New York

“Infotecture”

Artists Space Exhibitions

A loosely conceived exhibition of projects by architects and designers, “Infotecture” surveyed design methodologies that represent and organize information at a time when we are constantly communicating, shopping, watching, and working via high-speed technologies. On display were books, computer programs, clothing, videos, architectural drawings, and sculpture by nine participants, the best-known of whom were Diller + Scofidio, 2x4, and Rem Koolhaas/OMA.

For the digitally minded architects in this exhibition, information has replaced space as the new universal. As Richard Powers states eloquently in “Being and Seeming: The Technology of Representation,” an essay published by the fiction author in woo, “The great art of the future will be the data structure. Like a good stone monument, the data structure lays claim to comprehensiveness, sweeping all the other arts up into its compass.” Powers meditates on the future shift between virtual representation and the real world, where architecture has been reduced to mere “tecture” in the service of data or media. No longer defining culture or our shared social experience as they once did, buildings lumber behind data networks that seem to connect everything.

Though ambitious in its approach to such issues, the show didn't fulfill its promise. In fact, the show's basic problem was its shifting terminology: “Information” sometimes seemed to mean demographic data, while other times it referred to modes of surveillance or, more generally, software as a whole. Not being clearly defined, this disparate selection of work never coalesced; instead of articulating a paradigm shift, the relationships among the pieces here were left to mere juxtaposition. Nevertheless, the questions posed by the exhibition were relevant: What are the relationships between statistical data and architecture? And if the nature of information—formless commodity of consumerism today—is constantly being renewed at fiber-optically induced speeds, how can architecture and design engage it?

These questions remained largely unanswered. One exception was Janette Kim's proposed remapping of New York according to United States census, marketing, and personal data. The city was defined not geographically, but through statistical similarities; we are no longer bound together by spatial proximity but by what we buy, where we shop, the amount of money we make, and how we entertain ourselves. Kim demonstrated how the city's zoning ordinances might be transformed, yet it was unclear to what end. The project presented a frustrating utopist dream of organizing a city to be constantly rewired—a flexible structure that goes with the flow of capital—and its combination of commercial statistics and census information ultimately left one wondering whether Kim's model of urbanism was ironic or serious.

“Infotecture” continued the current gallery-show trend of including reading rooms as part of the display. Seven books, chained to folding wooden chairs, were worthy of any contemporary architect's library: among them, MVRDV's MetaCity/DataTown, Kadambari Baxi and Reinhold Martin's Entropia, the two Harvard Project on the City books, and Edward Tufte's Envisioning Information. These volumes reflected the depth and breadth of design research into a world where everything may be seen as a kind of data—in other words,as a potential commodity—and so “Infotecture” began to illustrate the recent awareness of design's social role within the networked context of data and capital. We can only hope that this virtual world of information will not erode the gravity of experience that architecture and design provides.

Michael Meredith