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

Tutors: Kamil Hilmi Dalkir, Marina Otero Verzier & Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli

The world is drowning in data. 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 trans–border 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.

SWITCH SUPERNAP 7 data centre, Server cabinets. Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Switch SUPERNAPS
SWITCH SUPERNAP 7 data centre, Server cabinets. Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Switch SUPERNAPS

The global digital infrastructure is entangled. It coexists with and struggles against different layers of the material world – from the vast ranges of corporate and state sovereignties that regulate its operations, to the availability of energy, resources and space. Jussi Parikka reminds us that to understand contemporary media culture, we must look for those material realities which precede media themselves. Media depends on Earth’s history, geological formations, minerals and energy. A new geography has emerged – one that knits together the infrastructure of networks, the mesh of fibre-optic cables, data centres, electromagnetic waves and the extraction of resources. Data mining goes hand in hand with the mining of minerals 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 is laid out offshore before penetrating inland and dictating who has access to ultra-fast broadband capacity. In this way, it defines the geographies of opportunity, which are still largely based on old colonial ties and prewar power structures. The global digital divide reflects the persistent extractive relationship between Western countries and the rest of the world, where some critical areas take the environmental, social and political burden of mineral extraction and toxic waste dumping that are required to support our contemporary lives.

Data Centres Global Overview. Image: OMA
Data Centres Global Overview. Image: OMA

As data production, consumption and aggregation grows exponentially, so too does the massive planetary system of digital infrastructure. 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 use data communications and connections and, in which, human presence is increasingly incidental. Data centres are a fast-growing and changing typology, largely responsible for the massive ICT industry global energy consumption.

Following the work developed by ADS8 in 2018/19, this year the studio 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 as a search for future modes of inhabitation and action under the title ADS8 ‘Domestic Institutions’ became, in 2018/19, an attempt to formulate what a twenty-first-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. In 2019/20 we will continue pursuing and taking this aim further. 

The studio will start with the analysis of the architecture of data centres – their technologies, configuration and design, environmental implications, spatial 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 and, by extension, to every aspect and space of everyday life.

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

The studio will document and reflect on the following:

  1. the implications of data infrastructure for energy consumption, environmental disruption, 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 manifest in both urban or non-urban environments and their aesthetic regimes. 
  5. the opportunities provided by independent temporary networks in terms of communication and political agency.

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, which will transcend Western perspectives and epistemologies and engage with different geopolitical contexts. Last year’s students conducted research in Brazil, China, Nigeria, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, UK, USA, as well as in international waters.

Proxy Architecture, Emmy Bacharach 2019
Proxy Architecture, Emmy Bacharach 2019

Data: The New Black Gold. Photogrammetry. Ibiye Camp 2019
Data: The New Black Gold. Photogrammetry. Ibiye Camp 2019

Charlie-Gibbs: Conserving the More Than Human Through Off-shore Financial Data, Jade Blanchard-Mckinley 2019
Charlie-Gibbs: Conserving the More Than Human Through Off-shore Financial Data, Jade Blanchard-Mckinley 2019

The Silicon Prairie, Matthew Darmour-Paul 2019
The Silicon Prairie, Matthew Darmour-Paul 2019

Xama: Internet at your Fingertips!, Teresa Ribeiro Boulting 2019
Xama: Internet at your Fingertips!, Teresa Ribeiro Boulting 2019

The ultimate aim of ADS8 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 organisation that respond to contemporary challenges?

Cultural Platform

In parallel with the studio at the 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 Royal Academy in London and Manifesta 13 in Marseille.

We will establish a dialogue with initiatives Automated Landscapes, Het Nieuwe Instituut’s long-term research on the implications of automation on the built environment. We will also work 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 will serve to explore and expand the theoretical, political and aesthetic dimensions of the student’s architectural proposals. In 2018/19, guests included Studio Folder, John Gerard, Christopher Schlaeffer, Felicity Scott and Richard Vijgen, among others.

Field Trip

In 2020, ADS8 will travel to Marseille to conduct field research. The city is becoming the fastest growing Internet hub in Europe gathering 14 submarine telecommunications cables, including the latest AAE-1 and SEA-ME-WE 5 cables, which connect Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, offering low latency connections and enabling access to 43 countries and 4.5 billion reachable users. By 2025, the number of cables is expected to increase to over 20. From Marseille, ADS8 will follow the routes of some these telecommunications cables navigating across the datafied space of the Mediterranean.


Tutors

Kamil Hilmi Dalkir holds a degree in Architecture from the University of Westminster, a Master's in Robotics from King's College London and a Master's in Architecture from the RCA. He is currently studying for a PhD in Architecture at the RCA, focusing on the Architecture of Law in the context of the migrant crisis. He has worked with Studio Fuksas, Rome, and Balmond Studio, London. He also works closely with architects, designers and artists on exhibition design, prototyping and fabrication. Exhibitions he has worked on include Designing With Nature, in collaboration with Exploration Architecture at the Architecture Foundation (2014); Equilibrium at the Ferragamo Museum in Florence, with Balmond Studio (2014); 'Secular Cosmologies' for the After Belonging exhibition at DOGA Oslo Triennale (2016), 'Climate Crimes' for the Future Starts Here exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum (2018).

Dr Marina Otero Verzier is an architect and the director of research at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam. She leads research initiatives such as 'Automated Landscapes,' focusing on the emerging architectures of automated labour. Recently, she curated the exhibition Steve Bannon: A Propaganda Retrospective by Jonas Staal (2018), and co-curated the exhibitions I See That I See What You Don’t See at La XXII Triennale Di Milano (2019), and Malware: Symptoms of Viral Infection (2019). Otero is part of the Artistic Team for Manifesta 13 in Marseille (2020). Previously, she was the curator of 'Work, Body, Leisure,' the Dutch Pavilion at the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale (2018), Chief Curator of the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale together with the After Belonging Agency, and the director of Global Network Programming at Studio-X- Columbia University GSAPP (New York). Otero is a co-editor of Unmanned: Architecture and Security Series (2016), After Belonging: The Objects, Spaces, and Territories of the Ways We Stay In Transit (2016), Architecture of Appropriation: squatting as spatial practice (2019), and editor of 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. He recently co-curated Manifesta’s 12th edition in Palermo, The Planetary Garden: Cultivating Coexistence, and has edited Palermo Atlas, OMA’s preparatory investigation on the Sicilian capital (Humboldt books, 2018). Other projects include: 'Panda', a research and exhibition for the 2016 Oslo Triennale, which focused on the controversial impact of digital sharing platforms; Monditalia, a multi-disciplinary exhibition, which focused on the current status of Italy, at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale; the 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.

Pestellini Laparelli has also designed several exhibitions for various institutions, including lR100-Rinascente: Stories of Innovation at Palazzo Reale, Milan (2017), Serial Classic at Fondazione Prada, Milan (2015), Auguste Perret: Huit Chefs d’oeuvre !/? at Palais d'Iéna, Paris (2014), When Attitudes Become Form: 1969/2013 at Fondazione Prada, Venice, and the 24h Museum at Palais d'Iéna, Paris (2012).

In parallel,  Ippolito runs a number of urban and architectural projects such as Agenti Climatici, an experimental masterplan in Milan (ongoing); the renovation of Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) in Berlin (ongoing), and has led the transformation design of the 16th century Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice (2016). Pestellini Laparelli has contributed to various OMA preservation projects such as Fondazione Prada in Milan (2018) and Fondation Galeries Lafayette in Paris (2018). Through collaborations with different brands including Prada, Galleries Lafayette, Knoll, and Rinascente his activity extends to fashion shows, set design, product design, temporary installations, and the art direction of videos and publications. 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, and has taught seminars at the Politecnico di Milano and at the Berlage Institute among others.

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