Mediated Space. Or: How to translate the logic of media into architecture

Recently I visited a seminar on Mediated Space at the Harvard School of Design. The organizers turned the usual approach to this topic – how is our experience of space changing, now that media ranging from mobile phones to urban screens have all but colonized our every day urban life? – around. Rather they, asked, how have media technologies changed our conceptualizations of space, and how has architecture embraced these shifting conceptualizations; that is not so much by integrating media into built forms (let’s say by adding a screen to a facade), but by translating the logic of a new media technology (let’s say the logic of cinematic montage) into spatial design.

In her opening lecture, Eve Blau gave two interesting examples, one historical and one contemporary.




First she turned to the mutual exchange of ideas and concepts by modernist avant gardes such as architect Mies van der Rohe, artist/ filmmaker Hans Richter and painter and photographer László Moholy-Nagy.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, artists in different disciplines experimented with new modes of spatial representation brought about by cinema and photography. These experiments in turn made their way into architectural design.

Blau argued that the Tugendhat Villa in Brno designed by Van der Rohe – ‘the most cinematic architect of that era’ – was a manifestation of the spatial and sequential logic of film. There are no screens or moving parts in the villa, but Van der Rohe explores the idea of relational space in a way that, Blau argues, is reminiscent of cinema. The villa is layed out in a number of demarcated but linked spatial zones, such as the kitchen, the living room and the dining room. She imagined how the inhabitants, would move from one space on to the next as the rhythms of every day life would unfold. The rhythm of the spaces reminded her of the rhythms of Hans Richter’s abstract film experiments, and she connected the movement of time through the different spaces with a cinematic montage of shots.

In a similar way, in our time the computer and the internet provide us with new ways to visualize and conceptualize spatial relations. And also these new modes of thinking are making their way into architecture. This is best represented by the Toledo Glass Pavilion by SANAA, a museum building recently built in Spain.

As its website states, in this building …

… all exterior and nearly all interior walls consist of large panels of curved glass, resulting in a transparent structure that blurs the boundaries between interior and exterior spaces

The glass pavilion has incorporated the logic of digital media, not by assimilating it into the building, but by incorporating its logic: The glass structure of the pavilion inner and outer walls symbolize a new set of social relations, where everyone can observe and relate to everyone else anywhere in the building, and every piece of information is visible in multiple spaces. The space itself is not prescribed by the program, but open for multiple uses, its character determined not so much by its formal definitions, but by its uses. Even public and private spaces are not clearly demarcated, also this is a modality that is being defined by its usage rather than its programmatic function. Private space is being made by retreating, public by interaction and both can happen virtually anywhere in the building.

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  1. Interesting stuff. Just as a thought, a helpful analytical distinction for this other way of looking at the relation between media technologies and (urban) space is given by Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre in his difficult to read work ‘The Production of Space’ (first published in French in 1974). His main argument is that space is neither absolute Euclidian space that is ‘out there’, as Descartes argued, nor a categorical part of a priori consciousness, as Kant said. Instead, Lefebvre tries to bridge the gaps between physical, mental and social spaces, and argues for a unitary theory of space in which space is always socially produced, a product of political powers. He makes a conceptual triad of space, distinguishing (1) spatial practice: how space and places are produced and reproduced; (2) representations of space: how space is conceptualized and ordered in knowledge, signs, and codes; (3) representational spaces: how space is ‘lived’ and imagined through its images and symbols. As you say, the tendency is to look mostly at (1) and (3), whereas your examples are clearly of representations of space (2). The aim perhaps should be to give an integrated account of all three aspects of the triad…

Martijn de Waal

Martijn de Waal (1972) is a writer, researcher and strategist, working in the field of digital media and (urban) culture. He is currently a senior researcher at the Play & Civic Media group at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

He has worked with and for various clients and organizations such as The Netherlands Architecture Institute, Open Society Foundation, The Architectural League of New York, Lift@Home, Kitchen Budapest, The Mondriaan Foundation and Dutch Public Broadcasting.

Formerly he was part of the New Media, Public Sphere and Urban Culture research group at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Groningen, and connected to the department of mediastudies at the University of Amsterdam. In 2009 he was a visiting scholar at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media.

His most recent book are The City as Interface. How Digital Media Are Changing the City (NAi010 Publishers, 2014) and De Platformsamenleving (The Platform Society), co-authored with Jose van Dijck en Thomas Poell (Amsterdam University Press, 2016)