Infrastructural Territories

Project: Infrastructural Territories
Date: Fall 2015
Class: Seminar
Professor: Neeraj Bhatia
Examples of student work:

The notion of territory is increasingly difficult to define in the contemporary metropolis, as globalized networks move people, matter, and economics in complex ways that are continually being renegotiated. Simultaneously, the notion of disciplinary territory within architecture is also increasingly difficult to identify as the field’s expansion now often includes urbanism, landscape, and infrastructural design. This expansion of disciplinary territory reflects the need for a larger skill set for the contemporary architect if they are to address the design of the metropolis — an organization that collectively implicates urbanism, landscape and architecture. This seminar examines the role, types, organization, and formats of infrastructure through a series of readings and design projects to formulate a new understanding of holistic design. As such, this seminar is situated in response to the design of architecture and infrastructure as solely a self-reflexive, distinct, isolated and formal preoccupation that acts on a singular site. Instead, it explores new opportunities of feedback between divergent systems and scales to project a new organization for the thing we once called ‘the city’. Specifically we will look at organizational templates such as fields and networks; types such as soft and hard; and formats such as containers, conduits and surfaces. Instead of segregation, this seminar posits that infrastructural coupling can create a richer notion of spatial and disciplinary territory.

The expansion of territory and the organization of infrastructure converge at production of Logistical Space. Logistics, a branch of military science that dealt with the procurement, maintenance, and transportation of military material, facilities, and personnel, is now a core principle in how the globalized city, its periphery, and hinterland, functions. In fact, logistical networks are so integral to the functioning of global commerce that they have essentially reconfigured the globe into what Neil Brenner has termed ‘planetary urbanism’. This form of urbanism organizes all from the scale of the housing pixel to the continent—eroding the distinction between infrastructure, space, and territory in service of increased capital. The ability to move large amounts of matter through networks at increasing speeds is an attempt to conquer space and time. As networks become increasingly integrated (albeit, one- dimensionally), we notice a shift in the role of spatial proximity, which incites new forms of urban organization.

We could say that the major spatial formats of logistics consist of surfaces, containers, and conduits. These formats have colonized vast swatches of peripheral urban environments, and operate at a scale that is more closely aligned to global and regional urbanism than to that of the city. Surfaces are planes of mediation that typically operate at a territorial scale as they are primarily implicated in a form of harvesting or collection. Containers are architectural shells of enclosure often located between the formats of surfaces and conduits—for the storage, refining, or distribution of a particular good. The conduit as a type is tasked with interfacing between the scale of the territory and that of architecture by moving goods, matter, or energy across vast distances.

If we accept Keller Easterling’s notion that infrastructure is no longer the substructure of the city, but its very structure, than logistics and the way it organizes infrastructures and creates territories is the central mechanism by which most space is arranged, organized, and connected. By understanding how matter, energy, waste, products and other goods that define our everyday life, move across and inscribe new territories, enables a new understanding of how the space of infrastructural logistics can be reconfigured by integrating architecture, urbanism, and landscape in complex ways that privilege a more holistic set of goals — including social and environmental sustainability— that move beyond efficiency and increased capital.

Image Credit: Under the Mountain by Jamie Mills