Stuffocation by James Wallman

The subtitle of this book is Living More with Less and its an examination of a post materialistic future for our society today.

Taking the book title of Stuffocation James Wallman shows that in developed economies we have started drowning in too much stuff. Then he looks at different movements and how they address this problem. From Minimalism, The Simple Life, The Medium Chill to the Experientialists. The experience economy and a new view of whats important in our lives is what this book finally comes out in favour of.

The Minimalists who cut out more and more ruthlessly their material possessions can maybe be a little to ascetic for James’ taste. The Simple Life followers who follow Henry David Thoreau who tells in his book Walden of getting back to nature for two years also comes up short, it’s often too hard, Thoreau himself only lasted two years and then went back to the city.

The medium chill a sort of midway between following a completely aspirational life and chilling out is what many people might be doing already and anyway it’s not that aspirational is it?

Experientialism is James Wallmans’ answer to the materialist society and the economic never ending chase of raising GDP and I think I agree and see something to be taken from all these ideas.

One thing that kind of rubs me though is that as an Architect it is easy to see a sort of minimal style that just drips opulence. This shows itself in interior design, art, fashion and I think I detect it also in some of the minimal lifestyle guru set.  It’s rather easier to cut out the things you own if your socks count as one thing or you ripped all your cd’s and dvd’s to your laptop. If you only own three sets of 250 dollar jeans, and can buy another in a heartbeat,  how is that not fully partaking in materialistic Western society? This type of minimalism somehow doesn’t seem that much more than a different type of ostentation, one that leverages the feel good factor of youtube and facebook as you sit atop your influencer network while sipping your fruitshake on a Bali beach (Instagram moment!). The book to be fair does touch on this subject but only just in passing.

I do also see the point in a kind of empowering minimalism when it comes to personal finance. Mr. Money Moustache to take one example shows a way of looking at finances and savings, possessions and even experiences which I think can really empower people. Again this personal finance side of the coin is not touched on in the book.

So overall I really like Stuffocation and it does really make you think about your life and provide a jumping point for further reading and maybe action in your own life. You should definitely read it, but just don’t stop there!

Further Reading:

 

A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh. (Amazon us/uk).

Welcome to the world of the Burglar, its a different one from the world we live in. To them the buildings we live in and use as we are supposed to are full of possibilities, treasure, secret entrances, underground exits, alternative uses.

A Burglar’s Guide covers a historical spread of daring heists, the exploits of George Leonidas Leslie, The hole in the ground gang, and the Roofman1 to name a few. It looks at the art of lock picking, talks to burglars who know the fire codes so well they can read the apartments inside from looking at the fire escape stairs.

“burglars are idiot masters of the built environment, drunk Jedis of architectural space.”
― Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar’s Guide to the City

We also see the people pitted against the burglars, from the LAPD helicopter patrol pilots, the designers of saferooms, the burglar trap houses built by the British Police, and in the process we get a flavour of the ever evolving game of cat and mouse they play.

This book could neatly be placed alongside Mike Daviss’ City of Quartz,  Hollow Land by Eyal Weizman, Ground Control by Anna Minton, and theorists from the Situationists onwards and its a punchy and worthy addition to this reading list.

Geoffs insight is that with Architecture comes the Burglar and also those that try to prevent burglars. This ‘misuse’ of Architecture is also another way to see design and the built environment. Its a fun snapshot of many interconnected ideas and it could be another way to explore and think of  the city for all of us.

Links:

  • webcast of Geoff talking about the book.
  1. I particularly like the Roofman as he breaks into MacDonalds Restaurants using his knowledge of their layouts and procedures. As MacDonlads follows the same formulae in every place he can make the same burglary again and again! His burglaries are Simulacrae of the perfect Macdonlads burglary that would work in every MacDonalds on the planet maybe? []

Ground Control

GroundControlGround Control by Anna Minton (Amazon us /uk)

Anna Minton has carefully researched and traced the outline of the policies in the UK behind not only the privatisation of public buildings and space, but have also shaped how we use and think about the city. Grand regeneration projects have turned public space with potential value to everyone into private, corporately managed and policed space, from which the original inhabitants have been all but excluded. Housing Projects have divided communities, created fear and loathing. CCTV and policing policy have exacerbated social divisions.

This thoroughly researched book takes us historically through the key projects and key policies that have brought us to this situation. From the Docklands in the late Eighties under Thaterism through to the present day taking in other major developments across the country. In Liverpool with Liverpool One and Manchester in Exchange Square to name a few of the other major developments that follow this model.

It’s a more encompassing book than just looking at the Urban developments though. It clearly links crime and fear of crime in the UK to the changes in the law and running of developments and housing in the UK. Government policies have reinforced or created these negative effects, the Pathfinder scheme, ASBO’s and Secured by Design. These policies along with the rise of gated communities all over the UK and of CCTV cameras (more in the UK that in the rest of Europe combined) which actually increases the fear and insecurity in society as well as social exclusion. As an example of good writing which clearly links social policy to concrete outcomes in the urban fabric of cities and with actual social outcomes this book sets the bar.

Published in 2009 around the last crash in 2012 an extra chapter was added to cover the Olympic Games of 2012 itself probably worthy of a book. In the conclusion Anna Minton tries to find some silver lining to the dark clouds. Urban Space Management stands out as the lone example she can muster, their Development in Trinity Buoy Wharf an example of how things could have been all over the country. It’s compelling but sobering stuff a must read for anyone in this field and hopefully it has helped to shine a light on an area of public policy which is so opaque but which we should be much more engaged with.

I can’t help but to link this book to The New Aesthetic, the blog by James Bridle that recognises the crossover of the net into the physical world. The use of drones and (mentioned in this book) the mosquito, CCTV and gated communities, all examples of places that exist because of new technology and the ability to produce action at a distance to monitor,control and segregate from anywhere anonymously. Is Britain becoming a visible artifact of the network of control and commerce which has grown up in the last twenty five years in the UK? I sure hope it’s not that bad.