Designing Freedom / Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi for the Shenzhen Biennale (UABB) 2019

Designing Freedom / Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi for the Shenzhen Biennale (UABB) 2019

What happens when the sensor-imbued city acquires the ability to see – almost as if it had eyes? Ahead of the 2019 Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (UABB), titled "Urban Interactions," ArchDaily is working with the curators of the "Eyes of the City" section at the Biennial to stimulate a discussion on how new technologies – and Artificial Intelligence in particular – might impact architecture and urban life. Here you can read the “Eyes of the City” curatorial statement by Carlo Ratti, the Politecnico di Torino and SCUT.

When the city has eyes to see, it will become the stuff of nightmares. The panopticon prophecy will come to life. Democracy will die.

The pretexts through which a thousand mechanisms that spy on us have been introduced into cities are three:

  • security from thieves, criminals and terrorists;
  • energy savings and performance optimization;
  • the possibility of having structures that spontaneously understand our needs, without any requests on our part.

To the objection that a city that is capable of watching us does not allow us to hide, it was argued that those who are honest should feel no need to hide, since this kind of technological transparency simply allows us to make our needs and desires immediately clear.

©The Final Prophecy. More Hate Productions

We need to look at it the other way round. Those who are honest may want to hide because this is the only way to escape evil, oppressors, dictatorships, conformity. Transparency also kills desire.

Should we then return to the ancient city? To the past? To darker times? Certainly not. But we have to dispel the myth of the interactive city, of the smart city, as a place where formulating a thought is all that is needed to get an immediate answer from an intelligent mechanism.

We have to design spaces that afford us the risk of choosing. Spaces where the intelligence at work is human, not mediated by an algorithm. 

We could start with the workspace. The idea of a centralized intelligence monitoring every worker action will impede progress, stifling smarter options, including truly innovative and disruptive hypotheses. It will increase stress levels among those who have been deprived of their privacy, of that silent dialogue taking place within themselves, which is often dismissed as inefficient. It will promote authoritarian behavior among leaders. It will generate malaise.

Those who sell goods and services may want cities planned around transparency and predictability. Knowing what potential buyers want in real time is an incredible opportunity to direct and optimize their offers. 

Cities that are able to see can also adjust energy supply, eliminating waste. They can provide assistance to those who are lost, and suggest alternative routes to avoid traffic. They can effectively manage climate and microclimates, report traffic offenses, identify dangers, robberies and terrorist acts. 

Should we do away with all this? Not necessarily. But we shoud not compromise on freedom. Privacy specialists should work alongside transparency specialists. Each move by the former should be balanced out by the latter’s counter-move–and vice versa. 

Software can help with this: auto-delete tools for data, encrypted information, systems that prevent authoritarian regimes from spying, programs that allow people to remain in control of their choices. 

When designing a project, just like there are energy specialists, we should have specialists who look at spaces in terms of freedom rather than efficiency. This way, there will be areas that could not be reached by digital signals, where only analog technology works and the latest control tools cannot be used to scrutinize us. 

Of course, there will be ways to circumvent this. We are not so naive as to not understand that these spaces could be controlled all the same, perhaps using more traditional instruments. But this approach would help us be clear about a fundamental principle: that a city that is capable of watching us will not necessarily make our world better. It will make it more efficient, perhaps, but not necessarily smarter, and a lot more complex and dangerous. 

 About the Author

© Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi

Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi is an architectural writer, critic and president of Associazione Italiana di Architettura e Critica ( He is director of the weekly presS/Tletter (, an editor for Le Carré Bleu, and he was the chief editor of the international magazine Compasses ( His many books include: HyperArchitecture, Birkhäuser and New Directions in Contemporary Architecture. Evolutions and Revolutions in Building Design Since 1988, Wiley. His writings can be found at

"Urban Interactions": Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Shenzhen) - 8th edition. Shenzhen, China

Opening in December, 2019 in Shenzhen, China, "Urban Interactions" is the 8th edition of the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (UABB). The exhibition consists of two sections, namely “Eyes of the City” and “Ascending City”, which will explore the evolving relationship between urban space and technological innovation from different perspectives. The “Eyes of the City" section features MIT professor and architect Carlo Ratti as Chief Curator and Politecnico di Torino-South China University of Technology as Academic Curator. The "Ascending City" section features Chinese academician Meng Jianmin and Italian art critic Fabio Cavallucci as Chief Curators.‬‬‬

"Eyes of The City" section

Chief Curator: Carlo Ratti.

Academic Curator: South China-Torino Lab (Politecnico di Torino - Michele Bonino; South ChinaUniversity of Technology - Sun Yimin)

Executive Curators: Daniele Belleri [CRA], Edoardo Bruno, Xu Haohao    

Curator of the GBA Academy: Politecnico di Milano (Adalberto Del Bo)

"Ascending City" section

Chief Curators: Meng Jianmin, Fabio Cavallucci

Co-Curator: Science and Human Imagination Center of Southern University of Science and Technology (Wu Yan)

Executive Curators: Chen Qiufan, Manuela Lietti, Wang Kuan, Zhang Li

About this author
Cite: Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi. "Designing Freedom / Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi for the Shenzhen Biennale (UABB) 2019" 19 Oct 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

A woman interacts with a surveillance camera © MARCUS BASTEL

2019深港城市建筑双年展“城市之眼”,Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi:设计自由

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