grounded discourse, and it shifts the role of the teacher. I can no
longer rely on my superior command of the subject matter to main-
tain my classroom authority!
In university dormitories, isolated working under intense academic
pressure turns out to be a triggering factor for student depression,
binge drinking, and even suicide. Networking dormitory rooms for
personal computers can exacerbate this. But creating fusions of study
space and social space—lounges with wireless connectivity, and quiet
corners to work as well as areas for socializing—reduces isolation and
increases opportunities for peer-group support.
In research libraries, the former functions of the carrel and the tele-
phone box are fusing. You can frequently find young researchers with
their laptops open, surrounded by books and journals, talking on their
mobile phones. If you eavesdrop, you find that they are not just blab-
bing, but are getting guidance from their supervisors or coordinating
with distant collaborators. Then, when they find interesting pages of
text or images, they simply snap pictures with their camera phones.
Librarians disapproved of all this at first, much as classical chefs
looked askance when they first encountered the new wave of fusion
cuisine. Then they started to see it as an important new intellectual
practice—and to demand space designed to accommodate it.
Walk around a building that accommodates a high tech company,
and you will probably find that a surprising number of the private
offices are locked and dark. But look, by contrast, at the electronically
supported work going on in airplane seats, high-speed train seats, air-
line lounges, cafés, hotel rooms, and even park benches. Much of the
activity has shifted from classically conceived, single-purpose, assigned
space to fusion space.
Imagine an apartment that is jammed with sensors everywhere, and
that processes the resulting data stream to recognize the current activ-
ities of the occupants. (Kent Larson, at the MIT Media Laboratory,
has recently constructed just such a dwelling—known as PlaceLab.) It
knows when you are making a cup of tea, or folding the laundry. Now
imagine that, based on what it observes of your behavior patterns over
time, it offers carefully calculated, well grounded advice on diet, exer-
cise, taking the opportunity to go out for a walk, taking your medica-
tion, and other things that will keep you healthy. It fuses the private
apartment and the elderly-care nursing home. If you are an ageing
baby-boomer, it might enable you to live independently in your com-
munity for many more years.
Finally, imagine a school bus that uses its GPS location system to
retrieve and present information about the areas that it is passing
through. It fuses the geography, history, ecology, and civics classrooms
with transportation and the public space of the city.
In all of these cases it is the new, connectivity-enabled fusion of
previously distinct activities that is the source of new value.
Rethinking adjacency, proximity, and urban spatial
Let us turn, now, to the changing relationships of urban spaces to
the other urban spaces that surround it. A simple hut is a single, undif-
ferentiated space that accommodates many activities, but a larger and
more complex building is a system of more specialized spaces with cir-
culation networks and exchanges of various kinds linking them. (The
distinction between single-celled organisms and larger and more com-
plex biological systems is a similar one.) At larger scales, we can think
of cities as systems of specialized buildings linked by transportation
networks and exchanges, and of cities embedded in global transporta-
tion networks. Digital telecommunication changes spatial patterns of
activities within such networks, but not (as many early theorists
thought) by simply substituting telecommunication for transportation,
producing the “death of distance,” and allowing anything to happen
anywhere and at any time.
To clarify the mechanisms at work, it will be useful to introduce an
elementary cost model. The cost per unit of time to operate a spatially
differentiated, geographically extended, networked urban system
might be represented as the sum of:
1. The fixed costs (think of them as rents) of assigning particular
activities to particular urban locations.
2. The interactive costs (time and money spent, over time, on
transportation) of the flows of people, materials and goods,
energy, and information among locations.
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The interactive cost per unit of time is the sum of the costs of the
exchanges between pairs of activities at their assigned locations. And
the cost of exchanges between any pair of activities is given by:
Distance x Volume x Cost coefficient
The distance between the activities depends upon the spatial layout
of the system. The volume of traffic depends upon the nature of the
functional connection between the activities—such as the connection
between a factory and a warehouse. The cost coefficient depends upon
the efficiency of the network connection between the locations.
Historically, the fundamental role of new urban networks has been
to reduce the cost coefficients in the system. Tracks for people and
vehicles reduced the cost of moving people and goods among loca-
tions; pipe networks reduced the cost of moving water and sewage;
wires enabled efficient distribution of electric power; and wired
and wireless channels now allow fast, inexpensive movement of
The first-order effect of introducing an efficient new network or
network link, with a low cost coefficient, is to reduce the cost of the
existing assignment of activities to locations. In other words, the exist-
ing spatial pattern can operate more efficiently. The second-order
effect is to allow the emergence of new spatial patterns when the sys-
tem is subjected to pressure to grow or to accommodate new needs.
Consider, for example, the introduction of a piped water supply net-
work into a village that had hitherto depended upon a central well.
The first-order effect is simply to reduce the human time and energy
spent on carrying water to existing houses. A second-order effect is to
eliminate the need for houses to cluster within water-carrying distance
from the well, and to enable them to spread out along the water lines
as the village grows. Another second-order effect may be to change
bathing, as the village becomes more affluent, from a centralized, pub-
lic activity at the point of water availability to a decentralized, private
activity that takes place in the private bathrooms of houses. Yet
another effect is to destroy the efficacy of the old village well as a
social magnet and focus of community life, and to create the need for
something new—maybe a café.
The first-order effect of new telecommunication networks is, obvi-
ously enough, to provide more efficient information distribution and
exchange among locations within existing urban patterns. Less obvi-
ously, the second-order spatial effects of introducing wired telecom-
munication networks, with low cost coefficients for movement of
1. To reduce the need for adjacency and proximity among activi-
ties that primarily exchange information.
2. To allow other, latent demands for adjacency and proximity to
3. To produce, as a result, spatial restructuring through frag-
mentation and recombination when the system is subjected to
pressure to grow, to accommodate new demands, or to
become more competitive.
Consider, for example, the traditional urban bookstore and
Amazon.com. The urban bookstore clusters, at one location, the func-
tions of book storage, display and browsing, point of sale, back office
activity, and advertising. Amazon.com has taken advantage of digital
telecommunications to produce an efficient new spatial pattern. By
moving the browsing and point of sale functions online it virtualizes
and decentralizes them—making them available at any point of
Internet access, and efficiently reaching a large number of widely scat-
tered customers. Simultaneously, it centralizes the book storage func-
tion in large, highly automated warehouse and distribution centers
located at nodes in transportation networks—enabling economies of
scale, taking advantage of low-rent space, and keeping many more
titles in stock than an urban bookstore can do in its limited, expensive
space. And, through use of sophisticated e-commerce technology, the
back office functions are freed up to move to wherever the labor mar-
ket is most attractive.
If you look at many traditional building types and urban patterns
today, you can see processes of fragmentation and recombination at
work. Most significantly, perhaps, concepts of “home” and “workplace”
are changing—together with concepts of the relationship of the home
to the workplace. A standard pattern of the twentieth century was for
an information worker to have a home in the suburbs, an office in the
The Network Society
central business district, and a daily commute between the two. In the
network society, though, the home may double as an electronically
connected workplace. There is little evidence that this will turn every-
one into housebound telecommuters—though it does open up new
work opportunities for the disabled, and for the geographically iso-
lated. For many, though, it means that work times and locations are
much more flexible, and that the home must now accommodate a
home office. And, in some contexts, it allows homes and workplaces to
recombine into new urban villages, with twenty-four-hour populations,
composed of live/work dwellings. In some cities, the development of
electronic live/work villages is becoming an attractive option for the
rehabilitation of historic but underutilized building stock.
Another way to say all this is to say that digital technology can add
value to a space in two ways. It can do so directly, by increasing the
comfort, efficiency, or versatility of the space itself—in other words,
by producing fusion space. And it can do so indirectly, by increasing
the connectivity and accessibility of the space for various purposes—
that is, increasing the value that it has by virtue of its location within
the larger, multiply networked urban system.
Wireless networking overlays an additional set of spatial effects on
the fragmentation and recombination produced by wired networks.
Depending upon the degree of miniaturization of wireless devices,
1. Simply substitute for wired infrastructure over rough terrain,
and in other circumstances where wired connections are diffi-
cult or expensive.
2. Provide mobile connectivity to vehicles—enabling flexible
and efficient dispatch of taxis, direction of emergency service
vehicles, and so on.
3. Free sedentary information work and entertainment from
fixed locations, and increase the value of places to sit down
and work at a laptop computer.
4. Provide mobile connectivity to pedestrians.
A practical architectural effect of this is to reduce the demand for
specialized, assigned space—private offices, cubicles, library carrels
and the like—and to increase the demand for unassigned public and
semi-public fusion space that can be appropriated for different pur-
poses, by electronically equipped and connected inhabitants, as
needed at any particular moment. Furthermore, in congenial climates,
outdoor and semi-outdoor spaces can have new uses. With your wire-
less laptop you can work just as easily on a park bench, in the shade of
a tree, as you can in a cubicle in an office tower.
Consider, for example, this very paper. I did not write it in my for-
mally designated “workplace”—my office at MIT. I wrote it on my
laptop in a series of hotel rooms, airplane seats, and cafés. I presented
it in Lisbon. And I emailed the final text to the editor via a wireless
connection in Italy.
All of this challenges the assumptions of the cost model that I
introduced earlier, and forces us to reframe strategies for designing
and managing urban space. It is no longer adequate to think solely in
terms of fixed assignments of activities to locations, and specialization
of those locations to their assigned activities—as homes, workplaces,
places to learn, places of entertainment, and so on. An increasing
component of urban space must consist of flexible, electronically serv-
iced fusion space that is nomadically occupied.
The emerging, associated paradox of portable, wireless connectivity
is that it does not produce space that looks “high tech.” The better the
miniaturized, wirelessly connected technology, the less obtrusive it
becomes; it disappears into your pocket and into the woodwork.
There is less necessity to organize buildings around technological
requirements, such as the requirement for sealed, air-conditioned
spaces to accommodate old-fashioned computers, or the requirement
for teaching space to be darkened to allow the operation of audiovi-
sual equipment—no longer necessary in an era of high-intensity dis-
play screens and video projectors. Without sacrificing functionality,
architecture can return to an emphasis upon natural light and air, view
and connection to nature, and sociability.
The Network Society
Implications for Portugal
Many of the implications of digital technology for Portuguese
architecture and cities are those that have now become familiar
throughout the world. We will see a growing role for electronically
enabled fusion space, and we will see ongoing fragmentation and
recombination of established building types and urban patterns as the
effects of digital networking become stronger and more prevalent.
There are, in addition, some particular opportunities. Due to its
pleasant climate and strong architectural traditions of making use of
outdoor and semi-outdoor space, Portugal has a particular opportu-
nity to take advantage of the architectural and urban potentials of
wireless connectivity. And there is also an exciting opportunity for
preservation and adaptive reuse of historic building stock in Lisbon
and other beautiful urban and village settings by unobtrusively intro-
ducing digital infrastructure, and thus adapting historic built fabric to
new uses without destruction of its character.
As I trust I have demonstrated, digital connectivity does not dimin-
ish the importance of place or of local architectural and urban charac-
ter, but instead provides powerful new ways of adding value to places.
A society is fortunate when it has distinctive, humane, pleasant places
to add value to. The challenge for Portuguese architects and urbanists
is to effectively relate the new technological opportunities of the
twenty-first century to the extraordinary Portuguese context of cul-
ture, climate, and architectural and urban tradition.
Policies of Transition
to the Network Society
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested