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The action is the form. Victor’s Hugo’s TED talk = Действие есть форма. Выступление Виктора Гюго на конференции TED

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Space is a technology. Buildings and the cities they inhabit have become infrastructural — mobile, monetized networks. For the world’s power players, infrastructure space is a secret weapon, and the rest of us are only just beginning to realize. If Victor Hugo came back to give a TED talk, he might assert that architecture, which he once claimed had been killed by the book, is reincarnate as something more powerful still — as information itself. If this space is a secret weapon, says Keller Easterling, it is a secret best kept from those trained to make space — architects. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs in economics, the social sciences, informatics and activism are developing what might be called spatial software as a political instrument to outwit politics as usual.
Истерлинг, К. The action is the form. Victor’s Hugo’s TED talk = Действие есть форма. Выступление Виктора Гюго на конференции TED / Истерлинг К. - 3-е изд., (эл,) - Москва : Стрелка Пресс, 2017. - 43 с.: ISBN 978-5-9903364-6-9. - Текст : электронный. - URL: https://znanium.com/catalog/product/972667 (дата обращения: 15.04.2024). – Режим доступа: по подписке.
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STRELKA

КЕЛЛЕР ИСТЕРЛИНГ

ДЕЙСТВИЕ ЕСТЬ ФОРМА ВЫСТУПЛЕНИЕ ВИКТОРА ГЮГО НА КОНФЕРЕНЦИИ TED





3-е издание (электронное)








Москва «Стрелка Пресс» 2017

KELLER EASTERLING

THE ACTION IS THE FORM
VICTOR’S HUGO’S
TED TALK





3-rd edition (electronic)








Moscow Strelka Press 2017

УДК 72
ББК 85
    E12


      Easterling, Keller.
E12 The action is the form. Victor’s Hugo’s TED talk = Действие есть форма. Выступление Виктора Гюго на конференции TED [Электронный ресурс] / K. Easterling. — 3-rd ed. (el.). — Electronic text data (1 file pdf : 43 p.). — М. : Strelka Press, 2017. — System requirements: Adobe Reader XI or Adobe Digital Editions 4.5 ; screen10".
          ISBN 978-5-9903364-6-9
          Space is a technology. Buildings and the cities they inhabit have become infrastructural — mobile, monetized networks. For the world’s power players, infrastructure space is a secret weapon, and the rest of us are only just beginning to realize. If Victor Hugo came back to give a TED talk, he might assert that architecture, which he once claimed had been killed by the book, is reincarnate as something more powerful still — as information itself. If this space is a secret weapon, says Keller Easterling, it is a secret best kept from those trained to make space — architects. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs in economics, the social sciences, informatics and activism are developing what might be called spatial software as a political instrument to outwit politics as usual.

УДК 72
ББК 85

      The source print publication: The action is the form. Victor’s Hugo’s TED talk / K. Easterling. — Moscow : Strelka Press, 2014. — 43 p. — ISBN 978-0-9929-1461-5.


ISBN 978-5-9903364-6-9

© Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, 2014

Microwaves bounce between cell phones. Credit cards — all 0.76 mm thick — slip through the slots in cash machines anywhere in the world. Computers synchronise. Shipping containers calibrate the global transportation and production of goods. Nearly identical buildings and urban arrangements proliferate globally. All these ubiquitous and seemingly innocuous features of our world are evidence of global infrastructure.
    The word “infrastructure” typically conjures associations with physical networks for transportation, communication or utilities — a hidden substrate or binding medium. Yet the technologies comprising these networks consist not only of underground grids of pipes and wires or tangles of fibre-optic cable on the bottom of the ocean, but also pools of microwaves beaming from satellites, atomised populations of electronic devices and shared technical platforms. Far from hidden, infrastructure is often the overt point of contact and access, where the underlying rules of the world can be clasped in the space of everyday life.
    Making another, perhaps more important observation, buildings, and even whole cities, have become infrastructural technologies. From the fields of repeatable suburban houses and traffic-engineered highways of the mid 20th century to the malls, resorts, golf courses and big-box stores of contemporary culture, repeatable formulas make most of the space in the world. These buildings are not singularly crafted enclosures, but reproducible products — spatial products. The discipline of architecture is only responsible for a trickle of the world’s spaces while a fire hose blasts out the rest. A familiar confetti of brightly coloured boxes nestled in black asphalt and bright green grass tells elaborate stories about Starbucks coffee, Beard Papa cream puffs and Arnold Palmer golf communities. This all too visible cartoon of abstract logics shapes most of the space in which we are

— 5 —

swimming. Now not only small communities and resorts but also entire world cities are constructed according to a formula, usually a formula that replicates Shenzhen or Dubai anywhere in the world.
    However familiar this mise-en-scene, popular culture has not yet found a compelling way to express the collapse between object and background. Some essential distinction between what is positive object and what is matrix must be dissolved: infrastructure is not just the urban substructure, but the urban structure itself — the very parameters of global urbanism. We do not build cities by accumulating singular masterpiece buildings. The constant flow of spatial products and urban formulas is more infrastructural. Architecture is making the occasional stone in the water. The world is making the water.

                IT IS ALMOST AS IF VICTOR HUGO WOULD HAVE THE MAKINGS OF A REALLY GOOD TED TALK




In Notre Dame de Paris, a 19th century novel set in the 15th century, Victor Hugo famously observed that “... architecture [like that of the cathedral] was developed in proportion with human thought; it became a giant with a thousand heads and a thousand arms, and fixed all this floating symbolism in an eternal, visible, palpable form.” But speaking through the character of an archdeacon in the novel, he also predicted that Gutenberg’s new technology threatened that giant. The printed word would usurp architecture as the vessel of cultural imagination and steal its supernatural power: “This will kill that. The book will kill the edifice.”
   At first, the contemporary evidence of urban space as an infrastructural technology might seem to confirm Hugo’s assertion about the death of architecture. And there is no doubt of an ongoing textual information explosion. Yet, at this juncture, Hugo has a chance to step into the 21st century and make an astonishing reversal. He can recuperate the power of space as the carrier of an unspoken, undeclared cultural imaginary. He can demonstrate that the mystifying giant with a thousand heads and thousand arms is alive again, in the explosive growth of a heavy, material, non-textual medium: the matrix space of global infrastructure. The new giant is also the secret weapon of the most powerful people in the world. It cannot be petted or tamed, but it can be manoeuvred and exploited. Doing so requires a political art — an art found in what was presumed to be an artless background. Spatial technologies might even have the power and currency of, not text, but software: an updating platform for shaping the city. Hugo could author another cultural meme on the

— 7 —

order of “this kills that”. Architecture, killed by the book, is reincarnate as something more powerful still — as information itself.
    It would take a bit of handling from the TED people. Hugo would have to be a little more upbeat. It’s the disposition of the performance that matters — who says it, how they say it, who repeats it and to whom. This entrepreneurial Hugo wouldn’t be talking to an audience of architects. The 19th-century Hugo provided architecture with a staple of rhetorical angst about its lost mystical powers, and the discipline has nearly worn out this section of his novel with hand-wringing and soul searching. No, the 21st-century Hugo, if he is properly coached, is talking to another audience, angling for the elite players in the room who, perhaps because they are not involved with architecture culture, really understand something about the power of space. Architectural arts are the very thing that is needed and yet part of the riddle of Hugo’s performance is why he must step away from architecture in order to return to it with a more robust audience.
    The most ordinary spaces have to be rendered magical, but Hugo can do magical. It’s why he would keep the beard. “Architecture is information itself”. It needs a lot more explanation, but it sounds good. Inscrutability can work. As long as he has a body mic and a publicist, Hugo can aim to be the guru who is a little bit cryptic — or even a little bit florid and evangelical. “Impassioned” will be the word to use in promotional blurbs and dust jacket copy. It sells, and a hush will fall over his various audiences as they creep up to his knee to receive imponderables. “Architecture is information”. Hugo becomes an industry. The TED digital flourish.

                THE GIANT IS GLOBAL INFRASTRUCTURE SPACE




The TED audience will recognize Hugo’s supernatural giant with a thousand heads and a thousand arms as an apt model for the role of space in global politics. Some of the most radical changes to the globalizing world are being made, not in the language of law and diplomacy, but rather by contagious spatial formulas. Often at a remove from familiar legislative processes, these infrastructures generate defacto forms of polity faster than official forms of governance can legislate them.
   For example, the infrastructural model for Dubais and Shenzhens — the free trade zone — provides one glimpse of the giant. In the early 20th century, the free trade zone was a fenced compound for storing custom-free goods. As those compounds began to incorporate manufacturing, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation began to promote the form as an industrial installation to kick-start the economies of developing countries. With administrations that are separate from their host state, the zone offers exemptions from taxes, labour laws or environmental regulations. While the exemptions were designed to avoid local bureaucracy, soon every corporation and every urban function wanted in. As a test of free market principles, China adopted the form for an entire city, first and most notably in Shenzhen, and incentivised urbanism has since become a global addiction. HITEC City in Hyderabad or King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia join scores of other similar zone “cities” around the world. Many adorn their corporate office parks with glittering skyscrapers and ecstatic signals of national pride as they celebrate entry into a network of similar zones. Growing exponentially, zone cities appear in almost

— 9 —

every country — some a few hectares, some a few kilometres in size. The zone has swallowed the city.
    The zone is then the shibboleth of the global marketplace. It is the perfect vessel for corporate “externalizing” — the means by which corporations eliminate obstacles to profit. Corporations like Halliburton, for instance, massage legislation in their home country but shelter from law by locating their headquarters in Dubai. While touted as a free market strategy, the zone is itself an instrument of market manipulation proffered by the “Washington Consensus” of the World Bank and the IMF. It is a suboptimal economic instrument, but the zone is so popular that major cities are developing their own zone doppelgangers, their own non-national territory. Navi Mumbai is a Shenzhen double of Mumbai. New Songdo City shadows Seoul. Surpassing irony, in Kazakhstan, Astana is a zone as national capital — a zone representing the state from which it is purportedly exempt, filled with paleo-Genghis imagery cooked up by famous architects: the pyramidal Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, or the gigantic microclimate tent that houses the Khan Shatyr entertainment centre. With the zone, the state can design a trap door out of its own laws and a proxy to engage in undisclosed and potentially lucrative dealings. (“Jawdropping”, in TED-speak.)
    A second vantage point with a good view of the giant is the global urbanism of broadband communications, and it is also often the easiest place to spot the remote or indirect forces that we have not trained ourselves to see. In 2000, there were less than 800 million cell phones in the world. By 2010, there were over 5 billion, and a majority of them were in the developing world.1 Broadband is written into the platforms of national governments and into the development goals of international organisations like the World Bank and the UN. Access to mobile telephony — what the World Bank has

— 10 —

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