LOCAL INFRASTRUCTURES FOR GLOBAL SYSTEMS
The Alameda Corridor is a 20 mile long, 55 foot wide and 33 foot deep railway trench that connects the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach to the United States national railway network. The Corridor handles about one third of all shipping container traffic that enters the two ports, most of which comes from China. It is no exaggeration to say that the Alameda Corridor is key to everyday capitalism in the US. To analyze the Alameda Corridor’s global impact, this project traces the journey of a single T-shirt from its production in the Ready-Made Garment district of Dhaka, Bangladesh, to its consumption in a Wal-Mart store outside of Chicago, Illinois, where Los Angeles and the Alameda Corridor serve as a medium that connects these two places. The T-shirt, which is produced for about $3.00, travels by truck, train, cargo vessel, crane, and forklift before arriving at its destination on the other side of the world where it sells for under $10.
My drawings analyze the T-shirt’s journey episodically, capturing key moments where the shirt is transferred from ocean to land, or from one method of transportation to the next. I represent these moments in terms of their relative scales of time, space, and cost to show how technologies, spatial conditions (oceanic, urban, rural), and physical distance intersect to affect the supply chain in different ways, but ultimately create a shared and cohesive global space. For example, while the greatest geographical distance of the journey is traversed aboard a cargo ship crossing the Pacific Ocean, in terms of the price of the t-shirt, the relative cost of this trans-Pacific journey is nearly equal to the price of transporting the shirt by train across the much shorter distance from LA to Chicago, and merely a fraction of the cost to produce the shirt in Dhaka and ship it by truck to the Port of Shenzhen, China.
To demonstrate the relative scale of each moment along the t-shirt’s journey, Each drawing is overlaid with a grid scaled to the size of a single Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit (TEU). A TEU is the equivalent of a single 20-foot by 8-foot shipping container, is the unit by which the volume of shipping cargo is measured, and thus forms the underlying DNA of the design and function of the machines, vehicles, and ships that move shipping containers from one place to another. Using tools of architectural representation to shed light on the mechanized underbelly of the global economy, this project reveals a logistics system so intricately coordinated that even the most minor changes to its structure: re-designs of shipping vessels, delays in delivery, shortages in raw materials, and so on, can trigger drastic ebbs and flows. A particularly illuminating example comes from China, where a deodorant export began use plastic rather than cardboard packaging – a simple change that saved money and space for the manufacturer, but had drastic effects in other parts of the world whose economy was supported by cardboard factories. And so for some industries, the daily precision of this system is the difference between financial viability and total bankruptcy.
But within the hair-thin margins of these logistics, how and where does architecture fit in? Is the only place for architecture where the system fails or a limb of the economy is rendered obsolete, such as with New York’s High Line or any of the world’s many post-industrial sites left behind in the wake of shifts in global trade? Through this research, I argue that while architecture does fulfill a critical function by repurposing these extraneous parts of the global economy, this represents only a small fraction of architecture’s total role in the system. Rather, I claim that this global supply chain itself is its own typology of architecture, but one in which physical space is expanded and compressed through the effects of technology, time, and cost, blurring typical definitions of boundary and global borders to, for instance, create single, unified, and shared spaces between two otherwise unrelated places such as Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Chicago, Illinois. This advocates for an expanded definition of Architecture itself, which historically conforms to notions of site specificity and groundedness, to include fluctuating and dynamic systems, scales, and spatial conditions.