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New media and space
Despite the heterogeneity of the sources, the literature dealing with the new media regularly comes back to the notion of space. Its language is conspicuously peppered with spatial references: electronic space, cyberspace, hyperspace, digital space, virtual space, information space, proto-space, terminal space, para-space... Despite its qualification by a host of prefixes, it is an all-purpose term that serves to illustrate the indeterminate site of data. The promiscuous use of the term space implicates architecture as a player, and architecture willingly assumes this given role, no matter how improbably.

Telecommunications and architecture
The massive diffusion of information by means of the printed word was supposedly going to replace architecture as a cultural expression. But, driven by a strong survival instinct, architecture slowly expanded its domain to encompass a whole industry of self-sustaining literature. But now, in a world dominated by computers, telematics and television, architecture’s self confidence is collapsing beneath the weight of its immaterial adversaries. Apart from its noises about smart buildings, equipped with computer systems to manage their lighting, their privacy and their security, architecture’s efforts to make itself heard in the concert of electronic media have so far been to little. A few projects do succeed in integrating the new technologies, however: digital representations of building sites, formal computer modelling strategies and what is in fact virtual design, the simulation of buildings. But as architecture’s desire to represent technology grows, so this technology itself becomes more difficult to represent. Advanced technology today strives to dispense with the materiality of hardware, becoming invisible, leaving only the interface and its effects.

Utopias of transparency

The technologies of electronics employ a rhetoric of liberty to affirm the free access to information within the cyberspace. This unlimited access abolishes distances and supposedly makes the world more transparent and democratic. This discourse may remind us of the architects of the beginning of this century when new materials and new construction techniques appeared. A transparent world suddenly seemed possible with information available to all, unimpeded by conventional spatial limitations. It was the age of steel and glass towers, the very structure of which was to produce a new form of socialization. The democratization of information was one of the announced aims of the modernists. Here, glass, the ideal material, was supposed to dematerialize walls, reveal what had hitherto been hidden from view, encourage the emergence of truth and lead to a more open and healthy society. In 1914, in his Glass Manifesto, Paul Scheerbart wrote that the replacement of masonry by glass announced a new, limitless space which would raise cultural levels’and lead, in the long run, to a transformation of humanity.

Glass: visibility or control?

Public reactions to glass alternated between euphoria and paranoia. These reactions announced a changeover from enthusiasm to suspicion, where the democratic intentions of computer technologies were concerned. A technology which promised the generalization of information could propagate misinformation just as efficiently. The technological promise of democratic visibility could be reversed, offering only improved surveillance. A technology which guaranteed total freedom of movement would sooner or later have to accept the restrictions and regulations which govern traditional space. Rather than creating new, more open, social behavioral patterns, technology generated new strategies of secrecy. At the beginning of this century, the democratic ideals associated with glass gave rise to new fears, a preoccupation with surveillance and control which raised the question: what liberty and on which side of the pane of glass? Similarly, the liberty promised by the new information technologies raises the question: what liberty and on which side of the interface?