Saturday, September 5, 2009

Digital Exhaustion

It's seems a little time off makes one introspective, or at the very least a bit nostalgic. Did you ever feel that impossible to scratch, lingering itch in the back of your mind? You know, the one that you can't subsume, but says we've devolved from a culture that celebrates the built beauty and artistry of real work instead of the purely hollow digital promise of things never to be realized (probably for good reason). Recent competitions made me pause in my continual striving for the 'new' and the 'innovative' (perhaps to my detriment) - surmising that the results were somewhat disappointing, wildly unimpressive, or at least detached from a reality in way that is somewhat pointless.

While the Bering Strait competition is somewhat pointless but still cool, and the Rising Tides competition is somewhat cool and still pointless. This doesn't mean these were not necessary, but
they at least had some modicum of timeline and program to make them worthwhile in attacking some viable social or global issue. It seems we've entered an age of the neo-competition - that which is more concerned with quick turnaround than substance - actually voiding the root concept of what a competition is built for - meditation on ideas and expansion of the graphic normative processes. We've entered a world of the mundane and the ephemeral that is short on time and equally short of program - which leads to a set of winners that leaves one unimpressed by the results an even questioning why the competition was initiated in the first place. (see 21st Century Streets competition for a recent example).

Reburbia is another great case study in the neo-mundane. By it's very structure, it's an ephemeral collage of ideas... with a short timeline and an open-ended program that is sure to develop ideas that are both shotgun and shot from the hip. I really like the ideas generated (well at least some of them), but they are all just snapshots. And, well, the results were pretty indicative of this web-oriented vs. design oriented paradigm. Apologies to the very successful bloggers and designers who represented the jury - but it's gotta be a tough job to judge this open-ended mileu and decipher something wonderful to present to the design world.

This isn't to demean the 'winners' of these competitions, as this seems to be the new trend - and we should evolve to think of this soundbite sort of project as probably something along the new norm. Six months between initiation and award is something that we no longer have the luxury of . Something that can be swirled around for a solid week prior to the photo-shopping, ready to wow the internet world with the latest idea - oooh, urban ecology, urban agriculture, urban ________. yawn. It's the same kind of cultural change that spawns the excitement of pointless bloggery books, the endless twittering and incessant tumblr-ing that substitutes quantity for content, the new for the real, and exposure for meaning.

At least I'm excited by the WPA 2.0 finalists... something to sink your teeth into at least. More on these later - and continuing into the next phase... ah sweet relief.


  1. Much to agree with this post, and a good/brave critical stance to take. Thanks. I'm happy to see that the boards from the WPA finalists are up on the CityLab site. It's fascinating how similar the graphical standards are. lots of precise and colorful illustrator diagrams and the occasional floating rendering. Very "cool", and representative of the more analytic carefully digested and constructed approach of which your promoting in this post. The work is great though. I especially like De Monchaux's Local Code, it reminds me of that conversation we had during IntroLandscape when Brett was giving his LandUrbanism talk about process generating products as a method of enacting system level changes in the urban fabric. It will be interesting to see where they take it with some funding and time for Phase 2. PORT has already begun uploading expanded drawings and studies on their website. Worth a look.

    The Reburbia competition is like shooting fish in a barrel, set up too much like a brief undergraduate exercise, and the results show it. Though it is likely the point.

    P.S. Hey why don't you just come out with it and give Geoff the critical drubbing he needs. I feel like the architectural community either is blindly following along on this fantasia ride, or blithely ignoring it as banal posturing. Someone ought to stand tall and try to sort it out!


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