An Adaptable Structure for Connectivity: A Working Discussion and Exhibition

Lauren Altman

Monuments have been a means to reflect a singular, unified cultural and national identity for centuries. Sculptures and monuments have been erected in public squares in honor of victory and sovereignty while snuffing out tainted periods of history. Symbolizing power in size and control by position, monuments are established from a top-to-bottom mentality, that dictates movement through public space. With the rapid spread of information technology, cities have become outposts of hyper-connectivity through which multiple publics pass both physically and virtually. Cities now have the capacity to be local and global platforms for multicultural exchange through integrated hybrid space. The reflection of a singular cultural identity has become irrelevant as online social media forums provide new spaces for a plurality of dialogs across geographic and cultural borders. The integration of these communication platforms into society calls for a new model of representation that flattens the hierarchical monument and provides a fluid structure that is shaped by multiple publics.

Public space need no longer be transformed to reflect the concerns voiced by a homogenous group, but rather those of multiple entities. Multicultural national identity requires a structure that facilitates a dialogue between peoples to understand multiple and different value systems. Hannah Ardent, a significant theorist of ‘publicness’ of her time, believed that ‘each of us only ultimately comes to know ‘who I am’ in the process of political discourse with peers-or, for that matter, with adversaries-as each of us makes attempts to persuade them of the rightness of the views we are expressing’.[1] Culture is ideas, language, thought, food- all of the senses. One’s physical location doesn’t necessarily reflect one’s culture. The dynamic between people, space, and geography is in constant flux. The meaning of culture and identity shapes the relations between people, between both ideological and geographical entities. Now, similar people coexist within different spaces at the same time that different people coexist within the same space. Theorist Claude Lefort once said that public space is actually multiple spaces, oscillating between both the political and the non-political.

He states:

“…A space which is so constituted that everyone is encouraged to speak and to listen without being subject to the authority of another, that everyone is urged to will the power he has been given. This space, which is always indeterminate, has the virtue of belonging to no one, of being large enough only to accommodate those who recognize one another within it and who give it a meaning, and allowing the questioning of right to spread.”[2]

Lefort’s assertion is relevant now more than ever, as physical and virtual space currently runs parallel to one another. The role of the body as generator and receiver of digital information has changed the way we live and interact. The phenomenological engagement with real space is changing quickly to adapt to the virtual world. There is a need for a structure that can transform public space to reflect the social make-up of a particular city, and to promote intercultural exchange to help people collectively adapt to the changing urban environment. The structure needs to reflect the needs of different cultural groups during this continual process of adaptation, as well as utilize public space to promote exchange between coexisting cultural entities. It would transform public space into a common ground between peoples in a ‘new hybrid space’. This structure, that defines and provides a ‘new hybrid space’, changes depending on its context.

A multicity public structure, called An Adaptable Structure for Connectivity, develops the concept of a mobile, transformative structure that can adapt to the ever-changing structure of cities. Traveling from one city to another, the structure visualizes the themes of adaptability and connectivity on two scales: through both individual and collective interaction. The structure visually transforms with the changing dynamic of connectivity between people and cultures both physically and virtually, as it adapts to different spatial contexts. While cultural entities shape the city they inhabit, they also have to adapt to the changing context of the city. What do these different layers of cultural entities look like? How are they connected to one another? What does the dynamic between people and public space reveal about the physical and social framework of the city? How can urban space be more utilized and integrated into these layers of hyper-connectivity? There are two goals for this adaptable structure for connectivity: To transform public space to reflect the social make-up of a particular city, and to promote intercultural exchange to help people collectively adapt to the changing urban environment.

During a working discussion, a curator, an architect collective, and an urban mapping specialist analyzed different approaches to this concept starting from a series of four key words: adapt, interact, connect, and exchange[3]. Through rigorous examination of these working components, the group searched to define what integrated hybrid space was, and how a structure of this capacity could take form. The group found that this structure, which sought to break barriers of communication networks while defining social connections, could manifest in very different physical and abstract formations as it moved from city to city. By formulating a bottom-up rather than top-down formation in public, decentralized space, while blurring physical and virtual connectedness, people could potentially shape the space they are in by the way they communicate with one another, rather than through a singular, overarching, defining identity. To examine how the present can be visually defined, local, foreign, national, cultural, and regional groups must be taken into account.  The way people communicate, and to whom, reflects multiple and conflicting value systems built by multiple constructed cultural identities inhabiting one space.

Communal activity and participation can provide a means to disintegrate and disassemble both tangible and intangible constructed barriers between coexisting groups by facilitating hybrid exchange. A maze is a puzzle-like structure that consists of a series of complex, branching passageways that requires a solver find a route through to exit. A maze provides a space for multiple and different choreographed activities. It creates a space for individual and collective experiences facilitated by participation. The group developed the concept of an abstract structural maze that can be placed within any urban plan. Within this juxtaposition of walls, barriers, and entryways, individuals can connect to others within the maze within a constructed network that integrates physical and virtual communication. Themes of displacement, alienation, and disorientation are all shared feelings between coexisting cultural entities within a city. Having to overcome obstacles is the very foundation of how a city is formed. While the maze creates these feelings for an individual, it also provides a communal, unifying experience by facilitating communication to break barriers as a means to achieve a communal goal- finding the exit. Analyzing how cultural entities communicate within a shared space informs how a city is shaped. Placing an abstract maze within different cities, and observing how users communicate and alter the maze to find a way out from place to place, visualizes multiple identities through different approaches to hybrid interconnectedness.

From this working discussion, an exhibition will document the collaborative process of exploring the possibilities for an integrated hybrid space as a means to facilitate exchange and de-hierarchize existing models of singular national and cultural identity. A visual recording of the discussion will reveal the ideation process of defining how to integrate hybrid connectivity into public space, followed by realized renderings of the imagined new model of An Adaptable Structure for Connectivity, by Hither Yon, in response to the initial proposal.

[1] George Baird, Public Space: Cultural/Political Theory; Street Photography (Amsterdam: SUN Architecture Publishers and George Baird, 2011), 29.

[2] Baird, Public Space: Cultural/Political Theory; Street Photography, 42.

[3] Exchange refers to hybrid exchange, both physical and virtual.


Hither Yon (US)

Hither Yon is a design collective of four architects devoted to the discovery and implementation of new methods of collaborative design. In an attempt to bridge the widening gap between an architect’s design process and the public’s spatial interpretation, we search for strategies by which design may begin within the realm of human experience – relying on public interaction for a deeper understanding of coherent yet compelling design. Hither Yon was founded on the idea that design is not autonomous, but instead exists within a larger interrelated web. And with this notion prominently embedded in our minds, we are inspired by the resonant implications of each and every object of design. Assuming the role of explorers and settlers, we have set out to revive and reinterpret our physical environments.

Hither Yon was founded in 2011 and is currently based in Berlin, Germany. All four members graduated from the Department of Architecture at Cornell University, and have worked collaboratively in New York, Rome, Berlin and Mumbai, among many others


Viktor Bedö (HU)

Viktor Bedö recently earned his PhD following the completion of his thesis “Interactive Urban Maps as Instruments of Thinking“. He is interested in community driven urban mapping, embodied urban knowledge, visual thinking, mobile communication, urban games, design thinking and contemporary dance.

Sven Kröger (DE)

Sven studied architecture at the technical university in Berlin.  He started doing visual recordings (scribing, graphical facilitation, live illustrations) in 2007. Sven is currently working as a freelance graphic designer and visual recording artist.


Lauren Altman (US)

Lauren Altman is an artist and curator living in New York. She received her BFA in Communication Design from Parsons the New School for Design, and most recently finished her MA thesis “Trauma, History and Constructed Identity: The Mutation of Site from the Physical to the Virtual Realm” in Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art. Lauren is interested in developing collaborative projects that blur the boundaries between the artist and curator, and explore hybrid platforms between culture and geopolitics through new media and technology.

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