a Smart (?) City History

May 2016, York (UK), an upcoming theatrical performance based on the beautiful short story by E.M.Forster: ‘the Machine Stops’, written in 1909. The main character – Yuno – finally escapes from an underground city in a post-apocalyptic world in which all individuals live in standardised cells while technology facilitates and supplies all they ever need. Connectivity to the natural world is impossible; it is the machine that frames and determines one’s daily life and ultimate destiny.

The question thus arises why this quite dystopian story has gained attention again, in particular since we witness a renewed interest in parallel stories and projects; some of them – like Forster’s story – dating decades back. The fact that many of these projects – see e.g. the Archigram projects, Constant’s New Babylon – were considered utopian does not deny that these were primarily thinking-projects. Some were – ultimately – technologically achievable, but in reality over a longer period of time to come. Whether we call these ideas/projects ‘smart cities’ may be an academic discussion; but now that increasing technology facilitates a substantial use of control, maintenance and infrastructure it seems appropriate to remember and above all contemplate the contemporary values of these projects; utopian or not.

Rethinking the term ‘smart city’ and its recent history the conclusion could be that before there was no such thing; thus neglecting the given that the citizen is smart by definition. Much of the ‘smart city’ development still is tech-driven; it is possible and therefore ‘necessary and inescapable’. The city, this wonderful framework and exposure of human social life, this hybrid mixture of built environment, of public and private space has long caused discussions about how to adapt and/or react to technological developments. The city, often centuries old, is the – in part – timeless platform that assimilates technology; its environment does change due to adding digital infrastructure for a variety of reasons. The fact however that we gather and use ‘big data’ is in itself no guarantee that life in the city will improve; as long as we fail to recognize its (dis)advantages and define what we gain and/or miss.

The American economist Robert Gordon recently stated that the major inventions have been made and that all that is developed now does not add up to the quality of life. At the same time philosopher Slavoj Zižek argued for the need for ‘a new utopia’. Both may seem independent statements but, together with many other critics reflect to me the discomfort that many express about the way human values are addressed and valued. Technology serves people, enhancing experience and imagination; the city is a perfect illustration of both. Smart too often refers to control, surveillance, utilitarian use; the fact that we are now able to monitor, control and steer city life does not do justice to human life in the vibrant hybrid world a city is.

this blog/article was published on Smart Cities World on June 15th. 2016

the city and its experience

May 30th., the Rotterdam Month of Architecture was officially opened with a dense, disruptive, speed-up and above all humorous lecture by Winy Maas from MVRDV Architects. (a.o. Markthal, Boijmans Depot) , pleading for a increased use of the city’s roofs and thus also facilitating a new experience. Although adding staircases to major buildings after the current one to the Groothandelsgebouw will probably remain rather utopian (?); the fundamental thought of adding a layer to the cities and create lived space above street level and thus expand our views is fascinating.

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Internet of Things, a robot & the theatre

Last April 22 I was invited/part of a small group to view the preparations at the Rotterdam Theatre for the 3rd. theatrical production by Urland, a Dutch performance group which has already produced two earlier thematic projects with the role of technology/iot as basics. This 3rd. production contemplates the role of objects and their relation to technology, in part (re)viewed by a most elegant acting industrial robot-arm. Afterwards we had a most interesting discussion concerning technology and theatre in general, but in particular their views on IoT and the relevant philosophy. Their approach and the theatrical results so far make me very curious to an interesting final performance scheduled for September 2016.

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internet of things on ethics & privacy

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Last Saturday, on WW-IoT-day April 9 we experienced a most inspiring and thoughtful event at V2 with the participation of 5 fine speakers: Rob van Kranenburg about the balance between objects and processes, Linda Kool about Intimate technology and the recent privacy report, Ben van Lier about the 4th.Industrial Revolution, Justin McKeown about the need for human initiative and values, Gerd Kortuem about data-literacy; all building on Jurgen Wege’s notes at the beginning and moderated by Leon van Geest. A debate on the autonomy of objects, the importance of human values, the need for an ethical discussion as well as data-literacy.

look and listen back…………

IoT & Built Environment; Ethics & Privacy

The program for the 5th. IoT & Built Environment MeetUp on April 9 at V2, this year on Ethics & Privacy, is complete. The full program including – most of – the abstracts for the presentations  is now on the MeetUp-website, to be completed in the coming days. With this program we wish to discuss/answer the need for a rethinking of the ethical and privacy issues which are so deeply connected to the IoT; to much it still is a technological development with too less attention for the important human issues involved.

This evening will be preceded by a thematic program at the HR.

see for a full list of WW-events the IOTday website.

huisjes en consumenten, of dragers en mensen?

Indien men in de woningbouw alleen de menselijke relaties wil herstellen maar niet de technische mogelijkheden van vandaag wil uitbuiten, blijft alleen een weg naar het verleden over, een weg die wij niet kunnen gaan.”

Een citaat uit ‘de dragers en de mensen’ , van Prof.Ir. N.J.Habraken uit 1972, 44 jaar geleden en nog altijd onverminderd actueel. 

Op 22 december j.l. reageerden Gerben van Dijk en Cees-Jan Pen in een kritisch artikel (‘Vastgoedsector heeft gezond verstand nodig’) op recente rapporten van CPB en EIB. Deze – helaas noodzakelijke – kritische reactie valt zeer te prijzen. Ik roep in dit verband het interview van januari 2015 in Bouwformatie van Prof. J. Rotmans in herinnering.[1] Recente ontwikkelingen illustreren dat een substantieel deel van de bouwsector nog altijd hecht aan de bestaande gekende praktijk en de focus legt op proces-innovatie, niet op product-innovatie. Dit impliceert geenszins dat product-innovatie in de woningbouw niet bestaat, wel dat dit vrijwel geen fundamentele consequenties heeft voor het opgeleverde product als geheel. Er wordt nog altijd toegewerkt naar een traditioneel ‘huis’, terwijl we nu als sector bereid moeten zijn ook inhoudelijk anders te denken over hoe ons wonen er in de toekomst uit kan/moet zien; proces en product moeten onderdeel van de discussie zijn. Wij bouwen per slot van rekening niet ter wille van de werkgelegenheid en het bouwen zelf. Lees verder

iot, built environment, ethics & privacy

preparations for the 5th IoT & Built Environment MeetUp on WW.IoT-day, April 9, are in full progress; again at V2 in Rotterdam we will discuss one of the most urgent and important current issues involved; i.e. the accompanying ethics and privacy issues. The format will  again be a MeetUp; therefore all visitors need to  register on the MU-website. Most speakers are now known; the evening will be moderated and provide enough time for discussion. More info soon………

sensing the virtual

While preparing the text for a book on IoT I re-read a paper by Brian Massumi: ‘Sensing the virtual, building the insensible‘, published in 1998 in Hypersurface Architecture (AD, profile 133, vol.68). What once again is remarkable is that Massumi, ‘building’ on Deleuze, points to the problematic situation architecture has in relation to the virtual:”The virtual is imperceptible. It is insensible. A building is anything but that. A building is most concrete. His proposal: “Built form could be designed to make the “accidental” a necessary part of the experience of looking at it or dwelling in it. The building would not be considered an end-form so much as a beginning of a new process.”

In a hyperconnected world, with an IoT this brings new options to life and – more important – to inhabiting new forms of architecture, i.e. creating structure as a basis for further experience and – above all – the accidental. 

IoT & Built Environment 2015

On April 9th. 2015, the 4th. IoT, Built Environment & Smart City conference, now organized as a MeetUp, was held in Rotterdam, this year back on its original location, i.e. V2, Institute for the Unstable Media. Besides a fine line-up of speakers, among which Nimish Biloria (TUD-Hyperbody, Ben van Lier (Centric), Jan Belon (Buitengewone Zaken) , Floris Schiferli (Superuse), also one political party from Rotterdam (Nils Berndsen/D66) was present; which can only be admired, given the subject. Worthwhile in particular was the lecture (read by me due to her illness) from Cristina Ampatzidou; and especially the closing debate, moderated – like the whole event by Leon van Geest – delivered some interesting discussions and statements.

New Babylon

Last September 28th. at the Illinois College of Architecture; a fascinating lecture by Mark Wigley on Constant’s New Babylon, preceded by a.o. a brief introduction from Trudy Nieuwenhuys-van der Horst, wife of Constant and founder of the Fondation Constant. Wigley shows in particular the relevance of New Babylon for our networked world and emphasizes it value where it concerns the – again – actual important of hospitality, given the increasing numbers of refugees worldwide.

actual: currently the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid offers a extensive exhibition of ‘New Babylon’, in close cooperation with Gemeente Museum the Hague and the Fondation Constant, until Feb. 29th. 2016.