Habitar – Bending the urban frame 2010 report from Laboral

HabitarCheck the Habitar photo set here.

Invisible Architectures: the curiosity generated by this paradox is the starting point of Habitar – Bending the urban frame, the new stage of the broader curatorial path taken by Mediateca Expandida of the Laboral in Gijon, curated by José Luis de Vicente, with the help of Fabien Girardin. The aim is to show
possible interactions between the visible city – made of buildings, road traffic and people always on the move – and the invisible one, made of the relations between these same elements. The theme is explored by Timo Arnall’s “Wireless in the World” and by Dan Hill’s “Wi-Fi Structures and People Shapes”, among other works that help to locate the invisible infrastructures in our everyday spaces. And the ubiquity of mobile devices in urban landscapes affords several ways to measure and quantify the flow of these relations. It is no coincidence that many of the selected works are the results of SENSEable City Lab, a MIT project that has proposed an approach for studying cities using data collected by mobile devices. The result of this collective processes, which view us as atomic parts of daily activities can be a useful method for formalizing highly complex dynamic systems. “Visualizing Lisbon’s Traffic” by Pedro Miguel Cruz, an image of a circulatory system that appears to be just barely functioning, turns out to be Lisbon as seen from the perspective of its road traffic. In “Real Time Rome”, developed by MIT SENSEable City Lab, the mapping of traffic hotspots was carried out in Rome during the football World Cup final match Italy vs. France in 2006. It reveals, using an ironic and exaggerated sample, the difficulties Roman citizens must face every day in navigating endless traffic jams. A similar process of data visualization is implemented in “BCNoids”, by Marina Rocarols, Enrique Soriano, Pep Tornabell and Theodore Molloy. It maps the use of the public bike sharing service in Barcelona and abstracts and highlights the increasing use of this service.
If you can abstract a city through its transportation routes, you can also look at its architecture via the communication systems in use.  In “Current City” – MIT SENSEable City Lab + Aaron Koblin we see Amsterdam during New Year’s Eve, but the city’s bricks and mortar becomes visible only thanks to its residents and their movements while using their mobile devices. Whether garbage recycling follows the right path or not is no longer an urban legend: in “TrashTrack SENSEable City Lab TrashTrack / 2009” the visualization of the path followed by waste (like you have never seen before) materializes the usefulness of this collective effort. In “LABO In the Air” by Nerea Calvillo, the detection and measurement of fine particles floating in the air may be an additional tool for a more conscious city planning.
The collection of physical and material instances parallels the highlighting of the social behavior of people with places. “The World’s Eyes”, again by the SENSEable City Lab, for example, shows Spain through the eyes of tourists through an analysis of the photos published on the web by them, offers a glimpse of the most visited places and of those still mostly unknown. Starting with a presentation of the many diverse tools that can be used to read the urban landscape, the exhibition moves on to discuss proposals and scenarios that emerge from the need to live in these hybrid cities. Citilab-Cornellà with the “UrbanLabs” project proposes a grassroots urban design, based on the philosophy of crowdsourcing. It achieves this by creating participatory workshops organized by ordinary citizens, entrepreneurs and creative workers, in order to work together to build innovative solutions for replanning the city. “Mutant Bridges”, by Ángel Borrego – Office for Strategic Spaces, instead takes the concept of hybridization as an architectural component, proposing to complete the classic structure of bridges (in this case the Silva bridge, in the Asturias) with additional modules. Easily attachable to the existing structure, they can be used for recreational and touristic activities. “Fab Lab Solar House”, a project of the IaaC – Instituto de Arquitectura Avanzada de Cataluña, proposes a structure which is innovative in many ways. It’s the first completely self-sufficient solar powered housing solution, but is also designed for a flexible industrialization, free from the formal or dimensional repetition of traditional industrial elements. It remains to seen whether, if inebriated with additional information and views of itself, the city, in this tangle of signs, will lose its nature. Italo Calvino, in his book “Invisible Cities”, describes the city of Tamara: “Finally the journey leads to the city of Tamara: You penetrate it along streets thick with signboards jutting from the walls. The eye does not see things but images of things that mean other things […] However the city may really be, beneath this thick coating of signs, whatever it may contain or conceal, you leave Tamara without having discovered it”. No matter how annoyed, exasperated or overloaded you are by the information that digital facilities offer anywhere, you could still use the “Sentient City Survival Kit”: an umbrella equipped with infrared LED which screens the pictures taken by surveillance cameras. A sensor that produces a light vibration in the folds of our clothes warns us of the presence of hidden RFID readers. GPS Serendipitor, an application for mobile phones, does not show us the shortest way to reach a certain place, but a route we have never traveled before. Finally, simultaneous with the opening of the exhibition, Laboral hosted the “Symposium of Medialibraries and Archives for the 21st Century”, an international forum aimed at finding new solutions for the storage, preservation and documentation of contemporary forms of art, where the structures, the concepts and the strategies of media archives went together with those of the exhibits. So, is there still hope for enjoying the urban structures independently, guided only by the delicious pleasure of surprise?

Chiara Ciociola