Cell(s’) Structure(d) for Counting (on) Change, through sufficient looseness

As Mammoth has already noted, one distinguishing characteristic (when compared to the earlier chapters) of both Cell Structure and Counting (On) Change, is the way in which they focus on infrastructural developments which can be characterized as “development for constituencies vs development for markets”. Like faslanyc I wonder how the the growth of cellular networks (based on a model of private enterprise and experimentation) could be applied to the contemporary urban project as a prosthetic skeleton of sorts. One which would provide a framework for low-level and micro-scale interventions driven by community input and demand. Meanwhile Polis wonders if the solution to issues of scale is the “elimination of illogical borders in scaling up that we can utilise the neutral technological advances in communication and transportation networks as positive tools of community building“. Perhaps, the correct response to the power and fragmentation of market driven private enterprise solutions is to take a page from their own book and maximize community led endeavor(s) by “uniting disparate groups using new tools of connectivity and data sharing”. F.A.D. suggests that there is already an example of such cellular urbanism, aka corporate urbanism. Corporate urbanism is in fact landscape urbanism’s more actualized cousin. Corporations in their drive towards standardization and replication have become ecologies unto themselves. F.A.D. writesOnce a corporation has developed an operational process it replicates this process throughout its productive sites” yet, this corporate/cellular urbanism is contextual and not one size fits all. In fact because it is consumer/demand driven it is responsive thus, “Even though corporations standardize and replicate their operations, their precise location is strategic and site specific.” In the post for Counting (On) Change, F.A.D. further continues this line of thinking. For it is exactly the sort of processes of negotiation that Sherman explores that can lead to a “negotiated local” version of cellular/corporate urbanism.

Such insubstantial and nimble systems that can be built out in stages and paid for by their own growth have transformed the rules of urban development.

Kane and Miller, Pg 152

I am a cell phone Luddite. Although I may on occasion borrow a friend’s I do not own nor plan to own one. Yet, the lure of total media/digital saturation is high. If i was to get one, I know it would be a full options, data plan model. However, it is a defense against the last encroachment of Web Life Infinity.0, to me. Hypocritical certainly, but principled, yes.

The point is that the chapter Cell Structures by Ted Kane and Rick Miller was a wonderful read precisely because it made me feel like less of a consumer. The authors suggest that the industry is representative of a “new corporate model or urban planning“. This model I note is dependent on gaps in oversight, and takes advantage of public decline for private good. Yet if the market is consumer driven and responsive, can the argument be made, that it is in fact consumer owned? They exist not for the public, but for the consumer? Public utilities at least become dependent upon their own bureaucratic inertia’s for existence. Is this perhaps the lever point? The relationship being almost parasitic would imply a sense of shared destiny. Although, the authors caution rightly about the social justice issues related to the digital (or even quality of service/coverage) divide perhaps the conditions can be created wherein lack of service becomes denial of demand? I am trying to think of some way to hack consumption? Or is this just a form of “green-washing”. Like Stonyfield going mass organic.

This same attitude though, is similar to the discussion of camera feeds and law enforcement privacy concerns in the essay on LA’s freeways and it concerns me. It seems to excited (ed. I must note the authors seemed to share my concerns) by the possibilities of market freedoms, which in my mind is eerily similar to the tragedy of the commons. When I hear such talk I instantly desire an increase in or refinement of regulation. Where are the sheriffs?? Perhaps, that is my own failure of imagination though.

Or more provocatively if the consumption based planning leads to a hierarchy of service wherein whole neighborhoods are left neglected (in this case with poor service, coverage/speeds) like holes “in swiss cheese“, can one imagine positive intervening typologies which harness this dead zone. As zones of contemplation, informal anarchy or minimally digital quiet. With growing fears about the longevity of digital memory and privacy could such holes in the cellular network/fabric serve as an anti-body, the next Iceland or Wild West where pasts are forgotten. Perhaps, this would be one way of as Jan Chipcase writes outsmarting the network.

First off I thought this as an interesting video to come across, just in time for my contribution to Mammoth’s book club, discussion on Cell Structure and Counting (On) Change chapters of the Infrastructural City. Particularly interesting is Varnelis’ response to Geoffrey Thün’s initial question about the operational possibilities open to designers’ with regards to the topic of urban and regional ecologies. Varnelis (I paraphrase) notes that actually the only chapter in the Infrastructural City book that he allowed, that was in his words focused on traditional design themes (with regards to design options/operations), was Roger Sherman’s Counting (On) Change. Specifically, because of the focus on the architectural role of negotiation, it’s effects on the built project and the ability of the architect to hack through all the regulations and parties. Varnelis characterizes the rest of the book’s chapters as research project(s) distinct from any design strategies per se. Berger picks up on this and emphasizes the need for research as a key (re)framing device for architecture and the other design professionals. Research based as opposed to context-reactive. An iterative, scientific approach to design solutions

That the logic of bargaining dictates an outcome that is by definition emergent challenges not only conventional forms of architectural production…

Sherman, Pg 204

Counting (On) Change focuses on property and the relationships and negotiations generated by the result of property transactions. In it Roger Sherman defines the specific operational role of architects. One item though, I found a bit contradictory was the fact that this chapter began the Objects section of the book. Only because Sherman seems to emphasize the interaction between objects as opposed to objects as discrete, singular entities. That aside it was a wonderful essay. It responds to Geoffrey Thün’s question, and provides concrete directions of a sort. Including the wonderful diagrams. Yet, it is also true that the scale at which Sherman explores, these forces are for the most, small and local. That is why like Mammoth I look forward to reading his recent book, L.A. under the Influence: The Hidden Logic of Urban Property. It also seems to view the architectural role within the modern urban condition similarly to that described by Yoshiharu Tsukamoto of Atelier Bow-wow in this interview with Mason White. As Sherman makes clear, given the rapid rate of urban development the architect is now a producer of “design strategies“.

The question becomes how can we build “sufficient looseness” into infrastructural projects , with respect to futurity. Using multiple exchange diagrams, Sherman’s essay argues for an almost ecologically evolutionary conception of speculation (self-organization), which he states always pre-cedes infrastructure (planning). He even speaks of “socio-economic couplings” and other almost biological characteristics. Does the architect or urban agent then become a cultivator, more grower than builder? Given the current interest in urban agriculture and and other green urbanism(s) or ecological infrastructures, perhaps that is the appropriate metaphor. Either way it is clear that one cannot take only a granular approach. If not the region, the concern is at least on the scale of the “city-as- ecosystem.

Some of the specific entanglements he describes clarify the position. For instance the three way relationship between the Shell Oil derricks, Curleys and Jack the Shoeshine Man is one which which the latter two parties are dependent upon the derricks. It is a parasitic relationships, or “spatially entangled” condition. The solution Sherman concludes is the “hack” as in the case of Turner’s Pass.  In terms of specific architectural/programmatic elements “bait” must be strategic to attract leverage and thereby influence other scenarios. Finally, architecture can make change itself a spectacle and marketable asset resulting in a “brave new city” wherein “design can “create a supply which creates its own demand“. Thus creating a new self-sustaining urban biology.


One thought on “Cell(s’) Structure(d) for Counting (on) Change, through sufficient looseness

  1. Pingback: reading the infrastructural city, chapter ten index – mammoth // building nothing out of something

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