Oozing around the pores and navigating the epidermal whorls of the fingertips like rats in a maze, bacteria slithers out across the nacreous surface of the screen, tracing the outline of an ergonomic gesture designed in a lab half a continent away. Black-boxed and hand-held, a 5G signal hops across the radio spectrum, is netted by a metal spire, and routed via fiber-optic to a server-farm miles out. Handshakes are exchanged, keys decrypted. Data is analyzed and calculated by algorithms. A response bounces back in microsecond clicks: “Gotta catch ‘em all!”
If there is value in Pokemon Go, it lies not in its users’ enjoyment of the game, but in the scope of the geographical data collected as consequence of its attention capture. It is the same reason why Uber is valued at over sixty-billion by Wall Street -- despite the fact that the company outsources its workforce and owns minimal material assets -- it extracts data that rivals Google Maps. These apps present a clear example of how the specificity of a space is increasingly interpenetrated by systems of organization that exist beyond the bounds of any locality. The cloud melts all that is solid into Airbnb.
Technology has always influenced the design of our cities. In 1941, the New York City planner Robert Moses proposed the Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX), a massive public redevelopment based on the prevalence of the automobile. LOMEX would cut across lower Manhattan connecting the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges to the Holland tunnel. As support waned for the project in the late 1960’s, the modernist architect Paul Rudolph attempted to revitalize it. He proposed a series of megastructures, organized around the artery of LOMEX. The design operated as a total architecture, encompassing ziggurat-like living quarters, parking, underground districts, gardens and parks.
Today projects such as Rudolph’s are not only being considered, but actually built (for example: the Hudson Yards project). On a much larger scale, Lower Manhattan is now considering a project dubbed “The Dryline”, after the well-received “Highline”. Conceived by one of the principal architects of Hudson Yards, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), “The Dryline” promises parks, bike paths, and newly developed infrastructure wrapping around the whole of Lower Manhattan. The foremost aim of the project, however, is to act as a flood barrier, protecting valuable real-estate, infrastructure, and property in Lower Manhattan from the increasingly severe effects of Anthropogenic climate change.
Under those same waters that threaten to engulf the city lie a series of fiber-optic cables, linking the city’s communication and market hubs to a global communication infrastructure. Just as it has been suggested that we alter the coastline to protect the heart of New York’s trade district, other (less-conspicuous terraforming) projects have bored through mountains to shave milliseconds off the networks through which high-frequency trading operates. This rapacious need for speed culminates in the speculative plot to tunnel through the center of the earth, connecting New York and China, and saving even a few more thousandths of a second for the slight advantage in arbitage.
Lower Manhattan cannot be separated from its weave in the woof of a global superstructure. This becomes evident in the effects and response to coming global disasters such as anthropogenic climate change, and its footprint on the local landscape. Furthermore, technological change has layered the spatiality of the city with both highly localized infrastructural concatenations and global informatics, operating beyond traditional forms of governmentality. Attempts to ameliorate such crises are complicated by the city’s own role as a central hub in the feedback mechanism of global capitalism, and the continued dependency of its local reproduction on this self-same mechanism.
Xtrotecture is a project which examines the simultaneous local and global presence of Lower Manhattan in an age of late-capitalism, technological acceleration, and the Anthropocene. How do we envisage the city now, and what potential strategies are available for confronting these contemporary aporias? In this phase of the project, artist and writer Joshua Johnson will interview artists, theorists and experts who have articulated new conceptualizations of architecture, technology, and planning for the 21st century. These interviews will be conducted in Artists Alliance’s Cuchifritos Gallery, in the midst of an evolving installation. The interviews will be publicly broadcast and documented on a companion website: http://xtrotecture.com