Michael Walch

Digital Tea House article on Domus Web

Posted in Digital Tea House Project by michaelwalch on 27 October, 2010

First, we at GSAPP are trying to get more creative with our project name.  I proposed calling it the Field House/Tea House in reference to the ways the programmatic attractors in Grasshopper work as weights within a field of influence, the focus within the project on the detailed treatment of various surfaces and deviations from regular components, as well as the more literal space and the way it is connected to the outdoors.  So, Field House/Tea House by GSAPP.

Now the continued exciting news: the tea house project has been written up in Domus online!  It includes lots of photos along individual descriptions of all three projects.  The text of the article is attributed to Kaon Ko (of Noiz Architects) and Salvator-John Liotta (Postdoc at University of Tokyo Department of Architecture) – both were integral to organizing the project.  Many thanks to them!  There are rumors of an article in an upcoming print issue of Domus… we’ll see!


NYTimes Infographic – A Better Cafeteria

Posted in Economics, General Architecture by michaelwalch on 22 October, 2010

Things I love seeing and discussing:

  • Drawings
  • Infographics
  • Food choices
  • Retail design
  • Economics

The New York Times rolled them all into one very interesting Flash interaction today.  It’s just an isometric line drawing of a cafeteria and a few rollovers, but it explains some (design?) concepts of how to lay out school cafeterias and lunch lines to encourage healthier choices without being didactic.  It’s a very clear presentation of some simple but potentially very effective ideas.  Check it out.

I do have a critique of the feasibility of even these simple-seeming challenges.  Firstly, it shouldn’t be assumed that people running school cafeterias can choose what they serve to kids – despite some laudable activism from parents, teachers, and others, cafeteria menus are generally dictated by USDA guidelines and programs, which are heavily influenced by fast food and agri-business lobbyists.  Similarly, I think there are a lot of people working in schools who really care about these issues and would support this type of change, but there are powerful economic factors at play too.  Removing vending machines from schools (or even altering their selection) has repeatedly failed because the vendors – Coca-Cola, Pepsi, etc. – often give substantial donations to the cash-strapped schools in exchange for access to campus and the student body.

The strength of these ideas is their simplicity.  Changing the way food (and ‘food-like products’ to borrow from Michael Pollan) is displayed in a cafeteria is exactly analogous to every grocery store aisle in the world.  Unfortunately, the healthy meal options tend to have lower margins (less processing and packaging), and the marketing studies are never done, let alone implemented as they try to compete for prominence on the supermarket – or school cafeteria – shelf.  I love the idea that good marketing and retail design informed by common sense can finally be used to guide kids to better, instead of worse, choices.  Good luck!

Digital Tea House Exhibition

Posted in Digital Tea House Project by michaelwalch on 19 October, 2010

If you happen to be in Tokyo, come by the UTDA+GSAPP Digital Tea House exhibit at the Ozone Gallery in Shinjuku!  Models and photos of all three tea houses will be displayed, and two of them will be fully rebuilt in the gallery space!

See more of the GSAPP Digital Tea House project, including the exhibition portfolio, here.

I Didn’t Win the Nobel Prize in Economics

Posted in Economics by michaelwalch on 12 October, 2010

I didn’t win the Nobel Prize in Economics, but Peter A. Diamond, Dale T. Mortensen and Christopher A. Pissarides won it for elegantly stating what all recent MArch graduates (and our peers in other fields) know all too well.  It’s tough finding a job in a recession.  The prize was awarded for research which went beyond the simple supply and demand model of jobs where labor is a commodity like any other with suppliers (employees or employment-seekers) and and consumers (employers).  (The analogy could be thought of the other way around where employers supply jobs to applicants, but then the producer is paying the customer to take the commodity… anyway have fun with the wording.)  The research focused on the actual “search frictions” involved in getting qualified applicants to available positions.  This approach offers insights into the troubles of under-employment and unemployment  – why it’s so difficult to efficiently employ everyone in a population (say the United States).

Like nearly all economics, it doesn’t offer a laundry-list of policy recommendations, but it at least can provide us job-seekers with a theoretical understanding of how it can be that there seem to be jobs out there, we’re qualified and applying, and yet we still end up watching TV and reading books day after day.

Here’s a really good NY Times article about not only the prize-winning research, but the work that informed it: The Work Behind the Nobel Prize

In the meantime, since I *am* an architect…

The data is old, (Mar 2009) but look at the building-related trades there in the bright red.

From the Guardian Data Blog.

Last but not least, make this posting less relevant by hiring me!  Take a look at my resume and bio online.

The ‘Flash Crash’ of May 6th – Yes, it was a Single Algorithmic Sale

Posted in Economics, Network City by michaelwalch on 1 October, 2010

In my book for Kazys Varnelis’ Network Architecture course at Columbia GSAPP, I focused on the landscape of data centers, especially those with ties to high-frequency trading and stock exchanges, in the New York City area.  One catalyst for this research was the ‘Flash Crash’ of the afternoon of May 6th where the Dow lost 600 points in minutes, and then regained it nearly as quickly.  This was due to a huge volume of algorithmic trading, redoubling the demand for regulation of high-frequency traders, and undoubtedly catching an unaware public off-guard with a troubling display of uncertainty.  Normally high-frequency traders are interested in more volatile, cheaper stocks, but this sale had two really unusual aspects which caused the crash – first it was selling futures related to the S&P 500 index itself, and it also executed its huge sale – $4.1 billion – very quickly.  Even this huge sale might not have affected the market itself, but as all the other algorithmic traders (‘black boxes’) saw this sale, a cascade of automated sell orders started.

To call these agents ‘traders’ is a stretch – these are not people but computers, all connected through fiber-optic data lines directly to the exchanges – this network is what I spent time mapping for the Fiber Finance book.  These transactions are processed in microseconds without any real human involvement.  Interestingly, once the Dow started in a downward spiral, electronic trading was stopped.  Suddenly the shouting traders at the Stock Exchange floor on Wall Street took back the exchange, to slow it down.  The NYSE building in Lower Manhattan is always represented by frantic men shouting buy and sell orders but Fort Knox might be a more appropriate image to its function as a human slowdown machine.  The fast-acting trades are happening silently in Northern New Jersey.

Read the New York Times Article: A Single Sale Worth $4.1 Billion Led to the ‘Flash Crash’

GSAPP + UTDA Digital Tea House Published in Shinkenchiku Journal

Posted in Digital Tea House Project by michaelwalch on 1 October, 2010

The UTDA + GSAPP Digital Tea House project is the cover story of the October issue of Shinkenchiku (published in Japan, related to A+U).  The three projects have an eight-page article including lots of photos, screen shots from Rhino with Grasshopper, and drawings by the student teams.  Truly amazing coverage of the project – congratulations to everyone!  See the table of contents of the October issue of Shinkenchiku, or buy a copy at the Shinkenchiku online store.

Chris Downey Article in Architect’s Newspaper

Posted in General Architecture by michaelwalch on 27 September, 2010

Chris Downey reading a drawing from an embossing printer.

Chris Downey was my former boss for about two years when I was working in San Francisco.  I left in the middle of 2007 to pursue my Master of Architecture on the East Coast.  The following year, Chris lost his vision as a complication of a tumor surgery.  While those who knew him gasped in shock – a blind architect – Chris went right back to work, learning not only how to live as a productive blind person, but also practice as a blind architect.  His story is truly inspiring.

Read the article at Architect’s Newspaper.

Housing Collapse – An Aerial View

Posted in Economics, General Architecture by michaelwalch on 22 September, 2010

Firstly, to be my friend or read my blog you must listen to NPR’s Planet Money.  Last week, the Planet Money team was tracing the origins of Toxie, the ‘toxic asset’ (mortgage-backed security) that they bought a while back in order to experience first-hand the major story of the economic downturn.  Toxie is essentially a bundle of home mortgages, so while perhaps no other investor has thought to do this, the NPR team has been looking for the actual houses associated with their complex financial instrument – which brought them to Florida, where they discovered not only the houses they were looking for, but entire neighborhoods from a previous housing bubble in Florida.  Read the blog post and listen to the podcast, then compare the maps below:


Lehigh Acres, FL

This is the area mentioned in the podcast.  You can find out lots more about it at the website of Spikowski Planning Associates, who have done extensive planning for reusing the abandoned lots.  “[Lehigh Acres] was subdivided into about 135,000 lots, over 121,500 of which remain vacant.” – from Spikowski, W. M. and Stroubd, H. B. “Planning in the Wake of Florida Land Scams” available as a PDF on their website.

Salton City, CA

This was posted in the comments on the blog page, and looks to be a similar story to the Florida example.

These neighborhoods were built as land investments (from around the 1970s) so streets were built (and named) but not houses.  The land was cleared but was never built upon, and in most areas has grown back.  This is in sharp contrast to neighborhoods of foreclosed homes, where houses were built but then abandoned (or, as the podcast reports, no one ever moved in in the first place).  The question of what to do with this land is huge in every dimension – the sheer amount of vacant space within (albeit suburban/rural) cities, their value not only to the local owners and/or municipalities but to the world economy through the various financial instruments that caused their associated booms in the first place, and their environmental impact (one point emphasized in the podcast was the array of animals who had moved in to the abandoned houses).


I’m working on a comparable map insert for the more recent foreclosure crisis.  This is largely a more subtle, on-the-street issue where you see unmaintained yards and homes – it’s more abstract in an aerial view.  One place to start is the HotPads Foreclosure search map.

Cape Coral, Florida:

Check out the live map at HotPads.com

Las Vegas, Nevada:

Check out the live map at HotPads.com

Mapping Racial Segregation

Posted in General Architecture by michaelwalch on 22 September, 2010

Ethnicity of population from US Census, by Census block, for the NYC metropolitain region. By Eric Fisher.

Major United States cities are racially segregated.  That’s the conclusion that’s meant to be drawn by a beautiful series of mappings of US Census ethnicity data of most major U.S. cities, by Eric Fisher, posted as a comprehensive set on Flickr.  This origins of this project are in a map of Chicago by Bill Rankin, plotting the same Census ethnicity data.  Rankin’s Radical Cartography website is a great place to dive into this type of project.

The segregation reading of these maps is perhaps too simple to be useful – I think we knew this already anyway right?  What’s interesting to me is to analyze what constitutes a racial-neighborhood boundary.  Much of the geometry present in these maps is actually dictated by the data set – the Census-block level information.  In dense cities these are small geographic areas – for instance in Manhattan a Census block is typically only a few city blocks – but their geography is not to be confused with the physical geography of cities.  In less dense areas (check out the Midwestern and Southern cities mapped in the set) the resolution of  a Census block becomes unwieldy.  It is no wonder that major streets, freeways, waterways, and railways divide these swaths of colored dots because this is remnant from the Census geography.  What if the dots were given more autonomy or weight – what if we simply drew a shape around all the blues or reds, or tried to connect seemingly autonomous swaths of color.  In New York, for instance, we might see lines of infrastructure like a subway line, or historic reshaping of the city by Robert Moses, which connect ethnic populations.  It will be interesting to watch the tags on flickr that users have attached to these maps – hopefully they can start to inform the graphics with deeper understandings from people familiar with the social and historical significance of these places.  I hope they will be put into a better interface – perhaps more like Google Earth – that will allow people to zoom in and layer other information over them.  Right now they are beautiful images, but for us to really interpret them, we need to interact with them as a geographic tool.

Digital Tea House Final Review/Tea Ceremonies

Posted in Digital Tea House Project by michaelwalch on 4 September, 2010

These photos are from the final installation and tea ceremonies of the GSAPP/UTDA Digital Tea House project, held Aug 25, 2010 on the University of Tokyo campus.

See the entire set of photos on flickr.

%d bloggers like this: