the infrastructural city

The Infrastructural City has been published and is now on its way from Spain to the United States. Those of you in the EU may already be able to get it from ACTAR. Other readers can preoder their copies at Amazon.com.

This book has taken a long time to get to press, but I’m delighted that it will be in the stores by Christmas. Much more important is that I am confident that it will be read for years to come. Our goal was not modest: we set out to replace Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles. The Architecture of Four Ecologies as the key text for understanding the city urbanistically. Looking at the finished product, I can’t help but think that we accomplished this goal. I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t feel this was true. 

Unlike Banham, who wrote in a simpler time, I realized that a project of this scope needed to have not one author but many, guided by an overall organizing framework. Thus, I commissioned some of the most intelligent observers of the city to write about areas in which they specialized. The process of editing these texts and collecting images wasn’t easy. Unlike some editors, who merely collect disparate pieces together and then put their name on the project, I wanted these pieces to read as if they were part of one book. Authors retained their voices, but I set out to give the book an overall sense of coherency. At times, the texts were a sea of red pen. Similarly, we worked to give the book a stylistic coherence by choosing images carefully and, when needed, I would go out and shoot my own images. The Netlab also provided every chapter with carefully rendered maps, again seeking coherency between the essays. 

Where Banham saw ecology as the basis of his understanding of Los Angeles, I sensed that the key to understanding the city (or indeed, any other city today…for unlike Banham’s effort, this book is as much about any city as it is about Los Angeles) is infrastructure.

Modern architecture was obsessed with infrastructure. It served as the basis upon which modernism could realize its plans. The greatest American example of a modern city served by infrastructure, Los Angeles is an ideal case study. Today however, Los Angeles is in perpetual crisis. Infrastructure has ceased to support architecture’s plans for the city. Instead, it subordinates architecture to its own purposes. The city we uncovered is a series of networked ecologies, complex interlinked hybrid systems composed of natural, artificial, and social elements, capable of feedback not only within themselves but between each other.

We hope you will take a look. 

Please click on the image below to launch a slideshow of selected pages from the book.

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September 20, then and now

According to the Collected Writings of Robert Smithson, Smithson took his Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey forty years ago today. Without Smithson, of course, there would have been on CLUI, nor would there have been an AUDC.

Now it happens that the Collected Writings reproduced a common error. Smithson’s tour actually took place on September 30 (since that is the day that the New York Times article by John Canady entitled "Art: Themes and the Usual Variations" was published.

But let’s not burst anyone’s bubble. For one, I live in Montclair, a few miles from Passaic and if the tour was not forty years ago to this date, I was born that day.

So, to celebrate my fortieth birthday, my incomparable research assistant at the NetLab Leah Meisterlin and I have finished a draft of the Infrastructural City: Networked Ecologies in Los Angeles for ACTAR. I’m going to be transferring it from my laptop to my home server and then uploading the 2 gigabytes of files to Barcelona overnight.

I’ve gone on about this project, but it really merits going on about. We hope to revolutionize the understanding of the city as much as Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles, The Architecture of Four Ecologies, published thirty-six years ago. Even today, the understanding of the city as a system of systems seems surprisingly primitive. I’ll be highlighting parts of this book for the next few months to give you a glimpse of what I’m talking about.

Curiously some thirty-six years before Banham, Anton Wagner wrote his seminal Los Angeles: The Development, Life, and Form of the Southern California, which revolutionized the understanding of that city as well as others. We’ll see if history validates our lofty ambitions, but it’s been a great summer (which is over on the 22nd!). In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be finalizing Networked Publics and then on for more.

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labor day never ends

I’m exhausted.

I’ve been tired for days since returning from my vacation, but it’s a good tired, the product of a burst of intense work as Leah Meisterlin (my amazing intern, working on the book’s maps) and I continue to chip away at the Infrastructural City for ACTAR. Alas, it looks like it won’t be on anyone’s Christmas lists, but it’s shaping up to be a great Valentine’s Day present.

Today, I had an opportunity to present the Network Culture studio at school.

I had hoped to show one of favorite videos today, but alas Vista wasn’t up to snuff. For anyone who witnessed it and still needs to see the video, here is the human slingshot in full glory.


Two things interest me about this video. First, that this is what you might do in a culture of relative affluence and total boredom and second, that this kind of YouTube production is a successor to reality TV.

While I’m posting youtube videos, I discovered this the other day on Underworld Live

I am really excited about seeing Underworld in Central Park next Friday, although a little sad too, since I would have enjoyed them at the Hollywood Bowl. I’ve never seen them, and I’ve pretty much listened to nothing else for years… (not kidding).

Oh and the underworldlive site? It looks like a blog, but it’s not. The top posts seem to disappear. (compare with google cache while it is still there) What kind of site is it if it isn’t a blog then? Interesting…

Regarding that post… The videos is of a Schneider TM song. Underworld recalls hearing Schneider TM on John Peel’s farewell show. That brings up a string of memories for me. In studio presentation, I showed the following image:

kazys in macweek(click on the image to read the text)

Even though I’ve come relatively late to the impact of computation on architecture (just what was I thinking until 2003?), I have always been fascinated by digital technology and by the Internet.

I must have first accessed a network (Tymnet) in 1982 or 1983, 25 years ago. My first encounter with email would have been in 1983 or 1984 in an army sponsored high school program called CRESS at North Carolina State University (incredibly enough, enshrined in an archive here). By 1990, I kept in touch with some of my friends via email and used FTP and USENET daily at Cornell’s University libraries. I remember the day when I first accessed a site overseas, it was in Finland and thought how strange it was that somehow a hard disk was being according to my instructions.

What ties this episode of Connections together is that at the same time I had a purchased a shortwave radio to listen to non-U. S. news (again: memories of listening to the ouster of Gorbachev immediately just two weeks after my first visit to Lithuania and being terrified that it would all end badly and listening to the first Gulf War because NPR was just far too in favor of it, as usual) and had discovered John Peel and his incredible radio show. Even with all the interference, this was a little hint of the up side of the globalized world we would soon live in, as well as the immense richness of the Long Tail. After a hack that I shouldn’t have made, the shortwave radio never worked right again and, in any event, the Internet had captured my interest.

I should have gone back to John Peel after he was on the net, but I was preoccupied with other things. Stupid.

Still, two things to carry away from this long post…

1) Although it can be very difficult to tell at the time, your world already contains the future within it.

2) Here’s to John.

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