The Figmentum Project: Appropriating Information and Communication Technologies to Animate Our Urban Fabric

The Figmentum Project: Appropriating Information and Communication Technologies to Animate Our Urban Fabric

Colleen Morgan (Australasian Cooperative Research Centre for Interaction Design, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-152-0.ch010
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Abstract

This chapter explores how we may design located information and communication technologies (ICTs) to foster community sentiment. It focuses explicitly on possibilities for ICTs to create new modalities of place through exploring key factors such as shared experiences, shared knowledge and shared authorship. To contextualise this discussion in a real world setting, this chapter presents FIGMENTUM, a situated generative art application that was developed for and installed in a new urban development. FIGMENTUM is a non-service based application that aims to trigger emotional and representational place-based communities. Out of this practice-led research comes a theory and a process for designing creative place-based ICTs to animate our urban communities.
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Introduction

This chapter explores how we may design site specific information and communication technologies (ICTs) to foster community sentiment. It focuses explicitly on possibilities for ICTs to create new modalities of place through exploring key factors such as shared experiences, shared knowledge and shared authorship. Modalities of place refer to the process by which numerous social, cultural, functional and emotional operators shape individual comprehension of place (Sandin, 2003). To contextualise this discussion in a real world setting, this chapter presents Figmentum, a situated generative art application that was developed for and installed in a new urban development. Figmentum aims to trigger emotional and representational imagined communities. Unlike many current community based urban informatics projects that take the form of online community notice boards, user profiles and the like, Figmentum is a non-service based application. Instead of service-based ICT applications, our research focuses on the emotional and highly intangible cognitive processes that contribute to imaginings of community solidarity. It also emphasises the need for community based ICTs to provide motivating factors for social interaction within communities. An evaluation of Figmentum reveals the critical need for place-based ICT applications to be custom designed to suit the social, cultural, spatial, technical and temporal characteristics of individual sites to successfully augment experiences of place. Although this field is in its infancy, it is clear that new ICT applications have the potential to be valuable tools for animating our urban fabric. This chapter works towards a theory for designing creative place-based applications that may provide enriched experiences within a community.

To design applications that may foster urban communities we must first work from within a framework of understanding peoples’ relationships to place. To construct this framework, this chapter explores the notions of place attachment, imagined communities and social capital. This chapter then examines how social, cultural, functional and emotional operators contribute to experiences or ‘modalities’ of place. Understanding how modalities of place are constructed with these operators allows us to embed the knowledge developed from our framework into the process of designing and implementing community based ICTs. As such the chapter moves on to discuss the process of combining the core values derived from this theoretical framework with design principles drawn from existing community based ICT projects to design Figmentum. In conclusion, a summary of how Figmentum was received by the community and an analysis of the research outcomes is presented, followed by recommendations for future research.

Figure 1.

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Background

This study helps to gauge the capacity for ICTs to foster community sentiment and social capital. It approaches the field with the perspective that significant research is still required to explore and define the potentials of ICTs and to establish processes for designing and implementing interventions to satisfy these potentials. The Australian Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts supports this standpoint noting, “There is vast potential to use ICT to build social capital and contribute to community development and formation. However, […] it is largely untapped and unrecognised in many areas. For ICT use to move beyond bonding – to harness its power for bridging and linking to resources that enhance economic and social development – it needs more attention to the type of social capital being developed” (DCITA, 2005, p. 9).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Capital: The capital, actual and potential, that is embedded in social relationships and networks. Pierre Bourdieu defines social capital as “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition” (1986, p. 243).

Place Attachment: The emotional, functional, and social ties people develop within a community and towards a particular place (Hummon, 1992). Place attachment is a complex and interdisciplinary notion and has been theorised from diverse perspectives ranging from architecture and urban planning to psychology and sociology. In the context of this chapter place attachment consists of three key aspects; community satisfaction, community attachment, and imagined community identity (Hummon, 1992, p. 254).

Imagined Communities: The ontological community solidarity. The notion is best captured in Andersons quote; “all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined…it is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (1983, p.15).

Modalities of Place: The process by which numerous social, cultural, functional and emotional operators shape individual comprehension of place (Sandin, 2003). The capacity for technologies to create new experiences of place is dependent on the way the operators of a location are used or acted upon in order to determine the mode of the place.

The Social Construction of Technology: This is a perspective on the evolution of technology that emphasises human agency. Identified by Graham and Marvin (1996), this perspective views the evolution of technology as a social process by which a collection of individual human decisions shape how technologies will impact upon society.

Generative Art Systems: These consist of an artwork; usually displayed on a digital screen, the appearance of which is governed by a rule set developed by the curator that determines how the system interprets the information it receives. The curator can either predetermine this information, or it can be created through user interaction. Ernest Edmonds defines a generative art system as “an art system that evolves in response to the interpretation of participant interaction with the work by a software agent” (2003, p. 23).

New Urbanism: This is an urban design ideal that returns to planning and architectural traditions for the design of small communities. The ideal focuses on the liveability of suburban areas, emphasising the need for central community hubs and a layout that provides walkable access to everyday needs and services.

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