Media Theory for the 21st Century

March 10, 2008


Filed under: Discussion — sergiomf @ 12:20 am
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The conversation we had last week in class, namely the contemporary the mixture of physical and virtual spaces, the Universal Product Code and the readings for this week (in a plain continuity of these topics) made me think of the work of a specific architect – Rem Koolhaas – and some of his works and writings, such as his design of the EU flag and the Wired special issue that he guest edited.

EU barcode 15

The EU Barcode Flag was the result of a reflection by AMO/Koolhaas on Europe’s representation, its symbols, its visual language and media presence, it was specifically a response to what had been identified as “Europe’s iconographic deficit”. The barcode combines the flags of the EU member countries into one single colorful symbol, and to which more ountries can be added. It represented the essence of the European project, showing Europe as the “common effort of different nation states, with each state remaining its own cultural identity while sharing the advantages of acting together”. In 2004, when ten new countries joined the European Union, the first official update of the barcode occurred.

It is interesting to consider the EU barcode flag in the context of Sterling’s text, particularly when he writes about the identity coding regime derived from ubiquitous barcoding of objects, and how this relates to the notion of identity to be conveyed by this specific barcode.

Another aspect worth mentioning, which for me derives from our conversation last week about the power of code and the whole idea of re-coding products, is how the elements of this barcode are easily identifiable by anyone simply by a reading of its colors in stark contrast to the Universal Product Coding, where only optical readers can decode the message within the multiple adjacent vertical lines. Thus, you can easily read the flags of the European union countries from West to East, depicted from left to right on the barcode flag. Another relevant and distinct element between the UPC and the EU barcode flag is the easy adaptation of the EU barcode to new bars, reflecting the addition of new countries to the European organization, when compared to the rigidity of its object barcode counterpart, on which a whole system relies on the stability of its design.

EU barcode 25

The other readings for this week, discuss the new perception of spaces, both by their combination and creation, mostly generated by the current pervasiveness of technologies, which seems to be in line with the issue addressed by Koolhaas in a special issue of Wired magazine (June 2003). In the capacity of guest editor, Koolhas reflects on the shifts on existing spaces and on the emergence of new ones, and how the “words and ideas of architecture, once the official language of space, no longer seem capable of describing this proliferation of new conditions” (even though he recognizes, how the vocabulary of architecture is still employed in the understanding of new unfamiliar domains like “chat rooms, web sites and firewalls”, something we have also mentioned before in one of our classes). Therefore, writers, critics, researchers and artists were invited to contribute to an atlas of the new world, where 30 spaces were identified for the 21th century, such as Ad Space, Blog Space, Border Space, Crowd Space, Euro Space, Nano Space, Public Space, Tight Space or Waning Space (among others).

In this plethora of spaces, I found interesting (and worth mentioning) some ideas about crowd space, and how it relates to Michael Bull’s reading and to the discussion in urban computing with Greenfield and Shepard. I would argue that the preoccupation with crowd space derives directly from some of the issues raised (in the different texts) by Bull and Greenfield, on how the introduction of personal technologies is shaping the way we use physical spaces, and how that is affecting the way we relate to others in public space. This has been nicely worded by Greenfield in his observation that “personal information technology deployed in the urban context inevitably and invariably enriches the personal environment at the expense of the shared public and civic realms”.

In this short sample of Koolhaas work (beyond his architectural designs), we perceive how he sees and analyzes the changing of spaces, and what he believes the role of the architect could be under these new conditions, but mainly how he addresses some of the topics we have been discussing. He has greatly influenced architectural practice and theory, but to those who did not know his work, his revolutionary practice and ideas were easily revealed in the cover of Wired magazine where he is labeled as “architect, iconoclast”.


you can read the whole Wired magazine edition online here


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