The Space of Flows (text from the presentation presented in class)
As we have raised the question about 4th dimension in architecture, or possibly N‐th
dimension, according to Manuel Castells, the author of The Rise of the Network
Society, we can find one possible answer to this question which is embedded in his
concept of the space of flows. In general, the fourth dimension, by its definition, is
interpreted as time. In Castells opinion, the 4th dimension is timeless time. And
timeless time belongs to what he calls space of flows.
Let me first give a brief introduction to the author:
Manuel Castells (born in Spain, 1942) is a sociologist especially associated with
information society and communications research. His work focus on areas of urban
sociology, organization studies, internet studies, social movements, sociology of
culture, and political economy. Castells was a key developer of the variety of Marxist
urban sociology that emphasizes the role of social movements in the conflictive
transformation of the city. In 1989, he introduced the concept of the “space of flows”.
In the 1990s, he combined his two research in the book titled: The Information Age:
Economy, Society and Culture, published as a trilogy, The Rise of the Network Society
(1996), The Power of Identity (1997), and End of Millennium (1998).
So let’s talk about the concept of space of flows. To approach the complexity of this
concept, let us proceed step by step, starting with defining what is space. Space, in
social theory, cannot be defined without reference to social practices. It is an
expression of society, and is a material product, in relationship to other material
products – including people – who engage in historically determined social
relationships that provide space with a form, a function, and a social meaning. In
conclusion, space, in social theory, is the material support of time‐sharing social
practices. The term “time‐sharing social practices” refers to space bringing together
those practices that are simultaneous in time.
Since our society is constructed around flows: flows of capital, flows of information,
flows of technology, flows of organization interaction, flows of images, sounds, and
symbols, the spaces of flows is the material organization of time‐sharing social
practices that work through flows.
There are three layers of space of flows. The first layer is constituted of circuit of
electronic impulses. This is the material support of space of flows. It includes
microelectronics, telecommunication, broadcasting, etc. which is all based on
The second layer of space of flows is constituted by nodes and hubs. This suggested
that the space of flows is not placeless. It is based on an electronic network that
links up specific places. Some places play the role of exchangers and coordinators.
Both nodes and hubs are hierarchically organized according to their relative weight
in the network.
The third layer refers to the spatial organization of the dominant, managerial elites.
The elites represent power and wealth, which is projected throughout the world,
and while ordinary people’s life and experience rooted in places, culture, and history.
If we agree that the space of flows is the dominant spatial form in the network
society, then architecture and design are to be redefined. The space of flow blurs the
relationship between architecture and society. Since the spatial manifestation of
dominant interests now takes place around the world and across cultures, the
uprooting of experience, history, and specific culture as the background of meaning
is leading to the generalization of non‐historical, non‐cultural architecture.
The work from postmodernism is considered examples for this concept, since it
declares the end of all systems of meaning. And it creates a mixture of elements that
looks for harmony through transhistorical reformation. Since the boundary of
architecture and society is blurred, instead of designing space of places,
postmodernism has expressed the new ideology of designing space of flows.
Examples of works that we are all familiar with:
AT&T building in NY city by Philip Johnson
Piazza d’Italia, New Orleans, by Charles Moore
All these examples are architecture itself considered as space of flows. However,
architecture could also be regarded as a media, through which space of flows could
be experienced. In this case, architecture is considered the neutral, pure and
transparent form that exposes the solitude of the space of flows.
Barcelona Airport, by Ricardo Bofill
Madrid AVE Station, by Rafael Moneo
Castells believes that these two architectures communicate with their user through
silence. The Barcelona airport by using marble floor, dark glass façade, and glass
separating panels and its big open space, left the passengers in the middle of the
space of flows. The new Madrid AVE station was renovated into a new indoor palm
tree park. The real station with the high speed train is adjacent to this park. The
contrast between the train and the park makes the segment of space of flows
At the end of this article, the author made a comparison between the space of flows
and space of places. The space of places is a locale whose form, function and
meaning are self‐contained within the boundaries of physical contiguity, where for
space of flows, such physical contiguity is not needed.
The relationship between the space of flows and space of places, between
simultaneous globalization and localization are not predetermined in their outcome.
The space of flows, which itself is a network free from history, culture or social
context; tend to impose its logic over the scattered, segmented places. Here the
author went back to his sociologist point of view and express his concern about the
co‐existence of globalization and localization. The globalization network tends to
impose its logic over the local, and he believes that cultural and physical bridges
have to be built in order to connect this gap.
- Is there a way of bridging the gap between globalization and localization?