Completion: 2012, Finalist

Location: Texas Tech University College of Mass Communications, Lubbock, TX

Description: Tower presents the viewer with utopian and dystopian visions of media in a global society, holding these two imagined futures in tension within a single sculptural expression. Featuring a spiraling stack of LED plinths, Tower can be seen either as a form under construction, or as a structure teetering on the verge of collapse.Tower poses a question: Can new communications technology help us unlock the collaborative autonomy of diverse individuals to build a more democratic world? Or will the globalization of communication ultimately lead to Babel?

From one perspective, Tower presents the utopian hope of collaborative intelligence, powered globally by the Internet and social media. A perpetually-changing “tag cloud” of words dynamically move around the sculpture’s LED surface, presenting in real-time the most searched and discussed topics on the World-Wide Web. For many, new media technologies offer platforms for collective problem-solving, where participants bring divergent approaches within a fluid and egalitarian structure. From this angle, Tower celebrates global media as situation architecture, a self-organizing virtual space that makes collaborative intelligence possible.

From another point of view, the viewer sees the Tower of Babel. In The Gutenburg Galaxy, Marshall McLuhan describes the Tower of Babel as “the tower of Sleep, that is, the tower of the witless assumption, or what Bacon calls the reign of the Idols.” It represents conformity, anonymity, witlessness, binding individuals together into a forced consensus in which each individual is locked into a role. For contemporary thinker Jacques Ellul, the Tower of Babel represents the injustice of imperial Babylon, stamping out cultural diversity by imposing a shared language. For Ellul, the Babel narrative is a critique of standardization, cultural homogeneity, and domination. From this angle, Tower warns us of the dystopian potential of media amid economic globalization, a tower that teeters on the verge of collapse.

Tower speaks to a present where these two futures seem to unfold in tandem, holding them in tension through a powerful sculptural symbol.

Architect: METALAB