Infrastructure Space seeks to find the latent possibilities inherent in things that already exist and to ask how these can be put to use in service of society. We are concerned with the productive capacity of existing infrastructure and the combination of systems into new infrastructure, which can address environmental issues in tandem with their socio-cultural ramifications. Materially, we are interested in the recovery of matter and the oscillations of scale as things are cast and recast, processed and reprocessed, eroded and reconstituted. Moreover, we are interested in how the virtual and real co-exist and the technological, environmental and ecological opportunities within these parameters.
Methodologically, our MArch students use policy and large geographic territories to investigate contemporary spatial, material, economic, political, social, and cultural concerns. In simple terms this manifests as a series of methods that combine to create research questions and agendas. As such we ask students to critically assess policy documents, informed by a series of selected readings that are specific to each new territory of investigation. We ask students to use forms of mapping and representation to visualise matters associated with their critical investigations and to reveal latent conditions through the geo-location and spatialization of data – mapping as an operative device.
The territory chosen for this (Cumbria) is one that encompasses a wide range of contemporary issues that relate to global challenges and circumstance. The environment, climate change and ecology are obvious examples, but there are innate matters of settlement, production, communication that are also evident. The UK government still uses an urban-rural classification system, but what does this mean to the territory and its policies? We ask students to consider the prevailing notions of what rural and countryside are perceived as, or supposed to be. However, as we know, Britain is an entirely manufactured landscape and the Lake District / Cumbria is no exception. The territory has a long industrial history that predates any of the protections put upon the landscape. In fact, the current image of the Lake District is one that has been cultivated by the way that the land has been used in tandem with the way it was depicted by the Romantic poets and painters of the nineteenth century. One might ask if this space is a politico-cultural creation. Students were asked to determine their own critical positions that will define their own approaches, considering ideas of the hyper-rural, smart-rural, military-nuclear industrial complex, off-grid, zero carbon, managed aesthetic, and the inherent contradictions and resultant social, cultural, economic and political conditions of this complex landscape.
The resultant projects are extremely diverse, from projects that deal with the spiritual aspects of death and the associated processes, to interventions that are concerned with the creation and documentation of new policy associated with the National Park and surrounding region. Some contiguous themes ran through the students’ work including sustainability and the challenges climate change will present to citizens and communities living in rural regions such as Cumbria. This featured highly in the student’s agendas, producing enquiries that considered flood risk management and the processing of wastewater. Tourism was also a recurrent theme with student projects that explored the relationship that exists between residents, visitors and the natural world.
The depth and breadth of the students’ enquiry is testament to their ability and skill to investigate, spatialise and propose novel responses that unlock the productive capacity of existing infrastructure through the combination of systems into new infrastructure that addresses environmental issues in tandem with their socio-cultural ramifications.