This is an Urbanscale Weeknote titled “Week 27: Scattered, and rolling,” written by Mayo Nissen in Copenhagen on the 10th of July 2011.

Week 27: Scattered, and rolling

Mayo Nissen on 10 July 2011

This weeknote is brought to you from Europe, where the week starts on Monday — so it’s just about on time, at least in some combinations of cultures and timezones.

We’ve been a bit all over the place this past week, but only physically: AG crossed the Atlantic and started the week in Copenhagen teaching at CIID and ended it in Marseille at LIFT France; MN shifted from Helsinki to Copenhagen, where he is also teaching at CIID; JK remains at base in NYC. Nonetheless, projects feel like they have got their own momentum, and are rolling of their own accord.

Project PERRY, with the hard work of GROUNDlab and their go-to “coil guy,” Todd, is progressing at a fair clip. As hinted at last week, we’ve even got a video of a jumble of components soldered together, doing exactly what we want: being waved over an RFID coil, and the number on the e-paper display decrementing, all being powered by the coil. Granted, there’s still a lot of work to be done — it’s not even really a full proof of principle, particularly as it isn’t running at anything like a standard frequency – but it proves to us, at least, that what we originally imagined is indeed possible, and at a reasonable speed, too. I also finally got around to uploading higher resolution versions of the design fiction images from a couple of months back to our Flickr account, which are suitable for press use, should that be of interest.

Jeff continues to wrestle with the intricacies of citizen-responsiveness/citizen-engagement/deliberative-democracy systems, and is slowly but surely piecing together a set of design principles that will underlie parts of various projects that we’re working on, including Urbanflow. In the short term, there’s the careful balancing act between laying out a grand scenario and use-case and losing sight of the parts needed to build it (and any adjacent use-cases), and of breaking down every possible use-case into functional fragments, and losing sight of the bigger picture.

J.D. Hollis is working on aligning and combining the various technical elements (code, languages, databases, servers, data sources) that will ultimately form the backbone of our transit-planning module and app, Project LAFAYETTE.

In Copenhagen, though, the focus for both Adam and myself was on teaching a two-week course at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, titled Systems/Layers: Urban Experience in the Network Age. The first week was primarily about analysing the city, understanding what it means to live in a networked city, and grappling with some of the social, economic, political, ethical, and legal issues that designers aren’t always exposed to, but when designing for such a public context become unavoidably part of the brief. We moved from talking about what a city is, and what it is for, to “reading the city”, and by way of repeated excursions out of the studio and into the fabric of Copenhagen, began to think about where in all of that mess of difficulty and opportunity, a designer can have an impact.

As well as talks, exercises, and design briefs, the course also included some reading, but rather than send out an email with a list of links, or piles of printed or photocopied A4 sheets, we decided that compiling and designing a newspaper with all the reading for the course would be a better route to success. We had a 20-page newspaper printed by the nice folks at Newspaper Club in the UK, and it was dispatched to Denmark ahead of our arrival. The very fact of having a physical artefact, laying around on the desks in the studio, is a constant reminder that there is related reading to be done, and it invites browsing in a way a list of links or open tabs does not. It also has the advantage of being print — there’s much greater control (albeit with commensurately more effort) over presentation, of curating a selection, of removing distractions, no links, of considering what sits next to what. Texts from blogs can sit next to more historical texts, forcing the ideas to bounce and spark off each other. Not to mention, it ends up being a rather nice object to keep around, to glance at or refer to later.

Find below a list of the content in the newspaper we handed out as a form of shortened reading list.

Here’s also a PDF of the newspaper (~6mb), although it’s very much designed to be printed and held, rather than read on-screen. If your intention is to read the pieces, I suggest following the links above and viewing the texts in their original locations.

Adam and myself also went for a cycle around Copenhagen — and out to Ørestad, specifically, to see the developments by Bjarke Ingels’ architecture practice BIG, The MountainVM Houses and 8Tallet. That little outing, other than getting us out into the sunshine and ever more appreciative of Copenhagen’s amazing cycle infrastructure, brought three things sharply into focus. One is the subtle but unmistakable difference between amazing architecture and urbanism (despite often being described as being “in Copenhagen”, these developments truly stretch the definition of the city — the view is onto fields and sheep, for starters). Second is the amazing skill of translating an architectural (or indeed urban) vision from an idea and a rendering (which many people can, and do, create) into an actual, built, and apparently enjoyed, structure, where people live and work. Finally, the reminder that in the right hands, even things that are often looked down upon and described as fundamentally bad ideas (with plenty of examples to illustrate the point) — such as megastructures, huge developments, and aspects of the project that appear to be pure formalism — can, in the right talented hands, work, and work well. BIG seem to have made these things work here, despite everything — although it will be interesting to see how they look and feel in a decade’s time, when the sheen of novelty and newness has worn off.

Next week, Adam and Mayo remain in Copenhagen, with a couple of meetings lined up in addition to working with the CIID students as they shift gears and create/make/design/prototype services for the networked city, and Jeff continues to hold the Fort in NYC. Onwards!