The future is fast approaching

Caught up in an information culture.


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Paper sculpture maps reveal the history of cities

Detail of Matthew Picton's map of Dallas, showing the route of the Kennedy assassination.

Detail of Matthew Picton’s map of Dallas, showing the route of the Kennedy assassination.

The Atlantic Cities takes a pictorial stroll through Matthew Picton’s paper sculptures of cities, combining their streetmaps and their history in a way that quickly conveys geolocated information about major events.  The Atlantic’s Mark Byrnes says:

“In his series “Paper Sculptures,” Picton creates hand-cut and folded paper 3D street grids. He also incorporates art, text, or even special paper to evoke something specific about the city (often, a historical event or time period). So, for example, Picton’s London “Great Fire” of 1666 map depicts burned illustrations of 17th century street life. In the case of Las Vegas, Picton uses neon green paper decorated solely by the words from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

While these are primarily positioned as art, and deservedly so, I like the concise and subtle information design, communicating the damage done by the French invasion of Moscow or the progress of the Kennedy motorcade in Dallas with tremendous economy.


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Weekend Longform Video: Night Mail (1936)

Detail of Pat Keely's poster for Basil Wright's Night Mail (1936).

Detail of Pat Keely’s poster for Basil Wright’s Night Mail (1936).

Night Mail shows both the daily operations of two of the most efficient infrastructures ever developed, mail and rail, and something that today sounds so fantastical that it could have walked out of a steam-age fantasy or magical realism novel: a rolling post office speeding down the rails all through the night, humming with postal clerks, never once stopping as it delivers and picks up mail from each station along the route.   Continue reading


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The Chandelier Tree of Los Angeles (2013)

Still image from Colin Kennedy's short doc on the chandelier tree.

Still image from Colin Kennedy’s short doc on the chandelier tree.

Filmmaker Colin Kennedy lives down the street from the chandelier tree, and had to document it.  The tree is photographer/designer Adam Tenenbaum‘s creation, and, aside from it being a lovely piece of art, Tenenbaum raises some points about the impact of lighting in public urban spaces: the tree isn’t just good art, but is also good neighborhood planning.

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Kids Today Like Dead Trees

The Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library.  Photo by Scott Beale/Laughing Squid (Creative Commons).

The Rose Reading Room at the New York Public Library. Photo by Scott Beale/Laughing Squid (Creative Commons).

To follow up Tuesday’s post on whether the future of libraries was as (pretty darned sleek) community third-spaces, the Pew Research Center released a report of 16-29 year-olds to see how they feel about libraries, and it seems that kids-these-days (get off my lawn!) like free literacy programs (87%), cozy and comfortable spaces (64%), interactive learning experiences (53%), and coordination with their local schools (87%).  Good news for the Hamilton Grange branch’s new youth space, and for makerspaces dreaming of library collaborations.  They’re also using physical books (75%) more than e-books (25%) at the moment, which might make Bexar County’s all-digital library a tough sell on that front, so maybe the future isn’t all-digital after all, even if ebook readers do get the old book smell down some day.  Although, personally, I think the Bexar County BiblioTech is in with a good shot if they can end up more crazy futuristic coffeeshop and digital culture/literacy center… and avoid the stigma of an internet café.

More on the Pew Research Center Survey at The Atlantic: Cities.


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Up There (2010)

Still from Up There (2010).

Still from Up There (2010).

Watching the Beck’s Edison Bottle reminded me of a short doc I saw a while back at IFP’s Film Week – Up There is a twelve-minute short doc on the fading art of hand-painted billboard signs in New York.

It was written by the filmmaker and funded by Stella Artois, but they’re never mentioned in the film.  Instead, they’re the subject of the handpainted sign we see the painters working on.  This is branded content as truly valuable content in its own right, where the filmmaker rather than the brand crafts the message, and both come away happy.  When I saw the makers of this doc interviewed at IFP, you could see the funding model opening up whole mental vistas of possibility for all the starting doc filmmakers in the audience, but this is a tough gig to find, and the right funder and the right content is a tough match to make. Continue reading


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The minimalist, gleaming future of libraries?

In an age of privatisation and digitalization, when libraries have been fighting tooth and nail for their place as an essential piece of community infrastructure, there’s something of an identity problem.  The idea of a physical repository for communally-owned printed information storage has a few challenges in the post-internet era, and it’s not simply a branding problem but also a practical problem of how to provide a changing community service.  I was intrigued when The Atlantic’s Cities pushed out two articles showing very similar new library designs, across the country from each other, aimed at different populations – yet looking and functioning in a very similar fashion.

Hamilton Grange library.  Photo by Michael Moran and Rice+Lipka Architects

Hamilton Grange library. Photo by Michael Moran and Rice+Lipka Architects

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Stereopublic, an app to find oases of quiet in the city

Australian sound artist Jason Sweeney created Stereopublic as “a participatory art project” and “a sonic health service”, and a way of sharing geolocated quiet places in the cacophony of urban environments.  Emma Quayle, a UK sound artist, has helped make custom version of the app for Edinburgh, making a map of sounds “charting the quiet crooks and bends of Edinburgh”.  Wonderful combination of collaged ambient sound and the awareness of sound levels as a health issue in cities.

(via TED)


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Infographic: How big will your apartment be in 2050?

Graphic by BBC Future

Graphic by BBC Future

Two types of people are obsessed with the apartment of the future: science fiction fans and anyone who’s lived in a city.  Both those groups know that Korben Dallas’s apartment in The Fifth Element is somewhere between near-certain prediction and inspirational.

If you’re one of those two types of people (or, let’s be honest, both), BBC Future’s got the infographic for you: city by city, they depict how big your individual shoebox will be and how many of your fellow citizens will be stacked on top of you.  And for good measure, they’ve added in what your quality of life will be, based on things like health care, culture, infrastructure, and political stability.

Life in 2050: How much space will you have to live in?