MAB Theme: Futures Implied
Our cities and daily lives are increasingly shaped by the emergence of digital technologies such as digital platforms, geolocated services and online maps, sensor technologies, the Internet of Things, responsive technologies, and surveillance systems. None of these technologies brought into the city are neutral enablers, mere decorative structures, or simple marketplaces connecting demand and supply in fields that vary from energy and transport to commerce and leisure. They are built upon numerous spoken and unspoken assumptions about urban life, each with their own implications for social relations and their effect on the natural ecosystem. It is therefore time for the discipline of media architecture to address the implied futures of new technologies.
We are witnessing an unprecedented and multifaceted transformation that is not only changing the way in which cities are designed and managed, but also the way in which we as humans behave, communicate, and connect with each other and our environment. This emerging spectrum of interactive technologies often appears in the form of top-down smart city solutions aiming to optimize flow, efficiency, and safety. The introduction of these technologies often compromises public values and may interfere with citizens’ rights. This might, in the long run, set the ground for techno-deterministic dystopian futures. It is thus time to ‘leap’ into the future and further explore the possible outcomes, paths, and challenges of the technologization of cities and its implied futures. This is the central challenge we put in the hands of students.
Embracing the spectrums between innovation and critical thinking, and speculation and pragmatism, the student exhibition will spark and materialize conversations on current and future urban paradigms. Projects will range from speculative future visions to concrete solutions aiming to showcase innovative ideas or uncover potential pitfalls of urban transformation. They can be presented in a wide range of formats and tools: from responsive public spaces, urban screens, media facades, media kiosks, and displays, to digitally mediated urban games, media art installations, local community platforms, mapping and navigation tools, and technologies that monitor, construct, design, manage, and structure the use of urban resources.
The proposals are anticipated to relate to one or more of the MAB20 main curatorial themes:
The student exhibition, being an experimental space, encourages a critical as well as a constructive approach to the above themes. The following open questions aim to kick-start a discussion oscillating between utopia and dystopia, speculation and pragmatism.
Online platforms are being used to create new channels of communication between citizens and institutions. For example, problem reporting applications allow citizens to monitor and contribute to the maintenance of public infrastructure, while emerging and playful methods of citizen participation collect creative input from citizens generating a common vision for the future of cities. However, engagement is not free of complications. Manipulation, lack of information, and indifference are recurring problems in participatory processes. Could online participation lead to more inclusive engagement in cities, or would it lead to tokenism in disguise, guided by vested interests?
Networks have opened new decentralized and ubiquitous channels of communication. Through such channels, horizontal social structures in cities achieve common goals through peer to peer collaboration and sharing of resources. For example, food cooperatives employ technology to optimize the use of resources and eliminate waste. However, piles of discarded shared bicycles in China as well as the increase in traffic due to shared vehicles in New York City reveal a different side of this trend. Could technology support social structures and circular urban systems, or would it lead to an increase in consumption and a waste of resources?
Technology has been historically used in planning processes. Surveying, aerial photographs and satellite imagery have changed the way in which cities are conceived and resources are managed. For example, system planning and demographic models have helped to make the use of resources more efficient. However, the results are not always in harmony with the environment. Unrestricted urban growth has long term environmental consequences and leads to inefficient use of resources. Could technology enable a balanced interaction of humans and their environment, or would it lead to uncontrolled development and exploitation of scarce resources?
The properties of emerging interactive technologies have an activating and engaging potential for cities. They can materialize as physical objects in specific locations and be fueled by data or agents from different locations and points in time. As such, they are opening up a new way of thinking about spaces and the interaction between people, ecologies and physical elements. However, a purely technical approach can also lead to sterile spaces, dominated by surveillance devices. Can these technologies activate and recreate public places for communities, or are they more likely to generate passive spaces that come alive only in the digital sphere?
Juan Carlos Carvajal Bermúdez – Media Architecture Institute
Olina Terzi – Digital Society School
Lotti Tscherteu – Media Architecture Institute
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