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Yuri pulled his sons from school to watch the big robot wreck the motel. His wife had packed a tasty picnic lunch, but 11-year-old Tommy was a hard kid to please. “You said a giant robot would blow that place up,” Tommy said. “No, son, I told you a robot would ‘take it down,’” said Yuri. “Go shoot some pictures for your mom.” Tommy swung his little camera, hopped his bamboo bike, and took off. Yuri patiently pushed his younger son’s smaller bike across the sunlit tarmac. Nick, age seven, was learning to ride. His mother had dressed him for the ordeal, so Nick’s head, knees, feet, fists, and elbows were all lavishly padded with brightly colored foam. Nick had the lumpy plastic look of a Japanese action figure.

Under the crystalline spring sky, the robot ­towered over the Costa Vista Motel like the piston-legged skeleton of a monster printer. The urban recycler had already briskly stripped off the motel’s roof. Using a dainty attachment, it remorselessly nibbled up bricks.

The Costa Vista Motel was the first, last, and only building that Yuri Lozano had created as a certified, practicing architect. It had been “designed for disassembly,” way back in 2020. So today, some 26 years later, Yuri had hired the giant ­deconstruction-­bot to fully reclaim the motel’s materials: the bricks, the solar shingles, the electrical fixtures, the metal plumbing. The structure was being defabricated, with a mindless precision, right down to its last, least, humble hinges.

As he patiently guided the wobbling Nick across the motel’s weedy, deserted parking lot, Yuri’s reaction to the day was deep relief. He had never liked the Costa Vista. Never–not since it had left his design screen.

Once it had looked so good: poised there, safe within the screen. He’d been so pleased with the plan’s spatial purity, the way the 3-D volumes massed together, the nifty way the structure fit the site … . But the motel’s contractors had been a bunch of screwups. Worse yet, the owners were greedy morons.

So Yuri had been forced to stand by while his digi­tal master plans were cruelly botched at the hands of harsh reality. Cheap, flimsy materials. Bottom-of-the-barrel landscaping. Tacky signage. Lame interior décor. Even the name “Costa Vista” was a goofy choice for a motel off an interstate in Michigan.

Yuri had derived one major benefit from this painful experience. He had stopped calling himself an “architect.” After his humiliation at the Costa Vista, he’d packed up his creative ego and thrown in his lot with the inevitable.

He had joined the comprehensive revolution attacking every aspect of the construction-­architecture-­engineering business. The “Next Web.” The “Geo-Web.” “Ubiquity.” The “Internet of Things.” It had a hundred names because it had a thousand victims, for the old-school Internet had busted loose to invade the world of atoms. Not just certain aspects of harsh reality–the works.

The architect’s blueprints were just the first frontier to fall to comprehensive software management. The structural engineering would go, too. Then construction: the trades, the suppliers … . Then the real-estate biz, the plumbing and electrical, the energy flows, the relationships to the city’s grids and the financing sector, the ever-growing thicket of 21st-century sustainability regulation: yes, all of it would digitize. Everything. “Total building life-cycle management.” People didn’t wire houses anymore–they “sheltered the network.”

Nowadays, in the stolid and practical 2040s, Yuri called himself the “sysadmin-CEO” of the “Lozano Building Network.” Yuri’s enterprise was thriving; he had more work than he and his people could handle. He had placed himself in the thick of the big time. Whenever he carved out one day off to spend with his two sons, a sprawling network sensed his absence and shivered all over.

The Lozano Building Network was ripping up dead midwestern suburbs and heaving up sustainable digital buildings by the hundreds. That was the work of the modern world.

Yuri knew that system: its colossal strength, and its hosts of cracks, shortfalls, and weaknesses.

Yuri also knew that his company’s contract buildings were crap.

Ninety percent of all buildings were always crap. That was because 90 percent of all people had no taste. Yuri understood that; he was almost at peace with that. But it still burned him, it ached and it stung, that he had never built a thing that deserved to last.

The Lozano Building Network didn’t create fine buildings. It instantiated shelter goods. The mass of workaday, crowd-pleasing real-estate fakery that arose from his network wasn’t “architecture.” It was best described as “hard copy.”

To watch this building disassembled in this sweet spring morning reminded him that his life hadn’t always been this way. In his own sweet spring, Yuri had dreamed of creating classics. He’d dreamed of structures that would tower on the planet’s surface like brazen, gleaming symbols of excellence.


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Credit: The Crowd by Wyndham Lewis/Tate, London/Art Resource, NY/©by kind permission of the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust (a registered charity)

Tagged: Computing

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