Saturday, August 26, 2006

Tech- Light Model Round 2

2nd round of the light studies- we introduced perforations as well as a few tweaks and twists. At the presentation, David Erdman suggested we needed more modules to acheive the layers and density for a study on glow (class title: Superficial Superglow). For budget reasons we did this one out of museum board. The next model will be out of acrylic and refocus the design as a response to glow not shadow. Quote of the presentations: "Superficial is now thick not thin"

Studio- 3D Prints

Here's a few of our recent 3D prints. Prints are created in a bed of powder and must be excavated like fossils. Our first print focused on a central spine and slices of our boulder that connected in a variety of holds. The second print joined everything in to a solid surface to study overall form and center of gravity. Next, we plan to simplify the overall scheme with fewer but larger rings as well as some enlarged prints of detail connections. The horizontal ribbons have been a great way to restrict our movements while also forcing us to deal with overturning forces as well as gravity (resisiting force becomes diagonal rather than just straight down). Which reminds me I just read a great essay by Greg Lynn titled "Differential Gravity" (Any Magazine #5 or his book of essays). He describes complex relationships between lightness and gravity that involve intensification and multiplicity as oppossed to a simplistic dualism.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Theory- Brief #2

My week #2 brief covers the subject of interface relative to their use to create narrative. Week 2 readings include essays from the books Me++, Behind the Blip, and Sociology Behind Societies (article reinterpreting Heidegger's Dwelling) and an essay by Bruno Latour on doors as interface.

Theory- Recommended Readings

Here are some books we will be reading in the next few weeks (in addition to those on the posted syllabus). I just received the Utopia book from Amazon and it looks pretty sweet. It covers Archigram, Superstudio, a bunch of early Koolhass as well as many more.

1. Exit Utopia

2. Enduring Innocence

3. Supermodernism

4. Open Sky

5. Super-cannes

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tech- Study Model

Tech- Week 2 Exercise

Here is the week 2 exercise- lighting studies based on the earlier study.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tech- Minimal Surface Presentation

Here's a drawing from my minimum surface presentation. My surface was Schoen's S-S Hybrid.
It was generated in Maya entirely with curves, then reworked in Rhino, and then made ready for presentation in Illustrator. No program can do it all.

Studio- Joshua Tree trip

Our trip at JT consisted of morning lessons by guides to learn the terminology, techniques of climbing, and various equipment. In the afternoon each group selected a boulder to measure, sketch and photograph. Analysis of the boulder along with the climbing instruction will guide construction of our first primitive which will in turn engage a second. This boulder appealed to us not for its overall form (as it was tempting to pick others for that reason) but for the broad complex face shown below. It carried mulitple "features" (jugs, shears, crips, ledges, wacos, pinches, etc.) and has the potential for multiple "problems" or climbing paths.

Theory- lecture #2

2 …: Interfaces

“The inhabitants (of Ersilia) stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationship of blood, of trade, authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain. From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia's refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing. They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away. Thus, when traveling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.” --Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities.

Figure Three: All Design is Interface Design. Jacques Tati’s M. Houlot, lost in Tativille, the vertiginous, dystopic parody of Modern spatial interfaces. Tati commissioned the sets for Playtime (1967.)

(A.) Interfaces
The aesthetics of logistics is a diagrammatic image of a system's interfaces, but what is an interface? How is the interface critical to the material cultures of global mobility? How has computation contributed to this criticality? What is a useful typology of interfaces, and how do they effect and perform differently? An interface is any point of contact between two complex systems that governs the conditions of transference and exchange between those systems. A steering wheel is an interface to a car, a car is an interface to a city, a city is an interface to social and economic proximities, etc. But interfaces disclose different things depending on where you stand, and how you may access them and they may access you. When I travel, the airport is an interface to another city, but to the person receiving me on the other end, the airport is an interface that produces people, in this case me.

Interface: (a.) The site at which independent and often unrelated systems meet and act on or communicate with each other. (b.) boundary or point common to two or more similar or dissimilar command and control systems, sub-systems, or other entities against which or at which necessary information flow takes place. (c.) A threshold point between two abstract systems that governs and joins the conditions of exchange between those systems (such as a border between countries.) (d.) An active membrane that conjoins programs, mediating interplay, interpenetration and inclusion, and/or enclosure, discretion and exclusion. (e.) an instrument enabling intentional action at distance through a network.

(B.) Interfaces and the Software Society (GUI)
In our cultures of intermodal networks (the “software society”) contact itself is condensed into buttons and icons, menus and dashboards, and into familiar pathways and fast surfaces, diagrams and directions.[i] Interfaces are nodes along lines of urban flow: terminals, spectacles, ports and stations. Interfaces link and partition society itself, as belief systems, ballots and borders. Such points of contact, everywhere and nowhere at once, are not just our interfaces to the world, but also the world's channels to us. Again, what is open for me may be closed to you, and so our vectors are made divergent.[1] As we ourselves are hurtled through logistical space (more as data than as agents, it seems) the world discloses itself to us as interfaces: activated and unactivated interfaces, mobile and immobile, synchronous and asynchronous, symmetrical and asymmetrical etc. (See Interface Typologies, below) Cities become differential assemblages of such interfaces: mobile, synchronous, symmetrical interfaces (like cell phone calls) bump up against and make use of immobile, synchronous and asymmetrical interfaces (like a quiet alleyway where I can make call.) Cities divulge themselves as spatially embedded portals to specific goods and services (a hotel) or location-specific screen events (scanning my passport crossing a border) or a redundant network of remote control financial media (ATM’s), Interfaces speed us up or slow us down, both enabling our intentions at a distance and defending space against our movement. They arbitrate carefully to a person, thing or data, and the better they get at the specificity of that arbitration the more responsibility they are given. The interface, in short, is the elemental component of our logistical modernity.

The generalized technology-language apparatus of software brings with it an associated genre of the interface, the GUI or Graphical User Interface. These are dashboards of buttons with words on them that, if pushed, execute an event in the world ostensibly correspondent with the word on the button. While the GUI is a contemporary mode of the interface, it is no more or less an interface than is an open or closed door. Instead, the GUI condenses such gateway functions into signs and pulses. The GUI’s “dashboard discourse,” is based on a conversion of indexical signs (signs that register an accumulation of items and characteristics) into iconic signs (signs that represent and codify that accumulation,) and back again. Things and actions become systems, and systems become words and images that when “clicked,” become actions that are in turn agents within the expanded system. Displayed words and images become instruments of remote control, and the operations they mobilize become artifacts of choreography. In this, the space between what is a purely cultural or technological operation is ultimately undecidable. Further, it is not just the immediate content of icons and indexes that make difference, it is their poetic affect that focuses and instrumentalizes gestural expression into symbolic communication. “I love you,” shows up as a text message, and my heart really warms. The aesthetics of logistics is not just a cultural commentary on the function of technologies, but a revelation of technologies as themselves already a collective commentary on the cultures that they embody. Interfaces, despite the nominative and iconic logic of GUI, are not most fundamentally “about” the nature of the things they might cite, but are rather the thresholds of transference and action that govern the active potential of each thing in a (designable) chain of connection (of both intersubjectivity and interobjectvity.) In this as well the contemporary differentiation between instrumental and “picaresque” representations of network flow is collapsed. [ii]

Some Political Interfaces

Figure Four: the disputed Florida ballot in the 2000 Presidential Election. Industrialization of ‘making things visible’ and the control error. Immobile, unactivated, asynchronous, symmetrical(?)

Figure Five: Mao’s Little Red Book, his interface to the masses, and theirs to the nation. Mobile, activated, asynchronous, asymmetrical.

Figure Siv:. Sign at the birthplace of Karl Marx in Trier, instructing Chinese tourists how to get to the restrooms.

(C.) Mobility and Mobilization

$15 billion: Gross value of the self-storage industry, providing temporary apartments for the possessions of the temporarily or permanently mobile, 2005.

$9 billion: Gross value of the content generated by Hollywood movie, television and music industries, 2005.
--Source self-storage industry of America.

As people, things and data move greater distances and at greater speed, how is the governance of interfaces made more critical? Such regimes of relative motility enable and are enabled by the performative capacities of the interfaces they compose and comprise. Mobility, as ever, locates politics in the gateway and the threshold. But what do we mean by mobility? Paul Virilio defines Modernity itself in the tectonic terminologies of mobilization (Virilio, 1986, 1989.) From bunkers and shipping lanes to radar and remote viewing, socio-technological transformations are understood as phase transitions in an elemental, metabolic economy of attrition, speed and optics. In Virilio’s history, the “military proletariat,” the mobilized masses on display in gymnastic spectacle form the urban basis of the industrialization of vision itself. The mobilization and competitive acceleration of the masses, troops, machinery, data, imagery becomes the operant technology of civilian logistics and the cultures of speed they enroll in their image. Though Virilio locates this generalized mobilization at the origin of his very contemporary critique, the concept of socio-technical speed, -one that desolidifies cultural forms through disembedding accerlation-- is a foundational theme across the ideological spectrum of Modern Social Theory, from Le Bon to Marx to Tonnies to Durkheim to Bataille to Benjamin to Giddens, etc.
But perhaps in the 21st century, that tendency has so radicalized itself that a qualitatively new arrangement has emerged. John Urry has suggested that mobility, as an overriding socio-technical force, has reorganized fundamental institutions in its image, creating a pervasively “post-social” landscape of contingent surfaces into which bodies in motion coming to rest in place is now the exceptional state of things (Urry, 2000.) Society is no longer a set of bounded institutions, but a determining matrix of physical, imaginative, and virtual movements, and a fundamental relation between form and flow has reversed, Urry suggests. The static, contiguous form is no longer the norm into and around which mobilization passes, but rather motion governs, determines provisional location. This advances an image of comprehensive integration and terrific lines of flight, but should not suggest that globalization results in some smooth logistical singularity. Extending the line from Arjun Appadurai, we understand that the swerves and momentums of such globally interconnected spaces are radically disjunctive and inconsistent. The general economy of motility is a polymorphous (and perverse) arbitrator of things.

For most of the 5 billion or so people who might one day possess “a computer” connected to “the Internet,” their first device will not be a PC, or a laptop, but rather a handheld device on which they can also make voice calls. In fact, the cheap cell phones connecting Manila, Montana and Mogadishu already are software platforms, and are chief beneficiaries of the trailing edge of Moore’s Law. The little computers in our hands are where the action is, but any technology is an ambivalent collaborator. Consider the PC user as a subject prone at his desk, arranged like his pre-computation era counterpart in the isomorphic array of organizational space. He may be “virtually” mobile to interact with value chains across the world, but his body is as stationary as the decorative flora. A smart phone condenses the affordances of urban social proximity, and of corporate organizational media into his hand, thereby recasting the physical as a more elective backdrop for social, economic exchanges taking place at a distance. In the long run, this re-mobilization might liberate the city toward more improvisational experiential landscapes (de Certeau, Benjamin, Vaneigem) and it also enable re-rationalize the same city further into an artificially designable monotony of branded pavilions. Or both, or neither. But as the same city, and its attendant economies become accessible through different interfaces, it is fact is no longer the same city. This sort of mediational modernization is radicalized by the radical intensification in the performative capacity of such interfaces (such as the smart phone) as a result of their (quite recent) incorporation into networked computation. And still, as ever, placelessness intensifies the possibility of placefulness.
As interfaces, and especially interfaces connecting locations across great distances become more specifically intelligent, their governance becomes more essential. Modern mobility (that arc traced from Marx to Corb to Virilio to Urry) constitutes a social demand on the performative capacities of interfaces. The composite forces of such demands place greater and greater pressure on interfaces (from individual to regional scale) to mediate flow with increased speed and efficiency, and transparency or invisibility. Like the bustling port city that gains its wealth at the expense of the inland, traditional capitol, interfaces that allow for maximal interchange will attract the attentions and engagements over which governance will seek its profit and discourse. This does not eradicate the importance of immobile, idiosyncratically emplaced interfaces (such as that old capitol) but new scenarios recompose what those older structures in fact now are, and what their interfaces do, and for whom, and for what ends. Maybe they do more, maybe less. Emergent or dissolving, such relational motility makes sites of intensified flow, and their specific interfaces a critical site of governance and social imaginary, wherever they may be, big or small, official or improvised.

Our contemporary condition(s) are ones in which the amplification of the computational power of interfaces enables and has been enabled by the radicalization of mobility of people, things and data. The programmable intelligence of any given interface continues to increase exponentially every few years, and in the flowering of this cumulative “bandwidth,” the general economy of interfaces becomes proportionately complex. However, as the intensification of computational power of each interfaces and the networks that link them scales, allowing for the more intense linking of production, supply, commodity and consumption chains across more non-linear routes, the temporal integrity of the network is also dissolved. Unlike a capitol building or corporate headquarters or medieval prison where the corporeality of power was embedded into the choreography of architectural form and program, today’s software society can delocalize and delink the individual experience of interaction and its chains of transference such that they appear to be invisible, or ungraspable, or insubstantial, despite (or because of) the friction and fragmentation they carry.
Interestingly, instead of curing the desire for a “binding collective representation” (Luhmann,) such non-linear connections in fact seemingly intensify it (Wigley.) In this, the provision of an affectively compelling and instrumentally effective image of a composite interface chain becomes a critical labor and a strategic “content.” Such images are forms of organizational narrativization, and become –perhaps as graphical user interfaces- an imagistic display of events that is also an instrument with which to dialogue with those events and with the networks that bind them. The images become themselves geographies, and interfaces become technologies of intersubjectivization. Such images, these interfaces-of-the-interfaces, are not merely logistical techniques, they are a critical aesthetic index and register of what Appadurai might have called the softwarescape in the global, cultural economy. The softwarescape is a spatial, if not precisely architectural configuration, but like architecture it is an idiomatic, symbolic palette for the deliberately designed and designable narrations upon which such an economy and the interfaces that comprise that economy critically depend on for their social legibility and purpose.

Figure Six: Port of Long Beach, special economic zone, California, USA. Interface to the NAFTA trading zone, in 2005 the conduit of 6.7 million TEU’s (twenty foot equivalent units) worth $80.7 billion.

Figure Seven: Goods (and bads): recombinant parcels. The component unit of B2C logistics.

Interface and Network Typologies: A taxonomy of interfaces would be useful only if it would differentiate their performative affordances, rather than cataloging all the types of things that are or are not “interfaces.” We see that a building is an immobile interface and its power (and the limit of it) is derived from this. The same is true of a national border. While the building and the border are not the same, nor do they do the same thing, their immobility is critical to their performances as interfaces, and thus makes them comparable. The following chapters will make use of this typology to explore the relative and relational performances of interfaces, but will do so only as it serves to illuminate something more important than the typology itself.
As a point of comparison, “networks” are comprised of interfaces, and they are also understood according to typological systems. While networks are not emergent singularities other than in their own visual representation, these representations in turn become interfaces through the network is instrumentalized, enforcing the logic of that singular image. Networks are often categorized in a “topological” typology, according to their form. Alex Galloway suggests this list: Centralized Network, Decentralized Network, Distributed Network, Chain Network, All-Channel Network (define each in next version.) Similarly Social Network Analysis makes use of its own typological vocabulary including indices such as: Cohesion, Constraint, Density, Integration, Radiality, Structural Equivalence, etc.
An interface typology would differentiate the performative rather than the morphological characteristics of these. For example, a mobile interface (cell phone) versus an immobile interface (national border.) Or a synchronous interface (telephone conversation) versus an asynchronous (e-mail.) Or an interface than enables symmetrical or asymmetrical power relations (back to that open and close door again,) or one that is activated or unactivated, ones that are, after C.S. Pierce, indexical, iconic or symbolic in character. To this list we can add many more variables.

(D.) The Work of Imaging Interfaces (refrain)
Figure Eight: Control Room of the IESO, Ontario-based electrical power distribution, and NFP clearing house. An interface of interfaces; images become infrastructure, infrastructure becomes images. Words into button, devices into words.

Intensification of the computational power of interfaces moves attention to them, shifting what counts and does not count as an interface, what counts as a place with strong interfaces or a non-place without them, and what is centered and what is peripheral at all. (Auge, Deleuze) While any social form or lifeworld is an assemblage of differentially empowered and embodied interfaces, the contemporary configuration --called post-societies of mobility (after Urry), network societies (after Castells), supermodern societies (after Auge, Ibelings), etc.—tends to distribute the performance of governance from fixed, contiguous institutional interfaces to decentralized, serial nodes or couplings. These interface configurations are tuned to accommodate transitory, goal-directed contact with large numbers of people, and in this prosaic, cumulative remediation, fundamental contours of social morphology re-fold along with it.
Again, this seminar argues that the radicalization of this tendency is only possible because of software, and its utility in specific reprogramming (architectrual as well as digital program) of computationally intelligent interfaces. The transit node is newly empowered as a medium of governance, and as computational power and networked software becomes faster, cheaper and better, the complexity of articulation through which that governance can act is radically amplified. The shifts toward mobile social forms then both drive and are driven by the acceleration in the computational power and communicative flexibility of the interface points that structure the landscape. The greater the mobility within the network, the greater the need for more sophistication in its interfaces. The greater the availability of cheap, powerful, intelligent computation, the greater the enabling of flexible mobilization. As said, this makes the production and figuration of these interfaces a critical site of both empowered authority and the social imaginary, and forms of power that were once inscribed by fixed partition are now reterritorialized into ambient or pervasive electronic gateways (Deleuze, 1990) Bodies of power become unfurled into newly specific networks of interiorization and exteriorization.
But even if so deterritorialized, the image of power still relies on iconic self-narration. Mark Wigley in Network Fever, is critical of architectural projects that attempt to enroll the spatial agency of the network in their schemes, only to present picaresque forms that resemble iconic images of networks, but which make no serious innovation in how architectural design might accommodate or resist logistical forces in new ways. In Wigley’s critique, things that look like networks but don’t act like (or against) networks, don’t really engage the conundrum of architecture’s role in a logistical economy that alternately annihilates and garrisons the specificity of place. What must be added to Wigley’s now axiomatic critique of a certain design style is that, in everyday life, the iconic misrepresentation of the network –as an instrumental interface of interfaces- is in fact crucial to the cultural economy of the network society. The image of the instrument, and the instrument as an image, is the (artifactually designed) universal grammar that makes the integrative landscape of interfaces into a “democratic” market technology. In this, the picaresque (even the architectural picaresque) is not an alien imposition of aesthetic dressing on top of the serious speed of flow, but a conjectural experimentation in the visualization of infrastructure (now already an image of infrastructure). Because the indexical configuration of forces into form is already iconic, the picaresque is already a gesture toward the indexical. The pretty picture of the machine makes the machine work at all.
Without the artifiactual visual narration of interfaces, the collective instrumentality of the network would be undermined. Metcalfe’s Law of Networks (or Kurzweil’s to be slightly more discriminating) holds that the aggregate value of a network is a direct function of the number (and quality) of participating terminals. Especially if spread across the world in a discontiguous network of chain-reactions and relay points, the very lack of contiguity of social form, motivates a desire to screen and to display its dramatic integration, demonstration and imaginary resolution. This is precisely the design labor in question: a diagrammatic aesthetics of logistics.

Figure Nine. Erisilia 2. Tokyo subway map.

[1] Social open and closedness becomes spatial open an dclosedness. Lefebvre

[i] “Software Society” is a potentially useful term and concept coined by Lev Manovich and I. The manifesto is forthcoming at

[ii] Wigley, network fever., indexicla or picaresque.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

fresh from Amazon

This just arrived today, it was strongly recommended by the Theory professor. Its a pointed lexicon of recent projects and terminology authored by a ton of different architects and critics. Reads and looks like SMLXL. Nice thing to pick-up when you only have a spare twenty minutes here and there.

Theory- brief #1

Attached is my first brief relating to the Virilio and Deleuze readings on the syllabus.

Theory essay

Below is an essay by the professor for an upcoming reissue of Paul Virilio's Speed of Politics:

Logistics of Habitable Circulation
A brief introduction to the 2006 edition of Speed and Politics

Benjamin H. Bratton

“If there had never been a war, I would have made a very good architect.”
--Ahmed Shah Masoud, Afghan opposition leader reportedly assassinated 9.9.01 by suicide bombers who were, it is assumed, trained by Osama Bin-Ladan on behalf of the Taliban, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times, the morning edition of September 11, 2001.

Paul Virilio’s Modernity is logistical. It doesn’t directly deal with war, but with everything that makes it possible. Logistics is the preparation for war through the transfer of the nation’s potential to its armed forces in time of peace as in times of war. [Pure War, 16] Modernity is a world in motion, expressed in translations of strategic space into logistical time, and back again. It is a history of cities, partitions, trading circuits, satellites, and software; of a political landscape governed by competing technologies of surveillance, mobilization, fortification and their interdependent administrations. It begins as an archaelogy of naval routes, strategic techniques and urban distributions, and becomes an integrated world of events reduced to shapes and symbols, viewed and manipulated instantaneously on screens. In Virilio’s narrative, architectural regimes become computational, and vice versa. Both are logistical media for mobilization and its administration, technologies that consolidate territory into logistical fields and enable a Modern governance based on the abstracted calculation over omnidirectional spaces and surfaces, from open oceans to shared spreadsheets. This comprehensive technologization of the globe signals for Virilio both integration and disintegration, both control and accident. And it is finally through the accident, the realization of the imminent, irreducible risk that logistics hopes to contain, and not through control, that the strongest bonds of the polis are formed. For Virilio, they are an exceptional condition already contained within, and rigorously predicated by the invention that made them possible.
In the 1960’s, Virilio collaborated with architect Claude Parent to develop a challenging program for an oblique architecture using inclined planes. It followed the principle of “habitable circulation,” intending to radically expand the usable surface of urban landscape. His work as a theorist from the mid-1970’s to today can be seen as a retroactive thesis on the possibility of such an architecture, and an ultimate abandonment of it in the face of other emerging spatial media. “The focus of my research,” Virilio noted, “has shifted from topology to dromology, i.e., the study and analysis of the increasing speed of transport and communications on the development of land-use.”[i] The image of the ‘polis’ (city) as a dynamic, vehicular landscape is both Virilio’s initial architectural solution and his eventual theoretical warning. “Dromology” (from Gr. dromos: race course) is this government of differential motility, of harnessing and mobilizing, incarcerating and accelerating things and people. His third book, Vitesse et Politique/ Speed and Politics (1977, 1986, 2006) is a history of what he calls an “inevitable technological vitalism” through which multiple projectiles—the inert membranes of fortress and bunkers, the “metabolic bodies” of soldiers, and transport bodies of naval vessels—mutually prostheticize each other in a pursuit of the competitive advantage of speed.[ii] Among the key metabolic transformations traced in the book is the movement from the urban fortress to the open, smooth glacis of the sea, now a “vast logistical camp” in which naval, and finally amphibious strategies organize a “right to the sea.” This in turn framed a “right to the road” and later diagrammed the land in the smooth image of maritime drift. In that shift, the condition of habitable circulation, and its origins in military logistics - mobilization and fortification - remains of critical importance. What was once asked of architecture, though, is now accomplished by other means, both informational and computational. Now the presence and vehicular movement of people and objects through global space is tightly integrated with an infrastructure of software, and to send objects in motion or to impede their trajectory is a logistical labor performed by pulses of light as much as flesh and steel.

“...An Essay on Dromology”
Speed and Politics was first published in Paris against a backdrop characterized by the complicit, symmetrical stand-off of nuclear superpowers sealed by the SALT II accords, as well as by the rise of political terrorism in London, Rome, Mogadishu, Stammheim, Phnom Penh, Palestine, etc. By then, May 1968 (to which Virilio owed his appointment as Director of the École Speciale d’Architecture) had soured into a restless, if also fertile, malaise. A new French society was reconfiguring itself around audiovisual media: the kitsch utopia of Beaubourg, the commercial center buried underneath the Forum des Halles, the new information headquarters at La Défense, followed by the nightly spectacles at Bercy. Perhaps this had to be expected. Didn’t Mai end with a dour Pres. de Gaulle going on television, instead of appearing in person on the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville, as would have been the custom? The anti-climactic broadcasts managed to accomplish through the single-channel television something no urban strategy could have done: to stop the tumult of the deterritorialized streets, and to bring the nation if not to order, then to attention, to fix their gazes on a new national center not of buildings but of screens. Virilo’s work from this period can be understood as a sort of immediate pre-history of the “Software Society.”[iii] By 1986, and the time of this English translation, the problematics of information technology, computational technologies (particularly database and optical media) had displaced the city (it reappeared in his later work, but as a artifact of the media that had partially consumed its earlier functions).
Virilio’s logistical Modernity is meant to “to carve and guide the masses,” the metabolic multitude, into mobile trajectories. Dromology is a shifting, restless logistics of differential governance transforming the raw material of the world and rendering it “in a more appropriate form.” (10)
For Virilio, “the city is but a stopover, a point on a the synoptic path of a trajectory, the ancient military glacis, ridge road, frontier or riverbank, where the spectator’s glance and the vehicle’s speed of displacement were instrumentally linked… There is only habitable circulation” (6). Cities accelerate and/or frustrate these multiple scales of relative object velocity. They are “uncertain places because they are situated between two speeds of transit, acting as brakes against the acceleration of penetration.” (8) As a technology of space, cities galvanize both human and non-human metabolisms, channeling them, amplifying them, concentrating them into centers, domesticating them into suburbs. The question that would animate much of Virilio’s subsequent work is: how have these core functions of the city been assumed by other dromological media?

Our Logistical Modernities
“History progresses at the speed of its weapons systems;” that is, at the speed of the competitive capacities to envision, draw, map, curtail, mobilize, contour, stabilize and police the polis. (68) At least since Vitruvius defined the rules of architecture based on his own military engineering experience, it is understood that the design of space is already a strategic weapon of fortification. But architectural media are only one such means and the evolution of their deployments is interrelated and serpentine. Marquis de Vauban, Louis XIV’s chief military engineer of fortifications (and of their breaching,) made to his king the unusual recommendation that he should voluntarily cede contested land deemed “indefensible.” The plan realized Richelieu’s earlier image to France as “le pré carré,”or the “squared field,” and in fact this same phrase was later used to describe Vauban’s parallel lines of fortifications up and down the now consolidated national enclosure. In 1782, Charles de Fourcroy’s tableau poliometrique appeared. This “first known flowchart” is a diagram of the relative sizes of European metropoles, and in it, as geographer Gilles Palsky notes, “we see the passage to abstract, to fictitious features. By these proportional triangles, (de Fourcroy) constructs an image that does not return or relate to (the) original existence.”[iv] De Fourcroy’s semiotic innovation was this figural territorialization, the drawing of the comparative scale of cities as relative, primary geometric forms. This “map” does not correspond to any direct representation of the geographic juxtaposition of the cities, but rather graphs their relative quantitative difference in population. This inscription produces another virtual space with which to order the natural territory of the polis as a projected image of an enclosed, administrative totality.
For Virilio, this also signals the production of logistical space as a Modern administrative horizon. “This means the universe is redistributed by the military engineers, the earth ‘communicating’ like a single glacis, as the infra-structure of future battlefield,” (51) not one limited by given terrestrial geography. With the French Army of Engineers being assigned the task in 1790 of “expand(ing) the logistical glacis over the whole territory,” this era marked the birth of Modern administration-by-calculation, an on-going project in which all of the vicissitudes of land and its inhabitants are continuously charted, symbolized, and manipulated. Virilio locates its emergence in the history of military geography, especially naval techniques. “Total war is omnipresent; it is first waged on the sea because the naval glacis naturally presents no permanent obstacle to vehicular movement of planetary dimensions,” and the mobility of smooth maritime space would return to organize land in its logistical image. (50) Governance by speed (by states or otherwise) is logistics, and logistics, like the oceanic vectors from which it is born, is omnidirectional.
Today the speed of logistics is also largely computational, but this is not to say virtual, immaterial, or distant. Quite the contrary. Supermarket shelves, for example, are a human interface to a vast internet of things: a network of supply-chain, demand-chain and customer-relationship management softwares, steel containers, offshore factories, inter-modal exchange protocols—all forming an unimaginably complex, robust and nimble assembly of everyday purchase commands with vast economies of production and distribution. Today’s “fleets-in-being” are the exabytes and gigatons of component inventories in permanent transit, hurtling between trade zones as the consumable artifacts of their sponsoring corporations’ technological and legal efficiencies. Finally, these (disin)corporations and their far-flung suppliers of parts, labor, and expertise, guard nothing so dearly as the legal agency of brands, those operational fictions which they so carefully embed into the demographically-microsegmented experiential touch-points of everyday life. This “flat world” imagines itself as slippery, oceanic grid modulated by differentially transporting, activating, internalizing, and/or prophylactically exteriorizing technologies: from shipping ports to aerotropoli, from banking software GUIs (graphical user interfaces) to web browser layout engines and data security protocols. Like an Andreas Gursky photograph, this “frictionless” landscape of interconnected objects and subjects is the constitution of a new architecture, one that relies on fragile alibis of virtual immateriality and procedural transparency to achieve the political, economic efficacy it enjoys. The reality of its performance, however, is also a uncontrollable accumulation of (very real and opaque) unintended consequences.

Dromocracy: Government by Prosthetics
Where does Virilio locate the historical agency of dromology (speed) and dromocracy (politics) ? How does one become the other? The recurring actor in Virilio’s history is the State, if only because it is also the legal signatory of modern war. But his is hardly a traditional political theory. “In fact there is no “industrial revolution” but only a “dromocratic revolution”; there is not democracy, only dromocracy; there is not strategy, only dromology.” (46) States employ dromological techniques to exercise power, but as for Foucault, state apparatuses are functions, artifacts even, of dromocratic machinations that exceed their constitutions and incorporations. For Virilio (in concert with Deleuze and Guattari) such state governments are profiled as a sort of “machinic species” of collective formation. Echoing Heidegger, he writes that “dromocratic intelligence is not exercised against a more or less determined military adversary, but as a permanent assault on the world, and through it, on human nature. “ (64) Likewise, the mobilization of economic production is characterized less in terms of maximizing surplus labor value than according to the distribution of metabolic intensification in the service of an historically comprehensive acceleration.
Dromocracy establishes and reproduces standardized forms of assembly and disassembly for the systematic integration of human energy into specific infrastructure. “Factory work must not escape the dictatorship of movement. It reproduces the enclosure on the spot, in the obligatory and absurd kinetic cycle…a condensed machine of the logistical glacis. ” This is the design of corporeal discipline in the pursuit of the image of speed (not the image of truth as Foucault might prioritize it) in which “the class struggle is replaced by the struggle of the technological bodies of the armies according to their dynamic efficiency: logistics” (49). Indeed the exercise of political authority in and through the dimensions of the body-in-motion appears for Virilio in its most extreme and comic form in those performances of collective singularization that are Marxist state stadium pageants. Their choreographies of motor functions move according to the party line, now a literal grid. The numb aesthetic of “miming the joys at being liberated” and through this, “the simplicity of a power that comes down to the constraint and housebreaking of bodies,” is repeated upside down in the camps where the misbeliever’s body absorbs the cultivation of the law. (32) Virilio writes, “his dissidence is a postural crime” (33). Even today, as this script of fleshly discipline has largely been exported from the commanding G8 metropoles to its satellites, another softer intercourse emerges between the individual and his logistical destiny, transposed into other symbolic and informational economies.
Dromocracy depends on technologies that straddle the pre-political and the hyperpolitical, working on the bodies of the masses as a practical material that can be strategically designed and deployed. If the city is a collective prostheses of its inhabitants, other technologies are for a more individual, specific purpose, for example the car. “The transportation capacity created by the mass production of automobiles became a social assault on space” that would undo centripetal urban concentration exploding it into the congested network of the open highway. (26) “No more riots, no need for much repression; to empty the streets, it’s enough to promise everyone the highway: this is the aim of (the Nazi party’s) Volkswagen plebiscite.” (25) Dromocracy extends to this new platform: “speed limits…we are talking about acts of government, in other words of the political control of the highway, aiming precisely at limiting the extraordinary power of assault that the motorization of the masses creates.” (27) Earlier in the century, the concentration of industrial technology into individual motorized locomotion had already revolutionized the battlefield in the figure of the tank, that “automotive fort.” (56) These offered their commanders a new calculus of speed and movement. As if sailing across a smooth surface, the tank “extends war over an earth that disappears, crushed under the infinity of possible trajectories.” (56) Virilio suggests these “battleships of earth” (57) should not be called “all-terrain,” but “sans-terrain” in their obliteration of territorial impediment. Later with the Jeep (and more grotesquely the Hummer) the personal fortress would allow for the (largely pretentious) presumption of this power to the performance of the daily commute.[v] But vehicular prostheticization is not only automotive. Others are assimilated as surgical prosthetics, others as fashion. The long marches of soldiers across fields plowed by battle during World War I presented the problem of damaged feet, and gave rise to the practical science of Orthopedics, and the redesign of the pedestrian soldiers locomotive technology: his shoes. This accomplishment is amplified and embellished in the cultural imaginary for which the sports shoe becomes a vehicle of personal ambulatory and logistical excellence (“just do it”).

The Information Bunker and the Ubiquitous Front
Today information is architecture by other means, framing and contouring the relative motility of social intercourse. While the city remains a locus of this staging and dissimulation of security, it is supplanted by other network media that have assumed some of its traditional mandates. Now highly evolved species of de Fourcroy’s tableau poliometrique proliferate on screens and surfaces in the form of the graphical user interfaces, narrating the affordances of the softwares they inscribe. But these GUI are not just diagrams of virtual action to be taken, they are also mechanisms through which a user’s motivation is first framed and then realized in the network and on the world. Modes of representation that were once cartographic and diagrammatic are now instrumental and mediational.
As the diagram becomes an interface, when the map becomes the tool, personal, individual social action becomes more logistical. The subjective manipulation of virtual symbols becomes a structural form of agency in this (pre-formatted) landscape of proximate and immediate contact. Consider how the political function of the urban gateway or boulevard to centralize and coordinate traffic and attention has been augmented by web portals and search engines, interfaces to the vast exabytes of online data curated and mainstreamed for public accessibility. There the preferences of mobs are codified in the ranking of search results associated with potential words, places and concepts. Search represents a new configuration of public tools with which to seek, browse, meander, and exchange files with others, to be proximate to others in your social networks. Not unlike cities themselves, Search is legislated by shifting balance of demographic desires, shareholder interest, and State paranoia. Virilio writes, “The State’s political power is...the polis, the police, in other words, highway surveillance.” (14). Indeed many core innovations in Search technology are sponsored by security interests (state and otherwise) needing to meaningfully sift petabytes of “chatter” from which intelligence critical to securing the polis might be gleaned.
Newer Search software works by making the world itself into the operant interactive metaphor for the world itself. Google Earth’s interactive map/search/data visualization software, borrowing its interface aesthetics from previous generations of satellite-image based battlefield simulation suites, promises to further incorporate personal logistics of everyday life into the tropics of “intelligence.” Its open API (application programming interface) also allows users to link Google Earth to other data streams, personal and public, furthering tipping the logic of its performance from that of a “map with interactive capabilities,” toward that of a real “meta-interface” based on cartographic, diagrammatic metaphors.
Just as diagrams become interfaces, computation also transforms physical urban interfaces by making them in turn increasingly diagrammatic. “In all parts of the world,...implanted at the edges of cities, highways or railways…. (is a) whole apparatus that is only the reconstitution of the various parts of the fortress motor, with its flankings, its gorges, its shafts, its trenches, admission to and escape from portals, the whole primordial control of the masses by organisms of urban defense.” Of the masses of things, that is. Today the urban interfaces of material exchange between supply chains and demand chains include ports of entry, now refitted as computationally-intensive logistics parks, which serve as regional switching mechanisms for the routing of components and the formation of geographically distributed assemblies of producers and consumers. There is a dromological heaven in these. The United Arab Emirates currently plans a truly Modern city of the future in their own in Jebel Ali, the Dubai Logistics City, which hopes to dwarf the strategic centrality of competing hubs in Rotterdam, Singapore, Shanghai and elsewhere by providing seemingly endless acreage of sea-air and air-air multi-modal passenger and cargo services: “merge-in-transit, customization, postponement, packaging and labeling, and final assembly.” Today our visionary architecture is designed not for the care and habitation of people, but as a utopia of and for objects.

Impure War and the Exceptional Accident
Virilio’s history- and our present moment- is a profile of violence, of both binding and fissure. While Virilio begins with the literal, primordial bunker, he extends the economy of attrition to characterize Modernity itself. The bunker and its double, the camp, are the elemental spaces of this. The bunker is a concrete prophylactic, the camp is incarcerating. Both are hygienic, defensive. One is an architectural membrane against a hostile world, and one is an expulsion-by-enclosure of the Other from the normal performance of law. In their extreme forms, both spaces, even as they are often architecturally identical, are in their way zones of pure logistics. They are sites where the only compulsion is the execution of governance on a raw mass, mobilizing it, diagramming it. They are only ideal types, and the real world is full of spaces (factories, airports, warehouses, laboratories, jails, shipping ports, etc.) that are complex combinations of the bunker and the camp, switching from one the other, inverting exteriorization and interiorization moment by moment.
For Virilio, the accumulation of capital is a means to ensure security, not the inverse. He writes: “Bourgeois power is military even more than economic, but it relates most directly to the occult permanence of the state of siege, to the appearance of fortified towns, those ‘great immobile machines’ made in different ways” (11). The competitive and complicit energies of the masses are understood as possessing a permanent poliorcetic historical mission (conducting or resisting sieges), and their movements are governed by the immobile surfaces of city, resolved in a suspended state of soft siege. This slow, permanent war is itself a technology of glacial attrition and shared deterrence. The city is in essence a bunker, characterized by Virilio as a deliberate “reduction of power in favor of a better trajectory, life traded for survival” (63). The “front” of this “pure war” is everywhere and everything, both inside and outside of the “closed world” of the “society of control.” The comprehensive enclosure of earthly territory under dromocratic supervision totalizes this soft siege as a condition of global social space. Today’s “security environment” (a preferred catch-phrase of Rumsfeld’s) is populated by a Poliorcetics Lite, in which the defense of common civilian passage from potential acts of violence is folded into design criteria for the dissuasion of both petty and grand crime.[vi]
But to be sure, Virilio’s core exhortation diverges from that offered by a “frictionless capitalism” and its ideologies of reflexive transparency and seamless control. Instead, he sees the cumulative destiny of dromological globalization as a successively violent, increasingly integrated history of accidents. This Ballardian depiction of technology suggests that the invention or adoption of a new technology is always also the invention and adoption of a new accident. The invention of the ocean liner is also the invention of its catastrophic sinking, the internal combustion engine is itself the invention of greenhouse gases, the discoveries of genomic science also bring with them the latent horrors of a “genetic bomb,” and the comprehensive integration of personal social lives into information networks is also their inevitable crash, taking with them the very social bonds that they contain and mediate for us. Such solutions also increase the scale of our shared risk. Virilio’s recent work focuses on what he calls the “integral accident which may someday becomes our habitat, ” a kind of global (terminal?) accident in which the comprehensiveness of dromological administration promises as well an inevitable, equally global calamity of dysfunction.[vii]
There is also an accident contained in theoretical technologies, and in the absorption of Virilio’s theory by the institutional positions it seems to criticize so fiercely. “I am studied in military academies,” he tells Sylvère Lotringer in Pure War, and indeed he is. Like that of advertising strategists pouring over the works of Guy Debord, this is but one instance of theory itself performing as a kind of “accidental” conceptual avant-garde for the institutions it had hoped to undo by careful description. Perhaps the most direct and disquieting exemplar is Israeli Brigadier General Aviv Kokhavi, the IDF Paratroop commander, charged with leading attacks on and thereby “redesigning” Palestinian territories in Nablus and elsewhere. Kokhavi is also an avid reader of Deleuze and Guattari’s theoretical technologies of deterritorialization, smooth/striated space and nomadology. In his holster, their richly nuanced theories of emergent antagonisms become tactical technologies for a newly sophisticated apparatus of state violence and rhizomatic repression.[viii] But aren’t such inversions -both simulations and dissimulations- somehow already intrinsic to the dromological violence in question? Aren’t these “accidents of theory” already artifacts of the inversions that fundamentally characterize such configurations of violence? Football simulates primordial territorial clan warfare, and the supporters of Red Star Belgrade are quickly recast as the shock troops of Serbian sweeps through Bosnia. As for American Football, the Louisiana Superdome, site of the universal simulated siege of the Superbowl, becomes after Katrina the host of a real siege and the festering bodies of those displaced by a slow war of systemic neglect --one still broadcast with high ratings. Are such inversions, or “accidents” (including the consumption of Virilio’s theory of the dromological accident becoming a form of ‘intelligence’ for the tactical management of dromocracy) are not (just) the exceptions but also the rule?
In the years since the publication of Speed and Politics, there has developed a rich discourse around the political function of the “exception,”and the architecture of the camp as a space of that exception. For Giorgio Agamben, the camp represents an extralegal territory, derived from its exceptional status as being both founded outside the normal juridical procedures of the State, and precisely through this exceptional character, embodying the State’s sovereignty not only over laws, but over law and the authority that it realizes.[ix] The logic of the camp exceeds the normative productive link of power and resistance, revealing the exception as the real nexus of sovereign authority. Slavoj Žižek writes, in discussing Bahktin, that “what most deeply holds together a community is not so much identification with the Law that regulates the community’s ‘normal’ everyday rhythms, but rather identification with a specific form of transgression of the Law, of the Law’s suspension...”[x]
Virilio’s own theories of dromocracy and the modernity of accidents should be considered in relation to this discourse. He writes that “the precious lesson of the camp and the gulags has not been heeded, because it was erroneously presented not only as an ideological phenomenon, but also as a static one, an enclosure. Its absolute inhumanity is…..the social bestiary of the immense biomass, proletariat subsumed under logistical demands.” (77) In the camp, the administration of “bare life,” of the metabolic vehicles of dromocratic modernity, is rendered in stark relief. There is also a softer repetition of this in the world’s “special economic zones,” those extralegal logistical archipelagos that weave the flows of global commerce, and mobilize a new normative order in their image. But again, for Virilio the lesson is not the pretentious self-image of hyperefficiency that such networks communicate, but rather the exception that remains within the exception itself: the accident. The accident-within-the-accident emerges from the identification with the exception that Žižek names, perhaps in ways that Virilio might not himself recognize. Terrorism, for example, as well as the “state of emergency” of counter-terrorism, is neither entirely complicit with a symmetry of resistance to the law, nor ever possibly entirely outside it, but instead makes its claims over the sovereign exception to the law’s authority to author. This is also the crux of the wonderment and awe provoked by the event of catastrophic failure. It is not only horrific, it is mesmerizing, and because it is, the accident is also a critical source of solidarity, a binding exception that is the real condition of acceptance. The carnival of accidents is revealed as technology’s own exceptional bacchanalia, staged at our expense and on our behalf.

Benjamin H. Bratton is a theorist and consultant based in Los Angeles. He teaches at SCI_Arc (The Southern California Institute of Architecture) and UCLA.

[i] Paul Virilio, “Architecture Principe,” AA Documents 3: The Function of the Oblique, Architectural Association, London. 1996. P. 13.
[ii] p.45 of 1986 edition. Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology. Semiotext(e), New York. Subsequent parenthetical quotations are from this same edition.
[iii] The term “software society” is developed further in a forthcoming essay co-authored by Lev Manovich and myself.
[iv] Palsky Gilles. Des chiffres et des cartes, naissance et la cartographie quantitative francaise au XIXe siecle developpement. (Memoires de la section de geographie No. 19). Paris: Comite des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 1996. (translated by Daniel J. Denis) p.51-52
[v] These rolling gated communities, provide a more direct identification with military purpose. During the first Gulf War, a common bumper sticker was “I Support the Troops,” whereas the parade of post-9/11 Hummers says rather “I Am The Troops.”
[vi] The “security environment” is populated by small and large architectures of control: from “sit proof benches” (benches and sidewalk planters designed with uncomfortable barbs to prevent loitering and keep pedestrians moving,) to the locking of workers overnight into the Big Box emporiums where they restock shelves until morning. We are treated to invited competitions by major newspapers for the “architectural” design of the U.S./Mexico border, and the current conception of a “Freedom Tower” at the former site of the World Trade Center as a ponderous concrete fortification wrapped in semi-translucent glass--an enduringly disingenuous symbol of martial culture.
[vii] The notion of technology revealing itself most directly in its failure again links Virilio’s critique to Heidegger’s. See Virilio, Unknown Quantity, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. Thames & Hudson. 2003. p.25
[viii] Kokhavi is quoted by Eyal Weizman, “several of the concepts in A Thousand Plateaus became instrumental for us... allowing us to explain contemporary situations in a way that we could not otherwise explained them. It problematized our paradigms...Most important was the distinction they have pointed out between the concepts of ‘smooth’ and ‘striated’ space...In the IDF we now often use the term ‘to smooth out space’ when we want to refer to operation in a space as if it had no borders.” Weizman, “Lethal Theory,” Log 7, Winter/Spring 2006. p.59.
[ix] Agamben recounts recent responses to that the “scandalous” discovery of correspondence between Walter Benjamin and fascist jurist, Carl Schmitt, on sovereignty and violence --another “accident of theory” -- and argues that it is Benjamin who should be understood to have “infected” Schmitt’s position. See Agamben, State of Exception. University of Chicago Press. 2005. Pp. 52-64
[x] Slavoj Žižek, The Universal Exception. Continuum Press. New York. 2006. p. 64.


Theory seminar is titled the "Logistical Modernity" and is taught by Benjamin Bratton. Syllabus is below.


The tech class is taught by David Erdman. The focus is on single surface constructions done in maya which will be used to fabricate full scale models and conduct lighting experiments. The syllabus is attached. Artists/ architects mentioned: Frei Otto, Sugimoto and Erwin Hauer

Studio Essay

Essay given along with syllabus. I have to post a page at a time because this website can't do PFD files.


Our studio meets MWF and is taught by Jason Payne. The syllabus is attached along. We are doing a study of surfaces and its development relative to a mass. This week consisted of a visit to a local rock climbing gym for lessons on movement and then a long trip yesterday to Joshua Tree. At JT we did some climbs with guides on a cliff face and in the afternoon we went to a boulder field to select individual boulders to analyze. Our analysis included bouldering the surface, taking dimensions and photographs of the entire boulder and focusing in on particular surface formations relative to the path or "problem" we climbed.


My master's program is underway. It will be a year long divided into four quarters. The first quarter is a compressed six week summer session comprised of only the m.arch 2 students, which is great beacuse its only 13 of us and we have the facilities to ourselves. My schedule is comprised of a studio, a tech seminar and a theory seminar.