Media Babies on Chanel no.5

Telecommunications lacks the tangibility of real space.

Conversely, the culture of the city needs to integrate digital technology.

How telecommunications and the city interact.

Media Babies on Chanel no.5 is a concept for a digital public structure for the city of London.

Article Network Architecture, Ed van Hinte @ Items #6, Netherlands, 20 September 1995


Media Babies have nothing to do with the Internet, but with a totally different view of data networks. This is a project by Frans Vogelaar and Elizabeth Sikiaridi with their firm Hybrid Space Lab. They strive for a much greater connection between a city’s public space and the promises of modern telecommunications. That is why they want to enrich the city of London, which lends itself as a prime example because of its floor plan and demographic structure, with a digital infrastructure that is accessible to everyone and that is recognizable in its entirety, from plug to programming station. Inevitably, their plan covers all dimensions of design, urban planning and architecture, as well as interiors, equipment design and software development.

Media Babies can be understood metaphorically as germs of information that must be given a chance to mature. But within the plan, they are also simply public buildings, or at least buildings from which Media Babies are sent out into the wider world. The plan assumes that the right to vote gives way to the right to broadcast. All broadcasting takes place on a network with a clear hierarchy. Through the Thames, the main line is an ISDN cable. This surfaces in eight places in as many structures, generally at a bridge. These are the “Bridge Clubs,” large manned information processing stations.

Each “Bridge Club” forms the heart of a North-South line to which eight nodes are connected on each side of the River Thames. And these are the Media Babies, a total of 128 (8 x 16). They are like community centers, where you can put together a broadcast, but also go to the hairdresser or laundromat. Anyone can follow the broadcast anywhere, including at home, just by the television. Anyone who feels compelled to make something known to the world goes to a nearby Media Baby. There you will find the necessary programming facilities and the means to follow how the message goes. For there may be immediate supportive reactions to it. Anyone can “strengthen” the broadcasts in a large number of locations by assigning additional airtime to them with a smart card (with an “Air Time” balance). And as the power of a message increases in this way, the likelihood of it reaching a larger group increases: more “Media Babies,” a “Bridge Club,” the city and perhaps the entire Kingdom or through Channel Europe the entire world.

The nice thing about this new conception of telecommunications networks is that – paradoxical as it may sound – it has limitations. Just to name a few: you have to go specially to a building, transmission time is limited, and the direction of the broadcast is fixed in principle.The great advantage of what I call the lack of endlessness is that it is easier for citizens to identify with it. The “Media Baby” belongs to your neighborhood.

“Network Architecture” is what Hybrid Space Lab calls its idea. And the challenge is extremely interesting because it forces a different way of looking at the use, and therefore the design, of communication tools and buildings. Vogelaar and Sikiaridi have equipped the concept of their Media Babies with numerous new functions. It is going too far to list everything, but just design a studio where amateurs can host broadcasts.

For the fledgling novice, the architects are thinking of “Debutants Booth” that will show him around the network. By actually developing such a facility, you can gain a wealth of information about ways to design equipment and the space in which it sits in such a way that the greatest layman can get along with it. In every “Bridge Club” there is a “Selector Platform.” There ritual selection takes place (partly automatic and partly based on serious or playful decision procedures) of transmissions that are deemed suitable for the whole city. In addition, a “Bridge Club” can be the link between the network and neighborhood events. By taking the idea of a “Bridge Club” further, and delving into the new function of such a building, you can learn all sorts of things about the interaction between architecture and social processes.
The resulting experience might be used to develop a station, or a conference room. Or perhaps a party room, as Vogelaar envisions for the “Bridge Club” at Hungerford Bridge near Waterloo Station-where the TGV will arrive in the future-a “Debutants Ball” for prospective travelers who need to get to know the city and its people.

If the function of the project is to gain new knowledge and experience with a fresh perspective on telecommunications, then it is not a bad thing that the “Media Babies on Channel No. 5” project assumes a need that may not exist at all. Vogelaar: “Someone asked: what do you do with the elderly lady who wants to know why her geranium is doing so badly. And I don’t have an answer to that”.

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