The New After Corbu

If you are self-employed, and therefore actually visit the website of blogs you read — as opposed to the rest of us who use RSS readers to mask with javascript our non-work-related internet usage — than you have no doubt noticed that this blog has changed it’s look a bit.

The new header features a shot of Le Corbusier’s Plan Voison, which is a big more relevant than the Chefchaouen picture that was up before.  Their is now an After Corbu flickr page, with photos from buildings I visit or images from models I create.  I’m not as interested in pictures of complete buildings, as they hide so much, and will try to post my favorite pictures of the contruction process.

There’s also a few new areas to this site, which you can browse at your leisure:

  • About – a general statement of purpose.
  • Archives – I found a sweet little module that lays out old posts graphically very nicely.
  • Links – the ol’ blogroll can now be found here.

It’s still a WordPress blog, despite my rumblings about switching to Drupal. I had contemplated the switch because — and if you care nothing for web design, feel free to tune out at this point — I’m planning on having different content types on this site, namely Posts, Pictures, Links, & Graphs, and WordPress is not a natural CMS like Drupal.  However, I ultimately decided to put the pictures on an After Corbu flickr page and will soon start adding little micro-posts of graphs & links, which will be differentiated from blog posts by simply overloading the post category feature of WordPress.  It’s not as slick as using a real CMS, but it’s also easier than migrating posts and comments.

Anyway, enjoy!

Sin Taxes for the Financial Industry

I really wished Jeff Frankel blogged more since economists have established an (undeserved) reputation in the media as John Hodgman-style general experts, but the prominent ones who aren’t named Krugman skew decidedly right and reinforce the laissez faire conventional wisdom.  That said, Frankel came through today with a post on the head of Britain’s financial regulatory agency coming out for transaction taxes in order to shrink the trading volume and raise funds.

Transaction taxes are of course a pet policy of mine (a better economy via better systems design!), and they have a lot of potential to raise government funds while creating positive secondary effects, in the same vein as other proposed ‘sin taxes’ such as on soda or pollution.  While it may be hard to quantify the behavioural impacts of these taxes, what matters from a policy-making perspective is that, regardless of size, the impacts are positive.

I have yet to see anyone argue that transaction taxes could shrink the time-horizon of investors or increase market volatility.  The debate, when it occurs (which is rare, since opponents do not seem willing to engage the issue), is over the significance of the impacts.  But of course the impacts aren’t the primary reason to enact the policy; you pass it to raise money for something useful.  Something like health care or supertrains or robot gladiators.  Any behavioral impacts are gravy.

I really wish that public anger over the bailouts and bonuses to the financial industry could be harnessed into passing a transaction tax — it would certainly be a more productive use of the anger than the abortive attempt to pass special bonus taxes.

On Pacifism As Pathology

A Softer World 470

a softer world 470 by e horne and j comeau

I’m in a ‘social justice book club’ because I’m some sort of nerdy hippie and we’re reading Pacifism as Pathology by Ward Churchill, a book I found very persuasive in my younger, harder years.  Predictably, I’m less impressed by the book upon re-reading. I’m not exactly sure what the profile of a psychological disorder should look like, but Churchill’s attempt to create one for the disorder of pacifism comes across as superficial even to a non-expert. And then there’s the part where he argues that the actual, intentional goal of white American ‘radical’ leaders is to export as much of the physical suffering required to achieve social change to people of color worldwide and then use their continued position of strength to shape the emerging anarcho-syndicalist (or whatever) world order in a way that somehow continues to benefit said white radical leaders.

So the logical setup of the book is: This belief is wrong.  Therefore, people that believe this are (a) suffering a psychological disorder, or (b) evil geniuses.  These latter parts that attempt to divine the motivations of pacifists are  a ridiculous overreach.  But the original premise is solid!

There is a much better book, hidden within the self-indulgent speculation of this one, that only explains why pacifism is problematic and justifies the thesis with detailed historical arguments about the process of the South African revolution or changing effectiveness of Indian resistance movements pre- and post-war.  The book largely avoids engaging with the historical facts necessary to make a case for the centrality of violence to political change, satisfying itself with compelling, but unsubstantiated assertions: ‘Gandhi only succeeded because of the diminished power of post-WWII Britain’; ‘King only succeeded due to the emergence of more militant black resistance groups”.

I’m predisposed to agree with those arguments, but one has to actually make the case.  Martialing those facts is hard and boring, but it’s how you convince people; slick theoretical leaps appeal to the choir only, if even them.

So that better book is what I actually want to read, and I hope that some aspiring revolutionary will take the time to make it their dissertation so I can.

Paging Max Baucus

Well Put Clive:

The current [homeowner mortgage] deduction costs nearly $80 billion a year in forgone federal revenues. It is available only to the minority of households—typically affluent— that itemize their taxes. Households at the margin of choosing between renting and owning are not, for the most part, itemizers. The deduction has no effect on their choice, and thus does almost nothing to promote homeownership. What it does promote, studies show, is spending on housing—that is, people who would have been owners anyway pay more for their houses. Prices are higher than they would otherwise have been, and mortgages are bigger. As many owners have learned abruptly, this can worsen economic insecurity.

$800 billion over ten years is a lot less than I thought the mortagage deduction was costing, but it’s still nearly enough to fund a certain government program that’s getting a lot of attention lately.  Combine it with a ‘sin tax’ based on overlarge home square footages (which have negative environmental and land use externalities) and we’d be  talking real money…

(via Matt Zeitlin)

Grade Beams FTW

They are just really fucking awesome at reducing moment frame deflection.

That is all.

Emerging Engineering Markets

Cat Ladders has a pretty great collection of vernacular pet architecture that has got me daydreamig about the spatial possibilties for a client that weighs <20lbs.

My neighborhood in Los Angeles is too near Griffith Park for any of the outdoor options to be feasible (we regularly see coyotes ambling down our street and the stray cat population is zero), but an indoor arrangement would be doable and let me break out my atrophied wood shop skills.

Swiss Cat Ladder

azwickyplanung-catladder4 photo by Andreas Zwicky

‘Progress’ and Obsolescence

This was in 1999 and it was cutting edge to give a presentation with my partner contributing her half through IRC projected on a screen. (It’s the future now, so people project Twitter #hashtags.)

Hilarious, since IRC is still clearly the better choice for classroom projection. It’s hella confusing to watch stray tweets come in long after the presentation has moved on. But Twitter is what all the hip kids are doing nowadays…

Incidentally, the Cyborgs & Architects series at Quiet Babylon, from whence comes the above twitter aside, is quite interesting.  That architects would feel anxious about the end of their profession is understandable; the architect’s position in society has been eroding for a long time due to the same industrial processes of specialization and standardization that have transformed the rest of the economy.  Where once there were master-builders now there are general contractors, steel fabricators, curtain wall designers, every manner of consultants from LEED to acoustics, civil/mep/structural engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, etc.

The architect nominally holds the reigns as coordinators , but that actual contribution of any individual to the design process is small and it’s not difficult to imagine a future where the architect is just another consultant, hired by the owner’s rep to provide some advice on massing and help fashion the building’s skin into some pleasing fractal shapes. With the rising popularity of Design-Build projects that place the contractor at the top of building pyramid, one might even say it’s likely.

Against that backdrop comes the spector of human mechanization, either by upgrading our bodies or uploading our minds. Architecture replaced by body hacking or Second Life. Anxiety is felt. A bright line is drawn between altering the environment and altering people.  Only one is ok.

All very understandable,but as these things often go, the bright line is bunk.  Architecture mediates how people experience the environment — it lets in this much  light, this much air, at these locations, and those elevations. It’s basically a filter whose foundation is in earth, but it’s hardly our only filter.  There’s also clothing, vehicles, consumer electronics, hearing aids — sometimes also designed by architects — which drastically alter our experience of the environment, and do it by being attached to us and altering us.

If anything our coming cyborg future would see those non-architectural filters replaced, but structures remain.  Clothing gives way to Carbon Fiber EpiDerm Pro.  Cars to the Usain Bolt Locomatron GOLD.  But, barring a total revolution in human desires, people will still want privacy, still want facilitated socializing, and still want expresions of hierarchy, so houses, bars, and skyscrapers should be with long after grocery stores become unneccessary due to the Pollan Omni-Replicator: Now With Meatier Algorithms!

Column Drop Caps Done Right

A beautiful way to limiting punching shear problems.  Radial control joints along the bottom of the drop are a nice accent.

National Technical Library Prague photo by a href=

National Technical Library Prague photo by vtr do

You can’t change gridlines in midspan

YouTube Preview Image

While I agree with Archidose that this video is a wonderful way of presenting the design concept and understand that this house is just a study in the use of wood structural panels and not intended for construction, the engineer in me groaned at the way in which the walls were completely discontinuous across the 2nd floor.  Modular prefab construction in wood and concrete is often unfairly maligned as cheap or ugly and there’s certainly ample ability to attain architecturally compelling forms with prefab materials.

But know your material.  You’re going to have a hard time using one replicable panel design if every panel is loaded differently by the floor above.  If you’re using an off-the-shelf panel, it almost certainly will not have been engineered to recieve the large point loads caused by upper walls framing orthogonally past lower walls.  Or to cantilever.  Or to be a floor system subject to a highly irregular load patterm.

All this means multiple custom panels are required, which is very doable, but as each piece becomes specialized you’re getting less and less value out of the prefab system you’ve adopted.  Of course you can treat the panels as mere partitions and provide a separate system of columns and beams, but at that point the prefab panels are an aesthetic gimmick rather than a structural system, and you’ve abandoned the study’s premise of building out of one sustainable material as well as the authors fealty to Miesish “honest express of materials.”

Typically I’m completely for untethering conceptual models from practical constraints in order to move the creative process forward, but simply using materials in ways they weren’t intended and in ways they work poorly is not a creative achievement; you also must arrive at elegant ways to make the novel applications work.

Business Opportunities in Reading

I think it’s more evidence for Cheap Talk’s application of the binding constraint to the pricing of writing (usually free) that when an author can identify a desired class of readers (lefty professors and journalists) and verify they have read the work (force them to write reviews), they are willing to pay.  And I like the idea that Horowitz is as desperate for readers as your average blogger.

Orszagatron Comics Released!

Superhero webmaster Ethical Werewolf releases Captain Ineffective poking fun at the health care process generally and Max Baucus specifically.  I’m all for that, but hope future comics will do more to feature android-Orszag fighting evil with…graphs?  Charts?  Really sharp graphs?

The Left Hand of Feminism

When an article begins with the line “Modern women are turning their husbands into ‘male-female hybrids’…”, it really needs to be about an evil Doctress Frankenstein creating genetic monstrosities beyond the wildest dreams of Ursula Le Guin.

Very disappointing to find out that the problem’s just that the women are all uppity and so now men also feel the need to clean in formal wear.

GQ Cleaner or Sex Fiend?

Very Baudrillard

“…the execs are aboard a pair of helicopters racing vertiginously 150 feet over collapsed buildings, desert-camouflage Humvees, and the muddy rivers that once cradled civilization. It’s like being plunged into the dense, dizzying pixels of an Xbox game.”

I can’t tell if this is a joke or if Wired writers just typically treat video games as their reference for reality.

The Rochdale Society of Equitabe Pioneers

I started reading this book on cooperative stores called “Cooperative Store” because some friends were tossing around ideas, and was surprised to find out that it’s actually a nicely republished book from 1867 about cooperative stores in England in the mid-1800s.  Clealry that’s going to be less useful to mine for information about the ins and outs of current coops — and really should teach me a lesson about odering books based on their titles and not bothering to read the descriptiont, as early this month I ended up with the cliffnotes to Malcolm X rather than the actual biography.  In any case, the founding statement of one of the first English cooperatives, The Rochdale Society of Equitabe Pioneers, is still right on:

  1. The erection of a store for provisions, groceries, and clothing materials;
  2. The building, or otherwise obtaining, of a number of houses, in which such members may dwell as shall find it easier or pleasanter to dwell together;
  3. The adoption of rules, agreed upon by the Society, for the assistance of such members as are out of employment, either on account of an unjust lowering of their wages, or from any other cause;
  4. The renting or possession of a farm, or several farms; likewise for the purpose of furnishing employment to such members as are out of work;
  5. The Society will use every endeavor to increase and to profitably employ its capital, to educate the children, and, above all, to advance the power and prosperity of the community.”

Redesign Deployment In Progress

Site’s going to be offline for a bit while I convert it to the new awesomeness.  Yes this is what I do after midnight on a Friday.  What can I say, I’m a sick human being.

In the interim, go watch this.

Update: And we’re back.  Still some issues to work out so we’ll stick with classic corbu for now.

Mind Sandwich Time

Regardless of our current political differences, I had a good experience with boy scouts.  But these kids make me jealous:YouTube Preview Image