[iDC] a personal intro and questions on precedent

molly wright steenson molly at girlwonder.com
Sun Sep 10 11:02:47 EDT 2006

A bit of a personal introduction first, by way of introducing my  
question. Trevor asked me to introduce myself a while back and I've  
been on the move for the last month. This is the first chance.

I'm Molly Wright Steenson. In a past life, I was a professor at the  
Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, in Ivrea, Italy, where I led the  
connected communities research area. (Karmen Franinovic, one of the  
people participating in the symposium, was one of the students I  
advised). Thanks to people like Karmen, I found I was more interested  
in architecture than virtual interactions on screens. Previous to  
that, I started working with online community in 1992 and the web in  
94, was active in the webzine community in the late 90s: I was the co- 
founder of Maxi, a pop-culture feminist webzine. I worked at places  
like Netscape, Reuters, and a variety of web design studios leading  
design and application projects. I was also very active in the AIGA  
Experience Design group.

I'm now attending the Yale School of Architecture (where I'm pursuing  
a history/theory masters with Keller Easterling and Emmanuel Petit as  
my advisors), and am working on architectural, historical frameworks  
for mobile, social architecture. I am also interested in issues of  
development and technology. This summer, I spent six weeks in  
Bangalore at Microsoft Research India, where I researched how people  
in urban Bangalore share mobile phones. It turned out to be more  
collective than in countries like Japan or Korea.

I'm finding myself a little disenchanted with projects within the  
locative media realm, and thus I'm researching modes of mobility in  
architectural work in the 60s and 70s to develop a framework to apply  
to more recent projects or studies of mobility. I'm less interested  
in the dérive and Guy Debord (which have been done, done, done, done,  
and done) than I am in the people who broke off from the  
Situationists. Right now, I'm writing a chapter on Cedric Price.  
Next: cybernetics, Yona Friedman, the Smithsons, and Constant are  
next (I'm open to other suggestions, too.). Later, Henri Lefebvre.  
Previous to these people, Walter Benjamin with Einbahnstrasse and the  
Arcades Project figure in, as do of course Baudelaire and the flâneur  
(though again, locative media's often fixated on the flâneur).  I've  
not listed the copious philosophers, sociologists, writers, media  
theorists, and so on, that I've been reading. They're too copious to  
list here. I'm curious about tensions like mobility vs. domesticity,  
which always seems to come up, whether then or now.

And so I'd like to ask:
- What precedents might we look to to undergird our discussion of  
situated technologies, beyond the most obvious ones that we turn to?
- What fields might these come from? What sources? (For instance, I'm  
turning to cybernetics.)
- What should we look to outside of the common discourses of western  
Europe, the US, and Japan (that is, outside of the Metabolists)?  
Might there be precedents in other parts of the world?
- Where can we look for earlier approaches to networks?
- What about the use of physical infrastructural networks? Cedric  
Price's Potteries Thinkbelt (1965-66) used redundant rail links.  
Projects in rural India (today) use the mail system to send DVDs to  
schools because mail is cheaper and ultimately faster than an  
electronic network. Where did we and do we see these connection  
points and how might we use them in work today? What are other  
precedents of this?


On Sep 10, 2006, at 12:08 AM, Mark Shepard wrote:

> Hello iDC list,
> With the Architecture and Situated Technologies symposium now less  
> than 6 weeks away, we'd like to ask for your help in shaping the  
> questions we'll address next month in NYC. What questions would you  
> pose vis-a-vis the confluence of Architecture and Situated  
> Technologies?
> We're bringing together a fairly diverse and interdisciplinary  
> group of people – including architects, artists, historians,  
> sociologists, technologists and theorists (some wearing more than  
> one of these hats) – to examine, explore and enact ideas for a near- 
> future world of networked "things" and other "situated"  
> technologies. And we've planned an intensive three days of  
> presentations, discussions, workshops and performances in an  
> attempt to approach the subject from a variety of formats and methods.
> [ More information about the symposium is available here: http:// 
> www.situatedtechnologies.net ]
> The thoughts, references, provocations, rants and raves contributed  
> here over the past two months have already helped to shape the  
> discourse. Now we ask for your questions to help shape the debate.
> Some have asked, what exactly are "situated" technologies, and what  
> might they have to do with architecture?
> When we began thinking about the subject, we identified two usages  
> of the word "situated" to work with:
>> 1.	Situated: located: situated in a particular spot or position;  
>> "valuable centrally located urban land"; "strategically placed  
>> artillery"; "a house set on a hilltop"; "nicely situated on a  
>> quiet riverbank" - http://wordnet.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=situated
>> 2.	Situated Action: every course of action is highly dependent  
>> upon its material and social circumstances focusing on moment-by- 
>> moment interactions between actors, and between actors and the  
>> environments of their action - Lucy Suchman, Plans and Situated  
>> Actions: The Problem of Human-machine Communication (Cambridge  
>> University Press, 1987)
> The first is clearly related to architecture in that architecture  
> often begins with the site (a specific place or location) as a  
> primary force shaping the act of building. The second stems from a  
> critique by Lucy Suchman of assumptions about purposeful "human"  
> activity common to artificial intelligence research at the time,  
> which tended to think of this activity as a something that  
> proceeded by an a-priori plan that was perfunctorily executed. Both  
> invoke context (a site, an environment, other people) as  
> determining factor in trying to understand the object or event in  
> question.
>> Locative Media, Responsive Architecture and Participatory Networks
> We also looked at recent architecture, art and technology practices  
> that in different ways attempt to address issues of "context"  
> through a wider lens. In contrast to Manuell Castell's placeless  
> space of flows that characterized much of late 20th century  
> discourse on global networks, we found a renewed interest in  
> questions of location, place, embodied interaction, behavior,  
> responsiveness and participation. We saw seeds of recent work in  
> Locative Media, Responsive Architecture, and Participatory Networks  
> in experiments in architecture, art and technology from the 60s by  
> Archigram and the Metabolists, Alan Kaprow and Vito Acconci, and  
> the Architecture Machine Group at MIT, to name just a few.
>> The Coming Age of the Internet of Things
> But where do we go from here? At the dawn of an era of networked  
> "things" – where the built environment itself becomes imbued with  
> the capacity to sense, record, share, contextualize, and respond to  
> what happens in physical space – questions of context reach a new  
> level of complexity. "Things" themselves become actors, affecting  
> change through their observations and assertions. Here,  
> communication becomes less about the exchange of information  
> between people, and more about people and "things" co-habiting  
> within communicative environments.
> In thinking about how to approach these issues, some of our initial  
> questions were:
>> What can we harvest from recent work in Locative Media, Responsive  
>> Architecture, and Participatory Networks that might help "situate"  
>> our thinking about the Internet of Things?
>> How might this evolving relation between people and "things" alter  
>> the way we occupy, navigate, and inhabit the built environment?
>> What post-optimal design strategies and tactics might we propose?
>> How do distinctions between space and place change within these  
>> networked media ecologies?
> What would you add to this list?
> Best,
> Mark
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