“Every second, 2.8 million emails are sent, 30,000 phrases are Googled, and 600 updates are tweeted. While being absorbed into this virtual world, most rarely consider the physical ramifications of this data. All over the world, data centers are becoming integral components of our twenty-first city infrastructure [...] As cloud storage and global Internet usage increase, it’s time to talk about the physical space of data.” - CLOG (5)
What does it look like to give the virtual, physical form? As every CLOG edition, Data Space explores “from multiple viewpoints and through a variety of means, a single subject particularly relevant to architecture now” (5) and this subject, how to design “the infrastructure of invisible data” (103), could very well be the defining question of our age.
Data Space ponders what kind of building typology will emerge to reflect our digital age, and offers a number of innovative ideas, solutions, and complications. But it also offers another important question, one that will predicate this typology: how transparent do we want/need technology to be in our lives?
Up to now, Data Centers have followed in the line of phone equipment buildings of the past, impenetrable behemoths of “unbroken blank facades [and] highly-secure perimeters” (13). Data centers, particularly those which house sensitive information, have been built isolated away from society, often in repurposed military structures, even in an anti-atomic underground bunker (the home of 2 of Wikileaks’ servers).
Beyond security, there are other, less than savory, reasons for these centers’ isolation. Data centers require a tremendous, non-stop consumption of electricity, and produce massive quantities of heat as a byproduct. One of the most eye-opening essays in Data Space, “Why Clouds Aren’t Green,” by Greenpeace, explains how the occultness of these centers has contributed to their environmental irresponsibility:
“While data centers don’t have big smokestacks, their tremendous electricity appetite often means that they’re driving significant demand for energy from power plants that do. Already, the data centers and telecommunications network that bring us the Cloud, if ranked among countries, would be in the top five global energy users in the world.” (55)
Of course, placing a data center in an isolated spot in Scandinavia makes certain sense (the low ambient temperature can then be harnessed for cooling purposes); however, the intersection of site location and energy consumption has tremendous implications. If transparency remains limited, our insatiable need for data space may mean the environmental havoc wreaked by these data centers goes unchecked.
However, Data Space suggests a future where data centers could begin to be integrated into our very neighborhoods – scaled-down into rooftop servers or in soon-to-be-obsolete post offices, or kept centralized, but utilized to heat suburban neighborhoods or large pools (solutions that come at the expense of security).
Ultimately, the typology of data centers will depend on the contexts in which they’ll be placed – isolated away from human eyes, or integrated into our daily lives. As commercial companies of all shapes and sizes begin to require their own data centers, and wish to design them as physical representations of their brand, this question becomes more and more relevant.
In the culminating interview in Data Space, Joseph Lauro, a Principal at Gensler and a leader in data center design, explains that he must design according to the context that the client requires – one which prioritizes security over brand-image, or energy-efficiency over “design.” In the end, this is the future quandary that architects will have to grapple with – it will not just be a question of how to best encase invisible data, but of whether that invisible data should be made accessible to us through physical form.
010 Time, Type and Style
012 Long Lines
014 Mies Reprised
016 In the beginning
018 Handheld + Landheld = Cloud Computing
020 Data Archipelagos
022 Digital Capacity Timeline
024 Data Case
026 What Can I Fit Into A 1 Terabit, 1 Square Inch Box?
028 Small (Clouds) = Big (Data Space)
030 The Changing Geography and Architecture of Data
032 Global Data Center Locations
034 Data (Non-)Space
036 The Server Tower: A Manifest Destiny
038 Data and The City, Part I
048 Tip of the Databerg
050 Data centers vs. Population
052 Data centers vs. Climate
054 Why Clouds Aren’t Green
064 United States Energy Maps
070 Broadband Urbanism
072 Home Server Gardening for Business and Pleasure
074 Data-Space Invaders
076 Big Data: A Problem / An Opportunity
078 What’s Really Inside the Box
080 An Ode to the Data Center
082 Data and The City, Part II
092 The Social Network
094 The Road to Facebook
096 Pionen White Mountain
100 Transparent Data, Opaque Architecture
102 Data Centers and Physical Spaces: Tracking the Invisible
104 Silk-Road City
106 Spatial Paradox of Data
108 Co-Opting the Cloud: An Architectural Hack of Data Infrastructure
110 Aggregated Suburbia: Stacking the Cloud
112 System Upgrade
114 ArchDaily: A World in the Cloud
116 The Future of History: Translating Virtual Design Into Virtual Artifact
118 An Interview with Gensler
132 Image Credits
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