e-flux journal issue 64: “Architecture as Intangible Infrastructure,” Issue One

e-flux journal issue 64: “Architecture as Intangible Infrastructure,” Issue One

e-flux journal

April 2, 2015

e-flux journal issue 64: “Architecture as Intangible Infrastructure,” Issue One

guest-edited by Nikolaus Hirsch

with Keller EasterlingPier Vittorio AureliJustin McGuirkRavi SundaramEyal WeizmanPhilip Ursprung, and Felicity D. Scott


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Architecture remains the most tangible way of constructing the social. Yet, the system we call “architecture” is not reducible to the physical, the tactile, the obvious. In the history of avant-garde architecture, immateriality and intangibility carried a promise of liberation, of escape from the heaviness of building, from completion, from gravity or reality. A new contemporary architecture would be built out of pure knowledge—drafted on paper as an idea to be shared, never bogged down by the technicalities of constructing in dimensional space, or even any spatial paradigm altogether. The history of the avant-garde can’t—as Beatriz Colomina has pointed out—be separated from its engagement with media and communication. Building would move at the speed of thought and spirit, superseding calculation, regulation, codes, and existing infrastructure.

Architects today do not conceptualize their work in such radical terms. Is it because they are too busy stalking clients in China and the Gulf? Maybe. But at the same time, architects today also have to contend with the fact that other immaterial, intangible forces have subordinated much of the spatial thinking that historically situated architecture in relation to the building and planning of spaces and cities. As Keller Easterling has written in a previous essay, “it is as if architecture, as customarily defined, cannot access some of the most important levers of explicit, measurable spatial change, leaving control of them largely to the financial industries.”

But what are these levers? Or for that matter, how has architecture always given form to the immaterial or intangible spatial effects in communication pathways, or war, rubble, memory, tourism, and cultural capital? Hasn’t architecture always provided a way of reading ethical transgressions in reverse, of giving them form, for better or for worse? How has physical architecture always been a symptom of ideology? How has it always been a communications infrastructure?

How, then, can we contextualize more recent advances in registering and distributing space, in order to place them back into the history of architecture? Just look at how something like Airbnb abstracts and dissolves, even fiscalizes, core notions such as what constitutes a home. And it presents this as data before an economy of sharing and selling that takes place above and beyond architectural intervention. In the cities where Airbnb is being used most heavily, it is planning urban space, but without urban planners. Except maybe someone like Molly Turner, Airbnb’s new director of public policy, who is an urban planner, and describes Airbnb as part of a “third wave of tech … taking all of the connectivity and transactions that are occurring online and bringing them back offline into the real world.”

Airbnb can be part of a new integrated meta-architecture that involves the pooling and marketing of space in a way where, in a broad sense, architectural interventions on the level of building tend to serve as decorative afterthoughts to the capture and recording of not only space, but also of practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, and skills. This is the aim of UNESCO’s initiative over the past decade to update the concept of cultural heritage to include immaterial and intangible cultural products. UNESCO’s Intangible cultural heritage (ICH) becomes a device for making another layer of global culture visible and searchable across long distances, and an amplifying mechanism for heritage that can allow it to be converted from culture into a knowledge database, and back into culture again. Is this something we can compare to what Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury imagined as a building that would record memories of a place as data, but also demolish its physical matter with each kilobyte or megabyte it records?

Edited together with Nikolaus Hirsch, this first part of a special double issue of e-flux journal focusing on architecture invites a number of the field’s most audacious and adventurous thinkers to consider how these invisible and intangible forces are rebuilding cities and reformatting space over and above the role that architecture once served. They are not only reducible to data streams and technocratic information pathways, but also convert ethical questions of whose hands do the actual work of building into material expressions of labor markets, economic flows, and colonial memory. They include the passage from the formal domain of building to an informal domain of knowledge in research-based university departments as well as in slums, black markets, shadow networks, and courtrooms alike. How are practicing architects already working to adapt the radical propositions of architecture to build and think in a way that takes this often contradictory information into consideration?

The second issue of ”Architecture as Intangible Infrastructure” will be released in September 2015 with essays and contributions from Beatriz Colomina, Bernard Khoury, Hu Fang, Ingo Niermann and Rem Koolhaas, Hans Ulrich Obrist in conversation with Hans Hollein, and others.

—Nikolaus Hirsch, Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle

In this issue:

Keller Easterling—IIRS
There are architects who “know how.” They have mental faculties that allow them to walk over a field and subsequently draw its topographic map or predict the size of an upstairs bedroom in relation to an interest rate. Hyperaware of multiple levers and faders in urban space, they might think of changing a street by increasing the number of times a train stops there. They can mentally model the way a tax structure will eviscerate a city or the way a toxic building will topple all the buildings around it. Rather than a master plan for a city, they can design a growth protocol with a counterbalancing calculus of public and private space. They imagine collapsing the morphology of airports by reconceptualizing the departure lounge. They adjust the capacities of an entire highway network by altering the repertoire of one switch within it. They initiate a long-term process for organizing the forests and vantage points of a mountain range.

Pier Vittorio Aureli—Intangible and Concrete: Notes on Architecture and Abstraction
In contemporary urbanization, a plethora of symbols and meanings has become the generic curtain behind which the abstraction of capital operates. It is for this reason that the task of the coming architecture is not simply to unmask the undeniable abstraction of architecture as a process, but to make legible a form of architecture in which the awareness of the conditions in which we dwell can become the precondition for new forms of life within and against the power of abstraction.

Justin McGuirkHoneywell, I’m Home! The Internet of Things and the New Domestic Landscape
For the first time since the mid-twentieth century—with its labor-saving household appliances and rising quality of life—the domestic is once again the site of radical change. And though domestic space appears to fall within the realm of architecture, architects themselves have been almost mute on the implications of such change. Architecture, it seems, has given up its dreams of imagining how we might live, and in that void technology is rushing in. That tired old trope “the house of the future” has been replaced by what is now called the “smart home.”

Ravi SundaramPost-Postcolonial Sensory Infrastructure
The management of public affect through authorized circulation has broken down all over the postcolonial world, if not elsewhere, disrupting older transactions between sovereign power and a population seen as susceptible to sensorial powers. Media has become the infrastructural condition of living, rather than existing as distinct, regulated sites like the cinema theater, or as celluloid. The always emergent potential (or “becoming virtual”) of mediation is now a generalized condition of affect-driven postcolonial media modernity in India, if not most parts of the world today.

Eyal Weizman—Violence at the Threshold of Detectability
By posing matter against memory, they demanded a history without subject and beyond language. In Irving’s legal strategy, the fact that the holes could not be found became “negative evidence” against the process of extermination. Negative evidence is an oxymoronic term that legal scholars use in order to refer to an absence of material evidence that they want to be considered as evidence in itself. It is what defense teams mobilize to disrupt prosecution cases: no body, no gun, no holes. In legal terms, it is a kind of antibody that comes to disrupt and dismantle complex epistemological assemblages of networked evidence. Furthermore, given that a hole is not matter, but a gap within material continuity, the issue at stake was not a simple absence but a certain “absence of an absence.”

Philip Ursprung—Out of Bologna: Lacaton & Vassal’s Nantes School of Architecture
I would argue that the role of architecture as intangible infrastructure in the realm of higher education is both crucial and repressed. Perhaps the utilitarian nature of the spaces of higher education stands in the way of perceiving them as elements that are of interest to architects. The spaces of lecture halls and libraries, admission offices and photocopying booths, gym halls and bicycle stands, cafeterias and computer rooms, inform the daily life of students and teachers. Yet the constant transformation necessary for their functioning, the adaptation to changing numbers of students, the reshuffling of institutes and chairs, the permanent reorganization of staff hierarchies—these factors make the spaces of higher education unattractive to Architecture with a capital “A.”

Felicity D. Scott—”Vanguards”
While frequently situated as a radical or avant-garde departure from traditional formal and aesthetic concerns in architecture, the late-sixties engagement with information technologies and computerization as well as the rise of the “user” as an object of social scientific knowledge—all under the rubric of “responsiveness”—can also be read as symptomatic of the discipline’s functionalist response to a period of rapid technological transformation and of tumultuous social change, for which it was indeed seeking new tools.

The print edition of e-flux journal can now be found at:
Amsterdam: De Appel arts centre / Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten Andratx: CCA Andratx Antwerp: M HKA Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Århus: Kunsthal Aarhus Athens: OMMU Auckland: split/fountain Austin: Arthouse at the Jones Center Baden-Baden: Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden Banff: Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre Barcelona: Arts Santa Mònica / MACBA Basel: Kunsthalle Basel / Museum für Gegenwartskunst Basel Beijing and Guangzhou: Vitamin Creative Space Beirut: 98weeks Belgrade: Cultural Center of Belgrade Bergen: Bergen Kunsthall / Rakett Berlin: b_books / Berliner Künstlerprogramm – DAAD / Bücherbogen am Savignyplatz GmbH / do you read me? / Haus der Kulturen der Welt / Motto / Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (n.b.k.) / Pro qm Bern: Kunsthalle Bern / Lehrerzimmer Bialystok: Arsenal Gallery Bielefeld: Bielefelder Kunstverein Birmingham: Eastside Projects / Ikon Gallery Bologna: MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna Bregenz: Kunsthaus Bregenz Bristol: Arnolfini Brussels: WIELS Contemporary Art Centre Bucharest: National Museum of Contemporary Art Bucharest (MNAC) / Pavilion Unicredit Cairo: Beirut / Contemporary Image Collective (CIC) / Townhouse Gallery Calgary: The New Gallery Cambridge: Wysing Arts Center Castello: Espai d´art contemporani de Castelló (EACC) Chicago: Graham Foundation / Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts / The Renaissance Society at The University of Chicago Cologne: Kölnischer Kunstverein Copenhagen: Overgaden Derry: CCA Derry~Londonderry Dijon: Les Ateliers Vortex Dublin: Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane / Project Arts Centre Dusseldorf: Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum Frankfurt: Städelschule / Portikus Gdansk: Łaźnia Centre For Contemporary Art Geneva: Centre de la photographie Ghent: S.M.A.K. Glasgow: CCA Centre for Contemporary Arts / Glasgow Sculpture Studios Graz: Grazer Kunstverein / Kunsthaus Graz / Künstlerhaus KM– / para_SITE Gallery Grijon: LABoral Centre for Art and Creative Industries Groningen: University of Groningen Hamburg: Kunstverein in Hamburg Helsinki: Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma Hobart: CAST Gallery / INFLIGHT Hong Kong: Asia Art Archive Iași: theartstudent at the University of Fine Arts, Iași Innsbruck: Galerie im Taxispalais Istanbul: BAS / Cda-Projects / DEPO / SALT Johannesburg: Center for Historical Reenactments Kansas City: La Cucaracha Press Klagenfurt: Kunstraum Lakeside Kristiansand: SKMU Sørlandets Kunstmuseum Kyiv: Visual Culture Research Center Leeds: Pavilion Lisbon: Maumaus, Escola de Artes Visuais / Oporto / Kunsthalle Lissabon Ljubljana: Moderna galerija Llandudno: MOSTYN London: Architectural Association—Bedford Press / Calvert 22 / Chisenhale Gallery / Gasworks / ICA / Serpentine Gallery / The Showroom / Visiting Arts Los Angeles: REDCAT Loughborough: Radar, Loughborough University Luxembourg: Casino Luxembourg Madrid: Brumaria / CA2M / PENSART Maastricht: Jan van Eyck Academie Marfa: Ballroom Marfa Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA) / World Food Books Mexico City: Librería Casa Bosques / Proyectos Monclova Milan: Fondazione Nicola Trussardi / HangarBicocca Milton Keynes: MK Gallery Minneapolis: Walker Art Center Monaco: Nouveau Musée National de Monaco Moncton: Fixed Cog Hero (a bicycle courier company) Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) Moscow: Garage Center for Contemporary Culture Munich: Haus der Kunst / Museum Villa Stuck / Walther Koenig Bookshop New Delhi: Sarai CSDS New York: e-flux / Independent Curators International (ICI) / Printed Matter, Inc Nottingham: Nottingham Contemporary Omaha: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts Oslo: Kunstnernes hus Oxford: Modern Art Oxford Padona: Fondazione March Per L’Arte Contemporanea Paris: castillo/corrales – Section 7 Books / Centre Pompidou / Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers Philadelphia: Bodega Pori: Pori Art Museum Portland: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) / Publication Studio Porto: Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves Prague: DOX Centre for Contemporary Art Prishtina: Stacion – Center for Contemporary Art Prishtina Providence: AS220 Reykjavik: Reykjavik Art Museum Riga: kim? Rio de Janeiro: Capacete / A Gentil Carioca Rome: MACRO Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma / Opera Rebis Rotterdam: Piet Zwart Institute / Witte de With | Center for Contemporary Art Saint-Nazaire: Le Grand Cafe, centre d’art contemporain Salzburg: Salzburger Kunstverein San Antonio: Artpace São Paulo: KUNSTHALLE São Paulo / Master in Visual Arts, Faculdade Santa Marcelina Sarajevo: Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art (SCCA) Seoul: The Books / The Book Society Sherbrooke: Foreman Art Gallery of Bishop’s University Singapore: The Ngee Ann Kongsi Library Skopje: Press to Exit Project Space Sofia: ICA-Sofia / Sofia Art Gallery / SWIMMING POOL St Erme Outre et Ramecourt: Performing Arts Forum St Louis: White Flag Projects Stockholm: Bonniers Konsthall / Iaspis / Index – The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation / Konstfack, University College of Art, Craft and Design / Konsthall C / Tensta konsthall Stuttgart: Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart Sydney: Artspace Tallinn: Kumu Art Museum of Estonia The Hague: Stroom Den Haag Toronto: Art Metropole / Mercer Union / The Power Plant Torun: Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Torun (CoCA) Toowoomba: Raygun Contemporary Art Projects Trieste: Trieste Contemporanea Trondheim: NTNU University Library Umeå: Bildmuseet, Umeå University Utrecht: BAK, basis voor actuele kunst / Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory Vaduz: Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein Valencia: IVAM–Biblioteca Valletta: Malta Contemporary Art Foundation Vancouver: Artspeak / Fillip—Motto / Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia / READ Books, Charles H. Scott Gallery, Emily Carr University of Art and Design Vienna: Kunsthalle Wien / Salon für Kunstbuch—21er Haus Vigo: MARCO, Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo Vilnius: Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) Vitoria-Gasteiz: Centro Cultural Montehermoso Kulturunea Visby: BAC – Baltic Art Center Warsaw: Zachęta National Gallery of Art Wiesbaden: Nassauischer Kunstverein (NKV) Yerevan: Armenian Center For Contemporary Experimental Art (NPAK) Zagreb: Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic / Gallery Nova / DeLVe | Institute for Duration, Location and Variables Zurich: Postgraduate Program in Curating, Zürich University of the Arts / Shedhalle / White Space.

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