• The Cybernetic City/La ville cybernétique
    Joshua Barone, Phillip Denny & Eléonore Schöffer

Nicolas Schöffer, Centre de loisirs sexuels in La ville cybernétique, 1969. Courtesy of Eléonore Schöffer, executor of the estate of Nicolas Schöffer.

The “smart city” dominates contemporary planning discourses as governments and designers seek to improve civic infrastructure by computational means. But the rapid pace of technological change has often led smart city proponents to overlook earlier experiments. Nicolas Schöffer’s 1969 urban manifesto La ville cybernétique is one important example from the first generation of designers coming to grips with the possibilities of cybernetics. The book is a confluence of cybernetic theory, experimental aesthetics, and urban planning that arrived in Paris on the heels of May 1968. Schöffer’s city is a sensing and self-adjusting system that links inhabitants to their environment in an open feedback loop—the same principle that prevails in urban computation today. Although published in French a half-century ago, the book’s influence on English-language scholarship has been unfortunately limited. This first-ever translation brings the work to a new audience and reintroduces the historical ground of today’s smart city.

Joshua Barone is senior staff editor, culture, at the New York Times. He holds degrees in journalism and French literature from the University of Missouri. Barone’s thesis addresses depictions of Sapphic sexuality in Belle Époque literature. He is a recipient of the Atwater Prize for Writing and the Aubespin Scholarship.

Phillip R. Denny is an architecture critic and historian. He is currently pursuing a PhD at Harvard University, where his research focuses on technocultures and architecture history from the postwar to the postmodern. His writing has appeared in Harvard Design Magazine, Volume, Metropolis, CLOG, PLAT and the New York Times. He holds a master’s of architecture degree from Princeton University, where he received the School of Architecture History and Theory Prize and the Certificate in Media + Modernity. He is a recipient of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation Prize, the Henry Adams AIA Medal, and the Louis F. Valentour Fellowship. In 2018 he was a fellow of the Global Modernism Lab at the Bauhaus, Dessau.

Eléonore Schöffer is the president of Association Internationale des Amis de Nicolas Schöffer (A.N.S.I.). She is the widow and executor of the estate of Nicolas Schöffer, as well as curator of the Schöffer studio and collection at Villa des Arts, Paris.