Hot STEAM research topic: The Re Invention of Public Spaces: Science ,Technology, Architecture, Design and Urban Studies


Hot STEAM research topic: The Re Invention of Public Spaces and the Commons:  Science ,Technology, Architecture, Design and Urban Studies…and Neurosciences !

Anastasia  Karandinou brings to our attention another hot topic emerging area of STEAM research. She points to the conference:

International Conference ‘Between Data and Senses; Architecture, Neuroscience and the Digital Worlds’:

23-24 March 2017, London. Venue: Arup, 8 Fitzroy Str, W1T  by the University of East London (UEL), supported by RIBA, ARUP and the Museum of Architecture

In particular: ” The cross-over between the digital and the physical is being increasingly addressed in design disciplines, architecture, arts and urban studies” .

There is indeed a hot topic area tied to this which is the redefinition of public spaces that is going on.

Ten years ago , through a collaboration with Bronac Ferran, we published as a Leonardo Book

CODE: Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy. Edited by Rishab Ghosh;

At the time the focus was on the open source movement and  looked at the collaborative model of creativity—with examples ranging from collective ownership in indigenous societies to free software, academic science, and the human genome project—and finding  alternatives to proprietary frameworks for creativity based on strong intellectual property rights.

The topic of the public digital ‘commons’ was a strong discussion at then that has now evolved into a much broader discussion of the redefinition of the ‘public spaces’ and how these are impacted by new technologies as well as the evolving idea of privacy, both in physical space but also the internal spaces of our bodies.

For instance Anne Balsamo, now Dean of the School of Art, Technology and Emerging Communication at UTDallas, in her book  Designing Culture: The Technological Imagination at Work . She has been for many years been developing research on “Public Interactives”  as 

“The term Public Interactives names the broad category of mediated experiences that are now on offer in communal and public spaces. Balasamo argues that

  • Public Interactives are technological devices that serve as the stage for digitally mediated conversations with audiences members in communal spaces such as museums, theme parks,  outdoor entertainment plazas, and urban streets.

  • Public Interactives include works of public art that evoke new experiences and perceptions through experiments with scale, mobility, built space, and modes of human engagement in public spaces;

  • Public Interactives are a mode of public communication designed to engage people through the use of digital media in conversations for the purposes of information exchange, education, entertainment, and cultural reproduction;

See for instance

The Cultural Work of Public Interactive ( Christiane Paul, Anne Balsamo) Published Online: 5 MAR 2016 DOI: 10.1002/9781118475249.ch14  The conference Anastasia points us to is titled: Between Data and Senses: Architecture, Neuroscience and the Digital Worlds

So what does neuroscience have to do with public spaces ? The first area , much discussed in this conference that Anastasia points us to, is how the contemporary neuro and cognitive sciences enriches our understand how humans navigate and perceive the world, and this how architects and designers should take this into account.

This connects of course to the arts and health sciences that I brought up in the previous post, But beyond this is the impact of availability of data on the internal and external functioning of our bodies. This was not really a big issue 10 or 20 years ago. But companies now have access to data on our movements, habits, purchasing and are able to either predict, or encourage, future behaviour; valuable data and methodologies for designers of public spaces and architects.

See for instance the work of Physicist Bruno Georgini and Artist Mariateresa Sartori during an art science residency at IMERA:  in this cases addressing public spaces of Marseille, but they have also done this in Venice and other cities (including sonification of foot traffice on Venetian Bridges by Scot Gresham-Lancaster.

The mhealth movement however has also brought internal biological data into the commons and public spaces. For instance see

Sharing mHealth Data via Named Data Networking by Zhang et al (2016) 

Recently a friend of mine made available data he was collecting on himself during exercise ( heart rate etc, but also the specific exercising he was doing, how long he exercised in each activity, such as bike riding, but also self administered blood tests.) There are now very organised communities of individuals who opt to share data about their bodies that would not normally be considered public data. As I was exercising myself at a gym recently, I was made aware of my friends exercising on the same exercises as I was doing. The idea of the inside of ones body being part of a public space, that can be part of what designers and architects draw on, brings up of course many issues and that humanities scholars and sociologists are hard at work on for instance see the work of Olivia Banner , Communicative Biocapitalism: The Voice of the Patient in Digital Health and the Health Humanities (University of Michigan Press, forthcoming 2017),

So here I want to argue that these emerging hot topics fit intrinsically into the STEM to STEAM argumentation bringing together unlikely collaborators from Design and Architecture, Urban Studies, Humanities to Emerging Media, Health Sciences and Neurosciences  needed to understand the designing of a culture we will be living in, and the re-invention of public spaces and the concept of a ‘commons’. How do we design the commons of a world we want to live in !

Roger Malina