The Notion of Progress: Too Often Unquestioned as a Default

Up until this point, my posts have enthusiastically speculated the futures for architecture and technology. However, I am very aware that not all people share this enthusiasm with me, and moreover, that many believe that we should not always aim to progress and change. While some designers, architects, and engineers dedicate themselves to creativity and constantly project alternate futures onto modern societies, others look to recycle and regurgitate proven concepts and typologies. This dichotomy between striving for innovation and reusing what already exists reflects the contrasting dissatisfaction and contentment with current practices that stirs within modern cultures. This week, I searched the blogosphere for professionals residing on each end of this spectrum, and found two recent posts that present particularly strong cases for each side. In "The (Faux) Old Ball Game," from Design Observer, Michael Bierut, one of the blog's primary editors and partner at the multidisciplinary design firm Pentagram, responds to the nostalgic designs for the New York Yankees' New Yankee Stadium and the New York Mets' Citi Field (pictured above). Both ballparks were designed by HOK Sport and are currently under construction, with the expectation that they will be completed by the beginning of the 2009-2010 Major League Baseball Season. Bierut questions the reluctance of both designs to challenge the typical old-fashioned ballpark aura, and risk public acceptance to create a new ballpark experience. Writing from a nearly opposite perspective on his personal blog, Lebbeus Woods, a celebrated independent architect and current Professor of Architecture at The Cooper Union in New York City, argues that there is always a need for repetitive regularity in his post "Dumb Boxes." Woods explains that without "buildings that are often little more than rectilinear solids," or what he refers to as ordinary dumb boxes (pictured below), nothing would be extraordinary, because there would be no frame of reference to transcend. I have directly responded to each of these posts on their respective blogs, but my comments are listed below as well.

In response to "The (Faux) Old Ball Game."
Your post raises some significant concerns about our design culture's tendencies to hide in comfort zones, yet can you identify any foreseeable solution to this problem? We live in a society where economic profit, rather than design originality, seems to be the utmost priority. I too see the designs for the New Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are repetitive and conventional, but the dilemma is that their predictability appears to be what corporate clients want in their investments. Because these organizations are spending so much money on the design and construction of these projects, they want to be sure that their endowments will yield a consistent long-term profit. While the stadiums designed for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, popularly known as the Bird's Nest by Herzog and De Meuron and The Watercube by PTW Architects, are much more compelling and are almost certain to be highly popular venues this summer, it is not clear how much attention nor how much profit these two works will generate in the future. In addition, these two buildings carry a national and political importance along with their architectural significance. This upcoming Olympics is an opportunity for China to present itself to the world as a prosperous and thriving nation, and high quality design and construction will most likely show well for the country. However, the same cannot be said for Major League Baseball organizations, which generally benefit if they have winning teams with popular players, rather than dynamic stadiums designed by fashionable architects. You question why stadiums, unlike office buildings, libraries, museums, and houses, "have to arrive in old fashioned wrappings," and state that "sooner or later, someone has to take a risk on something new." While I would personally love to see more architects and clients take chances and agree on more creative designs, I do not see much reason for them to do so. Can you propose why "someone has to take a risk on something new," or suggest any projects in the United States where progressive, modern design has proved beneficial for architects and clients alike that is not an office building, library, museum, or house?

In response to "Dumb Boxes."
You offer a very interesting perspective by explaining that in order to transform the way we inhabit, use, and conceive of architecture, we must at first experience restriction and be surrounded by the tiresome uniformity of typical, dumb boxes. I completely agree that without knowing what is ordinary, there would be no such thing as the extraordinary; the latter is fundamentally a derivative of the former. But while I concur with your opinions, I also have many questions about how what you present can be carried out in our contemporary society. You go on to advise that we should "make the extraordinary only when extraordinary conditions demand it. Radical social and political changes. Recovery from war and natural disasters. The reformation of slums," and that in the meantime we should sustain "as high a standard of the ordinary as we can." My question to you is: How do you see this to be possible? How can you expect architects and designers to "create the extraordinary" only on the cue of such situations, as if that process is a practice and ability that can be turned on and off? Even if there are a select few with the potential to produce exceptional designs only when it is necessary, why would you anticipate that those capable would resist using their capacities at all times? If one is talented, I do not see it reasonable to hope for them to apply their skills sparingly, nor do I see it beneficial to "the improvement of the human condition" as you mention. Perhaps then, do you mean that we should be more aware that we depend on what is considered the familiar, and that we should learn to tolerate those who do design dumb boxes?


Crowdsourcing: The Future in Design Research?

This past week, internationally renowned French architect Jean Nouvel was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the profession's highest honor. Nouvel's practice, Ateliers Jean Nouvel, has completed and engaged in various projects worldwide. The studio is perhaps most known for designing the Arab World Institute in Paris, and has recently unveiled its design for a new 75-story tower next to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Unlike other famous architects, including several previous winners of the Pritzker Prize such as Frank Gehry (1989), Zaha Hadid (2004) , and Thom Mayne of Morphosis (2005), who have very particular, unchanging, individual styles despite the various contexts of each of their projects, Nouvel's architecture is articulated in numerous ways and addresses a range of issues. He explains that this is a result of his belief that it is critical for analysis to influence and drive design, "I research every project. I talk to a lot of people. Every building has a relation to the climate, to the wind, to the colors of the buildings around it. I arrive at a concept with all the parameters in place. When I have all these constraints, I begin. "Nouvel continues that when architects do not research and respect surroundings, "You go around the world, you see all the same buildings, and you feel like you're in the same place."

Another previous Pritzker Prize Laureate, Rem Koolhaas of the Netherlands (2000), takes a similar approach to architecture with his firm, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), which is arguably the leading international architectural practice. Like Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Koolhaas' practice also engages in rigorous contextual analysis, but in addition, OMA presents and publishes its graphs, charts, diagrams, and compositions (example pictured above) in books. Recent and current publications include Al-Manakh (September 2007) and Lagos: How it Works (November 2008), studies on the history and architecture of the Gulf region and on West African urbanism, respectively. But while Nouvel and Koolhaas are current examples of leading architects that fight the global homogenization of architecture through in-depth analysis, their careers began around 40 years ago and were rooted in the concepts, cultures, and technology of that time. What then, will research minded architects and designers whose careers are based in our contemporary information society grow to become? Compared to traditional strategies that have been used for research such as simple computation, observation, and surveying, emerging technologies can record, organize, and visualize data at exponential rates, scopes, and amounts. These technologies, which use crowdsourcing, or the outsourcing of a task (such as research) traditionally performed by one person or a small group to a much larger body of people in an open source method. For example, while encyclopedias were traditionally developed by singular companies such as Merriam-Webster and Brittanica, Wikipedia, today's version of the encyclopedia, is written and constantly updated by anyone who can access the internet.

Among the many methods of research that are currently developing, Evernote, Here are our Journeys, and Dash Express are three projects that incorporate new technologies and crowdsourcing with methods of data collection and analysis. Evernote (pictured below), a mobile technology based software application, pitches that although people are battered with information on a daily basis, its program makes it possible for users to remember everything. Those that integrate Evernote into their lives can capture information, either by copying and pasting on a computer or by photographing with a camera phone, which is then organized into a personal database for later search and use. Evernote has not yet been fully released and is currently in beta testing, but Scott Gilbertson, author of Wired.com's blog Compiler, has confirmed in a recent review that with Evernote "there are a nearly limitless number of ways you can get information," which once collected becomes "fully searchable and accessible". Another application in the works is Here are our Journeys, a final year project of Matt Collins, a Multimedia Technology and Design student at Brunel University in London. Collins has developed a program that connects the music people listen to with the routes they travel. The project innovatively amalgamates various different types of data into one place. As Collins explains, data from GPS units and music players is logged and is then represented "online bringing together content from Yahoo Maps, Flickr, and YouTube." Dash Express uses GPS technology as well, but it is a fully developed product. Networked through the internet, Dash Express is not the typical in-car device; it collects live information, including car speed and traffic density, and calculates what is truly the shortest route to take. While it is particularly aimed at facilitating driver navigation, the design serves as a prototype for tremendous possibilities. Because it accumulates information on a network, explains Engadget's Nilay Patel in a product review, "the more users there are, the better it's going to get." For example, if units like this were widely used in a society, researchers could analyze countless urban patterns, such as where people are at what times of the day, what routes people take, how much time people spend at specific places, and so forth.

Each of these three projects integrates current technologies with research to allow for unprecedented data sourcing. If architects and designers could use data logged from these innovations in contextual studies of communities, and then organize the findings, which is perhaps the most difficult task, they could begin to understand the real-time and current existence of cities and societies at much more personal levels. Perhaps practices could collect, develop, and broadcast information all in one place. Instead of publishing findings in a one-way medium, such as the books of OMA and AMO, architects and designers could present their research, in addition to collecting data, through mobile technology interfaces and the internet programs. This way research and design would be reciprocal. What I find most intriguing, is that by using crowdsourcing, these developing practices of research not only can affect the design of a product, building, or environment, but entire cultures at large. These methods depend on public participation and input, and thus work better if more people use them and if quality information is provided. This encourages societies that are more open as well as more willing to engage and share.


A Search for Ideas: Inspirations at the Source

As this blog is a medium for venting and analyzing current phenomena in hopes of spawning new ideas, this week I have again searched the Web for resources and would like to share what I find most inspiring. But rather than providing items that each draw from a range of sources as I did previously, I am instead aiming to share original, more specific nodes for ideas; each item I found highlights its author's unique philosophies. Referencing the Webby Awards and IMSA criteria for evaluating websites and blogs, I have added the ten items I found to my sidebar linkroll. As someone forming my own ideology, I find the personal accounts of currently developing theses to be particularly exciting. Xárene Eskandar's Tentative Architecture, a UCLA Master of Fine Arts thesis project, which I mentioned in my last post, contains extremely insightful proposals about immaterial architecture. The site is animated and ordered, yet it does not make use of the web's potential for interactivity. The two other theses are both blogs. Mantone's blog is undermined by instances of casual language and an absence of credible background information, but the insights pertaining to architecture and communication are exceptionally profound. It is also interesting to trace the evolution of Mantone's thesis statement. The other blog is by Raphael Zollinger, a grad student at NYU who provides frequent reports of detailed progress on his thesis for interactive computing for design. However, the blog would be even more interesting if there was dialogue being generated.

The majority of my findings are websites of professionals. Design websites are of Troika Design Studio and Hoberman Associates. The Troika Design Studio's website is clearly and attractively structured and contains in-depth images, videos, and text describing the studio's ingenious projects. The Hoberman Associates site is also visually appealing and well organized, however the projects, which focus on transformable design, have very brief descriptions. Both of these sites could be further improved by adding interactive elements. Information analysis websites are of the University of Columbia's Spatial Information Design Lab and professor emeritus Edward Tufte. The Spatial Information Design Lab's site is graphically striking and composed for simplicity, yet it does not invite users to participate. On the other hand, while Tufte's website is a bit boring aesthetically, it is currently active with discussion not only between site visitors, but with Tufte himself. Of the professional websites, I find the architecture firms' most inspiring; each fuses architecture, design, data, and technology uniquely. Asymptote Architecture searches for a common ground between architecture and technology. Their website interactively allows users to redraw elements; however the site's advanced use of technology can become tiring because it lengthens in-site navigation time. Activity on LOT-EK's website is also slowed because of animations, but the projects involving mobile architecture are exciting and novel. Finally, while the dECOi Atelier website is graphically disappointing, as it houses a constant ad in the browser, and it lacks thorough information, the content that is listed is about algorithmically generated architecture (pictured above) and is perhaps the most impressive and innovative of all items.


Information: A New Building Material for Architecture

In today's society, information is ubiquitous. Our cell phones, GPS navigation systems, Bluetooth devices, and computers send and receive overflowing amounts of data in the form of emails, driving directions, YouTube videos, and text messages. Digital content is relentless, and it consumes and dominates the lives of many on a daily basis. But while seeming to exist everywhere, information ironically exists nowhere. It is not only immaterial, but elusive as well; appearing frequently, yet briefly. Accessed by means of an internet browser window, a digital inbox, or a display screen, we tend to use data to satisfy only immediate needs and desires, dismissing it upon gratification to an abstruse and ambiguous origin amidst the chaotic universe of the internet. While obviously abundant and convenient, digital content is also insuppressible and incomprehensible; it is something we have come to depend on and cannot keep track of. If immaterial information could be better manifested and organized, we could manage and learn much more about ourselves and the environments we live in.

Design and the Elastic Mind, a current exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art, has publicized this need to understand and order the increasingly complex and digital world. The exhibition scrutinizes "changes in technology, science, and social mores, changes that will demand or reflect major adjustments in human behavior" and showcases "objects and systems" designed in response to these cultural shifts. Among many areas of focus, the exhibit investigates data visualization, which is the transformation of raw information, through collection, analysis, and composition, into more significant and useful forms. Projects displayed at the exhibition, such as Flight Patterns (pictured above), Cabspotting, and Architecture and Justice, each gather various sets of data: flight activity in the United States, taxi locations in San Francisco, and neighborhoods of criminals in New York, respectively. These sets of data, which are typically displayed as complex and labored textual charts, are then organized and mapped into graphic compositions that are legible for the common person to comprehend, analyze, and deduce, demonstrating that data visualization allows for significant insight on information that is regularly overlooked.

But while such projects manifest statistics into graphic designs, what intrigues me is that they suggest possibilities for data to be embodied into architecture and urbanism. If the organization of information into compositions expands its use and aids in society's overall awareness and cognition, could the integration of digital content into the spatial environments that we live in further facilitate and amplify these effects?

In an essay in the most recent issue of Vague Terrain, an online digital arts quarterly, X������rene Eskandar explores integration of the immaterial into architecture and urban environments by discussing the rise of VJ, or video jockey, culture (derived from the musical term DJ, or disc jockey, a VJ selects, plays, and mixes videos rather than music). Eskandar, a student at the University of California, Los Angeles who is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts thesis, explains that VJ culture strongly influences architecture through events such as Video RIOT! in San Francisco (depicted below), in which live and pre-recorded video is projected onto existing architecture to transform space and influence activity. Eskandar also cites a personal experience, where the availability of free wireless internet access encouraged leisure and loitering in an otherwise transitory public space. This illustrates Eskandar's belief that architecture and urban space is enlivened by and gains significance from the implementation of technology. Eskandar claims that architecture of these spaces is not the physical, built infrastructure, but rather the immaterial technologies: video and the internet. In essence, such hybrid spaces "blur the boundaries between real and virtual space."

While I find this proposal extremely innovative and intriguing, and I agree that immaterial technologies are capable of animating, transforming, and creating space, I would like to expand on this thesis. When considering the design of new architecture and environments, technology, media, and information should not simply be superimposed, implemented, or displayed, but instead integrated with architecture and design so that it essentially becomes a building material. While video is additively projected onto existing architecture, as in the case of Video RIOT!, information and data could be more embodied into the design of new architecture in order to more dynamically engage people, spaces, and activity. Extending the field of data visualization, but maintaining the same didactic intention, this idea proposes the synthesis of information into the design of new spatial environments by use of new technologies. In the same way that architectural projects in Second Life are networked with the internet so that changes made by designers and builders are constantly being updated in real time, by incorporating information technologies and their tremendous capabilities into designs, I believe that architecture and environments in the real world could also update in real time to reflect information and its fluctuating, evolving nature. If pervasive sets of data, such as stock exchange results, spatial traffic and density, or current weather conditions, among countless other statistics, were integrated with physical spaces, architecture could create a greater and more fluid stimulus, knowledge, and awareness in society.


Relevant Topics: Architecture, Information Technology, and Everything In Between

Because my research is in a generally unexplored and undefined area shared by architecture and information technology, subject matter is difficult to find on a consistent basis. That is why this week I searched the Web, and its many interconnections, for sites containing content consistently relevant to the topics investigated in this blog. During my search, I referenced the Webby Awards and IMSA, which provide comprehensive criteria for evaluating websites and blogs respectively. To explore what information age architecture truly is, I compiled a list of 10 sites, that collectively cover topics that arise from my discussion: information technology, society, media, architecture, and everything in between. Three sites I found focus on information technology and data visualization, yet each site has its own unique perspective. Information Aesthetics is particularly original, concentrating on the manifestation of data into formal existences, claiming that "form follows data." However, the site is slightly cluttered at the top and its actual posts are not particularly in depth nor critical. Flowing Data investigates statistics from a social viewpoint, searching for applications of data visualization in society. The site is organized in a manner that allows users to search content and see posts, images, comments, and links in equal proportions all on one page, making the site easy to read, use, and navigate. The site's only shortcoming is that its language and content are at times unsophisticated and informal. With authoritative and analytical posts, Junk Charts holds a strong, yet candid, opinion that information representation can influence society. It stressing the importance of proper graphic composition of information. Junk Charts is a highly informative and inspiring blog, and it generates significant discussion; I only wish that its posts were even more frequent. While each of these blogs serves as a solid resource for information technology and data visualization, they do not begin to discuss the manifestation of information in architectural terms; however I did find complementary resources that discuss architecture. Where takes a unique perspective by extensively questioning our understanding of place; however its posts generate minimal feedback, which slightly undermines the site's influence. BLDGBLOG also provides exceptional and relevant content, speculating outside of the mainstream. Additionally, it provides an extremely comprehensive and organized list of sites referencing topics such as architecture, urbanism, design, science, technology, and much more. However, while BLDGBLOG is analytical only sometimes, many of its posts are leisurely, casual, and objective. City of Sound uniquely encompasses, but does not always fuse, technology and media in conjunction with architecture in its posts. It is established in a network of other sites and blogs and its posts are interesting, thorough, and generate feedback; the only flaw is that a couple of its posts comment on content that is not immediately current. In addition to these sites that focus primarily on architecture or information technology, I found four sites that exist in a middle ground. Future Perfect offers an original perspective, discussing the future of technology and society from a product design standpoint; however its entries are thin and tend to generate little dialogue. While Digital Urban also finds a common ground, existing as a repository for content concerning the visualization of the physical world through digital media, the site is heavy on technical aspects and tutorials. The ARCH takes a different route, serving as a frequently updated source for virtual architecture, however user activity and in-depth analysis are lacking on the site. Lastly, Wireless Urbanism is a blog accompanying a student's personal thesis project. Although it is inconsistent in posting developed entries, not an integral part of a community, and not written by a recognized "expert," Wireless Urbanism takes on an original identity as an intensely developing manifesto concerning wireless technology and public space. Each of these resources can be found in my linkroll on the right side of the page.


Our Fascinations with the Future: How Architecture can learn from Science Fiction

Last week I broached the topic of the field of architecture's current fascination with the internet, Web 2.0, and virtual, networked space. Studio Wikitecture's interface project in Second Life is a yet another project among many that attempts to fuse the physical space of architecture with virtual space. The book Space, Time, Play comments on the similarities that architecture and urbanism share with video gaming. Kas Oosterhuis and ONL's hyperarchitecture conceives of architecture as a portal into virtual space. Asymptote has proposed a virtual Guggenheim museum as well as a virtual New York Stock Exchange.

As architecture journeys into the unknown, experimentation and imagination is vital. Progress often results from trials, errors, revisions, and often unrealized projects that serve simply as examples. Traditionally, architectural competitions are the outlets that allow for experimentation and projection into the future, but they are only beginning to suffice.

Looking further into current and recent architectural competitions, I have come to notice a parallel between architectural competitions and Science Fiction, which has begun to lead architectural competitions in the right direction. For example, the City of the Future design competition, which is currently in the selection process, is much less concerned with present or near future issues and speculates into the more distant future. Initiated by The History Channel, the competition challenges designers from across the country to project and propose what the city they live in might look like in 100 years. Two weeks ago, IwamotoScott Architecture won the San Francisco region of the competition with their proposal for a Hydro-Net (above), described as an inhabitable, infrastructural network that facilitates the traffic and flows of power, water, fuel, and residents for the entire San Francisco Bay Area. The proposals for these future cities are rendered in the same fantastical and imaginative nature as the imagery in science fiction works, such as the depiction of Washington D.C. in 2054 (below) in the film Minority Report.

Science Fiction and architecture have much more in common than fantastical imagery however, and I believe that each respective field would benefit by incorporating aspects of the other into its own field. Specifically, I believe that architecture could learn from Science Fiction works' abilities to reach a broad audience and consider all aspects of society in its projections as well as its always fantastical and imaginative mindset.

To find out what others feel, I have commented on two architectural blogs that have recently touched on architectural experimentation; relaying my own opinions and asking questions in hopes to start a dialogue. I responded to a recent post from the City of Sound blog, in which Dan Hill comments on the organization, success, and creativity behind Archigram, a group of thinkers formed in the 1960's who produced a publication and later formed an architecture firm. Despite not having produced any physically built work, Archigram is widely respected as having revolutionary, ahead-of-its-time ideas and a vast influence in architecture and design. I also commented on recent entry from BldgBlog that reports an idea and proposal for an underground "labyrinth city" composed of spaces for sports, leisure, shopping, and parking in Amsterdam. The design envisions this mixed-use network to be built underground, beneath Amsterdam's many canals. My comments are posted below as well.

On the "Archigram-what-organization-you-must-be-joking-mate"

I agree that the dynamic and fluctuating organization of Archigram had a lot to do with the group's success. The individuals of Archigram were able put their minds together and conceive of revolutionary ideas that still hold great influence today because of the informal, disorganized, free-spirited and spontaneous nature of the group. These characteristics maintained interest and allotted for group chemistry, allowing the group to last as long as it did. I would like to add though, that while the organization and character of the organization allowed the group to maintain its brilliance, it was still the consummate brilliance behind the individuals as a whole that resulted in the group's unmatched success, even to this day. The key to Archigram's success was their ability to fantasize and imagine, something that is too often overshadowed by building and construction- and the economic business and benefits that comes with it.

In addition to following the example of the organization (or disorganization) of Archigram, I think that creative groups today should also, and perhaps more importantly, follow the visionary way in which Archigram thought and imagined. At its core, Archigram was a group devoted simply to ideas, concepts, and narratives- and nothing more. Do you think that Archigram can perhaps be classified more as a group conceptualizing in the field of Science Fiction because of these ideals? After all, while architecture and building was a core theme of their work, the group initially and most famously dedicated itself to its written publications, not buildings.

However you or anyone decides to categorize Archigram, I think that creative groups today, especially those in architecture, should begin to follow the way that Archigram and Science Fiction authors think. By definition, thinking freely and truly imagining in a fictional, unrestrained context would only further creativity in projects. Conceiving of projects as societal fictions rather than buildings or architectural projects would also force architects to think more comprehensively. Instead of conceiving of and designing only buildings, architects could then begin to apply their often unmatched brilliance towards all societal issues in the form of fictional suggestions and proposals.

Amsterdam Subcity

Thank you for sharing this project, without the convenience of the internet, I probably would never have discovered it. Whether or not it actually gets built, I think it is very innovative and inspiring. The concepts of this proposal are absolutely worthy of great contribution toward larger running forums in society concerning urbanism and utopias. While this project is easily discussed among the architecture industry, projects of this scope and social relevance should be accessible to debate amongst the greater common society.

One thing that is rather disappointing however, is how low-key and unpublicized this project seems to be. While the internet certainly helps to communicate and network information at exponential rates, projects like these do not reach a broad enough audience with ease by means of the internet and blogosphere alone. In fact, I only found this project through proactive searching and browsing. The fact that I do not live within nor near the immediate physical region of the project site nor architect, and that the architect is not of popular international recognition further limits the project's range and spectrum of influence

Architectural groups, think tanks, and firms could reach a broader audiences and gain more exposure by realizing their ideas in media that is mass produced and widely accessible in the way that popular science fictions works, such as the Matrix, Minority Report, and I, Robot, among others do. These Science Fictions are able to reach vast, international audiences, and after all, they present conceptions of the future in the same way that architectural proposals do. In fact, architectural proposals of cities are often developed in further detail than Science Fictions, which must often sacrifice detailed development of technology and architecture to concentrate on plot and narrative. While the majority of architecture is discussed only within the industry's own circles, the conception of architectural projects as a Science Fiction could project ideas into mainstream society and encourage dialogue.


The Convergence of Web 2.0 and Architecture: How far can we push it?

Websites and web communities such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook and Ebay (among many others) are currently revolutionizing information networking on the internet by allowing its users to produce, share, and manipulate content. Through this participation, users are essentially building and developing the websites and web communities themselves, rendering the actual websites as a mere framework that is expanded upon. Practices like this are archetypal in the current movement in web design and development and are often referred to as Web 2.0, or an improved, more participatory version of the initial World Wide Web.

Last month, Studio Wikitecture, an architecture and urban planning firm, gave a lecture at the annual forum of the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) about the studio's aims to apply the decentralized and open-source concepts behind Web 2.0 to the fields of architecture and urban planning. The studio has been using Second Life as a platform for its projects. Inspired by concepts of alternate, digitally connected worlds, such as the matrix in the popularized Matrix Series and the metaverse in Neal Stephenson's Science Fiction cyberpunk novel Snow Crash, Second Life is a public, internet-based software application which is essentially a 3-D, virtual world. For Studio Wikitecture, the use of this program has allowed the studio mass communication and collaboration from audiences worldwide throughout the design process. In their current project, in which they are designing a health clinic in western Nepal, the studio asserts that anyone in the world can help them and participate in the design by means of the internet. By registering and logging in for free on Second Life or by visiting the studio's website, anyone can submit their own design iterations as well as comment and critique on the current status of the project.

Although Studio Wikitecture employs contemporary cutting edge technology that enables for such efficiency, convenience, and outreach, the core manifesto of their studio is very similar to that of preceding, less complex participatory design programs, such as BaSiC Initiative and Rural Studio. Founded in 1995 and 1993 respectively, these programs preceded the likes of Wikipedia and Studio Wikitecture in involving users more in the design and construction of its projects. Both programs stationed themselves in the communities that they were building in, facilitating everyday, hands-on collaboration and dialogue with the actual people that would be using the buildings they designed. Even so, these programs were not even themselves the first to implement the idea. And while a great debate could be sparked arguing over who came up with the idea first, what is more important is the effectiveness of these programs, and which methods of communication are better.

In their lecture, Studio Wikitecture touches on the classic theme of the contrasting pros and cons of big corporations and small businesses. They note that while big corporations can manage at a vast scale with great resources, their services tend to be uniform and detached from the user. Likewise, small businesses often possess the creativity and intimacy that large corporations lack, yet they do not have the resources to reach and administrate a broad audience. Studio Wikitecture claims that through the lowered costs and increased accessibility of communication that information technologies such as the internet provide, it is possible for the first time in human history to have the aforementioned benefits of both large corporations and small businesses, as in their projects and the Wikitecture interface in Second Life (below). However, I would not be so quick to comply. While there is no doubt that the use of Second Life, which has more than 12 million registered accounts, allows for an unprecedented outsourcing of ideas and input because of the sheer quantity of its users, the quality of that input still does not match that which can be gathered from intimate face-to-face meetings. While programs such as Rural Studio physically immerse themselves in the lives of those that will be using their projects, the Wikitecture interface allows only for digital, disengaged immersion. Furthermore, while Second Life is nearly exactly what it's title proclaims (the avatars that users create are truly Second Life users' second lives), those users are human beings first and avatars in Second Life second. As long as we exist as physical human beings, the value of our physical interactions and human senses will always supersede that of their virtual mediations.

While Studio Wikitecture's explorations take great steps in the trying convergence of virtual worlds with the physical world, the internet is simply a tool for creating and designing architecture in the Wikitecture project. It is a super efficient, super accessible, and experiential suggestion box. What if there was a way to further integrate the internet and architecture. How will this be done? In the way that projects such as Wikipedia and Youtube are constantly evolving in real time on the internet, what if the internet was not only a tool, but the essence of a project's existence. Could such a project have a simultaneously evolving real world counterpart? Furthermore, what the internet itself was the entire extents of a project? Could we still call this architecture and moreover, are we still humans at this point of our existence?
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