the end of architecture?

Through its commoditization and acquiescence to the demands of the market, architecture has increasingly become marginalized, if not entirely circumvented, from its role as an aid to humanity and society. If, as both Fredric Jameson (1994) and, more recently, Mark Fisher (2009) have suggested, “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”[1][2], then we need to fundamentally rethink the means through which we may achieve effective, adaptive and contingent political mobilization to positively alter the urban landscape. The potentially transformative power of data, ceded to the masses, may provide the necessary impetus toward a substantial restructuring of the city, but only if its systems are capable of negotiating the attendant issues of governance, antitrust policy and security measures. It is these concerns that provided the foundation for the research paper, ‘The End of Architecture? Networked Communities, Urban Transformation and Post-Capitalist Landscapes’ presented by the authors at the recent Spaces and Flows: Third International Conference on Urban and ExtraUrban Studies held at Wayne State University, Detroit, 11-12 October 2012. The paper examined the notion that if we are to consider the future transformation of our cities, then the communities within them must be given priority as stakeholders. If we really are living in the end times of Žižek [3], we need to energetically and openly engage with the provision of a framework to evolve ‘intelligent terrain’ that is participatory and enabling. This idea was further unpacked in the context of Detroit, interrogating the data-driven toolkit currently available there in relation to its governance, communities and the (re)configuration of space [4].

the discarded city, Detroit, 9 October 2012. [photo by author]

[1]. Jameson, F. (1994) The Seeds of Time. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

[2]. Fisher, M. (2009) Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, Ropley: Zero Books.

[3]. Žižek, S. (2011) Living in the End Times, Revised Edition, London: Verso.

[4]. http://datadrivendetroit.org/

urban informatics and data navigation

The mapping of latent urban conditions as a diagnostic tool with which to evolve discourse and develop sites of enquiry for architectural design is becoming transformative to our understanding of them. The increasingly widespread cartographic impulse that pertains to numerous branches of creative practice is coupled with the accessibility, accumulation and mapping of data surrounding the built environment. How this information is transposed and described through maps to reveal characteristics of the urban landscape becomes significant in the pursuit of developing dynamic modes of enquiry, reflecting the flux of the city itself. This type of activity and communication affords instrumentality and interpretation of complex datasets and extant scenarios. Indeed, as we progressively mediate our experience of urban conditions through a variety of digital media, the phenomenal and ephemeral aspects of the city may also experience a transformation that provides opportunities to both understand and negotiate the boundaries and layers that were previously distinct but are evolving a greater coterminous relationship. This shift provided the platform for the research paper ‘Interface and Implementation: negotiating the boundaries between physical landscape and digital territories for architectural design’ presented by the authors at the recent Theoretical Currents II: Architecture and its Geographical Horizons, held at EMMTEC, University of Lincoln, 4-5 April 2012. The paper also critically discussed the appropriation of mapping methodologies and representation for architecture as a means through which the complex spatial demarcation of the contemporary urban realm and its, often unstable, geographies may be useful in edifying our knowledge of such situations. The syncretised nature of urban space comprising of the physical and the perceptual was then extrapolated as a notion through which we may reveal and further understand the traces of various cultures that hitherto reside on the edges of normative society.

Image

OODA Loop, John Boyd, 1976.

Mapping Interstices

The authors were recently invited to present a special preview of material from their forthcoming book, ‘Urban Maps: instruments of narrative and interpretation in the city’ (Ashgate, 2011) at the inaugural Once Upon A Place: Haunted Houses & Imaginary Cities, 1st International Conference on Architecture and Fiction, in Lisbon, 12-14 October. The paper, ‘Mapping Interstices: understanding urban conditions through the lived experience of societal margins in contemporary film’, explores the friction between the city planned and the city as a living superorganism. Whilst contemporary cityscapes may often be presented from above, the spatial organization and fragments are actually consumed from below i.e. the lived experience of urban conditions. This contrast between the relatively static order of the system and the high degree of mobility and temporality of life on the streets reminds us of the duality of cities and their ability to shift between the objective and the subjective. It is here that we may identify the narrative nature of these conditions with particular reference to moving images that afford exploration and understanding of urban space and event as filmic mappings. In this context films are interpretative tools that are typically concerned with spatial sequence, editing and revelation within the city. They use allegory, narrative and structural patterns to unfold ideas and tell a story. Space can even be used as a character, acting independently within the narrative itself and as such films may map a version of the city that is manifest of networks, urban subtexts and occasional nodal collision. The contribution to our understanding of the physical and time-based characteristics of the urban landscape that films offer was discussed to further equip and enhance our strategies for responding to it.

navigating data/cityscapes

The authors were invited to present at the international conference, Royal Geographical Society Annual International Conference 2010: Confronting the Challenges of the Post-Crisis Global Economy and Environment, in London, UK on 3rd September. The paper, ‘Digital Networks: between open source mobility and closed loop assemblages’, responds to what a number authors have referred to as the ‘network city’ via an increasing abstraction of space coupled with the continual erosion of place. This has precipitated a number of effects on social and cultural activity and respective communities, most significantly, the original nature of the public realm within the built environment as both a receptive and reflexive domain appears to now be located in digital networks that permeate contemporary life rather than physical conditions. The ubiquity of technology across our daily communication and other exchanges as a correlation of increased growth of broadband in the developed world and the global continuum facilitated by mobile phones, has become manifest in readily accessible, ever-present networks that not only challenge our ideas and experience of place but have precipitated an evolution in relationships of time and distance. In addition, these digital infrastructures afford the connectivity and mobility of communities with niche interests to be networked in an unprecedented manner. Who operates across this territory, how and why? The schism between the high degree of connectivity that permeates the digital networks versus the increasingly fragmentary nature of the physical urban condition has provided a rich geography for exploitation for artists, communities and sub-cultures who are involved in navigating this ‘inbetween landscape.’ A range of case studies were used to illustrate such negotiations and subversions of urban space and their implications for an increasingly hybridised public domain that seeks to explore digital and physical boundaries.