Allison Schifani & Jeffrey Kruth
Mediating Publics in the Network Access Point of the Americas
Downtown Miami is home to the Network Access Point (NAP) to the Americas, operated by the multinational Equinix. In a windowless facility, just blocks from one of Miami’s poorest neighbourhoods, informational traffic and computational power hums away through fiber optic cables and within server cages, literally linking the city to the rest of the hemisphere, and the world. We argue that the NAP facility performs a particular form of hiding in the informational landscape of Miami. The facility is highly secured with X-ray machines, intrusion detectors, sniffer dogs, as well as internet firewalls. Access to its third floor is restricted to US citizens with government clearance.1 Even the satellites on the roof are obscured by large domes to prevent those outside the facility from gauging their directionality. As both an architectural form and a discursively produced conceptual space, the NAP delivers a narrative of security, of placelessness, and of isolation. Its intention is to veil, deter, and hide. Its architecture, unremarkable and repeatable, gestures toward the global informational infrastructure of which it forms a part while simultaneously covering over the materiality and vulnerability of that very infrastructure. Our project uses the NAP to explore how securitized global infrastructure obfuscates local contexts and publics, and at the same time opens possibilities for their interpretation as material and informational cultures. We seek to unpack how the architecture mediates visibility, at once hiding the structural forces of informational capitalism it undergirds while performing protection from the very risks that system increasingly poses to places, people, and the built environment. The goal of our analysis here is to seek ways to leverage our common risks for the construction of an urban informational commons, one in which we might both claim and exercise our right to the city. We want to use the NAP to think against its architecture of hiding.
Our methods draw from Media Studies and its emerging subdiscipline of Infrastructure Studies. We perform a close analysis of the building’s aesthetics and offer the NAP’s historical and material context in Miami. The analysis is supplemented with a close reading of the relationship of the NAP and its marketing materials to the broader discourse on security and informational capital. Employing additional theoretical approaches from Urban Studies and Security Studies we argue for a view of informational infrastructure not only as a material phenomenon in the city, but as an essential component of the city’s aesthetic and imaginative construction: one that can be hacked, altered, and remade for common ends.
Keywords: security, infrastructure, informational ecologies, planetary urbanization, networks
1Thomas Sparrow, “Behind the scenes of Latin America’s internet ‘brain’,” accessed March 19, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-21178983
DR. ALLISON SCHIFANI is the co-founder of the design and research collaborative SPEC. Allison is Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Miami. Her work focuses on literature, media, and the urban Americas. Her book, Urban Ecology and Intervention in the 21st Century Americas: Verticality, Catastrophe, and the Mediated City (2021) was published in Routledge’s Environmental Humanities series.
JEFFREY KRUTH is the co-founder of the design and research collaborative SPEC. Jeffrey is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at Miami University (OH). His work focuses on urban media, memory, and the disciplinary tools of architecture. Their collaborative work has been published in PLAT, Urban Infill, and elsewhere