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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Towards the Sentient City

Next Thursday is the opening of The Architectural League's two-month long Towards the Sentient City, an exhibition "critically exploring the evolving relationship between ubiquitous computing, architecture, and the city."


From the League's announcement:
As computing leaves the desktop and spills out onto the sidewalks, streets and public spaces of the city, we are increasingly finding information processing capacity embedded within and distributed throughout the material fabric of everyday urban space. Artifacts and systems we interact with daily collect, store and process information about us, or are activated by our movements and transactions. Pervasive/ubiquitous computing evangelists herald a coming age of urban infrastructure capable of sensing and responding to the events and activities transpiring around them. Imbued with the capacity to remember, correlate and anticipate, this near-future “sentient” city is envisioned as being capable of reflexively monitoring its environment and our behavior within it, becoming an active agent in the organization of everyday life in urban public space.


Despite the obvious implications for the built environment, architects have been largely absent from the discussions about how these technologies are conceptualized and deployed. To the extent that business interests and government agencies drive these technological developments, we can expect to see new forms of consumption, surveillance and control emerge. Within architecture, the recent fascination with building envelopes wrapped with large-scale programmable “urban screens” or corporate lobbies outfitted with so-called “interactive architecture” highlights the dilemma. In an age of urban computing and ambient informatics, what opportunities for the design of urban artifacts and spaces lie beyond the architectural surface as confectionary spectacle or the interior vestibule as glorified automatic door opener?

Toward the Sentient City will combine a survey of recent work that explores a wide range of context-aware, location-based and otherwise “situated” technologies with a series of commissioned projects by multi-disciplinary teams of architects and artists. The exhibition will examine the broader social, cultural, environmental and political issues within which the development of urban ubiquitous/pervasive computing is itself situated.
Sounds interesting to me. The exhibition features five commissioned projects (Too Smart City, Amphibious Architecture, Natural Fuse, Trash Track, and Breakout!), ten events, an Open Archive and the online platform that should expand as the exhibition unfolds. The exhibition will be located at The Urban Center, 457 Madison Avenue, NYC, though the locations of the events varies, so check the listings.


  1. I believe that there are many interesting uses of technology to be mixed with architecture. I feel that the combination of architecture, technology, and advertising will merge and possibly create quite a mess.
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  2. as a follow up... you should check out some of the things they are doing at the Guggenheim in NYC..

    New Jersey Landscape Designer NJ

  3. Probably the most successful use of information technology in the public sphere has been the stock ticker screen. This is a good meme for these sort of technologies. Instead of gee whiz devices, they must fulfill a clear need. So much of this information today however is delegated to mobile devices. It makes this less and less of a necessarily prominent feature. Isn't this the way that technology should progress? Going into the background of our lives, making the important priorities of life stay in the forefront.

    Another reality though is that there is plenty of electronics that are wired into buildings - perhaps sun tracking shades - etc. There will always be manufacturers peddling their wares, but a better meme is the move to passive structures. The indian teepee is a perfect example of this. It even left no structural footprint behind.


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