Wonder Wednesday

It was 1992.  I was in my first year of university.  And the game Star Control II was released.  It was big, epic, and full of exploration and story and cool starship conflict, and above all else, it had a killer soundtrack.  In the game you spent a lot of time in hyperspace, and fortunately, the music for it was fabulous:

Ahhh, great memories.  There’s a reason this game appears on so many “top games” lists, and the music is certainly one of them.  I even have all the music saved within my music library, ready to pull up for fun times at any time.

Did you play?  If so, I bet you have the theme running gloriously through your head now…

Philosophy Tuesday

I have not watched any of the Game of Thrones*, but it has been pretty darn inescapable for the past few weeks as the final season wound towards its finale. And so it was that across my path came this article at Scientific American that piqued my interest, for it delved into realms both rich on a storytelling level but even more so in the philosophical realm. Besides a treatise on the path of the final episodes there’s a great exploration that ties very nicely into the concept and notions of the Path of Least Resistance as well as Systems.

Give it a read. There’s a lot of good stuff in there and where I begin to mine it for insights is here: If we’re not well versed in writing, or even consuming, stories that flow from a sociological level/view verses the individual/psychological level/view, then we’ll likewise not be well versed in seeing how much we all are swept away by the sociological waters we swim in. It therefore becomes more difficult to see the systems and shared identities that shape our views, reactions, and even (T)ruths:

“In sociological storytelling, the characters have personal stories and agency, of course, but those are also greatly shaped by institutions and events around them. The incentives for characters’ behavior come noticeably from these external forces, too, and even strongly influence their inner life.

People then fit their internal narrative to align with their incentives, justifying and rationalizing their behavior along the way. (Thus the famous Upton Sinclair quip: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”)”

It can be tough to swim against a current. It certainly takes effort, especially when it confronts something we’ve made a part of our identity. And so once again we’re pointing towards the path of least resistance. Society, systems, structures are all there, flowing. It becomes easiest to simply go with the flow, no matter whether the outcome is a good or deleterious one, whether for ourselves, others, or the world as a whole.

Even when it is completely against our own self-interest.**

But the effort is worth it. When the already automatic systems are nudging us already almost certain futures that are not working as we’d like them to, it’s most fruitful when we aim to alter the systems rather than exclusively aiming to alter individual(s). When we can divert the flow towards great outcomes, then great outcomes become easy:

“But if we can better understand how and why characters make their choices, we can also think about how to structure our world that encourages better choices for everyone. The alternative is an often futile appeal to the better angels of our nature. It’s not that they don’t exist, but they exist along with baser and lesser motives. The question isn’t to identify the few angels but to make it easier for everyone to make the choices that, collectively, would lead us all to a better place.”

Through a broadening of storytelling to include sociological viewpoints, we can better gain that understanding. And while such stories may not be “out there” yet in great quantities (as this season of GoT apparently showed), we can always practice that storytelling in our own lives with that most important narrator – the one in our head. With mindfulness we can guide our inner commenter to encompass both the psychological and the sociological, gaining broader perspectives from which we can choose, be, and act in service of creating the society we truly want.

 

* As much of a surprise as that might be to many of you…

** And against that which fills our being with fulfillment and satisfaction and is a true self-expression of our central self and who we want to be.

Architecture Monday

Pardon me if I indulge here for a moment by posting another adaptive re-use design by Heatherwick studios, this time from South Africa, transforming a building type familiar to many and found throughout the world:  the waterside concrete grain silo.

On the one hand, grain silos are super strong and resilient.  On the other hand, they’re kind of limiting… what is one to do with all that tubular space?  Fortunately, the first hand and the second hand can come together, with the unified strength allowing for massive holes to be cut into the structure without collapse.

And that was the founding point of the design.  Using a leftover kernel of corn that was literally picked up at the base of one of the silos as the template, a massive atrium was cut into the silos to create a grand entry and circulation space.  And hoo boy, grand it is!  Glazed on top and with circular elevators and stairs gliding through the peripheral silos it’s a stunning sight to behold.  And one of detail mastery as well; the skill on display required to cut the concrete in the complex curving forms is amazing.

The adjacent grading tower with its strong boxy form is a nice contrast to the silo tubes.  With jeweled windows that protrude from the strong boxy frame additional galleries, event spaces, and even a hotel are created.  Best of all might be the amazing roof sculpture gardens that not only provide an amazing panoramic view of the area coupled with sculpture, but also the skylights for the atrium upon which you can walk and cavort and dance.  Or the rooftop pool for the hotel…

One of the strict desires/briefs by the client was “No curving galleries!  Art is not round!”  So the majority of the galleries seem to be white boxes that totally belie the silo nature in which they are contained.  This to me is unfortunate; while I get the desire for straight walls, to not find a path that could both celebrate the curvy while maintaining the orthogonal is a bit of a lost opportunity.  But that hardly breaks the project.  As an amazing reuse of a very industrial building this is an exceptional win, delightful to experience and doubly great that African modern artists now have a local home upon which to have their works displayed and celebrated.  Great stuff.

The Zeitz MOCAA by Heatherwick Studios

Bonus video!  Click here:  https://vimeo.com/269008579

Philosophy Tuesday

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be very careful what we pretend to be.”

— Kurt Vonnegut

 

(Or, to put it another way, we are who we, and our identity/identities, says we are.  Our views about ourself shapes us fully.  And so actively cultivating an identity that matches our authentic self is therefore very much of prime importance to living a great life…)

Architecture Monday

Old and new.  Molten aluminum and brick.  Perforations sprouting greenery.  Nestled between the historic and the imposing landscape.  An addition and refurbishment of an old convent-turned-museum along the northern coast of Spain.

A nice addition merging the historical with the new, with a bounty of marvelous detail work.  Great stuff.

San Telmo Museum by Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos

Philosophy Tuesday

Often the most frustrating things

About a tragedy –

Whether one unfolding,

One yet to come,

Or one done and gone;

Whether personal,

Or of a nation,

Or of the planet;

Whether solid,

Or existential;

No matter the type –

Are the twin responses

Proffered by many:

 “It doesn’t/won’t make any difference to MY life”

Or

“It had nothing to do with me, it just happened.”

 

Indifference and lack of accountability

Are the two most destructive traits

Of humanity.

 

We have the capacity to care.

Empathy and responsibility

Are two of our most beautiful traits

When we choose to employ them.

 

It can be so easy,

Instinctual even,

To close our eyes and pretend

It’s not our problem,

And that things that affect others

Are somehow beneath our care.

 

Yet, we desire others to be there for us

When tragedy strikes.

Why do we try to have it both ways?

 

We are rapidly running out of time

On so many things.

And, really, little is truly

Independent from us.

It comes around to affect us eventually.

 

Now is the time

To engage our hearts,

Our empathy,

Our compassion,

And unleash our finest traits.

Before we are no more.

Architecture Monday

So this is nifty.  You’ve got these two former coal hopper warehouses that, while built by the same person, are not parallel (to better work with the incoming rail lines and turning radiuses).  They are big, made of brick, super solid, and full of arched loading bays that would be perfect to convert into stores.

Cool.  Now, you also want to include both indoor and outdoor event spaces and do something to unify the two buildings.  Hmm, what to do…  well, how about “pulling” the roof like taffy and have the buildings kiss?

Which turns out to be as equally impressive inside!

Lots of nice stuff here that builds upon all sorts of features that were already in place from the industrial days: the multiple ground planes, the train access bridges, the rugged and tactile brick, the Victorian ironworks.  All pulled together with additional bridges, lots of glass, and, of course, the twin ribbons hovering like magic over the new plaza.

Cool beans and a fabulous adaptive reuse project.  Coal Drops Yard by Heatherwick Studio

Wonderful News

Oh glorious day!  The scourge of banal renaming at Canada’s Wonderland is coming to an end!  Once more, will Wilde Knight Mares, Wilde Beast, Dragon Fyre, and the Canterbury Theatre grace the land of Medieval Faire.  I can only hope that the themeing and paint jobs are also brought up to their full grandeur.

Now if only they’d return the Spinnovator (UGH!) back to Quixotie’s Kettles…

(And yes… pun title fully intended)

To celebrate, here are some great photos from Wonderland’s first season, all from the Toronto Archives: