Technology Tests City Limits

Event: TimeZone, A Project by John Stuart
Location: Van Alen Institute, 08.12.08
Speaker: John Stuart — Van Alen Institute New York Prize Fellow Summer 2008
Organizers: Van Alen Institute


Drawing by Cyril Manyara, courtesy Van Alen Institute

TimeZone, a sociological research project, employs technology to challenge the physical realities of distant cities. The inaugural phase of what New York Prize Fellow John Stuart aims to establish as public installations internationally consists of two groups of students — one in NYC and one in Lima — regularly communicating via interactive pods fitted out with MacBooks, microphones, cameras, projectors, and an Internet connection. The voluntary teens engage in unscripted conversations with peers of different socioeconomic classes. Stuart hopes that the familiar communication technologies will inspire dialogue and “equalize the visual divide,” while exploring the impact of personal technology on public space.

“This project is about asking how material… makes true a social, collective space,” according to Adi Shamir, executive director of the Van Alen Institute. It questions if “we need the material realm for public engagement.” The NY-based students, participants of summer workshops at the Museum of Modern Art and the Center for Architecture, interacted with students at the Colegio Santa Maria Marianistas in Lima via two prototypical pods fabricated by Evans & Paul, a DuPont Corian fabricator, from a translucent, solid surface material. Conversations explored political and social change, as well as cultural inquiry.

In following phases, Stuart wants to install TimeZone pods in municipalities along north-south axes, which he says often contain the greatest disparity between rich and poor. The pods may invite spontaneous interaction during daily routines and cross-pollinate public activities despite geographic, cultural, and language barriers. Ultimately, this method of global communication could counter technological privatization and revitalize conventional public spaces.