Hybrid Spaces

Investigating and speculating on the future of social and cultural spaces requires considering physical spaces in combination with digital media networks, emphasizing the hybrid qualities of spaces in the interplay of the digital and the physical.

Publication
Hybrid Spaces
4 June 2021

@ Regeneration [and its Discontents]
Lithuanian Architectural Foundation
Vilnius, Lithuania

Hybrid
Spaces

The ways people around the world communicate and connect is being radically redefined by digitalisation. Therefore, investigating and speculating on the future of social and cultural spaces requires considering physical spaces in combination with digital media networks, emphasizing the hybrid qualities of spaces in the interplay of the digital and the physical. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of digital instruments witnessed an unprecedented rise of hybrid (combined physical-digital) forms of socialising and working, pushing us further towards hybrid living. Today, hybrid space is becoming the predominant space for social interaction.

After the lifting of pandemic-induced physical distancing, the hybrid nature of everyday life is even more undeniable as these newly acquired habits – backed by economic interests – remained, became the new normality, while digital and hybrid formats continued to quickly evolve.

With the strong, partly unquestioned and unreflective acceleration of these technological developments, it is urgent to take a moment to pause and critically reflect. As we witness the seemingly unstoppable proliferation of hybrid formats, it is necessary to investigate what it means to co-create and experience meaningful social interactions in the time of hybrid space, as well as envision socially inclusive and engaging hybrid spaces. As our habitat is becoming hybrid, it is crucial to influence developments by “inhabiting technology” – approaching technological developments from the perspective of the urbanist-architect-designer and transforming these technological developments to meet the way we want to live.

Art and culture provide the most malleable sources, pulsating with the potential for transformation in multiple dimensions. Tapping into the creative potential in the fields of cultural production, artistic speculation and vision allows us to address these challenges and think again about social interactions through the lens of hybrid space.

Hybrid space has been the focus of Hybrid Space Lab’s long-term commitment and experience in researching and developing space. Starting with the fusion of physical places and digital networks into ‘hybrid’ spaces, the Lab’s concept of hybridity evolved to address the hybrid, intertwined realities of nature and technology, along with the fusion of the biological and technological.

The hybridisation between the digital and the analogue demands a transdisciplinary approach. We experienced that digitalisation causes similar transformations to very different fields, for example, supporting decentralised systems for co-creative processes. This led to the development of a crossover method, a hybrid strategy of mixing fields to investigate, explore and apprehend the multiple networked dimensions of space. Aiming towards an enhanced sophistication of methods to capture this expanding field, ‘hybrid’ developed into a versatile strategy of cross-innovation that allows us to address the urban, the natural and the digital in an integrated way.

The ways people around the world communicate and connect is being radically redefined by digitalisation. Therefore, investigating and speculating on the future of social and cultural spaces requires considering physical spaces in combination with digital media networks, emphasizing the hybrid qualities of spaces in the interplay of the digital and the physical. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of digital instruments witnessed an unprecedented rise of hybrid (combined physical-digital) forms of socialising and working, pushing us further towards hybrid living. Today, hybrid space is becoming the predominant space for social interaction.

After the lifting of pandemic-induced physical distancing, the hybrid nature of everyday life is even more undeniable as these newly acquired habits – backed by economic interests – remained, became the new normality, while digital and hybrid formats continued to quickly evolve.

With the strong, partly unquestioned and unreflective acceleration of these technological developments, it is urgent to take a moment to pause and critically reflect. As we witness the seemingly unstoppable proliferation of hybrid formats, it is necessary to investigate what it means to co-create and experience meaningful social interactions in the time of hybrid space, as well as envision socially inclusive and engaging hybrid spaces. As our habitat is becoming hybrid, it is crucial to influence developments by “inhabiting technology” – approaching technological developments from the perspective of the urbanist-architect-designer and transforming these technological developments to meet the way we want to live.

Art and culture provide the most malleable sources, pulsating with the potential for transformation in multiple dimensions. Tapping into the creative potential in the fields of cultural production, artistic speculation and vision allows us to address these challenges and think again about social interactions through the lens of hybrid space.

Hybrid space has been the focus of Hybrid Space Lab’s long-term commitment and experience in researching and developing space. Starting with the fusion of physical places and digital networks into ‘hybrid’ spaces, the Lab’s concept of hybridity evolved to address the hybrid, intertwined realities of nature and technology, along with the fusion of the biological and technological.

The hybridisation between the digital and the analogue demands a transdisciplinary approach. We experienced that digitalisation causes similar transformations to very different fields, for example, supporting decentralised systems for co-creative processes. This led to the development of a crossover method, a hybrid strategy of mixing fields to investigate, explore and apprehend the multiple networked dimensions of space. Aiming towards an enhanced sophistication of methods to capture this expanding field, ‘hybrid’ developed into a versatile strategy of cross-innovation that allows us to address the urban, the natural and the digital in an integrated way.

By endorsing such a hybrid approach, it is possible to appreciate the interconnected and blurring realities of the city, nature and technology. In fact, it is increasingly apparent that such a hybrid strategy is appropriate to engage with the complexity of today’s globalised world. By enabling mutual contamination and enrichment across fields of knowledge and practices, such an approach of taking ideas from one field and applying them in another, (thus reframing challenges in order to approach them from a new perspective) allows for previously unthought-of solutions to rethink paradigms anew.

By endorsing such a hybrid approach, it is possible to appreciate the interconnected and blurring realities of the city, nature and technology. In fact, it is increasingly apparent that such a hybrid strategy is appropriate to engage with the complexity of today’s globalised world. By enabling mutual contamination and enrichment across fields of knowledge and practices, such an approach of taking ideas from one field and applying them in another, (thus reframing challenges in order to approach them from a new perspective) allows for previously unthought-of solutions to rethink paradigms anew.

Communicational
Approach

With its mission to inform on “the changes in society and governance due to the digital revolution”, the Dutch government’s interdisciplinary think tank “Infodrome” invited us in 1999 to investigate “The Use of Space in the Information Age”. By adding the subtitle “Processing the Unplannable” to our survey, we programmatically expanded our research from “Infodrome’s” sole focus on ‘informational’ data-related aspects of the “Information Era” to “The Use of Space in the Information-Communication Age”.

This programmatic emphasis on the communicational dimension of the digital revolution (that in 1999 nearly cost us the research assignment) was based on our awareness of the two very different traditions. On one hand, the approach borrowed from information technology, aiming for data-powered optimisation and efficiency of urban functions by supporting the collection of data from real-life phenomena. On the other hand, the approach informed by communication technologies that enhance the participation of city users and dwellers by cracking processes open and allowing for greater complexity, negotiation and formation of intelligent, creative collectives.

Optimization, such as the reduction of congestion or the improvement of air quality, valuably helps to address urban challenges. However, it is still important to question who the processes are optimised for and to bear in mind that the qualities of urbanity are based on the functional, social, cultural richness and complexity of cities, as are their inherent, ongoing negotiations.

Smart City – the notion summarising the coming together of the Urban Age with the Digital Era – is very much data-driven, mostly focusing on optimisations, efficiency and control. Nevertheless, enabling transitions from centralised to distributed interactive systems and networks, as well as supporting participatory social processes, is an inherent feature of digitalisation. Therefore, the urbanisation of technology should be more transparent, engaging citizens in participatory processes of expert/user co-creation.

Social splintering, disruptive technologies, and the ‘permachange’ we are experiencing demand spaces where society can process the transformations caused by technological developments. Throughout the years, we have been developing a series of these hybrid process-spaces, such as the City Making Lab in Berlin.

Public
Media
Urban
Interfaces

Our early work in the late 1980s was deeply rooted in this communicational approach, as we approached the city as a space of encounter, exchange and negotiation. We developed artistic projects for urban participation, speculating about how our lives and the physical urban space would be transformed by the emerging Internet and digital networks. At this point, technology was just hatching and its applications were not yet established – these were times open for imagination. With great freedom, we envisioned possible future public hybrid spaces, developing artistic visions of a combined urban and media public space with the locally embedded, bottom-up public network of “Public Media Urban Interfaces”: a publicly accessible interface between the global media space and the local urban place.

The project “Public Media Urban Interfaces” envisioned alternative scenarios for the interplay of digital networks in order to reinforce the function of public urban and public media space. It developed models that enabled bottom-up active participation for all city dwellers in global media culture. The demo project exploited London’s urban tensions and structure, advancing an alternative Internet protocol that strengthened the local as a starting point of globalised, mediatised cultures.

With an Air-Time-For-All-Smart-Card, at the location of their local low-tech broadcasting studio –  for example, the neighbourhood’s launderette – all citizens were enabled to produce messages and narrow-cast them locally within the neighbourhood. If they did not wish to produce their own message, citizens could give their Air-Time to another message from their neighbourhood, accelerating its broadcast even beyond their direct local surroundings. This reinforced local broadcasts to temporarily invade the global media space (to a greater or lesser extent), creating a locally based dynamic media network from the bottom up.

“Public Media Urban Interfaces” made it possible for everyone to broadcast, access and influence the global media environment from the urban local neighbourhood. In its design for a public hybrid urban space, the project proposed a bottom-up public network that combined and connected urban public space with media public space.

With “Public Media Urban Interfaces” we envisioned and created our own ‘MetaWorld’ that throughout the years has been the main source from which we have developed ideas and artistic concepts, all projects described below having their roots in this MetaWorld. “Public Media Urban Interfaces” provided us also with the opportunity and framework to develop new artistic expressions with dynamic notations as tools for coding hybrid process-spaces.

Moreover, the project draws on one of the main features of digital transformation, namely enabling the move in favour of distributive interactive systems from centralised ones, fostering wider participatory processes. The “YOU-topia” approach was therefore already inscribed in “Public Media Urban Interfaces”, putting the emphasis on YOUR space (topos), on the Space of the Other, juxtaposed to closed utopian models.

Soft
Urbanism

The project also served as a conceptual-programmatic framework for developing new approaches to urbanism, such as Soft Urbanism: an interdisciplinary field of planning and design, exploring the dynamic interplay of urbanism, digital media spaces and communication networks. Coining the term “Soft Urbanism” in the early 1990s, we developed an urbanistic approach that considers and deals with both urban and media spaces in an integrated way.

With its topological understanding of urban phenomena, “Soft Urbanism” addresses the interrelated spatial dimensions, enabling a more integrated and structural understanding of the networks of spaces for social interaction. This approach is communicational and adopts the network-paradigm, creating frameworks for processes of self-organisation that focus on the bottom-up processes of city dwellers and users – placing emphasis on the Space of the Other.

Idensity

To understand the fusions, superimpositions and interactions of media and physical/urban spaces, we introduced the new term ‘idensity’ with our aforementioned research on “The Use of Space”’. Fusing the notions of “identity” and “density of connections”, ‘idensity’ does not differentiate between media networks and urban-architectural environments, instead offering an integrated model for dealing with hybrid space.

In the contradictory dynamics of the urban environment – with its antithetical tendencies of concentration and decentralisation, of functional mix and segregation – traditional terms of spatial distinction lose their validity. Categories like ‘functional zoning’ (living, working, recreation), ‘centre’ versus ‘periphery,’ ‘landscape’ versus ‘city’, are becoming obsolete. The polarity between private and public space is disintegrating as public and private environments are intermingling and blurring in the fusion of media and physical space.

‘Idensity’ integrates the concept of ‘density’ (density of connections, density of physical and digital infrastructure, density of communication-spaces in general) with the concept of ‘identity’ (including image policies and urban brands). Therefore, as an example, it can help us to understand processes of spatial segregation and distinction between urban fragments that have qualities of global performance and are considered as part of a ‘global urban condition’, and those other, sometimes neighbouring (parts of) cities that lose relevance and disappear from (global) mental maps.

The term ‘idensity’ carries the discussion on the urban from the morphological level of a formal description for the network patterns of the (network) city to a more integrated, structural understanding of the networks of spaces for social communication. It is a conceptual instrument for researching and developing space in the information-communication age and can be implemented as an operative tool to steer processes of urban development.

‘Idensity’ does not only refer to object-qualities but describes a field of superimposed communication spaces and embeds identity in the context of communication. Therefore, it is not just a mere summation of the two concepts of ‘density’ and ‘identity’, but a fusion. It inverts ‘identity,’ linking it to communication so that ‘identity’ is defined by connectivity.

related PROJECTS

related PRESS

Hybrid @ tanz

For  tanz yearbook 2022, the international magazine for ballet, dance and performance, we have written the lead article “Hybrid is the Future” focussing on the body and space in the context of the physical and the digital: the hybrid.

Publication Elizabeth Sikiaridi and Frans Vogelaar @ tanz, Germany , Summer 2022