Monthly Archives: January 2012

iGardens, iCities, iArchitecture, iLandscapes, iPads and the Steve Jobs design theory

Buddha, getting help from an iPad, with an idea for the Chelsea Fringe Flower and Garden Festival

Buddha, with an iPad and an idea for the Chelsea Fringe Flower and Garden Festival

Steve Jobs is the most successful product designer of modern times, bar none. Nobody has built so many fabled products. Nor have they built (what was briefly) the world’s largest coroporation in such a short working life – or such powerful brand loyalty. So if cities, gardens, architectures and landscapes are ‘products’ then what can designers learn from the Steve Jobs approach to design? Here are some of the possibilities:

  • classify every design idea as ‘insanely great’ or ‘absolute shit’
  • listen to ideas from members of the design team and tell the proposers they are all ‘absolute shit’,
  • come in next day claiming the best of their ideas are yours, now seeing them as ‘insanely great’
  • earn the undying love of your staff by these means
  • ignore public consultation, and market research of all kinds, because ‘people do not know what they want until I have built it for them’
  • practice Buddhism, become a vegan and drink bucket-loads of carrot juice
  • adopt the purest forms of the Bauhaus and Zen Buddhist approaches to design
  • focus, like a laser beam, on the user experience
  • find the necessary technology to realise your dreams
  • keep on and on and on simplifying and perfecting every detail of your design
  • ‘Don’t compromise’
  • ‘People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint’

Yes, I have been reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs and, yes, I think all designers can learn from Jobs’ example. But there is a big problem: I detest the idea of an iCity, an iGarden, an iScraper and an iLandscape – with the ‘i’ standing for ‘international’. I believe, fervently, that the environmental design professions should hold to the principles of context-sensitive design. They should, like our predecessors down the millennia, CONSULT THE GENIUS OF THE PLACE.
Steve was interested in gardens. The ‘stalk and head’ idea for the iMac G4 came from the sunflowers in his wife’s garden and, more to the point, he stated that ‘The most sublime thing I’ve ever seen are the gardens around Kyoto. I’m deeply moved by what that culture has produced, and it’s directly from zen Buddhism’. Since the Zen idea (禪) came from China and, before that, from India, perhaps Steve was not as strong on history as on product design.
But there is one more thing that we want to tell you about…East Asia is building iCities as if there is no tomorrow. So? “….Tomorrow will never come“.

See also 2012 Chelsea Fringe Flowers Gardens and Gardening Festival.

Buddha image courtesy Miheco.

Laser hologram projection of dancing girls at Canary Wharf Underground station

London Transport need not worry about these girls obstructing the flow of communters from their suburban pads to the Canary Wharf money factory. They are a holographic projection into a thin cloud of disco fog, intended to give the salarymen and salarygirls a reminder of their next escape to Ibiza. [Nor do London Transport need to sue me for not having had a license to take the photograph: it is a simulation.] The troupe have decided to call themselfes the Flowers of Canary Wharf and are planning a performance for the 2012 Chelsea Fringe Garden Festival.

Campaign to restore Jellicoe's Water Garden in Hemel Hempstead New Town

Thank you to Tamzin Baker for her article Streams of the subconscious, in today’s Financial Times, which lends support to the campaign for Dacorum District Council to restore the Water Garden which Geoffrey Jellicoe designed for Hemel Hempstead New Town. See also:

Jellicoe’s Subconscious Approach to Landscape Design
Could Hemel Hempsted’s Jellicoe Water Gardens be managed by volunteers?
Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are a National Disgrace
Hemel Hempstead Water Gardens are getting worse and worse and worse.


Kongjian Yu's Bigfoot Revolution for Chinese landscape architecture 俞孔坚 大脚革命 中国园林建筑

Landscape architecture: Keynote of Kongjian Yu from hayal oezkan on Vimeo.

Kongjian Yu has a good claim to the title of China’s leading landscape architect. He is an author, a professor and the employer of 600 landscape architects. In 2011 he gave an IFLA keynote lecture at the World Congress in Zurich.
So who, in the history of landscape architecture, should we compare Kongjian Yu to? Senenmut? Le Notre? Humphry Repton? Frederick Law Olmsted? Lawrence Halprin? Ian McHarg? Peter Walker? From this list, my answer is ‘Beyond a doubt, Ian McHarg’. Kongjian Yu has strength in planning, design and theory but, beyond all these, he is a publicist and popularizer.
Yu’s Bigfoot idea is that modern cities are akin to the ancient Chinese art of foot-binding 缠足. Bound feet may conceivably be beautiful in some warped eyes but the practice was cruel, un-natural and done for the gratification of men with warped minds. This is not why international modern cities are made the way they are made. Prof. Yu equates urbanisation with gentrification, which is also inaccurate (gentrification is the process of converting low-income urban areas into high-income urban areas). In the longer term, good design is mostly likely to result from good theory. But his two strategies are surely correct: (1) Provide a natural infrastructure to integrate hydrology, biodiversity and the cultural heritage, thus creating an ‘Ecological Infrastructure (2) establish a New Aesthetics, deriving from the ecological infrastructure.
But this is nit-picking. China is very lucky to have Kongjian Yu and I would like to see him appointed Chief Technical Officer to the The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development 住房和城乡建设部.
Comments in the video:

  • Peach trees become flowers without fruits
  • Fish, when they are urbanised, become goldfish
  • Beijing has a population of 20m and its water table is falling by 1m/year
  • We should minimise interventions and maximise returns
  • We should learn from nature
  • The Red Ribbon Park was made in 3 months.
  • Use nature to transform, make useful, and make beautiful
  • 75% of China’s surface water is heavily polluted
  • We need a big foot revolution
  • We need a new Chinese garden to survive
  • Tiananmen Square is “Too big, too big”. We should turn it into a productive sunflower field.

The last comment reminds me that I wrote and invited Kongjian Yu to enter the Tiananmen Square Design Competition. He did not take part and I doubt if his wonky design for filling the square with sunflowers would have been commended. Perhaps he guessed this and decided not to send in the entry!
One other comment: like China, Kongjian Yu is trying to do too much too quickly (eg the Red River Park). Much better to take some more time and do some superb work.
Does anyone know if Kongjian Yu is a member of the Chinese Communist Party CCP?

London's Roman Palace Garden at Cannon Street Station

Roman palace garden image projected onto a minimalist wall at Cannon Street Station

Reading about London’s Roman archaeology, I was deligted to find that the site of the Provincial Governor’s Palace is open to the public. It is now the foyer of Cannon Street Station (ie the foyer is above the garden site). So I went to take a photograph. My camera went ‘click’ at 09.52.15 on 05.1.2012 and 57 seconds later a shifty looking man approached me with an ID card and we had the following exchange.
‘I am the station manager. Did you know that this is a private place and you are not allowed to take photographs?????’.
‘No. I thought it was a public place. Please can you show me the sign which says “No Photography”‘
‘There isn’t one. Do you have a sign in your house saying “No Photography”?????’
‘No but there is a difference between a private house and a ………..’
I could not finish the sentence because he interrupted me to say ‘I could call the police’. I asked him not to interrupt and made 3 more attempts to complete my sentence. It could not be done, so I ended the conversation with the remark that that ‘If this is how “station managers” waste their time it is no surprise that National Rail has operating costs way above the European average. It also has lower standards – and the staff are often impolite’.
No doubt he could have given me the Nuremberg defence ‘I was just following orders’ and to show I bear no personal grudge I have decided not to bill Network Rail for the imaginative proposal, above, for using his blank wall as a place on which to project illustrations of Roman Palace gardens. He should also install a Triclinum and train for the more rewarding job of serving Roman delicacies to customers suffering psychological damage from their experiences with London’s rail system.
The site of the Villa and Palace Garden of London's Roman Provincial Governor is now below the foyer of Cannon Street Station

The site of the Villa and Palace Garden of London's Roman Provincial Governor is now the foyer of Cannon Street Station

. Let us hope National Rail ‘read the writing on the wall’ and put on the Roman Palace Garden Projection as a contribution to the 2012 Chelsea Fringe Garden Festival.