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Towards The Sentient City

New York correspondent Rachel Barnard visits the latest exhibition from the Architectural League of New York.



BY jesse

September 29th, 2009


The Architectural League of New York’s exhibition, Towards the Sentient City, provokes questions on the impact that emerging ambient, mobile, and ubiquitous computer technologies may have on the way people engage the city.

This tends to conjure up almost retro-futuristic imagining; The Jetsons with aero cars and sky-high living pods. Yet when The Architectural League of New York put out a call for proposal, there returned few projects of individual fancy. 

As curator Mark Shepard observes, “the 150 international submissions were overwhelmingly concerned with the larger social, cultural, political and environmental implications.” 

One of the five projects selected, Amphibious Architecture, aims to use ubiquitous computing to encourage greater engagement with what’s going on below the water’s surface. 

Using a network of submerged sensors in two of New York’s rivers, information on water quality and the presence of fish is available on request – just text message the fish. Folk who texted “hey herring” to the East River line one night heard back “Hey There! There are 19 of us and it’s pretty nice down here. I mean, Dissolved Oxygen is higher than last week.” 

Another project, Natural Fuse, is renting out dozens of thech-ed up planter boxes, which create a citywide network of electrical outlets, and carbon sinks (the plants themselves).

Participants can plug in an appliance to their planter and use as much electricity as is available, relative to the amount CO2 collectively being absorbed by the plants.  Relying on other plants in the network is required in order to make a single cup of coffee (it takes five plants).

However if too many simultaneously pull energy from the network they risk overrunning the overall carbon sink capabilities. If this occurs the system is wired to start killing of plants.

Breakout!  takes the co-working movement – strangers working together in shared spaces – and brings it into the streets of New York. At Breakout! sessions, dotted over the architectural calendar the next couple of months, organizers turn the city into a shared office and encourage exchanges and collaborations that would otherwise be impossible behind the closed doors of individual offices.

Rather than futuristic flying saucers that offer escape, the projects in The League’s exhibition suggest that emerging ubiquitous technologies can more finely attune people to the workings of their immediate environment, and further, offer up opportunities to effect meaningful change. 

archleague.org


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