Sunday, November 04, 2007

Mind my fortified data centre pod!

I haz been in yr thread, commenting on yr arcologies. I am fascinated to see that in a sense, one is under construction right now, in the fine city of Baghdad.

William Langewiesche reports; read the whole damn thing, as it's one of the best things about architecture, politics, diplomacy, and Iraq you'll ever see.
Whatever the specific allegations, which First Kuwaiti denies, in the larger context of Iraq the accusation is absurd. It is Iraq that holds people captive. Indeed, the U.S government itself is a prisoner, and all the more tightly held because it engineered the prison where it resides. The Green Zone was built by the inmates themselves. The new embassy results from their desire to get their confinement just right.
Indeed; and the detail of the structure makes it clear that it's as close to an arcology as you're likely to get.
For the most part, however, the new embassy is not about leaving Iraq, but about staying on—for whatever reason, under whatever circumstances, at whatever cost. As a result the compound is largely self-sustaining, and contains its own power generators, water wells, drinking-water treatment plant, sewage plant, fire station, irrigation system, Internet uplink, secure intranet, telephone center (Virginia area code), cell-phone network (New York area code), mail service, fuel depot, food and supply warehouses, vehicle-repair garage, and workshops. At the core stands the embassy itself, a massive exercise in the New American Bunker style, with recessed slits for windows, a filtered and pressurized air-conditioning system against chemical or biological attack, and sufficient office space for hundreds of staff. Both the ambassador and deputy ambassador have been awarded fortified residences grand enough to allow for elegant diplomatic receptions even with the possibility of mortar rounds dropping in from above.

As for the rest of the embassy staff, most of the government employees are moving into 619 blast-resistant apartments, where they will enjoy a new level of privacy that, among its greatest effects, may ease some of the sexual tension that has afflicted Green Zone life. Fine—as a general rule the world would be a better place if American officials concentrated more of their energies on making love. But unfortunately even within the Baghdad embassy, with its romance-inducing isolation, a sexual solution is too much to expect. Instead, the residents fight their frustrations with simulations of home—elements of America in the heart of Baghdad that seem to have been imported from Orange County or the Virginia suburbs. The new embassy has tennis courts, a landscaped swimming pool, a pool house, and a bomb-resistant recreation center with a well-equipped gym. It has a department store with bargain prices, where residents (with appropriate credentials) can spend some of their supplemental hazardous-duty and hardship pay. It has a community center, a beauty salon, a movie theater, and an American Club, where alcohol is served. And it has a food court where third-country workers (themselves ultra-thin) dish up a wealth of choices to please every palate. The food is free. Take-out snacks, fresh fruit and vegetables, sushi rolls, and low-calorie specials. Sandwiches, salads, and hamburgers. American comfort food, and theme cuisines from around the world, though rarely if ever from the Middle East. Ice cream and apple pie. All of it is delivered by armed convoys up the deadly roads from Kuwait. Dread ripples through the embassy's population when, for instance, the yogurt supply runs low.
Such a structure turning into a dystopia is a pretty standard sci-fi trope, but it's usual for the poison to come from within, rather than screaming over the walls in the form of 122mm rockets. The Baghdad arcology does, however, have an additional feature I don't think either daydreaming architects or sci-fi writers have suggested; its citizens are very unlikely to be there by choice.

Still, perhaps the sysadmin there gets to play with one of those Sun Microsystems data centres in a shipping container?

1 comment:

Charlie Whitaker said...

The Vanity Fair piece suggests that better architecture would not be possible given the circumstances. Perhaps not, but the British embassy in Dublin (Allies and Morrison) is effectively a fortified building and it's a fair bit more delicate than most interpretations of the "New Embassy Compound" spec.

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