Last year Mirian Calvo, postgraduate student of the Glasgow School of Art, contacted us to ask our vision on topics that have been very present in our own work lately: the relation between citizens and institutions, the role of “urban labs” or “urban kitchens” in urban development, and the use of urban mockups or prototypes to create spaces for interaction, engagement and transformation.
Some months later she sent us the the result of her research, turned into a proposal for the George Square in Glasgow. Here you can watch a short video and read a summary about the project. Thanks, Mirian!
Como os contamos anteriormente en este post, el pasado Diciembre realizamos la instalación Networked Urbanism en la UABB | Bi-city Biennale of Architecture/Urbanism en Shenzhen, en la sección Radical Urbanism, siendo invitados por Alfredo Brillembourg y Hubert Klumpner.
Antes de llegar a la definición de la forma final de la instalación así como se presenta hoy —visitable en la antigua fábrica de harina Dacheng hasta el 4 de Marzo 2016— en ecosistema urbano tuvimos una efervescente fase de reuniones creativas y experimentaciones con diferentes formas de comunicación y representación de los proyectos.
Desde el principio teníamos la idea de transformar el espacio a disposición para la instalación (7,30 x 2,50 m) en un ambiente muy visual, que atrajese a los visitantes desde distancias lejanas — diseño gráfico y colores brillantes — y también, una vez dentro del propio espacio, por algunos elementos más pequeños, emblemáticos y misteriosos, visibles a medias: dispositivos para generar curiosidad.
El común denominador de todos los elementos que componen la instalación corresponde con 3+1 requisitos:
1. Ser low bulk, de poco peso y tamaño, para poder ser transportada por dos personas de España a China como equipaje facturable en cualquier compañía aérea.
2. Ser low maintenance, utilizando tecnologías simples y que no necesiten mantenimiento durante los cuatro meses de la Biennale.
3. Ser low cost, teniendo en cuenta el bajo presupuesto disponible.
4. Y además, claro, ser novedoso, divertido, sorprendente…
Este cuádruple reto nos enganchó igual que otras veces en las que hemos intentado aplicarlo, como la instalación Jardín de Sueños en Bahamas o la exposición Formula X en el DAZ de Berlín.
Comenzamos a desarrollar la idea de contener artefactos en una caja que motivase los visitantes a acercarse y explorar los micromundos contenidos en ella. Cada caja debía contener los elementos necesarios para describir de manera abstracta y al mismo tiempo comprensible, cada uno de los 11 proyectos que narran la filosofía del Networked Urbanism, tema de la instalación. Hicimos entonces un trabajo de exploración de referencias de diferentes técnicas, entre ellas: el vídeo, los libros pop-up, la superposición de capas transparentes impresas, las ilusiones ópticas del efecto Moiré, figuras efímeras como resultado de sombras de diferentes objetos, etc.º Os compartimos nuestro tablero de Pinterest con una buena colección de referencias sobre el tema.
Referencias encontradas en la fase de investigación. Fuente: https://it.pinterest.com/ecourb/shenzhen-installation/
Particularmente inspiradora fue una visita al Museo del Cinema de Turín dentro de la imponente Mole Antonelliana; en este hay una amplia sección totalmente dedicada a las técnicas que permitían de crear animaciones en los siglos antes el nacimiento del cine. En el fascinante mundo precinematográfico se crearon una gran cantidad de dispositivos y objetos misteriosos, capaces de maravillar también al espectador contemporáneo. Entre estos extraños objetos se encuentran cajas ópticas, linternas mágicas, phenaquistiscopios, taumatropi y muchos más. Para los que quieren explorar más el tema del precinematografía, aquí dejamos un link de Wikipedia bastante exhaustivo.
Vista interior de una caja óptica del siglo XVIII, con transición de luz de día/noche
Diorama del siglo XVIII – Museo del Cinema, Torino y diorama contemporaneo creado por Harikrishnan Panicker y Deepti Nair
Decidimos entonces crear dos tipos de cajas: un diorama y una caja que contuviese algo más que un vídeo, un holograma.
La realización de la primera tipología de caja, el diorama, consistió en la descomposición de una representación en perspectiva del proyecto en 5 o 6 dibujos impresos en acetato transparente y dispuestos en secuencia, de manera que la correcta visión de la imagen fuese posible exclusivamente desde un único punto de vista. En el fondo de la caja, una pantalla proyecta ambientaciones, colores y fondos que animan el diorama y establecen un diálogo con los elementos impresos de las distintas capas.
Diorama del proyecto Dreamhamar
El segundo tipo de caja, el que contiene el holograma, requirió una fase de experimentación y pruebas más larga. En primer lugar hay que decir que probablemente crear estos hologramas sin Internet habría sido mucho más complicado para nosotros. Pero afortunadamente vivimos en la época del conocimiento compartido, y pudimos encontrar en Youtube una serie de tutoriales que explican cómo realizar un holograma casero de manera muy sencilla, con sólo una pantalla y una pirámide de plástico transparente. A continuación os dejamos uno de los varios vídeos que podréis encontrar por la red.
Una vez aprendida la técnica (afinada y personalizada, a través de numerosos prototipos, para nuestras necesidades específicas) tuvimos que realizar los vídeos que cuentan los restantes 6 proyectos de Networked Urbanism, siguiendo el criterio de dejar el fondo negro e invertir/reflejar las imágenes para su correcta visualización.
Hoy publicamos una entrevista que nos realizaron desde empodera.org, una plataforma de impulso para personas e iniciativas que utilizan las tecnologías desde un punto de vista social e innovador para hacer una sociedad más inclusiva y empoderada.
“Ecosistema Urbano: diseñando lugares para mejorar la auto organización de los ciudadanos, la interacción comunitaria y su relación con el medio ambiente”
La entrevista se incluyó en la publicación Ciberoptimismo: Conectados a una actitud (pág. 287), una selección de entrevistas y experiencias sobre cómo las tecnologías han cambiado definitivamente nuestra interacción con diferentes temas (procomún, nuevas formas de economía, plataformas abiertas para todos, educación, software libre, transparencia, open government, participación ciudadana, sostenibilidad, etc.).
Maps and cartography have been, traditionally, tools to express and exercise power and have been used exclusively by a few people who held the knowledge. Nowadays, this practice is enriched by more and more nuances and gets contributions from all sorts of fields.
We find maps exposed in galleries, painted in the streets, and drawn as acts of performance art, dealing with the necessity to express identities and culture in mass societies. We see maps based on a huge amount of information and realtime data coming from social networks, which were only made possible once computer science and the web appeared, thus enabling us to have an unprecedented knowledge of what’s happening in cities. Cartography is even used as a tool to emphasize critical aspects of our society that, otherwise, wouldn’t be noticed and as a platform to solve these same problems.
All of these multiple approaches are becoming a common experience as they are often the result of a participative process and are shared as open source information. On one side, this shows the need of understanding the growing complexity of reality and the quantity of information that is being produced. On the other side, it expresses the need to re-create an identity through self-knowledge in the actual context of globalization.
I have decided to examine the current state of cartography due to the influence it’s having on many fields today, with the power to be transversal with the classical arts. This research is an ideal continuity with the exhibition that was recently hosted by Caixa Forum (Madrid), on contemporary cartographies. The exhibition started with the situationist and surrealist approaches that opened up the mapping discipline, introducing contaminations from other fields (art, politics, statistic…) overcoming the scientific point of view, showing it lacks the description of reality.
The aim of my investigation is to make a MetaMap, a research on different types of maps I come across, in this meta-map we will see the multiplicity of possible outputs, as well as the common points between them. Taking advantage of the web and its horizontal-knowledge rather than the classical vertical and deepened knowledge. The research was made seeking projects and asking the same set of questions to the authors. These interviews should make it possible to separate the different tendencies and intentions of mapping, tracing connections, and intersections. I manage to focus on particular authors by interviewing them to better explain their work.
This is the list of posts published in this series so far:
The posts in this series by our collaborator, Tommaso Miti, were be published once a week under the MetaMap category. You can follow the conversation in your favourite social network through the #metamap hashtag.
Coinciding with the rise of digital tools that foster participatory systems, Hybrid Space Lab is an entity that exists in the realm between architect and client, the traditional shapers of space. In this article, originally published here, Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar of Hybrid Space Lab share three of their projects and their thoughts on networked participatory design systems today.
The CITY KIT hybrid game by Hybrid Space Lab
CITY KIT is a combined urban-computer game to upgrade your neighborhood. The CITY KIT project was developed for the Hong Kong Social Housing Authority with as a target group young people that are familiar with computer games but hardly play outside.
This hybrid game revolves around city planning and urban redevelopment. CITY KIT turns the residents into the “makers” of the city, providing thus a bridge between the users of the urban environment and the experts – the architects and the urban planners.
The CITY KIT hybrid game by Hybrid Space Lab
Playing the CITY KIT game, the residents can adapt and improve their local physical environment by building a digital version of their neighborhood. Using modular building components that can be moved around and fixed in certain places in the environment, users can build micro-stages, exhibition decks, floating bars and theatres, swimming pools and other recreational facilities that make living in the neighborhood more fun.
The CITY KIT hybrid game by Hybrid Space Lab
CITY_KIT is an open-source medium in which participants can add elements and share their designs. An online platform in the form of a website allows residents to actively take part in the game. All it takes is a simple click of the mouse to interactively test your own virtual version of CITY KIT.
Residents and game users can design their own objects and facilities and can realize their ideas: A ‘real’ object, an analog version of the proposed CITY KIT element, can be built at the chosen location.
On the website, the user can also pinpoint exactly where a digital object should be located in the analogue world. This can be done using a mobile phone.
The CITY KIT hybrid game by Hybrid Space Lab
The goal of CITY KIT is to help you revalue your local surroundings and incorporate the new, imaginative layers created in CITY KIT’s virtual world. Making small modifications to the personal, physical environment in digital space changes the experience of living in the real world.
DIY Pavilion at the Hong Kong & Shenzhen Bi-city Biennial of Urbanism and Architecture 2009-2010. Photo by Andy Tam
Outcome of the CITY KIT project was the DIY Pavilion, first presented at the waterfront promenade of Hong Kong within the framework of the Hong Kong & Shenzhen Bi-city Biennial of Urbanism and Architecture 2009-2010 and later set up at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre and at the Kwai Tsing Theatre in Hong Kong.
DIY Pavilion at the Hong Kong & Shenzhen Bi-city Biennial of Urbanism and Architecture 2009-2010. Photo by Andy Tam
Following the CITY KIT concept, users can co-create their design of the pavilion. The pavilion’s architecture is based on an architectural design principle with a flexible structure that can adapt to site and program requirements, to different content, context and spatial situations. The structure of the pavilion architectural design principle makes it possible to involve the users in the design, building and transformation of the pavilion.
‘Build Your Own Pavilion’ at the Hong Kong & Shenzhen Bi-city Biennial of Urbanism and Architecture 2009-2010
The pavilion consists of triangular plywood plates sown together with the help of cable binders. It is a flexible mobile structure to be easily disassembled, transported, reassembled and sown together again, adjusting to the size of the site and the local requirements.
Detail of the DIY Pavilion by Hybrid Space Lab; photo by Andy Tam
Videos on urban issues were projected on the triangular crystalline structure of the pavilion’s interior as the pavilion travelled to the different locations for community education.
Model of the DIY Pavilion by Hybrid Space Lab. Photo by Julian Roeder
Both projects, CITY KIT as well as the DIY Pavilion, were recently presented within the framework of the SIMPLE CITY installation by Hybrid Space Lab at the MAKK Museum of Applied Arts Cologne from May to August 2012 and at the first issue of plan – Architecture Biennial Cologne (plan – Architektur Biennale Köln in German) in September 2012.
The SIMPLE CITY is an interface for the participative development of urban projects by professionals and laymen. The design of this simulated urban environment can be broken down to simple elements that can be copied and modified by the users of the city.
SIMPLE CITY installation by Hybrid Space Lab at the MAKK Museum of Applied Arts Cologne from May to August 2012. Photo by Hybrid Space Lab
Laymen and city-users by copying, pasting and modifying the basic elements can easily adapt the urban design in order to develop new urban settings.
With its modular setting SIMPLE CITY corresponds to the serially produced, global, generic city (with all the instabilities and breaks). SIMPLE CITY therefore refers to the city of the industrial age that was intrinsically related with the system of serial industrial mass production. The city of the industrial age was serially produced as the addition of generic urban elements. Therefore the model elements of the SIMPLE CITY installation were built with the help of modular building bricks that were sponsored by the Danish company Lego.
SIMPLE CITY installation by Hybrid Space Lab at the plan. Architecture Biennial Cologne, Sept. 2012. Photo by Hybrid Space Lab
SIMPLE CITY is an interface that enables the communication of dynamic and networked information on urban projects. It forms an environment for interactive collaboration and for communication of process-oriented urban and architectural projects. This includes projects on the energy and material cycles of the city, on urban conversion and on networked participatory urban and architectural design, such as the CITY KIT and the DIY Pavilion projects.
Networked Participatory Design Systems Today
The projects described above stand in the long tradition of participatory urban design, in the long tradition of the efforts of inserting the voice of the public into the process of shaping cities. Today these networked participatory design projects, such as CITY KIT, DIY Pavilion and SIMPLE CITY, are part of a general trend and of a paradigm shift.
Networked organizations and systems are today transforming our society in general. With new technologies and digital media currently transforming production and social communication, urban and architectural design is being redefined in a new context.
Participatory urban and architectural design systems are gaining –in the context of a networked society– in relevance. This is a general phenomenon as networked co-operation and open-source are to be found in many contemporary social and cultural expressions.
Current social-political are using social media tools and mobile media networks. Fluctuating networked political forces distrust established political parties and contest the concept of the ‘political expert’, creating independent self-publication channels and demanding ‘direct democracy’.
Networked systems are also transforming knowledge production; think of the Wikipedia, ‘the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit’. Co-operation, co-authorship and open-source are to be found in many contemporary cultural expressions and phenomena, such as, for example, Wikimedia Commons, the free media file repository making available public domain and freely licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to everyone.
Users, aided by improvements in information-communication technology are increasingly developing their own new products and services, ‘democratising’ innovation. These innovating users often freely share their innovations with others, creating user-innovation communities and a rich intellectual commons.
The word “prosumer” is used in this context to describe the type of consumer who becomes involved in the design and manufacturing of products, so they can be made to his individual specification. The word “prosumer” blends the roles of producer and consumer and was first coined in 1980 by the futurist Alvin Toffler in his book “The Third Wave”.
Today the “prosumer” can be engaged in innovation and design as well as in the manufacturing of products that fit his individual specifications and needs. In the last years 3D printing has developed to a low cost technology that everyone can use to produce objects. 3D printing allows industrial production on a desktop scale enabling autonomous production for individuals and designers. This development of object production is enabled by the Internet and by the acceleration of technological developments and open source communities. The digital blue prints of objects are designed in 3D software and can be shared via digital networks. On special Internet platforms people share these open source 3D designs that can be produced via rapid prototyping with 3D printers.
Networked participatory design systems are replacing the logics of the industrial age, where the creative one designed for the non-creative masses. The architects and urban designers focus is shifting from designing objects and spaces to programming processes in interaction with users. The task of ‘designing’ processes for networks of people involved on the development of the urban environment is gaining in relevance. This means a shift from centralized to (distributed) participatory systems with ‘enabling solutions’ that involve users. This includes solutions and platforms that ‘enable’ users to interact, integrating users as participants into development processes of the urban environment – such as the CITY KIT, SIMPLE CITY and the DIY Pavilion.
Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar founded Hybrid Space Lab, a R&D and design practice focusing on the hybrid fields that are emerging through the combination and fusion of environments, objects and services in the information-communication age. The scope of our development and design projects ranges from those on urban games and planning to buildings, architectural interiors and industrial design applications and wearables.
Hybrid Space Lab is an interdisciplinary environment with an innovative and integrated approach to spatial issues. The focus of our work lies in fusing digital and analog environments, in embedding media networks in urban/architectural, social and cultural spaces. Hybrid Space Lab is a lab and a network in which architects, urbanists, landscape architects and environmental planners, designers, soft- and hardware engineers collaborate in the development of projects for combined analog and digital, urban, architectural, design and media spaces.
Hybrid Space Lab recently developed visions for the program of the new institute that will be formed by the merger of the Netherlands Architecture Institute (Nederlands Architectuurinstituut), the Netherlands Institute for Design and Fashion (Premsela) and the institute responsible for digital culture (Virtueel Platform). For an English text see here.
Today I want to share an article that was previously published in Studio Magazine. On this occasion, I would like to thank their coordination team for inviting me to join their first release.
Traditional media don’t broadcast what the citizens are debating or organizing on a daily basis. Nevertheless, thanks to Social Networks, people can receive information and interact in real time with others, taking part in debates and social movements; and the 15th of May in Spain is an example of this.
This new information ecosystem reduces the influence of the mass media and slowly forces local authorities to relate to citizens in a more direct and horizontal way.
This is a great opportunity to generate a new “social control” model, pushing local authorities to take public opinion into account.
The digital media offers a broad environment for communication so that the organisation of any given action is greatly improved; everything becomes decentralized while simultaneously connected and synchronized.
On the urban scale, we speak of the “Sentient City”, a model based on a technological/social ecosystem, where knowledge, collective actions, and interactions between individuals and groups are encouraged, taking advantage of the new possibilities offered by hybridizing physical and digital layers.
In reversing the supremacy of centralisation over individual actions, citizens can become aware of their power and organize themselves on the web.
We have the necessary technology, knowledge and dynamics to put in place more open processes of urban administration and management. Citizens have already started to move; and although public administration could take advantage of such independent and autonomous processes to deal with complex situations, it appears that a clear political will is still lacking.
The fragmented city
Today, the dimensions of time and space, which were historically strongly linked in a space-time continuum, are increasingly growing apart and becoming independent, in a fragmented spatial perception. Nowadays a large number of people are moving from one point to another of the city to reach their workplace, and go back home. The distance between these two points (spatial dimension) and what happens between them does not affect or interest these people in any way. Indeed, the only thing people are concerned with is the duration of the trip (time dimension).
The city is no longer a continuous place, but a structure of nodes connected in a network (network city). These nodes become increasingly more defined, organised and efficient and, the journeys between them shorter and faster thanks to technical progress. The spaces of a city that have no particular characteristics and a unique function, that is to say everything that is not a node, loose significance, including public spaces.
In such city – the “fragmented city” – we use low cost technologies (internet, telephone and transport) to move, to manage our social relationships, and to communicate with people with whom we don’t necesarilly share a common physical space like a neighbourhood.
Very often the complexity of one point exclusively consists in giving access to other points, hence the importance that movement has acquired today. Instead of living in a continuous space, we continuously move between discontinuous spaces (points or nodes).
This networked structure, unlike a continuous structure, reduces diversity and complexity. The less diversity and complexity, the greater the need to move. Every point has its function and identity. Everything seems more organised and easier to find. However, to find what we are looking for, we are compelled to move constantly to other nodes.
The majority of these journeys are done by means of transport, at a speed that does not allow any relationship with the surroundings. There is a starting point and a finishing point, with little opportunity for a surprise or a change. All this implies an impoverishment of the intermediate spaces, spaces that link different points: places are consequently public spaces.
In order to transform these kinds of cities, it is essential to intervene in everyday aspects of life which might appear to have no relationship with the design of public spaces in urban areas.
Our lifestyles are two dimensional: in situ and virtual. Now we are able to intervene in the new dimension, what we commonly call “virtual” or “digital”, . As the sociologist Manuel Castells says “Everything we do, from when the day begins until it is over, we do it with internet […] the connexion between in-situ (not real because reality is virtual and in situ at the same time) and virtual is established by us. There are not two different societies, there are two kinds of social activities and relations within ourselves. We are the ones that have to search the best way to arrange and adapt them.
According to Daniel Innerarty, in the city the homogeneous and non changing area is nothing more than an extreme case within a global area of connected local multiplicities. Instead of neighbourhoods, local networks are developed, and public debate takes place in a virtual area. In this scenario, streets and squares have ceased to be the main meeting areas.
Internet seems to offer an alternative “space” for social relationships as compared to “traditional” spaces. This can be seen as a problem leading to empty public spaces; or on the contrary, it can be considered an extraordinary opportunity to strengthen social relationships by creating the necessary budgets to improve the vitality of public spaces. Today the Internet is the “place” where community models of management are being experimented.
I believe it is important to reconsider the city as something built by everyone, and to see public areas as the ground where this process can take place. Today we have tools available that are able to act as a catalyst for participatory dynamics that were previously impossible to coordinate. There are increasing examples of processes of creation by citizens, linked to the use of new technologies. It is undeniable that Internet is a key factor contributing to changing the society. That being said I believe it is obvious that we cannot think of public space without taking into consideration the potentialities of these technologies, how they are used and how they can be an added value.
We should begin to talk about a new type of public space, a hybrid space, where technology could become a catalyst for hybridising dynamics between activities that are not traditionally connected or that are located in other (private) spaces.
Juan Freire explains this clearly: “The differentiation between spaces and physical and virtual communities is outdated. We are witnessing a hybridising process which modifies our individual identities, communitarian and territorial. Internet has contributed to the development of global networks, but paradoxically it has had a less noticeable influence in local spheres. However, digital technologies modify radically the way in which we are organised and we relate to our environment so we are already living in territories where the digital realm is as important as the physical. The hyper-local networks and hybrid public spaces are the new realities which we confront with the advent of Internet and digital culture in our local environment”.
According to Juan Freire the crisis of public (physical) spaces in urban areas is also due to the lack of (open) design, giving the citizens, once more, the opportunity to take a real interest in its use. It has also brought into debate concepts such as “hybrid spaces”, to refer to the opportunities that the hybridising of the physical with the digital sphere offers in public spaces.
We can grant the assumption of the existence of a digital skin that characterizes public spaces and devote ourselves to defining its qualities and characteristics. Instead of “hybrid” I like to use the concept of “sensitive”. “Sensitive space” refers to the “living” character of these spaces; to their capacity to promote a two-way relationship with its users, to catalyse hyper-local social networks and to visualise information related to the environment in a transparent manner.
If we analyze the increase in the use of social networks on the Internet we realize that we are witnessing a process of change that will lead to the disappearance of the current dissociation between digital and in-situ identity.
Most people can continue living in complete normality without having to take care of their digital (identity) presence in social networks. Nevertheless, it is highly probable that in a few years time the concept of identity will inevitably integrate both the digital and the physical dimension. Consequently, each person will be forced to take as much care of their digital identity as of their physical identity, something that many people have been doing for some time already.
We must take several specific factors of this new kind of identity into consideration such as its peculiar time dimension. The building process of the digital identity over time leaves a footprint on the web, a visible footprint that is accessible to any user. The end result is an identity that is perceived as a sum of the past (footprint) and present identity.
Generally we control our public image by showing at each time only what we wish. However, when our identity leaves a footprint on the internet, we no longer have exclusive control over it but it is shared amongst friends and acquaintances (namely the peer group).
Each person that knows me can publish information (photographs, texts, etc…) that are directly or indirectly related to my identity without the need of my approval. This is what happens in most of the social networks.
Certainly, my digital identity will be entirely integrated in the learning process and will be increasingly associated to a physical space; that is, the idea we had about a parallel digital identity that is detached from reality does not, I think, interest anyone: in fact we do not even have time to create parallel identities.
Our identity is not only formed by way of the information that my friends and I have published, but also through the information that my devices publish. An example could be the use of services like Foursquare that allows me to upload posts in my social networks about my location at any time, taking advantage of the internet connection of our mobile phones.
To explain this phenomenon Tim Berners-Lee mentions Giant Global Graph, this means, the future Semantic Web with which we shall go from gathering the relationship between people to focus on the relationship between people and their interests (documents). Thus, if the “Internet” has allowed us to connect computers and the “Web” has allowed us to connect documents, then the “Graph” will allow us to link the documents (places, objects, etc.) and the people. So we could define the Graph as the third level of abstraction, taking into account that in each layer (Internet, Web, or Graph) we have handed over some control only in order to reach bigger benefits. A direct consequence of these dynamics is the definite statement of a (unique) identity on the web that can be recognized by any agent, person or application.
This unmistakable digital identity facilitates the development of innovative social hardware projects based on participation of a non-collective nature, where the dynamics of collaboration are the result of individual action and interaction. We are progressively discovering the self-organisation of informed societies that are capable of revolutionizing their own structures taking advantage of the virtual mirror phenomenon that enables the association of information on a given situation with individual decisions.
Social networks reinforce a new type of control: a decentralized control operated by a diversity of independent individuals that collaborate, using shared and mobile capacities of calculation and communication. Information and Communication Technologies do not present a solution, but an opportunity to improve our ability to manage territories. ICT’s can be used for many different purposes. On the one hand their enormous capacity for processing data can be used to centralize all the information and try to “solve” urban complexity; but they can also be used to open and decentralize decision-making.
The aim is to research on how ICT’s allow us to define an urban administration structure where discontinued points of control exist in an environment of self-determination (appropriation) and liberty. This is an idea that is close to the definition of tensegrity that Buckminster Fuller mentions: “islands in compression inside a tense ocean“.
The introduction of digital technologies within the physical space enables the development of new communication dynamics and relations between neighbours that improves the cohesion of local communities and their quality of life, offering a feeling of greater security.
Thanks to new technologies and to some cultural “mutations”, systems and worlds that were previously closed and not very transparent, are now open to the participation of agents (and people) who are external to their organisational structures. Citizens become more available to participate and collaborate because they are better informed and they are finally considered as useful partners for the urban administration. Architects and urban planners can reasonably begin to work keeping in touch constantly with citizens, “sharing” their decision-making “powers”.
To explain this phenomenon we can refer to the concept of “long tail” coined by Cris Anderson. The Internet and the digital environment have changed the (power) distribution laws and the market rules. The present political and economic system is based on a pyramid structure where the power (or the economic or creative potential) of many is considered inferior to the power of those that stand on the highest part of the pyramid. There is a new system based on the addition or accumulation of all the small potentials (or powers) of the mass of citizens that, thanks to the systems of communication on the internet, can equal or exceed the power (or potential) of those who are in a privileged position today. These are the old markets of masses and the new niche of markets that are pictured at the top and the bottom of the well known graph of statistical distribution.
The presence of a centralized identity is not needed when the control and feedback devices allow the actors to visualize or to become aware of the consequence of their actions. The unconscious self-organisation phenomenon becomes conscious and intended control when the individuals are allowed to understand the effects of their actions. The concept of tensegrity comes in here when it refers to an administration model where decentralized and centralized decisions are joined, avoiding the appearance of any closed and omnipresent control dynamics.
Reversing the supremacy of centralization over individual decisions, citizens can become aware of their actions and intentionally coordinate them. This process may help to restore the necessary legitimacy and credibility to the interventions that take place in degraded urban areas.
Towards participation: Accountability and open data
“Participation demands an information system, an observatory and indicators that will regularly reflect the situation of what we consider as key variables to establish our evolution, that should be accessible and comprehensible for citizens” (Agustín Hernández Aja, 2002)
In 2002, Hernández Aja, Urban planning professor at the Universidad Politécnica in Madrid, describes the essential assumptions for citizen participation. A decade later, communication models and administration dynamics that bring us close to these assumptions start to become popular.
I would like to highlight (point out) accountability and the Open Data movement.
Approaching the term accountability we can create an ecosystem of communication and transparency that can enable citizens to demand responsibilities from governing bodies. This would help us to reach the objective of decentralizing control, which is necessary for a true democracy.
Open Parlamento (openparlamento.it) is a great example of how to work to achieve accountability. It is a web-based tool that enables distributed monitoring of the work of the members of parliament in the Italian parliament.
The web page offers lots of information on draft legislation, and in general, about all the activities in the Parliament. Most interesting of all is the distributed monitoring system that allows for control of every Member of Parliament’s political activities. Every citizen can “adopt” a member and publish all their declarations and confront them with their parliamentary activity.
We can imagine this same system applied on a local scale, where citizens have greater organization capacities and power to exert pressure. The control to which all the local administrators would be subject to, would be so intense that they would nearly be obliged to start up a transformation of the administrative structures towards a more open and participatory model.
The Open Data movement is an important drive towards achieving transparency over public administration. Open Data consists of making Public Administration data available for the public, such as data related to projects that are financed with public money or managed by public institutions.
The aim is to take advantage of the data that the public administrations do not want or do not have the capacity to analyze. Releasing this data enables any person or organization to build new consultation and visualization formulas, to simplify, diversify and even to enrich the initial information.
In Spain, within this new tendency, the Open Data Euskadi project should be highlighted. It is part of the Open Government initiative of the Bask Government: a website dedicated to the exhibition of public data in a re-usable format, under open licenses. On an urban scale, two projects stand out that have been activated by two Spanish cities; Zaragoza and Córdoba. They are beginning to take their first steps in the world of Open Data.
I am convinced that citizen pressure will force all the big cities to join this process of openness and transparency.
As we mentioned previously, reversing the supremacy of centralization over individual actions, citizens can become aware of their “power” and begin to organize in networks.
We have the technology the knowledge and the dynamics available to introduce more open urban administration processes. Citizens have begun to move; the administrations could take advantage of these autonomous and independent processes, to manage very complex situations. However, a clear political will is still lacking.
Probably the administrators have managed to delay the transition towards a new participatory administration model, thanks to the indirect or even direct support of what is known as the “fourth power”: the media. The current information system still offers the administrators and the “powerful” a wide opportunity to manipulate and control certain processes.
The emergence of a more distributed information model is beginning to offer to any citizen the possibility to produce relevant local information. A communication ecosystem based on social media is born.
This new information ecosystem can reduce the influence of the mass media and therefore force the local administrators to enforce accountability regarding the decisions that are taken. The administrators will be compelled to relate to this new, more horizontal and distributed form of communication: an opportunity to generate “social control” that can improve transparency and force the local administrators to take the public opinion into account.
A clear example of what is being presented here, are the latest citizen mobilizations that are happening in Spain. After the 15M demonstration, an organized and authorized event, many occupations took place in numerous squares in the whole of Spain. These camps were organized in a matter of hours using Twitter and Facebook. It is impossible to exert control over these information flows and action catalysts like the occupations. Steps have been taken towards a model in which governors and administrators are going to have to understand that they cannot continue to ignore the citizens while they defend the interests of others.
We are witnessing an innovative construction process of a new communal and public sphere; the development of a new model of public space that we have called “sensitive space”. Traditional media don’t communicate what we the people are debating on a daily basis, nonetheless, thanks to Social Networks, people can receive information and interact in real time with others taking part in debates and social movements, the example of the occupation of public squares is an example of this.
It is interesting to note that the in-situ (on-site) realm is absolutely essential and how the digital media is simply offering a wider environment for communication so that the organisation of any given action is greatly improved; everything becomes decentralized while at the same time connected and synchronized.
These processes seem to be nearly inevitable. Once they are established as natural local administration processes then we will be speaking about a more favorable environment, for an Open Source City, that is, a city open to everyone’s participation.
Open Energy es un proyecto de base tecnológica y enfoque educativo, que pretende ayudar a visualizar y controlar el consumo energético de un espacio doméstico o industrial.
Su autor, Fran Castillo, propone dos líneas de desarrollo: Por un lado, un sistema de monitorización que permita obtener datos del consumo del espacio en tiempo real, y por otro, una interfaz que muestre de forma gráfica esos datos de una manera comprensible para el usuario, en formato realidad aumentada.
El proyecto, actualmente desarrollado en forma de gráficos y prototipos, ha sido propuesto en la plataforma de financiación colectiva Goteo para recaudar los fondos necesarios para el desarrollo de dos productos:
Producto A: Aplicación de ahorro energético doméstica
El sistema contará con una interfaz simple, donde el usuario introduzca su consumo energético actual mensual en euros y el consumo energético actual mensual que desea obtener en el mes en curso. Con estos datos la interfaz informará del consumo instantáneo actual y el acumulado en el mes en curso, para que en base a esta información y realimentación se pueda actuar en consecuencia y conseguir el ahorro mensual objetivo.
Producto B: Aplicación de ahorro energético en pequeños entornos industriales
Además de lo descrito en el producto anterior, el sistema contará con varios puntos de medición de consumo (hasta 5), de tal manera que se podrán identificar diferentes zonas de consumo y equilibrarlo, teniendo en cuenta (si procede) consumos de stand-by.
Está basado en tecnologías abiertas como Arduino Energy Shell, y sus resultados serán liberados con licencia de código abierto para que cualquiera pueda hacer uso de ellos y contribuir a su desarrollo. Como comenta Fran Castillo, este proyecto es además parte de un enfoque general más ambicioso que propone una manera diferente de entender la red de infraestructura energética:
Este nuevo modelo de red eléctrica inteligente, en oposición al modelo tradicional de red eléctrica jerárquica, plantea el diseño de un sistema energético descentralizado, donde cualquier usuario puede convertirse en un nodo generador y distribuidor de energías renovables. Open Energy como entorno de visualización genera nuevas representaciones no perceptibles de la dinámica de comportamiento eléctrico de los humanos en su entorno habitable. Estos sistemas de visualización en tiempo real nos posibilitarán adaptar los patrones de conductas de consumo en relación a los niveles de consumo registrados, así como la adaptación del consumo en relación a los precios en tiempo real.
Proyectos como este son muy deseables en este momento, en la medida en que conocer el funcionamiento de la infraestructura energética es el primer (y necesario) paso para poder actuar sobre ella y mejorar tanto su uso como su funcionamiento, acercándola a un ideal de sostenibilidad energética difícil de alcanzar con los enfoques actuales.
Tras meses de desarrollo y experimentación, recientemente se presentó al público el proyecto Openarch, una experiencia real sobre la integración de la tecnología en la vivienda, llevada a cabo por Thinkbig Factory.
De acuerdo con los propios autores:
Openarch es un prototipo real de una vivienda inteligente. La primera vivienda diseñada desde el inicio para incorporar una capa digital que conecta la casa y sus elementos a Internet. Sus habitantes participan y se incorporan a una nueva vida conectada y digital. Es flexible y gracias a su capacidad de transformación se adapta a cualquier condición que requiera el usuario.
La capa digital a la que a partir de ahora llamaremos D.OS (domestic operating system) incluye una serie de elementos que permiten a los usuarios estar conectados con cualquier persona o espacio, controlar los elementos de la casa mediante el movimiento del cuerpo, realizar conferencias desde la casa, conocer el consumo eléctrico en cada instante, activar cualquier electrodoméstico desde el trabajo, compartir en video y en directo las recetas de cocina con el resto del mundo, crear tu propio plató de TV en el salón, etc.
La vivienda está diseñada para permitir la máxima capacidad de modificación y adaptación a las necesidades del usuario en tiempo real, como parte de un estilo de vida más dinámico y cambiante.
Más allá de la domótica, incorpora desde su propia concepción varios sistemas que permiten al usuario interactuar no sólo con la vivienda sino con la ciudad, con otros usuarios y con la Internet de las cosas, todo a través de una interfaz integrada con los propios elementos arquitectónicos y los objetos cotidianos mediante sensores y sistemas de visualización proyectados.
De este proyecto nos gustaría destacar dos cosas:
Lo primero, que se trata de un claro ejemplo de la aplicación consecuente de los principios de la cultura abierta. Desde la transparencia del proceso, que ha sido comunicado por los desarrolladores en su blog, hasta el hecho de que ser un prototipo real, habitado durante el propio proceso de testeo: lo que podríamos llamar una obra arquitectónica en versión beta. Lo que vemos no son montajes digitales ilustrativos (perfectos e ideales pero irreales), sino fotografías y vídeos directos del sistema puesto en uso, con todas sus deficiencias y capacidades. Acostumbrados a ver terminar el trabajo de los arquitectos el mismo día en que la obra se pone en uso, es interesante encontrar proyectos en los que las pruebas, los errores, los aspectos a medio definir y las mejoras sucesivas se comunican con el mismo valor o más que el resultado final, y son puestos a prueba con su uso cotidiano.
El segundo aspecto más interesante es que, frente a proyectos de investigación y desarrollo similares emprendidos por grandes empresas y universidades en búsqueda de patentes comercializables, Openarch está basado en sistemas de hardware y software open source, empleando estándares abiertos y componentes que permitirían a cualquiera desarrollar su propia versión del sistema, ponerla a prueba, mejorarla y contribuir así directa o indirectamente al desarrollo del proyecto.
Os animamos a visitar la web y revisar detenidamente los contenidos explicativos que incluye, así como a seguir los avances del proyecto en sus siguientes fases de desarrollo.
In Manhattan, on the corner of Houston and 2nd avenue, there sits an empty lot between two brick buildings. For nearly a century, the lot has existed as a eye-sore for its neighbors, and a nest for lower east side rats. However, today it exists, cleared, paved and transformed into the temporary host of the BMW Guggenheim lab.
Between gratified walls, a massive steel structure, flat screen monitors and a speaker’s podium hosts guests and events that critique and inspire new ideas about 21st century creative urbanism. I had been meaning to visit the BMW Guggenheim lab since, while in Germany this past summer, a friend told me about it’s opening. After New York, the structure and monitors will be traveling to Berlin, and then on Mumbai. In fact, the structure and events are scheduled to travel around the world to 9 major cities for the next 6 years.
And what will become of the lot on Houston and 2nd? As I am currently researching the temporary use of vacant urban spaces, this question had been on my mind. I arrived in New York, serendipitously in time for the “What’s Next” discussions at the Lab. it turns out, the vacant lot owns a history of transformation efforts that extend beyond this past summer and BMW or the Guggenheim’s involvement. First Street Green, a local community organization made up of neighbors and friends of the area, has been trying to clean up and redesign the lot as community space for several years.
I choose the right time to visit. The day’s events kicked off with an address from First Street Green’s President, Robert Graf, who spoke a bit about the history of the 33 East first street site and their efforts to work with New York City Parks and Recreational facilities (who has owned the property since the mid 20th century) to clear and adapt the space to neighborhood needs. Next, friends of First Street Green, architects Jorge Prado and Silva Ajemian of Todo Design, presented a potential blueprint for the future of the site. Melding local neighborhood interests and the larger interests of New York City, they suggested a simple split-level architectural design: half community center and half park-space that would integrate the activities on the bustling Houston street with the first street neighborhood.
Then a representative from Art in the Parks, a project headed by the Department of Art and Antiquities, gave a presentation about the type of sculptures and installations that have been showcased throughout New York’s parks in the past. This presentation was meant to suggest the potential for the space to be used for arts viewing. A young, neighborhood boy raised his hand – and then the real discussions began. “What about the kids?” He asked, “we don’t want to look at sculptures, we want to play sports in our neighborhood”. It was quickly acknowledged that whatever becomes of the space, it will have to meet the needs of the surrounding residents, first and foremost.
It seemed the perfect transition into the presentation “It’s My Park”. The Hester Street Collaborative and Partnership for Parks were presented by Jordan Pender, who explained placemaking – the community benefits of citizen involvement in urban development plans. Along the same lines as the What If Cities initiative at Ecosistema Urbano, Partnerships for Parks now has an online interface called “People Make Parks” which encourages communities participate in the design of their park, incorporating tools like “Design Hoops”, “story map”s and “wish objects”. Lastly, Graem Sullivan, director of the School of Visual Arts and The Pennsylvania State University spoke about the significance as Space for making place for questions.
After a lunch break and a on-site game of Urbanology (it’s great, play it online here), the activities on site switched to a visioning wall workshop. Several tables laid out giant foam puzzle pieces and writing and decorating tools. Speakers, listeners, and passer-bys were encouraged to write their own ideas about what could exist in the space post-BMW/Guggenheim Lab. The puzzle pieces took structure, and the sculpture chart grew in idea potential that raged from Mobile Gardening to Music performance.
The puzzle pieces, we were told, would be presented to the 1st street community, who would lay the ideas in order of preference. The site’s development would depend on this input.
I observed two major take-away points from the First Street Green day’s activities:
First, the potential in the flexible use of raw spaces. Architects Prado and Ajemian suggested a “soft “structure for their proposed community center. Natural materials and a simple structure would allow for later construction or deconstruction. In other words, the architecture of the site could be planned from the beginning to adapt to neighborhood needs. Art in the Parks suggested the idea of installation, not murals or permanent sculpture to share the space. This art form could temporarily expose the neighborhood (and New York’s visitors) to contemporary visual art during periods of the year that the space is unsuitable for lengthy outdoor activities.
Second, the potential of socially engaging tools to integrate local (and larger) communities in urban development plans. These tools give all members of the community, regardless of age or educational status, the ability to impact the future of their shared space. Community members will likely care even more for a space they’ve invested thought into. The more stakeholders in a project, the less likely it will fall into disuse or vandalism.
Ecosistma Urbano is well acquainted with the notion that fluid communication between designers and the communities in which they work is one of the most important aspects of 21st century, sustainable urban development. At DreamHamar’s digital and physical labs, similar social tools are being introduced.
The history of the 33 East first street is, in itself, proof of the potential in communities to develop grassroots urban change. Until mid-October, if you’re in New York, I highly recommend checking out the BMW Guggenheim lab
If you’re in New York some months, years from now, it will interesting to see what becomes of the 33 East first street site as well.
Some weeks ago we announced here the coming release of the Whatif web application and commented on its main features. Today we are pleased to be launching the new Whatif 2.0 version and the official website of the project, Whatif.es. [Edit: The website is no longer available and the name has changed, see Local In].
Next you can watch (in spanish) a short video presentation we recorded at the office: