Re Re-discovering the center

“Sociologist William Whyte’s late twentieth-century clarion call for a “rediscovery of the center” asked us to reconsider centralized, dense public spaces rich with unexpected encounters and “maximum choice”. His appeal still echoes, but against radically different conditions. Notions of density, the public and private realms, and the experience of urban space have been re-inscribed in the purview of networked culture — the decentralized, layered, re-publicized and de-privatized conditions of virtual cooperation, coordination, and performance. The explosion of mobile media has transformed understandings and experiences of mobility and presence for technology users and non-users alike. Our social, cognitive, industrial, geographic, and economic experiences and systems have become severed or skewed from traditional anchors and re-oriented within network culture.”

from  Rediscovering the Center…Again by Nepal Asatthawasi and Germaine Halegoua via the network architecture lab

Interesting article about the interpenetration of physical and virtual space and its implications for architectural practice in urban settings.

  • “Open-air green corridors are usurping the centralized agora.”
  • “In order to further understand spatial relations within networked society, we need to look at the interstices between networked culture and urban design, what is shared and what’s at stake.”
  • “Although organized through SMS or web and cell phone based applications, political assembly still occurs in parks, plazas, and at public landmarks.”
  • “Public space is not lost within network culture; it multiplies.”
  • “there may be a more nuanced understanding of … mediated practices … once they are juxtaposed against the politics and architecture of place.”
  • “The corridor structure coincides with an imagination of space as multi-layered and composed of coexisting simultaneous spheres.”
  • “The idea that information and communication technologies do not need space and do not encourage spatial organization is inaccurate.”
  • “The center is by no means dead, but it has acquired mobility and is no longer fixed.”

Ars Electronica.2

4 September 2009

Photo: FLUT by Visualisierte Linzer Klangwoke.

Photo: FLUT by Visualisierte Linzer Klangwoke.

Rain in Linz. Doesn’t bode well for some of the outside events today & tomorrow. These include Blast Theory’s Rider Spoke, a kind of wifi hide-and-seek for bicyclists equipped with handheld computers… and FLUT by Visualisierte Linzer Klangwoke, in which the city will be allegorically flooded and overrun with fantastic beasts. The allegory may turn literal if it keeps pouring.

Light sprinkles and overcast skies last night didn’t deter Sternennacht, during which lights were turned off in Hauptplatz (the central square in Linz) in order to better see the night sky. This is a great cooperative idea for a city. Unfortunately, stars were not visible, and any contemplative mood that might have resulted from the lack of light pollution was destroyed by what appeared to be the Austrian radio equivalent of Regis and Kathy Lee: an incessant happy chat session in a red-lighted tent.

On the other side of the square several people dressed in color-coded mime outfits were rotating and revolving in slow motion. I think they were supposed to be the planets, although there were more than eight (or nine, if you count Pluto). An older bearded guy in an orange jumpsuit and headlamp was clearly playing the Sun.

Photo: 80+1 building by Any-Time Architects

Photo: 80+1 building by Any-Time Architects

I revisited 80+1 Eine Weltreise/A Journey Around the World, housed in a striking mirrored structure nearby. Inside the wide opening of the 80+1 Base Camp are several networked pieces done over great distances. Included is a piece by the Chinese group 8GG interactive (Fu Yu, Jia Haiqing), in which air is “blown” from Beijing to Linz. Someone blowing into a recess in Beijing triggers a fan that conveys the smell of “spicy hotpot.” I wish this piece worked both ways, and the time distance makes for a sporadic experience. A more successful work, Digitie by Marianne Schmidt, allows you to insert your hand as someone at the Ars Electronica Center across the Danube does the same. Both hands are projected simultaneously. I was able to virtually stroke someone’s palm.

Photo: Digitie by Marianne Schultz

Photo: Digitie by Marianne Schultz

Another notable work in 80+1 is a photo-booth hookup to Bhutan, Grand Mutual Smiles by Australian Pierre Proske, based on the King of Bhutan’s pronouncement that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.”  A Second Life setup seemed to be nothing more than SL as-is. I transported the very basic-looking default avatar to a popular English-speaking Welcome Area to see what would happen when other users got on the keyboard, but nothing more exciting ensued than physical collisions with avatars of Area regulars.

Additional information is available on 80+1‘s website,

Also in Hauptplatz is Japan Game in the Mobiles Oe1 Atelier, a white plastic geodesic dome. Inside are highlights from the Japan Media Arts Festival. Here you can try out a number of new Japanese game designs and witness for yourself how much contemporary media art utilizes the game paradigm.

Bruce Charlesworth