New York City is starting to rumble back to life in tandem with ever higher vaccination rates. The pandemic has impacted many of the things I am most interested in: cities, buildings, and logistical systems. As a design architect by training, I have been impressed by how quickly buildings adapted - a mass industry popped up to design, build and manufacture temporary plexiglass dividers, social distancing floor stickers, and outdoor dining pavilions. Now as normalcy seems on the horizon, I wonder how much inertia these interventions will have. When the time comes, will businesses de-install these temporary pandemic measures with the same urgency as they were constructed? Or will we be quietly walking over “stand here” stickers spaced 6 feet apart forever? Our logistical systems tend to focus on efficiently supplying new products, rather than disassembling and removing the obsolete. I suspect the physical reminders of this past year will remain with us for a long time to come.
The most clicked link from last week's issue (~12% of opens) was a good explainer on wire wrapping. In The Prepared's Members' Reading group this week, we had a really excellent Zoom chat about the first few chapters of The Innovation Delusion. Topics included:
- the danger (and power) of bringing concepts into adjacent fields
- the length of a decision making process, and how it's distinct from the number of veto points the decision is subject to
- how government doesn't exactly want to be innovative, but it does need to adapt to changing technologies & industry conditions - and often that results in hiring innovation consultants
Tomorrow evening we're holding our monthly Members' projects show-and-tell; please join us :)
Planning & Strategy.
- America is behind in developing a backup for GPS.
- The scanning rig that The Internet Archive uses to digitize books.
- Why is everyone’s bookshelf on zoom better than mine? Some people buy their books by the foot.
- America’s vaccine rollout has steadily delivered shots to every corner of the nation. In large cities, megastructures have been transformed into mass vaccination sites - the Javits Center in NYC, Dodger Stadium in LA, the Moscone Center in SF. Areas outside of major cities have instead relied on an abundance of closed department stores to deliver mass vaccinations. The pandemic saw the bankruptcies of several national department store chains, leaving behind large buildings in cities of all sizes - each still with a valid certificate of occupancy and functioning HVAC system suitable for public use. Soon, many of these closed buildings will be redeveloped into other uses, but the pandemic has shown how useful underutilized spaces can be as a form of flexible public infrastructure.
Making & Manufacturing.
- The NYTimes’ excellent photo essay from inside three Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine manufacturing sites.
- Engineers at Purdue have developed the whitest white paint pigment - a callback to Vantablack, the “blackest black” which artist Anish Kapoor sought to monopolize a few years ago. The new white paint reflects 98.1% of light and can be used to make surfaces cooler than their surroundings; there are already calls to block Anish Kapoor from gaining access to it.
- An Economist profile on how TSMC, the world’s largest maker of computer chips, has built an efficient manufacturing process by deftly sidestepping geopolitical conflict and basing almost all manufacturing in Taiwan.
- The mathematical beauty of pasta.
Building and Unbuilding.
- A very large crane lifts a crane truck to the roof of Tiffany’s as part of architecture firm OMA New York’s renovation of the landmark jewelry store. The rare crane lift was necessary to continue working through New York City’s holiday construction embargo, which prevents cranes from operating on many streets from Thanksgiving to New Years.
- As more shopping malls go bankrupt and get redeveloped, the first step is often an auction where you can grab a neon Wetzel’s Pretzels sign.
- When the pandemic hit, the cruise ship industry was particularly impacted. Now, numerous ships less than 30 years old are in the process of being disassembled in a shipbreaking yard in Aliaga Turkey.
Transportation, Distribution & Logistics.
- A vast parking lot of brand new Teslas receiving software updates all at the same time.
- NYC’s subway system grew steadily up until the Great Depression, when the stock market crash halted further expansion. A transit cartographer has mapped every proposed (but not constructed) NYC subway line since 1929.
- NYC’s 50-year quest to build a new water tunnel is entering the final phase with the start of work on the last two shafts. The city now restricts photographs of the massive project for security reasons. These archival images of the construction of NYC’s first upstate reservoir at Ashokan over a hundred years ago suggest the scale and ambition of NYC’s water infrastructure.
- A family in Bangladesh has a genetic mutation that causes men to lack fingerprints, which makes it difficult to participate in the national identity card program, buy a SIM card, or travel internationally.
p.s. - We care about inclusivity. Here’s what we’re doing about it.