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New Year's resolutions for architecture and design in 2017 by Will Wiles
"With 2016 coming to an end, Will Wiles doses out his New Year's resolutions for architecture and design in 2017, which include resisting the hygge trend and finally taking responsibility for the climate.

I suggested New Year's Resolutions for architecture and design at the end of 2015, and the response was great. So, one year later, I've made some more:

1. An end to TED's glib solutionism

Consider president-elect Donald Trump's proposed wall to keep out Mexico. It was the most consistent pledge he made during his precedent-smashing election campaign. Trump admitted that it was his secret rhetorical weapon for when he sensed a crowd was getting bored: "I just say, 'We will build the wall!' and they go nuts," he told the New York Times.

The wall is a strong pledge to make: it's a simple, easy-to-understand design solution to a perceived problem. It's also crass, offensive and impractical in the extreme, but that didn't matter to the target audience. They got it. They went nuts.

There was a lot of this in 2016, the year zealots of various stripes promised to sweep away the knotted, stifling problems of globalisation with no more than a wave of the tiny hand. Build the wall, make America great again, drain the swamp, vote leave, take back control.

Architecture and design, which is well populated with experts and systems-thinkers, might regard itself as being apart from all this. But, in fact, one of the throbbing nerve centres of the post-expert, hand-wave era lies closer than you might think: TED, the wildly popular talks series.

TED, of course, presents itself as a hub of expertise and intelligence. And in criticising TED, I don't mean to denigrate the vast majority of its speakers, or to imply that TED equals Trump, or anything so dim. It's the format that's the problem, and the kind of intellectual legerdemain it encourages.

TED is the golden cap of the yaddering pyramid of hackism: that every wicked problem has a nifty workaround or backdoor, that it's all got a glib little design solution that'll bypass all the waffle and the smoke, and make everything OK. Ted Everyman, outsider genius, has cracked the problem that has the eggheads stumped, and it was so simple.

Trump's wall is very TED. So is his insistence that generic "smartness" on his part means that he can do without the expert advice previous presidents have relied upon, such as intelligence briefings.

The trouble for democratic opposition to these forces is that complexity and intractability make for very unenticing messages. Even more problematic is the fact that "it's complicated, let us experts handle it" is the way the globalist managerial class has ushered in many of the problems that Trump and others now claim to have solved.

Where architecture and design might be able to make a difference in the coming months is by shunning hackism and solutionism, and demonstrating instead its remarkable ability to research, explore and expose.

2. Take personal responsibility for the climate

With Trump's administration stuffed full of climate-change deniers and oil men, concerted international state action to address the warming planet looks unlikely. Worse, existing measures, such as the Paris Agreement that came into force this year, might be in peril. American leadership isn't essential for progress on the climate, but its active obstruction and wrecking of vital research could be a disastrous setback when renewed effort is needed.

The abdication of governments from climate action serves, at least, as a reminder that they can't be relied upon to enforce change. The long-awaited economic breakthrough of renewable energy has at last arrived: solar is now the word's cheapest form of energy. Simple economic forces might now drive down carbon emissions while national governments are preoccupied. Texas, a place strongly associated with oil and gas, now gets as much as half of its electricity from wind, and is anticipating a solar boom. China may also be a source of surprises.

These are changes that may yet halt the incipient climate catastrophe: not grandiose treaty-signing, but aggregated individual decisions. Be part of it in what you make and build.

3. Health warnings for the whimsy

Another Trump-related one, sadly. Trump's victory has also sparked a debate over so-called "fake news": the growing welter of misinformation, disinformation and scurrilous falsehood online. This risks crowding out more reliable sources of information and overwhelming civil society's already overtaxed critical faculties.

Again, you might wonder what that has to do with architecture and design. But of course architecture and design has a long history of generating its own "fake news" in the form of the more fanciful speculative proposals and vapourware.

There's nothing wrong with speculation, paper architecture and design fictions, of course – they're all useful endeavours and we'd be hugely poorer without them. It suits architecture and design to propose their own forms, as well as to simply deliver the proposals of others.

Even the grubbier end of that kind of activity isn't inherently bad. Here I'm talking about the completely senseless floating lilypad cities or vertical farms that get pitched out as blog-fodder for no practical purpose than showing off a designer's rendering skills and get their name about. They probably belong on Deviantart rather than Dezeen, but no one's harmed.

Really what's needed is appropriate labelling: making it clear what is speculation for the purposes of debate, what's a real proposal that's seeking backers, what might actually have a chance of actually appearing, and what's just a bit of hey-look-at-me fun. That's where the ethics get murky. Remember that Chinese straddling bus concept that turned out to be little more than a scam? Or that kooky London Garden Bridge concept that also turned out to be little more than a scam. Whimsy can be costly, people!

But seriously, knock it off with the floating cities and the vertical farms.

4. Leave "hygge" in 2016

Financial Times critic Edwin Heathcote has already done a sterling job of debunking hygge, the ubiquitous pseudo-Scandinavian lifestyle craze. Like many ubiquitous lifestyle crazes, it's a subtle blend of total common sense (fires are nice in winter) and complete balderdash.

Anyway, it's upon us now and resistance is futile – the tie-in books have already been given as presents, and they already sit amid the Christmas wreckage of many, many living rooms. And I'm sure they look harmless enough. So it's time for a word of warning.

The Guardian's Charlotte Higgins has already shown how hygge was confected within the publishing industry. I think the part played by architecture and design has been understated, though. For a start, the sector has done much to import interest in Scandinavian lifestyles by importing lots of Scandinavian people. No one in their right mind would think this was anything other than a tremendous boon, and I can only apologise to my Scandinavian friends and colleagues for the way Britain is presently making a travesty of their culture. That, and Brexit.

Let's not do hygge urbanism. The temptation will be strong, and you must resist
It truly has been a terrible year. Architecture – specifically, architecture publishing – was also making something of a fetish of things hygge before hygge was a thing, with its recent boom in cabins and log piles. I attribute this more to an interest in consumer survivalism, rather than Danish culture, but nevertheless "cabin porn" was very much the gateway.

Anyway, here's the warning. Already, thoughts will be turning to next year's endeavours, and fun ways to present them to the public. The eye will blearily cast around the living room for ideas. Thanks to architects from Jan Gehl to Bjarke Ingels, the Danish way of making cities is already rightly praised and emulated. But let's not do hygge urbanism. The temptation will be strong, and you must resist. No hygge placemaking. I beg of you. Just don't."

[via "These resolutions from @WillWiles are all worth considering, especially the one that equates Speculative Design and Fake News."
https://twitter.com/sevensixfive/status/815242847095951361

"There's a subtle but not so subtle difference between projects that are intended as critique, click bait, or outright hoax.

The hoax, as @bruces says, is in the territory of the Black Arts, and almost always maliciously and dangerously deployed.

I say this as someone whose proposal to launch manatees into space was reposted w/ straight seriousness by the Daily Mail & their commenters

The project, intended as critique (&, to be honest, clickbait!) was weaponized by DM, in the genre of "goofy eggheads wasting tax dollars""
ted  tedtalks  solutionism  climatechange  2016  2017  willwiles  architecture  design  hackism  government  governance  policy  economics  energy  renewableenergy  fakenews  news  media  specualtivedesign  fredscharmen  brucesterling  hoaxes  clickbait  critique  hygge  responsibility  speculation  whimsy  edwinheathcote  charlottehiggins  scandinavia  fetishes  publishing  cabinporn  bjarkeingels  jangehl  hyggeurbanism  urban  urbanism  placemaking 
january 2017 by robertogreco
Hello World, Episode 4: Iceland's Brutal Landscapes Shape Its Cutting-Edge Tech
"Episode 4: Fish-slicing gear, space sims, and rugged turbines thrive in a punishing terrain of volcanoes and blizzards.

When the financial crisis of 2008 hit, no country suffered more than Iceland. Sure, plenty of places fell into economic ruin, with companies going bankrupt and millions of jobs lost. Iceland, though, was flat-out humiliated. Its wealthy fisherman-turned-investment bankers had spent years hurling money around like, well, like Vikings, and their moment of reckoning arrived with great speed and force. Icelanders were beaten down, laden with debt. They feared they might never emerge from the devastation, a sad state of affairs for a people who had already spent centuries eking out a living in a frozen hellscape

Travel to Iceland these days, and you’ll find a new story. Tourism is booming, with the number of visitors (more than 1 million in 2015) increasing by about 30 percent per year. The fishing business remains strong, as does Iceland’s renewable energy push. Iceland’s technology industry has thrived. Yes, some shame lingers, and people still grumble about restrictive fiscal policies put in place to try to stop Iceland from self-annihilating again. For the most part, however, Icelanders have a cautiously optimistic outlook and reasons to smile.

On this episode of Hello World,we dive into Iceland’s revival with a special focus on how the country’s land and history have shaped its innovations. I visit a company called IceWind in Reykjavik that has a new take on small, durable turbines and then head down the coast to the fishing town of Grindavik. There, the meat processing giant Marel has installed a fleet of mechanical fish slicers that make their own decisions about how to carve up cod. I follow the tourists and take a dip in the Blue Lagoon, where geothermal pools and beer wash away the fish smell. (Sort of.) After that, I go ripping across snowy volcanoes while driving steroidal vehicles built by Arctic Trucks. It’s as fun as it sounds.

Really, though, it’s Iceland’s tremendous storytellers that drive this episode. The country has imaginative filmmakers and, more crucial to the tech scene, otherworldly video-game makers.

Iceland’s blockbuster game is EVE Online, made by the Reykjavik-based studio, CCP Games. Every year, thousands of people come to celebrate this game, which is something of a space soap opera, at an event called EVE Fanfest. For a few days, I get immersed in the EVE culture and meet the players who have a near-religious devotion to the game. It was a chance to take in the richest, most complex virtual world ever created—with some of the most devious, hardest drinking gamers.

What’s truly remarkable about Iceland is that any of this exists at all. A hundred years ago, a good chunk of the population still lived in houses made of mud and topped with grass roofs. Iceland was one of Europe’s poorest nations, with an inhospitable climate and volcanoes that seemed determined to wipe out any forward progress. Even today, there are only about 400,000 Icelanders trying to make a go of it.

Still, those people are well-educated and resourceful. Time and again, I stumbled upon some Icelandic engineer who had devised a new way to weigh fish or to farm seemingly un-farmable land. Icelanders have a knack for maximizing resources and finding clever ways out of problems.

Taking this all into account, it should be unsurprising that Iceland absorbed the 2008 hit and then kept on going. These are people who seem to have a sadomasochistic streak baked into their beings. They live to suffer. And then they relish the chance to have a few—quite a few—drinks and tell you a good yarn about the suffering."
iceland  2016  technology  evenonline  ashleevance  commercialfishing  fishing  energy  helloworld  video  marel  geothermalenergy  hydroelectricity  renewableenergy  wind  turbines  windturbines 
june 2016 by robertogreco
It’s Not Climate Change — It’s Everything Change — Matter — Medium
"Two writers have recently contributed some theorizing about overall social and energy systems and the way they function that may be helpful to us in our slowly unfolding crisis. One is from art historian and energetic social thinker Barry Lord; it’s called Art and Energy (AAM Press). Briefly, Lord’s thesis is that the kind of art a society makes and values is joined at the hip with the kind of energy that society depends on to keep itself going. He traces the various forms of energy we have known as a species throughout our pre-history — our millennia spent in the Pleistocene — and in our recorded history — sexual energy, without which societies can’t continue; the energy of the body while hunting and foraging; wood for fire; slaves; wind and water; coal; oil; and “renewables” — and makes some cogent observations about their relationship to art and culture. In his Prologue, he says:
Everyone knows that all life requires energy. But we rarely consider how dependent art and culture are on the energy that is needed to produce, practice and sustain them. What we fail to see are the usually invisible sources of energy that make our art and culture(s) possible and bring with them fundamental values that we are all constrained to live with (whether we approve of them or not). Coal brought one set of values to all industrialized countries; oil brought a very different set… I may not approve of the culture of consumption that comes with oil… but I must use [it] if I want to do anything at all.

Those living within an energy system, says Lord, may disapprove of certain features, but they can’t question the system itself. Within the culture of slavery, which lasted at least 5,000 years, nobody wanted to be a slave, but nobody said slavery should be abolished, because what else could keep things going?

Coal, says Lord, produced a culture of production: think about those giant steel mills. Oil and gas, once they were up and running, fostered a culture of consumption. Lord cites “the widespread belief of the 1950s and early ’60s in the possibility of continuing indefinitely with unlimited abundance and economic growth, contrasted with the widespread agreement today that both that assumption and the world it predicts are unsustainable.” We’re in a transition phase, he says: the next culture will be a culture of “stewardship,” the energy driving it will be renewables, and the art it produces will be quite different from the art favored by production and consumption cultures.

What are the implications for the way we view both ourselves and the way we live? In brief: in the coal energy culture — a culture of workers and production — you are your job. “I am what I make.” In an oil and gas energy culture — a culture of consumption — you are your possessions. “I am what I buy.” But in a renewable energy culture, you are what you conserve. “I am what I save and protect.” We aren’t used to thinking like this, because we can’t see where the money will come from. But in a culture of renewables, money will not be the only measure of wealth. Well-being will factor as an economic positive, too.

The second book I’ll mention is by anthropologist, classical scholar, and social thinker Ian Morris, whose book, Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve, has just appeared from Princeton University Press. Like Barry Lord, Morris is interested in the link between energy-capture systems and the cultural values associated with them, though in his case it’s the moral values, not only the aesthetic ones — supposing these can be separated — that concern him. Roughly, his argument runs that each form of energy capture favors values that maximize the chance of survival for those using both that energy system and that package of moral values. Hunter-gatherers show more social egalitarianism, wealth-sharing, and more gender equality than do farmer societies, which subordinate women — men are favored, as they must do the upper-body-strength heavy lifting — tend to practice some form of slavery, and support social hierarchies, with peasants at the low end and kings, religious leaders, and army commanders at the high end. Fossil fuel societies start leveling out gender inequalities — you don’t need upper body strength to operate keyboards or push machine buttons — and also social distinctions, though they retain differences in wealth.

The second part of his argument is more pertinent to our subject, for he postulates that each form of energy capture must hit a “hard ceiling,” past which expansion is impossible; people must either die out or convert to a new system and a new set of values, often after a “great collapse” that has involved the same five factors: uncontrolled migration, state failure, food shortages, epidemic disease, and “always in the mix, though contributing in unpredictable ways–- climate change.” Thus, for hunting societies, their way of life is over once there are no longer enough large animals to sustain their numbers. For farmers, arable land is a limiting factor. The five factors of doom combine and augment one another, and people in those periods have a thoroughly miserable time of it, until new societies arise that utilize some not yet exhausted form of energy capture.

And for those who use fossil fuels as their main energy source — that would be us, now — is there also a hard ceiling? Morris says there is. We can’t keep pouring carbon into the air — nearly 40 billion tons of CO2 in 2013 alone — without the consequences being somewhere between “terrible and catastrophic.” Past collapses have been grim, he says, but the possibilities for the next big collapse are much grimmer.

We are all joined together globally in ways we have never been joined before, so if we fail, we all fail together: we have “just one chance to get it right.” This is not the way we will inevitably go, says he, though it is the way we will inevitably go unless we choose to invent and follow some less hazardous road.

But even if we sidestep the big collapse and keep on expanding at our present rate, we will become so numerous and ubiquitous and densely packed that we will transform both ourselves and our planet in ways we can’t begin to imagine. “The 21st century, he says, “shows signs of producing shifts in energy capture and social organization that dwarf anything seen since the evolution of modern humans.”"
climate  climatechange  culture  art  society  margaretatwood  2015  cli-fi  sciefi  speculativefiction  designfiction  capitalism  consumerism  consumption  energy  fossilfuels  canon  barrylord  coal  anthropology  change  changemaking  adaptation  resilience  ianmorris  future  history  industrialization  egalitarianism  collapse  humans  biodiversity  agriculture  emissions  environment  sustainability  stewardship  renewableenergy  making  production  makers  materialism  evolution  values  gender  inequality  migration  food  transitions  hunter-gatherers 
july 2015 by robertogreco

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