You really wish you could attend these conferences


You so wish you could attend these two conferences.

But you won’t be invited.

You’re more than 34 years too late.

There’s “The Invisible City,” the theme of the 1972 International Design Conference Aspen. It promised to

“address the implications of making the invisible city visible: of changing misuse into use and apathy into engagement. The conference will explore the programs, philosophies and materials that use the resource of our man-made environment for learning. The conference will address the architectural, planning, design, economic and political implications of these educational alternatives.”

Then, there’s the 1976 AIA (American Institute of Architects) Convention in Philadelphia. The conference brochure states, “We live in the invisible city. A place where public information is not public: a place that is not maintained because it is not creatively used.”

Both were chaired by Richard Saul Wurman, at that time an architect in Philadelphia who had grown increasingly interested in the mechanism and system of information and the process not only of designing information… but what now gets called “architecting” it.

More on the 1976 “Architecture of Information:”

“Wouldn’t a city — any city — be more useful and more fun if everybody knew what to do in it, and with it? As architects, we know it takes more than good-looking buildings to make a city habitable and usable. It takes information: information about what spaces do as well as how they look; information that helps people articulate their needs and respond to change.

“The resources of a city are its people, places and processes. It is our collective attitudes toward these resources that either encourage the destruction of the city through apathy and abandonment or reaffirm the necessity of the city to civilized progress and life itself by participation and use. Use as the place for learning; participation as the involvement of everybody in the role of teacher. People telling about what and why they’re doing what they’re doing where they’re doing it–the show and tell is the city itself.

Wouldn’t these be great conference sessions today?

Frank Gehry and Doreen Nelson offered “The School Room: Analogue of the City.” There’s a session called “Space Doctors: Understanding How People Use Public Spaces” led by Don Clifford Miles. Even understanding gets its own architecture: “The Architecture of Understanding” by Marley & Ronald Thomas.

Data visualization? Try this: “Visualization of complex ideas” led by Jonas Salk (yes, *that* Jonas Salk)! “How to spec an ‘interface,’ detail an ‘input’ and supervise a ‘programming process'” — in 1976. The father of computer graphics, William Fetter, offered a session on “Computer graphics and the urban perception,” while Ivan Chermayeff offered “Communication in architectural environments” and Michael and Susan Southworth explored “Communicating the city.”

It is, of course, the conference where Wurman popularized the term “architecture of information” in the keynote speech he gave.

Makes me want to reconvene or revisit some of these sessions. What if we asked people today to take these themes and give talks? Who would our Salk be? Could we invite some of these people to speak?

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