Need To Know
Now that the 15th Architecture Bienalle in Venice is over, how was it for you? Are you up to speed on all or any of the above topics and resolved to make the world or even your own little corner of it a better place? Or are you well over it? In a now distant November in Athens, outgoing US President Obama asked us to continue to believe democracy was a good thing despite everything. In the same week, post-truth was selected as the new Word of the Year. Beware: The term itself is a post-truism as it implies politicians used to tell us nothing but facts.
I’m still unsure how to use it. It’s said to describe appeals based more on emotion than fact but seems to refer only to impassioned appeals to our baser instincts. There’s still being led up the garden path for impassioned appeals to our better ones.
This was also the year the term digital occupation entered our lives when Detroit Resists digitally occupied the US pavilion at the Biennale. I’d heard this any number of times without managing to find out what it actually entailed. I imagined something like this minus the projection.
I was sort of right. It was the smartphones that turned out to be significant as the digital occupation was an overlaid exhibition viewable on a smartphone as one went around the actual one. Augmented reality.
Detroit Resists‘ eminently sensible point was that The Architectural Imagination wasn’t perhaps the best lens through which to view complex problems of urban decay and regeneration.
In June this year, the concept of a democratic digital platform entered our lives when Mimi Zeiger called for one in a Dezeen review of the 15th Venice Architecture Bienalle. It’s easy to see that participation in the world of digital architectural media isn’t equal or even symmetrical.
I think we’ve learned our lesson. An architectural digital democracy isn’t about all people being able to access information – we already have this. And nor is it about all people being able to access balanced information – we already have this too, although not many know it or make use of it. Like any other kind, an architectural digital democracy is about all people wanting to access balanced information. This is something we definitely don’t have.
We’re aware that digital platforms have a few problems. In that same speech, ‘President Barack Obama spoke out about fake news on Facebook and other media platforms, suggesting that it helped undermine the US political process’ [ref.] Speaking in Germany though, he was speaking to the converted.
Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had had something to say about that very topic two weeks prior.
Back home, it had already risen to the top of our newsfeeds that Facebook might be playing with our minds, knowingly feeding us fake news in order to increase this thing called engagement in hope of adding value to their advertising model.
Digital protest #1: Create a new Facebook account and add as friends any total strangers they suggest. Add them as fast and often as you can. Before long you’ll get a message saying You are using Facebook in a way for which it wasn’t designed. [!] and blocked for half an hour as punishment. Persist until you have about half a million or so friends and Facebook’s data is irreversibly corrupted by totally meaningless connections. Meanwhile, extend your activism to non-digital forms of protest such as not designing any buildings for Facebook …
… or Google.
Like many aspects of modern life, the internet has exacerbated trends already present in our analog media but it’s not as if newspapers and television channels hadn’t filtered or distorted news for decades in order to increase engagement and for the very same purposes. The technical term for headlines like this is screamer.
The mechanism of tailoring news content in order to deliver targeted advertising to reader demographic is not new. A century ago, did Country Life publish Edwin Lutyen’s houses because its advertisers were targeting people with those aspirations? Probably. They knew.
We used to think magazines had this thing called editorial policy and that news became news when someone decided something was worth knowing about. This is a primitive form of filtering if it was meant to encourage certain people to purchase particular magazines. I suspect it was if magazines also featured buildings featuring the products of their advertisers – as they still do. New big or important buildings by famous architects also shifted copies. It didn’t mean the buildings were any good. We’re wrong to assume it was a nicer world. Our filter bubbles are simply smaller and individually tailored now. As a general rule, when people tell you nothing but what you want to hear, you’re being taken advantage of.
I’ve noticed Twitter and Instagram aren’t particularly good at suggesting what might interest me. Facebook never was. YouTube suggests similar content based on past viewing but its suggestions are obvious and often trite so their algorithms must be as crude as their indexing. Of all the algorithms in my life, Apple Music’s impresses me most. It quickly learned what I like (for, after all, I did tell it) but it’s getting pretty good at suggesting other music I might like to try.
I don’t expect Archdaily will ever reach the level of sophistication where it actually expands our architectural horizons for why should it even aspire to if there’s no need? Our digital architectural media are no better than they need to be to do the job they exist to do. But what is that, exactly? We might want to wonder a bit more about why they have settled on their current formats.
The day after the US election, I had a look on the “News” section of ArchDaily to see if anything had happened that might have implications for the built environment. Nope. Nada. Nanimo. All I found were annoucements for next half dozen upcoming BIG projects, plus this.
President Obama complains about Facebook the same week he gives the bloke who designed their headquarters a medal – and a Medal Of Freedom at that. FOL.
By broadcasting everything, ArchDaily admits no concepts of editorial or curatorial responsibility. And why should it when it’s simply not possible for any one person to even view everything it publishes let alone process it or, perhaps crucially, have an opinion on it. Occasionally, it inadvertently reminds people of the need to have opinions. It received some heat earlier this year for posting details of a competition to build a US-border wall. Sides were quickly taken.
Me, I don’t see anything wrong in attacking a platform, especially one whose stated mission is so vague. The death of architecture will be either a slow one due to overindulgence or a slow one due to accumulated toxins. Too much crap is getting said in the name of “generating debate”.
Yes, it’s the same image but this time the focus is on “Top architectural stories”. An internet news site sponsors an international architecture competition featuring a speaker who predictably generates predictable news. Dezeen then reports on the resultant brouhaha and the story bounces around the world and receives 80 comments within a day.
On the same platform, Mimi Zeiger writes an article intelligently critical of the 15th Bienalle and six months on there’s still not one comment. Without evidence of the balanced and critical consumption of information, it’s impossible to sustain the lie these sites exist to provide some sort of “forum for debate”. We should wean ourselves off any platform that has a business model reliant upon advertising, including global architecture competitions and award get-togethers.
Even though the spotlight is currently on digital platforms, we shouldn’t relax about what’s going on in the traditional ones for over in my inbox was this.
Aravena’s gone from Elemental to governmental via a brief interlude of monumental.
The guy’s clearly a genius if his next project is to get the military-industrial complex to export sustainability to conflict-ravaged countries worldwide. Let’s wish him well in his star trek. It seems that in lecture theatres around the world, the same people are always in our faces delivering the same message.
Proposed as a non-digital forum where architecture can be discussed, Turncoats provides the semblance of open debate conducted without the presence of digital recording media, mobile phones or cameras. The idea is to encourage open and un-selfcensored debate between participants but one of them is a plant – their views may not be what they really think. This makes a travesty not just of discussion but of dissent as well. At the end of the day, having a bunch of media players act out open debate behind closed doors only shows that beyond tragedy and farce is metaphor.
Never before in the history of humankind has there been so much talk about architecture. I can’t blame ArchDaily for everything that’s wrong with the world of architecture so let’s talk about David Basulto. He used couches hooked up to a non-stop video feed in his unintentionally menacing proposition of Architecture as Therapy for the Nordic Pavilion at Venice 2016 . This isn’t architecture as therapy. It’s architecture as sedation. What’s worse is that it was countenanced and endlessly reviewed but I find it too brazenly apt to be comfortable with it.
Digital platforms for architecture are entering their post-content phase. The new notion that Everything is Architecture conveniently removes conceptual divisions between what is and what isn’t. It is the natural consequence of there being too little genuine architectural content compared with the amount of advertising and marketing that needs to be hung off of it.
The 1920s had a flourishing environment of architectural thought brought about by perhaps at best a couple of dozen magazines reporting occurrences in and around Europe, and in two or three languages as well. There was crossover between disciplines but everything wasn’t architecture and architecture wasn’t everything. Architecture’s products were for everybody but everybody didn’t need to know about its designs or designers. Information about architecture meant information about recently completed buildings and for a while there was a healthy cycle involving the natural generation of information that architects were eager to receive, process and use to produce better buildings and pass on those results to other architects so people everywhere could benefit. It was the most intellectually dynamic and socially progressive decade the world had ever seen. We forget this.
All but one of the above images are from a MoMa exhibition titled THE ELECTRO-LIBRARY: European Avant-Garde Magazines from the 1920s (March 7–June 13, 2016).