A day of Urban Design in Venice
On the 24th of September I landed in Venice, not for George Clooney wedding but for the Urban Interaction Design Symposium organized by the UrbanIxD network, a group of work around the theme of the interactive city which includes Edinburgh Napier University, UK, the University of Aarhus, Denmark, the University of Split, Croatia, and the telecommunication company Telecom Italia.
It’s been an interesting day, immersed in what has been defined by the keynote speaker Dan Hill the “(beautiful) inefficiency of Venice”.
The impression was that the Urban Interaction Design “movement”, which somehow gives a different, alternative, bottom-up perspective to the Smart City, is reaching a wider, shared space, and it is now at a turning point – which it’s always the case when from the niche you have the chance to become sort of “mainstream”. It was more, therefore, an evaluation of the state-of-the-art in the field before jumping from academia to the vast world out there. Or at least, this has been my impression.
The keynote speech by Hill, not quite disruptive as I had expected it, gave none the less some interesting hints, starting from Cedric Price famous quote
Technology is the answer, but what was the question?
we discussed the value of efficiency versus the value of…well, shared inefficiency and shared “time waste”, which always can and – in my opinion – should happen when more than one human being meet in the same place.
As for the idea of “infrastructure shaping the city”, quoted by Hill, it was quite well represented by this
True, the value of a well planned infrastructure can become very paradoxical very fast, turning efficiency into inefficiency (again). But it is also true that this inefficiency can become efficiency somewhere else, in India for example, where mad traffic is managed through informal rules which somehow turn inefficiency into efficiency. Another example that efficiency is not an absolute value but a liquid, shared concept and a representation of community life as quite interestingly Rachel Happe of Community Roundtable points out.
Among other promising themes emerged during the presentations and the round table, in random order: the need of focusing on the human body as the new (old) center of the design of a shared space, of the design of experiences and not only of good, efficient information. Carola Moujan, in her stimulating paper, quoted the No Place Like Home GPS shoes project as an example of how we can convey information without forgetting the emotional side, getting back from the pure digital to the real objects’ world.
The need for a return to the physical has emerged strongly in other ways, like in the work of Nikola Bojic, an aesthetic of failure approach which is quite common in the digital arts world but it’s new in the realm of Urban Design. In an era where we are invisible, thanks to digital communication and the social media space, and at the same time hypervisible in the measure in which our most private data are vulnerable and accessible beyond our control. Can we, in the effort of jumping out this dichotomy of digital vs physical world, of visibility and invisibility, take advantage of the leftover spaces, the non-functional, non-sustainable spaces, and design for failure? Can we rely on dis-functionality instead of functionality?
From here, a final remark by Tobias Revell on the need of a legal framework to change the approach to Urban Design, to go beyond revolt and failure, and DIY and hackerism, to transform these instances into a progress for Urban Design as we know it. A claim that we much agree with.
And finally, our BIRLOKI system encountered much appreciation and a few feedback: first of all, the amazement of knowing that the system is real, and it will be soon installed in a real city environment for real people to interact with – something that hardly happens with purely research projects; second, the potentialities of the BIRLOKI, more, its original nature of a system that wants to convey emotion as much or even more than information, that’s functional as much as “just beautiful and friendly, and human”; third, that we will experiment on efficiency as well on pure “playing with the city”.
Well, keep following us as yes, it is getting real and really fast.
Pics of the City Data Future Symposium by UrbanIxD.