Programmed realities in built environments

TEXT: Daniel Schöngruber
IMAGE: Laser scan |

What are “Urban Glitches”? How can this new definition of urban phenomena help to give progressive impulses to the current planning culture? Is the Glitch to be understood as problem- or as solution-oriented thinking?
In order to help answer these questions, digitalization processes must first be explained and their effects on individuals and society considered.

Digitalization has been on everyone's lips since the mid-1990s at the latest as a diffuse term for the technological, social and spatial development of humanity. In fact, it describes processes of computerization of information and measures the current state of technology in the information age. The information age - also known as the digital age - is the third era of economic and social forms and, according to media theorist Neil Postman, is based on the exponential growth of information and its availability .1 According to him, the beginning of the information age cannot be traced back to the introduction of digital technologies from the middle of the 20th century, but rather to the invention of printing by Johannes Gutenberg. The transition from the era of industrialization to the information age is therefore a gradual, lengthy process whose status quo is digitalization, i.e. the unrestricted quantification of data.
The effects of the "digital revolution" on individuals and society are diverse and profound. The so-called internet-based “new media” make a redefinition of private and public, physicality and the difference between analog and digital space unavoidable. 
The mobile phone, a daily companion for more than 80% people worldwide, is now much more than just a means of communication. Rather, it has become an integral part of our perception, memory and thinking. The architect Mark Wigley even goes so far as to claim that the smartphone has already taken over the role of architecture in creating an individual sense of security and space for orientation.2 It is at the same time a library, social and private space that is not tied to a specific location, and a door to a network of global dimensions. 
Quite a few scholars see the development of the Internet, as a network for acquiring, processing and disseminating information, as the establishment of global consciousness. The immediacy with which information is shared and travels around the world makes it appear as a common sensory organ for all people.3
However, the data processing that digitization requires is of an electronic and binary nature that only knows two states. 0 and 1. “Off” and “On”. 
Machine information processing happens on the principle of cybernetics. This describes the processes involved in the regulation and control technology of machines, comparable to the behavior of organisms or entire social systems through the feedback of their sensory perceptions. Cybernetic structures therefore act based on received data and the programmed reaction to it and thus characterize a constructivist view.
 Digitalization therefore makes it clear above all how human society, with increasing intensity, programs itself, actively and unknowingly, in all its operational consequences, from social and economic systems to spatial and urban planning. 
However, human learning or evolutionary processes require the ability to process problems “outside” programmed expectations. For this reason, as well as due to the rapidly advancing technical possibilities for data collection and processing, more and more digital systems are using the principle of machine learning. “Artificial intelligence” is based on the idea of programming algorithms that, analogous to human behavior, are capable of a new reaction by analyzing previous decisions and their consequences. 
Programming is therefore a learning process, a circumstance that is also expressed in modern social sciences in the consideration of error culture and resilience.The individual processing of negative events or problems results in increased resilience, i.e. an expanded resistance of technical, ecological or psychological systems.
When it comes to computer programs, these negative events and problems are often referred to as “glitches”. These indicate the appearance of logic errors in the underlying programming. Unforeseen “digital artifacts” occur in the audiovisual output that affect the functionality of the running program. 
The term "glitch" was soon used in media art. “Glitch music”, a conscious implementation of technical audio artifacts into music, became established as early as the 1980s. The topic quickly found relevance in film art as well. Films like matrixTotal recall or Ghost in the shell dealt with the merging of physical and digital worlds as well as their inherent coding problems and increasingly brought the topic into the mainstream.5 And last but not least, the "glitch" also found its way into graphic design. The term “glitch art” refers to a visual style that uses technical errors for aesthetic purposes, be it consciously initiated or through random processes. She thus refers to the technologization of design and to the underlying algorithms, textures and patterns.6
The translation of “glitches” into urban considerations requires the assumption of conscious programming of the urban fabric and its spatial, ecological and social effects. Problems in this programming, which are reflected in the instruments of spatial planning, building regulations and in response to contemporary historical events, become visible in the form of artifacts, analogous to computer programs. "Urban glitches" are errors in a planning culture that have become visible, so to speak, whose processes have either lost their validity over time, have been impaired by parallel systems, or contain an inherent error in the program code, which due to the random occurrence of various, unforeseen states in Appearance occurs. The early detection of an "urban glitch" can bring a decisive advantage in urban planning. The visible appearance of a problem in the programming of urban processes requires a consideration of the entire source code and the question of its current relevance in order to understand it.
The search for “urban glitches” therefore represents an attempt to draw conclusions about the underlying operating principles of the executed program routines by analyzing the logic errors that have occurred and to adapt the programming if necessary.
The architectural theory approach of the “Urban Glitch” combines social science research on error culture and a systemic view of (urban) space with the means of software programming and error diagnosis. The thought patterns refer to the system theory of the German sociologist Niklas Luhmann7 and on the philosopher Jean Gebser, who first expressed the theory of an "integral consciousness" around 1950.8 Gebser and Luhmann encourage a systemic view of dependencies and provide methods for describing complex issues. The researchers take a meta perspective and abstract conditions and relationships in order to enable a holistic view. The approach of “Urban Glitches” therefore represents neither problem- nor solution-oriented thinking, but rather provides a sober interpretation of connections.
In video games, which first made the term “glitch” popular, players soon discovered the opportunity to exploit programming errors for their own benefit. "Glitch" can help here to immortality, level skipping or other benefits. 
Urban and spatial planning can also use this thinking to learn from the reflective examination of systemic processes and to develop further from them.
In the sense of the statement by the writer James Joyce, the "Urban Glitch" encourages the following perspective:
Mistakes are the gateway to new discoveries.”

Postman, Neil. “We inform ourselves to death.”  The time, October 2, 1992. Web. December 08, 2021
Wigley, Mark; Colomina, Beatriz. “Homo smartphonensis – are we still human? Notes on the Archeology of Design” Arch+ project bauhaus, Arch+ Verlag GmbH, December 2018. Print.
Flad, Sebastian. “The globalization of our thinking.” The time, September 25, 2011. Web. December 08, 2021
Schramm, Stefanie; Wüstenhagen, Claudia. “The Art of Failure.” The time, June 11, 2013. Web. December 08, 2021
Abhinav, Jai Singh. "Tron, The Matrix, Inception: Before Ready Player One: Here are seven films that explored the world of virtual reality"., March 29, 2018. Web. December 09, 2021
Pomerleau, Colette. "Glitch Art: History and Use of the Trend." 2018. Web. December 09, 2021
Höfer, Florian. “Luhmann system theory”. November 01, 2021. Web. December 09, 2021
Lerch, Fredi. “What if consciousness is not, but becomes?”. Journal October 8, 2015. Web. December 09, 2021