Urban Computing: What is a wall?

Wall, as a simple force of division, marks a boundary between here and there. How do we define our world through walls? One could argue that geographical boundaries act as walls defining spaces within which all forms of life acknowledge and encroach. But even geographic boundaries are crossed intentionally for a particular pursuit or by forces of nature outside one’s control. Political boundaries, drawn from geography, enclose a code of conduct and promote a unified culture and language, but are also fought over, erased, and redefined. Cities born out of geographic convenience and political strategy, like Pingyao once surrounded and protected by walls now grow amorphously, engulfing neighboring villages. The most conventional wall, the wall that divides home and nature, surrounds and protects us. This pervasive division between outside and inside, public and private is becoming unstratified as ubiquitous technologies seamlessly occupy both realms.


Shigeru Ban’s Curtain Wall House blurs the traditional boundary between inside and outside, private and public. Masaki Endoh’s Natural Ellipse seamlessly extends the topology of the interior private surface to the exterior. Increasing presence of public surveillance via webcams is creating a global neo-panopticon. ((Koskela, Hille . Surveillance & Society CCTV Special (eds. Norris, McCahill and Wood) 2(2/3): 199-215 )) Banksy reclaims private walls in public domains for public expression. The Great Wall of China is now a tourist attraction. The Principality of Sealand (a nation on a concrete and steel island) offers high security internet services. ((“The Principality of Sealand.” The Principality of Sealand. 30 Jan. 2008 <http://www.sealandgov.org/history.html>.)) Youtube is available on cellphones and cellphones can upload directly to Youtube.  Fred Sandback defines planes in space with a minimal trace of yarn, yet the division of space is respected. The threshold between here and there, yet devoid of any material to block, alter or reflect any of our 5 senses. ((Fred Sandback, “Remarks on My Sculpture 1966–1986,” in Fred Sandback Sculpture 1966–1986 (Mannheim: Kunsthalle, 1986) <http://www.diacenter.org/exhibs/sandback/sculpture/remarks.html> )) Architectural production now resides in the mass media, redefining our perception of space, once defined by walls, to images. ((Colomina, Beatriz. Privacy and Publicity. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994.))

The point of view of modern architecture is never fixed, as in baroque architecture, or as in the model of vision of the camera obscura, but always in motion, as in film or in the city. Crowds, shoppers in a department store, railroad travelers, and the inhabitants of Le Corbusier’s houses have in common with movie viewers that they cannot fix (arrest) the image. Like the movie viewer that Benjamin describes (“no sooner has his eye grasped a scene than it is already changed”), they inhabit a space that is neither inside nor outside, public nor private (in the traditional understanding of these terms). It is a space that is not made of walls but of images. Images as walls. ((Colomina, Beatriz. Privacy and Publicity. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994. p.6))