The Dirty Speed Economy

Prolepsis is that intellectual mechanism by means of which a presumed future is treated as already present. 

In terms of an ideological vision, technology operates as an anticipating shibboleth, As Vorsprung and as Aufbau; both a moving into the future; and an active construction of the future.

In architecture this proleptical vision has produced a glassy urbanity. Cities of the net, whatever these may be. Rather like Zamyatins ‘City of numbers’ in his prophetic 1921 novel WE; these are cities of insinuated transparencies, of vaporous connections, of points, of nodes and of transmogrifying strata. 

They are cities of implausibly fluid transitions, in which territories of difference, precisely the palpable territories of social, political and cultural distinctions, are smoothed and flattened into a continuous ‘jelly’ space structured only by the logistical stratagems of the adopted technological vision. 

When I speak of smooth maybe I really mean clean. I am struck by the cleanliness of it also. Rather like old Sci-fi movies – everything tidy, everything ‘in-place’. Clean not dirty. Imagined not dirty-real.

But isn’t clean always and already a prevarication. At least when it is projected as a permanent vision. Clean is the absolute presence of a territorialising stratagem. The unadulterated IDEA. The LIE.

Emerging as we are from the daze of Eighties  meta-commodification; Frederick Jameson refers  to it as ‘…the consumption of sheer commodification as a process…’ and at a point when it seems once again possible to advance a material critique of content over surface, it seems pertinent to challenge this  smooth/ clean prolepsis with a dirty critique.


Dirty speed; post-Fordism.

The economies of the West, Europe/USA, the Pacific Rim are undergoing a structural change to what some economists have called a post-fordist or global economic structure. 

This shift, characterized by a precipitous decline in heavy industrial and manufacturing production and by a compensating expansion of the service sector, is most importantly a supra-national shift in the way that economies interacted and affect each other.

 What distinguishes this phenomenon most strikingly is the role of the new communications technologies and their relative acceleration and extension of conditions of exchange. 

 A new economic phenomenon has emerged coincident with the acceleration of communications and with the globalisation of markets, known in the jargon as ‘factor price equalization‘. This uncomfortable phrase nominates two disturbing characteristics of this new world economy.

 Firstly; global conditions transform the geographical scope of competing markets from national to global. 

 And secondly; that the spectrum of class divisions within the global work force is now latent within every nation state.

 What this means in plain language is that a person without the right skills will fall to subsistence standards as readily in Boston as in Bangalor. It means that the possibility of maintaining standards of living, in line with those familiar to us today, will be directly threatened.

 The rise of the new communications technologies, seen as a boon to post-fordist service based economies in the West simultaneously broadens the available work force. 

 India and China to name but the most obvious examples have added to the total supply of labour changing its balance dramatically, increasing supply to markets in which demand has remained essentially flat.

 Dirty speed

A new era of high speed competition is upon us. To be competitive means to be global and to be global means to be fast.

 This is a dirty speed in which the conditions of acceleration, rather than unit cost construct the exchange economy. 

 Dramatically improving communications speeds are fostering greater market sensitivity and, by degrees, a progressive fragmentation of market production, catering for ever finer differences in consumer taste. 

 What seemed to be a recipe for  the creation of new markets- the clean analogy- is in reality an implied fragmentation of existing structures.

 Rather than provoking a promised expansion of labour opportunities, the strictures of the dirty speed economy have  forced fragmentation upon existing industries with marginal increases in labour demand, exacerbating relative work load in the name of increased efficiency.

 Ironically this has been most pronounced in parts of the burgeoning service economy, particularly in the so called ‘service growth sectors’ such as architecture itself. 

 The Italian clothing manufacturer and  retailer Beneton is perhaps the most well known European example of entrepreneurial interest exploiting a fragmentation of its product lines in order to expand its market share. The adjustment of total stock lines to meet daily fluctuations in consumer demand by the British supermarket chain J.R.Sainsbury is another.

 The flexible supply of fragmented markets to meet this burgeoning ephemerality of demand is the key characteristic of the dirty speed economy.

 High speed technologies make it possible to dramatically increase the fluidity of demand. And this is the point – technology manufactures the nature of demand and not the other way around. Speed  is now consequent and immanent. Cost follows it

 The consequences for architecture as a profession are legion. They are as follows:-

 Firstly; The use of contemporary technological means for the communication of information is now altogether inevitable since the maintenance of competitive costs increasingly depends upon its efficient usage. There is no profitable architectural practice without computing.

 Secondly; Markets are now pluralized and fragmented and have shifted from relative cost to relative speed as the basis for exchange. Relative demand can no longer be created by means of taste alone. Architects must cater for many ‘taste markets’ simultaneously.

 and Thirdly; The skilled work force is now global. The professional architectural practice offering a comprehensive in situ , not to say local service is being replaced by a much looser system akin to the so called Hollywood principle, in which otherwise unconnected professionals from various backgrounds come together solely for the purpose of executing a single project.

 Those who predict the end of the profession of architecture dramatize a phenomenon, which may have already occurred some time ago. In this time of uncertainty, one thing is irrefutable; vis. the physiognomy of the profession will be disfigured by its material economy. 


About this entry