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Kazys Varnelis: The Invisible City

Kazys Varnelis: The Invisible City
Kazys Varnelis: The Invisible City

Kazys Varnelis, architecture historian and theorizer, specialized in network culture, went to MSC to explain us the concept of “Invisible City” and its consequences. Invisible City is the part of the modern city that is not visible to the naked eye. Varnelis is Director of the Network Architectural Lab at Columbia University, which investigates the impact of computation and communications on architecture.


Varnelis states that there are both a visible city and an invisible city, and that it is in this Invisible City where the real power remains. Understanding this concept is essential if we want to design open and transparent Smart Cities, because these invisible layers control the internal rhythm of urban life.

In one of his writings, Varnelis explains this concept with a good example. One Wilshire building is located in Los Angeles. It is an anonymous skyscraper in Downtown, but it has enormous significance for the citizens because, actually, One Wilshire hosts the server farms used by the major media companies in the region. The importance of the building is only recognizable to experts that can identify the antennas installed on its roof.

Varnelis reveals the “invisible” nature of both this new city and the Internet of Things, whose character conflicts with the hope of transparency of Smart Cities and Western democracies. Thus, this “Digital City” demonstrates that our culture is really far away from real transparency, because the real city is underground, not visible: traffic monitors, radars, wires, cables…

Network theory… and David Bowie

Varnelis states that the changes are not just physical, as happened with the structure of cities after the advent of the telegraph. His thesis is that network is not only technology, but a cultural factor that has dominated the society during the last 15 years, reshaping the economy and the social roles.

It’s time to be really creative. However, this purpose can be extremely difficult to achieve in this new interconnected world. Where are the original, creative figures that can break the status quo and create new rules? In his blog, Varnelis linked David Bowie death with the paradigm of our time. Who would be the David Bowie of our time?

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