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February 22, 2005

Architecture as old media

Architecture used to focus mainly on the design of buildings. Nowadays, the spaces between them are also important. Applications such as geocaching make even small real-world spaces easy to locate and access; this transforms once marginal spaces into viable assets. A new variant of this theme, called urban agriculture, converts other kinds of idle and underused resources - manpower, space and land, solid and liquid waste - into cheap, fresh and nutritious food for local populations. Aditya Dev Sood (who trained as an architect) leads a panel on these issues at Doors 8 together with ex-architect Marco Susani, who leads the team developing new service concepts for Motorola, and Usman Haque, who designs haunted spaces which he describes as 'conversant'.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:28 AM | Comments (0)

February 20, 2005

Want to be a knowledge superpower?

According to an India survey in Britain's New Scientist magazine, 'if the sub-continent gets everything right it will have the third largest economy in the world by 2050, after China and the US. India is not yet a knowledge superpower, but it stands on the threshold'. Is this a good place for India to be? America and Europe are already knowledge superpowers: does this make us happy and content? I don't think so. If being a 'knowledge superpower' means the mindless growth of technoscience, then it's an undesirable destination. India (and the rest of us) can do better. As Susantha Goonatilake reminded us with his talk on 'civilizational knowledge' at Doors East last year, 'Western scientific logic is twofold: 'X' is either 'A' or not 'A'. There are four-fold logics in the Buddhist tradition - and a seven-fold logic in the Jain tradition'.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:51 PM | Comments (1)

New Poster

Today we publish a new Doors 8 poster designed by Abhishek Hazra. Please print it, post it somewhere prominent, and/or pass it on to individuals (not to whole lists) you think will consider helping us get the word out.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:01 AM | Comments (0)

New media art at Doors 8

Bangalore Badarpur Border, curated by Pooja Sood at the Apeejay Media Gallery, explores the myths, landscape and imagery of Bombay. It features the work of Shaina Anand, (from Mumbai, trained in film in New York);Ashok Sukumaran (from Simla, trained in architecture in Delhi, and in Media Art in Los Angeles); Mukul Patel, sound artist and dj from London, and cofounder ofAmbienttv.net.. Then on the Wednesday (23 March) Mukul Patel curates the sound, Juha Huuskonen (aka Juhuu) from Helsinki, media theorist master vj, curates the light. Other Indian and international artists will participate. If you are not already raving after all the content of the previous days, you will, here.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:04 AM | Comments (0)

February 19, 2005

How to avoid time compression

Like the migratory patterns of Arctic Terns,the travel patterns of the Doors crowd are a perennial mystery.All we know is that people register later every time we do a Doors event. (At Doors 7 in Amsterdam, we sold a third of our tickets in the last couple of weeks). Now, with just four weeks to go before Doors 8 begins, we know that more people are thinking about coming, than have yet decided. Please note: you cannot register for Doors 8 by SMS, and we do not advise trying to obtain an India visa using a mobile phone. Be modern: don't leave it too late.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:07 AM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2005

On natural and man-made disasters

The spectacle of Bono and other glossy celebs singing for tsunami victims was a somewhat quease-inducing sight on the box the other night. As P Sainath points out in indiatogether,"Number of homes damaged by the tsunami in Nagapattinam: 30,300. Number of homes destroyed by the Congress-NCP Government in Mumbai: 84,000. The elite wants a society geared to deal with rare disasters - but shows no urgency at all when it comes to the destruction of the livelihoods of millions by policy and human agency".Dunu Roy points out that many slum clearances "are as much to do with the space they live in as with the work that they perform, and have been promoted by the bilateral and multilateral funding agencies". Squatter Citycontains excellent coverage of these issues.

Posted by John Thackara at 10:52 AM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2005

Job going in Albertopolis

We don't usually run job ads here, but Doors has a long history with the Interaction Design group at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, and they need a new head, so just this once we're happy to pass the word along to you. One of the best things about the job is its location.

Posted by John Thackara at 04:09 PM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2005


So Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the Media Laboratory at MIT, is to bestow laptop computers on poor people for just $100. To the punters in Davos, where Negroponte was promoting his project, $100 probably sounded cheap: many were paying $100 an hour to be there. But in Mali, where 90 percent of the population lives on $2 a day, Nick's Laptop would cost people two or three months' earnings. During thoughtful exchanges on Worldchanging, Robert Neuwirth pitched in with a criticism of "top-down, tech-heavy approaches to democratization and globalization" - and others pointed out that radios and telephones score higher if you actually ask people what they need. As we learned from the extraordinary Sam Pitroda at Doors 4, back in 1996, connectivity is as much about the design of clever business models as it is about tech. Pitroda enabled hundreds of millons of people to gain access to telephony by designing the Public Call Office (PCO) concept - a low-tech, high-smarts system based on the clever sharing of devices and infrastructure. PCOs exemplify the kind of design skills that we need to learn from India (for example, at Doors 8) and adapt to our own situations.

Posted by John Thackara at 03:08 PM | Comments (3)

February 13, 2005

Little Boy: look at me!

I like to keep track of a possibly meaningless statistic: Googling 'design' + 'homeland security'. Today's total, at 1,310,000, is up 20,000 on a month ago. But I have a feeling the the security-through-fear bubble may be deflating. One sign that people may not be as scared as the industry would like: Jason Coster-Mullen drove a 600-pound, shiny steel replica of "Little Boy," the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, 800 miles across the United States in the back of his car and no one stopped or questioned him.

Posted by John Thackara at 06:44 PM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2005

Fight this injustice!

A kindly-looking gent called Jack Welch has drawn the short straw to beat all short straws. His new book 'Winning' has been selected by Fast Company to compete against 'In The Bubble' for that magazine's book of the month selection. It's cruel and outrageous that such an underdog - the ex-CEO of the world's richest company, and a man voted manager of the year on countless occasions - should be asked to compete in an unwinnable competition. Fight this injustice! Vote for the underdog.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:50 PM | Comments (0)

Service design notation

What does a service design look like? How are we to represent and visualize such complex artefacts as a service, a scenario, or a strategy? Francois Jegou has been investigating this challenge together with Ezio Manzini in a project called 'Sustainable Everyday: Scenarios of Urban Life'. They looked for examples of what everyday life might be like in a sustainable society - how we work, move, and take care of each other - and then developed ways to represent how these services worked. Here is the story so far. One aim of the workshop at Doors 8 is to find what other communication techniques are out there.

Posted by John Thackara at 11:19 AM | Comments (0)

Open Source Architecture

Usman Haque has posted an enticing description of his pre-Doors8 workshop on Open Source Architecture. Please remember that that you need to register first in order to take part in Usman's workshop.

Posted by John Thackara at 08:49 AM | Comments (0)

Markets for "slivers of time"

Online auctions are booming. The phenomenon has been been labelled the 'march of the micro-sellers'. But could sites like eBay, with its 105 million users, be harbingers of a more important transformation, when individuals start to exchange time and services online? Wingham Rowan in the UK is developing the technical and institutional infrastructure for Neighbourhood e-Markets (NEMs) in which anyone can directly sell their time, around other commitments in their life, with total control and all the information they need about localised patterns of demand/supply and pricing for the kind of work or services they wish to offer. "These are hugely complex transactions" says Rowan; "they can now be made effortless, ultra-low overhead and consistently safe - but it takes much more sophisticated technology than Internet marketplaces based on bulletin boards or auctions require. Each 'slivers of time' marketplace must absorb issues including availability, contactability, reliability, price construction, potential agency involvement, protection of all parties, legal compliance, alignment of localised supply/demand, post transaction administration and restructuring of failed transactions". It seems that NEMs does all of this, but the participation of government is needed to seed this kind of economic activity and create a legal framework that enables its full potential.

Posted by John Thackara at 07:04 AM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2005

Life in a swarm

The theme of Doors 8 - 'Infra' - is indeed rather broad. Today we've posted a list of adjacent organisations and projects that we've learned about in developing the programme. Doors 8 is about collaborative innovation - not about charity, aid, or top-down development - so we have not listed that vast part of the NGO swarm. A priority in Delhi is to identify design challenges that are not already being tackled by someone else. The list of speakers begins that selection process - but the main work will be done, with you, at the event itself.

Posted by John Thackara at 09:56 AM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2005

On 'think and do tanks'

An article by Rob Blackhurst in the UK's New Statesman states that "whilst think tanks and their policy wonks have proliferated, their influence on policy has declined sharply". This piece has sparked a lively debate at the Demos blog about "how to stay influential and competitive, without drifting away from the very people whose lives your ideas are intended to benefit". Pitching in to this discussion, the Global Ideas Bank observed that "both Demos and New Economics Foundation style themselves increasingly as think and DO tanks". The diminishing power of pure thought to change social reality will be debated at Doors 8 - so for now I'll do some useless point-scoring: the Netherlands Design Institute (where Doors was born) called itself a think and do tank back in 1994 - as it shown on this prototype (by Zuper) of our first website . (I'm sure others used the term before we did: do tell me if you know when, and by whom).

Posted by John Thackara at 08:57 AM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2005

The shadow city

One of the North-South links we will explore at Doors 8 concerns the importance of un-designed urban areas as sites of social innovation. Half or more of the inhabitants of major South Asian cities like Delhi are 'illegal', but they are economically active, too. In Europe interest is growing in so-called 'free zones' as breeding grounds for creativity. An excellent report from Urban Unlimited called 'The Shadow City' compares freezones in Rotterdam and Brussels with other examples in Berlin, Helsinki, Vienna and Naples. The report promotes the idea that some areas be left deliberately unplanned - protected, even, from the predations of politicians, social reformers, and developers. Now there's a thought: Saving cities from design in the name of creativity. The text of 'The Shadow City' may be donwloaded from this page (look at the bottom left for "Shadow City in english").There's a thoughtful article on the complex issues raised by slums and development here.. I also just discovered that Robert Neuwirth has written a book called Shadow City and has a blog on squatters and squatter cities around the world.

Posted by John Thackara at 04:56 PM | Comments (0)

February 07, 2005

Spooks: why you have to be in Delhi for Doors 8

By 2020 globalization is likely to take on much more of a non-Western face. So says the US National Intelligence Council (NIC), a think-tank that advises the CIA on the likely course of future events. A new report called The Contradictions of Globalization says that Asia will "alter the rules of the globalizing process". The report adds, anxiously, that "advances outside the United States could enable other countries to set the rules for design, standards, and implementation". This is why Doors 8 in Delhi can be so important: this is the right moment to accelerate the emergence of post-tech-push models of innovation and development. The NIC talks apocalyptically about 'a force-multiplying convergence of the technologies - information, biological, materials, and nanotechnologies - that have the potential to revolutionize all dimensions of life' - but that kind of macho tech-talk is tedious and old hat. Doors 8 is about more nuanced uses of tech as a support - sometimes - for new kinds services that keep people, not tech, at centre stage.

Posted by John Thackara at 10:27 AM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2005

Wrongly developed design?

I've been asked to give a lecture on 'design in development' at a conference in Amsterdam on 8 March. It will be an interesting opportunity to test the waters in Europe ahead of the main event of Doors 8 itself. I'm more than a little uneasy about the word 'development': it implies that we advanced people in the North have the right or even obligation to help backward people in the South 'catch up' with our own advanced condition. No, it doesn't make a lot of sense. I'm more in tune with the anonymous author of Bolo Bolo, "P.M", for whom the North is 'wrongly developed'. Standing still is not an option for either North or South, but I'm looking for a better word than development to use in my talk.

Posted by John Thackara at 12:51 PM | Comments (0)

February 05, 2005

Design education (cont)

There's a curious mismatch between the demand for design and art education among school leavers (see my story about "Study art and never be unemployed" below) and the reluctance of industry to fund research. Design Observer drew my attention to a claim in Fortune that, in the USA, a master of fine arts (MFA) degree is in such demand that design schools can now be tougher to get into than Stanford or Harvard. While those schools' MBA programs accept roughly 7% and 12% of applicants, respectively, UCLA's MFA program admits just 3%. At the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), applications are up 50% over the past two years; they dropped more than 19% at Harvard and Stanford. Meanwhile, Media Lab Europe has closed due to lack of funding and design research everywhere is being squeezed by funding pressures. There is an argument that all design projects entail research -but my own impression is that the financial squeeze that's affecting institition-based research also applies to paid-for design: there's money for quick results, but not for investigation or reflection.

Posted by John Thackara at 10:47 PM | Comments (0)