Responsive Ethnography: Meetings Along the Edge of Urban Informatics and Cultural Anthropology

By Luca Simeone.

Published by The Design Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper attempts to explore a possible synergy between urban anthropology and a certain type of architectural practice labeled as responsive, real-time, pervasive, user-generated, renewable, and participatory. As described by Mitchell: “The social and cultural functions of built spaces have become inseparable from the simultaneous operation of multiple communication systems within and among them. Architecture no longer can (if it ever could) be understood as an autonomous medium of mass, space, and light, but now serves as the constructed ground for encountering and extracting meaning from cross-connected flows of aural, textual, graphic, and digital information through global networks” (Mitchell 2005, 19). If connected to sensors scattered in a massive way among the metropolitan folds, these flows of information collect and distribute data on the trends of daily life in real time: traffic and travel, weather and pollution conditions, city usage patterns - a whole of information in which the metropolis reflects and recounts itself (Greenfield 2006). These data become multi-author, open-ended stories when people cross the urbanized environments and weave their lives within the city geometries trying to make sense out of it.
Can responsive architecture help urban ethnographers analyze and interpret the metropolitan interstices in which different ethnic and cultural configurations clash, hybridize, and mix among the spires of these never-ending stories?
This paper explores this idea, focusing in particular on The Cloud, an architectural project for the 2012 Olympics presented by an interdisciplinary team of designers, urban planners, and futurists coordinated by Carlo Ratti, the Director of MIT’s Senseable City Laboratory.
The Cloud is analyzed as an example of a set of characteristics through which a significant part of the architectural design of the near future will be articulated.
Greenfield, Adam. 2006. Everyware. Indianapolis: New Riders.
Mitchell, William John. 2005. Placing Words. Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press.

Keywords: Urban Informatics, Design Anthropology, Urban Planning, Responsive Architecture

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.221-234. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.550MB).

Luca Simeone

Design Anthropologist, FakePress, Grottaferrata (Roma), Italy

Luca Simeone is a Design Anthropologist and a contemporary entrepreneur. He leads projects in which solutions are designed through ethnographic research methods. His past experiences include the production of award-winning websites and cross-medial interaction design projects for clients ranging from international brands to museums and institutions. Luca has an extensive academic history featuring participation in scientific and commercial publications and teaching and R&D experience at several universities in Rome, Naples and Milan, Italy and New Delhi, India, on the subjects of Cultural Anthropology, Interaction Design, Innovation, Psychology of emotions and Experience Design.


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