Forum 2016 - Infrastructure Space - Detroit (Ruby Press)
265 264 with one simple observation: culture is well rehearsed at pointing to things, calling their name, or recognizing their shape, but under -rehearsed at de- scribing the interactivity or chemistry between things. Infrastructure space is thus productively imponderable because it is not a thing; it is a large socio-technical system—with a nod to Rosalind Williams, it is too large to be in any one place. It can be assessed not by its name, shape, or outline, but rather by its disposition —its latent properties that unfold over time and territory, its propensities within a con- text, or the potentials in its arrange- ment. That disposition, that agency in arrangement, acting like an operating system or a growth medium, decides what will live or die—what will consti- tute information. While designers are good at ma- king buildings and landscapes, they might also be particularly astute when it comes to detecting and adjusting disposition—the capacities, even the political temperaments, latent in or- ganization. This faculty, which may be only under-indulged or under-rehear- sed, allows us see the world as a split screen. Utilizing this view, we see not only objects and declarations but also a matrix: the activity and disposition that have been hiding in the atmo- sphere, right in front of our eyes. Those engaged in this kind of work strive to make responsible and reasonable decisions, seeking out the right answer to design issues, building consensus, or following best practices. But having the right answer isn’t enough in a world with global-warming naysayers and Donald Trump to contend with. Reasonable innovations can easily be outma- neuvered by unreasonable politics. But an ability to adjust disposition in infrastructure space offers another approach to design that is not always about meeting exact standards and having the right answer. Rather, it is an approach that allows design to exploit the powers of these large sys- tems by reaching into time and giant macro-organization strata with moves that are potentially sneakier or more politically agile. The stories of infrastructure space are usually stories where reasonable things don’t happen and where in- novation comes up against political superbugs and bulletproof forms of power. I am often asked to tell the story of one of these super-nodes of infrastructure space: the free zone, a space that denotes the crossroad of many networks under conside- ration within this publication. In the mid-twentieth-century, the free zone was a warehousing or manufacturing compound for storing custom-free trade. Later, it mutated into the ex- port-processing zone (EPZ), a for- mula promoted by the United Nations for jump-starting the economies of developing countries. In the last thirty years, it has become the germ of a building epidemic that produces the glittering mimics of Dubai, Singapo- re, and Hong Kong all around the world. Free-zone promotional videos tend to always take the same form: a zoom from outer space drops through the clouds to reveal the new center Despite the plethora of technologies now available to us, it is space, Keller Easterling suggests, that remains our best medium of innovation. Great potential is lying dormant, hidden in plain sight, which architects, engineers and designers can unlock by viewing the world as a split screen, taking note not just of what is there— buildings and landscapes— but also how it is organized. his arrangement constitutes the malleable, hackable realm of infrastructure space. In my work, I am asking that we look at the urban world and see not only buildings with shapes and outlines, but also the infrastructural matrix in which buildings are suspended. This infrastructure space is not just an infrastructure of pipes and wires hid- den underground; rather, it’s a spatial operating system for shaping the city. That operating system is like a rule set for repeatable urban formulas and spatial products—the cartoon of sky- scrapers, malls, resorts, franchises, parking lots, airports, golf courses, greenhouses, ports, lounges, or free zones that press into view and look the same whether in Texas or Taiwan or Inner Mongolia. Bankers, develo- pers, World Bank specialists, and 28-year-old McKinsey consultants are coding infrastructure space, which is often largely regarded to be merely a by-product of laws, econometrics, informatics, logistics, or global stan- dards. Wrapped in TED talk locutions, it is assumed that these technical languages or the latest digital techno- logies may have the most authority in contemporary problem-solving. But while it might be difficult to see at a moment of digital ubiquity, the lumpy heavy solids of urban space themselves constitute a technolo- gy and an information system in the same way that Gregory Bateson said a man, a tree, and an ax is an informa- tion system. The spatial technologies of infrastructure space are overwriting the planet. That spatial language or code is creating de facto forms of polity, and it is even a secret weapon of stealthy political forces. However unlikely it may seem, and beyond the authority of other technical languages, I am arguing that space is currently the underexploited medium of innova- tion, with the potential to bring desi- gners different aesthetic pleasures and political capacities—an expanded repertoire of form-making but also a surprising and unorthodox approach to political activism. Infrastructure space prompts a different habit of mind about design. But it also turns out to be an adven- ture in thinking with broader cultural significance, offering nothing less than new instruments of global go- vernance. This different habit of mind about design and politics might begin Split Screen Keller Easterling In the following transcript of her keynote address at the 5th International Forum of the LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction on April 6th, 2016 in Detroit, Keller Easterling advocates for viewing the world as a split screen and looks at the protocols that generate space across the globe, arguing that they are fertile grounds for repeatable, responsive, and sly design—even in politically gridlocked environments.