Architectural Interfaces 1968-2008

I would’ve enjoyed calling this post A History of the Future, but that name was already taken by a much more exhaustive account of ideas that I used to read as a child.

It was a big coffee-table book, and thus it sat on my family’s coffee-table for six years or so before it succumbed to a number of popular science and Wired magazines that forced it to a retirement on the bookshelf. What made the book extraordinary is that it contained within its pages a vast tome of images of what people in the 19th century conceived the year 2000 to be like. Among the premonitions was an image of a woman in a dark factory that sat on a sort of throne with a metal device on the top of her head. At her feet lay a long conveyor-belt of newborns stretching into infinity, as factory workers packaged them and sent them off in trucks.

Other, less radical images were much closer to the reality we have today. One showcased a man sitting in a comfortable chair looking up at a projection of some dancers on his living room wall. The caption went something like, “with the help of phono-vision, you can finally enjoy the pleasures of the can-can from the comfort of your own home”. This was a prediction made in 1888, or something like that, so I’ll call it impressive. Others had moon villages, and dystopic robots lacerating poor human victims.
I was eight years old when the book was shelved out of my memory, when the year 2000 arrived, I was older. Fourteen! To celebrate, I dusted off The History of the Future again and was able to read it this time instead of merely looking at the pictures. It inspired me to take all sorts of other books from different time periods and compare their contents to today’s technological results. If The History of the Future compared the 19th century to the 20th, then I wanted to compare the 60’s to the 00’s, or even the 80’s. What patterns might I find? What forgotten utopic visions, or dyspeptic nihilisms might I run into?

Searching for the right books wasn’t difficult. I’d watched the library public move more and more to the computer, and thus as time went on, the bookstacks began to collect dust. I began to recognize a 60’s book from a 70’s or 80’s and so on.

Books from the 60’s were the best. They were so optimistic and projectionary. They were always set Arial font with bolded Arial for titles, as if the world were simple, and so was solving problems. Pictures were generally black and while, but every once in a while, you’d run across a book with a greyscale streaked with a monotone yellow or pink or shocking blue. Books with more somber subjects resembled green computer screens.

Comments and Excerpts from Urban Structure, 1968. Paul Elek. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.

The Interfaces (Page 76-77).

“An interface may be described as a common boundary between two systems. The interface between transportation systems is the most neglected element that the passenger is force to tolerate. The attitude of transportation system operators seems to be, ‘leave the driving to us but how you get aboard and where you go when you get off is your problem’. Improvement in the attraction and holding of riders is needed more than anything else except frequent service.”

“The one ability that ninety-nine out of a hundred of the human race has that makes mass transit possible is that ability to walk. Why do we attempt to eliminate it as if it were unnatural? We seen to accept the walking required to use vertical transportation in buildings. We walk from our car or bus into the building, walk to the escalator, something even walk on it as it moves up, walk to the elevator, walk in, walk out, and walk to our desk. Why do we accept this? Because we are always moving towards our destination. The only wait is for the elevator and this is very short, and the interfaces are convenient, comfortable and pleasant, as much so as the building itself. Similar qualities of environment can be had in horizontal transportation.”

“Let us assume you live in suburbia, 25 miles from the centre of the town. You own two cars. Five minutes in one direction is the entrance to the freeway. Five minutes in another direction is the station for the suburban rapid transit. The freeway is belted around the town centre, requiring you to use the streets to reach the parking garage a block from your office building. The suburban rapid transit station is 12 minutes’ walk from your office building but connects directly with the CBD distributor which has a station in your parking garage. Let us compare the trip:

by auto

time lapse

-drive to freeway
5 minutes

-25 miles on freeway

15 miles at 60 mph 15

6 miles at 45 mph 8

4 miles at 15 mph 16 (on good morning – no bad weather –
no accidents or breakdowns –
no Christmas season rush, ect.)

-0.5 miles downtown at 9 mph 3.5

-parking, elevator trip and walk to office building 3.5

:Total 51 minutes:

by auto and mass transit

-drive to station 5 minutes

-park and walk to platform 1

-average wait time (5 minute headway) 2.5
-25 miles on train at average speed of 50 mph 30
(all weather – all seasons)

-transfer to distributor 1.5
(1 minute headway and change level)

-distributor trip time at average 3

speed of 12 mph

-change level and walk to office building

:Total 45 minutes:

If you use the building described above your drive-in trip requires the following interface changes and walking:

walk to garage
change into car
change out of car
walk to parking garage elevator
change into elevator
change out of elevator
walk to office building
change on to escalator
change off of escalator
walk to elevator
change on to elevator
change out of elevator
walk to office
Total 5 walks and 8 interface changes.

If you take the transit:

walk to garage
change into car
change out of car
walk to train platform
change into train
change out of train
walk to escalator
change on to escalator
change off escalator
walk to distributor system
change into distributor
change out of distributor
walk to escalator
change on to escalator
change off escalator
walk to office building
change on to escalator
change off escalator
walk to elevator
change into elevator
change out of elevator
walk to office

Total 8 walks and 14 interface changes.

“The point is that our daily existence is normally filled with short walks and passing through interfaces. It is not the number that we remember but rather the poor quality of them and the time spent in moving through them.

-Several things must be done. Transit service must be improved to eliminate waiting times for all practical purposes at all hours.

-Interference interchanges must be fast, convenient, comfortable, without undue effort in a controlled environment.

The interface between two systems is a meter of performance to the passenger. And its performance depends on the expertness of the plan and its execution as well as the performance of the two systems which share it.

Other pages:

(127) -“The car as an extension of the foot instead of the car as a satellite part of the home: or the tendency for appliances to impose their presence as against the psychological need for ‘cosy’ or ‘friendly’ objects”.

(A Note here: that I’ve seen online in development of objects, and that is the tendency for objects in the lower class to be not be benign companions, and those for creative culturals to be designed to be companions; to be benign. The same is with vehicles. As a vehicle ages, it becomes less of a friend to it’s driver, and more of a liability. It needs to be replaced, because it turns against its owner.

In this way, technology is not man’s best friend, but man’s worst double-edged pet. It is a beautiful toy one minute, and next year is a shameful disgrace that no longer works. How easily this happens to the machine and the product! How more and more quickly these things turn on us!

Map like Campion’s instructions onto a shaped, gridded blob:
“Social Zone”
“Interchange Zone”
“Quiet Zone”
“Bed Capsule”

(131) – A whole entirety of architectural plans that include electric vehicle tracks and future projections for robot implementation within the household. Text in overlays on the grid-work and planning of the new buildings.

….1988 – “Car expands to become place”, “floor can be re-formed instantly”, “private enclosures by now are also tunable”

Likelihoods….1990+ “Enclosures free-up”, “environment can be simulated – seen but not really there”, “demarcation between one persons domain and another becomes more pliable”.

So I feel like modular living is a very interesting concept to imagine.

Page 133 hosts an essay called Drive-In Housing – A Proposition by David Greene and Michael Webb. In the first paragraph, the house is described in such a way, that “it can also be a mobile room which can plug itself into a drive-in bank and become extra floor area of that bank”.

This is back in 1968, before the widespread adoption of the Internet, of course, but that was my immediate thought when I read the above sentence. just this morning I accessed my bank account from the comfort of my room. The interface I used was the computer, and my transaction went as such:


walk to desk
remove chair
sit down
pull out laptop from drawer
turn on laptop
wait for laptop to load
click on ‘firefox’ internet client
enter username and password for college student network
enter bank address online
type in username and password for banking website
check account balances
click on transfer balances
enter in the account to transfer money from
enter the amount
transfer the amount
confirmation screen
log out of the website
close internet browser window
close laptop
remove self from chair

walk to bus stop
enter bus
leave bus
walk one block to bank
open bank door
wait in line for teller
greet teller
slide bank card to verify identity
ask teller to transfer money
take receipt
walk one block to bus stop
enter bus
leave bus
walk back to dorm

In the first one, my computer did act as a modular interface that allowed my location to meld with the bank’s location. The act of drive-in housing that Greene and Webb talk about has been achieved by the Internet, and whose actual mechanical rumblings probably would look very similar to a mechanized real-life version of drive-in housing, were they to be mapped out.

Greene and Webb then go on to point out two intrinsic parts of architectural space. The inner space would be that of the “service unit, where space is at a premium, stuffed to the lid with the mechanics of the kitchen, the chancel, office or cinema serving Hamburgers, God, money or films to a lavishly planned and styled up consumer space; a restaurant, name, banking hall or auditorium. But this consumer space is, of course, made up of a series of mobile human containers – cars” (Elek, 133).

“In a drive-in home, the volume at any moment is directly proportional to the number of people in it; when the family is away at the seaside the house consists only of folded-up storage units; during a party as many as 30 mobile containers might gather around a unit to form a big space.”

Now, coming from the side of the intellectual, this is a very innovative and surprising view. But coming from the side of the common man, this is a very Arkansas model – the mobile home and mobile lifestyle. I am not suggesting that the entire state functions in this way, but I was told by a friend who lived there for a while that the lowest strata of Arkansas residents would move their mobile homes around in this way; not for parties, but for marriage. The trailer of the son or daughter’s partner would join the housing collective and form one big unit.

Besides, this model is used in order to gain entertainment from the Internet or the television. The resident does not have to move at all, and the hidden 4th dimensional magic does the shifting. Life could get confusing with all of that tetris, like having to wait in line for the bank. If you brought part of your house with you, and all of the mobile bank ports were already filled, you’d block the street with your vehicle. If not, you’d wait in the mobile unit parking lot and take up space, just like regular cars do, but if your living space was lavish you’d probably take up more space than a car would.

And, if you were away at the seaside, what would prevent some lunatic from running away with your folded up house? Could you fold up your house and put it inside the rest of your house?

What if you had a dinner party and one of your guests had a terribly messy house, or a terrible cat that snuck into your section One could write a tragically amusing story about a mobile dinner party gone wrong, especially if one of the guests decided too long, like a month, and the host house had no way of detaching them. An if a mother-in-law showed up for a weekend, not only she would arrive, but her house too! Although if you met someone at a bar you wouldn’t have to invite them over to your place, because they’d already be there.

Of course the article is somewhat of a joke, because the authors go on to dissect their opening paragraph and go on to things or a more wild character.

Architecture is fun. This was my experiment with it.


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