Citizen M in full Ambient Experience Mode
Citizen M in full Ambient Experience Mode (image copyright Citizen M)

So for all the wonders of Citizen M and its fully customisable Ambient Experience, here’s what bothers me: there was no true personal customisation to the aesthetic. Why not go one step further and put some digital photo frames in the room and put some Bluetooth access onto the remote so I can upload some photos that mean something to me or remind me of the people who are waiting for me at home while I’m staying there? There’s an impressive sound system hidden in the walls of the room, and a dedicated wifi network, so how about letting me stream one of my playlists to make my listening experience, well, MY listening experience? It was interesting that while Citizen M was a veritable feast of design and user experience in the rooms, the longer you spent in the rooms, the more these things became apparent, and the colder the experience became – figuratively and literally. There were times when I thought back to the simple joys of opening at window in NYC’s Pod Hotel and plugging in my iPod that made me overlook the Vitra-o-rama in Citizen M.

Latest book launches in Italy

Disegnare le città

I’m pleased to share the news that the latest book to feature my work and approach towards urban creativity has just been launched in Italy. The book, Disegnare le città (Drawing cities), is an overview of a more organic and people-driven approach to design, creativity and the city rather than the top-down model that has been dominant for so long. As the introduction to the book states:

Drawing cities today cannot simply mean creating (or re-designing) an emblem for public administrations. As the populations’ needs change and diversify, so do the competences and the ways they are represented and communicated. Therefore we now can observe, alongside traditional elements, the more or less aggressive affirmation of new instruments requiring attention, specific cultural standards and creative sensibility.

In it you will find text and commentary from myself, images from some of my projects, and a number of superb contributions from others. More information can be found here.

London Sign Fonts Tell Their Own Stories

Walking around London yesterday I found myself paying attention to the secondary narrative of the city’s fonts, text and signage. How the current condition of some of the texts differ from their original form, and that within the aesthetic of that difference lies the story. The image above is from a suit maker and tailor in the City of London. While the shop is now closed and empty, the entryway shows that at one time, there was enough foot traffic to wear away the firm’s name. A sad marking of a once prosperous shop and tailor-based culture.

The signage from a toy store in Clapham Junction – the store itself is still in operation, but, as the sign tells, it has lost something of its glamour and relevance, selling mostly board games and models in an era of computer games and online entertainment. The sign has obviously lost its covering and illumination – requiring an appreciation of the tradition of the name and its stoic character instead of a glaring call to attention, as with the entertainment it sells, and recalls an era of a more robust engagement with its community and youth market.

london_font_3

Mismatched pavements are the scars of the city, showing its growth, repairs and upgrades. Not much can be done about the colour or texture of the pavement matching, but as is evidenced here, London roadcrews seem to take special care to only replace the pieces of text that their works directly disrupt. The half-rendered S and O above are especially painful to see as evidence of the rigid limitations of where someone’s job ends and the assumption that someone else’s job supposedly begins. The ‘not my job’ culture, as told in two simple words.

london_font_4In Brixton, a multi-tiered story of a hastily-reworked sign, the passage of time, and the eventual upgrade bolted on below as fortunes improved. Clearly the first generation of the signage under a different name was done in vinyl letters, simply painted over rather than removed, with another vinyl lettered sign stuck on below. As time passed, the original letters peeled, revealing its history and slowly removing its new moniker. Rather than engaging with the organic nature of the sign and its time-based rebellion, the owners just slapped a new sign below, letting the old one continue its war.

london_font_5There is a phrase in Britain, “it does what it says on the tin”, meaning that the product and function is as literal as its claim was when sold. Here, the gradual erosion of the signage is in keeping with its function when first installed.

Economic Crisis = Opportunity via Firefox




As someone who is involved in a number of initiatives to use the economic crisis as a catalyst for creating opportunity, the first thing I tell people is to change perspective on how you view this period of time. Leo Burnett Lisbon has taken things one step further, creating a Firefox plugin which scans the web content you’re reading and literally replaces the word “crisis” with “opportunity”. As they say within the plugin:

addon

Discouraged by all the talk of economic crisis? Well, with this plugin enabled, your news will now be brimming with with tales of optimism:

What Crisis?The plugin is only available for Firefox, and is available in Portuguese, English and Spanish. It can be downloaded directly from the Firefox add-ons page here. (Of course, once you install the plugin, this post will make no sense whatsoever. Oh, the irony…)

Urban Play’s long media tail

It’s very satisfying to find Urban Play still buzzing around the media months after its launch, with Russia and the Ukraine paying particular interest recently. The images below are from a beautiful spread in the Ukraine’s wonderful Salon magazine. I felt compelled to share them after getting the PDF from the editor so those who might not have access to the magazine could enjoy the spread.

urbanplay_ukraine_1