everyday and exotic

this train is broken

[this subway train broke down and we had to wait for it to be hauled away before the next one could arrive]

The Infrastructural City’s key lesson is that the infrastructure is now out of control, hybrid, perverted, and wild, a second nature. But if the first, original nature, could be tamed by constructing infrastructure to harness it, we can no longer do that. Building more just won’t do.

My experience in getting my three books to press this summer—something I had hoped would be done by the first of June—only cements my conviction that this condition is pervasive. Murphy’s Law, SNAFU, BOHICA: if these terms were coined half a century ago, they are daily operating principles today.

Whether its trying to get to my Soho office, struggling to get work done there (thank you to the building owner for !), fighting to get these books out the door, expecting to get paid in a timely manner (only four months late and only half my salary!) by the university system in Ireland, or keeping my server running it’s always the same story: everything that can go wrong will. Routing around damage isn’t just something the Internet does, it’s something I do, seemingly every minute of the day.

This morning I sit in a tunnel, watching a completely empty train pass our completely full train. We can discern no good reason for this even though we are so close to the tunnel’s end that we can see daylight out the window. At least we have a fighting chance to run if fire breaks out. One day it will, just give it time.

And so it is that instead of getting to the Network Culture project , I am winding up revisiting these projects to squash various bugs. This week we have been working on press packs for the Netlab and for the Infrastructural City. If you’re a member of the press, or organizing a lecture series, please send us an email with your address via the contact info link and we’ll make sure you get one.

In thinking about how to frame the project, I turned back to the most publicized investigation of urban conditions in the last two decades, Rem Koolhaas’s Project on the City at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Reading a press release for the launch of the Project, I was struck by the vast difference between his day and ours. Here’s what Koolhaas wrote of the Pearl River Delta:

“… a very small number of architects are working very, very fast, and working with minimal education and minimal honoraria, compared with Western standards. We still have the same name for the profession, but in terms of what it does and what it can do, it’s a totally different profession.”

The difference between China and the West is now inverted. Unpaid interns designing horrible towers in a few days only to have them built by unskilled laborers? Falling cranes? That’s New York City or Los Angeles. China has become architecture’s penultimate refuge (the last one being the mirage cities of the Emirates), where OMA pursues work not possible in the West. After years of phony economics, the dollar is evacuated, made worthless by a generation eager to cash out for their retirement. As a result, infrastructure is perpetually underfunded, and falls behind (and apart) more and more. Nor is this condition limited to the United States. Countries across the West are  in a perpetual state of infrastructural collapse. Koolhaas came to understand this during Project. By the time he was working on Lagos, Koolhaas observed: “Lagos is not catching up with us. Rather, we may be catching up with Lagos . . .”

If Koolhaas made the classic European move of trying to understand his own condition by turning to the exotic (be it China, Africa or LA), the exotic is now everyday. Look out the window if you want to understand the city. 

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jean Baudrillard wrote that the event was marked not by the end of evil, but rather by its diffusion everywhere, West to East and East to West. So it is with globalization. It is not only the developed world that has spread everywhere, it is the developing world as well. Lagos is in New York just as New York is in Lagos. This is not to say that there isn’t difference in the world anymore, but rather that instead of having such strong divisions, we have a common field condition with local inflections. This is why Michael Kubo, the editor of the book at ACTAR, suggested to me that this might be the last book to draw architectural lessons from a particular city. Future books may be about networks of cities instead of individual cities. I very much doubt (famous last words!) that I will be doing research on another city like this again.  And if the era of the individual has closed behind us, then why not the same of the individual city? We may well think of cities in very different ways in the future, and not only for analytic projects.

Slowly my train (and this blog) starts to roll again. For how much longer?

waiting for train

[waiting for a train to jersey]

this train is broken

[this subway train broke down and we had to wait for it to be hauled away before the next one could arrive]

The Infrastructural City’s key lesson is that the infrastructure is now out of control, hybrid, perverted, and wild, a second nature. But if the first, original nature, could be tamed by constructing infrastructure to harness it, we can no longer do that. Building more just won’t do.

My experience in getting my three books to press this summer—something I had hoped would be done by the first of June—only cements my conviction that this condition is pervasive. Murphy’s Law, SNAFU, BOHICA: if these terms were coined half a century ago, they are daily operating principles today.

Whether its trying to get to my Soho office, struggling to get work done there (thank you to the building owner for !), fighting to get these books out the door, expecting to get paid in a timely manner (only four months late and only half my salary!) by the university system in Ireland, or keeping my server running it’s always the same story: everything that can go wrong will. Routing around damage isn’t just something the Internet does, it’s something I do, seemingly every minute of the day.

This morning I sit in a tunnel, watching a completely empty train pass our completely full train. We can discern no good reason for this even though we are so close to the tunnel’s end that we can see daylight out the window. At least we have a fighting chance to run if fire breaks out. One day it will, just give it time.

And so it is that instead of getting to the Network Culture project , I am winding up revisiting these projects to squash various bugs. This week we have been working on press packs for the Netlab and for the Infrastructural City. If you’re a member of the press, or organizing a lecture series, please send us an email with your address via the contact info link and we’ll make sure you get one.

In thinking about how to frame the project, I turned back to the most publicized investigation of urban conditions in the last two decades, Rem Koolhaas’s Project on the City at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Reading a press release for the launch of the Project, I was struck by the vast difference between his day and ours. Here’s what Koolhaas wrote of the Pearl River Delta:

“… a very small number of architects are working very, very fast, and working with minimal education and minimal honoraria, compared with Western standards. We still have the same name for the profession, but in terms of what it does and what it can do, it’s a totally different profession.”

The difference between China and the West is now inverted. Unpaid interns designing horrible towers in a few days only to have them built by unskilled laborers? Falling cranes? That’s New York City or Los Angeles. China has become architecture’s penultimate refuge (the last one being the mirage cities of the Emirates), where OMA pursues work not possible in the West. After years of phony economics, the dollar is evacuated, made worthless by a generation eager to cash out for their retirement. As a result, infrastructure is perpetually underfunded, and falls behind (and apart) more and more. Nor is this condition limited to the United States. Countries across the West are  in a perpetual state of infrastructural collapse. Koolhaas came to understand this during Project. By the time he was working on Lagos, Koolhaas observed: “Lagos is not catching up with us. Rather, we may be catching up with Lagos . . .”

If Koolhaas made the classic European move of trying to understand his own condition by turning to the exotic (be it China, Africa or LA), the exotic is now everyday. Look out the window if you want to understand the city. 

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Jean Baudrillard wrote that the event was marked not by the end of evil, but rather by its diffusion everywhere, West to East and East to West. So it is with globalization. It is not only the developed world that has spread everywhere, it is the developing world as well. Lagos is in New York just as New York is in Lagos. This is not to say that there isn’t difference in the world anymore, but rather that instead of having such strong divisions, we have a common field condition with local inflections. This is why Michael Kubo, the editor of the book at ACTAR, suggested to me that this might be the last book to draw architectural lessons from a particular city. Future books may be about networks of cities instead of individual cities. I very much doubt (famous last words!) that I will be doing research on another city like this again.  And if the era of the individual has closed behind us, then why not the same of the individual city? We may well think of cities in very different ways in the future, and not only for analytic projects.

Slowly my train (and this blog) starts to roll again. For how much longer?

waiting for train

[waiting for a train to jersey]

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