Urban Scanner (Interview)

Urban Scanner” [interview with me] Landscape Architecture Magazine (July 2018): 38-44.



How to Graft a City

How to Graft a City” (p. 5) in The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge 1: Grafting (Mississauga: Blackwood Gallery, University of Toronto, Mississauga, June 2018)



Code and Clay, Data and Dirt: 5000 Years of Urban Media

University of Minnesota Press, November 2017

Awards: The Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ Anne Friedberg Innovative Scholarship Award; Media Ecology Association’s Dorothy Lee Award

Interviews: Jennifer Reut, “Urban Scanner,” Landscape Architecture Magazine (July 2018): 38-44; Chris Richardson, “Shannon Mattern: Code and Clay, Data and Dirt,” This is Not a Pipe [podcas]

(May 17, 2018); Jeffrey Wood, “How Media Has [sic] Shaped the City,” Talking Headways [podcast]

(May 2018); Ian Garrick Mason, “The Intelligence of Cities,” urbanNext (November 2, 2017); “Shannon Mattern on ‘5000 Years of Urban Media,’” with Mack Hagood, Mediapolis 4:2 (November 2, 2017).

Reference point for artist Lila Fowler’s Code Clay, Data Dirt exhibition, Firstsite Gallery, Colchester, UK, 2019.


Archived Course: Urban Media Archaeology

Graduate studio elective

Today’s city is layered with screens of all shapes and sizes and stitched together with a web of wireless networks, but woven into these modern media spaces are other, older urban media networks and infrastructures – many of which have laid the foundation for our newer media. This project-based course is dedicated to excavating and mapping – both theoretically and practically – the layers of mediation that have shaped urban forms and informed urban experiences through several key epochs in communication history, from the oral culture of ancient Athens to the television age. Each student, alone or in pairs, will conduct an urban media excavation – exploring, for example, how pneumatic tubes facilitated the delivery of mail in late-19th century New York, how the rise of the film industry shaped early 20th-century Los Angeles, or how television cables served as the nervous system of new mid-20th-century suburbs. Rather than presenting this work as atomized individual projects, however, everyone will plot their sites and networks, and post relevant archival media, to a collaboratively designed interactive media map. Part of the class will be devoted to designing the platform by analyzing which presentation format is best suited for effectively displaying these layers of urban mediation and exploring the synergies between individual students’ projects. The class will lay historical and theoretical groundwork for examining media and the urban environment, and also introduce students to the fields of media archaeology and the digital humanities.  While students will participate in the creation of interactive media maps, this hybrid course will have a strong theory component.

Fall 2013: Syllabus | Course Website | Recap of Semester + Student Projects

Fall 2012: Syllabus | Course Website | Recap of Semester + Student Projects

Fall 2011: Syllabus | Course Website | Recap of Semester + Student Projects

Fall 2010: Syllabus | Student-Designed Syllabus for Final Eight Weeks | Course Website | Recap of Semester + Student Projects


A City Is Not a Computer

A City Is Not a Computer,” Places (February, 2017)

Portuguese translation: “Uma Cidade Não é um Computador,” Instituto Intersaber (May 11, 2017) [pdf]

German translation: “A City Is Not a Computer,” dérive: Journal of Urban Research (July 2017)

French translation: “Urbanisme. Non, la ville n’est pas unordinateur,” Courrier International (September 9, 2017) [pdf]

Adapted as “The City Is Not a Computer: On Museums, Libraries, and Archives” in Zlatan Krajina and Deborah Stevenson, eds., The Routledge Companion to Urban Media and Communication (New York: Routledge, 2019)


Mud, Media + the Metropolis (2016)

I was honored to be invited to share a chapter from my forthcoming book, Ether/Ore: Archaeologies of Cities and Media, at the University of Amsterdam in May. This particular chapter, “Of Mud, Media, and the Metropolis: Aggregating Histories of Writing and Urbanization” will also appear this fall in a special “Geology of Media” special issue of Cultural Politics, edited by Jussi Parikka. You can find my slides here.


Indexing the World of Tomorrow

Indexing the World of Tomorrow,” Places (February 2, 2016)

on filing and the 1939 World’s Fair — or, on the aesthetics of administration and the urban imaginary


Pageantry of Paperwork: The 1939 World’s Fair, Remington Rand, and Designerly Filing (2015)

In November 2015, I gave a talk in the Media Design Practices Program at ArtCenter College of Design. I spoke about Remington Rand, “designerly” filing and administration, and the 1939 World’s Fair. This research was eventually published as “Indexing the World of Tomorrow” in Places Journal. You can find my slides here.


Lewis Mumford, Sensory Historian

Last month I re-read Lewis Mumford’s The Culture of Cities (1938) and The City in History (1961) for the first time in over a decade. I’ve included short excerpts from both books in my some of my classes, but I wanted to remember how those excerpts fit into the larger “Mumfordian” project. One of many things that struck me the second time around (aside from my continued annoyance that he doesn’t provide footnotes) is Mumford’s sensitivity to sensation. His section in The Culture of Cities on “Hygiene and Sanitation” in the Medieval town is particularly colorful:

There were smoky rooms to endure; but there was also perfume in the garden behind the burgher’s house: the fragrant flowers and the savory herbs were widely cultivated. There was the smell of the barnyard in the street, diminishing in the sixteenth century, except for the growing presence of horses: but there would also be the odor of flowing orchards in the spring, or the scent f the new mown hay, floating across the fields in early summer. Though cockneys may wrinkle their noses at this combination of odors, no lover of the country will be put off by the smell of horse-dung or cow-dung… (49)

One awoke in the medieval town to the crowing of the cock, the chirping of birds nesting under the eaves, or to the tolling of the hours in the monastery on the outskirts, perhaps to the chime of bells in the new bell-tower. Song rose easily on the lips, from the plain chant of the monks to the refrains of the ballad singer in the market place, or that of the apprentice and the house-maid at work. As late as the seventeenth century, the ability to hold a part in a domestic choral song was rated by Pepys as an indispensable quality in a new maid. There were work songs, distinct for each craft, often composed to the rhythmic tapping or hamming of the craftsman himself. Fitz-Simmons reported in the twelfth century that the sound of the water mill was a pleasant one amid the green fields of London… (50)

If the ear was stirred, the eye was even more deeply delighted…. The building, so far from being ‘quaint,’ were as bright and clean as a medieval illumination, often covered with whitewash, so that all the colors of the image makers in paint or glass or polychromed wood would dance on the walls… [C]olor and design were everywhere the normal accompaniment of the practical daily tasks… (50-1)

This daily education of the senses is the elemental groundwork of all higher forms of education: when it exists in daily life, a community may spare itself the burden of arranging courses in art appreciation. Where such an environment is lacking, even the purely rational and signific processes are half-starved: verbal mastery cannot make up for sensory malnutrition… (51)