Automated Landscapes: Data Centers Seminar. Session 2. Demystification Committee (Oliver Smith)

A day-long program invited architects, artists, data center industry experts, critics and political scientists to address the architecture of data centers—a new spatial type for human and machine cohabitation, and testing ground for post-human institutions. Data centers are a fundamental…

Automated Landscapes: Data Centers Seminar. Session 2. Demystification Committee (Oliver Smith)

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A day-long program invited architects, artists, data center industry experts, critics and political scientists to address the architecture of data centers—a new spatial type for human and machine cohabitation, and testing ground for post-human institutions.

Data centers are a fundamental component of today’s political, cultural and socio-economic landscapes. A new form of architecture for data and machines – one almost liberated from human intervention and entirely shaped by technological rationales – data centers form the testing ground of alternative models for post-human institutions. From the new spatial and material conditions that data centers bring together, to the network infrastructures that enable them, to the residual cohabitation of humans and non-humans, these apparently anonymous architectures are mobilised as emerging urban prototypes.

Across Scales & Geographies

The day-long program of presentations and discussions addressed the different forms of physical, legal and software architecture. Speakers explored the socio-economic and environmental implications of the rapidly expanding industry and the political climates that shape it; the physical infrastructures of fiber optic cables and forms of sovereignty they establish or erase. What are the relationships between human-exclusionary ‘white spaces’ inside data centers and grey areas in the llaw, allowing for tax evasion and geographies of avoidance to proliferate? From cybersecurity to physical fortification of buildings, from the Dutch countryside to the Arctic Circle, the notion of the data center serves to stimulate a broader debate on the role of the architect in designing for new typology, and emerging spatial models for human and non-human cohabitation.

The event was organised together with with OMA and Royal College of Art (London).
Session 2: Infrastructure & Geographies of Avoidance

Today many different (and often conflicting) geopolitical regimes and jurisdictions have a direct impact on the accessibility and storage of data. The messy mesh of fiber optic cables, switch-points, internet exchanges and data distribution nodes triggers new forms of sovereignty, allowing for new geographies of power to proliferate. But where and how exactly do material, legal and software architectures intersect? What are the main frictions, and where can the obscure power relations be rendered visible? In Session 2, speakers with contrasting backgrounds in art, architecture and political science address the emerging geographies of opportunity, offering different strategies for demystification.

On one hand, digital infrastructure is deeply entangled with historical processes and ecological conditions that effect its planning. On the other, advancing digitalisation produces new material and political effects on the life of local communities, such as Sami population in the High North region. The melting ice of the Arctic turns the Northwest passage into the next frontier for financial speculation, as countries enter the battle over the new high-speed cable route. With rapid acceleration of data flows, new zones of territorial and legal exception emerge, and with them the more intricate tax evasion schemes. If role of the architect finds itself under threat within post-human spaces, what could be the role of designer, artist, political scientist and geographer in the context of omnipresent automation? Could mapping be used as a form of leverage, contributing to shifts in the distribution of power? And what is the potential agency of visualisation in producing political change?

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