Another Architecture

by Mitch McEwen

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    Learning from stinkbugs

    Mitch McEwen
    Dec 10, '12 12:54 AM EST

    On November 23rd, a biologist, an economist, a media theorist, a composer and a few other academics came here to Akademie Schloss Solitude to make a symposium on RhythmAnalysis.  The title references Henri Lefebvre's Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life, but the presenters talked broadly about rhythm from their own disciplines.  In the end it was up to us to make the connections back to everyday life and space as social practice. 

    The presentation that offered me the most insight into re-thinking Space, Time, and Everyday Life came from a biologist who studies bugs, primarily stinkbugs.  Meta Virant-Doberlet (Department of Entomology, National Institute of Biology, Ljubljana, Slovenia) records plant vibrations to study what she calls "substrate-borne communication."   

    Photo from Meta Virant-Doberlet via

    These stinkbugs use plants to transmit messages-- low frequency signals that vibrate within the substrate of the plant.  The sounds are not airborne, the way that we hear with our eardrum, but travel directly through the leaves and stalks that the bugs live on and eat.  The signals travel clearly within one stalk and reach multiple plants via overlap in leaves or small air gaps between leaves.  In this way the low frequency sounds map a boundary of the bugs' environment that parallels their own mobility, as well as their food source.        

    There's a mapping of territory, time, and movement that interests me here.  We talk so much in architecture about information, but often it seems that the most dynamic information systems are simply learning from what we already do in cities.  If communication theory concerns itself with accuracy and signal transmission distance -- ie with the decoding of the airborne,  then where is the theory of communication and space that explains this substrate potential of urbanism?       

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Posts are sporadic. Topics span architecture, urban design, planning, and tangents from these. I sometimes include excerpts of academic articles.

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