Monday, April 12, 2010

Why Other Stuff Matters

When the information professional thinks of architecture and design, he or she is usually not reflecting on the built environment of structures we move in, around, and through. However, reading about the nature of the built environment can be useful to anyone interested in how information plays a role in our society. Paul Goldberger, Why Architecture Matters (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009) is an excellent way to mull over such matters. Goldberger, architecture critic for the New York Times, writes authoritatively about architecture’s symbolism, comfort, buildings as objects, the nature of space, the role of buildings in memory, and how time and place are represented. This is an insightful and entertaining read about architecture, and anyone taking it on will find elements that resonate with them. As an archivist, concerned with appraisal and skeptical about technocrats who believe everything can be saved, I found this comment by Goldberger very useful: “If a city preserves everything, no matter how good its architecture is, keeping new life flowing through its veins becomes much more difficult, all the more because Americans have a tendency to preserve important buildings as if they were fragile hothouse orchids, wanting them to look pristine and perfect and show no sign of the passage of time” (p. 195). Selection is a function that is critically important to every discipline. Goldberger also, at times, more explicitly discusses the implications of information technology, such as in this passage, where he argues that the “technological revolution makes everything, in effect, a city. The random connections, the serendipitous meetings, that occur on the Internet, the replacement of linear order with the interlocking web of ties, broken and reformed and broken again a million times, the sense of accident and surprise – these are the very events that real physical cities have always provided and for which they have been valued. Random encounters are the city’s greatest gift, and random encounters are cyberspace’s stock-in-trade.” Then Goldberger adds, “the technological explosion is making the entire world a virtual city, a new city, the new market place of human encounters, which happens not to be defined by architectural form” (p. 227). Here we have an example of understanding how new digital forms really relate to older forms, rather than buying into the idea that new digital technologies necessarily change everything.

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