The significance of mediative technologies developed during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century and their effects on the built environment is defined by their apparent compression of both time and space. Beginning with the first telephone call placed by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 and the first public radio broadcast by Reginald Fessenden in 1906, for example, the technologies of private and mass communication developed during the Modernist period marked a radical transformation in human social behavior by greatly diminishing historical barriers to human interaction such as time and physical distance through the nearly instantaneous transmission of information. From the 1960s through the 1980s, the advancement of global telecommunications infrastructure via new mediating technologies such as satellite networks, followed by the commercialization of the Internet and widespread use of personal computers in the 1990s, further accelerated this codification and decodification process while also shifting it to a global scale. Today, this ubiquitous yet largely invisible media infrastructure has normalized new and more instantaneous means of mass communication and mediated human interaction, such as social media platforms made readily accessible through mobile technologies. And where Modern mass media first began to compress time and space, contemporary social media makes these barriers seemingly all but obsolete.
But if physical space is being increasingly marginalized by social media, and if social media begins to replace the built environment as the primary medium for social interaction, then what is the future role of face-to-face communication and site-specific architecture in the wake of such placeless digital media? In this thesis, I claim that, while the rapidity and ubiquity of contemporary social media cannot unseat face-to-face interaction as the primary and most effective means to communicate, it does rupture historical and established modes of social interaction and being within the built environment – a rupture that reveals new territories in which architects must begin to operate and ask new questions about the social and public functions of architecture. Or to put it Lefebvrian terms, if social media, as well as the global technologies that support it, are allowing for new modes of being in the world – if society’s social practices are changing – then the built environment in its current configuration, embedded with and produced by old modes of socialization, is neither fully-equipped nor fully-structured to support these new forms of social behavior. I do not suggest that this requires an overarching reboot of the built environment such as the postwar proposals of Yona Friedman and Constant Nieuwenhuys, but certainly an update is needed.
To argue this claim, I draw primarily from research in the fields of sociology, anthropology, and media studies, as well as my own on-site analysis of architectural precedents, to sketch the historical and theoretical background of my argument before proposing a design case study where I explore the possibilities of these new territories in architecture. Rather than see physical site-specificity and digital ubiquity – or face-to-face and digitally-mediated interaction – as conflicting elements, I use this case study, called the Open Aid Center, to propose a new typology of architecture that mediates the gap between them, erasing boundaries between the digital and the physical through the creation of a third ‘middle’ space in which architecture itself functions as an instrument of mass communication and a medium for human interaction.