Tags: architecture



New day rising

I don’t get up to London that often. Much as I like the place, the travel to and fro from Brighton can be exhausting, given the woeful state of the rail services on that line—just ask anybody who does the daily commute.

On Monday, I had an appointment in London. Rather than take the usual train to Victoria, it made more sense to take the London Bridge route. It must have been quite a while since I was last on that train because, as it pulled into London Bridge station, I was confronted with the impressive sight of a science fictional structure rising out of the city: .

Shard rising

From my subjective perspective, it came out of nowhere. The sense of having a large chunk of the future come crashing into my present was amplified by the soundscape; I was listening to the soundtrack from on a small, handheld with more storage than the combined hard drive space of all the computers I ever used up to just a few years ago. The last time I experienced this collision was on the train between Copenhagen and Malmö, listening to the soundtrack to , looking out at the colossal turbines of the offshore wind farm.

On my way back to Brighton, the experience was reversed. Heralded by the kind of doppler-stretched whistle that you only hear in old films, a steam engine raced by, hauling dining cars of elegantly-decked tables draped in white, a lamp on each one.

“The future is already here”, said . “It’s just not very evenly distributed.” The past is still here too, equally unevenly-distributed.

The present is a lumpy place on the timeline.

Designing for the street

I went along to the UXBrighton gathering on Tuesday for a screening of William Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.

I had already seen a clip of the film online. In fact, I was fairly sure I had republished the clip. But a search through my archive here returned nothing. So then I checked my Tumblr account which I use for posting quotes and videos. But it wasn’t there either. Then I remembered where I had posted it: Pownce. I sighed at the unbidden reminder of all that link rot I contributed to.

For the record, here’s that clip:

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It was a great companion piece to an earlier Brighton geek gathering. Dan Lockton came down last week to give a Skillswap talk on Design With Intent.

Design with Intent: How designers can influence behaviour on Huffduffer

Dan mentioned urban social places, specifically benches in English town centres, referencing William Gibson:

The street finds its own uses for things.

Like Dan’s talk, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces was filled with lessons that can be applied to web design (or as it is more fashionably known now, UX design). It also reminded me of my previous career as a busker.

In the time period between dropping out of college and discovering the web, I spent many years playing music on the streets of Europe. Whenever I showed up in a new town, I would try to figure out the best pitch for busking. I developed a sense for it. The acoustics were important, of course. I didn’t want to set up anywhere too noisy. But a completely silent place would be silent for a reason: lack of people. Yet, I didn’t want to choose a spot where the flow of foot traffic would be too heavy either or I would be ignored in the bustle. Looking back now, I realise that I was seeking out those small urban spaces where people felt comfortable congregating and where the presence of a street entertainer would be welcomed.

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces was quite US-centric but the lessons were universal, regardless of place or time. I’d love to see a sequel made today. It would be interesting to compare the cities of the early 21st century with the cities of the ’70s. Maybe it could include the anecdote that Liz told:

…there was a fountain that was built in Washington Square Park in New York but before they got ‘round to turning it on, people started using it as a seating area. When the city tried to turn on the fountain, people revolted.

New York remains the place to watch for further developments. As we were sitting down in Brighton to watch a film on urban planning, citizens of Manhattan were celebrating the opening of the High Line.

Further reading

Update: Tom recommends Reading the Everyday as a very readable, more UK-centric take on urban living.

Darwinian webolution

Odeo have released an embedded recorder that you can add to your own webpages.

Del.icio.us now offers private bookmarks.

Flickr now marks up profiles using the hCard microformat.

viewing source on my Flickr profile

Something that became very clear — both at the Carson Workshops Summit and at the many web app panels at South by Southwest — is that websites like these are never finished. Instead, the site evolves, growing (and occasionally dropping) features over time.

Traditionally, the mental model for websites has been architectural. Even the term itself, website, invites a construction site comparison. Plans are drawn up and approved, then the thing gets built, then it’s done.

That approach doesn’t apply to the newer, smarter websites that are dominating the scene today. Heck, it doesn’t even apply to older websites like Amazon and Google who have always been smart about constantly iterating changes.

Steve Balmer was onto something when he said “developers, developers, developers, ad nauseam”. Websites, like Soylent Green, are people. Without the people improving and tweaking things, the edifice of the site structure will crack.

I’m going to make a conscious effort to stop thinking about the work I do on the Web in terms of building and construction: I need to find new analogies from the world of biology.

Update: Paul Hammond told me via IM about a book called “How Buildings Learn: What happens after they’re built”. Maybe I don’t need to abandon the architectural analogies completely.