Gund Hall Room 522
Graduate School of Design
Instructor: Yanni Loukissas
Guest Instructor: Matthew Battles
The contemporary city is constituted by multiple overlapping, intermixing realities articulated across built form and imagined space, individual experience and collective memory, embodied sensation and digital mediation. Often, these multiple realities are invisible or illegible, with certain narratives dominating particular environments. However, realities always leave traces, to be excavated and reconstructed. The Mixed-Reality City is an exploratory research seminar and workshop in which students pursue studies of urbanism-in-the-making through means and methods emerging in the digital arts and humanities, including: data narrative, digital ethnography, adversarial design, and critical technical practice. The course focuses in equal parts on unpacking discourses and developing interpretative digital artifacts.
This year, the course will examine the mixed-reality of natural and artificial environments, principally in the Northeastern United States. Projects will focus on historical and contemporary controversies over troubled natural or wild places and phenomena by exploring their associations and effects within cities. The class will pursue questions about the co-construction of the natural and the artificial as well as feral presences in cities: places and phenomena once domesticated, now returned to nature. Moreover, we will examine the relationship between natures and networks. What happens to technology in the wild? Can technology itself become feral?
We will read authors, such as Bruno Latour, Kevin Lynch, Michel DeCerteau, Leo Marx, Donna Haraway and William Cronon, who explain the mixed-reality of cities in their own ways. We will also engage the work of media artists and designers who make a practice out of intervening into controversies: Natalie Jeremijenko, Sara Wylie, Kelly Dobson, Leanne Allison, Jeremy Mendes, Phoebe Sengers, and Carl DiSalvo. The Mixed-Reality City is a highly participatory class. Students will be expected to actively contribute to discussions and project critiques. At the beginning of the term there will be a rapid series of exercises in writing, mapping, and precedent analysis. Towards the end of the term, students will focus on lengthy final projects to interpret and intervene in mixed wild and constructed places in cities.
The course is open to all graduate students at Harvard and associated institutions. While there are no prerequisites, students are expected to bring basic skills in digital media. The Mixed-Reality City is hosted by metaLAB (at) Harvard, a research unit of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, focused on experiments in the arts and humanities.
This course will be run in a seminar/workshop format, composed of a mixture of brief presentations and a considerable amount of discussion involving every student in the class. It is essential that you be prepared to participate at all times. Class typically meets once a week on Thursdays, 3:00-6:00. Attendance is crucial at weekly meetings. If you must miss a class for any reason, please email well in advance. If you miss more than one class, it may significantly affect your grade in the course.
The course will begin with three open-ended experiments to identify and map controversies over the nature and value of city wildscapes. This early focus on controversies is intended to surface the mixed-realities present in cities and, in particular, reveal how varied discourses construct conceptions of “the wild,” in different ways. The course is substantially informed by research in the field of Science, Technology, and Society, which has long studied controversies as a means of revealing the construction of scientific knowledge and technical expertise.
The historical and theoretical portion of the course is guided by weekly readings. Film screenings and audio listenings are recommended but not required. It is expected that each student substantively engage these materials weekly and be prepared to deeply discuss each work in class. The first weeks generally attempt to pair material relevant to the group’s exercises; the later weeks generally focus upon contemporary topics that aim to inform each student’s final projects. In weekly reading responses consider the following:
1. Reflect upon the reading itself.
Who is the author? Who is the author writing against? What domain are they writing in? Who is the intended audience? What evidence does the author use? How strong is the central argument of the reading? What concessions does the author make, if any? What does the author not consider?
2. Situate the reading in the context of other texts.
These may be texts that we have looked at during the term or which you are personally familiar with. How does this reading reinforce, extend, or call into question the arguments raised by other authors or vice versa? What new insights or evidence supports the author’s argument?
All readings will be made available as PDFs over the course of the semester on the course website, unless otherwise noted in the syllabus.
The subject matter of this course is constantly evolving, and as such, it is crucial that we also work together to track new developments, develop historical perspective and enhance each other’s learning. Towards this aim, each student will be required to write a brief case study (ca. 500 words) critically analyzing a contemporary or historical project of relevance to the course. Think of these as short essays to help us build a collection of shared references and inspirations for your final projects.
The final project will be a media design experiment. It will draw upon themes and techniques you or others have explored earlier in the semester. You can choose to use existing tools or develop your own forms of technical (or nontechnical) mediation. Projects will be reviewed by critics in a juried presentation/critique.
This course is media and technology intensive. It is expected that all students have some familiarity and experience working with digital media. However, students will be encouraged to learn by doing, and to share skills with each other. The emphasis of this course, however, is not on learning technical skills per se, but rather on being able to make whatever use you can of the media technologies at hand for artistic practice.
This course and the work that you will create is an experiment. It is important to keep in mind that all of us will be inventing elements as we go, and this process of discovery and development is part of the excitement. Consequently, it’s also important to understand certain things will fail, break and not turn out as planned, and to embrace these hiccups as part of working in a collaborative, laboratory environment.
The GSD seeks to maintain a learning and working environment characterized by academic integrity and fair access to educational resources. The GSD expects all students to honor these principles. Actions that violate these principles include the following, and may be the basis for disciplinary action: a. Cheating on examinations, either by copying the work of other students or through the use of unauthorized aids: b. Fraudulent presentation of the work of others (either written or visual) as one's own work (plagiarism) c. Simultaneous or repeated submission without permission of substantially the same work (either written or visual) to more than one course: d. Alteration or misrepresentation of academic records.
Participation in class: 40%
Final project: 30%
Warm-up exercises: 15%
Precedent studies: 15%
Note: This syllabus and schedule will likely change throughout the semester to adapt to student interests, course composition, etc. Please always check this website for the most up-to-date version.
Week 1 :: September 5 :: Introduction
In Class Readings
Elkins, James. “How to Look at a Culvert." In How to Use Your Eyes. 2000.
Edwards, Paul. “How to Read a Book”
Week 2 :: September 12 :: Mixed-Reality Cities
* Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City
*Wordsworth, William. “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802.”
* De Certeau, Michel. “Walking in the City" and “Spatial Stories." In The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
* Latour, Bruno and Hermant, Emilie. Paris: Invisible City. 1998. (INTERACTIVE)
* Yaneva, Albena. Mapping Controversies in Architecture
* Lynch, Kevin. What Time is this Place?
* Appleyard, Donald. “Many Cities in One,” in Planning a Pluralist City. Conflicting Realities in Ciudad Guayana.
Week 3: September 19 :: Urban Wilderness, Part 1
* Cronon, William. 1995. “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” in Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, edited by William Cronon. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.
* Del Tredici, Peter. 2010. “Spontaneous Urban Vegetation: Reflections of Change in a Globalized World” in Nature and Culture 5(3).
* Gissen, David. 2009. Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press.
* Jorgensen, Anna. Urban Wildscapes
* Haraway, Donna. When Species Meet
* McPhee, John. The Control of Nature
* Del Tredici, Peter. Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: A Field Guide
* McKibben, Bill. The End of Nature
* Mackaye, Benton. ”An Appalachian Trail: an Exercise in Regional Planning”
Week 4: September 26: Urban Wilderness, Part 2
Experiment 1: Urban Wilderness Controversy Mapping
Week 5: October 3: Urban Wilderness, Part 3
Experiment 1R: Urban Wilderness Controversy Mapping (Revised)
Week 6: October 10: Feral Technology, Part 1
* Leo Marx. 2010. “Technology: The Emergence of a Hazardous Concept.” Technology and Culture 51 (3): 561–577.
* Kurgan, Laura. 2013. Close up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics.
* Haraway, Donna. 1991. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge.
* Battles, Matthew. 2012. The Call of the Feral
* Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology
* Sterling, Bruce. The Viridian
* Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden
* Feenberg, Andrew. Questioning Technology.
* Tenner, Edward. Why things bite back: technology and the revenge of unintended consequences.
* Latour, Bruno. Aramis, or the Love of Technology
Week 7: October 17: Feral Technologies, Part 2
Experiment 2: Feral Technologies Controversy Mapping
Week 8: October 24: Understanding Non-human Actors
Experiment 3: Mixed-Reality Image of the City
Week 9: October 31: Provocations
Experiment 4: Precedent Analysis
Week 10: November 7: Mid-Term Review
Final Project Proposal
Week 11: November 14: Guest Talk + Discussion / Project Critiques
Week 12: November 21: Guest Talk + Discussion / Project Critiques
Week 13: November 28: Thanksgiving
Week 14: December 5: Prelim-Review (Optional)
Final Review: December 19: 10am-2pm in Gund 522