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Doctoral Program Conference: #decoding, Session 1, Unsettling

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Doctoral Program Conference: #decoding, Session 1, Unsettling


We’re going to begin the
conversation with a struggle that Aleks and I had last night
when we were trying to write the intro to the conference. So we had a long discussion
about how to introduce this complex topic. Do we begin by defining
codes and protocols? Do we address their impact
on the built environment and our daily practice? Should we talk about their
potentialities and limitations? Or maybe we should
just start by asking, how to decode them,
unsettle, and unbuild them? Where do we begin? So eventually we
started by asking, why does the topic
still need attention? Why should we still
talk about codes? Why still bother to
spend time on such an ordinary and, for
many, boring subject? We turned to an observation
voiced by Eran Ben-Joseph, who said, “just as genes are
obscure, difficult-to-trace, and often misunderstood as
to their impact on organisms, so too are the influence
of design standards and their impact on the
build environment opaque. The incremental
nature of standards reduces each requirement to
a singular, discrete mandate. As such, the influence
of each standard may seem relatively
minor by comparison to the wealth of
other variables that are part of the process of
urban planning and development. However, when viewed
in their totality, their cumulative force
has a tremendous effect on the design of places that
thus far has been unnoticed.” And this is why we
think that we still need to talk about standards,
codes, and protocols again, again, and again. Standards, codes, and protocols
underlie most forms of power. Power is maintained
through a discreet and hidden agency of codes. Perhaps then it’s not a bad idea
to start by simply going back to ideas of power and its
impact on human freedom, and for this, we
return to Foucault. For Foucault, “one of the
meanings of human existence, the source of human
freedom, is never to accept anything as
definitive, untouchable, obvious, or immobile. No aspect of reality
should be allowed to become a definitive
and inhuman law for us. We have to rise up against
all forms of power, but not just power in the
narrow sense of the word, referring to the
power of a government or of a social
group over another. These are only a few
particular instances of power. Power is anything that tends to
render immobile and untouchable those things that are offered to
us as real, as true, as good.” According to Foucault,
the key to revealing the precise location
and questioning various manifestations
of power is to “consider all the points
of fixity, of immobilization, as elements in a tactics
or in a strategy, as part of an effort
to bring things back into very original mobility,
their openness to change.” Georgio Agamben reiterates the
Foucauldian, apparaturs as, “literally anything
that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient,
determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the
gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings.” That apparatus is “not
only prisons, madhouses, the panopticon, schools,
confession, factories, disciplines, and
juridical measures, but also the pen– writing,
literature, philosophy, agriculture, cigarettes,
navigation, computers, cellular telephones, and,
why not, language itself.” Language, the most ordinary
medium for describing environments we
inhabit or, better yet, for constructing them. For Claude Raffestin, the
contemporary geographer, “the discovery and
interpretation of our world depends on mediators, whether
it being our sensory organs or instruments and cultural
tools created by people, mediators play an
extremely important role in territoriality,
as they are tools of apprehension of and
relation with the environment.” If codes and protocols are to be
understood as mediators between us and our environment, they
cannot be disassociated from territoriality– territoriality
in a synthetic sense, “simultaneously as a system
of relations with material and immaterial realities and as
a system of the representation of these realities.” Representation, in
this particular context and for the purpose
of our conference, includes all processes
of differentiation, categorization, and
standardization, which then establishes
regulatory systems and take command of imagination. Understanding how we
live within the systems can help us better understand
how these mediators incrementally and
unnoticeably work us over, how they build an unbuild
territories, whether through organizing a space
or conditioning the everyday social and cultural
behavior or other means. For instance, we
recognize after aggregate that “citizenship
and social standing have been intimately bound
up with the forms of self regulation, built into
norms of “home,” shaped and contested by
government policies, by the markets in credit,
insurance, and other services, as well as by the shelter press
and other cultural media.” So how do we position our
field and specific expertise in this context? How do we decode the spaces we
inhabit and behaviors we share, first as humans, and then
as designers, planners, creative thinkers,
and researchers? So we go back to Foucault.
We adopt three lenses, three elements that he actually
uses to define his morals. And they are first, “the refusal
to accept as self-evident the things that
are proposed to us. Second, the need to
analyze and to know, since we can accomplish
nothing without reflection and understanding. That’s the principle
of curiosity. And third, the
principle of innovation, to seek out in our reflection
those things that have never been thought or imagined. That’s refusal,
curiosity, innovation.” Let’s then begin with refusal. Again, following
aggregate, the group, “recognizing that
modernization has not been the ironclad product
of authorial intention or historical inevitability
or totalizing theories of modernism but the
contingent consequence of untangled agencies, we
recognize that the future too is not ironbound but,
rather, like the past, open to accident, manipulation,
and reconfiguration.” Not unlike the past
generations who witnessed how ideas about
safety and health, efficiency and comfort, beauty
and blight crystallized into a noticeable standard. Today, at the time
of this conference, we will follow our
curiosity to witness how certain notions
of sustainability are settling down below
the surface in form of generic green standards
and technological incentives, replacing material and
spatial solutions based on local knowledge. Simultaneously we observe
a massive geographic shift caused by migrating frontiers
of global economy, violence associated with
altering geopolitics, to evolving ecological
conditions driven by climate change. It appears that the new
organizational logic and protocols are crystallizing
at the intersection of these new geographies with
the new breeds of intelligence, knowledge infrastructures,
and new forms of statehood. It seems that the effectiveness
of any regulatory system is contingent upon the
capacity to embrace uncertainty and a strategic
anticipation, rather than a strategic planning. Better to be evaluated
based on ability to address the specific
necessities as they unfold in time by employing devices
available to a particular culture and a particular place. Any regulation has to
simultaneously account for expansions and subtractions,
buildings and unbuildings, growth and decay. The field of Design
with capital D may still be navigating with
a slow drift between fixed, generic, and prescriptive
codes on one hand, and a specific
context undergoing rapid transformations
on the other hand. While other domains,
such as market warfare or entertainment,
to name a few, have been adapting to new modalities
of governments or even testing, driving, forcing them,
immediacy, uncertainty, and flexibility
have been discussed by designers and planners for
many decades with little effect perhaps. What is it that stops
our field from being more responsive and agile? In this conference,
we are hoping to reopen this decade-old
and periodically reoccurring discussion
by asking, what protocols are taken into consideration
in the process of establishment of places, communities,
geographies, and statehoods? How should the regulatory
boundaries be set? Whose values are taken into
account, and at the expense of whose risk? How is it decided what
is normal from abnormal, formal from informal? So how do we innovate
in this field? How can we build flexibility
into solid buildings, and how do we unsettle
settled territories without dismissing the
potentialities that lie in continuity and
some degree of permanence? How do we create a
space for multiplicity of opinions and desires, for
human and non-human forms of intelligence? Thank you. So before we begin
the first session, we would like to thank
Professor Martin Bechthold, who is the director of our program,
Liz, Jan, and Anna the ASB Office and the Finance
Office, and our friends Julia and Mariano, who are
here, for their support. We thank all of our sponsors who
have trusted us and dedicated funds to this event, and we
have received sponsorship from the ASP program and
the director’s office from the Joint Center for
Housing Studies of Harvard University, from Harvard
University’s Center for the Environment, the Harvard
Center for Green Buildings and Cities, the GSD Master
in Design Studies Program, specifically of the
Urbanism, Landscape, Ecology concentration, from AECOM
America, and Harvard’s Asia Center. We would like to thank all
our guests for being here and all of you for being here. And last, but not least, we
thank Carles Muro and Pierre Belanger for agreeing
to moderate this event and for sharing all their advice
with us during its preparation. So let’s start decoding. Pierre Belanger will
introduce our morning guests and moderate the discussion. Pierre is Associate Professor
of Landscape Architecture and Co-Director of the MDes
Postgraduate Design Research Program here at GSD. He teaches and coordinates
graduate courses on the convergence of ecology,
infrastructure, and media, and urbanism. After the lunch
break, Carles Muro will introduce the
afternoon speakers and moderate the discussion. Carles is a design critic in
architecture and urban design here at GSD, and he is also
an accomplished practicing architect. The two sessions will be
followed by the keynote lecture by Professor Stephen Moore. So please welcome Pierre
Belanger and our morning speakers. So thanks very much, Aleks,
Ghazal for the invitation, specifically also organizing. What I consider to
be probably some of the most pressing, and
also at the same time most experimental,
types of gatherings that we have here at the
Graduate School of Design, usually doctoral students
are at the forefront of some of the questions
that remain unanswered. So in my conversations
and exchanges with Ghazal and Aleks,
it’s been particularly important to try
to identify ways to be able to not so
much frame, but maybe set the stage for the
morning panel itself. So there’s a few words I’d like
to just share, just to be able, to a certain extent, to ground
an understanding of both the presentations we’ll see
but, to a certain extent, to try to understand also
how to contextualize it within current discourse. And I assure you that
we’re not subliminally trying to smuggle
Foucauldian thought here. It’s just by complete
accident and coincidence that my opening quote is an
exchange between Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
that was organized under a number of
conversations by Michel Foucault between the
1960s and the 1980s. In order to be able to
place decoded fluxes of work of production, fluxes of
women, fluxes of children, a number of
equipments have to be installed for the
preformation of these fluxes. These conceptions
allows one to take a course which opposes
the present approach to collective equipment. And that is specifically
in relationship to the idea of state
infrastructure, which usually precedes fundamental
categories, such as the function of the Athen’s Charter. And we can just remind that
the Athenian oath, which granted ideas or ideologies
of living, circulating, recreating, working simply
as natural categories, as rights to the city
itself, which I’ll addressed the notion of the city. One can consider three types
of structure and structures. Collective equipment
of the state has to respond to more
than just compensating for the exclusions associated
with these categories. Guattari finishes off
by saying that there’s no such thing as equipment
or the idea of one centralized form
of equipment; there is a constellation of equipment,
just as in itself there is no such thing as
a city as opposed to a constellation of cities. To this, Deleuze
instigated, we should consider three types of
structures– structures of investment, structures
of public service, structures of assistance
or pseudo assistance. The reason why I
bring this up is that there is a quote that
is somewhat of an instigation catalyst at the beginning of the
description of the conference itself. Paul Edwards, the
media theorist, and you could also say
climate historian– “to understand an infrastructure
you have to invert it. You have to turn it upside
down and look at the bottom, the parts you don’t normally
think about precisely, because they have become
standard, routine, transparent, and invisible. These disappearing elements
are only figuratively below the surface, of course. In fact, they are the surface.” What’s and what’s
interesting as part of the work that Paul Edwards
presents and kind of buried in between the lines is also the
work of ethnographer Susan Leigh Star, who unfortunately
died a few years ago, extremely influential as an
ethnographer of infrastructure, who wrote this book
with Geoff Bowker sorting things
out Classification and its Consequences,
which I think specifically addresses the question of
categories that underlie notions of coding or encoding. And they say this,
which, in many respects, also takes from the somewhat
subversive, deviant work of sociologist Howard Becker in
his book Art Worlds from 1982. “Infrastructural
inversion is a struggle against the tendency
of infrastructure to disappear, except
when breaking down. It means learning
to look closely at technologies and at
arrangements than by design and by habit tend to
fade into the woodwork.” I think that’s
particularly important because, in many respects,
when we speak about both coding and city, there there’s a
number of different assumptions which I think are particular
important to sort of watch for. And, to a certain
extent, these watchwords are particularly
important in relationship to both the guests that
we have here today, and also at the same time, maybe
some new questions that arise. A book just recently
released by Anne Mikoleit and Moritz Purckhauer,
Urban Code– 100 Lessons for the
City, is interesting because it proposes
three things– the idea of an urban
code directly translated to the city, also as
syntax, and also it raises the question of scale, I think. We could start to begin to ask
in direct relationship building code, was the
building code invented for the safety and security
of the city or the state, or was the city or
the state invented to secure the code
of construction and a code of conduct? Also, they raise the issue
of the question of the scene and syntax, the script as well. Is it raised in
order to question determinacy and determination,
i.e. the predictability of movements, that
becomes grounds for invoking systems
of syntax, or is it to fully engage and understand
matters of uncertainty and engage in contingency? After all, there was no
code for understanding how to predict 9/11 and the
attack on the twin towers, nor is there any
[? syntax ?] of insurgency, except perhaps in the
strategy of improvisation, which is usually
invoked as the strategy in the war against planning. Finally, the question
of scale in the book raises the issue of the state. And what I mean by that
is the greater hierarchy, and the higher up along
the echelons of control, the more invisible
the code becomes and, possibly more importantly,
the more invisible the power. And so there is
this relationship between code and
power which I think is particularly
important to address as part of this conversation. So, in many ways, this pledge
of allegiance to the code and then to the question of
the code, whether we like it or not, also whether or
not we vote with our money, with our bodies–
and I would argue we don’t vote with our minds– it
is similar to the oath taken over 2,000 years
ago that was reified by the citizens of Athens,
Greece over 2,000 years ago. It’s also currently
invoked ironically as a part of this resurgence
of the discourse on cities and also specifically
dangerously as part of the discourse
on the anthropocene, which I’d like to bring up. I only have need a couple more
minutes for this, I assure you. But I think what’s
important, and potentially one needs to be somewhat careful
and attentive to the words, “we will never bring
disgrace in this, our city, by an act of dishonesty
or cowardice. We will fight for the ideals
and sacred things of the city, both alone and with many. We will revere and
obey the city’s laws, and we’ll do our best to incite
a like reverence and respect in those above us who are
prone to annul them or set them at naught. We will strive
unceasingly to quicken the public sense of civic duty. Thus, in all these
ways, we will transmit the city not only not less,
but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.” The reason why I
think it’s dangerous is also these ideas are assumed
and inherited and translated into a discourse on the
anthropocene, which proposes, also, another form of
allegiance to the city. And I’d like to invoke a kind
of counter critique to this. and it’s an interesting one. I’ll admit I’m following
someone called @EricaVioletLee. She has a Nehiyaw blogger
from Saskatchewan. She’s an organizer
of Idle No More. And just a couple
weeks ago she tweeted such a not Euro-Western
buzzword “right now” on the topic of
the anthropocene. However, I’d like to mention
something potentially striking even deeper to the
chord of discourses on the city and urbanization. If you look closely at
her account portrait, she wears this kind of bossfull
motto across her t-shirt, not in the back, but on the
front– “indigenous women resisting colonialism and
patriarch since 1492,” of course the day in which
the cannibal Columbus set foot on the Turtle Island, as
some would call the Americas. So maybe this also
indicates a kind of ulterior but related
underlying motive, which I think is significant in
this discourse on the code, because it invokes necessarily
the question of territory, and potentially the rise
up against euro-centrism of the idea of the anthropocene. So I think between ideas
that are sort of communicated through the city
and the anthropocene are particularly important. So in the decoding
or the subjugation of the space of the city, and
we don’t call it mainstream, invoking flow, for nothing,
through decodification, deregulation,
de-engineering, one opens the subject up
not only of territory and the unique role of the
map and the agency of mapping, but, more importantly,
the subject of code, conduct, and control. In other words, to study
urbanization is to study power. So the question of power
then and its relations in a contemporary
world, one could say, of decentralization and
de-territorialization, as we are seeing worldwide with
mass migration and subdivisions of labor, inevitably leads
us to understand flows in a number of different ways. As Manuel Castells kind
of claimed in 1996, “power does not reside
in institutions, not even in the state
or large corporations; it’s located in the networks
that structure society itself.” So therefore the study of
organization of that power is also the study of the
state and the corporations through the equipment
and their infrastructure. Now, I’m just going to bring
two people into the conversation here just to also
lay down this basis across a number of
different fields outside of city and urbanization. In 1993, Rosalind Williams,
the technological historian and counter-historian,
you could say, identified more
than two decades ago in her canonical
text, Cultural Origins and Environmental Implications
of Large Technological Systems, that the cultural origins and
environmental implications of these systems establish
a kind of ground zero for combined strategies of
geographic zoning, boundary realignments, and reprogramming. And I quote here, “the
outstanding feature of modern cultural
landscapes is the dominance of pathways over settlements. The pathways of modern life
are also quarters of power, with power being understood
in both its technological and political senses.” We could think of geopolitical
thermodynamics here. “By channeling the circulation
of people, goods, and messages, they have transformed
spatial relations by establishing
lines of force that are privileged over
places and people left outside those lines.” I’m detecting some
movement here, so– No, I’m taking notes. She’s great. And I’ll invoke
another person who wrote similar words but in a
completely different field, practically at the
exact same time in 1993. By Sanford Kwinter, “despite
the customary fashionable genuflection towards
infrastructural questions and concerns today,
little attention is being paid to the more
radical, more disturbing reality that infrastructural
demands are not only becoming exponentially
more importunate today, but that these
infrastructural demands are breeding and mutating in
kind not only in degree. We have no choice
today but to deal with these new soft
infrastructures– knowledge infrastructure,
program infrastructure, cultural infrastructure,
virtual infrastructure. The demand for
design–” and I’m going to underscore– “and
de-design–” which I think is a direct kind of
voice and confirmation of the conference– “in
our over-engineered and over-mediated world is both
enormous and pervasive. Yet the majority
of architects still respond to it with
the medieval language of the stoic
autonomous building.” Thus you could
constantly ask, according to Kwinter, what does this
have to do with capital A Architecture? “Today’s design world is
stratified with an emerging class structure. It’s associated embedded
conflicts and emerging new proletaria
increasingly separated from the principal
means of production.” So in many respects,
in order to respond to this call from Kwinter
and Williams from the 1990s, I think the conference and
this and this coming together in relationship to the
guests this morning not only do we need to think
about the division of labor as one of the greatest forces
that shaped 21st century contemporary city, but also
the scale and space of the flow of information itself. I don’t think it’s by mistake
that also the highway is invoked since the
1990s, both in terms of the flow of information–
the information highway– that has been persistently
invoked and revoked as perhaps the last and
greatest public space on the surface of the planet. I think in this
relationship it’s also useful to kind of
back date also part of the thinking in
the conference as part of trying to form a
different kind of codex. And I think the possibility
of understanding the work of Cicero from
literally the Roman era, and I had to invoke the Romans
as part of this conversation here, as part of this codex
from 50 BCE, De re Publica, in which he states in
this kind of treatise, this Roman treatise on public
space politics, ? [latin], that perhaps the land
has the greatest power. And one can evoke that perhaps
the de-codification has everything to do
with understanding how to be able to ground
patterns of urbanization in this topic that
we’ve left completely off the table, the
question of land. So in light of the
presentations again, and this kind of [non-english]
or [non-english] potentially [non-english], called by the
invisible structures of design, after all we call it
“de-sign,” not just to plan and to designate,
but also to mark out. Perhaps we can also
propose the city of power that can be understood
through three types of flows of information, one
based on current events, leakage and spillages
of information, where entire nation-states
can be compromised by the leaking of information. We’re invoking here
[email protected], of course, and the release of military
documents of missions and protocols. The second one, synchronicities
and simultaneities, where the speeds of
information and regimes can literally be
brought down overnight through Twitter
and text messaging, such as Tahrir
Square in 2011, that sparked the Egyptian
revolution and, of course, the Arab Spring. We can remember #January25. And finally,
breaches, blockages, stoppages, and interferences
of flows of information, which can either be interpreted
as a compromise of over, for example, 22
million Social Security accounts by the Office
of Personnel Management just recently, or the recent
roadblock by the Sandy Bay First Nation on the Trans-Canada
highway, federal route number one, protesting the destruction
of water resources and Bill C45 by of Canada, Stephen Harper,
the former prime minister. That would be under
a #IdleNomore. So finally, the
invocation of the highway, either in the
information highway or the interstate
highway, necessarily brings not only Foucault,
but I think Paul Virilio in his [? dramalogical ?]
perspective in the study of
environments through speed. I quote, “the loss
of material space leads to the government
of nothing but time. The whole geographic
history of the distribution of land in countries would stop
in favor of a single regrouping of time, power no longer
being comparable to anything but a meteorology. In this precarious fiction–”
or you could say friction, “speed would suddenly become
destiny, a form of progress, in other words, a
civilization in which speed would be something of
a region of time, where the violence of speed has become
both the location and the law, the world’s destiny
and its destination.” That’s from Paul
Virilio, his book, “Speed and Politics”
in French, 1977, and then translated in 1986. The guest speakers
this morning– I haven’t shared these words
with the guest speakers this morning, so I’m not
putting them on the spot to essentially respond to this. But rather actually
the intention was simply to ground the subject
this morning in relationship to both practices and
agencies related to mapping, but also grounding the subject
so that it doesn’t necessarily only address the space in
between the lines of code as we know it, but
potentially grounding it and re-categorizing
it in different ways. So I’ll just introduce our guest
speakers, Benjamin Bratton, Bobby Pietrusko, Vyjayanthi
Rao, and John van Nostrand. We have 20 minutes
per presentation each. We’ll take a short break
after two first presentations, and then we’ll come back with
Vyjayanthi and John afterwards. I’ll make the two introductions
for Vyjayanthi and John after the break. I’ll just introduce
briefly Benjamin and Bobby. Benjamin Bratton
is a theorist whose work spans the fields of
philosophy, art, and design. He’s associate
professor of visual arts and Director of the Center
for Design and Geopolitics at the University of
California San Diego. He’s also a professor of Digital
Design at the European Graduate School in the
Saas-Fee, Switzerland. His research is situated
at the intersections of political and social
theory, emerging computational media and infrastructure,
and interdisciplinary design methodology. I had an opportunity
to meet him finally this fall at the first Yale
conference on the built environment. And we’ll hear more. Actually since then,
his book The Stack has been released on software
and sovereignty, which I think we’ll be hearing about
later this morning, which is now published by MIT Press. So I won’t go into any
descriptions of that. I don’t want to
steal your thunder. You can borrow it. I can borrow it. I’ll just mention
a few things here. Before coming to UC
San Diego in 2009, Benjamin taught Theory and
Design for a decade at SCI Arc, where he’s now visiting
faculty and from ’03 to ’08 was at the UCLA Department
of Design and Media Arts. Bobby Pietrusko– Robert
G. Bobby– as some of you may know, he’s Assistant
Professor, sharing his time, splitting his time,
sometimes even eroding his time between
Landscape Architecture and the Departments
of Urban Planning here at the Graduate
School of Design. His work explores
contemporary technologies of measurement,
simulation, visualization, and their relationship to
the production of space. His work, as some
of you may know, recently exhibited
at COP 21, his work on climate change at MOMA, SFMOM
as well said ZKM, among others, and is part of the permanent
collection at the Fondation Cartier in Paris. Prior to joining the junior
faculty here at the GSD, Pietrusko was working as a
designer with Diller Scofidio + Renfro in New York and
held research positions at Parson Institute for
Information Mapping at the New School, where he also was
working with Vyjayanthi, who’s with us here this
morning as well, at Columbia University at the
Spatial Information Design Lab. He also has, and
this background is, I think, important to
all our guest speakers, so we’ll bring this in. He also has a Bachelor of
Music in Music Synthesis from the Berklee
College of Music, Master of Science in Electrical
Engineering from Villanova, as well as a Master in
Architecture here at the GSD. So what we’ll do is we’ll
start with Benjamin first. Bob, you will follow. And then we’ll take a
break, and then we’ll make formal introductions
for Vyjayanthi and John. Thank you very much
for the introduction. I think my remarks, not
coincidentally enough, will follow on quite nicely
from both of the introductions. So I hope I have a chance to
grab on some of these threads and pull on them a bit further. My talk that I wanted
to do today really sort of is in three
parts, I suppose. The first one is to
talk a bit about some of the issues of infrastructure,
geopolitics, platforms, territory, and the role
that what planetary scale computation has on the
challenges and reformulations of these, above which
is a lot of what the material in this
book The Stack refers to. Second is to discuss
some thoughts on this the theme
of the conference, of decoding, what
that might mean, how we might situate
that, put that in motion in particular ways. And then, lastly, to share some
of the more recent design work that we’ve been
doing, which operates at a somewhat different
scale than that of the building, but
absolutely within the fabric and solvent of the urban. And so that will go through
our 20 minutes here. Let me get this. Show the notes, sorry. Put this up so I can see
my notes at the same time. So planetary scale
computation takes place at different scales that
includes from energy and mineral sourcing and
grids, subterranean cloud infrastructures,
urban softwares, and public service
privatizations, massive universal address
systems, interfaces drawn by the augmentation
of the hand, the eye, or dissolved into objects,
users both over outlined by self-quantification
also exploded by the arrival of legions
of sensors and algorithms and robots. And so instead of
seeing all of these as a kind of hodgepodge of
different species of computing all spinning out on their own
at different scales and tempos, we should see them
instead as forming a coherent and interdependent
whole, layer-by-layer, into something like
a vast, if also incomplete, pervasive, if
also irregular, software and hardware stack. The stack thesis
proposes a specific model for the design of
political geography tuned to this era of
planetary scale computation. It works from the inside out,
from technology to governing systems, so as to arrive
again at these questions of sovereignty, its
location, and its forms. Touchpoint by touchpoint
by touch point, the city layer of
the stack is perhaps where the birth pangs of
computational geopolitics are felt most this early. The arrival of any
political constitution is accompanied always by a
corresponding foundational violence, and this is no less
true of planetary computation and the jurisdictions
of its emerging in its interfacial networks. But unlike modern
political states that may have exploded
into being by the breaching or establishment of
specific symbolic centers, the constitutional
violence of planetary computations platform
sovereignties occurs at the surface
of the entire city, in and on every object,
seemingly at once, as ubiquitous and convergent as
it is partial and partitional. Under these circumstances,
what we might call a geo-design focuses on the
plasticity of sovereignty not only on individual
privacy, but also on the valuation of plural
motion, gesture, and movement as the basis of
fabricated polities. And as we’ll see, one
axis of innovation is between the rights
and responsibilities that that urban interface
gives to and demands from a user, who is a
formal legal citizen of its explicit
jurisdiction, versus those it gives to and demands
from a user who is not. We may find that in the future
the non-citizen, in some ways, human or non-human,
may in some ways enjoy certain advantages
over the citizen as infrastructures
may not already be preprogramed to
govern that user directly as a formal subject but merely
to transact services with her. And so this parabolistic schema
of distributed urban interfaces comprising a city layer
in a larger accidental mega structure of the stack
is not then, to be clear, another yarn of
brick-and-mortar central states dissolving now into virtual
decentralized networks. Rather we trace a shift
in what James Scott called “seeing like a state” means
in the age of machine vision and automation
and, with attention to sensate urban surfaces,
what sensing like a stage comes to entail. That is borders don’t
so much disappear, as they multiply exponentially. To that point, their
granular hyper-striation only appears smooth
at certain distances. In this, certain
questions of sovereignty re-emerge, but they do
so in unusual formats. In the book The Stack I make
considerable use, or arguably misuse, of Carl’s Schmitt’s
notion of the Nomos, or, for him, the fundamental
linear inscription that marks occupation,
this is signing of the design, that
gives political geography its shape and which informs
ensuing geopolitical orders in its image. The Nomos is that
particular subdivision of the earth into sovereign
jurisdictional zones. Now the Westphalian order
subdivided land, but not water, not air, not the
electromagnetic spectrum, into a looping topology of
sovereign national units on a horizontal plane. It’s Nomos is that loop
topology concretized as the geometry of
the modern state order, for which sovereign
supervision of any one citizen or sight or event is ultimately
reducible to its one law, except when it’s not,
as for cosmopolitan orders or the ongoing
proliferation of enclaves and exclaves. Now, the nomos of
the cloud is also a vertical political geography. In this competition between
states and platforms, there’s a competition over the
right to claim and adjudicate any one site, event, or person. And in doing so, there
isn’t a resolution of all of these claims into one
sort of consensual cosmopolitan order, but an
overlapping, a doubling, and tripling of these
not as some kind of accumulating layers of
exception, but as a new norm. Now, there is much
to be said about what we may call the function
of the sovereign exception, in the continuing
invocation of Schmitt, as it relates to these nomic
geographies old and new. And so in the interest of time,
I’ll draw out just a couple, particularly as they
relate to the city. First, the problem of
nomos and sovereignty is drawn not only as
a zone of exception, as it is for
Agamben via Schmitt. The line itself is
in a continual state of potential
exception to itself. That is it draws inside from
outside, home from alien, by demarcating that boundary. But the line does not
know when one side is the inside or the
outside, nor does it itself normally need to. Inside and outside can
oscillate, and they do. Fences keep you in as much
as they keep others out and vice versa. And as an architecture, a camp,
Agamben’s nomos of the modern, may be physically
indistinguishable from an enclave. A machine to quarantine
the excluded by partition may flip into a machine for
keeping the world at bay and may do so at any moment. And so the nomic
partition is built on and for an exception that
may invert itself in situ. And so in this way, we
observe that the camp is not the only nomos of the
modern– Agamben’s claim, you recall– the
enclave is as much, which is why perhaps
we see so many of them in the same situation. Now, a question of what then
may be and nomos of the cloud is then put forward. The sovereign geometries–
geographies and geometries– of planetary scale
computation suggest, as I say, a layering of multiple
jurisdictional claims in a thickened order of
planes, at the continental and at the individual
scales and also, again, towards this, as I
say, a sensing of the state at the scale of the
urban interface. So, however, as that
interface, the urban interface, may now be computationally
animated in some way, in whole or in part,
such that its software is a program determining
how it functions as a gateway within
a larger array, so in this landscape of
gateway interfaces each is programmed to decide when
to open and when to close, what to admit and
what to refuse. For any two users,
the same interface may decide to include
or to exclude them, and so their paths diverge. And in the accumulation of these
interfacial gateway decisions, the city coheres itself
differently for each user and instantiates
control less through blunt institutional walls and
partitions containing masses, than through a more liquid
accumulation of binary inputs and outputs, letting free-range
users roam where they please because there is no ultimate
outside to which they might scape. We recognize this in Deleuze’s
society of the control thesis, for example, where he
speculates on a city in which the accumulation
of what he calls electronic gateways, in what
we call ubiquitous computing, and its urban scale
interfaces, both human facing and infrastructural, usher
in this new condition. In other words, the aggregation
of programmed interfaces does, at a much finer scale,
what big dumb borders do. And so too the surfaces of
this camp-enclave dynamic not only get smaller and faster
with more processing power, their ability to switch
from an interiorizing to an exteriorizing function,
that is the exception that is built into the
exception itself, may be measured in
gigaflops, billions of operations per second. Camp switches into the
enclave in an instant but may do so for any
given cohort of users in intricate and overlapping
meshes of provisional interior and exterior microzones. What is exit for one, may
be entrance for another. The sovereignty of the
exception is automated. Automation, autonomous,
autonomy becomes instantiated, oscillating
sovereign decision. So a word then on this
question of institutionality that was raised
before on the platform logics at the city later. Stacks are platforms, but
not all platforms are stacks. A working definition
of platform, and I make an
argument in the book that we desperately need a
more comprehensive political, economic, and cultural
theory platform. I think platforms
need to be understood as both a technical and
institutional system of significance, comparable
to that of states and markets. We get in trouble when we try
to reduce platforms to what we know about those other two. A working definition
of a platform might include references
to a standards-based technical-economic system,
including and especially stacked typologies, which
simultaneously decentralizes interfaces through the remote
protocological coordination and which centralizes
their integrated control through that same coordination. Platforms are both
then, as I say, technical and
institutional model. Their logics of
sovereignty are not reducible to those
of states and markets but are contemporary
discussion of platforms, which increasingly
do the heavy lifting of lower global governance,
are discussed as if they were. States have citizens. Markets have homo economicus. But the base component political
subject of the platform is the user, a very
different kind of creature. Platforms work by the
centralized aggregation of interactions made by the
decentralized distribution of interfaces, with
which users interact, one because the other. Now, as far as the platform
itself is concerned, user sovereignty is derived
from the decisions that would instantiate it into a
wider interfacial program is available to anything. Anything can be a user– animal,
vegetable, mineral, anything that can interact significantly
with those interfaces, and in doing so initiate the
entire apparatus at once. The risks and potentials
of platform sovereignty are borne by a geopolitics
of platforms that’s still very much information, one
that points as much to cloud feudalism as to what the British
call fully automated luxury communism, as well as by
the radically open subject position of the user,
one available, as I say, to humans, network sensors,
high-speed trading algorithms, driverless cars,
swarms of animals. The interface is
agnostic as to species. The platforms we are
building, including the accidental
infrastructure of the stack, are predicated on a functional
agent-subject position that holds far less regard
for the special status of human creatures
in how it governs with and by sovereign
exceptions of entrance and exit than we’re used to. And so I think among the most
violent and painful contests over platform
sovereignty to come will be fought at the level of
the automated urban interface and will be drawn out not
only over nomic exception, but over also human and
humanist exceptionalism. Now among the structural
affordances of stacks in general is their modularity. What occupies a given layer,
including the city layer, can be replaced by new things. And insofar as they
communicate with the layers above and below, according to
the protocols of the platform, in the case of the city
layer, the address layer above the city, the cloud layer
below, then the whole remains. Not only do stacks accommodate
the comprehensive replacement of components, their
chief design value is that they enable
and encourage it. That is while the stack
is a figural totality, it’s not static. It’s not synchronic. It’s made to be remade. And so to articulate
the stack we have, is already, in some ways, to
anticipate s stack to come. So perhaps another chance
we’ll talk a little bit more about the stack as such,
but with all this in mind, I want to shift a little bit to
this discussion from platform sovereignty, according to which
the program exception might work at the level of
the urban interface, and towards a bit more
speculative considerations on the ubiquitous dilution of
various computational solvents into the urban fabric,
and particularly its skins and surfaces– how states sense. But first I want to
talk very quickly a bit about this question of decoding
and implicit coding that may come before or after
that on how it may take different turns for
design, some turns with which we’re more familiar
and others probably less so. The first split may have to do
with how software trespasses conventional distinctions
between language and technology. That is one codes. One writes software in
a software language, according to syntactical norms. And so it’s part of a
linguistic trajectory. Friedrich Kittler
famously suggested that everyone should learn
one natural language and one artificial language
in order to be a true contemporary
cosmopolitan. But unlike natural languages,
this code is executable. One can put Java in a
machine, and that machine will do what the
code tells it to do. Other than human machines, the
same cannot be said for English or Chinese language. So code in this
sense is a language that is also a technology. But unlike mechanical
technologies, it does things according to
alphanumerically-specific commands, which are only
physical commands at the most granular levels. Now this convertibility between
softwares linguistic and technical guises may
lead us toward a project of decoding that
would apply techniques for critical, literary,
or textual analysis to code itself. And decades ago, the
impetus to read the city, to decode urban semiotics,
to unpack the city as a text may have been the topic. For lots of reasons, the
turn away from language and toward new
materialist perspectives suggest other pivots,
and not necessarily those associated with
the new materialism, which, in many ways, is
neither new nor materialist. But similarly, in the post
Snowden shadow of ambient data surveillance and the clarion
calls to encrypt communications in response, the
politics of decoding, that is of unraveling
or revealing a truth what has been encoded,
is a very slippery game of position and
counter-position, like the economies
of all camouflage. And instead I
would foreground, I think, other connotations
of coding and decoding as an urban design problematic. And despite appearances, they
may be more closely related to legal codes that would have
subdivided cities into zones so as to preemptively
organize urban activities into rational,
functional divisions. But today what we take as
the sovereignty of such may reside less in the
textual prosthetics of the law than in the actual
executable software, from embedded firmware to
atmospheric cloud platforms, is not only do we
now ask software to do things that we once
asked of architecture, namely the configurable
organization of people in place, it also
does things that we used to ask the law to do,
whether we asked it to or not. So to de-code may mean
to understand that fact or it may mean to unwind it
on behalf of another city yet to come. My preferred entry
point is not one that would prioritize resistance
and negation for its own sake but is one that sees
code as something that is or should be there to
be overwritten and rewritten. It evolves as well and does
so in relation to its contexts and its users, which includes
us, but is not reducible to us only. That is I’m interested
in a projective, as in project, as in projectile,
connotation of coding, and there is much to be said
about the implications of both. But very quickly, we may track
one project in philosophy, leading through Gilbert
Simondon, Bernard Stiegler, for example, that’s
interested in a kind of technical neo-Lamarckism,
for which the co-evolution of living beings
and technical beings is one in which the phylogenetic
lineages of technical objects is an association of
mutual assimilation. Our psychological and
social individuation is predicated on the inheritance
of technological apparatuses that we have both
coaxed into becoming and which continue to
evolve in ways not reducible to interactions with humans. That is, as our social
complexity, including that which our
cities host, depends on the inheritance of these
non-living, non-genetic, or even epigenetic adaptations. A theory of design for the
age of machine intelligence, I find that the inverse
is equally at work. The evolution of
technology relies on its own phylogenetic
extensions, some of which are other technologies,
and some of which are us. The tools are not only our way
of accelerating and bypassing genetic evolution; we
are also the technologies that technologies
use to do the same. And so code at the
level of the city may perhaps may take
on any of these. In the composed urban scale
complex adaptive system, software can be niche,
signal, environment, agent, and/or boundary. It can serve diversification
and/or hierarchy. And the same bit of
code may do one or more of these at the same time. It may be a forcing
cause of a quote, “genetic or phylogenetic shift.” It may be the
beneficiary of the same. Perhaps this is why
it seems to work so well as a repository of
what in early modern era, those that preoccupied
Foucault’s genealogies and archeologies and what
he called governmentality. And so a quick word–
I’m at my 20 minutes. I wanted to say a few things
on machine vision and stuff. Is that OK? All right. Another moment on this
computational solvent that seems to permeate the
present or descendant form of the city. We take it that, or I would
argue that, computation was more discovered
than it was invented, that algorithmic
generative processes are intrinsic to the wider
unfolding of the world, and that our meager provisional
computing appliances that we’ve invented, as such,
are nowhere near a sophisticated and
efficient as those that precede Homo sapiens. We take it that computation
is one of the ways that matter, in whatever
form, achieves intelligence via procedural abstraction. We take it that this
solution, dissolution, of synthetic computation or
software into urban fabric provides that landscape
of inorganic forms, a form sort of distributed intelligence
because it provides it that landscape, those objects
in the landscape, not so much us, a capacity for abstraction,
that is intelligence as abstraction, computation
as intelligence, computation as abstraction. Now, as for design, I want to
then quickly hone in on ways that abstraction can be
both dermal, as in skin, and cartographic, how
it occupies and agitates skins– human skins,
building skins, any skin– and how it does so for
purposes of mapping. Part of the research that
the Center for Design and Geopolitics is engaged
with at UC San Diego is in collaboration with the
Department of Nanoengineering and Bioengineering,
and it’s on how presumed differences between
national sensation and machine sensing can be elided by
technologies operating in and on the skin at the scale
of our dermal and epidermal sematosensory system–
mechanoreceptors, thermoreceptors, et cetera. And by this I don’t mean
some kind of triple-O word game for which
machines are bequeathed pan-psychic capacities
of intuition and affect. I refer instead to
real-deal techniques by which the biological and
non-biological physiochemical reactions are interwoven. Designing chemical sensitivity
at or near the atomic level and registration of these as
transmissible information, with dermal an epidermal
microelectronics at larger scales, we
conceive a mediatization of sensate surface, and
there’s many researchers around the world representative
of doing similar work, John Rogers at Illinois, Joseph
Wang and Todd Coleman at UCSD among them. And then keeping with
the skin of human bodies just for one
moment, we recognize that while photography
and cinema made it possible to compose
and to see sorts of images that we had never seen
before– montage, slow-motion, double-exposure, et
cetera– and similar goes for synthetic and recorded
sounds in our auditory senses, our largest sensory
organ is our skin. And, however, quite
obviously, to date we have not developed nearly as
diverse or sophisticated forms of artificial touch, tactility,
feeling, for skin-based media as we have for
vision and hearing. Now, clothing is one way
that design has leapfrogged genetic evolution
to augment skin, i.e., it’s faster than
evolving fur or blubber, is to engineer scuba suits. But today’s dermal
and epidermal media make it possible to sense
things about the external world that our skin is otherwise
not able to register– particulate matter in the air,
parts per trillion sensitivity, or things about our own internal
state, pH balance in our sweat, and so forth. The longer-term and
more interesting design horizon, I think,
are skin-based media that allow bodies
novel and unnatural forms of touch sensation that we
have perhaps never experienced before. Pleasure and pain are on
the menu, but more besides. Again, early experimental
cinema innovations in artificial vision, sights,
and sounds are one precedent. Molecular gastronomy
and its rebuilding of food from the first
chemical principles is another. If we were to include taste,
as a particularly nuanced form of touch, which, of course, it
is, than we see this precedent becomes clear. For human inhabitants of
urban ecologies and non-human as well, in human living
or non-living beings alike, what are today novel tastes
are models for new sensing and sensations to come. Now, by quick shifting
this line of inquiry– I’ll try to go quickly–
up to the urban scale, what we take to be artificially
mediated surfaces would include things that are
analogous to skin but also to what we today refer
to colloquially as “machine vision,” quote unquote. Now vision, as you know,
has evolved independently many times throughout
evolutionary history, and arguably in the past few
decades it has evolved again. This time not for
cuttlefish or rattlesnakes, but for network CCD sensors
and algorithmic armatures, processing what is sensed into
differentiated and motivated recognition. “Visual,” quote unquote,
sensors responding to light often, but not
always, shaped like cameras are one kind of designed surface
capable of synthetic sensation and computational
interpretation. But in the wider
urban landscape, they co-mingle with networks
of other surficial sensors, responding to motion, pressure,
or heat, or ambient air qualities, to the extent
that it is epistomologically and functionally convenient we
call these variously machine vision or machine
hearing or machine skin. But any correspondence from into
the mammalian sensory system is merely allegorical. That is the AI, the
Artificially Intelligent city may be embodying itself
but not as humans do. A commingling of diverse sensors
of light and air and sound and chemistry draws a landscape
of sensing and thinking little species, partially
embodied discretely, one into another, and partially
co-embodied with one another and with us, as their
information inputs are aggregated, modeled,
and then acted upon in various pluralities. Homo sapiens comes equipped
with an extraordinary array of sensory faculties, which
may be augmented further by synthetic layers
and various ratios, ranging from sensors and
trackers in our phones that we carry about
like mules, to more intimate media of artificial
images and sounds. Situating ourselves in
this expanded field, we are both sensors and sensed. On the one hand, we are a
primary [? sapient ?] actor in this drama,
supervising an orchestra of sensing technologies,
each individually capable of functional
processing and together of certain forms
of intelligence, as, for example, neurons
or other kinds of cells. On the other, we are not only
the subject of this scenario, we are also its subject matter. That wider urban landscape
of synthetic sensory systems is not only a platform through
which we extend and extrapolate our capacities for
abstraction, it is also capable of other sorts
of abstraction on its own. As part of its
intelligence, it looks at us and registers
abstractions about us. And the work of
abstraction for urbanism is then not only to
deploy abstract forms, but to set in motion
mechanisms and programs that are capable of their
own feats of abstraction and to calibrate
how they abstract us and one another
accordingly, which, I think, was very much from Kwinter’s
that you read previously as well on the hard
and soft formalism. In short, we should
imagine an AI urbanism in terms of Von
Uexkhall’s stroll into the field, populated by
intermingling but mutually oblivious little life worlds,
and/or in terms of Deleuze’s parable of the tick. The later lays in wait
for some threshold event to come its way,
at which point it triggers its programmed response
at and into its own little void. Many of our urban sensors
and their limited forms of artificial intelligence
work similarly, and perhaps with
similar nobility. More versatile
synthetic intelligences occupy more complex
umwelt. Some are predator. Some are prey. Some are in motion. Some are flowering,
some pollinating. And as we stroll among them,
we may be registered by them, or we may be ignored. We may be a primary
cause of concern, or we may be a
passing interference in an evolutionary
dynamic, in which we are neither protagonist nor target. The city is the signaling niche. As we know from
shifts from top-down to bottom AI have been
marked by a shift in emphasis from intelligence as a
kind of formal syntax to intelligence as a
specifically embodied relation to specific worlds and models,
heuristic knowledge of habitats is inseparable from
the manipulation of a specific situated
problem space. In robotics, for
example, the pairing of synthetic sensing,
vision, for example, with algorithmic
reasoning, allows for simple artificial species
to perform intelligently because they have what
amounts to functionally embedded perceptual
location in their world. It’s less that they can
see because they can think; it’s more that they can
think because they can see. And ultimately, we may conclude
that our conventional Kantian distinctions between perceptual
and cognitive faculties is, in some ways, significantly
obsolete, that sensation is a form of thinking, that
thinking is and is inextricably from sensing. In any event, like the
protozoa, whose cilia provide it with a basic ability of
cartographic abstraction of its environs,
today’s synthetic intelligences individually,
and more importantly, in aggregate are
not disembodied. They are embodied by
machine-sensing machine-vision, network-sensing, in the city
and at the scale of the city. The cities we build are
in this way not only the habitat about which
synthetic intelligence is learned in body
contextual knowledge, they are also in the distributed
sensory apparatuses with which AI’S embody that context. The city is as a platform
as a governing apparatus, it is self-incorporating
in this way. It’s less about the
role of AI in the city, than is AI as a city. And again, to
reiterate the point, platforms ultimately don’t
care if the user is an animal, a vegetable, or mineral. All users may have
platform sovereignty. In security speak, a
user is credentialized by three qualifications–
something you know, like a password;
something you are, like a fingerprint;
and/or something you have, like a key card. So if someone or something
can be, have, and/or know, it can be a user–
a trading algorithm, a driverless car, a sans papiers
arrivee, a chemical reaction triggering a threshold event,
an environmental sensor embedded in the leaf in a rain
forest, all users. And with the
co-evolutionary logic of code and mind
and its technical as well as ecological
guises, I’ll conclude just by
saying that on behalf of a user suffrage, the
complexity and contradictions of platform
sovereignty, in relation to these non-human users, who
are nonetheless at least quasi intelligent sensate
actors, works to dismember conventional
distinctions between subject and tool, occupant and
city, subject and apparatus. The agnostic universal suffrage
of the user subject position should be claimed as a strongly
materialist and not only legal cosmopolitan territory. In relation to the
epidermal bio-politics in the mediatization
of urban skins, human sensing, building skins,
network censors, and so on, that evolution from a
disciplinary society built to partitions, to a
society of control built of ambient
interfaces, may be augmented by this another form,
this epidermal bio-politics, built from the granularity of
addressable chemical events. This may also shift
the comparatively blunt binary logics of control
gateways into something more continuous, more dangerous,
but also more composable. Thank you. [inaudible]
Benjamin, I can sense people sending publication
proposals to MIT Press right now under the title
“sensing like a state,” which is sensing like a state. So for those who are joining
us, that was Benjamin Bratton. Bobby Pietrusko is going to join
us for the second presentation before we’re going
to take a break. And Vyjayanthi Rao
and John van Nostrand will be joining us
afterwards as well. Good morning. It’s funny, the first few
sentences out of my mouth always feel like
kind of stuttery, because I haven’t spoken in
public in 24 hours or whatever. So I’ll warm up as I go. I want to thank Aleks
and Ghazal for having me and for Pierre and Benjamin
for those two opening presentations. I think it does a lot
of the hard work for me, because I’m going to be zooming
in into a historical case study that I think connects to
some of the larger issues, but it takes them as assumed. I’m going to be working very
close to the materials used to create a series of
land-cover categories. It’s a technique, which
pretentious or not, I’ve been calling an
esocartology, which is an interior study of
the map-making practice, looking very specifically
at the organization of work around the materials that
produce maps themselves and how they relate to
standards and the knowledge we use to create
geographic reasoning. On June 28th, 1971, the US
Geological Survey and NASA convened a three-day
conference on the topic of land information and classification. With the imminent launch of
NASA’s new Earth Resources Technology Satellite,
ERTS, now known as LANsat, the agencies were attempting
to better understand how high-altitude imagery
recorded by the satellite could be put to use for
urban planning, resource management, and geographical
research at large. The conference was
the first project of a newly established
steering committee tasked with creating a single
land-use classification scheme they would be deployable
at the national scale and commensurate with
the expansive new vision that the Earth’s
satellite would provide. Now we all know the categories
that I’m talking about. They’re now in common usage. They’re banal. They’re in many
geospatial data sets. They’re things like crop land,
wetlands, high- and low-density development, all of
these things, the terms that we take for granted when
doing large-scale mapping. These were determined by the
discussions at this conference and were actively debated what
the appropriate terms would be for a set of mutually
exclusive categories to be deployed at the
scale of the nation. Dr. Ernest E. Hardy, of
Cornell University’s Center for Aerial Photographic
Interpretation, presented one of
the keynote papers, speaking from experience
gained during a recently completed study of New
York state’s land use. He highlighted a quote,
“major problem of concepts” in connecting remote vision
with the creation of a land-use classification scheme. So here’s Hardy
at the conference. [end playback] No sound? Excuse me. Do we have it now? -A major problem of concept
is developed over time, and I want to point out that
the classification of land use is commonly a practice
that is generated in terms of the needs of information
for a particular classification system. We tend to take an existing
classification system and then turn to
our remote sensors and say, well, how much
of this can you give us? What we will probably make more
progress with more rapidly, in terms of the
extraction of information from remote sensors, is to
take the reverse approach and take the remote
sensor and ask ourselves, what information about land
use can we get from air photos? Rather than designing first a
very comprehensive and complete land-use classification and
then going to the air photos to find out about it. [end playback] So we’re going to be
focusing on this inversion that Hardy proposes here. Later in a session debating
the list of land-use categories under consideration,
Hardy made proposals from the preferential view
of the photo interpreter. He urged that the term
pasture not be used. What was commonly
understood on the ground as pasture proved quote,
“difficult to identify” in an air photo. Hardy’s statements
exemplified what would soon become unimportant, if
latent, epistemic virtue for the emerging discipline of
satellite-based remote sensing. Categories of land use were not
independent of the technology used to gather them
or of the human photo interpreters who analyze them. Rather than exhaustively
cataloging the many land uses readily perceived
from the ground, a successful
classification scheme would parcel the world into
a set of categories and only those categories that
interpreters could repeatedly recognize in the
tones and patterns of remotely-sensed imagery. And as I’m going to
discuss in a moment, this interpretability
was also shaped by the organizational design
of the analyst work flow. Ultimately Hardy coauthored
the classification scheme debated at the conference. A Land-Use Land-Cover
Classification for Use With Remote Sensors was
published by the USGS in 1976. As some of you
know, this episode that I’m discussing
right now is part of a larger project of kind of
unpacking the history of land cover as a data
set and as a term that we use in such
common practice now. This classification scheme
has provided the criterion and categories for every
comprehensive land-cover data set released into circulation. And so here we see a little bit
of the historical backtracking, all the way from 1976 up
to the National Land-Cover Database of 2006, which is still
the scheme that we use today. This conference and the
resultant publication is a moment when this
list of land categories became standardized
and naturalized at the national level. From that moment on, they
became the infrastructure on which vast geospatial
data sets are built. To better understand what these
land-use categories represent, I’d like to step
backwards and look closely at Hardy’s previous project, The
Land Use and Natural Resource Inventory of New
York state, or LUNR. In this project, the
enumeration and definition of land-use categories
are the primary concern, and they’re not yet
taken for granted. It’s a project that Hardy
himself described as being, quote, “developed in a
highly pragmatic basis,” rather than satisfying
any particular set of theoretical constructs
made him uniquely equipped to standardize land use
at a national level. So for LUNR, it was a project
between 1976 and 1971, was organized by the Office of
Planning Coordination of New York State. And they commissioned
Cornell University Center for Aerial Photographic
Interpretation to conduct an inventory
that would quote, “assess and portray the
present extent, character, and uses of the land and water
resources of the entire state.” Given the ambitious scale of the
inventory, traditional methods of enumeration, such as
on-the-ground field surveys, they were deemed unfeasible,
and aerial photographic analysis was proposed instead. This was the recommendation
of Cornell’s team under the direction
of Ernest Hardy. LUNR was a project
of many translations. From images to maps,
to tabular aggregates, to computer
databases, the ground was successively abstracted
into representational forms that could circulate among
multiple state agencies and be put to work in arbitrary
user-defined analysis. The combination of all
these representational forms is what Susan Leigh
Star would otherwise call a cascade of
representation, where multiple sets are brought into
registration, a kind of density of evidence of what was actually
being perceived on the ground. And we see it here, the pulling
together of field notes, USGS, topological quadrangles,
the air photos themselves, and other statistical
supplemental data. During the project, the team
of 50 photo interpreters visually classified 15,000
black-and-white aerial images. The continuous tones and
patterns of the images were delineated into
discrete land-use categories and drafted on to mylar maps. These maps were overlaid with a
1-kilometer grid, through which the land-use areas were
hand-aggregated into tabular forms and then ultimately
entered into a computer database, from which quote,
“billions” of custom maps could be derived. The land-use areas
for the entire state could be represented
in a single table, as could arbitrary comparisons
between any number of counties. So we’re used to seeing
some of this kind of early computerized
cartographic representation, especially here at the GSD. There was a strong
connection between the work of the lab for
computer graphics that was working in the
’60s and this project. And, in fact– excuse me? [inaudible] Oh, yeah, graphically for–
Here are the tabular aggregates. So the billions of
maps, the ability to compare different
counties in New York state or treat the whole
thing as a whole required a sort
of standardization or commensurability between
the land-use categories in order to represent it. These categories were that
kind of initial transition from the continuous
visual patterns in aerial images to the discrete
classes that we see here. The design of these
categories and the workflow for their interpretation
was a major component of the project’s
development and prominently documented over its duration. So it’s a historical test case. The amount of paper
and words devoted to how they arrived at a
categories and the workflow for processing them
and interpreting them kind of gives an
indicator of what they thought their project was,
even if in the original project brief it isn’t stated that
the design of classification interpretation is the project
for doing raw word counts. That, in fact, is where they
spent most of their energy. The inventory was
almost an afterthought. So the rest of the
paper, I’m going to focus on the
relationship among LUNR’s representational materials, its
techniques of interpretation, and the resulting
categories of land use. And through a close analysis
of this relationship, I hope to demonstrate
three points. The first is that the techniques
of image interpretation determine the land-use
categories in the scheme. So this is similar to the Hardy
claim before that we heard. Rather than working with an
priori classification of things out in the world, the
air photos themselves became the site of analysis. And only categories that
could be repeatedly associated with visual patterns
extracted from the images were considered for the
classification scheme. So the space of possibility was
determined in that relationship between the image and the eye. Secondly, the process
of interpretation was not a simple mapping from
image to a eye to category, but was shaped by
the photographs and maps themselves. Their methods of inventory
and material properties define the boundaries of
work for the interpreters as well as the hierarchy of
decision making in the project, regarding the appropriate
list of land-use categories. I’m going to be talking about
that in detail in a moment. And as a result of
these first two claims, land-use classification in
LUNR was not chiefly concerned with the ground as an
independent object, as we might
conventionally assume. But rather it is
the scheme based on the full
constellation of material and institutional
properties of the workflow. I was supposed to
show these slides while I was just talking. I got a little
lost in the words. It happens to us all the time. But I like to show
these quite a bit. These come from different
textbooks during the time. This is the first, the
kind of common view of what air-photo interpretation
is, is that the image itself is a
transparent lens that gives access to the ground
from a particular altitude. Whereas, in fact, I’m
arguing that this diagram is more useful, which is that
classification of the ground is primarily an operation
between of 10 inches between the eye and the image. LUNR’s land categories
began with a list from the Office of Planning
Coordination in ’66. It included land,
water, minerals, and five other categories
of very generally defined natural resources. However, within five years,
this number of categories would reach 81. While designing the
land-use classification, previous schemes were
considered, most notably, the Standard Land-Use
Coding Manual, or SLUC, which was developed in 1965 by
the Bureau of Urban Renewal. This contained over 700
categories of human land use, and the SLUC was
specifically designed for projects like LUNR. They were trying to come
up with a standard that was so comprehensive that every
project dealing with land use would want to use it. However, despite SLUC’s
comprehensive nature, Hardy and his team
deemed it unusable for a project based on
aerial photo interpretation, citing both the
density of categories and the length of
codes themselves– so the actual codes
associated with each of these different categories,
the four-digit codes at the end, in
particular, such as 4411. SLUC divided land use
in a manner that was not easily discerned in the tone
and patterns of an air photo, and the length of its codes
were difficult to map by hand. They simply would not
fit within the regions they described on the map. So the rejection of
SLUC demonstrates that at a very early stage the
physical properties of images and maps work already
shaping decisions regarding the
appropriate categories to use in the project. So hand plus pencil plus a
very small boundary on a map deemed certain
categories unusable here. So the material
properties of the workflow are shaping what
categories we’re seeing describe land use and the
categories on the ground. LUNR’s categories
were instead designed within the photo
interpretation lab. Beginning in February,
1967, the team received a collection of air
photos covering Cortland county in New York state. Each image was photographed
in black-and-white at a scale of 1-to-24,000 and developed
in a 9-by-9-inch format. On a table in the
center of the lab the images were
layered into a mosaic. The team gathered around
them and began identifying various visual patterns. Each pattern was assigned
a land-use category, and a list of those
under consideration was maintained and modified
on the lab blackboard. Thus the classification
of land use began with the image
interpretation process itself, rather than with the ground. Over the course of two months,
the team all quote,”gradually began to agree” what these
land-use categories should be. And indeed many
of those decisions were made as they stood around
the map mosaic of the pilot area, using it as a
continual reference and focus for discussion. Within the continuous visual
sensations of the images, what combination of tone and
texture constituted a pattern? And so these are the questions
they were asking themselves. Could the pattern be
repeatedly identified across a team of interpreters? Where should discrete boundaries
between the patterns be drawn? And once the
surface of the image has been fully delineated,
to which category should the patterns be assigned? An interpretive
consensus determine how the space of land
use would be defined? Despite this initial
agreement, the scheme was revived–
excuse me, revised. I’m reviving it now. The scheme was revised 12
times during the project. The feasibility
of the categories were continually judged based
on the interpretation workflow developed alongside them. So normally, we would
think, all right, even if they establish
categories independently, they’re established. They’re taken as fact. And then the interpretation
process happens alongside it. What instead happened here is
that the categories of what was on the ground were revised
based on the interpretation work and how accurately they
could do this classification. So to quote Hardy
again, “discussions of the techniques
for the inventory had paralleled,
influenced, and had been influenced
by the development of the classification.” The techniques,
for the most part, evolved in that same lab room. While the tones and
patterns of the imagery determined the initial space of
possible land-use categories, these categories were further
shaped by the specificity of an interpretation process. And as this process evolved,
so did the official list of land-use categories. So to be clear, the
work I’m describing here is not just accurately
classifying images into pre-established categories. Instead I want to show how
this act of classifying images, when distributed
across a team, revealed that some categories produced
uncertainty and error more than others. And this lack of consensus,
specifically related to the materials
and organization of the interpretation
process, is what caused the
modification of land use and ultimately the
standards we now use today. So to dig into the
interpretation process here, I’m going to get
a little maniacal, but it’s important to do
this kind of close reading of the process, because
this is actually where the shaping of the
categories comes from. First, interpretation, photo
interpretation, in LUNR, like any other project,
appears as a straightforward translation from the continuous
tones and patterns of an air photo to the discrete
boundaries of a land-use map. However, in this case,
the act of interpretation itself was strictly
defined in relation to the material properties of
the images and maps as well as the interaction among
several institutional time scales in the project. And I’m going to return
to those at the very end. The factors structured the
work of the interpreters, and through their
performance, redefined the set of land-use categories. Underlying the project’s
workflow was a collection of USGS topographic maps
that parceled the country into evenly-spaced
7.5-minute-degree grid. Each of the grid
cells, or quadrangles, is given a unique locational
code and associated with a 24-by-36-inch standalone
topographic map. Both the unique location
code and the physical map were important determinants in
the interpretation workflow. First, the topographic map
codes and the corresponding grid cells provided the
organizational structure through which all of the media
in the project was cataloged. For instance, aerial
photos were received in flight strips– you
know, so linear flights across the ground, which would
make sense as a visual pattern. But they were then sorted and
filed by the USGS topographic maps according to the location
of their principle points. These are the codes. Here they are filed. I’m very diligent. The importance of
this resorting is this, that image is contained
by an individual quadrangle were stored together as a group and
ordered by that grid cell’s unique code. And, as a result, the
original spatial adjacencies among the images were
disrupted, as were any land-use patterns
depicted across multiple image boundaries. As we’ll see in a
moment, this disruption resulted in an
error-checking procedure that was important for
the continual modification of the land-use categories. So even decisions
about inventory, of dealing with all
this large data, connects to the organization
of the work that shapes the land-use categories. All of these things are in play. Second, as a
24-by-36-inch surface, the topographic map organized
the work of an individual interpreter. Each interpreter worked with
one quadrangle at a time and retained authority
over it through its numerous translations from
imagery to categories to code. So in terms of kind of
interpretive jurisdiction, when they’re working
on a single quadrangle, they can make the
decisions about the code and classification accuracy, and
they’re sort of in charge of it all the way through. So beginning with a
simple quadrangle, they arrange multiple
air photos into alignment with its borders. And then drawing directly on the
photographs with a wax pencil, they delineated
bounded image patterns and assigned them
land-use codes. Within the boundaries
of the topographic map, interpreters had
this full authority. So here it is, creating
the mosaic on the quad, and then laying the
Mylar on top of it. However, the boundaries
between adjacent maps produced a different
organizational logic, and this directly connected them
to the hierarchy of decision making and that modification
of land-use codes that I was talking about. Because of the material sizes
of the different things at work here, the 9-by-9-inch air
photos did not fit neatly within the map boundaries. So the pattern of
the images drifted across the borders
of multiple maps and therefore across
the work boundary of multiple interpreters. So they enter into a place of
kind of multiple jurisdiction. These boundaries then became
sites of competing work. In addition to a map’s
interior, interpreters were expected– I don’t
know if you can see it here, that black– interpreters
expected to classify land uses a long one-inch margin
beyond its north and west edges. So patterns on a single
map straddled adjacent maps and were therefore classified
by separate interpreters at different times,
producing discrepancies both in the
perceived categories, and in the location
of their boundaries. You can see it a bit
more clearly there. There’s the contested boundary
between four interpreters. This kind of terrain
was reflected in the LUNR
organizational chart. There was a single roll created
called the tie-in specialist. The sole task of the
tie-in specialist was to resolve the differences
between adjacent maps, deciding the appropriate
categories and extent. In these margins,
they were given full decision-making authority. And classification discrepancies
they observed had two effects. One, interpreters in error were
retrained on the proper class, or if a category was found
to be repeatedly problematic, the category itself was changed
and the classification scheme updated. So it’s in these boundaries,
because they split up the images based on
the quads, and then the images drifted across
the work boundaries, these margins became
the place where discrepancies between
interpretation were registered, and therefore land use
categories were deleted. Other categories
were aggregated. Thus the topographic
map was not merely the surface on
which work happened; its size and physical borders
defined the work and structure of authority in the project. Again, the interior of the map
remained under the jurisdiction of the individual
interpreter, but its edges and material misalignments
reached deeper into LUNR’s
organizational hierarchy. So I’ve been using
the interpretation, and we all have kind of an
image of the work in mind when I’m talking about that. But interpretation was very
specifically designed in LUNR. And here, hopefully, implicitly
I can connect this a little bit to the end of
Benjamin’s presentation. Maybe I step back for a second. The categories in the
interpretation process were entangled in a profound
way in the measurement of classification speed. Staff researcher
Raymond [? krieg ?] defined interpretation
in highly specific terms. I’m going to read a quote
here from a paper published at the time. “LUNR does not require
true photo interpretation. This act requires a highly
trained deductive and inductive evaluation of air
photo patterns. Instead this project only
requires photo reading, which involves
simple recognition, making the classification
time very small, a matter of seconds.” The difference between
interpretation and recognition was elsewhere established as
being between 10 to 15 seconds per category. Despite the more
nuanced information that may be gathered from a
process of detailed inspection, the classification scheme was
designed so quote, “categories could be easily separated
by the interpreters” in the interest of keeping
classification times down. The interpreter still
required observational powers to decide among a variety of
visual sensations and patterns, but the discrete boundaries
between them and their land-use labels were determined elsewhere
in the project hierarchy. So this is an interesting
relationship for me between seeing and
thinking, or actually humans as sensors here. The interpreters are
not a skilled staff. They’re not expected to have
any particular relationship to the ground or any
expertise in geography. And, in fact, it
was deemed better to have someone that had
none of that experience, because they wouldn’t bring
preconceptions into it. The 10-second boundary
kind of created a situation where the categories
under inspection weren’t even extracting the
full amount of information from the images
that the interpreter could do on their own. It became a processing rate. So any category that repeatedly
took more than 10 seconds to classify was
jettisoned, and categories were aggregated together. The deficient between
photo reading and photo interpretation, I’ll say
between perception and judgment, was reflected in the land-use
categories themselves. This actually gets even weirder. So-called wastebasket
classes were included at each
level of the schema to collect patterns requiring
longer classification times. And these categories,
such as brush land, curtailed an interpreter’s
transition from perception to judgment and
translated the boundary of a perceptual process
into a boundary of land use. So at a point, if you
were working on a ground and you found that certain
parts of the ground were taking you too
long to classify, we’ll just throw
this into brush land. And different
parts in the scheme had these wastebasket classes. So there’s the pattern
of perceptual inaccuracy re-inscribed on the ground. The project’s emphasis on photo
recognition over photo analysis required unique and
rapid training procedures and these discipline
workers to focus solely on optical sensations, while
suspending personal sense making up the patterns. LUNR’s photo interpreters
were therefor a departure from that
highly skilled specialized worker common to the
fields of photogrammetry and aerial reconnaissance– so
those heroic stories we hear of World War II, such
as the book Air Spy. This is a different
type of work here. In seeking out candidates
for the team, quote, “extensive air photo
interpretation experience was not necessary,
nor even desirable.” There’s the waste basket classes
again actually on the ground, and we can see some
of the photo patterns. During training,
interpreters were introduced to the project’s
photo interpretation, and this key associated land
uses with their image patterns. The accompanying text
described each land use in terms of tone, pattern,
and geometry observable in the air photos. Despite the prosaic names
used in the classification– agriculture, residential,
forest, and so on– the ambition was
to quote, “redefine conventional
categories in a manner appropriate to the
scope of analysis.” For instance,
vineyards were defined as having a quote,
“distinctive crosshatch pattern in small isolated
parcels,” whereas crop land might vary from a
fine-textured mottled look to darker tonal characteristics. Interpreters first learned
how to see the patterns then create institutionally valid
distinctions between them and then finally assign
them to specific categories. I want to pause on
this for a second. The official categories of New
York State and its land cover, the description of
those categories are from the point
of view of someone looking at a photograph. Agricultural land is a
mottled texture, dark tones, has nothing to do with the
actual processes happening on the ground. The justification for
the shift in training from photo interpretation
to photo recognition was tied to the larger
institutional time scale of the project. LUNR was understood as
a repeatable workflow for converting imagery
into land-use aggregates, a process that
was meant to exist independent of the
specific skills of an individual interpreter. Hardy intended for
changes in land use to be measured
every 10 years, and this would necessitate
a different team each time. It was important that
pattern recognition comprise the individual’s work, while
[inaudible] and interpretation remain organizationally defined. So the work of the
interpreter was to register these
optical sensations, not to reason about them. If they could map them
to a code in the book, then they would just
deploy that category. With a decades-long
project in mind, Hardy recognized quote, “what
may appear obvious to a photo interpreter today in terms of
identifying a particular land use, may have
little or no meaning to interpreters in the future.” Though a common subjective
understanding of land-use categories cannot be assumed
across long durations, interpreters had a
physiologically persistent ability to recognize image
patterns and assign them to pre-determined categories,
regardless of what those categories might be. So in the space between
an eye and an air photo and the required 10-second
classification time, these were linked with
an institutional duration of decades. So that interest in the
10-second classification time was produced by the fact that
they were going to repeat this with a novel team every time. In conclusion, LUNR’s categories
and interpretation process were important precursors to
the national and global land-use land-cover data
sets that emerged alongside the field of
satellite-based remote sensing. As mentioned in
the introduction, LUNR’s categories
were explicitly quote, “modified
to make a political to the country as whole”
in the US Geological Survey scheme still widely used. So LUNR was stated
explicitly as a precursor, and these prophecies,
in fact, were used during the
development of those codes. LUNR is not only important
because of the lineage that follows it, but
because it highlights a shift in focus
from ground to lab that occurred with the
introduction of remote sensors. The categories used to
create discrete classes from continuous
imagery were optimized for repeated and agreed
upon interpretability within the lab, opposed
to a concern for accurate representations of the ground. It is the moment when
the ground is first conceived not as an independent
object, but as one component in a complicated
information flow, connecting the radiant
properties of materials, the transmission compacity
of the atmosphere, electromagnetic sensors, the
storing properties of images, the haptic limitations
of hands and pencils, and the visual attention
of interpreters. And then furthermore,
on top of this, the process of interpretation
was disciplined by specific organizational
work flows in relation to the representational
materials themselves. As one member of the
steering committee put it so eloquently in
1964 quote, “the earth itself can be thought of
as an information source in a communication system. One of our research
tasks will be to learn more about the
structure of this information source. This will lead us
in one direction toward proving theory
so that we will be able to make better requests
for data from the environment.” So this is a bit of the
environment as a database that they’re requesting
information from. It’s an information source. Projects like LUNR
highlight the latent quote, “where of things” in the
production of geospatial data. So where does
geospatial data happen? Is it the space between
the ground and the sensor, or is it elsewhere, or all? By exploring the organizational
and material conditions of this workflow, we reintroduce
human capacities and decision making to the production
of vast geographic scale, and it opens them
up to inspection and continued experimentation–
so the innovation that was mentioned in
the Foucault quote earlier– while these
discount the claims of quote, “raw data” that might
otherwise place such data sets outside of debate. Thank you. We just had Benjamin
Bratton with Bobby Pietrusko present as part of the
panel called “Unsettling,” and we are now joined by John
van Nostrand and Vyjayanthi Rao. Just very briefly,
to introduce them so that we can get underway
and then a conversation to wrap up the morning, John
is the founding principle of SvN Architects + Planners. Over the last, aptly,
the three decades, John’s been the driving force
behind the firm’s operations, domestic and
international, rooted in both planning and
urban design practices, which makes him
incredibly unique just in terms of the
type of practice. He has extensive experience
both leading very large multidisciplinary teams in
different parts of the world, dealing with both
architectural urban and also environmental projects,
both in Canada and outside, specifically also related to a
number of minor related housing projects in Africa, Latin
America, and northern Canada or boreal Canada, as
John will speak about. He’s also worked on a wide range
of developed and developing countries on planning
design and construction of new communities,
ranging in size from 150 to 150,000 people. His work’s been
recognized with a number of international,
national awards, including World Leadership
Award for town planning, Daniel Burnham Award from the American
Planning Association World Habitat Award, from Human
Habitat and a number of awards from Ontario Association of
Landscape Architects– I’m actually proposing
that you should get an award from the
Association of Landscape Architects. I like that. I’m glad this is live. If you’re listening,
the OLA, the gentleman here should be awarded at
some point in the near future. And then finally,
I just mentioned, I think notably, he was awarded
the Jean Jacobs Award for Ideas That Matter very recently. He also serves here
at the GSD as part of the core
professional committee on Harvard University’s Working
Group on Sustainable cities. Please welcome
John van Nostrand. Thanks very much,
Pierre, and I’m just going to get
right into this and try and hold
the 20 minutes so we can have some discussion,
because it sounds like it’s going to be pretty intriguing. So I’m also talking
about patterns, but maybe in a slightly different
way or for sure in a slightly different way. And I start off with Rykwert’s
quote about Rome, of course, the great Idea of a Town. For those who haven’t
read it– amazing book. So investigations
level, after the British lost the 13 colonies in
the American Revolution, they hold up in Quebec
and had to analyze what was going to happen to the
14th, which is where I live, now called Canada. And they decided that what
their analysis was that they hadn’t– and this goes right
back to the very beginning of today– wasn’t that they’d
overtaxed people or they disrupted them; it was just
they lost control of land. So they said what
we’re going to do in Canada is we’re
in a subdivide the land in advance
of settlement, and then we’re going
to hand it out one lot by lot to people who come. And these were the models, the
instructions, to surveyors. So this was not
unusual for the British because town planning,
surveying, physical planning, and land surveys and
physical planning was a chief department
of the colonial force. Those were its main
agencies of settlement, aside from the gun,
which was used. But I think that that department
had a much bigger effect on the world than did any
of the guns that were fired. These were the
instructions of surveyors for how to survey the
townships in Canada. So one is 9-by-12,
the rectangular. The other one is 12-by-12. And the idea was if
it’s on a body of water, a town surrounded by a common,
surrounded by lots that were small farm lots for
people to provide subsistence agriculture, if
you can believe it, to those people lived in the
town, and then larger farms beyond in nine concessions,
and then the inland version on the right. And that was the
deployment, the diagram, of how that would be
deployed at the start. So this was the largest
survey ever undertaken in the world at this point
in time, which is around 1800 plus or minus, 1800 to 1805. And you can see the distribution
of the different kinds of survey plans,
including the inland ones, and you see the ones going
up the Ottawa River, which was the main highway,
to use that term, to the West, which was then,
of course, Western Canada, or Western Ontario borders, the
most productive economic zone in the British empire for
300 years before this, mostly because of beavers. And this gets into the
very interesting thing, and I’ve written
extensively– I won’t go into it that
extensively– but to say that so that the actual
surveying of a township began with laying the
baseline, which is a very common word in Canada. People live on baselines. And you would move north,
away from the lake. The lands below the
baseline were deemed to be uncivilized, really. The concessions all had numbers. These were just numbered
with A’s and B’s. And really what was happening
is they were extinguishing– two things are happening. One is they were extinguishing
the tenure south of that line, or below that line, and opening
up new tender north of it. In fact, that bay in the middle
was called Frenchman’s Bay and still is, because the French
and native people lived along the lake shore of
course– the lakefront. But also, they were subverting
a relationship with nature and I think quite consciously. This is a contentious
topic, but I think of now, having worked
a lot of British colonies elsewhere in the world,
I think there was really an effort to neutralize one’s
relationship with nature. Because if you fell in love
with a lake or the hill or the valley or the
marsh, chances are you would soon get
tired of reporting to somebody 5,000,
6,000 miles away and take up arms to
defend that landscape. We’ve never done that. You did it. You did it here. And you can see this is a very–
this huge area was surveyed in a very short period
of time, and that was the kind of state of the
land one had to work with, so cutting lines. And another form of control
was to actually– well, what interesting idea tied the
economy to the whole process because the crown
decided to hold land back from settlement so that it
could sell it as value was added downstream so that it
could pay for a federal or a municipal or
provincial infrastructure. And also the church got
in one game and said, well, we need money too because
we’re civilizing these people and building churches. So there was on the
far right, those are lots held back for
crown and clergy reserves, were sold off over time. But what it was
also doing really was to make sure that
nobody could ever take more than three farm lost. So no one political
group or seditious coup could actually consolidate
a large piece of land. It broke them up
from the beginning. And then similarly, the
way land was handed out in the nine concessions, if
you imagine that– there should be four going back from the
lake– in the first concession, land went to the aristocracy. We call them the Family Compact
that lived in Toronto, probably had never been here but
were awarded that land. The second concession
went to the offices of the British army. The third concession
went to the NCOs, the Non-Commissioned
Officers, privates in the fourth concession,
the fifth concession went to privates and
friendly sort of allies. My family were Dutch, so we
were in the fourth concession. And six and seven were Scottish
and eight and nine were Irish. Is that simple in terms of
how that land was allocated? Well, it wasn’t, of
course, that simple. But that was the protocol,
to use a term here. But underneath that, and I
sort of call it pattern one, because pattern two was
what showed us patter one, and we’re only just discovering
pattern one, or rediscovering. Or, of course, there were
lots of people living here before the British came in 1800. And this is an early map that
shows the distribution of what we call First Nations ownership
through that territory between the lakes
and up to Montreal. And so the crown
passed the Indian Act of Canada, in which the Indian
population, or the First Nations, surrendered their land. This is not in any
of the treaties. The treaties do not
use the word surrender. But the government
would be labeling it as surrendering, in fact,
their rights to the land. In fact, that’s a very
contentious term now. So they gave up their occupancy
and ownership and, in fact, were consciously
moved off there, away from their
original village sites or settled areas, if
I can put it that way. And, in fact, the Indian
Act of Canada, some of you probably know, was the
root of the apartheid system in South Africa. This system, this act, was
studied for two years in Ottawa and then transferred and
led to the displacement and disorientation of the
black population there. And just to say that this wasn’t
just land that was being held; there were some pretty
sophisticated forms of settlement going on. Some were so-called pastoral
and some were fixed. The Hurons’ [inaudible]
that were fixed group, and you can see the number of
villages just in that area, and they all looked
something like this, so very well established and
actually planned for expansion as well. You can see how at the
diagram up at the top. So relatively– I
mean not relatively. Very sophisticated thinking
from the beginning. And that palisade
could be added to and subtracted
from pretty easily. And it ended up with a
place that looked like that. The disorganization
being that when you try to front in
every body of water, somewhere you’ve got to
resolve that geometry, and you get very confused
townships and parcels of land. And that strip
through the middle is actually one of the
ways they opened up new areas was to set a road up
first that had lots along it. And you operate
off from that road. That system was also then
repeated in Western Canada. I call this post-colonial
because that was done by the Land Department
or Lands Physical Planning. And this was done by the
government of Canada in 1916. And it was in anticipation
of a resource called wheat or resource in the prairies. Nobody knew what that
resource was going to be. And the first person who went–
two agronomists were sent out. First one went out in a drought
year and came back and said, you’ll never grow
anything on the prairies. Forget it. And the second one went out
three years later at the aegis of another railway company,
because the first one was tied to one railway company. And the other went
out and said, this is a fantastic place for
wheat, and here’s where it is. And he staked out the
train line, in fact. And the government, meanwhile,
was subdividing the land up and using a very similar
system that was used before to allocate land to the
provinces, in this case, for covering the
cost of schools, to allocate railway land. And you can see it;
significant railway land. It was 10,000 acres the railway
company, per mile of railway, was allocated that
they would then settle and take the profits off. And the Hudson’s Bay
Company was deemed to be the only legitimate
sort of retail trading company to work with. So they got their line as well. And then we see the
deployment of that on the actual curvature of
the world, which is I think the first example of this. I think it’s very
interesting actually, talking about topography,
because mapping was a huge tool of the
British empire in the sense that unwittingly you let people
in to sort of map the territory for you, but they got to know
the land better than you had ever known it as an
Indian– I mean, an East Indian or a Canadian or a
Palestinian or whatever. And then the land
was taken from you by people who had
that knowledge. So this just gives
you some sense of what that begins
to look like. And you see up on the top that
people had pre-settled here. These would be French and Metis. The Metis were the
French trading company that predated the
Hudson’s Bay, and they were settling along
the rivers and taking advantage of the topography,
as they had always done. And their form of settlement. It’s a bit crude in that
little map in the corner, but was the long
linear seignury. So they already got
a front on the river, and the land extended
back from that. So that’s the same pattern
that we have in Quebec. And then you can just see
the overlay of this new grid, and you can just
see the beginning of it being added here. And what’s interesting in this
photograph in one way too it to the right of the block,
the first block that’s being surveyed, is
that’s northern Ontario, the next province, before
it was blocked out. So it was still a
sort of wild state. But because the wheat
was here– and you can see that these are the
native, the First Nations’ holdings, in that
particular case. And there’s the overlay,
one of the first overlays that show the application
of that new form of grid. And then I think this is
a really fascinating map because it shows many things. But it does show the
topography, because the British, by this point, actually knew
how to map that and chart it, which is significant,
the grid itself. And then it shows
the train lines. And you can see that they’re
following topography too. They really have very
little to do with the grid. And they were sort of
off-grid all the time and creating parcels of land
that then people took out, took their own tenure on. And also you see those little–
the names of the stations, you probably can’t see. But somebody discovered
that if they’re going to get wheat–
not discover, but realized if you
get wheat– you have to collect it in elevators. And somebody calculated that
to get to the farthest farm and back to the elevator in
October, the harvest season, was a four-mile
journey max in order to coordinate the
collection of wheat. Because if you got
out of a day cycle, you’d be in trouble–
somebody stuck out overnight. And so every eight miles there
was a town, the two radii. So this is power switching
from federal government to provincial government
to railways, basically. It’s very much on
the path of what we were talking about earlier. And this just shows
you, very quickly– so there’s the corridor there. In fact, in the end, the railway
got a 10-mile-wide corridor and the land alongside it, as
opposed to the block-by-block, because they said,
well, we need this land. They got the best land,
actually, from the beginning, right adjacent to the railway. And you can just see very
quickly, so 1886, 1896, you can just see the
growth that’s happening. And I might also say that the
colors here, red and gray, are interesting
because the British try to recruit people from
the United Kingdom to come to settle here. But they didn’t
get enough, so they started to, against great
objections from government, central government,
started to get people from other parts of Europe, god
forbid– Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Dutch, all kinds
of different people, who moved to the gray areas. And around each elevator, they
laid out a standard town plan, which is, in a way, brilliant. I mean, obviously, somebody
realized the train stops. There could be a town here. They did this well in advance
of any kind of settlement. So those, we now, I think, we
have about 1,700 small towns in Canada. Not sure what the
category, what that number is, but there are 800 of them
in Saskatchewan and Alberta in the southern part
along the railway. And there’s what you
were trying to do first. So behind all this
there was a reluc– the British had gone
through a big decision because, in fact, the
man who was sent out to do the early surveys that
I showed first, Simcoe, who had done such a brilliant
job, by 1850 and 1820, the British had
realized, or thought, there was really nothing
in Canada resource-wise or trade-wise and
nothing that they could see they really needed. So he was sent off to
India, because they decided that would be the main
focus of their colonization plans. But it was also, at
that time, that there was a movement by people
to say, well, hold it. We British don’t agree
with what happened here, and really the key
here is not with regard to local subdivisions; they’re
arbitrary and artificial. But nature’s taken hold of the
young Canadian mind and molding in its own image. And nature is tied to
geology and resources and the way the occupancy
of the land happens. Those resources, like
the beavers before you, we didn’t need a
survey to extract those beavers and all the
related trade that went along with that. And so this sort of
dichotomy started off of the grid, the
sort of imposed grid versus the kind of
natural landscape playing a role in that. And you can see just to show
the impact of that today, that’s a photograph. So I have the old
map up on the top, but I have a picture that was
created of the Toronto region in 1971. So this was the first time
people actually realized, and my wife doesn’t
like me saying this but, but that underlying this whole
grid was a natural topography. They hadn’t really
discovered it. So this is like
a major discovery for my generation of
planners, that, in fact, we had many, many rivers that
were now covered over. We had a marine sort of ridge. We had a national–
an escarpment, and that led to a kind of more
recent combination of nature with the grid. And you can see the grid
isn’t even expressed here. And then a whole new
round of photography, so aerial photography,
to go back to it, in which you can read the
topography but not the grid. I mean you can see it,
if you look finally, the browner areas, that the
superimposition is still in play, but a whole kind of
new way of looking at the place. And that tied in with some
early work I started to do was looking at, in 1967–
somebody said, hey, you know– and these are the maps
that– we Canadians all live within 300 miles of the border. If we take that line and
move it up to the tree line, that band there, which he
called the Mid-Canada Corridor, and I later renamed
the Boreal Corridor, simply because it translates. But that that holds 75% of
our wealth in terms of mining and forestry, and we should
be doing a plan for this to look at how we’re
going to extract that. So these are some of
the maps they use. But also what was
unique here ecologically is that big band there
is arboreal forest, which goes coast-to-coast. So that’s the mix
deciduous-coniferous forest. There are a number
of First Nations I worked with who claim
that actually they planted the boreal forest. They intermixed the
trees, and there actually is a distinct pattern of
particularly rich parts of the boreal forest and First
Nation settlement across it. So I don’t know, but a
really important, valuable environmental– just
watching my time here. It’s running out, isn’t it? It’s temperate and habitable,
so you can actually live there. There are the geology,
the resources in it that are yet to be exploited. And I went back four years
ago and looked at, so what has happened since then? And basically, you’re looking
at most of our major– and extraction, as you all
know, this end– and oil and gas and mining and
potash, et cetera, all has been happening
in that corridor. There is a shift
now to be thinking about the planning, the
re-planning, or the unplanning, as I call it, if I’m not
using that too abstractly– the unplanning of that area to
make way for this new resource development and the
attraction of people. Because we’re
parallel with this. We’re the fastest growing
country in the G8. We’ll have about 300,000
immigrants alone this year, not to mention the refugees. It’s a very growing place,
so there’s an overlap there. And you can see the
effect of that corridor on our built-up areas
and the First Nations population within it. And then the discovery sort
of recently too that, in fact, First Nations– [ringing] Whoops, sorry. I didn’t think I had that on. I’ll just wrap up here quickly. But the First Nations
have, in fact, mapped that area well before
the British even showed up. This is a Cree map of that
Western part of Canada how to get from the Great
Lakes across and out to Western Canada by water. And also then some work we’ve
been doing in the oil sands, this is the mapping that was
put together by these nations, just to give you a sense
of their sort of occupancy of the land. So really the government
now is talking about sort of
regional planning as if it’s a brand new exercise
in this part of the world. And we’re saying, well,
actually it’s always been happening here. And people have a very
good sense of regions. In fact, we have
to actually have to remind them that they
had a regional plan already that they were working to. They lived in certain places
in the winter, the summer, et cetera, et cetera. And you can see how
big that area is. I’ve overlaid it
on the Canada map, so it’s almost a major part
of northern– this area here is that little map there. And the person
really who outed this was a British, of course,
but a socioeconomist who was doing a study of the
Mackenzie Valley, which is being slated for
oil development. And he went to document this,
and he’s written a book. He wrote a book called
Maps and Dreams which is quite extraordinary
because, of course, socioeconomic
analysis at that point was based a lot on the
same kind of mapping we’ve been talking about earlier. And he was doing
mapping, lots of mapping, and it took him the
first year before he discovered that actually people
did mapping here already. In fact, hunters were
people in these communities, were people who dreamt,
and they would dream where moose were or caribou. And they would get
up in the morning and go to the chief’s
tent, and they’d make a map of where
the moose was. And he documented the fact that
eight or 10 times when they got there, the moose was there. So they knew this
land intimately, and these are some
of the mapping that led to his sort of larger
map of that whole territory, saying these are
pastoral people, but they have regional
plans they’re working to. So put this on the
map, so to speak. And I think having
more and more and more influence because underneath
that those maps are great resources. And then also he
documented– Hugh Brody documented the change
in the Indian cycle as a result of the developments
taking place in a very, very interesting way. So I think I’ll just– I
won’t go into the projects. Well, I’ll do it very quickly. So just to say that
we’ve been working and that this was a map that was
in the 1967 plan which showed what you really need to do is
make a big highway from one end to the country to the
other, that big dark blotch. And there’d be major new urban
centers in the northern parts of all our provinces. And, in fact, we,
the last 10 years, have been working
in three sites– the oil sands of Alberta, mining
area northern Mani-Thompson, and the Ring of Fire. All of which, if I spoke
about those in Canada, they’d say those damn Indians
stopped our development, not the oil prices. It was them because they’re
gaining more and more power all the time. And in all these sites we are
dealing with the re-balancing between their resources–
that the First Nations rights and the rights of mining
companies coming in here, which is a topic that
is an area of work that we’ve have had for 25 years
in Africa, that very exercise. So there’s really a kind of
re-treaty-making going on in these areas and
very much a re-survey, if I can call it that,
of a kind of fourth layer that overlays these old layers
and starts to structure life. And that, interesting enough,
that fourth layer is not driven by native regional plans;
it’s also driven by the fact that forests and geology and
resources are in the landscape. So we’re having a
little revolution, I think, actually, a soft
revolution that’s going on. And as somebody, one
of our great writers, wrote not too long ago, he
said, we’re now a Meti nation. That is we are mixed–
is the term mestizo, or however you want to say it. And I think that the work
that we’re involved in is a sort of Meti planning,
how do we bring this together. And so briefly that’s it. Thank you very much, John. By pure coincidence,
we have another comrade from the Commonwealth. Let us not remind you,
we didn’t plant that. It just happened by coincidence. But maybe we could dig into the
crown in some kind of matter, because the colonial discourse
is not only bubbling up but actually maybe
prescient more than ever. As Vyjayanthi is
just getting set up, I’ll briefly introduce her. So I just remind everybody,
as Vyjayanthi is setting up that we now have a new
division for Google, Inc. that’s been proposed. We have a new Department
of Cartography at the federal level,
and now we have a plan by John van Nostrand for
the east-west part of North America. We have a mega project
in formation here. Vyjayanthi Rao is
Director of the Terreform Center for Advanced Urban
Research in New York. Prior to her appointment
at Terreform, she held research and
teaching positions at the New School,
Yale University, University of Chicago,
where she received her PhD in this
Sociocultural Anthropology. From 2002 to 2005, she
served as the Co-director of PUKAR, Partners for
Urban Knowledge, Action, and Research, which was
an innovative urban think tank based in Mumbai. She’s worked in and on
cities after globalization, specifically on the intersection
of urban planning, design, art, violence, and speculation
in the articulation of the contemporary global city. She’s also author of
numerous articles. I’m just going to
mention a few here. One of them, which
a think allowed me to get to know by
Vyjayanthi a little bit more, which has now taken on
a number of variations, “Slum as Theory.” She’s also produced Speculation,
Now– Essays and Artworks produced in partnership
with Carin Kuoni, Director of the Vera List Center
for Art and Politics, and graphic designer
Prem– and I’m sorry. I’m going to try to get this
right– Krishnamurthy, which was published by Duke
University Press in 2015. She’s also recently completed
a manuscript Speculative City– Building Stories
in Global Mumbai. She’s got two new projects
that are currently in the works right now. The first on
violence in urbanism titled, How to
Read a Bomb– Urban Battlefields in the 21st Century
and the second a collaborative book of maps
drawings and writings considering the role of the
slum in generating Mumbai’s contemporary urban
form, and that’s titled 50 Ways to Game a City–
Loophole Planning in Mumbai. Please welcome Vyjayanthi Rao. Thank you, Pierre and to Aleks
and Ghazal for inviting me. I, at first thought, had
thought that I would just play a set of images in the
background while I spoke. But I think I’ve changed
the plan a little bit. I think that seems
appropriate in light of what we’re discussing as well. So what I want I’ll try
to do is speak to you from my research in Mumbai
and then go through the images very quickly. So try to imagine what
I’m speaking about, but we’ll have this map of
Mumbai in the background. In fact, it’s a map of the
sites of investigation that have taken me back and
forth between Mumbai and the United States for
the last decade or so. So for the last
25 years, Mumbai, the object of my research,
has been growing rapidly and vertically. For the last decade or so, I’ve
followed this transformation obsessively and
forensically, trying to document the ways in which
space has been recorded, how territories have come to
be infused with value, and to investigate the design
of infrastructures that organize and manage the city
as a life world. From a city in which
infrastructure and infra-spaces provided a spine
for an architecture and that made space
for the city’s toilers, its marginalized labor force,
new spaces of operation are emerging through speculation
and counter-speculation. While practices of
counter-speculation play with invisible
compositional forces that manifest themselves physically
in the space of the city, powerful actors speculate
on how to narrow the gap between norms,
forms, and values to control the volatile
conditions that both provide the grounds for speculation,
and, in their wake, generate ever
greater uncertainty and ever more volatile
forms of infrastructure. In it’s more common
understanding, speculation is a
practice of placing bets on the direction of change. For those with power to
change things and influence to its direction, the
control of that information yields out-sized
profits, chiefly by controlling volatility. For those who become the objects
and targets of such power, speculation is all
about changing the terms of operation, of practices
that will push back control, re-code space
with new information, and yield new
spaces of operation. Put another way,
spatial tractability has become the subject of
continuous contestation, and the city that emerges
is, to quote Sanford Kwinter, “a perpetually organizing
field of forces in movement.” My question, so to
speak, is how do people inhabit this field of forces? What forms of knowledge
do they bring to it? That knowledge, it
turns out, has a lot to do with knowing the codes. But it also turns out
that knowing the codes may amount to not
knowing at all, or rather to
strategically anticipating with all of one’s resources. In this decade-long journey
through the city of Mumbai, I’ve met tens, perhaps
hundreds, of people and asked them all the same
question– what do you think is happening? What do you think will happen? Some are more
active than others. Some have more
information, others less. But each has a story. The city is a story of
fiction, an atmosphere thick with speculations,
with an understanding that one does not know,
and yet, one must act. And so one must
construct a relationship between two questions– what
if I do this, and what next, or where will this lead? So that relationship between
the “what if” and “what next” is pretty central
to these stories. So Santosh who lives
in a settlement next to the municipal landfill
in Northeastern Mumbai said to me in a conversation
that mapping where people live tells you how they
came to the city. Those in his settlement
had arrived suddenly, escaping severe drought in their
villages in the early 1970s. So they settled anywhere
at all, occupying the interstitial spaces
on the side of the road, beside a train track,
or next to a drain. Like the beans on an
uprooted vine, which is a metaphor offered by
Daya Pawar, a powerful writer from the Dalit, or the
formerly untouchable community that Santosh belongs to,
they lined these spaces without ever settling in. So if the city is a story,
then what’s the plot? And I decided to try to make
a linear plot out of this– impossible, of course. So our city story begins with
an ineffective development plan, enshrining a host of
restrictive regulations, chiefly a Rent
Control Act, freezing rents at 1948 rates
that restricted the development of rental
housing, an Urban Land Ceiling Act, restricting individual
ownership to 5,000 square meters of urban
property, and a Uniform Ceiling on the
Floor-Space Index, as it’s called in
Mumbai, or FAR, as it’s more popularly known
here, across the island city and its extensions
northwards, along its eastern and western waterfronts. So as you’ll see,
many of these sites are following that FAR
restriction, as it were. As the city grows and swells
with waves of migrations of impoverished immigrants
from the countryside and of aspiring middle
classes, these codes interact with each other,
squeezing, pushing, spilling, producing in excess. An intra-city begins to emerge. From the beginning,
it provides an image, a spectacle-mocking
architecture. Then slowly, another city
takes root and then another, one that scales up
that settlement’s impact and its ability to
affect the rest of the code, and infra-city, but we’ll
come to that a bit later. Let us note that we call that
infra-city “slum” for short, and in Mumbai we recognize
some of these cities. We entitle them, and regularize
them, however partially, following a law passed
in 1971 to govern slum areas and their residents. How did this happen? Joseph Bain D’Souza, a
senior bureaucrat and once Mumbai’s municipal
commissioner, had this to offer in analyzing
the city’s second development plan, which was drafted in the
waning years of the nation’s commitment to an autarchic
socialism that explicitly promoted rural development, even
in the face of rapid migration to the cities. And I’ll quote from
D’Souza’s paper which was published in
1991, and he says, “the function of
the development plan was to promote and sustain
Bombay’s economic growth–” Bombay, as it was then called. “–and to raise the quality
of our citizens’ lives. The two were closely
bound together, so it was necessary to
promote additional employment in the city instead of
trying to inhibit it. In elitist fervor, the plan
prescribed built-up area to plot area ratios called
floor-space indices in Bombay, and maximum densities, which
took most of the housing built in the city out of the
reach of the lower middle class and poor people. Private developers
were, in any case, not interested for building
for these groups of people because there was enough
demand from upper class people to absorb all their product at
prices artificially inflated because of the ceiling law. To counter this
disinclination, we suggested a housing density of
at least 325 units per hectare in several tracks of the city. We proposed a 20% FSI bonus if
the density were to reach 450.” As the head of a committee
that had been appointed to investigate the plan
which had been prepared by the municipal
corporation, D’souza and his fellow committee
members took the opportunity to point out that no plan could
ignore the inexorable growth of a city like Mumbai, even
back then, a vibrant hub of economic activity, a city
where planned limits to growth were bound to fail. As this development
plan came into effect, the old autarchic order of
the Cold War era collapsed. India liberalized its economy,
anticipating a political order which is governed by
the abstract concerns of its economy, servicing
its foreign debt, opening its doors to
foreign investors, and finally entering market
society, an economy that some have described as
being based, finally, on the potentiality of
capital, and organizing social life itself
around economic activity. In his historical
studies of liberalism Michel Foucault observes that
with the rise of liberalism, the market finally becomes
the site of truth, calibrating and pricing the interests
and desires of autonomous individuals through
market exchanges. Between the development
plan’s incentives, offering bonus
development rights to private parties
for resettling the residents of neglected and
dilapidated buildings, slums, and other occupants
of lands needed for public amenities and
large-scale infrastructure project, and the stated intent
of the incentives to mass produce social housing with
little cost to the state, and the growing demand
for real estate products from all sections and
classes, a new land market emerged, one that
depended fundamentally on displacing the infra-city,
on adjusting settlements, and re-coding space. As infra-cities came to
embody displaced economies and displacable citizens,
the quotidian urbanism of these cities within
came to be closely tied to the management of the
slippery information-rich networked environments
that proliferate in these settlements
through various practices of infrastructure-making
at different scales. No good story is
complete without a ghost. And thanks to Pierre,
a ghost comes in. These new verticals
are the dinosaurs of our times but
speculative fictions. They’re built on dreams
and aspirations of so many. They sometimes remain vacant as
development potential has far exceeded any realistic
absorption capacity. I once brought up speculation
with a young real estate financier in Bombay
and asked him what it meant– what
he thought it meant. He had traveled the
world to find money, he said, to invest the savings
of Canadian teachers, American Nurses, and Indian
professionals in the Emirates and spun fictions about
the hunger of Indians for good quality
architectural products. But in the end, he said, there
was no end user, at least not one whom he had met. Money whizzed through empty
shells, rooms, and corridors, in through one door and out
through the other and in again. The investment company
produced its charts and mapped the potential for
finding land, spinning gold, especially out of the slums,
which he said were beautiful, because there was
no down payment in hard currency required. The down payment was
made by selling dreams to slum dwellers,
getting them to move and then slowly
dripping bits of money to prepare the site for
the next giant shell, while the rest of the money,
the savings of teachers, nurses, and salaried professionals,
was free to flow elsewhere, gathering speed and value. But here comes the
ghost in the code; the displaced mill
worker, squeezed into a 20-square-meter
allotment, wanders his old
streets insistently. He asks, what happened
to the good city where he could walk to work,
his children to school, his old mother to the
doctor, and his friends to meet him in the park? What happened to that place,
which they never had to leave but was still open to the
excitement of encounter, to the frisson of
the rest of the city? That was the question that Datta
Iswalkar, a prominent activist, asked me as we walked through
Mumbai’s erstwhile textile mill district, a hub that housed
a quarter of a million people before its rampant redevelopment
began sometime in the 1990s. Wandering through this
vertiginous schizophrenic district that new rules have
re-coded as pure fiscal matter, we asked what turn the
story would take next? The ghosts of spaces
past are still fresh and intrude insistently,
lurking in the shadows cast by these vertical giants. Chasing these ghosts, striking
them down across the city, I ran into another man
in another infra-city, infamous for being Asia’s
largest slum, known as Dharavi. In reality, Dharavi is a vast
factory, the hive of activity that the planer bureaucrat
eluded to before. Here, in a plastic recycling
factory or workshop, to put it more accurately, a man
named [? tumbi ?] kept butting into a conversation I was having
with his boss and childhood friend, a formidable lady
named [? hanumanthi. ?] The redevelopment of Dharavi has
been imminent for the last 10 years, since its 550 acres were
declared a special planning zone. More than 100,000 people
were legally entitled to be resettled in
allotments ranging from 225- to
400-square-feet in size, depending on who you
spoke to and when. So what did you think
of the future, I asked? What if Dharavi is really
redeveloped, what next? [? tumbi ?] just butted in
and took over the next three minutes. “What future? What future? I’m sick of hearing
about all this,” he said. “For 52 years I’ve been
waiting for the ground to slip away beneath my feet. I’ve been waiting
and waiting, and now I really don’t know what’s
happening.” he said. Sure that it would slip
away, he was, in fact, surprised to find that he had
grown old in Dharavi, never thinking of a future,
which was an impossible abstraction for him. Now he was really confused. But he was also somehow
sure that the ground beneath his feet
would slip away. Everything would go under. The sea would crash
into the land. They would become one. “How could you tell?” I asked. “Well, the ocean
has already come down a bit. It still hasn’t
crashed into us yet because something remains to
come down from the skies,” he said. Now even more confused by
his images of land, sea, and sky, [? hanumanthi. ?] and
the others in her workshop, as well as myself,
asked him again, well, what will come down? What might happen? “There’s a whirlwind,” he
said, “a tornado in the sky. It’s waiting somewhere. We don’t know where.” I’m no scientist. I’m just an old drunk. But I’m telling you,
it will come down, and then the land will be
pressed underground, disappear into subterranean depths.” To humor him,
[? hanumanthi’s ?] husband said, “let’s build an airport for it
to land then.” “He, the storm, won’t land in the
airport,” [? tumbi ?] said. “He won’t land there. He’ll look for a [? busti, ?]
a settlement full of life and land in its midst.” We all stopped laughing. I recounted this story to
my friend [? jamila, ?] a powerful housing
rights activist who lived across town
in another locality that had been repeatedly
threatened with demolition. A very bad monsoon
had just ended. There was no water in the
lakes that supplied Mumbai. [? jamila’s ?] locality
was not yet regularized into the municipal
service system and depended on abundant water
trickling down to the few taps that they had managed to squeeze
by putting moral pressure on the local politicians. In a flash, she connected the
story of the storm to their own struggles with renewing the
meaning of nature and its power to level, to be a common
thread in the weave of the politics of life itself. Because her locality had
been built after the cutoff date deemed by the state as the
line that would not be crossed for providing services
or resettlement in the incentivized private
resettlement developments, they were being cut off from
municipal water altogether because of the drought,
or the bad monsoon rather. “You tell me,” she asked, “does
nature have a cutoff date? Can we be cut off from life?” She struggled against this
injustice, this attempt to enclose and exclude
her fellow occupiers from the land they
had painstakingly made by using construction debris
and mud and earth brought from elsewhere, and from the
water that was god-given. The struggle of
the infra-city is to create new spaces of
operation, to scale up and beyond the limits that
the city of fictitious capital continues to impose
on it, a reminder here that Marx discussed
fictitious capital as the offspring of
interest-bearing capital, the mother of all insane
forms, as he called it, in Capital, Volume 3. In this mad
proliferation of space, the speculative city
is a connective fiction that joins the infra-city
to the city of planners, the vertical city to
the displaced citizen, a wandering ghost who fiercely
occupies a sliver of land, speculating with
her life itself, for a life lived in
common with others, a nonviolent agonism
that desires the right to participate in coding
and re-coding, programming and reprogramming, building
and living to tell the story. One way to do this was
to build connections between these
sprawling fragments, turbulent volatile
spaces, where speculations and counter-speculations extend
temporal horizons as they accidentally did for the
drunken old [? tumbi, ?] where material worlds
meet virtual worlds, where heterogeneous practices
of place-making encounter and mix freely. To tell this story
is to retain some of the spirit of
the schizophrenic, holding many different
possibilities simultaneously in view. For that is a story of
the speculative city, a space of excessive
connections, where all attempts to
narrow down choices lead to the emergence
of new networks, where no redemption is
possible, only creative agonism. So now let’s move
to the images that may actually make some of
these stories more visible. I’ve deliberately avoided
putting people in the pictures. I’ve always had this sense of I
should protect some identities. But that may be a– So that’s very
different than the way that architects take people
out of their buildings, right? Right. Very, very different reasons. Absolutely. One aesthetic, one political. I mean, it’s really
the first presentation of given where I’ve named
people and told their stories so openly. So what you will see is a
kind of process of curating a huge number of images. And I sort of feel
like the people that Bobby spoke about,
showed the photographs, and then tried to
categorize, and tried to tell a linear story
from this catalog. But that can only happen
with every curation. And this is a
particular curation that sort of parallels the
story that I was trying to tell. So we’ll begin with
what Mumbai probably looked like almost till
the middle of the 1990s, with the infra-space settlement
of people who were explicitly excluded from the code, the code
being the second development plan that was articulated
around limits, around planned limits to growth. So here, I mean this
kind of settlement still goes on– pylons, railway
tracks, edges, various kinds. And the process of
inclusion into the code produces an algorithm that
sort of goes as follows. Now, this image is
sort of cut off, but you take an existing form
that will be redeveloped. You resettle the tenants
or the slum dwellers or the occupiers of the space
by allotting each family a standard-sized allotment. The figure was to 225 square
feet as a magical figure. And then you
provide an incentive to the private
developer who undertakes the kind of architectural
work, as it were. And this actually has produced– Now it’s been
systematically studied. It’s actually made the code
visible rather than invisible in very interesting
and material ways. So what this has produced
is– and people have been systematically following this. The formula of split
should have been 60% to the original occupiers
and 40% to the builder, or the private
developer for sale. But instead it’s the reverse. And there are now
very good studies that look at the
numbers and show this. So here’s a diagram. And I should say also
that some of this work has been done in
collaboration with the Vineet Diwadkar, a recent
graduate of the GSD, who has similarly and
obsessively followed my material on Mumbai
and tried to represent it in a style that’s
more accessible or a kind of narrative
form, I should say, of maps and drawings
and diagrams. And some of these
have sort of really come out of my saying to
Vineet, listen, I mean, here’s a set of
restrictive regulations– the Land Ceiling
Act, the uniform FAR, and these acts on that
you see on the right that are legal codes
that actually were designed to restrict growth. And then there were
these loopholes, loophole regulations,
that were proposed by the committee headed by
Joseph Bain D’Souza in order to produce social
housing, in fact, in order to house those excluded by
those restrictive regulations. That was the intention. But what they’ve produced are
incredible volatility and forms that you will now see
in the subsequent. This, again, apologies
for the cutoff, but these are maps that
are prepared by real estate developers, real
estate investment offices that kind of
gauge the potential of redevelopable land. So it’s no longer
development land, but it’s actually really land
that’s fit for redevelopment. This one, again, cut off,
but we can look at the images if you’re interested. But this one,
again, also produced by the same real
estate firm that looks at the amount of land
occupied by slums– very small, 42-square kilometers,
just about 10%. And that generates a
development potential of, even their own
figures say, five times the annual absorption
capacity in Mumbai. So, in fact, it is
overcapacitates the city but with a certain
kind of product. And here is the
process in its kind of actual on-the-ground
manifestation. So it involves coding
buildings as dangerous. In fact, in Hindi, the
direct translation of this actually says this
building will betray you. So it’s not a
dangerous building, but– “caution,” “do not
live in this building,” “not fit for habitation,”
but, of course, you know. And then this is a
kind of an attempt to diagram the whole
process of redevelopment. That, in fact, turns both
people into a form of currency and also spatial allotments as
a kind of floating currency, in turn giving rise to more
potential for development. And here is a site being
prepared for redevelopment. So this is in the very kind
of dense, old city of Mumbai. So you can see that
the plots are kind of 18th- 19th-century plots. And in order to consume
the development potential on that site, that would emerge
from resettling the tenants who occupy the site and
adding potential, you will get– I’m sorry. This is a transit
accommodation that people are moved into while
redevelopment is taking place. But what you will get is that
sort of juxtaposition of forms as the landscape is in process. In this image, in fact,
which is at the edge– it’s taken from the top of
the main landfill in Mumbai that I referred to in the paper. You see the whole process
of harvesting at work. And then you have
these hybrid forms, where the slum
resettlement component is combined with a commercial
component in the same building envelope, with very clear kind
of qualitative difference, in order to consume the
bonus [inaudible] in situ. So there are rules
and regulations. Every plot that has been
re-coded for redevelopment or been reassigned has to
follow its particular logic. So Dharavi, for
instance, which is a very large
550-acre settlement, gets a special planning
zone designation, which means that you will
not see these sorts of forms. But you’ll see something else. But in this case, it was
a small slum on that plot, and [inaudible] had to
be consumed at that site. You also get this
kind of redevelopment, which is you have a
plot that’s large enough to accommodate slum dwellers
and the commercial development side-by-side. And again, you get this kind of
outrageous, but somewhat ludic juxtaposition, and
I don’t mean ludic in the kind of sense
of humor, but rather the sense of the slapstick kind
of juxtaposition of completely outrageous side-by-side. And then here is the logo of
the Slum Development Authority, which you begin to see more and
more prominently on buildings in Mumbai. And these are some other types
of resettlement apparatuses, if you like. They’re large townships where
the normal building codes of Mumbai no longer apply. But they’re these
large brownfield sites whose owners have been offered
transferable development rights in lieu of giving
them up for these colonies. And this is [? hanumanthi. ?] This is her workshop in Dharavi. So this set of
images will show you what we mean by the infra-city. And these are some
very old images now from the early ’90s
actually of textile mills as they were being shut down. And these are tenement
housing, typically occupied by the textile mill workers,
the ghosts of my story, in some sense. Again, in anticipation,
you have the renovation of interiors of these
tenement houses that look like this, that have
already kind of started to be spaces already been
re-coded, in some sense, from the inside in these ways. And these are some
new housing that have been provided to these
displaced mill workers that have again come out of these
resettlement-redevelopment codes. So this is where they were,
and this is where some of them have been re-settled. Again, this set of
images goes back to the infra-cities
more typical of like consolidated settlements that
have existed at least for 20, 25 years as this
process of redevelopment is happening, with many kind
of fixes for infrastructure. And this is one
image that I’ve been following for about a decade. This picture was taken in 2005
of a community center that was very, very tentatively, in a
sense, a proposal at that time, for the children of the area
next to the dumping ground, next to the landfill,
where many of their parents worked as rag pickers. And this is what it
has become in 2014. So a decade has passed from
that proposal to what it is now. And here is the kind of work
space adjacent to the landfill itself. And this is my friend
[? jamila, ?] who, in fact, proposed to me that
the way that city is formed is precisely
through connections. And one afternoon when
I was leaving a house, she caught me looking at
her hands, and she said, I think I know what
you’re thinking. And this is how I
will connect to you. And she offered me the
gift of the henna tattoos. And, in fact, yes, that
was what I was thinking. And I leave you with
these images of– I mean, this, in particular,
highly dramatic that makes you really look at
the process on the ground. The blue tops of the
slums, the low-rise, really dense concentrations in front
of the high-rise buildings are the resettlement housing
for those people who homed the high-rises of displaced. And no doubt these blue
tarps will also be gone soon. And here is an attempt to
kind of go back and diagram this process even more
obsessively than I had done. These are Vineet’s models
of one particular site that has been redeveloped. And, again, the earlier models,
the sequence of four images– earlier images are
taken obviously from re-rendering Google
Earth images of the site. So 2000, 2005, that
site is occupied. 2007, and this is
what it is today. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much, Vyjayanthi. Always reminded,
when you present, how good of a both storyteller
and narrator you are. I wish I could present
without slides sometimes. Although you did a
great job afterwards. I wish I could speak
that way and tell these stories in the same way. So we are running–
of course, I mean, given our tradition
of running over time, we’re following suit with that. But I think it
would be really nice if Aleks and Ghazal will allow
us to take 15 or 20 minutes. I thought it would be really
nice to, a certain extent, reconvene over a number of
issues that have come up. But also, to keep the
conversation very pointed, it would be really nice
to be projective in terms of either looking at
unfinished projects or in terms of being projective,
in terms of understanding what projects could we look at, not
actually in the distant future, but actually what we could
operationalize and work on now. So I’m going to come
around to that in a second. What I would like to do
if, this is OK as well, Ghazal, Aleks,, is put
a name with the face, without subverting the
longer introductions today, just for those who
are joining us here. Aleks, and Ghazal,
of course, who were organizing the conference;
Carles Muro, here from the GSD; Bill Anderson, from AECOM;
Liz Falletta, from USC; John van Nostrand, here;
Debor Mesa from Ensamble– I’m sorry– Stephen
Moore, from the Bartlett; Bobby’s here to my
side; Benjamin Bratton; and, of course, we just
heard from Vyjayanthi. What I find particularly
interesting, just as a kind of a
very brief sum up, I find it particularly
interesting that our very core structures
that are being put into question in each one
of the presentations. And whether or not it is a
settlement strategy and also an Indian Act from the 19th
century, or whether or not it’s a master plan from
the 1960s that was put into place
as a kind of frame, whether or not it was a
technique, technology, methods of instrumentation
from the early 1960s, or, even at the same time, codes
that are being put into place– and I’m simply going to
plagiarize you here Benjamin– in terms of the
potential for software to subvert, to a certain
extent, the surface of the state itself. There’s elements
of subversion here. But also, at the same time,
what I see moving forward in a discourse is that we’re
beyond this idea of hacking into systems, as if we’re
just kind of like off to the side, which
has been somewhat recurrent over the past few
years in terms of discussions about the role of designers. I’m actually happily
optimistic about the fact that you’re proposing
projects that require the mobilization
of levels of knowledge. But in order to do that,
we need to truly understand what we’re operating on. And in order to do
that, we need to look at these fixed protocols that
are, in fact, conditioning environments today. And what I find particularly
interesting is twofold, is the fact that
these are structures that are not part of, let’s
say, a current neoliberal or capitalist era. What I find particularly
interesting is that they’re being backdated to past
eras, which I don’t think is by mistake past
colonial eras. What I think is
particularly interesting is that it necessarily takes
us both in, across, through, much beyond the city itself in
terms of opening up territories and extra-territories. It does, yes, on the third
level, puts into question the issue of
boundaries and borders. But what I’d like to do is,
given the fact that you’ve all done an extremely pointed,
surgical job, in terms of understanding how there
are exclusions, how there are transfers of knowledge
that are very particular between, let’s say, the 10-inch
vision between eye to image, the roll of the skin, I’m
wondering, if you could just comment and jump in,
in terms of what you see as being the project now? What knowledge do we not
have enough of in order to start understanding how
to be able to intervene? And the reason why
I ask that, and I know I’m taking
you to task here, is John mentioned this idea
of a soft revolution underway. And I actually want
to underscore that. I think it’s
actually a very, very significant territorial
revolution that’s occurring at the moment. I think it’s largely
dominated by one single, to invoke Erica Violet Lee’s
quote on the anthropocene, the kind of like Euro-centric
buzzword of the anthropocene. And I see opening up vast both
territories of understanding and representation, but
also of intervention and transformation. And what I find exciting is
that it invokes citizenship. It invokes people that
have been excluded and the kind of
distribution of power. I’m just wondering,
if there was a project to undertake, if there’s
knowledge that we do not have, if there’s a map that’s not
drawn, what is the information? What is the skills,
even techniques, even instrumentation
that we need in order to engage in that
particular project, given the fact that
you’re working also in different parts of the world? But to a certain
extent, whether or not it’s the survey grid or
the process of serving, which I think is adaptable to
practically every projects that are presented here– it’d be
interesting to both speculate, but also to try to understand
what could be done now. Is that is it too big? And the idea here
is that it opens up also the whole table here. Can I start? Jump in, please. So I think your key
question, as I hear it, is, what knowledge
do we not have? And then you followed up by
saying in order to intervene, which I think is
pretty key to me. And that’s why I included
these last images, because I do think
that there is a point to this kind of obsessive
diagramming of the processes. That’s precisely to kind of
chart a way to intervene. And in some sense, that makes
me the maverick in my field, where I can’t just
sort of say it’s OK to be critical and
analytical and then talk about Foucault or
understanding those processes. But what I find in
common, I think, with what Benjamin and Bobby
and John as well, the work was showing was that
where we are today is a moment where there’s a
constant flipping between being included and being excluded. And that moment has no
historicity, as such. I mean, it’s kind of a
moment of terrible fear, precisely because you never know
when that switch will happen. And you know following
some of these stories, one of the things that
became very clear to me is that it’s not that the
people that I was interviewing or in conversation with, who
lived in these situations, didn’t have aspirations
or that their politics was a revolutionary one, or
that their desire was to overturn the system. On the contrary, it was actually
to kind of make an impact, to sort of scale
up what they saw as already their
contribution, and to find the right tools to do so. And those, too,
is not necessarily involve people being
coded or taking on the mantle of
subjectivity of the poor, for example, of
being kind of coded with this whole notion
of being the recipient of ameliorative assistants. I think it’s really
up that this idea that, in fact, to the
very first points that got us started in
terms of rethinking the very language,
that in itself, actually, both
categorizes and codes environments in which we’re in. And I think you’re
also reminding us, I think, of a number of
products that, in fact, perhaps the intervention is
actually not only diverting the intervention,
but understanding that the very
project of un-mapping is also potentially a
very, very powerful one. I mean, I’m wondering
whether or not that necessarily leads to
the idea of weaker states. I don’t know. But it’d be interesting
to hear others. Could I use that? Please. News conferences [inaudible]. Yeah, on the states is
an interesting question. I think it actually ties
up with a lot of what we’re thinking about here. My first reaction to
what you were saying, it has to do with,
I guess, the notion, as I talk about, with
exception, and as I was talking about here as
well, as exceptionality of the emergence of emergency. One way in which
anthropocene, I think, the useful term, I
mean one avoids– there’s other reasons why I
think it has some usefulness– is a sense of
emergency, which can be taken at least a few ways
in terms of designs on reaction to this. One being there is this crisis
moment in all the design. There is no future. There is only here and now. We need to design entirely
in the image of this– in the image of this
crisis, which oftentimes has the effect of normalizing this
crisis as this goes forward, like whatever becomes this
most provisional state, like the security
lines at an airport. It sort of becomes
a sort of the ways in which this gets normalized. The other connotation
is designed with the emergence, exactly
what is, in fact, coming on the other side of this. And I think there’s
an ethics to this that’s important to hold onto. One thing that the Bobby and I
were talking out over the break was there’s a term
in the book that I use called geo-scapes,
which is sort of a riff on Arjun Appadurai’s
mediascapes, finance-scapes, [inaudible], that there
is a space in which multiple competing
geographies inter operate, that they compete for
the right to describe the space in the first place. And so there’s this
space-of-spaces, in a way, or
geography-of-geographies, that isn’t an empty space that
gets filled up with things but is made by all of
those claims over it at the same time. And so what strikes
us perhaps today is so sort of weird about the
descriptive project of just a few years ago was
the idea that there has to be one mechanism by which
this space would be described. And that any kind of
variations in this is an exception that
needs to be scrubbed out of it some sort of
way as well, right? Now with Google Earth and as
many KML layers as you want, you can re-describe this
over and over and over. And so I think there’s this
proliferation of multiple and competing geographic
descriptions of the same site, the same system, the same
condition, the same now, may have been an
exceptional condition and has been a
conceptual condition for much of modernity, perhaps
at a time where information and data was a
scarce resource that needed to be coaxed
out of the world and gardened in a
very particular way. And now the perhaps the
opposite problem is such, is this way as well. And so part of the
question of what knowledge do we need in order to go
forward with this as well may be rephrased as what do
we deal with the knowledges that we have,
right, that we have in this plurality,
in this multiplicity, with an understanding
that they’ll never, nor should they
ever somehow resolve into some kind of
consensual order? But that that agonistic
logic of them is, in a way, to a certain extent, less of
the exceptional schizo condition that it might have been. And it’s now in a way a
kind of new normative. It’s less about
hacking these systems and in understanding
that, to a certain degree, for better and worse,
that these [inaudible] operate along those lines to
begin with in a certain way. A couple quick thoughts
on this, if I might. One has to do with the nature
of the maps and the models with which to work. And it’s very easy
looking at these– the privilege of watching
these amazing presentations. It’s interesting to understand
where certain maps that may look graphically very
similar may, in certain senses, have been meant
to be essentially descriptive at a time. Whereas other ones,
where speculative maps may have been essentially
predictive, trying to sort of model what might happen. And then other ones
were projective, where they’re trying
to map something that might, in fact, happen
as a preferred outcome, as a different kind
of speculation, right? And it’s quite
interesting how easily they will slide between one
another, where something that’s descriptive becomes predictive,
predictive becomes projected, or vice versa, in these
sorts of ways as well. And then the last just sort of
thing to put on with the states is that, on the one
hand, and I think I try to make this
argument, that one of the interesting
geopolitical shifts of our time is that things that we used
to ask of the modern state– cartography. We were talking with
Nicaragua-Costa Rica anomaly with Google
Maps, where they moved the line from one of the other. Things that we used to ask
of states, we ask of now cloud platforms are performing–
ID currency, other sorts of things, for better or worse. But at the same
time, the inverse is also true, where states
are becoming themselves cloud platforms,
whether we see it with Snowden and
the rest of this. And there’s this
sort of convergence and cross-speciation between
these two institutional models. But what I think
will remain, or what we should hope will remain,
is this multiplication of totalities, right? It’s not that there is one
totality that might supervise all of these things that
compete against the other, and therefore the goal is to
undermine the totality always, to continuously
de-territorialize the totality. What we have is this situation
with the multiplication of multiple
totalities, one on top of another, each which is
according to its own logic an internally consistent
description, but none of which has a totality
on totalities itself, which I think shifts
the terms of how we design and intervene in this
and in some different ways. And then the last
point which I think goes with this is one
of the things I’ve gotten very interested in around
this machine vision interest, but also I think in
cartography and the description and Bowker and Lee and
the categorization logic, are forms of, we could
call, algorithmic apophenia. Like the Google Deep Dream
machine vision thing, where it hallucinates
dogs and everything, is sort of an example
of this as well. But there’s ways in which
that untrained observer and categorizer
of those systems, who doesn’t have those
preconceived notions, might see this image field
in particular kinds of ways and might describe it according
to those sorts of dispositions, that someone else might
take to be a category error or a pattern
recognition error, where they saw something
as something else. There’s also ways in which
those kinds of descriptions, as actually all of these
reasons made clear, are actually generative of
those new conceptual categories. There are the sites where
those kinds of things actually emerge in
the first place. And so we should be respectful
of apophenia and error in this way. And so like as I’ve
said, Virilio’s axiom of any new technology
produces a new accident, that the inverse is also true. That any new accident
produces a new technology. Are we ready? I’d say we are. Use the mic. Just your question about
are we ready to work on this or move to the next
stage or get projects? I had a professor, the
best professor I ever had– he called all these
exercises– or many of them, he called think-and-jump. You had to think, but you
also had to jump into the– so what does it mean on the
ground, and how can you do it? And I think one of the aspects
I’m getting out of this is research is so critical. It’s so hard to
do, takes so long. It’s hard to do that and do it. It’s a classic discussion
I’ve already had here with two or three people
about how do you practice and what’s the relationship
between practice and academic work? And somehow I think
there must be some model, without brainwashing
students, into the way– you know, there must be some
model here for linking the two, because certainly you’ve had
this experience of really for 35 years, working
simultaneously in Africa on squatting and
in Toronto on housing issues. We’ve just had the time
there to talk and understand. We all have typically
40 meetings there with a [? defected ?]
party, all-day meetings, and we get three, if
we’re lucky, in Toronto with that same group. So I think you’ve got to
do things because you learn how to think about them then. If you don’t do them,
well, you get trapped. But also, I think
there has to be some union between
people who think a lot more than the doers. Or thinkers and doers
have to get together, because I think
they’ve been split up. And that’s to the
advantage of power really. And I was going to kind of
similarly, when you were asking what’s missing, what
struck me, and I think we’re talking about
different contexts and errors too, but what struck me that
was missing pretty plainly was the public and
their values and then being able to have a process
for realizing those values into the design process. They’ll speak, if asked. But was there really a
way to incorporate them when they were asked? They had some wise thoughts that
informed the design process. Well, in the past,
you had to deal with governmental institutions
or formal institutions in order to be heard. And the large segment
of the populace couldn’t access those
institutions because of discrimination
or means, or they’re too busy trying to survive. But now more and more, I
think, because of technology, people are going to
the public directly. They’re bypassing the middleman,
the government or the developer or the architect. And so if we don’t learn how
to engage those folks directly into the design
process and inform them about design in that
process, your other question about the state, the role
of the state in the future, I think that’s what
will put it at risk. I mean, this
presidential election is kind of an example of that. Two prominent candidates are
going straight to the public, not through the party apparatus. And that’s playing out very much
in the local level of planning and implementations
around the country. That’s great. [inaudible]. I actually want to
connect two thoughts that I’ve been having just
listening to everyone speak. I think your last point,
they will speak when asked, is an interesting point. Because speak when
asked suggests that input from their
community is just another data input to a
particular organizational form of interpretation, versus the
community themselves proposing an alternative institutional
form for processing the same information
that these kind of more entrenched institutions are
doing the same type of work. And it kind of gets
to Benjamin’s point of geography-of-geographies,
right– these competing institutional
views on how to parcel up the ground, what
categories are important, how to make them mutually
exclusive and comprehensive. And I think for me, I’m glad
to actually hear that come up in the conversation because
latent in my paper it was just sort of being excited for
that possibility that treating the organizational form of
the work as a precondition, as the a priori that shapes the
experience of the interpreter, the conventional or banal set
of categories that they might be thinking through can
be opened up simply by allowing themselves to go
through this kind of overriding organizational form. And so a radical practice
might be proposing, as a collective, new
ways of doing work for processing information,
where you give yourself constraints so you can’t think
through things in the way you normally would. And I think there’s a real
potential in imagining data not as a project of transparency
or of a illuminating, but it’s actually, in its
density and in its techniques, a new form of opacity. It’s actually an
architectural material that can create closure. That any type of
representation, it’s correspondence to the
thing that it represents, there is one path that
leads it back to that item. But it also produces
an infinity of ghosts, that any one thing that
you’re talking about, when it goes through
the abstraction process of becoming
data, can also correspond to numerous other things. And it’s up to the
public to kind of take advantage of that
multiplicity of associations between something
that’s been called a particular class
of things, a type, and what it actually
is out in the world. I think it’s a
really nice point. I also want to bring
up that very clearly the conversation
of multiple publics and the emergence of
many other voices. I also I would, if
I can mention here, there is a caution in this
kind of consideration, given the fact that ultimately
the ownership of land is particular important. The case of the US, I
would actually argue, is exceptional to the world
because of divisions of powers, which is built into
the Constitution. Whereas nation-states around the
world is exactly the opposite. I would actually still
argue that ultimately this relationship
between power and land, which to use exactly
the same word, a priori is important to
kind of like understand this relationship
between law and land and the map right at the
middle, and that ultimately I think the agency of the map,
to be able to understand what questions we need to ask of
the map, of the representation, of the projection, of the data
becomes particularly important. Because I think if
there is any revolution, if there’s a revolution
of bypassing, let’s say, the middle
white man of bureaucracy in the middle of the
state, what I think is particularly interesting
is that you actually can’t do that in other
places, in where, for example, in
Canada, the largest landholder in the world, 95% of
the land is owned by the crown. And what’s dangerous
is that Canada is exporting, as a matter of
foreign policy, that model. So it’s going exactly in
the opposite direction. And I think what’s
interesting is that it does place the
question of information, how is it gathered, who
gathers it, who funds it, what is considered to be
information or excluded, how we bundle that
information as well and how it’s distributed? I mean, I’m comforted by
the fact that just simply the more information and the
better the distribution of it, that we could be fighting
for the distribution of that information
as a way to become much more critical and
essentially unlock more agency. Debora, did you have a point
that you wanted to make? [inaudible] actually been very recently. People writing
about the physical and the emotional
realities of this context. I think it’s, in the
end, what matters when it comes to
building these contexts and when the practitioners
have to really design this context, what
information does matter. And typically, the
information that matters to the property
owner or the developer is not the modes of life of
the people that are relocated or the way these
pieces of land have been operating in the past. And typically, there’s a tabula
rasa situation, where realities are completely simplified. And it’s there is information
about how these slums are really very productive urban
tissues, and a lot of things can be learned from the way
people living there, probably, and, of course, the
physical reality– there’s no infrastructure because
there is not any interest to allow these people to grow,
because that is the stock market for future developments. But certainly, the way
these people are relocated is not really understanding
where they are coming from. And they come from this
horizontal urbanism, where they have their homes
and their business together. And suddenly, they are
relocated in towers, where they cannot continue
these modes of life. So I think design
can solve that. But there has to be some
policies, some coding, that will allow this information
to get into the system and allow designers
and developers to use it appropriately. No, that’s great. Steven or Liz or John? This has really been
a fun conversation, because the way I
watch the conversation move around the room in this
direction, it went from a view that I’ll call, respectfully,
mildly technologically deterministic. In other words, the concern
is that the very nature of the technology determines
the conversation about land use and who gets to decide. And by the time we
got to John, who I think has done a lot of
advocacy work, especially with First Nations, the
question becomes, well, what we don’t know is, in fact,
the way that people on the map, like right there,
would like to live. What do they think? What do they know about
their own condition, and how would they
like to change that? So just as the technology
is capable of becoming opaque and
deterministic, it also has the capacity to advocate
for the agency of that guy right there. And so maybe suggest
in the afternoon we could talk more
about where does agency lie within the systems
that we’re creating? In fact, in the end, we are the
creators of the technologies. Sometimes they create
themselves, stacks. But there is the
opportunity, I think, for people to speak on
their own behalf that’s made by the technologies. [interposing voices] Yes, I think maybe to
extend this, I think maybe where I got your
point, is what is the condition by which
agency is mediated, such that it can scale so that
it can have a traction that it would be able to produce durable
urban scale gestures larger than the ones that does at the
scale of the anthropometric man on the corner? And I think to your point
about the theory and practice, I mean from the theory side, I
just want say parenthetically, I think that right now the
technical capacities far outpace our conceptual
ones at this point. And I think this relationship
between tradition– Sorry. I’m molesting your pencil. Traditional relationship
between we read the theory and then apply it to the
design, I think, in many ways, we’re in a position that
it needs to be inverted and that sort of thing as well. But I think one
thing to sort of keep in mind is there’s a
means-and-ends issue here that’s sometimes maybe
a bit counter-intuitive, And that we may have sort
of assumed, for a reason, that if we want to have outcomes
that are non-hierarchical, egalitarian, democratic,
and so and so in, then thereby the
means by which we would arrive at
those outcomes need to be then, in themselves,
methodologically non-hierarchical, democratic,
and non-hierarchical, which is what Nick Smicek and
Alex Williams called prefigurative politics. And so that if we do this, and
somehow the ends don’t work out the way we want, the
tendency is to then attempt to purify the means more so. Those means need to be policed
further in certain situations. And so, by all means, the voice
and participation of publics– I don’t know whether that
may be a different word. But I don’t have it–
it would be part of it. But the idea that
essentially, again, that I think that
by trying to model those means on the outcomes
in this sort of way doesn’t always work. I mean your presentation,
in particular, on the grid, was totally fascinating
to me because I think grids are a way in which
something that design knows that sometimes
politics doesn’t know is that sometimes to have the
most democratic, egalitarian, non-hierarchical,
fluid, dynamic, sort of rich urban outcome,
the superimposition of a dumb, inflexible,
autocratic type [inaudible] on to the system is sometimes
the way in which that happens, as it does with the urban grid
as a sort of canonical platform model. And so sometimes not
only is the means and ends not
correspondent, they’re sometimes totally inverted
in terms of those logics. I think– I just want to say
what I’m talking about is just talking– Yes, no doubt, of course. So I’d say, no, we entered
the world of mining. Our basic work overseas
has been with squatters. And definitely we learnt the
lesson of they all had a plan. They all have an idea of their
house and what they want. That’s right. But you had to converse. I learned that. I mean from them. And we got into the mining
field and the whole question of resettlement of
people and decided to enter into it on
the basis that we were mediators between
the mining companies and the affected parties. And we pioneered a process. It seems ridiculous,
but we’re just going to talk to
every one of them and finding out their
assets, and saying we’re going to, if there’s
any movement involved here, first of all, you the company
can reduce the movement by doing this,
this, and this, so you have to know about mining. On the other hand,
you have to know that I have five cabbages,
four pear trees, and 17.2 square meters of
building that I want replaced as equal to
or better than that. So I just I think it’s
just a culmination of the anthropology of it,
along with the data is the key. Yeah, but if I may, just
give me two seconds. Here comes the anthropologist. Well, just to respond,
I think that, Debora, what you were saying is that,
yes, it’s absolutely right that we do have a lot
of conversation that’s sort of divorced from
the design itself. But I think the
conversation is not so much about the
feelings or the desires of the kind of house that
people might want to live. But actually, John, I want to
go back to his amazing Cree maps that you showed, and
basically the dream map that leads
people to a place. And I think that’s the process
that’s the speculation that we are not yet seeing. So there’s like endless
sociological analysis and what have you, and the
live-work and, et cetera. But in analyzing the codes
that produce or allow that form to be transformed
into something else, we are forgetting that
there is a free map also that’s probably very different
from just having your workplace next to you. It’s an point to say that behind
every state there’s a Cree map. No, I want to follow
on that because I think one of the senses
that we have in Los Angeles and definitely that
I have is being a part of our re-coding,
which unfortunately is not a remapping– that’s a whole
other political minefield. But what I think
is so frustrating is exactly what you said is that
the process and the inviting of the public in
to talk about this is treated as an end in
itself, and it is not being translated
into anything that’s going to be experienced
on the ground. And I think there are going
to be a lot of citizens who feel duped basically. There’s this adage,
I think, in the 1930s that the map is
not the territory. And to a certain
extent, you’re also saying that the code
is not the city, or the code is not
also the territory. Aleks, Ghazal, is there anything
you want to jump in with this? Or I mean this is
a nice– I mean I like these points in
terms of both the fact that the coding is not
the same as the mapping. There’s too much coding,
not enough mapping itself. And there’s clearly a rethinking
of the agency of mapping, but also the possibility of
living off on the conversation that maybe we should be thinking
in this era of rethinking state. That maybe there is a Cree
map behind every state political map. And even if that
Cree map was produced by some colonial ethnographer. Let’s not forget. Well, let’s not forget also
that there was probably a voice of a Cree that then
had to translate it to somebody who’s drawing the map. That’s right– the
ghost of the Cree. And I think what I’m
really, really excited about is the fact that this
conversation, all of a sudden, also going around the room
has suddenly gone somewhat McLuhan-esque in terms of the
fact that the question of media not just map, but the question
of media itself, technology, the public, the code,
all of a sudden, if anything, perhaps we
have too much information, and we’re not working in enough
different media to actually really unlock that
kind of potential. From the level of
abstraction to make sense of the amount of
information that we have. Correct. And I wanted also
to make the point as far as cities
have always been information-rich environments. It’s not as though all of a
sudden in the 2000s information appeared or data appeared
as a sort of thing. Cities, from the
very beginning, are the most rich, complex,
adaptive systems of signals and boundaries and
niche and the rest of this. And perhaps it’s just we’re
beginning to figure out how to listen to it
a little bit better and are a bit taken
aback about how we don’t know how to hear it. We don’t know what that
level of abstraction is and able to make sense of it. And so I don’t
think where I would argue that the media,
to a certain extent, do structure the possibility
of what is possible to say and they are producing
more information, it’s not as though it
wasn’t already there. But I would say it is profound
that the amount of information and the pace of the information
is so much faster just in the last five years. It’s changing the community
politics so rapidly, and sometimes it’s
misinformation that’s changing it. So that’s the dilemma. But it’s one in which
this centralized versus decentralized dynamic
is very complex, right? On the one hand, everyone’s got
a supercomputer in their pocket that’s capable of
over 29 megabytes. You’ve got Google Earth,
where you can see everything that sort of [inaudible]. So on one hand, there’s
this massive distribution of 7 billion sensor
[? meals ?] across the planet. And yet, it’s all consolidated
to a very small number of state-like central platforms. Called Apple and Google. Yes, and so, to
a certain extent, the kind of traditional
ideas of central-decentral that we might be used
to thinking about as visual dynamics are a
little bit complicated because they’re both
happening at the same time. And, in fact, one is totally
dependent on the other in ways in which older
capitals, for example, didn’t operate in the same way. It’s not a same
capital-periphery dynamic at all. I have a quick comment,
before I invite all of you to move over to Chow
House and have lunch. While I was listening to
you, it occurred to me that we might actually have
more and more knowledge and technology– actually
technology and capacity– to categorize knowledge to map
it in a finer and finer detail with the latest
technologies that are way different from
what Bobby described in his presentation. But what we might be
missing is the capacity to actually categorize the
potential types of reaction to this knowledge that the
citizens and governments actually will express not
just reactions, but forms of intervention, ways
of occupying land, ways of building. And I think that’s probably
that wicked problem of planning lies in that. That it’s not just the
knowledge that we’re missing; it’s really apprehending,
understanding how that knowledge will be used. And I hope that some
of these questions will be tackled and answered
in the second session. Pierre, thank you very
much for moderating this. Thank you to the speakers.

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