In the coming age of urban sentience and smart things, we imagine information coursing through our cities and devices. Yet our buildings and infrastructures and mediated objects have always embodied forms of "smartness." In this lecture and public talk with Simon Ganahl, Shannon Mattern explores how design can function as epistemological inquiry. Thinking across different scales, she considers how our designed things, systems, and services can embody what we know and value.
There's been much recent interest in "making visible the invisible," in manifesting the "optics" of subterranean, covert, and seemingly immaterial infrastructures. In this talk, I begin by addressing what we can learn about urban infrastructure by engaging it with our "other" senses – by listening to it, touching it, even smelling and tasting it. I then examine how these aesthetics "scale down" by examining infrastructure of a smaller dimension: that of furniture. I share some preliminary case studies from my current research on "intellectual furnishings," which explores how the design of our media-organizational devices – from book stacks to computer server racks – scaffolds our media technologies, informs how bodies relate to those media, and embodies knowledge. These infrastructures, both physical and intellectual, are also simultaneously functional, affective and aesthetic.