Media Theory for the 21st Century

February 19, 2008

architecture’s datascapes

Filed under: Discussion — sergiomf @ 7:04 am
Tags: , , , ,

It seems that in this week’s reading regarding database and narrative, there are two main schools of thought. Namely those who believe that these are inherently distinct and opposed (such as Manovich) and those who believe that both complement each other, and in their unity new opportunities emerge (such as Paul).

I think that it could be interesting to discuss this particular topic in the sphere of architecture, since architecture has always been envisioned on the intersection and overlap between programmatic information (databases) and ideas (narratives). Recently this discussion has taken a visible built form, physically exposing the “back end” of data container and its structure in the aesthetic exercise of the cultural implications perceived in the “front end” (Christiane Paul, 97). A clear example of this contemporary practice is the Seattle Public Library (Office for Metropolitan Architecture, 2004), where the flexibility of the continuous spiral ramp contained in a four story slab (where the stacks are located) is prepared to adjust to the changes in inventory, at almost the same pace as the digital database.

flexibility diagramflexibility diagram

In my presentation on this topic I have selected to present the work of another Dutch architecture office, MVRDV (where I used to work before moving to Los Angeles). The work of this Rotterdam based architectural practice, is recognized as being paradigmatic of the current data driven design. Despite being an architecture office, the engagement with databases and narratives has been explored in several different mediums such as architectural projects, video installations or even experimental software platforms, as I will explain during the presentation. In this presentation I will show some projects, which I believe address this week’s discussion from different perspectives.

Exemplary of their interest in what they have coined “Datascapes”, is their video installation (exhibited at the Stroom Center for the Visual Arts in The Hague, the Netherlands, between 1998 and 1999), which later became a publication, where the contemporary city is analyzed as pure information. “A city that knows no given topography, no prescribed ideology, no representation, no context. Only huge, pure data: Metacity/Datatown”. This project lays on the edge between data visualization and urban planning, and attempts to provoke new architecture and urbanism thought, through the manipulation of data in a spatial manner.

data town

Explorations of data and derived radical practices are also visible in their proposed buildings. An interesting example is the 2001 innovative design pig city. Analyzing the economical activity of pig farming in the Netherlands, it become evident that old spatial formulas had become obsolete, and new solutions were necessary. By using data to inform the design, MVRDV proposed a drastic new spatial organization for pig farming.

These are just a couple of (emblematic) projects which show MVRDV’s continuous interest in data and narratives, but several others could be mentioned, such as Farmax, 3D City or Spacefighter. For MVRDV, information, numbers and data are not just the raw material of their designs, but also the source for critical and radical rethinking of architecture and society, creating an alternative “cultural algorithm” reality->data->datascape.


Blog at