Foundations and Disruptions

February 18, 2019


Aisling O'Carroll

Aisling O’Carroll is a licensed landscape architect, trained in both architecture and landscape architecture. She is currently completing her PhD in Architectural Design at The Bartlett School of Architecture, exploring critical approaches to preservation as design, addressing the relations between history, narrative, and representation in architecture, landscape, and hybrids of the two. She has taught design studio at Harvard GSD and The Bartlett and has practiced internationally for several years with design firms and research platforms.

Miriam Ho

Miriam Ho is a writer, editor, installation artist and architectural designer based in Toronto. She also writes fiction and narrative essays. She previously worked for internationally renowned architects Philip Beesley and Shigeru Ban.

Ruth Jones

Ruth Jones is a writer, editor, and curator currently based in Toronto. She holds a PhD in French from UCLA and has previously taught courses on urbanism, infrastructure, and narrative at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, CA.

The Site Magazine is Canada’s longest running independent magazine for architecture and urbanism. The following roundtable for ArtsEverywhere is a curation of content from Volume 39: Foundations and Disruptions. The excerpts of pieces published in this volume were selected for their ability to frame, individually and collectively, the specific ideas outlined above. To read complete pieces and the full breadth of the current issue, please look for the print issue in bookstores or visit the Site Magazine online.

The term “technology” comes from the Greek techne, meaning art or craft, and logos meaning word or expression, the two combining to give tekhnologia, referring to a form of systematic treatment. Today, the term refers more practically to the application of knowledge by humans through tools and techniques. This “technical” application of knowledge has served as the fundamental means of fueling progress throughout human history, from agriculture to communication, infrastructure to the domestic sphere. Sometimes this means a subtle shift in a society’s foundations; sometimes the change is more violent, disrupting long-standing norms. In The Site Magazine Volume 39: Foundations/Disruptions we examine both the foundational and disruptive capacities of technology and the ways in which it ultimately shapes our physical, social, and cultural relations, questioning what role designers have in influencing this course.

Technology in and of itself has no inherent moral value—it is neither good nor bad, but rather it becomes charged by the values we impart to it. In the last two decades, the proliferation of data programming and information has led to an explosion of digital technologies, placing wide-reaching technological capacity into the hands of many and accelerating the rate of its application. According to a 2017 study by IBM, we produce 2.5 exabytes (1018) of data globally each day,[1] or, as Google CEO Eric Schmidt famously (though perhaps inaccurately) stated, the equivalent to the volume of data produced from the dawn of civilization through to 2003.[2] By any measure, this is a huge amount of information, generated through browser searches, social media posts, text messages, digital photos, and the information collected through a growing, dispersed internet-of-things. As citizens, designers, writers, and artists, we have a professional and civic responsibility to consider how the platforms and technologies generating and collecting these data are structured, and how they consequently influence our practice, social engagement, and spatial production.

For quite some time, the digital world was seen as an alternate reality, an “other” space where one could live an alter-ego with anonymity. But the escapism offered by this digital reality—freedom from perceived hierarchies of race, age, and gender—proved limited and only possible when kept separate from physical or political realities. In recent years, questions of online vs. offline, human vs. robot, truth vs. post-truth, etc., reveal how inextricably intertwined our physical, political, cultural, and digital spheres have become. The incomprehensible volume of our data and the impersonal perception of machinic algorithms abstract our understanding of digital technology making its effects seem distant from our lives. But, in reality, the accessibility of knowledge afforded by these means offers us new agency, representation, and visibility (not to be mistaken for equality). Despite the overwhelming consolidation of power by a few giants—Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon—digital technologies simultaneously support grassroots efforts and connect intersectional groups. It is our responsibility to be literate in digital technology and find ways to translate these equalizing opportunities into our built fabric. Technology has no capacity in and of itself to solve any problem: we need to address issues such as inequality, sustainability, and accessibility ourselves. Rather than give up our agency to systems without critical consideration, we can use the information available to participate in the process. Technology is evolving, the data is available, and we just need to act—in responsible, ethical, and meaningful ways—to continue to shape the foundations of our social, cultural, and physical fabric. And to disrupt when necessary.

[1] IBM Marketing Cloud, 10 Key Marketing Trends for 2017… and Ideas for Exceeding Customer Expectations, November 2016.

[2] MG Siegler, “Eric Schmidt: Every 2 Days We Create As Much Information as We Did Up To 2003,” TechCrunch, 2001, accessed Sep 15, 2018.


Marie van Zeyl

A Patronage Model for New Public Art

Accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime, art websites transgress the traditional viewership model of a mainstream art institution as well as the exclusivity of a private collection, and allow artists to make direct contact with their audiences.

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Aisling O’Carroll

Share, Care, Remix: Stock Photography and the Digital Commons

In a networked society, the notion of property rights and control is complicated due to the fact that the act of copying and sharing, previously manual tasks, have become digital acts that are not only faster and simper to carry out, but integral to the operations of transmission, storage, and caching. Thus, the internet age has transformed the notions of property rights and the commons.

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Matthew Claudel

Tomorrow Belongs to Everybody

Co-working companies like WeWork take a (cheap) long lease on a large space and divide it into (expensive) short contracts for small offices, multiplying value by fragmenting space and time.[5] Atomized real estate generates astronomical value per square foot, and it is only possible in today’s characteristic labour configuration.

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Miriam Ho

Shaping the Invisible World of Japan’s Forex Beauties: a review of Christine Bjerke’s The FX Beauties Club

Japanese housewives are trading an average of $9.1 billion per day on the forex exchange. The Forex Beauties (FX Beauties) are an online group of women investors who, from their individual homes all across Japan, are excelling in the stereotypically fast-paced, male-dominated finance industry.

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Fiona McDermott

Incidental Internet Infrastructure

Until recently, the street furniture elements that populate our streets were, by and large, mono-functional objects. Street lamps lit city streets, phone booths hosted telephone calls, and trash cans acted as waste receptacles. Each of these typologies has evolved over time along with advances in technological invention, mandatory regulations, and cultural changes. Meanwhile, the principal functions of these objects have endured.

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David Zielnicki

Gradually, Fiercely: Construction Documents for the Expansion of the SDF Fulfillment Grid in Louisville, Kentucky

Thus far, the emergence of fulfillment networks has operated within existing settlement organizations on the peripheries of urban centres and has done little, if anything, to foster thriving communities. Fulfillment systems could even be seen as a detriment to thriving communities through the promotion of social isolation, energy-consumption, and a disavowal of the physical world. This project takes these trends at face value and matches the fields of logistics centres with the fields of conservation zones, agricultural land, and ecological remediation areas.

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Bradley Cantrell

Design Challenges

The markets for distributed systems are currently being tested, relying heavily on previous infrastructures and economic models, but reorganized through databases that provide customization and individuality. How can designers build with and for a culture that revolves around new, emerging resources such as digital goods, services, and commodities?

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Adam Greenfield

Uber, or: The Technics and Politics of Socially Corrosive Mobility

Despite a tagline positioning itself as “Everyone’s Private Driver,” Uber has never for a moment pretended to be universal. Just the opposite: every aspect of the marketing and user experience announces that this is a service consciously designed for the needs, tastes, preferences, and status anxieties of a very specific market segment, the aspirant global elite.

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One thought on “Foundations and Disruptions

  1. I think that well-worn adage that technology is neutral needs to be filed away now. Every piece of digital technology is encoded with its programmer’s intentions, and most of those intended uses are intentionally obscured from the end user, so I think that it would be rare to find a piece of technology that is not imbued with the financer’s morality. I guess you could argue that if a cell phone rings in the forest, will anybody answer it, but I would still contend that there is a moral worldview coded into that operating system from the start.

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