Things, Homes, Cities


To fully analyze and grasp the situation will not lead to major organizational, political, and design breakthroughs, if we are not able to fully grasp the trajectory from thing as gathering places for spaces and discussion, from ‘matters of concern’:

“A heuristic use of the term ‘thing’ has also been adopted by Bruno Latour, who, after Heidegger, has worked to transform the semantic emphasis of ‘things’ from ‘matters of concern’. Drawing on older etymologies in which ‘thing’ denoted a gathering place, a space for discussion and negotiation; Latour has rehabilitated this sense of the term as a way out of the twin cul-de- sac of constructivism and objectivity”. (Rebecca Empson in THINKING THROUGH THINGS, Henare, Amiria, Martin Holbraad and Sari Wastell (eds). 2007. Thinking through Things: Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically. London and New York: Routledge. 248 pages. ISBN: 978-1-84472-071-2)

In Art and Agency, an Anthropological Theory, Alfred Gell puts emphasis “upon art as a form of instrumental action: the making of things as a means of influencing the thoughts and actions of others”. He defines volt sorcery as the “practice of inflicting harm on the prototype of an index by inflicting harm on the index, for example, sticking pins into a wax image of the prototype.” In Separating and Containing People and Things in Mongolia, Rebecca Empson writes: “… the doing involved in making things visible or invisible makes relations. In this sense vision’ becomes the tool by which relations are created”.

In a project like Hivenetworks things are made into Hive devices by the act of making them into Hive devices. The doing makes the transformation real, the performative act is critical. In this sense ‘coding’ becomes the tool by which relations are created. By removing the manufacturer’s software on the Asus WL-HDD and replacing it with the Hive firmware – “experimental Open Source software” – it becomes a different thing in more than a constructivist sense, a new object is created: “It is for this reason, for example, that the claim that when Cuban diviners say that powder is power they are speaking of a different powder (and a different power also) is not a ‘constructivist’ claim. To put it in Foucauldian terms, the point is not that the discursive claims (eg. ‘powder is power’) order reality in different ways – according to different ‘regimes of truth’ – but rather that they create new objects (e.g. powerful powder) in the very act of enunciating new concepts (eg. powerful powder)”.


The ultimate aim of all creativity is the building! And the italics are original to Walter Gropius Manifesto of the Bahaus (April 1919): “Let us together desire, conceive and create the new building of the future, which will combine everything – architecture and sculpture and painting – in a single form….”

Building will become once again the core unit of design. For something has fundamentally changed; the very nature of information itself, no longer analogue, no longer digital, and not hybrid neither: buildings, cars and people can now be defined as information spaces.

Anthony Townsend, from Taub Urban Research Center, has been asked by the South Korean (in 2002) government to “turn an undeveloped parcel of land on the outskirts of Seoul into a city whose raison d’etre will be to produce and consume products and services based on new digital technologies.“ The main challenge lies in the realization that “half of designing a city is going to be information spaces that accompany it because lots of people will use this to navigate around.” Waiting rooms, he claims, become something of an anachronism because no one really waits anymore. Townsend claims that telecommunications in a city in 2012 is going to be a lot more complex: “The most interesting thing about it will be that you won’t be able to see it all at once because all these data structures, computational devices, digital networks and cyberspaces that are built upon those components will be invisible unless you have the password or unless you are a member of the group that is permitted to see them”. In such an environment, – a truly magic one – people themselves become information spaces. Building, cars people, and homes become information spaces that can be described in the same markup languages.” ( RVK Mapping Territory, Nettime 2003)

Where do the current U cities stand on this development?

In a ubiquitous computing environment the new intelligence is extelligence,“knowledge and tools that are outside people’s heads”. When computational processes disappear, the environment becomes the interface. In such an environment – where the computer has disappeared as visible technology – and human beings have become designable and designerly information spaces design decisions inevitably become process decisions. Are our current designers, architects, policy makers equipped to deal with these fundamental issues and dilemma’s, where what used to be media ethics has now become building ethics itself?

What happens if we network homes in streets and neighborhoods, in order to share energy, connectivity and other resources?

Wht does living together mean?

If no one waits anymore, does that mean that no one get bored anymore? Or maybe sets out to speak to a neighbor in a queue?


Sean Dodson: A decade ago the science fiction author David Brin published the Transparent Society. It was his tale of two cities, set 20 years in the future. Brin had a vision, or rather he had two. City Number One – The City of Control – was a city of our nightmares, torn from the darker pages of Orwell’s 1984 and Zamyatin’s We. It is a place where “myriad cameras report their urban scenes straight to Police Central, where security officers use sophisticated image processors to scan for infractions against the public order – or perhaps against an established way of thought”. In this city of glass, Brin warned, citizens walk the streets aware that “any word or deed may be noted by agents of some mysterious bureau”.

But Brin also painted another city. This city would be as transparent as glass; here too the cameras remain, “perched on every vantage point”, but a subtle difference liberates these citizens from the aforementioned City of Control. Here the silent sentries do not signal straight back to the secret police, rather “each and every citizen of this metropolis can lift his or her wristwatch/TV and call up images from any camera in town. Here, a late-evening stroller checks to make sure no one lurks beyond the corner she is about to turn. Over there, a tardy young man dials to see if his dinner date still waits for him by the city hall fountain. A block away, an anxious parent scans the area and finds what way her child has wandered off. Over by the mall, a teenage shoplifter is taken into custody gingerly, with minute attention to ritual and rights, because the arresting officer knows the entire process is being scrutinized by untold numbers who watch intently, lest his neutral professionalism lapse”.

Our two cities are tied together like an “internet of things”. They are places where the urban infrastructure is embedded with a sophisticated network of traceable items. They are places where consumer goods are assigned IP addresses, just as web pages are today. And like Brin’s Transparent Society, our future cities of glass could go one of two ways. (text from Sean Dodson in The Internet of Things, Network Notebook No 2

So ask yourself, which one would you want?