Sunday, 13 July 2014

Architectural Responses to Virtual Mindspaces

I've been watching home reno shows over Alanna's shoulder and noticed that in almost all cases everyone is knocking out walls and creating 'open concept' living spaces.  I can't help but think this is a side effect of personalized media.

Once you had a 'TV room' but it's no longer needed.  We still share media, but we don't sit in a room staring at a cathode ray tube in groups.  Without the need for shared broadcast media viewing spaces we open up our living spaces.  Any time we want some privacy, we simply dive into a screen.

One of the unique features of digital technology is that it creates a self-directed, private virtual space for your interests.  If you want to drop out of your surroundings you can do it in a moment on a smartphone or tablet.  You can see people doing this in public spaces all the time, but it also works at home.  We used to do this with watching TV, but the broadcast nature of that media meant not everyone watching wanted to.  Even the ones who chose the show were passive consumers.  In a world where some people wanted to watch TV and others wanted to read, we built up walls as the two aren't mutually conducive.  With personal devices and media you can have ten people all doing exactly what they want in media rich ways, all in the same space.

Digital media is much stickier and attention grabbing than broadcast media because it's self directed and participatory instead of passive and consumptive.  Digital immersion can happen in much busier places because we are active participants.  It can also thrive in those places because digital media offers a richer variety of media.  It effectively amalgamates all previous forms of media as well as spawning new ones.
Architecture reflects our communication habits: this space
is designed for the telling of information.  Self directed
information gathering and collaboration are not what
this room is about.
Architecture adapts to changes in how we communicate.  Classrooms in school are an architectural response to a model of teaching based on the verbal transmission of information.  You couldn't have twenty teachers all talking to their students in an open concept space, it wouldn't work, so walls went up.  Now that we're evolving into personalized virtual spaces that offer access to information, communication and collaboration on a level unimaginable twenty years ago, what will physical classrooms evolve into?  If you don't have to wait for someone to verbally communicate information, what will schools look like?

We lament digital distraction as a scourge on society, but it is also an information rich immersive experience that offers us a new dimension of mental privacy.  We are increasingly able to collaborate and communicate in complex, geographically irrelevant ways.  Watching how architecture responds to this change in behaviour is one of the surest ways to see how influential this digital revolution has become.