Network Space

Many
to
Many

Hybrid Space Lab is concerned with how the expanding media networks interact with the physical, the public space. Their work is to be seen at the International Architecture Biennale 1ab in Rotterdam. International Architecture Biennale 1ab in Rotterdam.

interview
Christian Holl
1 March 2006

@ Deutsche Bauzeitung
Germany

Mrs Sikiaridi, Mr Vogelaar, you are dealing with the new media, the new techniques that are possible through electronics. How new are these techniques in 2003?

F.V .: It is a mistake to believe that you do not have to talk about these techniques. The technology and its applications are constantly being further developed. The architects of the nineties have not really considered the full scope of these developments. You have been interested in the computer as a drawing instrument. They have not understood the power of networks. These techniques are actually derived from military and industrial research. We think that it is important to be socially, culturally, artistically, not only to make use of what they are made for. One of the engines of our work is the curiosity of whether technology can be used differently.

E.S .: The developments continue, but they are no longer discussed in the public as in the 1990s, as this was certainly promoted in terms of marketing – with the aim of taking people’s fear of the new technology. The so-called “blob-architecture”, even if interesting form experiments have taken place, has also been part of this marketing, which has made the new technique only image-capable. We have not yet progressed beyond this level in specialist discourse. But much more interesting is the discourse, which refers to the urban space, the interaction space.

How can such a discourse take place in the public without being conducted only in elite circles?

E.S .: Initiating public discussion processes. We have, for example, contributed to a think tank of the Dutch government, which dealt with the effects of information and communication technologies on society and politics. We focused on the impact of information and communication technology on housing, public space, space use and planning1. The special thing about this think tank was that he was publicly led and has worked with public workshops and forums with people like Manuel Castells and Jeremy Rifkin and with a very extensive web presence.

F.V .: Projects can be simple and clear, but still move in a complex connotation space, a space of themes. The “Public Media Urban Interfaces” project in London has a very simple structure, but at the same time it offers many aspects and topics to be discussed. It is about thinking the digital networks and the physical space together as spaces of social interaction. The project “Public Media Urban Interfaces” proposes to create a network of interfaces between the urban and the media space across the city. These interfaces are placed in the public space and provide access to the global media network. Unlike today’s media, such as television, the project conceived a network that has a “bottom-up” structure, where processes from below have a chance to hold their own in the media space.

A project as an initial spark – but how is it to develop further?

E.S .: We can not foresee that. Intentions and elements of the project will be understood, others will not be, that is quite normal; How the process continues to evolve is unpredictable. What is important to us first of all is that you think together both the physical, the digital, the urban and the media. For both are working together, and we are interested in how one could shape this overlap of the spaces and their influence on one another.

Another concept that is important in your work is that of the event. An event emotionalizes problems, but in a way that distracts because it represents the facts in a distorted dimension. Can an event also be designed in such a way that it does not have this effect? Or to come back to the picture again: How can you counteract a picture-selling marketing without making the mistakes that you are accusing others?

F.V .: In the »reBoot« project, a ship equipped as a media lab has moved from Amsterdam to Amsterdam. For a week, eighty artists, musicians, architects, urbanists, media collectives on the ship have occupied themselves with the space of the river, ports along the journey. At the harbors where the ship docked, events such as concerts, guided tours, lectures and art projects took place, involving the local public and local stakeholders. The projects were broadcast on local TV stations and on the Internet. At the same time, the ship was connected by internet connections to a number of rooms along the river, such as clubs. There were exciting feedback between physical and digital space. A “hybrid”, “translocal” space emerged, which was not to be located in one place, but was the result of the interaction and connection of all these physical as well as medial spaces.

E.S .: We see this as an example of an inverted event – an event that makes the consumer an actor and connects local cultures.

F.V .: This is at least one of our strategies, inverting, inversion. You can not stop developments, but you can invert them, invert them. »Public Media Urban Interfaces« is an inversion of the principle »one to many«. Reassemble the parts. From “one to many”, the current system of media such as television, we made “many to many”. It is about organizing processes so that something else can emerge. Even if the result is unpredictable: it is enough to break the mode of the usual application. Many possibilities are opened, not all develop, some options are barely perceived, but they remain.

What is the meaning of the concept of identity, the relationship to the place in this context? There is a discrepancy between administrative unit and the unity in which these development processes are experienced. The magnitudes, the structures differ, so there is also a lack of the terms with which this identity can be characterized. What can identity be at all?

E.S .: They have addressed the localization of the identity which no longer applies. An interesting text in this context is Marc Augé’s essay. Marc Augé, as well as the terms “lieux” and “non-lieux” which he defined, are well-known among the architects. Augé is an ethnologist and the original is his book “Introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité”. He describes a society which no longer has any organic relationships that no longer have cohesion. The mobility spaces he is investigating, the so-called “non-lieux,” are therefore of interest to him, especially inasmuch as they are exemplary for a society in which people are alien to each other. It describes places that are made for strangers. Now we are not ethnologists, we do not describe, we are actors. We are interested in how identity can arise in the encounter and not in the exclusion of this encounter. And how the spaces of the encounter could be.

What do you expect from the architects? Are they intended to create spaces that offer interfaces between physical and digital space?

E.S .: It is not just about creating the spaces of the encounter that offer these interfaces, but also taking into account the changes in living together. It is about creating new spaces that reflect the changes in our way of life, which is the result of digital networking. One must consider the spatial categories. If one can work anywhere, can living and working be separated and differentiated in a modernist sense? What is the role of the architectural-urban space as a space for the direct encounter and the physical experience?

F.V .: This is something that concerns us in our work for the Dutch city of Almere. Almere grows very fast, it now has 165000 inhabitants, in a few years it should be 250000. New quarters are being planned and the question is whether to continue working with the classical categories or whether and how to find new spatial structures for a changed way of life. How can I create spaces in which work can be done in which work is no longer a separate part of the city, it is no longer understood as a separate function, but as an action in the context?

Does this also include planning as planning in networks?

E.S .: Planning is changing. Communication, including planning and policy, is increasingly being used in the media. For this reason, planners also develop completely different strategies to be able to participate in these communication and planning processes. In this context one should think about strategies of plurality, in the sense of “many to many” communication processes.

The idea of ​​converting the principle “one to many” into a “many to many” has already been formulated by Hans Magnus Enzensberger in 1970. But what is different today, that what was not successful at the time could have one today?

E.S .: A chance could be that movements always provoke counter-movements. A monopolization first brings the monopolization into consciousness and thus creates the counter reaction.

F.V .: We see an example of this in the  open source project Linux.

Can we exclude the danger that networks are being used to control and limit freedom?

E.S .: In networks, monitoring is inherent, monitoring is a part of their character. All actions that run over digital networks are registered.

Do you see us on the way to the control, the monitoring company?

F.V .: There we have already arrived. Deleuze described what today is a reality 15 years ago – and it has not lost any of its actuality. In England there are now more than 1.5 million cameras that monitor the public space. This shows that in England an average person is photographed 300 times a day.

How can we react to this?

E.S .: Of course, one must, in spite of everything, keep a certain naivete and a certain optimism in order to remain an actor.

F.V .: At the moment there is no discussion, but it is acted. This is why it is all the more important to be able to talk about these developments and their consequences.

Notes

1see: http://www.infodrome.nl/publicaties/domeinen/07_rui_vog_essay.html
2 Enzensberger, Hans Magnus, Baukasten zu einer Theorie der Medien, in: Kursbuch Medienkultur, hg. von Claus Pias u.a., Stuttgart 1999
3 Deleuze, Gilles, Postskriptum über die Kontrollgesellschaften, in: ders., Unterhandlungen 1972 – 1990, Frankfurt am Main 1993