Friday, August 21, 2009

Power of 8 : Experimenting with Imagined Urban Fabrics

Power of 8 is a collaborative project developed by Anab Jain, a designer whose work investigates intersections between digital, biological and sociological fields. Her current efforts investigate design alternatives that impact present development practices and experiment with the collective expression of imaginative urban forms. In this project "8 people from different walks of life work together to build a public conversation about their individual aspirations for a desirable future."

Power of 8 blurs overlapping space between the public and private sphere and carries my interest for a variety of reasons. In part it is open source and participatory in nature, it makes use a variety of cognitive mapping techniques and explores the development and social expression of urban form in relation to fantasy. Beginning with a series of workshops the crew of eight share their ideas and formulate imaginative visions of the future.

The project is of particular interest because it has manifest as a part of the art world. It is funded by the Arts Council England, presented within the gallery environment, and extends traditional roles for artists, designers, and other professionals; emphasizing transdiciplinary approaches to the development of the urban fabric.

The approach taken is one that begins exclusively and unfolds in the public realm. While typical design-build projects dictate urban morphology from the top down this project is inclusive, moving from the ideas of its eight original participants to the public, facilitating in the process of imagining alternatives to the existing urban fabric. While public participation did not occur from the onset, the shift from private to public practice was planned and implemented at an early stage in the life of the project. Preliminary results of the project workshops were presented to the public during a gallery opening and a large abstracted map of Brentford, the area surrounding the gallery, became a central interactive component to the exhibition. The idea was to "engage with the local people by situating some of our imagined scenarios over the map, and inviting them to do the same."

The incubation period, during which the professional crew initiated the process and developed individual and collective visions, could very well have provided a successful way to show that images of the future need not be limited in scope. Ideas that emerged from the workshops appear to have included a wealth of creative proposals and initiated a creative response from the public.

"Over the course of two days we had a steady stream of participants ranging from the radically activist to the playfully naive populated this map of their local area of Brentford with walking houses, snow stimulators, solar powered airships, public free boxes, trees that could talk to one another, new wireless connectivity, new species of underwater organisms and human spinning tops. The table was transformed into a landscape of fantasy and possibility in what appears to be a distant edge suburb of London."

Following the exhibition ideas generated through the Power of 8 project are intended to move freely through the public realm. "After October, the work will discursively enter the public domain, and each collaborator will be able to have equal ownership over the material and disseminate it in a way that suits him/her best." In this way the project will have seeded the landscape with ideas of the future, opening the local community to the creative potential of collectively imagined landscapes and inspiring new visions for the future.

In essence this project exemplifies an optimistic and inclusive approach to the development of our shared habitat. It combines the creative potential of forward thinking professionals with that of everyday citizens, those who share in the lived experience of the city and its infrastructure, to produce a collective expression of the future.

to see more visit: The Power of 8

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Surface & Depth : 1

Kuroshio Sea - 2nd largest aquarium tank in the world - (song is Please don't go by Barcelona) from Jon Rawlinson on Vimeo.

May I suggest that when you watch the above video, you view it in full screen and relax for a moment from whatever it is that you are supposed to be doing. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

This post is the short version of an extensive network of thoughts oriented around the development of surface technologies emerging in the urban fabric. I am thinking of surfaces that have been transformed from rigid physical boundaries into large scale widows through advancements in digital LED screens. But what is above is not one of these surfaces. This is a view of a very real environment. The aquatic life seen here is not artificial and aside from the fact that we currently experience it from a computer screen, these are not merely images. My concern here is with the very real environment captured in this video and artificial images presented on emerging multimedia surfaces (like the one below).

555 KUBIK | facade projection | from urbanscreen on Vimeo.

I have an array of thoughts related to this topic. How is the urban fabric going to change as more and more surfaces become augmented through technology? How will these changes affect human behavior and psychology? What images will we experience? Surely not all of these screens will run artistic projects like the one above. What will happen if and when these surfaces become interactive, like the producers of the next video imagine? And what will it be like when we can interact with the same surfaces that for centuries have functioned as physical and psychological boundaries? Needless to say these are only a few of the questions I have related to this type of change in rigid urban surfaces.

Map/Territory from timo on Vimeo.

Seeing as how this is supposed to be the short version of my thoughts I will move on to why I chose to emphasis the first video in this post. For one, I was moved by this video. I am attracted to aquatic life like many other people in the world and have great memories of time spent off the coast of Belize studying reef ecology. But, returning from such a digression, the video of the aquarium is a real (although designed by human) environment. After seeing all of these videos and others like them I am drawn to question the differences between seeing a high definition image on a screen the size of a building, capable of mimicking real environments and the experience of real environments. One cannot physically move through the images presented on the screen nor can one move through the glass that contains the artificial sea of the aquarium. So to the viewer what is the difference? Perhaps in my case the difference appears in my memory. The memory of seeing creatures like these in their real habitat. The memory of the weightlessness and the feeling of being surrounded by water, literally immersed in a new world, one I am able to explore through all of my senses, in a very human way. A way that I believe is common to all of us and one that, in the world of surfaces, boundaries and images, decays without the depth added by memory and real experience.

My intention here is not to relegate technology to some benign status. It is to applaud the experience of being human, and the ability to explore the world around us. It is also to realize that technology, paired with the wonder of very real environments, real experiences and the imagination of creative men and women, can give depth to everyday surfaces, making them extraordinary.