The Mixed-Reality City

The contemporary city is constituted by multiple overlapping, intermixing realities articulated across built form and imagined space, individual experience and collective memory, embodied sensation and digital mediation. Often, these multiple realities are invisible or illegible, with certain narratives dominating particular environments. However, realities always leave traces, to be excavated and reconstructed. The Mixed-Reality City is an exploratory research seminar and workshop in which students pursue studies of urbanism-in-the-making through means and methods emerging in the digital arts and humanities, including: data narrative, digital ethnography, adversarial design, and critical technical practice. The course focuses in equal parts on unpacking discourses and developing interpretative digital artifacts.

This year, the course will examine the mixed-reality of natural and artificial environments, principally in the Northeastern United States. Projects will focus on historical and contemporary controversies over troubled natural or wild places and phenomena by exploring their associations and effects within cities. The class will pursue questions about the co-construction of the “natural” and the “artificial” as well as feral presences in cities: places and phenomena once domesticated, now returned to nature. Moreover, we will examine the relationship between natures and networks. What happens to technology in the wild? Can technology itself become feral?

We will read authors, such as Bruno Latour, Kevin Lynch, Michel DeCerteau, Leo Marx, Donna Haraway and William Cronon, who explain the mixed-reality of cities in their own ways. We will also engage the work of artists and designers who make a practice out of intervening into controversies: Natalie Jeremijenko, Sara Wylie, Kelly Dobson, Leanne Allison, Jeremy Mendes, Phoebe Sengers, and Carl DiSalivo. The Mixed-Reality City is a highly participatory class. Students will be expected to actively contribute to discussions and project critiques. At the beginning of the term there will be a rapid series of exercises in writing, mapping, and precedent analysis. Towards the end of the term, students will focus on lengthy final projects to interpret and intervene in mixed wild and constructed places in cities.

The course is open to all graduate students at Harvard and associated institutions. While there are no prerequisites, students are expected to bring basic skills in digital media. The Mixed-Reality City is hosted by metaLAB (at) Harvard, a research unit of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, focused on experiments in the arts and humanities.