The Archivist Speaks ... [2]

On the 14th of May 2011 the new book 'Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space' will be presented at V2_, it looks at how new technologies change urban life.

The Archivist Speaks ... [2]

[slide shown during the TransUrbanism event, V2_, 2001]

Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space (MIT Press) contains a great number of texts which explore the experience of living in a sentient city, a city that, through the use of mobile technologies, can remember, correlate and anticipate the behavior of its inhabitants. It is edited by Mark Shepard, who last year developed his 'app' Serendipitor during his Sentient City Summer Session residency at V2_.

Obviously the change of the urban landscape and the urban experience through new technologies has been the subject of many other V2_ events, projects and works. A recent Test_Lab, Urban Screen Savers for instance looked at how large screens in public space can be used and are infiltrating the city. The Artvertiser, an Augmented Reality work by Julian Oliver and Damian Stewart, is a practical artistic and activist take on this issue. It reclaims the street for the citizens, as it proposes to show your own images on large publicity billboards, instead of the advertisements.

Sentient City focuses mostly on applications of Augmented Reality and mobile technologies. If we go back in the history of V2_ we find Urban Eyes, by Jussi Ängeslevä and Marcus Kirsch, which was a quite early design proposal which used both a network of pigeons (yes, the birds which were used for delivering mail) and RFID.

Many of such projects are somehow inspired by psychogeography, by the idea of designing ways of wandering through the city that yield new and unexpected experiences – Serendipitor certainly is. Also there is a sometimes almost unconscious, sometimes straightforward approach of the issue of surveillance. This was very 'visible' when surveillance was predominantly a question of the use of CCTV, but is has become 'invisible' as soon as surveillance is played out through the tracking of devices and GPS.

Going further back in the history of V2_, looking for works and events which connect urban life and technology, one rather finds projects and researches which focus on architecture. In 2001 and 2002 the global transformation of cities was the subject of the TransUrbanism research of V2_, which led to a book with the same title: TransUrbanism. At that time the relation between technology and urbanity was often approached from the application of new technologies by architects: it looked at new architectural forms made possible through the application of computer technology. This can be seen in the work of Lars Spuybroek for instance, and was often connected with virtual architecture for 'cyberspace', as in the work 'transarchitect' Marcos Novak. A very interesting example in this respect, is NOX/Lars Spuybroek's and Q.S. Serafijn's D-Tower in the Dutch city Doetinchem, the form of which is computer-generated. It points forward to the sentient city-theme too, as it literally senses the mood of the inhabitants.

What also captured the attention of artists and developers in the 1990's were the possibilities of massive data analysis and the idea of visualizing the various networks which constitute the city. Networks of traffic, communications, movements of people, interactions between cultures, et cetera. This becomes a cornerstone for the understanding of how a city functions (which then becomes important knowledge for architecture). The application of the network metaphor coupled with massive data analysis was at the core of the work of Knowbotic Research in the 1990s. IO_dencies which was presented various times at V2_. Texts about their work were part of not only the Transurbanism book, but also of The Art of the Accident: for instance IO_dencies, Questioning Urbanity (1998).

With IO_dencies we are somehow also so far removed from the actual physical space of the city. Though the project was about physical cities, the presentation emphasized the virtual networks. That begs a question. How different are the contemporary visions of the technologically invaded city from those of only 15 years ago? Or, the same question, stated differently: what connects Knowbotic Research's projects of the middle 1990's and the idea of transarchitecture and transurbanism with the projects Mark Shepard collected for Sentient City?

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