Towards a Terracentric Infrastructure

B.E. Mahall and F.H. Bormann have an eloquent op-ed in the LAtimes today that calls for resetting our view of nature. While I don’t have time to write much about their piece, it is certainly worth reading as it calls to question the anthropogenic bias in most climate models and calculations of ecosystem services as only serving people.

The other item worth sharing is Marcel Smets (thanks Nam) recent talk at the GSD (podcast) as he makes his round of the architecture school circuit, to promote his recent book: Infrastructure Design in the Contemporary Landscape. Smets writes/talks about that that there are 5 strategies for integrating infrastructure into cities:


The preferred approach of politicians, preserves or restores authenticity, or realizing authenticity a park or garden on/over parking garage


Making invisible by trees or foliage or by use of a trench or talus taking characteristics of the background


By way of typological imitation through the creation of a common layer


Marking the existing by detaching the new this approach usually features strong geometry and autonomous form also by landscape design (almost it seems he says, by de-urbanizing or re-organic-izing and thus de-imposing the infrastructure/object)


Which is he argues the most promising: oppositions melting into inclusive-distinction or by constructing a megastructure (an architectural intervention) or by constructing a hybrid landscape and thus a new category (thanks nam!)

Before I expand on this list, I want to point out that Marcel’s definition of Infrastructure is very narrow and only includes transportation facilities and corridors based on the examples given in the lecture. This misses a wide range of communication, energy, and water typologies that don’t fit so cleanly into the 5 categories above.

I would expand that list with the following (and there may be more tactics out there):

Ubiquity or Pervasiveness
Telephone pole, high tension lines, storm drain catch basins, manhole covers, and electric outlets are all examples of infrastructure that is so common we usually don’t notice.

Isolation or Obscure
Put the stuff far away from folks – not hiding as there is no attempt to conceal or camouflage. Examples are the Fort McHenry Oil Sands, many military bases (like Area 51), and many other large industrial complexes.

Hoover Dam & the Golden Gate Bridge come to mind as examples of exceptional elegance and scale that transcend the realm of engineering and become works of art.

Okay, gotta go run and give a lecture on hydrology. More later.

1 thought on “Towards a Terracentric Infrastructure

  1. Just a note. The issue of the book (and his lecture) dealing only with transportation infrastructure was brought up in the Q+A. He acknowledges the other infrastructural landscapes (those of energy, waste etc) that were left out. A result of editorial simplification for publishing he seems to say.

    And thanks for the mention..

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