talking spaces

With the change of our communication along the multimedia superhighways, the attention spans have been shortened and dispersed.

The average viewer will be bombarded with a million message every instant, from billboards to moving screen images to architecture to every type of message and communication we receive. The environments we live in have become highly branded with messages flying at us from every perceived direction that it has become more difficult to communicate. The competition has become extremely fierce.



To counter that attention seeking modern environment, the urbanite takes more and more refuge in isolation. This has become apparent in the amount of people walking the streets with headphones in their ears, a focused determined look and an impenetrable bubble around them.



We walk more and more with music, or podcasts or some other sound that we pump into our ears including phone conversation with people who are not present within our physical realm. We forget to let the street and our environment talk to us. We thus are telling people and the city to stay away and not approach us. Trust me I know it is well warranted sometimes. You surely would like to avoid the chatterbox who sees you as a perfect target to rant about their problems hoping to save on the price of a session at their psychiatrist. But most often than not by retreating into our bubble we miss out on some interesting interaction between us and the city, between us and a passer by or even between us and someone we know that we did not notice was around us. It is true that most urban environments are not conducive to that interaction really but you can find a stage anywhere. For example one of my favourite urban parks is Bryant Park. The way this park has grown throughout the years has turned it  into a wonderfully engaging and engaged urban open space. Every time I go to New York I try to spend an afternoon there at least. I head there with my lunch, and a book. Two activities to which this park is so perfectly suited. The central core is open, on one side you have the New York Library and all around you have the high rises of mid manhattan. From those high-rises the scale shifts around the periphery of the park with a layer of trees and shrubbery where you have more intimate enclosed spaced that reopen towards the center. That center is where one night a week in the summer new yorkers converge with their picnic baskets to come and watch a classic movie. On any other time of the day you can take over these wood and steel green cafe chairs and tables and have yourself a quiet reflective time…. or so i always think. It never turns out to be the case. Every time, inevitably, I end up approaching or being approached by a stranger with whom i engage in a conversation about the book in either in our hands or something we overheard the other say in a conversation, maybe even an earlier phone conversation. That conversation most of the time pulls in other people in the vicinity and before we know it our little green cafe chair and table are moved around and we create an outdoor living space. If I am sitting in that same park with my headphones on I am sending a clear message to people sitting around me to stay away. What a pity that is since it would make me miss those wonderful conversations with strangers.



The urban environment used to be experienced through the dialogue that happened between its street level and its skyline. The buildings, which are individual symbolic expression of its inhabitants, are also pieces of the whole skyline. They communicate with each other like individual letters do in a text. Each is a self standing symbol, but the linguistic articulation between them and their negative spaces creates the text or the whole story. So we don’t only see a building alone but also how it is in harmony or clash with its surrounding.



Their street façade has always been more of the window through which you could read the identity of the building or the space, the canvas upon which the brand gets painted.



Theoretically it still works that way. This is why we still rely on that street level to be the space where the brand mainly unfolds and plays itself urbanely. We still work on branding those environments through architecture, interiors, communicative graphics, etc.

Yet we are becoming less effective that we used to be. As communicators we are having more trouble reaching into that self imposed isolation within the urban landscape. The disjunction between voyeur and the object of voyeurism has become so that we are not catching his attention long enough to want to make him come out of the cocoon. We walk the streets without even noticing the differences and the discrepancies of the places and spaces around us. It takes something that screams at us, like a glass box of the Apple store for us to take notice.


The plane where that urbanite breaks his isolation has become the screen, whether it is the television, the computer screen, the movie theater, the pad or especially the smart phone. In the case of the television, we go home and immerse ourselves in the reality of the shows where the brands and then their environments suddenly become our own, and we identify with them as if we belonged to or they were part of our daily lives. For example, the Idol series. It had started as a televised talent show in the UK. Now it has become such a strong phenomenon that it has now gone global, with shows in being made all over the world. When we choose to watch the show we know that we are joined by a million other viewers. Thus the characteristics of community, space and environment get redefined. The community is now dispersed and unconfined by a location, even though it is still somehow defined by time and idea. But we also know that we can safely assume that when we get to the office the next morning will be able to strike a conversation with one or several colleagues about the happenings of yesterday’s show. Thus the community gets extended to beyond the time of the show’s showing, joining like minded individuals in a new manner that has transcended the traditional sense of the meeting, and allows us to get out of isolation every once in a while. What also happens is that people get together, gathered by a community created around someone else’s life, whether fictional or real. I personally have been marginal to those shows. But every morning after the air of Idol, or Project Runway or any of these reality/ competition shows people around me would be talking about it, about what this competitor… Oh My Goodness what were they thinking, singing country on American Idol… that is soooo daring and did you see what she was wearing? And of course that poor thing falling flat on his face as he was dancing… now THAT was what cost him the competition. But i would vote for him. The culmination of all that was the Susanne Boyle phenomenon. An obscure talent who did not have the looks or the presence to be a performer came an wowed the world through one song. All of a sudden everyone identified with Susanne, everyone routed for her, everyone cried tears of joy for her. Everyone, everywhere, around the world. Even those who did not watch the show their space was invaded by it, at least for a few days.



The space where we truly allow ourselves to come out is the virtual communities on the computer screen. Where we go to a virtual community, for example Facebook, we are there intentionally to communicate. We choose to whom we want to talk to, even if they are strangers, by virtue of a selection process that allows us to narrow from a few million to a few hundred… We can browse, chat and create virtual communities that create a network with time being the common bond.

On some websites we can create our own avatars and live alternate lives.

In our real physical world it is not that different, we continuously make choices, even though we do not have an elimination listing system, we do go through the same process but in a different manner. So the interaction between us and the people around us are more defined by the space and time continuum.


That confinement has gone a step further with the smartphones and pad where you can have apps allowing you to ‘check-in’ and where others within your network would be able to know your location and either meet up with you or give you recommendations. Or the apps that allow you to know who in your vicinity would be a potential good suit, or a potential adventure and allows you to connect with them virtually and then physically. Those apps confine us to a pre-set number or characteristics that bind our experience to what the app defines as ‘ours’. Our role of reading the space and scanning through faces and places become minimized to the app we hold in our hands and our ability to read it and use it. It removes the element of play and the unknown, restricting our experiences and our potential experiences while enhancing and reinforcing the ones we know and have experienced before.


Thus the city and the urban landscape have to contend with a very tough competition. The old dilemma raise by Victor Hugo in ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ about the advent of the Guttenberg press is back. ‘Ceci tuera cela, le livre tuera l’edifice’ (this will kill that, the book will kill the edifice).


‘Ceci tuera cela’ was a declaration of the loss of legibility of the architecture due to the spread of the books, thanks to the modern printing press. It was also about the fear of the clergy of loosing power over the masses, since up till then they alone had the power of knowledge and choice given by the book, and the architectural edifice was a manifestation of that power over the population. It was majestic, it towered over the population showing then that through religion they could gain the vertical connection to God and to the heavens. The edifice also offered the gathering space for the community, where they get united to be guided by the choice. The fear of the clergy was that knowledge through the book would offer the population choices, thus diminishing their power, and that the book would create isolation dispersing the masses and again diminishing their power.

Yet architecture never really lost its legibility. It simply acquired a new set of linguistic symbols through which it communicated. It was a language that was alive, changing and timeless at the same time. It reflected the zeitgeist (the spirit of the age). So when we see a certain type of architecture, we can tell what period it was built in as well as what is the message it is trying to convey to us.

The architecture has always been part of a branded expression, that speaks about identity. From the pharaonic pyramids, the temple, the church, the mosque, to the corporate edifice, even passing through residential and vernacular architecture. It is the stamp of identity of a certain group. It helped foster a sense of identity, of belonging, of attachment, a belief, and even sometimes a sense of structure and hierarchy through which norms were set and accountability was determined.



The brand expression was not only in the exteriors but it included the interior and the environment with every piece of it communicating whether iconoclastically or architectonically. In our modern architecture we have not shifted away from that paradigm.


The architecture was never killed by the book, its methods have shifted and altered, but it always finds a way to reinvent itself as communication tool. The book was nothing but an extension of the space to when you are not present in it, especially when it came to religion where the argument originated from. It created a virtual world build through imagination. But it did not have the same power the screen has these days since reading the book was still an individual endeavor.


Architecture is about the community and the connection with the other, while the books are about isolation and refuge.


Will our modern day isolation methods’ impact prove to be similar to those that have been felt by the book, an extension of the physical world, or will it prove to create something completely different where it becomes a alternate world? Will the physical world need redefinition in terms of its paradigm and its messaging in order to keep its stature as a major message giver? It should be able to compete with the Sim-Cities and the Second-Lives out there where people can go live their alternative lives and have more choices. Will this duality and dichotomy redefine our architectural and urban expression? Will it create a new architectonic language that has a different way of expressing, spaces, function, loyalty, power or any of the other expressions architecture and space are so adept at making? In some cases like in China it has. A lot of people there live dual lives, the shown and the hidden. They splurge on what others can see to give the impression of wealth, as well as conformity. Yet in the confines of their homes it is a different story, and on the ‘chinese Facebook’ and qq it is an even more different landscape. They lives lives that are non conforming the requirements of tradition and culture. When trying to communicate to the chinese consumer one has to know on which plane they need to be and how to communicate through it which has been a struggle western, designers, architects and communicators have been facing.


Choice is the key word here. For the corporate world, which in a way equates the clergy at the time of Hugo, there will be a necessity to overcome the stance it has long taken an imposing its values upon its consumer and shift to making the consumer part of the process by giving them more choices. Maybe if the physical environment offered choices that were parallel to the avatars, and the control-alt-delete, the disconnect between the screen and the 3D world would be bridged. Choice that might actually lead us to a more flat and democratic architectural expression. A different type of space that has a capacity to transcend its own physicality and break the traditional social norms.

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20 Responses to talking spaces

  1. Gavin says:

    It truly is hard to find informed persons on that topic, nevertheless, you sound like you understand what you are posting on! Cheers

  2. Jenny Mancero says:

    Nowadays technology has become very useful in our lives, it can help us to solve a problem or perform a specific function. It has a lot of advantages and disadvantages but, as we know, it also has affected our society and its surroundings. I am very close to technology, through my blackberry I can contact very quickly my parents and my friends, I also can use easily social networks like Facebook and twitter. Technology can result really helpful, but the problem is that we overuse it until it isolates us from other people. In my case, sometimes I overuse my blackberry and it isolates me from my family.

  3. Geovanny says:

    I like the perspective you give to books, music and smart phones as a escape from the world and its messages, because sometimes we all need a break from it, in my case, I spend a lot of time listening to music as this helps me to relax and always have a positive attitude for the whole week, and my smart phone’s applications distract me for a while and are totally useful for communication with my family and friends, but you’re right, all these things are isolating us from the world. It’s very different to send xoxo at the end of a text message than give them a kiss and a hug personally. I think that there is a balance between both, we can be part of the world, enjoy what it offer and also use books and our smart phones to travel wherever we want. However real world will always be better than virtual, those buildings are what give to a country and its inhabitants their personality and unity, there are no applications that can give that.
    Great work!

  4. Emilio Mantilla says:

    I agree with you Gavin, I think now-a-day people are so trapped on their phones and other technologic devices that they can’t notice what happen around them, it results very familiar to me, because I see every day a lot of friends that live inside a bubble and they just don’t care about what is going on around them. I can tell that in a recent past I was trapped too by my blackberry that I just miss a lot of beautiful moments with my friends and my family, sometimes it is a hundred times better to watch the city, the people, the birds, the nature, maybe read about what is going on in the world, because when we are just focused on our social networks or our phones we are over the clouds. What is outside our phones it’s much better and we should learn about it, and care about other things that are more important. What I can notice is that people in prior are much more educated, and know many things about culture, history, art, etc. That we are really missing about learning of those things just because we spend all time talking about non sense things with our friends through out phones or the social networks.

  5. Carlos Galarza says:

    “The space where we truly allow ourselves to come out is the virtual communities on the computer screen.”, I think is a very curious quote; As you mentioned, since we open our eyes we are receiving an endless amount of messages. Branded messages that makes us categorize things, and sometimes people. Most of people that use virtual communities are looking forward to create a place that represents what they are(Or what they want to be), so they might also want to give a message. We are so filled of brands that we might categorize people depending on how they look like, before knowing who they really are. Using a virtual community may give a new chance to give another message and “allow themselves to come out”.

  6. Nicole Muentes says:

    I am totally agree with you, now a day people are so addicted to their cellphone, now with the smartphone technology the only think that they do is to use their cellphone, innfact, in meetings or events peolple don’t talk to each other, is really frustrating . This topic is really familiarity for me, because my family or my friends are with all this advice of technology all day, sometimes with my friends we don’t talk to each other face to face, but with our blackberries with can talk for hours is ironic but it happens. We have to do something about it, and enjoy more time with our family our friends without. Technology so in that way we can pass an enjoyable time like old times without this stuff, our grandparents or grandmothers live very happy without old this, why we can’t?

  7. Mericia Ramirez says:

    i understand your point. there’s no doubt that technology is clearly isolating people from the real world and the people that surround them. It’s also true that technology also helps people to be conected with others. Some times we want to talk to someone that lives in other country and because we can´t have them phisically near us, we use socialnetworks or skype to comunicate with them. technology makes more easily the comunication between people. even music also isolates us from the world, some times it helps people to forget about their problems and relax. for example, some time I need to be isolated from the world to feel stressless. I LOVE music I some times I prefer enjoy a trip of 2 or more hours, puting my headphones listening my favorite music and enjoying the view insted of talk to someone near me. It helps me feel calm and relax. But this doesn’t means I’m not sociable and don’t like to talk to people or that I prefer technology and a virtual world that the reality. I think that as you said, we can make our choise between talk to people that surround us and conect with the nature and the enviroment or stay continiusly conected with a virtual world and forget about the real one. I think we need to work to creat a balance between the reality and the people around us and the use of technology to be conected with the world and comunicated with others.

  8. Xavier Ruilova says:

    Somehow social networks have enhanced communications but have also consumed part of our life. That’s what I thought when I read your blog and when I compared it to my life.
    Every day I see at least one group of young people head down and all of them concentrated on an iPhone or Blackberry and most of them on Facebook. But I think the problem is not the phone… it’s the access through that phone to social networks which makes people leave to an alternate world.
    When books where considered an isolation method, at least they provided knowledge and creativity to offer new ideas; and it is true that social networks have helped us whether to communicate with people around the world or get in touch with friends we haven’t seen a long time ago but most of the time it only contributes to gossip and market (That’s what I perceive).The worst I have seen is a dependence of “Facebook users”, almost like a religion; they need to write what they are doing on that moment or uploading pictures and it’s ok but… every hour?

  9. Karin Orna says:

    I agree that communication devices and social networks isolates people from the real world. As we know this two were created to communicate with people that sometimes you can’t see or talk too frequently. If it wasn’t by communication devices and social networks, we couldn’t keep in touch with those people. But, the use of these can also make people be more isolated and all their relationships can become more impersonal. In my case I don’t consider myself addicted to social networks, I have a Facebook account but I don’t use it very much, only when I remember that I have it. On the other hand I use too much my cellphone, that helps me to be close to my friends, but isolates me from my family in some way. When I notice that I’m not participating with family, I stop using my cellphone and I start talking to them. So with this example I think there are different types of isolation but all of them converge at the same point, to separate you from the real world.

  10. Domenica Mera says:

    technology and the media have made significant progress, now we can all communicate at any time from anywhere in the world. now people are already dependent on technology to communicate. today’s youth have that problem. The problem is that we can not communicate without using technology, and without the technology to communicate we feel lost.

  11. Pablo Montalvo says:

    There are many changed around the world, especially in urban areas where older people used to not have the kind of technology that we now possess, enjoyed series of activities that dosen’t require mp3 players or cellphones. As you have already described, technology makes it easier to communicate with someone far away, but it also creates an isolation bubble form the outside world. People feel that they have two lives instead of one, one where youa ctually go outside and do activities, and the other where you live in many social networks. I think that confinement in social networks, could make some people believe that this is the only type of “life” they would want, but that is actually destroying your person in anonymous virtual realities. It’s fine to have a facebook account, but is not normal to only live because you need a digital social network to claim you are living life.

  12. Maria Fernanda Mina says:

    Nowadays people seem to have an incontrollable addiction with every: technological device, social network and others that were created supposedly to keep them in contact, but with the time it ended up destroying personal relationships. People have become so dependant to these devices that what they are getting is to isolate from the rest of the world; because they are too busy creating this “online world” that they just don’t have time to create real relationships. Even thought, in my case I can’t imagine a life without this devices, not because I am addicted to them but maybe because I have grown up surrounded by the; anyways I still thinking that we can take advantage of the technology, only if we learn how to control them and not letting them to control us.

    • Samar Hechaime says:

      Maria you are absolutely right. For us to be able to create cities and places that connect with us and future generations it would need to harness the power of the technology. It need to become more integral to the way we design our living spaces and not be something that grows on its own. That way we can help it reconnect us together and with the city or place.

  13. Yahel Gilbert says:

    I totally agree with you, now on days people only pay attention to what happens on the internet. We are caught in the things our celphones, laptops or other electronic devices have, that we do not see what mother nature has to give us. There are beautiful things on our environment we do not pay attention because we are talking to more that 3 people at the same time on our phones or we are always rushing that we don´t see what it is around us. We should not only focus on social networks, we should talk more often with people, see the birds, the flowers on our environment. We should enjoy more family time or go out with some friends instead of being locked in our technological buble.

  14. yahitsa molineros says:

    Nowadays technology is part of our life, in a way is completely usable but has its harmful side. People don’t really appreciate what they have around; because they are so immerse in other things, for example the kids are always playing in their Nintendo DS, PSP or every technological device that they use to distract themselves; teenagers and adults chatting in their cell phones, watching what people put or not in their social networks, if they are in a meeting with their friends or family they don’t pay attention to what they are talking about. Is very frustrating to see that people may not realize how beautiful the nature is or to enjoy a moment with people that we love. This becomes an uncontrollable situation that we need to change.

  15. Maria Jose Tinoco says:

    Nowadays many people pay attention to their phone and they can’t notice what is happening around them. That’s why I’m totally agree with you Gavin. We can say techonology had isolated for the other people (family, friends, etc). Techonology is very useful but as any other thing it has a limit too, we have to know how we are using this machines and how many times we are spending on them. We should not only focus on techonology because we have many people around us that someday will need us and we wouldn’t notice what could be.

  16. Mishelle Mora says:

    I agree, people pay more attention to technology and more moving away from the real world, this means that they often miss wonderful things of life and they do not realize that things simpler can be the most beautiful. technology has advantages and disadvantages for example cell phones help us to stay us in touch with people much faster but at the same time we are farther of them. the technologia is affecting younger people, our parents did not know to use computers or phones, we have learned to use it but our little brothers know to use phones and computers and tablet that is new to us, and in the future they will prefer to have virtual books that in physical and more couples will be known by social networks that personally, little by little people is away of the real world and is nearer of the virtual world.

  17. christian fierro says:

    I am agree with you,in this times we are linving in another type of world,nowadays the technology has become in something very important for us. But we can´t say that if the technology is something good or bad for the people, like all the things the technology has advantages and disavantages. in my case,the technology is something that help me a lot and I think it is useful for me, because when I want to do homeworks or bussiness or communicate with persons in anothers countries, I can do it thanks to the cellphones and the internet. But in the other hand the technology can be bad in some cases, for example in my family my sister is always with her cellphones and that is always a trouble for my parents because when we are eating or when we are in family she is always chating or in her facebook. In my case I don´t consider myself addicted to the technology becuase rarely I enter to my facebook or twitter, and I use my cellphones only when I want to do something important or communicate with my parents or my friends.Because in these days many people use too much the internet,cellphones,ipads,etc. and these things not permit to the people enjoy the real life,like our moments that we have with our family or friends. it is somenthing incredible that now we talk more in our cellphones than face to face.I I think that If we know how to use the technology for a good way it could be very good for our life.

  18. Miguel Alonso says:

    Cities are often associated with mixed emotions. They can sometimes make us feel insecure, disconnected and lonely, even in a crowd; while, in other moments, they provide the setting for the happiest events in our lives.

    Whether we are conscious of it or not, urban spaces have a huge impact on how people participate in public life. Regular people of the cities know that the original concept of the public sphere originates from the agora old.

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