Network Society


Within the framework of the Basel exhibition Swissbau, a first of a total of five planned architectural symposia took place last week. It raised the question of the future of architecture and urban space in the “network” society. The discussion focused on the influence of information technology on architecture. The research methods of the nineties were questioned.

“We are building the future for you”: This proud sentence was last week in huge letters above the entrance of the exhibition hall, where the first of the planned five architectural symposia took place at the Swiss Fair Basel. The slogan refers to Basel, which is under construction, but of course attempts were made to interpret the phrase as a motto for the meeting initiated by the architect Jacques Herzog.

The topic of the conference, the influence of information technology on city and building architecture, had been discussed in the spirit of this slogan during the last ten years. In bold statements, the nineties predicted the future as a product of communication technological advances. The future seemed to be constructible as information technology, and the architecture was strengthened in its traditional role as a constructor of the future. However, the slogan was misleading the conference visitors. One essential achievement of the congress was to confront the futurology, which was omnipresent in the theories of the nineties, with new methods.

Villö Huszai

Neue Zürcher Zeitung 
1 February 2002

A future of words
However, William J. Mitchell, the lecturer in the field of architecture and the cyberspace theorist of the very first hour, did not foresee anything about this confrontation. Mitchell, who teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), gave the familiar semi-empirical, half-futurological manner of MIT An overview of the possible impact of information technologies on society and city architecture. He thus predicted the comprehensive decentralization of communication and underpinned this prediction with the multi-cited phenomenon of the ATMs and dwindling banking branches.
The architect and urbanist Elizabeth Sikiaridi, who teaches in Essen, renounced empiricism, justified her argument with examples from IT advertising and presented the term “idensity”, conceived by her and the Cologne media theorist Frans Vogelaar: the word “density” Stands for the new density of the media and urban networks, the words “identity” for traditional forms of the analogue. Sikiaridi spoke of the method of fusing virtual and real space in the “emerging information and communication age”, the “emerging network city”, “hybrid spaces”, the “soft urbanism” method – in short, the Basel public had actually built a brilliant future, entirely from words.

Nothing but metaphors?
The question of what could be done with the word so elaborately presented was in the room, but the habit of such dialects threatened to stifle the question. Since the freelance architect and urbanist Peter Trummer, who had graduated in 1997 at the Amsterdam Berlage Institute, turned to Sikiaridi, Whether it understands the concept as a metaphorical or as an operational one, a concept which can be applied in concrete research.
Trummer gave untroubled enough to have enough of the enormous mass of philosophical texts. His refusal to accept the play with concepts marked the beginning of a tough, yet still stimulating discussion that developed during the course of the second-day congress. It was tough because the organizers of the congress had called together non-interlocutors, but, on the other hand, international luminaries of architecture in the real space, such as Toyo Ito, Lars Spuybroek and Jacques Herzog, the pioneers of virtual architecture such as Peter Anders, Marcos Novak and Hani Rashid. Also the complex questions of the two presenters, the McLuhan successor Derrick de Kerckhove or the philosopher Andrew Benjamin, made the discussion not more catchy. But one of the invited celebrities always interfered in a wording of a no less prominent conversation partner; Precisely these dialogical moments were of great information.

European style of urbanism
Trummer has investigated the communication and transport systems of the Australian hinterland, describing specific phenomena such as that of airborne practitioners. Trummer proposed to consider these network structures of the scarcely populated Australian outback as an urban phenomenon. Here as well, abstract conceptual work and interest in the developments in communication technology are at play. The theory, however, is not derived from a future that is to emerge from the technological development, but from a presentable empirically.
Trummer’s position is related to that of the Italian urbanist and professor of architecture, Stefano Boeri, who teaches in Lausanne. As Boeri went on a confrontation course in Basel, declared a decided lack of interest in word-making – some of which were still heard at this conference. Boeris’ empiricism goes hand in hand with a departure from the American city and the turn to the European. Boeri has theoretically substantiated this new empiricism in the book Mutations, edited with Rem Koolhaas, and made it clear that the future use of architecture can not be constructed; A bigger contrast between Boeris urbanism and the vision of designing digital cities in Cyberspace is unthinkable.