Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

Hubert Burkert – moving beyond the metaphor

Herbert Burkert of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland teaches internet law and heads a center at St. Gallen that parallels the work we do at Berkman. He suggests we consider the space between beauty and cocercion. There’s only a few occasions where an audience takes pity on a lawyer, and it’s when a lawyer ventures in the sphere of aesthetics. There’s such a thing as legal creativity, but it usually leaves you facing the ethics board and quickly turns from pity to self-pity. So he wants to move from a presentation on “criteria” to one about “comments”.

His comments are structured around two names. One is Johann Peter Willebrand, a German writer about public security who encouraged registration of foreigners in towns. But he also encouraged the pledge to treat citizens and foreigners politely, which you can read as you wait for hours to pass through immigration in Boston. He’s become something of a hero to Burkert, as someone who’s tried to change the relationship between beauty and coercion, coercing people into beauty.

Burkert’s point – design and architecture talk is dangerous talk. Le Corbusier wanted to design not just buildings, but how people life. Totalitarian designers gave certain architectures to control people. And today’s contemporary suggestions on public safety, walkability, and security need to be considered in this light. When you consider criteria of design, ask whether you’re designing for people, and whose interest you’re designing for. How much space for opportunities to live are you prepared to leave for others?

This leads us to Lina Bo Bardi, an Italian architect who worked in Brazil. She was asked to turn a factory in Sao Paolo into a recreation area. The city is a remarkable and challenging place: so crowded that it’s got the highest percentage of helicopters per capita, because it’s the only way to beat traffic, and has a serious problem with crime. She built a tower and bridges that connected to the factory, suggesting a dialog between work and play. It’s a very striking building – the windows look like the holes that might be made by grenades than designed openings.

How is this relevant? Bo Bardi was designing to create opportunities for social gatherings, and for cross-generational communication. Burkert suggests that cross-generational communication is quite rare in social media. So is cross-cultural communication. And these spaces encourage opportunity for variety, and opportunity for protected openness.

Perhaps the low walls that appear in her design are metaphors for scaled privacy. Or maybe we need to stop using these kinds of physical metaphors, at least from architecture, in these virtual spaces?

One Response to “Hubert Burkert – moving beyond the metaphor”

  1. Herbert also headed the Legal Advisory Board on the Internet to the European Commission from 1985 – undoubtedly Europe’s most renowned Internet lawyer!

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