Infrastructure fiction: explaining infrastructure to artists and art to civil engineers


Obligatory reference to this amazing book by Brian Hayes - Infrastructure, A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape.
This is an extraordinary accessible introduction to that which lies beneath (most of) our feet. Mr. Hayes is quite an interesting fellow and I enjoy his blog as well switch skews to more esoteric math/computing topics:

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A very important lesson. If we don’t support artists, and they don’t understand the importance of infrastructure, we could end up with a genocidal dictator who blows up oodles of infrastructure.

It’s so worth the struggle to reintroduce basic education about such underpinnings of civilization. The contempt of history for our arrogant and ignorant neglect is going to be bitter. In 2000 we had the funds and resources to build the next century of public works. In 2008 we had the crisis brought on by letting jackals siphon away those resources into war profiteering and financial parasitism, but we could have carved our way out of disaster with another WPA.

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Our infrastructure appears more and more like magic these days. Especially the stuff involved in moving information. As an engineer, I notice that the vast majority have no idea how any of their stuff works, or seems to care. 75 years ago, this was not the case.

I’ve also noticed that there is very little sense of the impending downshift in infrastructure, as energy becomes less easily available. There’s a tendency of the futurists to think that because the efficiency of computing machines has increased by a factor of a million in a few decades, that the efficiency of power generation/storage/transmission should increase as well. Sorry, but it doesn’t work like that.

Welcome to the domain of architecture! Have a look and enjoy a thousand years of theory.

The author appears to have an agenda against clean energy and better modes of transportation.

“Being reminded of infrastructure is rarely pleasant. It’s no fun to turn your tap and have nothing come out. It’s a different sort of not-fun when you discover that a wind-farm, town bypass or high-speed train line is scheduled to materialise near your house, or when protestors camp out on your driveway to fight a fracking company. Infrastructure is meant to make life easier, not harder. The better it gets at the former, the more painful are the moments when it does the latter.”

If you are not supporting high speed rail, wind farms and do not stand up against fracking, you are helping maintain and promote bad infrastructure.


Please view the tape again, or track down some Bruce Sterling rants – I think you missed a central point.

In all my Architecture lectures, I’ve never once heard about the Adz or the three crop rotation system. Yet change either one of those, and gothic cathedrals would look – and function – differently. They wouldn’t even be Gothic.

Infrastructure Design Fiction certainly should have a constructive dialogue with architecture, and much architectural theory might be usefully be interpreted as "proto-design fiction. " But Design Fiction is no more Architectural Theory than LARPs are Political Theory.

Your own statement illustrates the inherent biases Infrastructure Design Fiction strives to illuminate. Better for whom? The HST may be great for people living near the termini, and may produce a net lowering of carbon emissions, but what about all people who will never be able to afford that glossy future that hourly screams by their living room? Is a Tidal power system really clean energy if it disrupts an ecosystem?

Good design fiction can bring a lot to that conversation – whatever the bias of the author.

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