Tag Archives: By S. Lally

Alternate Realities

Technology is intervening in our experience of the world and each other. A project from the Venice Biennale explores this idea as Shaped Touches.

By Sean Lally

The exhibition space shows the materiality of the base design elements. The accompanying video game demonstration shows how various communities and users can add their own layers of design. Photo by Giorgio Lazar.

Shared experiences are important for building community. Bringing people together in the same public place is probably the most common method in landscape architecture for achieving that goal (prior to a global pandemic, of course). Standing in proximity to others as you experience overlapping resources and information (the weather, a market, a movie, or areas for play and sport) creates shared experience within the world. The assumption is that if the challenges to physical access can be eliminated universally, then space can be shared equally. But there are indications that physical access is not the sole issue. Chances are significant that you have a smartphone within reach, but not everyone will have the latest smartphone. And for those of us who have these phones, it’s likely that a spectrum of applications offers weather forecasts, video games, and alert notifications that give you different information from the person standing next to you.

This “spectrum of access” on our phones today might initially sound more analogous to two people reading different newspapers on a park bench, but it is the beginning of something more. The phones we carry reinforce the notion that people are willing and accustomed to carrying technologies that give them additional information about where they are. Applications that once gave directions now tell us intensity of traffic and alternate routes. Earphones that were once tethered to our phone can now increase the quality of our hearing, and cameras that once only took pictures now show us layers of augmented reality designed into a park.

The shapes within our landscapes are a negotiation between the control of our environment and the body’s ability to perceive that information. As our bodies increase their range of sensorial abilities through advancements in health care and access to wearable technologies, climate change is simultaneously redefining our expectations of future environments. Designers (landscape architects, architects, urban designers) are in a position to foreshadow the opportunities and implications these pressures will have on our shared public spaces. Shaped Touches, a simulation game and physical installation displayed at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale, offers an option for how designers will define our landscapes’ shape and the relationships of people sharing that space. Continue reading Alternate Realities