“Can we turn a technological object into the central character of a narrative?”
-Bruno Latour “Aramis, or the Love of Technology”
The term ‘technological unemployment’ has statistically dominated discussions on future thinking. It has been argued by international think tanks such as the World Economic Forum that we stand on the cusp of an era whereby automation will supplant both high and low-value workforces alike. This has resulted in a plethora of apprehensive futures that project drastic changes to governmental policy, economical structures and notions of value and identity within work. Yet while these futures depict technological hegemony at a global scale, our political climate indicates a more enigmatic future.
Events like ‘Brexit’, coupled with national shifts towards isolationist policy suggest an anxiety towards automation and a desire to preserve as opposed to progress. A paradox between technological advancement and socio-political trends begins to emerge. This anxiety highlights the need to address tensions between humans and automation within the workplace and beyond. With identity so closely linked to the value of work, the potential for technological unemployment to facilitate social crisis is substantial. What role can architecture play in preserving, or indeed progressing identity within a transitioning automated society?
Port Talbot, a small steel-town in Wales has been a historical exemplum of an urban scenario through which the products of labour provided the backbone of identity for the community. Throughout the town’s turbulent history, the welfare of the community has consistently relied on the state of its industry. This reliance has resulted in the success of Tata Steel production forming a causal and directly proportional relationship to the quality of life in the town- if the jobs dissipate, the town falls into disarray.
The proposal portrays a future scenario for Port Talbot, through the lens of an increasingly automated steel industry. Set within a post-Brexit, automated society, Tata’s influence over the town is furthered by an assertive expansion scheme looking to experientially increase throughput by automating front and back ends of the production line. With British Steel experiencing an automated boom, Port Talbot is pulled along with it.
The project centres upon two key design strategies. Firstly, the automated expansion of Tata, through the design of a new ‘Importation Pier’ and ‘Slag Export Facility’ and secondly, the repositioning and bolstering of Port Talbot’s football stadium. With the facilitation of automation and community identity integral to the design moves Tata make, the two strategies unite and formulate a physical structure through which issues of work, leisure and heritage begin to formulate a new architectural identity for the town of Port Talbot.
Through the distilment of local amenities and industry work typologies, the boundaries of labour and spectatorship are blurred and the town’s identity is conditioned to expedite success in steel into success on the sports field. This redefinition of the existing relationship between Tata and the community helps alleviate and reimagine the preconceptions of ‘technological unemployment’.
School of Architecture
MA Architecture, 2017
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