Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


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?


High Heel History

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

High heels are the symbol of sexy, at least to many men and women, but it's also killer on one's feet. I've never been much for them, but they do have psychological effects on its wearer, be it man or woman.

A 17th century Persian riding shoe kept a man’s foot in his stirrups—and influenced European menswear.(© 2015 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada (photo: Ron Wood)) via Quartz

Did you know historically, men and women wore heels? This Quartz article notes:
...some 2,000 years ago male Greco-Roman actors wore thick, cork-soled platforms to exaggerate their heights as they portrayed gods and royalty, bringing to mind the more recent adage, “the higher the heel, the closer to God.”
Persian cavalrymen brought heels into the West in the last millennia, influencing 16th century Venice. Venitians then took this heel and created chopines that ranged from 6 to 20 inches (!) King Louis  XIV also enjoyed a silk covered heel.

But now, the heel is mostly a feminine fashion accessory and one that's starting to separate us, as my friend Meghan Cleary notes in her Boston Globe article. What was once something to be proud of, is something that's now forced on the female of the species. In response, wearing flats is now seen as an act of resistance.
“It may seem somewhat overblown to declare the seemingly trivial act of wearing flats to a formal event as an act of resistance, but the potential impact is truly significant. After all, it’s not that long ago that women were forbidden from wearing pants in public,” says Juliet Williams, an associate professor of gender studies and associate dean of social sciences at UCLA. “By this logic, the expectation (if not formal compulsion) that women wear high heels may be seen as one more shackle that needs to be cast off if women are ever to truly compete, toe-to-comfortable-toe, with men.”
Isn't it strange that what was once an accessory that brought us closer to God has become a chain around the female ankle? It is after all just a heel, but what symbolism it carries depending on its context. So the next time you try on a pair at a department store, think about the message you're telegraphing to your public.


Manila then and now

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Famed Manila tour guide, artist and provocateur Carlos Celdran once commented to me that Manila is "sincere and it's real. It's not the most gorgeous city in the world. World War II, poverty and mass commercialization have eroded much of it's charm. But the city is very open. Love it or leave it. Manila won't give you an apology. It's appeal isn't easily revealed but if you can't find beauty and poetry here, you won't find it anywhere."

It's hard for me to imagine a Manila that is the Pearl of the Pacific. All I saw of Manila was its grunginess, its dirt, the consequences of something as far removed from my lifetime as World War II. This Google Cultural Institute tour does a lot to remind me that this city that I've called home for three decades once held so much beauty and promise--and it can once again be that. Its photos capture more of the city's lost legacy of grand architecture than words can. So, in anticipation of the Philippines' "Independence Day" from the Americans this July 4th, here's a good overview of Manila way back when and now.

 Google Institute Tour of Manila

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