A QR code for this blog, created here ( credits @mattermorph)

A QR code for this blog, created here ( credits @mattermorph)

Working out the Network: agglomeration and augmentation as instances of contemporary space.

In attention to the publication Networks Public:Publish // #netdomus

Andres Barrios*

Since the very advent of modernism, media and architecture, those forces/byproducts of artistic, technical and scientific endeavor, had complemented each other as far as those have been cooperating throughout recent history, promoting each - by their own or in joined effort - the liberal value of emancipation.

When consciously intermingling, inarguably those helped to shape the current cultural, social, physical and even economical landscape of western society through the consolidation of enshrined entrepreneurship and innovation, besides the evidentialization of the controversies that kept on provoking severe struggle, all of it leveraging from the cultural disposition to concede an enormous value to what pops up in the eye, quoting Mcluhan. In such manner, society has attended the futuristic vision of cities immortalized by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, the never-ending stairstep sequence casted on Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and the culmination of the Wynand building on Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead - where architecture performed as an environmental force explicitly devoted to the iconography of power; and concurrently, society caught up with the strong input served by media and architecture altogether into reality, when impacting it all the way back with its dramatic inspiration of grandiosity, which pervaded the will and discourse of most of the social and political thinking consolidated during the convulsive pre-WWII era, including the likes of the German National Socialism, the Nietzchean Individualism and the Russian Communism, all of them in the search of multiple ways to interpret and express the social change that resulted from such times of crisis.

As technical and scientific advancement rose exponentially with regards of such a social struggle, which actually transcended even the inter wars period and found fertile ground over the cold war period, commentators ranging from Walter Benjamin, Gilbert Simondon and Lewis Mumford amongst others, plus the artistic work of the Cubists and the Futurists and the architectural work of the late Le Corbusier introduced under their own perspectives the issues of the machine and technical advancement in the face of its present and future implications for their disciplines and beyond. This led to a dialectic position where ones went for the optimistic embracement of technique, integrating into the very conception of Darwinian human evolution the concept of the constituency of man-made objects as extensions of his own body: the early man seemed to have acquired them – the tools- not in a sort of illumination with which to arm himself , but as if his brain and body exuded them progressively” ( Leroy-Gurhan,1964) , while some others to serious contradiction, due to the ”…constant overrating of the role of tools and machines in the human economy” (Mumford, 1966).

Indeed, such controversy might be linked to early sociological elaborations which locate technical advancement as a driving force behind social disunity and structural unemployment; thus diminishing the opportunities of group collaboration besides affecting the already fledging working classes of western countries ( Mayo, 1945). However, after efficient managerial Fordism, a byproduct of same technical and scientific advancement, proved useful for the creation of several social housing complexes in many locations for thousands of families in a cheaper way ( thus impacting the way architecture was thought and made until that very moment) and afterwards pervaded all of the aspects of urban and state governance due to its success as a planning technique, scientific and technological advancement ( altogether with its resulting ‘machines’ and procedures) embodied itself as one of the core institutions of our contemporary society, while at the same time , several social apparatuses such as “…a reliable welfare state; mass parties anchored in class culture; and a stable nuclear family consisting of a single breadwinner, his housewife and their children” paved their own way for consolidation amidst the optimistic promise of economical progress of the postwar period.

Signing up in space: the virtual, the real, the aggregated and the augmented in the eyes of the machine.

Nowadays, after several technical and societal developments, the ways in which media, architecture and urban environments have been intermingling are increasing exponentially, in such a way that those are often insoluble for the benefit of their individual accountability, yet impacting them in similar way in multiple instances, as explained by Geographer Edward Soja on his explorations in Orange County while working on his concept of Hyperrealism:a way in which geography introduced a continuous blending of screen characters and socially-produced space and/or the named resulting geographies feeding all the way back TV screens and cinema. In such a process, the multiple instances that even today keep on shaping the Angeleno landscape resemble in reality those spaces of the virtual L.A., the place were fantasy is still being produced and distributed throughout the screens all over the globe, in the best tradition of the machine age.    

Such instance of the virtual space, mediated by further technical development of communication means led to the ‘duplication of sensible reality’, named back in the 90’s by Paul Virilio, before warning about the effects derived from the influence of pervasive ‘immediate virtual media’ : the ‘invention of a perspective of real time’. Such effect, altogether with deepened global mobility of capital and human resources and the consolidation of the nowadays intensively-exploited informational and social online/offline networks , have led ultimately into a raising cultural model interdependent of economical agglomeration, driven by data, people and resources,with presence in both virtual and real spheres.

The previous facts allows to assert that there is a process of revalidation of our relations with space and time in motion, which implies the interconnected relations of the real and the virtual, the human and the non-human at the crossing point of the advancement communicational technologies, this derived from the increasing institutionalization of scientific development, plus the ongoing ”reflexive” retrofitting of value systems such as family, church and state, and even from the economical exploitation of the virtual and real networks, that motivate the reworking process of the very tools that resulted from previous technical advancement: of our ‘machines’. Unarguably, we are now introduced into an instance of time where our relation with the environment is mediated by its complete ‘resignification’ . In addition, if considering the fact of present agglomeration of data, resources and people eased by Internet technologies and efficient mobility , our modes of social production,reproduction and even consumption of space are to be susceptible to those processes of ‘aggregation’ and ‘augmentation’ that resulted in such agglomeration in the first place, those ultimately allowing the accountability of a ‘signing in/logging out’ logic which helps - with all of the other previous depicted phenomena, to engender environmental resignification, altering power relations and subsequently iconographic representation.

Working out the online/offline network: social spatial production and resignification

Undoubtedly, such a thick interplay of processes and interactions pinpoints alternative developments for the fields of Architecture, Media studies and Urban Studies, as for the very first time in history data is spatialized in real time (in reality) while traceable in virtuality simultaneously ; This made possible via GPS tools and Social Media applications based on API coding, Geotagging and so forth, leveraging from online streaming. For the consideration of these mentioned developments as actual environmental forces, is recommendable to take in account the following principles that have been tested previously when analyzing empirical data:

  • -User Generated Content has the critical potentiality of easing the acquisition of spatial - experiential knowledge (subjective, and most of the times local) in a systematized way (inducing quantitative and qualitative measurements), challenging current paradigms of decision making where experiential knowledge and systematized knowledge are usually considered contrary in design and planning processes. ( see Healey, 2008)

  • -The acknowledgement of the role of actions ( in fact, communicative actions) in order to weight User Generated Content, besides reading such actions as drivers of processes which occur in within a variety of overlapping structures ( termed by Anthony Giddens as agency in his structuration theory ) that eventually pervade a spatial domain which necessitates, through and after the intervention of such forces, negotiation leading to structural stabilization.( Giddens, 1984)
  • -There is a common aspect that concedes the same weight and value to the content generated from agglomeration when considered as a whole: the network gave to humans and non humans enough exposure to equalize its voice to the ones of media and organizations, thus making visible individual discourses and in the same way, giving accountancy to the agency of such different social spatial actors. Such characteristic is generally known as the principle of ‘Generalized Symmetry’, which makesconstituent part of Actor Network Theory ( Latour,2005 ).

When taking in account these principles, there are some scenarios to be considered. Here some reflections with the subject in concern:

  • Cities, places and buildings have the capacity of expanding its presence over the online realm (thus re signifying space) using different search engines and social media applications, thus gaining agency by themselves, creating self awareness by promoting aggregation and crowd knowledge.
  • Metadata built over collaborative basis offers the opportunity of redefining the way of living and experiencing places via place-parenting technologies over the web,(tagging technologies towards the suggestion of related places), thus fostering online/offline collaboration amongst places and people.
  • Flocking herds of tourists and expats are experiencing and gathering over different places around the globe while sharing those experiences via enriched metadata throughout the web. Those experiences are valuable enough to start investigating their coincidences (and controversies), and consider that such activity is building up local knowledge-and presumably redefining- local heritage.

Sources

Virilio, P. (1996) Speed and Information: Cyberspace Alarm! Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors. Available at www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=72 accessed on 16.10.2009

Leroy-Gurhan, A. ( 1964). La geste et le parole. V.2: pp.271- 277.Editions Albin Michel. Paris.

Mayo, E. (1945) The social problems of an industrial civilization. Harvard Business School. Boston. 

Soja, Edward. (2000) Postmetropolis: critical studies of cities and regions. Blackwell, Oxford.

Mumford, L. (1966), ‘Technics and the Nature of Man’, The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of the Society for the History of Technology, Technology and Culture, Vol. 7, No. 3,pp. 303-317

Giddens, A.(1984) The constitution of society:outline of the theory of structuration. University of California press.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Healey, P. 2008. ‘ knowledge flows, spatial-strategy making, and the roles of academics’. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy , volume 26, pages 861 ^ 881

*Born Rodrigo Andres Barrios Salcedo, in Bogota, Colombia. Architect, 36. Msc in European Urban Studies Bauhaus Universitaet Weimar, Germany. Currently PhD candidate of the chair of Urban Social Research, Faculty of Architecture, Bauhaus Universitaet Weimar, Germany.