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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more trouble with cables

Today’s post is an uncomfortable follow up to last week’s entry on "the undersea net" and the problems that ensued when a cable was cut in the Mideast. It turns out that more cables have gone offline. Techdirt asks "Did The Warranties Just Run Out On Undersea Cables?

One of the cable operators is downplaying suggestions that the any of this is related. 

 

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the undersea net

I’m in Clemson getting ready to give a talk today that—with some luck—I’ll be able to put up as a podcast next week. In the meantime, this week’s disruption of Internet service in the Middle East (and elsewhere) due to a broken fiber optic cable yet again reminds us of the physicality of the Internet and its fragility. See Wired’s Threat Level. My friend Paul Iverson sent along this story from the Guardian—"How one clumsy ship cut off the Internet for 70 million people"—while Steve Rowell pointed me in the direction of atlantic-cable.com, a huge historical resource on undersea communications systems.  

 

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clustering silicon valley

I’m back from a trip to see my parents in Vilnius where I had the opportunity to visit a great new project by Valdas Ozarinskas, one of the most interesting conceptual architects working today at the Contemporary Art Centre and from Limerick, where I was delighted to see three years of student work at the University of Limerick coming together nicely. So I’m a little behind with blogging, but hope to redeem myself over the holiday period.

This week the New York Times ran an article on the emerging industrial microclusters in Silicon Valley. Concentrations of engineers specializing in a technology, such as networks, form microclusters within the Bay Area, generally anchored by a large corporation such as Cisco, Google, or Intel. Thus, a new corporation would inevitably form in that same area. Moreover, shared ethnicity as well as contacts built up in universities such as Stanford, facilitate communication between engineers.

I’m fascinated by how narrow and focused such cases of clustering can be, to the point that identity becomes  the product of one’s context more than anything else. What are the architectural possibilties (and limits) in this?

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the techno-utility complex or, the end of the distributed

I’m en route to Vilnius for the weekend and then to Limerick for final reviews but I thought I’d still manage to get a blog entry in. It’s a recurring theme of mine that the notion that the Internet is a distributed entity in which nodes communicate in a non-hierarchical manner is largely a matter of ideology. Still, take a look "Red Shift Meets Event Horizon" by Phil Waineright and "The Techno-Utility Complex" by Nicholas Carr. Boarding is in a few minutes so I don’t have time to recount the entire argument now (well, I tried and stupidly I closed the window, losing the text). We’re moving rapidly toward greater consolidation at the level of data centers.

What implications does this have for privacy and surveillance? For cities (remember that the emergence of the contemporary data center went hand-in-hand with the development of the global city…and, correct me if I’m wrong, but these new data will  largely be located outside of urban conditions)? For regions (what does physical and telematic distance from these data centers mean, what does it mean if a country doesn’t have access to them)?

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hardt on the multitude, the metropolis, networks, and training

Michael Hardt spoke at Columbia yesterday. His goal, in speaking to a crowd of architects and urban planners, was to suggest the hypothesis that if the factory was the place of industrial production, the metropolis is the place of immaterial production. As such, he suggested that the metropolis would be the training ground for a new form of democracy. It’s safe to say that the school’s collective reaction was to question what he meant by Metropolis. Michael had been so precise with his terms but left this one undefined and it was something we are obviously so obsessed with so it was evident that it was crucial to refine it. One question was whether the network might be a better substitute for the city. You can imagine that this intrigued me greatly! Although Mark Wigley correctly pointed out that networks existed in and around factories (indeed, the modern factory exists because of the telephone and railroad networks…without which it could not have been located outside of the city) and that networks are not, by themselves, good (of course not, as I’ve been saying all along).

Still, hearing Michael’s lecture made me rethink something. Take the last page of Blue Monday:

At the onset of this project, we promised that these stories
wouldn’t add up and, as a collection of extreme conditions, they don’t.
As we suggested in the introduction, each of these investigations
posits a natural philosophy, an autonomous theoretical condition that
sometimes appears to mesh with the others but often doesn’t.

One day, against of all of our stated intentions, we observed a
theme emerging, a common concern with the very problem at the heart of
Empire (as well as of religion, the State and other institutions of
power): our overwhelming desire to acquiesce and give ourselves up.
Invariably, ignoring the admonishments of Nietzsche, designers and
theorists assume that power emanates from the top down, that the
oppressed individual wants to be free, and that action from the
bottom-up is the method for achieving this. But this is precisely the
inverse of what we observe. These stories of humans relentlessly
striving to be different only prove their desire for sameness.

So too, in our relationships with objects, collectively we don’t
so much wish to be free—to escape the world of objects and
attachments—but to immerse ourselves within them.

Do we really want freedom? If we can dare to say “maybe not” for
a moment, then what do our actions betray about our desires? Blue
Monday does not offer solutions, instead it suggests that our mass
drive to give ourselves up is not a passive action. Instead of
condemning this drive (as if we really wanted to or even could) this
book offers a collection of stories that just perhaps, hint at another
possibility, a first step: self-awareness.

As we say at the outset, Blue Monday sets out, from the start, to engage with Hardt and Negri’s Empire and Multitude point blank. As we wrote this, and no doubt as you read this, the obvious reading of this passage is to suggest that there is a problem with the multitude, which is the problem of our desire to submit.

But what if, in classic AUDC fashion (or dialectics, for that matter), we were to turn this on its head? What if submission were an absolute precondition for multitude? What if the temple of ether, the audio architecture of horizonality, and the nomadic capital of the multitude were all forms of training for future life? What then?

 

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connections

While at the bookstore yesterday, I spied a new edition of science historian's James Burke's classic book, Connections. This book, and the accompanying ten episode television series of the same name, is a vivid example of the power of seemingly minor events to change history.

Each episode centers around a small breakthrough that almost inevitably leads to a radical transformation in contemporary life. Initially, these changes appear to have nothing to do with what they lead to (e.g. an innovation in Dutch ships allows plastics to be produced). Although this might seem to be an exercise in a historiography of the accident, it is far from it. Burke's goal is to underscore how the world we live in is not the product of either a single, inexorable march forward or from happy accidents and little guys made good (the Paul Harvey approach) but rather from a complex, network of connections, of individual moments of agency linking together into a larger whole.

Since I bought my iPhone, I have found myself watching more videos on the train to and from the Studio-X space from our Montclair, New Jersey apartment. Today I had the opportunity to watch the Trigger Effect, episode 1 of the series. I don't want to give much away, but you'll soon find out that the series begins at the foot of the World Trade Center. Burke is at his best here and watching this video after 9/11 only underscores the validity of his thesis. I haven't watched Burke's look back at Connections, Re-Connections, but I hope to do so on another ride today or tomorrow. It's worth noting as well that Burke is creating a new project called the Knowledge Web which intends to use the Internet to network Burke's research.

 

 

I enjoyed watching Connections when it was first broadcast on PBS in the 1970s. The show sparked an interest in history and the role of networks in history for me and Robert Sumrell, my partner in AUDC, was similarly struck by the show. Although we should have credited Burke in the acknowledgments, he's on the long list of individuals that we should have credited but didn't. Consciously or not, Blue Monday is very much a product of Burke's method.

This is something important to realize as some readers of Blue Monday have suggested that it is a book about three (or seven) quirky moments and our research into these marginal conditions. Far from it. Much like Burke—or our mentors at the Museum of Jurassic Technology and the Center for Land Use Interpretation—Blue Monday sets out to uncover the complexity and richness of the world from the incidents around us.

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