With a deep fascination with the digital age and the viral effects of social media, I am finding the ever more importance of the facilitation of the landscape as a medium for the transition of the consumer to producer society. Soon enough we as citizens will have extensive control over our environments.
Using our digital tools ubiquitous infrastructure will exist that will allow us to play music, control light, communicate, and perhaps even one day, manipulate weather.
The mission of VURB, a design research group founded by Ben Cerveny and James Burke recently wrote a proposal for a new project that will “enable a set of environmental services in the Trouw building to be ‘discoverable’ by mobile devices, and controlled by citizens/users through applications on their smartphones.”
The city becomes a useful digital playground of information. Cities would be designed to allow for citizen environment manipulation. Controlled from your phone turned remote control, transportation, dinner reservations are queued to your exact needs, a personal ambient soundtrack is sent through airwaves as you walk through the street.
Some things still left to understand, is how these personal manipulations react to others and the community in its entirety. Will my manipulations be affected by the person walking opposite of me down the sidewalk.
These are old concepts, but now the technology is catching up with the ideas:
In the 1960s, Constant Nieuwenhuys, an Amsterdam-based Situationist artist-architect, imagined a New Babylon made of linked transformable structures that allowed its inhabitants to freely reconfigure their environment to fit their needs and desires in realtime. This Utopian fantasy was certainly provocative at the time, but also held hints at a new relationship between citizens and their context. The citizen can be an active participant in shaping her environment everywhere she goes. Together, we can play our cities like instruments.
“The age of ubiquitous computation is condensing around us even as you read this. The various systems throughout a modern city that you probably interact with everyday are beginning to maintain persistent memories of their own use, communicate with each other about their status, and even reconfigure themselves based on your dynamic needs.”
This is the opening statement of VURB, a European framework for policy and design research concerning urban computational systems. VURB was founded in July 2009 by Ben Cerveny, design strategist and data visualization theorist, in collaboration with James Burke (Roomware, Narb) and Non-fiction’s Juha van ‘t Zelfde.
“In the same way that social networks and digital representation have had profound consequences on the cultures of print, music, and video, so too will the urban fabric of the city itself be transformed into an information layered, collaboratively shapable medium.”
“The modern city is built not just upon physical infrastructure, but also patterns and flows of information that are always growing and transforming. We are only now beginning to develop the tools that allow us to see these patterns of information over huge spans of time and space, or in any local context in realtime.
Just as the industrial age transformed cities with the addition of towers to the skyline and far-reaching transit networks, the digital age will bring new urban-scale infrastructure into everyday experience. Where the products of industrial urban evolution were huge physical manifestations that celebrated the magnitude of urban culture, the digital era is instead producing equally impressive manifestations that live in the cloud.”
What this tells me, is the importance of landscape architects to immerse themselves in this technology and social innovation. To gain an intimate understanding of it in order to design within it's capabilities. The tools of the past are still relevant, but we need better understanding of the larger scale ecologies and addressing complicated environmental issues from more then merely the aesthetic dressings. Together, ecological design and ubiquitous community social interaction tools will empower landscape architects to design to allow all citizens to become environmental designers and informants.