Infrastructural City, Spring 1999

Southern California Institute of Architecture Spring 1999
Program in History and Theory of Architecture and Cities
Kazys Varnelis, Ph.D.

Much like our internal organs, we take the infrastructure of the city for granted, expecting that it will be there for us when we need it. When we ignore infrastructure, we do so at our peril. Infrastructure enables but also limits our possibilities. If the form of the city determines its infrastructural network, the infrastructural network also determines the form of the city. And as with the body’s organs, infrastructural failure can be catastrophic.

The aim of this course is to introduce students to the various infrastructures from the most obvious to the most obscure that form a matrix underneath the urban landscape and to consider the roles of infrastructure in the social imaginary.

The course begins with a survey of the history of infrastructure in Western Europe and the United States, focussing primarily on Rome, Paris, and New York. Students will be exposed not only to the technological developments of infrastructure, but also to the formation of cultural attitudes regarding it. The second part of the course will investigate the various infrastructural networks from freeways to fiber optics that support Los Angeles.

Through a series of readings, combined with study in the field, we will come to an understanding of the dimensions of the infrastructural city. Not only is the infrastructural city all around us, it extends into the landscape far beyond the most distant suburb. To examine the impact of the infrastructural city on the supposedly non urban environment, a weekend field trip through the Mojave Desert to the Owens Valley is planned. Special attention will also be paid to the depiction of infrastructure in the cultural artifacts, particularly film, that help make up the urban mythology of Los Angeles.

Course Requirements

This course is aimed at the upper-level undergraduate and graduate student. Although a background in theory or history would be helpful, the readings that we will be doing do not in general demand such knowledge. Students do, however, have to be committed to reading substantial amounts of texts that can be difficult and challenging.

The intent of all the class assignments is to help students focus their personal interests in architecture. Although students are encouraged to experiment and investigate materials in areas they do not know about, students are also encouraged to think of class assignments as ways of exploring ideas for their undergraduate or graduate thesis.

Class participation 30%

Participation is essential for this class. Included under this heading is attendance in class and completion of the required readings.

SCI-Arc policy requires that you attend your classes. Missing more than three classes in a semester will result in a grade of No Credit.

Plan ahead: having demands in studio and other seminars is not an excuse for avoiding the requirements of this one.

In-Class Presentation 20%

Acquiring good oral presentation skills is a key part of your SCI-Arc education and can only be learned with practice. As part of this course, each student is required to give a 10-20 minute critical presentation on one of the assigned readings. Students will be asked to turn in a hardcopy version of their presentation no later than one week following the oral presentation.

Paper 30%

The final paper in this course will be a 8-15 page research essay on a topic relating to the material covered in this course. The paper will begin with a draft, due at approximately the half way point of the semester. Feedback from the draft will be incorporated into a carefully polished final revision. Both draft and final revision must be submitted on time.

Students interested in pursuing infrastructural topics for their thesis are encouraged to propose projects that will lead to a thesis topic.

SCI-Arc employs Vic Liptak to help all students with their writing assignments. Students are strongly urged to see her to discuss the mechanics of their paper. English as a Second Language students who have any difficulty with either reading or writing MUST see Vic Liptak.

Students are both encouraged and expected to take full advantage of the SCI-Arc library. Kevin McMahon is one of SCI-Arc’s great resources and is always glad to have students ask him for help.

In addition, Los Angeles contains good publicly accessible architecture libraries at USC and UCLA as well as the excellent Form Zero and Hennessey & Ingalls bookstores.

Web Work 20%

This course inaugurates a new strategy within SCI-Arc’s history-theory courses. Rather than remaining a private matter between student and instructor, the final paper will be disseminated via both SCI-Arc’s World Wide Web site and CD-ROM.

To this end, students will be taught how to use GoLive Cyberstudio 3.1, a simple yet powerful Web layout program for the Apple Macintosh operating system during a special class session early in the semester. Some basic computer literacy ”“ minimal page layout skills, the ability to scan images, a passing understanding of the Macintosh Finder and graphic user interface – will be necessary for this task.

Grades will be based on quality of presentation.

Purchase of the course reader and completion of all the readings on time is mandatory. The reader will be available in the campus store. Other handouts will be distributed in class.

1 Introduction

2 Methodology: What Animates History?

  • Merritt Roe Smith, “Technological Determinism in American Culture,” 1-35 and Thomas J. Misa, “Retrieving Sociotechnical Change from Technological Determinism,” 115-141 in Smith and Leo Marx, eds. Does Technology Drive History? The Dilemma of Technological Determinism, (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1995).
  • Manuel de Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York: Swerve Editions, 1997), 1-70.
  • 4pm Demonstration of GoLive Cyberstudio in computer lab

3 The Technological Sublime
In class video: “Hoover Dam,” The American Experience, PBS, 1999.

  • David E. Nye, The American Technological Sublime (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1994), 1-76.
  • Joan Didion, “At The Dam” in The White Album, (New York: Noonday, 1990), 198-201.

4 Diseased City / Hygienic City

  • David P. Jordan, “Organs of the Large City,” Transforming Paris: the Life and Labors of Baron Haussmann, (New York: Free Press, 1995), 267-296.
  • M. Christine Boyer, “I. Would America Produce A Civilization of Cities? 1890 1909” and “11. The Disciplinary Order of Planning, 1909 1916” Dreaming the rational city: the myth of American city planning, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1983), ix-136.

5 Strategies and Techniques of Land Use Interpretation
An introduction by Matthew Coolidge, Director The Center for Land Use Interpretation
Located at 9331 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232, Telephone: (310) 839 5722

  • Read material on the Center online
  • Robert Smithson and Jack D. Flam, Robert Smithson, The Collected Writings, The Documents Of Twentieth Century Art, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

Statement of Intent and Methodology due

6 Water and the Hinterlands, I

  • Office of Technology Assessment, “Water Supply: The Hydrologic Cycle,” and in David H. Speidel, Lon C. Ruedisili and Allen Francis Agnew, Perspectives On Water: Uses and Abuses, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 37-50.
  • Marc Reisner, “The Red Queen,” Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, (New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Penguin Books, 1993), 52-103.
  • In Class Movie: Cadillac Desert
  • Optional:
  • John Hart, Storm over Mono: the Mono Lake Battle and the California Water Future, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

7 Self Guided Field Trip to Owens Valley

  • Kazys Varnelis, Owens Valley Sourcebook v. 1.0
  • Ginny Clark, Guide to Highway 395: Los Angeles to Reno, (Lake Havasu City, Az: Western Trails Publications, 1997).
  • Robert P. Sharp, Geology: A field guide to Southern California, 3rd, (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co., 1994).
  • Robert P. Sharp and Allen F. Glazner, Geology Underfoot in Death Valley and Owens Valley, (Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press Pub, 1997).

8 Water in the Hinterlands, II

  • John Walton, “Introduction,” and “State, Culture, and Collective Action,” in Western Times and Water Wars: State, Culture, and Rebellion In California, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 1-10 and 287-339.
  • Samuel P. Hays, “From Conservation to Environment: Environmental Politics in the United States Since World War II,” in Char Miller and Hal Rothman, Out of the Woods. Essays in Environmental History (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997), 101-126.
  • Kenneth D. Frederick, “The Future of Irrigation,” and Peter P. Rogers, “The Future of Water,” in David H. Speidel, Lon C. Ruedisili and Allen Francis Agnew, Perspectives On Water: Uses and Abuses, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 127-135, 372-382.
  • Joan Didion, “Holy Water” in The white album, (New York: Noonday, 1990), 59-68.


  • Walton, chapters 1-4 (on early Owens Valley)
  • Walton, chapters 5-6 (on Owens Valley LA and after)

8 Los Angeles Streets

  • John Brinckerhoff Jackson, “The Domestication of the Garage,” The Necessity For Ruins, And Other Topics, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980), 102-111.
  • Chester H. Liebs, “Space: From Main Street to Miracle Mile” and “Image: Architecture for Speed Reading” in Main Street to Miracle Mile: American roadside architecture, (Boston: Little Brown, 1985), 3-73.


  • Richard W. Longstreth, City Center to Regional Mall: Architecture, The Automobile, and Retailing in Los Angeles, 1920 1950, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997).

First Draft of Project Due

9 Freeways

  • Martin Wachs, “The Evolution of Transportation Policy in Los Angeles. Images of Past Policies and Future Prospects,” in Allen John Scott and Edward W. Soja , THe City: Los Angeles and Urban Theory at the End of the Twentieth Century, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 106-159.
  • Cliff Ellis, “Professional Conflict over Urban Form: The Case of Urban Freeways, 1930 to 1970,” in Mary Corbin Sies and Christopher Silver, Planning the twentieth century) American City, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996).
  • Phil Patton, “Road to Nowhere” in Jeffrey T. Brouws, Bernd Polster and Phil Patton, Highway: America’s endless dream, (New York: Stewart Tabor! & Chang, 1997), 32-55.
  • Norman Klein, “Booster Myths, Urban Erasure,” The History of Forgetting (New York: Verso, 1997), 27-72.

10 Infrastructure and Paranoia: “Chinatown,” “Roger Rabbit,” “Three Days of the Condor.”

  • In Class Movie: “Chinatown”
  • Fredric Jameson, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” New Left Review 146 (July/August 1984), 53-92.
  • Rosalyn Deutsche, “Chinatown, Part Four?” Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996), 245-253.


  • Fredric Jameson, “Totality as Conspiracy,” The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Cinema and Space in the World System, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 9-84.

11 Power

  • David E. Nye, “Electrifying the American West, 1880 1940” and “Energy Narratives,” Narratives and spaces: technology and the construction of American culture, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 25 44, 75 92.

12 Telecoms

  • Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin, “Introduction,” “Telecommunications and the City,” “Social and Cultural Life of the City,” “Urban Physical Form,” “Conclusions” in Telecommunications and the City. Electronic Spaces, Urban Places. (New York: Routledge, 1996), 1-45, 76-122, 172-237, 312-336, 376-384.
  • Paul Virilio, “The Overexposed City,” K. Michael Hays, Architecture theory since 1968, (Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 1998), 542-550.


  • William J. Mitchell, City Of Bits: Space, Place, and The Infobahn, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995). Available at books/City_of_Bits/
  • Manuel Castells, chapters 1-3, The Informational City: Information Technology, Economic Restructuring, and The Urban Regional Process, (Oxford, UK: Cambridge, Mass., USA: B. Blackwell, 1989).
  • Castells, chapters 4-6.

Final Project Due

13 Soft Infrastructures, Forgotten Infrastructures

  • John A. McPhee, “Los Angeles Against the Mountains,” The Control of Nature, (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1989), 183-272.

Presentation of Student Projects

14 Concluding Class Discussion

Presentation of Student Projects


  • Brouws, Jeffrey T., Bernd Polster, and Phil Patton. Highway: America’s endless dream. New York: Stewart Tabori & Chang, 1997.
  • Castells, Manuel. The informational city: information technology, economic restructuring, and the urban regional process. Cambridge, Mass: B. Blackwell, 1989.
  • Clark, Ginny. Guide to Highway 395: Los Angeles to Reno. Lake Havasu City, Az: Western Trails Publications, 1997.
  • Deutsche, Rosalyn. Evictions: art and spatial politics. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1996.
  • Didion, Joan. The white album. New York: Noonday, 1990.
  • Hart, John. Storm over Mono: the Mono Lake battle and the California water future. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • Hays, K. Michael. Architecture theory since 1968. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 1998.
  • Jackson, John Brinckerhoff. The necessity for ruins, and other topics. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980.
  • Jameson, Fredric. The geopolitical aesthetic: cinema and space in the world system. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.
  • Jordan, David P. Transforming Paris: the life and labors of Baron Haussmann. New York: Free Press, 1995.
  • Kahrl, William L. Water and power: the conflict over Los Angeles’ water supply in the Owens Valley. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.
  • Kahrl, William L. and Fnglish. The California water atlas. Sacramento Los Altos, Calif.: The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research distributed by William Kaufmann, 1979.
  • Klein, Norman M. The history of forgetting: Los Angeles and the erasure of memory. New York: Verso, 1997.
  • Liebs, Chester H. Main Street to Miracle Mile: American roadside architecture. Boston: Little Brown, 1985.
  • Longstreth, Richard W. City center to regional mall: architecture, the automobile, and retailing in Los Angeles, 1920 1950. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997.
  • Marx, Leo. The machine in the garden; technology and the pastoral ideal in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967.
  • McPhee, John A. The control of nature. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1989.
  • Mitchell, William J. City of bits: space, place, and the infobahn. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995.
  • Nye, David E. Electrifying America: social meanings of a new technology, IBBO 1940. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990.
  • Nye, David E. American technological sublime. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, 1994.
  • Nye, David E. Narratives and spaces: technology and the construction of Amerlcan culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
  • Nye, David E. Consuming power: a social history of American energies. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998.
  • Reisner, Marc. Cadillac desert: the American West and its disappearing water. Rev. and updated ed., New York: Penguin Books, 1993.
  • Scott, Allen John and Edward W. Soja. The city: Los Angeles and urban theory at the end of the twentieth century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • Sharp, Rotert P. Geology: A field guide to Southern California. 3rd ed., Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Pub. Co., 1994.
  • Sharp, Robert P. and Allen F. Glazner. Geology underfoot in Death Valley and Owens Valley. Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press Pub., 1997.
  • Sies, Mary Corbin and Christopher Silver. Planning the twentieth century American city. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.
  • Smith, Genny and Paul Charles Bateman. Deepest valley: a guide to Owens Valley, its roadsides and mountain trails. Rev. ed., Los Altos, Calif.: G. Smith Books: distributed by William Kaufmann, 1978.
  • Smith, Merritt Roe and Leo Marx. Does technology drive history?: the dilemma of technological determinism. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994.
  • Smithson, Robert and Jack D. Flam. Robert Smithson, the collected writings. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • Speidel, David H., Lon C. Ruedisili, and Allen Francis Agnew. Perspectives on water: uses and abuses. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
  • Walton, John. Western times and water wars: state, culture, and rebellion in California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

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