The intricate nature of city components

An excerpt from Jane Jacobs' "The Death and Life of Great American Cities":

"Intricate mingling of different uses in cities are not a form of chaos. On the contrary, they represent a complex and highly developed form of order. (...) Let us first consider that diversity looks ugly. (...) But this belief implies something else. It implies that city diversity of uses is inherently messy in appearance; and it also implies that places stamped with homogeneity of uses looks better. (...) If the sameness of use is shown candidly for what it is - sameness - it looks monotonous. Superficially, this monotony might be thought as a sort of order, however dull. But esthetically, it unfortunately also carries with it a deep disorder: the disorder of conveying no direction."

colored material

The picture above has been taken in a familiar area of Geneva. While it does not really depict a "mixture of use" as described by Jane Jacobs, I found it was a good candidate to represent heterogeneity in a city. The two building it shows are different and the junction between them is not seamless.

Why do I blog this? this is space in itself, a sort of heterogeneous continuum with seams (I also mentioned holes a while ago). The quote from Jacobs is interesting because it explains the advantage of diversity: it creates an identity that eventually enable people to find their way in cities (and memorize places).

What does that mean in terms of design and ubiquitous computing? Well, first of all, this situation ought to be taken into account in the design itself: certain systems or artifacts may work differently depending on the space people are located. Second, seams, flaws, holes and stuff can be taken into account, this is called "seamful design". People interested in this might have a look at Chalmers, M. & Galani, A. (2004): Seamful Interweaving: heterogeneity in the theory and design of interactive systems. In: Proceedings of ACM conference on designing interactive systems DIS 2004. ACM, New York, pp 243–252.