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In two places at the same time
BY Thomas Wagner | 5/10/2013

Never being able to determine where we are is a sensation that proves formative for our experience of the present. For example, if you are speaking to a friend in Australia on Skype, you are essentially both in the place you are skyping from and in the place the person you’re speaking to is. While you experience a feeling of closeness, this feeling is somehow negated in the very same instant. Or, you take the train to work in the mornings and at the same time listen to cantons by Johann Sebastian Bach, a song by Bob Dylan or Lana del Rey’s latest hit. Then you find yourself both physically and in technological terms in the 21st century, while according to your ears you could in fact be somewhere back in the 17th century, in New York or wherever. You’re both here and there, rooted in the present and at the same time sharing a connection with some past time or some far-off place. The result: You never really have the feeling of being completely 100% in one place or in one particular time (namely the present). Now, people (especially when they’re well entertained) are able to get used to a lot of things. But it must be said that constantly finding yourself moving between different places and times really is somewhat strange and indeed disturbing.

Architecture’s main function is to create buildings, spaces and places. So architecture must also come up against the phenomenon described above. You can try all you like to explain it using terms such as dislocation, deterritorialization or spatial fission, but the fact of the matter is that the image and appearance of buildings and houses change along with it; and certainly not only in those places where media façades parade a flickering display of vivid, colorful images. Since, in this age of electronic networking and digital hotspots, it is always possible to be in two places at the same time, no matter where you are, the general notion of what exactly constitutes a space or a dwelling is morphing and changing.

When Peter Zumthor builds a chapel, he creates a space that is completely different from a building Rem Koolhaas might design for a television network. Or take the office. Here too, the days of long narrow corridors flanked by rows and rows of compact work cells are well and truly over. Today, the atmosphere in many offices feels more like that of a lounge. But these spacious open-plan settings, where everyone is either speaking to one other or concentrating on their own computer screen, serve as a spatial manifestation of this sensation of being in more than one place or period of time simultaneously.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the desire experienced by so many for spaces that were designed and created in a different time? Each to their own apartment with original period features? But surely that can’t be the solution? Having said that, it could be the case that the dislocated citizens of the 21st century require their very own bubble to live and feel comfortable and at home in, a sheltered, safe place, an epitomized space, from which they can surf the infinite seas of the virtual world.

Be that as it may, contemporary architecture is laboring away, striving to find answers to such questions. If it doesn’t want to either fall into nostalgia or lose its way in neo-expressionist visions of a technoid future, it has to become aware of changing conditions and create spaces that are suited to a time that is unremittingly linked with our experience of the present, that is as much a victim of this all too real depletion of space as it is of its virtual duplication.