Ground Control To Major Tom Architecture and Apparatus
THOMAS MARK STANLEY
Ground Control To Major Tom Architecture and Apparatus
this pamphlet is a continuation and the final installment of a year-long design-research project undertaken in the
MASTER OF SCIENCE_DESIGN RESEARCH or ‘MS_DR’ program of
THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN’S TAUBMAN COLLEGE OF ARCHITECTURE AND URBAN PLANNING
X-ray image of the A7L Pressure Garment Assembly worn by Alan B. Shepard on the Moon during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971.
PLEASE REFER TO THE UPDATED FLIGHT PLAN:
this manuscript is in progress, and while it is a good representation of the work at play, it is not yet approved for the rigors of space flight. in itâ€™s current form, it may lack many references, linkages, or details it is presented here, in itâ€™s unfinished form, in support of an application package
as of 1.30.12
AN INTRODUCTION: Architecture is an apparatus. It is being imported and exported at continually higher capacities into and across three categories in which everything can be said to exist: bodies, machines, and energies. Architecture is smeared in and around all three as they are positioned relative to one another in space. This book is also an apparatus of sorts; in the pages that follow, there is a drawing out of several things and setsof-things, and as they are positioned relative to one another, a theory can be seen emerging among them - a theorization of a kind of architecture, a kind of design, that grapples with the immaterial flow of value and information as much as their material consequence. It ventures into the lands of the space suit, the atmosphere, the corporate complex, and the very ground on which it sits. It thrives on material culture and values the tongue-in-cheek. This project proposes five machines for the Southfield Town Center (a machine itself) - an atmospheric cycler, a traffic frequency monitor, a botanical manicurist, a urinary and defecation transfer, and a surface cleanser. Each is informed and thickened by its relationship with a second set of what I call “complicated subjects”. Those are: the artisanal pencil sharpener, the Lunar Embassy, the topiary gardener, the ponzi schemer, and the weather futures trader; each of whom rely on a certain kind of slack in order to perform. The two sets describe and operate within a milieu where the corporate worker and the machines they participate with are both subject to slack and take advantage of it. If one were to read anything here, or rather if one were to ask me how to consume this work, I would say enjoy it, in all it’s radical disparity, as different parts of the same thing. Read each portion as an extension of the other, and suspend, for a moment, the necessity to find moments of seeming incoherence and dismantle them in all their fragility. Resist the urge to consider it as episodic and only loosely related. This work relies on it’s breadth and on it’s detail, on it’s overlaps and exchanges - it aims to immerse you, and all disciplinary wanderers, in a milieu thick with possibility and closerange synaptic firing. It is a project that values design-thinking and research-practice equally, and it is certainly onto specific moments in the range of architectural practice and inquiry, even if they are many and not immediately outlined and compartmental. I invite you to ‘breath’ this work (as Sloterdijk might suggest) and for a moment imagine your own work as a partner to this one, in whatever way it’s air flows.
BODIES, MACHINES, AND ENERGIES
A Theory of Unbreathable Spaces
A THING IN SPACE Southfield Town Center
GROUND CONTROL The Saga of Ambiguous Grass
THE ATMOSPHERIC EXCHANGE THE LUNAR EMBASSY THE SURFACE CLEANSER THE ARTISANAL PENCIL SHARPENER THE BOTANICAL MANICURIST THE WEATHER FUTURES TRADER THE URINARY AND DEFECATION TRANSFER THE PONZI SCHEMER THE TRAFFIC FREQUENCY MONITOR THE TOPIARY GARDENER
BODIES, MACHINES, AND ENERGIES Or equally, since “Woman” could call herself “Modern”. In all fairness, Donna Haraway’s Cyborg - part organism, part machine - is a “post-gender creature” whose politics is better described by it’s ambiguous (and often unlocatable) affiliations than any fundamentally dualistic categorization. The feminist inquiry she espouses seeks a fundamental reordering of subjectivity (human or otherwise), one that makes it more likely for a machine, a body, a building, a protocol, a cheat, a fix, a gadget, or a clause to be compared with one another than a man and a woman. 1
2 or dystopian, which is also utopian - that is to say, idealistic, outside normalcy, an extreme variation, a satirical or metaphorical mechanism 3 or otherwise techno-processes that operate autonomously and produce instantaneous consequence.
Since “Man”1 could call himself “Modern”, the body and the machine have, sometimes unwittingly, occupied contested territory - at times in collaboration, at times in conflict. They mimic one another, cover for one another, repel one another, infect one another, extend one another, participate with one another, and even kill one another (i.e. the mechanical turk). The dominant tropes, in science fiction in particular but increasingly in the sciences and military, are on the one hand nearly always futuristic, utopian 2 narratives of co-habitation, coordination, even co-evolution to a degree that body and machine are traded off for one another formally and practically, often coming into eventual conflict with one another. The T-1 Terminator is a machine that (poorly) mimics a body; Darth Vader is a body supplemented by machines; the Jetsons’ Rosie was an humanoid robot servant to a human family; Metropolis’ “Man Machine” was an indistinguishable human surrogate; and Rick Deckard is so ambiguously between human and android he cannot even identify himself. No less fictional, but certainly more expensive, was the Strategic Defense Initiative - the missile shield program later dubbed ‘Star Wars’ - proposed by Ronald Reagan in 1983, which would sense and react to any strategic ballistic missile fired against the United States, effectively shielding the body (both national and personal) with machine intelligence. More recently, the biotechnology of Code 46, surveillance mechanisms of Minority Report, logistical technologies of I, Robot, and the cognitive machines of The Matrix (not to mention Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan, cars purported to drive themselves,
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and algorithmic stock trading) have described the body-machine in more nuanced mixtures. Often, these fictional (and less fictional) versions hinge on that great utopian myth, simultaneously our highest hope and our worst consternation: “artificial intelligence”3. In those narratives, machines, in the form of a catastrophic event or totalizing force, at a moment in time, develop beyond the human capability, effectively becoming the next layer of evolution, and they often find it their duty to destroy humans. All of these narratives rely on the popular misconception that artificial intelligence is somehow in the future. Fictions, whose job was not only to imagine the future but to create it [or to set up the conditions under which it could, as a function of already existing pieces, become a reality], perhaps have us looking too far ahead with too much apprehension, but to no fault of their own. These novels and films often forefront the potential for man and machine to overlap one another or come into such conflict with one another so as to necessitate the destruction of the other; but they also do a much more important work: establish in our collective memory that man and machine have been infecting one another, populating one another, and confusing themselves for the other for about 250 years, to the point that distinguishing them as separate, hermetic groups has become completely impossible. The trouble is, there was always a ghost in the machine; it was our own predilections, design tendencies, and politics of humanity (or animality) that were built into the nature of the machine as it was being built into us. (if “us” can be meant to say “the body”,
The potato, in the terminology of the MS_DR, serves as a ‘NonCausal Given’— unanticipated, given augmentations to the work that solicit a representational or material design response. The potato, here, is taken on it’s fleshiness, it’s smoothness, it’s brownness, and the oddity of it’s surface (not unlike that of a distant celestial body). The ‘nondescript gadget’ seems to have a logic, a system, but it’s purpose is unverifiable. It’s striation is clearly evident, but it’s smoothness is only exposed when one imagines that it may or may not actually do anything.
which is continually untrue) As Bill Mitchell has so ably and convincingly enumerated, bodies and machines are already so bound up in one anther, folded across one another that they exist now as networked extensions of the other with no real chance of ever sorting them out again. The two now exist exclusively in mixture, which begins to undermine traditional notions of what constitutes the body and
what constitutes the machine. Indeed, “the trial separation of bits and atoms is over.” Any interaction is a matter of one body-machine engaging another bodymachine. The body and the machine not only exist in the same space, nor only participate with one another, but they are one another. Even the most autonomous body is, these days, so caught up in logistical streams and machinic protocols that the very nature of the body itself is questionably able to maintain its fleshiness. Even explicitly body exercises like eating and digesting are caught up in a machinic
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‘food industry’ - shipping routines, slaughterhouse locations and practices, global economies influencing crop selection and rotation, commodities prices, televisual dissemination [food network], waste disposal, plumbing and sewer systems, medical evaluations, and weight-loss programs [and televisual accounts of weight-loss, i.e. Biggest Loser]. The digestive system, far from being an exclusively bodily process, is an apparatus that is as large as the distance from cow [or vegetable seed] to waste-water treatment (and back
again), and actually may come to involve absolutely everything. Machines and bodies, then, must be described as much wider, moreinclusive phylums in which everything can be said to exist. In the 14th Plateau, 1440: The Smooth and the Striated, Deleuze and Guattari describe two sorts of space - one that is supple, solid, various, and open; the other organized, parsed, structured, and sided. “Smooth space and striated space - nomad space and sedentary space - the space in which the war machine develops and the space instituted by the State apparatus are not of the same nature. No sooner do we note a simple opposition between the two kinds of space than we must indicate
In the military structure of the Third Reich, historian Ian Kershaw describes “working toward the Führer” as a model by which Hitler used vague language to describe what he wanted and expected his officers to make the policy by which those instructions were carried out. This is particularly interesting relative to the Nazi War Machine as not only a systematization and mechanization of vast groups of people (some toward their immanent death) but also a process of subjectification by which the entirety of the Nazi apparatus was administered through each person’s decisions “toward [what] the Führer [wanted]”.
6 See: Stewart, Martha or Madoff, Bernie.
a much more complex difference by virtue of which the successive terms of the oppositions fail to coincide entirely. And no sooner have we done that than we must remind ourselves that the two spaces in fact exist only in mixture: smooth space is constantly being translated, transversed into a striated space; striated space is constantly being reversed, returned to a smooth space.” Already, the smooth and the striated (and the body and machine) have been formulated into a recursive, nonoppositional relationship, in which every political-spatial encounter is caught. Machines are not striated and bodies smooth, on the contrary, they must both be smooth and striated because the mixture is in the fundamental nature of both pairs. What can be said though, is that machines make up a phylum [the machinic phylum] which is characterized by it’s systems, or it’s systematization, it’s networks, and it’s parts; and bodies make up a phylum that can be characterized by it’s density, it’s envelope, it’s viscosity, and it’s wholes. A ‘machine’ (in a traditional sense) can immediately be thought of as a body, and a ‘body’ considered as a machine. For instance, Bill Mitchell studies the human body at length. In the example of the plumbing network, there are bodies acting like machines and machines acting like bodies (and architecture acting like both); but at the same time, bodies and machines are enmeshed together to form a kind of body-machine that can be explained, at once, as smooth and striated. For Deleuze and Guattari, political (or behavioral) smoothness and striation is never separate from a profound spatial and material understanding of ‘smooth and striated’ [footnote the felt and fabric or nomad dwelling or sea travel or war machine/state apparatus].
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For them, and for me, politics is not separate from space, but both appeal to practices (or “multiplicities”) outside their own immediate categories in order to operate as a pair. For instance, the War Machine develops as a smooth space5; it is not without impetus by the thoroughly striated State apparatus: “…the war machine and the State apparatus… two assemblages, not only differing in nature, but which are differently quantifiable in relation to ‘the’ abstract machine….the war machine does not have war as object by itself, but necessarily takes on this object when the machine gets itself appropriated by the State apparatus.” But both the War Machine and the State Appartus are formed and (carriedout) by various material architectures, some large, some small, some slow or fast, some temporal, some mobile, some that do not look like buildings at all. Materialization is always the step between this one and that one - that is to say, for every immaterial exchange, there are very real, very material enablers (or disablers) to allow (or disallow) that exchange. For every electronic stock trade, there is a server bank, a bundle of wires, a column-faced building or skyscraper, a number of neckties and flashy hand signals, a flesh-bodied regulatory agent (not to mention non-fleshy set of regulatory protocols), and a (very real) prison cell in which to hold the ‘insider’6. In his essay What Is An Apparatus?, Giorgio Agamben proposes a “massive partitioning of beings into two large groups or classes: on the one hand, living beings (or substances), and on the other, apparatuses in which living beings are incessantly captured.” ………
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THE LUNAR EMBASSY The Sale Of Fictional Real Estate
In July, 1985, Dennis Hope, after losing his job, founded the Lunar Embassy, a company who’s purpose is to market and sell lunar real estate. On July 16th Dennis, “The Head Cheese”, laid claim to the surface of the moon and all mineral rights in a San Francisco county clerk’s office. Dennis has earned over $20 million in the effort; no one has yet inhabited the territory they have purchased. Interestingly though, as much of a gimmick as it may seem, it is made clear in the “Covenants and Restrictions section of each Lunar Deed he sells that Dennis retains 10% of the minerals rights on each acre he sells. I call this a “just-in-case clause”. If lunar inhabitation ever becomes a viable option, and the governments of the world choose to avoid the conflict of laying territorial claim to the surface of the moon, they may choose to let existing economies continue to operate there, in which case Dennis Hope would collect 10% of all the Helium 3 harvested. With the right coupling of the gimmick and the just-in-case clause, one can carve out and incredible artificial economy out of the slack the two provide.
“This is a novelty gift.”
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The Flow Frequency Monitor The flow frequency monitor gathers and displays information. It rolls out to the entry of the parking garage each morning, and as the cars pass over its tethered cord, it counts traffic. Then, it displays those numbers, along with stock prices, on a ticker as it roams the building throughout the work day. It has subtle but definite impact on the time the 4000+ workers in the building leave work that afternoon. “Did you see the parking numbers today?” 4:56 p.m. becomes the new 5 o’clock, and earlier, and earlier. Lost minutes of productivity shake profits and furthermore public confidence. Stock prices dip. The information the machine displays may or may not be accurate, but that may be least important part.
THE SPACESUIT “We will go to thah moon...we will go to thah moon in this d’cade, and the othah things, not becahs they ah easy but because they ah hahd.” -John F. Kennedy, Sept. 12, 1962 (paraphrased) [Abstract: On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in outer space and the first to orbit the Earth. He did so in a Soviet SK-1 space suit. Pressure controlled high-altitude suits had been designed as early as the 1930’s, but Gagarin was the first to wear a Space Suit (proper). Of course, later that year, President Kennedy delivered a speech to Congress saying the U.S. would not only send a man into space, but put a man on the moon within the decade. NASA would need more suits. The space suit is perhaps the prime example of a tangible, cultural artifact that blurs the boundaries between what is body, machine, and energy. It is as rich a piece of material culture as exists. It is a product of the exuberant making of the Cold War space race. For our purposes, the space suit resonates on three levels: spatial - its fit within the larger space travel operation (within the Lunar Mod- ule, the convoluted joint, etc), material - its construction (laying of complex materials, enrollment of a multitude of subcontractors), and phenomenal - immeasurable properties (its whiteness, the size of its head, the golden reflection). An easy and perhaps apropos example of a thing that can participate in all the various, seemingly disparate trains of thought above is the space suit. The space suit stands there, on the moon, GROUND CONTROL TO MAJOR TOM // 20
next to the flag, but also in our minds. It offers up on its own behalf all the messy details that make it up: its function and relation to a human body that inhabits it, its ability to render the body in a few different ways (as a machine, an abstraction, a revered hero, or as a collection of anatomical processes), constituencies and institutions that depend on it. The space suit is just sensational enough, just outlandish enough, just technically precise enough, and just expensive enough to stand as an excellent surrogate (or perhaps instigator) for each of the key points in other chapters: energy and capital moving into the body, artificial and false economies, confusion between machine and body, the extension of the body, the re-rendering of the body, the process of subjectification, the apparatus., etc.]
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THE PONZI SCHEMER Underwritten By Documentation
In 2008, Bernie Madoff was arrested and sentenced to 150 years in prison for his involvement in a vast ponzi scheme. The ponzi scheme relies on exaggeration, abstraction, and distance. Bernie Madoff took advantage of the slack at play in electronic finance. With no money ever really changing hands, he was able to dupe investors into giving him millions of dollars and reassured them with false account statements and records. The ponzi scheme underwrites itself as an operating system, and it garners involvement only trough artificial enthusiasm. Nothing need ever happen in order for things to happen. One can create an extraordinary space out of absolutely nothing. “If you want something, don’t ask for nothing; if you want nothing, don’t ask for something.”
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The Urinary and Defecation Transfer The urinary and defecation transfer moves human waste. Via large bladders hung from the ceiling grid in the garden atrium, the waste is moved from plumbing systems above and, a few times a day, emptied by a staffs person (by attaching a hose to the bladder) into the underground irrigation and fertilizing system for the garden. There is a kind of visualization of the quantities at play for that day and everyone confidently knows it is being used responsibly in the garden, whether it actually is or not. It performs tasks that a plumbing system already does, but it confronts the subjects of the Town Center with what may or may not be their own waste. The thought is all that counts. The quantities can be tracked and recorded, fore-fronting the machine-like nature of 4000+ bodies, and offering that nature a chance to be quantified.
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A Theory of Unbreathable Spaces
1 and, in fact, all other kinds of -fare.
after the tragic fire that killed three astronauts during testing in 1967 2
Peter Sloterdijk, in Terror From The Air, explains perhaps every political interaction as a matter of breathable air, specifically in relation to the practice of terrorism, through what he calls the explication of air - “In other words: the revealing-inclusion of the background givens underlying manifest operations.” For Sloterdijk, the fundamental feature of our contemporary condition is the making-explicit of our immersion in all kinds of ‘air’ - that is, our “immediate milieu”. He begins by describing the (true) beginning of the 20th Century through the invention and application of gas warfare in 1915, during World War I, and more specifically through the gas mask as a technological response to the (now leveraged) realization that humans breathe air. This, for him, was the marker of a fundamental change in the practice of warfare1: “The 20th Century will be remembered as the age whose essential thought consisted in targeting no longer the body, but the enemy’s environment. This is the basic idea of terrorism in the more explicit sense.” The gas mask represents an entire field of things that explicate air. Once air had been exposed as a weapon and transformed into a toxic cloud, there are a potentially infinite number of layers in which air can be separated, filtered, or otherwise enveloped. The gas mask articulates a whole genre of apparatuses that traffic and operate on air - the deep-sea diving suit, to the spacesuit, the nuclear submarine, or the fully air-conditioned shopping mall, officebuilding, or sporting arena, to name only a few. The gas mask, it’s fundamental feature being the condition of air, is a genealogical forebear to the spacesuit and the Southfield Town Center’s garden
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atrium. As Sloterdijk notes, “The rapid popularization of the gas mask concept manifests the efforts of those subject to attack to try to shake their dependency of their immediate milieu , the breathable air, by concealing themselves behind an air filter. This involved a first step towards the principle of air conditioning, whose basic idea consists in disconnecting a defined volume of space from the surrounding air.” Indeed, the gas mask and it’s contingent atmosphere-control and -modification are not mere metaphors, but instead they are genealogical cousins to no lessdeadly but perhaps tamer air pockets. It gave rise to the idea, in a “atmo-technic” sense, to air modification, condition, and design. NASA refined the atmosphere in the Pressure Garment Assemblies of Apollo2 from a pure oxygen environment to a less volatile mixture of oxygen and nitrogen, closer to Earth’s own atmosphere; and the HVAC system in Southfield Town Center controls the air temperature and quality in the atrium according to daily protocols and billable hourly rates—air in these cases is both a life-safety issue and an economic one; one that needs to be designed. Air is a social media, but not without contingent physical media. The explication of air happens first in a political sense, but flashes quickly in and out of very real aesthetic, spatial, and material manifestations. We are living in a veritable wash of electronic information, literally passing through our bodies - in the form of ambient radio waves, fast-moving collective opinion, and in rapidly materializing ramifications - that uses the air, a gaseous soup, as it’s medium. Our air extends well beyond that which we breathe into our
lungs, and those machinic extension of our bodies (i.e. radio waves) are fundamentally airborne; in other words, as our cyborg bodies extend into various other machines (both analog and digital) and as they extend into us, air is increasingly the medium of that crossbreeding - think of cell phone signals or data-mining FBI, NSA, or Google servers. Radio waves are disturbances in the air both in a real physical sense and in a cultural and political sense.
“A terrorist is anyone who gains an explicative advantage over the implicit conditions of the enemy’s life and exploits it for the act.”
The air is already militarized. There is conflict in every lung-full. Politics [that is body-to-body, body-to-machine, machine-to-machine, body-to-machineto-animal-to-architecture relational structures and systems of exchange] necessarily involves power structures and vying for ‘air-supremacy’. Every citizen is militarized, if only as a function of being immersed in the same breathable milieu. (Bratton on Hummers). (Microterrorisms) In Sloterdijk, we already have the ideas of air (as a breathable milieu) and “mass psychology” (a kind of mass subjectivity) being tied up with one another in relation to the idea of abstracted or distanced violence against those airs (terrorism). (My purpose here is to expound on the idea of “mass psychology”, “states of somnolence”, and “terrorism” as they relate to office culture, corporate complexes, subjectivities, neck-tie colors, flows of information, high frequency trading…a more subtle, but no less violent, form of terrorism that exploits an “explicative advantage over the implicit conditions of the enemy’s life”.
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THE WEATHER FUTURES TRADER The Economy Of Anticipation
In early 2003, the first weather futures were traded in a Chicago commodities market. Similar trading practices occur for all commodities: gold, corn, coal, etc, but instead of investing in the value of goods, investment companies began to value one of the most volatile parts of the world: the weather. The number of “cold days” (below a certain temperature) becomes a kind of valuable statistic, relative to economies and industries that rely on a certain amount of “warm days” in a given year. The weather futures trading market became a way to “hedge the risk” of the occurrences in nature. Economies can carve space for themselves out of nothing. Stock trading is a way of relating the actual value of a company to public confidence in that value; weather futures takes that concept to new heights, such that what we think may happen tomorrow matters more than what may actually happen tomorrow.
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The Atmospheric Exchange The atmospheric exchange pumps air. It expands and contracts to pull air through its hollow body. It pulls air from various places - the exhaust at the top of the building, the off-gassing of the sewage system, the most stagnate place in the sprawling parking garages - and it mixes that air with air from the hermetic bubble that is the garden atrium (the inside of the spacesuit’s helmet, let’s say), but slowly and over long periods of time, such that it begins to change when and how people occupy that space. Peter Sloterdijk describes all terrorism as being “generated by atmoterrorist means”, meaning that attacking the milieu of the opponent is the goal of all terrorism. Southfield participates (as all environments do) in its own kind of terrorism - one small and inconclusive, what I call “microterrorism”. The “exchange” is linked to trading tendencies for the 300+ companies in the building for that day. It links value with air quality.
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A THING IN SPACE SOUTHFIELD TOWN CENTER
Time’s “Beautiful, Horrible Decline”; Book Ruins of Detroit; NYTimes article “Desertion like no other” To be fair, Detroit (the city proper) has a vibrant, determined population whose hope for the city exists well outside the ‘popular imagination’. Detroit is still the 19th largest city in the U.S. Although, as this essay progresses, it is actually that Southfield assumes a great deal about anyone and everyone who passes through.
Fifteen miles northwest of downtown Detroit, at the crossing of the major arterial highways M-10 and I-696, is the greater-Detroit-metro suburb of Southfield, Michigan. Southfield is a territory that relies on the gimmick and the distraction - it relies on ‘normal’. In the national imagination, Detroit, of all American cities, is the figure of downtrodden-ness and the very image of a damaged economy of absent industry. The degree of actuality in those descriptions of the city is less important here than the status of it’s popular image. In the popular imagination, it is the quintessential city-in-decline, the poster-child for downfall. Southfield, meanwhile - a 20 minute drive from the Detroit River - is a sneaky home to the business entities that are attracted to the millions of people that still live in the Detroit-metro area. It quietly sustains 27,000,000 square feet of office space - more than the central business districts of Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, or Kansas City. Among it’s 9000 businesses, one-hundred “Fortune 500” companies have Midwest offices in Southfield. It is “truly Michigan’s undisputed business center”. Interestingly, it is not Southfield’s industry that sustains it; instead it uses an “extensive infrastructure… of high-speed fiber optics” to attract business renters. It is Southfield’s networks that make it viable business district within an urban area that is home to nearly four million people. You would not know it though; as I will describe later, Southfield is an unassuming1, altogether ‘normal’ place.
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On the east side of the city [Though the Southfield entity is legally a city, it’s bounds are scarcely noticeable and the extent of it’s legal and economic jurisdiction are questionably more than abstract lines drawn across swaths of suburban density], it’s crown jewel, is the Southfield Town Center. [Southfield is better known as a singular area that is conceptually (for citizens) structured around the Southfield Town Center]
The Detroit metropolitan area had a population of 3,863,888 as of the 2010 census; the city of Detroit had a population of 713,777. Detroit’s population peaked during the data period of the 1950 Census at 1,849,568. Detroit is the only US city to have it’s population rise above one million, then fall back below one million.
Southfield Town Center is an all-toofamiliar office park landscape: five midrise buildings (between 20 and 32 floors each), a canyon of low parking garages (6,171 parking spaces), and a sea of low-cut, finely-manicured, very-green grass. [called, for our purposes, “ambiguous grass”]. It’s unique feature, among less extravagantly-clad office buildings, is the gold-tinted glass that sheaths each of the buildings. It is selfdescribed:
“[W]ith its landmark design, Southfield Town Center perfectly captures the essence of the city of Southfield itself—vibrant, diversified and monumental. For more than three decades, the preeminent mixed-use center has stood as the pinnacle of southeast Michigan’s “Golden Triangle”—one of the area’s largest and most prestigious commercial districts, attracting a vast array of global corporations, retailers and professional organizations.” The Town Center truly makes the leap into “corporate complex” [or organizational complex] with a twostory, half-mile-long interior atrium that connects each of the five mid-rises, the locus of which is a 2000 square foot garden atrium that sits behind a curtain-wall of golden glass panels the opposite side of which is the largest swatch of (crescent-shaped) grass on the entire Town Center site.
“[D]iscover the exhilarating spirit of the great outdoors within fabulous interiors. GROUND CONTROL TO MAJOR TOM // 40
The fantastic, sprawling Garden Atrium is the centerpiece of the Town Center, offering a serene, multi-level space ideal for wedding ceremonies & receptions, strolling functions and other festivities. A charming pond amidst the gorgeous greenery further adorns the Atrium, which graciously accommodates up to 1,000 attendees for strolling functions or 150 attendees for seated functions.â€? The complex accommodates over 300 companies, ranging from multi-national corporations to sports memorabilia from AON, Microsoft, Bank of America, Comerica, The Gallup Organization, and Smith Barney to the Law Office of Ezra N. Goldman, GfK Automotive, Gift and Things Gift Shop, and the Golden Razor (the on-site barbers).
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THE ARTISANAL PENCIL SHARPENER The Novelty Of What You Donâ€™t Expect
David Rees lives in New York where he sharpens pencils. For $15 you can send your pencil to David and he will sharpen your pencil, by hand, to its greatest potential, then send it back to you. David understands that novelty thrives on the unexpected, and as long as a process of participation is at play, there will be participators. The more he can get you to care about the pencil and participate in the process, the better. You never thought a pencil could mean so much to you.
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The Surface Cleanser The surface cleanser washes windows. It trolls the surface of the mid-rises all day, every day. The reflection of the sun in the golden glass of the buildings changes as the cleanser makes incremental changes to the amount of debris on the glass. Window offices become more and less valuable; the very formation of rental space in the building can be altered just by the cleaning or non-cleaning of the windows. “Does that look like its been cleaned? I can’t tell.”
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GROUND CONTROL The Saga of Ambiguous Grass
[Abstract: This chapter, in short, is an uncovering of “ambiguous grass” - that is the too-green, perfectly mown, often oddlyshaped patches of grass that adorn a place like Southfield Town Center. The existence of ambiguous grass appeals to discourses on the wilderness, the ‘natural’, the un-machine. The ‘nature’ of the body in a machinic milieu (or the apparatus) is in question. There a call to the wild, the natural within an undeniably and inextricably machinic body. Every political interaction is also fundamentally an aesthetic interaction - a physical, material interaction; because materialization is always the step between this one and that one. In credit card transactions there is at very least a plastic card, a card reader, a pair of hands that pass the card through the slot, a length of wire, a cable or satellite receiver, a server bank(s), and a set of valuable goods or services in the exchange. Even in the most immaterial transfer, there are a set of aesthetic practices that follow it. And in corporate image, constructed value, and consumer confidence, there is ambiguous grass always underwriting the practices at play in the territory as trustworthy, valuable, and even domestic.]
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THE TOPIARY GARDENER The Aesthetics of ‘Nature’
Bushes and tress have shape of their own, but their form is subject to harnessing by the skilled artisan. Topiary gardeners prey on the value of making something look like something else. There is formal novelty at play in the work. The value of a place like Southfield Town Center is underwritten by the things you see there. The topiary gardener works on making the garden a novelty and aestheticization—re-rendering the plant as animal, harnessing the wild, training the natural, taming the unkempt. He hedges his risk against devaluation with years of trimming and underwriting.
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The Botanical Manicurist The botanical manicurist cuts grass. It circles the swaths of “ambiguous (corporate) grass” all day and keeps in in perfect putting condition. The agency of the grass is such that it doesn’t matter what sort of business exists inside the buildings or if any business at all exists inside, but the grass soothes all uncertainty. It underwrites the value of the place. The manicurist makes subtle changes to the shape of the grass with each pass; a sixteenth inch here, a thirty-second there, over the course of years or decades. The most valuable places on the property my be the least valuable in 10 years (or vice versa) just from the surety of the grass. Its just cutting the grass; that’s what it does.
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“I WAS RAISED UP BELIEVING I WAS SOMEHOW UNIQUE LIKE A SNOWFLAKE DISTINCT AMONG SNOWFLAKES UNIQUE IN EACH WAY YOU CAN SEE AND NOW AFTER SOME THINKING I’D SAY I’D RATHER BE A FUNCTIONING COG IN SOME GREAT MACHINERY SERVING SOMETHING BEYOND ME BUT I DON’T, I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT WILL BE I’LL GET BACK TO YOU SOMEDAY SOON YOU WILL SEE” -FLEET FOXES ‘HELPLESSNESS BLUES’