Sunday, January 27, 2008

Double Dutch

Geert Lovink weekend continues here on Virtualpolitik, as I respond to the book Zero Comments, the excellent critique of Web 2.0 that arrived in my holiday stocking. Having spent some time in the Netherlands recently, visiting with friends and going to a conference, the chapter on "Blogging and Building: the Netherlands after Digitization" was of much more interest to me than it might be to many other Americans, who think of little more than Xaviera Hollander and legalized marijuana when they think of the country. Part of my own blogging practice is situated in the Netherlands, since I write for Marc van Gurp's Osocio, which is based there and in fact began its Internet life as the Dutch-language Houtlust.

In this chapter he makes what might seem to be a tenuous connection between Dutch architecture and practices of urbanism and the distributed networks and social media platforms of the Internet. Furthermore, as Lovink writes, "I was more concerned with how architecture is networked and less how the network obtains architecture." He points out that for all the awards and international accolades that Dutch architecture has earned, "the Internet and mobile phones remain largely overlooked in the environmental planning debates."

Given Lev Manovich's argument about "transcoding" and the way that the 3D software program Maya, which I am currently learning, is increasingly likely to shape the dimensions of the urban landscape, it is interesting that Lovink asserts that "virtual architecture is all too often cast as nothing more than some inconsequential trick of the trade or marketing tool."

Lovink also quotes some remarkable passages from the writings of Jennifer W. Leung about architecture, which like Anna Munster's book on the subject, interrogate Cartesian ideas about space. Leung's arguments about modeling dynamic activities in urban spaces in order to run simulations rather than pitch static models to clients is an interesting argument for re-imaging software.

In this chapter Lovink also looks critically at the rise of user-generated architectural content by consumers who can now use software to design and remodel spaces with off-the-shelf architectural components. He rehearses some of the debates about "architecture without architects" that relate to "rise of the amateur" discussions going on in recent years about writing and filming for Web 2.0 more generally. In contrast, an argument could be made for participation by progressive architects in a "Creative Commons" that makes some of their designs freely available for re-use and re-mixing.

Lovink also examines Amsterdam's Digital City project and issues about "digital empty lots" in ways that might also be relevant for the current debate about whether Second Life is empty and if virtual real estate is inevitably abandoned.

Finally, Lovink suggests that this connection between the real and the virtual opens up certain ethical dilemmas for a society, so that "democratization of computer-generated design begs the moral question of whether everything that can be designed, should be allowed to be built."

Below, you can see one perspective on Dutch urbanism and its use of resources that I shot when I was playing Jane McGonigal's virtual reality game World Without Oil, a simulation of what life would be like day by day if there were a global energy crisis.

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