Vague Terrain 16: Architecture/Action

[Cedric Price / Fun Palace / 1961]

As I was first conceiving of this edition of Vague Terrain there were several compelling ideas that drew me to consider the relationships of embodiment, physical space, and computing. Computation is now moving onto body, into spaces, and into the locative devices in real and tangible ways that affect anyone connected to any one of the myriad networks and systems that make up the communicative architecture of our world. From gaming systems utilizing gesture and facial recognition to augmented reality applications to intelligent houses, we no longer need to work with theoretical models of what ubiquitous computing or reactive architecture would look like as we're experiencing it in life, in business, in art and design. One can see how it is shaping not only the ways in which things are done, but our conceptions of our selves, our spaces, and our societies.

Our notion of space has always been at best a rough approximation of the world in which we live, but it is increasingly becoming, even for the common person, a function of networks, overlapping systems, meshes of different data models, and cybernetic action. One does not need to be a technologist to see a not too distant future in which we facilitate and control communication in and around our bodies, spaces, buildings, neighborhoods, and our environments through the use of multiple overlapping devices and networks. To a significant degree we already do this today, perhaps the only boundaries that remain are those that lie between devices and between devices and bodies. What this presents artists, designers, and architects alike is a challenge: how to conceptualize space, our spaces, and our physical relations in ways that help us realize the potential benefits. This is bad. How do we understand this effect upon ourselves, create better systems, and move towards that blanket, utopian catch-all question: how do we make our lives better?

The points of intersection between physicality, architecture, and computation seem to increase as the mobility of devices and the capacities of those devices to locate themselves and sense their environments increases. Almost all mobile devices are location enabled in some way or another, so the question then becomes: what else is interesting in our environments and what might an environment that knows to do with it? How do we tie spaces, devices, and bodies together to engender play, learning, communication, and convenience? Where is the boundary that separates space from computation? What would it mean to minimize this distance and how would we do it? What is this territory that lies between interaction design, gaming, physical computing, and architecture? In Bodies In Code, Mark B.N. Hansen, writes about wearable space, space in which one moves, one acts, and which deepens the possibilities of existing in space.

[Rafael Lozano-Hemmer / Pulse Room / 2006]

Text, interview and project contributions:

This issue is an exploration of space, functionality in space, and the relationship of the body to the systems around it. All technologies reshape the body and the space around the body, from the bow and arrow to the steam engine to the telephone. It may be that we are beginning to truly see how computing and ubiquitous devices will once again reshape our bodies and our conceptions of ourselves in space. It is with this emphasis that we present a selection of thinkers, artists, architects, and designers and examine and explore how their ideas will shape art, aesthetics, design, living spaces, and social structures and how those ideas will ultimately be shaped by their users and their spaces. As Jonah Cohen-Brucker writes:

'Technological advances happen everyday, but how we use them and change the expected user patterns from their creator's initial vision is the true innovation.'

Joshua Noble, Brooklyn
February 2010