• Alphabet City
    Beate Geissler, Orit Halpern & Oliver Sann

Toronto Waterfront, Google:, 2019.

The project Alphabet City seeks to understand the efforts undertaken by Waterfront Toronto and Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to build a “new kind of mixed-use, complete community,” a smart neighborhood, in Toronto, Canada. Sidewalk Labs, founded in 2015, is a subsidiary company of Alphabet, which became the parent company of Google. The planning of this area “will combine forward-thinking urban design and new digital technology to create people-centered improved neighborhoods.” The district will consist of a physical layer (buildings, mobility, public realm, infrastructure) and a digital layer (an operating system which combines sense, map, model, and account). How does “sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity” work in this test-tube environment? What kind of knowledge is used for the development of a city, created on a blank canvas? How will the city handle real estate speculations? And most importantly how does form follow finance and technology? Alphabet City provides fundamental insights into the mutual impact of real and cybernetic architecture with Toronto’s neighborhood as its archetype. The result is an elucidating archive of texts, interviews, and images.

Beate Geissler received an MFA from the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Karlsruhe, Germany. Oliver Sann received his MFA from the Academy of Media Arts in Cologne, Germany. Their work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in museums, galleries, and alternative spaces including: The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; the Fotomuseum Antwerp; the NGBK (New Society for Visual Arts) in Berlin; the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts; the Museum Ludwig in Cologne; MAST Foundation in Bologna, Italy; and German Pavilion at the Photography Biennial Dubai, UAE. They have been the recipient of a number of grants and awards, including: the Videonale Award from the Museum of Art, Bonn, Germany; the Herman-Claasen-Award (Cologne, Germany); a production grant from the Graham Foundation, Chicago; and a Humanities without Walls grant. They published three monographs Return to Veste Rosenberg (2006), Personal Kill (2010), and, with support from the Graham Foundation,  Volatile Smile (2013), all published by Verlag für moderne Kunst. Geissler and Sann were born in Germany and live and work in Chicago.

Orit Halpern is a strategic hire in Interactive theory and design and associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University. Her work bridges the histories of science, computing, and cybernetics with design and art practice. She is also a codirector of the Speculative Life Research Cluster, a research-creation laboratory situated at the intersection of the computational and environmental sciences, design, and anthropology. She is currently working on three projects: a history and theory of “smartness;” the second is about extreme infrastructures, resilience, and speculation; and finally a comic book written collaboratively with her brother and artist Tal Halpern about early cybernetic pioneers of machine learning and neural net. Her recent monograph, Beautiful Data (Duke University Press, 2015), is a history of interactivity, data visualization, and ubiquitous computing.