How Facebook Simulates Suburbia: Lessons for Building Public Spaces in the Digital Age

As the virtual and physical worlds become more intertwined, the role of the traditional architect and the information architect become more closely aligned. Emily Badger explores the ways that each discipline can help the other design public spaces.
April 30, 2013, 11am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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"We are wrong to treat them as two totally separate things," says John Tolva, the Chief Technology Officer for the city of Chicago, about information architects and traditional architects. "I see a lot of people in information disciplines trying to resolve problems that architects of the built world have already solved."

"Traditional architects (we’ll go with 'traditional' here instead of 'real') have spent centuries figuring out how to create successful public spaces," adds Badger. "But information architects still regularly struggle with this question online."

Facebook is one example of a virtual space that simulates a real world equivalent, and to which real world lessons for creating vibrant public spaces could apply. "Facebook’s approach to digital space, to borrow from Tolva’s blog, is 'essentially suburbia: a gated network of affinity that disallows chance encounter and serendipity.'" 

"Facebook looks different when you think about it through this lens," says Badger. "And the same becomes true of our cities – and buildings and parks – when we think about them as platforms for information. Perhaps, then, it's time for building designers and information designers to get to know each other better, maybe even blend the edges of their professions."


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Published on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 in The Atlantic Cities
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