Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Street Talk: Urban Computing - Part I

Although each presentation at Street Talk was interesting, Ben Hooker was one of the speakers who most caught my attention and imagination.
With Shona Kitchen, Ben worked on the Altavistas project - which includes Edge Town:
After an intensive phase of location-scouting, we decided to specifically design for places we had identified at the edges of the city: places where open countryside starts to rub up against suburbia, and the regulated 'nature' of landscaped motorway embankments, reservoir complexes and allotments coexists with airports, business parks and residential blocks. Transitional landscapes like these feel half-finished, as if waiting for some kind of built intervention which accentuates their unique qualities. We used computer-based illustrations to communicate a series of architectural proposals based on developing 'electronic ecologies' to integrate into these spaces to the effect that the immaterial information flows that run through our cities can be experienced alongside more natural phenomenon.

Edge Town reminds me of spectacular carchitecture and the more mundane Motorway House. An exploration perhaps more of non-places than of third-spaces, the project still focusses on contested space - or those spaces (and identities) that do not easily easily fit into either/or categories.  Hybrid spaces.  Voluptuous spaces.  A non-place is an ambiguous site: the very type of space that would appear in a pattern language (like a place to wait) but that would also challenge or resist the entire premise of stable structure that underlies patterns.  Very interesting.

On a related note, Ben's DATACLIMATES design practice partner is Pedro Sepúlveda Sandoval - who did an amazing PhD project for the RCA:
Digital Shelters

A new landscape is emerging in the urban space, a 'Scanscape' that transgresses the boundaries and protocols of public and private space due to the extensive use of electronic, electromagnetic, surveillance and telecommunication technologies in the urban realm.  How can we define these 'Scanscapes'? How can we create 'Digital Shelters' that will protect us, isolate us or allow us to live with in these 'Scanscapes'?

I really appreciate the focus on resisting surveillance by means other than sousveillance. After all, humans have always sought shelter from oppressive climates and dangerous cultures. In caves, Jews found sanctuary from the Nazis, and while fallout shelters may not have saved people from nuclear devastation, they arguably provided comfort from fear and uncertainty. It should come as no surprise, then, that we will also need safe and quiet reprieves in - and from - our digital landscapes.


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