There’s an app for that

Long before smartphones existed I undertook a course that taught me to identify plant specimens. This was part of my landscape architecture degree. The course was to help designers select plants for parks, gardens, street planting, national parks, reclamation sites, etc. I learned the botanical names by rote of a couple of hundred species, mostly those available in and around Melbourne. I…More

Shape-shifting architecture

Some people want buildings that adapt according to climate, respond to their occupants’ changing moods, and grow, develop, evolve and transform as if living organisms. From werewolves to trucks that transform into enormous robots, the human fascination with transformation seems part of our cultural DNA. I’ll start with metaphor. Bearers of change Metaphor is an animal term. Meta means “change, transformation, permutation, or substitution” according to…More

What do maps do?

Maps come in many forms, including their online versions: Google maps, Ordnance survey maps, historical overlays (Walking through time), crowd sourced maps (Open Streetmaps), with GPS features, alerts, spoken directions, and provision for selling and sociability (Foursquare). Maps show us where we are, help us to get where we want to be, and they represent something. This much…More

Bad metaphors

“Osborn pushes the nuclear button”: That’s a clever headline from the Guardian this week, leading an article about the UK Chancellor’s invitation for Chinese investment in the UK nuclear energy programme. The headline is a joke, but also a metaphor. A literalist would read it as a lie. For the rest of us it’s simply…More

Web of belief

There’s a scene in the CGI animated Christmas film The Polar Express where the little hero boy who is skeptical of Santa’s existence has to make a verbal declaration that he truly believes … in Santa of course. That’s a relatively easy call if Santa is staring you in the face, and you’re at the…More

Synesthesia anesthesia

What colour is cool? Synesthesia is a hot topic amongst artists, and on the Internet. There it is. I’ve just used words from the vocabulary of touch sensation (cool and hot) applied to something visual (colour) and something abstract (a topic). The painter and theorist Wassily Kandinsky went further in describing in terms of heat…More

I am Spartacus

The perennial tussle between the right to free speech and the right to privacy has a spatial dimension of relevance to any designer. Architects, geographers and planners are acutely aware of the relationships between public and private spaces. Free speech roughly equates to the right of access to a place (eg a city square, the…More

This is not a hideout

After matching the aerial view of the compound published in Tuesday’s Guardian against Google Maps I soon discovered that the site was already labelled helpfully “Osama Bin Laden’s Hideout Compound.” Presumably, this is a recent annotation.More

Digital metaphors and the baroque

I’ve at last caught up with the philosopher-historian Giambattista Vico’s (1668-1744) unusual work the New Science, as an e-book, purchased, downloaded and read on an iPad while travelling from Sopron in northern Hungary to the UK by train, a baroque odyssey of sorts. Amidst homage to the ancient Egyptians, obsessions about race and lineage, forced…More