the coming infrastructure bubble? – mammoth // building nothing out of something

the coming infrastructure bubble?


[Interior of an abandoned and incomplete home in a subdivision outside Phoenix, from an excellent slideshow of photographs taken by Edgar Martins, commissioned by the New York Times to document the real estate bust.]

I’d highly recommend reading or re-reading Eric Janszen’s “The Next Bubble”, which was published in Harper’s almost a year and a half ago.  Given the buzz surrounding the role of infrastructure and energy projects in the Obama administration’s recovery plan and the high percentage of the spending so far which is slated to be sunk into networks of connector highways being built primarily for the sake of spending money, its hard not find Janszen’s article eerily prescient:

There are a number of plausible candidates for the next bubble, but only a few meet all the criteria. Health care must expand to meet the needs of the aging baby boomers, but there is as yet no enabling government legislation to make way for a health-care bubble; the same holds true of the pharmaceutical industry, which could hyperinflate only if the Food and Drug Administration was gutted of its power. A second technology boom—under the rubric “Web 2.0”—is based on improvements to existing technology rather than any new discovery. The capital-intensive biotechnology industry will not inflate, as it requires too much specialized intelligence.

There is one industry that fits the bill: alternative energy, the development of more energy-efficient products, along with viable alternatives to oil, including wind, solar, and geothermal power, along with the use of nuclear energy to produce sustainable oil substitutes, such as liquefied hydrogen from water…

Supporting this alternative-energy bubble will be a boom in infrastructure—transportation and communications systems, water, and power…

Its important to note that Janszen doesn’t exactly mean that this bubble can or should be prevented, even if his prediction is correct (“the only thing worse than a new bubble would be its absence”).  In fact, he notes that he prefers the term ‘asset hyperinflation’ to ‘bubble’, as bubble carries conotations which may or may not apply to a given asset hyperinflation.  But it does seem like a healthy cautionary note that architects and landscape architects ought to listen to, lest we pin our hopes for the future of our professions on an industry as capable of flaming out as the real estate industry.

More:
- I was reminded of Janszen’s article by Varnelis, who should be your primary source for pessimism about the relationship between architecture and infrastructure, which I think is a necessary thing.

- a recent story about Janszen and his bubble prediction from NPR.
- a February 2008 interview at Grist with Janszen about his article.
- You can follow Janszen’s prognostications at iTulip.com.  Which I’ve never visited.

6 Responses to “the coming infrastructure bubble?”

  1. Erik says:

    That photo you chose is, I believe, digitally edited to be symmetrical across the y-axis. I think the photographer flipped it and changed two or three small details.

    Look at the stairs, for example–they don’t go anywhere! And even in a house made to be symmetric, why would the interior wiring and piping be so perfectly symmetrical? Only the outer parts need to be. Look at the wooden ^ shapes in the center top–those could serve no purpose at all once they’re covered with walls.

  2. rholmes says:

    While that would certainly be a plausible explanation for the image, the slideshow claims that the photographs are produced without digital manipulation.

    On the other hand, this particular one is described as a ‘montage’, so you are certainly right that it is not a document of architectural conditions. I suppose “image composited from the interior of…” would have been a better description.

  3. “why would the interior wiring and piping be so perfectly symmetrical?”

    Why indeed. It would be fantastic if we were to learn that Edgar Martins didn’t digitally manipulate his photos. In fact, those stairs really don’t go anywhere and that there are these fine structural details that will only be later covered with walls.

    Because they were designed and mortgaged and built and bought by somnambulists who were violently woken up out of their stupor when the bottom of the credit market fell out.

    And next up, infrastructural absurdities.

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