February 27, 2011
My Cognitive Cities notes

I'm in Berlin for the weekend, to meet tons of nice people, and attend the Cognitive Cities conference, which was a concentrated yesterday, and more of a mellow sunday. Probably best that way - other events take note. Just got a guided tour of Betahaus from Henrik Moltke, which seems to be an allround great place. They certainly have really great chairs.

But let's go back to yesterday and a very full conference day: While we seem to be waiting indefinitely for The City Is Here For You To Use, Adam Greenfield has certainly polished his story, and struck an excellent balance between caution and openness. The inevitability of technology always comes up in these kinds of talk, but I understood Greenfields suggestions for law or design principles for technology of public spaces as trying to strike a balance; between simply requiring of the users of technology that the consequences of their technology use be reasonable and requiring the technology itself to be - something I simply don't believe it can be. It can't not be either.
The presentation was crisp, and I found it the language much more transparent than what I usually consider Greenfield's style. To me, a great improvement, so I'm hoping that'll translate into the book when it makes it to the publisher.

A little later, Sami Niemelä gave us a guided tour of some practical principles for urban information design. When done well, this kind of thing is simultaneously abstractly pleasing and very concrete, and I thought it worked here.

I really liked the short pitch from Vini Tiet on doing Cognitive Buildings, in particular for the accidental observation that a lot of this informational urbanism isn't really being developed on an economic model of utility, but more to deliver particular specifications. This is a weakness of the movement towards informational infrastructure. At some point it needs to start to pay for itself, and it's a little bit unclear as yet, how that works out. Tiet's view is that, a certain quality of a building can only be built with information, but obviously some of us were hoping that the technology curve also works for houses, and that we'll get cheaper greatness, not just higher luxury, from the technology.
I didn't particularly care for Dannie Jost's whatever-it-was-she-was-talking-about, except for the quips ("I consider architecture a kind of agriculture, but that's my problem" is a great example) and the reminder of what a particular narrow focus physicist arrogance, I remember from university, looks like. If she said anything at all, I think it was terribly trivial, actually (this is a little better, and then just add cities. Epistemology 101, though).
I quite liked Georgina Voss' polished pitch on the Homesense Project, and I like the combination of ambition and practicality of the project.

Post lunch highlights for me were Anil Bawa-Cavia's Urbagram images. To me they had some refinement that is often missing from this kind of thing, and which really makes the difference. Matt Biddulph seems to be up to interesting things, but I got the sense that we'll only get to hear the exciting stuff a little later. The amazing garbage tracking project from MIT's SENSEable City Lab that Dietmar Offenhuber showed us had everything you could want in terms of being actually embedded in an urban landscape, having a truly urban scale, and having depth of analysis and presentation. Great stuff.

And then to close out the day, Warren Ellis gave us some powerful imagination fueling lines on ghosts seeping from the ground; the electric world around us, and the electric world inside the brain. Great closer - and a suitable match to the opening.

That's a lot of good stuff in a day, I think. Clearly we need these organisers to put on more shows like this.

Posted by Claus at February 27, 2011 12:50 PM | TrackBack (0)
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