Conceptual series exploring the historical evolution of how users engage advertising within the public domain.
The following is an excerpt from the conclusion of my thesis, Digital is Physical: The Future of User Agency and Design Within the Public Domain. Explore more in the "Thesis and Writings" section.
The issue is not private companies participating in the public domain. Disneyland is Disneyland. A shopping mall is a shopping mall. A billboard is a billboard. An Apple store is not a Town Square. A future public domain built on false rhetoric and subversive technology must be critically questioned from the standpoint of architecture urbanism and most importantly by all users of the city. Ultimately, it is crucial that users maintain the agency of choice and freedom within the public domain.
When users experience of the city is controlled, filtered, influenced, or manipulated the chance encounters and serendipity of the public domain are gone. Users are not only isolated, but unable to no longer be exposed to different opinions and diversity. In some ways, that deepens social divides, isolation, and polarization of communities.
Not everything these companies do is bad. There are many examples of these platforms and devices connecting and enabling communities world-wide to have a voice on a global scale. Political engagement that happens in digital space is now playing out in physical space. The same happens with casual social interaction with added connectivity and accessibility for those with the software. For all the good, these technologies clearly come with consequences that must be critically considered before they are given free reign within the public domain.
I firmly stand with the idea that we must as citizens and designers fight to retain agency and control within these spaces within the city. This relationship will continue to change, but as technology redefines the ‘rules of engagement’ within the public domain the fundamental aspects of the public domain cannot be forgotten. A public domain that trades serendipity, freedom, and user agency for control, ubiquity, and isolation that is defined by technology companies must not be the future of the city. There will be ways the digital and physical realms can coexist, but designers, users, and policymakers must critically ask what the function of the public domain is in the future vision of cities.
Martijn De. Waal, The City as Interface: How Digital Media Are Changing the City (Rotterdam: NAI Uitgevers/Publishers Stichting, 2014)
This was a project to attempt rewrite Delirious New York in the spirit of the present time.
The fatal weakness of manifestos is their inherent lack of evidence. It is time to look back on what has been done to the build environment. It is time to be retroactive. There is too much evidence, too much documentation, too much photography, too many attempts to grasp the city, for the result to be nothing. The city no longer has meaning. It no longer stands for something. The city is not a fantasy, but a backdrop. It disappears the moment you walk out your door. This makes the architect very uncomfortable, but what is worse no one knows the difference, even that same uncomfortable architect. He is left beating his head against the same wall, but all is well come payday, time to start over.
Cities are in search of a theory, but cannot find it. This delirium no longer feels good. Th ecstasy has worn off. All that is left is pain. Pain that must be killed. Isolation that must be accepted. The city has been lost.
The structure of this manifesto is that of the grid. Order placed on the page to organize the individual block. If you understand blocks as individual pieces within a whole, you now see them differently. Their proximity and juxtaposition of them reinforce their separate meanings. The beauty of the block is that escape from nothing is right in front of you.
L AND O
In 1969, UCLA students transmit the text “l” and “o” from one computer to another. This moment changes the city forever. The invention of the internet has the greatest impact on the city. Not because of all the technological advancements that would follow. Not because it leads to the iPhone. It set the stage for humans to experience something without physically being there. Place no longer matters.
Place is identity. The internet ushered in a new form of globalization. Ideas were shared quickly, repeated even faster, and before we knew it everything looked the same. Mass production no longer was the way to create products to buy, it created our environments where we live.
Rapid globalization changed the circumstances faster than ever. The issue is there is not an architecture that can compete with the dynamic nature of the of the globalized world we live in now. Architecture is lost.
Le Corbusier was resisted. The Radiant City never happened, or did it? The “living machine” knows no scale. The best part about a machine is it needs no consciousness to run. It has one job and it executes perfectly every time. The highway is a part of the machine. The reach of the highway is infinite. It knows no bound, and it does not have any because the single-family home goes forever.
MASS PRODUCTION OF SPACE
It is easy to point at the typical suburb and say that is the moment of mass production of space. While true in some sense, it now happens everywhere. Le Corbusier said the car is the ultimate machine of transportation and the highway has since lived up to his expectation. Speed fueled his desires. Where there was highway there needed to be nothing else. The speed of the car would alter perception and no one would notice. Where the car did not exist, his architecture did. Space now happens everywhere; unconsciously because the machine is now the market and our connectedness to the world. Le Corbusier had to travel from city to city to share his ideas. The entertainment district and stadium can now travel on Google and reproduce itself rapidly in our cities. Architects attempt to play the game, but it is just mass production. Le Corbusier hid his emptiness with the speed of the car, and now the phone keeps everyone’s head down when walking. Perception altered. Mission accomplished.
We all strive to predict our day. We plan days, months, years in advance to make sure we know. Routine is comfort. Routine is security. Routine is no longer a desire, it is unconscious. If you do not have it what is the point. Do not just plan your next day make sure to plan your marriage (to buy a house), and your baby (to buy another house). Do not forget these steps. Finally, architecture can be redeployed in the world. A world that is predictable and understood. A world architects can protect their buildings from. The real suckers are the weathermen.
Ahh the American Dream. Nothing else like it. 3,000 square feet, a four-stall garage, and a nice big green lawn (do not worry the lawn service takes care of it). Isolation is routine’s best friend. It follows it where ever it goes. Isolation needs stability. Wake up enclosed in your house. Walk into your garage and enclose yourself into your car (its cold outside so do not open the garage door until you are in the car). Drive to work. Drive your car into the parking under your office. You got lucky the elevator is right by your spot. Ride that up to your cubicle and do it all over again on your way home. The city loves isolation because all it has to do is work. Bring people in for work and send them out for bed. The ultimate machine.
The moment of control has come. The machine is working at its highest efficiency. It actually gets to pick and choose who it works better for and who it does not. The market, the politics, and the planner all have a place at the table again. Their weapon of choice, in their desire for control, the masterplan. The architects will just sit outside and twiddle their thumbs.
The Myth of Revitalization: Re-isolation
Urban revitalization is every city council member’s dream. No longer do they have to annex, it is now happening within their limits. It is an opportunity to add new value. Time for the masterplan and design standards. Would not want this to happen without our finger on the trigger. Mix-use sounds good. The brick is the ultimate tool of history. It reinforces the past just by the way it looks.
The gated community in the suburb has an entry point. It is its time to shine. A big sign and a name that evokes the sereneness of nature always works. They flaunt their intentions with the gate. The district, on the other hand, hides them. Their problem is they cannot resist the temptation of drawing their line of demarcation and they name themselves. NoDo, SoDo, or whatever the name. A new district was just made (probably where one once stood last week). At that moment, the gig is up. These districts are happening in the city and the notion of revitalization means that there was something that was not as nice as it could be. The moment that they showed their hand, they made clear that they only want the good parts. The brick storefronts (perfect for coffee shops) and the old factories (the lofts will be amazing) are all they are after. Revitalization does not want or care about the social and economic baggage of the surroundings. Everyone has missed the boat with gentrification. It is not that it happens where the less privileged live, it happens near them. Those districts have always had economic life and able to support themselves, but revitalization redraws the line of isolation (as if the highway that broke the neighborhood in the 50’s was not enough). The district revitalization is not meant to kick people out, it just ties the noose. The market will take care of the rest.
Ask the internet, millennials are all about minimalism and living for the experience. They are racing to the city. They are inhabiting these new hip districts. Tech jobs lead their charge. You can tweet for your job now. Things do not matter to these people. They are a generation unlike any before...wait, but are they? Think our grandparents that said that about our parents and they turned out just fine (like them with a car and oceans of square feet). Millennials, let’s talk when your 40. Your race back to isolation will be just in time. We only build for 20 years now and the next dose of revitalization will come around soon. Ahhh routine.
Island in the Sun
Back to where we started, MANHATTAN, the ultimate instability. The resistance. The island and blocks that locked it in place and set the stage for the Culture of Congestion and Manhattanism that protects it from the emptiness of the American city today. It still stands as the Rosetta Stone, but in a world where the stone was forgotten. Social life still thrives, not because isolation and routine have not attempted to control it, but because of the culture of congestion. Land has only gotten more scare and population is always on the rise. Rem saw congestions potential, but knew its only chance of success was to become hyper-congested on levels unknown at the time. Manhattan has resisted and its battle cry is the honking horn. Take ridesharing for example (Uber or Lyft). In all cities, it only reinforces the highway. Now you can use someone else’s car to get from place to place. Its goal is anti-congestion. Less cars on the street. Manhattan, on the other hand, engulfs Uber. The efficiency does not exist because hyper-congestion exists.
Manhattan stands alone. The irony is the same people who created the invisible city, idolized Manhattan (the Rosetta stone) in school. The island, its geography, was the only resistance.
The block may hold the key. These singular moments among the whole. A few hundred feet separate the person from the next adventure. Le Corbusier needed a blank island for his tabula rasa. The real tabula rasa lies within the street. The beauty of this is there are many blocks within our cities that lie blank. Resist like Manhattan, there might still be time.
Koolhaas, Rem. 1994. Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. New York: The Monacelli Press.
The concept of revivalism in architecture is not a new one. It has returned time and time again as architects try to capture the purities and order of the past. Then reflecting these ideologies through modern detailing and materials. Living and working in Omaha I had the opportunity to visit multiple Midwest cities this summer I began to find a common theme or vernacular expressing itself within the urban fabric. Newly constructed buildings were designed to resemble old industrial buildings. Formal proportions were not met however the detailing of the projects reflected a turn of the century building that had been updated into trendy lofts and office space.
The desire for these midwestern cities to be constructing buildings such as these pose a unique question. Why is there a desire to reflect industrial buildings within our cities?
I believe the answer to this is rooted in history. American Modernism in accordance to urban planning and the future of our cities was filled with false promises. In Lebbeus Wood's Blog post "Haunted" he discusses the ghost of American modernism.
"It is the ghost of a once-upon-a-time promise of a better life for everyone, a promise that never delivered. The convenience stores sell junk food that makes us fat. The service station dispenses endless fuel for our gas-guzzlers poisoning the atmosphere. The franchise restaurant is everywhere but belongs nowhere. The pawn shop may be easy, but it reminds us of our, and others’, desperation. The promise haunts us and its ghost lingers at the edges of night, dreamlike and restless. Then we come to the little-illuminated house. How cheerful it is! But the ghost is there, too, mocking our optimism and good cheer."
Modernism promised us grandeur and cities of the future so much that the public, city officials, city planners, and architects bought in. We went as far as pushing "city regeneration" projects to level entire city blocks. In Omaha, the destruction of Jobbers Canyon was supposed to give way to a mix used downtown regeneration that included a marina, office space, and public connection to the river. Instead, the city received a Conagra office campus and a chlorinated pond contaminated to the point that fish are unable to survive. All located 100 ft from the Missouri river connected by a singular bridge. In Minneapolis, city officials leveled over 40% of the central business district in the name of "regeneration". Only to leave behind a vacant city with 40% more parking lots and abandoned lots in the urban core.
The concept of Industrial Revival is a reaction of these failures. It is an unconscious decision that is driving the demand for these buildings. As a culture, we understand the gravity of what we have done to our cities. We understand the great loss and gap in history that was created by our futuristic ideals. However, there seems to be a desire to recreate the past and hold onto the beginning roots that originally created these cities. The hallucinogenic cloud created by the recreation of these brick buildings brings forth a false sense of security and reminiscent past of the good old days. Blinding us from the reality that our cities are growing exponentially with a constant influx of people, culture, technology, and money.
Industrial Revival will no doubt continue and slowly fill in the gaps of our cities as we push for more walkable and livable cities and downtown cores. While I believe in creating these livable cities I question the motives and theory behind Industrial Revival as an architectural movement and aid on the side of caution. These projects should stand as a reminder or memorial to what was or could have been. They remind us of the lessons we learned from American Modernism and their lessons should be used to build and construct more meaningful cities. However, this movement should not define the future of our cities it should not act as a band-aid or reflection of the past. It is an unconscious response to the wrath of American Modernism. The ghosts that have been suppressed by the construction of these buildings will not be fully dissolved until we learn and focus on creating a definitive vision for Midwestern cities.