National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office - This image is available from the National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Site Office Photo Library under ID 1189. 

National Nuclear Security Administration / Nevada Site Office - This image is available from the National Nuclear Security Administration Nevada Site Office Photo Library under ID 1189

Testing Grounds

Fall Semester is an experiment in attempting to mesh an economic restlessness, most obviously articulated in real estate speculation and infrastructure building, with globalized and digitized flows of knowledge and theoretical speculation. One resource is channeled to vectorialize some of this free-flowing theoretical work and performance into the city, which may of course ineluctably hoist on the project certain commitments and force it into certain compromises. But if these commitments and compromises are assumed, it is in the hope that they will be justified by enriching the understanding of the very context in which it happens; by enlarging the discursive range with which we speak about the very urban complexity in which we are enmeshed. 

North end of Yucca Flat / Nevada National Security Site

North end of Yucca Flat / Nevada National Security Site

The Fall Semester, then, begins tangled in a complicated knot. The democratic potential that is always assumed for pedagogy meets the recombinatory potential, rarely thought of as democratic, of free-flowing Capital. Somewhere in an entwinement of these two things a series of public lectures and an active digital platform will find form. They will address the very condition of the contemporary city, as it begins to differentiate itself from the urban formations that we have become used to.      

The aim of Fall Semester is to test what can be achieved in the sped-up production of discourse, what can happen when new material is introduced into local discourse–a bomb-drop of new data. Will such a thing have quantifiable effects? Will it be jolting enough to speed up our own desire for a deeper dimension of self-understanding and reflection? Will it, on the contrary, only be another event in which theoretical performance is put to the service of spectacle, showing up the divisions that we face daily? Fall Semester’s wager is laid down in the space cracked open these questions. 

Having the general scheme of public lectures and a digital platform, it then becomes a question of what could be the most sensible thing that a project like Fall Semester to attempt, in its first iteration. What should be the topic that guides it? And the answer seems almost to force itself on us: the very city in which it is happening, since this city–Miami—may itself be a model of what the contemporary city is slowly becoming. Big investment in infrastructure as a way to position the city as a heaven for logistics-heavy transportation and hence turning it in a capture mechanism for free-flowing capital, a testing ground for both speculation on real estate and for the commodification of urban land, a reconfiguration of the uses of culture and cultural institutions, the establishment of new structures of social disparity–these events seem to presage what is coming. Miami is the future’s testing-ground. And as such, it may a good place to look at, not so much empirically, but in a speculative key, so as to understand as much the shape it is taking as the forces that are giving it this form. 

Fall Semester has structured its first iteration around four basic thematic lines: The Urban Real; Architectural Weather; Plasticity of the City; and The Urban Unreal.

Downtown Miami Drone Aerials / Royalty Free Image

Downtown Miami Drone Aerials / Royalty Free Image

The Urban Real

Playing with the notion of the Real as that which recedes from common sense and empirical observation, Fall Semester sought to mesh it with the Urban, thinking that such a combination could be a prod to force us to look at the way cities are constituted by forces and flows that move beneath or above the surface of things. Disembodied materialities and global crosswinds organize urban space in ways that are often–seemingly–disassociated from the symbolic representation that cities and their citizenry rely on and adhere to. As buildings continue to go up and tunnels continue to be dug and highways widen, what is it that subtends all this activity? Enveloped in these very forces that are producing this new kind of city, from where can one assume a perspective on it? Is it possible to, in fact, find a place “outside” it from where to take stock of it? Are ‘congestion’ and ‘density’ terms that still capture something fundamental here–or do we need a new vocabulary?

Royalty Free Image

Royalty Free Image

Architectural Weather

Climate change is one of the strangest conceptual operators of our time–to call it a concept or data or a fact is to already misunderstand it. It functions as much as a warning as a strange modulator of thinking. In fact, along with its counterpart concept, sustainability, it has flooded all of our discursive spaces. To not fold it into one’s thinking is to be out of touch with one’s moment, to be anachronistic. This seems reinforced at every turn. And, of course, its monopoly on “seriousness” is even more pronounced within the spaces of architectural and urbanist discourse and production. There may be various reasons for this. Working with objects always enmeshed in particular environments, there is probably no disciplines that have had to be so constantly aware of climate and weather–and that have paid so dearly, with failed objects, when it ignores it. The “tropical” qualifier in Tropical Modernism is nothing if not a bow to climate, an acknowledgment that natural forces trump the worked-out vocabularies of modernism and their reflection of egalitarian programs. And this inevitable tropicalization of modernism foreshadows the way in which architectural and urbanist thinking are not only structuring themselves as a dance between a style or language and the space in which it will be used, but, instead, as the collapse of these two things: weather becomes a generative element. Structures are folded in relation to the climate they will have to face. Architectural Weather looks not only at the way in which climate change impinges on architectural and urbanist thinking, but on how the weather becomes an uncanny figure of indetermination, how it slides strange probabilities into morphological and discursive production.

Royalty Free Image / Aerial view of Miami

Royalty Free Image / Aerial view of Miami

Plasticity of the City

If the city–Miami as a case in point–is increasingly determined by the ways in which it can adjust itself to capture free-flowing capital, what is to be done in terms of a more socially just structuring of it? In other words, how does one slip the strictures and the parameters of a city that seems to increasingly organize itself in such a way that the vast majority of its population is not its primary concern? While this is a complicated question and the domain of activists who have been working on this problem for decades now, Fall Semester wants to look at what must be presupposed if there is to be any hope left: the inherent plasticity of the city. The city has to be porous and pliable, so that there can be moments and spaces through which its current reconfiguration can begin to be altered. Otherwise we are fatally set to tilt things on a gradient of increased injustice and to reproduced the world as it is. Plasticity of the City looks at the way urban space and urban infrastructure have an inherent tolerance for change and a flexibility as to the ways in which these changes are pressured into happening.

Royalty Free Image / Resorts World Miami

Royalty Free Image / Resorts World Miami

The Urban Unreal

If the Real is that which withdraws from us, that which we can never quite get to, maybe the Unreal is something like its other: it’s what isn’t there, but which we can get to somehow. It is the impossible that impinges on our everyday life the moment that we begin to demand it. It’s something immanent to the very conditions we find ourselves in, but its very immanence is dependent on the ways in which we approach these conditions, in the ways in which we set out what is there but not obvious, there but nowhere to be seen until articulated somehow. The Urban Unreal proposes the city as a space of virtual possibility and of different kinds of subjectivities and subjective production. This is the unreality of the still-to-come, of new arrangements waiting to be actualized, of affordances yet to be uncovered.