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Retracing the endless edge

Strelka Institute

What if supercomputers redesign cities?

The Strelka Institute, located in Moscow, Russia, is a highly selective research program that encourages exploration of various disciplines through architecture and design projects. The New Arctic, a short workshop led by Liam Young and Nathan Su in the "The New Normal" project timeline, is comprised of six films set in Magadan, an isolated port town along the Sea of Okhotsk. Read more at the end of the article.

"Retracing the Endless Edge" presents a case for city redesign that is articulated by a "supercomputer". The film team - Christopher Burman, Andrei Zhileikin, Pedro Moraes, Dana Baddad, Denise Luna - provides a glimpse of the city context of Magadan through an interview with the mayor. The mayor describes how vital mining conditions are threatened by dwindling gold minerals, which contributes to unemployment. However, while the area is lacking minerals, it is rich in data.

Typical design solutions fail, the mayor notes, pointing out that architects and designers only care for their prized designs, as opposed to the region and people.
The mayor's solution is to take back control of the redesign, handing Magadan's infrastructural issues over a computational system managed by a supercomputer. He undertakes himself the task of developing a supercomputer that will design and control all future projects in Magadan.

Initial scenes of snow-covered abandoned infrastructure now feature digital wireframe extensions. These colorful connections are simply information presented as infrastructure, setting the tracks for stronger ties between regions across Russia. Most interestingly, by the film's end, viewers begin to wonder whether the audio of the mayor's interview is current, or rather a manifestation of the mayor that lives within the supercomputer: "I am the only human who sees the future. I am the supercomputer".

The film format begins with aerial views of the frozen region, empty of residents. The port of Magadan is haunting as an abandoned backdrop, a reminder of productive lifestyles of the past. Shots of the city are coupled with audio of the mayor's interview, specifically at the point when he describes failed design attempts to redesign the city. Yet when the supercomputer enters the discussion, bright threads intertwine between the existing infrastructure and form a new layer over the city, expanding over the region in the hopes of reconnecting Magadan to Moscow, all of Russia and beyond.

Since its conception in 2010, the Strelka Institute has released new project themes each year centered around urbanism, public space, global trends and emerging technologies. The current theme, The New Normal, is a three-year program that focuses on the proposed connections between urbanism and technology in 2050.

(Story by Pilar Pereyra, The Architecture Player)


Written and directed by: Dana Baddad, Christopher Burman, Denise Luna, Pedro Moraes, Andrey Zhileikin
Mentioned project: The New Arctic (2018)
Project location: Magadan, Siberia, Russia
Tutors: Nathan Su and Liam Young

Russia 2018
Duration: 3'48"