Shannon Mattern is Professor at The New School for Social Research. Her writing and teaching focuses on media architectures and infrastructures and spatial epistemologies. She has written books about libraries, maps, and the history of urban intelligence, and she contributes a column to Places Journal. You can find her at wordsinspace.net.
Abstract: Algorithms, artificial intelligence, surveillance technologies, and civic tech have given rise to a new urban epistemology. Yet these are not the first technologies to inform how we design, administer, maintain, navigate, and understand our cities. Millennia before the emergence of contemporary computational media, cities served as sites of calculation and data management and broadcast. Knowledge regimes of the past, shaped by the prevailing media technologies of their time, were, like our data-driven technologies of today, writ large in the material city. In this talk I’ll dig back through urban and media history to examine how legacy technologies have informed urban morphology and experience – and how those “residual” media continue to resound today. We’ll see that cities past and present mediate between various manifestations of intelligence; they’re both code and clay, ether and ore.