Early in the morning of 9th January 2017, the inhabitants of San Cristobal (a marginalized neighborhood in Bogotá) found out that their new self-constructed library/cultural centre was (almost) burnt to ashes. La Casa del Viento [The Wind’s House] was one of the many projects that Arquitectura Expandida (AX), a collective of young architects, was developing in partnership with the inhabitants of Bogotá’s neighborhoods, other collectives, and sometimes with state institutions. Rumor has it that the fire had to do with political resentments about resources and votes that the local managers of Casa del Viento were supposedly “stealing” to some local politicians (Guzman, 2017). How can we understand this situation, and what does this sad effect of a grassroots-led initiative tells us about the shifts of making/experiencing infrastructure nowadays?
The proliferation of similar initiatives to Casa del Viento around the world would marks a trend towards the promise of decentralization, DIY projects, and involvement of people in infrastructural development. This, in turn, points to the shifts in making/planning the city. Gilles Deleuze (1992) suggested a shift in the way people’s lives are shaped and governed: we are changing from the societies of discipline to the societies of control, in which mechanisms of power are modulating flow, rather than enclosing and disciplining. In the case of city planning and development, the way ‘networked infrastructures’ are created, maintained and understood is also shifting (Graham and Marvin, 2001), opening up possibilities for citizens to resist those new practices of domination through doing infrastructures themselves (Corsín Jiménez, 2014).
However, those ‘new’ practices and social dynamics can also make us think about the way we conceptualize the shift: those old infrastructures (or ways of infrastructuring) are still present somehow, as the fire of Casa del Viento exemplify.
La Casa del Viento was built as the continuation of a community library built by the inhabitants of San Cristobal 18 years ago. Arquitectura Expandida (AX) worked with the ideas of developing infrastructures with citizens in order to make them part of the improvement of their territories. Their projects can be seen to be a prototype in Corsín Jiménez’ (2014, p. 348) definition, in the sense that the project is thought to be incomplete (or never closed), but at the same time it is able to extend itself and generate changes in the socio-spatial scape (less than one, more than many). Through the example of ‘La Offficina’, an open-source design that was built as the materialization of a prototype but that also ended up being a space for more prototyping activities, Corsín Jiménez suggests that those infrastructures cannot be understood only as ‘enhancements’ of previous infrastructures, but infrastructures in its own right (2014, p. 343). But if so, what happens with the ‘conventional’ infrastructures and ways of relating to those, and what is the relation between the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ way of ‘infrastructuring’?
The case of Casa del Viento is useful to ask how do different ways of relating to infrastructures and its elements co-exist, relate, or even collide, through the unintended effects of transforming the dynamics of the city in a context of political patronage and violence.
Corsín Jiménez, A. (2014) “The Right to Infrastructure: a Prototype for Open Source Urbanism”. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 32 (2): 342-362.
Deleuze, G. (1992). “Postscript on the Societies of Control”. October 59: 3-7.
Graham, S., and Marvin, S. (2001). Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition. London: Routledge.
Guzman, Edwin. (2 March, 2017). “¿Quiénes quemaron la Casa del Viento?” Desde Abajo newspaper. https://www.desdeabajo.info/ediciones/30940-quienes-quemaron-la-casa-del-viento.html