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    Radical infrastructure? A new realism and materialism in philosophy and architecture

    Mckim, Joel (2014) Radical infrastructure? A new realism and materialism in philosophy and architecture. In: UNSPECIFIED (ed.) The Missed Encounter of Radical Philosophy and Architecture. Bloomsbury Studies in Philosophy. London, UK: Bloomsbury, pp. 133-149. ISBN 9781472512185.

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    One of the most notable developments in architectural thought over the past decade has been the ascendance of infrastructural concerns within the theory and practice of the discipline. Contemporary architecture has increasingly shifted its attention from the design of individual signature buildings towards the organization of complex, overlapping and often transnational systems of energy, transportation, and natural ecology. Infrastructure-oriented architecture takes shape in realized projects such as the Lifescape landscape urbanism plan that is currently transforming Staten Island’s Fresh Kills landfill, once the largest garbage dump in the world, into a public park and wetlands conservation area. It also manifests itself in speculative proposals and competitions, including the ecological visions of the Toronto based firm Lateral Office and the WPA 2.0 design initiative organized by UCLA’s cityLAB – a contemporary reimagining of the Works Projects Administration, the depression-era American public infrastructure investment program. While Keller Easterling argues that the current architectural focus on infrastructure is inspired by “radical changes to the globalized world,” the movement has, somewhat surprisingly, demonstrated a marked aversion toward an engagement with critical theory and radical philosophy. Responding to an oversaturation of deconstructive and Deleuzean discourse within the field, the proponents of infrastructural architecture call for a form of design pragmatism that reprioritizes the concrete or physical practices of the discipline, eschewing abstract theorization. Yet this missed encounter between philosophy and architecture is an especially curious one given the recent proliferation of philosophical writing that seeks to address quite specifically questions of realism, materiality and natural forces that would seemingly pertain directly to issues of infrastructure. Whether grouped under the heading “speculative realism” or “new materialism,” these varied currents of thought are linked by a shared interest in moving away from textual or cultural analysis in order to conceptualize the realm of non-human objects and systems. This essay will attempt to outline a selection of these recent discussions, focusing primarily on the object-oriented philosophy of Graham Harman and Timothy Morton and the process-oriented thought of Jane Bennett. Its objective is to ask a number of related questions: firstly, what does it mean to speak of such a thing as a philosophy of infrastructure? What insights might these recent philosophical forays into questions of realism and materialism offer architects attempting to design tangible interactions between human and non-human systems? And finally, would this philosophy of infrastructure possess a radical or critical politics to match its radically non-anthropocentric ontology


    Item Type: Book Section
    Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Philosophy, Architecture, and Infrastructure
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Creative Arts, Culture and Communication
    Research Centres and Institutes: Architecture, Space and Society, Centre for
    Depositing User: Joel McKim
    Date Deposited: 28 May 2019 12:45
    Last Modified: 09 Aug 2023 12:43


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