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Month September 2010

Queen Victoria at the British Track Championships 2010

Via CyclingNews; photos: © British Cycling


La Rose


Fishers Island House

Via ArchDaily, by Nico Saieh

Architect: Thomas Phifer
Location: Fishers Island, New York, USA
Project Partner: Donald Cox AIA
Project Architect: Andrew Mazor AIA
Collaborators: Adam Ruffin, Eric Richey, Lisa Tilney, Rebecca Emmons
Project Consultants: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Structural Engineer: Ambrisino, DePinto&Schmieder
Mechanical Engineers: Office for Visual Interaction
Lighting Designer: Core Engineering Group
Civil Engineers: Allen Architectural Metals
General Contractor: BD Remodeling & Restoration
Project Year: 2009
Photographs: Scott Frances

Meandering gardens and woods, sparked with daffodils, peonies and daylilies, flank the straight drive in. Up ahead near the path’s end is an aperture framed by an arbor of apple trees, capturing an elemental view of sky and water: the horizon of the Long Island Sound. As you reach closer range, you suddenly realize you have been looking not merely through foliage, but also right through the house.

Just behind the copse stands a delicately transparent pavilion. Its light-filtering trellis—a horizontal tracery of slender aluminum rods extending the roof plane—aligns with the canopy of trees before it. Woven into the landscape, this is an architecture of subtlety, a precisely grounded yet quasi-weightless structure, an ethereal rectangle, planted between two existing woods. Like feathery fronds, the trellis reaches toward the bordering leafy branches, while the pavilion’s interior floor plane—fully visible through the glassy, Miesian shell—continues outward, its surface of ebonized bamboo transformed into an exterior plinth of Indian black granite, a walkway, finely striated with shadows from the diaphanous, metal canopy above.

Meanwhile, the entry axis penetrates the pavilion’s simple 4,600-square-foot volume, notching into its far side and emerging as a long, miraculously shallow reflecting pool, incising the lawn with a silvery film, its distant edge dissolving optically into the Sound.

A perimeter path lines the structure’s transparent shell. Freestanding in parallel alignment, the interior walls never meet the enclosure. Instead, they form a virtual box within a box, an implied inner volume. These parallel planes channel long vistas out toward water and garden, only allowing the seascape’s wide, rugged panorama to emerge in full view at the house’s far side.

More than a one-bedroom retreat for a former museum director and his wife, this is also a place of extraordinary 20th century paintings, sculptures, and glassware—much of it conveying a sense of buoyancy or levitation that echoes the pavilion’s lightness. The artwork always figures into view out, even if only peripherally. Conversely, from the gardens, this colorful indoor collection projects a presence outdoors.

In the animated interplay between landscape and art, in the shifting ambiguities between inside and out, the design achieves exceptional balance. An arcing swath of vibrant yellow sedum in the garden resonates with the golden footbridge in a Chinese screen inside; a mossy rock garden projects into the pavilion’s simple volume, while the bedroom nestles into a private apse of garden vegetation. You can look straight through the house without realizing it, but you could also mistake reflections of trees for glimpses through the pavilion. Morphing with the skies, flourishing seasonally, the dialogue evolves, nourishing the owner’s desire to live in the garden—with art.

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Logan Residence

Via ArchDaily, by Nico Saieh

Architects: Jones Studio
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
Principal in Charge: Eddie M. Jones, AIA
Project Team: Matt Salenger, RA; Maria Salenger, AIA; Jenna Rimkes
Structural Engineer: AED Inc. Structural Engineers
Landscape Architect: Bill Tonnesson, LA
Clients: Kent and Vicki Logan
General Contractor: The Construction Zone
Site Area: 59,650 sq ft
Built Area: 4,600 sq ft
Project year: 2005-2008
Photographs: Robert Reck; Ed Taube; Jones Studio, Inc

The Logan Residence is first a private museum, second a personal winter residence. The art is one of the top contemporary collections in the United States, and the architect vowed that the architecture would be an equally significant addition.

After several studies, it was mutually decided the program would be about multiple galleries, each with a different daylighting technique.

Passage below the metallic “golden aspen leaves” provides transitional entry shade and recalls the couple’s Vail, Colorado summer residence. Upon passing through the front door, guests enter Gallery One. The Sonoran Desert is well known for its clear white light; however, it must be diffused to avoid damaging the art. Six foot deep, parabolic white plaster shafts bounce and reflect light, evenly distributing it throughout the space. They begin as a circular oculus and warp to a square, integrating an adjustable electric lighting grid, which doubles as the mounting point for suspended art hanging walls, subject to relocation as needed.

The unusual yet orthogonal building footprint assures the very least site disruption. Every Saguaro was saved, every boulder, Palo Verde, and contour preserved. This claim is only possible when the architecture is inspired by its subordination to the landscape!

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Fabien Fabre x Le Coq Sportif

By Le Coq Sportif

Paul Rudolph: Lower Manhattan Expressway

Paul Rudolph: Lower Manhattan Expressway is organized in collaboration with The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union. The Lower Manhattan Expressway (LME) was first conceived by “master builder” Robert Moses in the late 1930s as an innovative multi-use expressway system running across Lower Manhattan. The idea was revisited by architect Paul Rudolph in 1967 when the Ford Foundation commissioned a study of the project. Had it been constructed, this major urban design plan would have transformed New York City’s topography and infrastructure. In this exhibition, approximately 30 full-scale reproductions of drawings, prints, and photographs dated from 1967–1972 will be on public view for the first time. These works from the Paul Rudolph Archive at the Library of Congress will be shown together with a reconstruction of Rudolph’s model of the LME project created by architecture students at The Cooper Union. Presenting the only records of Rudolph’s visionary proposal, this exhibition illuminates Rudolph’s unique approach to architectural drawing and highlights the fundamental importance of drawing in his overall practice. Co-curated by Jim Walrod and Ed Rawlings, Principal, Rawlings Architects.

The Drawing Center
October 1 – November 14, 2010

The Unicorn’s Rose

From NASA, Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

A new image taken by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Explorer (WISE) shows the Rosette nebula located within the constellation Monoceros, or the Unicorn.

This flower-shaped nebula, also known by the less romantic name NGC 2237, is a huge star-forming cloud of dust and gas in our Milky Way galaxy. Estimates of the nebula’s distance vary from 4,500 to 5,000 light-years away.

Neurons Got the Beat

This is an illustration of how brain rhythms organize distributed groups of neurons into functional cell assemblies. The colors represent different cell assemblies. Neurons in widely separated brain areas often need to work together without interfering with other, spatially overlapping groups. Each assembly is sensitive to different frequencies, producing independent patterns of coordinated neural activity, depicted as color traces to the right of each network. Credit: Ryan Canolty, UC Berkeley

From PhysOrg

When it comes to conducting complex tasks, it turns out that the brain needs rhythm, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

Specifically, cortical rhythms, or oscillations, can effectively rally groups of neurons in widely dispersed regions of the brain to engage in coordinated activity, much like a conductor will summon up various sections of an orchestra in a symphony.

Even the simple act of catching a ball necessitates an impressive coordination of multiple groups of neurons to perceive the object, judge its speed and trajectory, decide when it’s time to catch it and then direct the muscles in the body to grasp it before it whizzes by or drops to the ground.

Until now, neuroscientists had not fully understood how these neuron groups in widely dispersed regions of the brain first get linked together so they can work in concert for such complex tasks.

The UC Berkeley findings are to be published the week of Sept. 20 in the online early edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“One of the key problems in neuroscience right now is how you go from billions of diverse and independent neurons, on the one hand, to a unified brain able to act and survive in a complex world, on the other,” said principal investigator Jose Carmena, UC Berkeley assistant professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, the Program in Cognitive Science, and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. “Evidence from this study supports the idea that neuronal oscillations are a critical mechanism for organizing the activity of individual neurons into larger functional groups.”

The idea behind anatomically dispersed but functionally related groups of neurons is credited to neuroscientist Donald Hebb, who put forward the concept in his 1949 book “The Organization of Behavior.”

“Hebb basically said that single neurons weren’t the most important unit of brain operation, and that it’s really the cell assembly that matters,” said study lead author Ryan Canolty, a UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow in the Carmena lab.

It took decades after Hebb’s book for scientists to start unraveling how groups of neurons dynamically assemble. Not only do neuron groups need to work together for the task of perception – such as following the course of a baseball as it makes its way through the air – but they then need to join forces with groups of neurons in other parts of the brain, such as in regions responsible for cognition and body control.

At UC Berkeley, neuroscientists examined existing data recorded over the past four years from four macaque monkeys. Half of the subjects were engaged in brain-machine interface tasks, and the other half were participating in working memory tasks. The researchers looked at how the timing of electrical spikes – or action potentials – emitted by nerve cells was related to rhythms occurring in multiple areas across the brain.

Among the squiggly lines, patterns emerged that give literal meaning to the phrase “tuned in.” The timing of when individual neurons spiked was synchronized with brain rhythms occurring in distinct frequency bands in other regions of the brain. For example, the high-beta band – 25 to 40 hertz (cycles per second) – was especially important for brain areas involved in motor control and planning.

“Many neurons are thought to respond to a receptive field, so that if I look at one motor neuron as I move my hand to the left, I’ll see it fire more often, but if I move my hand to the right, the neuron fires less often,” said Carmena. “What we’ve shown here is that, in addition to these traditional ‘external’ receptive fields, many neurons also respond to ‘internal’ receptive fields. Those internal fields focus on large-scale patterns of synchronization involving distinct cortical areas within a larger functional network.”

The researchers expressed surprise that this spike dependence was not restricted to the neuron’s local environment. It turns out that this local-to-global connection is vital for organizing spatially distributed neuronal groups.

“If neurons only cared about what was happening in their local environment, then it would be difficult to get neurons to work together if they happened to be in different cortical areas,” said Canolty. “But when multiple neurons spread all over the brain are tuned in to a specific pattern of electrical activity at a specific frequency, then whenever that global activity pattern occurs, those neurons can act as a coordinated assembly.”

The researchers pointed out that this mechanism of cell assembly formation via oscillatory phase coupling is selective. Two neurons that are sensitive to different frequencies or to different spatial coupling patterns will exhibit independent activity, no matter how close they are spatially, and will not be part of the same assembly. Conversely, two neurons that prefer a similar pattern of coupling will exhibit similar spiking activity over time, even if they are widely separated or in different brain areas.

“It is like the radio communication between emergency first responders at an earthquake,” Canolty said. “You have many people spread out over a large area, and the police need to be able to talk to each other on the radio to coordinate their action without interfering with the firefighters, and the firefighters need to be able to communicate without disrupting the EMTs. So each group tunes into and uses a different radio frequency, providing each group with an independent channel of communication despite the fact that they are spatially spread out and overlapping.”

The authors noted that this local-to-global relationship in brain activity may prove useful for improving the performance of brain-machine interfaces, or lead to novel strategies for regulating dysfunctional brain networks through electrical stimulation. Treatment of movement disorders through deep brain stimulation, for example, usually targets a single area. This study suggests that gentler rhythmic stimulation in several areas at once may also prove effective, the authors said.

Text by University of California, Berkeley

Gray Matters

Via PhysOrg

A specific region of the brain appears to be larger in individuals who are good at turning their thoughts inward and reflecting upon their decisions, according to new research published in the journal Science. This act of introspection — or “thinking about your thinking” — is a key aspect of human consciousness, though scientists have noted plenty of variation in peoples’ abilities to introspect.

The new study will be published in the 17 September issue of the journal Science. Science is published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

In light of their findings, this team of researchers, led by Prof. Geraint Rees from University College London, suggests that the volume of gray matter in the anterior prefrontal cortex of the brain, which lies right behind our eyes, is a strong indicator of a person’s introspective ability. Furthermore, they say the structure of white matter connected to this area is also linked to this process of introspection.

It remains unclear, however, how this relationship between introspection and the two different types of brain matter really works. These findings do not necessarily mean that individuals with greater volume of gray matter in that region of the brain have experienced—or will experience—more introspective thoughts than other people. But, they do establish a correlation between the structure of gray and white matter in the prefrontal cortex and the various levels of introspection that individuals may experience.

In the future, the discovery may help scientists understand how certain brain injuries
affect an individual’s ability to reflect upon their own thoughts and actions. With such an understanding, it may eventually be possible to tailor appropriate treatments to patients, such as stroke victims or those with serious brain trauma, who may not even understand their own conditions.

“Take the example of two patients with mental illness—one who is aware of their illness and one who is not,” said one of the study’s authors, Stephen Fleming from University College London. “The first person is likely to take their medication, but the second is less likely. If we understand self-awareness at the neurological level, then perhaps we can also adapt treatments and develop training strategies for these patients.”

This new study was born from collaboration between Rees’ group, which investigates consciousness, and another group at University College London led by Prof. Ray Dolan, which studies decision-making. Fleming, together with co-author Rimona Weil, designed an experiment to measure both an individual’s performance at a task, as well as how confident that individual felt about his or her decisions during the task. By taking note of how accurately the study’s participants were able to judge their own decision-making, the researchers were able to gain insight into the participants’ introspective abilities.

To begin, Fleming and Weil recruited 32 healthy human participants and showed them two screens, each containing six patterned patches. One of the screens, however, contained a single patch that was brighter than all the rest. The researchers asked the participants to identify which screen contained the brighter patch, and then to rate how confident they felt about their final answer. After the experiment, participants’ brains were scanned using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI.

Fleming and the researchers designed the task to be difficult, so that participants were never completely sure if their answer was correct. They reasoned that participants who are good at introspection would be confident after making correct decisions about the patch, and less confident when they were incorrect about the patch. By adjusting the task, the researchers ensured all of the participants’ decision-making abilities were on par with each others’—only the participants’ knowledge of their own decision-making abilities differed.

“It’s like that show, ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?'” said Weil. “An introspective contestant will go with his or her final answer when they are quite sure of it, and perhaps phone a friend when they are unsure. But, a contestant who is less introspective would not be as effective at judging how likely their answer is to be correct.”

So, although each participant performed equally well at the task, their introspective abilities did vary considerably, the researchers confirmed. By comparing the MRI scans of each participant’s brain, they could then identify a correlation between introspective ability and the structure of a small area of the prefrontal cortex. An individual’s meta-cognitive, or “higher-thinking,” abilities were significantly correlated with the amount of gray matter in the right anterior prefrontal cortex and the structure of neighboring white matter, Rees and his team found.

These findings, however, could reflect the innate differences in our anatomy, or alternatively, the physical effects of experience and learning on the brain. The latter possibility raises the exciting prospect that there may be a way to “train” meta-cognitive abilities by exploiting the malleable nature of these regions of prefrontal cortex. But, more research is needed to explore the mental computations behind introspection—and then to link these computations to actual biological processes.

“We want to know why we are aware of some mental processes while others proceed in the absence of consciousness,” said Fleming. “There may be different levels of consciousness, ranging from simply having an experience, to reflecting upon that experience. Introspection is on the higher end of this spectrum—by measuring this process and relating it to the brain we hope to gain insight into the biology of conscious thought.”

More information: “Relating introspective accuracy to individual differences in brain structure.” Science 2010.