Cultural Tectonics

From September 19th to December 13th the Royal Academy in London is hosting Ai Wei Wei’s first British retrospective. Ai Wei Wei became a “star artist” since he engaged with topics like human rights and freedom of speech in the contemporary China. Since then his public image has changed; it overshadowed the universal and collective value, which consistently have been characterising Ai Wei Wei’s work since the origin.

By means of Chinese artistic heritage, Ai Wei Wei articulates a particular artistic language, which is capable of expressing the intricacy of Chinese heritage and culture via new tectonic assemblages. Ai Wei Wei’s tectonic, indeed, encourages diversity. The works is not flat, as well as humanity doesn’t speak the same language; we all have different cultural heritages. Ai Wei Wei’s tectonic expresses such cultural intricacy. From stools to bicycles the singular value of each different piece triggers the metaphor of the world as an orchestra. The strength of such diversity is the cut, which normally is understood as the weakest part; in Ai Wei Wei’s sculptures the cut becomes the keystone. Ai Wei Wei’s tectonic tells stories about diversities.

On the other hand contemporary design is featured by smooth white objects. From architecture to products smooth surfaces and lines run through space with no sign of interruption. Nevertheless, as in Ai’s work, there is also an emergent field of design that is looking back at tectonic, from the material point of view. Stereotomy is the guideline to understand forms between the digital and the real.

Cultural tectonic is in favour of cultural diversity that coexists; cultural tectonic doesn’t apply the global ephemeral smoothness that saturates details.

If looking at our everyday, cultural diversity is a topic politics should engage with. In the midst of immigrant flows and the seek of new social, political and economical orders, it would be worth to look at Ai Wei Wei’s work to get some inspiration.

Ai Wei Wei @Royal Academy ©Laura Ferrarello Ai Wei Wei @Royal Academy ©Laura Ferrarello

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The Architecture of the City: Content Maps, Data, Space and Design

Last May I gave a talk at the Scene Gallery in London, which I called “The Elegy of Public Space”. The talk looked at spatial effects in physical space as drawn by the language of “Content Maps”. I called “Content Maps” those GPS maps that display the city under specific themes. Uber with its drivers, Airbnb with the available places, Foursquare and Yelp with leisure or Zoopla and Rightmove (among many) for housing hunt. Under “Content Maps” the city is a collection of themes whose adjacency constitutes what we once called city. “Content Maps” flat the complexity and intricacy of urban space (with its pedestrian, square, benches, lights, green areas, etc..) for rendering the city as clusters of cloud information.

Where is urban design? Well design is the allocation of new private space to be managed according to a specific theme. Once established, then streets, bus stops, facilities, and so on, come along.

The top of this trend will be reached once Google, or Apple, will put on streets driverless cars that will possibly introduce a new infrastructural revolution to the way we (pedestrian users) will experience urban space.

In this post from Dan Hill argues about the lack of design in contemporary cities. Cities are data clouds that network companies manages for third agents. My last slide at Scene Gallery represented the London Garden Bridge as the effect of current urban politics, where general public assumes that physical space is private as much as the digital one. It is a big kind of Facebook piazza owned by private companies. To some extent we are already going there.

The lack of architecture in the space of the city is result of different interwoven factors. In my view there is a general lack of understanding of data.  Data, beyond their use for scaling up and down stuff (utilities, square, infrastructure) and beyond infographic representation of phenomena, have a valuable urban design role. The flexibility of understanding real time behaviour is an element that can be integrated into the analysis and design of the urban fabric, where with urban fabric I intend the space that citizens  dwell everyday. I do agree that the kernel is not the building but the network , which constitutes the contemporary urban tectonic of exchange points. In other words buildings  are terminal, or interfaces (if I can borrow words) that enact urban behaviour.

When thinking about the city scale is the first element thats should come in mind. We don’t have the scale of screen, i.e. apps that can understand the territory, but architecture that displays urban life.

On the Future of our Streets and Possible Speculation of Urban Space

The car industry is gradually constructing what can be defined the new urban revolution. Revolution for the shake it will bring to physical infrastructure, such as streets and freeways.

The driverless car is a mobile system based on learning machines. By storing data of the immediate surrounding, the driverless car behaves accordingly. Google and Apple are looking into it. Google  launched the Project Fi, which basically will trains form the whole physical real in a big search engine that  performs according to “search” queries.

Will we still need streets? Will we still be capable of enjoying public space?

If looking back at the car revolution, it introduced the concept of street, as we know it. Before streets were long piazza that people used to stroll around.

I am quite struggling to imagine what the future of our streets will be. Are we encountering another Modernist utopia, where pedestrian streets are divided from cars?

Are we going to make street as underground tunnel? As it already exists in Masda smart city?

The kind of economical shift  driverless cars will create at the scale of the city and territory will be probably a domino one, which will unfold consequences that might be heading to a plethora of effects. Nevertheless I reckon would be good to spend time to understand routes that divert from private funding and speculation and lead towards the construction of the 2.0 space.