Rebugging the Smart City
Critical Design Workshop and Publication
In collaboration with Gerhard Schubert and Frank Petzold
at the Chair of Architectural Informatics,
Technical University of Munich

The experimental block-course "Rebugging the Smart City" explores critical perspectives on smart urban infrastructure. Systems of sensors gather heterogeneous data in urban areas for extensive digital models. On this basis, analysis and simulation tools evaluate and predict urban dynamics. Aided by visualization techniques, these results and necessary measures are presented in real-time. Thus, digital infrastructure and the physical city space are tightly interwoven. Digital technologies, urban environments, and everyday practices seamlessly conglomerate in a dynamic urban assemblage.
Even if vaguely immaterial, the implementation of smart infrastructure reconfigures the surrounding urban space. Digital infrastructure makes complex phenomena like urban ecosystems or everyday practices subject to analysis and governance. It collapses categorical boundaries such as the distinction between public and private space and interconnects formerly incommensurate urban systems. Therefore, it imposes a new logic on the urban fabric. Consequently, smart infrastructure is not merely a technical problem but also it affects how we conceptualize the contemporary city. The distribution of sensors determines which urban entities are taken into account in decision-making. User interfaces grant or deny agency to specific actors. Simulations and models do not just describe urban realities but performatively co-produce them. Visualization techniques are charged with political inscriptions. For this reason, the topic of digital infrastructure requires critical thinking and political action. Emancipatory perspectives must be articulated as interventions in the infrastructural design. Together we will discover how smart infrastructures become part of urban policy and explore how this policy can be altered.

Reverse engineering
Our explorations will begin with a critical reverse engineering of selected case studies. Collectively, we will create cartographies of digital urban infrastructures and their role in heterogeneous urban assemblages. These mappings will juxtapose relevant actors, information types, and processes. Next, we will consider how smart infrastructure redistributes power and enforces a particular version of the modern city. This investigation will be enriched by theoretical approaches such as Governmentality (Michel Foucault), Cosmopolitics (Isabel Stengers and Bruno Latour), and critical Posthumanism (Donna Harraway).

Interventionist prototyping
Building upon this cartographical study, we will discuss options of active involvement. The seminar participants will replace single elements in the analyzed assemblages with speculative interventions: tactics for disobedient citizens, DIY sensor systems, and alternative visualization techniques. With these prototypes' aid, we will discuss how to defer, inverse, and reappropriate smart infrastructure politics.
Subsequently, the created cartographies and prototypes will be compiled and published as an archive of emancipatory approaches towards the Smart City.