[iDC] Architecture and Situated Technologies - September Overture
mshepard at andinc.org
Mon Sep 4 16:47:09 EDT 2006
Since the 1980s, computer scientists and engineers have been
researching ways of embedding computational intelligence into the
built environment. Researchers at Xerox PARC began to look beyond the
model of personal computing, which placed the computer in the
foreground of our attention, to one of “ubiquitous” computing that
takes into account the contingencies of human environments and allows
computers themselves to vanish into the background. As embedded
microprocessors, GPS modules, RFID tags, environmental sensors, and
material actuators are becoming available in ever smaller packages,
this research agenda is fast becoming an implementable reality.
From the NYPD using E-Z Pass records to track suspects on the run,
to companies like Levi Strauss, Gillette, and Tesco pursuing item-
level RFID tagging of their products, to New Songdo in South Korea -
the $25 billion dollar ubicomp city being constructed 40 kilometers
south of Seoul, the applications of embedded, networked computation
are by now nothing new.
So what do we make of it? How might our discussions over the past two
months around Responsive Architecture, Locative Media, and
Participation in the Networked Public Sphere help "situate" our
thinking about these emerging conditions?
With the dawn of the age of an "Internet of things", new challenges
emerge for how we both design and inhabit the built environment. In a
near-future world where everyday objects and spaces are networked
with computational intelligence, where the “users” of the Internet
are projected to number in the billions and where humans quite
possibly become a minority as generators and receivers of
information, where "things" (be they products, automobiles, building
facades, or cities) become imbued with agency, identifying the
opportunities and dilemmas for design in this speculative future is
more important than ever.
To the extent that corporations and federal agencies are responsible
for developing these new technologies, we can expect to see new forms
of consumption and control gain momentum. The current power struggle
over file-sharing, copy-protection and regulation of the wireless
spectrum highlights the dilemma. To what degree will people be
empowered to share, participate and create using these technologies?
To what degree will their power be limited to consumption? What new
forms of control are enabled?
Of course, this future could also turn out to be simply not that
interesting. Finding ways to debunk the hype and hysteria associated
with these coming techno-socio-material assemblages is as important
as projecting alternate future possibilities. If anything, as Eric
Paulos has suggested elsewhere, perhaps most tragic would be that
this future turns out to be quite boring. Who really needs a more
optimal, efficient life? Who needs yet another confectionary spectacle?
As we enter the third and final month of the Architecture and
Situated Technologies discussion, I propose mapping out a near-future
design agenda for a world of networked objects and spaces. How do we
avoid the traps of a utopic futurology? Taking up Bruce Sterling's
call for a "Metahistory" with an expiry date, and recalling Usman's
charge that the architect's ability to think meta-systemically is
"both a bug and a feature", what new sites of practice, research
vectors, and working methods can we stake out for the confluence of
Architecture and Situated Technologies?
Building on the past two months of discussion, one way to start might
be to dig deeper into the threads on:
+ Responsive Architecture, the current status of the material object,
forms of embodied interaction, and the role of second-order
cybernetic theory as a means to engage both the environment and the
occupant as participants in the design and production of the built
+ Locative Media and its focus on mobility and play in urban
environments, on collaborative authoring and its relation to an
archaeological understanding of place and context, and on engaging a
"mass" audience by working with consumer technologies and redirecting
+ Social Media and the Networked Public Sphere, how certain
participatory structures can either enhance or inhibit how people
connect, share and engage through network technologies, how is this
networked sociality is different for wired and wireless modes of access.
By mining the claims, aspirations, successes and failures of these
related practices, how might we distill some of the salient fault
lines and lines of flight into a not-to-distant future reality?
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