Situation Room Playing with a control room
23
Feb
2008
The workshop will take place in the physical and conceptual context of the Situation Room Project, the prototype of an experimental urban Situation Room for Asturias currently on exhibit .
Image: Julio Calvo
Situation Room Activity program: Situation Room
18
Jan
2008
Photo: Enrique Cárdenas
Situation Room Pablo de Soto
Photo: Enrique Cárdenas

Situation Room

This project is the winner of the first convocation of the LABjoven Experimenta Contest

18
Jan
2008
17
Mar
2008
Concept

Situation Room is a term normally used to designate the place used in times of crisis to assess and monitor data for decision taking. Its origin can be traced back to World War II with the invention of computers, digitalization and the collaboration of architects and the military. These rooms are equipped with monitors and data boards used to control everything from the Strait of Gibraltar to the nuclear fission processes in a Nuclear Power Station or the life sustaining mechanisms on board the International Space Station.

Thanks to the invention of Internet at the beginning of the 90s and the computer boom, access to data collection and display technologies experimented a kind of democratization. This has enabled several experiences of Situation Rooms in civil society, with temporary media-labs mainly influenced by cybernetic ideas and free software.

Situation Room proposes an installation and processes which, taking Asturias as a case study, can offer to the public these reflections, invite them to participate in this open experiment–simulation of a Situation Room and ultimately facilitate the production of common knowledge among artists, geographers, architects, biologists, economists, computer specialists, critics and the public, about the issues put forward.

What to monitor? Which data to quantify? How to display it? Which database to access? What is the purpose of such a device in an Art and Industrial Creation Centre? How might this device act on a long-term basis? Which access protocols are required? How can this device help in certain decision-taking processes? And which of them?

Context

From Control Rooms to Situation Rooms
José Pérez de Lama y Halcón

Maps and Control Rooms

In a recent lecture, when endeavouring to explain the origin of the world of images we are currently immersed in, Beatriz Colomina focused on the works of Charles and Ray Eames and their relationship with what she called “situation rooms”.

Colomina described the involvement of architects and designers such as Buckminster Fuller and Eero Saarinen in the concept and development of the early situation rooms during World War II: rooms equipped with maps and projections in which the military and political general staff would monitor and supervise the progress of the war.

Those rooms are directly related to the control rooms managing—commanding and controlling—the large industries or power stations of Fordism, but also to the cartographies on which military strategies and tactics had been historically planned and also to the urban planning maps used for the planning and control of land transformations.

In 1959, Charles and Ray Eames, together with other collaborators, installed a media device in Moscow that, according to Colomina, was directly inspired by Fuller’s war experiences. It was a huge geodesic dome with seven screens attached to it, on which the Eames projected what at the time were extremely fast series of slides or slideshows to present the latest US technological advances to the people of Moscow. Given the advantage enjoyed by the USSR—which had recently launched the Sputnik into space—in the great military and industrial race, the Eames’ slideshow focused on an image operation in which technology was shown at the service of the everyday, the American dream—electrical appliances and automobiles standing out above everything else—incorporating the world of the struggle-production of subjectivity and the media as we understand it today, into the context of the situation room. In a clear anticipation of the texture of our present day, speed and the impossibility for “proper” concentration comprised a crucial element in the Eames’ communication-knowledge proposal.

As is clear nowadays, space, hardware, software and images were the elements of Eames and Fuller’s architecture in Moscow.

From Control Rooms to Situation Rooms

Since then, situation rooms have mushroomed and diversified and increased their power. Continuing with the classic model (Dr. Strangelove’s red telephone), we find control rooms in nuclear plants, television studios or in the management of the ISS (International Space Station). However, more and more, the project of centralising command and control is offset by processes whose deployment increasingly eludes the linear outlines characteristic of the sphere of Fordist industrial production, becoming grid-like, with continuously variable, viral, proliferating and catastrophic geometries. Now, we find the new situation rooms in the traffic control centres of big cities, in the rooms centralising border control (in the Strait of Gibraltar or on the US-Mexico border), at police stations in cities like Los Angeles, and we also imagine in those rooms endeavouring to manage communication networks, large multinational corporations, stock exchanges or military conflicts like Iraq.

Another significant new feature is the exponential growth of the power to gather data and to act remotely from a distance and in real time, using a combination of data digitalisation, a proliferation of communication networks, electronic (sensors and actuators) miniaturisation, and wireless communication (satellites, telephony, etc).

The forms of intervention in this new grid-like, global and complex scenario are also new, and in lieu of direct cause-effect relationships, new concepts and tools are making an appearance, such as strategic planning, opportunities and threats, asymmetries, externalities, competitive advantages, attractors, catalysts, enzymatic action, self-organised processes, communication, P2P, social netwars, subjectivity production...
William Mitchell, a former director of the MIT Media Lab, has underscored the paradox of the fact that in the net city, control is not centralised, rather it is increasingly disperse. Just like the WWW, of which its main inventor and promoter, Tim Berners-Lee, claimed that his main efforts were aimed at keeping it ‘out of control’—out of any centralised control so that it could proliferate and become more and more rich in complexity and diversity.

Global Laboratories

It is also worthwhile bearing in mind Bruno Latour’s reflections on the laboratories of the present. For the French thinker, while in the era of modernism experiments were carried out in well-demarcated spaces and at a small scale, the complexity and speed of the present day have demanded that those experiments which are actually relevant for the transformation of contemporary world to be carried out at a one-to-one scale, on a global scale, and with all of us inevitably involved in them; these would be questions including climate change, capitalist globalisation, democracy… Latour’s answer to that situation is to demand a control-monitoring system of those processes that could contribute to their visualisation as experiments affecting all of us, and to aspire to the decisions governing them to be globally and democratically taken. Latour sometimes defined his proposal as “a parliament” involving the participation of social organisations, technical experts, directly affected individuals, etc.

Final Comment

In point of truth, nowadays everybody has his/her own situation room at home, comprising Internet, the TV set and the rest of our cyborg extensions to the mediasphere. But we could probably also consider new types of scattered and connected situation rooms, granting greater transparency and agency to the processes, as well as a research-action capacity to the fragmented crowd comprising the inhabitants of the world laboratory.

Goals and Methodology

The goals to be achieved during Situation Room are briefly described below:

 

  • To provide an introduction to the theoretical concepts and historical experiences of control rooms and situation rooms.
  • To experiment with a prototype of a citizen’s situation room (architecture, hardware and software, centralised-distributed control).
  • To organise a local working team using this situation room for carrying out mapping and strategic design tasks for the region.

In order to achieve these goals, Situation Room will be conceived:

  • As an installation, from a technological and spatial point of view.

Such installation will consist of a monitoring room located at Plataforma (falta número) gallery in the LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre. The media-architecture of this room will consist of an immersive multimedia space equipped with a round table (9 metre diameter) supporting 15 computers using free software OS, as well as 6 video projectors, 8 plasma display screens and several controllers.

  • As a working space, from a social and political point of view.

This work in progress space will open a collective process of investigation and action on tactical aspects related with the collection, interpretation and display of public information, acting as a strategic partner in collaboration and in synergy with the LABoral team.

The working space will be divided into two stages:

  • A first theoretical stage embracing workshops and conferences led by international experts.
  • A second practical stage consisting in the experimentation of a prototype of a citizen’s Situation Room applied to the social-cultural and economic reality of Asturias.


The working space will be transversal and participative. The conferences and workshops will be free and open to the public. Due to their transdisciplinary character, they are of special interest to university students in Computer Engineering, Industrial and Telecommunications Engineering, Biology, Economics, Business Studies, Geography, Philosophy and History.

Apart from the installation and the working space, Situation Room will publish a book dealing with the theoretical and contextual aspects of the project including the graphic material and texts produced in the public lab during the two months of the project.

Origins

The Situation Room project is a distillation of hackitectura.net experiences in design and the implementation of a series of media labs or temporary labs since 2003. These include "Pure Data Beta Rave", in the abandoned AVE train station in Seville; "Okupa Futura: Ciudad Disidente" at the Centro Cívico Federica Montseny in Corvera de Asturias; "La Multitud conectada" / media lab satellite in La Rábida Huelva; and Fadaiat: libertad de movimiento, libertad de conocimiento presented on both sides of the Strait of Gibraltar.

Situation Room is the continuation of the temporary lab designed and implemented by hackitectura.net in Geografías Emergentes. For this project they reproduced the control centre of a nuclear power station functioning as an open lab for the development of a monthly programme of conferences and workshops outside the dismantled Valdecaballeros nuclear power station.

 

Credits


LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre
Instituto Asturiano de la Juventud

Curated and coordinated by: Pablo de Soto
Concept: hackitectura.net

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