slavin: “And that over there?” “That’s the Oh Shit Button.”...


“And that over there?” “That’s the Oh Shit Button.” hanging out with the Google Self-Driving Car and its human design lead. Everything designed for the future has a big red button that says “stop.” (Taken with Instagram at Moscone Center)

The more we design in complexity, the more we need “Oh Shit Buttons.”  

Experiments in Motion Research Seminar, Fall 2012

I am delighted to start another semester at Columbia. It's always a great thrill and honor to walk up the stairs toward Avery Hall where I have the pleasure of working with a team of incredibly smart colleagues and fantastic students. This fall, I'm giving a new spin on my network culture course as I teach as part of the Experiments in Motion collaboration between Audi and GSAPP. I'm looking forward to rethinking the subject matter with a sustained investigation into just what mobility means to us today. See the syllabus below. 

Columbia University

Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation

A4515: Experiments in Motion, I. Networks Fall 2012

Professor, Kazys Varnelis
Associate Instructor, Momo Araki

Lectures/Seminars Friday 11-1


As part of the Experiments in Motion collaboration between the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and Audi AG, this seminar seeks an understanding of the relationship of mobility and networks. 

Networks and mobility have always been linked. So long as there have been people, individuals have been driven to connect with each other to communicate thoughts and to exchange things. Transportation and communication are two reflections of the need to overcome the distance between us. The pre-modern city is the product of the first great intensification of mobility, produced by the explosion in trade and knowledge made possible by the invention of writing, the wheel, and the sailboat in Mesopotamia. With the development of modern postal systems, the telegraph, and the telephone, as well as the invention of trains, steamships, and automobiles in the nineteenth century, the city intensified to an entirely different energy level, producing the modern metropolis.

After a century of relatively stable intensification, we are now again experiencing a phase-shift as the Internet and mobile telecommunications devices are reframing mobility. The last two decades have sent us hurtling headlong into a new age in which our lives, more than ever, trace trajectories over networks. We live in a network culture that we urgently need to understand.

The seminar is organized as a history of the contemporary, tracing a genealogy of present-day culture and extrapolating possible trajectories into the future. We will explore how mobility and networks are not merely technologies with social ramifications but rather are cultural dominants connecting changes in science, society, economy, aesthetics, urbanism, and ideology.



All readings will be available on-line.




Background reading: David Harvey, “Fordism” and “From Fordism to Flexible Accumulation,” in The Condition of Postmodernity, (Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1989), 125-172.



An Overview of Networks

Manuel Castells, “Informationalism, Networks, and the Network Society: A Theoretical Blueprint. In Castells, ed. The Network Society: A Cross-cultural Perspective (Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2004), 3-45.

Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on Control Societies,” Negotiations, 1972-1990 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 177-182.

Kazys Varnelis, “Conclusion: The Meaning of Network Culture,” Networked Publics, 145-163.





Network Theory

Albert-László Barabási, “Six Degrees of Separation,” “Small Worlds,” and “Hubs and Connectors,” Linked: The New Science of Networks (Cambridge, MA: Perseus, 2002), 25-63.

Nicholas Carr, “From the Many to the Few” The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008), 127-149.


Mark S. Granovetter, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” American Journal of Sociology 78 (May 1973), 1360-1380.

Duncan J. Watts, “The Connected Age,” Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003), 19-42.




Michel de Certeau,  “Walking in the City,” The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 91-110.

Michael Bull, “‘To each their own bubble’: Mobile Spaces of Sound in the City,” in Nick Couldry and Anna McCarthy eds., MediaSpace (New York: Routledge, 2004), 275-292.

Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchen, “Code and the Transduction of Life,” Journal of the Association of American Geographers 95, no. 1 (2005): 1

Mark Shepard, “Toward the Sentient City” In Shepard, Ed., Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011): 16-37.




Jean Baudrillard, “The End of the Millennium or the Countdown,” Economy & Society 26 (1997): 447-55.

Bruce Sterling, “Atemporality for the Creative Artist,”






Michel Foucault, “Docile Bodies,” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 135-156.

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, “Capitalist Sovereignty, Or Administering the Global Society of Control,” Empire (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), 325-350.

Marc Augé, “Prologue” and “From Places to Non-Places,” in Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, (London; New York: Verso, 1995), 1-6. 75-115.

Hans Ibelings, “Supermodernism,” Supermodernism (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 1998), 55-102.


Kazys Varnelis and Marc Tuters, “Beyond Locative Media: Giving Shape to the Internet of Things,” Leonardo 39, No. 4 (2006): 357–363.





Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” On Individuality and Social Forms, ed. David Levine, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 324-339.

Kenneth J. Gergen,“Social Saturation and the Populated Self,” The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 48-80.

Brian Holmes, “The Flexible Personality. For a New Cultural Critique,” Transversal,

Jeffrey Nealon, “Once More, With Intensity, Foucault’s History of Power Revisited,” Foucault Beyond Foucault, 24-53.

Warren Neidich, “From Noopower to Neuropower: How Mind Becomes Matter,” Cognitive Architecture:From Bio-politics to Noo-politics; Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information(Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2010), 538-581.




Video Production Workshop





Joseph A .Tainter, “Introduction to Collapse,” The Collapse of Complex Societies, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 1-21.

Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1977), 13-32.

Charles Perrow, “Normal Accident at Three Mile Island.” Society 18, no. 5 (1981): 17–26.





Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron, “The Californian Ideology,”

Saskia Sassen, “Electronic space and power,” Journal of Urban Technology 4 (1997): 1-17.

Alexander R. Galloway, “Physical Media,” Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), 29-53.


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.

Stephen Graham, “Communication Grids: Cities and Infrastructure,” in Saskia Sassen, Global Networks. Linked Cities (London: Routledge, 2002), 71-92.

Kevin Phillips, “Preface,” “Introduction. The Panic of August,” “Finance: The New Real Economy?” Bad Money. (New York: Penguin, 2009), xi-lxxiv and 1-68.





Urban Form

Rob Kling, Spencer Olin, and Mark Poster, “Beyond the Edge: The Dynamism of Postsuburban Regions,” and “The Emergence of Postsuburbia: An Introduction,” Kling, Olin, and 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.








Conclusion, Video Presentation


Please Don’t Watch NBC Tonight. Or Any Night. | TechCrunch

Please Don’t Watch NBC Tonight. Or Any Night. | TechCrunch: screen-shot-2011-10-06-at-2-58-57-pm

Spoiler alert: Phelps and Lochte raced today. The results are all over Twitter. But the race won’t air on TV in America until tonight.

This is 2012, not 1996. NBC has put all of the events live online, provided you have a cable subscription, but won’t have them available recorded online and won’t air many events, including the most high-profile ones, until a primetime tape delay.

This isn’t a new strategy, just a dumb, outdated one.

Infrastructural Fields

One of my favorite journals, Quaderns has posted an essay that I wrote for them a year ago, entitled "Infrastructural Fields." There, I make the argument that architects need to embrace the new, invisible world of Hertzian space as they design. What are the tools by which we will do this? How will we create an architecture that, as Toyo Ito once stated, can float between the physical and the virtual world? If Ito set out to do this in the Sendai Mediatheque, why have architects been so reluctant to go further? 

Empires a Film on Networks

Last year, I had the honor of being interviewed by filmmaker Marc Lafia for a project examining the impact of networks on contemporary thought. This is an important project, which tackles the same issues that I'm tackling in my work on network culture.

Simply enough, as I say in the clip below, the network is becoming a cultural dominant. We are increasingly networks not just as technology of connectivity, but as a means of explaining and interpreting the world. Certainly, as we saw at Tahrir Square, networks can be liberatory, but they also provide an illusion of power and freedom that can be dangerously misleading. Producing a film on this topic is crucially important.

Check out this trailer. 

Marc, Joanna (the producer), and their team are reaching out by Kickstarter with one day left. The project is fully funded already, but that funding was only the minimum needed to keep the project going. They not only interviewed me, they also interviewed Manuel Delanda, James Delbourgo, Anthony Pagden Michael Hardt, Saskia Sassen, Nishant Shah, Cathy Davidson, Geert Lovink, Wendy Hui Kyong Chung, Alex Galloway, Florian Cramer, and Natalie Jeremijenko.

Check out Empires above and, if you feel compelled, visit the Kickstarter site. If you read this blog, chances are you're going to want to see it.  

On Overaccumulation


One thing unites many disparate threads in contemporary culture: the overaccumulation of capital.

I started this post after reading this article at the New York Times on the infiltration of suburban life into New York. The author observes that every year brings more programmed lowbrow leisure activities—such as miniature golf, bowling or batting cages—that were formerly associated to the city. Now, there are a few flaws with this story. For one, the author readily confesses to being a child of the suburbs and suggests that miniature golf and such activities are products of the suburb, recently brought to the city, thus ignoring the history of miniature golf. Not only did I play it at a number of different places as a child in the near North Side in Chicago, as urban a place as you could be, but in the 1920s Drake Delanoy and John Ledbetter built 150 miniature golf courses on rooftops in the city. Anyone familiar with Rem Koolhaas'sDelirious New York will recognize the Downtown Athletic Clubas the site of a course. So, this idea that somehow suburbs have a monopoly on kitsch is, well an idea that only someone who didn't grow up in the city might have. But enough of that, the author's basic point is right: that there are more and more programmed leisure activities in cities and, unlike the activities of old, these are usually rather expensive. In part, these activities are the product of more rich white couples with children staying in cities these days (the number of children under 5 in Manhattan increased by 32% between 2000 and 2010). But as the author suggests, maybe it's not because of the expansion of rich toddlers demanding leisure activities, maybe its "just that constant, and undoubtedly urban, need for something new to do." 

What does all this have to do with overaccumulation? Well, we all know that the modern city produced things while Saskia Sassen taught us that the post-Fordist city produced financial instruments and services, but under network culture, the city becomes a sink for overaccumulated capital. There is little question that there is too much capital out there, a giant pool of money that is constantly seeking investment amidst a long-term decline in the profit rate. There is simply too much out there and, barring more sensible solutions such as wealth redistribution on a vast scale, it must be burned off to keep the economy going.  

An endless source of expensive diversions, the contemporary city plays this role. No longer a site of production, it is a site in which wealth is rapidly squandered, thus in its own way helping to balance out the system. Art, fashion, and architecture all contribute to this. Even finance, by now accustomed to the ups and downs of a stationary state economy has found that it can profit as well from burning up the giant pool of money as from growing it in the first place. What, after all, is the Facebook IPO apart from a spectacular way to destroy billions of dollars spent? But the city as a sink for overaccumulated capital becomes a Situationist Utopia rewritten as farce. The end of all this isn't going to be pretty.

itsfullofstars: Voyager Spacecraft Facts A total of 11,000...


Voyager Spacecraft Facts

  • A total of 11,000 workyears was devoted to the Voyager project through the Neptune encounter. This is equivalent to one-third the amount of effort estimated to complete the great pyramid at Giza to King Cheops.
  • A total of five trillion bits of scientific data had been returned to Earth by both Voyager spacecraft at the completion of the Neptune encounter. This represents enough bits to fill more than seven thousand music CDs.
  • Each Voyager spacecraft comprises 65,000 individual parts. Many of these parts have a large number of “equivalent” smaller parts such as transistors. One computer memory alone contains over one million equivalent electronic parts, with each spacecraft containing some five million equivalent parts. Since a color TV set contains about 2500 equivalent parts, each Voyager has the equivalent electronic circuit complexity of some 2000 color TV sets.
  • Both Voyagers were specifically designed and protected to withstand the large radiation dosage during the Jupiter swing-by. This was accomplished by selecting radiation-hardened parts and by shielding very sensitive parts. An unprotected human passenger riding aboard Voyager 1 during its Jupiter encounter would have received a radiation dose equal to one thousand times the lethal level.
  • A set of small thrusters provides Voyager with the capability for attitude control and trajectory correction. Each of these tiny assemblies has a thrust of only three ounces. In the absence of friction, on a level road, it would take nearly six hours to accelerate a large car up to a speed of 48 km/h (30 mph) using one of the thrusters.
  • Voyager’s fuel efficiency (in terms of mpg) is quite impressive. Even though most of the launch vehicle’s 700 ton weight is due to rocket fuel, Voyager 2’s great travel distance of 7.1 billion km (4.4 billion mi) from launch to Neptune resulted in a fuel economy of about 13,000 km per liter (30,000 mi per gallon).
  • Barring any serious spacecraft subsystem failures, the Voyagers may survive until the early twenty-first century (~ 2025), when diminishing power and hydrazine levels will prevent further operation. Were it not for these dwindling consumables and the possibility of losing lock on the faint Sun, our tracking antennas could continue to “talk” with the Voyagers for another century or two!

Curating is the New Criticism

Over at Domus, you can read an interview that I recently conducted with Pedro Gadanho, the new curator of contemporary architecture at MoMA. It's been a great privilege to get to know Pedro better since he's moved to the city (I originally met him at the Once Upon a Place conference in Lisbon in 2010) and I'm also delighted that I'm going to be interviewing Pedro live on Tuesday, May 15 in Columbia's Studio-X facility at Suite 1610, 180 Varick Street, New York at 6.30pm as the first of my Conversations on the State of the World. Please come if you can. 


Netlab Conversations on the State of the World: Pedro Gadanho

On Tuesday, May 15, Columbia's Network Architecture Lab launches the first in a series of Conversations on the State of the World with a discussion between Pedro Gadanho, curator of contemporary architecture at New York's Museum of Modern Art and Netlab director Kazys Varnelis.

Coming to MoMA from Lisbon, architect, curator and writer Pedro Gadanho holds a masters in Architecture from the University of Oporto, a masters in Art and Architecture from Kent Institute of Design in the UK, and a Ph.D. in Architecture and Mass Media from the University of Oporto, where he has was also a professor of Architecture.

He is the editor-in-chief of Beyond, Short Stories of the Post-Contemporary and was the curator of international shows such as Space Invaders, for the British Council, London, and Pancho Guedes, An Alternative Modernist, for the Swiss Architecture Museum, Basel. He is the author of Arquitectura em Pœblico (Dafne, 2011), and the co-organizer of the 1st International Conference on Architecture and Fiction: Once Upon a Place.

He maintains a blog at Shrapnel Contemporary. Extending the Netlab's Discussions on Networked Publics, Conversations on the State of the World will go beyond the parameters of contemporary discourse on architecture to seek an understanding of the critical drivers in world change and to understand what role architects and designers can play in the rapidly changing world.

The event takes place Tuesday, May 15, 2012,

6:30-8:30pm at Studio-X NYC,

180 Varick St., Suite 1610

Free and open to the public. No RSVP required.

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