Rapid cultural shifts made necessary by planetary change generally place more value on surroundings. Ubiquitous information, once thought placeless, increasingly influences this transformation. Yet at this writing, “environmental history of information” yielded a null search on Google. Many people, particularly architects, believe that cultural outlook somehow lives in the way people dwell, and in what public places they choose to build and embellish. Fewer people see information enhancing the physical world, however. The effect more often seems like white noise, dematerialization, or escape. Where notions of a commons have applied to information, those have instead addressed intellectual property, especially where intellectual capital has been socially produced over networks. Now the move beyond the desktop into many more formats and physical contexts demands new approaches to shared resources. The genre of “urban computing” has arisen to explore this. How do the architectures of ambient information enrich urban experience, operate architectures, cultivate environmental sensibilities, or renew responsibility to some idea of a commons?
Ambient Commons is about attention in architecture. It is about information media becoming contextual, tangible, and persistent. It begins an environmental history of information. I am taking two phenomena that I see gaining currency in the rise of the “augmented city,” and exploring whether it makes sense to combine them. “Ambient” is that which surrounds but does not distract. Information is becoming ambient. Architecture is rediscovering environment and atmosphere. “Commons” is that which self-governs resource sharing, a process which political economists increasingly see complementing markets. “Information commons” has been topical since the mid 90s, but only now begins to merge with physical space. “Ambient Commons” does not exist except in a few niches of music: not in media studies, nor pervasive computing, nor urbanism. But should it?