Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

3/20/2014

Shigeru Ban's apartment only has six pieces of furniture

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Whenever my parents visit my apartment, they always ask me when my husband and I intend to buy furniture. Our answer? "Maybe someday," which in my mind translates to "Never, if we can help it."

My husband and I have ascetic tendencies when it comes to our domestic environment. We believe in doing more with less, even when we're not forced by space constraints to be economical. When we moved into our new place, we deliberately made room for...well...room. We like our space, it turns out so does Shigeru Ban.

A CNN slideshow recently revealed the inside of Ban's apartment in Tokyo. "He lives with no objects at all except four chairs, a table and a simple bed," says curator Francesca Molteni. "It's just light and trees." Molteni has curated "Where Architects Live," an installation recreating the apartments of eight renowned designers like Zaha Hadid, David Chipperfield, and Daniel Liebskind for this year's Salone del Mobile.

Shigeru Ban's living room via Metropolis. Courtesy Hiroyuki Hirai.
Ban's apartment more severe than mine, but I can appreciate the calming effect of having almost no possessions in your home. In a world transfixed with objects, the spartan nature of his living quarters reminds me that there is more to life than having the most, collecting the best, or acquiring the finest. The most important things in life are often those beyond the material.



3/18/2014

Hooray For Easy-to-Read Parking Signs!

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

When you live in Los Angeles, the question you often need to ask yourself as you drive around the block for the Nth time is, "Can I park here?"

Last week, I was once again confronted with this question as I drove around the Santa Monica area. Parking meters were full and residential streets were inexplicably packed. I finally found a "magic" spot squeezed in the middle of metered parking and a parked car. The signs were stacked one on top of the other. There was even a directional arrow to further confuse things!

Filled with self-doubt, I checked out the cars in front and behind me to see whether they had permits. Not satisfied after my inspection, I finally ended up waiting in my car until the metered space in front of me opened up. Better safe than sorry.

If this drama of uncertainty has plagued you more than once, you're not alone. Designer Nikki Sylianteng has faced the same problems and has paid for it with parking fees. It's why she finally picked up and old grad school application portfolio project and refined it to her latest project "To Park or Not to Park" -- one that could potentially save a lot of drivers a sweet sum in parking fees.

"To Park or Not to Park" redesigns those byzantine parking signs designed to confuse into a clean, easy-to-read sign. From something like this:

via NYC DOT
Nikki has designed something like this:

Redesigned parking sign by Nikki Sylianteng
It's not a perfect system yet, which is why she needs your help. If you see one of these problem signs, take a photo and submit it to Nikki. She'll send you a revised version, which you can put up and test in your neighborhood. Or, simply submit to help her account for all the weird possibilities of parking signs. Either way, you'll be helping a lot of clueless drivers out. Our checkbooks will thank you.

Check out Nikki's latest re-designs over at "To Park or Not to Park."



3/10/2014

Risks worth taking

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

There's a romantic notion floating around that once you find your passion, you must drop everything to pursue it. I agree that finding one's passion is important, but one also has to be careful about getting to it.

Graffiti wall by  Risk MSK AWR, Bio TATS CRU, and Mear WCA CBS on Sunset Junction in Sunset Boulevard. More info here.
Artist and author Austin Kleon talks about his own decision making process. In it, he distinguishes between two different kinds of risks that often get conflated in search of one's passion.

What I’m trying to do is this: take less risks (or more calculated risks) in my life so that I can take more risks in my work. 
Risk in life is shooting heroin to see if it’ll make you more like Lou Reed. Risk in life is blowing your savings on an apartment in Paris so you can write The Great American Novel. Risk in life is quitting your job and losing your health insurance just so you can live some Mythical Art Life. 
Risk in work, on the other hand, is risking humiliation—risking putting your work out there, risking being wrong, risking being laughed at. Risk in work is writing something that scares the shit out of you, something that might make your mother not speak to you for three years. Risk in the work is following your whims to wherever they take you, to risk not knowing where you’re going, and risking that you’ll lose members of your audience along the way. 
These, I think, are the risks worth taking for art.
Read the rest of the post here. It's worth the explanation.

2/24/2014

Ruminating on Rituals

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

The word rituals implies a long, drawn-out affair filled with symbolism, but I've slowly come to realize that they can be simpler than that. They can be daily habits (like a good morning greeting or a simple text) that have taken on increased significance because of repetition.

It's my birthday today (or tomorrow) depending on where in the world you live. On that day, I expect no birthday cake or big celebration, but I will look forward to personal greetings from friends over text messages and phone calls.

A photo of my husband's birthday cake last year. Photo by: Carren Jao.
Earlier this morning, I even found myself smiling over my parents' customary "gift of prayer" greeting card. (For non-Catholics, it's basically a little card from a church that says they'll be praying for you over the course of a few masses.) My parents have been sending these gifts of prayer ever since I grew too old to be entertained by toys. It used to be something we siblings kid about, but then it's also something uniquely our family's.

Then, there are some rituals that aren't always here to stay, but will always be remembered. I'm talking about birthday misua, a Fujian noodle dish made with super long noodles that symbolize long life. Every year, since I was young, I was served a healthy helping of this filling dish filled with a variety of meats (shrimps, fish balls, chicken bits) and vegetables (Chinese cabbage, carrots and mushrooms) and topped with a single hard-boiled egg. I loathed the hard boiled egg because I felt my mouth dry up too much upon trying to chomp down on it, but I loved everything else about it.

A version of birthday misua via BlauEarth
Unfortunately, there are three reasons I can't get that dish anymore: I'm not a cook; that recipe takes too much preparation for me; and my mom only gets this birthday dish from one place in the world. I suppose I'll have to settle for half-remembered tastes of misua instead of the real thing.

Every milestone in life is filled with these little rituals--acts or objects that help us mark a moment in our life. It makes that day seem a little different from the rest of the 364 days that come before and after it. The city itself is filled with these rituals: annual festivals, beloved award shows, even simple ribbon-cutting ceremonies. It's the same concept writ larger.

What little rituals have you come to cherish?


2/19/2014

MapIt should have a mobile app

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

In cities, it's often the residents that know their neighborhoods the best. It's truth the Department of City Planning has acknowledged by soliciting feedback from residents themselves about the streets around them.


MapIt is a web-based app launched by city planning to address community concerns on zoning on a micro level. The launch is part of the agency's re:code LA, a move to update the city's 1946  zoning handbook with a web-based version that makes it easier to look up stuff and a unified downtown development code. Apparently the city's code was first an 84-page pamphlet that has now ballooned to 600+ pages of add-ons. 

While I love the idea of giving community input, MapIt could have been better with a mobile app version. How many times have you walked the streets only to spot something that you might want to change? Wouldn't that have been a great opportunity to write a quick report and send it to the right agency?

Some city apps have mobile components as UK's FixMyStreet, which make reporting pot holes, graffiti and fixing leaks on city streets that much easier. Users simply find the problem area on the map, enter details and then it sends the report to proper authorities.

Los Angeles also has a similar app called MyLA311, which uses the phones GPS to geotag a location. Based on ratings, the app works well, but the website doesn't provide resolution statistics such as FixMyStreets. I wonder, how many of these reports have been resolved? How fast are they attended to?

MapIt is a great start. The web-based app is at least clean and readable. It's also easy to sign up as a user, but if you are able to take the show on the road and capture your experience in real time, wouldn't that make it all the more satisfying? 

Here's me reporting one of my pet peeves while walking around Los Angeles residential neighborhoods. 
On MapIt's instruction page is a photo of the app on a mobile phone, which I take to mean it's available on your phone's browser too. But again, it's an additional step that can be trimmed away for faster, hassle-free reporting. 

In making tools for a community to use, the first rule is always to make it as easy as possible. The more you trim away the obstacles, the easier it'll be to convince more users. That was the power of Twitter's original super simple interface. That is still Instagram's photo-focused appeal. That's the kind of community tool I'd like to use.

2/07/2014

Where deer roam free

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

If you're a Bambi fan, then get thee to Nara, Japan. Just an hour's train ride away from Kyoto, Nara allows deer to roam free.

Deer crossing. Photo by: Carren Jao. 
Nara was on my list of places to go in Japan because where else can you see such a sight? The most I've seen of deer are glimpses of its antlers as it flees the hilltop scene, or those deer signs on the road.

In Nara, the deer are almost like pets. They approach any stranger looking for some food to eat. The locals tend to play with them and purchase biscuits from nearby vendors to entice them closer. Curiously, children and women seem a little frightened of the deer. Though they hold biscuits in their hands, the moment the deer steps close, many shriek (in delight?) and run away.

Showing the deer some respect. Photo by: Carren Jao.
Those with biscuits get all the attention. Photo by: Carren Jao. 
Selling deer food. Interestingly, the deer didn't harass the owner, but waited until someone bought biscuits and then approached the buyer instead. Photo by: Carren Jao. 
I confess to the same instincts as I neared one. I didn't have a biscuit in hand, which made me less of a target, but still, nearby signs told me deer can head butt or kick me at a moment's notice. Still, it's nice to be so close to the wildlife.

Curious deer inspecting the little boy's backpack. Photo by: Carren Jao. 
Nice smile you got there. Photo by: Carren Jao. 
Deer can bite, kick, butt, or knock you down. Beware. Photo by: Carren Jao. 

2/06/2014

Green tea everything, please

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Japan is known for many things (ramen, sushi, tofu), but the flavor I found myself obsessing about was green tea. They put in everything and it always tastes so good. Alternatively, you could have actual green tea and, like fancy coffee shops around the world, they offer varieties.

There are a ton of green tea types around the world, so when I tried to buy my mom some, I got to taste a few. My husband says he couldn't' taste the difference, but I could faintly. I could tell one was more caffeinated than another. I can't tell you what it was called though. I think green tea merits another research trip to Japan, don't you?

A mix of green tea and roasted tea ice cream. Photo by: Carren Jao. 
I think the Warabe Mochi had green tea in it too. Photo by: Carren Jao. 
My favorite Pocky find: green tea with an extra fat chocolate circumference. Photo by: Carren Jao.
Green tea bits on a chocolate crust. It sounds good, but I like the Pocky Midi better. Photo by: Carren Jao.
I thought it was green tea mochi with red bean paste. I think it was a rice flour with tea leaves instead. Photo by: Carren Jao. 
Beard Papa's green tea filled cream puff. Photo by: Carlos Pineda. 

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