Saturday, 5 February 2011

Cutting out time for those creative moments

In my last post, I suggested based on Daniel Pinks theory of motivation that we need to free ourselves from algorithmic tasks to make more time for truly creative thought, as this will bring about breakthroughs and self motivation.

The reality is that dishes still need to be washed, e-mails answered, and calculations for building control collated and issued.  In other words, we will always have uninspiring tasks that can't be outsourced or automated that are still critical to success and well-being.

The key is that we do automate and outsource as much of it that we can, and through this maintain an appropriate balance of algorithmic and heuristic work.  I suggest the ratio be roughly 20-80%.  If we can spend just 1.5 hrs a day on answering e-mails, checking bar bending schedules, filing etc, and fence off 6.5 hrs for the really creative and fulfilling stuff, which includes collaborating with others, learning something new or exploring options to a design problem, then I'm sure we will provide significantly more value in the long term.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Daniel Pink and why we should all be stoics

I've been reading a lot of Daniel Pink and his very simple but very powerful (and experimentally proven) notion that external reward incentives hinder creativity.  He shows that the carrot and stick approach works well for needs low on the Maslow value pyramid (survival needs and basic routine tasks).  However, when we aim to satisfy our highest needs ( creativity, meaning, innovation), external incentives can make us perform poorly.  Instead, an internal drive where personal satisfaction is the only goal increases creativity and open, divergent thinking.  Short term goals and concrete incentives focus our minds required for routine algorithmic tasks.  But for heuristic, holistic "out side of the box" thinking we need to remove any thoughts of external reward (e.g. extra pay or "innovation bonuses").

He gives as an example the open source movement and wikipedia - people working for free have given money making corporations a serious run for their money.

He says that three ingredients are critical for this:
  • Autonomy
  • A feeling of Meaning and Community
  • A desire for Competence and Mastery
 This sounds like a fantastic socialist utopia - lets just not worry about pay, all for one, one for all, I'll do it my way, I'm in control and in the end there will be more than enough to go round.

But the fact is, the survival and routine tasks still need to be maintained. We can outsource some of this (number crunching, etc), but ultimately that's not sustainable - third world countries are catching up and have the same needs for creativity and fulfilment as anyone else.  Ultimately automation of as many tasks as possible and batch processing of routine tasks will get these algorithmic necessities out of the way to some extent, but someone still needs to turn the handle and monitor the results.  No automation process is perfect.  

So where as we may not be able to eliminate the boring (but critically vital) tasks, we must work to free up as much time from them as possible to have space for creative thinking.

Once we can take our minds off survival and maintenance (money, health, order, hygiene etc) we can be free to create. Without the external drivers there to focus our mind, our brains are free to explore connections and combinations that would never be found through narrow thought processes required for algorithmic execution.

Applying discipline and efficient processing is one way of freeing time and taking control of boring but required tasks. Another is reducing our needs all together. Less areas in our life that require additional maintenance and algorithmic attention will free up more time for creativity and fulfilment. Perhaps this is why a stoic, minimalist approach is very effective.  Minimizing our basic needs and attachments, we can spend less time maintaining superfluous baggage.  We still need to do it, because even very few possessions will require some looking after.  But at least we can cut it down to a minimum.  So perhaps that Bible verse about not worrying about what to wear and what to eat, as even the flowers are beautifully draped and the sparrows well fed, is a call in this direction. Worry less about stuff that will consume you time unnecessarily, keep it maintained well enough that you don't have to think about it.  And then your free to do the things that really matter.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Everlasting Green Modules

Lots of ideas this morning ranging from a highrise building half-timber half-half concrete, to creating modular based architecture for ultimate reusability.  I'd love to do a study with architects on creating a "lego" set for the building indstry - looking closely at what repeatability could be used across various building types. It would be important to select the materials carefully for a cradle to cradle approach, looking at long term effects such as creep and durability.  The idea is that a building should be easy to dissassemble if required and the pieces re-used with little or no modification to assemble new dwellings.  The engineering of this approach would have to be carefully balanced against aesthetic and offer freedom to a broad range of architectural styles.  This approach, I beleive, would provide the most economical, sustainable and safe approach to construction. Any takers or suggestions?  

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Smart Buildings

Buildings are getting smarter! Just read an article on "The Economist Technology Quarterly" from December 11 2010 entitled: Superstructures - building "smart structures" with sensors.

Here's a synopsis including the Problems, Solutions an example and the future of smart Buildings.  What do you think?


  • cost
  • wires needed to provide data and power
  • even with battery powered wireless sensors how often do they need to be maintained/replaced? Robustness of the sensors will influence this.  Exposure to the elements including break dust in tunnels can have a detrimental effect.
  • Deflected and direct signals interfering with one another, increasing the time it takes for a node to join the network.
  • Fixing the sensors to the sensors economically and robustly - they sometimes fall of after several and have to be re-resined.
  • transfer time:  Golden gate bridge network takes 12hrs to transmit 80 seconds of data.
  • Solved to some extent by wireless technology and improvements in battery and radio technology.
  • solar, wind turbine (vibration?) powered sensors (perhaps for "sentry" sensors?  See below.)
  • employing "pipe-lining" in which a signal is passed along a network of sensors to reduce the maximum "jump".
  • software that determines locations of minimum radio interference (probably using advanced finite element analysis)
  • if sensors could do some of the processing of data themselves then that would reduce the amount of data that needed to be transferred, by prioritising and being selective about the data that actually needs to be sent off.
  • intelligent power management -  sensors only switch on when they need to process or transmit. Aplies the use of few "sentry" sensors which "wake up" the much larger network of remaining "sleeping" sensors in the event of significant activity. "Sleeping" Sensors are only receptive for a split second at given intervals to conserve battery unless prompted by a "sentry".
Case study:

Jubilee tunnel - sensors and conventional monitoring led to investigating the replacement of the tunnel lining.


Sensors that not only report but immediately fix the problem. (e.g. mass-damper systems in tall buildings that counteract oscillations caused by string winds or earthquakes) Need to overcome the problem of power cuts dissabling the actuators of such systems by deploying low power actuators supplied by new battery technologies (semi-active as opposed to passive - no power and active -high power).  Perhaps even the deployment of robots to fix defects once they are sensed.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Reaching Out To The Invisible

The Bible reading on Tuesday (Saint Luke 19:1-10) tells us a very familiar story, a story that makes us feel like we are looking into a mirror or a page from our own life. Zaccheaus a wealthy man and a sinner avoids the large crowds and climbs a sycamore tree to get a view of the worlds savior. Jesus notices this and reaches out back to him with the words; "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." This is a story of hope and a symbol of our personal spiritual yearning.

Now the collage above is a connection of two images that I thought reflect our personal yearning for something bigger then life: left, Jack English's photo of a surfer tackling a wave and touching the waters flesh and right, Michelangelo's painting of the creation of man located in the Sistine Chapel. Michealangelo's photo brings the creation of man to life with Adam reaching out to his Father and the almighty Creator. Jack English's photo shows a man touching the water----as if reaching out in search for something greater than life. Like the two images representing going beyond the extreme Zacchaeus climbed his tree in order to be notices despite the shame of his crooked return he was saved. Let us reach out to the invisible and climb heights in order for him to be welcomed into the house of our heavy hearts.

The singer/songwriter Jon Foreman writes: "Let us acknowledge our neediness, our beautiful desperation . Yes, our unanswerable, aching, longing poverty i a prerequisite for the balm of salvation." We, the people---the failures, the losers, the outsiders---we must climb our tree of life and find our King. And let us love! Let us celebrate the reckless love of the one who risked all that we might be loved. Let us follow the path of God who loves us and reach out to the Invisible.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Studio and design essentials

Here are a few of the things I never design without…

The Hoodie

Not only is it a simple and effective way to maintain a nice working temperature, it's always a nice thing to put the hoodie up and zone out in front of the computer, meeting table or sketchbook. It's like a little bedroom you can wear.

The Sketchbook

Great for logging my sketches and design ideas... I can go for a walk or hide out in a vacant room and work out the tough stuff without the self consciousness of doing it in front of other people.

The iPod

I just leave home, ride the subway, have a coffee, do some CAD or just chill out with all my favourite tracks buzzing. I just choose the band that gets me in the mood and get ready to design and creative action.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Brutalism. Modernisms ugly brother

So as I eat lunch at London's Barbican once in a while I wonder what makes this Brutalist piece such a success within the context of London. Its vast harsh skinned space is a desired location for so many Londoners searching for some of there "own breathing space" and silence while the rest of the London streets are packed and loud during week days. The Barbican is like Oscar Niemeyers Brazilia only maybe more...human?

Brazilia when built was a monument of modernists obsession to reach order and purity. Its what I like to think a perfect example of an architect combining modernism+architecture rather then humanity+architecture. This Utopian dream of white washed order and pure forms became brutal, dirty and it became a ghost land of vast wasted space. Nature and humanity therefore acted against it.

Barbican on the other hand was brutal from the very beginning. The ugly one within the context of the city. Rough skin, imposing sharp angled towers which stand tall...Quasimodo on the Notre Dame bell towers. But then what happened?

People reacted against it in a different manner. Londoners with there capability of keeping things in order...clean and a tea party, taking care of modernism's ugly brother. Every balcony now contains lush colored flowers and plants. The area is swept twice a day and therefore the clean concrete ramps lead your eyes to the towers in the a funny way it all works. As I eat my sandwich I love hands touch the stoned surface of its skin. Within this structure totally resembling imperfect humanity there is light and color. The Barbican is a dramatic backdrop to life in the city. It amplifies very little thing, the flowers and palms on the balconies, the child's smile, the sunshine...but also the stormy sky. I enjoy the way the Barbican makes you notice the rest of the world around you. In the eyes of modernisms ugly brother there is hope to something more beautiful in its relationship to the rest of the city. This is to say that the Barbican was an experiment which reacted with the context of London at the right time and place in a healthy and successful way.

London being a city of monuments should not be afraid to embrace experimentation. Of course there have been many examples of bad architectural experimentation...many would say more bad then good...but we must introduce the optimism and action for the better stuff. In fact because of this lack of a fresh eye and confidence London has put all its effort in undoing modernism and concentrating on preservation...this is dumb and expensive. So lets not make mediocre architecture that provokes a negative response. Lets make new architecture that invites humanity to live and take action rather then sleep walk through out daily lives totaly not inspired by the growing city.