Information Technology & the Urban @ de Balie

What is the role of urban planning in this highly dynamic unpredictable environment?

What could replace the failing instrument of prognosis?

What will the tools for processing possible urban transformations be?

Could hybrid (urban and media) environments function as generators (of trust) transforming planning to an event-communication (space) and entertainment zone?

Discussion & Lecture Science Friction @ de Orderverstoorders, de Balie, Amsterdam, 25 Januari 1999



Interfaces are at a primitive stage

Physical encounter (bodily intuition) is still the basis for trust essential  for communication.
Traditional urban tissues are strengthened and overlayered by trans-local spaces (media, mobility).
The “modernistic” functional categories of urban planning (living, working, etc.) blend and fuse.

Interfaces develop

Tactility and bodily intuition expand in the ephemeral hyper-materiality of the new fused analog/digital spaces.
Does this strengthen urbanity or does it make it obsolete?
What are the planning instruments of “multi-locality”?

Fusions of IT, biotechnology, nanotechnology…..

Tactility and bodily intuition expand in the ephemeral hyper-materiality of the new fused analog/digital spaces.
Does this strengthen urbanity or does it make it obsolete?
What are the planning instruments of “multi-locality”?
What are the communication spaces (urban/media) to process these highly dynamic developments?


In architecture’s role of defining and materialising the spaces for social interaction, designing the relationship between the physical and digital public domain is becoming more and more of a challenge: investigating the relation and interconnection between the “soft” city with its finite material counterpart, the living environment, speculating about interfaces between the “virtual” and the material (urban) world and designing hybrid (analog-digital) communicational spaces.

Soft Urbanism deals with information/communication processes in public space, the soft aspects overlying and modifying the urban sprawl: the invisible networks acting as attractors, transforming the traditional urban structure, interweaving, ripping open and cutting through the urban tissue, demanding interfaces.

Soft Urbanism not only intervenes in the realm of infrastructures, but also adopts their concept and follows their paradigm. It brings an inherently flexible approach by expanding the field of social interaction and opening new paths of urban development. Soft Urbanism conceives the city as an organic entity, as “proteinic chains of networks”. Soft Urbanism is therefore not about shaping, inscribing or determining places, but about creating frameworks which allow and enhance a variety of unpredictable developments.

Urbanism today is caught up in the dilemma of either trying to realise the dream of the omnipotence of planning or accepting powerlessness in the face of the forces of the property market: on the one hand, the modernist belief in scientific methods of determination and control of the urban phenomena violating entire cities, on the other hand, the neoliberal positions giving in to the interests of privatisation and declaring the dynamics of the market to be the only legitimate determinants of urban developments. Facing up to the consequences of both positions today, Soft Urbanism develops an alternative strategy of intervention to reintroduce programmatic speculations about the public domain in urbanism.

The interventions will not be about control and determination, but about expanding infrastructures, frameworks for processes of self-organisation. Exploring the possibilities of digital technology will contribute to developing tools to process urban design and to generate architectural and urban programmatic process-spaces: dynamic, rhizomatic spaces, externalised brains with fluctuating synapses. To develop design environments “arranged or disposed [so] as to permit the greatest power for unforeseen relations”. To develop the tools to process the Virtual.

“Soft” strategies will be “bottom-up” strategies: rather than first defining the global result of the interaction and then determining the necessary relation between the elements in order to produce that interaction (which would be a “top-down” approach), simple rules for a set of independent elements will be developed and that which emerges from the interaction of these elements is aleatory. According to biological models, these fields of interaction of plural forces will serve as a reservoir for the selection processes needed for urban transformations.

A method for extrapolating existing reality to unfold its possibilities and force creative accelerations will release spores and create paths as yet unknown. (Speed, acceleration, but not control of direction.) The spores will infect different environments by adapting, mutating and transforming them.


A series of debates about the design of the Netherlands.
On new technology and spatial planning
De Balie, Monday, January 25, 1999, 8:30 p.m.



With the participation of, among others: Jaap van Till (Stratix Consulting Group and Delft University of Technology), Toon van der Hoorn (Advisory Service Traffic and Transport, Ministry of Transport and Public Works), Marcel Bullinga (Senior Advisor Digital Strategy Directorate Information Management Organisation, Ministry of VROM), Oetsge Atzema (Department of Spatial Economics, Utrecht University), Frans Vogelaar (Academy of Media Arts, Cologne)

A series of debates on the design of the Netherlands

The spatial history of a country, like that of a household, can be summarised in two gestures: bringing order and disrupting order. Those who furnish a house bring order. Whoever subsequently lives in it, reads and folds newspapers, eats and washes dishes, buys a chair, tears down a wall, disrupts and restores order in constant alternation.
Similarly, the spatial planning of our country is characterised by the dynamic of disrupting-establishing-disrupting order. These days, however, government attempts to establish and preserve spatial order seem more difficult, and the disruptions manifest themselves more powerfully than ever.

The new information technology may well emerge as the greatest disorder of national spatial planning in the coming years. Within five years, the spatial effects of the Internet as a socioeconomic network will be in full force. Already some things are visible: The cities are proving to be a fertile knowledge network, incubators for start-ups developing applications for the new technology. Large companies are establishing facial departments in prestigious locations in the cities, and moving support functions to low-cost locations (abroad). For the residential consumer, modern information technology seems to enhance the appeal of both rural and highly urban environments. How to deal with this highly dynamic technology? We talk about that with builders, planners, residents, technicians and the drafters of the Fifth Memorandum on Spatial Planning.

“Information and communication technology (ICT) fascinates. It is a story of unprecedented progress in technology, which has a far-reaching impact on society. ICT has made its way into our daily living, working, and living environments over the past thirty years. Radio, CD, TV, PC, Internet, cell phone, they are the icons of this century.

At the same time, ICT is a very elusive phenomenon. Virtually none of the users are able to fathom the operation of the equipment used, and the creators of the technology are themselves unable to tell how the technology will develop.

In short: a highly dynamic unpredictable technology with far-reaching social consequences.”
From: ICT & Spatial Planning, A Source of Turmoil. Discussion paper by RPD

On the horizon of modern information technology

Using two theses, we hope to gain insight into the question of whether, in our age of international networks, the new information and communication technologies still leave room for planning at the national level. It is a relationship that is still little questioned: that between spatial planning and new technology.

Just as with the advent of the steam engine, the automobile, the telephone and television, various myths have arisen about the consequences of the latest information and communication technologies. For example, thanks to the completion of the digital highway, the traffic jam problem would finally be solved. We could log in at home, be connected to a central network and, without moving, carry out orders from the boss or give instructions to subordinates. We could order virtually attractive groceries from our living rooms, which would then be delivered by large delivery trucks across the country. This would reduce commuting and eliminate the need for actual crowds at furniture malls and large department stores.

The reality appears to be different. “Rather, ICT will generate mobility growth, because thanks to ICT, time can be spent usefully, for example through mobile calling or working with a laptop. Perhaps ICT can somewhat lead to rush hour smoothing, especially through the greater choice of travel time.

The overcapacity of the road network outside the rush hour is very high and thus offers ample opportunities for very substantial mobility growth. In the most extreme case, two hours of traffic jams per day will be replaced by twenty-four hues per day of `net no traffic jams’.
From: ICT & Spatial Planning, A Source of Turmoil. Discussion paper by RPD

“Unfortunately, one inescapable law applies to technology: when the most revolutionary inventions become accessible to everyone, they cease to be accessible. Technology is potentially democratic because it promises the same services to everyone, but it functions only elses when only the rich use it. When a train took two hours to get from A to B, the car appeared on the scene and was there in an hour. That’s why it was extremely expensive, but it was not yet accessible to the masses or the roads were closed and the train was faster again, If you accept that you are not privileged, you get there with public transport before the privileged,”
From: Traveling with a Salmon by Umberto Eco

Virtually endless networks of fiber-optic cables underground and satellites circling permanently around our planet will determine the use of space in the future. We are no longer bound by land borders, nor do continents form closed units. The word globalization has become part and parcel of contemporary vocabulary.

“The increase in speed of world-wide information networks and transport systems (digital networks, air transport) creates a distinction between spaces that are local and these that are global. We are experiencing today is not only a privatization but also an atomization of electronic media on a local scale, with for example the multiplication of informal tv-channels or radio stations. On the other hand, global and local spatial hierarchies intermingle in urban agglomerations. Some urban fragments (banking- and trade fair districts, airport surroundings etc.) gain qualities of global’ performance and can be seen as part of ‘global urban condition’.”
From: Soft Urbanism & Public Media Urban Interfaces, in LAB, Jahrbuch der KHM, Elizabeth Sikiaridi & Frans Vogelaar

In world cities such as Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo, one work tower after another is rising, brimming with modern technology. High-rise buildings housing companies for telecommunications and high-quality information technology are also springing up on the edges of Amsterdam.

“ICT makes it possible to separate knowledge processing, marketing and management physics from production units. This is at odds with the development up to the early 1990s, where many companies felt compelled to move their entire organization along with their production processes as they scaled up. In the early 1960s and 1970s, for example, newspapers moved their editorial offices along with the printing presses to the outskirts of cities. Dc recent move of the Philips headquarters to a capital Amsterdam location shows the countermovement. An underestimated location factor for the knowledge-intensive and strategic parts of companies is the importance of fertile networks. Innovation often arises in places where knowledge domains overlap, where knowledge can be exchanged smoothly in networks. High-urban environments are therefore an attractive location for knowledge-intensive parts of companies due to their great diversity of networks.”
From: ICT & Spatial Planning, A Source of Turmoil. Discussion paper by RPD

Statement 1

Modern information technology creates a need for mobility that cannot be met.

Statement 2

Modern information technology and the concomitant economic expansion of scale lead to unstoppable concentrations of functions in urban centers and emptying of the hinterland.

Under the pavement (piercing the beaches) run fiberglass cables.

related PROJECTS


The international travelling exhibition NatureTecture presents the fields of landscape architecture in all their breadth and relevance.
The exhibition is based on landscape architectural expertise from North Rhine-Westphalia and refers to examples of landscape architecture from NRW.
NatureTecture focuses on those fields of work that will become increasingly important internationally for the design of our living environments and formulates relevant questions for the future.
The NatureTecture exhibition is dedicated to the tasks and instruments of qualifying landscape in the post-industrial age.
The international travelling exhibition on the fields of work of landscape architecture is organized by the Chamber of Architects of North Rhine-Westphalia with the support of the Ministry of Building and Transport of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Concept NatureTecture @ Chamber of Architects, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, 1 September 2009
Exhibition NatureTecture @ Chamber of Architects, Düsseldorf, Germany 11 Februar -17 March 2010
Exhibition NatureTecture @ Representation of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia to the European Union, Berlin, Germany, 9 June-12 July 2010
Exhibition NatureTecture @ Chamber of Architects of Jeollabuk-Do Province (KIRA Jeonbuk), Republic of Korea, 1 September- 4 September 2010
Exhibition NatureTecture @ Building Culture Fair Daejeon 2010, Republic of Korea, 14-19 October 2010
Exhibition NatureTecture @ Architecture and Urbanism Fair Gwangju, Republic of Korea, 3-7 November 2010
Exhibition NatureTecture @ Turkish Chamber of Architects of the Metropolis of Istanbul, Turkey, 26 November-10 December 2010
Exhibition NatureTecture @ 20th Anniversary of German Reunification, Busan, Republic of Korea, 8-14 December 2010

related NEWS

Newsletter June 2019

Future Narratives and Immersive Experiences symposium at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF on May 22 2019 brought together interdisciplinary co-creators in the audiovisual sector, companies dealing with media, VR / AR / MR, games, 3D sound, the staging of productions, communication, heritage and cultural institutions or other fields of activity with the urge of delivering high-quality storytelling in the digital era.

Newsletter June 2019 @ Hybrid Space Lab, Berlin, 15 June 2019