Mitchell's City of Bits: Commentary and Discussion

Ramifications of the Virtual, or Casualties are still Casualties

Vivian Rosenthal

What are the ramifications of the "reconfiguring of space and time relationships"? As distance collapses, how is urban planning transformed? Is it no longer applicable or is it merely necessary that we redefine our definition of "urban planning"? Similarly, we must reimagine our preconceived notion(s) of architecture. While Mitchell defines architecture as "materially constructed form," I think it is necessary to challenge this definition. That is, is theoretical (unbuilt) architecture not as "real" as built architecture? Many of the most famous architectural designs have never been constructed. In addition, as cities become increasingly built up, there is no more physical space in which to build. A virtual architecture is free from the constraints of gravity, size, distance, and cost. As Here becomes There and There becomes Here we experience a loss of specificity. In other words, New York is as much Paris as Paris is Paris.

Mitchell purports that, "once we have both a "real" 3-D world and computer constructed "virtual" ones, the distinctions between these worlds can get fuzzed or lost." While I think that the collapse of this distinction is exciting, it also seems problematic, dangerous even, in that it causes a derealization process that severs connections with the corporeal world. For instance, the Gulf War was as much a war of simulation as it was a physical war, and yet, casualties are still casualties...

In cyberspace, the architectural program is able to remain inchoate. This transformative quality is congruent with the transformative nature of the cyborg and helps us to retheorize the body in space. That is, a destabilizing of space facilitates a destabilizing of subjectivity.

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