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 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 and demonstrate the Alameda Corridor’s global impact, this project traces the journey of a single t-shirt – based on relative scales of time, money and distance – from its production in the Ready-Made Garment district of Dhaka, Bangladesh to its consumption in a Wal-Mart store outside of Chicago, Illinois. 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.
This project reveals the mechanized underbelly of the global economy: 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. Namely, places 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 seemingly hair-thin margins of this network, where and how 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 innumerable post-industrial urban waterfronts? Is architecture’s purpose to rehabilitate with new purpose the skeletons left behind in the wake of shifts in global trade? Here, the space for architecture is more conceptual than physical. In an expanded definition of the discipline, this project views the structure of these global systems, as well as their analysis through architectural methods of representation, as being it’s own typology of architecture, but one that greatly stretches typical notions of time, scale, and boundary within the built environment.