Digital clouds and the politics of design

by Matthew Rech

Last week London’s Mayor Boris Johnson announced a competition shortlist of buildings designed to provide the centre piece for the London 2012 Olympic village. Committed to creating a ‘legacy for the East end of London’, and a popular tourist attraction, the designs aim to alter London’s skyline forever (Fildes, 2009).

However, and not forgetting a shortlist allegedly containing designs by former Turner Prize winners, there has been a clear and stand-out forerunner: the ‘Digital Cloud’. Consisting ‘tall mesh towers and a series of interconnected plastic bubbles that can be used to display images and data’, the digital cloud boasts an international team of architects, artists and engineers.

Although the emergence of the cloud as forerunner to the competition undoubtedly rests upon the early publication of design details, this largely unreported announcement may, arguably, hide certain political realities associated with the design, planning and construction of large buidlings in urban centres.

As Igal Charney argues in Area, despite the fact that architectural projects provide cities with identity and aesthetic legitimacy, we must be aware of the power of architiecture in terms of its ability to dictate the future of urban growth. Although many aspects of the digital cloud are extremely admirable (not least the progressive financing plans), the ‘urban re-imagining’ that the cloud implies, must always be sited within the political and economic milieu from which it may finally emerge.

Read Jonathan Fildes’ article at BBC online

Read Charney, I (2007) The politics of design: architecture, tall buildings and the skyline of central London. Area, 39. 2, 195-205


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