preliminary findings toward an architectural history of the network posted

I have been working on my garden for much of the last month. This is an all-consuming task, but today I had the opportunity to find an old article that I wrote on the origin of data centers, “Preliminary Findings Toward an Architectural History of the Network,” New Geographies 07 (2015). 

You can read it here.

In this essay, I explore the architectural history of networks, focusing on the typology of data centers and its historical emergence. The network, despite receiving critical attention since the Internet’s proliferation, has been largely overlooked from an architectural perspective.

I argue that understanding the data center as a building type is essential, as well as understanding that it encompasses various architectural manifestations ranging from repurposed buildings to purpose-built structures. I trace the origins of the data center to the post office, which developed in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. I examine the link between data centers and territory, emphasizing the role of the mail system in the political development of the nation.

The expansion of postal routes, the implementation of a hub-and-spoke system, and the architectural form of post offices are detailed, highlighting the network’s infancy and its historical emergence in typological terms. The essay continues with an examination of the introduction of home delivery and the development of the telegraph system. I analyze the growth of telegraphy, its alliance with the media, and concerns about monopolies. Overall, this research provides a comprehensive examination of the architectural history of networks, shedding light on the typological, geographical, and technological aspects of networks. My goal was to provide insights into the historical significance and contemporary relevance of data centers, thereby contributing to a broader understanding of the material and geographic conditions shaped by the constraints of the physical world.

On the Hole in Space

Chatroulette—a site that pairs you with a random person somewhere on the Internet so that you have a webcam conversation—has been in the news lately. But let’s compare it for a moment to another project, Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz’s "Hole in Space," which took place for three days in November 1980.

In this "public communication sculpture," the artists turned two walls, one at Los Angeles’s Century City Shopping Center and another at New York’s Lincoln Center, into two-way audiovisual portals. Video cameras transmitted images from each site to the other where they were beamed, full size onto walls. Microphones and speakers facilitated audio transmissions. You can get an idea for this in the video below. 

Hole in Space lasted three nights. During the first night, encounters were casual and accidental. Many of the first visitors did not believe it was live or thought that the ghostly black and white spectres on the wall were actors on a nearby set. Disbelief soon gave way to the creation of a new social space, to the invention of games and the telling of jokes. As word spread, separated friends and family made arrangements to meet through the portals on the second evening. On the third night, after Hole in Space was featured on television news, so many people attempted to participate in this shared human experience that traffic ground to a halt and the experiment was forced to end by the authorities. Incredibly, Galloway and Rabinowitz’s project is all but forgotten today.

In the original video, one woman asks why is it that this wasn’t done twenty years ago, i.e. 1960.

50 years after the possible date for the first hole in space, Rabinowitz and Galloway’s work remains a hole not only in space, but in time. We have video chat (how often do we use it?) and chat roulette, but we don’t have holes in space. Why is that?  

AUDC proposed WIndows on the World in 2004, an extension of the Hole in Space with even grander ambitions but less expensive technology, but apparently our proposal was too boring to be funded. 

The Netlab is going to try again with this in 2010, likely very soon. Stay tuned.

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the dalles revealed

Via Nicholas Carr’s Rough Type: view this blueprint for Google’s massive facility at the Dalles together with commentary in March’s Harper’s Magazine. 

I was surprised to see in the commentary that Google is planning a data center in Lithuania and a little research suggested that indeed it is.

The commentary in the article, however, is mistaken in suggesting that if Google moves to Lithuania it will be tapping into a grid that is largely nuclear.

This is unlikely. The nuclear power plant at Ignalina is ceasing operations in 2009, a closure that was a condition of Lithuania’s EU accession, notwithstanding that nuclear power was the country’s single biggest export. New plants are being planned, but only in the broadest sense. 


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little buildings


Most of you will know this already because you’re already reading Pasta and Vinegar every day (if not you should be). Nicolas Nova’s blog is a must read for any researcher of contemporary urbanism. I’m humbled by the amount of incredibly information that Nicolas gives me every day, evidence of his keen intelligence and … lack of children.

But, anyway… Nicolas recently posted an entry on "Evasion Urbaine," roughly "Urban Escapism," a project by artists Benoit Deseille and Benedetto Bufalino for the Lyon Light Festival. Now although I do wonder how these exotic fish are braving the not-too-warm weather of Lyon, this posting brought to mind how phone booths have virtually vanished from our lives, subject to the rise of the mobile phone. In poorer neighborhoods, they were seen as facilitating drug sales…and no doubt the anonymity of the device is problematic in our era of total surveillance.

Reading this, I realized that it has been years since I’ve seen a phone booth on the streets. As Forgotten NY shows, these little spaces have been disappearing for some time now. Nevertheless, they were deeply transformational, places in which one could become a superhero, early harbingers of the way we now disconnect from the world around us anywhere, anytime everyday, little places of momentary respite from the urban din.

If these little buildings are gone from our lives now, they lead us to ask if  architecture is as superfluous as the phone booth or if new analogs to the phone booth will spring up around us in this still-young century? 

phone booth aquarium by nicolas nova at flickr

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networking empire

Wired carries an article on "The NSA’s Lucky Break: How the U. S. Became the Switchboard to the World," pointing out how international tariffs make it more economical for many countries to route their communications lines through the United States. That Central Asia remains politically unstable and that satellite communications are too slow for regular communication amplifies this condition.

As the article points out, this allows the government easy access for monitoring this delightful fountain of global information.

telecoms map

Of course I’ve been saying this all along.

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