Next Project

Communication Technology and the Future of the City

Part 1 Dissertation 1999
Debbra Yoanne Bridge
Birmingham City University Birmingham UK
"The network is the urban site before us, an invitation to design and construct a 'city of bits' (capital of the 21st Century). This will be a city unrooted to any definite spot on the surface of the earth, shaped by connectivity and bandwidth constraints rather than by accessibility and land values, largely asynchronous in its operation and inhabited by disembodied and fragmented subjects who exist as collections of aliases and agents. Its places will be constructed virtually instead of physically from stones and timbers, they will be connected by logical linkages rather than by doors, passageways and streets."

From the moment that William Gibson professed in his dystopian science fiction account, Neuromancer (1984) that the new informational network or computer matrix called cyberspace looks like Los Angeles from five thousand feet up in the air there has been an inclination for drawing a parallel between the virtual space of the computer networks and post-urban spaces of decay and disorder. Cyberspace has been called 'A huge megalopolis without a centre both a city of sprawl and an urban jungle'.

We find that in the mental geography of many architectural theorists, a closeness between science fiction narratives such as Neuromancer and contemporary cities is often expressed - this involves speculating on how such possible worlds of artificial intelligence and cyberspace might affect the material reality of design, conceptual models of space and architectural or urban intuitions. A lot of such theories either assume implicitly or state explicitly that an extreme mutation has taken place, one that effects a transformation from the machine city of modernism to the informational city of post-modernism. Such transformations are said to replace traditional Western spaces of geometry, work, the road, the building and the machine with new forms of diagramming, bar graphs, spread sheets, matrices, networks expressive of 'etherealisation of geography' in which principles of ordinary space and time are altered beyond recognition.

In comparison with approaches such as these, we find that in reality a rapid transformation is currently overtaking many advanced industrial cities. As we approach the verge of a new millennium, old ideas and assumptions about the development, planning and management of the modern, industrial city seem less and less useful. Accepted notions about the nature of space, time, distance and the processes of human life are similarly under question.

The overall aim of this dissertation is to provide a theoretical discussion which explores the analogy between the computer matrix and the space of the city. It examines the possibility of the withdrawal or disappearance of the city, from the excesses of reality, into cybernetic representations of the virtual world of computers. it also reviews what such changes will imply for the ways which cities are planned, managed and governed in the future.

Debbra Yoanne Bridge

This piece of work was sparked by an interest in Virtual Reality. It asked about the sort of designs that carried meaning in a virtual world. The direction of the search then moved to looking at the ways in which an active virtual city would change the form of the real city, or at least lead to the expectation of such changes. It will become apparent to a reader that these speculations were very testing, and ultimately unfruitful. The author finally chose to focus on the role of telecommunications in skewing the cities that we love best (the only ones we’ve got).

It was appreciated for its clear argument, the sharp grasp of the issues and the overall facility for verbal communication that is demonstrated.

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