GLOBALIZATION, FLOWS, AND IDENTITY:
THE NEW CHALLENGES OF DESIGN
"Globalization" is a fashion, but it is also more than a fashion. It is an ambiguous word that may lead to erroneous conclusions, but it also provides an entry point to discuss fundamental issues about the present moment of historical transition. First of all, I will try to define globalization, to specify its dimensions, and to separate its ideological connotations from what it denotes as an actual historical movement. Then I will try to draw some inferences from this analysis in terms of the spatial processes that we are witnessing. And finally I will introduce some ideas about the impact of such developments for professional and academic practice in architecture and urban design.
I think that globalization is the process by which human activity in its different dimensions becomes selectively and asymmetrically organized in interactive networks of performance that function on a planetary scale in real time. In my opinion, this represents a distinction between what we have seen in the world economy for a long time and current processes.
Globalization affects not just the economy but also other dimensions— political, cultural, and symbolic. What is going on is different from the traditional forms of the world economy, at least those that have existed since the sixteenth century, as Fernand Braudel and Immanuel Wallerstein have taught us. A global economy is new because it works as a unit in real time. A new infrastructure has emerged in the last two decades that makes the tendencies of the economy, of the polity, and of communication and symbolic expression fulfill themselves through these new information technologies.
Globalization is linked to two phenomena: the information technology revolution, and the major socioeconomic restructuring that took place as a consequence of the economic and social crisis of the mid-1970s. These two processes emerged in constant interaction.
Technological trends have created a new economic, social, and sociocul-tural system that can be identified in terms of four waves: a movement toward globalization of capital and capital markets in the 1970s and early 1980s, a movement toward the penetration of information technologies in manufacturing and industrial organizations in the mid-1980s, a movement
toward widespread penetration of the labor process and organization in service and office work in the late 1980s, and the current movement toward the information superhighway, which extends all the way into people's homes.
Through these four waves, which can be historically sequenced, the actual material infrastructure of our lives has been transformed. Globalization is an ideological expression actually referring to a fundamental process that has taken place, and that has changed our basic infrastructure, our politics, our culture, and our economies.
Globalization has occurred in different dimensions. There has been a globalization of capital and capital markets, but there is also a globalization of markets for commodities, and a globalization of production. We have assisted, both in manufacturing and in services, in the emergence of a new spatial division of labor. Currently, the assembly line works throughout the world as a unit. In the last ten years, a number of studies, some of them generated at the University of California at Berkeley, have shown the formation of a new industrial space that works not simply in the field of electronics, but in all manufacturing sectors that use high-technology devices—which is, increasingly, all manufacturing. The new industry is integrated in the production and organization of management throughout the world.
Also, labor markets have been differentiated yet globalized, and this is not simply for immigrants moving from Mexico to the United States. We have all kinds of labor markets, including in high-tech industries, that are interdependent at the world level. For instance, one of the largest software markets in the world is in Bombay. Software work from American and European firms is sent directly to Bombay and is being directed by telecommunications .
We also have a process of globalization of information and of technology, in which major universities play a fundamental part. Globalization has occurred in the cultural realm as well, not only through the circulation of ideas but also through the formation of a new, media-dominated audiovisual culture. This culture has shifted away from the traditional forms of the mass media and toward a new form of symbolic manipulation in which the media is massively distributed but also segmented to particular audiences— and this segmentation can be in terms of the topics, or even the mood of the audience. So we have the ability to organize the world as a global village, but we also have the ability to produce anywhere in the world for specific villages and specific audiences. We have even witnessed the emergence of
globalization on a political level, seen in the growing importance of supranational institutions, the networking of political and military decisions, and the interpenetration of power practices.
We must be precise, however, about the limits and boundaries of what has taken place. Globalization does not mean that states, cultures, and histories of specific places disappear. On the contrary, the continuous search for identity—territorial, cultural, and historical—has defined a new political movement. Nation-states are major actors in the play of strategies in the global economy; witness the case of Japan. The search for and expression of cultural identities are fundamental political and organizational forces in the world today.
Furthermore, this process of globalization is segmented and selective: although it reaches the whole world, it does not include the whole world. Specific segments of economic processes, of political practices, or of cultural symbolism are connected all over the world, while others that are not valued are being excluded—literally switched off the network. We think immediately about the country of Burkina Faso. But it is also true for the Bronx, Kamagasaki in Osaka, the Baltimore working-class wards, and Paris's La Courneuve suburb. The whole process throughout the world integrates and segregates, it includes and excludes.
A new spatial logic has emerged in the last two decades. I agree with David Harvey, who said that time and space are socially determined, fundamental dimensions of our experience. Space, along with time, has been transformed by the current process of technological revolution and socioe-conomic restructuring.
What has emerged is a new form of spatial organization of power—the "space of flows." I will try to define this fundamental notion, albeit in somewhat abstract terms. From the viewpoint of social theory, space js the material support of time-sharing social practices, and it allows for simultaneity. Throughout history, this simultaneity was provided by territorial contiguity and historical continuity. What has changed in recent years is thatsocial practices can now be simultaneous without being physically contiguous. This is the space of flows. But the space of flows also includes some types of places; it is built on electronic circuits that connect functions concentrated spatially in a few nodes.
I would go even a bit further than my colleagues. I would argue that we are moving toward a form of social organization expressed through this
spatial process, in which the power of flows is substituting for the usual centers of power. What is important today is not the multinational corporations, which have existed for a long time, but rather that these multinational corporations are organized through networks or alliances to create specific lines of product or specific processes or specific markets. For example, there are networks that link Siemens, Toshiba, and ibm to produce a particular telecommunication device. It is the connection between these major corporations and the small and medium businesses, such as Benetton, for instance—between all the units in the network—that becomes important. So the logic of the structural interest of these corporations is still the dominant power. But the individual actors have lost actual control over what is happening in these networks.
The emergence of these spatial flows tends to supersede history, cultures, and political control. This is a theme that has been presented before, and seems obvious enough. But this is not the only logic; places and culture do exist. The dialectics between the spatial flows organizing power and the space of places organizing experience continues to be at the center of the current process of transformation.
The consequences of these new spatial forms on design, practice, and professional organization are both direct and indirect. The process of the emergence of the space of flows, ideologically connoted by the term globalization, is deeply transforming the sense of design practice today. In terms of the actual labor process, the results are apparent in at least two levels. On one level, the design field is now also organized in networks that cut across territories, countries, and cultures, and has itself become part of this network of power. On another level, the spatial flows have their own forms of symbolic manifestation—an abstract, aculturaL^jihistorical space. One expression of this dehistorization of the new spatial flows in the field of design is postmodernism. Only at the end of history can all the codes be r mixed, can all theforrns that have existed throughout history be brought together. Thus the new code becomes the metacode, the code of noncodes, the code in which all the codes are voided of their meaning.
There are also other manifestations of the spatial flows that try to reflect in architectural forms the meaninglessness of our historical period, or, rather, the meaning of its meaninglessness. A concrete example of this is what I call the architecture of nudity. This can be seen in recent architecture by Ricardo Bofill. The only problem is that meaninglessness in architecture
is very expensive, technologically speaking, because in order to make no sense it must have an absolutely abstract form. Some of the new designs for the business center of Frankfurt or for the Barcelona airport are also pointing in this direction—they are absolutely transparent forms that do not say anything, thus reflecting a society in which, since everything can be said, nothing matters, a society that is at the end of history, and therefore at the end of culture.
There are other consequences connected to the contradiction between the space of flows and the space of places. One is a fundamentalist defense of the place and its culture as a response to the emergence of the space of flows, which in my writings I have called the tendency toward the emergence of tribalism. The idea is that since the space of flows denies people's identity, then they build exclusionary identities that become tribal in form. Many neighborhood groups and communities are being pushed into this sort of logic.
In formal terms, the idea of reconstructing culture on the basis of tradition as a way to oppose the meaninglessness of architectural nudity sometimes leads to the opposite danger, which I call architectural pastiche: the attempt to imitate a medieval city. To see an example of a real pastiche, you do not have to go to a European city; you have to go to a shopping center in Scottsdale, Arizona, where there is a reconstruction of the town of Siena, Italy, complete with baroque music. Siena is alive and well and lives in the Arizona desert. This could be considered postmodern architecture, but since it is also trying to defend the culture of a society not as it exists but as it was supposed to exist, it becomes a pastiche, a pure facade.
There are more subtle dangers in trying to defend at any price the spatial meaning against the meaninglessness of the space of flows. An example is the idea of marking public spaces in cities with architectural forms that try to say something, even if these forms are not integrated with the urban process and structure of that city. This has been called the new monumen-talism, or to take words from the debate that was raging in Italy ten years ago, the difference between projetto and piano. A series of monuments are created, but they refer to the culture in general, not to the particular city. In fact, they become traffic lights of the space of flows, stop and go.
What is happening in this process? I think it is something much more fundamental than simply the problems of social theorists who are trying to find their way through the new jungle of science and ideas, or the problems of architects and urban designers who are trying to reconstruct the meaning
of cities in the middle of the space of flows. I would call it the crisis of urban civilization. Because cities, after all, have always been communication systems that have brought together, in a spatial form, power and experience, function and meaning, knowledge and action. These systems of communication are now broken, because these forces are pulling in different direc-ptions. Experience is being contained within territorial spaces, into the_sp_ace of places. And power is being propelled into electronic circuits organized in i nodes and hubs, into the space of flows.
All societies have to be built around power and experience, and the spatial forms of these societies have to provide the communication, the channels, the bridges, between these two processes. The present breakdown of these systems is the source of the widespread urban violence and the other problems in our cities. Because only when communication breaks down, only when the other is alien by definition, can violence emerge and become generalized.
The reconstruction of spatial forms and processes to bridge power and experience, knowledge and meaning, are thus indeed fundamental tasks. Although they follow the appeal to provide alternatives to this one-dimensional form of globalization of logic linked to the space of flows, the new politics of our society are multidimensional, and therefore are not expressed in the traditional form of sociopolitical movements. To oppose this dehumanizing logic of an overwhelming space of flows, the counteroffensive has to be cultural as much as political. And one of the forms of cultural innovation is to find spatial forms and processes that reintegrate meaning without denying the current processes of power and function. In that sense, I think there is a new challenge for urban planning, for urban design, for urban intervention, as they need to bring together the processes of power and experience under forms of social, cultural, and political control.
Four main lines of cultural counteroffensive will be necessary to redefine the field of urban design and planning. The first and most fundamental is the revival of local governments. One of the most interesting paradoxes of our time is that as we are going into a global economy, it is the local, not national, governments that are the most effective units for negotiation, bargaining, and articulation of these flows of power and investments. In fact, that was also the case for the emergence of the world economy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: the city-states emerged precisely in the period of the birth of the global economy. One of the reasons for the importance
of local governments is that national governments are too small to be countervailing forces to a global capital, yet they are too rigid to be able to negotiate global economic forces. Although local governments cannot negotiate either when working individually, an electronically connected network of local governments would be able to negotiate and to impose intrinsic values other than those expressed in the space of flows. Similar initiatives are being taken in European cities: the network of the Federation of European Regions and Cities has been recently constituted under the sponsorship of the European Union.
The second necessity in the reconstruction of urban planning is the emergence and development of strategic planning, which corporations have been doing for a long time. In my opinion, this is a substitute for traditional master planning. Strategic planning is acting on processes, not on forms. And it is also integrating environmental quality with functional performance.
The third requirement is the development of an architecture that tries to say something—not one that directly expresses society; no serious architecture has ever done that—but one that incorporates the debates, the values, the moving cultural dynamics of society into spatial forms, thus rejecting the new orthodoxy that has substituted modernism with postmodernism, with the uniform architecture of the space of flows. My proposal is to start using experimentation in architecture in public spaces all over the world, as a way to trigger a debate that allows for a diverse architecture that follows the diversity of society. In other words, I think that current architectural trends have to be able to go beyond nostalgia and market forces; they must introduce a new tension between individual creation and collective cultural expressions in order to reconstruct meaning in our environment.
Finally, the fourth line concerns traditional land-use planning that has been adapted to the new city form and to the new electronic and communications technology. We have to reconstruct the logic of dense city form, we have to translate it into technological and functional terms adequate to our society. Barcelona has reconstructed its seafront with much more use orientation and less tourist cliche. This new urban environment has all kinds of problems, but at least it is an attempt to create dense city form, while at the same time being a highly functional directional center as well as a cultural center. Another example is the Walnut Creek suburb in Northern California, which was an attempt to create dense city form, to create urban life in the middle of a suburb. Thus the idea of creating some form of multinuclear
urban structure that is technologically advanced yet that guards the idea of the city could be another frontier for a counteroffensive. Although we cannot deny the space of flows, we can try to coordinate the logic of power with the logic of experience. We need to reconstruct the space of places in tension, not in integration, with the space of flows.