(sm)art city

After a delay of some time the long awaited, monumental monograph of Cedric Price (1952-2003) was published recently by AA/CCA; 2 volumes in a box document extensively the impressive works and thoughts of one of the most influential British architects whose line of thinking still is more actual then ever. Like the projects of his Dutch contemporary Constant, who worked for almost 20 years on his New Babylon-project, the works of Price – in particular Fun Palace – show another approach towards (re)thinking and designing the built environment. In the words of Guardian-journalist Jeremy Melvin after Price’s death in 2003: “The architecture was indeterminate, flexible and driven by what technology then existed – and some that Price anticipated – for exchanging ideas and goods, and the movement of people from place to place.” Above all, Price offers “a focus to the optimism of the time, when it seemed possible to remake society around the potential for delight and opportunity.”

Like Constant’s, Archigram’s and other more ‘theoretical’ colleagues, the visionary works of Price were to a large extent never realized; especially since they envisioned/anticipated a society and a world which was yet to come. At the same time – and this explains some of its timeless value – to this day we recognize its actuality; we recognize that the actual circumstances needed to (re)think and envision a new ‘utopia’ are all the more necessary, maybe even inescapable.
When, in 2013 the EC commissioned an international group of researchers/scholars to rethink the Digital Agenda they produced the Onlife Initiative; a valuable document which acts as a philosophical background for ‘rethinking what it means to be human in a hyperconnected era’. Turning to the works of Hannah Arendt first the OI concludes that if the concept on which we build our world-vision changes due to e.g. technological developments we need to rethink the concept. If, however, the current concept is determined primarily by the fact that we tend to confuse tool and purpose, we may need to rethink more thoroughly and strive for a paradigm-shift. Architecture is the adaptation of space to human needs; which assumes that we are aware of these needs, understand them and are capable of creating an environment that facilitates those needs; leaving freedom for living our life as we wish. At the same time we built housing for some 100 years which is in fact a quite presumptuous attitude and act considering that we can hardly envision what the world will look like in, say 25 years. This makes architecture, whether the work of Price or others, politically and socially grounded. It cannot be that a more hybrid world with a fundamentally too technological framework has no consequences for the way we built our environment and ultimately our cities.

In 2014 OI-chairman Luciano Floridi published ‘the 4th.Revolution’ ; in his ‘Ethics’-chapter he concludes that “We shall be in serious trouble, if we do not take seriously the fact that we are constructing the new physical and intellectual environments that will be inhabited by future generations”. (Floridi, p.219) Process and character of both technological developments and ethical thinking have a serious influence on the way we built; with an emphasis on ‘smart’ the continuing issue remains: let’s not confuse tool and purpose. The environment needed in a city/society that will most probably be inhabited by those that e.g. are unemployed or otherwise inactive should be an environment framed for the modern equivalent of Price’s ‘delight and opportunity’, i.e. an infrastructure that provides adaptable housing, facilitating infrastructure, open data.
We have based our current economy and in part our society on a concept of man that is based on ratio; by some abstract of a human while man is much more.
We may not wish for a ‘Fun Palace’, but a smart city is more than the sum total of infrastructure, built environment and big data.

 * this 3rd. blog for Smart City World was published on September 22nd. 2017.