In February I gave a lecture and acted as a member of the jury in a masterclass called Localizing Networks: Physical terminals for web 2.0 engines at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam, with Alejandro Zaera Polo and Maider Llaguno Munitxa as instructors.
After several decades of frantic globalization, we have got to a point where the arrow of history seems to be pointing in a new direction. The realization that there is a limit to the constant expansion of capitalism in the earth’s natural resources and the collapse of the global credit system points at a future where we will no longer be able to commute by plane, or systematically outsource production to emerging economies. Growing protectionism, carbon taxes and security concerns in a multi-lateral world are shaping a rather sclerotic picture of the near future. However, architects may actually be able to find new roles in this emerging scenario, which seems to be pointing irretrievably towards a general process of localization.
We will not explore the most apocalyptic scenarios of this emerging order, where we would be all progressively and inevitably grounded; localization is also emerging in less dystopian modes: the phenomenon of Web 2.0 is marked by the rapidly evolving domains of e-commerce, social media, and social networking, which have affected all aspects of our daily life, reshaping how we form communities and cultures, forge social structures, utilize resources, and engage in politics. These developments offer new platforms for social engagement and political action whose architectural implications are still a matter of speculation, yet pointed in the same direction.
After forming exhaustive global connections through the internet, many Web 2.0 companies are now starting to focus primarily on interaction at the local scale. One of the most relevant developments of these technologies for the field of architecture and design is the emergence of geo-referencing. Tools like Foursquare and Google Latitude explore how users with GPS-enabled mobile devices can interact with their physical environment in new ways. This shift in focus toward the localization of networks opens new ground for architecture, a practice that is intrinsically local. We can see a glimmer of hope that architectural devices may become actors within social networks, reclaiming some of the agency that architecture has lost to the virtual milieu of the world-wide-web.
For all of this optimism, the more sobering observation for architects is that the agents that count in this market have thus far limited their public operations to the virtual realm. Their transactions either make better use of an existing physical infrastructure or render it obsolete. This masterclass will investigate ways in which architecture can calibrate physical engagement as an actor in the process of social networking and social media.
Social networking and social media companies engage with aspects of society that have undeniable physical qualities and human dimensions. The physical realm offers potential for modes of social engagement that can complement the virtual. Cultures of performing arts, music, film, digital design, food, fitness, and dating have all undergone fundamental reorganization in the era of social networking, and our hypothesis is that they are ripe for a new physical interface which will enable them to develop a local presence in certain key locations. The research will be aimed toward generating local audiences and constituencies through the deployment of physical structures. Just as Apple stores, pop-up stores, university student centers, and World Expo pavilions have established architecture’s capacity to communicate commercial, educational, and national identity, this investigation presents an opportunity to envision a new form of privately-sponsored cultural institution with its own socially-assembled identity.
We will look to specific companies within the Web 2.0 arena such as (kickstarter, indaba, zoko, tumblr…) and examine how physical hubs for social interaction can work in concert with the network paradigms already available through the web and mobile devices. We will be drawing from sociology texts on actor-network theory and assemblages for insight into how we can engage the human and non-human –the physical and the digital– actors in the understanding of network behavior. We will aim to establish a new set of quantitative and qualitative metrics for each project through which we can explore how architecture can become a crucial actor within these networks.
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