Malcolm McCullough

Malcolm McCullough is Professor of Architecture at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand, Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing, and Ambient Commons: Attention in the Age of Embodied Information, all published by the MIT Press.

  • Downtime on the Microgrid

    Downtime on the Microgrid

    Architecture, Electricity, and Smart City Islands

    Malcolm McCullough

    Something good about the smart city: a human-centered account of why the future of electricity is local.

    Resilience now matters most, and most resilience is local—even for that most universal, foundational modern resource: the electric power grid. Today that technological marvel is changing more rapidly than it has for a lifetime, and in our new grid awareness, community microgrids have become a fascinating catalyst for cultural value change. In Downtime on the Microgrid, Malcolm McCullough offers a thoughtful counterpoint to the cascade of white papers on smart clean infrastructure. Writing from an experiential perspective, McCullough avoids the usual smart city futurism, technological solutionism, policy acronyms, green idealism, critical theory jargon, and doomsday prepping to provide new cultural context for a subject long a favorite theme in science and technology studies.

    McCullough describes the three eras of North American electrification: innovation, consolidation, and decentralization. He considers the microgrid boom and its relevance to the built environment as “architecture's grid edge.” Finally, he argues that resilience arises from clusters; although a microgrid is often described as an island, future resilience will require archipelagos—clusters of microgrids, with a two-way, intermittent connectiveness that is very different from the always-on, top-down technofuture we may be expecting. With Downtime on the Microgrid, McCullough rises above techno-hype to find something good about the smart city and reassuring about local resilience.

    • Hardcover $35.00
  • Ambient Commons

    Ambient Commons

    Attention in the Age of Embodied Information

    Malcolm McCullough

    On rediscovering surroundings when information goes everywhere.

    The world is filling with ever more kinds of media, in ever more contexts and formats. Glowing rectangles have become part of the scene; screens, large and small, appear everywhere. Physical locations are increasingly tagged and digitally augmented. Amid this flood, your attention practices matter more than ever. You might not be able to tune this world out. So it is worth remembering that underneath all these augmentations and data flows, fixed forms persist, and that to notice them can improve other sensibilities. In Ambient Commons, Malcolm McCullough explores the workings of attention through a rediscovery of surroundings.

    McCullough describes what he calls the Ambient: an increasing tendency to perceive information superabundance whole, where individual signals matter less and at least some mediation assumes inhabitable form. He explores how the fixed forms of architecture and the city play a cognitive role in the flow of ambient information. As a persistently inhabited world, can the Ambient be understood as a shared cultural resource, to be socially curated, voluntarily limited, and self-governed as if a commons? Ambient Commons invites you to look past current obsessions with smart phones to rethink attention itself, to care for more situated, often inescapable forms of information.

    • Hardcover $32.95
    • Paperback $21.95
  • Digital Ground

    Digital Ground

    Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing

    Malcolm McCullough

    A theory of place for interaction design.

    Digital Ground is an architect's response to the design challenge posed by pervasive computing. One century into the electronic age, people have become accustomed to interacting indirectly, mediated through networks. But now as digital technology becomes invisibly embedded in everyday things, even more activities become mediated, and networks extend rather than replace architecture. The young field of interaction design reflects not only how people deal with machine interfaces but also how people deal with each other in situations where interactivity has become ambient. It shifts previously utilitarian digital design concerns to a cultural level, adding notions of premise, appropriateness, and appreciation.

    Malcolm McCullough offers an account of the intersections of architecture and interaction design, arguing that the ubiquitous technology does not obviate the human need for place. His concept of "digital ground" expresses an alternative to anytime-anyplace sameness in computing; he shows that context not only shapes usability but ideally becomes the subject matter of interaction design and that "environmental knowing" is a process that technology may serve and not erode.

    Drawing on arguments from architecture, psychology, software engineering, and geography, writing for practicing interaction designers, pervasive computing researchers, architects, and the general reader on digital culture, McCullough gives us a theory of place for interaction design. Part I, "Expectations," explores our technological predispositions—many of which ("situated interactions") arise from our embodiment in architectural settings. Part II, "Technologies," discusses hardware, software, and applications, including embedded technology ("bashing the desktop"), and building technology genres around life situations. Part III, "Practices," argues for design as a liberal art, seeing interactivity as a cultural—not only technological—challenge and a practical notion of place as essential. Part IV, "Epilogue," acknowledges the epochal changes occurring today, and argues for the role of "digital ground" in the necessary adaptation.

    • Hardcover $41.00
    • Paperback $23.00
  • Abstracting Craft

    Abstracting Craft

    The Practiced Digital Hand

    Malcolm McCullough

    The love of making things need not be confined to the physical world—electronic form giving can also be a rewarding hands-on experience. In this investigation of the possibility of craft in the digital realm, Malcolm McCullough observes that the emergence of computation as a medium, rather than just a set of tools, suggests a growing correspondence between digital work and traditional craft.

    Personal and conversational in tone, with examples and illustrations drawn from a variety of disciplines, Abstracting Craft shows that anyone who gives form with software, whether in architecture, painting, animating, modeling, simulating, or manufacturing, is practicing personal knowledge and producing visual artifacts that, although not material, are nevertheless products of the hands, eyes, and mind. Chapter by chapter, McCullough builds a case for upholding humane traits and values during the formative stages of new practices in digital media. He covers the nature of hand-eye coordination; the working context of the image culture; aspects of tool usage and medium appreciation; uses and limitations of symbolic methods; issues in human-computer interaction; geometric constructions and abstract methods in design; the necessity of improvisation; and the personal worth of work.

    For those new to computing, McCullough offers an inside view of what the technology is like, what the important technical issues are, and how creative computing fits within a larger intellectual history. Specialists in human-computer interaction will find an interesting case study of the anthropological and psychological issues that matter to designers. Artificial intelligence researchers will be reminded that much activity fails to fit articulable formalisms. Aesthetic theorists will find a curiously developed case of neostructuralism, and cultural critics will be asked to imagine a praxis in which technology no longer represents an authoritarian opposition. Finally, the unheralded legions of digital craftspersons will find a full-blown acknowledgment of their artistry and humanity.

    • Hardcover $46.00
    • Paperback $28.00
  • The Electronic Design Studio

    The Electronic Design Studio

    Architectural Education in the Computer Era

    Malcolm McCullough, William J. Mitchell, and Patrick Purcell

    In four parts this book frames those issues and provides a diversity of perspectives on them.

    For centuries architects have carried out shape computations by hand, using informal procedures and the simplest of tools. Over the last two decades, however, they have made increasing use of more formal procedures executed by computers, a development that raises challenging questions of architectural theory and perplexing issues for those concerned with the future of architectural education. In four parts - theoretical foundations, electronic media in the design studio, information delivery systems for design, and knowledge based design systems - this book frames those issues and provides a diversity of perspectives on them. The Electronic Design Studio contains over thirty extensively illustrated contributions that discuss the experiences of universities in the United States, Europe, Japan, Israel, Canada, and Australia with computer-aided architectural (CAAD) design, articulate current theoretical and practical concerns, provide criticism of media and methods, and suggest directions for the future. Architectural educators and architects concerned with the effect of computer technology on the design process will find this book an indispensable reference. As a current review of the state of the art of CAAD and an overview of the major issues, this is the most comprehensive source available.

    • Hardcover $90.00


  • Throughout


    Art and Culture Emerging with Ubiquitous Computing

    Ulrik Ekman

    Leading media scholars consider the social and cultural changes that come with the contemporary development of ubiquitous computing.

    Ubiquitous computing and our cultural life promise to become completely interwoven: technical currents feed into our screen culture of digital television, video, home computers, movies, and high-resolution advertising displays. Technology has become at once larger and smaller, mobile and ambient. In Throughout, leading writers on new media—including Jay David Bolter, Mark Hansen, N. Katherine Hayles, and Lev Manovich—take on the crucial challenges that ubiquitous and pervasive computing pose for cultural theory and criticism.

    The thirty-four contributing researchers consider the visual sense and sensations of living with a ubicomp culture; electronic sounds from the uncanny to the unremarkable; the effects of ubicomp on communication, including mobility, transmateriality, and infinite availability; general trends and concrete specificities of interaction designs; the affectivity in ubicomp experiences, including performances; context awareness; and claims on the “real” in the use of such terms as “augmented reality” and “mixed reality.”

    • Hardcover $58.00