Princeton Graduate Students Imagine the Spatial Manifestation of Internet Start-Ups

Kelly Chan Kelly Chan

Image courtesy Adrian Heid

In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, Vint Cerf, the godlike co-creator of the Internet during its rudimentary military phase, recently proclaimed that the Internet is not a human right. Cerf reasoned that technology, which is a tool and an enabler of rights, is not to be confused with the rights themselves, which, by his definition, are what “we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives.”

Though we may not necessarily have the right to the Internet, there is no question that the Internet is actively changing the ways we live and interact, and to fathom living in this world in complete isolation from the “World Wide Web” is but a delusion. Ideas and concepts born online will inevitably program our interactions with the material world.

A group of students at the Graduate Architecture School at Princeton University are investigating how events online cross the threshold from virtual to real space, specifically envisioning how the needs of Internet companies will manifest themselves physically over time. One project imagined the material future of Zoko, a web start-up that takes the dinner party as a vehicle for meaningful social interaction. How can Zoko shape our built environment for the better?

Image courtesy Adrian Heid

Online, Zoko facilitates the creation of social circles, helping individuals organize and host dinner parties with friends, acquaintances and strangers based on connections and shared interests. For Zoko’s offline manifestation, a team of graduate students proposed a temporary structure that can be attached to derelict spaces and big retailers like Wal-Mart to serve as gathering spots for food items approaching their expiration dates.

The team of Princeton students Adrian Heid, Jia Xin Chum, and Jane Chua, led by Alejandro Zaera-Polo with the help of Ryan Welch, envisioned their design specifically with New Orleans in mind, imagining how Zoko could begin to address food and health issues in a city that boasts an amazing local cuisine but faces problems with obesity and inaccessibility to healthy food. These proposed attachable pavilions would serve as spaces where food can be distributed and community members can learn and share cooking techniques.

On a larger scale, the students also imagined how Zoko could expand its networking abilities to create “closed-circle, farm-to-table scenarios” that would allow community members to contribute whatever they could provide, be it skills, services, produce or land, to promote a reciprocity-based community. In envisioning the physical evolution of this small web start-up, the students imagined that sharing dinner tables could soon grow into sharing an even more expansive range of spaces.

[Images courtesy Adrian Heid, Jia Xin Chum, and Jane Chua]