Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Writing about the early Twentieth-century transition from mechanical energy systems to electrical ones, Manuel De Landa writes:

Transforming power would not depend as much on its role in communications or illumination as in the creation of a new breed of motors that, unlike steam engines, could be miniaturized, which permitted a new degree of control over the flow of mechanical energy. The miniaturization of motors allowed the gradual replacement of a centralized engine by a multitude of decentralized ones (even individual tools could be motorized). Motors began disappearing from view, weaving themselves into the very fabric of reality.

The time period to which De Landa refers is roughly the same as when Le Corbusier wrote about turbines, silos, airplanes and automobiles - all objects that fall within De Landa's category of the centralized motor. However, very soon after Le Corbusier initial observations, the centralized motor is replaced by the miniature motor, making these objects technologically obsolete. This potentially impacts the notion that the motor itself is the principle driver of visible form and material, or that machines for living in be equated to finely-tuned mechanical contraptions. The problem with extending this metaphor of the motor is that a miniaturized motor - which requires a housing to adapt it to the human body - implies an irreducibly small and unoccupiable contraption disassociated with its cladding. All this time and the machine for living, it can be said, is effectively impossible to live in.

But what if we reconsider the scale of the metaphor's application, by zooming out so that the motor is not an isolated object but a module within a field? At the urban scale, the decentralized motor has more potential, regardless of the issue of cladding. Within a networked system of miniature machines, we have a variety of applications - interrelated spatial systems, coordinations across space.


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