Random finds (2018, week 49) — On the Facebook Saga, why human beings are the solution, and the great paradox of Japan’s paper culture

Mark Storm
24 min readDec 7, 2018
Alvaro Siza orchestrates, like no other, the experience of the visitor in his works. By means of compressions and decompression, openings and closings, volumes, voids and light, the Portuguese architect marks the paths, points of view, and perspective of the passage of time. In a photo essay, Ronaldo Azambuja photographed the Iberê Camargo Foundation ten years after its inauguration.” (ArchDaily).

I have gathered a posy of other men’s flowers, and nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own.” — Michel de Montaigne

Random finds is a weekly curation of my tweets and, as such, a reflection of my fluid and boundless curiosity.

I am also building an of little pieces of wisdom, art, music, books and other things that have made me stop and think. #TheInfiniteDaily

This week: Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg and the Facebook Saga; Douglas Rushkoff on human life in the digital age; Japan’s centuries-long fascination with traditional papermaking; recovering our literacy in the ways of the physical world; Dick Bruna and matching matchboxes; the ‘contextual’ architecture of Hiroshi Sambuichi; and Pico Iyer on ‘absorption.’

The Facebook Saga

There was so much ‘Facebook’ this week that it’s difficult to choose or to know where to begin. But I will start with an article by the President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, entitled Mark Zuckerberg Has Lost Control of Facebook.

“There can be little doubt that monopoly control over millions of people’s personal data and the flow of news and information online poses a clear and present threat to democracy. And Facebook’s management has shown time and again that it cannot be trusted to behave responsibly. There is no reason why we, the people, should put store in any of the company’s promises to manage our data or clean up its act. Self-regulation has failed spectacularly. It’s time for the real thing,” Verhofstadt writes.

“In the long term, […] there is only one surefire way to address the threat that Facebook and other platforms pose to Western democracy: regulation. Just as self-regulation by banks failed to prevent the 2008 financial crisis, so self-regulation in the tech sector has failed to make Facebook a responsible actor.

Regulating the tech giants should start with updated competition rules to address the monopoly control of personal data. And we need new regulations to ensure accountability and transparency in the algorithmic processing of data by any actor, private or public. But, ultimately, we should not rule out a break-up of Facebook and some of the other tech giants,” Verhofstadt argues.

CAPTION (Photograph by Stephen Lam/Reuters)

In Vanity Fair, Duff McDonald wonders how Sheryl Sandberg has managed to find herself in such a pickle, despite such sterling Establishment credentials — Harvard University, Harvard Business School, the Clinton administration.

“Harvard Business School invented the ‘leadership’ industry — and produced a generation of corporate monsters. No wonder Sandberg, one of the school’s most prominent graduates, lacks a functioning moral compass,” he writes in The Miseducation of Sheryl Sandberg.

“The answer won’t be found in the minutes of Facebook board meetings or in Sandberg’s best-selling books, Lean In [on which Michelle Obama commented recently by saying, “Sometimes that shit doesn’t work”] and Option B, which cemented her position in the corporate firmament as a feminist heroine. Rather, it starts all the way back in 1977, when Sandberg was just eight years old and the U.S. economy was still recovering from the longest and deepest recession since the end of World War II. That’s the year that Harvard Business School professor Abraham Zaleznik wrote an article entitled, Managers and Leaders: Are They Different? in America’s most influential business journal, Harvard Business Review. For years, Zaleznik argued, the country had been over-managed and under-led. The article helped spawn the annual multi-billion-dollar exercise in nonsense known as the Leadership Industry, with Harvard as ground zero. The article gave Harvard Business School a new raison d’être in light of the fact that the product it had been selling for decades — managers — was suddenly no longer in vogue. Henceforth, it would be molding leaders.


The truth is, Harvard Business School, like much of the M.B.A. universe in which Sandberg was reared, has always cared less about moral leadership than career advancement and financial performance. The roots of the problem can be found in the School’s vaunted ‘Case Method,’ a discussion-based pedagogy that asks students to put themselves in the role of corporate Übermensch. At the start of each class, one unlucky soul is put in the hot seat, presented with a ‘what would you do’ scenario, and then subjected to the ruthless interrogation of their peers. Graded on a curve, the intramural competition can be intense — M.B.A.s are super-competitive, after all.

Let’s be clear about this: in business, as in life, there isn’t always one correct answer. So the teaching of a decision-making philosophy that is deliberate and systematic, but still open-minded, is hardly controversial on its face. But to help students overcome the fear of sounding stupid and being remorselessly critiqued, they are reminded, in case after case — and with emphasis — that there are no right answers. And that has had the unfortunate effect of opening up a chasm of moral equivalence in too many of their graduates.

And yet, there are obviously many situations where some answers are more right than others. Especially when it comes to moral issues like privacy, around which both Sandberg and Facebook have a history of demonstrating poor judgment. While H.B.S. is correct in its assertion that it produces people who can make decisions, the fact of the matter is that they have never emphasized how to make the right ones,” McDonald writes.

This isn’t a thing of the past, though. The absence of critical voices and the ongoing indictment of the culture that turned Facebook from a Harvard sophomore’s dorm-room project into what passes for a Harvard Business School success story continue today. “Return one last time to the H.B.R. Web site, and you will find a case study that was published just a few months ago entitled Facebook — Can Ethics Scale in the Digital Age? […] The mere fact that it’s being asked serves as resounding proof that the moral equivalence problem is still with us today. The question is not whether or not a company of Facebook’s size and reach can stay ethical. The question is whether it will even try.”

“As new evidence emerges regarding Facebook’s maddeningly foot-dragging response to scandals ranging from data abuse to election interference, the pertinent question is whether she was ever really a ‘leader,’” Duff MacDonald writes in The Miseducation of Sheryl Sandberg. — Sandberg arrives for a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on September 5, 2018. (Photograph by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

In What It Really Means to Be the Adult in the Room, Ian Bogost writes that Sheryl Sandberg, who has often been called Facebook’s “adult in the room,” had one job: to make the company more and more money. This should come as no surprise, though. “Businesspeople are in business for the money, won directly through profits and indirectly through the forces of market speculation. And yet, for more than a decade now, the technology industry has persuaded the public, and the street, that the efforts of firms such as Facebook and Google are conducted first for reasons of social benefit. To ‘change the world,’ as their leaders intone, even as it becomes clear that some of the changes in question are often detrimental rather than beneficial. Perhaps it was inevitable that these optimistic, tech-industry entreaties of the aughts — make the world more open and connected, don’t be evil, and so on — would be revealed as mere Pollyannaism, naive but ultimately righteous in their ambition.

Facebook’s own public defenses lean in, as it were, to that interpretation. Mark Zuckerberg opened his testimony before Congress earlier this year by insisting that ‘Facebook is an idealistic and optimistic company.’ More recently, as the company has reeled from report after report suggesting that it knew more, and earlier, about how its platform was being used for election meddling, its executives repeated over and over again that it had been ‘too slow’ to respond […].”

According to Bogost, this is “a smart parry because it implicitly reinforces the righteousness of the company and its mission. It’s not okay to have been slow, the messaging suggests, but it’s understandable given the company’s ambitious, global optimism. ‘Connecting people’ is difficult work, so cut us some slack, the company seems to be saying.”

In an email sent on 26 October 2012, however, the former Facebook executive and Zuckerberg confidant Sam Lessin provided his then boss with another way to reconcile the company’s values with its baser needs. “Our mission is to make the world more open and connected,” Lessin wrote. “And the only way we can do that is with the best people and the best infrastructure — which requires that we make a lot of money/be very profitable.” (From: ‘Good for the world’? Facebook emails reveal what really drives the site; photograph by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

According to a recent Bloomberg report, “[Sheryl] Sandberg’s favorites are known by the term FOS, for ‘Friend of Sheryl,’ and several have been promoted to powerful positions at the company, according to four people familiar with the situation. But there’s been little incentive for these advisers to tell her negative things because she often criticizes people harshly and sometimes ousts them from her close circle when they disappoint her, the people said. ‘She’s so brutal to people, no one wants to bring her anything,” one of the people added.’”

“It turns out that in spite of its utopian mission of connecting the world, Facebook is not so egalitarian,” Kevin Litman-Navarro says in What did we expect from Sheryl Sandberg?

“It’s a rigid bureaucracy with hints of authoritarianism. Tech companies tried to sell themselves as a new kind of business with a nicer ethos. However, they mistreat workers, contribute to the rapid destruction of our environment, and need a ton of help in the HR department. Which is to say they are just like other corporations, and until we turn over every stone in the place, the people at the top will remain encased in a lucrative, hubristic, and probably climate-proof bubble.


Lost in all the concern for the damage Facebook has wrought is how utterly unremarkable Sandberg’s failure of leadership is. There’s no app to make top executives all of a sudden not view their success as evidence of their singular ability to make good decisions. You can’t disrupt or innovate your way out of the dynamics between superiors and subordinates. […] Subordinates need to be expressly incentivized to be honest with the people above them; no one wants to tell a boss things they don’t want to hear, especially if the boss doesn’t make it safe for them to do so. That anyone is surprised this situation went awry is due to Facebook exceptionalism combined with a culture infatuated with that particular cocktail of psychopathy and work ethic that makes a successful businessperson.

Condemning Sandberg is not absolution for Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg has carved out a spectacular leadership vacuum, considering he is the controlling owner, founder, and C.E.O. of Facebook. Still, Sandberg was always supposed to be the proverbial adult in the room, and based upon Zuckerberg’s vociferous defense of her choices it seems she will remain in that role for the foreseeable future. Sandberg’s predictable struggles and apparent job security demonstrate that no matter how many free meals, meditation classes, and stock options are on offer, a tech company is still a company,” Litman-Navarro concludes.

“Incriminating internal e-mails, an ugly P.R. campaign, explosive exposés, denials, and denunciations snowballed into more trouble for Facebook and its C.E.O., Mark Zuckerberg,” Sue Halpern writes in The New Yorker. (Photograph by Alex Edelman / ZUMA)

In Facebook’s Very Bad Month Just Got Worse, Sue Halpern gives an excellent overview of what has happened in Novermber, “Facebook’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month.” By now, November has passed, but not Facebook’s troubles.

“A departing African-American Facebook employee charged, in a Facebook post, that the company was ‘failing its black employees and its black users’; Facebook took down his post,” Halpern writes.

Wired reported that the company was abandoning charities — which it had lured to the platform — once they’d been hacked. The election war room has been dismantled, leading some to suggest that it was a publicity stunt. Definers Public Affairs is no longer working for Facebook, but the damage to Sheryl Sandberg’s credibility and carefully coiffed public persona may prove irreversible — as Michelle Obama said the other day, ‘it’s not always enough to lean in, because that shit doesn’t work all the time.’ And that creepy Pikinis app, courtesy of Damian Collins, has now supplied a portrait of naked greed and corporate dissembling. That empty seat in Parliament, where Mark Zuckerberg chose not to sit to answer the concerns of the global community, has suddenly got much hotter.”

“The story of the wildly exaggerated promises and damaging unintended consequences of technology isn’t exactly a new one. The real marvel is that it constantly seems to surprise us. Why?

Part of the reason is that we tend to forget that technology is only as good as the people who use it. We want it to elevate us; we tend to degrade it. In a better world, Twitter might have been a digital billboard of ideas and conversation ennobling the public square. We’ve turned it into the open cesspool of the American mind. Facebook was supposed to serve as a platform for enhanced human interaction, not a tool for the lonely to burrow more deeply into their own isolation.” — Bret Stephens in How Plato Foresaw Facebook’s Folly

Why human beings are the solution

“When things begin accelerating wildly out of control, sometimes patience is the only answer. Press pause,” the American media theorist, writer, columnist and academic, Douglas Rushkoff once said.

Moritz Gaudlitz recently held a conversation with Rushkoff, who currently is Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at the City University of New York, Queens College. They talked about human life in the digital age and Rushkoff’s upcoming book, Team Human.

When asked in what situ­ations of life should we be more offline?, Rushkoff anwers:

“I think some of the things that work really well offline are having sex. That works well in the body. And being with family. Pretty much any­thing that you can do in the physical world. You get more bandwidth when you do so; you get an additional sense, whether it’s touch or smell. You see a lot more when you’re with the person in the world. I would think it’s hard to think of what works better online. I guess if you want to be speaking to a million people at once, that works better through media than trying to gather everybody around you. If you’re trying to avoid flying in planes, you can communicate with people far away. But I would argue it’s never better, it just allows for telepresence. You know, when you’re using it to do something you can’t do in real life, that’s cool. But if you use it instead of real life, you miss out on something. You miss out on certain levels of honesty and experience. And I guess it has to do with what your values are whether you’re living to promote your utility value or your value as an employee, your monetary value to some company. Then it could be that being plugged in, and interacting with people you know that way, is better but you lose. It’s the time of your life that you’re spending, and you know how you want to spend that.”

“Fewer people and companies own more of the media space than they did before. So we’ve gotten more centralisation, more control, less autonomy, but I don’t think that this is intrinsic to digital technology. I think it’s a result of the abuse of digital technology in the monopolisation of networks by a few corporations who have never had our best interests at heart anyway.” — Douglas Rushkoff

According to Rushkoff, “being conscious” is the first step to avoid becoming nothing more than slaves in the digital age.

“For people to be aware when they’re using a digital platform, and to be aware that the platform has been programmed by people and companies with very specific agendas in mind. It’s not a conspiracy theory at all. It’s just saying that the tools that we’re using were made by people who want something whether they want us to be a subscriber or to be dependent on the tool, or to engage with other people in specific ways. The tools will encourage certain kinds of behaviour and discourage other kinds. So we need to be aware of what the tools we’re using are actually for before we decide to use them. If you look at something as simple as Facebook, you think ‘what is Facebook, above and beyond what I am using it for?’ The platform is there to extract data. Mainly consumer and political data about me.”

“Technology doesn’t solve humanity’s problems. It was always naïve to think so. Technology is an enabler, but humanity has to deal with humanity’s problems. I think we’re both over-reliant on technology as a way to solve things and probably, at this moment, over-indexing on technology as a source of all problems, too.” — Sundar Pichai, C.E.O. of Google, in The New York Times

“The kinds of behaviours it is going to encourage are data-rich behaviours, behaviours that have to do with my consumer choices or my political choices, different things about my lifestyle that can be monetised as categories that matter to them. But the sorts of behaviours that say: Get me to connect with people in the real world; the sorts of behaviours that push me offline, that encourage me to keep certain things about myself private or limited to my intimate friends those will be discouraged, because they don’t fit the business plan of the platform. So I think that’s really the main thing. If people understand what the technologies they’re using are for, then they’ll be less likely to be used by them. They are more likely to choose to use them for purposes that are aligned with the purpose of the platform, rather than trying to get love, or satisfaction, or a sense of self, or genuine social connections through technologies that aren’t built to do that.”

The great paradox of Japan’s paper culture

“Paper, I understand, was invented by the Chinese; but Western paper is to us no more than something to be used, while the texture of Chinese paper and Japanese paper gives us a certain feeling of warmth, of calm and repose. Even the same white could as well be one color for Western paper and another for our own. Western paper turns away the light, while our paper seems to take it in, to envelop it gently, like the soft surface of a first snowfall. It gives off no sound when it is crumbled or folded, it is quiet and pliant to the touch as the leaf of a tree.” — Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows (陰翳礼讃 In’ei Raisan)

“Japan’s centuries-long fascination with traditional papermaking means that there’s still a robust analog culture in a country known for its embrace of the modern,” writes Nikil Saval in Why Is Japan Still So Attached to Paper?

“One of the clichés of modernity — but a cliché we nonetheless have to live through — is that new forms of technology make us nostalgic for prior ones and the eras they connote. […]

Because of the sheer accumulated weight of its past and the velocity of its rush into the future, Japan offers these contradictions and anxieties of modernity in particular abundance. […] The contrast (and conflict) between ancient and modern is the primary tension in Japan’s modern literary and filmic traditions: rural families experiencing the shock of the city in Yasujiro Ozu’s films of the ’40s and ’50s, or Noh drama in the novels of the Showa-era writer Fumiko Enchi. Everything, from the perfervidness of the country’s electronic manufacturing, the proliferation of its pop culture, the aggressiveness of its building booms — even as a three-decade-long economic decline strips these characteristics of their sheen — seems to serve as a reminder that throughout the postwar era, Japan was a byword for the future,” Saval writes.

“All of these forces — the past, the present, the future — can be crystallized in one persisting Japanese tradition: the longevity and depth of its papermaking. […] In our digital age, we tend to forget just how practical and versatile the material actually is, and many of its modern uses can be traced directly back to Japan, where the art of handmade washi began with the arrival of Buddhist monks to the islands from Korea in the seventh century.”

“Paper has a long history all over the world, but it is to Japan something like what wine is to the French — a national obsession and point of pride. It remains, despite every innovation since, the central material of Japanese culture.” — Left: Washi paper at the store Ozu Washi in Tokyo. (Photograph courtesy of Ozu Washi); Right: The architect Shigeru Ban’s emergency shelters are made mostly of paper. (Photograph by Brent Boardman)

“Since then, washi has been used as stationery, as canvas and as art itself through the rise of origami, which was invented almost simultaneously with washi — but these practices, which remain popular, overshadow just how deeply entrenched paper is in Japanese history,” Saval writes. Its usage in architecture, for sliding doors and screens, required more and also longer-lasting variations. This is how washi-making became a household tradition.

“Today, […] the remnants of these traditions can be seen in the Modernist buildings that still stand in major cities, including Tokyo’s International House of Japan, one of the country’s most famous hotels, designed in 1952 by Japanese acolytes of Le Corbusier, which makes use of shoji screens. The architectural roots of paper are even clearer in more recent works by Shigeru Ban, whose emergency shelters following the 2011 Fukushima earthquake were made mostly of paper — in particular, recycled cardboard tubes — or by Kengo Kuma, whose buildings continuously riff on Japanese craftsmanship.”

“The architectural roots of paper are even clearer in more recent works by Shigeru Ban, whose emergency shelters following the 2011 Fukushima earthquake were made mostly of paper (see photograph above, right) or by Kengo Kuma, whose buildings continuously riff on Japanese craftsmanship.” — Kengo Kuma’s design for the Fujiya ryokan — his take on the traditional Japanese inn — at Ginzan Onsen, a secluded hot spring town in Yamagata Prefecture, north of Tokyo. (Photograph by Stefan Ruiz)

“The great paradox of Japan’s paper culture is that the country was also one of the earliest producers of global technology, particularly with the founding in 1946 of Sony (originally called the Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corp.), a company that could reasonably claim the mantle as one of the original tech supergiants. Having once been a papermaking innovator, the country also became the site of other crucial advancements. The first consumer tape recorders and transistor radios emerged here in the 1950s, and in 1966, the Sony Building [by the Japanese architect Yoshinobu Ashihara] in Ginza, Tokyo’s old business district, further transformed the look of the modern city by becoming the first example of ‘media architecture,’ with a facade that displayed video images, a development for screens that was perhaps inevitable in a country that pioneered this technology back when it was still analog.

In a bit of irony, the first cellular network is also Japanese, introduced in 1979 by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone. This may have helped sound the long, slow demise of print throughout the world, but in a country where the roots of paper are so deep, today the material is still everywhere, even when it isn’t. As in many places in the world, passengers on the subway system scroll continuously on their phones. But the country’s low-tech traditions have not been casually discarded. The same spirit that continues to cultivate beautiful washi also seems of a piece with the strange persistence of meikyoku kissaten, the ‘masterpiece cafes’ where people sit and listen to recordings of classical music on old phonographs. Much like the more famous and trafficked vinyl bars — hole-in-the-wall haunts catering to audiophiles, hundreds of which speckle the streets and back alleys of Tokyo — they reflect a reverence toward a medium and not just the product produced via that medium.”

“Kengo Kuma loves speaking to craftsmen, who help him discover the possibilities inherent in traditional paper, or the soft oya stone that Frank Lloyd Wright also loved and used in his (long demolished) 1923 Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. But Kuma’s use of these materials is also social, and is intended as a social criticism. For him, the Japan of the economic miracle, which built itself up on masses of concrete, long ago lost its way. Finding one’s way back to the techniques that predated modernization can also point the way to a different economic framework. ‘We have to create that new system,’ he said. ‘The architect can show the system of the society.’ Show people what they build, he implied, and I will show you who they are.” (From: Kengo Kuma’s Architecture of the Future) — The interior of Fujiya ryokan. Kuma’s buildings are often deceptively simple and make use of ancient materials, especially wood. (Photography by Stefan Ruiz)

“In an age of sharply escalating computerization and digitization of everything into an intangible ether, it can be hard to remember that paper, too, is just another medium, something that acts as a transmitter for something written or typed in the past. Or better, it’s too easy to imagine that replacing paper with digital screens is just moving from one medium to another. Digitization has produced a change not just in what we see and feel but in what we control. The world of new media — of what the left-wing theorist Jodi Dean calls ‘communicative capitalism’ — is standardized in a way that not even the most fantastical efficiency expert could have dreamed. If thousands of families could once make their own paper, it is now only a few monopoly companies that create virtually all the media through which we transmit communication today, and virtually all of it is being data mined in a way that letters never could be. The fetish for media like washi is nostalgic on one account, clear-eyed on another: the paper bears an imprint, of the maker and eventually of the user, in a way no digital object ever can. For this reason, those pale, fringed sheets retain a measure of the time, and the sense of self, we are always losing as we rush heedlessly into the future.”

Kobayashi Yasuo is a washi artisan. Since 1982, Kobayashi has been deeply involved in projects that focus on evolution of washi — from promoting exchanges between urban and rural areas, to repairing thatched houses and using them as work spaces. In 2004, Kobayashi opened Koshino Kigami Kobo, a washiworkshop. Since 2015, he has pursued the radical school Daichi no Gakko’s plan to “enrich the five senses,” that is based on the belief that traditional skills are needed for the future. (Video by Japan House London)

And also this …

The chasm between producers and consumers leaves many of us estranged from beauty and a vital part of an ethical life.

“Until about a century ago,” Glenn Adamson, a curator and writer on design, craft and art, writes in Material intelligence, “most people knew a great deal about their immediate material world. Fewer and fewer do today, as commodities circulate with ever greater speed over greater distances. Because of the sheer complexity of contemporary production, even the people who do have professional responsibility for making things — the engineers and factory workers and chemists among us — tend to be specialists. Deepened knowledge usually also means narrowed knowledge. This tends to obscure awareness of the extended production chains through which materials, tools, components and packaging are sourced. Nobody — not an assembly-line worker, not a CEO — has a comprehensive vantage point. It is partly a problem of scale: the wider the view comes, the harder it is to see clearly what’s close at hand.

In effect, we are living in a state of perpetual remote control. As Carl Miller argues in his book The Death of the Gods (2018), algorithms have taken over many day-to-day procedures. These algorithms are themselves driven by algorithms, in a cascade of interconnected calculation. Such automated decisionmaking is extremely efficient, but it has contributed to a crisis of accountability. If no one understands what is really happening, how can anyone be held responsible? This lack of transparency gives rise to a range of ethical dilemmas, chief among them our inability to address climate change, due in part to prevalent psychological separation from the processes of extraction, manufacture and disposal. For the same reasons, corporations take little responsibility for their outsourced workers. Scale and distance present consumers with related challenges: if you don’t know the people who were responsible for making the things in your life (and indeed, cannot imagine what their own lives might be like), it is difficult to find common cause with them. This gap between producers and consumers leads to a crack in the social fabric, where weeds of distrust and hatred can grow. Like any tool, technology in itself is not a bad thing. But the more we trust it to be the binding agent for our society, the more fragmented we seem to become.”

Nanna Ditzel’s Bench for Two made in cooperation with Gorm Lindum for the Cabinetmakers’ Autumn Exhibition (1989). It is has a base of solid maple and a 2 mm thin plywood back with silk-screen printed circular decoration.

“The hierarchical arrangement of occupations, with people who work with their hands gathered mostly at the bottom, results simply from the exercise of power. It’s the result of a deep historical process, based in class conflict, and also involving prejudices based on gender and ethnicity. For the same reason, painting and architecture, historically practised by well-to-do white men, enjoy higher cultural status as ‘art’ compared to creative pursuits practised by pretty much everyone else, which sit lower on the status ladder as ‘craft.’ Measuring intelligence itself is part of the story: its quantitative and presumptively objective rendering preoccupied the eugenics movement. The overrating of technical and linguistic aptitude and the undervaluation of manual skills — the fact that we apply the word ‘smart’ to phones and appliances more readily than to our fellow humans — is not natural or right. It’s an inheritance from past injustice.

To redress these wrongs, it’s important not just to recognise material intelligence, but also to understand it in general terms, as a whole. Skilled professions are often very specialised, and that can obscure connections between them. Craft is often contrasted to industry, for example. To some extent, this opposition makes sense. Artisanal production has often been understood as a remedy for the social ills that first arose during the industrial revolution: the grinding, subdivided labour of British mill towns prompted nostalgia for small country workshops. Yet thinking of craft and industry as opposites also leads to misperception. Whatever the scale, production always requires an understanding of materials, tools and processes somewhere along the line. The machines that make mass production possible, which spelled the end of so many traditional crafts, are themselves extraordinary feats of craftsmanship.”

“Material intelligence also crosses over the conventional divide between production and consumption. Makers and users can equally appreciate the warmth and grain of wood, the cool hardness of metal, the pliability of rubber. Just as skilled makers anticipate user needs and manage reactions to their work, an attentive user can imaginatively reconstruct the way that something was made.”

“So what can be done about it? I have a modest proposal: let’s cultivate our material intelligence. Let’s try to recover our literacy in the ways of the physical world […] If we can anchor ourselves in this way, attending closely to the objects near to us, we might just be able to regain our bearings, and take greater responsibility for our actions,” Adamson argues.

“It might sound utopian, but if everyone could extend that same simple attitude to the things in their lives, the benefits would be incalculable. The bad news is that the atomisation of our society is getting worse all the time. The good news is that, though it might appear otherwise, we actually are all in it together — together with one another, and with material things, which can give us purchase in an increasingly disorienting world. We live, day by day, in a torrent of negativity. Often it seems unbridgeable. But objects can be our stepping stones. Recognise them for what they are, and we might just get to the other side.”

“While Dick Bruna (1927–2017) was writing and illustrating his early books for children, he was also designing book covers for mysteries and detective novels: 2,000 of them. On the other side of the world, Japanese artists and designers were designing matchbox labels. What do Dick Bruna’s covers have to do with Japanese matchboxes? Absolutely nothing — until they’re placed side-by-side. Only then does it seem the two must be related. But they aren’t. It’s just a contrived coincidence. But that’s OK. Comparing and contrasting are essential tools for seeing — and understanding what we see.”

This exhibition at Katherine Small Gallery isn’t really about Dick Bruna or Japanese matchboxes. It’s simply about looking and making connections.

Via Katherine Small Gallery.

Despite the ubiquity of the natural rhythms, “we spend much of our lives working in opposition to them. Buildings and the way we inhabit them particularly threaten this. We breathe in canned and stale air, work in deep floor plans that do not reach natural light, and keep waking hours out of sync with any natural calendar. Architecture may protect us from the unpleasant parts of nature, but it separates us from everything else, too.

If this seems inevitable, it’s simply because you are not looking closely enough. Hiroshi Sambuichi, an architect based in Hiroshima, Japan, has over the course of his career developed a portfolio of work distinctive not for form or ideation, but for its profound connection to context,” writs Katherine Allen in Revolutionary Nature: the Architecture of Hiroshi Sambuichi.

“Much of this comes from his upbringing in Hiroshima and the Seto Inland Sea region, an area that was devastated by the atomic bomb in 1945. ‘It was said that trees would not grow for 70 years after this,’ explains Sambuichi. ‘But the flowers bloomed again the next spring.’ The area has grown from an affluent city to a lushly green one due to its advantageous climate — one that is celebrated and supported in local traditions. ‘I grew up [here], so every New Year’s I climbed Mt. Misen to watch the sunrise for the first time in the year. I noticed from [there] how the mountain interacts with all the surrounding moving materials.’”

A magnificent, floating roof forms the defining feature of Naoshima Hall. (Photograph by Shigeo Ogawa)

“For Naoshima Hall, a community center project in the Honmura district of Naoshima, the research process took more than two and a half years. A tight collaboration between architect and citizens, the building rediscovers local architectural traditions. An examination of the older houses in the area revealed that floor plans were consistently laid out on a north-south axis and that the arrangement of the houses together allowed wind to move through the town on the same axis. Together, the arrangement seems less like an urban plan than it does like a machine. Every space is designed to take advantage of the existing currents, no extra air conditioning is needed.

It’s not needed at Naoshima Hall either, though this isn’t common in the region’s more contemporary structures. Every angle, geometry, and material is designed to harness natural energy. An opening in the hipped roof allows the southerly winds to pass into the space, eliminating the need for additional air circulation. It’s a simple solution that required a profound knowledge of the site — but as the impact of artificial heating and cooling becomes increasingly detrimental, it’s one architects might be wise to learn from.”

“Mount Misen Observatory, a small, hipped-roof structure that provides a lookout point to the surrounding range. Where other architects might have seen respite space as an opportunity to pack the structure with places to sit, eat, and drink, Sambuichi built a space that encourages visitors to see the changing light, feel the shifting wind, and hear the echoes in the canyons. It’s a reminder that architecture can serve more than just man-made program.” (Photograph, above and below, by Sambuichi Architects)
“ I think to be human really means to be connected. And I’m a rather solitary soul, and I’ve talked a lot about stillness and silence. But I think that they are just way stations, they are refueling places. It’s funny, when we go to an airport, nowadays, there’s so many recharging stations for devices and very few for our soul.” — Picp Iyer (Photograph: National Tourist Route Trollstigen, by Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter; see also: Upon Landscapes, an interview with Reiulf Ramstad from Louisiana Channel)

“I love that word absorption because I think that’s my definition of happiness. I think all of us know we are happiest when we forget ourselves, when we forget the time, when we lose ourselves in a beautiful piece of music or a movie or a deep conversation with a friend or an intimate encounter with someone we love. That’s our definition of happiness. Very few people feel happy racing from one text to the next to the appointment to the cell phone to the emails. If people are happy like that, that’s great. I think a lot of us have got caught up in this cycle that we don’t know how to stop and isn’t sustaining us in the deepest way. And I think we all know our outer lives are only as good as our inner lives. So to neglect our inner lives is really to incapacitate our outer lives. We don’t have so much to give to other people or the world or our job or our kids.” — Pico Iyer, The Urgency of Slowing Down



Mark Storm

Helping people in leadership positions flourish — with wisdom and clarity of thought