Data Places

PIONEN-WHITE MOUNTAIN LC[ Figure 1 : Pionen-White Mountain Data Centre, Stockholm ]

The promises and perils of technology are now topics from which nobody is precluded. Complex algorithms are entrusted  with tasks ranging from the creation of wealth right through to the production of culture, the latter being something widely considered to be ‘off limits’ for artificial intelligence until recently.  

Kevin Slavin, an assistant professor at MIT, illuminates many of these trends in his TED Talk entitled “How Algorithms Shape Our World”, in which he argues that we’re living in a world increasingly designed for algorithms. Slavin’s lecture leaves us pondering a number of  architecturally significant issues. The most significant being the affect that algorithms and data will have on the physical places in which we live and the subsequent contemporary significance of ‘being close to the internet’.

Indirectly, Slavin helps to position the servers, or in their collective sense data centres, as the most definitive and yet invisible technology of our time.

SERVER MAP  [ Figure 2 : Map of Planetary-scale computing architectures for electronic trading ]

One thought provoking graphic which appears in Slavin’s talk illustrates the “Planetary-scale computing architectures for electronic trading”. Put simply the map shows the position of server locations, represented by blue dots, that are necessary for the maximum financial return in relation to existing population hubs, represented by red dots. The map illustrates the locations of new infrastructural settlements and technological outposts if existing financial, and in most cases cultural, hubs are to exist into the future.

On a global scale the map provokes thoughts as to the possibility of completely new population hubs which may be spawned as a result of a potentially different dispersion of server locations. If financial inefficiencies, climatic conditions, geopolitical stability or technological draw-backs prevent the blue dots on the map from materialising – how will this change the dispersion of the global population?

Take the case of Miami – currently a comparatively small city in terms of population and one which has traditionally been located on the cultural and economic periphery of other North American capitals. Yet Miami, as Lucas Alperi points out, is poised to become the economic, and via extrapolation the cultural, epicentre of the Americas due largely to the fact that the city’s downtown channels 90% of data traffic coming from Central and South America. As it can now be confidently posited that physical distance plays a major role in the intensity of internet infrastructure, the bright future and growth of Miami can be equally confidently assumed.

33 THOMAS STREET LC[ Figure 3 : 33 Thomas Street, New York City ]

It would however, be an oversight to solely resign the urban impact of data centres to broad-scale city dynamics and monetary flows. 

Kersten Geers proposes that privately owned data centres, in many ways represent the pinnacle of our shared infrastructure, and that if appropriately treated within cities have the potential to acquire collective meaning and perform as truly public edifices. Can the sheer size and solidity of these immutable forms provide a new formal strategy to combat the contemporary crisis of public space?

As data centres represent an investment  in an infrastructure catering for a resource which will never run out, or rather, the need for which will never run out, could data infrastructure therefore hold the key to the longevity and success of future cities? In the case of Perth, the question of how to sustain growth and life within the city beyond the foreseeable lifespan of the state’s natural resources may be answered in part by the extend to which Data Centres play a role in public life into the future.

Image Credits:

1 :   Accessed (13.08.14)

2:   Accessed (13.08.14)

3 :   Accessed (13.08.14)