Vol. 1. No. 1
“Virtual Worlds Research: Past, Present & Future”
Cityspace, Cyberspace, and the Spatiology of Information
By Dr. Michael L. Benedikt, ACSA Distinguished Professor, Director, Center for American
Architecture and Design,University of Texas at Austin
Published in 1996* but not widely read, this article argues that space and
information are so deeply related that the universe at every moment is exactly and only
as large as it needs to be to “contain” the information it in fact is. Using three thought
experiments—one about data visualization, one about cellular automata and
consciousness, and one about the analysis of architectural space using isovists, each
experiment blurring (or rather, uniting) the phenomena of psychological and physical
space, the article argues that what we experience as “space” is that set of dimensions
which provides the largest capacity for the world’s other qualities, objects, and events
to express their variety most fully. The natural universe is incompressible, expanding
only as, and because, it becomes richer in information (i.e. cools and evolves).
Imaginary and virtual worlds obey the same rule: they are “naturally” as big as they
are rich in information. But the possibility exists in cyberspace—as it does not in
nature—to choose which dimensions will serve as the spatial framework, and which will
become/appear as properties of the things themselves. Data visualizers know this well.
One wonders why virtual worlds to this day look so similar to ours, then, rather than to
the one envisaged by William Gibson in 1984 and 1986 and which he called
“cyberspace.” A failure of architectural nerve? A constraint upon computation? Or has
cyberspace proper yet to evolve?
Keywords: cityspace, cyberspace, virtual worlds, architecture, information.
* With minor modification as “The Information in Space is the Space in Information,” in Anders Michelson and
Frederik Stjernfeld, Eds., Billeder fra det Fjerne/Images