Category Archives: Article

The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask

The delightful read of “The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask” reviewed by Usman Haque,  reminded me the excitement of some student project in architecture from the 90s.

I have to agree that Pask’s ideas are difficult to apply in the physical world for various reasons: materials limitations, physical constraints, social constraints (in case of different people in one space who’s most influence?), money… Now, lets take all this in the context of Mixed Reality (VR and AR) and even the sky is not a limit any more.  This is the perfect medium to simulate a real-time interaction between the user and his surroundings.

That said, Usman Haque has a few interesting projects applying those cybernetic principles into today’s actual urban life. This 20 minutes video gives us a good teaser of  just that.

IN PRAISE OF MESSY CITIES Tools for citizen empowerment – Usman Haque

The science behind the best memorisers in the world

I can not miss the opportunity to post such a great article about the science behind the best memorisers in the world. Even the the Wired magazine is on this phenomenon.

Johannes Mallow, Extreme Memory Tournament Champion, can memorise an 80-digit sequence in 21.01 seconds. Scientists are now turning to him to unlock the secrets of memory.

Source: How science is studying ‘mental athletes’ to help you remember (pract…

Spatial Intelligence for who?

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Enactive space.

I am working on this paper : “Spatial Cognition in the Virtual Environment“by Kimberley Osberg. Published in 1997, it doesn’t bring anything new, although it offers a practical way of applying constructivist theories to help a group of children with spatial processing difficulties. Before getting into the experiment details, the author describe a broad range of research concerned with the positive relationship between spatial exercise and spatial processing skills.

With a background based on Piaget’s stages of childhood development, the following paragraph makes an accurate description of one of the main reason that drive my research: the reduction of our spatial realm in the learning environment. She wrotes:

Howard Gardner (1993) is also a strong advocate of “spatial intelligence”, and its relationship to other intelligences and cognition. In Gardner’s view, spatial ability and spatial cognition are the basic building blocks that a child needs in order to develop higher level thinking skills, specifically those that complement verbal processing skills. As we move closer towards being an “intellectual” rather than an “enactive” (Bruner, 1966) learning society, the opportunity and necessity for practice in the spatial realm has been minimized. However, fully half of the population, when tested, indicates a preference for visual rather than verbal learning style. (Kirby et al, 1988) Learning style preference has been given little attention with regard to curriculum or assessment development. Gardner’s answer is to re-integrate development of all of the intelligences that he has identified back into the curriculum, in appreciation of a holistic approach to both individuals and the education process.

The perception of space in Architecture. (1/4)

Part 1 of 4 : Introduction

My goal here is neither to build an architectural theory, as many authors have tried without successfully finding a unified one, nor to reduce architecture to mere spatial experimentation. I will instead attempt to unveil the codes that are specific to architectural space, as well as the methods used by architects to design meaningful spaces. From there we will have a better idea on how to use architecture to enhance knowledge construction via hybrid environments.

In Western culture, we had to wait until the emergence of Einstein’s theory of relativity, in order to scientifically reach the conclusion that “Time and space are inextricably connected through the speed of light within a quadri-dimensional space-time (Plank). Space is generally considered as infinite.” This definition lacks clarity from an architectural point of view because it refers to a dimension of reality beyond our tridimensional experience of reality to which Newtonian laws apply. Let’s grasp this from a more philosophical point of view. The encyclopedia reminds us that, “to Democritus, space is an empty receptacle; to Aristotle, it is the boundary surrounding total beings; to Leibniz, space is not something that exists of its own, but rather a representation of the order reigning amongst co-existing units.” [Encyclopedia Universalis] E. Kant leads us to the next important step, since to him space and time are a priori conditions of perception, given before we can even experiment with them. Thus, he defines space as a “system of laws governing the juxtaposition of things related to figures, sizes and distances, allowing us to perceive them“. By studying the above definitions, we understand that it is a person (Aristotle’s “total being,” Leibniz’s “units,” while Kant speaks of perceptions) who perceives space and represents it through different elements (“figures, sizes and distances”).

Different fields of study give us different definitions for space. Euclidian geometry describes a very different space than non-Euclidian geometry does. Indeed, a curved space is very much different than an n-dimensional space. Topology is another very interesting way of describing our environment. Therefore, this very much polysemic concept of space can be used to describe a variety of concepts. Each field of research, each art, each culture, each individual determines his own space. The perception of space is a function of the human body. Space is the result of the representation that an individual or a group of individuals have created. As the concept of space is tied to conventions and codes that allow a group of people – who possess the decoding key – to inhabit the same shared space, our goal is to unveil these codes.

Despite this quite vague concept of space we will now concentrate on the architectural space, its perceptual properties and its meaningful codes. In order to comprehend how architecture’s impact on people, we must first understand how we perceive architecture.

As a starting point we will use the comparison suggested by Jean Piaget [1926], between the ontogenesis of logical structures in children and the genesis of mathematical concepts. Following those observations we will define the processes by which we create representations of our environment since our birth. Through this evolution appeared five fractal stages that help us to comprehend our surrounding.  We will use a fractal approach – each stage of resolution includes the previous ones, the part is contained within the whole and the whole within the part – to briefly explore those five stages: from form to object, internal space and perceptions, organization of spaces, external space and urban space.

[…]

 

Quick history about the Art of Memory.

The Art of Memory (AoM) is a collection of mnemonic techniques. It remains the main method to remember information from the classical period of Simonides of Ceos in Ancient Greece to the renaissance era of hermeticism with Giordano Bruno. These techniques were almost universally practised by the thinkers of the ancient world who believed that mnemonic training was essential to the cultivation of creativity. Creativity was an act of synthesis that could only occur within the mind of a trained mnemonist.  Appropriately, in Greek mythology, Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, was the mother of the muses.[1] It was common for orators  to memorise their speeches or any other items by imagining a journey (perhaps from their doorstep to the fora) and mentally tracing their steps to recall each articles or paragraphs associated to an image, they would have place along.  Those techniques can be synthesized with the three pillars of memory: Imagination, Association and Location. Imagination and Association gives memory (IAM)[2] . Location gives the flow.

three-pillars
The three pillars of the AoM

Memory techniques were then adopted by early Christian monks. They became the principal method by which Monks would meditate upon the bible after committing it to memory.  Safe within the curriculums and cloistered walls of Christian monasteries, the art of memory made it through to the later Middle Ages. By The Renaissance, mnemonic training was taught to almost all students, alongside grammar, rhetoric and logic.  Even the invention of the Gutenberg printing press and the relative availability of books had little effect on the status of a trained memory; books were considered aids to recall rather than a replacement for a well-stocked mind.  The Renaissance did however give rise to a technological trend that would eventually contribute to the decline of the AoM. As far back as 1550, Italian thinker Giulio Camillo published a book outlining plans for construction of what he called a memory theatre. Only a few years after Camillo published his plans, the AoM became the target of religious persecutions that signalled its decline and eventual removal from education systems.  In 1584 in England, the Puritans launched a fervent campaign against the AoM because of its frequent use of sexual, violent and absurd thoughts.  Memory in education eventually turned a full 180 degrees.  Mnemonic practice, which depended on the creative and mindful painting of mental pictures, was replaced with rote learning and repetition.  Memorization went from being an intrinsically rewarding activity to being a task that elicited boredom at best, and reluctance at worst. [1]

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Fludd’s theater, “The Art of Memory” F. Yates

It wasn’t until historian Frances Yates published “The Art of Memory”[3] in 1966 that those techniques once again caught the public imagination. Today, although those  mnemonic techniques are mainly used by memory athletes, numbers of authors like Tony Buzan [4] and Joshua Foer made them available to everyone.

References:
1. Kilov, D. (2012) “The Rise and Fall of Remembering” Issue 398, Australian Mensa magazine, TableAus.
2. Buzan, T.(2010) “The Memory Book”
3. Yates, F. (1966) “The Art of Memory”
4. Foer, J. (2008) “Moonwalking with Einstein”