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A Study into Cyber Technology, Cyber Culture and the Impacts on Man at the Turn of the Millennium

Paper by

Yang Li

National University of Singapore


This paper topic arises from the quest to find the missing link between physical space and cyberspace. At the moment, many of the architecture discourses are in search of architecture in cyberspace and looking into technology as a tool for creating realism in architecture.

Indeed, the ultimate legacy of Hugo's "this will kill that"
seems to be the structuring of the current response to
technological development in either/or terms
- architecture is either obsolete or, with some minor modifications
and improvement, will remain fundamentally unchanged.

This paper takes a different approach. It focuses on the presence of cyberspace in architecture instead of architecture in cyberspace and includes a critical evaluation for the justification of cyberspace in architecture is done through different view points. It is a quest for the essential qualities, through the application of the cyber technology and a response to human perception of cyberspace.

The role of cyber-technology in architecture is examined through an understanding of cyber-technology till today and the lifestyle of the Cyberians. With this understanding of the change in the perception, the organisation of the society and the individual is studied.

Three examples are used in a hypothesis for a place for cyberspace in architecture. It also acts as an argument countering the above quote.


The paper attempts to the explore the realm of cyberspace and its relationship with architecture. It questions whether there is architecture in cyberspace or cyberspace in architecture. It also attempts to study the possibility of "the death of architecture" due to the expansion of cyberspace and replacement of the physical space.

This paper is divided into five sections: First, it attempts to provide an understanding the cyber technological development and its cyber community. Second, it studies into the transformation of the society and the individual and the impacts on the social, economical, cultural and political spheres. Third, introduces examples of a totally virtual space, a totally physical space and an integration of the two types of spaces, thus elaborating and questioning the validity of each. Fourth, it justifies why cyber architecture in a physical space and as opposed to cyberspace. Finally, it generates future architectural discourses.

1.1 Cyberspace and Physical Space

Cyberspace: A new universe, a parallel universe created and sustained by the world's computer and communication lines. A world in which the global traffic of knowledge, secrets, measurements, indicators, entertainments, and alter-human agency takes on form: sights, sounds, presences never seen on the surface of the earth blossoming in a vast electronic light

The physical space is what Sir Karl Popper, one of the century's greatest philosophers of science, sketched in World 3 in the "three worlds" framework in 1972 . This world, he said, is the world of objective, real and public structures that are the not-necessarily-intentional products of the minds of living creatures, interacting with each other with the natural World. Popper also noted that many aspects of this World 3 are abstract, purely informational: forms of social organisation, for example, or patterns of communication. World 3 entities and spaces are things he could examine, evaluate, criticise, extend, explore, and indeed, discover.

Although Popper included cyberspace as the latest stage in World 3, in accordance with the laws of evolution, and no matter how far it is developed, cyberspace will not replace the earlier elements of World 3. It will not replace but displace them, finding defining, its own niche and causing the earlier elements more closely to define theirs too. Nor will virtual reality replace "real reality."

1.2 Purpose of Study

a. To examine cyber technology and cyberspace. The catalyst of change in computer media propelled by convergence of technologies.
b. To identify the change in organisation and structure of the society and the individual
c. To investigate the transformation and physical space to a cyberspace
d. To evaluate the limits to which architecture presents itself in cyberspace
e. To show how cyber technology has been brought wholesale into a physical space and its validity and truthfulness towards architecture.
f. To suggest other examples that integrate both cyber and physical what.
g. To analyse the problems of architecture in cyberspace.
h. To give a critical analysis of why cyber architecture must be presented in a physical form instead of a virtual one.

1.3 What is Cyber Architecture

The word Cyber is from the pen of William Gibson, science fiction writer, circa 1984. As it is, there are many ways of interpreting the term architecture. It refers to Architecture that is related to Cyberspace. With the introduction of electronic equipment and computers to one’s life, perceptions changed. From playing with primitive self made toys, modern kids now play with Nitendo games and Transformer toys. Electronical and mechanical components become a necessity in one’s everyday life. From classical elements of architecture to hi-tech shiny metallic structures with projected screens.

The relationship between architects and virtual reality was not new. Since using perspective drawings to using bits and bytes in computers, architects have been striving towards achieving a more realistic preview of the built architecture. But what is more substantial is the change after previewing the image. Thus, cyber architecture in this paper is looking into the change in architecture with cyberspace. From moving into a more liquid form of architecture, how would the end product be so much different.

Thus, the main aim of this paper is to search for an identity for cyber Architecture.

1.4 Is the expansion of the Cyberspace going to affect physical Architecture? Is it going to reduce all architecture to a box and thus its obsoleteness?

Websites, which are homes or offices equivalent in cyberspace in an electronic billboard form, are doubling every fifty days. A new home page comes on-line every four seconds. Each of them simulating and providing a service similar to those in the real life and even more. Cybercafes, electronic magazines, electronic video on demand, electronic books, cyber shops are growing in numbers.

Yes, Cyberspace is going to affect architecture. It has already changed the lifestyles of many people and will also change architecture. The whole society is gearing towards computerisation with the computer doing all the monotonous and tedious task of calculation.

This paper aims to study the possibility of cyberspace replacing physical space and thus the physical components of architecture. It hopes to find out whether human perception will change till there is totally no desire to physically touch, feel and be there. If that is the case, then there is no longer a need for architecture, old buildings will be kept and new buildings will be designed as boxes with all the necessary electronic gadgets, thus leading to the “death of architecture”.


In order to analyse the situation one requires an understanding of how the virtual environment works, both in the technological and organisational aspects.

Before the introduction of Internet, users exist in their own cyberspace. Each has little or no interaction with any other. Without the element of interaction, it thus has little impact on the society. These cyberspaces serve with more than just as a source of information, it is more of a one way kind of communication.

Perhaps, until today, the greatest invention that has allowed humankind to perform a quantum leap is the Internet. The things that Net has to offer and can do is rapidly expanding and its application is amazing. From sending a mail to performing an operation for a patient from thousands of mile away.

2.1 Internet

It was not until 1993 that turn the "500 channels" became an information age catch phrase. Back then, old computer network was primarily the preserve of university scientists and computer professionals.

Key to the explosive growth was accessibility to information. In the beginning, it was the BBS with text based message for communication and small file transfers. The Internet is like a global street bazaar, with thousands of conversation that make up Usenet and IRC (Internet-Relay-Chat).

Other more substantial articles are posted in Newsgroups(Electronic articles with common interest) through E-mail (Electronic mail). Alternatively, browsing through the WWW (world wide web) and using hyperlinks allows one to surf the Net multidimensionally and with multimedia capabilities. That means reading articles with fully coloured pictures, listening to Real-Audio in real or recorded time, downloading video clips and watching them later, do a virtual walk through of a house or a museum or even play mah-jong with people from around the world who is 'connected'.

The amazing thing is not the computer program but the ability to network with anyone from anywhere around the world. Users communicate as they would with any telecommunication means, through copper wires in the telephone lines. More advanced networking is by using of fibre optical cables that send information bits at light speed, through air separated by different bandwidths and also through space by satellites.

All that is needed is a computer, a modem and a telephone line. In addition to these, to create a more realistically virtual environment, video camera, microphone, scanner, virtual goggle, virtual glove and so on.

2.2 Cybercities

In Cyberspace, there are Cybercities that are virtual cities that perform functions parallel to those of a real physical city. A cybercity is an area where common interests and ideas are shared and exchanged. Computers become a fundamental to life. Many of the political, social, economical and cultural actions have shifted or are shifting into cyberspace. These cybercities actually demarcate groups of users by either location or interest. Each cyberian will have an account given by his home server, from then onwards, he can travel to other servers through the information highway. The information is delivered in bits and transferred from any connected point to another.

An increasing number of jobs can be performed through cyberspace, mainly with the help of the E-mails replacing the use of snail mails (normal mails). Thus urban designers are going through a radical reformation, the same applies to architects. A good example will be the new downtown master plan for Marina South in Singapore, where the entire city is planned integrating both the physical world the cyber world. A city now longer consists of purely commercial buildings but integrating work, play and living all in one place.

In cyberspace, codes and passwords is the law. This rule includes anything in the computer constructed world from video games, desktop publishing, word processor, automatic teller machine, chat room, entrance card readers, missile launchers and so on.

Yet, there are limitations and boundaries to these cities. That is no matter how advanced technology can be developed or invented, there are real physical limitations. One can never taste a drink in Cyberspace although he may see it and hear it in the end. Cybercities are limited to information exchange in the end.

2.3 On the Net

Some places attract people because they represent a certain status or allow users to perform certain tasks and activities. For example, driving a Porsche to a discotheque, attending Rotary Club functions, going to an expensive for dinner or playing golf at a prestigious club. To perform different tasks, one have to go to different places. In order to discuss certain topics, the most immediate method is to meet face to face in a conference or seminar.

In Cyberspace, users congregate at Newsgroups or Internet-Chat-Relay servers. Newsgroups allow users to post articles and sometimes with graphics too. Other readers can collect new headlines from a particular group and then choose those what he wishes to read in detail. The articles posted up range from queries, requests, responses, news items, announcements, tips, warnings and other various topics of interest. Usually, there is a host and occasionally, he will remove some of the more unruly participants. Internet-Relay-Chat is a more immediate discussion group whereby users log in to the different servers and choose the channel to join. The difference is that one cannot read past articles as in Newsgroups.

In some channels, user meets once a month to exchange ideas and software. Although some traditionalists think that being able to chat and post articles in IRC and Newsgroups will inculcate a kind of isolation behaviour, the truth is that is actually leads to widening of the social circle and increases the number of social gatherings of this nature.

The path taken to the end result has changed. Formally, the gathering place is the place itself, now, the gathering place is in cyberspace. From cyberspace then to the physical space, which will somehow relate back to the cyberspace.

2.4 World Wide Web

In an urban environment, places have been linked mainly by transportation as well as communication networks, from the beginning of passageways traditionally, to lift cores, to pedestrian walkways, to roads, to rails, to air space, all of them integrating towards a whole network system.

In cyberspace, there is what is called a Web Browser. There are different browsers connected to the World Wide Web (WWW) servers located throughout Internet. These servers provide text, graphics, video, sound or animation. In these pages are "hyperlinks" where the page links itself to other pages elsewhere on the web. In trying to locate a service or information, a user is not limited to one location but from all over the world. It is like a World Wide Yellow Pages.

In using these hyperlinks, we jump from place to place like taking a high speed train to virtually anywhere in the world. Reading these articles, from pages 1 to 2 no longer becomes a direct process. There maybe 20 hidden hyperlinks in the first page and in the second hyperlinked page, there are again another 10 hyperlinks. So reading from page 1 to 2 can be infinite. It is like walking through an endless corridor whereby before one corridor end, others will appear.

2.5 Cyborg and Cyberians

CYBORG. One dictionary definition of cyborg reads "a person whose physiological functioning is aided by, or dependent on, a mechanical or electronic device" (Webster's New Unabridged Dictionary).

Contrary to our belief and misconception, most of us are all cyberians or in some ways cyborgs but we need not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2. It is more about the integration of humans and the machine. In fact, cyberian culture is a depiction of the integration of technological systems with social systems. A culture that is constantly evolving and changing in every second, a culture that has little relationship with the physical environment, a culture whose faith lies in the development of computer software.

Cyberspace is a social system that consists of individuals and a wide variety of interests, capabilities and values. It depends on the context set by the technological system. With the aesthetic dimension to human-machine relationship, the possibility of cyberian culture matures.

2.6 Cyberian Lifestyle

Here are some common characteristics that is gathered from Articles published in Newspapers, Magazines, Books, Virtual Newsgroups and Websites:
Waking up and switching on the computer Checking E-mails Work more than 8 hours a day Remote controls Television? Monitor? Radio? Immediate Access to Information Password Automatic Download Save MIRC
World Wide Wed e-mails Virtual Images, 3-D, surround Sound VCRs tape rentals PCs modems answering machines touch tone dialling cellular phones cordless phones call screening phone cards ATMs fax machines Federal Express bar coding cable TV satellite TV CDs MDs LDs CASH CARDS, ATM Cards and Credit Cards Phone Bank, Virtual Bank VRML and etc.

There is no strict definition to the lifestyle of a Cyberian. The number of types is equivalent to any of the combinations and permutations listed above and more (In other words, equal to infinity).

Other terms that have been given to this category of people are Cyber-Addicts, Electro-Yuppies or Teleworkers.

The term cyberian generally refers to a person who cannot live without a computer. He needs to be in constant contact with this virtual world. A cyberian will be one who uses the computer to perform his major duties, mainly for work and play. According to Strait Times article, a cyberian typically spends at least 30 hours a week in front of the computer.

With the advancement and development of newer technology, more jobs can be and will be computer based in nature. At the present moment, examples include computer programmers, debuggers, technical assistants, animators, freelance writers, reporters, editors, property investors, stocks investors, and etc.

2.7 Cyberian Work Attitude

The types of jobs that have been mentioned are all in one way or the other information related and most of their titles come after the word 'computer'. From this, are not most professional jobs not information related? That also means the job could be performed practically anywhere in the world provided that the user is connected.

A doctor, a lawyer, an architect, an accountant and an engineer are all information related jobs (although some form of physical contact is necessary). This list does not end here.

......If only we could, we would wander the earth and never leave home; we would enjoy triumphs without risk, eat of the Tree and not be punished, consort daily with angel, enter heaven now and not die.....

If only one could, one would not want to travel to work. If only one could, one would not want to travel one hour to go to school to attend a two hour lecture and then travel another hour back home. If only one could........

On the contrary, some traditional employers as well as employees will not accept this idea because of the lack of human touch and supervision, as well as a certain amount of techno-phobia.

Nevertheless, putting the negative side apart, the idea may work. There is already at least an architecture firm in Singapore that has set up a branch in the Philippines since 1994. The main task of the branch is the churn out Autocad BP (Building Plans) drawings and construction details. Sketches of the design are being faxed from the Singapore office to the Philippine Branch. There, a group of architects who are Autocad literate will work out the drawings on the computer and sent them back to the Singapore office through modem.

Will the big boss in Singapore know whether his employees in Philippines work the entire eight hours a day? Probably no. Does he need to?

All that the big boss needs to know is that his employees, thousand of miles away, are producing the drawings at the same rate as draftsmen in Singapore at a fraction of the cost.

Of course the good old Singapore office will still have a small computer department with four or five local draftsmen to do minor amendments and adjustments. Overall, the idea worked!

Thus the cyberian work attitude is one that believes in the end product and not in the process.

2.8 Cyberian Recreation

Cyberians’ typical recreational activities include, computer games, chatting in IRC, surfing the Net for music, movies, comics and news articles. A common phenomenon of a new Internet user is clocking up hundreds of hours during the first few months and spending most of the time in front of the computer. The reason is because the Net provides some much to learn and play that it becomes never ending. Users are able to download everything that he is able to see and hear. From an article to games to midi music to movies. Almost all the recreation is done in cyberspace.

The fact that there is so much to do on the Net does not mean a total replacement of the physical parallel. A user who has just completed a 3 hour triathlon on a computer game has only lost a few calories for exercising his fingers. Although users realise this fact, many did not revert to the old lifestyle, thus resulting to weight gain.

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