Monthly Archives: May 2009

What Is In the Dead Center of Your Town?

What is left of the past in our cities? – Of course there are exceptions, but many old monuments in our cities deal with human religious or metaphysical needs.  Many towns and villages have their holy places in the center, be it temples, shrines, churches, mosques, or stupas. Of course, there are the really special cases, such as the Pyramids or Macchu Picchu. The list is endless. These buildings remind us of what was important at the time they were built.

Helsinki Cathedral, downtown Helsinki. Constructed 1830-1850

Helsinki Cathedral, downtown Helsinki, Finland. Constructed 1830-1850

What do we build today in our city centers? Take a moment to think about the latest building projects in your community. What are the central monuments of our time?

Secular times have given rise to secular monuments. The last years before the financial crisis hanba followed the rise of malls all over the Western world with reservation. The malls seem to be the modern monuments. They have been given the best real-estate in the middle of our cities. Our cities! The centers of our cities have great cultural importance. The buildings we erect in the middle of our cities have a great impact our daily practical lives, our social lives, our cultural, spiritual and metaphysical needs.

Kamppi Mall, downtown Helsinki. Constructed 2002-2006 (also serves as a subway/bus station)

Kamppi Mall, downtown Helsinki, Finland. Constructed 2002-2006 (also serves as a subway/bus station)

The malls are where many of us congregate in busy days, both weekdays and weekends. To escape the elements, the citizens take cover under air-conditioned walkway plazas, perhaps indulging in a refreshing smoothie. When in need of reassurance, a modern citizen may buy a new sweater. A great example is  Hiroyuki Miyake’s ice cream parlour in Tokyo. Here, the ice cream experience has been upgraded into something solemn, meditative. Do not get me wrong, while I do not condemn consumerism as such, I oppose placing the shopping experience to a pedestal – upgrading commercial transactions into  sacraments. Having said that, however, I do not think we should build any more mastodont cathedrals either.

What to build then? All the suffering aside, the financial crisis may make us think more about this very question. The mall era, I believe, has come to an end ( hanba is not the only one to have this view.) I don’t know what kind of places we revere after the crisis. I don’t know how our future holy places will look like, but I think it will be something different. -What do you think?

Ps 1. Writing this, I am reminded of a recent review of a new Westfield mall in London, England by William Wiles IconEye 19/12/2008

“Maybe Westfield will prosper, draining money and life out of the surrounding boroughs. It could be the shape of things to come, an air-con, CCTV-covered future where we swan about amassing Nectar points on our ID cards. Or, alternatively, it could be a dinosaur with the poor luck to be born after the asteroid strike. Westfield’s timing, of course, could not have been worse, with the UK already in recession and joblessness soaring. We’re not likely to see another debt-driven retail boom like the one that birthed this beast any time soon”
Ps2. Check out the next hanba post, tropicalizing a city, where a vision for post-mall urbanism is discussed.

What To Read Over a Morning Coffee?

Hanba is new to blogging. Actually, hanba has only recently really discovered the internet. It all happened as a reaction to my morning newspaper. One morning, reading a 13-page special about a particular celebrity engagement, I had had it. Why do I pay for this garbage? The papers feed us a narrow world view defined by the corporate interests, targeted towards the “baby-boomer generation” (=people born in the 1940’s) and propaganda. This the papers do, even though they could be discussing every possible view and perspective in the world, with only the sky as a limit.

Reading things on the net is difficult, as you have to wade through an infinite volume of material. Some of which is good, most of which is not. Finding your links and networks, however, is a dynamic, interesting and social process. There is so much creativity and talent out there! Talent not bound by agency policies, or the views of the advertisers. Articles not written by people sitting on a certain position in a publishing company; a position that allows them to write whatever the “cat dragged in” and have it be considered good journalism. (I am sure this exists on the net too, but I believe the net readers are quicker to change from a source to another, should the creativity fail. ) The only regret I have with terminating my newspaper subscription is that I did not do it sooner. I am enjoying following this shift from newspapers to the net media.

There’s a book lying around in our apartment; Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. It will be the next book I’ll read. The book describes the collective media and how its role will be increasingly important in the future. The old word of mouth, or “the jungle drum” is back, only in a more global sense.

Shirky calls each individual blogger a media outlet. Hear that, I can be a media outlet! I am allowed to say things about architecture and literature, which are fields I have a passion for, but no formal education in. In the old world, my articles would never have been published in the newspapers, since I am not “an authority within the field”. While having a PhD may mean a person has knowledge and understanding about a subject, it does not mean that university studies is the only way to end up with interesting things to say. More importantly, wanting to communicate with people about books and buildings does not mean I desire to be an “authority within a field”, I just like to jot down thoughts and enjoy a nice chat with a stranger. It’s more relaxed this way.

I never liked Andy Warhol or his populistic, kitschy posters and ketchup boxes. I never got the fuss around his “fifteen minutes of fame”. If this is it, however, I may have begun to soften up for him.

Sartre and the Bailouts

I remember reading Sartre’s The Reprieve, greatly appreciating the ways the author described the imminence of the Second World War. At first, people in the west live on, seemingly unaffected by their fellow countrymen. Then a whirlwind – the imminence of war – takes over, influencing everyone throughout Europe. A random flower shop dealer suddenly goes out of business, because nobody buys roses anymore . People join the army and get transported to distant places. The looming war makes the people’s destinies converge. Not only the novel’s characters’ destinies, but also the destinies of everyone in Europe.

Similarly, I find it interesting to hear stories of the financial crisis. How it has affected people all over, binding the people together. It links Latvian teachers on the government payroll to the suddenly impoverished Icelandic middle class. A Spanish engineer decides to be a housewife, all the while the housing prices crumble in Detroit.

The word “to reprieve” means “to delay punishment” or “to relieve for a time”. In Sartre’s novel, the reprieve refers to the big European countries giving the Czech Sudetenland over to the Nazi regime, trying thus to avoid a war in Europe. Everyone knows how that venture ended.  It will be interesting to see how all the numerous bailouts will be viewed in the eyes of history. As a quick, swift ad hoc that saved the post-WW2 economical theories? Or as a pitiful attempt to stop a mighty paradigm-shifting whirlwind?

Either way, we are living in interesting times.

Virtual Or Real Taj Mahal?

The Taj Mahal, Agra (source: wili_hybrid)

The Taj Mahal, Agra (source: wili_hybrid)

Once, sitting on a bench by the Taj Mahal while waiting for the sunset to kick in, hanba dissected the experience she was busy having. The monument and the landscape surrounding it were spectacular indeed. Sharing the monument with thousands of people, however, was not entirely pleasant. Endless touts pushing expensive paraphrenalia. Pickpockets, classes of school children, numerous khaki-wearing tourists, gold-diggers. Hundreds of people queuing to get the shot of the Taj with the lake in the foreground.

Walking around the area and sitting on the bench, waiting for the sunset, hanba wished the “Taj crowd” would disappear for just ten minutes. It was hard to concentrate, to meditate on the building, amongst all the hustle. This made hanba wonder if the people in the future may prefer a virtual tour of the Taj instead? Here I do not mean just a computer-screen experience; maybe we can create  a “3D-helmet” that gives us a complete spatial experience together with smells and sounds. Or maybe, in the future, we can look at the Taj on a Star Trek style holodeck?

Many people would automatically give the real experience more value than the virtual.  However, it can be questioned if the tout-laden business venture the monument has become can be defined as “real” either. Perhaps the solemnity of this tombstone monument can be better appreciated alone, without the hustle?

Given the chance, we would probably want to see the monument in a natural state. This, however, is impossible. The world has an ever growing number of citizens, many of whom want to travel to the great monuments of civilization.  A single individual cannot see the monuments in an entirely natural state.  In both the “real” and virtual cases, we are bound to be fed an experience provided by business entrepreneurs. It is best to drop the illusion of a “natural state” and make the best of it. Be it the tout-laden reality or the calm but virtual experience.

Hanba is big on lists. Here’s yet another, comparing the benefits of a “real” vs virtual Taj experience:

“Real”

  • The chance gets a greater role. Perhaps you talk to a stranger and end up having an interesting conversation.
  • You get to experience the culture around the monument, not just the building.
  • You get to see the aging of the monument, which is an important part of the real experience. You get the latest decay update.
  • The weather conditions will vary; you will get a unique experience based on the weather.
  • You support the local enterprises.
  • The real experience is the “default”. It is hard to say you have experienced the monument in today’s world if you have not been there physically.

Virtual

  • You will not be disturbed, you will be able to focus.
  • It is cheaper than traveling all the way to the monument (this is also better for the environment).
  • While with the virtual tour may not give you a the cultural experience, your architectural experience may be stronger.
  • You will skip the ugly feeling of being exploited by the touts.
  • The net generation is accustomed to seeing virtual, 3D images since childhood. A virtual tour of the Taj can hardly be considered revolutionary for this generation. Furthermore, this generation may not have the same predilection for “real” things that the previous generations have had. In the future, virtual may be the default over the “real”.

When the sun finally set behind the Taj, the wind was soft. The clouds covered most of the vivid colors, but it was still a very beautiful sunset. Flashlights were busy, and  the surrounding tourists were chattering. Tea and bisquits were being sold. Afterwards, all the tourists all headed out to the city at once.

Financial advice?

When it comes to financial advice, whom to trust in these turbulent times? Many people agree that bad financial advice was a leading cause to the whole financial crisis.

Hanba has found a friendly money-saving expert, Nelly. He has several good ideas and even gives personalized service. The service is free of charge, but if you like the advice, it is possible to give a tip.

http://asknelly.org/

Ps. hanba can recommend blogging for anyone wanting to save money… Reading and writing blogs is a very cheap hobby!

Self-esteem

How are things with your self-esteem? Do you value, love and appreciate yourself? Hanba finds self-esteem a difficult topic to talk about, partially because there are several definitions to it. Furthermore, it is somewhat of a taboo; “only losers talk about self-esteem!” I don’t want to be labeled a looser so I let everyone know I have an excellent self-esteem throughout my life. No need to discuss it!

While some people may indeed have excellent, static self-esteem that does not change over time, for the most of us, self-esteem is more or less a fluctuating concept. It changes with all the changes in life. To an athlete, for example, a knee injury may cause great damage to self- esteem, if he is no longer able to perform as usual. Self-esteem is a freshware. It doesn’t help if you have once had it but now lost it.

Life presents situations to us, some of which we perceive as positive, others negative. Some of them will test our self-esteem. Depending on the strength of the self-esteem, however, the situations can feel difficult or easier to cope with.

Recently, hanba has come across a method that can help anybody struggling with their relationship to themselves: start writing an  “I am good-book”.  – Now, before you turn away and tell hanba to cut the crap, just please listen to the end of this story.

Surely, there are no Six Simple Steps to Success, and the rhetorics of many self-help techniques, including this one, can undoubtedly be described as cheesy. Nevertheless, this method is very simple, and does not require much effort. So why not try it out before you pass judgement:

Keep a small notepad next to your bed. Each night, before you go to bed, write at least three good things about yourself. For instance: was creative today. Was friendly to a stranger. Was brave.

At first, this may be difficult and may feel like you are lying. It does not, however, take long to get a hang of the method. It also does not take long to get to see the results.

It is adviseable not to write things like, ‘today I managed to do a hundred push-ups.’  Do not write about your achievements, write about your characteristics, your properties. In short, write about that which IS you, not what you have accomplished.

Will this method not turn you into an asshole? Cocky jerk with an oversize ego? – No, since an oversize ego often has its roots in low self-esteem, not high. If you have a good, healthy self-esteem, you do not need to shout your excellence to the world at the top of your lungs. Self-esteem is not the same thing as ego.

Just try it out for a week or so. Hanba has been doing this for a couple of weeks now, and is amazed at the results.

These thoughts are not hanba’s own, but have been introduced to her by an author named Mia Tornblom.

project freedom / untitled #2

Hanba and her friends have recently attempted to produce art. This in order to get some extra income from random art scholarships… Here are the results, check it out! Now we’re just waiting for the cash to roll in.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrtnkllsn/sets/72157618354499396/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/jneilson23/sets/72157618271944617/