Sunday, June 17, 2012

On Capacity

                Two great challenges facing architects, urban planners and political socio-economic strategists in the second millennium of the common era are the trends of urban migration and technological dominance. Together these challenges create the basis of a new paradigm which may well define human existence for the foreseeable future. Over the past sixty years, rates of urban growth have risen to an unsurmounted   180,000 people per year, a rate which tipped the urban/rural scale definitively into the urban region sometime in 2007, according to UN estimates.6 While the reasons as to why the majority of the global population now inhabit urban environments may be attributed to failed harvests, better access to higher paying jobs and services, etc., the cost of this migration on the supportive fabrics is often dire, with the worst cases falling to the responsibility of the least capable regions.6,9 While North American and European urban areas have stabilized at around eighty percent, developing and undeveloped regions continue to suffer under the influx of people, allowing its cities to grow to a population forty times larger than that for which the infrastructure was designed. Often these urban areas provide no better services than the rural areas left behind which, in Africa for example, leaves seventy percent of the urban population living in slum conditions.6
                This is the issue of capacity. The existing model for urban design developed by modern theorists, while promoting an urban lifestyle, has not proved capable of dealing with the exponential growth urban areas have experienced. This existing model is completely dependent upon the conceptualization of space from a two-dimensional point of view (zoning) and until urban designers begin to think in three dimensions, peak capacity will never be reached and the problems facing urbanization will continue.7,10
                The second challenge is beginning to understand how architecture and planning will respond to the technologically-dominant lifestyle that has emerged over the last thirty years. In the same way that recent changes in the political borders and the creation of a universal currency in Europe have affected the way European citizens inhabit that place, so too the phenomena of technological space-time compression has changed the way global citizens inhabit the world.15 At the very lowest level of technological integration humans exist as users within networks even when completely disconnected from technological devices, whether they are ecological networks, social networks, or professional networks. It is when these networks are analyzed and integrated into a constructed "datascape"  that they become a layer in understanding the human spatial condition as a whole.3 When a user is connected to a digital device however, and inhabits multiple virtual spaces simultaneously, is when a complexity is reached which has the ability to inform architecture .
                                "No other phenomenon [urban densification] in the history of architecture has been so heavily and widely criticized as this one. It rendered the Modern movement taboo. And although many believe in its necessity , most of us want to distance ourselves from it, frightened of its very complexity and of its assumed dangers. But the awareness of the growing megacities has become apparent and has led, for instance, to UN declarations. A resurgence of interest in the at the end of the millennium can be explained by the new economies: this new financial world has established itself within the major cities and settled with the densest places because of the desired (if not strictly needed) interconnections with the financial world and, because of the density and intensity of cultural life, giving birth to a middle and upper class of multinational character. These processes underline the imminent return of density, born out of clash between pure differences. This clash opens new possibilities for architecture, reuniting banal yet fascinating combinations of programme."  8
                                                                                                                -Winy Maas
                Clearly, architecture at the beginning of the second millennium is faced with a daunting task, and one for which architecture alone may not be prepared.  Architecture must mature and develop integrating fields into its discipline which were previously beyond its scope. It must adopt a wider agenda, one focused on directions rather than reactions. In order to survive, architecture must provoke a public debate on space by placing itself in the middle; serving as curator to ideas which could result in its own maturation.9
                As previously stated all matter belongs to some part of an existing network. In this aspect, humans are no different than single-celled organisms. The difference is that humans belong to many more networks and require much more to survive. Therefore, designing spaces for humans to dwell requires a vast knowledge of these networks. Statistics provide another layer to the architectural perception of space through quantitative analysis. In 1999, MVRDV published a project Metacity/Datatown which would serve as their manifesto for the role of statistical analysis in architecture. Metacity/Datatown seeks to define space strictly according to numbers with one element, "Metacity", which would cover the entire globe composed of smaller "Datatowns." These towns are formed as 400km by 400km blocks, a distance derived from the possible distance traveled using modern means of transport.  Each town is designed to be completely self-sufficient meaning that all the numerable networks associated to each individual, of all the numerable individuals inhabiting a singular Datatown must be quantified. With modern information, processing these calculations are fairly simple, thus quickly creating a virtual representation of a city in which the entire global populace could virtually exist with all their needs met. 3 The power of statistical analysis is the ability to see what is, in a way which predicts what will come next.
                The problem with statistics alone, however, is that what is or what will come may not be satisfactory. Design is not in the numbers, but rather is guided by them. Where architects and planners often fall short is not in their ability to collect information, but rather how to observe the data they see and extract from it meaning which is translatable to a realistic connection. 3 This translation inserts qualitative analysis back into the equation, allowing for human sensory perception to begin to abstract the numbers according to the designers intentions creating a datascape. 3 The paradoxical relationship between the staunch validity of the original data, and the personal perception of truth within the datascape is the bond which maintains its integration in reality.3 This is where Metacity/Datatown fails. While it is a project in which every global inhabitant could live, it is uncertain if anyone would choose to.
                Metacity/Datatown however was not designed as a solution to the vast number of urban and climatic concerns caused by rapid urban growth. However it was designed to make the public aware of what the numbers are and just how many of them there are. In this case MVRDV was playing the role of curator, bringing the information, and the possibilities, into the debate.
                A datascape containing all the information necessary for a project like Metacity/Datatown contains such a vast amount of data that the use of these statistics would not be possible without contemporary technological advances. According to Moore's Law (which is still proven true) originally composed in 1965, the number of transistors which can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit would continue to increase exponentially. Because this has remained true as technology advances, it continues to advance at an ever increasing rate.16 This has massive consequences on the world of architecture allowing architects to process information at rates and in ways unimaginable in years prior. It also begs the question of what will be the next innovation and how will it again transform the way space is designed. MVRDV is on the forefront of this movement. Upon the completion of Metacity/Datatown, Winy Maas together with a research group from The Berlage Institute began working within the virtual domain using simulation as a tool to translating the data compiled for Metacity/Datatown and eventually creating The Evolutionary City. Evolutionary City is the project which created a bundle of applications - "user interactive planning machinery" - which allow for users from numerous backgrounds to compare and evaluate data to the point of simulating and generating proposals. 12 The Grand Machine: The Ultimate Network as the bundle is called, encompasses numerous parallel applications, or mini-machines, which share the various data sets in the same way a computer cluster shares the computational load. Inframaker absorbs data on movement and proposes optimized traffic solutions. A Housing Generator develops optimized housing units based on input data. The Evaluator and The Evolver are Darwinist evolutionary problem solvers which translate the input based on innovation parameters. In this way new ideologies can be compared with the existing, based on various input parameters from competing cultural, political or economic ideologies. Evolutionary City is the result; a city which has the ability to study itself, optimize, adapt, and create new strategies accordingly.  Because of its user friendly interface, every citizen of The Evolutionary City has the ability to take part and help to improve the function of their city.12  
                A similar but much simplified version of this software is in place today in New York City. NYC311 was launched in March of 2003 and now handles 50,000 calls a day in addition to information supplied via smartphone applications, Twitter, and Skype by the city's residents on issues ranging from car alarms to air quality. Because of this service the people in charge of running the city have access to real time data on issues that matter to the residents and are able to address these issues according to their nature and priority. Also, because NYC311 stores all of the information received they are able to create a datascape that allows them to make improvements even before the complaints are received.5  This is the concept behind The Evolutionary City, real time data analysis for the continual optimization of the urban environment.
                While The Evolutionary City was truly innovative in the attempt to integrate technology and architecture/planning, the result is much like that of Metacity/Datatown in that the result is still simply based on fact, creating a banal and sterile environment. Because of its ability to handle a large number of parameters simultaneously, it does have the capability to deal with the complexities of a contemporary city in a way not previously conceptualized, but the result would not necessarily be an improvement. The observation of the data is still incorrect and while, the human, qualitative analysis is improved, the possible spatial result still remains static. A successful urban environment is dynamic and multi-dimensional, described as overlapping fields where the natural paradoxes of territorial intersection provide a framework for the interrelationships of urban life. The complexity of urban environments is the reason they exist. Cities can be equated with dynamic manifestations of a living organism, forever in the process of distortion and transformation. Therefore, tools such as these that allow one to begin to understand urban complexity are necessary in understanding their capacity for growth but should not be used without correct observation at the risk of diluting the natural potency of the organism in favor of modernist rationalistic urbanism.4
                Technology has more to offer architecture than simply computing facts and generating numbers. While the software within The Evolutionary City does take advantage of the virtual domain within its calculated simulations, the effect that happens when one begins to conceptualize the potential of virtual space allows one to think beyond the need of understanding urban complexity and actually begin to design for it.
                Virtual inhabitation is a fact of life for most people. Everytime one accesses a digital file whether it be on a phone, a computer or a website they are inhabiting that place. It may be argued that users with profiles or website that remain online even when the user is not connected is still inhabiting virtual space. Where virtual inhabitation affects architecture most radically however is most clearly apparent in the obsession with Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG's or MMO's) over the past ten years.  If the main purpose of architecture is the creation of space, or place (for the sake of this argument), then what purpose does architecture have when its inhabitants spend the majority of their time within a virtual space? MMO users not only move about in virtual space but also meet people and build relationships, conduct business, engage in political protests and even commemorate the passing of a loved one within a virtual world.20 Some users not only bring their Away From Keyboard (AFK) lives into the virtual environment but also their virtual lives into their AFK lives, engaging in trading and "black market" negotiations based on objects or currency within the virtual space. Millions of World of Warcraft users claim Azeroth , the virtual world within the game, is their home.20 Honestly, why shouldn't it feel like home when their only necessary connection to the AFK life are the simple physiological functions necessary for survival. Most, if not all, of their other needs such as love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization come from within the virtual environment.
                 According to Martin Heidegger, dwelling is a state of existence - ich bin;  essentially I dwell. The word neighbor, nachgebauer, thus means one who dwells near. Building is an act of dwelling. Customization of one's environment is a result of one's care for the protection of that environment; to cherish it. Therefore the enjoyment and protection of one's self and one's loved ones is an act of dwelling.18 Dwelling is therefore not tied to physical space but rather the relationship with whatever form of space he or she is currently inhabiting whether that be virtual, physical, or other. This is the challenge for designing architectural space in the current technological world. People, more specifically MMO users, have chosen another world in which to dwell. That world is cherished, much unlike our physical world where famine, disease and deceit consume a large number of its inhabitants.17 The same issues that drive 180,000 people a year away from their homes to live in slum conditions in the urban centers also created a situation where seven-million people chose a virtual world as their home.
                Virtual space is where architecture will find the tools necessary to understand the existing complexities and design with them to create cities of greater capacity and better environment. Gaming is a perfect way to bridge that gap. Gaming allows for people to come together to create community and collectively discuss their personal perceptions of what they believe their environment should be.19 The addition of game theory to applications such as Evolutionary City may add another layer of input  that preserves urban complexity while still allowing it to be studied and, depending on the game play, could allow users to begin to build relationships within that virtual world that could serve as a model for extending urban capacities. In 2007 MVRDV published Spacefighter, another application bundle based on Evolutionary City, as an attempt to explore and model chains of interactive planning using a competitive game environment to model the conceptual city. Unfortunately, while the addition of the users within the application and the assignment of value to specific parameters, among other changes, does create a competitive environment, the interface for the game and the game play is geared more towards the software developers themselves.14  In order for virtual games to begin to make a difference in the way architecture and planning are conceptualized, they must first learn from World of Warcraft and be, "easy to learn, difficult to master." 17
                Urban environments are not simply comprised of architectural forms. Much more inherent to the urban issue is the concept of landscape. Landscape offers an opportunity to face a situation that is becoming, "increasingly complex, potentially hybridized and decidedly heterodox in relation to the urban structures that nowadays define our environment." 4  The challenge is to intensify the border region between architecture and landscape in order to preserve that dynamic region. The interaction with that border through the act of crossing it and re-crossing multiplies the potential for  resonance and synergy, to reveal the landscape as a multiplicity of places. Urban landscape is not simply the geological patterns on which the city is built, rather it is the fabric that binds the urban environment together.4  In many ways landscape has a permanence and a dynamic quality that architecture lacks. While architectural form may retain a certain amount of fluidity during the design process, once constructed that fluidity is lost. For landscape this is not true. Throughout the design process it is known that whatever the final form may take it is constructed of living organisms and will therefore, continually optimize itself to its environment. The design process itself is rooted deeply in ecology and conservation so that, from the beginning, the final level of complexity is understood.7
                Even with people moving from agricultural regions into cities at such an alarming rate arable land is also diminishing. The farm lands that once surrounded and supported cities is being consumed by sprawl  as the people who can afford to leave move outside the urban area to escape the failing conditions within. In The Netherlands this problem is especially bad and national policies have been put in place to help preserve the remaining open spaces. In the work of MVRDV, a fear of these ecological risks and a need to publicize them is evident and their work better analyzed with the understanding of these policies.7  MVRDV's Dutch Pavilion, at the World's Fair in Hannover in 2002, is a prime example of their use of landscape and their ecological concern. The Netherlands, possibly more than any other country, has a history of conforming the natural landscape to fit the needs of its populace as roughly one fifth of the land that makes up the country's total area has been reclaimed from the sea. Yet The Netherlands is one of the densest countries on the planet and rivals Germany in technical prowess. What the Dutch Pavilion shows then is a model of urban hybridization between nature and technology. The multi level building seeks to increase the total area of green fields rather than diminish them by providing layers of natural program, parks, forests, etc. within the boundaries of the pavilion. The density and diversity within the program and the emphasis on nature serve as a, "symbol for multi-faceted nature of society." 13
                While ecological concern and attempts to draw attention to the risks is a valid role for architecture to play, the work of MVRDV does not always provide a legitimate solution to the problem. The methodologies they use are deeply modernist, as is evident by the way they present risks within the contemporary model as a basis for the design. The solution to these risks comes from a very thorough library of documentation (data) about the existing model but, as previously mentioned, the design process suffers in the way they observe or select what information to use and how. This was a methodology used by architects and planners such as Le Corbusier, Hilberseimer, Van Eesteren, and Van Lohuizen at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, the level of complexity to be understood calls for a solution that is more contemporary. The result of this is the lack of integration between built form and landscape in most of their work. While the building may house its own landscape on the interior, the way it is connected with the exterior landscape or urban fabric is not defined. When asked of this, Slavoj Zizek's remark is, "too general and too specific at the same time." 7
                Two great challenges facing architects, urban planners and political socio-economic strategists in the second millennium of the common era are the trends of urban migration and technological dominance. Together these challenges create the basis of a new paradigm which may well define human existence for the foreseeable future. If architecture makes a point to provoke the public debate and stand for its own personal development by accepting outside methodologies, it may be the force which guides us through the period of change. If architecture realizes the complexity and the fragility that exists within the creation of place and reintegrates itself with the urban landscape, then our cities may indeed become the urban environments they were once conceived to be.



1.      Brandlhuber, Arno & Kniess, Bernd. "Arno Brandluhuber/Bernd Kniess (B&K+)." Archilabs's Earth Buildings: Radical Experiments in Land Architecture. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003. 74-79. Print.

2.      Brayer, Marie-Ange. "On the Surface of the Eart, in Search of the Chorographic Body." Archilabs's Earth Buildings: Radical Experiments     in Land Architecture. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003. 12-19. Print.

3.      Chabard, Pierre. "The Datamorphis of the World." Archilabs's Earth Buildings: Radical Experiments in Land Architecture. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003. 28-33. Print.

4.      Gausa, Manuel. "Architecture Is (Now) Geography." Archilabs's Earth Buildings: Radical Experiments in Land Architecture. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003. 40-43. Print.

5.      Johnson, Steven. "Invisible City." Wired Nov. 2010: 156-61. Print.

6.      Kinver, Mark. "The Challenges Facing an Urban World." BBC News. BBC,    13 June 2006. Web. 02 May 2012. .

7.             Lootsma, Bart. "Biomorphic Intelligence and Urban Landscape." Archilabs's Earth Buildings: Radical Experiments in Land Architecture. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003. 30-38. Print.

8.     Maas, Winy. "Berlage Institute." Archilabs's Earth Buildings: Radical Experiments in Land Architecture. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2003. 30-38. Print.

9.     Maas, Winy."Architecture is a Device." KM3: Excursions on Capacities. Barcelone: Actar,         2005. 34-45.   Print.

10.    Maas, Winy."Trends." KM3: Excursions on Capacities. Barcelone: Actar,    2005. 24-29.       Print.

11.    Maas, Winy."(Im)possible worlds: Speculations ." KM3: Excursions on Capacities. Barcelone: Actar,     2005. 46-93.   Print.

12.    Maas, Winy."Everyone is a citymaker: Optimizations." KM3: Excursions on Capacities. Barcelone: Actar, 2005. 1248-1355. Print.

13.    Maas, Winy."Stacked Landscape." KM3: Excursions on Capacities. Barcelone: Actar, 2005. 1118-1125. Print.

14.    Maas, Winy. Spacefighter: The Evolutionary City (game:). Barcelona [u.a.: Actar, 2007. Print.

15.    "Time and Space Compression." Cyborg Anthropology. 26 June 2011. Web. 02 May 2012. .

16.    Kanellos, Michael. "Moore's Law to Roll on for Another Decade - CNET News." CNET News. CBS Interactive, 10 Feb. 2003. Web. 03 May 2012. .

17. Levy, Steven. "Living a Virtual Life."Newsweek V. 148 No. 12 (September 18 2006) P. 48-50, 148.12 (2006): 48-50.

18. Heidegger, Martin. "Building Dwelling Thinking." Poetry, Language, Thought. New York: Harper Colophon, 1971. Print.

19. "TNS New Challenge – Amigo Legal Games." New Challenge. The New School. Web. 03 May 2012. .

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