Jordan Geiger’s New Book Entr’acte Examines Rapid Change in Public Space with New Technologies

Diverse list of contributors includes the School of Architecture and Planning’s Omar Khan

By Adam McCullough and Rachel Teaman

Published April 29, 2015

The theatre term “entr’acte,” or the interval between acts in a play, becomes a vehicle to explore the interstices of architecture and new media - and the formation of new publics - in an edited volume just published by the School of Architecture and Planning’s Jordan Geiger.

In "Entr’acte: Performing Publics, Pervasive Media, and Architecture,” Geiger, as editor and essayist, brings together new texts by architects, interaction designers, media artists, theorists and researchers. Their essays explore contemporary publics as they engage with proliferating communications technologies in opportunistic and transformative ways. Also contributing to Entr’acte is Omar Khan, associate professor and chair of architecture at the School of Architecture and Planning.  

Entr'acte cover

Geiger, assistant professor of architecture, opens the volume with a historical exposition of the very language of public space, explaining his architectural appropriation of ‘entr’acte’: “The entr’acte is an apt model for analyzing and synthesizing—creating—new forms and durations of public space. The entr’acte as model public space is one that can defy traditional limits of design and construction, allowing us to build publics without vast material intervention and deployment of capital to consider differences between ‘publics’ and ‘commons,’ to revisit old notions of ‘planned obsolescence,’ and to recognize a diverse new set of players – both human and material elements—as entr’acteurs.”

The book is framed by a preface and afterword from architect-theorists: an opening discussion between Geiger and seminal architect and theorist Paul Virilio, and an afterword by Keller Easterling. Between these, Entr’acte’s 11 essays are divided into three sections based on their spatial and temporal engagement with architecture and technologies: Supranational, Interurban and Transindividual.

Supranational examines unprecedented societal forces that create vast new shared spaces, crossing national boundaries and conceivable only with the aid of digital tools. As one example, “Cloud Megastructures and Platform Utopias” by Benjamin Bratton explores the purity with which buildings are not merely visible by GPS, but designed with and for it.

Interurban explores temporal rather than spatial distances across cities – the becoming of cities in response to new technologies or social and ecological dynamics. Here Jonathan Massey’s and Brett Snyder’s “The Hypercity that Occupy Built” examines the emergence of political turbulence through both the physical (e.g., masses of people within the public squares of Cairo) and the virtual (e.g., the global growth of a movement through social media and smart phones) since Occupy Wall Street.

Also in this section is “Crowd Choreographies,” Omar Khan’s examination of the crowd and its evolution from the senseless mob to its “virtual doppelgänger,” a collective formed by digitally networked technologies and social media. Historically architects have both embraced and stifled the crowd, but Khan posits that it is today’s interaction of the physical and digital – in “complex choreographies” – that opens new possibilities for the crowd and architectural performance, from acts of protest to profound creativity.

Lastly, Transindividual considers how ambient and embedded technologies shape new publics. Brenda Laurel contributes one of three pieces here, considering the use of interactive technology in natural settings to increase public sensibility, discourse and action on climate change.

With a broad range of subtopics and a fresh lens through which to understand contemporary architectural issues, Entr’acte offers a well-curated collection of essays by a diverse group of writers. It has received praise from luminaries in fields from architecture, to performance studies and social critique, including Michael Sorkin, Dorita Hannah and Wouter Vanstiphout.