An Unsolicited charter for the Very Large Organization

A guest post by Javier Arbona, written to accompany the opening of Very Large Organizations, an exhibition by Jordan Geiger, at Studio-X NYC.

Outside of the purity of cultural scripts that we might regard to be politically authentic are rapidly mutating political scripts that may be the most immediate tools in the world’s urgent situations, despite their lack of national pedigree and reference to political theology. These are the dirty tools and techniques of an extrastatecraft that might be tilted toward many different political aims. (Keller Easterling)

1. Very Large Organization (VLO). The name itself, coined by Jordan Geiger, conjures an imagery of bubbles, air, foam, and inflatables filled with helium. The VLOs hover above us, They are atmospheric; orbital, even. Make no mistake about it, they need solid ground and touchdown points. They require earth-based networks of human communications, both digital and not. They must have a calculable, perpetual motion in order to ensure economic growth.

2. The bizarre, hidden architecture of the VLO is a mash-up of legal rights, aerial spaces, entrepots, and credit ratings. Under the burnished surface of its sheathing lies a fierce competition for finance, favor, advantage, and immediacy.

3. Internally, VLOs operate like a motion reel that’s loaded with a transparent film, except at the scale of a seemingly eternal airport movealator—yes!—the VLO as moving sidewalk that scoops people up and takes them on a placid tour. Externally, VLO’s bulge, heave, grow, sprawl, and hover over territories—territories where a veritable red carpet is laid for them, woven with infrastructure, services, processed foods, and hyper-fertile industrial crops.

4. The VLOs workings are unnoticeable to the naked eye, while sloping and curving towards an ineffable outcome. One may be skimming along on the automated surface without realizing it, all the while enjoying a suave movement that feels effortless‚ until…a crash.

5. Is there a complex equation of movement to the VLO? Perhaps. But VLOs seem to enjoy an unaccountable oversupply of motility—soaring, navigating, sailing, coasting—all the while transporting certain individuals within them for given amounts of time. But who? Not clear; a buzzing hive of workers, planners, architects, executives, health experts, motivational speakers, life coaches, personnel, human resources, flexible employees, commuters, e-lancers, and so many more.

6. The transportative exuberance of VLOs is matched, inch by inch, by a global shortage of mobilities for many more people, stuck in limbo. The outsiders don’t fit our obsolete notions of the split between urban and rural, or the formal and informal. The interfaces between all this unevenness—blurry insides and outsides—demands architectural inquiry. In other words, architecture must open spaces for outsiders by interrupting the accustomed spatial imaginaries of the VLO.  

7. Intercept, stall, disconnect, decelerate, chart, detour—these might be some of the operative terms needed for an architectural vocabulary that scopes the VLO, subjects it to scrutiny, documents it, and determines points of intervention.

8. Open architectures, open systems, open data, the reproducibility of things, transparency, trust, the ability to copy: these qualities run through the discourses of the VLO, almost as if the flow of information were an air lift. As necessary as information is, the internal contradictions of VLO’s give rise to another discourse: a “tragedy of the commons” that calls for parcelization, enclosure, and checkpoints.

9. For a citizenry, the VLO offers a seductive info-pastoral, but the cultural citizenship of the VLO often brings with it an unexpected surprise: a crushing market discipline. This tension between the open and the closed misses a key question: Does the VLO impose on itself the same logics it imposes on its citizens?

10. A key working lesson might be, then, the need to make visual and spatial the inherent discrepancies of VLOs. In other words, use architectural devices (views, axes, corridors, promenades, connections, openings) to expose the inner workings of VLOs—open its own internal information.

11. Geographical imaginaries of the VLO can run the risk of mirroring the pastoralism of an idealized digital nomad. Therefore, a question on architecture’s role: how to challenge dominant imaginations that skirt democracy, or raise the difficult questions of collective rights, benefits, and opposition? Where do these citizenship rights become spatial, or put differently, in which spaces are rights ensured?

12. VLOs exploit their own (mis-)representation. Meet them at their own game by relentlessly drawing the conditions of their spatio-temporal construction. At the same time, the VLO is not a “thing;” it’s a development process that continues to chew-up and spit out places and spaces. Rote diagramming may fail. What architectural operations might thus apply? Architecture “houses,” “shelters,” “preserves,” and “remodels.” These can be practices that take back from the VLO, challenging its authority, packaging it for redistribution, appropriating it, reclaiming that which it ruins and then, restoring it.  

13. VLOs tend towards massive growth, becoming absurdist Leviathans, to borrow from Keller Easterling; yet, they become cankerous, rupturing internally, bursting at points of clogs caused by capital shortages, credit downgrades, hoarding, and dispute.

14. For architecture, the internal ruptures are moments for problematizing—the inflection points at which a critical memory is necessary. What might be the political memorials that recover orphaned histories of the VLO? What spaces might be unfolded in order to live a human life contrary to the temporal speeds demanded by credit, hoarding, monopolies, and legalese?

15. The central problem of the VLO is the problem of information. VLOs thrive on an economy of open information, and yet this historic rise of data is matched by a voracious appetite to close it up—hiding fees over fees—carried out by battalions of IP lawyers, private mercenaries, and national police forces. They seek to possess “innovation.” They happen to leave dead bodies in their wake, quite literally: suicides, homelessness, poor health, hunger, and so on. The role of architecture, it would seem, can’t remain at the level of a silent humanitarian service that merely wipes up after the mess is left. Acts like drawing, writing, visualizing, and building must deal with invoking a world where human innovation can be protected from the Leviathan.

16. The infrastructure of the modern world is simultaneously a patchwork of jurisdictions that thrives off of a certain vocabulary of interconnections. It’s a continual negotiation between the border and its border-crosser. A fundamental question for architecture is how to scramble these normative notions while defying existing social relationships and unevenness between jurisdictions.

17. Very Large Organizations begin with very, very large financing, which often plays the actual role of designer more than anyone else. Start-up capital comes from government coffers, private lenders, or nebulous entities. Sometimes all three at once. The characters are often interchangeable, seeking to launder each other’s trustworthiness. Architecture has traditionally operated to monumentalize—to make symbolic capital out of other forms of capital, to borrow an idea from Bourdieu. A new role for architecture can be invented; that is, subvert the expected symbols of these forms of capital.

18. It remains an imperative to take on much more, beyond the scope of this charter of the VLO: energy, scale, finance, secrecy, privatization, cronyism, governance, infrastructure, monuments, and so on. What are emergent notions of publicness, or lack thereof? Who’s left with the bill for that which is “too large to fail,” yet often does? The role of architecture is, in one sense, to inquire into the material dimensions of these questions. Architects can expand our notions, imaginations, and representations of the presence of the VLO in everyday life, multiplying possibilities for appropriation. But that can’t be all. The VLO scrambles social expectations of home, travel, privacy, work, and health. The most important act begins with drawing the first line.

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