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How to redesign the infrastructure? FAQ by Keller Easterling

, Cities

Architect and Yale professor Keller Easterling explains the operating system of modern world in five points.

Photo: Columbia GSAPP /

Keller Easterling, the author of “Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space,” is an architect, writer, and professor at Yale School of Architecture working on the issues of urbanism, architecture, and organization in relation to the phenomena commonly determined as globalization. Defining the Extrastatecraft as the operating system of the modern world, she is well known for her thoughts about infrastructure space and disposition in cities — the topic of discussion with the students of Strelka Institute in The New Normal program. Strelka Magazine summarizes five key issues of Easterling's approach.

The following is from the interview with Keller Easterling:



Infrastructure space is an expanse one wants to work with, and at the same time it is also a field that is good to think with — a very good way to rehearse the habit of mind that focuses on matrix instead of object. There is no way to assess infrastructure space as an object: it is too big and not at one and the same place. It can’t be addressed with its shape or outline, but rather by its disposition — potentials unfolding in time and territory.

I could have used the word matrix instead of infrastructure, because I’m not referring to pipes and wires under the ground or transportation and communication utilities exclusively, but rather all the repeatable patterns and spatial products that have really become almost infrastructural in global space making.

Beijing economic centre / photo:



The zone is one of those very vivid vessels of extrastatecraft, almost a cartoon of it. Now, at these moments of Trumpism and nativism, many people talk about bringing jobs home, or changing global partnerships. It seems more important now than ever to point the fact that there is massive global infrastructure in the form of cities and networks, which remains in place to reinforce the status quo.

The matrix of relationships in space that makes some things possible and some things impossible. When focused on that matrix, you can see the discrepancy between what people are saying and what they are doing. You can even see temperament in organization or potentials for violence. That disposition is propensity within a context, property or tendency that is unfolding over time. And you can inflect or rearrange that matrix.

The Cover of Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space.



Extrastatecraft doesn’t describe a post-national state. It is the nation with a new set of sneakier partners that use each other as proxy and camouflage. The nation can choose to speak with the full-throated anthem of nativism while doing all kinds of global deals and taking advantage of inexpensive global labor. And that is a very strong position for the nation, as it chooses which of its sovereignties it will align with at any one moment.



Medium design is on the flipsides of more dominant logics about declaration, right answers, logics, ultimates, universals and so on. But it is fundamentally practical. That is why I like Gilbert Ryle as an uncle or a rabbi in this conversation. He writes about the difference between knowing how and knowing that. Knowing how to do things, knowing how to tell a joke, knowing how to navigate a river is not like knowing the right answer. It’s another kind of training, another kind of knowledge.



And it is so clear to me now that working in medium design and trying to alter some of these repeatable formulas sometimes it is not like designing one thing, but is having your hands on faders and dials of space, that it always involves.

Medium design benefits from an artistic curiosity about reagents and spatial mixtures or spatial wiring. It suggests different organs of design or different ways to register the design imagination — multipliers, switches, or time-released organs of interplay. These are forms that might inflect populations of objects or set up relative potentials within them.

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