The 21st century will be a period of incredible remaking. Rather than just adding layers of progress to existing structures, we will need to nonlinear versions of progress. The world's population will need to find new ways of living--probably mostly in cities. Our relationships with one another and our surroundings will have to shift and evolve, and so, too will the things that delight us. Decoding Labs is a repository for a sort of alt-urbanism/alt-futurism--a reimagining of spatial-social relations along new lines. Hosting research on communes, experimental aesthetics, urban memes, adaptive interventions, repurposed and redesigned infrastructures, and reflections on an imminent 'post-industrious' urbanism, the site attempts to find, explore and expand fragments of a distinctive future in the faltering present.
Cities are much more than a composition of utilitarian infrastructures. They are environments, where people—irrational, emotional, complex, dynamic and pluralistic organisms involved in all sorts of varied and complicated social relations—live their lives. As Rem Koolhaas argues, the story of the evolution of the metropolis is, among other things, the story of the empowerment of increasingly ludicrous ambitions and desires, which, he says, despite the modernist lip-service to pragmatism and rationality, are the real force behind urban development. Today, there is much attention given to the no-doubt important technical issues of transportation infrastructure and housing policy (not that we are making very serious headway in solving these issues), but little attention is given to the highly nuanced and ephemeral qualities of city life that actually compose a fair amount of the psychological realities of the majority of urban dwellers. It’s like we focus so hard on making cities work that we forget why we made them in the first place. Decoding Labs is a directed effort to tilt our attention to these aspects of urbanism; to listen to, and ‘decode’ the massive stream of qualitative information about urban environments that come from the complex cultural sphere that we call ‘society’, and to ‘recode’ new ecologies of desire into and onto urban space. In effect, it intends to augment highly practical discourses over infrastructure with narratives about motivation, affect, and aesthetics.
The four-part research/experimentation initiative addresses the following categories:
Spatial Research: examining the ways in which new urban spaces, activities, or behaviors took shape, developed, and caught on (or didn’t, as the case may be);
Spatial Experimentation: playing with new spatial typologies and aesthetics in order to diversify the kinds of places that the city hosts, for a time of quite constricted and homogenized spatial typologies and underutilized affective potential;
Social Research: examining the complex social dynamics and ecologies of care, support, sexuality and desiring that presently exist;
Social Experimentation: playing with new social configurations and organizations to better fit the diverse needs, desires and culture of a generation left behind by old social configurations and institutions.
The connection between these categories is not necessarily a rigorous one, nor is it meant to be. The reason for featuring these rather diverse sets of considerations alongside one another is in order to avoid producing entirely disconnected silos of disciplinary focus. At the heart of our hypothesis is that space and society are intimately connected, and therefore should not be considered in isolation from one another. Considering them together is necessary if we are going to move beyond cold, technical, and singular twentieth century paradigms, to advance a more sophisticated and pluralistic vision of urban life in the twenty-first century. The end result should be a stream of information and suggestions appropriate for devising intelligent, ‘soft’, spatio-social infrastructures to accompany and help inform pragmatic structural urban redevelopment.