At the scale of the container, individual cultural artifacts are less important than the organization of them into aggregate collections, where they can be sorted and compared. At the scale of the street, it is these places themselves that are compared with each other, laid out flat, like a map or an interface, so that they can be seen all at once and moved through.
Each individual cultivated presentation is, like one of Joseph Cornell’s boxes, always composed of incomplete, imperfect, even broken things — the empty shells and husks of presence. Through the constant comparison of multiple sets in multiple contexts, accident, intention, and artifice cancel each other out, and something like a higher order pattern becomes apparent. This is, as Michel Foucault says, “our epoch [as] one in which space takes for us the form of relations among sites”.
If a kind of richer presence and interaction can be approached by way of this comparison between multiple venues, then the attempts to capitalize on this self-expression are also trying to scale up to this next level. Things are cheap, but understanding is expensive, and few things are more valuable than an understanding of the ways in which people and groups produce culture. The street is too unpredictable, and containers need to process patterns into commodities, so the tendency is to take all outbound links and enframe them, to collect any and all flows or patterns from the APIs of other sites and re-present them, and to limit, whenever possible, the outward flow of valuable information to anywhere outside the container.
As designers and architects, we have an implicit responsibility to the public realm, the outsides of the places in which we exercise greater, but still limited, control. Every design brief contains the implicit context that surrounds the project, and every project interrelates with other projects through this context. To neglect or damage that connection to the outside is to close down the difference and friction that generates cultural change. This is the tendency, for instance, for cities to turn a street into a mall. Any place that tries to internally re-create the experience of the street, to substitute an inside for an outside, will fail because it is exactly this between-ness of the street that makes it necessary for interaction . . . .
Baltimore architect Fred Scharmen, in an article titled “Adaptive Reuse: Things, Containers, and Streets in the Architecture of the Social Web”, for the Association of Computing Machinery’s journal Interactions.