Apropos of yesterday’s post, here’s more food for thought, from Christopher Alexander’s foundational essay “A City is not a Tree” (1965):
When the elements of a set belong together because they co-operate or work together somehow, we call the set of elements a system.
For example, in Berkeley at the corner of Hearst and Euclid, there is a drugstore, and outside the drugstore a traffic light. In the entrance to the drugstore there is a newsrack where the day’s papers are displayed. When the light is red, people who are waiting to cross the street stand idly by the light; and since they have nothing to do, they look at the papers displayed on the newsrack which they can see from where they stand. Some of them just read the headlines, others actually buy a paper while they wait.
This effect makes the newsrack and the traffic light interactive; the newsrack, the newspapers on it, the money going from people’s pockets to the dime slot, the people who stop at the light and read papers, the traffic light, the electric impulses which make the lights change, and the sidewalk which the people stand on form a system – they all work together.
From the designer’s point of view, the physically unchanging part of this system is of special interest. The newsrack, the traffic light and the sidewalk between them, related as they are, form the fixed part of the system. It is the unchanging receptacle in which the changing parts of the system – people, newspapers, money and electrical impulses – can work together. I define this fixed part as a unit of the city. It derives its coherence as a unit both from the forces which hold its own elements together and from the dynamic coherence of the larger living system which includes it as a fixed invariant part.
What are the equivalent components of a contemporary cityscape? What role might a networked personal device play in this ballet, apart from filling interstitial moments with music, headlines or casual games (and not that those are not perfectly valid things to do while waiting)? Do any of the roles you imagine support a business case as inoffensive and mutually beneficial as Alexander’s “dime in a slot,” or must revenue generation take on different forms in an informationally-abundant age?
Really, again: there’s almost a semester’s worth of material to investigate in just this one tiny vignette.