Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Geomagnetic harddrive
Geoff Manaugh on Tue, 30 Aug 2005 10:11:20 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Geomagnetic harddrive

In her recent biography of British architect Sir Christopher Wren, Lisa Jardine
describes how she discovered that the London Monument, designed in 1677 by Wren
together with Robert Hooke, is actually "a unique, hugely ambitious, vastly
oversized scientific instrument" that uses "strategically placed vents and vantage
points" to function as a multi-purposed observation deck and lab for measuring
atmospheric pressure. <1>

While I was living in Berlin a few years ago, it struck me once that the U-Bahn
system could pass, in its own way, for a different kind of "hugely ambitious,
vastly oversized scientific instrument" -- that, in fact, the Tube, the Metro, the
NY subway, etc. -- the Beijing underground, Prague, Rome and so forth -- all of
them could pass for similar such "scientific instruments."

In other words, those buried urban routes, with all their circuits linked and
cross-connected into electrically mechanized networks that pass through mineral
deposits and solid bedrock -- including the various branches of late-night service
that maintain more or less perpetual motion, humming and soaring through manmade
canyons beneath parks and plazas and apartment blocks (as if to imply that the
global geotechnical industry had been taken over by Athanasius Kircher <2>) -- I
realized that, in all that tumult of foundations and energy, you could, if you
wanted to, listen for the subtle, cello-like moan of distant trains, with their
echoes and their friction; and it occurred to me, then, that the whole system, the
entirety of the Berlin U-Bahn, could pass for a working model of the universe.

A sonic model, at the very least, of the so-called Cosmic Microwave Background
Radiation. A vaulted hum, reverbing back and through itself beneath the city. Or
-- and this next idea is only slightly less ridiculous, for you cynics out there
-- it occurred to me that if the U-Bahn system could somehow be hooked up to
massive, earth-anchored magnets, and made, therefore, to produce a magnetic field
of its own, that you could transform all of Berlin into a geomagnetic harddrive.
As a sail traps the wind, a *planetary harddrive* would use geomagnetism. Provided
constant motion on behalf of the trains, I thought, and given absolutely gigantic
magnets of the right polarity and location, Berlin could start producing its own
magnetic field -- which meant that any city with a subway could be transformed
into a harddrive. Harddrive London. Harddrive Beijing. Harddrive Moscow.

Of course, it's obvious even to me that you'd have to do quite a lot more than
just bury some magnets underground in order to transform a city into a harddrive
-- you'd need a shovel, for instance, and perhaps some strong anti-manic drugs;
but my point is that if Christopher Wren could build a tower that simultaneously
memorialized the Great Fire of London even as it acted as a scientific device,
then perhaps you could turn *urban infrastructure itself* into a kind of working
scientific apparatus. You could turn all of Berlin into a geomagnetic harddrive.

+ + + + + + + + + +

<1> Jardine, Lisa. On a Grander Scale: The Outstanding Life and Tumultuous Times
of Sir Christopher Wren. (New York: HarperCollins, 2002): xii, xii-xiv.

<2> See, for instance, the Museum of Jurassic Technology's ongoing exhibit about
Athanasius Kircher, entitled, "The World is Bound With Secret Knots":
http://www.mjt.org/exhibits/Knots.html. For Kircher and the geotechnical industry
-- well almost... -- see

<3> This post was simultaneously published on BLDGBLOG
(http://bldgblog.blogspot.com). See Geoff Manaugh, "Geomagnetic Harddrive":

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net