Cyberspace and the space of the modern city
Cyberspace and the space of the modern city

text: Jarosław Wilczak,
student at the Faculty of Architecture, Wroclaw University of Technology
grahpics: Dominika Kubicka,
student at the Faculty of Architecture, Wroclaw University of Technology
dr inż. arch. IARP SARP Marta A. Urbańska

oryginal version of the text : PL
translation to english: kreatura team

reading time: around 10 min

This text is an attempt to present the more important aspects that make up the image of the contemporary city and its citizens in the context of the development and implementation of broadly understood information technologies. Each of the elements described here indicates the existence and importance of the issue and requires a separate, broader study. At the same time, the article is a preview of further analysis and searches in an attempt to understand the coexistence of two spheres of human life, such as the city's environment and cyberspace.

Special time

The first two decades of the 21st century brought a very dynamic civilization development. In Poland, economic and technological development can be seen at every step in many areas of life. Panoramas of the cities cannot get rid of tower cranes, signaling the emergence of more buildings, and the bodies and minds of citizens are no longer able to cope in the urban jungle without an additional brain - a smartphone that has grown into our hands, it seems, for good.

kolażun 1_a

// The currently maturing generation is the first, whose natural environment is the world expanded by the digital sphere.

Digitalization of the environment is not surprising for them, and knowledge does not have to be gained - it is always in your pocket, available immediately. Meanwhile, within the framework of infrastructure development, creating public spaces in the city centers is getting slightly better. We can observe a tendency to increase awareness and requirements that are aimed in the direction of urban spaces and architecture. City authorities increasingly choose a conscious and aesthetic public space, believing that it’s a good investment not only in the standard of living and satisfaction of residents but also in the economic condition of the city and often the entire region.1
By juxtaposing the above aspects, some questions and doubts arise. Are the designers responsible for creating new spaces in the city trying to confront the change in the way people live? Should we try to get people's attention out of the clutches of the virtual world? Does man still need to read the urban tissue in which he moves, or does he already have the skills to function in complete chaos? Is the educational and navigational layer, present in the urban space projects, still justified?

1. T. Antosiewicz, Kształtowanie przestrzeni publicznych w kontekście intensywnego rozwoju współczesnych miast., “Kultura i Polityka” 2008, nr 4, s. 36.

2. R. Sennett, Upadek człowieka publicznego, Warszawa: Warszawskie Wydawnictwo Literackie MUZA SA, 2009, s. 420.

3. R. Sennet, Ciało i kamień, Człowiek i miasto w cywilizacji zachodu. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Aletheia 2015 s. 267.


First of all, conditions for the current attitude of people living in the cities date back to the nineteenth century. According to Richard Sennett, an American sociologist, it was during this period that the values ​​of an intimate society had their origin. The society of the nineteenth-century metropolises, described in the publication "The Fall of Public Man" as a result of the spreading capitalism and secular faith, turned away from public life, seeking basic values ​​in interpersonal relations, but among families and relatives.2 The situation of the society led to the disappearance of the need or even fear of expressing views on the forum, making public life an occasional duty. Man began to raise the value of nurturing relations with his loved ones and his own development beyond public life and community thinking. An interesting factor influencing this transformation was the element of improving the quality of travel.

// Thanks to the revolution in the way of moving, distances in space ceased to matter, and more importantly - overcoming them became convenient. Sennett wrote: "the more comfortable the body was in motion, the more it cut off from the human group, wandered alone and in silence." 3

Sennet's insights on the transformations of Western culture help to better understand the aspirations of the modern consumer world. The cult of the individual, passive participation in social life and warmth in relations with relatives are factors that indicate why in the present we have so unreflectively arranged a private space in social media. It can be easily modified and personalized, we use it to create our silhouette, relationships and involvement in virtual social life, without moving from the place. In today's world, life is largely happening in virtual space. Starting with monitoring of personal biological cycles, such as sleep or heart rhythm, through participation in the life of local communities, ending up with access to global communication. Smartphones, which are a knowledge store, are able to navigate and have unlimited possibilities in improving our lives, escalate our bodies and minds, bringing people closer to the cyborg (from the cybernetic organism). The universality of smartphones and their use as a tool for living in cities, communities and the ever-expanding network is undoubtedly a turning point in the development of civilization.

4. P. Smejda, Internet rzeczy (IoT) we współczesnej gospodarce. Rola, zadania i bariery rozwoju, “Zeszyty naukowe Politechniki Łódzkiej - Organizacja i Zarządzanie” 2016, nr 64, s. 43,

5. A. Asanowicz, Systemy rzeczywistości wirtualnej w architekturze, “Architecturae et Artibus” 2012, nr 4 s. 11.

6. P. Pardel, Przegląd ważniejszych zagadnień rozszerzonej rzeczywistości. “Zeszyty Naukowe Politechniki Śląskiej, seria INFORMATYKA”. Gliwice: 2009, nr 30, s 35.


The modern city being a living and constantly evolving organism is more and more supported by the virtual sphere. Modern information technologies (Information Technology - IT) are implemented on many levels of urban life. The Internet of Things (IoT), a part of the Smart City development idea, is an issue worth approaching. IoT relies on communicating with each other’s electronic devices via the Internet for the purpose of data exchange and analysis and then optimizing the operation of a specific mechanism.4 In IoT cities, it is most often used to control traffic flow or improve the operation of public transport, as well as in transmitting significant information for smartphone users. In the future, Augmented Reality (AR) may become an extension of human capabilities. AR technology using mobile devices enables the generation of a virtual layer embedded in a real environment on the device's screen or on translucent spectacles.5 The mechanism of action used in cities would be based on locating electronic markers in space that would send information with data to passers-by devices. The urban space, due to the impact of this technology, will receive an expanded field to inform users about the location of places, their quality or history in a completely new way. Already now we meet places where projections of non-existent architectural monuments are used.6

// However, the most significant aspect of the urban life that is happening virtually is the urban agora. It is in the electronic media that the voice of the people is heard more often, which at the moment unites and takes a stand to finally gather in the real world, demonstrating them secondarily.

This mechanism has opened new possibilities for the Internet population. Thanks to global communication, Internet users operate beyond the dimensions of time and space. They create transnational movements or groups that, through their immediacy, have previously unknown strength of voice and speed of organization. A great example illustrating the possibilities of these groups are protests from May 2013. Over 2 million citizens from 52 countries in similar time opposed the global brand that distributed genetically modified food. Protests took place on 6 continents.7

7. P. Smejda, Internet rzeczy (IoT) we współczesnej gospodarce. Rola, zadania i bariery rozwoju, “Zeszyty naukowe Politechniki Łódzkiej - Organizacja i Zarządzanie” 2016, nr 64, s. 43,

8. A. Asanowicz, Systemy rzeczywistości wirtualnej w architekturze, “Architecturae et Artibus” 2012, nr 4 s. 11.

9. P. Pardel, Przegląd ważniejszych zagadnień rozszerzonej rzeczywistości. “Zeszyty Naukowe Politechniki Śląskiej, seria INFORMATYKA”. Gliwice: 2009, nr 30, s 35.

10. P. Pardel, Przegląd ważniejszych zagadnień rozszerzonej rzeczywistości. “Zeszyty Naukowe Politechniki Śląskiej, seria INFORMATYKA”. Gliwice: 2009, nr 30, s 35.

Coexistence and competition

The factors described above, apart from transformations directly affecting people's lives, change and will change the reception and use of space in the cities. Therefore, it should be verified whether the sphere of architectural design and spatial planning goes hand in hand with the ever-growing range of tools which we process the cities and their spaces with. Both areas of real and virtual world design have a common, fundamental goal - to optimize the use of resources and improve various aspects of human life. The image of modern people whose everyday life takes place in the city has a special feature. A significant majority of the urban life participants is constantly looking at the screen of their personal smartphones (phabbing from ang: phone snubbing). Their attention, while in the actual city spaces, is increasingly focused in the virtual space. The result of it is a reduction of sensitivity to the real world around us and the incentives sent by it. Mesmerizing devices undermine the original intentions of conscious space planning. Elements of the environment, such as the readability of the urban layout or the function of navigating specific elements in the urban structure, are no longer relevant for so-called "smartphone zombies". A new user of a given area, instead of a hierarchical system of streets or view openings and dominants, will use a mobile application (eg Google Maps) to see exactly where to turn to overcome subsequent stages of the route. However, in the future, the AR application will notify us that the door of the destination of our trip is on the side facade of the building, which we have just seen through the electronic lens on the eye. Both cases cause acceleration of decision making about the next step of the user and they do it more effectively than shapes of urban interiors.

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The development of technology (AR) will find various fields for implementation, not only as a cognitive tool of the city or tools supporting analytical and decision-making processes in architecture and urban planning. For architects, planners and aesthetes, it may also be a remedy for widespread visual pollution. In the 1870s, the promotion of the idea of ​​landscape styles was born. It stems from the cultural context of a given region or country. Thanks to the deep AR implementation, visual information of advertisers and entrepreneurs could fit into the virtual layer, while reducing the above-mentioned pollution and preserving the landscape style in the real world. So, as designers of the human environment, should we stand hand in hand with the dynamically developing field of the digitization of the visible world and support this inevitable progress together? Can the penetration of these two areas of the development be a threat to the real essence? It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which the augmented reality will be more attractive to the user, and projections imposed on reality will completely cover it.

// Looking to the future, with the assumption of the development of this nature, we can speculate that the result could be drawing a completely ascetic environment, as a substrate for the virtual overlay of the AR.

Designers, leaving a dystopian vision of the development (which probably will not be possible to experience even by the generations of our great-great-grandchildren), should consider whether buildings and elements in the city space could have space for virtual banner ads in their structure. The aforementioned absorbing people's attention through cyberspace also affects the quality and frequency of direct interactions with others. This is undoubtedly the deepening of the processes described by Richard Sennett, as it’s much more efficient and more convenient to enter a question, for example, about the way on the phone's keyboard than to ask the person on the street. The idea of ​​creating cities and infrastructure as a catalyst for social interaction seems to be a counter-attack in the fight for the user, his attention and socialization. Design proposals should assume structures whose final shape may depend on their users or be constantly modifiable.

The beginnings

With the advancement of the scientific and technical revolution and the development of the information society, the diffusion of the visible and virtual world began. Although it may seem that these two realities are completely separate entities, their integration is progressing faster and faster. The clash of two described environments should be treated as a multifaceted network of connections and dependencies, among which we, users, are. At the same time, it must be remembered that this is a constant process that designers of both parties should respond to, trying to orientate it in some way.