As part of the current module of studies, we were given the activity of preparing, over a nine-week period, a pitch to present to a real client. We were presented with five real briefs from real clients and we had to mark our first and second preference. I chose the two briefs set by City ID, an established pioneer and innovator in place identity, legibility, and architecturally responsive way-finding, based in Bristol, New York City and San Francisco, delivering award-winning projects globally for cities, places and transit systems, and whose work seamlessly connects people, movement and places. I was lucky enough to be placed in a group with three fellow students, working on the brief I marked as my first preference. The brief set was:
What does agency look like in an ever more autonomous, data-driven, ‘smart’ city future?
We were informed by our client that our pitch would be evaluated based on our ability to capture one or any combination of the following:
- The complexity of today’s mobility landscape in the context of the individual, communal and societal psyche
- The multitude of expressions of physical, social, economic barriers experienced by individuals in changing mobility behaviour, as well as creative subversions
- The geographic range and expression of mobility trends
- Diversity of people, scenarios and conceptions of agency
- The connection between agency and belonging in the context of technology and place
I started working on this brief by doing research on the notion of agency. Intuitively, during this process, I knew that I would inevitably stumble onto the age-old question: what does it mean to be human? That this question has no qualms about taking the existence of the human being as a given is clearly evident – in asking what it means to be human, it is already implicitly understood and accepted that the human being is. So, if the human being’s existence is a given, it seems to me more congenial to ask: what makes us human? I am particularly fond of this kind of line of questioning since phenomenologically it ‘only’ asks that we take a good look at ourselves in order that we may draw enough data to attempt to give some form of a coherent answer to the question: what makes us human? Lots of scientific studies have drawn parallels between the human being and other beings, such as chimps. Presumably, listing cognitive abilities, such as language and artistic creativity, that we implicitly know human beings can perform well and that other beings seemingly simply cannot can be employed as a valid technique in defining the hallmark that specifically makes the being writing this blog post human.
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. You have the right to talk to a lawyer for advice before we ask you any questions. You have the right to have a lawyer with you during questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. If you decide to answer questions now without a lawyer present, you have the right to stop answering at any time” (WIKIPEDIA 2019) …and the chimp lamely nodding its head, seemingly in consent to all the statements of fact regarding its being being flung at it by well-meaning men of science, continues to count the seconds…
It is not linguistic ability nor artistic prowess (as truly remarkable as both of these are) that define the human, but the ability to traverse space in seemingly limitless ways. Thus, if what makes us human is our stupendous motoric capability, and if our being, when defining that which makes us human, is never contested but actually taken as a given, as we have seen previously, (essentially the two lines of investigation – what it is to be human and what makes us human – are actually identical), then we can conclude that being is essentially a process: being is an act. The being human being is being in action.
And we come to infer agency in our acts through our acts – by doing.
At this point, as a side thought, we could ask ourselves: if being is witnessed as an act, from the phenomenal human viewpoint, then what happens if we adopt the view that a pebble does indeed move intentionally? If we accept the thought that states that being is an act, then we should also have to entertain the thought that a pebble might very well be an intentional agent capable of action too. Another interesting question that seamlessly arises from the previous line of questioning would be: what environmental factors enabled a being to act as human and another being to act as pebble? Surely, a person sitting in a wheelchair freewheeling down a hill is an intentional agent, just as a pebble being tossed about by waves can be perceived as being an intentional agent.
For this brief, I will thus endeavour to produce visuals that tap into the multifaceted dimension of human mobility as a symptom of the human being’s inherent desire to do. Eventually, I hope that it becomes clear through the visuals that the human being’s sense of agency comes about from that being’s doings.
WIKIPEDIA. 2019. ‘Miranda warning’. WIKIPEDIA 1 October [online]. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miranda_warning [accessed 12 October 2019].