As Rebecca Leber writes in The New Republic, with the winter games being held in Beijing, a naturally dry region, the city will have to create artificial snow. As she points out, “About four-fifths of China’s water supply is located in the south, but half of its population and two-thirds of its agriculture are in the north. That means China has already placed an unsustainable strain on its groundwater and aquifers.”
This is an incredibly irresponsible choice on behalf of the IOC and is contradictory to such efforts as Rio pledging to be more conscious of the environment. Then again, it’s not so out of line considering Sochi’s trail of environmental destruction (which was also a winter Olympics).
China’s great at bending nature against its will…
This piece in Salon attempts to figure out why all homes today look rather similar which, obviously, is a complex question that cannot even begin to be touched on in one article. This trend runs totally contrary to the idea of International Style, which defies style/national/regional/continental identity. The article’s timing parallels that of another, this time in The Wall Street Journal, which covers the efforts by some architects trying to bring back regionalism.
The interconnectivity that the internet provides has certainly been written about ad naseum, but its physical reverberations has only just begun to creep into mainstream consciousness. The blog The Kinspiracy as well as the work of Dutch photographer Hans Eijkelboom chronicle what happens when we all have access to the same images. At first glance, interconnectivity is informing our aesthetic ideas en masse. Various decorating movements in the past (say Art Nouveau) came about as a reaction to what was going on culturally and only became an identifiable movement through the wide adoption of the aesthetic and philosophy. What digital platforms like Instagram or Tumblr present is much farther reaching echo chamber for trends as well as the newfound ability to analyze them with hard data. But perhaps what these platforms also provide is a mirror for us to see how our tastes are not in fact all that unique while forcing us to consider why everything looks similar. And it is within this similitude that concern about loss of culture (in this case regional architecture) in the pursuit of a common housing aesthetic comes into play. If technical advances in architecture don’t necessarily require a certain building material for a certain region’s climate anymore, cue the rise in power of the homeowner’s association/preservation committee.
In the intersection of pop culture we find two similar takes on material culture and the built environment lurking underneath the surface. “Tiny House Nation” on FYI explores homeowners seeking to downsize their homes of traditional size for something much smaller (for a variety of reasons). Of note is the homeowners confronting the process of boiling their belongings down to what they most need and/or value. It is particularly interesting when we hear the story behind what they choose to keep and why as only so much can be brought with them and adorn their new space. Though other belongings could be sent to storage, that casting aside of these objects to another space places them in a secondary position to the objects which immediately surround the owners.
Foster Huntington writes the successful blog The Burning House (and book) which posits a similar question: if your house were on fire, what would you bring? Of course these chosen objects presume rational thought and planning overtakes the heat of the moment, no pun intended, and in these photos they are laid out rather neatly, but each submission becomes a self-portrait, a reflection of the the person as the objects speak about their interests, their lives, what they believe is necessary to operate in society when their own space and other belongings are gone.
These videos by Chanel help one to understand the particular craft of haute couture, its labor-intensiveness, the hours that go into making a single garment, the specialness of the materials that go into each piece, and illustrate the sewing knowledge of the petites mains who produce these garments. In removing the machine from the production of the clothing, we have a much more intimate exchange with the clothing.
In the article “Marketing Is Dead, and Loyalty Killed It” by Alexander Jutkowitz, the author writes an incredibly poignant point on the feedback loop that exists within material culture and the possessor, as well as the identity claims, both inward and outward, that material culture can make for him:
“Customers keep coming back to J. Crew, Chipotle, and Apple because being a loyal fan of the brand reassures them that they are succeeding in being a certain kind of person. People expect convenience from a transaction, but what they crave is meaning. A marketer’s thundering from the top of a mountain like the voice of God will be quickly spotted for what it is – a disconnected jumble of hollow words bouncing along the canyon walls. Building loyalty is much harder work, and it requires not only valuing customers, but liking them enough to have a conversation every day. Bringing passion and excitement to that conversation requires genuine enthusiasm for your own products and mission. The Chief Loyalty Officer’s job isn’t about asking, ‘What should this company say?’ It’s nothing less than answering the question, ‘What should this company be?’ “
Two new books by Yale Press provide interesting new areas of study within material culture and the built environment. How to Read Islamic Carpets is a most important text for those intrigued by these rugs and/or see them within spaces. In fact, we should even think of carpets as building materials themselves (as walls or dividers) and even decorative objects to adorn the wall and not merely the floor.
The other book, Fashion Victims, is worth a read for those interested in material culture and the meaning of clothing.