The Mixed-Reality City

The contemporary city is constituted by multiple overlapping, intermixing realities articulated between built form and imagined space, individuated experience and collective memory, embodied sensation and digital mediation. Often, these multiple realities are invisible or illegible in physical space, with certain narratives dominating particular environments. However, realities always leave traces, to be excavated and reconstructed.

Practices in new media art and speculative architectural production set the context for this hybrid seminar/studio. In the Mixed-Reality City, students will work towards final independent projects that remix reality in public spaces through novel combinations of audio/video/image recordings, networked data streams, and material artifacts.

This year, the course will confront the morass of urban data; we will examine how life in cities is captured, curated, and presented through online media and identify emergent opportunities for artistic intervention. Students will work with (and against) data in three modes: 1. Discussion of historical and theoretical conceptions of urban realities, with particular emphasis on data-driven art practices and experimental mapping; 2. Analysis of urban data in various forms — lists, spreadsheets, feeds, pipes, maps, collections, profiles, or visualizations;  and 3. Creative production of new mixed realities. Artists, architects and theorists to be referenced include: Janet Cardiff, Bruno Latour, Frederic Jameson, Paul Dourish, Carl DiSalvo, Miwon Kwon, Jacques Rancière, Kazys Varnelis and others.

Through these engagements — discursive, analytical, creative — students will grapple with a number of challenges developing around urban data: What count as data in cities? How can artists, designers, curators, and scholars work with digital data without deep technical knowledge? What are the social and material histories of urban data? How are cities referenced and defined online in participatory cultures on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and the like? What are the political implications of the rise of the Internet as a vital public space for the exchange of data? How might new media practices shape cities and give rise to mixed-realities?

The course will illuminate distributed spaces of urban activity that take on collective identities through networked events from the mundane (a conversation) to the momentous (a hurricane). Indeed, spatial events and phenomena are connected across cities by information technologies. Social networks, participatory maps, and online media collections are shaping mixed-city social spaces. In 2013, the image of the city is a composite image, in which fragments of dispersed urbanism are drawn together and entangled online. The Mixed-Reality City will explore how artists and designers might intervene in this emergent, hybrid cityscape.

The Mixed-Reality City is hosted by metaLAB (at) Harvard, a research unit for experiments in the arts, media, humanities, and social sciences at the GSD and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Visit  to get a sense of the types of projects created in the course during past terms.

Note: Some knowledge of digital media basics is  expected (ex. adobe suite, digital photography, video, or audio recording). Previous experience in computer programming is not required, however students interested in hacking and developing their own technologies are welcome.

Prerequisite for registration is enrollment in the APPD MDesS track. This course is required for first year students, and optional for those in their second year.