Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Jewish Roots of Spock

It was so sad to hear that Leonard Nimoy passed away on Friday. His Spock is such a classic that he will forever be the icon of a perfect combination of logic and emotion. Many people from Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and NASA paid their tributes. Even President Obama issued a statement, “Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy… I love Spock.”

Nimoy’s great legacy certainly includes the Vulcan Salute – the universal sign for “Live long and prosper.” One thing I didn’t know is that Nimoy himself invented the famous gesture based on his childhood experience at the synagogue. The Priestly Blessing performed by Jewish Kohanim is with both hands, thumb to thumb in the same position, representing the Hebrew letter Shin (ש). Son of Orthodox Jewish immigrants from now Ukraine, Nimoy understood the unique value of minority culture. “My folks came to the US as immigrants, aliens, and became citizens. I was born in Boston, a citizen, went to Hollywood and became an alien.” He saw the need for Vulcans to have their own way to greet each other, and suggested this.

Now Zachary Quinto has taken over. Will he inject some gay elements into Spock as acknowledgment to another minority group?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Sheep/Goat/Ram vs. Cousins


Today is the first day of the “Yáng” year. The word “yáng” in Chinese may refer to several different animals in the Western sense, ranging from sheep, goat, ram, to even gazelle. Brits and Americans are both lost in translation. Actually this is not the only Chinese zodiac sign that would cause confusion. “Shŭ” can be rat or mouse, “Niú” can be ox, cow, or bull, and “Jī” can be chicken, rooster, cock, or hen…

The Chinese language may be vague in terms of animals. But when it comes to people, it’s extremely complex and specific. In English, all non-sibling relatives of the same generation are call “cousins,” while in Chinese there are 16 types of cousins. In the West, male relatives of the parents’ generation are all called “uncles” and females all “aunts.” But there are 15 types of uncles and as many as 21 types of aunts in a Chinese family, depending on whether the person is related to the mother or the father, as siblings or through marriage, older or younger.

This certainly reflects traditional Chinese family values, where extended family members are still closely connected and hierarchy is well respected. We can also understand this as a result of different worldviews. Western traditions focus more on the relationship between mankind and the outside world. The narrative of Western civilization is the story of man understanding nature with science and enhancing it with technology. Chinese traditions are more about relationships between people, and the civilization is better represented by social and cultural achievements. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century when “Mr. Sci” finally arrived in China. That’s why Western thinking tends to be more direct, simple, and objective, while Chinese culture is a bit ambiguous, sophisticated, and subjective.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Trending in 2014

ArchDaily released the top 20 “most read” articles of 2014. I have to say, it should be more like “most clicked” articles. People nowadays click on the links but won’t necessarily read what comes next, at least not reading in the traditional sense.

1. Frank Gehry Claims Today’s Architecture is (Mostly) “Pure Shit”
2. 21 Rules for a Successful Life in Architecture
3. Four Ways to Learn About Architecture For Free
4. An App That Draws Impressively Accurate Floor Plans In Minutes
5. Does Italy Have Way Too Many Architects? (The Ratio of Architects to Inhabitants Around the World)
6. See all 1,715 Entries to the Guggenheim Helsinki Competition Online
7. Want to Land a Job at One of the Top 50 Architecture Firms? Here Are the Skills You Need to Have…
8. Free CAD Files of 241 Major World Cities
9. And the Best US Architecture Schools for 2015 Are…
10. From Friends to Frasier: 13 Famous TV Shows Rendered in Plan
11. Europe’s Top 100 Schools of Architecture and Design
12. Introducing “Potty-Girl,” The Architect of the Future?
13. 40 Architecture Docs to Watch In 2014
14. Interactive Infographic: How Much do Architecture Graduates Earn?
15. 6 Finalists Revealed in Guggenheim Helsinki Competition
16. The 9 Most Controversial Buildings of All Time
17. The World’s 10 Tallest New Buildings of 2015
18. 25 Free Architecture Books You Can Read Online
19. Norman Foster-Designed Scheme Aims to Transform London into “Cycling Utopia”
20. Hamburg’s Plan to Eliminate Cars in 20 Years

It’s sad to see what ended up being THE most visited page on ArchDaily last year. I don’t know whether it was “Frank Gehry” or “Pure Shit” or the middle finger picture that drew all the attention. But none of these deserved to be the most interesting topic in architecture. Not some showy rhetoric or gesture of some yesterday star for sure. There are more important present issues – the ones in the back of the list for example. Instead of talking about that middle finger, architects should spend more time coming up with more site-specific solutions, better glass façade details, or at least making sure their buildings don’t leak or don’t burn the neighbors.

Maybe architects these days are just a bit too anxious. They want to know the rules of success (2), get into the top 50 firms (7), and learn their craft for free (3). All these “tips” smell like shortcuts. I guess this happens especially when economy is bad and the profession is not respected well enough (5, 14).

Guggenheim Helsinki was definitely the most talked about competition of the year. A record number of 1,715 entries made it the most popular architectural competition of all time. I am glad to see the link to all the entries (6) attracted more page views than the 6 finalists (15) – it feels more grassroots this way. Some people condemned the competition as the biggest collective waste of time as a profession. But I guess in this economic downturn, that’s something we could only do. What really troubled me was the general lack of creativity and imagination in the proposals. You had all the time and energy to dream big, but the results were mostly either boring boxes or flamboyant forms with no meaning. There were no insights, no visions.

There are still some interesting and refreshing stories in the list: a thorough profile of a humble public servant (12), a list of controversial buildings (16) although it’s not so comprehensive (things like the Crystal Palace, Centre Pompidou, and CCTV are not in it), a good list of cinematic portrayals of architecture (13), and a somewhat nerdy but intriguing survey of architecture in TV shows (10). At least some gems in the exploding pile of rapid information.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year New Start

2014 was a busy year – not much time left for thorough thinking and writing.
2015 New Year’s resolution #1: resume my Scribbles activities!

Happy 2015 everyone!