August 2010


It is astonishing how car-dependent American culture is. I bet we all heard this before, knew it from lectures at schools, etc. but you can never realize the extent of it, till you feel it.

In this paradigm, you cannot possibly get more European than I am. I DO NOT have a car and I do not intend to buy one. I WALK across campus or, at most, ride a bike. I live ACROSS THE ROAD (highway) from my department and at a 10 min walking distance away from what we here call “The Downtown” (a junction in the middle of the town, in fact with bars on four corners). If I need to go outside town I’ll use PUBLIC TRANSPORT (wow!).

The majority of people drives to work/school/grocery. Being a town of around 40,000 people Blacksburg suffers from traffic jams (!).

The most amazing effect this has on planning that I have seen, are the clusters of autonomous supermarkets, laced by roads and without any opportunity for pedestrian traffic at all. Being on one side of the road I cannot cross to the other. I see the shop – it’s right there, across the road! – but the road is some 10-12 lanes (!) across and there is NO way I can cross it. This implies that if you don’t have a car and get caught up on one side of the road, you will die of hunger – you simply will not be able to reach the shop on the other side! Needless to say, at night these “supermarket-towns” become dimply lit, silent ghost towns.

Supermarket-towns can exist anywhere. They are geographically unrelated to nothing – neither terrain, nor residential complexes, nor businesses. They just are there. They exist by themselves and their strength is in numbers – the more shops in a cluster – the better. A delirious drive-in world.

If you drive in Europe and see a cluster of supermarkets along the way you know they must signify the outskirts of a town. You know, that behind the “belt of supermarkets” there will be a belt of suburbs, followed consequently by other belts, usually growing in density and culminating in the Downtown. In the US, however, if you see a cluster of supermarkets it means nothing. You ride through it, wondering what town you’re in, but after a short while you realize that there is no town… Those are simply supermarkets. And that’s it.

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I observe, that for the majority of Americans New York is just as far away and is surrounded by approximately as much “mystery” and “unreachableness” as for us, Europeans. The only difference is that they actually live in the same country, where New York is situated, but that’s that. To get to places is relatively expensive and flying to NY from Roanoke is not substantially cheaper than from London. It’s interesting, especially with my “Estonian” (arguable, but partially true) mentality, to observe how big a country could be and how big can distances be within a single country. For a resident of Virginia, California is just as distant of a “land”, as Italy for an Estonian.

This quite messy post is a reaction to the discussion of parametric design and computational methods in design and engineering with my roommate – an aerospace engineer..

Progressive architecture is pretty much engaged with higher mathematics and geometry (check out the geometry, space, structure blog). In fact, this has always been the case – architecture has constantly been engaged with what was then “higher” mathematics and geometry. However, we might argue that now this engagement has entered a completely different level. Architecture is a way of thinking and a way of interpreting the 3D world. Therefore, it could be applied to all sorts of fields..

Where are the breakthroughs? ¬†Burning water! Breakthroughs in engines and energy. A new type of engine, using synthesis/harvesting energy, as a contrast to the combustion engine, which uses destruction – explosion – as a main principle, and still looses 60% of all its produce. You can upgrade the combustion engine as much as you want, but it is still a combustion engine, still using oil as major fuel source, still remarkably ineffective. Where is the breakthrough? A mystery of the UFO engine remains. How do UFOs fly? (even, if there is no thing as a UFO), how do they fly without emissions and noise? How do you make things fly without emissions or noise? What type of energy do they use and how? How can this energy be used to power cities? Would it enable us to build energy-plants in cities’ downtowns without any harm or danger? The Tesla coil effect? What else?

Structural optimization. When do we start to see architecture structured according to these principled on a massive scale? It is better – why don’t we use it then?

In the computer world, you can increase the Gb RAM as  much as you want, but it is still the good old microchip.. No revolution. We need a revolutionary new technology to actually evolve further.

A life-long question of revolution vs. evolution? Which one is predominant?

Well, we’ll see…