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.