Logistics, Flow, and Contemporary Urbanism
A conversation with Keller Easterling, Jesse LeCavalier, and Clare Lyster
November 15, 2016, 7pm
300 Nevins Street
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The field of logistics, which seeks to optimize the flow of materials, people, and data across the globe, dominates contemporary life, modifying not just our infrastructure and physical spaces but also our subjectivity and modes of behavior. We demand that our Amazon package be sent cross-country overnight; that fresh roses from Colombia appear at the local deli within days of being cut; and that an Uber car pick us up in a matter of minutes.
Increasingly, the field of logistics is gaining scholarly traction in the design disciplines. Through work on supply chain systems, data networks, new forms of delivery, and the politics of logistical space, architects and urban theorists are not only exploring how logistical networks format urban territory but are employing logistical processes to examine contemporary space.
In 2012, Cabinet dedicated an entire issue to the topic of “Logistics,” and this event brings together three contributors to that issue—Keller Easterling, Jesse LeCavalier, and Clare Lyster—for a discussion of two books on logistics that LeCavalier and Lyster have recently published. LeCavalier’s The Rule of Logistics focuses on Walmart’s obsession with logistical systems and how the retail industry today is changing our bodies, brains, buildings, and cities. Clare Lyster’s Learning from Logistics explores a series of techno-mobility systems, including FedEx, Amazon, Ryanair, and Uber, focusing on how these spatiotemporal networks have shaped space and their implications for the city and for design thinking and practice.
After giving short presentations on their two books, LeCavalier and Lyster will be joined in conversation by Keller Easterling to discuss the commonalties and differences in their research and to interrogate the agency of logistics for architecture and urbanism today.
About the books
Jesse LeCavalier, The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment (University of Minnesota Press, 2016)
The Rule of Logistics tells the story of Walmart’s buildings in the context of the corporation’s entire operation, itself characterized by an obsession with logistics. Beginning with the company’s founding in 1962, LeCavalier reveals how logistics—as a branch of knowledge, an area of work, and a collection of processes—takes shape and changes our built environment. Weaving together archival material with original drawings, LeCavalier shows how a diverse array of ideas, people, and things—military theory and chewing gum, Howard Dean and satellite networks, Hudson River School painters and real estate software, to name a few—are all connected through Walmart’s logistical operations and in turn are transforming how its buildings are conceptualized, located, built, and inhabited. The Rule of Logistics helps us understand how retailing today is changing our bodies, brains, buildings, and cities and considers what future forms architecture might take when shaped by systems that exceed its current capacities.
Clare Lyster, Learning from Logistics: How Networks Change Our Cities (Birkhäuser, 2016)
The network is the DNA of urbanization. In the nineteenth century, railroads and canals provided both structure and stimulus for city development, while in the twentieth century it was the highway that shaped urban settlements. This role has been taken over today by a new species of networks called logistics. Learning from Logistics explores a series of techno-mobility systems, including FedEx, Amazon, Ryanair, and Uber, that since the 1970s increasingly choreograph the flow of materials, data, and people around the world each day. The book focuses on how these time-space networks shape space, and more significantly, on their implications for the city and for design thinking and practice. The book deliberates the agency of logistics as a spatial apparatus by presenting it as a framework for urban production in an era when flow has emerged as the primary expression of urbanity. By extension, it ponders how designers might embrace logistics, either by critically integrating its systems into the built environment; by hijacking logistical models for alternative ends; or, by projecting logistical thinking more radically to generate new configurations of space.
About the participants
Keller Easterling is an architect, writer, and professor at Yale University. Her most recent book, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space (Verso, 2014), examines global infrastructure as a medium of polity.
Jesse LeCavalier is a designer, writer, and educator whose work explores the architectural and urban implications of contemporary logistics. He is assistant professor of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Clare Lyster is an architect, writer, and associate professor at the School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Chicago. Her work focuses on the design of the city from the perspective of landscape and infrastructure space.