Network City 2010

Today marks the start of the tenth year of Network City. This may be my favorite course.


Network City
Kazys Varnelis, Ph.D. []
Avery 115, Tuesdays 11-1
“Cities are communications systems.” – Ronald Abler
This course fulfills the Urban Society M.Arch distributional requirement.
Network City explores how urban areas have developed as ecosystems of competing networks since the late nineteenth century.
Networks of capital, transportation infrastructures, and telecommunications systems centralize cities while dispersing them into larger posturban fields such as the Northeastern seaboard or Southern California. Linked together through networks, today such cities form the core of global capital, producing the geography of flows that structures economies and societies today.
Networks, infrastructures, and property values are the products of historical development. To this end, the first half of the course surveys the development of urbanization since the emergence of the modern network city in the late nineteenth century while the second half focuses on conditions in contemporary urbanism.
A fundamental thesis of the course is that buildings too, function as networks. We will consider the demands of cities and economies together with technological and social networks on program, envelope, and plan, particularly in the office building, the site of consumption, and the individual dwelling unit. In addition we will look at the fraught relationship between signature architecture (the so-called Bilbao-effect) and the contemporary city.
Throughout the course, we will explore the growth of both city and suburbia (and more recently postsuburbia and exurbia) not as separate and opposed phenomena but rather as intrinsically related. Although the material in the course is applicable globally, our focus will be on the development of the American city, in particular, New York, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles.
Each class will juxtapose classic readings by sociologists, urban planners, and architects with more contemporary material. Readings will be available online.
This course is offered by the Network Architecture Lab

The term project will be one chapter within a research book, exploring one architectural, infrastructural, or urbanistic component of the Network City.
Material should not be formulated into a traditional research paper, but rather assembled as a dossier of information that tells a story through the designed and composed sequence of images and texts lead by an analytical narrative you have written yourself.
Design is integral to the term project. All work is to be carefully proofread and fact checked.
Citations are required, using the Chicago humanities footnote method. Please ensure that all images are properly credited.
The book will be designed simultaneously as a printed, bound object and for the Netlab web site. A layout grid will be provided.
Plagiarism of any sort will result in immediate failure. Exemplary books are at
A Brief Bibliography of Books regarding Design and Presentation
Kimberley Elam, Grid Systems: Principles of Organizing Type (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004).
Allen Hurlburt, The Grid: A Modular System for the Design and Production of Newspapers, Magazines, and Books (New York: Van Norstand Reinhold, 1978).
Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth. The Planetary Emergence of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It (New York: Rodale, 2006).
Enric Jardí, Twenty-Tips on Typography (Barcelona: ACTAR, 2007).
Josef Muller-Brockmann, Grid Systems in Graphic Design (Zurich: Niggli, 2001)
Robert Sumrell, Superbrutalism: An Architecture for Muzak,
Timothy Samar, Making and Breaking the Grid. A Graphic Design Layout Workshop (Beverly, MA: Rockport, 2002).
Tomato, Bareback: A Tomato Project (Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press,1999).
Discussions on Networked Publics
Students are asked to attend the Discussions on Networked Publics series, taking place this semester at Columbia’s Studio-X on February 9, March 25, April 13, and May 4.
These panels examine how the social and cultural shifts centering around new technologies have transformed our relationships to (and definitions of) place, culture, politics, and infrastructure. Our goal will be to come to an understanding of the changes in culture and society and how architects, designers, historians, and critics might work through this milieu.

* denotes classic reading that demands special attention.

Introduction: Towards Network City
The First Network Cities
* Ronald F. Abler “What Makes Cities Important,” Bell Telephone Magazine, March/April. (1970), 10-15.
Robert M. Fogelson, “The Business District: Downtown in the Late Nineteenth Century,” Downtown: Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950, (New Haven: Yale, 2001), 9-42.
Anne Querrien, “The Metropolis and the Capital,” Zone 1/2 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986), 219-221
The Metropolitan Subject
* Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” On Individuality and Social Forms, ed. David Levine, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 324-339.
* Ernest W. Burgess, “The Growth of the City: An Introduction to a Research Project,” The City: Suggestions for Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment, ed.Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1925), 47-62.
* Louis Wirth, “Urbanism as a Way of Life,” In American Journal of Sociology 44, July 1938, 1-24.
* Michel Foucault, “Docile Bodies,” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 135-156.
Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on Societies of Control,” October 59 (Winter 1992), 73-77.
Office Building as Corporate Machine
Special Presentation by Michael Kubo, MIT on the RAND Corporation
* William H. Whyte, “Introduction” and “A Generation of Bureaucrats,” The Organization Man, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956), 3-13 and 63-78.
* Norbert Wiener, “What is Cybernetics?” The Human Use of Human Beings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950), 1-19.
* John D. Williams, “Comments on the RAND Building Program,” memorandum to RAND Staff, December 26, 1960 (RAND M-4251).
Abalos and Herreros, “The Evolution of Space Planning in the Workplace.”Tower and Office: From Modernist Theory to Contemporary Practice (Cambridge: Buell Center/Columbia Book of Architecture/The MIT Press, 2005),177-196. (first half of chapter)
Reinhold Martin, “The Physiognomy of the Office,” The Organizational Complex, (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003), 80-105, 114-121.
The Return of the Center
* Jane Jacobs, “Introduction,” The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage Books, 1961), 2-25.
* Rem Koolhaas, “’Life in the Metropolis’ or ‘The Culture of Congestion,’” Architectural Design 47 (August 1977), 319-325.
* Sharon Zukin, “Living Lofts as Terrain and Market” and “The Creation of a ‘Loft Lifestyle” in Loft Living (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1982), 1-22, 58-81.
Richard Florida, “The Transformation of Everyday Life” and “The Creative Class,’ in The Rise of the Creative Class (New York: Basic Books, 2002), 1–17, 67–82.
David Harvey, “The Constructing of Consent,” A Brief History of Neo-Liberalism (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005), 39-63.
Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, “The Californian Ideology,”
Bert Mulder, “The Creative City or Redesigning Society,” and Justin O’Connor, “Popular Culture, Reflexivity and Urban Change in Jan Verwijnen and Panu Lehtovuori, eds, Creative Cities. Cultural Industries, Urban Development and the Information Society, (Helsinki: UIAH Publications, 1999), 60-75, 76-100.
Dan Graham, “Gordon Matta-Clark” in Gordon Matta-Clark (Marseilles: Musées de Marseilles, 1993), 378-380.
Spring Recess
The Global City and the New Centrality
* Saskia Sassen, “On Concentration and Centrality in the Global City,” Paul L. Knox and Peter J. Taylor, eds., World Cities in a World-System (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 63-78.
* Ignasi Sola-Morales, “Terrain Vague”, in Anyplace (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), 118-123.
* Castells “The Space of Flows,” The Rise of the Network Society, 407-459.
Sze Tsung Leong, “Readings of the Attenuated Landscape,” Michael Bell and Sze Tsung Leong, eds., Slow Space (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1998), 186-213.
Martin Pawley, “From Postmodernism to Terrorism,” Terminal Architecture, 132-154.
The Clustered Field: Postsuburbia to Edgeless Cities and Beyond
* Robert Fishman, “Beyond Suburbia: The Rise of the Technoburb,” Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia (New York: Basic Books, 1987), 182-208.
Rob Kling, Spencer Olin, and Mark Poster, “Beyond the Edge: The Dynamism of Postsuburban Regions,” and “The Emergence of Postsuburbia: An Introduction,” Rob Kling, Spencer Olin, and Mark Poster, eds. Postsuburban California: The Transformation of Orange County (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), vii-xx, 1-30.
Selections from Michael J. Weiss, The Clustered World: How We Live, What We Buy, and What it All Means About Who We Are (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1999).
Robert E. Lang and Jennifer LeFurgy, “Edgeless Cities: Examining the Noncentered Metropolis,” Housing Policy Debate 14 (2003): 427-460.
The Tourist City
* Robert D. Putnam, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital.” Journal of Democracy 6 (1995): 65-78
* Melvin M. Weber, “Order in Diversity: Community Without Propinquity,” Cities and Space: The Future of Urban Land, ed. Lowden Wingo, Jr. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1963), 23.
Wolfgang Scheppe, Migropolis :Venice / Atlas of a Global Situation (Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2009), excerpts.
Paul Goldberger, “The Malling of Manhattan.” Metropolis (March 2001), [134]-139, 179.-
Bill Bishop, “The Power of Place,” The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2008), 19-80.
Kazys Varnelis, “The Centripetal City: Telecommunications, the Internet, and the Shaping of the Modern Urban Environment,” Cabinet Magazine 17.
Mitchell L. Moss and Anthony M. Townsend, “How Telecommunications Systems are Transforming Urban Spaces,” James O. Wheeler, Yuko Aoyama, and Barney Warf, eds., Cities in the Telecommunications Age: The Fracturing of Geographies (New York: Routledge, 2000), 31-41.


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On Intensification

Over the course of the last year, I’ve read and reread Jeffrey Nealon’s Foucault Beyond Foucault . Works centering on a particular philosopher are almost always formulaic and rarely interesting. This is a notable exception. Anyone with an interest in theorizing contemporary culture should get Foucault Beyond Foucault. Nealon re-reads Foucault for the present day in a highly intelligent way. To reduce his argument to a sound bite, Nealon looks at Foucault through the lens of Deleuze’s essay on the societies of control.The central point of Nealon’s book is Foucault (and Deleuze’s) concept of “intensification,” which explains the way that power operates in contemporary society.


For Foucault, this charting of emergent modes of power is hardly a story of progress or Enlightenment, but a story of what he calls the increasing ‘intensity’ (intensité) of power: which is to say its increasing ‘lightness’ and concomitant ‘economic’ viability, in the broadest sense of the word ‘economic.’ Power’s intensity most specifically names its increasing efficiency within a system, coupled with increasing saturation. As power becomes more intense, it becomes ‘more economic and more effective’ (“plus economique et plus efficace”; D&P, 207). In this sense, the genealogical shift from torturing the body to training it is hardly the eradication of the punitive gesture; rather it works to extend and refine the efficacy of that gesture by taking the drama of putative power and resistance out of the relatively scarce and costly criminal realms and into new situations or ‘markets’—to everyday life in the factory, the home, the school, the army, the hospital.” (32)

Nealon reads our society of control (and with it what I call network culture) as an intensification of both postmodernism and modernism, a far more effective system than the disciplinary society that Foucault analyzed. Nealon’s discussion of contemporary economics is also insightful: he explains that Marx’s old model of M-C-M’ (where M is money, C is a commodity, and M’ is more money generated by the production and sale of the commodity) is now dethroned by M-M’, speculative finance. This is crucial for understanding our contemporary economic condition.   

Get the book and find out more.

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Networked Publics 2010

Two phrases occupy my thoughts at the moment:

"All that is solid melts into air," Karl Marx’s adage suggesting that under capitalism all existing order will be swept away to be remade for the purposes of profit and efficiency has never been more true than today, when capitalism’s creative destruction is viciously turned on itself, causing a global economy crisis.

"The more things change the more they stay the same," or as written by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr in the original French, "Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose." Not only is Karr’s statement a way of looking at what Marx said, but it also seems true of what I’ve been doing for the last few years. As I finished Networked Publics and the Infrastructural City, I thought I had put those projects behind me, but now it’s clear that they are not so much books as categories that the Netlab will pursue for the foreseeable future, even as the other categories of network culture and the network city get added.

This spring, the Netlab is launching an ambitious series of panels, Discussions on Networked Publics, at Columbia’s Studio-X Soho. These will be framed along the categories that framed the chapters of  the Networked Publics book, e.g. culture, place, politics, and infrastructure.

The first panel, "culture" will be held at 6.30 on February 9 and will include as panelists Michael Kubo, Michael Meredith, Will Prince, Enrique Ramirez, David Reinfurt and Mimi Zeiger. These are among the sharpest minds in the field today and I am excited to have them participate in this discussion with me. There are more plans afoot in this project and I’ll keep you alerted as they develop.

In the meantime, I’ve spent a few days rebuilding various aspects of the Networked Publics site that broke during the past few years. The front page has been fixed after an update to a Drupal module killed the last version. I’ve also gone in and fixed a number of the links to videos, both the curated gallery of videos for the DIY video conference and also the videos for the three future scenarios that accompany the chapter on infrastructure and bring up consequences of policy decisions regarding network access. Throughout, the material hasn’t so much dated as demonstrated the importance of what we were talking about from 2005 to 2008. Seriously though, this isn’t a plug for me but rather for the other members of the team, who did such a great job identifying the critical issues.

Get the book, come to the discussions, and stay tuned to this blog to see how you can get involved (or if you’re really interested, drop me a line).

Continue reading “Networked Publics 2010”

The Decade Ahead

It’s time for my promised set of predictions for the coming decade. It has been a transgression of disciplinary norms for historians to predict the future, but its also quite common among bloggers. So let’s treat this as a blogosphere game, nothing more. It’ll be interesting to see just how wildly wrong I am a decade from now.

In many respects, the next decade is likely to seem like a hangover after the party of the 2000s (yes, I said party). The good times of the boom were little more than a lie perpetrated by finance, utterly ungrounded in any economy reality, and were not based on any sustainable economic thought. Honestly, it’s unclear to me how much players like Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, and Larry Summers were duplicitous and how much they were just duped. Perhaps they thought they would get out in time or drop dead before the bubbly stopped flowing. Or maybe they were just stupid. Either way, we start a decade with national and global economies in ruins. A generation that grew up believing that the world was their oyster is now faced with the same reality that my generation knew growing up: that we would likely be worse off than our parents. I see little to correct this condition and much to be worried about.

Gopal Balakshrishan predicts that the future global economy will be a stationary state, a long-term stagnation akin to that which we experienced in the 1970s and 1980s. China will start slowing. The United States, EU, the Mideast and East Asia will all make up a low growth block, a slowly decaying imperium. India, together with parts of Africa and South America, will be on the rise. To be clear: the very worst thing that could happen is that we would see otherwise. If another bubble forms—in carbon trading or infrastructure for example—watch out. Under network culture, capitalism and finance have parted ways. Hardt and Negri are right: our economy is immaterial now, but that immateriality is not the immateriality of Apple Computer, Google, or Facebook, it’s the immateriality of Goldman Sachs and AIG. Whereas under traditional forms of capitalism the stock market was meant to produce returns on investment, a relationship summed up in Marx’s equation M-C-M’ (where M is money, C is a commodity produced with the money, and M’ is money plus surplus value), the financial market now seems to operate under the scheme of M-M’ (see Jeffrey Nealon’s brilliant Foucault Beyond Foucault). Surplus value is the product of speculation.

There’s every chance that I have little idea to what lengths the financial powers will go to continue this condition. After all, I would have said that we should have had a lengthy recession following the boom and we didn’t. Still, the Dow Jones, NASDAQ, house prices (measured in real dollars), and salaries all went down over the course of the decade, so it’s plausible to say that for the most part, the economy was a shambles.

Climate change will become more widely accepted as corporations realize that it can lead to consumption and profits when little else can. If we are unlucky, the green "movement" will become a boom. We will finally realize that peak oil has past, perhaps around 2006. Climate change will be very real. It will not be as apocalyptic as some have predicted, but major changes will be in the works. We should expect more major natural disasters, including a tragic toll on human life.   

Populations will be aging worldwide during the next decade and baby boomers will be pulling more money out of their retirement accounts to cover their expenses. At the same time, younger people will find it harder to get a job as the de facto retirement age rises well into the seventies, even the eighties. A greater divide will open up between three classes. At the top, the super-rich will continue controlling national policies and will have the luxury of living in late Roman splendor. A new "upper middle" class will emerge among those who were lucky enough to accumulate some serious cash during the glory days. Below that will come the masses, impossibly in debt from credit cards, college educations, medical bills and nursing home bills for their parents but unable to find jobs that can do anything to pull them out of the mire. The rifts between all three classes will grow, but it’s the one between the upper middle class (notice there is no lower middle class anymore) and the new proles that will be the greatest. This is where social unrest will come from, but right now it seems more likely to be from the Right than the Left. Still, there’s always hope.

Speaking of hope, if things go right, governments will turn away from get-rich-quick schemes like "creative cities" or speculative financial schemes and instead find ways to build long-term strategies for resurrecting manufacturing. It will be a painful period of restructuring for the creative industries. Old media, the arts, finance, law, advertising, and so on will suffer greatly. Digital media will continue to be a relatively smart choice for a career, even as it becomes more mainstreamed into other professions. For example, it will become as common in schools of architecture to study the design of media environments as it is now to study housing. We will see a rise of cottage industries in developing nations as individuals in their garages will realize that they can produce things with the means of production at hand. Think of eBay and Etsy, but on a greater scale. National health insurance in the US will help in this respect, as it will remove individuals from the need to work for large corporations. But all will not be roses in the world of desktop manufacture. Toxicity caused by garage operations will be a matter of contention in many communities.

Some cities are simply doomed, but if we’re lucky, some leaders will turn to intelligent ways of dealing with this condition. To me, the idea of building the world’s largest urban farm in Detroit sounds smart. Look for some of these cities—Buffalo maybe?—to follow Berlin’s path and become some of the most interesting places to live in the country. If artists and bohemians are finding it impossible to live in places like New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles anymore, they may well turn elsewhere, to the boon of cities formerly in decline. The hippest places to live will no longer be New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco. The move toward smaller cities—remember Athens, Georgia, Austin, Texas and Seattle?—will explode in this decade as the over-capitalized major cities will face crises. But to be clear, this is an inversion from the model of the creative city. These cities will not see real estate values increase greatly. The new classes populating them will not be rich, but rather will turn to a of new DIY bohemianism, cultivating gardens, joining with neighbors communally and building vibrant cultural scenes.

With the death of creative cities, planners will also have to turn toward regions. As jobs continue to empty out, city cores will also see a decline in their fortunes. Eventually, this may resurrect places like New York and San Francisco as interesting places to live in again, but for now, it will cause a crisis. Smart city leaders will form alliances with heads of suburban communities to force greater regional planning than ever before. This will be the decade of the suburbs. We began the last decade with over 50% of the world’s population living in urban areas. I predict that by the end of the next decade over 50% of the world’s population will live in suburban areas. This isn’t just Westchester and Rancho Palos Verdes but rather Garfield, New Jersey and East Los Angeles. Worldwide, it will include the banlieues and the shantytowns. Ending the anti-suburban rhetoric is critical for planners. Instead, we’ll be asking how to make suburbs better while boosting the city core. Suburbs may become the models for cities as the focus turns toward devolving government toward local levels, even as tax revenue will be shared across broad regions.

Urban farming will come to the fore and community-supported agriculture will become widespread. This won’t just be a movement among the hipster rich. It will spread to the immigrant poor who will realize that they can eat better, healthier, and cheaper by working with members of their immigrant community running farms inside and outside the city instead of shopping at the local supermarket. A few smart mayors will realize that cities in decline need community gardens and these will thrive. The rising cost of long-distance transportation due to the continued decline of infrastructure and peak oil will go a long way toward fostering this new localism.

The divisions in politics will grow. By the end of the decade, the polarization within countries will drive toward hyper-localism. Nonpartisan commissions will study the devolution of power to local governments in areas of education, individual rights (abortion will be illegal in many states, guns in many others), the environment, and so on. In many states gay rights will become accepted, in others, homosexuality may become illegal again. Slowly talk will start on both sides about the US moving toward the model of the EU. Conservatives may drive this initially and the Left will pick it up. In that case, I’m moving to Vermont, no question.

Architects will turn away from starchitecture. Thoughtful books, videos, and Web sites on the field will grow. Parametric modeling will go urban, looking toward GIS. Some of those results will be worth talking about. Responsive architecture will become accepted into the profession as will the idea of architects incorporating interfaces—and interface design—into their work.

In technology, the introduction of the Apple iSlate will make a huge difference in how we view tablets. It will not save media, but it will allow us to interface with it in a new way. eBooks will take hold, as will eBook piracy. Apple itself will suffer as its attempts to make the iSlate a closed platform like the iPhone will lead first to hacks and later to a successful challenge on the basis of unfair restraint of trade. A few years after the introduction of the iSlate, an interface between tablets and keyboards will essentially replace notebook computers. Wine will advance to such a point that the distinction between operating systems will begin to blur. In a move that will initially seem puzzling but will then be brilliant, Microsoft will embrace Wine and encourage its production. By the end of the decade, operating systems will be mere flavors.

The Internet of Things will take hold. An open-source based interface will be the default for televisions, refrigerators, cars and so on. Geolocative, augmented-reality games will become popular. Kevin Slavin will be the Time Web site’s Man of the Year in 2018. As mobile network usage continues to grow, network neutrality will become more of an issue until a challenger (maybe Google, maybe not) comes to the scene with a huge amount of bandwidth at its disposal. Fears about Google will rise and by the end of the decade, antitrust hearings will be well-advanced.

We will see substantive steps toward artificial intelligence during the decade. HAL won’t be talking to us yet, but the advances in computation will make the technology of 2019 seem far, far ahead of where it is now. The laws of physics will take a toll on Moore’s Law, slowing the rate of advance but programmers will turn back toward more elegant, efficient code to get more out of existing hardware.

Manned spaceflight will end in the United States, but the EU, China, and Russia will continue to run the International Space Station, even after one or two life- and station-threatening crises onboard. Eventually there will be a world space consortium established, even as commercial suborbital flights go up a few dozen times a year and unmanned probes to Pluto, Mars, Venus and Europa deliver fantastic results. Earth-like planets will be found in other solar systems and there will be tantalizing hints of microscopic life elsewhere in the solar system even as the mystery of why we have found nobody else in the universe grows.

Toward the end of the decade, there will be signs of the end of network culture. It’ll have had a good run of 30 years: the length of one generation. It’s at that stage that everything solid will melt into air again, but just how, I have no idea.

As I stated at the outset, this is just a game on the blogosphere, something fun to do after a day of skiing with the family. Do pitch in and offer your own suggestions. I’m eager to hear them.

Continue reading “The Decade Ahead”