Buildings That Show the Future

FIVE YEARS AGO, a group of Spanish architects dug a hole on a mountainside in Laxe, Spain. They filled it with hay, covered it in concrete, let it dry and blasted an opening to the mound. Then Paulina moved in. Paulina, a cow, spent the better part of a year eating her way through the hay, and by the time she was finished, all that was left was a hollowed-out bunker, marred with hoof scrapes and imprints of straw.

This is the future of architecture. Or, at least, it’s one of the many provocative glimpses Marc Kushner, co-founder of design studio HWKN and the well-known architecture website Architizer, offers up in his new book The Future of Architecture In 100 Buildings.

A hundred buildings! Why not just make it 200 or 1,000? The truth is, Kushner easily could have gone higher. More than ever, today’s architecture is fueled by an acceleration of technology, material science and down-to-try-it attitude. As Kushner argued in a recent post in Medium, just like the ‘70s had Brutalism and the ‘90s Deconstructivism, today might very well be the age of experimentalism in architecture.

Looking at the 100 buildings in Kushner’s book, experimental does very much feel like the right word. There’s a tremendous variety. Some, like Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Tower, are feats of form—her 82-story Chicago skyscraper is elevated to the realm of massive sculpture by the addition of curving balconies that jut out from the rectangular base. Others, like Neri Oxman’s pavilion made from silkworm thread, give us a sense of how new materials and digital fabrication techniques could be used to build tomorrow’s structures. The book includes a border crossing that shatters our stereotypes of Soviet architecture, a pool that purifies dirty river water, and a wall in the Sahara Desert grown from bacteria that produces limestone.

The point: The future of architecture isn’t about one trend. It’s about a hundred—if not a thousand—different things.

Retrograde (Finn Pilly Edit)

This is the future of architecture. Or, at least, it’s one of the many provocative glimpses Marc Kushner, co-founder of design studio HWKN and the well-known architecture website Architizer, offers up in his new book The Future of Architecture In 100 Buildings.

A hundred buildings! Why not just make it 200 or 1,000? The truth is, Kushner easily could have gone higher. More than ever, today’s architecture is fueled by an acceleration of technology, material science and down-to-try-it attitude. As Kushner argued in a recent post in Medium, just like the ‘70s had Brutalism and the ‘90s Deconstructivism, today might very well be the age of experimentalism in architecture.

Saje and Take Care of You

Five years later, that show, “Bad Dads,” has blossomed into an annual event hosted at Spoke. Wes Anderson himself even commissioned one of its contributors,Richard Pellegrino, to create a sketch that would appear in The Grand Budapest Hotel. (The original, “Two Lesbians Masturbating,” appeared at last fall’s show.)

Another wildly popular artist involved in the “Bad Dads” exhibitions since the beginning is Max Dalton. The Buenos Aires-based illustrator’s work has been featured in many other pop-culture group exhibitions at Spoke and elsewhere, including the cover designs for Matt Zoller Seitz’s compendium The Wes Anderson Collection and supplement The Grand Budapest Hotel. But since Dalton is based in Argentina, pulling off a solo show in SF wasn’t easy.

The Adventure of Life in 4K

I think you’ll agree that storytelling on the iPad has never been this much fun. According to iTunes release notes, Adobe created Voice to help us create “stunning animated videos in minutes”.

Indeed, you don’t have to start from scratch as the app includes ready-made templates provided around common storytelling themes such as promoting an idea, showing off a product, telling what happened and what not.

I think the biggest selling point of Voice – apart from the $0 price – is the focus on narration: if you’re not willing to record your own voice to tell a story, the app won’t make much sense.

When I created a presentation and sent a link to a friend, the video quality was far from perfect. I had used some high quality photos, and the video really did not reflect their quality.

Also, I find it a bit strange that the app works only in portrait orientation on the iPad. Most video is longer in width than height, so why doesn’t the app configure itself for the best view? 

Zakynthos Treasures Timelapse Film

“Treasures of Zakynthos” is a film completed in its entirety using the timelapse cinematography technique in the most beautiful parts of the Greek island – Zakynthos. Some of the places portrayed in it are typical tourist destinations, while others are unique, quiet and magical. The real treasures for the eye are the unexplored, off-the-beaten-path locations. The film lets the viewer experience the extraordinary nature and magic of the formidable Greek landscapes. Enjoy.

This film was made thanks to the enormous commitment of many wonderful people.

4 trips, 840 hours spent on Zakynthos, 2000 km travelled on the island, 28 days of shooting, 3TB of timelapse footage, 380 hours of post-production, 100 kg film equipment weight.

Shot with multiple cameras: Canon 6D, 2x 5D Mark III, 5D mark II, 7D and Canon L lenses.
Motion control equipment: DitoGear Multi-Axis Motion Control System

Sometimes you need to  break the rules. Henri Cartier-Bresson was a legendary rule-breaker, and his discordance with photography’s stymied role in culture changed the medium forever. His book The Decisive Moment, recently republished by Steidl, was groundbreaking when it was released in 1952 and still inspires photographers everywhere.

“The difference between a good picture and a mediocre picture is a question of millimeters—small, small differences—but it’s essential,” Cartier-Bresson said in a 1971 interview.

His book was filled with examples of that crucial moment, juxtaposed with delicate geometry and a deep sense of humanity. It was produced, start to finish, in just under six months in New York and France under the title Images à la Sauvette.

Famously quoted for dismissing magazines and newspapers as impermanent throwaways to wrap food scraps in, Cartier-Bresson was most interested in work that was simple and candid.The Decisive Moment  firmly established Cartier-Bresson as a visionary thinker who saw photography outside galleries and well beyond the daily papers.

The original edition was limited to some 10,000 copies. This was at a time when books were still largely reserved for literature and classical arts. The Decisive Moment was unconventional on every level—the cover by Henri Matisse, Cartier-Bresson’s personal introduction, and richly textured photogravure prints— and hailed as an achievement not only for Cartier-Bresson, but for photography as an art form.

The book was a treasure for those lucky enough to have purchased one of the original 7,000 copies sold in America in 1952 for $12.50—about $110 today. Its incredible rarity, coupled with Cartier-Bresson’s status as a pioneering photographer, artist and thinker, pushed The Decisive Moment into legend-status perhaps far sooner than most books. But after more than 60 years of feverish searching and relentless fawning by photophiles and image-makers alike, Steidl took on the task of publishing a long awaited second edition, released last fall.

Diligently reproduced to the finest detail, Steidl seems to have resisted the urge to over embellish the new edition with unnecessary addendums. Cartier-Bresson likely would have dismissed an elaborate reconstruction of his book as crass and egregious. The Decisive Moment is about the aesthetics of coincidence, and the faith to follow intuition. Like every brilliant unexpected moment, things can never be truly recreated, but only faithfully retold.

Sony today revealed PlayStation Music, a new Spotify-powered music service coming to PlayStation 3, 4 and “Xperia smartphones and tablets” this spring. The service will outright replace Music Unlimited, the service that Sony previously implemented across devices, powered by its own enormous music catalog. The news marks the first time Spotify has come to any game console, and is a major coup for Sony’s PlayStation group in the battle for major home entertainment apps on game consoles (Xbox One notoriously got HBO Go first).

PlayStation Music will require a Spotify paid subscription (the “Premium” membership), and enables both playback on the aforementioned devices and the ability to listen to music in the background during games. When the service launches at some point in Spring 2015, it’ll be available in “41 markets around the world.”

Update: The PlayStation Music service will support the “ad-supported free tier” of Spotify as well, a Sony rep told Engadget.

There are no images/video of the service in action just yet, nor is there news of exactly how pricing will work. We do know the exact date that Music Unlimited will go away, though: March 29, 2015. Sony says that paid users who are still signed up as of February 28th will receive free access through the end of the run. It’s not clear how, or if, their accounts will transfer over to PlayStation Music, but we’d bet they won’t given the tie to Spotify’s accounting system.

In case it weren’t clear, this is great news: Music Unlimited is, to put it politely, hot garbage. Here’s what we said about it in our review of the PlayStation 4:

Music Unlimited is, unbelievably, the only option for playing music on the PlayStation 4. You can’t set up a media server, or play MP3s or audio CDs. There’s a free 30-day trial to the subscription service as part of buying a PS4, but it’s a cumbersome hassle if you’re not already a member. And why can’t we play our own music on this super-powerful PC-esque game console?

That was one of the few massive negatives in an otherwise overtly positive console review. Glad to see it’s been sorted! We’ll have more coverage of PlayStation Music as the year rolls on.

Adobe’s New Brainstorming App

THE LAST TIME we saw  Comp CC, the newest tool in Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite, it was called LayUp, and creator Khoi Vinh had just demoed it at Adobe MAX 2014. It is, in essence, a responsive brainstorming app that recreates the early stage pen-and-paper sketching experience on an iPad. It complements Adobe’s marquee applications InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator.

Comp CC launches today, and it hews closely to the vision Vinh laid out for LayUp. “There’s a brainstorming stage for every designer,” says Vinh, who came up with the idea over a year ago when Adobe VP Scott Belsky sought his ideas for new digital tools. “But I think there’s an unmet need, because pen and paper have been the tools of choice. With touch devices there’s this opportunity to get the best of both worlds, and to work as quickly as you could on paper, and be as disposable as paper.”

With Comp, Adobe wants to augment its role in the designer’s workflow. Adobe already is instrumental in the execution stage because of those three principle apps. But they are stationary tools, designed for the desktop. Comp is mobile. In an ideal use case, you can imagine someone waiting at the airport or sitting in a coffee shop. He’s got a looming deadline and needs to hammer out a layout. On Comp, with fingertip or stylus, he draws a square. Depending on the settings, Comp’s engine knows it’s a text or picture box. He draws another long rectangle; Comp knows that’s a headline box. Eventually, he has a passable layout. Each action takes just a tap or two, by design. Every interaction was built with speed in mind. “Why would we need to tap on a menu item to generate a circle,” Vinh said when we first saw the app. “Why wouldn’t we draw it?” Everything created in Comp can be quickly exported to other Adobe apps and finished on a desktop.

Like a Smart Sheet of Paper

There are some refined details that weren’t available during last fall’s demo. In LayUp, Vinh showed how the app’s responsiveness would quickly turn messy, lopsided shapes into neatly aligned boxes. That’s still here, of course, but Comp has a more explicit gesture vocabulary, so a designer can learn a shorthand that allows adding details like rounded corners. Typekit libraries are fully available, and users can filter by style, by weight, or favorites. That’s a first for mobile creativity tools like this.

The other newer detail is that export button. With it, designers can access edited images from elsewhere, to get a better layout. They can also quickly bounce mock ups over to InDesign, to tweak the finishings. It’s hardly glamorous, but provides the seamlessness that is key to making a mobile experience work—and Adobe is committed to making it work. “Connected creativity, or the notion of creative profile library,” says Adobe VP Will Eisley, “That’s really the core of what the Adobe vision is.”
In this way, Adobe offers a new perspective on the iPad’s value proposition, which has been murky since its debut five years ago. Bigger phones and smaller, lighter laptops are only making it murkier. Eisley and Vinh know this—Vinh even wrote about it on his blogSubtraction last year—and remain undeterred. “The idea is that it lets you do what you do on paper,” Vinh says. “Setting up a specific dimension for the workspace, I think that’s really hard to do on a big phone. Screen real estate really matters. And the enormous detail that you can focus on, on a desktop app, to get into the details becomes a drag to creativity. Not that you’re not being creative, but you feel the obligation to get all the detail right. Tablets and touch interfaces just let you explore creatively.”

Steinway’s New Piano

THE BLACK AND white keys move so fast it’s hard to tell if Jenny Lin is even touching them. Lin, a classical pianist known for virtuosic speed, is sitting at a grand piano in Steinway’s New York offices, as the rest of the room listens intently, focused on the keyboard.

No, she’s definitely not touching the keys. Not this time. Minutes earlier, Lin played a hyper-speed arrangement of George Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm.” The same song is playing now, except this time Lin hands are on her lap. It’s uncanny, really: The exact same keys are pressed, the exact same trills are heard, the same dynamics are present. It’s a little magical—or “almost scary” as Lin puts it—as though you’re witnessing a prodigious ghost mimic her every move.

It’s not a ghost, of course. It’s technology. Which, considering Steinway’s old-school legacy, is nearly as unlikely an explanation as a poltergeist. Lin is demonstrating the Spirio, Steinway’s newest and first self-playing piano.

When you buy a Spirio—not you, necessarily; they run upwards of $110,000—it comes with an iPad loaded with a Spotify-like app. This app communicates with the piano via Bluetooth, prompting the piano to play any one of the 1,700 songs recorded specifically for the instrument. New songs will sync every week. By itself, an iPad-controlled piano is nifty, if not exactly a technological marvel. What makes Spirio different is that it can play songs with an unprecedented level of accuracy and nuance.

Better Data, Better Music

To understand Spirio’s magic, a brief primer on pianos is in order. Each of the piano’s 88 keys acts as a lever. When you push a key, the hidden part of this lever forces a hammer to hit the piano strings, causing a vibration that creates the sounds you hear. When you release the key, a felt-covered hammer called a damper lands on top of the string, stopping the vibration.

Whereas most player pianos reproduce human performances solely by recording the key strike, Steinway amassed Spirio’s catalog with a far more sophisticated system. Hardware and software embedded into the piano measured the velocity of the hammer hitting the string in 1,020 increments, taking stock of the the hammer’s location and speed 800 times a second. The pedal motion was similarly documented at 200 times per second. This data created a vastly more nuanced picture of what the pianist was doing at any given time, meaning the piano’s built-in songs capture dynamics, repeating notes and the subtleties of the transition, say, from staccato to legato.

A software-controlled solenoid (electro-magnetic) system that’s installed  underneath the piano activates the notes. Think of it this way: If you give a robot a paintbrush and tell it to paint Picasso, it might get the lines exactly right. What’s missing is pressure of the brushstroke, the depth of color, the expression that makes it art. That’s what Steinway is trying to achieve with the Spirio.

Paul the Visionary Man Showed Us That Design Matters

IN 1986, STEVE Jobs was a guy trying to launch a start-up. Having been ousted from Apple the year before, he and a small band of employees were in the early stages of building a new computer company called Next. Jobs had invested millions in the venture, and his reputation as a visionary business leader was staked on its success. The group was still working out key details about its products. But Jobs was certain about one thing: He needed a logo from Paul Rand.

Perhaps more than any other single designer, Paul Rand was responsible for defining visual culture in America in the decades following World War II. He radically transformed advertising, blowing away the dust of the Depression era and pioneering a new, modern approach to selling products. He helped convince some of nation’s biggest corporations that good design was good business, crafting indelible logos for the likes of IBM, UPS, and ABC.

Everything Is Design, an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York on display through July, collects over a hundred examples of Rand’s work, including magazine spreads, book covers, and product packages in addition to advertisements and logos. In every form, the work reflects Rand’s conception of good design, one which seems utterly obvious today but was largely foreign—at least in America—before Rand demonstrated it so convincingly. It was a simple idea: Graphic design can, and should, be both beautiful and functional.

A New Type of Ad Man

Born in Brooklyn in 1914, Rand was creative from a young age. He studied art at Pratt Institute in Manhattan and practiced drawing constantly. One of his first jobs was laying out product spreads for Apparel Arts, a popular men’s fashion magazine owned by Esquire. Soon after that he started doing magazine covers. His work was instantly noticed. By his early 20s, Rand was considered one of the most important designers of his generation.

As art director and critic Steven Heller points out in his definitive monograph on the designer, Rand was one of the first American graphic designers to look to Europe for inspiration. As a student, he became obsessed with commercial arts journals from Britain and Germany, which featured cutting-edge work by graphic designers like A.M. Cassandre. Rand became a devotee of Swiss Expressionist Paul Klee. He absorbed new typographic theory from Switzerland and drank in the Modernist thinking on form and function coming out of the Bauhaus in Germany. These influences reflected in his work, which variously used—and often combined—collage, montage, hand-lettering, drawing and photography to bracing effect.

In 1941, at the age of 27, Rand was named chief art director of the newly-formed ad agency William H. Weintraub & Co. American advertising at the time had changed little since the late 19th Century, especially in terms of how the ads were conceived.

“Before Paul Rand, the copywriter was the lead,” says Donald Albrecht, the curator of the new exhibition. The copywriter would supply the words—often times a great many of them—and the words would dictate the layout of the ad, often drawn from one of several templates or formats. The visuals would be filled in later by commercial artists, who typically just illustrated whatever the copy was describing. Creativity was in short supply.

Inspired by the bold graphic work being done in Europe, Rand brought a radically different approach to the job. As he saw it, an ad’s effectiveness lay in the way words and images were combined on the page. “Rand’s ads have words and pictures, but they’re all fused into one symbol,” Albrecht says. Rand introduced a crucial new ingredient into commercial art: form. By paring down copy and breathing white space into his compositions, Rand made his advertisements stand out from the dense copy surrounding them. He embraced wit and humor, developing friendly hand-drawn characters for spirit-maker Dubbonet and the cigar company El Producto. He used bold, arresting colors. He signed every one of his creations. “He thought he was bringing art to advertising,” Albrecht says.

Rand’s reputation continued to grow. An ad that ran in the The New York Times in 1953 gives some sense of his stature. “Wanted: Art Director with a modern, creative touch. Need not be a Rand but must be able to inspire an art department.”

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