Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


A Life Lesson from Bill Cunningham

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Bill Cunningham at Fashion Week photographed by Jiyang Chen via Wikipedia

Bill Cunningham died a few weeks ago. I never knew the man, only of him, but nevertheless his life is a one lesson in the most difficult challenge of all: staying true to who you are.

Everyone knows Bill took photographs. He photographed socialites, downtown kids, street dancers. He trained his 35-millimeter camera, put his energies on something everyone had previously dismissed, and became a voice in fashion.

But I didn’t particularly care what he took photos of, I cared about the manner in which he did it: in uniform. Donning a blue French worker’s jacket, khaki pants, and black sneakers day after day, he chased after his images, often astride a bicycle.

He wasn’t a Chase Jarvis, the century’s poster boy of success in photography. (Jarvis is a photographer turned entrepreneur who worked with name brands, wields an impressive online platform and has a web series to his name.) He was simply Bill, a man who slept in a single-size cot and, until 2010, showered in a shared bathroom, and then went out on the streets to photograph.
He went about his business and he did it, in Frank Sinatra’s immortal words, his way, without any excuses about his looks or his taste in clothing.

It was a bold choice, at least in my eyes.

Image is at such a premium nowadays. Celebrities have stylists that ensure every piece of clothing they wear telegraphs the right message. Us regular folks have to settle for our best friend’s opinion. All of us browse magazines and websites to make sure each accessory, piece of clothing, even the way our hair is coifed all contribute to a visual of what we want people to think we are. Bill, it seemed, was above all that. He just was.

Perhaps that is the quality that drew most people to him. His integrity. He lived a life without doubt. He lived with the utmost courage to be himself. He was a puzzle, shooting beautiful, interesting, aha people without himself wanting to be them.

Bill will most likely be most remembered for his photographs, his yearbook of New Yorkers on the streets, but his most important lesson for me was his steadfastness in being himself, in what made him happiest.

If only more people would be so wise.


The Longest Shortest Time

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

I've been incommunicado for many months now. Those who know me well know it's because I've entered into a new chapter of my life: motherhood. While it hasn't been all rainbows and roses, the experience, as many harrowing ones often do, has taught me a lot about myself and my own capacity as a human being.

Being a parent, especially in the early days, is very, very, very difficult. Now, when I see moms and dads in the park or in the grocery, I silently think, "What heroes, they all are." The experience isn't always pretty either. In fact, it's probably 87% not pretty, but we're surviving anyway.

One way we do that is by finding a community of people that will remind us that it's okay not to be picture perfect. I've been fortunate enough to find that in the actual real, people friends I've made, the mommy groups I've joined, but also this amazing podcast that will re-launch in January.

Those who need a dose of reality in parenting, tune in to: the Longest Shortest Time, "a bedside companion for parents who want to hear in the middle of the night (or day—what’s the difference, really?) that they are not alone." It's a show that's featured single motherhood, a mom who has an unusual way of putting her child to bed, one about the emotional pitfalls of breastfeeding. The show is real in a way that not many parenting outlets are. There is no judgement (which is refreshing as well.)

via the Longest Shortest Time
One of my favorite episodes is this one with 99% Invisible's Roman Mars, talking about raising twin boys. He says of the experience, "Being a parent of multiples is like the worst thing that can happen to you that you wouldn't wish away if you had a wish you could wish away. It's that hard but you'd never want it to be different." Even if you're not raising twins, I bet it feels that way too.

To this, the show's creator Hilary Frank writes, "Motherhood is not always giggles and hand-clapping and learning to walk. But things do change and often they get better. And the things you’re going through, even if they’re not in the books, they happen to other people, too. In this blog and podcast you can hear other moms—and sometimes dads—tell stories about their longest shortest times. And maybe, in your darkest hours (both literally and figuratively), you’ll hear a voice that reminds you that this part is only the beginning of the rest of your life with your new little person."

Read to the show's dramatic beginnings and listen to the podcast.


Boring Streets Breed Unhappiness

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

While walking Los Angeles (and other cities), I often take time to think about how I'm reacting to the city around me. Even in L.A., different neighborhoods leave me feeling happy and energized or listless and bored.

Here's a great piece on Aeon about just how different street designs can affect the people that make use of it. Truly great streets really enhance our lives both physically and even mentally. Here's what Aeon has to say:

Merrifield and Danckert suggest that exposure to even a brief, boring experience is sufficient to change the brain and body’s chemistry in such a way as to generate stress. It might seem extreme to say that a brief encounter with a boring building could be seriously hazardous to one’s health, but what about the cumulative effects of immersion, day after day, in the same oppressively dull surroundings?
This question has long interested psychologists, especially after the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb’s discovery in 1962 that rats who lived in enriched, more stimulating environments were markedly superior intellectual beings to laboratory rats living in more spartan surroundings. Hebb’s enriched rats could solve more complicated maze problems in shorter times than their less-fortunate labmates. Later work carried out by the psychologist Mark Rosenzweig at the University of California at Berkeley showed that such enriched rats were not only superior performers, they also had a thicker neocortex with more richly developed synaptic connections between brain cells. The brain mechanisms responsible for the enrichment effects discovered by Hebb, Rosenzweig and many other researchers are so fundamental that it would be extraordinary if these principles did not apply to us as well.
Next time you're out for a stroll, see how you're feeling.


This grocery for ugly food is good for us

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

The world will be a hungry one come 2050, so the myth goes, says Jonathan Foley over at Ensia. Foley says that the myth usually goes like this: The world’s population will grow to 9 billion by mid-century, putting substantial demands on the planet’s food supply. To meet these growing demands, we will need to grow almost twice as much food by 2050 as we do today. And that means we’ll need to use genetically modified crops and other advanced technologies to produce this additional food. It’s a race to feed the world, and we had better get started.

Foley says this myth is just that, a solution created when all the information is not yet available. By doing simple math, he points out that we would only need an increase of 28 percent in food production to meet future food needs. The reason why we would require double is because of increased demand from developing countries such as China and India.

While the prospect of increased world hunger is frightening, the answer isn't in GMOs. It's changing our diets to be less meat-intensive. It's decreasing food waste. There is more than one solution.

Noemi Sosa shops at Daily Table, a nonprofit supermarket in Dorchester, Mass. Jesse Costa/WBUR
One of the most exciting for me is this one from Trader Joe's ex-president, who opened a store that sells aging food and cheap meals. Why would anyone want to buy there? Because "it's selling canned vegetables two for $1 and a dozen eggs for 99 cents. Potatoes are 49 cents a pound. Bananas are 29 cents a pound."

It's food donated by donated by food wholesalers and markets. It's all perfectly good food, just that it's not pretty, it's getting too ripe, or any of the myriad of reasons why food doesn't get on the grocery stall. Rather than land in the dumpster, this food is getting to where it will be appreciated.

Good news to me, you?


Navigating without street names

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Making your way around the Philippines is a crazy prospect sometimes. We have street names, but often they've been changed into something else by another government altogether. Lots of streets were formerly named something else. Not only that, but little alleyways and one-way areas, make tourists vulnerable to tickets from cops and makes Google maps practically useless. Friends rely more on apps such as Waze to get around.

Apparently, the Philippines isn't the only place with such a freeflowing concept of direction. Beirut and India share the same DNA, according to the Guardian.

The crowded cityscape of Beirut: ‘There’s usually a very clear order; you just have to understand it.’ Photograph: Karim Mostafa
As a result residents like Bahi Ghubril has created what is basically a crowdsourced Google maps, culled from government data and on the street conversations:

Ghubril went around each neighbourhood in the city systematically, from Dahiyeh in the south to Dbaye on the eastern coast. His first stop, he says, was always the municipal office collecting taxes and fees from local businesses, since they would know the names of all landmarks. 
“Then I continued, asking shopkeepers and people sitting on chairs on the pavements. 
Ten years later, imagine how many conversations have fed into the data we have.”
Ghubril’s wayfinding mission soon turned into Zawarib, a company taking its name from the Arabic word for narrow alleyways. It has grown to publish all kinds of atlases and maps – including coverage of Beirut’s NGOs and its informal bus network. 
“That data was already available from the ministry of transportation, but they never thought it would be useful,” Ghubril explains. “We mapped the buses – but then, of course, you have to find out exactly where to catch them.”
In India, "the notion of highly social and visual, relying on memory and experience. “Addresses are very particular, with detailed references and directions like ‘nearby’, ‘opposite’ and ‘in between’, because roads often have no signs.” Instead they tend to take creative, often literal, names like 'The Road with the Oak Tree.'"

It might be intimidating to navigate such streets, but I think it's also a bit enthralling. Unlike other predictable cities. These places serve as opportunities for adventure, for the city to tell you what has happened there. In a way, it's a more human way to navigate. Instead of cardinal directions, we orient ourselves based on the things around us: trees, billboards, distinctive buildings; stumbling onto little, precious city secrets like that wonderful takeout place, or that cute shop, along the way.

Read the Guardian article here.


Badjao architecture has to teach us about resilience

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

We normally look to academics and engineers to solve our problems in building during climate change, but this post from Arch Daily reminded me that some gems lie within.

Badjao child rowing near coast. Image © idome via Shutterstock

The Badjao are sea-living people. I grew up with their image in my brain thanks to a elementary civics class. Their homes on stilts seems fragile things in the face of the wide ocean that they choose to live within, but it turns out, their lifestyle has a lot of lessons to offer for those of us trying to figure out how to live within a new norm.

Temporary construction in Southeast Asian ocean. Image © asnida via Shutterstock
In the post, the writer points out how the Badjao build within nature's whims. Like Buddhists, they do not hold onto the concrete, but are willing to let go of their creations to rebuild again and again and again.

Most of us build to last for a lifetime, but what if, like the Badjao, we learn to accept that we are fragile against nature, and instead learn to live within its rhythms?

Read more about the Badjao architecture here.


Why Japanese bathrooms are awesome

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

The bathroom is the most intimate place I can think of, and the Japanese have surpassed expectations when it comes to its design. At first, I thought it was just toilets, but this adorable video shows me that Japanese people can be amazingly thoughtful when it comes to spaces and amenities. I'd love to have a bathroom like this in my home, wouldn't you?

Get updates via RSS