Monday 29 January 2018


The Internet site listed what it called, the strange habits of top architects. At number two, was Alvar Aalto - ‘2. Drinking a Lot of Alcohol (Alvar Aalto)’: #

The sign outside of the bottle shop was a really no surprise, but it did bring a smile to the face. What was interesting was the array of inter-connected references: but one had to tolerate the spelling error.

Villa Mairea

Somewhat cryptically, the BWS sign said: Villa Maria Sav Blanc $13. One could only think of Aalto’s Villa Mairea and his love of alcohol. Might Aalto have enjoyed the message?

Villa Mairea plan

But the number 13? A quick look at some images, and two Lucyu posters, 1 & 2, designed as a student project for an Aalto exhibition, turn up, ‘13/maio,2011.’ That’ll do for now!

Villa Maria Sav Blanc $13

For the curious, the list is:
1. Playing With the Same Toy All Day (The Eameses)
2. Drinking a Lot of Alcohol (Alvar Aalto)
3. Never Ever Getting a Good Night’s Sleep (Leonardo da Vinci, Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Kahn)
4. Climbing A Mythical Norwegian Mountain Every Year (Snøhetta)
5. Really Loving Yourself (Zaha Hadid)
6. Really Loving Others (Eileen Gray)
7. Having Sex Several Times a Day, Even if You’re Eighty (Frank Lloyd Wright)
8. Creeping on Your Building Users (Denise Scott Brown)
9. Lying Quietly in the Dark, Deep in Thought (I.M. Pei)
10. Eating Monochromatic Meals (Luis Barragán)
11. Taking Your Porsche out for a Spin (Ricardo Scofidio)

Why is it that the habits of architects attract such attention?


The Guardian report was astonishing, surprising; the fake star brought the skies down to earth, demystified the wonder:

'Space graffiti': astronomers angry over launch of fake star into sky
Giant disco ball dubbed ‘Humanity Star’, launched by startup Rocket Lab, will interfere with scientific study of the universe, experts say

Fri 26 Jan 2018 17.03 AEDTLast modified on Sat 27 Jan 2018 09.01 AEDT
Astronomers across the world have criticised a privately owned, New Zealand-based space company after it secretively put a satellite likened to a giant disco ball into orbit.
Last week the space exploration startup Rocket Lab launched a rocket from a remote sheep and cattle farm on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.
The moment prompted jubilation and pride across New Zealand, with Rocket Lab’s founder and chief executive Peter Beck labelling it an “almost unprecedented” step in commercial space exploration.
But it has since emerged that as well as conventional satellites, the rocket was also carrying the “Humanity Star”, a three-foot-wide geodesic sphere made from carbon fibre and fitted with 65 highly reflective panels.
The sphere, the company has claimed, will reflect the sun’s rays back to Earth creating a flashing light visible from anywhere on the globe. It is expected to become the brightest object in the night sky for nine months until it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.
Rocket Lab said the Humanity Star was supposed to be a “reminder to all on Earth about our fragile place in the universe”, and the company’s chief executive and founder, Peter Beck, said the sphere would “create a shared experience for everyone on the planet”.
But many astrophysicists disagree. Richard Easther from the University of Auckland told the Guardian that Rocket Lab may have unintentionally hit on a particularly sore point for his profession.
Light pollution is already a serious concern for scientists whose focus is on the stars, and the introduction of a glinting disco ball in space has not been widely welcomed.
“This one instance won’t be a big deal but the idea of it becoming commonplace, especially at larger scales, would bring astronomers out into the street,” Easther said.
“I can understand the exuberance for this sort of thing but I also get the sense that they did not realise that people could see a downside to it.”
Others were less diplomatic.
“Wow. Intentionally bright long-term space graffiti. Thanks a lot @RocketLab,” California Institute of Technology astronomer Mike Brown wrote on Twitter.
Or, as the director of astrobiology at Columbia University Caleb Scharf wrote in Scientifc American, the star represented “another invasion of my personal universe, another flashing item asking for eyeballs”.
“Most of us would not think it cute if I stuck a big flashing strobe-light on a polar bear, or emblazoned my company slogan across the perilous upper reaches of Everest,” Scharf wrote.
“Jamming a brilliantly glinting sphere into the heavens feels similarly abusive. It’s definitely a reminder of our fragile place in the universe, because it’s infesting the very thing that we urgently need to cherish.”

That a commercial company might secretly launch a bright, artificial star into space is a serious cause for concern. This article on 'space graffiti' is intriguing, enlightening, not only because of its subject, but also because its critique has direct parallels with Shetland and wind turbines - the commercial development of the naked landscape, the skies and the hills.

Once in Aberdeen many years ago, Shetland was described to us, somewhat dismissively, disparagingly, as 'moon country' – space territory: harsh,empty, and inhospitable. The latent proposition was: "Why would you want to go there?" In the Guardian report, an astrophysicist comments on the bright, artificial star that has been introduced into the firmament by a New Zealander, worrying about the change it makes to the skies and his research - his perception and understanding. Similarly, one has to be concerned about the introduction of wind turbines into the Shetland 'moonscape' - its firmament.

For the exercise, to embrace the 'astro'-analogy, one is challenged to envisage Shetland as the moon, and to consider the impact that wind turbines, the latest commercial 'stars,' have on the environment. The comments of the astrobiologist on the new fake star are the same as those that can be made about the Shetland wind turbines, their place and experience:

. . . the star (wind turbine) represented “another invasion of my personal universe, another flashing item (wind turbine) asking for eyeballs.”
“Most of us would not think it cute if I stuck a big flashing strobe-light (wind turbine) on a polar bear, or emblazoned my company slogan (wind turbine) across the perilous upper reaches of Everest,” Scharf wrote.
“Jamming a brilliantly glinting sphere (wind turbine) into the heavens (Shetland) feels similarly abusive. It’s definitely a reminder of our fragile place in the universe, because it’s infesting the very thing that we urgently need to cherish.”

Yes, "jamming" wind turbines into the Shetland landscape "feels similarly abusive. It’s definitely a reminder of our fragile place in the universe, because (they are) infesting the very thing that we urgently need to cherish.”

The serious concern is the "asking for eyeballs," the demanding imposition of the spiky presence on location and landscape; history and time, their contemplation: the distraction from simple contentment and subtle enrichment, enchantment. Indeed, as the astrobiologist so clearly identified, the issues are to: 'urgently' . . . 'cherish;' be this the heavens or the Shetland landscape - more simply, the universe, and life itself.

Below, Shetland at peace, not "asking for eyeballs" - in all of its glory.

Wednesday 24 January 2018


The BBC news article headline was explicit: SCRIBBLES TURNED INTO FINE ART BY VINCENT AI APP: see - WOW! What else might one want?

The explanation was that the machine had been 'trained' by learning from 8,000 Renaissance paintings. When one 'scribbled' on the screen, the machine interpreted the outlines and then tried to turn them into a Renaissance ‘masterpiece.’ The creator said that the project intended to show the capability of 'intelligent' machines. Indeed, the sample scribbles were turned into images that one might classify as 'fine art,' especially once a frame had been placed around them and hung artfully on a wall for display: an art gallery wall would truly confirm the pieces as ‘fine art.’ Ironically, the works looked less like Renaissance works than some poor copies of selected sundry pieces from the modern art world. The experimenter noted that the works looked like those seen on motel walls. They did have the appearance of those paintings produced in the east, en masse, for this commercial market: rough, uncommitted, fuzzy copies or reinventions, with a touch of insincerity, along with a certain pretence. The worry was that this digital output was being described to the world as 'fine art.'

AI art

Another item on the subject on the ABC News, was a quiz to test one's perception: WAS THIS ART MADE BY A HUMAN OR A ROBOT?: see - Gosh, who can tell? This was the very point! The quiz appeared to be establishing the proposition that AI art was as good as, or perhaps even better than that made by man. What might be next? Can art be so easily created now with our great technologies, or are we being duped? Somehow, somewhere, there is something strange here; something askew. What is it?

The art of the scribble, ready to be transformed into a masterpiece

Art feels as though it might, or should, hold something qualitatively significant. It embodies a world of mystery and subtlety that can be transformative. The quiz included paintings; poems; and music. All of these aspects of art can be understood to hold substance, to be subtly meaningful for life and being: able to enrich; to explain. Now, in our brave new world, we are being told that 'fine art,' and all of this informative enrichment, can be created by AI, artificial intelligence – a technological creation of our own. Can this be so? There seemed to be a strange circularity here.

The examples given looked like art: they were smudgy; vaguely impressionistic; colourful; suggestive of something uncertain: they were 'arty.' Perhaps this is the aim? How can one know any art, visual or otherwise - let alone an enriching, life-enhancing art - other than in its experience? In painting, this is its appearance; in music, its sound; in poetry, its music and sound, and sometimes all three. What does AI think its doing? Does AI ‘think’? Is it creating things, appearances, experiences, that look like those things we know, or have known, as art? If this is so, then we are playing a silly game of simple ‘looks like.’ What else can it do? What else might it do? The terrible innuendo is in the name – Vincent. Are we to see each work ‘as a Vincent van Gogh’ or something close to this? It is strange that the images all appear to be of this vintage rather than relating to the Renaissance era.

Is it really up to us to decide if this is art or otherwise? If we choose to allow ourselves to be gullible enough to believe that AI has ‘created’ some new wonder that we might call ‘art,’ or even ‘fine art,’ then we can, and indeed, will believe this. It requires one great leap in faith, or a blindness to it. AI works on systems being trained in a certain manner, and then being allowed to operate within the boundaries of this framework, however, even if it might be in new, unexpected ways. All that is happening is that the rules are being flipped about within the boundaries of the rules provided, to give us variations on themes from patterns that have been introduced into AI. Call a black page art for AI, and bingo, one will appear, small or large. One might even get a red page!! WOW! Clever AI!

Are we the ones being manipulated here? We create algorithms for AI, and allow these to run willy-nilly within their possibilities, and then become amazed at how the machine might create different, familiar arty appearances from scribbles - using rules we have established. Are we silly? This is only ‘AI-games’ art. Art needs roots, substance, to exist and to be truly relevant. It is not just an ‘interesting, decorative, and different’ thing for distraction, discussion, and entertainment. If art is merely appearances and smart intrigues in variations, then AI art can be a part of this ornamental, cosmetic world. One could be cynical and suggest that AI has an immediate role in architecture today that appears to be centred on appearances, intrigues and different variations. If paintings, their particular quirky styles and techniques, can be learned by a machine, then buildings could be too, and probably have been.

Art with meaning is different, as is architecture too. It has beginnings in experienced depth: a necessity, ‘an internal necessity,’ as Kandinsky nicely described it; one that, about which, as Martin Lings noted with traditional art, ‘we can not marvel enough,’ But one can already hear the critique – this ‘inner necessity’ is simply what has been given as AI to the robot, that produces outcomes that make us marvel – “You are wrong. Go away.” Words do not become useful in this debate; they remain clever play things for verbal and conceptual jousting. Something else is required for understanding.

But what are the examples. The scribbles were illustrated, along with the results. One looked like a Dali; another a Klee; yet another, a van Gogh. One came to see each work ‘as,’ and recalled Wittgenstein’s ‘seeing as’ duck-rabbit. Is it this perceptual parallel that allows such a clever programme to be seen to produce something that can be called or considered 'fine art'?

The process of defining parameters for action and then leaving these operate, and produce a different image autonomously, does not make art. The procedure reminds one of architecture students being dazzled by their own work once it has been produced by the machines: a “Wow! Look at this,” as the item rolls off the printer, 2D or 3D – see:

We have marvellous technologies today that are capable of astonishing feats. We should remain wary of the language we might choose to describe their operations and output; our desire to humanise them to suit our vision of robots. The machines do not ‘think’; nor do they produce ‘fine art.’ They can be said to be working as though they might be doing something that superficially appears to be these things, but they are not doing this. They are operating under our rules that can give us surprises when implemented in unexpected ways, but this is neither intellect nor art.


Quiz: Was this art made by a human or a robot?

Posted 12 Aug 2017, 5:03am

PHOTO: A work by Jon McCormack from Fifty Sisters, a series of 50 digital plant images created using an 
algorithm. (Supplied by Jon McCormack)

This week, we've been talking about all things artificial intelligence: how it works, and how it will change our careers and personal lives over the coming decades.
But there are some things that seem particularly human, and one of the major ones is creativity.
Here are a range of artworks. See if you can tell which were created by a human and which by machine.

1.  Was this painting done by a human or a robot?


2.  This painting: AI or blood, sweat and tears?


3.  This poem: Human or robot?

He was a shirtless man
in the back of his mind,
and I let out a curse as
he leaned over to kiss
me on the shoulder.


4.  Another poem. What do you think?

The swung torch scatters seeds
In the umbelliferous dark
And a frog makes guttural comment
On the naked and trespassing
Nymph of the lake


5.  How about this music?
(Hint: Don't be swayed by the recording. Just think about the composition.)


6.  Lastly, some prose. Man or machine?

That's not human
That is human

QUIZ: Human or robot quiz

6 questions remaining

For the record:
1  human
2  AI
3  AI
4  human
5  AI
6  human