1. The rise of Podcast:
Figure 1&2 (left to right): Roman Mars from “99%invisible” podcast; “Serial” – podcast that changes the game
I have only subscribed to the culture of “ipod broadcast” (a.k.a podcast) for a little more than a year, yet I am totally hooked and it has been part of my daily routine ever since. A podcast is similar to a radio show, except that listeners can download the episodes to their device and listen to them at their own time. “Podfather” Adam Curry’s “Daily Source Code” started in 2004 is believed to be the first podcast show. In 2005, Apple released iTunes 4.9 supporting podcasts and before you know it, there comes the era of smartphones, apps, online media platforms such as SoundCloud, Stitcher, Spotify… all of which opens up an entirely new audience to podcasting. Apple reported that iTunes have had 7 billion total podcast listen (downloads and streams) and more than 1 billion podcast subscriptions in 2014 while Edison Research estimates that within the month of March 2014, there are 39 million Americans who listened to a podcast. MarketingPodcasts.com has made a good series of infographic depicting the rise of Podcast. So what brings about the radio/podcast renaissance?
The first factor is human. Podcast today is richer in content because of their production team behind-the-scene. In fact, many popular podcasts are spill-off from established radio shows, where there are already writers, producers, sound editors etc. There are also more money in podcasting than it used to be, mainly coming from ad revenue. Midroll – a podcast advertising company – estimates that 63% of listeners have purchased something they heard on a podcast. As a result, big brands are willing to pay 20$-40$/1000 listeners; with top podcasts receiving nearly 100$/1000 listeners. That is a lot of ad revenue if you consider popular shows having half a million listeners per episode, with more than 1 advertiser. Also, federal rules in US limited what public broadcasters can say, while podcaster can get much more creative with it. The third factor is cars. Today people spending more time driving than ever, and podcasts help fill that void. It is stated that 44% of radio listening happens in cars. In conjunction, recent technologies such as bluetooth, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay etc. bring cars online. These three factors have not only made it possible for podcast to flourish, but also reinvented what “radio” means. Podcast is on the rise, outliving its “pod” while entering “a golden age of audio” says Alex Blumberg, former producer of the podcast This American Life and presenter-protagonist of StartUp.
2. Draft Australia Building Codes under criticism:
The Australian Building Codes Board recently proposed changes to the National Construction Code (NCC), in which its Section J, which sets out the minimum requirements around energy and thermal performance, were heavily criticised as “failure to promote improvements to the performance of buildings” and “lack of vision” with “too many loopholes in proving compliance”. The proposed system could potentially considered an apartment that scored ZERO NatHERS stars under the old system as “compliant”. Another dodgy change is the grouping of Class 2 building (apartments) to Class 5 building (commercial office buildings), which means, unlike before when each apartment have to be assessed individually for at least five star NatHERS, the whole building can pass the test if it averages at six star NatHERS. The outcome is not 6 good apartments, but 3 horrible units and 3 outstanding counterparts, and customers might not necessarily know which one they are paying for. A group of 17 sustainability and construction experts have come together to voice their objections, completing its own modelling of the new changes to demonstrate its flaws. Others have suggested looking at European model where people, instead of an energy metric, use a carbon intensity metric which incorporates energy use and on-site energy generation & requires all buildings, even single detached dwellings, to achieve net zero carbon. Submissions in response to the draft document close on Monday 3 August, and the changes to the National Construction Code are due to come into effect on 1 May 2016. Public comment can be submitted via link.
3. Privatisation of Public Places
Figure 3&4 (left to right): Paternoster Square; Garden Bridge by Thomas Heatherwick
Figure 5&6 (left to right): London City Hall; Granary Square in London
Generations of urban experts have always considered public space to be where cities get remade; and privatisation undermines this very foundation of civic and democratic life. This phenomenon is more than just a decrease in places where the public can gather. Privately owned public space (POPS), first of all, do not function for a couple of reason: they lack the spontaneity and that bit of chaos, making people feel too monitored and controlled to interact and engage with the spaces or with each other. In addition, POPS also carries political implications, which is best portrayed through the 2011 Occupy movement in London. The encampment was planned at Paternoster Square, not knowing that the space is privately owned by Mitsubishi Estate Co., who by law has the right to deny protest or public gathering (of more than 3 people). An even more disturbing example is the area surrounding London City Hall which in fact was bought by Kuwaiti property company St Martin at £1.7b and as a result, could no longer legally hold public protest. The list goes on, including the new King Cross’ development at Granary Square, the proposal for Battersea Power Station redevelopment, and the new Garden Bridge designed by Thomas Heatherwick. “This is public money that is being used to create private spaces that are anti-democratic” said Bradley Garrett, geographer at University of Southampton, in his TEDtalk on the subject of POPS in Britain. This is not just an issue in UK but in other part of the world as well. In New South Wales, Australia, government data recently records a loss of 20% in open space within 10 years, due to privatisation, rezoning public space into commercial use, putting crown lands up for sale, and poor infrastructure plans that threatens parks and trees. Organisations and individuals have started to tackle the issue. Bradley Garrett has proposed to map all of London public spaces systematically, which can then be used to educate people on what they can legally do in public spaces and the potential they entails (i.e urban camping, protesting, partying, etc.) Other parts of the world have also tackled POPS more seriously. San Francisco not only introduces a new web tool cataloging POPS and the associated amenities but also implements new regulations to reinforce its “1985 Downtown Plan” which mandates large new offices and hotel developments to incorporate public spaces proportionate to their size.
4. New Zealand getting a new flag:
Another flag-related story, this time is the crowd-funded national flag design for New Zealand. This week, Parliament passed legislation, clearing the way for the changing of the nation’s flag. 10000 designs have been submitted and the last 40 have been shortlisted for public vote. For several decades, alternative designs have been proposed with supports going both way. The general consensus for change is due to firstly the significant similarity with the Australian flag; secondly its extensive acknowledgement of the British heritage; and last but not least, its failure to represent the New Zealand of today. The brief calls for a design that is timeless and can effectively and potently communicate the essence of the country. Predominant design themes include a silver fern, the koru, the British Union Jack, and the constellation of stars known as the southern cross. I personally favour the silver fern as a concept, not that I am an expert on New Zealand but because the symbol is not only representative of the nation and its Maori tradition, but also aesthetically pleasing and simple – qualities that should be of a good flag design. Four final flags will be announced by mid September, which will then be ranked by eligible voters in a first referendum later this year. Adding into the event, Oliver Wainwright of Guardian selected some of the better flag designs around the world for the reference. Many can also recall the Norway’s effort to transform the look of its passport & currency – which are designed by Olso-based design firm Snøhetta and Neue
5. Breathing bar:
How to get drunk without drinking alcohol? Sound like a trick question, but it is possible if you come to “Alcoholic Architecture” – a pop-up bar in London that transform cocktails into vapours letting patrons breathe in the booze as well as absorb it through their skin and eyes. Bombas & Parr, the mind behind this newly open bar, is known for unconventional design, from “Mutli-sensory firework display”, glow-in-the-dark ice cream to Pharmacafe where guests can get drink based on their own DNA. While the idea seems exciting and “sound like a party”, its health implication is quite worrying. Alcohol bypassing the liver will skip the “first pass metabolism” and make the breathable brew so potent that it will get you drunk 40% quicker than drinking the same mixture in liquid. The upside is that you consume 40% less calories – so you can be drunk and fit. Ironically, it is the reversed procedure to getting alcohol test by the police. What’s next – getting drunk through a breathalyser?
Other traces include the world’s best roundabout located in Hobart, Australia; golf courses in Japan being turned into solar power plant; the canonical Venturi House going on sale at $1.75m; a call for a password-less login era; a photo essay on architecture landmarks of past World Fairs; Boston billboard that shows trees and night sky instead of ads; anti anti-homeless mattress; 2015 New Zealand Archtecture Award Shortlist; super dope art illustrations of famous patents; Kiruna – Swedish city being relocated two miles away;
Project of the Week
Nominated for 2015 New Zealand Architecture Award, Castle Rock House by Herbst Architects is a combination between luxury of a holiday house and rusticity that blends with the surrounding landscape. The house is predominantly used in the summer months, which is reflected in the layout and material usage. The building consists of 2 main volumes – public living spaces on one side and private ares on the other, separated by the spine corridor with view leading out to the ocean. Each spaces have the opportunity to be opened up to the landscape. Timber is used throughout the house, not only add the warmth to the interior palette but also create a rugged “natural” feeling on the exterior via the use of black stained timber.