Designing the Underneath: Architecture and/as Infrastructure

As both a collection of built objects – bridges, highways, tunnels, cables – and as a set of ideas about modernity, architecture has long sought to include infrastructure within its purview. Yet infrastructure raises a set of theoretical questions that have yet to be fully explored by designers. What is the relation between infrastructure as a symbol of permanence (the largest construction projects the world has ever seen) and as an enabler of transient flows? Is infrastructure always conceptually \”below\” structure, as the word implies, or are there times when it is dominant? Can infrastructure be solely virtual, digital, or social \” and can architecture address these non-material infrastructures? The goal of this seminar is to understand infrastructure not just as a generic term for certain physical technologies, but as a larger set of assumptions about the designed environment. Closely examining the history and theory of infrastructure will also raise questions about the nature of architecture, especially as the wider cultural meanings of both \”architecture\” and \”infrastructure\” have expanded recently to include everything from computer hardware to political organization, their definitions even at times overlapping. Does this convergence suggest a wider relevance for architecture, or an abandonment of some its most basic ideas? This seminar approaches the relation between architecture and infrastructure simultaneously in three registers: technical, architectural, and theoretical. Assignments will include readings on the major technologies of transportation and communication, from railroads and telegraphy to fiber-optic cables and containerization, and writings by architects and historians on the infrastructural ambitions of design, from the Italian Futurists or Le Corbusier to the contemporary work of Rem Koolhaas, Dagmar Richter, or UN Studio. We will also take stock of several recent attempts to define the role of infrastructure in new ideas of social organization, post-industrial urbanism, and globalization.