total service delivery – mammoth // building nothing out of something

total service delivery

The Dirt has a lengthy interview conducted by Pierre Belanger with Joe Brown, chief executive of planning, design, and development at AECOM, the architecture and engineering firm that swallowed EDAW (formerly the world’s largest firm primarily focused on landscape architecture, if I recall correctly). The interview covers a wide range of issues, from the “need to [develop] metrics for… performance-driven, technology-driven planning and design… at the middle scales”, to the potential role of public entities, universities, and private companies in dealing with mass migration and infrastructural reconfiguration driven by climate change, to the emergence of landscape architects as the coordinators of “systems of integration… where site systems interface with spatial experiences and connect with ecological processes”. Some of it — judging by the comments collected so far — may be controversial, particularly digs at New Urbanism (“helpful” but “superficial”) and small firms (“partitioning and fractioning… goes ‘against the grain of [interdisciplinary] cooperation’”), but Brown offers a tantalizing glimpse of a totalized and highly rational approach to the design of infrastructure and the planning of cities, as well as an entirely different role for landscape architects. It’s impossible to know at this point whether the AECOM experiment will be successful or not, but it’ll be worth following, if only for its massive ambition.

[For extra entertainment, contrast the approach to infrastructral intervention described by Brown with that summarized by faslanyc in his post "Tactics vs. Strategy", and then cross-reference with Varnelis on Banham in Los Angeles, infrastructural decay produced by the severe extension of "neoliberal individual rights", and "complexity [as] the failure point for post-Fordism” — the last of which is directly challenged by Brown’s vision of totalizing and rationalized infrastructural urbanism; also, I hope I don’t need to bother outlining the images of corporate dystopia prompted by the implication that urban planning ought to be the exclusive domain of a handful of very large design and engineering firms, but they’re there.]

5 Responses to “total service delivery”

  1. namhenderson says:

    Seems like this interview generated a lot of posts in the internets…

    Personally, maybe it is the contrarian, Capital M Modernist in me but there is something exciting about the idea of such large groups of design intelligence brought to bear on projects.

    I sure don’t I subscribe to the idea that only super large firms can handle this scale or have the know how. However, it does make me optimistic to see that there are organizations with the technical know how that are out there thinking about these sorts of landscale regional infrastructural issues. Especially since AECOM/EDAW and their now announced architectural unit are they types of firms that tend to actually get these sorts of contracts.

    However, maybe that is a problem, for as you note it has flavors of corporate dystopia…

  2. rob says:

    Any particular posts I should read (maybe not, but I’ve been mostly off the internet for a couple days, despite the posting, so I thought I’d ask)?

    The approach Brown was outlining seemed to me definitely “capital M Modernist” — though the focus on infrastructure first is a slight shift, the methodology sounds thoroughly modernist (technocratic, comprehensive, we’ll assemble a team large enough and be able to plan for every eventuality). I agree that it’s seductive — and if it can be pulled off, great (except for the part about only a handful of firms doing it; that has eerie similarity for me to the way the financial system got in trouble, with only a handful of companies large enough to meaningfully interact with the system).

    But it certainly runs counter to the general move in landscape architecture towards embracing uncertainty, which is a move that I generally approve of. I think that was what was a bit jarring about Brown’s comments — he seemed so certain of AECOM’s ability of design with certainty.

  3. namhenderson says:

    Well F.A.D. had a post here
    http://freeassociationdesign.wordpress.com/2009/12/08/infrastructure-and-corporate-design-pierre-belanger-interviews-joseph-e-brown-of-aecom/

    and a couple of others i would have to go back and look for.. Plus all the comments on the original posting.

  4. [...] when understood in terms of decisions than in terms of forms. My suspicion — though I remain interested in experiments such as the EDAW/AECOM merger which attempt to compensate for increasingly complex [...]

  5. [...] Should interdisciplinarity be the default response to contemporary problems of scale, eco-logics and urbanization? Are solutions like the AECOM/EDAW merger, inevitable? A simple calculation of market share, leading to Total Service Delivery? [...]