6 Points On a Continuum

Part of a series: Cyborgs & Architects

Dark rain
Creative Commons License photo credit: kirainet

This’ll be the last explicit post about Cyborgs and Architects for awhile (here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). Having set up and then blurred a division between adapting people for the environment and adapting the environment for people, I’d like to point out some examples along the sliding scale between these two attitudes.

  1. Nadya Vessey, temporary mermaid.

    New Zealand’s WETA workshop built a mermaid suit for Vessey, a double leg amputee. I love everything about this story, especially the way it offers a glimpse of a future where enhancements are not merely restoring human capabilities but opportunities for creating whole new kinds of bodies, bringing aesthetics to cybernetics.

  2. Steve Mann, pioneer in wearable computing.

    You can see the evolution of his setup here. He has also done a lot of interesting work and activism around ubiquitous surveillance.

    I remember in 1996 trying to convince a bunch of skeptical law students that wearable computing would change the way they practiced the law.

    Now they all have blackberries.

  3. Kevin Warwick, cybernetic homesteader.

    In 1998, Dr Warwick had a chip implanted under his skin that let him control the building. The experiment brilliantly illustrates the blurring between architecture and cybernetics. Neither the smart building, nor the implant chip are worth anything on their own. But networked, the result is something special.

    His research continues.

  4. Kisho Kurokawa, metabolist.

    In 1972, his capsule tower was built. A explicitly modifiable structure, the intention was that the capsules would be replaced and updated over time, creating a long lasting building through its very mutability and flexibility.

    Here was an environment that would grow and adapt to its users. Sadly, it seems like the maintenance part didn’t go as planned and now the whole structure faces demolition.

  5. Minoru Yamasaki, modernist.

    Yamasaki is the architect of the destroyed WTC Towers, but I’m picking on him here for the disastrous Pruitt-Igoe public housing project. A lot of ink has been spilled about what went wrong, but in the end, the environment that had been constructed failed dramatically, becoming a symbol for the failure of the well-meaning but flawed modernist “machines for living” mentality.

    “I never thought people were that destructive,” lamented Yamasaki.

  6. Albert Speer, Nazi.

    Perhaps one of the leading examples of the idea that architecture can control people, Speer designed the Zeppelinfeld, the enormous stadium featured in The Triumph of the Will. Nazi architecture was predicated on the idea that it should not only serve the people, but also influence their mood and behaviours.

    For a smaller scale (and more benevolent) take, see also police commissioner William J. Bratton and the fixing broken windows theory.

All of: Cyborgs & Architects