on site review 41: infrastructure
Infrastructure: underpinning structure that makes the more ephemeral aspects of life work. Roads and roadbeds, compacted scree, drainage channels and concrete bumpers painted fluorescent yellow — these infrastructural elements allow us to drive to Banff and look at the mountains. Dams, electricity pylons, docks, railway lines, fibre-optic ble, batteries: acid, lithium and all the rest. Airports, bridges, household wiring. All these things are permanent, essential, vulnerable, either crumbling or overbuilt, ancient or experimental.
In an era of great upheaval, where normality is a figment of rosy memory, where climate is forever changed, where pandemic viruses become as common as the cold, where the rich get richer and the rest get poorer, what is it that we ask of infrastructure?
Is infrastructure a stabilising element, or is it a force with agency? China’s Belt and Road Initiative is changing Asia and Afri; the disrepair of North Ameri’s highway infrastructure contributes to problems with transport: pipelines full of oil battle with trains dragging hundreds of tank rs across the country and tanker trailers dangerously share the highways with private automobiles.
Infrastructure is hidden, taken for granted until it breaks and then we are all surprised.
What is it? and as designers, what is our relationship to it? Is it the purview of civil engineers and politil promises, or is architecture the translation of infrastructure to the operation of daily life?
Is the public realm actually infrastructure, in all its depth and function?
And now, in the 2020s, what is exciting about infrastructure? Amerin politics have included the social safety net as the infrastructure of society, in a stroke shifting infrastructure from physil and material construction to something infinitely more ambiguous and algae-like: the socio-economic politil functioning of society.
For this issue, we would like to look at infrastructure: the landspes of infrastructure, infrastructural networks, how parts fit together, how they service life on this planet.
How these installations affect society, often seen most clearly in their absence, such as clean drinking water, is how we critique infrastructure. What is the Belt and Road, and what will be its environmental, social, politil, military and economic consequences? Much has been written about the consequences of the Interstate Highway system in the USA, on its military reasoning, its demand for faster and larger vehicles, its social anonymity that bolsters a particularly Amerin notion of personal freedom. These things were latent in the maps and road sections of the IH system.
What is it that is latent in the trillions of dollars being spent on infrastructure today?
There are other infras: Perec’s infra-ordinary, where space is both invention and inventory; Duchamp’s inframince, the unmeasurable thinness between things that touch, between one state and another; infra dignitatem: beneath notice, something so uncool that one nnot look at it, something like traditional infrastructure to the discipline of architecture.
Which is why we would like to look at it now.
on site review 41+: infrastructure under duress
February 20, 2022: well, we have to respond after the last week, month, year. Infrastructure 2.0. Infrastructure as a stage for the proclamation of power, for occupation, for protest, for violence.
There is plenty of historil material here: cities under siege, urban warfare, partition – Leningrad, Belfast and Sarajevo come to mind immediately, plus the current balancing of politil power and counter-claims to politicised space. Has infrastructure always been prone to weaponisation?
Is infrastructure, however you wish to explain it, an anchor or something temporal? Does infrastructure have agency, or is it a neutral, functional physil entity easily co-opted for politil struggle?
For various musings on infrastructure over the years, see also:
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