In the worlds of technology development and commerce, a term that is currently defining innovative practice is that of “disruptive technology”: a technology that creates an entirely new market and value network as opposed to building on incremental change of existing technologies.1 Business gurus advise that one of the first steps in finding opportunities for disruptive technologies lies not necessarily in identifying the glaring problems and then coming up with solutions, but in identifying clichés that have become the assumed status quo, and “turning them on their head”.2
The landscape of urbanized regions is increasingly moving away from the traditional image of the city - one that includes an active public realm and legible functional organization communicated through built form and public spaces that signify centers of power and activity through which models of civility emerge. This territory is increasingly defined by the physical fallouts of mobile capital and distributed infrastructures dedicated to the various logistics of mobility, materials and services in support of urban populations.3 In this highly controlled and organized terrain, whose dominant spatial types are often generated as byproducts of free market economies, architecture and form become dislodged from traditional discourses of meaning and signification, becoming one of the technologies of optimization, performance and instrumentality. At the same time, it is no longer possible to consider these infrastructures as isolated from the geography, geology and biophysical systems within which they are embedded4 - producing not only aberrant artificial ecologies (which may often have impacts on a massive scale), but also develop specific subjectivities, relations, spatial codes, politics (both internal and global) and connections. Due to the interconnected nature of infrastructure ecologies, small-scaled adjustments in technology, new performative or typological constructs, or a reorganization of constituent elements or fittings, may often have vast repercussions in the mechanics of the entire operation, thus producing disruptive transformations more effectively and ubiquitously than large scale or traditional planning.Architecture’s agency lies first in being able to recognize the network and its agents, and second, in finding effective means of intervention and implementation within the matrix of systems.
1 Clayton M. Christensen, The innovator's dilemma: when new technologies cause great firms to fail (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1997).
2 Luke Williams, “Innovation Starts With Disruptive Hypotheses. Here's How To Create One,” FastCompany, June 2 2011 (http://www.fastcodesign.com/1663970/innovation-starts-with-disruptive-hypotheses-heres-how-to-create-one)
3 Charles Waldheim and Alan Berger, “Logistics Landscape,” Landscape Journal, 27:2-08: 219-256
4 Pierre Belanger, “Redefining Infrastructure”, in M. Mostafavi ed. Ecological Urbanism (Lars Muller, 2010): 332-349.
Operating at the territorial scale, the concept of the shed might be a useful means for conceiving of systemic extent and characteristics. A shed may be first understood geographically as a region that is distinguished or separated from lands that are adjacent to it; a geospatial territory within which elements of a particular system retain a high degree of interconnectedness and interdependency, where actions within a particular domain result in reactions elsewhere. The emergence of the system is dependent on the agents, conditions and tendencies brought into proximity and interrelation within each specific shed geography.
Although the Great Lakes Megaregion in North America is most often identified with the geography of its water-shed, human activity over the last several centuries has resulted in an increasing number of overlapping shed geographies that produce its current condition, and may also point towards future urban morphologies. Mobility-Sheds of Highway-Based Freight, Air Transport Volumes, as well as a regional Commodity-Shed, further reinforce the identification of the megaregion as an interconnected system of geography, population and exchange.The Megaregion has recently become the focus of several prominent land use and planning agencieswho predict that based on population and migration trends, that over 90% of humanity will be living in the world’s emerging Megaregions by the year 2050.1 Parallel to the unprecedented intensity of projected urbanization and crisis in fuel supply, planners, politicians, engineers and industrial leaders foresee a future of increasing demand for mobility – especially inter-regional mobility. This is also at a time when transport and energy infrastructure, largely built during the middle of the last century, is coming to the end of its service life. This ‘perfect storm’ of diverse yet interrelated conditions of crisis that is being faced by Megaregions indeed raises questions of the agency, role and scope of design within these contexts.
The drawing out of Resource-Sheds within the region reveals an interconnected resource economy that is distinct from the water resources of the Great Lakes, but inextricably linked through the dependence upon hydrologic systems for urban and industrial development. The Current Electrical Production Energy-Shed conflates the sites and current output of coal, hydro, and nuclear production with the geography of seams, rivers and deep water-cooling necessary to each production process. While other shed mappings demonstrate the regional interconnectedness that seems to defy existing political boundaries, this shed emphasizes fundamental differences in geology, energy policy, practice and implementation between the US and Canada, where US electricity production is dominated by coal and its access to the coal seams south of the region, while Canadian electricity production is dominated by hydroelectric generation, harnessing the power of the many rivers that drain south into the basin. Furthermore, the presence of the water-based cooling capacity of the Great Lakes has made the region a major source of nuclear energy production. The Renewable Energy Power-Shed on the other hand, with the dominance of the wind power capacity of the Great Lakes (which, if fully exploited, could produce upwards of 25% of the power needs of the United States2) points to the necessity of more reciprocal and inter-regional agreements between countries on energy policy and resource use. It also reveals a potential opportunity.
1 Institutes currently studying and publishing literature on Megaregions include: The Brookings Institute, the Loncoln Institute, the Regional Plan Association, the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, researchers at Urban and Regional Planning Program at the University of Michigan, as well as the Martin Prosperity Institute at University of Toronto’s Joseph L. Rotman School of Management.
2 Land Policy Institute (September 2008 report). “Michigan’s Offshore Wind Potential”, Helimax Energy Inc. (April 2008 report). “Analysis of Future Offshore Wind Farm Development in Ontario” as well as the U.S. Department of Energy (July 2008 report). “20% Wind Energy by 2030”.
The highway system has arguably been the most instrumental factor in structuring settlement patterns and economic development in North America. By the end of the twentieth century the highway network has become an astonishingly efficient and strategically engineered system, aimed at optimizing the logics and logistics of mobility while structuring patterns of contemporary urban development and growth far more pervasively than rail or water-based networks. It is also a brilliantly simple system. A singular asphalt surface that allows virtually one mode of access and interface: tire-based vehicles traveling at approximately 100 kilometers per hour. While this simple system has become perhaps all too successful in its ubiquity, it may be reaching a point where it is failing to accommodate the complexities of contemporary mobility as well as the conditions of a post-carbon fuel era. Transport experts argue that the most effective and efficient technology for a mobility revolution resides in electrified high-speed rail directly tied to renewable energies, productively crossing mobility and energy distribution infrastructures. Maximum speed is coupled with minimal electrical conversion and distribution losses as vehicles receive a steady supply of electricity from the grid.1
The I-94-401 corridor constitutes the dominant conduit connecting the centers of Chicago, Toronto and Montreal. A disruptive urbanism identifies this line as a site of infrastructural retooling and episodic development. Instead of having the surface of the highway universally accessible to all vehicle types traveling at similar speeds, what if it could accommodate different vehicle types and speeds, thus evolving from a dumb system to an intelligent network of parallel, cooperative modes of mobility? The concept can be one similar to the bundling cables of different strengths to optimize performance, or like multiplex computer cables, where multiple wavelenths of data can travel at various speeds along the same line, thus increasing “bandwidth,”2 along with possibility.
This prioritizes the geography of the highway as the driver for future urban growth and might also render it a potentially positive agent of regional urbanization in a future increasingly defined by population migration to urban regions, increased mobility, and combined with a parallel reorganization in fuel supply to a matrix of power sources and the necessity to renew aging and obsolete infrastructures. A retooling of the highway cross section could entail a bundling of parallel transport, transit and energy transmission infrastructures that could accommodate a variable modes of mobility, including high speed rail, Mag-Lev electrified rail (directly tied to renewable energies), dedicated vehicle lanes, high voltage power transmission for the wind and solar farms, high speed data and potentially freshwater supply.3 These capacity vectors can be stacked and separated to maximize speed, safety, and accessibility thereby increasing conduit bandwidth, in addition to forming a resource umbilicus that can service increasing densification and demand along the line. Dimensioned to operate within the existing right-of-way of major highways, this multiplexing of the highway cross section could be implemented largely without new land acquisition and expropriation.The development of these new conduit infrastructures has broader implications for the attendant territories proximate to the line.
1 Gilbert, Richard and Anthony Pearl (2008). Transport Revolutions. Moving People and Freight without Oil (London: Earthscan): 311.
2 The concept of increasing highway “bandwidth” was first proposed by Adam Clark in a seminar taught at the University of Waterloo.
3 Previous versions of this project have been published by the authors in Rania Ghosen ed., New Geographies 02: Landscapes of Energy, (Boston: Harvard University Press 2009): 83-96 and in J. Knechtel ed., Fuel (Cambridge, MA: Alphabet City / MIT Press, 2008): 164-211 Katrina Stoll and Scott Lloyd eds., Infrastructure As Architecture, Designing Composite Networks (Berlin: Jovis Verlag, 2010): 64-69.
Points of crossing and crossover, the familiar landscape of the generic highway interchange, may be rethought as places of aggregation, exchange and interface as opposed to simply directional transfer. In systematically isolating the geography of interchange sites, the surface land orphaned by the infrastructural configuration (an average 44.3 acres or 18 hectares per interchange) becomes a site of systematic and strategic intervention. These become ideal locations for modal switch sites, terminal and interchange structures as well as new building clusters that will benefit from the proximity to the mobility and renewable energy conduit. The design logic of these contemporary megastructural developmentsbegins with the spatial language of logistics, type and prototype, developing contextual specificity as the systems and structures flexibly mediate the locally specific geometry, program and ecological pressures.
In connecting more diverse populations and economic sectors, these nodal developments become catalyzing agents in supporting megaregional agglomeration economies,1 related entrepreneurship and possible urban futures.
1 Sassen, Saskia “Megaregions: Benefits beyond Sharing Trains and Parking Lots,” in Keith S. Goldfield, ed. “The Economic Geography of Megaregions” (The Policy Research Institute for the Region, Trustees of Princeton University: New Jersey, 2007) 67
©2012 The authors and contributors