Architecture(s) of business: global hubs and the virtual worlds of SEO

I thought it interesting that both of these passages were found in the NYT Sunday Business section.

When you read the enormous list of sites with Penney links, the landscape of the Internet acquires a whole new topography. It starts to seem like a city with a few familiar, well-kept buildings, surrounded by millions of hovels kept upright for no purpose other than the ads that are painted on their walls.

From The Dirty Little Secrets of Search (here) The article examines the gray world of (not approved by Google) Search Engine Optimization SEO. There are apparently acceptable and unacceptable means for firms to tweak their rankings. The article is the result of the author noting that for a period of many months JC Penney somehow maintained a top ranking in the results for all sorts of online shopping search terms. What I was most struck by was the idea (which any well traveled internet user has observed) that there are blogs out there that exist solely to “artificially” prop-up company’s  web-page rankings. The passage with it’s suggestion of artificial real estate brings to mind the current housing recession and post-bubble, foreclosure crisis. Perhaps, SEO is the next bubble to burst? If so, what will happen to all those dead-links and unemployed SEO(ers)? More I wonder about how this virtual situation is or could be replicated/noticed in the non-virtual world?

Even in this oasis of extravagance, Terminal 3 at the Dubai International Airport startles. It is not merely the world’s largest air terminal. It is the world’s largest building, period. And all 370 acres of it — all 82 moving walkways, 97 escalators, 157 elevators, 180 check-in counters and 2,600 parking spaces — were built with one very well-connected company in mind: Emirates, Dubai’s fast-growing flagship airline.

From Emirate’s Ambitions Worry European Rivals (here)

First, one slight addendum/correction. Per Wikipedia Terminal 3 is the largest building in the world by floor space, not just the biggest. This of course includes all the floor space which is mostly non-occupied, used for infrastructural/logistical concerns. The back of the house as it were. Secondly, it is interesting to note that there has been little discussion in the architectural press about Terminal 3, even given it’s record-breaking size. Even though the designer Paul Andreu Architecte received a fair amount of press attention a few years back for his National Grand Theater of China, Beijing. Additionally, from a quick perusal of his website it looks like he has been involved in the design of a number of airports expansions/projects in recent years. It is alos interesting to note that this project didn’t receive half the attention of Beijing’s new international terminal by Foster + Partners, which opened in 2009.

The only explanation that comes to mind is the lack of (based on available online photos) high-design cache for the Terminal 3 project. For instance compare the first image below (from Paul Andreu’s webpage) of the proposed design, to the reality, which looks more like a Vegas casino (complete with faux Doric columns and mirrors) than an understated temple to infrastructural Modernism.


It is also interesting to read the above article within the context of Karrie Jacobs recent article Quick-Fix Urbanism in this month Metropolis Magazine. In it she critiques the current interest in aerotropoli especially amongst business-consultant types. Within such a framework she notes that aerotropoli attempt “to do something more ambitious: to name and encourage an urban form that taps into and facilitates globalization“. Jacobs goes on to note a number of potential pitfalls for a model of urbanism built exclusively to facilitate/entice businesses. Chief amongst them is the fact that no one is actually talking about urbanism. In such a context the urban form/urbanism becomes simply another piece in the chain of infrastructural logistics. Additionally, as Detroit’s example has shown, there are long term downsides, to organizing your city to cater to a single industry.

However, one could also look at Air Emirate/Dubai’s strategy and see the future of a focus on networked architectural solutions. In such a view, the current interest in architecture/design on networks/infrastructures/flows results in a form of urbanism which is focused a) on meeting the needs of global business b) analyzed exclusively through the logic of infrastructure(s). Such views hold the potential to shape an urbanism that is flow/commodity centric and not being/people centric. Therefore, I think the phrase “development for constituents’ vs ‘development for markets” used by Stephen Becker in a recent post entitled markets, constituencies, and infrastructure is so useful. It helps to focus designers on the fact that cities should be made for people. The resulting form or function(ality) may be very different then those resulting from a design for markets.


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