brian carroll on Tue, 2 May 2000 20:36:34 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> electromagnetic architecture

 (this is an overview of my work that I am trying to get published.
 if anyone has any leads, please send them my way. thanks. bc)

The Architecture of Electricity

*** The Medium is Electricity - The Message is Electric ***

Electrification has been voted as the greatest achievement of the 20th
Century. (1)

In fact, it is the greatest achievement of all time: from its birth in the
electromagnetic big bang, to the composition of the atom, the binding of
electrons into molecules, the creation of galaxies, stars, and planets
like our Earth, a giant electromagnet with protective charged particle
fields and electrified atmosphere, where lightning storms thundered for
millions of years above life in the seas, eventually evolving onto land
with electrical nerves, nervous system, and brain, an electrical human,
Homo Electrus, electrically sensing the environment, adapting to
electrical reality as it unfolds, from the electrical *spark* in amber
2500 years ago to the present-day Internet computer network, designing the
built environment in the human image, a subliminal cosmology of electrical
nature alchemically transmuting electrical tools, such as a drill or CAD
software, into new types of buildings, electric. 

It is this simple but profound fact that the historians of architecture
have yet to address. Electrical power lines are edited out of photographs
of buildings. Electricity is couched in vague terms such as `industrial
revolution' or `machine age', all the while, acting as the electromagnetic
heartbeat, the pulse transforming the everyday built environment. It is in
the mundane that the extraordinary is found: in an electrical weld or
elevator in a skyscraper made of electrically manufactured steel, in a
house with electrical doorbell, light, and television receiving cultural
messages from the other side of the nervous globe. 

There is a mystery afoot, and it starts with a *spark*, in matter and

It could well be said that this electrical design is too incredible to be
credible, but based on our empirical scientific reasoning, and pragmatic
technological practice, we have come to realize this mystery is indeed
real, if not reality itself. Now, it is up to the architects to become
cognizant of this revolutionary evolution of electricity in this world and
epoch, so as to design a cultural consciousness of this `new' yet
ever-present force of power in built form. 

The Electrical Infrastructure is Architecture. 

By researching electrification's impact upon the natural, human, and built
environments, the architect can become acquainted with this epic story of

Yet the discipline of architecture is still at a pre-lingual stage of
consciousness regarding the new electrical order.  Tradition reigns
supreme, as the architectural mind exists in the 18th century, dreaming of

 Just now, at the turn of the millennium, has research been conducted
relating architecture with electricity. This existential work focuses on
defining and cataloguing a whole new paradigm of architecture based on
electrical power, media, and technology. 

The most notable buildings of this `new architecture', as Le Corbusier
well knew, are the typological telephone buildings, radio and television
stations, and computer networks, the temples of our new electrical
Acropolis, architectural icons of the global village. 

How else can one relate the `cyberspace' of the networked computer to
traditional architectural space? The fundamental answer lies within an
aesthetic knowledge of the built environment... 

One must begin to "see"  the electrical power plants, transmission towers,
substations, distribution poles, transformers, switches, plugs, wires, and
sockets as part of a continuous chain of related events, each helping to
create the illusion of `virtual space' inside the computer. It is within
the design of these points, lines, and planes that the magic *spark* of
electricity becomes architectural.  For example, the common wooden
electrical distribution pole found on every continent that carries
telephone and power lines are as charged an architectural form as are the
classical Orders of Greece and Rome millennia ago. 

The only problem is that architectural students, professors, researchers,
theorists, professional architects and, importantly, lay people including
patrons, have yet to think electricity is in any way related to the
discipline of architecture. This cavil attitude will need to change if we
are to begin designing an architecture for the 21st century that will meet
our economic, social, and political needs. 

Electromagnetic Architecture

>From Vitruvius to Venturi and Virilio, the message is clear: we need to
understand our natural and artificial environment in order to build within
them. Today this means we need to finally consciously acknowledge the
critical role electrification has had, and continues to have, in our daily
lives. For architects this means relating electricity with the story of
architecture in both the minutest detail and the grandest master plan. 

This new architecture is Electromagnetic: its spatial, temporal,
aesthetic, and cultural orders are the foundation of a new formal language
of architectural design. It is so fast and luminous that it is timeless,
186,000 miles/sec. It is a paradox of revolutionary evolution and an
evolutionary revolution. 

Electromagnetic Architecture utilizes electrical power, media, and
technology, integrating the electrical infrastructure within the
architectural design of buildings, to create a more conscious and
realistic world. 

This new architectural language spans advocating passive and active solar,
to the use of electronic LED displays, to designing buildings on computers
using CAD. Its potential lies in integrating `cyberspace' with the actual
space of buildings, whereupon these places are designed as one place, an
augmented reality enhanced by the use of digital technologies and computer
networks (intranets and extranets) as part of the architectural plan of a
building's functional programming, computer and architectural. 

Ultimately, the issues of `cyberspace' mirror the issues of actual space: 
property rights, breaches of privacy, and vast inequalities. This is the
domain of architecture. And it is high time that the architectural
establishment takes their share of responsibility for the outcome of this
design challenge. 

Let us design a living democratic architecture within these, our
electrical tools, buildings, and systems.  Instead of a built environment
2/3rds energy inefficient, let us design and build an architecture that is
2/3rds energy efficient.  Let us progressively develop and apply new
electrical technologies, such as fuel cells and nanotechnologies, to
address our present and future architectural needs. 

In summary, let us once again dream of building great public works of
architecture, this time the result of our collective Electrical
Civilization and our new electrical humanity. 

(1) National Academy of Engineering:


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