ADS8: Data Matter: Digital Networks, Data Centres & Posthuman Institutions

Tutors: Marina Otero Verzier & Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli with Kamil Dalkir

Every second, 2.8 million emails are sent, 30,000 phrases are Googled and 600 updates are tweeted. The amount of data uploaded to the Internet in a single second is a staggering 24,000 gigabytes. Propelled by the Internet of Things, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created each day. This figure grows exponentially. In fact, 90 per cent of the world’s data was generated over the last two years. Algorithmic intelligence regulates this transborder flow of information through sophisticated tracking and surveillance systems, generating immense amounts of real-time digital personhood, identities and architectures. While our datafied existences are progressively evaporating in bytes and remote connections, the material and spatial consequences of data production and consumption remain largely unanticipated.

Data centres global overview. Image: OMA
Data centres global overview. Image: OMA

NSA Tapped Undersea Cables, North Pacific Ocean, 2016. Photo: Trevor Paglen
NSA Tapped Undersea Cables, North Pacific Ocean, 2016. Photo: Trevor Paglen

The global digital infrastructure is entangled. It coexists with and struggles against different layers of the material world, from the availability of energy, resources and space, to the vast range of corporate or state sovereignties that regulate its operations. Data mining goes hand in hand with the mining of minerals from the earth to keep the system running. Stretching thousands of kilometres and connecting continents and users at the speed of light, a planetary mesh of fibre optic cables emerges off the coast of Europe before penetrating inland and dictating who has access to ultra-fast broadband capacity. In this way, it defines the geographies of opportunity. Paradoxically, this convoluted, large-scale operation and its associated geopolitical ramifications demand the existence of data distribution nodes. Everything that happens online depends on the seemingly unassuming industrial architecture of the data centres – facilities housing the computer systems that store, control and protect data communications and connections, and in which the human presence is increasingly incidental.  

Apple Data centre and solar farm. Maiden, North Carolina. Source: Google Earth
Apple Data centre and solar farm. Maiden, North Carolina. Source: Google Earth

Common Space - White Space, MTDC alliance. Source: Unknown
Common Space - White Space, MTDC alliance. Source: Unknown

ADS8 will look at the architecture of data centres as the fundamental component of today’s political, cultural, socio-economic landscapes. A new form of architecture for data and machines – one almost liberated from human needs and entirely shaped by technological rationales – data centres are the testing ground for alternative models of post-human institutions. What started in 2017 – under the title ADS8 ‘Domestic Institutions’ – as a search for future modes of inhabitation and action, now becomes in 2018/19 an attempt to formulate what a 21st-century institution of humans, other organisms and machines could be and what would be its architecture. From the new spatial, material conditions that data centres bring together, to the network infrastructures that enable them, to the residual cohabitation of humans and non-humans, these apparently anonymous architectures are mobilised here as emerging urban prototypes.

RIIG Data centre. Langfang, China. Source: RIIG
RIIG Data centre. Langfang, China. Source: RIIG

In the studio we will start with the analysis of the architecture of data centres: their technologies, configuration and design; spatial, environmental and safety requirements and normative rules; as well as their intersection with politics, culture, and everyday life. We will undertake a journey from these enclosures where almost no human is present except in the form of stored data, to the infrastructures and territories through which information circulates – transoceanic fibre optic cables, switch-points, mobile telephone towers and the like – and the new forms of sovereignty triggered by their activity. Navigating across geographies, scales and architectures, we will also see, through field research, how these constructions are connected to other automated architectures, such as greenhouses, ports, and factories.

LED lighting, Koppert Cress. Photo: Jan van Berkel
LED lighting, Koppert Cress. Photo: Jan van Berkel

The studio will document and reflect on: (1) the implications of data centres for energy consumption, spatial planning, socio-economic and geopolitical conditions, as well as the agents involved in these stages (2) the possible developments of the industry towards a full automation and the repercussions such a transition might entail in terms of typology, design and labour (3) the different and often conflicting regimes and super-jurisdictions that affect the accessibility and storage of data and how they might impact on the planning of digital infrastructures (4) the industry’s different forms of (non) representation, the way data centres manifest in both urban or non-urban environments and their aesthetic regimes.

Telehouse Data centre, London UK. Photo: Nick Rochowski
Telehouse Data centre, London UK. Photo: Nick Rochowski

SWITCH Pyramid Data centre, Campus Atrium. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Source: Switch
SWITCH Pyramid Data centre, Campus Atrium. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Source: Switch

Each student will focus on a particular case study located in different coordinates, regions, areas and settings, with the aim of the ADS discussing a more nuanced approach that might be able to transcend Western perspectives and epistemologies and engage with different geopolitical contexts. The ultimate aim of ADS is to investigate a possible architectural agency in designing for data and imagining the spaces and aesthetics of a new human and non-human cohabitation. How does an architecture for machines foster new forms of organization and inhabitation that respond to contemporary challenges? And what kind of new cultural typology do these physical sites of the internet embody?

SWITCH SUPERNAP 7 Data centre, Air Vacuum space. Source: Switch
SWITCH SUPERNAP 7 Data centre, Air Vacuum space. Source: Switch

Cultural Platform

In parallel with the studio at RCA, a series of complementary public activities will be presented in the form of an exhibition and collaboration with Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam, OMA, and other partners and cultural forums including the Museum Guggenheim in New York.

We will establish a dialogue with initiatives Automated Landscapes, Het Nieuwe Instituut’s long-term research on the implications on automation on the built environment, as well as with OMA’s current research and development on data centres and on the countryside.

In addition, a series of workshops and presentations by architects, scholars, designers and artists including Felicity Scott, Studio Folder/Marco Ferrari, Femke Herregraven, Metahaven, John Gerard and Liam Young, among others, will serve to explore and expand the theoretical, political and aesthetic dimensions of the student’s architectural proposals.

Field Trip

In October 2018, ADS8 will travel to the Netherlands to conduct field research. The country is the second largest data hub in Europe and one of the main submarine cable landing points. Companies from all around the world use the Netherlands as their data distribution node, and a location for their data centres, cloud applications or headquarters. As a result, one quarter of the Netherland’s GDP depends on data centres.

Dutch submarine cable landing points, photographed in January 2013 as part of the project The All Infrared Line (TAIL) by Femke Herregraven, an ongoing work exploring the history, geography, and agency of the network infrastructure used by financial markets.
Dutch submarine cable landing points, photographed in January 2013 as part of the project The All Infrared Line (TAIL) by Femke Herregraven, an ongoing work exploring the history, geography, and agency of the network infrastructure used by financial marke


Tutors

Dr Marina Otero Verzier

https://www.rca.ac.uk/more/staff/dr-marina-otero-verzier/

is a Rotterdam-based architect. She is Director of Research at Het Nieuwe Instituut, where she leads initiatives such as ‘Automated Landscapes,’ focusing on the emerging architectures of automated labour, and ‘Architecture of Appropriation,’ on squatting as spatial practice. Otero is the Curator of WORK, BODY, LEISURE, the Dutch Pavilion at the 16th Venice International Architecture Biennale in 2018.

With the ‘After Belonging Agency, Otero was Chief Curator of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2016, which addressed the implications of architecture in contemporary processes of displacement and identity construction. Previously, Otero was based in New York, where she was Director of ‘Global Network Programming‘ at Columbia University / Studio-X, a global network of research laboratories for exploring the future of the built environment. Her work, recently awarded by The Graham Foundation, Design Trust, and the FAD Thought and Criticism Award, has been published in different books and journals. Otero has co-edited Promiscuous Encounters (2014), Unmanned: Architecture and Security Series ( 2016), After Belonging: The Objects, Spaces, and Territories of the Ways We Stay In Transit ( 2016), and edited Work, Body, Leisure (2018). She teaches at the RCA in London, and has taught seminars and studios at ETSAM, Barnard College, and Columbia GSAPP, among others. Otero studied architecture at TU Delft and ETSA Madrid. In 2013, as a Fulbright Scholar, she graduated from the M.S. in Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture at Columbia University GSAPP. She completed her PhD at ETSAM in 2016. Her thesis ‘Evanescent Institutions‘ examines the emergence of new paradigms for cultural institutions, and in particular the political implications of temporal and itinerant structures.

Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli joined OMA in 2007 and is based in Rotterdam. A partner since 2014, Ippolito’s work at OMA/AMO has a focus on research and curation, scenography and preservation. Ippolito has recently co-curated Manifesta’s 12th edition in Palermo titled The Planetary Garden: Cultivating Coexistence and has led and edited Palermo Atlas, OMA’s preparatory investigation on the Sicilian capital (Humboldt books, 2018). Projects led by Ippolito include the renovation of Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) in Berlin (ongoing); ‘Panda‘, a research and exhibition for the 2016 Oslo Triennale focused on the controversial impact of digital sharing platforms; the transformation design of the 16th century Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice (2016); Monditalia, a multi-disciplinary exhibition focused on the current status of Italy, at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale; scenography for the Greek theater of Syracuse in Sicily (2012); and the co-curation of Cronocaos, OMA’s exhibition on the politics of preservation at the 2010 Venice Architectural Biennale. Through collaborations with different brands including Repossi, Galleries Lafayette, Knoll, and Prada his activity extends to product design, temporary installations, and the art direction of videos and publications. He contributes to exhibition design for Fondazione Prada, with projects such as When Attitudes Become Form: 1969/2013. Ippolito holds a Master of Architecture from the Politecnico di Milano. He teaches at the Royal College of Arts in London and at TU Delft in the Netherlands.

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