New Media and Architecture Dec 11 at 1.15 CET

Erica Robles, Stanford University, will visit HUMlab this coming week. We are very happy to have Erica in the lab. Here is the abstract for her seminar. December 11 at 1.15 pm CET. The seminar will be streamed live. A link will be published from this blog entry later.

New Media and Architecture: The American Megachurch as a Case Study
Erica Robles, Stanford University 

With the widespread propagation of networked communication technologies, the settings for social life, more often than not, involve complex compositions of media and space. Affecting every category of human experience, from work via telecommuting to leisure in cyber cafés to public discourse in virtual communities, new media re-shape the architectures of everyday life. As scholars, designers, researchers, and practitioners our primary focus has been the role of communication technologies in affecting these transformations. For example, Media Lab founder, Nicholas Negroponte, writes, “digital technologies should allow people to be anywhere, regardless of where they are” (from Being Digital, 1995). From this perspective, the qualities of physical space, geography, cultural context, and institutional setting become obstacles to transgress, overcome, or forego.

Arguing, instead, that contemporary social settings involve both cultural and technological changes, both media networks and material structures, this talk demonstrates their inter-relationships by focusing on how a traditional social practice, religious worship, employs new media and contemporary architectural design. Illustrated vividly by American megachurches, which combine commercial-style architectures in sprawling metropolitan areas with a reliance on technologies, media enterprises, and consumer logics, these sites evidence a strong interest in using new media to preserve rather than overcome traditional social structures.

Through case study of a pioneering and influential megachurch, The Crystal Cathedral, this presentation grounds a series of questions about the role of new media, culture, and the built environment. Recounting the fifty-year history of this institution first as a Southern California ‘drive-in church’, then a ‘walk-in/drive-in/television church’, and finally as a monumental glass architecture and global media enterprise, its architectural expressions magnify the processes of cultural response to technological and spatial change. The church evolves as it brokers new media – first television, then the Internet – to its community of believers. At every step the built environment, designed in collaboration with a series of notable architects – Richard Shelley, Richard Neutra, Philip Johnson, and Richard Meier – reproduces a vision of faith that relies upon technology to enact a new form of monumentality suited to a digital, networked world.

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