Wednesday, 21 March 2007

open source

Kosmograd opened the discussion of the potential for the city to manifest as an operating system. Currently a city runs a number of applications- transport, telecom, security, social customs, etc. in multiple ways. The example of the travel guide was offered as a means of explaining how to use a city to the new visitor.


What strikes me about this paradigm is that while uniformity and standardisation might be good for computer operating systems, it's not such as good thing for cities. We want our cities to be unique, to have their own identity, however confusing non-residents might find it. And yet architecturally cities are becoming more and more blandly similar, and increasingly the typologies suggested by urban masterplanning exercises are about overlaying the same identikit forms over the underlying terrain.
Given that Helsinki is the birthplace of Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system (originally conceived as a portable OS), might we be able to apply a different approach to urban masterplanning to the operating system of Helsinki? The philosophic cornerstones of Linux: interoperability, portability and community might serve as a good set of guiding principles for any mid-21st century city.
Along the these lines, Kazyz Varnelis had a recent post regarding the open source city. What is a city to be in the world of network culture? He cites a recent talk given by Rob Kitchen on "Code/Space". Kitchen observes that the spaces of everyday life are increasingly coded by software. So beyond your daily interaction with your computer, so many other means of life are increasingly run by software - elevators, cars, streets, communicaton and entertainment networks, and on and on. Kitchen and Martin Dodge have written a paper "Code and the Transduction of Space" which explores this condition.

Varnelis asks:
But what is code? And why should architects care?
The historic example here is Lawrence Lessig's famous line - Code is Law. Throughout Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace he also invokes the field of architecture. This is no accident. Lessig’s goal, in resorting to an architectural framework, is to underscore the constructed nature of both built environments and cyberspace, as Kitchen and Dodge suggest, environments are increasingly the product of code. Architecture, code, and law are increasingly melding into one.
For architects, the consequences are clear. Regardless of what the "Make it New" crowd wants, building codes, design review guidelines, historic preservation ordinances, protective covenants, together with the demands of the financial and real estate markets are creating a condition in which a building is virtually pre-determined before an architect ever sees it (if he or she ever does). Architects frequently lament this condition, but what if instead we agree with Kitchen and Dodge that code is a fundamental constituent of our culture. What then?
Well, to start, we realize that if these spaces are increasingly given by code, as Kitchen and Dodge suggest, they are also coded, active spaces. In other words, the old idea of the space invested with meaning is now replaced by a performative space with a certain capacity for producing situations.
This is a very big sea change. One example of a big break (as kosmograd cites) is Christopher Alexander's idea of design patterns. Design patterns suggests that architecture can be made up of endless combinations of existing solutions therefore debunking the dead end of the "new".
Software engineers are already well on their way with this idea.

One other great new example is Architecture for Humanity's Open Architecture Network.Hundreds of projects have been uploaded and thousands have registered. It's a great mission so perhaps the open source is happening as we speak.

sources: Kazys Varnelis


Lead said...

Elsewhere Lefebvre considers the city from a Marxist standpoint and concludes that modern space is 'produced' in the same way as other cultural objects. The city itself and the spaces that constitute it come about as a result of a social production process dominated by a hegemonic elite. Lefebvre believes that every society produces its own type of space based on its beliefs and values. Hence, cities are not simply collections of people and objects located in space - rather spatial experience is mediated by spatial practice.

The city as a representation of a cultures beliefs, values and practices begs the question in the context of the competition as to whether we are trying to change the shape of the city to affect the future shape of society (social engineering), or conversely are we trying to reflect a possible future set of societal values and their manifestation as a city in the future. Or something else completely?

Lead said...

Sorry, previous was a comment on Lewism's Soft City post.