Exhibition Sentient City Survival Kit Nov 6-12th | Connectivity @ IABR 2009

At the IABR2009 The Mobile City presents an exhibition of Mark Shepard’s Sentient City Survival Kit.

The Exhibition will be opened at the Open Podium on Friday November 6th. At this event we will also present the results of the Sentient Rotterdam Workshop.

opening November 6 17:00 – 19:00 at NAi



Curatorial text

Exhibition Sentient City Survival Kit

We have entered the age of ubiquitous computing: information processing no longer only happens on mainframes or desktop computers but increasingly on mobile and embedded devices in the buildings, streets and public spaces of the city. Urban information systems are capable of sensing and responding to events happening around them. What does this emerging ‘Sentient City‘ mean for urban culture?

Mark Shepard’s Sentient City Survival Kit proposes answers to this question through the design of hybrid digital/material objects. The Kit consists of RFID-sensing vibrating underwear, an umbrella with LEDs to frustrate CCTV surveillance, a GPS navigator which takes unexpected new routes for you, and a travel mug that can set up an ad hoc communication network. These tools explore the social, cultural and political implications of ubiquitous computing for urban environments by addressing questions like: what is left of serendipity so central to urban culture when we entrust ourselves to TomTom’s algorithms to get us as efficiently as possible from A to B?

The Kit exposes normally invisible digital infrastructures. It makes us aware of their omnipresence in everyday urban life. Where current (commercial) applications of urban computing tend to add extra informational layers to physical space (‘augmented reality’), the Kit does the inverse. It ‘augments’ digital space by embodying it in a humanly perceptual form, making it visible and tangible. The Kit thus subverts a central tenet of ubiquitous computing: that computers should disappear from our perceptual field and calmly work in the background.

By taking a playful approach instead of a rejective stance against developments in the realm of urban computing, the Kit forcefully questions implicit assumptions of what a ‘digitally enhanced’ urban living should entail. What will happen to privacy, autonomy, trust and serendipity in this highly observant, evermore efficient and over-coded city?

Above all, the Kit offers urbanites potential tools to interact with and intervene in omnipresent digital networks, and even subvert their workings. As an example of ‘critical design’, the Kit sets out a roadmap along which other people can imagine and perhaps even develop their own interventions to deal with the ‘Sentient City’.

That leaves us with the question: will this collection of artifacts indeed become essential for survival in a city that – for better or for worse – has started to sense and react to the presence of its urbanites?

About Mark Shepard
Mark Shepard is an architect, artist and researcher. He directs the Media Architecture Computing program at the University of Buffalo, NY, and recently curated the exhibit ‘Toward the Sentient City‘ that was organized by the Architectural League of New York . He is also one of the editors of the The Situated Technologies Pamphlet Series.

Earlier this year The Mobile City published an interview with Mark Shepard