[iDC] Cities, Speculation, and the Non-addressable
mshepard at andinc.org
Mon Sep 25 00:31:58 EDT 2006
Usman wrote (way back when),
> It seems quite strange to me that architects these days don't
> appear to be participating in the kinds of imaginings of the future
> that they used to (e.g. Archigram, etc.). Some might say this is a
> good thing of course; but isn't it funny that, although Tony Dunne
> (of Hertzian Tales) has spoken frequently about how the
> architectural process of speculation was a great influence on the
> way he thought about designing objects back in the early 90s, now
> it is architects (myself included) who refer to him because of his
> designs for "hertzian space"?
This quote _still_ resonates with me as I try to grapple with why
architects remain reluctant to address how pervasive, networked,
embedded, and context-aware computing pose both opportunities and
dilemmas for architecture and urbanism. If anything, I would argue
that it is this silence on the part of architects that actually
contributes to a future so many here have expressed concerns about.
Here's what Marina Vishmidt wrote on the Empyre list about New Songdo
> Here we have an r&d theme park being promoted as some sort of
> tenable proposition of how we'll live in the future - this is
> nothing new of course ("past futures"), in fact is symptomatic of
> 20th century technological determinism of all stripes, hegemonic,
> subversive, capitalist, communist, modernist, totalitarian - is
> even endearingly retro in a way - but it reiterates a populist-
> media narrative of how profit-led innovation and investment is
> currently the only driver for social change, which actually means
> it is not a question of retro-futurity at all. It is the opposite:
> an elimination of all futures, to be supplanted by a timeless and
> normalised/normative crisis of accumulation, conflict, and the
> short-circuiting/management of its dysfunctions by technological/
> military/carceral means.
I don't think this discussion (at least most of it) is "just an
excuse not to talk about, think about, touch the things" that really
matter. New Songdo underscores the need to "occupy the imaginary" of
the near-future city (as Trebor likes to say), so that we might
influence how it evolves. Although I suspect doing so is more about
negotiation than resistance or imposition.
To the extent that architecture as a practice is based on processes
of speculation and projection, and concerned with how the
organization of space influences (and is influenced by) how we occupy
it, architects could play a key role in the negotiation.
But why aren't they?
One reason might have to do with architecture's continued fetish for
form and material (I'm thinking here of the fascination with "blobs"
and new materials so fashionable at the top architectural schools
recently). Concepts of "hertzian" space and networked things
destabilize strictly architectural conceptions of space, place and
material form in ways that are hard to account for within a
discipline that to date has focused primarily on shaping the
_physical_ world. Until architects can see these technologies as
"material" to be formed (rather than simply products to be
specified), as something more than just a way to optimize the
environmental performance of a building, as more than a means to
visualize or represent spatial flows as formal propositions - it is
unlikely that we'll see many significant contributions.
Another reason could be the intractability of new patterns of use and
behavior that some of these technologies enable (not in itself a bad
thing). The traditional (modernist) idea of an architectural
"program" - the association of defined spaces with specific
activities organized by a rationalized "plan" - is of little use at a
time when activities within contemporary spaces are defined more by
codes (legislative, economic) and the affordances of wireless
networks and programmable devices. And while many (myself included)
have looked to research in both architecture and computing from the
60s that rejected the idea that behavior and activity can be reasoned
about in terms of a static organizational diagram, a return to anti-
plan, hybrid or generic "programs," or to second-order cybernetics as
a means to _control_ the indeterminate in interactive systems, would
be equally problematic.
Still another might concern language. For example, the words
"intelligence" and "programming" mean something different to computer
scientists than they do to most architects.
Adam Greenfield gave a provocative talk at Conflux last weekend
titled "Lynch Debord: Killing the Fathers, or if you meet Jane Jacobs
on the road...", suggesting we need to "jettison our dependence on
the beloved heroes and heroines of 20th century urbanism in order to
understand what's happening all around us." But unlike assertions
that the dérive and the Situationists "have been done, done, done,
done, and done" (which sounds like an academic bandwagon to me), his
point was more that we are no longer living in a time where the
individual can claim an alterity through radical urban play or where
the Lynchian "Image of the City" is legible in terms of urban form
alone, but a time where Jacob's West Village finds its progeny in
With the introduction of the next version of Internet Protocol - the
protocol by which computers are associated with a unique numerical
address - enough unique addresses will be available to cover every
square meter of the planet. As "information processing dissolves into
behavior," non-addressable space becomes ever more valuable. This is
not a call for the architectural equivalent of an RFID zapper, the
construction of "cell-free" zones, or an architecture of "blankness."
Maybe it's less a question of grand, heroic social agendas that take
oppositional strategies for granted. Maybe it's more about minor
tactical maneuvers, incremental acts, and subtle modulations that
seek to expand upon (not limit) the quotidian aspects of urban living
that are always partial, non-addressable, and full of contradictions?
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