Thursday, October 6, 2011

Virtual-for-Real: Architecture in the Age of Mobile

It seems lately, I can't keep up with all of the ways that the personal technology we carry with us everyday is surpassing architecture as the dominant means by which we navigate and adapt to the urban environment in which we live. When Marc Andreessen says that "software is eating the world" , I feel he should be speaking to architects and planners in addition to the Wall Street audience for which it was intended. How will the built environment evolve to adapt and receive these ephemeral means of satisfying our needs?

A great example of this comes from a NextNature post "Resizing Daddy" via my friend Willem at Google. (I''m especially excited to see Allison Guy's tags "virtual-for-real" and "boomeranged metaphors" which are both probably the majority of the content of NPD.)

A little girl gets angry at her father, and uses her index finger and thumb to make a pinching motion. No, she’s not trying to hurt him. She’s using iPad sign language to say, “I want you to be smaller.”

The baby is seeking the same real time results to her request that she finds in her iPad experience. Essentially, we are seeking the same quick fix In Real Life which we find in software experiences.

Have you ever been working intensely in a program like Photoshop for several hours, and then back in the real world finding yourself thinking "Command-Z" when you want to reverse a mistake? If only it were so simple. But this phenomenon of our psyche suggests that we are frustrated by the snail's pace of adaptation to our evolving needs that is met by our static physical environment.

It's hard to imagine how we will see this software malleability manifest itself in the physicality of urban space. But it is exciting to see how the immediacy of software can potentially be mapped onto the urban landscape. A great example is a project by the phenomenal Graffiti Research Lab France called Laser Knuckles which my amazingly talented colleague Todd Vanderlin passed along.

Laser Knuckles (Prototype) from Evan Roth on Vimeo.

While this first version is bulk it's easy to imagine a future wearable projector attached to our mobile computing devices, and ourselves, transforming any surface of the city into an experience that we can manipulate to satisfy our changing needs.

With so much of what we need to successfully navigate the urban environment fitting in the palm of our hands or becoming part of our apparel, it's easy to imagine a future where the built envrionment becomes a static armature too expensive and too slow to adjust to the dynamic network of software/hardware and people flowing around it. Architectural practice is in a crisis where it seeks to justify itself as the lack of building happening during this financial downturn is leaving the profession wondering how to adapt.

In the coming months I hope to complete a couple of projects that speculate about how the practice of architecture will evolve into a holistic merging practice along with interaction design/ urban planning/ and experience design to transcend the static forms that agnostic of the software and peripherals we depend on in our everyday lives. Stay tuned!

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