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The incursion of artificial intelligence and full automation into workspaces and productive landscapes has been recently designated the trigger for major shifts in manual labour, white-collar and service-sector work, and a key driver in job losses and declining wages. Under the premise that automation disrupts not only labour markets, but the configuration, design and occupation of entire territories, ‘Automated Landscapes’ seeks to document and reflect upon the emerging architectures and urbanisms of fully-automated labour, looking at other actors involved in the production of spaces that remain beyond classic notions of authorship and signature.

The aims of the project are manifold, namely: to shed light on the impact of automation in various geographies and scales; to examine how the design of automated spaces challenges conventional spatial requirements and normative rules in architecture for health, safety and welfare, such as standards for light, ventilation, height, and floor areas; to reveal how these technologies bring new forms of territorial occupation, segregation and contestation; and to speculate upon the role of architects and designers in imagining and intervening in territories and spaces for non-humans.

The project focuses on the port of Rotterdam and across agricultural clusters in the Netherlands, as well as developments in the Pearl River Delta—arguably the main arena for the transition from the man-powered ‘factory of the world’ to a territory of automated production. ‘Automated Landscapes’ will result in an exhibition and a publication, and has been awarded a Feature Grant from Design Trust (an initiative of the non-profit organisation Hong Kong Ambassadors of Design) in Hong Kong. Het Nieuwe Instituut will work closely together with Merve Bedir and Jason Hilgefort of the Shenzhen-based academy Future+ in the context of the Pearl River Delta.  

Since its founding in 2013 Het Nieuwe Instituut has fostered research initiatives in the form of exhibitions, events, archival investigations and publications by a variety of practitioners, independent reseachers, academics and curators. Its Research & Development department acknowledges and gives visibility to research projects and initiatives that develop engaged, self-aware and critical arguments about alternative modes of living and experimenting in the cultural field. The Artistic Director of Het Nieuwe Instituut is Guus Beumer, the Head of Research & Development is Marina Otero Verzier, and team members include Victor Munoz Sanz (co-principal researcher Automated Landscapes), Marten Kuijpers (co-principal researcher Automated Landscapes), Tamar Shafrir, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, and Katía Truijen.

Automation and artificial intelligence

Automated Landscapes is part of the ongoing commitment of Het Nieuwe Instituut to address the implications of automation and artificial intelligence for architecture, design and digital culture, developed through a series of projects, including:

  • 'Lights Out!', a proposal by Victor Muñoz Sanz for research on the production of space for and by fully automated industry, which in 2016 received an honourable mention in Het Nieuwe Instituut’s 2016 International Call for Fellows.
  • The exhibition Garden of Machines speculated on a new ecosystem in which technical and organic beings learn to live together.
  • The Bot Club, a series of public talks that take a critical look at a world in which bots, algorithmic agents and generative processes do the work.
  • The Mansholt Letter, a plea to European policy makers for the introduction of a sustainable and just food policy.
  • 'In Loving Support’, a 32-page publication included in Volume #49 magazine and the result of a four-day retreat on the relations between machine learning and cultural research, including questions of authorship, copyright, originality, as well as the transformed condition of labour under automation.
  • Het Nieuwe Instituut is one of the partners collaborating with the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment at the TU Delft in ‘Cities of Making: resources for activating new urban industry through technology, spatial design and transition governance’, a European project under the ERA-NET Co-fund Smart Urban Futures programme.
Marina Otero
Tamar Shafrir, Klaas Kuitenbrouwer, Katia Truijen, Marten Kuijpers, Víctor Muñoz Sanz
Jan Robert Leegte