IT, The City and Public Space

Posted by Nishant Shah at Feb 22, 2010 06:45 AM |
In the Introduction to the project, Pratyush Shankar at CEPT, Ahmedabad, lays out the theoretical and practice based frameworks that inform contemporary space-technology discourses in the fields of Architecture and Urban Design. The proposal articulates the concerns, the anxieties and the lack of space-technology debates in the country despite the overwhelming ways in which emergence of internet technologies has resulted in material and imagined practices of people in urbanised India. The project draws variously from disciplines of architecture, design, cultural studies and urban geography to start a dialogue about the new kinds of public spaces that inform the making of the IT City in India. You can also access his comic strip visual introduction to the project at


There has been, in the fields of design and architecture, a close link between the shape and imagination of the city spaces and the dominant technologies of the time. The study of space (Architecture, Public places and City form) can lead to very interesting insights into the expression of the society with respect to the dominant technologies. Manuels Castells argues that space is not a mere photo-copy (reflection) of the society but it is an important expression. Fredric Jameson, in his identification of the condition of post-modernity demonstrates how the transition into new technologies is perhaps first and most visibly reflected in the architecture, as physical spaces get materially reconstructed, not only to house the needs and peripheries of the emerging technologies but also to embody their aesthetics in their design and built form.Earlier technologies have led to new understandings of the notions of the public and commons. Jurgen Habermas argues, how the emergence of print cultures and technologies led to a structural transformation of the public sphere by creating new and novel forms of participation and political engagement for the print readers. Within cinema studies in India, Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Madhav Prasad have looked at the ‘cinematic city’ - how material conditions of the city transform to house the cinema technologies, and how the imagination of certain cities is affected by the cinematic representations of these spaces. Mike Davis’ formulations of an ‘Ecology of Fear’ and Sean Cubbit’s idea of ‘The Cinema Effect’ also show the integral relationship that technologies have with the imagination and materiality of urban spaces.

Research Area:                                                                                     

The rise of the Internet in India in last decade poses interesting questions concerning ways of studying city spaces and its architecture. The Internet evokes and represents space in more than one way. Communities that represent the present urban social processes often mediate this visual and textual reference to space on the Internet but it is also an unwitting expression of way people choose to imagine their city, its places and its built form. It is important and pertinent for example to understand how Internet communities choose to abstract their own city through various direct or indirect discourses. The following will be the key questions

·         It will be interesting to observe how the idea of a city gets represented on the Internet through both intended and casual references. For example is the City seen as a finite clarified artifact (as many political leadership would like us to believe) or is it seen as complex set of relationships or systems of places.

·         How does the city get represented through the Internet with reference to its regional physical context (both geographical and cultural landscape)? Such an enquiry can help us in knowing how representation of city through the Internet acknowledges, neglects or fails to read its relationship with the local fundamental conditions[i] (of topography, water and culture)

The actual morphological context of the city will then become an important precursor for such an enquiry. The structure and flows in the city have often been compared to the Internet itself in popular discourses. This assumption can be further analyzed through spatial study of the city as a node in large region and as many several nodes within the city itself. The idea of Spaces of Flow in metropolis cities and places as nodes serving the flow has been very well articulated by Manuel Castells at a generic level. The issue of place[ii] and its representation (through internet) can be another area that can offer us very interesting insights into the relationship between the Cartesian and imagined space. The evolution of a new graphic language on the Internet needs closer examination from both its use of spatial symbolism as well as its impact on urban space.

However the contextual issue of an Indian idea of space will becomes the important narration as a background to such studies. This inquiry needs examination from a more contextual point of view: from both geographical (nature of cities) and building typology perspectives (spatial and programmatic types)

The following questions will be investigated further

a.       How do the current Internet technology, processes and language reflect in Architecture and urban spaces of cities?

b.      Will the form of the City and its Architecture understood any differently now[iii]?

The relationship between the building skin and spatial typology of some recent architectural and urban design project can form an interesting narrative to understand these issues. Here the issue of urban and architectural lighting, signage and graphics can be examined more closely and hence a study of the building skins and typology. The other largely ignored area of study concerns the role of the Government of India with the Internet. When was the last time we visited the railway reservation center to get a ticket or stood in a queue for hours to be the first on the window? Many Indians still do, but for many an Internet based on-line tickets reservation site largely substitutes that experience of the place (railway reservation center), people and the early morning tea on the gate. This needs closer examination from point of view of understanding the transformation and gentrification of some of the most democratic public service spaces in India such as the Railway stations, Municipal offices and banks. Apart from the material practices of the people, it is interesting to see how the integration of technologies within various urban governance practices affect the way in which cities morph, develop and change.


The aim is to engage with the spatial context of Indian cities while teasing out issues of the cultural phenomenon associated with the Internet. The following will be the key methods used in research

·         To identify and narrate the social structures and processes that engage both with the intangible (meanings, symbols, communication etc.) and the tangible (morphology, structure, geography) in select Indian cities. This elaboration will form an important theoretical premise specific to further understanding space in Indian Cities. 

·         To document stories of individuals and groups of the city that demonstrates the typical changes that are taking place in various social and economic processes as related to the Internet. The aim will be to address both the tangible and intangible aspects while narrating the stories

·         To map the spatial implication (structure and nature of spaces) of the above mentioned changes on the city

·         To derive a broader narrative while weaving through different stories, that attempts to address the issue of Internet, society and space in Indian Cities

The research can be largely narrated through documentation of such representative situations but will require a clear articulation of the theoretical premises at the onset.

A review literature chapter which specifically marks the different contours of city-technology relationship – from IT cities which are planned to house technologies, to SEZ’s which emerge as new forms of technologised cities, to the gradual transformation and restructuration of city spaces and publics would also be undertaken. Moreover it will combine the contextual based study of cities, their public place and Architecture along with studies of the discourses on the Internet. The project will look at different actors who play an active, but often invisible role in the transformation of these spaces.

Dissemination and Outputs:

The project shall bring forth a monograph (approximately 50,000 words) that looks at a relationship between internet technologies and the city with a historical perspective, in order to explore the notions of public, built form, city spaces etc. within the Indian context.

A journal paper that engages with the contemporary discourses in Architecture and produces a new theoretical formulation of the city-technology relationship.

Part of the research method could possibly include an elective course or workshop at CEPT University to tap on variety of narrations through different students to strengthen both the premise and contextual focus of the study.

[i] This is to say that city form and its perception is very much a result of the both the local geographical and cultural context

[ii] “Place” can be defined through both space and character of an area and where the human experience is important. We experience places and hence understand it as they hold different processes and meanings.

[iii] So does the presence of Internet in our lives impact the way we begin to understand the Architecture of our city?



Venturi, Robert. Learning from Las-Vegas : the forgotten symbolism of architectural form.  MIT Press, 1976

Castell, Manuel. The Rise of the Networked Society. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000

Adorno Theoder. The Culture Industrty (Routledge Classics). Routledge, 2001

Benjamin Walter. The Arcade Project. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002

Jameson Fredric. Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of Late Capatalism. Verso, 1999

Davis Mike. Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster. Random House, 1998

Ashish Rajadhayaksha. Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid: From Bollywood to the Emergency (South Asian Cinemas).



Nishant Shah

Dr. Nishant Shah is the co-founder and board member of the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India, and is a professor at the Institute of Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media at Leuphana University in Germany, and is Dean of Research at ArtEZ Graduate School, the Netherlands.