slavin: House (by Daisuke Kawamura) Beautiful.


House (by Daisuke Kawamura)


Well, I wouldn’t call it postmodern, but this building...

Well, I wouldn’t call it postmodern, but this building certainly formed part of my architectural subconscious.

Apple's Missed Opportunity

Apple refreshed the iPhone 5 and a new line-up of iPods today, but in doing so, it missed an opportunity. Handily dominating the world market for smartphones and tablets, Apple now faces the challenge of expanding its market significantly while introducing merely more mature versions of existing products.

In 2008, Apple introduced the iPhone 2, which made locative media a reality through its App Store and integrated Assisted GPS (aGPS). To be fair, earlier phones had the ability to install apps and aGPS*, but the iPhone's ease of use, large user base, and often-fanatical developer following made it a huge hit. But the now what? The iPhone 5 is merely a refinement of the iPhone 4. Apple CEO Tim Cook has promised "Amazing new products," but thus far we've seen little we wouldn't reasonably expect. The predicted smaller iPad is no different, just a smaller form factor at a lower price.

What then, would be the proverbial "next big thing?" I think the answer is clear: DIY ubicomp. I've been watching with interest a number of Kickstarter projects that aim to bring remote-sensing capabilities to the masses. Twine is the most sophisticated of these. This simple sensor will hook up to a Wi-Fi network and, when outfitted with appropriate sensors, can Tweet that your basement is flooding, e-mail you that your TV has been on for three consecutive hours, or send a text message you when a major earthquake happens. Operating for months on AAA batteries, Twine is a huge step forward in taking the kind of capabilities recently available only to hobbyists who bought Arduinos and went through complicated processes of assembly and programming.

So when Apple announced the new iPod Nano, it was quite a let down. The previous Nano was a small, square device that could fit on a wristwatch. Even though it only appeared to run the iOS, there is no reason why Apple couldn't have come up with a rudimentary programming interface that could let developers program Apps for it. With Wifi and one more port, perhaps the "Lightening" port Apple introduced today, a new Nano could have had access to a new market of inexpensive sensors that could make it aware of the world. Even at $99, which is more than the price of a Twine, marketing and momentum would likely have made the device a huge hit. If Apple had then committed itself to downward price migration, a ubicomp world could have been ours quickly.

I'm looking at my BBQ and imagining a future $50 device that I could plug into my temperature probe to text me to let me know when the temperature gets out of range. I think about my back yard, where deer are all too present and wonder if such a device might not wait in ambush to alert me with a message to my phone to let me know that there was motion in my back yard. I imagine that the tiny screen on the device might communicate some basic, useful information to me, like the temperature outside and the air quality, as sampled by another sensor connected device.  I wonder what my crafty children, or for that matter, someone like Mark Shepard or David Benjamin would do with such a thing. 

It may be that Twine itself is the next Apple II, to the Arduino's Apple I, and certainly that could be a better thing if Twine is a more flexible and open platform than the notoriously closed one at Apple. But still (and perhaps only because I own Apple stock…a disclaimer that I need to make), I regret that Apple has not rethought the Nano. For ubiquitous computing is already here, but it's just not yet for the masses. And that, I am convinced, is the proverbial next big thing.       

*Memory fails me, but I believe my Kyocera 7135, which ran the Palmo operating system and was first released in 2002 had aGPS.

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.

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