Conversation Where’s my data?: Architecture, Logistics, and Democracy

Where's My Data? © Manuel Miranda


Goethe-Institut New York

In this conversation, Niklas Maak and Jesse LeCavalier bring together their respective research on server farms and logistics centers to discuss their impacts on location, security, and architectural representation.
Most of us experience the internet exclusively from a user perspective, and in the past decade, our user experience has become increasingly streamlined, glossier, and portable. A few clicks or scrolls and we’re in – stories are posted and watched, photos are liked, or something is purchased and arrives, quietly and neatly, in our mailboxes a few days later.

Every simple interaction we have with the internet is supported by an enormous, hidden infrastructure, and every action we take online produces data. And data never dies. Rather, as Niklas Maak discusses in his book Servermanifest, it gets stored in the most important new building typology of the 21st century: the server farm. While the internet is omnipresent, our data is not so easily accessible, housed in sprawling, windowless buildings that are tucked away in remote areas. Similarly, our increasingly digital society is maintained by vast logistical regimes that, in the case of e-commerce, treat objects and data in similar ways. Like server farms, logistics and fulfillment centers are largely hidden away while having significant spatial and architectural impacts. Jesse LeCavalier’s book The Rules of Logistics focuses on Walmart’s logistical operations in particular, and how these operations are changing our bodies, brains, buildings, and cities.

In connecting these topics in conversation, Maak and LeCavalier ask what future impacts we can expect from these architectures, and how these processes are affecting our societies and democracies.

Niklas Maak is a writer and a professor in Architecture at the Städel Fine Arts Institute in Frankfurt. He has been the editor for art and architecture at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung since 2001. He taught architecture at Harvard (2014-2020) and was a co-author and co-curator of Rem Koolhaas‘ research project Countryside and the eponymous exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Among his latest publications is the novel Technophoria, which is currently being adapted as a TV series. His forthcoming book Server Manifest will be published in December 2021.

Jesse LeCavalier is associate professor of architecture at Cornell University. He is the author of The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment (2016) and his design work has been recognized by the Sudbury 2050 urban design competition, the MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program, the Oslo Triennale, and the Seoul Biennale. His work has appeared in Cabinet, Public Culture, Places, Art Papers, Thresholds, and Harvard Design Magazine.