… we are standing, here, now, atop nonexistence, as if we had been superimposed like a transparency upon long lost ancient worlds.1
This project is particularly interested in the socio-cultural systems that begin to intersect existing architectures and sites of energy production and distribution, using this critique of energy as a gateway to wider questions around architecture’s ability to act on the future, the designer’s agency in this procedure, and a manic obsession with the archive as aesthetic investigation.
The megastructure of energy production exists on a global scale as a singular piece of carbon form, unbroken and continuous from the death of the dinosaurs to their present immolation as fossil fuels. The crises we encounter in the present, both climatic and ideological, require us to consider how we might be otherwise. How else we might operate. How we may create a future that is different to our past.
This project proposes that the act of architectural design is one of inherent futurity. Through it we are able to plot out a highly-specific, highly-resolved future. To operate in this way, we must “show, demon-strate, and prove that the world in which we live is neither necessary nor complete.”2 To world-make the future we need only act on the seeds of potentiality inherent in our past3. To this end, this project undertakes a detailed analysis of its existing site on 602 Lt Bourke St. It understands the site as carrying embedded histories, material narratives, and poten-tialities. It appropriates LeComte’s notion of the “projectile” as a device that is “above all concerned less with envisioning what the future may or should look like than with relentlessly questioning the established order of things according to, and against which, their specific aim to practi-cally construct another world can be conceived and formalised.”4
There is an inevitability to power infrastructure. A combination of its ubiquity and inscrutability lends to its presentation as an unquestionable support structure for contemporary capitalist life. As the climate crises engendered by the capitalist realism of carbon modernity are shifted to individual, rather than collective, responsibility any radical action is reterritorialized by capitalism as a means of selling the “socially responsible” corporation.
In every operation on 602 Lt. Bourke St, the ghostly presence of Spencer St Power Station lurks. As a final bastion of the infrastructural leviathan of energy in the CBD, the restrained modernist blocks cast a long shadow even after their demolition. By engaging with the embedded histories of this site, and reinterpreting them through new modes of power generation, the building starts to become a construction site for possible worlds. And yet, within a framework of inevitability an archi-tecture, this architecture, necessarily carries within it the seeds of its own subjugation to capital.
It matters what worlds world worlds.5
The question, then, is what might
it mean to return power generation
to this site? How do we ratify the creation and consumption of energy?
The connection between coal-power and the ground suggests geothermal as an appropriate alternative. Energy generated from the ground given to the body. Consumption. Ratification, then, comes through power generated thermos-electrically by the human body. Creation. This interaction means that individual occupants of the archive would act as co-conspirators with the non-human forces and affects engendered by the geothermal plant. At the heart of this interaction, the project holds the machinery required to store energy in the long-term, not just a battery but an archive of power, a “standing reserve.”6
Spencer St Power Station (SSPS) remains elusive. Detailed plans of the building seem not to exist, the implications of the Mahlstadt fire insurance plans only provide cursory detail of the internal operations, and images of the building appear only in fragments. These partial historical narratives lend themselves to the development of an architecture that reframes these aesthetic and narrative fragments as an architecture that is mournful, or elegiac. Not a glorification of the histories of coal-power and the SSPS, but an acknowledgement of their finitude.
The relentless updating of Melbourne’s architectural present means that architectures seen as undesirable are erased without any acknowl-edgement of that building’s lifespan. This is what occurred with SSPS. It was demolished, the fragmentary remains painted black and incor-porated into the body of Melbourne’s obsession with curtain-wall investment apartments. This elegiac register is not a position based in a kind of preservationist rhetoric, but one of responsibility to the past as something continuous with our future, and the “worlds already on hand”.7
Spencer St Power Station, and the site at 602 Lt. Bourke St might well become these “saturated ruins”. The archival objects serving “as found arks of lost moments … between an unfinished past and a reopened future.”9 Finitude being mirrored both in the architectural reflection on the historical presence of coal-power generation, and the effects of the architectural container on the individuals and communities that inhabit it grants architecture based on these principles a unique futurity.
behind any true constructive act there lie saturated ruins … an act that not only envisions a future that does not exist yet, but that also posits, at the same time, the construction site from which this future might become possible.8
Consideration of the future, especially a future manifestly different to now, must be a collective activity. Collective activity is only possible through community. In turn, community is only possible through the relinquishing of the atomistic individual. We conceive of ourselves as individuals because the temporal edifice has collapsed into constant and relentless synchronization with the present. Finitude, then, remains unthinkable. The future doesn’t exist, or if it does, it is a “vague indeter-minate site hosting an indistinct cloud of promises and signs as desirable as they are deadly.”10 It “involves the hopes of the community but also despair at the inevitable end of each of its individuals”11.
In order to think of ourselves as community, in order to operate on the future, we must engender a collective relationship to finitude.
In the operation of this building there is a different ritual of collective synchronisation occurring. It colludes with non-human effects engen-dered by power infrastructure in order to elicit a collective experience of light, steam, and water. It positions itself critically against the “uninter-rupted synchronous flux”12 of modernity.
In this project, we are able to operate on the future architecturally because it is intimately bound up in architectural finitude – the end of the SSPS is reconstructed as an urban wake, an affair of collective mourning, and collective acknowledgement of finitude. Not reabsorbing the past into the present through half-completed restoration, or skin-deep facadism, but reconstructing fragmentary historical infor-mation as an archival “found ark”13 that spurs new relations.
1. FRANÇOIS J. BONNET, AFTER DEATH, TRANS. AMY IRELAND AND ROBIN MACKAY (WINDSOR QUARRY, FALMOUTH, UNITED KINGDOM: URBANOMIC / MONO, 2020).
2. JEREMY LECOMTE, "CAN THE POSSIBLE EXIST IN PHYSICAL FORM?," IN CONSTRUCTION SITE FOR POSSIBLE WORLDS, ED. AMANDA BEECH AND ROBIN MACKAY (WINDSOR QUARRY, FALMOUTH, UNITED KINGDOM: 2020).
4. LECOMTE, "CAN THE POSSIBLE EXIST IN PHYSICAL FORM?."
5. DONNA HARAWAY, STAYING WITH THE TROUBLE: MAKING KIN IN THE CHTHULUCENE (LONDON: DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2016).
6. ZOË SOFIA, "CONTAINER TECHNOLOGIES," HYPATIA 15, NO. 2 (SPRING 2000).
7. NELSON GOODMAN, WAYS OF WORLDMAKING (INDIANAPOLIS: HACKETT PUBLISHING, 1978).
8. LECOMTE, "CAN THE POSSIBLE EXIST IN PHYSICAL FORM?."
9. HAL FOSTER, BAD NEW DAYS (LONDON: VERSO, 2017).
10. BONNET, AFTER DEATH.
13. FOSTER, BAD NEW DAYS.