2021 Type: Glossary

Digital platforms have had substantial influence on the design of urban spaces in recent years. They undermine conventional service offerings, provide access to heretofore unoccupied niches of urban need, connect various groups directly with one another, imply social belonging, and in this way, stimulate new forms of working, living together, learning, communicating, and consuming. From online shopping and coworking spaces to platform-based educational opportunities, housing options, and mobility services, platforms promise to make their members’ lives simpler, more enjoyable, and more promising. Not just the individually obtained benefits, but also the idea of a new kind of community with shared interests, values, and outlooks is a key part of the appeal of many digital platforms.
To be successful, commercial platforms rely on network effects and the growth this entails. The more interactions such a platform handles, the more data can be obtained and used for further expansion efforts. Platforms that operate globally influence urban behavior by offering users access to conveniently consumable services worldwide. Very often, their side effects negatively impact the physical urban space and the life that takes place within it: rent increases, gig work, increased traffic volume, environmental pollution, social and spatial segregation.
In view of the ramifications of this development, we must ask ourselves how a socially, politically, and ecologically responsible Urban Practice can unfold on platforms and take the creative potential of those platforms into its own hands. Ways of appropriating this potential open up in different ways. Firstly, the most important resource that platforms have are their users and those users’ interactions per se, so the manner in which a platform is utilized can also have a divergent or subversive aspect. Secondly, the technological possibilities of digital platforms—direct networking, real-time communication, coordination of translocal public spheres—can also be leveraged in ways that transcend profit-making interests in order to give interest groups, household communities, or cooperative associations, for example, an action stage for urban exchange, mutual support, and solidarity.

Peter Mörtenböck and Helge Mooshammer work as architectural researchers, authors, and curators in London and Vienna. They direct the Centre for Global Architecture and teach at TU Wien and Goldsmiths, University of London. Their projects include the EU and FWF projects Networked Cultures (2005–2008), Relational Architecture (2006–2009), Other Markets (2010–1015) Data Publics (2016–2021), Incorporating Informality (2018–1023), and Platformed City (2022–2026) as well as the Austrian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021, with its focus on platform urbanism.