Tuesday, July 10, 2012

ESRG Update - July 2012


Work continues with Ward Cunningham, Yodan Rofe' and other colleagues on new developments of pattern languages, through our host NGO, Sustasis Foundation.  Yodan and other colleagues are working now on a repository for existing patterns in the built environment, modeled after the successful ones in software, with Ward advising.  We are also exploring new platforms for patterns, including Ward's exciting new "Smallest Federated Wiki" project -- a new generation of wiki that is based on the Git open source model of Linus Torvalds (architect of the Linux system).  (By coincidence they are both here in Portland.) 

I also presented some of this work briefly at the CNU congress in Florida with Bruce Donnelly and others on Friday.  (In partnership with Sandy Sorlien and her work on new modules for Andres Duany's SmartCode, which is open-source.)  My presentation was actually done remotely, since I had a conflict here in Portland - I understand this was a first for the CNU!  It seemed to go well.  This included work on the "generative module" for the SmartCode, which has developed to the point that we feel the next step is an actual project somewhere -- we are working on that.


Colleague Dick Jackson was also at the CNU in Florida (as were Audun Engh, Emily Talen and others) and Dick will be here in Portland in June -- we will do a symposium together, and he will speak at several venues.  There are also plans for us to meet with Steve Kellert and Renato Troncon at Yale in the fall, for the launch of Steve's new initiative, a biophilia institute based there.  This will be in part a follow-up of our meeting last fall in Rome and Cesena, to develop new work at the intersection of biophilia, evidence-based design and pattern languages. (Renato is developing a parallel European funding application also.) I think these are very promising developments.

Related to their work is work I have been doing on "metabolic networks" and the possible relationship between Jacobs' "knowledge spillovers" and what might be called "resource spillovers" - and I am exploring this with Strathclyde colleagues in relation to pedestrian networks, and others.  See e.g. http://mehaffy.posterous.com/the-jacobs-spillover-as-a-model-of-urban-dyna (working paper presented at ASU/SFI/UCL symposium last fall) and a version for more popular consumption in The Atlantic online magazine, http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2012/02/real-reason-cities-can-be-so-much-greener-other-places/1293/ 

Though the connection might not be as obvious, I think there is a connection to pattern languages, morphogenetic processes, self-organizing networks and scaling or power law phenomena, which are all common themes of ESRG collaborators' work.


Speaking of our colleagues at Strathclyde, they will be hosting a conference of the International Association of People-Environment Studies (IAPS) June 24-29 - we hope some can attend!  (The website is at http://www.iaps2012.org.uk/Glasgow.aspx)  Collaborative work there also continues in walkable urban networks and plot-based urbanism, led by colleague Sergio Porta.  This also has a growing collaborative link with Chris Alexander's work.


Speaking of Chris, he and Colleague Hajo Neis are just about to finish a several-decades book project on the development process, calling attention to some fundamental distinctions in what we might think of as the "operating system" for growth (the "Battle" project).   Chris argues that the current "operating system" is fundamentally different from another, older one, from which we must now learn some crucial lessons.  The immediate subject is a case study of a project that Chris and Hajo did together (the Eishin School in Japan), but the argument is that the lessons are much wider.

We have also been discussing our Sustasis and ESRG work, and we developed a draft proposal for resuming work on morphogenetic software algorithms (a project Chris was involved in a few years back, when I was working with him in England).  Following that, I contacted our old colleague Koen Steemers at Cambridge, who confirmed he is very interested in exploring this.  It would probably be an EPSRC application (which I have been told would be a strong candidate).  We hope Ward will be able to advise, and other colleagues might be involved.  More as this develops...

We are pushing hard to use Sustasis Foundation as a  better platform for these collaborations, we hope with some more funding (it is increasing modestly) , and possibly a stronger institutional affiliation somewhere.  We will keep working on this, and on a number of pretty exciting possibilities now in development.  More on this too as it develops.  Again, there are some great synergies between the subjects of development, and the key people in this remarkable group, so I will continue to facilitate as best I can. 


Several conferences, symposia and workshops are in the early stages of organization -- I will share them when ready.  (And please let me know any you would like to share.)

Several publications are also in the works.  In addition to Chris Alexander's and Hajo Neis' previously mentioned book, Sergio Porta's book on "Alterations in Scale" is continuing in development (the radical change of the last century, and its consequences for pedestrian network structure and urban evolution).  Paul Murrain is developing a book on connective urban patterns, which sounds terrific.  Sustasis Foundation is organizing its own in-house publication capability, with several publications planned (including previous publications with Nikos Salingaros and others). Colleagues Stephen Marshall and Olgu Caliskan published a special edition of Built Environment a few months ago, on "urban morphology and design" - I contributed a paper on morphogenetic design processes, and a distinction between those strategies that are used for mere aesthetic expressions, and those that are used to engage deeper process of morphology -- with implications for the generated structure that I compared to Chris Alexander's argument in City is Not a Tree.

One last note, somewhat related  -- the architect Peter Buchanan wrote a high-profile essay recently in Architectural Review (UK), which discussed Chris Alexander's work, and other concepts of what we might call "natural morphogenesis" - it's nice to see these ideas reflected in a more mainstream architectural discourse, where, among "gee-whiz" ideas of morphogenesis as aesthetic adventures, deeper questions have been mostly ignored.  http://www.architectural-review.com/the-big-rethink/the-big-rethink-transcend-and-include-the-past/8629373.article?blocktitle=Towards-a-Complete-Architecture&contentID=4950

Please email me if you have any other things to share with colleagues!  Michael Mehaffy - at the gmail domain.


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