Shannon Mattern – Code and Clay, Data and Dirt, Five Thousand Years of Urban Media


Univ of Minnesota Press, ISBN-13: 978-1517902438, English, 235 pages, 2017, USA

Signs, meanings and cultural forms are stratified, embedded, set and exchanged in our urban spaces. Our perception of these spaces and their infrastructure, channelling signals and meanings, has evolved over the centuries. It has adapted to new embodiments, and we have missed, until recently, recognising them as complex media systems, malleable constructions whose materiality is shaped to facilitate the communication of its inhabitants at multiple levels. Starting from how fashionable the “smart city” concept has proven to be, Mattern unfolds in this book a contextual media archaeology, while she finds ratio, media and even “smartness” in the urban dimension well before we used quantifying software, sensors and delegated companies and their industrial logic to build cities’ nervous systems. The book addresses four different perspectives: waves and wiring, printed media as stored but active information, the “writing” of the architecture, and voice to be heard in public spaces. It successfully proves the ambitious assumption that “’ethereal’ and resolutely material media have always coexisted”, developing a topography which understood and led as multi-sensory. Her study travels across cities around the world, and back and forth in time, focusing on the constant mutual influence over time between the fabric of the space and human attitudes. Finally the text intrinsically deconstructs the cult of techno-solutionism, definitely shifting the city’s structural core from a focus on technologies to one of processes.