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Good evening.
My name is Pierre Belanger.
I'm co-director of the MDes program with Kiel Moe.
We'd like to welcome you to the spring annual event of the MDes
And we really appreciate you taking time out
of your schedules.
We're always trying to figure out
what is the sweet spot that you can
have a lecture in the spring, where
people don't start falling off and start getting exhausted.
So we really appreciate you taking time out
of your schedules to be with us, also
for a special lecture with Keller Easterling.
We'd like to provide a brief introduction
to Keller's lecture, and also in the context of the MDes program
that Kiel and I, as well as a group of coordinators
have been really working with Mohsen over the past few years,
developing a postgraduate research vision.
We've been trying to ask a few questions
over the past couple of years with a number
of different speakers.
The central one is this idea of what does support urban life.
And I'm going to try to capture your attention
against the background of these really repugnant images.
You don't have to look at me.
You can just listen.
What's been particularly important also
is to be able to answer this question in really
practical, and also at the same time, undisciplined ways.
Pedagogically, we've also been exploring
the role of representation as part
of the role of research as a way to advance
the postgraduate environment conducive to advance research
studies dealing with what we could consider the design
arts and the design sciences.
In that light, we're also looking
to try to understand how do we extend
and also stretch knowledge from the platform
of the core disciplines themselves.
Towards this effort, last year, we received blogger Jeff Menaw,
as well as designer Christien Meindertsma,
who spoke about her book PIG 05049.
And they both captured our imagination, as well as
our attention, asking fundamental questions
about the mediation of our environments
and the measures of our research methods--
how do we do research in design?
This year, we also advanced these pursuits
with films and filmmakers, including
the work of Jennifer Baichwal and Ed Burtynsky.
Almost the same time last year, their film Watermark
that was screened for the first time in Boston.
They explored the scales, technologies, infrastructures
of urbanization.
And earlier this fall, with filmmaker Raoul Peck
with this film Fatal Assistance, which
profiled the failure of international humanitarian aid
following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
So through these creators, innovators, Kiel and I,
along with the coordinators of the MDes program,
have been trying to explore also how video, film,
time-based representation factors a pivotal role
in the communication of research and dissemination of design
across the world, this possibility of being
able to make design and the communication of it
searchable and scalable.
Launching our 30th anniversary year
since the creation of the MDes program in 1985 and 1986,
we were fortunate to receive Keller Easterling this evening,
who will be in conversation with Charles Waldheim,
chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture;
John Irving, professor of Landscape Architecture,
as well as founding coordinator the urbanism landscape
and ecology concentration of the MDes program in 2009, 2010.
I'd like to say a few words about the context
of Keller Easterling's work over, really, the past two
There was a long list of reasons to invite you.
So Shantel asked me to contain this to five minutes.
So I'm going to try.
I think it's important to understand the work of Keller
Easterling over the past two decades
as emerging out of an extremely turbulent era
of the early 1990s and the late 1980s,
where the shock of digitalism and deconstructivism
that mark a kind of a [speaking french] transition
was nothing short of both structurally turbulent and also
at the same time, surprisingly, has
been overlooked as an era of tremendous exhaustive and
exhausting transformation.
As one of its most reflexive as well as preemptive thinkers,
Keller Easterling's work transcends
this groundbreaking change that was
occurring in the early 1990s.
Not only did she live in or did she
pass through this major period of transformation,
but in hindsight, she can be seen
as the soft heroine of a spatial avant garde
that we're now just beginning to understand two decades later.
As writer, urbanist, and architect at Yale,
we can argue that her work belongs not only in the fields
and forms of professional disciplines as we know them,
but we could also propose that her work belongs in an entirely
different time zone.
Influenced by early collaboration
with film archivist Rick Prelinger in New York,
her collaboration on the laser disc on suburbia, Call it Home.
Keller Easterling's preemptive work
on the landscape of interconnectivity
was later compiled in a book, Organization Space,
published by MIT Press in 1999.
It profiled researchers Patrick Geddes,
Benton MacKaye, which remarkably,
yet not unsurprisingly, comes out
of the shadows of the school of deconstructivist
though of the early 1990s that essentially marginalized
and overlooked environments, overlooked ecologies
and infrastructures, scales at which
can be recognized in her contemporary adoption
of landscape as support and system
for contemporary urban life.
Today, Easterling's observational empiricism
is not only accelerated algorithmically
over the past two decades; it's grown in significance and kind
with two follow-up books, Enduring Innocence, which
chronicles the rise of new spatial products,
as well as the rise of infrastructural effects
in the book that she'll speak about tonight, Extrastatecraft.
Retroactively-- and I realize-- I turned the page-- I only
have a half a page left-- retroactively,
the importance of Keller's work can also be seen on two levels.
She's attempted to overtly and indirectly correct
the course set in motion more than 40 years
go by so-called revolutionary architecture
of the 20th century, a course that, according to postmodern
theorist Charles Jencks proposed, and I quote,
"has not been healthy or good for the environment."
I'm quoting out of an article from Architectural Review
that Charles Jencks did on the evolution of architecture.
Reporting on the sexist and dogmatic arrogance
of the 20th century architect, according to Jencks in 1999--
and I quote again-- "the revolutionary century
has been dominated by men, and there are very few women
among the 400 protean creators gathered from other writers."
He's specifically referencing the diagram
that has been so famously recycled and been reiterated
in four or five different occasions as part of his work.
Moving forward-- and this is a rare moment of self-reflection
as part of Jenck's work on his own work-- Jencks
proposes-- and I quote again, from 1999--
"an urbanism both more feminine and coherent
would have been far superior to the over-rationalized and badly
related boxes that have formed our cities."
That's the end of the quote.
So between the bank art traditions of geography,
once considered, early beginning of the 20th century,
as girl science, and American cultural geographers,
such as Denis Cosgrove, JB Jackson,
Keller's work can be seen as injecting the field of urbanism
and the system of landscape as geographic subject
of critical importance by making a transitive, transdisciplinary
leap into the fields of design.
This leap is extremely important to understand
as part of her work over the past two decades.
And if her work seems to fall in between certain cracks,
it's only because of the distance
that certain divides have between disciplines
of architecture, economy, ecology, anthropology,
and engineering.
Easterling's eye crystallizes as what
preeminent human geographer Carl O'Sauer saw in 1963 in his book
Land and Life as the value of, what he quotes,
"being unspecialized," where her synthetic and telescopic
optic has enabled us to see urbanization
as both the stratification or the strata
and synthesis of power relations expressed
through different skills and spaces of information.
And we can see that as a transition
from her work dealing with organization space
to infrastructure space.
In some total, her work elucidates urbanism's chaos
and complexity, translating it for us-- and again,
quoting Sauer-- into a vocabulary of wider
and clearer intelligibility and where
power forms its foundations.
So I guess we can say, as the dean
of infrastructural thought, Keller's work
reveals the very nature and essence of infrastructure
that's realized as part of the process
of infrastructural products and effects
in her latest book Extrastatecraft-- The
Power of Infrastructure Space.
I'd just like to finish off with a quote from her book, which
I think captures both the work that she's
done over the past two decades, but also at the same time,
if you listen carefully, one can begin
to understand how to be able to predict the next two decades.
I'm quoting directly from her book Extrastatecraft.
"Infrastructure space is a form, but not
like a building is a form.
It's an updating platform unfolding in time
to handle new circumstances, encoding
the relationships between buildings or dictating
There are object forms, like buildings, and active forms,
like bits of code and the software
that organizes building.
Information resides in the often undeclared activities
of this software-- the protocols,
the routines, the schedules, choices it manifests in space.
Marshall McLuhan's meme, transposed to infrastructure,
might be "the action is the form."
Please join us in welcoming Keller Easterling.
Thank you, Pierre, for that introduction.
It's a pleasure to be here at this excellent place
with these exceptional faculty and exceptional students.
I'm showing you a bit of urban porn here.
And I'm sorry that was so distracting.
And in many ways, the book that I just finished
is meant to be a book in dialogue with people like you.
Some of my books and writings have really been reportage.
But Extrastatecraft is hoping to be an adventure in thinking,
and one that rehearses a habit of mind about design.
So you all probably know that I have long
been working on unfocusing eyes to see not only buildings
with shapes and outlines, but also the almost
infrastructural matrix space in which buildings are suspended.
That's not an infrastructure of pipes and wires
into the ground, but something like an operating system
for shaping the city.
And it's coded with laws and econometrics and informatics
and global standards and formulas
for making spatial products.
You know it.
You know it.
It's the cartoon of skyscrapers and turning radii and malls
and resorts and franchises and parking lots and golf courses
and airports and airport lounges and free zones.
Again, not an infrastructure that's hidden, far from it--
Something that's pressing into view
and looking the same, whether it's in Texas or Taiwan,
and telling emotional stories about Arnold Palmer golf
and Beard Papa cream puffs.
And this is, as you know, inner Mongolia.
And some of the most radical changes
to the globalizing world have been
written in the language of this matrix space,
so much so that it's become a de facto medium of polity.
And you know this space is currently
coded by org men and World Bank yes men
and 28-year-old McKinsey consultants and quality
management specialists.
It's the secret weapon of some of the most powerful people
on Earth.
And sometimes, it seems like it's
a secret that's best kept from those of us who
are trained to make space.
No one's leading, really, with spatial variables.
So however unlikely it may seem, I'm
arguing that this space brings to our art another relevance,
as well as another set of aesthetic pleasures
and political capacities.
Also, for many of the most interesting thinkers
in the arts and sciences who are looking
for a more complex context in which
to test some of the assumptions of their supposed science
or their master narratives or methodologies,
this book offers infrastructure space
as a kind of test bed, a fresh test bed of evidence.
So not to make the mistake of seeing interdisciplinarity
as a diluting of our discipline, but rather
to see spatial studies as a crossroads of other disciples,
that what we know is something that those disciplines are now
quite curious about.
So the book is asking, with all those other thinkers looking
on, what if the world could use from us for making
in another register or gear?
We're largely trained to make object forms, like buildings,
and to assess them for their outline and shape.
And so we should.
And so we always will be doing that.
And it's a perfectly reasonable choice
to just only make object form, to choose that.
But what if there is also an artistic curiosity
about the active forms that are, as Pierre was
saying, like little bits of code in a software that actually
work with and empower object form
to determine how those objects will be organized
and multiplied and circulated.
And precisely because it's a moment where
we are focused on the ubiquity, even the political treachery,
of digital information systems, I'm
looking at space itself as an information system,
in the same way that Gregory Bateson would
say a man, a tree, and an ax is an information system.
So what if we actually do know how to hack the operating
system with the equivalent of a spatial software,
an active form of interplay that's
manifest in the head of the bulk of urban space?
And what if the more formulaic this matrix space,
the more difficult it is to design meaningful object form?
And maybe it may even be easier to design active forms,
to exploit the existing multipliers in that matrix
with amplifying effects.
And does this matrix space even tutor an expanded repertoire,
not only an expanded repertoire of form making,
but an expanded unorthodox approach to political activism
that's finding political capacities
latent in organization and underexploited in governance?
So I want to return to those questions.
But I just want to put some evidence on the table first.
Of all the spatial softwares that are currently
circulating around the globe in the spatial operating system,
a dominant software is the free zone.
It's the infrastructural technology
that the world now uses to make cities, the promotional videos
that are always the same.
They just zoom from outer space, that drop down through clouds
and locate a position on the Earth, which is now
the new center of the Earth.
And a deep movie trailer voice comes on
to list all the requisite features.
And stirring music accompanies a swoop
through cartoon skylines and resorts and suburbs and sun
This zone, what is it?
It's a relatively dumb enclave form.
And nobody really knows why we use it,
except that the world has become addicted to its special form
of incentivized urbanism.
It is the world's most popular contagious form, world city
But as a software, it's more primitive than MS-DOS.
But the wild mutations of this form over the last 30 years
I find strangely inspiring because they make a world
look insanely impenetrable.
But of course, it has ancient roots and pirate enclaves
and free ports.
But the zone mutated in the early 20th century,
as a US term, from an early 20th century warehousing compound
for storing custom free trade to a UN-promoted formula
for jump-starting the economies of developing countries.
This export processing zone, as it was called,
set up authorities independent from the domestic laws
of the host country.
So it provided incentives like tax exemptions
and foreign ownership of property
and streamlined customs, cheap labor, deregulation of labor
and environmental law.
And those are the same mantras that you hear the deep movie
trailer voice repeat, the neoliberal mantras that
are describing sort of someone else's freedom.
And while it remained in the backstage,
zone growth accelerated exponentially
after China adopted it as a market experiment.
And now China is kind of its own zone category,
employing the largest number of zone workers in the world,
making the zone a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.
UNIDO thought that the zone would just
dissolve back into the economy of the host country.
But the opposite happened.
Everything wanted to locate in the zone--
why wouldn't it-- to enjoy this kind
of lubricated economic condition and the kind
of political quarantine.
The zone is kind of the perfect island
of corporate externalizing.
So then, having sort of swallowed selected programs
and ejected others, it's become a germ
of an urban epidemic that reproduces
glittering mimics of Dubai and Singapore and Hong Kong all
over the world.
So the zone that used to look like this or this-- this
is a maquiladora in Tijuana-- or this now
looks like this or this or this.
And while in the '60s there were a handful of zones in the world
today, there are thousands, some measured in hectares, some
measured in square kilometers.
It's still treated by the global consultancies
as the Shibboleth, the essential signal of entry
into the global marketplace.
It's the nexus of every global technology,
the place of headquartering for every global player, always
described as a sort of clean slate, one-stop entry
into the economy of a foreign country.
Meanwhile, in its sweatshops and dormitories--
and this is a particularly cleaned
up one-- they are still hidden, legally stabilized
sites of often quite grisly labor abuse.
And it still fails to deliver on its economic promises.
And yet, the zone now more and more longs to call itself,
or does call itself, a city.
Now, perhaps even more than China, you all
know-- you've studied it-- Dubai has
used the zone to distinct advantages, as you know.
It's an aggregate of zone enclaves
for almost every imaginable program, and many of them
calling themselves a city.
You know this-- Dubai Maritime City, Dubai Knowledge Village,
Dubai Media City, Dubai Health Care City.
And each has a raft of different exemptions and laws.
In Dubai Media City, there's something like free speech
for some people.
Dubai international city-- but it's
the same right around the world.
I've been collecting urban porn, like I showed you
at the beginning.
And I've collected hours of it as these forms
travel around to 130 countries in the world.
This is HITEC city outside of Hyderabad.
And now, surpassing irony, even major cities
and national capitals want to have their own zone
doppelgangers that allow state and non-state actors to use
each other as brand or proxy or camouflage--
you probably know there's this new Songdo
city, a kind of double of Seoul in the Incheon free trade zone,
based on Venice, New York, Sydney, Central Park, Canal
Street, World Trade Center.
Or really surpassing irony, Astana,
the newly minted capital of Kazakhstan,
as supposedly the center of law now in a zone.
This is President Nazarbayev, sort
of paleoGenghis competition with Dubai.
So the zone is a very vivid vessel
of extrastatecraft, the title of this book,
where the "extra" means outside of and in addition
to the state.
Extrastatecraft doesn't describe a post-national world,
but a world where the nation has a new set of sneakier partners
and multiple nested forms of sovereignty.
So the zone emerges from this as a kind of-- I
was just in dialogue with Saskia Sassen-- you can see it
almost as a kind of gear of the expulsions that she describes.
And it kind of emerges from that,
what she calls, economic cleansing,
as a kind of strange form of intentional community
with colored fountains and faith in golf.
And it's a place where everyone speaks
the esperanto of standards of quality management ease.
And it has fantasy resorts and palaces where petrodollars
can get away to relax.
And the videos get more and more delirious
as the imagery becomes more and more
contagious around the world.
[video playback]
-Nothing is as rare and desirable as diamonds.
Diamond Palace attracts magically,
fascinates inside and out with its scintillating architecture.
The inner design of the palace transforms
the image and emotion of the diamond onto the visitor,
letting them become a part of the myth of the diamond.
[end playback]
And the organizational and political constitution
of the zone is always portrayed in this kind
of, if not extreme luxury, openness, relaxation, freedom.
But maintaining an autonomous control
over a closed loop of circumstances,
the zone embodies an inherently violent,
isomorphic disposition.
It's in an information paradox.
An enormous amount of information
is pulled down in these trade centers,
but an enormous amount of information
to remain information poor, a kind of special stupidity
that is the common tool of power.
And while it's extolled as an instrument
of economic liberalism, the zone often
trades a kind of state bureaucracy
for even more complex layers of extrastate governance
and market manipulation.
And for all its efforts to be apolitical,
it's in the crosshairs of global conflict.
And this supposed tool of economic and logistical
rationalization is really a perfect crucible
of irrationality.
And the next poorest country wants its mirror tiled skyline
at any cost.
We could look at another huge shift in global infrastructure
space by dropping down into East Africa, specifically Kenya.
It was one of the last places on Earth
to receive international fiber optic cable
and one of the places that's now poised
to experience some of the most explosive telecommunications
So in 2009, it looked like this.
And now it looks like this.
And now there are three international submarine cables.
The country's flush with broadband.
It's serving a dense population of cellphones.
And their cellphone ads, the telecom ads, look like this.
And as you know, but just to say it again, in 2000,
there were 750 million cell phone subscriptions
in the world.
Now there's 6.8 billion.
And 3/4 of them are in the developing world.
Mobile telephony is the world's largest shared platform.
Broadband infrastructure is a resource
that's treated like water.
And in Kenya, there's plenty of those 28-year-old
McKinsey consultants and bankers on the ground.
And the development expertise is spoken
in the languages of business and technology
and informatics and econometrics, all kinds
of metrics to link broadband to GDP to predict
the impacts of broadband on what they called development 2.0.
It's filled with jargon that you would expect.
And there's plenty of new entrepreneurs writing software
for billions of cellphones.
And those entrepreneurs, now that's
where the business models are coming from.
And there are entrepreneurs who know
how to use the cellphone as a multiplier
and carrier of all kinds of relationships that
have enormous spacial impact.
But the spacial consequences are somehow
treated as a kind of accidental byproduct of these networks.
Probably any urbanist worth their salt
would know about the relationship of a highway
and a railroad to the city.
They would know how those infrastructures territorialize.
But we're under-rehearsed in understanding
the spatial consequences of broadband and mobile telephony,
the fixed fiber that territorializes not
unlike a highway or a railroad, the atomized cloud
of cellphones and microwaves, and then all
of the switches in between, any one of which can become
a choke point or monopoly.
So digital technologies have spatial consequences,
but spatial technologies also have consequences
on digital networks.
And yet, no one's deliberately writing
the protocols that start with space
in the broadband technoscape.
And all you find is a kind of generic, outmoded zone
on offer.
So Kenya's getting that, the same-- Konza Techno
City or LAPSSET is treated like a good idea.
It's a transportation corridor between Lamu and Juba,
the capital of South Sudan, as will
be studded with zones and resorts
and deliver oil for refining to the coast.
So in a country that's poised to change the terms of urban
around infrastructure, they are adopting an old, potentially
dangerous development formula around heavy resource
And there's more of it, more plan,
like Machakos New City or new Kenya-China Economic Zone
or somewhere else in Africa-- you can maybe turn the volume
up a little bit--
[video playback]
-Lean forward to the Golden Coast.
-Lekki Free Trade Zone is receiving
every day the warm breeze from the Atlantic.
The German philosopher Hegel once said,
the breeze from the ocean is a call for trading.
Similarly, the breeze blowing over Lekki Free Trade Zone
is sending you a warm and a faithful invitation
for investment and trade.
Please accept this warm invitation and call.
Go to Lekki for investment.
Go to Lekki for development.
-Let us join hands in cooperation
to create a beautiful tomorrow.
[end playback]
Wipe the tears from your eyes.
So that used to be the end of my talk.
But in Enduring Innocence, I was largely
reporting on what was out there.
But in Extrastatecraft, I'm trying to mix--
and you'll see if you think this works--
but I'm trying to mix evidentiary segments
with contemplative segments in a book that's
rehearsing a habit of mind, rehearsing
for an encounter with the space.
So again, we know that we can contribute object form
to this matrix space, and that would
be an exceptional experiment.
There have been exceptional experiments in object form
in these environments.
But if there is an artistic curiosity
about designing not only object form, but active form,
the active form that's like the little bits of code
in the software that would allow us to kind of hack
into some of the world's most powerful spatial softwares,
how do you do it?
How does one begin to design a spatial interplay that's
like software, that's like a little machine for producing
Well, if I've done my job in this book,
there should be the sense that we already know how to do it,
that it's only a skill or a talent that's
been under-rehearsed or, I would say, under-indulged,
because in this field of nearly identical suburban houses,
we see object forms, but we also know that there's
a simple software or operating system there
that is doing something and that that agency is
decoupled from stories about home ownership and patriotism.
In other words, it's saying something
different from what it's doing.
And we know what it's doing.
It's doing something that makes some things possible
and some things impossible, just like an operating system.
There's a bit of simple code here.
And it's the simplest of active forms that's at work here.
It's a multiplier.
It's generating multiple slabs and frames and roofs
in this almost agricultural matrix space.
And we can design the single house, the single object form.
We can rush up to one of those and fix it with all our skills.
But it would extend our power to be able to also design it
as an active form, another multiplier or contagion that
uses the organization as a carrier, a multiplier that
potentially changes this landscape,
like the elevator changed urban morphology.
And we were just talking about the cellphone, which
is, in some ways, an elevator, will have that much impact.
We're less accustomed to the idea that space can be an actor
and that it can be a carrier of information, that's
it's an information system even if it's not coded with sensors
and information technologies.
Space, however static, possesses agency.
And that information resides in what we can only
call disposition, the character or propensity
of an organization that resides in the activity
or the potentials latent in the organization.
And there's nothing mysterious about that word "disposition,"
word in common parlance.
A ball on an inclined plane, through its geometry
and relative position, it possesses disposition.
And we already know something about the topology or wiring
of an organization as a marker of its disposition.
Network topology begins with an urban question,
like the Koenigsburg bridge problem,
which, I'm sure you know, began with a sort of bet in a bar,
that you couldn't get back to that bar
without crossing one of the bridges of Koenigsburg
more than once.
We know about that disposition, the latent potential
in typology, in sequence, relationship linkage.
And these relationships in space that are almost so patently
obvious to us are not obvious to some 28-year-old
McKinsey consultants and bankers and org men who are currently
manipulating this space.
We know the disposition of these organizations.
We even know something about their political temperament,
which adds yet another power, skill to what we know.
Where they concentrate power or authority or violence,
we know how to adjust that.
We know which one is a smuggling ring.
We know which one is mainframe computing.
We know which one is like a railroad.
We know which one is like buried fiber, which one's
like clouds of microwaves.
We know which one's like the zone in disposition, which
one was like FireChat, the little protocol
that the protesters in Hong Kong used to avoid the central kill
And one simple example of a spatial software that I always
use-- and forgive me if you've heard me
say this before-- but one simple software is Savannah.
It's an 18th century American city that Oglethorp designed.
He didn't design the plat as an object form,
but rather as a software, as a kind of growth protocol.
The town would grow by wards.
And those wards provided explicit instructions
for relationships about quotients
between public or private or green space,
as well as agricultural space beyond.
So when you had a ward, you also would reserve a quotient
of agricultural space beyond.
He didn't design a thing, but an instruction for relationships
between things.
And you didn't know the shape of the town's outline,
even though you had an explicit measured spatial instruction.
I would say it's like a governor,
like a thermostat as a governor, an interplay
between counterbalancing variables
or a time-released instruction for the ongoing activities
of urban space.
So it's pretty simple.
We can design a multiplier.
We could design a delta.
We could design a valve, a governor, a switch.
We can tune a topology.
And all these things are like-- they're not the only one,
but they're like little markers or bits of code
or active forms that are kind of like the spatial equivalent
of software.
So they're shaping not a single object form,
but a stream of objects.
And I just hasten to say-- I guess I've said it already--
but I just hasten to say again, this
is a non-modern proposition.
Active form does not replace.
Object form works with it, propels it,
hopefully into a kind of redoubled territory
of operation, again, with different aesthetic pleasures
and political capacities.
But the aesthetic pleasures of active form and interplay,
if they're dispositional, if they're time-released,
they're often less about knowing that and more about knowing
how, which I'm borrowing from Gilbert Ryle.
So in some ways, the aesthetic pleasures,
if they involve knowing-- I'll slow way down-- if they involve
knowing how, they're about exceeding intellection.
It's a habit of mind that's capable of working
with changing unfinished process for which there can only
be dynamic markers.
So it's a mind like a chess master,
so I could see many moves ahead, except that this game
can't be rationalized.
I would say, in this world, confidence games trump game
theory, or cybernetics of behaviorism
or any of the other kind of determinant frameworks
that our discipline has gotten stuck on at various moments,
snagged on.
The markers are indeterminate-- sounds contradictory--
but the markers are indeterminate to be practical.
Like one can only know how to navigate a river by observing
the ripples and dimples that are changing on the surface.
You can only know how to kind of correlate card
combinations in poker against the changing
faces of the players.
You can only know how to feel for the potentials in bread
and dough or land a plane in high wind or sling
plaster or hustle or kiss or tell a joke.
There's things you can only know how to do.
And active forms and the dispositions they generate
are markers or diagnostics in the fluid politics
of Extrastatecraft.
So that used to be maybe another place where the talk could end.
And this book talks less about what to do and more
about how to do it.
But maybe it's useful to sort of back to the zone
or go through a few examples.
If we return to the zone, in addition
to designing the skyscraper, we can take advantage of the fact
that the zone is itself a contagious
platform, as it's obvious.
We could design something to multiply within the zone
and potentially change it as radically as it's
changed over the last 30 years.
And you see things like those coloredy fountains that race
through a population of zones.
Many things become contagious within it.
So a hack might release a germ.
And the aesthetic pleasures there
are not about I finished the master plan.
The aesthetic pleasures are about exploiting a contagion,
about population effects.
Or a hack might establish a kind of time-released interplay.
For instance, given a zone's ambition to be a city,
it may already even carry the genetics of its own reversal,
its own antidote.
One way to hack the zone-- and if there
is a one-liner in the book, it might be this--
but one way to hack the zone is to map selected zone incentives
back onto existing cities rather than ex urban enclaves,
return the zone to the rule of law
when it comes to the oversight of labor,
and more directly, return financial benefits
to the domestic economy.
It's what UNIDO thought would actually happen.
And just as there is an interdependence
between something like public and private space in Savannah,
a zone incentive can become part of a time-released
counterbalancing interplay.
In Nairobi, for instance, if zone centers
were located in Nairobi instead of a new Kenya-China Economic
Zone or something, zone incentives
could be linked to any number of things-- for instance, transit.
And that machine for generating space
develops infrastructure while also delivering workers
to business.
So what the work would be-- again, not the master plan, not
the thing, but the identifying of counterbalancing linkage.
Digital variables, as we said before, influence space.
But the spatial variables also influence digital networks.
So if the constant desired outcome in Nairobi,
the outcome of broadband urbanism,
is to access information, then crucial
is access to the information of the digital systems,
but it's also crucial to access the information of the city.
Even outside Nairobi, an active form
might place broadband and roads in an interdependence.
Seems unlikely.
But dialing up broadband for the fixed service
that attracts university and tourism might result
in dialing down roads, roads that would disrupt
the wilderness and indigenous culture,
the information carried in space that's
important to universities and tourism.
Dialing up broadband also makes roads less essential.
And roads can interrupt the spatial information of the city
by inflating spaces and distances for vehicles,
information, again, embedded in the city that's
made more immediate by walking or transit or bicycle.
So an architect who can make active form
as well as object form-- into another example--
can think about even not only making
the development lurch forward, but making it go into reverse.
If object form usually results in the addition of more stuff,
does an active form let you do even the opposite,
put the building machine into reverse?
Can we use the interplay of counterbalancing forces
to target or contract or even delete development
in the floodplains of New Orleans or Bangkok,
in the Amazon rainforest or in McMansion suburbia?
And I won't go into detail, but one software,
like Savannah in reverse, or if you
play Go-- I don't know if you play Go--
but like a reverse game of Go, is a subtraction protocol--
I'll just race through here-- but something that
is about making not walls, but clearings,
making an interplay between properties that may even
be remote to each other.
And less important than the details
of this little software-- that's another lecture-- but it's
just the idea, the habit of mind about designing interplay
This is another one, which is about retreating
from floodplain by using a set of levers
to do with insurance and mortgage.
So I won't go into detail about it.
There are not only different aesthetic pleasures, but also
different political capacities of active form
and infrastructure space.
And they're different from the familiar scripts
of political activism, where you usually find
strongly held, forthright beliefs that galvanize around
declaration, a fight for solidarity, decency, justice.
And an activist may fight and die for these principles
using techniques that at many junctures in history
have required enormous courage to enact.
David must kill Goliath.
That's the sort of classic script
that we are equipped with.
And yet, many powerful players in infrastructure space
survive on fluid, undeclared intentions.
And it's pretty easy for them to toy with and trick descent
if declaration is considered to be the only thing that
registers as information.
So when targeted, they wander away from the bullseye.
Or Goliath finds a way to come dressed as David.
Or they're saying something different from what
they're doing.
The story is discrepant from the real disposition
of the organization, which I keep arguing we would
be very good at detecting.
But it's in these situations that dissent is often left
shaking its fists at an effigy.
It showed up to the proper barricade or border crossing.
But the real violence is happening over your shoulder.
The real violence is happening somewhere else
and can only cure the problem with another purification
And there's surely moments when dissent
must stand up and name an opponent
and assume as kind of binary stance of resistance.
But I'm trying to think about a kind of auxiliary,
some way of supporting this dissent
with the dispositional capacities of infrastructure
space that are more performative than prescriptive.
So they offer a dissensus that's harder to target, less
interested in binaries, and less interested in being right,
a shrewder, cagier counter to the stealthy global players,
an alternative extrastatecraft, where the declared intention
may be less important than the undeclared disposition
and where righteousness may be less
consequential than the discrepant or the fictional
or the sly.
So I'm sort of describing a sneakier David, who would never
bother to kill Goliath, but a David who
could be a secret partner to the righteous activist,
maybe even soften up ground to increase
their chances of success, maybe an unwelcome, unwitting partner
to that righteous activist.
And that auxiliary activist works, again,
less on knowing that or knowing what,
knowing what to righteously oppose,
and works more on knowing how to oppose it.
So consider what are the political capacities
of something like a switch or a remote
that benefits from remaining not only indirect,
but maybe also undetected or at a distance, reconditioning
at a remove in space and time.
For activists here, we often long to directly confront
and cure a problem, just as the designer often
longs to address urban issues with object form,
get our hands dirty, go to the actual place.
But often, the real toggles of urbanity may be elsewhere.
And active form maybe allows you to adjust the capacities
of entire network by altering the repertoire of one's switch
within it.
Also, infrastructure spaces is not a duel.
And in this dispositional register,
one doesn't square off against every weed in the field
when you can remotely change the chemistry of the soil.
The multipliers that make up infrastructure space
can be accelerated by all the irrationality
that I've been showing you, by narrative active forums,
like a rumor.
Rumor is one of the most successful
political techniques, rumor and gossip.
And maybe only a design that combines
organizational active forms with narrative active forms
has any chance of successfully engaging
the world's spacial products.
A couple of years ago, I was invited to a conference
of zone developers.
And I gave them fair warning that I
was a critic of the zone.
And they were-- oh, Professor Easterling.
They were so nice about it.
But I sort of realized it was the perfect place
to spread a rumor, to tell a little lie,
to tell a rumor that the next smart report,
that the next smartest zone operators were doing what
we were just talking about, locating zone incentives
in existing cities to avoid all kinds of costs and to find--
and I went through the whole thing.
And there were plenty of people, almost everyone who
bit on that hook.
And in some ways, it doesn't matter.
It's like an anecdotal thing.
What does become the new contagious symbolic capital?
It's what is obviously fueling this.
It can't be more unlikely than buildings that are shaped
like diamonds or dolphins.
Or in addition to kind of binary resistance,
the tense resistance of the binary,
consider the power of non-oppositional inflections
of active forms, like the gift or the panda
or forms of exaggerated compliance.
The panda, as you know, is a sweet, sort
of arm-twisting gift, like China's gift
to Taiwan of two pandas, their names, when translated,
meant "reunion" or "unity."
And we have running through our fingers pandas.
The zone incentives or broadband capacity
might be just such a leveraging gift.
But they're often not used to leverage anything.
They're not part of an active interplay.
Or in Domination and the Arts of Resistance,
James C. Scott provides this great example
of exaggerated compliance that he
finds in a portion of Milan Kundera's The Joke.
In that novel, you remember, the prisoners in the story
are challenged to a foot race against the guards.
And so they know they have to lose.
And the prisoners decide to run very slowly
against the sprinting guards.
So their compliance disarms and delivers independence
from authority.
And in Extrastatecraft, it's the same thing.
Picking one's submissions rather than one's battles
is an almost invisible, noncontroversial means
of gaining advantage in a field.
Sometimes it allows you to do it without drawing attention
to your larger strategy.
The binary dispositions of head-to-head conflict
are often marked by competition, by symmetrical mimicry, that
leads to escalating violence.
But another kind of mimicry, the double,
can be a source of confusion or disguise or trickery,
the doubles to shill or the proxy,
like the twin siblings that fool the world.
The double can hijack the existence of its counterpart.
And you see that already in the doubles that I showed you.
Rather than engaging in a fight with the risk of escalating it
or being drawn into its vortex, all of the active forms
might be politically enhanced by distracting from the fight.
Meaninglessness that is considered
by the forthright activist to be a complete evacuation
of principles can be the opposite.
It can be incredibly politically powerful.
Misdirections and distractions can lull and redirect
the most intractable political situations.
Obfuscations, irrational desire, circuitous stories
are lubricants with enormous political instrumentality.
It's all I see.
And like the comedian who learned
to tell jokes to keep his parents from fighting,
that's part of not knowing that, but knowing how.
An architect might even know how to deploy a spatial variable
to reduce the violence of binaries
or dissipate monistic concentrations of authority
as they are embedded in space.
So in infrastructure space, it's routine to deal
with the irrational, the discrepant,
and the indeterminate, because it's
not only more practical, but more vigilant,
than righteousness.
With active forms of interplay, a snaking chain of moves
can worm into matrix space and gradually generate leverage
against intractable politics.
So maybe when we pan back over this matrix space,
we see nothing but artistic opportunities,
an additional kind of pleasure, artistic pleasure,
and excess and power in the art of infrastructure space.
Infrastructure space may be the secret weapon
of the most powerful, but two can play at this game.
Thank you.
So if you'd like to hold on for a few minutes,
Charles Waldheim is joining us in conversation
with Keller Easterling.
We have 15, 20 minutes for conversation, a few questions.
We thought that it'd be appropriate to kind
of transition to questions, that we could in many respects
invite Charles to share a few reflections.
And also, at the same time, I was thinking maybe Kiel and I--
I'm not sure whether or not, after the lecture,
we should invite Richard Branson to lecture or not next year.
But we can consult with the dean afterwards.
But thank you very much, Keller.
I'll leave you with the floor, Charles.
Thanks, Pierre.
I'm sure that Beth Kramer in developmental
would welcome Richard Branson.
I'm sure we can see him on a poster soon.
Pierre has given me the enviable but impossible task
of following Keller's prose.
So I just want to begin by just taking a moment and pausing
and just saying, I don't know about you,
because I could sit there and listen to that all night.
It's kind of you to be here.
And I know that we want to spend the bulk of our time
continuing to her Keller elaborate her thoughts
and hearing from you with your questions.
It's striking to me that, among other things,
one could begin by saying, Keller,
your work has been so impactful for so long, for so many of us.
And at the same moment, I think it's
timely to reflect on it in the context of the MDes
We have this luxury of these round-numbered anniversaries.
And I'm thinking of the MDes 40-year anniversary, but also
the 50th anniversary his year of the founding of the laboratory
for computer graphics, which we'll be commemorating
in a couple of weeks, as well.
So with those kind of legacies in mind,
for me, I think one of the most interesting questions
to begin with would be the shift that you signal over the two
most recent books, which really work as a set of paired
complementary between Enduring Innocence and Extrastatecraft.
From what you described as reportage to something
that's, on the one hand, meant to be
more directly political, but also a bit more
of a disciplinary formation, it's
been a bit more challenge for us in these buildings.
And I just want to hear you say something a little bit more
off script about that and the evolution of your thinking.
What caused you to think that moving beyond reportage
was timely and important to do?
Well, I found it always so strange
that the questions after Enduring
Innocence that I would be asked, but what are your politics?
And I didn't understand the question.
How could you say what your politics are?
I mean, obviously, we are all opposed
to the abuses of other human beings and the environment.
That's the easy part.
But how to do those things, how to approach them,
seem to be the--
[phone ringing]
That's not my phone.
Might be.
It's calling.
It's Branson.
So sorry.
Sorry about that.
And I'm a designer.
I'm a designer.
And I work with students on design.
And so it also seemed to me that many of these things which
we have long regarded in our discipline
as something that's outside of the discipline, that
has nothing to do with our art, it
becomes so clear that it's possible
that it amplifies our powers, that the very pervasiveness
of this space is this something that potentially
amplifies our powers.
So it seemed that then design studios
and so on could be rehearsals for that.
So it's maybe just starting to reflect the ongoing work
with these spaces.
In that context, I think many of us here have been,
over the last several years, and I suspect maybe
in other schools or architecture, as well,
still struggling with the question of, on the one hand,
the desire for autonomy, cultural autonomy
of the architect, the role of the architect
and their purview, their agency, the space of their activities,
relative to the petered externalities that you
and I and others are so interested
in, in a kind of debate around, on the one hand,
rehearsing a kind of Gesellschaft,
Gemeinschaft debate interminably.
But at the same moment, if these externalities
are within the purview of the agency of design,
then a whole host of questions appear immediately that you
begin to address, I think, in both books,
and certainly in the most recent one most forthrightly.
So on the one hand, I think you make a very clear argument
for how this epistemology, this way of seeing the world,
this way of understanding the world, producing
knowledge in it, might position the architect on campus
with a renewed sense of centrality, or at least
a renewed relevance for audience.
And that seems fairly clear in what you said this evening,
but also in the book itself.
I remember just recently, in the last couple
of years, when a variety of people at the Kennedy School
realized that our students know how to map things really well.
All of a sudden, we started getting a lot more invitations
to things.
And with a great deal of enthusiasm, of course,
we all accepted them.
And then, after a year or so, we began
to realize, well, we're just illustrating
what's going on in the Jordan Valley and these other forces
and flows that you describe.
And so could you say something more about that,
the introduction of these topics for the architect
or those in the design sphere and their centrality
within the play of disciplines on campus?
And beyond simple illustration, beyond reportage, what role
does the education of the architect
play in kind of recentering the design disciplines on campus?
That's such a good question.
Well, I have been trying in a small at Yale
to elevate spatial studies among the other disciplines
from global affairs to health to environment to forestry and art
and so on.
I think Yale probably is the place which
is training the 28-year-old McKinsey consultant or CIA
I don't know.
And their global affairs are still
about nation state and very mid-century sort of training.
So it's become very clear to me that for them
to be able to have a chance to think
about the power of spatial variables is important.
I don't know how successful I've been in making it more central.
But it is a way to sort of trip the lock on that conundrum
or the ongoing perennial argument
that we often have in our disciple, some kind of fear
of losing disciplinarity, some kind of fear of diluting.
But that is not the problem.
But it's more that there are other disciplines
outside of ours that could use our knowledge
and could use our special skills and our correlative thinking
and on and on.
It's a persuasive argument.
I think, in some ways, your intellectual project
more broadly, by reclaiming space, all of space
and the production of space, as the [inaudible] of our fields,
I think your longer term intellectual project speaks
to that even beyond just these two books.
So staying with the disciplinary relationships,
I have a moment where I was thinking
it would have been interesting if Neil Brenner had been here
this evening.
And I won't be able to do his precise intonation.
But I want to suggest if Neil were with us,
he might say something like, OK, so
extrastatecraft-- your formulation of extrastatecraft
implies, at least, among other things,
that what goes on within the FTC, within Free Trade Zone,
is really outside the state's monopoly
on a certain set of jurisdictional and operational
But I have a sense that if Neil were with us,
he would ask something like, is it
in fact precisely through the power
to deliver the Free Trade Zone that the state is inscribing
its power?
Isn't this just a re-inscription of state powerfulness?
And in what ways is it external to that?
It is another power of the state.
But it's the state, as I was saying,
with a new set of sneakier partners.
It's a longstanding oscillation, a historical oscillation.
The state gets pirates.
The state gets another set of more powerful pirates.
It was interesting in dialogue with Saskia last week,
because she talks about a kind of de-nationalizing process
that is about empowering some selected players
and disempowering others in that process.
It doesn't erase the power of the nation.
It makes the nation powerful in another way
and delivers that power to, usually,
a select few who are in partnership with the state.
So yeah, outside of and in addition to the state.
And so in that regard, your call for habit of mind,
a propensity for and ability to respond to,
to not simply describe, to be prepared
to hack, to intervene upon, to throw some sand in the years,
if not a spanner.
All of that are really about the audiences in this building
and about how we might be able to get
beyond the simple empirical after a couple of decades
of empirical work.
It strikes me that it would be fair also
to situate your work in this regard in a lineage
of the last couple of decades.
I'm thinking of work that Pierre was referencing
from the 1990s of people like Alejandro Zaera-Polo or Alex
Wall, in which logistics, operating
protocols, infrastructure were seen as a kind of other.
And in that work, there was an appropriation
into our field that had a sense of diversification,
of expanding the realm, the agency of the architect.
But I think, having participated in that myself a little bit, I
think, overwhelmingly, that economy
has been in one direction.
That is, we in architectural culture
have been learning from these forces and flows and processes
and changing the terms of reference for our own work,
changing the context for our own cultural production.
At the same moment, it's challenging enough
to come upon examples of that economy working
in both directions.
And so I think it would be fair in this context
to draw you out a little bit more on,
are there cases, examples, we could point to
from your work for this audience in which it's not simply we
fetishizing the operational performance and condition
and political economy of infrastructure,
but in fact, where the architect was kind of upstream
far enough to hack the system?
It's tricky to know where to place yourself in that.
And it is something that has to be rehearsed.
Almost one wants to rehearse your reactivity
to different situations rather than
to say, this is the way to do it,
that there is only one way to do it.
But there would be many ways to do it.
And I agree with you that it concerns me
when architects seem less powerful than they are,
than they should be.
So you might think, oh, well, the way
to do that is to learn to work with an NGO
or something like that-- and that's absolutely not what I'm
saying-- or that there's some proper way to enter politics,
to learn about policy.
That's not what I'm saying.
And in fact, in the book, there's a story about ISO
and other kinds of proper parliaments of the NG-ocracy.
And so I'm sort of suggesting that one
doesn't go get that second degree in global affairs,
That's not what I'm saying, but that we have ways of-- well,
I don't know how to do this, because you need sort
of like 20 examples or none.
But there are many ways in which we can hack that system.
And I don't know if you want me to give examples.
So here's an analogy that comes to mind.
I wonder if this would fit the bill for you.
So in the last several years, within the MDes,
there's been quite a lot of enthusiasm
for what we generically refer to as border studies,
the role of the architect and returning
to mapmaking, cartography, in revealing
the spaciality of a certain political economy
or a certain set of political choices.
And so that's one set of examples
that would be available.
In that regard, I do think that there
is something recurring about the architect's ability
to organize and manage information
with a certain professional identity.
But I think a part of what's really so impactful for me
in the last two books has been the notion
that the spatial metier is itself always inherently
And it seems to be consistently, throughout both books, the idea
that the material that we're working with, the media itself,
is itself political.
It inscribes a set of political relationships.
And that in some ways-- I'm inferring, and correctly me
that I get this wrong-- in some ways,
I take your position to be that by reaching out and getting
the third degree in political science or joining the NGO
or externalizing all of its social agency
neglects the inherent politics of space itself.
Is that a fair reading?
Well, it's just that you all are--
and the work that you do here, is exceptional.
And the work of architects at this level
is so information rich.
I could tell you, in studios that we work on at Yale,
where we were actually-- so we're actually
rehearsing these things, and rehearsing both object
form and active form.
Why would you give up?
Again, it's a non-modern proposition.
It's adding skills to the repertoire,
but heavily reliant on object form.
But we do studios which are not kind
of masterpiece studios, where you design your finished
masterpiece, but studios where you
are allowed to test your reactivity
to different conditions.
So there are studios that are more like an improv class
in a drama school.
And the students design more and more and more.
I mean, I'm at Yale, so the dean has
to look sort of with half-closed eyes from six feet away
and see lots of object form.
And it answers all of those things.
But there is throughout the test a series
of forks in the road and decisions
where students are allowed to test their political savvy,
make forms on all different kinds of level,
from irrational desires to technical details, highly
technical details.
If you don't have that technical skill, it's not going to work.
And some of those students have been successful.
They're actually doing it.
Parenthetically, still set in every mid review,
I recall this about-- it's, to my mind, quite remarkable.
So one of the things I want to press on a little bit
has to do with our context here in the reception
or in the wake of Ferguson.
We've had a number of conversations in this space,
in this building, about the implications
of the conversations that are taking
place about race and space and social justice
and social agency.
And among other things that came out
of those discussions was that for many of our colleagues,
many of our cohort, a sense that what was really immediately
most pressing and available wasn't spatial, necessarily,
a sense that, well, there are courses on campus,
maybe at the Kennedy School, maybe at the law school,
and a sense that the real traction, the real street
credibility, the real issues had to do
with the nexus of media, popular opinion, law, governance.
And I, for one, at least, have participated
in many of those conversations.
I think it's been a very important set of conversations
for us.
And at the same moment, I feel as though we are only just now
beginning to come to terms with, well, what
are the special implications?
What do we have by way of knowledge in these areas that
don't fall directly into immediately social justice
post '68 in planning as opposed to the autonomy of design
And that's pretty far afield from your talk tonight.
And so don't hesitate to wave me off.
But any thoughts about that as it pertains to your interests?
Well, the obvious social justice issues in infrastructure space
have to do with labor and how labor is treated-- environment,
as well.
But I'm always amazed that, again,
in the NG-ocracy that speaks in informatics and standards.
Even the activist NGOs speak in terms of standards,
like kind of mimicking the ISO 9000 quality management,
because it's a habit within the corporate world.
But I see that there are often things like standards,
there's a currency of something like that.
And often, there are new standards
to do with environment.
That's an easy one because it comes
with-- I'm sure you talk about this all the time-- because it
comes with another kind of asset for a corporate culture.
But there is nothing about labor.
There's one standard that I've found in ISO about how long
a man can stay in a refrigerator.
But there is nothing, there is nothing, to-- and as you know,
most of the global superpowers have signed no compact
about how labor will be treated.
And this goes on for decades.
There's no hope that somehow-- or there may
be hope when one works on the legal side
and on the standard side.
But in the meantime, part of the idea about infrastructure space
and what we know about a city, we
know that a factory that's in the middle of Nairobi
or a factory that's way out where no one can see it,
we know the power of a city.
And it's an undeclared power.
But again, what you know about urbanity is incredibly powerful
and can be a kind of undeclared power.
It doesn't seem dangerous to anybody.
Or at least there's that potential.
There's that potential in space to-- if we were doing
as I was suggesting, locating factories back
in cities instead of ex urban enclaves,
we know the power of a city to bring some more surveillance
or potentially to return the oversight of that labor
to the rule of law.
So those are the kin of issues that are out there
in infrastructure space.
And again, space could be a powerful, undeclared point
of leverage in it.
I know that there are questions in the audience.
As you're getting your questions teed up--
I think we have a couple of microphones--
I can't help but take the self-indulgent opportunity just
to talk to you just about writing.
Apart from what the subject matter or the content
is, the implication for these fields
and what we've been discussing, this is an observation--
and I'm happy to be dissuaded-- but my perception
has been, as a reader of your work,
that there has been a longstanding interest
in the writing for its own sake.
That may be overstating it, but the idea of writing as such.
But with these two most recent books in particular,
my sense of it is, well, you've always been
in command of the material.
You've also in these two books been
in control of a sense of the craft, if I could
put it that way, and not only the symmetry
between the spoken word here and what's in print,
but equally, moments when the language, the Barthian sense
of the rustle of language pushes back.
And if you could say a little-- I
know that many of us in the building
spend our days and nights writing
or thinking about writing or reading about writing.
And given that that's a sizable proportion certainly
of the MDes activity, advice to writers?
It seems always like a complete struggle.
And Enduring Innocence was-- the world
was making it very easy for me in Enduring
Innocence in some ways because I had decided to write
a kind of footnoted fiction.
And it was easy, since there was so many irrational tales
to be told.
This book was a lot harder because I
was supposed to write for a general audience.
And it's what I wanted, without writing in that kind of Malcolm
Gladwellian teaser language--
Where you gloss very quickly over a dozen academics
sort of toiling away.
Or any of the other TED Talk locutions or something.
How could you develop a kind of quiet voice
that would be talking about something for which you need
a book, for which you need something that lasts as
long as a book, to be with a reader for awhile
or to be with a reader and make a short segment that one might
need to read.
You might have to have a different relationship
with the reader to go quiet, to slow down.
But there was quite a lot of resistance
with having a book that was experimenting
with evidentiary segments and contemplative segments.
And it did get kind of flattened into something like chapters
that are just parallel.
So I don't know about-- I don't have any advice because I
feel like such a novice myself.
But the--
So for any of my doctoral students that are here, first
of all, it's really hard, and it takes two decades
to be a novice.
So maybe you have questions.
Keller, thanks for a beautiful talk-- very beautiful,
but suspiciously beautiful.
And I want to talk about maybe aesthetics.
I was struck by the comment you made at the beginning
about describing the images as porn.
And I wasn't quite sure why you meant porn.
But I assume because it was a rather tacky, glitzy,
postmodern architecture.
And I'm wondering what would happen
if it was, say, Peter Zumthor or Herzog and de Meuron whose
buildings were there.
But it strikes me that there's a danger
that we as designers focus too much on the visual,
on the formal.
On my understanding, the future of the city
is going to be governed less by form and more
by informational systems.
I think the way that we think Uber or Lyft are operating
today or some other kind of-- Nest
or those kind of control systems that are controlling our homes
and things, that's the kind of intelligence that's
going to be part of the thing.
And it strikes me that, really, the problem
that we have as designers is we have marginalized ourselves
by focusing precisely on the design as such.
You talk about hacking into the zones, this new system.
Well, I don't think we need to hack into it.
The system's been there in its different guises
for many years.
And we simply left ourselves out of the equation
because we come in at the very end,
and we just put the icing on the cake.
And I would want to just draw the distinction between, say,
urban planners and urban designers.
Urban planners are there at the very beginning.
They're involved in all the strategic decision
making by policymakers, by politicians.
If there is any designer at all, it's
probably some civil engineer who's
going to design the roads and so on.
And we've left ourselves completely out of the equation
because we just wait till the very end and do the final bit.
It strikes me that really what we
should be doing as designers is redesigning what
we do as designers and really focusing ourselves
on those strategic aspects and locking into that.
We've simply marginalized ourselves.
There's no reason why we can't be part of that process.
Is that fair?
I agree.
And showing you this porn is just cheap.
But I want to show it to you.
Some of it is so odd.
And I end up wanting to show it.
And at least it makes it clear that the world is not somehow
run off of cast iron economic logics or law or something.
It's clear that those supposedly serious things
are being buffeted about by the most ridiculous desires.
And that I find empowering.
So that's a little bit why I show it.
But I agree completely with what you're saying.
I'm trying to say that the object of our design
might be slightly different, that what we might
be designing, instead of as that urban designer,
not be delivering the master plan to Nairobi or Kitow
or Guadalajara and congratulating ourselves
on what a genius work it was.
And if they don't adopt it, then it's
just because they just weren't clever enough
to see the purity of the design and how perfect it was.
That happens over and over and over again.
It's so incredibly tedious that it
seems like the very thing that we are designing
is the wrong thing.
So what would it be like if, in addition to that, what
we were designing was something like an interplay, something
like an interdependence that was time-released,
that could be changed, that required incredible vigilance,
that wasn't over, that wasn't finished,
that was more about tools for steering a process,
identifying toggles and levers and linkages.
Thank you for the talk.
You show us the porn twice.
And at the end, it was on a slightly more optimistic note.
But given the inscrutability of this extrastatecraft,
I wonder what sort of criteria do
you think it can be used to distinguish, to put it naively,
good from bad, right from wrong, extrastatecraft
and to actually enact it in a sort of optimistic way?
I don't really talk that much about what
would be good or bad.
But I think that the criteria is whether it releases
more information or not.
I think it is about somehow assessing the disposition
of an organization.
Is it an isomorphic disposition that locks down
on information, which I find inherently violent,
or is a system that releases information?
I know that sounds incredibly abstract.
But it was also what I was trying
to talk about as the theory of productive or criminal piracy.
When does piracy release information,
like breaks a blockade, and when is it
just kind of a criminal theft or something that
increases violence?
So reducing violence, increasing information, reducing abuse,
increasing information, what are the acts that do that?
What are the organizational dispositions that do that?
I'm up here.
I'd like to push you a little bit more
and following on the first question,
a lot of the discussion you had about how we hack
and how we get from where we are and how designers get there
into what's going on, maybe in terms of the zone,
because what I see right now and what occurred to me while you
were talking is maybe one step or one end
point is that the 28-year-old McKinsey consultant is replaced
by the 27-year-old MMARC or something like that.
And maybe that's totally wrong.
But from what we've seen so far, maybe we as designers
aren't doing a very good job of that right now.
I think of the opportunity that, say,
Zaha Hadid had to say something about the labor
practices of building a World Cup stadium in Qatar,
which maybe is a ridiculous thing for her
to be doing anyway.
But when it came to it, she said,
I have nothing to do with the labor practices.
And I think that wasn't very good.
But for us, I'm not maybe asking a career question.
I'm asking maybe a political question
because you have to get into the power,
and you have to participate.
But then you have to switch at some point
and maybe show your true colors, or else you just
won't be invited back to participate
or you won't be able to participate in the first place.
So I guess that's my question is, how do you do that?
Well, the protagonist that you're describing
or the sort of character that's moving through this world,
as I'm understanding you, might be
somebody who is already a little bit more downstream
in the system, in which case, it becomes
quite difficult to do anything.
But the kinds of work I'm talking about
are not necessarily deploying spatial studies or spatial
variables in a kind of fee-for-service practice
But we've been kind of rehearsing
alternative modes of practice, other kinds
of entrepreneurial modes of practice, social, political,
but also commercially entrepreneurial forms
of practice.
I don't think that what's implied
here is that one has to work from within
or be a kind of double agent in these situations,
but really that what you might be doing
is really manipulating it from the outside, which
looks a little bit like from within,
but in the sense that it's not just
standing with a placard saying, I am against this.
It's starting to work with it, manipulate it, con it.
There was something else I was going to say.
This is what I was going to say.
This is not for everybody.
There's no reason why you should be artistically interested in
There's no "ought to," like, oh, you ought to be.
It just is this something that is exciting to you
artistically or not.
It's not as if this is wagging a finger at the profession
to be more interested in this or that.
It occurs to me, in relationship to this question,
the dean of the business school at the University of Toronto,
a fellow called Roger Martin, has
been saying for many years-- and it's
a part of what he's done at the school there--
is he wants to train his MBAs, his brand managers,
to think and act and work more like architects.
And when I was driving, listening to the CBC,
I almost drove off the road.
On the one hand, of course, what have we
been waiting for all these years with that kind of traction
and centrality and oxygen.
And at the same moment, inherent in that formulation
is a kind of ambivalence.
On the one hand, I immediately imagine,
well, you mean less well capitalized, without health
insurance, small, flexible.
We're all free agents at 27.
And so yeah, I think there's a version where
the way in which we are organized
as a professional body or as a set of disciplines
certainly can be found attractive
for a whole variety of reasons.
At the same moment, there are so many
other interesting examples.
I was just thinking of one of Pierre's students
from Toronto who then came and taught for us here,
Kelly Doran.
So he's had a practice for many years working in West Africa
in and around sites of extraction.
And what his practice is doing is
dealing with the relocation and settlement and accommodation
of existing populations.
And you can say, on the one hand,
because he's embedded in a process of infrastructure,
extraction, all the things we've been
talking about this evening, then he's
complicit on the one hand of enabling that activity.
But what you see in the work is not so much that.
What you see, really, is dealing with the reality
that there are populations and cultural heritage questions
and issues of community directly in the crosshairs of that flow
of capital and infrastructure.
And so projects like that, practices
like that, that don't necessarily
project an enormous moral implication for the entirety
of the field, but rather ways of constructing one's body of work
So maybe we have time for-- what do you think, Pierre, one more?
Two more?
One more?
Keller, thanks for your talk.
It was wonderful.
I really appreciate this word "how" in the discourse
that we're talking about.
And I especially appreciate it as you're
talking about it as we think about forms of practice
and modes of practice.
But I'd also like to relate it back
to what I was very intrigued when you said,
at the academic level, you're trying to teach this
in a studio or how that's sort of rehearsed at the level
of academy where we start to pick up these sort of biases,
I guess, in how we do things.
And I'm wondering if maybe you could just more specifically
give some concrete examples or describe further
how you run your studio, how that impacts the pedagogy,
and perhaps a project in which a student was
successful in marrying the formal to the social political,
in a more concrete example.
Well, some of the studios that I've been playing around with
are-- it's nothing new-- but where the students start out
and they identify the place where they want to work,
sometimes in a collective site.
One of the last collective sites we did was in Las Vegas.
And we did a book about it.
I could show you.
So each student developed what they wanted to work on.
But after they started working into their course of work,
they would get messages.
And they were messages from me.
But they would get envelopes delivered to them.
And those envelopes had in them any number of things.
Sometimes it was very bad news.
Sometimes the envelope was, like, burned or something.
Or sometimes it was just that they
were-- there were all kinds of things
in the envelope, all kinds of forks in the road.
There was no directive within it.
They were collaborators that were passing through,
they were people who were angry, they were laws that changed,
they were people who were protesting.
You had to somehow wriggle through or accept
some advantage that had come to you.
Some of the worst news was, you've been wildly successful.
Now what do you do?
And so there would be sort of three of those
in the course of a semester.
And it was unbelievable how great they did.
I couldn't believe how smart they were
and how they redoubled their efforts throughout and invented
So one of those that was successful in the Las Vegas
project, it just won the Holson prize
this past fall, which is a lot of money.
And it was a project that was a construction detail in concrete
that would deal with flash floods in Las Vegas.
But then it was also a system.
So it went from a detail, a kind of porous detail
that was based on biomimicry, to something
that was a giant tank about the size of the turbine hall.
So it was about infrastructure also
as a kind of new civic space.
So it was construction detail, persuasion, civic space.
And they're prototyping it now.
They're meeting with people in Las Vegas and things like that.
One more if we have it?
Thank you, Keller.
This was absolutely amazing.
You showed us a lot of zones that
were crafted with economic logics behind them.
I'm wondering if you also looked at territories
that were crafted with a political agenda,
like the settlements in the West Bank or temple towns in India.
And I'm wondering what are the kind of frameworks and codes
that govern these?
I have not worked on things like settlements in the West Bank.
I think maybe something that's kind of close to what you're
talking about are the work on subtraction, on how
to kind of subtract buildings.
And this maybe answers a little bit
to the social justice question that Charles was talking about
Some of the work on subtraction has
been dealing with the possible impacts
for informal settlement, informal settlement that's
always at the other end of the bulldozer,
in a subtraction that's about tabula rasa.
So the subtraction work that we've
been working on is about not a tabula rasa,
but again, an interplay between properties, a way
to develop an interplay between some formal and informal areas
so that no property's ever worth zero, no property
can ever be completely devalued, or that there's
a certain kind of interdependency
between properties.
And that can be applied to kind of a McMansian suburbia area.
But the idea is that it could also
be applied to places where people are disenfranchised.
Some of the zone work naturally drifts into those geographies.
There's work about qualifying industrial zones in Jordan,
which have become embroiled in Middle Eastern politics
with issues of labor.
So those might be two examples.
So thank you so much, Keller.
It was just occurring to me-- and I
was wondering if you could give me
some sense of if you would agree with this sentiment-- I was
just thinking about the lab for computer graphics,
50 years ago founded in part by a fellow called Howard Fisher.
So Howard Fisher was an architect, postwar architect,
in Chicago who was deeply interested in mass production,
steel housing, and was on the kind of industry
side of things, and over the course of his career,
found himself then moving increasingly
upstream to the systematization of growth
and then eventually came here to do
this kind of foundational work in mapping that
would completely re-characterize the system with which suburbs
got cast.
So that's one narrative.
That's one arc of one person's storyline
that begins with some of these obsessions with respect
to mass seriality, but then works its way upstream,
as it were, to really get at the operating
system behind the thing itself and moving away from, you know.
Would that kind of arc be something of interest, maybe?
Is that something that we could pursue in greater
detail, do you think?
I don't know about this.
I'd be curious to talk about it.
I guess we always just want to be--
our discipline is a love of universals and determinants,
which was maybe not necessary in the trajectories you describe.
But I'd love to talk about that over drinks, maybe.
50th anniversary of labs, coming up in a couple weeks.
Keller Easterling, thanks so much.
I'd just like to thank everyone.
I also hope that perhaps in two decades
we can look back at this year in terms of a turning point, also
in terms of if we were to ever engage issues of space
and power, that potentially this is--
I couldn't think of a better way that we could do this.
Thank you very much, Keller, Charles, Mohsen.
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Keller Easterling, "Extrastatecraft"

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王小晏 published on March 19, 2016
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