Centering Public Knowledge

Shannon Mattern leads a conversation about the role of community design, civic data, libraries, and maintenance in a time of emerging "urban intelligence."

October 5, 2021
12:00 p.m.

The top floor of Helsinki Central Library Oodi in Helsinki, Finland. Credit: Ninara via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Join Urban Design Forum, The Architectural League of New York, and the League’s digital publication, Urban Omnibus, for a discussion on the role of public knowledge in citymaking.

The “smart city” framework often abstracts urban processes with metaphors that compare cities to computers, dashboards, or algorithms. Yet the oversimplification of these metaphors can lead to the rebuff of local knowledge. In her most recent book, A City Is Not a Computer, Shannon Mattern explores how centering community-based information over big data or “intelligent” systems can support equitable citymaking and a more just design process. 

For this discussion, we will convene architects, planners, and creative technologists to respond to themes of community design, civic data, libraries, and maintenance. Mattern will provide an introduction to A City Is Not a Computer, followed by a discussion with Karen Fairbanks, Farzana Gandhi, Shawn Rickenbacker, and Dan Taeyoung.

Shannon Mattern is a professor of anthropology at The New School for Social Research. Her writing and teaching focus on archives, libraries, and other media spaces; media infrastructures; spatial epistemologies; and mediated sensation and exhibition. She is the author of The New Downtown Library: Designing with Communities, Deep Mapping the Media City,and Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media, all published by University of Minnesota Press, and A City Is Not a Computer, published by Princeton University Press in association with Places Journal. She also contributes a regular long-form column about urban data and mediated infrastructures to Places Journal

Karen Fairbanks is a founding partner of Marble Fairbanks Architects, a design-driven, research-based practice located in New York City, where she focuses on design and planning for educational and cultural clients. Recent projects include the Greenpoint Library and Environmental Education Center and The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Fairbanks is also a professor of professional practice and the chair of the department of architecture at Barnard College.

Farzana Gandhi is the founder of Farzana Gandhi Design Studio, a New York City-based practice focused on sustainable and socially conscious solutions, both locally and abroad. She is an associate professor at New York Institute of Technology, where she has taught introductory, advanced, and thesis-level architecture design studios, along with research-driven design-build elective courses and visualization seminars.

Shawn Rickenbacker is the director of J. Max Bond Center and Associate Professor at the Spitzer School of Architecture. Born and raised in New York City, Rickenbacker is an architect and creative technologist whose work deals with spatial equity. His research and designs have been featured in The New York Times, CNN, and Fast Company, and he has taught at the Architectural Association, Syracuse University, and the University of Pennsylvania, among other schools

Dan Taeyoung is a learner, teacher, spatial designer, technologist, and person interested in cooperatively run spaces, computationally augmented design and communication tools, facilitation and pedagogy, the solidarity economy, and alternative forms of real estate. Dan Taeyoung teaches at Columbia University GSAPP and is a founding member of Soft Surplus, a collective space for making and learning near each other, the Cybernetics Library, an artist-run library focused on socio-technological systems, and a co-founder/former member of Prime Produce, a cooperative space for social good.


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