Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Material worlds redux: potential networks

If Eric Paulos & Tom Jenkins' Jetsam project adds a much-appreciated sense of temporality to explorations in urban computing, then Angie Winslow & Bryan Boyer's UTILITY WORKS offers a much-needed critical eye:

"UTILITY WORKS seeks to acknowledge the importance of the mundane physical spaces where we play out our lives and provide new ways for the population to inscribe themselves into these informal public spaces. In an effort to draw new connections across our cities, UTILITY WORKS perverts existing municipal street furniture which will become points of mediation between disparate physical urban environments and the people that inhabit them. With these new urban experiences UTILITY WORKS seeks to provoke a renewed awareness of self and environment through a reexamination of familiar civic objects that we interact with every day. Just as a mirror reflects our bodies back to us, this project becomes a way of reflecting the virtual back into the physical urbanscape. Existing parking meters, post boxes, and garbage bins - the furniture of the mundane - will be activated to shape and articulate the informal public spaces of the city."

Parking Meter | Post Box | Garbage Bin

"Trash connects us all. We all produce it. Yet this term, 'all' is too broad. Who has toiled to produce the plastic in your soda bottle and who will have to live with it after you throw it away? The Garbage Bin seeks to illuminate this facet of our position as a node in the global economy/ecology by making explicit connections between us and our waste. By describing the geographical life of our stuff/trash we hope to illuminate the links that we share as consumptive individuals.

This intervention is realized by scanning the barcode of waste when it is being deposited into the bin. The bin reshapes its designated space on the street by projecting cradle to grave geographical information about the object onto the street. Until another piece of trash is thrown away and scanned, the garbage bin will project information about the location of manufacture and likely resting place of the product."

This kind of object-oriented geographical information not only connects the local to the global, but it also encourages accountability to a larger world. I do think though that it would offer a stronger critique if it used more local and social information. For example, instead of just giving a city or country of origin, I would love to see it tell a story of who makes it and how. In other words, putting people in the picture makes it that much easier to feel a social or cultural connection, instead of simply a geographical one.

Also: Bryan's Harvard GSD blog from the Archinect Schoolblog project

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