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Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

In Praise of Pocket Cameras and “Making the Iron Sing”

Posted by Stephen Lewis on October 31, 2008


A few days ago, I resumed posting to my alter-ego photographic and (art/urban) historical weblog, Bubkes.Org.  The title of the latest entry: In Praise of Pocket Cameras and “Making the Iron Sing.” Taking a photograph of a wrought-iron gate in Sofia, Bulgaria (above) as its point of departure, the new post considers the merits of a classic film-based pocket camera, the origins of the decorative iron work that was once characteristic of Balkan cities, and the changing circumstances of Balkan Roma (Gypsies).

Additional photograph-based postings treating small cameras, transformation of cities, and the urban experiences of Roma will follow on Bubkes.Org.  I hope to accompany them with parallel postings here on HakPakSak.  Indeed, In Praise of Pocket Cameras and “Making the Iron Sing” touches on matters of the sort treated within the present “pages.”  Consideration of contemporary small-camera digital photography raises issues as to whether companies’ marketing or users’ actual wants and needs are the drivers behind product design, manufacture, and distribution.  It aslo raises issues as to how technology and taste interact.  Examination of the history and circumstance of Roma in Balkan cities casts light on the interplay of infrastructural shifts and transformations of identity within the urban context.  (Much) more to follow, thus.

Posted in Architecture, Bulgaria, Change, Cities, Economy, History, Identity, Infrastructure, Markets, National Identity, Photography, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Infrastructure and Orthography: Hawaii/Havaii, A Charlie Parker Tune, a Giant Brain and a Collection of Strands

Posted by Stephen Lewis on September 17, 2008

I’ll begin with a 1930s New York joke.  An immigrant couple from New York takes a boat cruise to Hawaii.  They argue: Is Hawaii pronounced “ha-wah-yee” or “ha-vah-yee”?  To settle their dispute, they approach the first passerby they see after docking.  “Is it “hah-way-yee” or “hah-vay-yee,” they ask.  Hah-vay-yee” the passerby tells them.  “Thank you” says the couple.  “You’re velcome!” replies the passerby.

A Charlie Parker Tune and a California town

My own take on choosing pronunciations is to use those appropriate to the language in which I am speaking rather than to the language from which a word or name originates.  Thus, while I indeed say “Par-ee” when speaking French, I say “Paris” in English and “Parijs” when speaking Dutch. This week, I’ve been caught out twice while improperly pronouncing the name of the southern California town Camarillo.  Despite my long-ago near-mastery of Spanish, a maybe because of my Anglophone literalism, I habitually make audible the double-“l” in Camarillo, thus causing offended Californians to firmly interject  “No, it is ‘Camariyo’.”

I am not alone in my offending pronunciation.  Generations of jazz fans know that saxophone great Charlie Parker called the tune he wrote in memory of a stay at a California drug detox facility “Relaxin’ at Camarillo” and not “Relaxing at Camariyo”  I’ve got air check recordings of Parker and the sonorous-voiced 1940s-50s New York radio and club announcer Symphony Sid to prove it.  Also, in Caribbean Spanish as spoken here in New York, Camarillo would be pronounced “Camarijo.”

A Giant Brain and a Collection of Strands

The offended Californians mentioned above are two very pleasant and erudite colleagues: Kevin Barron, communications theorist and IT-director at the Institute of Theoretic Physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara and Arrie Bachrach, Camarillo-based veteran environmental affairs specialist and senior program manager at the enviromental consultancy firm ENSR.  Kevin is a new acquaintance.  He and I are working together — under the lead of Doc Searls of the Berkman Institute for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and JP Rangaswami of British Telecom — to define and see to establishment an institute for the study ofthe infrastructure of connectivity, this including the infrastructure of the internet.

Kevin Barron sees the internet in part as an emergent decentralized  “giant brain” that grows in infinitismal increments and enables us to think beyond and transcend ourselves, not least in terms of the cultural differences that divide us.  Along with Kevin, I am fascinated by the concept of infinite accumulation and interrelation of knowledge and of the internet as a means for transcending the artificial distinctions goups of human beings erect between themselves and for neutralizing the potential of this for generating carnage, suffering, and material waste.  (In a future post I hope to present a summary of my research these past two years into the origins, artificiality and consequences of national identities, a sub-theme in many of my recent postings).

To fulfill its promise as a “giant brain,” however, the internet is dependant on open, gentlemen’s-agreement”-like nature of the protocols that facilitate it and on the vulnerable physicality of the dispersed servers strands of  fiber and cable that comprise its corporeal infrastructure.  The irony: from the great firewall of China to Russia’s recent cyber attack on the Republic of Georgia, the same divisive forces that the internet has the potential to transcend conspire to compromise the internet’s potential universality and to turn an open Net into closed and carefully controlled national and imperial Nets

Arrie Bachrach is presently working on a number of projects weighing the potentials of decentralized vs. centralized power production.  For the efficiencies of decentralized power to be realized, a “giant brain” must emerge to continuously guage production to need and to facilitate and fine-tune import and export of power amongst an eventual plethora of micro-scale local facilities worldwide.  Such a brain would be dependent on the internet as its infrastructure and thus in turn be dependent on the the elemental physical components that compose the substrructure of the internet.

Footnote: Life as Internet, Coincidence as Infrastructure

Although Kevin Barron and Arrie Bachrach have never met both are connected by a web of coincidences.  At the most obvious level, Arrie’s employer, ENSR, is a corporate sponsor of the Bren School of Environmental Management at the University of California at Santa Barbara.  On a more tangental level, I know Kevin through Doc Searls, who I met while I was a part-time philosophy undergraduate in Greensboro, NC four decades ago.  My friendship with Arrie dates back to earlier in the 1960s when we were both denizens of the Student Cooperative Housing in the Westwood section of Los Angeles near UCLA, a home to Black, Jewish, and Asian students in the days of “restricted” student fraternities and a poud bastion of anti-surfer-ism and premature support of the civil rights movement and opposition to the war in Vietnam as well as premature dope smoking (yes, we inhaled).  The main building of the “Coop” was a sparse Bauhaus-like glass and concrete interwar aparment building designed by the emigre architect Richard Neutra.  In the early 1990s, Doc and Joyce Searls introduced me to one of their friends, Dion Neutra, son of Richard Neutra and an architect in his own right.  In the years that followed, Dion and I managed to get together for architectural walks in New York and in the Netherlands, my one-time European base and the site of a number of works associated with Richard Neutra.

Posted in Architecture, Environment, Infrastructure, Internet, National Identity | Leave a Comment »

A Conference-Engendered Hiatus: Harvard Law School and The Netherlands Institute in Turkey

Posted by Stephen Lewis on July 30, 2008

I haven’t posted to either of my weblogs (neither this site nor Bubkes.Org) since early in June.  Over the last two months the pace and substance of my life had overwhelmed my drive to report or reflect.  In addition to ongoing work projects and research, the past weeks saw my participation in two conferences.  The first, held in Istanbul on June 27, was a symposium in honor of Ottomanist and architectural and social historian Machiel Kiel.  The second, organized by internet commentator and innovator Doc Searls, was held at Harvard Law School on July 14-15.

Doc Searls and VRM at Harvard Law

The conference at Harvard Law was called by Doc Searls, internet commentator, author and speaker, and fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.  Throughout his multi-year tenure at Berkman, Doc has been working on conceiving, shaping and inspiring others to participate in VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) which he describes as “the reciprocal of CRM (Customer Relations Management)”.  Indeed, VRM is a mindset, a movement, and a set of tools for using the internet to achieve what Doc refers to as a Copernican Revolution in the marketplace in which “consumers” (i.e. individuals) actively manage their relationships with companies and institutions according to the needs and trajectories of their own lives rather than being passive objects managed by others.

The present conference attracted dozens of attendees from throughout the United States as well as from Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UK where, for well over a year, a hub of CRM, IT, and communications types have been collaborating to develop and bring to market VRM applications. The conference agenda, determined on-site by consensus as per the “Open Space” model, underscored the scope of VRM and its transition from a philosophic and conceptual approach to the actual development of VRM-related projects, applications, and tools.  Also, the presence at the conferences of participants from companies such as Oracle and Sun showed that the “mainstream” is waking up to VRM.

VRM in turn, seems to be waking up to the full spectrum of individuals’ need and relational intents. Whereas a year ago VRM focused on shopping, personal RFPs (requests for proposals), and management of online identity, today VRM is entering the fray of management of medical data and treatment, government relations, public broadcasting, and charitable giving.  A small number of us are also debating the potential of VRM in the management and troubleshooting of projects and processes and in the implementation of organizational change.

To track the development of VRM or to get involved, follow Doc Searls’s subsidiary VRM weblog.  Last: A small:group of us with work-related ties to Belgium and the Netherlands are banding together to emulate the UK group in attempting fit VRM to local issues and social and business cultures.  If you are NL- or BE-based or have a connection to either country and are interested in VRM, do get in touch — by the way, the same goes for anyone in Eastern Europe or Turkey interested in knowing more about VRM.

For Machiel Kiel and Ottoman History at the Netherlands Institute in Turkey (and for a few words on architectural monuments and infrastructure) click here

Posted in Architecture, Client Relations, History | 1 Comment »

Patterns of Human Trajectories, the Essence of Cities, Jacobs vs. Mumford

Posted by Stephen Lewis on June 7, 2008

Via JP Rangaswami (Confused of Calcutta) this link to an article on the website of Nature Magazine, entitled Mobile phones demystify commuter rat race: Tracking study proves that humans are creatures of habit. The essence of the story:

“By monitoring the signals from 100,000 mobile-phone users sending and receiving calls and text messages, a team from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, has worked out some apparently universal laws of human motion.

The results could help epidemiologists to predict how viruses will spread through populations, and help urban planners and traffic forecasters to allocate resources.

Albert-László Barabási and his colleagues show that most people, perhaps unsurprisingly, are creatures of habit. They make regular trips to the same few destinations such as work and home, and pepper these with occasional longer forays such as vacations.”

The article was especially interesting to me — in small part because I am a similar creature of habit, satisfied by, but also mildly embarrassed about, clinging to comfortable routine trajectories between and within New York, Sofia, and Istanbul, the three cities amongst which I divide my time — and in large part because of my interests in examining and clarifying the nature of cities and of the infrastructure of the exchange of knowledge.

As the decades pass, I continue to examine and debate the dichotomy best expressed by the polarity between Lewis Mumford’s epic “The City in History” and Jane Jacobs’s 1960s urban manifesto “The Life and Death of Great American Cities.” In essence: Are cities composed of great monuments and the products of ambitious physical plans or are they more a function of the aggregated trajectories, intentionality, and intersections of their inhabitants? To express this in terms of New York’s ambiguous struggle with the legacies of master builder and politico Robert Moses: Which view will triumph, the critiques of the displacements and damage to the human fabric of the city Moses’s grandiose road-building projects caused, this as expressed in Robert Caro’s epic biography of Moses “The Power Broker,” or the admiration for the art deco industrial styling of the great bridges and other infrastructural monuments Moses pushed through to realization, this as per the series of “revisionist” museum exhibitions and academic publications on Moses’s achievements that surfaced in New York two years ago?

At present, I am involved in writing and photography on the changing nature of the city of Istanbul and the bifurcation over the centuries between that city’s great monuments and the trajectories of its inhabitants. More on this if/when the project is authorized to proceed. In the meanwhile, though, in the context of Istanbul, I include this link back to a past posting the second half of which treats an Istanbul photocopy shop and how its function as a node of knowledge exchange is shaped by its location and the physical trajectories and intentionality of its patrons.

Posted in Architecture, Books, Cities, Infrastructure, Links, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Conquest by Infrastructure Roll-Out: The 14th-Century Ottoman Advance into Europe, Neglected Monuments of Northern Greece, and a Fascinating New Book

Posted by Stephen Lewis on June 1, 2008

Click on A Published Coincidence, an entry just posted on my alter-ego weblog, Bubkes.Org, for a few words on “The Shaping of the Ottoman Balkans 1350-1550: the Conquest, Settlement, & Infrastructural Development of Northern Greece” a new book by Heath W. Lowry, Atatürk Professor of Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies at Princeton University.

Apropos of the subjects treated here at HakPakSak, “The Shaping of the Ottoman Balkans” treats the centrality of the building, financing, and maintenance of the physical and social infrastructure of trade, travel, hygiene, and worship to the westward advance of the Ottoman Empire. The book is also a fascinating and richly illustrated guide to out-of-the-way and oft-ignored monuments of northern Greece.

My thanks to Professor Lowry for including a number of my own photographs in the volume and for his citations from, and kind references to, my stand-by article The Ottoman Architectural Patrimony of Bulgaria, the partial output of a past Fulbright grant.

Posted in Architecture, Books, Cities, History, Infrastructure, Links | Leave a Comment »

42nd and 5th: Architectural Photography, Global Cities, and Working Class New York

Posted by Stephen Lewis on March 5, 2008

Last week, in this weblog post, photographer Brian Rose described our recent chance late-winter-afternoon meeting on the corner of 42nd St and 5th Ave. and our follow-up conversations some days later. Brian Rose is a superlative large-format photographer (click here for an overview of his work) with a unique understanding not only of buildings but of the natures of the cities they comprise and of the people who create them, use them, and imbue them with meaning. Our meeting was laden with coincidence. We are both die-hard “analogue” photographers. Brian has lived most of his adult life on the Manhattan’s Lower East Side — the place where I grew up and that shaped me indelibly — and we both spent years working and living in Netherlands. By chance, I had seen an exhibition of Brian’s work more than two decades ago at the Henry Street Settlement House and had also chanced upon his masterful photographs of the Essex County Courthouse, embodiments of the ways I’d but imagined portraying the interiors of Islamic monuments during the several periods of my life in which I have been involved in documenting the Ottoman architectural patrimony of southeast Europe (see numerous entries on Bubkes.Org).

Brian’s stunning day-end photograph featured in his blog post also comprises a coincidence. In it, Brian attempts to visually anchor the glass and steel corner store of a the international clothing retailer H&M into an iconic “signature” New York location, the corner of 42nd and 5th. His photograph combines end-of-day light, the delicacy of large-format negative film, and an impeccable composition placing the store between trees adjacent to the Public Library in the foreground and the towering spire of the Chrysler Building in the background. The task Brian confronts in his photograph is one that I have been trying to deal with conceptually as I try to locate the continuity of what had once made New York unique in the increasingly bland and seemingly cloned international shopping-mall-, tourism-, and chain-store-like nature of much of (Manhattan’s) retail sector and entertainment and night life.

As a starting point in tracing this uniqueness, I’ll begin with this quote from the introduction to Joshua B. Freeman’s “Working Class New York” (New York 2000) a penetrating examination of the unique ethos, economic history, and social and physical infrastructure of the City from the shaping of its one-time entrepot- and specialized-manufacturing-based economy in the 19th-century, through its creation of America’s only social-democratic society in the 20th, and through the fiscal crisis of the 1970s and the subsequent rise of the so-called financial and information economy from the 1980s on. This winter, Freeman’s book helped me begin to articulate a vision of New York that had been up until now beyond my reach, this despite my one-time education in “Urban Affairs” and my visceral, indelible knowledge of New York work and street life. At the outset of his book, Freeman eloquently anchors New York in the intangible, in the collective tone of its people:

“Endlessly frustrated by its difficulties and brutalities, try as I may I find it difficult to imagine living elsewhere. What keeps me in New York is neither the high culture of museums and concert halls nor the unrivaled opportunities for working, eating, and spending that New Yorkers revel in. Rather it is a sensibility that is distinctly working-class — generous; open-minded but skeptical; idealistic but deflating of pretension; bursting with energy and a commitment to doing.”

More on the interplay of New York’s people, economy, infrastructure, and unique sensibility — as well as on Freeman’s powerful book — in future entries.

Note: For the next several weeks I will be in Istanbul, Turkey. Because of the Turkish ban on WordPress.Com I might not be able to post to this site while there. I will certainly be posting to Bubkes.Org, so do look for new material there.

Posted in Architecture, Books, Cities, Infrastructure, Photography, Work | Leave a Comment »

Hiatus — A few words and a few links re: articulation, organizational change, the GOP, the 1960s, mysterious and enticing doorways, the forgotten wooden mosques of the eastern Balkans, and a bodega in the Bronx

Posted by Stephen Lewis on September 28, 2007

These weeks I have been a bit busy with work proposals and ongoing research projects. One of the results: Somewhat of a hiatus in substantive postings to HakPakSak. For the moment, however, the following links should each be worthy of at least a peek…

Re: my “core business” of articulation, communication, and change, look at this comment I posted some weeks ago on JP Rangaswami’s weblog Confused Of Calcutta and a worthy comment-on-the-comment as posted by Stephen Smoliar at his weblog Rehearsal Studio.

Re: Politics in America look at Bob Herbert‘s recent Ugly Side of the GOP. Now that the New York Times has opened up its former “premium” internet content to all readers, Hebert’s hard-hitting to-the-point columns can once again be read online free of charge.

Re: The 1960s and the reunion of two former philosophy students and friends, look at these kind words from North Carolina writer, thinker, and convinced Quaker Tom Brown.

Last, for a look into my parallel avocational worlds of photography, architectural history, and Balkan and Ottoman history, go to this new posting on my alter-ego weblog site Bubkes.Org.

Oh yes … not to forget … Oh Word. My recent two-fold posting on Paul Lafargue’s manifesto The Right to Be Lazy and the photocopy shops of Istanbul gained mention on Rafi Kam’s hip-hop weblog Oh Word‘s Around the Horn links. I am a long-time fan of Rafi’s and Dallas Penns humorous and very insightful minimalist video Bronx Bodega (click here to watch it on YouTube). I’m a jazz fan, not a hip-hop fan — but I am born in the Bronx!

More to follow…

Posted in Architecture, Articulation, Bulgaria, Change, Links, Media, Photography, Work | 2 Comments »

Library Access, the Limits of the Web, and the Shelling of Sarajevo

Posted by Stephen Lewis on June 19, 2007

The Moorish-Revival style facade of the fire-gutted former National and University Library building, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

In a June 1 commentary, Doc Searls objected to the high annual user-fees ($500 and up) that American universities such as Stanford and Harvard charge outsiders to use their libraries. Doc cautioned: “The (inter)net is a bigger library than all … university libraries put together, and it’s not exclusive. This is a fact of life (or death) for libraries and those of us who continue to care deeply about them.”

The Poorly-Stocked Web

My own take is that while the web might theoretically have the potential of providing more shelf space than all libraries combined, in reality it is quite far from being as well stocked. Indeed, only a small portion of the world’s knowledge is available online. The danger is that as people come to believe that the web is the be-all and end-all source of information, the less they will consult or be willing to pay for the off-line materials that continue to comprise the bulk of the world’s knowledge, intellectual achievement, and cultural heritage. The outcome: the active base of knowledge used by students, experts, and ordinary people will shrink as a limited volume of information, mostly culled from older secondary sources, is recycled and recombined over and again online, leading to an intellectual dark-age of sorts. In this scenario, Wikipedia entries will continue to grow uncontrolled and unverified while specialized books, scholarly journals and the world’s treasure troves of still-barely-explored primary sources will gather dust. Present-day librarians, experts in the mining of information and the guidance of researchers, will disappear. Scholarly discourse will slow to a crawl while the rest of us leave our misconceptions unquestioned and the gaps in our knowledge unfilled.

The challenge is either – or both – to get more books, periodicals, and original source materials online or to prompt people to return to libraries while at the same time ensuring that libraries remain (or become) accessible. Both tasks are dauntingly expensive and, in the end, must be paid for, whether through taxes, grants, memberships, donations, or market-level or publicly-subsidized fees. What the exact cost models could or will be is part of a larger conversation on the infrastructure of the internet that Doc and I have kicked-off privately and will at some point bring online. It is also part of ongoing conversations on future models for the publishing industry and intellectual property laws.

Digitization of the contents of libraries, by the way, is a highly complex affair, especially when dealing with older books and with original, fragile archival materials. The goal is to reproduce such materials in a non-destructive manner, at a sufficiently high quality, and in a manner that is searchable. Indeed, the ability to search within and across documents is one of the ultimate benefits of digitalization and one of main promises of interconnected on-line libraries.

A War Against Archives

Just about the time when Doc was preparing his June 1 posting I was standing in front of the former National and University Library in Sarajevo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The building – constructed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century soon after the transfer of control of Bosnia from the Ottoman Empire to the Austro-Hungarian Empire– originally served as Sarajevo’s town hall. The edifice is an archetypical example of so-called Moorish Revival architecture, a style that may have been propogated as a non-Ottoman but still (stereotypically-) oriental “national” style for the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s newly-annexed Muslim-populated Balkan territories. (More on Moorish Revival architecture and contrived national identities and national styles on my alter-ego weblog Bubkes.Org later this summer).

In August of 1992, during the Bosnian Serb siege of Sarajevo, the National Library building was set ablaze. This resulted in the loss of more than two million books, periodicals, and archival documents. The attempted destruction of the library was part of a concerted attempt to wipe out the historical memory and cultural heritage of Muslim Bosnia, a correlate of the attempt to delegitimize the presence of, and ultimately physically eliminate, its inhabitants. Fortunately, many of the library’s rare manuscripts had been smuggled out of the library building and hidden elsewhere in Sarajevo in anticipation of the attack.

The internet has a long way to go as a home for irreplaceable historical archives and documents. Such primary sources form the basis for original research and for refreshing our understanding in many fields. The rarity and fragility of archival documents makes them worthy of digitization and web-based archiving and distribution. At the moment, archival materials are under-represented among the corpus of information in cyberspace. This causes them to slip out the ken of popular recognition as well as beyond the reach of specialists without the resources to travel to and work where they are stored. In the case of Sarajevo, a valuable part of the cultural heritage of the Balkans might have been saved in virtual form had the potentials of digitation and the web been available and utilized at the time. More recently, the Bush administration’s ill-considered war and occupation in Iraq was based on pathetically inadequate research and a total misunderstanding of the country, its history, and the peoples that comprise it. Indeed, much of the history of Iraq and its antecedents – as of much of the Mid-East, North Africa, and the Balkans – stills lays buried amongst the millions of pre-1923 Ottoman documents stored in the Turkish national archives in Istanbul and Ankara. This is all the more reason to ensure that, whatever the cost model, more of the world’s printed and written heritage is brought online and that until then we continue to turn to libraries and keep in mind that there are “far more things in heaven and earth” than are now contained on the internet.

(Digital Photo © Stephen Lewis, 2007)

Posted in Architecture, Commentary, Digitization, History, Identity, Infrastructure, Libraries | 8 Comments »