Constraint-the Conference’s theme-is not only a set of conditions against which design must struggle, to constrain is also itself a design strategy. Cambrian lurches forward in design ecologies tend to occur in response to an emergency, often a war. Today design is asked to choose between two meta-emergencies: ecological deterioration or the war on terror (now intertwined by the vaporization of finance). Lines are drawn. Bratton’s talk is about the need to undesign the second of these emergencies, to specify a post-war on terror vision for contemporary urbanism, here and abroad.
Our cities are our most important technologies, but they suffer today from a kind of auto-immunity disorder by which we ourselves disfigure them and attack them with defensive measures in the inverted image of a potential threat of future criminal or terrorist violence.
This is a critical problem for the broader open source movement interested in open systems. The pairing of urban software and urban hardware becomes a blended medium through which the city is accessed and made social. For this, the city’s hardware, its partitions and pathways, its smart and dumb platforms, must be further opened to public access, initiative, and innovation. The design of the open polis is dependent on the design of the open software that is, increasingly, dependent on the design of open cities.
Among other examples Bratton considers Green Zones, #Mumbai, Hummers, borderlands, bunker embassies, disputed camps, private-themed space, the West Bank Wall, Morphosis’ decorative camouflage, Virginia Tech, and why “designing like you give a damn” may do more harm than good.
Benjamin H. Bratton is an Associate Professor of Visual Arts at University of California, San Diego where he teaches political philosophy and media aesthetics. He is also director of the design and society project at CALIT2, faculty at the Southern California Institute of Architecture.
His research, writing, and practical interests include contemporary social theory, the perils and potentials of planetary computation, architectural theory and provocation, inverse brand theory, software studies, systems design and development, and the rhetorics of exceptional violence.
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