Monthly Archives: September 2014

Architecture and the Space of Flows

Architecture is becoming more reflective. Not because architects are theorizing more about what they do – they have always done this –, but because the conditions of the possibility of architecture are themselves becoming an object of architectural design. Stan Allen’s post-semiotic architecture of infrastructures is an example. According to Allen (Infrastructural Ubanism), “Under the dominance of the representational model, architecture has surrendered its capacity to imagine, to propose, or to construct alternative realities.” (50)  This implies a new program for architecture in which design does not exhaust itself in autonomous, representative buildings, but is concerned primarily with “the production of directed fields in which program, event, and activity can play themselves out.” (52) Concretely, Allen is talking about infrastructures, that is, not specific buildings, but “the site itself…the conditions for future events…the construction of surfaces, the provision of services to support future programs, …the establishment of networks for movement, communication, and  exchange.” (54) All these things such as transportation systems, energy grids, communication networks, and so on can be seen as the conditions of the possibility for architecture in the sense of objects and buildings. For readers of Castells’ Information Society this sounds a lot like what Castells calls the “space of flows,” that is, the hardware and software that creates a global network of simultaneous action beyond any local places, traditions, cultures, and identities. Although Castells has not entirely given up the conflict and even contradiction between the global and somewhat virtual space of flows on the one side and the physical and fragmented space of places, he has come to recognize the role of architecture in “making places in the space of flows” (Space of Flows, Space of Places: Materials for a Theory of Urbanism in the Information Age, in The Cybercities Reader ed. S. Graham, 2004). Castells cites such projects as Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Calatrava’s bridges, telecommunication towers, airports, Moneo’s AVE station in Madrid, and Koolhaas’s Lille Grand Palais. Many other multipurpose megastructures in the form of transportation or communication hubs could be added to the list. In these structures what is designed is infrastructure, the network of the network society. It is not place but flow that is the “object” of architectural design. It is the flow that becomes the place we live, work, play, shop, etc. Contrary to Castells opposition between flow and place, what these examples show is that it is the space of flows that is becoming the place in which we live, work, and construct our identities.

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