Keller Easterling, “Extrastatecraft”
Keller Easterling, “Extrastatecraft”

Good evening. My name is Pierre Belanger. I’m co-director of the
MDes program with Kiel Moe. We’d like to welcome you to the
spring annual event of the MDes program. And we really appreciate
you taking time out of your schedules. We’re always trying
to figure out what is the sweet
spot that you can have a lecture in
the spring, where people don’t start falling off
and start getting exhausted. So we really appreciate
you taking time out of your schedules
to be with us, also for a special lecture
with Keller Easterling. We’d like to provide
a brief introduction to Keller’s lecture, and also in
the context of the MDes program that Kiel and I, as well
as a group of coordinators have been really working with
Mohsen over the past few years, developing a postgraduate
research vision. We’ve been trying to
ask a few questions over the past couple
of years with a number of different speakers. The central one is this idea of
what does support urban life. And I’m going to try to
capture your attention against the background of
these really repugnant images. You don’t have to look at me. You can just listen. What’s been particularly
important also is to be able to answer
this question in really practical, and also at the
same time, undisciplined ways. Pedagogically, we’ve
also been exploring the role of
representation as part of the role of research
as a way to advance the postgraduate environment
conducive to advance research studies dealing with what
we could consider the design arts and the design sciences. In that light,
we’re also looking to try to understand
how do we extend and also stretch knowledge
from the platform of the core
disciplines themselves. Towards this effort, last year,
we received blogger Jeff Menaw, as well as designer
Christien Meindertsma, who spoke about
her book PIG 05049. And they both captured our
imagination, as well as our attention, asking
fundamental questions about the mediation
of our environments and the measures of
our research methods– how do we do research in design? This year, we also
advanced these pursuits with films and
filmmakers, including the work of Jennifer
Baichwal and Ed Burtynsky. Almost the same time last
year, their film Watermark that was screened for
the first time in Boston. They explored the scales,
technologies, infrastructures of urbanization. And earlier this fall,
with filmmaker Raoul Peck with this film Fatal
Assistance, which profiled the failure of
international humanitarian aid following the 2010
earthquake in Haiti. So through these creators,
innovators, Kiel and I, along with the coordinators
of the MDes program, have been trying to explore
also how video, film, time-based representation
factors a pivotal role in the communication of research
and dissemination of design across the world, this
possibility of being able to make design and
the communication of it searchable and scalable. Launching our 30th
anniversary year since the creation of the
MDes program in 1985 and 1986, we were fortunate to receive
Keller Easterling this evening, who will be in conversation
with Charles Waldheim, chair of the Department
of Landscape Architecture; John Irving, professor of
Landscape Architecture, as well as founding coordinator
the urbanism landscape and ecology concentration of
the MDes program in 2009, 2010. I’d like to say a few
words about the context of Keller Easterling’s work
over, really, the past two decades. There was a long list of
reasons to invite you. So Shantel asked me to
contain this to five minutes. So I’m going to try. I think it’s important to
understand the work of Keller Easterling over the
past two decades as emerging out of an
extremely turbulent era of the early 1990s
and the late 1980s, where the shock of digitalism
and deconstructivism that mark a kind of a
[speaking french] transition was nothing short of both
structurally turbulent and also at the same time,
surprisingly, has been overlooked as an era
of tremendous exhaustive and exhausting transformation. As one of its most reflexive
as well as preemptive thinkers, Keller Easterling’s
work transcends this groundbreaking
change that was occurring in the early 1990s. Not only did she
live in or did she pass through this major
period of transformation, but in hindsight,
she can be seen as the soft heroine of
a spatial avant garde that we’re now just beginning
to understand two decades later. As writer, urbanist,
and architect at Yale, we can argue that her work
belongs not only in the fields and forms of professional
disciplines as we know them, but we could also propose that
her work belongs in an entirely different time zone. Influenced by
early collaboration with film archivist Rick
Prelinger in New York, her collaboration on the laser
disc on suburbia, Call it Home. Keller Easterling’s
preemptive work on the landscape of
interconnectivity was later compiled in a
book, Organization Space, published by MIT Press in 1999. It profiled researchers
Patrick Geddes, Benton MacKaye,
which remarkably, yet not unsurprisingly,
comes out of the shadows of the
school of deconstructivist though of the early 1990s
that essentially marginalized and overlooked environments,
overlooked ecologies and infrastructures,
scales at which can be recognized in her
contemporary adoption of landscape as
support and system for contemporary urban life. Today, Easterling’s
observational empiricism is not only accelerated
algorithmically over the past two decades; it’s
grown in significance and kind with two follow-up books,
Enduring Innocence, which chronicles the rise of
new spatial products, as well as the rise of
infrastructural effects in the book that she’ll speak
about tonight, Extrastatecraft. Retroactively– and I realize–
I turned the page– I only have a half a page
left– retroactively, the importance of Keller’s work
can also be seen on two levels. She’s attempted to overtly
and indirectly correct the course set in motion
more than 40 years go by so-called
revolutionary architecture of the 20th century, a course
that, according to postmodern theorist Charles Jencks
proposed, and I quote, “has not been healthy or
good for the environment.” I’m quoting out of an article
from Architectural Review that Charles Jencks did on
the evolution of architecture. Reporting on the sexist
and dogmatic arrogance of the 20th century architect,
according to Jencks in 1999– and I quote again– “the
revolutionary century has been dominated by men,
and there are very few women among the 400 protean creators
gathered from other writers.” He’s specifically
referencing the diagram that has been so famously
recycled and been reiterated in four or five different
occasions as part of his work. Moving forward– and this is a
rare moment of self-reflection as part of Jenck’s work
on his own work– Jencks proposes– and I quote
again, from 1999– “an urbanism both more
feminine and coherent would have been far superior to
the over-rationalized and badly related boxes that have
formed our cities.” That’s the end of the quote. So between the bank art
traditions of geography, once considered, early
beginning of the 20th century, as girl science, and American
cultural geographers, such as Denis
Cosgrove, JB Jackson, Keller’s work can be seen as
injecting the field of urbanism and the system of landscape
as geographic subject of critical importance by making
a transitive, transdisciplinary leap into the fields of design. This leap is extremely
important to understand as part of her work over
the past two decades. And if her work seems to fall
in between certain cracks, it’s only because
of the distance that certain divides
have between disciplines of architecture, economy,
ecology, anthropology, and engineering. Easterling’s eye
crystallizes as what preeminent human geographer Carl
O’Sauer saw in 1963 in his book Land and Life as the
value of, what he quotes, “being unspecialized,” where
her synthetic and telescopic optic has enabled us
to see urbanization as both the stratification
or the strata and synthesis of power
relations expressed through different skills
and spaces of information. And we can see that
as a transition from her work dealing
with organization space to infrastructure space. In some total, her work
elucidates urbanism’s chaos and complexity, translating
it for us– and again, quoting Sauer– into
a vocabulary of wider and clearer
intelligibility and where power forms its foundations. So I guess we can
say, as the dean of infrastructural
thought, Keller’s work reveals the very nature and
essence of infrastructure that’s realized as
part of the process of infrastructural
products and effects in her latest book
Extrastatecraft– The Power of Infrastructure Space. I’d just like to finish off with
a quote from her book, which I think captures both
the work that she’s done over the past two decades,
but also at the same time, if you listen
carefully, one can begin to understand how to be able to
predict the next two decades. I’m quoting directly from
her book Extrastatecraft. “Infrastructure space
is a form, but not like a building is a form. It’s an updating platform
unfolding in time to handle new
circumstances, encoding the relationships between
buildings or dictating logistics. There are object forms, like
buildings, and active forms, like bits of code
and the software that organizes building. Information resides in the
often undeclared activities of this software–
the protocols, the routines, the schedules,
choices it manifests in space. Marshall McLuhan’s meme,
transposed to infrastructure, might be “the
action is the form.” Please join us in welcoming
Keller Easterling. [applause] Thank you, Pierre,
for that introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here
at this excellent place with these exceptional faculty
and exceptional students. I’m showing you a bit
of urban porn here. And I’m sorry that
was so distracting. And in many ways, the
book that I just finished is meant to be a book in
dialogue with people like you. Some of my books and writings
have really been reportage. But Extrastatecraft is hoping
to be an adventure in thinking, and one that rehearses a
habit of mind about design. So you all probably
know that I have long been working on unfocusing
eyes to see not only buildings with shapes and outlines,
but also the almost infrastructural matrix space in
which buildings are suspended. That’s not an infrastructure
of pipes and wires into the ground, but something
like an operating system for shaping the city. And it’s coded with laws and
econometrics and informatics and global standards
and formulas for making spatial products. You know it. You know it. It’s the cartoon of skyscrapers
and turning radii and malls and resorts and franchises and
parking lots and golf courses and airports and airport
lounges and free zones. Again, not an infrastructure
that’s hidden, far from it– Something that’s
pressing into view and looking the same, whether
it’s in Texas or Taiwan, and telling emotional stories
about Arnold Palmer golf and Beard Papa cream puffs. And this is, as you
know, inner Mongolia. And some of the
most radical changes to the globalizing
world have been written in the language
of this matrix space, so much so that it’s become
a de facto medium of polity. And you know this
space is currently coded by org men and
World Bank yes men and 28-year-old McKinsey
consultants and quality management specialists. It’s the secret weapon of some
of the most powerful people on Earth. And sometimes, it
seems like it’s a secret that’s best
kept from those of us who are trained to make space. No one’s leading, really,
with spatial variables. So however unlikely
it may seem, I’m arguing that this space brings
to our art another relevance, as well as another set
of aesthetic pleasures and political capacities. Also, for many of the
most interesting thinkers in the arts and
sciences who are looking for a more complex
context in which to test some of the assumptions
of their supposed science or their master narratives
or methodologies, this book offers
infrastructure space as a kind of test bed, a
fresh test bed of evidence. So not to make the mistake
of seeing interdisciplinarity as a diluting of our
discipline, but rather to see spatial studies as a
crossroads of other disciples, that what we know is something
that those disciplines are now quite curious about. So the book is asking, with all
those other thinkers looking on, what if the world could
use from us for making in another register or gear? We’re largely trained to make
object forms, like buildings, and to assess them for
their outline and shape. And so we should. And so we always
will be doing that. And it’s a perfectly
reasonable choice to just only make object
form, to choose that. But what if there is also
an artistic curiosity about the active forms
that are, as Pierre was saying, like little bits of
code in a software that actually work with and
empower object form to determine how those
objects will be organized and multiplied and circulated. And precisely because
it’s a moment where we are focused on the ubiquity,
even the political treachery, of digital information
systems, I’m looking at space itself
as an information system, in the same way that
Gregory Bateson would say a man, a tree, and an
ax is an information system. So what if we actually do
know how to hack the operating system with the equivalent
of a spatial software, an active form of
interplay that’s manifest in the head of
the bulk of urban space? And what if the more
formulaic this matrix space, the more difficult it is to
design meaningful object form? And maybe it may even be
easier to design active forms, to exploit the existing
multipliers in that matrix with amplifying effects. And does this matrix space even
tutor an expanded repertoire, not only an expanded
repertoire of form making, but an expanded unorthodox
approach to political activism that’s finding
political capacities latent in organization and
underexploited in governance? So I want to return
to those questions. But I just want to put some
evidence on the table first. Of all the spatial
softwares that are currently circulating around the globe in
the spatial operating system, a dominant software
is the free zone. It’s the infrastructural
technology that the world now uses to make
cities, the promotional videos that are always the same. They just zoom from outer space,
that drop down through clouds and locate a position on
the Earth, which is now the new center of the Earth. And a deep movie
trailer voice comes on to list all the
requisite features. And stirring music
accompanies a swoop through cartoon skylines and
resorts and suburbs and sun flares. This zone, what is it? It’s a relatively
dumb enclave form. And nobody really
knows why we use it, except that the world has become
addicted to its special form of incentivized urbanism. It is the world’s most popular
contagious form, world city paradigm. But as a software, it’s
more primitive than MS-DOS. But the wild mutations of this
form over the last 30 years I find strangely inspiring
because they make a world look insanely impenetrable. But of course, it has ancient
roots and pirate enclaves and free ports. But the zone mutated in
the early 20th century, as a US term, from an early 20th
century warehousing compound for storing custom free trade
to a UN-promoted formula for jump-starting the economies
of developing countries. This export processing
zone, as it was called, set up authorities independent
from the domestic laws of the host country. So it provided incentives
like tax exemptions and foreign
ownership of property and streamlined customs, cheap
labor, deregulation of labor and environmental law. And those are the same mantras
that you hear the deep movie trailer voice repeat, the
neoliberal mantras that are describing sort of
someone else’s freedom. And while it remained
in the backstage, zone growth accelerated
exponentially after China adopted it
as a market experiment. And now China is kind of
its own zone category, employing the largest number
of zone workers in the world, making the zone a kind of
self-fulfilling prophecy. UNIDO thought that
the zone would just dissolve back into the
economy of the host country. But the opposite happened. Everything wanted to
locate in the zone– why wouldn’t it–
to enjoy this kind of lubricated economic
condition and the kind of political quarantine. The zone is kind of
the perfect island of corporate externalizing. So then, having sort of
swallowed selected programs and ejected others,
it’s become a germ of an urban epidemic
that reproduces glittering mimics of Dubai and
Singapore and Hong Kong all over the world. So the zone that used to
look like this or this– this is a maquiladora in
Tijuana– or this now looks like this or this or this. And while in the ’60s there were
a handful of zones in the world today, there are thousands,
some measured in hectares, some measured in square kilometers. It’s still treated by
the global consultancies as the Shibboleth, the
essential signal of entry into the global marketplace. It’s the nexus of every
global technology, the place of headquartering
for every global player, always described as a sort of
clean slate, one-stop entry into the economy of
a foreign country. Meanwhile, in its
sweatshops and dormitories– and this is a
particularly cleaned up one– they are still
hidden, legally stabilized sites of often quite
grisly labor abuse. And it still fails to deliver
on its economic promises. And yet, the zone now more
and more longs to call itself, or does call itself, a city. Now, perhaps even more
than China, you all know– you’ve studied
it– Dubai has used the zone to distinct
advantages, as you know. It’s an aggregate
of zone enclaves for almost every imaginable
program, and many of them calling themselves a city. You know this– Dubai Maritime
City, Dubai Knowledge Village, Dubai Media City,
Dubai Health Care City. And each has a raft of
different exemptions and laws. In Dubai Media City, there’s
something like free speech for some people. Dubai international
city– but it’s the same right around the world. I’ve been collecting urban
porn, like I showed you at the beginning. And I’ve collected hours
of it as these forms travel around to 130
countries in the world. This is HITEC city
outside of Hyderabad. And now, surpassing
irony, even major cities and national capitals want
to have their own zone doppelgangers that allow state
and non-state actors to use each other as brand or
proxy or camouflage– you probably know
there’s this new Songdo city, a kind of double of Seoul
in the Incheon free trade zone, based on Venice, New York,
Sydney, Central Park, Canal Street, World Trade Center. Or really surpassing
irony, Astana, the newly minted
capital of Kazakhstan, as supposedly the center
of law now in a zone. This is President
Nazarbayev, sort of paleoGenghis
competition with Dubai. So the zone is a
very vivid vessel of extrastatecraft,
the title of this book, where the “extra” means
outside of and in addition to the state. Extrastatecraft doesn’t
describe a post-national world, but a world where the nation has
a new set of sneakier partners and multiple nested
forms of sovereignty. So the zone emerges from
this as a kind of– I was just in dialogue with
Saskia Sassen– you can see it almost as a kind of gear of the
expulsions that she describes. And it kind of
emerges from that, what she calls,
economic cleansing, as a kind of strange form
of intentional community with colored fountains
and faith in golf. And it’s a place
where everyone speaks the esperanto of standards
of quality management ease. And it has fantasy resorts
and palaces where petrodollars can get away to relax. And the videos get
more and more delirious as the imagery
becomes more and more contagious around the world. -Nothing is as rare and
desirable as diamonds. Diamond Palace
attracts magically, fascinates inside and out with
its scintillating architecture. The inner design of
the palace transforms the image and emotion of the
diamond onto the visitor, letting them become a part
of the myth of the diamond. [helicopter] [end playback] And the organizational
and political constitution of the zone is always
portrayed in this kind of, if not extreme luxury,
openness, relaxation, freedom. But maintaining an
autonomous control over a closed loop
of circumstances, the zone embodies an
inherently violent, isomorphic disposition. It’s in an information paradox. An enormous amount
of information is pulled down in
these trade centers, but an enormous
amount of information to remain information poor,
a kind of special stupidity that is the common
tool of power. And while it’s extolled
as an instrument of economic liberalism,
the zone often trades a kind of
state bureaucracy for even more complex layers
of extrastate governance and market manipulation. And for all its efforts
to be apolitical, it’s in the crosshairs
of global conflict. And this supposed tool of
economic and logistical rationalization is
really a perfect crucible of irrationality. And the next poorest country
wants its mirror tiled skyline at any cost. We could look at another huge
shift in global infrastructure space by dropping down into
East Africa, specifically Kenya. It was one of the
last places on Earth to receive international
fiber optic cable and one of the places
that’s now poised to experience some of the most
explosive telecommunications growth. So in 2009, it looked like this. And now it looks like this. And now there are three
international submarine cables. The country’s flush
with broadband. It’s serving a dense
population of cellphones. And their cellphone ads, the
telecom ads, look like this. And as you know, but just
to say it again, in 2000, there were 750 million
cell phone subscriptions in the world. Now there’s 6.8 billion. And 3/4 of them are in
the developing world. Mobile telephony is the world’s
largest shared platform. Broadband infrastructure
is a resource that’s treated like water. And in Kenya, there’s
plenty of those 28-year-old McKinsey consultants and
bankers on the ground. And the development
expertise is spoken in the languages of
business and technology and informatics and
econometrics, all kinds of metrics to link
broadband to GDP to predict the impacts of broadband on what
they called development 2.0. It’s filled with jargon
that you would expect. And there’s plenty of new
entrepreneurs writing software for billions of cellphones. And those entrepreneurs,
now that’s where the business
models are coming from. And there are
entrepreneurs who know how to use the cellphone
as a multiplier and carrier of all kinds
of relationships that have enormous spacial impact. But the spacial
consequences are somehow treated as a kind of accidental
byproduct of these networks. Probably any urbanist
worth their salt would know about the
relationship of a highway and a railroad to the city. They would know how those
infrastructures territorialize. But we’re under-rehearsed
in understanding the spatial consequences of
broadband and mobile telephony, the fixed fiber that
territorializes not unlike a highway or a
railroad, the atomized cloud of cellphones and
microwaves, and then all of the switches in between,
any one of which can become a choke point or monopoly. So digital technologies
have spatial consequences, but spatial technologies
also have consequences on digital networks. And yet, no one’s
deliberately writing the protocols that
start with space in the broadband technoscape. And all you find is a kind
of generic, outmoded zone on offer. So Kenya’s getting that,
the same– Konza Techno City or LAPSSET is
treated like a good idea. It’s a transportation corridor
between Lamu and Juba, the capital of
South Sudan, as will be studded with
zones and resorts and deliver oil for
refining to the coast. So in a country that’s poised
to change the terms of urban around infrastructure, they are
adopting an old, potentially dangerous development
formula around heavy resource extraction. And there’s more
of it, more plan, like Machakos New City or
new Kenya-China Economic Zone or somewhere else in Africa–
you can maybe turn the volume up a little bit– -Lean forward to
the Golden Coast. KELLER EASTERLING: –Nigeria. -Lekki Free Trade
Zone is receiving every day the warm
breeze from the Atlantic. The German philosopher
Hegel once said, the breeze from the ocean
is a call for trading. Similarly, the breeze blowing
over Lekki Free Trade Zone is sending you a warm
and a faithful invitation for investment and trade. Please accept this warm
invitation and call. Go to Lekki for investment. Go to Lekki for development. KELLER EASTERLING: Anyway– -Let us join hands
in cooperation to create a beautiful tomorrow. [end playback] KELLER EASTERLING: Yes, yes. Wipe the tears from your eyes. So that used to be
the end of my talk. But in Enduring
Innocence, I was largely reporting on what was out there. But in Extrastatecraft,
I’m trying to mix– and you’ll see if you
think this works– but I’m trying to mix
evidentiary segments with contemplative
segments in a book that’s rehearsing a habit
of mind, rehearsing for an encounter with the space. So again, we know that we
can contribute object form to this matrix
space, and that would be an exceptional experiment. There have been exceptional
experiments in object form in these environments. But if there is an
artistic curiosity about designing not only
object form, but active form, the active form that’s like
the little bits of code in the software that would
allow us to kind of hack into some of the world’s most
powerful spatial softwares, how do you do it? How does one begin to design
a spatial interplay that’s like software, that’s like a
little machine for producing space? Well, if I’ve done
my job in this book, there should be the sense that
we already know how to do it, that it’s only a skill
or a talent that’s been under-rehearsed or, I
would say, under-indulged, because in this field of nearly
identical suburban houses, we see object forms, but
we also know that there’s a simple software or
operating system there that is doing something
and that that agency is decoupled from stories about
home ownership and patriotism. In other words, it’s
saying something different from what it’s doing. And we know what it’s doing. It’s doing something that
makes some things possible and some things impossible,
just like an operating system. There’s a bit of
simple code here. And it’s the simplest of active
forms that’s at work here. It’s a multiplier. It’s generating multiple
slabs and frames and roofs in this almost
agricultural matrix space. And we can design the single
house, the single object form. We can rush up to one of those
and fix it with all our skills. But it would extend our power
to be able to also design it as an active form, another
multiplier or contagion that uses the organization as a
carrier, a multiplier that potentially changes
this landscape, like the elevator
changed urban morphology. And we were just talking
about the cellphone, which is, in some ways, an elevator,
will have that much impact. We’re less accustomed to the
idea that space can be an actor and that it can be a carrier
of information, that’s it’s an information system even
if it’s not coded with sensors and information technologies. Space, however static,
possesses agency. And that information
resides in what we can only call disposition, the
character or propensity of an organization that
resides in the activity or the potentials latent
in the organization. And there’s nothing mysterious
about that word “disposition,” word in common parlance. A ball on an inclined
plane, through its geometry and relative position,
it possesses disposition. And we already know something
about the topology or wiring of an organization as a
marker of its disposition. Network topology begins
with an urban question, like the Koenigsburg
bridge problem, which, I’m sure you know, began
with a sort of bet in a bar, that you couldn’t
get back to that bar without crossing one of
the bridges of Koenigsburg more than once. We know about that disposition,
the latent potential in typology, in sequence,
relationship linkage. And these relationships in space
that are almost so patently obvious to us are not
obvious to some 28-year-old McKinsey consultants and bankers
and org men who are currently manipulating this space. We know the disposition
of these organizations. We even know something about
their political temperament, which adds yet another
power, skill to what we know. Where they concentrate power
or authority or violence, we know how to adjust that. We know which one
is a smuggling ring. We know which one is
mainframe computing. We know which one
is like a railroad. We know which one is like
buried fiber, which one’s like clouds of microwaves. We know which one’s like the
zone in disposition, which one was like FireChat,
the little protocol that the protesters in Hong Kong
used to avoid the central kill switch. And one simple example of a
spatial software that I always use– and forgive me
if you’ve heard me say this before– but one
simple software is Savannah. It’s an 18th century American
city that Oglethorp designed. He didn’t design the
plat as an object form, but rather as a software, as
a kind of growth protocol. The town would grow by wards. And those wards provided
explicit instructions for relationships
about quotients between public or
private or green space, as well as agricultural
space beyond. So when you had a ward, you
also would reserve a quotient of agricultural space beyond. He didn’t design a thing, but
an instruction for relationships between things. And you didn’t know the
shape of the town’s outline, even though you had an explicit
measured spatial instruction. I would say it’s
like a governor, like a thermostat as a
governor, an interplay between counterbalancing
variables or a time-released instruction
for the ongoing activities of urban space. So it’s pretty simple. We can design a multiplier. We could design a delta. We could design a valve,
a governor, a switch. We can tune a topology. And all these things are like–
they’re not the only one, but they’re like little
markers or bits of code or active forms that are kind
of like the spatial equivalent of software. So they’re shaping not
a single object form, but a stream of objects. And I just hasten to say– I
guess I’ve said it already– but I just hasten
to say again, this is a non-modern proposition. Active form does not replace. Object form works
with it, propels it, hopefully into a kind
of redoubled territory of operation, again, with
different aesthetic pleasures and political capacities. But the aesthetic pleasures
of active form and interplay, if they’re dispositional,
if they’re time-released, they’re often less about knowing
that and more about knowing how, which I’m borrowing
from Gilbert Ryle. So in some ways, the
aesthetic pleasures, if they involve knowing– I’ll
slow way down– if they involve knowing how, they’re about
exceeding intellection. It’s a habit of mind
that’s capable of working with changing unfinished
process for which there can only be dynamic markers. So it’s a mind like
a chess master, so I could see many moves
ahead, except that this game can’t be rationalized. I would say, in this world,
confidence games trump game theory, or cybernetics
of behaviorism or any of the other kind
of determinant frameworks that our discipline has gotten
stuck on at various moments, snagged on. The markers are indeterminate–
sounds contradictory– but the markers are
indeterminate to be practical. Like one can only know how to
navigate a river by observing the ripples and dimples that
are changing on the surface. You can only know how to
kind of correlate card combinations in poker
against the changing faces of the players. You can only know how to feel
for the potentials in bread and dough or land a plane
in high wind or sling plaster or hustle or
kiss or tell a joke. There’s things you can
only know how to do. And active forms and the
dispositions they generate are markers or diagnostics
in the fluid politics of Extrastatecraft. So that used to be maybe another
place where the talk could end. And this book talks less
about what to do and more about how to do it. But maybe it’s useful to
sort of back to the zone or go through a few examples. If we return to the
zone, in addition to designing the skyscraper, we
can take advantage of the fact that the zone is
itself a contagious platform, as it’s obvious. We could design something
to multiply within the zone and potentially change
it as radically as it’s changed over the last 30 years. And you see things like those
coloredy fountains that race through a population of zones. Many things become
contagious within it. So a hack might release a germ. And the aesthetic
pleasures there are not about I finished
the master plan. The aesthetic pleasures are
about exploiting a contagion, about population effects. Or a hack might establish a
kind of time-released interplay. For instance, given a zone’s
ambition to be a city, it may already even carry the
genetics of its own reversal, its own antidote. One way to hack the
zone– and if there is a one-liner in the
book, it might be this– but one way to hack the zone is
to map selected zone incentives back onto existing cities
rather than ex urban enclaves, return the zone
to the rule of law when it comes to the
oversight of labor, and more directly,
return financial benefits to the domestic economy. It’s what UNIDO thought
would actually happen. And just as there is
an interdependence between something like public
and private space in Savannah, a zone incentive can become
part of a time-released counterbalancing interplay. In Nairobi, for
instance, if zone centers were located in Nairobi instead
of a new Kenya-China Economic Zone or something,
zone incentives could be linked to any number of
things– for instance, transit. And that machine
for generating space develops infrastructure
while also delivering workers to business. So what the work would be–
again, not the master plan, not the thing, but the identifying
of counterbalancing linkage. Digital variables, as we
said before, influence space. But the spatial variables also
influence digital networks. So if the constant desired
outcome in Nairobi, the outcome of
broadband urbanism, is to access
information, then crucial is access to the information
of the digital systems, but it’s also crucial to access
the information of the city. Even outside Nairobi,
an active form might place broadband and
roads in an interdependence. Seems unlikely. But dialing up broadband
for the fixed service that attracts university
and tourism might result in dialing down roads,
roads that would disrupt the wilderness and
indigenous culture, the information
carried in space that’s important to
universities and tourism. Dialing up broadband also
makes roads less essential. And roads can interrupt the
spatial information of the city by inflating spaces and
distances for vehicles, information, again,
embedded in the city that’s made more immediate by
walking or transit or bicycle. So an architect who
can make active form as well as object form–
into another example– can think about
even not only making the development lurch forward,
but making it go into reverse. If object form usually results
in the addition of more stuff, does an active form let
you do even the opposite, put the building
machine into reverse? Can we use the interplay
of counterbalancing forces to target or contract or
even delete development in the floodplains of
New Orleans or Bangkok, in the Amazon rainforest
or in McMansion suburbia? And I won’t go into
detail, but one software, like Savannah in
reverse, or if you play Go– I don’t
know if you play Go– but like a reverse game of Go,
is a subtraction protocol– I’ll just race through
here– but something that is about making not
walls, but clearings, making an interplay between
properties that may even be remote to each other. And less important
than the details of this little software– that’s
another lecture– but it’s just the idea, the habit of
mind about designing interplay itself. This is another one,
which is about retreating from floodplain by
using a set of levers to do with insurance
and mortgage. So I won’t go into
detail about it. There are not only different
aesthetic pleasures, but also different political
capacities of active form and infrastructure space. And they’re different
from the familiar scripts of political activism,
where you usually find strongly held, forthright
beliefs that galvanize around declaration, a fight for
solidarity, decency, justice. And an activist may fight
and die for these principles using techniques that at
many junctures in history have required enormous
courage to enact. David must kill Goliath. That’s the sort
of classic script that we are equipped with. And yet, many powerful players
in infrastructure space survive on fluid,
undeclared intentions. And it’s pretty easy for them
to toy with and trick descent if declaration is considered
to be the only thing that registers as information. So when targeted, they wander
away from the bullseye. Or Goliath finds a way
to come dressed as David. Or they’re saying something
different from what they’re doing. The story is discrepant
from the real disposition of the organization, which
I keep arguing we would be very good at detecting. But it’s in these situations
that dissent is often left shaking its fists at an effigy. It showed up to the proper
barricade or border crossing. But the real violence is
happening over your shoulder. The real violence is
happening somewhere else and can only cure the problem
with another purification ritual. And there’s surely
moments when dissent must stand up and
name an opponent and assume as kind of
binary stance of resistance. But I’m trying to think
about a kind of auxiliary, some way of supporting
this dissent with the dispositional
capacities of infrastructure space that are more
performative than prescriptive. So they offer a dissensus
that’s harder to target, less interested in binaries, and
less interested in being right, a shrewder, cagier counter to
the stealthy global players, an alternative extrastatecraft,
where the declared intention may be less important than
the undeclared disposition and where righteousness
may be less consequential than the
discrepant or the fictional or the sly. So I’m sort of describing a
sneakier David, who would never bother to kill Goliath,
but a David who could be a secret partner
to the righteous activist, maybe even soften up
ground to increase their chances of success, maybe
an unwelcome, unwitting partner to that righteous activist. And that auxiliary
activist works, again, less on knowing that
or knowing what, knowing what to
righteously oppose, and works more on
knowing how to oppose it. So consider what are
the political capacities of something like a
switch or a remote that benefits from
remaining not only indirect, but maybe also undetected or
at a distance, reconditioning at a remove in space and time. For activists here, we often
long to directly confront and cure a problem, just
as the designer often longs to address urban
issues with object form, get our hands dirty,
go to the actual place. But often, the real toggles
of urbanity may be elsewhere. And active form maybe allows
you to adjust the capacities of entire network by altering
the repertoire of one’s switch within it. Also, infrastructure
spaces is not a duel. And in this
dispositional register, one doesn’t square off against
every weed in the field when you can remotely change
the chemistry of the soil. The multipliers that make
up infrastructure space can be accelerated by
all the irrationality that I’ve been showing you,
by narrative active forums, like a rumor. Rumor is one of
the most successful political techniques,
rumor and gossip. And maybe only a
design that combines organizational active forms
with narrative active forms has any chance of
successfully engaging the world’s spacial products. A couple of years ago, I
was invited to a conference of zone developers. And I gave them
fair warning that I was a critic of the zone. And they were– oh,
Professor Easterling. They were so nice about it. But I sort of realized
it was the perfect place to spread a rumor,
to tell a little lie, to tell a rumor that
the next smart report, that the next smartest zone
operators were doing what we were just talking about,
locating zone incentives in existing cities to avoid all
kinds of costs and to find– and I went through
the whole thing. And there were plenty of
people, almost everyone who bit on that hook. And in some ways,
it doesn’t matter. It’s like an anecdotal thing. What does become the new
contagious symbolic capital? It’s what is obviously
fueling this. It can’t be more unlikely
than buildings that are shaped like diamonds or dolphins. Or in addition to kind
of binary resistance, the tense resistance
of the binary, consider the power of
non-oppositional inflections of active forms, like
the gift or the panda or forms of
exaggerated compliance. The panda, as you
know, is a sweet, sort of arm-twisting gift,
like China’s gift to Taiwan of two pandas,
their names, when translated, meant “reunion” or “unity.” And we have running
through our fingers pandas. The zone incentives
or broadband capacity might be just such
a leveraging gift. But they’re often not
used to leverage anything. They’re not part of
an active interplay. Or in Domination and
the Arts of Resistance, James C. Scott provides
this great example of exaggerated
compliance that he finds in a portion of
Milan Kundera’s The Joke. In that novel, you remember,
the prisoners in the story are challenged to a foot
race against the guards. And so they know
they have to lose. And the prisoners decide
to run very slowly against the sprinting guards. So their compliance disarms
and delivers independence from authority. And in Extrastatecraft,
it’s the same thing. Picking one’s submissions
rather than one’s battles is an almost invisible,
noncontroversial means of gaining advantage in a field. Sometimes it allows you to do
it without drawing attention to your larger strategy. The binary dispositions
of head-to-head conflict are often marked by competition,
by symmetrical mimicry, that leads to escalating violence. But another kind of
mimicry, the double, can be a source of confusion
or disguise or trickery, the doubles to
shill or the proxy, like the twin siblings
that fool the world. The double can hijack the
existence of its counterpart. And you see that already in
the doubles that I showed you. Rather than engaging in a fight
with the risk of escalating it or being drawn into its
vortex, all of the active forms might be politically enhanced
by distracting from the fight. Meaninglessness
that is considered by the forthright activist
to be a complete evacuation of principles can
be the opposite. It can be incredibly
politically powerful. Misdirections and distractions
can lull and redirect the most intractable
political situations. Obfuscations, irrational
desire, circuitous stories are lubricants with enormous
political instrumentality. It’s all I see. And like the
comedian who learned to tell jokes to keep his
parents from fighting, that’s part of not knowing
that, but knowing how. An architect might even know
how to deploy a spatial variable to reduce the
violence of binaries or dissipate monistic
concentrations of authority as they are embedded in space. So in infrastructure
space, it’s routine to deal with the irrational,
the discrepant, and the indeterminate,
because it’s not only more practical,
but more vigilant, than righteousness. With active forms of interplay,
a snaking chain of moves can worm into matrix space and
gradually generate leverage against intractable politics. So maybe when we pan back
over this matrix space, we see nothing but
artistic opportunities, an additional kind of
pleasure, artistic pleasure, and excess and power in the
art of infrastructure space. Infrastructure space
may be the secret weapon of the most powerful, but
two can play at this game. Thank you. [applause] So if you’d like to hold
on for a few minutes, Charles Waldheim is
joining us in conversation with Keller Easterling. We have 15, 20 minutes for
conversation, a few questions. We thought that it’d
be appropriate to kind of transition to questions,
that we could in many respects invite Charles to share
a few reflections. And also, at the same time, I
was thinking maybe Kiel and I– I’m not sure whether or
not, after the lecture, we should invite Richard Branson
to lecture or not next year. But we can consult with
the dean afterwards. But thank you very much, Keller. I’ll leave you with
the floor, Charles. Thanks, Pierre. I’m sure that Beth
Kramer in developmental would welcome Richard Branson. I’m sure we can see
him on a poster soon. Pierre has given me the
enviable but impossible task of following Keller’s prose. So I just want to begin by just
taking a moment and pausing and just saying, I
don’t know about you, because I could sit there
and listen to that all night. It’s kind of you to be here. And I know that we want to
spend the bulk of our time continuing to her Keller
elaborate her thoughts and hearing from you
with your questions. It’s striking to me
that, among other things, one could begin
by saying, Keller, your work has been so impactful
for so long, for so many of us. And at the same
moment, I think it’s timely to reflect on it
in the context of the MDes specifically. We have this luxury of these
round-numbered anniversaries. And I’m thinking of the MDes
40-year anniversary, but also the 50th anniversary his year of
the founding of the laboratory for computer graphics,
which we’ll be commemorating in a couple of weeks, as well. So with those kind
of legacies in mind, for me, I think one of the
most interesting questions to begin with would be the shift
that you signal over the two most recent books, which
really work as a set of paired complementary between Enduring
Innocence and Extrastatecraft. From what you described
as reportage to something that’s, on the one
hand, meant to be more directly political,
but also a bit more of a disciplinary
formation, it’s been a bit more challenge
for us in these buildings. And I just want to hear you
say something a little bit more off script about that and the
evolution of your thinking. What caused you to think
that moving beyond reportage was timely and important to do? Well, I found it
always so strange that the questions
after Enduring Innocence that I would be asked,
but what are your politics? And I didn’t understand
the question. How could you say what
your politics are? I mean, obviously,
we are all opposed to the abuses of other human
beings and the environment. That’s the easy part. But how to do those things,
how to approach them, seem to be the– [phone ringing] –question. That’s not my phone. Might be. Sorry. It’s calling. Branson. It’s Branson. So sorry. Sorry about that. And I’m a designer. I’m a designer. And I work with
students on design. And so it also seemed to me
that many of these things which we have long regarded
in our discipline as something that’s outside
of the discipline, that has nothing to do
with our art, it becomes so clear
that it’s possible that it amplifies our powers,
that the very pervasiveness of this space is this
something that potentially amplifies our powers. So it seemed that
then design studios and so on could be
rehearsals for that. So it’s maybe just starting
to reflect the ongoing work with these spaces. In that context, I think
many of us here have been, over the last several
years, and I suspect maybe in other schools or
architecture, as well, still struggling with the
question of, on the one hand, the desire for autonomy,
cultural autonomy of the architect, the
role of the architect and their purview, their agency,
the space of their activities, relative to the petered
externalities that you and I and others
are so interested in, in a kind of debate
around, on the one hand, rehearsing a kind
of Gesellschaft, Gemeinschaft debate
interminably. But at the same moment,
if these externalities are within the purview
of the agency of design, then a whole host of questions
appear immediately that you begin to address, I
think, in both books, and certainly in the most
recent one most forthrightly. So on the one hand, I think
you make a very clear argument for how this epistemology,
this way of seeing the world, this way of understanding
the world, producing knowledge in it, might position
the architect on campus with a renewed sense of
centrality, or at least a renewed relevance
for audience. And that seems fairly clear
in what you said this evening, but also in the book itself. I remember just recently,
in the last couple of years, when a variety of
people at the Kennedy School realized that our students know
how to map things really well. All of a sudden, we started
getting a lot more invitations to things. And with a great deal of
enthusiasm, of course, we all accepted them. And then, after a
year or so, we began to realize, well,
we’re just illustrating what’s going on in the Jordan
Valley and these other forces and flows that you describe. And so could you say
something more about that, the introduction of these
topics for the architect or those in the design
sphere and their centrality within the play of
disciplines on campus? And beyond simple illustration,
beyond reportage, what role does the education
of the architect play in kind of recentering the
design disciplines on campus? That’s such a good question. Well, I have been trying
in a small at Yale to elevate spatial studies
among the other disciplines from global affairs to health to
environment to forestry and art and so on. I think Yale probably
is the place which is training the 28-year-old
McKinsey consultant or CIA agent. I don’t know. And their global
affairs are still about nation state and very
mid-century sort of training. So it’s become very
clear to me that for them to be able to have
a chance to think about the power of spatial
variables is important. I don’t know how successful I’ve
been in making it more central. But it is a way to sort of
trip the lock on that conundrum or the ongoing
perennial argument that we often have in our
disciple, some kind of fear of losing disciplinarity,
some kind of fear of diluting. But that is not the problem. But it’s more that there
are other disciplines outside of ours that
could use our knowledge and could use our special skills
and our correlative thinking and on and on. It’s a persuasive argument. I think, in some ways,
your intellectual project more broadly, by reclaiming
space, all of space and the production of space, as
the [inaudible] of our fields, I think your longer term
intellectual project speaks to that even beyond
just these two books. So staying with the
disciplinary relationships, I have a moment
where I was thinking it would have been interesting
if Neil Brenner had been here this evening. And I won’t be able to do
his precise intonation. But I want to suggest
if Neil were with us, he might say
something like, OK, so extrastatecraft– your
formulation of extrastatecraft implies, at least,
among other things, that what goes on within the
FTC, within Free Trade Zone, is really outside
the state’s monopoly on a certain set of
jurisdictional and operational protocols. But I have a sense that
if Neil were with us, he would ask
something like, is it in fact precisely
through the power to deliver the Free Trade Zone
that the state is inscribing its power? Isn’t this just a re-inscription
of state powerfulness? And in what ways is
it external to that? It is another
power of the state. But it’s the state,
as I was saying, with a new set of
sneakier partners. It’s a longstanding oscillation,
a historical oscillation. The state gets pirates. The state gets another set
of more powerful pirates. It was interesting in dialogue
with Saskia last week, because she talks about a kind
of de-nationalizing process that is about empowering
some selected players and disempowering
others in that process. It doesn’t erase the
power of the nation. It makes the nation
powerful in another way and delivers that
power to, usually, a select few who are in
partnership with the state. So yeah, outside of and
in addition to the state. And so in that regard, your
call for habit of mind, a propensity for and
ability to respond to, to not simply describe,
to be prepared to hack, to intervene upon, to
throw some sand in the years, if not a spanner. All of that are really about
the audiences in this building and about how we
might be able to get beyond the simple empirical
after a couple of decades of empirical work. It strikes me that
it would be fair also to situate your work in
this regard in a lineage of the last couple of decades. I’m thinking of work that
Pierre was referencing from the 1990s of people like
Alejandro Zaera-Polo or Alex Wall, in which
logistics, operating protocols, infrastructure
were seen as a kind of other. And in that work, there
was an appropriation into our field that had a
sense of diversification, of expanding the realm, the
agency of the architect. But I think, having participated
in that myself a little bit, I think, overwhelmingly,
that economy has been in one direction. That is, we in
architectural culture have been learning from these
forces and flows and processes and changing the terms of
reference for our own work, changing the context for
our own cultural production. At the same moment,
it’s challenging enough to come upon examples
of that economy working in both directions. And so I think it would
be fair in this context to draw you out a
little bit more on, are there cases, examples,
we could point to from your work for this audience
in which it’s not simply we fetishizing the operational
performance and condition and political economy
of infrastructure, but in fact, where the
architect was kind of upstream far enough to hack the system? Yeah. It’s tricky to know where
to place yourself in that. And it is something that
has to be rehearsed. Almost one wants to
rehearse your reactivity to different
situations rather than to say, this is
the way to do it, that there is only
one way to do it. But there would be
many ways to do it. And I agree with you
that it concerns me when architects seem less
powerful than they are, than they should be. So you might think,
oh, well, the way to do that is to learn
to work with an NGO or something like that– and
that’s absolutely not what I’m saying– or that there’s some
proper way to enter politics, to learn about policy. That’s not what I’m saying. And in fact, in the book,
there’s a story about ISO and other kinds of proper
parliaments of the NG-ocracy. And so I’m sort of
suggesting that one doesn’t go get that second
degree in global affairs, necessarily. That’s not what I’m saying, but
that we have ways of– well, I don’t know how to do
this, because you need sort of like 20 examples or none. But there are many ways in
which we can hack that system. And I don’t know if you
want me to give examples. So here’s an analogy
that comes to mind. I wonder if this would
fit the bill for you. So in the last several
years, within the MDes, there’s been quite
a lot of enthusiasm for what we generically
refer to as border studies, the role of the
architect and returning to mapmaking,
cartography, in revealing the spaciality of a
certain political economy or a certain set of
political choices. And so that’s one
set of examples that would be available. In that regard, I
do think that there is something recurring about
the architect’s ability to organize and
manage information with a certain
professional identity. But I think a part of what’s
really so impactful for me in the last two books
has been the notion that the spatial metier is
itself always inherently political. And it seems to be consistently,
throughout both books, the idea that the material that we’re
working with, the media itself, is itself political. It inscribes a set of
political relationships. And that in some ways– I’m
inferring, and correctly me that I get this
wrong– in some ways, I take your position to be that
by reaching out and getting the third degree in political
science or joining the NGO or externalizing all
of its social agency neglects the inherent
politics of space itself. Is that a fair reading? Well, it’s just
that you all are– and the work that you
do here, is exceptional. And the work of
architects at this level is so information rich. I could tell you, in studios
that we work on at Yale, where we were actually–
so we’re actually rehearsing these things,
and rehearsing both object form and active form. Why would you give up? Again, it’s a
non-modern proposition. It’s adding skills
to the repertoire, but heavily reliant
on object form. But we do studios
which are not kind of masterpiece studios, where
you design your finished masterpiece, but
studios where you are allowed to test
your reactivity to different conditions. So there are studios that
are more like an improv class in a drama school. And the students design
more and more and more. I mean, I’m at Yale,
so the dean has to look sort of with half-closed
eyes from six feet away and see lots of object form. And it answers all
of those things. But there is throughout
the test a series of forks in the
road and decisions where students are allowed to
test their political savvy, make forms on all
different kinds of level, from irrational desires to
technical details, highly technical details. If you don’t have that technical
skill, it’s not going to work. And some of those students
have been successful. They’re actually doing it. Parenthetically, still
set in every mid review, I recall this about– it’s,
to my mind, quite remarkable. So one of the things I want
to press on a little bit has to do with our context
here in the reception or in the wake of Ferguson. We’ve had a number of
conversations in this space, in this building,
about the implications of the conversations
that are taking place about race and
space and social justice and social agency. And among other
things that came out of those discussions was that
for many of our colleagues, many of our cohort, a sense
that what was really immediately most pressing and available
wasn’t spatial, necessarily, a sense that, well, there
are courses on campus, maybe at the Kennedy School,
maybe at the law school, and a sense that the real
traction, the real street credibility, the
real issues had to do with the nexus of media, popular
opinion, law, governance. And I, for one, at
least, have participated in many of those conversations. I think it’s been a very
important set of conversations for us. And at the same moment, I feel
as though we are only just now beginning to come to
terms with, well, what are the special implications? What do we have by way of
knowledge in these areas that don’t fall directly into
immediately social justice post ’68 in planning as opposed
to the autonomy of design culture? And that’s pretty far afield
from your talk tonight. And so don’t hesitate
to wave me off. But any thoughts about that as
it pertains to your interests? Well, the obvious social justice
issues in infrastructure space have to do with labor and how
labor is treated– environment, as well. But I’m always
amazed that, again, in the NG-ocracy that speaks
in informatics and standards. Even the activist NGOs
speak in terms of standards, like kind of mimicking the
ISO 9000 quality management, because it’s a habit
within the corporate world. But I see that there are
often things like standards, there’s a currency of
something like that. And often, there
are new standards to do with environment. That’s an easy one
because it comes with– I’m sure you talk about
this all the time– because it comes with another kind of
asset for a corporate culture. But there is
nothing about labor. There’s one standard that I’ve
found in ISO about how long a man can stay in
a refrigerator. But there is nothing, there is
nothing, to– and as you know, most of the global superpowers
have signed no compact about how labor will be treated. And this goes on for decades. There’s no hope that
somehow– or there may be hope when one works
on the legal side and on the standard side. But in the meantime, part of the
idea about infrastructure space and what we know
about a city, we know that a factory that’s
in the middle of Nairobi or a factory that’s way out
where no one can see it, we know the power of a city. And it’s an undeclared power. But again, what you know about
urbanity is incredibly powerful and can be a kind
of undeclared power. It doesn’t seem
dangerous to anybody. Or at least there’s
that potential. There’s that potential in
space to– if we were doing as I was suggesting,
locating factories back in cities instead of
ex urban enclaves, we know the power of a city to
bring some more surveillance or potentially to return
the oversight of that labor to the rule of law. So those are the kin of
issues that are out there in infrastructure space. And again, space could be a
powerful, undeclared point of leverage in it. I know that there are
questions in the audience. As you’re getting your
questions teed up– I think we have a
couple of microphones– I can’t help but take the
self-indulgent opportunity just to talk to you
just about writing. Apart from what the subject
matter or the content is, the implication
for these fields and what we’ve been discussing,
this is an observation– and I’m happy to be
dissuaded– but my perception has been, as a
reader of your work, that there has been a
longstanding interest in the writing for its own sake. That may be overstating it, but
the idea of writing as such. But with these two most
recent books in particular, my sense of it is,
well, you’ve always been in command of the material. You’ve also in
these two books been in control of a sense
of the craft, if I could put it that way, and
not only the symmetry between the spoken word
here and what’s in print, but equally, moments when the
language, the Barthian sense of the rustle of
language pushes back. And if you could
say a little– I know that many of
us in the building spend our days
and nights writing or thinking about writing
or reading about writing. And given that that’s a
sizable proportion certainly of the MDes activity,
advice to writers? It seems always like
a complete struggle. And Enduring Innocence
was– the world was making it very
easy for me in Enduring Innocence in some ways
because I had decided to write a kind of footnoted fiction. And it was easy, since there
was so many irrational tales to be told. This book was a lot
harder because I was supposed to write
for a general audience. And it’s what I wanted, without
writing in that kind of Malcolm Gladwellian teaser language– Where you gloss very quickly
over a dozen academics sort of toiling away. Yeah. Yeah. Or any of the other TED
Talk locutions or something. How could you develop
a kind of quiet voice that would be talking about
something for which you need a book, for which you need
something that lasts as long as a book, to be
with a reader for awhile or to be with a reader and make
a short segment that one might need to read. You might have to have
a different relationship with the reader to go
quiet, to slow down. But there was quite
a lot of resistance with having a book
that was experimenting with evidentiary segments
and contemplative segments. And it did get kind of flattened
into something like chapters that are just parallel. So I don’t know about– I
don’t have any advice because I feel like such a novice myself. But the– So for any of my doctoral
students that are here, first of all, it’s really hard,
and it takes two decades to be a novice. So maybe you have questions. Yeah. Keller, thanks for a beautiful
talk– very beautiful, but suspiciously beautiful. And I want to talk
about maybe aesthetics. I was struck by the comment
you made at the beginning about describing
the images as porn. And I wasn’t quite sure
why you meant porn. But I assume because it
was a rather tacky, glitzy, postmodern architecture. And I’m wondering
what would happen if it was, say, Peter Zumthor
or Herzog and de Meuron whose buildings were there. But it strikes me
that there’s a danger that we as designers focus
too much on the visual, on the formal. On my understanding,
the future of the city is going to be governed
less by form and more by informational systems. I think the way that we think
Uber or Lyft are operating today or some other
kind of– Nest or those kind of control systems
that are controlling our homes and things, that’s the
kind of intelligence that’s going to be part of the thing. And it strikes me that,
really, the problem that we have as designers is
we have marginalized ourselves by focusing precisely
on the design as such. You talk about hacking into
the zones, this new system. Well, I don’t think we
need to hack into it. The system’s been there
in its different guises for many years. And we simply left ourselves
out of the equation because we come in
at the very end, and we just put the
icing on the cake. And I would want to just draw
the distinction between, say, urban planners and
urban designers. Urban planners are there
at the very beginning. They’re involved in all
the strategic decision making by policymakers,
by politicians. If there is any
designer at all, it’s probably some civil
engineer who’s going to design the
roads and so on. And we’ve left ourselves
completely out of the equation because we just wait till the
very end and do the final bit. It strikes me that
really what we should be doing as designers
is redesigning what we do as designers and
really focusing ourselves on those strategic aspects
and locking into that. We’ve simply
marginalized ourselves. There’s no reason why we
can’t be part of that process. Is that fair? I agree. And showing you this
porn is just cheap. But I want to show it to you. Some of it is so odd. And I end up wanting to show it. And at least it makes it clear
that the world is not somehow run off of cast iron economic
logics or law or something. It’s clear that those
supposedly serious things are being buffeted about by
the most ridiculous desires. And that I find empowering. So that’s a little
bit why I show it. But I agree completely
with what you’re saying. I’m trying to say that
the object of our design might be slightly different,
that what we might be designing, instead of
as that urban designer, not be delivering the master
plan to Nairobi or Kitow or Guadalajara and
congratulating ourselves on what a genius work it was. And if they don’t
adopt it, then it’s just because they just
weren’t clever enough to see the purity of the
design and how perfect it was. That happens over and
over and over again. It’s so incredibly
tedious that it seems like the very thing
that we are designing is the wrong thing. So what would it be like if,
in addition to that, what we were designing was something
like an interplay, something like an interdependence
that was time-released, that could be changed, that
required incredible vigilance, that wasn’t over,
that wasn’t finished, that was more about tools
for steering a process, identifying toggles and
levers and linkages. Thank you for the talk. You show us the porn twice. And at the end, it was on a
slightly more optimistic note. But given the inscrutability
of this extrastatecraft, I wonder what sort
of criteria do you think it can be used to
distinguish, to put it naively, good from bad, right from
wrong, extrastatecraft and to actually enact it in
a sort of optimistic way? I don’t really talk
that much about what would be good or bad. But I think that the criteria
is whether it releases more information or not. I think it is about somehow
assessing the disposition of an organization. Is it an isomorphic
disposition that locks down on information, which I
find inherently violent, or is a system that
releases information? I know that sounds
incredibly abstract. But it was also
what I was trying to talk about as the theory of
productive or criminal piracy. When does piracy
release information, like breaks a blockade,
and when is it just kind of a criminal
theft or something that increases violence? So reducing violence, increasing
information, reducing abuse, increasing information, what
are the acts that do that? What are the organizational
dispositions that do that? Hi. I’m up here. Hi. I’d like to push you
a little bit more and following on
the first question, a lot of the discussion
you had about how we hack and how we get from where we
are and how designers get there into what’s going on,
maybe in terms of the zone, because what I see right now and
what occurred to me while you were talking is maybe
one step or one end point is that the 28-year-old
McKinsey consultant is replaced by the 27-year-old MMARC
or something like that. And maybe that’s totally wrong. But from what we’ve seen so
far, maybe we as designers aren’t doing a very good
job of that right now. I think of the
opportunity that, say, Zaha Hadid had to say
something about the labor practices of building a
World Cup stadium in Qatar, which maybe is a
ridiculous thing for her to be doing anyway. But when it came
to it, she said, I have nothing to do
with the labor practices. And I think that
wasn’t very good. But for us, I’m not maybe
asking a career question. I’m asking maybe a
political question because you have to
get into the power, and you have to participate. But then you have to
switch at some point and maybe show your true
colors, or else you just won’t be invited
back to participate or you won’t be able to
participate in the first place. So I guess that’s my question
is, how do you do that? Well, the protagonist
that you’re describing or the sort of character that’s
moving through this world, as I’m understanding
you, might be somebody who is already a
little bit more downstream in the system, in
which case, it becomes quite difficult to do anything. But the kinds of work
I’m talking about are not necessarily deploying
spatial studies or spatial variables in a kind of
fee-for-service practice situation. But we’ve been
kind of rehearsing alternative modes of
practice, other kinds of entrepreneurial modes of
practice, social, political, but also commercially
entrepreneurial forms of practice. I don’t think that
what’s implied here is that one has
to work from within or be a kind of double
agent in these situations, but really that what
you might be doing is really manipulating it
from the outside, which looks a little bit
like from within, but in the sense
that it’s not just standing with a placard
saying, I am against this. It’s starting to work with
it, manipulate it, con it. There was something
else I was going to say. This is what I was going to say. This is not for everybody. There’s no reason why you should
be artistically interested in is. There’s no “ought to,”
like, oh, you ought to be. It just is this something
that is exciting to you artistically or not. It’s not as if this is wagging
a finger at the profession to be more interested
in this or that. It occurs to me, in
relationship to this question, the dean of the business school
at the University of Toronto, a fellow called
Roger Martin, has been saying for many
years– and it’s a part of what he’s done
at the school there– is he wants to train his
MBAs, his brand managers, to think and act and work
more like architects. And when I was driving,
listening to the CBC, I almost drove off the road. On the one hand, of
course, what have we been waiting for all these
years with that kind of traction and centrality and oxygen. And at the same moment,
inherent in that formulation is a kind of ambivalence. On the one hand, I
immediately imagine, well, you mean less well
capitalized, without health insurance, small, flexible. We’re all free agents at 27. And so yeah, I think
there’s a version where the way in which
we are organized as a professional body or
as a set of disciplines certainly can be
found attractive for a whole variety of reasons. At the same moment,
there are so many other interesting examples. I was just thinking of
one of Pierre’s students from Toronto who then came
and taught for us here, Kelly Doran. So he’s had a practice for many
years working in West Africa in and around sites
of extraction. And what his
practice is doing is dealing with the relocation and
settlement and accommodation of existing populations. And you can say,
on the one hand, because he’s embedded in a
process of infrastructure, extraction, all the
things we’ve been talking about this
evening, then he’s complicit on the one hand
of enabling that activity. But what you see in the
work is not so much that. What you see, really, is
dealing with the reality that there are populations and
cultural heritage questions and issues of community directly
in the crosshairs of that flow of capital and infrastructure. And so projects
like that, practices like that, that
don’t necessarily project an enormous moral
implication for the entirety of the field, but rather ways of
constructing one’s body of work through. So maybe we have time for– what
do you think, Pierre, one more? Two more? One more? Please. Keller, thanks for your talk. It was wonderful. I really appreciate this
word “how” in the discourse that we’re talking about. And I especially
appreciate it as you’re talking about it as we think
about forms of practice and modes of practice. But I’d also like
to relate it back to what I was very
intrigued when you said, at the academic level,
you’re trying to teach this in a studio or how that’s
sort of rehearsed at the level of academy where we start to
pick up these sort of biases, I guess, in how we do things. And I’m wondering if maybe you
could just more specifically give some concrete examples
or describe further how you run your studio, how
that impacts the pedagogy, and perhaps a project
in which a student was successful in marrying the
formal to the social political, in a more concrete example. Sure. Well, some of the studios that
I’ve been playing around with are– it’s nothing new– but
where the students start out and they identify the place
where they want to work, sometimes in a collective site. One of the last collective
sites we did was in Las Vegas. And we did a book about it. I could show you. So each student developed
what they wanted to work on. But after they started working
into their course of work, they would get messages. And they were messages from me. But they would get
envelopes delivered to them. And those envelopes had in
them any number of things. Sometimes it was very bad news. Sometimes the envelope was,
like, burned or something. Or sometimes it
was just that they were– there were
all kinds of things in the envelope, all kinds
of forks in the road. There was no
directive within it. They were collaborators
that were passing through, they were people who were angry,
they were laws that changed, they were people
who were protesting. You had to somehow
wriggle through or accept some advantage that
had come to you. Some of the worst news was,
you’ve been wildly successful. Now what do you do? And so there would be
sort of three of those in the course of a semester. And it was unbelievable
how great they did. I couldn’t believe
how smart they were and how they redoubled their
efforts throughout and invented things. So one of those that was
successful in the Las Vegas project, it just
won the Holson prize this past fall, which
is a lot of money. And it was a project that was a
construction detail in concrete that would deal with
flash floods in Las Vegas. But then it was also a system. So it went from a detail,
a kind of porous detail that was based on
biomimicry, to something that was a giant tank about
the size of the turbine hall. So it was about
infrastructure also as a kind of new civic space. So it was construction detail,
persuasion, civic space. And they’re prototyping it now. They’re meeting with people in
Las Vegas and things like that. One more if we have it? Hi. Thank you, Keller. This was absolutely amazing. You showed us a
lot of zones that were crafted with economic
logics behind them. I’m wondering if you also
looked at territories that were crafted with
a political agenda, like the settlements in the West
Bank or temple towns in India. And I’m wondering what are the
kind of frameworks and codes that govern these? I have not worked on things like
settlements in the West Bank. I think maybe something that’s
kind of close to what you’re talking about are the work
on subtraction, on how to kind of subtract buildings. And this maybe
answers a little bit to the social justice question
that Charles was talking about before. Some of the work
on subtraction has been dealing with
the possible impacts for informal settlement,
informal settlement that’s always at the other
end of the bulldozer, in a subtraction that’s
about tabula rasa. So the subtraction
work that we’ve been working on is
about not a tabula rasa, but again, an interplay
between properties, a way to develop an interplay between
some formal and informal areas so that no property’s ever
worth zero, no property can ever be completely
devalued, or that there’s a certain kind of
interdependency between properties. And that can be applied to kind
of a McMansian suburbia area. But the idea is
that it could also be applied to places where
people are disenfranchised. Some of the zone work naturally
drifts into those geographies. There’s work about qualifying
industrial zones in Jordan, which have become embroiled
in Middle Eastern politics with issues of labor. So those might be two examples. So thank you so much, Keller. It was just occurring
to me– and I was wondering if
you could give me some sense of if you would agree
with this sentiment– I was just thinking about the
lab for computer graphics, 50 years ago founded in part by
a fellow called Howard Fisher. So Howard Fisher was an
architect, postwar architect, in Chicago who was deeply
interested in mass production, steel housing, and was
on the kind of industry side of things, and over
the course of his career, found himself then
moving increasingly upstream to the
systematization of growth and then eventually
came here to do this kind of foundational
work in mapping that would completely re-characterize
the system with which suburbs got cast. So that’s one narrative. That’s one arc of one
person’s storyline that begins with some of
these obsessions with respect to mass seriality, but then
works its way upstream, as it were, to really
get at the operating system behind the thing itself
and moving away from, you know. Would that kind of arc be
something of interest, maybe? Is that something that we
could pursue in greater detail, do you think? Absolutely. I don’t know about this. I’d be curious to talk about it. I guess we always
just want to be– our discipline is a love of
universals and determinants, which was maybe not necessary in
the trajectories you describe. But I’d love to talk about
that over drinks, maybe. 50th anniversary of labs,
coming up in a couple weeks. Keller Easterling,
thanks so much. [applause] I’d just like to thank everyone. I also hope that
perhaps in two decades we can look back at this year in
terms of a turning point, also in terms of if we were to
ever engage issues of space and power, that
potentially this is– I couldn’t think of a better
way that we could do this. Thank you very much,
Keller, Charles, Mohsen. [applause]

3 thoughts on “Keller Easterling, “Extrastatecraft””

  1. Vaida Kidykaite says:


  2. sophocles says:

    Nothing more boring than reading a lecture.

  3. sophocles says:

    "Today Easterling's observational empiricism has not only accelerated logarithmically…"

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