Reactions #262. Rania Ghosn: Para-infrastructures
Quaderns Parainfrastructures contributes to the debate on architecture’s agency in relation to infrastructure, not least by exploring how the prefix –para differently qualifies the category “infrastructure,” and by extension the role architecture plays in defining or countering that.
Some contributions explore -para in the sense of ‘analogous or parallel to, but separate from or going beyond, what is denoted by the root word.’ Not very dissimilar from para-church, or para-military, para-infrastructures could be described as existing parallel to, or outside, the sphere of the mainstream institution. If infrastructures are hard and fixed, such para-infrastructures explore aspects of infrastructure that are flexible, mutable, fleeting, inflatable, etc. By proposing to design from the margins, such viewpoints indirectly reinforce the essentialism of an “infrastructure” that remains immutable, outside of critical inquiry, at the center.
Another meaning of the prefix -para, imperative of parare to make ready, prepare, defend from, forms words with the sense “protection from.” Not very dissimilar from how a parasol or a parapluie protect us from sun and rain, a para-infrastructure in this respect could be the spatial strategy that protects us from the dominant discourse on infrastructure, or some infrastructuralism. John May’s “Infrastructuralism: The Pathology of Negative Externalities” most significantly represents this position. Infrastructuralism, as May elaborates, abstracts the systemic imperative of infrastructure by making visible only some moments while constantly abstracting waste and destruction. If Infrastructuralism reinforces the moral hegemony of negative externalities, then para-infrastructures move away from the managerial organization of space-time. By unfolding the “thick space” of the system, para-infrastructures is an invitation to inquire into how our social relations are organized and reproduced through infrastructures. Liberated from the obligation to propose an alternative, para-infrastructure can become a way of protecting from the pathology of negative externalities: it represents relationships, connections, effects, the diagram of infrastructure.
Rania Ghosn obtained her PhD from Harvard University Graduate School of Design and is founding editor of the journalNew Geographies.