Presence and Prescience by Johnson Favaro

I could never get past the kitsch of the acting and the sets of the original Star Trek series that Gene Rodenberry created and put on TV in the 1960s enough to appreciate the thought behind it. Still, the show was as everyone now knows progressive, ahead of its time. It had a diverse cast and some of the technologies it imagined such as the voice activated computer and the “communicator” have fifty years later become indispensable in our daily lives.  (Although not yet the “transporter”, a technology that may remain a figment of our imagination.)  The show’s stories were penetrating: Why do we eat? What is love? What makes us human? I believe that Rodenberry set the show in a far-off future in far-off places to create a safe place for the popular culture to ask those questions, to behold who we are and what our future might be:  How will we evolve? Will we progress?

For a hundred years or more technology seems always to have been the answer:  better technology will enable us to evolve.   It’s been our almost unconditional certainly unquestioning faith that machines will make our lives and ourselves better.  We now know though that technology unchecked (and the science behind it) has caused problems with which we now have to contend:  global warming (underway), extreme poverty (modern medicine both the problem and the solution) even robots who think for themselves (maybe around the corner).  And while new science and technologies (photovoltaics, machine learning and nanotechnology) may hold the answers to the problems that old science and technology have created how do we know that they will not in turn create problems we cannot now foresee?  

Read More

Boys with Toys: Disruptive Technology and the Wisdom of the Four-Story Building by Johnson Favaro

About 150 years ago technologies emerged that dramatically changed the way we live.  Electricity, steel and the internal combustion engine made possible the very tall building (or skyscraper) and the automobile. This in turn made possible extremes in how we live: super dense places with lots of tall buildings such as New York and super spread out places like the suburbs and edge cities of California.

Like any disruptive technology we were almost obligated to try them out, see them through, see what works, just as we are equally obligated to confront what doesn’t. (Portable digital technology is after only a decade of ubiquity and seemingly endless possibility now gripped by self-doubt).  Has the time not now arrived for us to evaluate what has and has not worked about the way we engage in making very tall and spread out places?

Read More

Master Bathrooms and Ballistic Missiles: What are we doing? by Johnson Favaro

The middle school (or “junior high school”) I attended in northern California was a poured-in-place concrete 1920’s era Spanish mission style number with loggias and courtyards. It was grand and for us middle class suburban kids even a little bit exotic. We all felt special going there.  The monumental Fredrick Law Olmsted designed campus where I went to college made me feel valued, like I was somewhere important. And the modest yet somehow grand Georgian architecture where I went to graduate school made me feel as if I were part of something bigger—the arc of history and the culture of this nation. 

Vallejo Junior High School was torn down in the 1970s and replaced with a series of single story concrete block bungalows.  The 1960s era library where most of us studied on that Olmsted designed campus was called UGLY (“UnderGraduate LibrarY”). Notoriously disliked by about everyone who ever encountered it, the university recently tore it down. All our library projects over the last decade replaced mid-century bunkers (mostly with no windows) that had proliferated across Southern California in the 60s, 70s and 80s.  What happened?

Read More