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Why Tech Companies Love the False Transparency of Glass Architecture


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In Mute magazine, Key MacFarlane examines the growing popularity of greenhouse-like architecture among tech companies like Amazon and Apple, tracing it back to the imperialist worldview of Victorian England, where greenhouses were pervasive, and the techno-fascist utopianism of the Italian futurists. As MacFarlane writes, “Glass architecture has long served the purpose of making brutal stratifications of class, race and gender appear transparently natural.” Here’s an excerpt:

Amazon and Apple are extreme examples of a much larger trend towards eco-friendly corporate architecture. Across the globe, there are currently 90,900 commercial projects participating in LEED, the most widely used green-building rating system in the world. These projects have increased exponentially, the global green building sector (including residential projects) doubling in size about every three years. In the language of market growth, green architecture has already prophesied its own success. Making inherently exploitative and wasteful work into something shiny, clean and sustainable, green architecture is a monument to a future of capitalist progress and resilience.

With its turn to glass design, along with the renewable energy projects recently pioneered by Facebook, Apple, Google, and Amazon,[6] the tech world appears ahead of its time. Yet there is little new in that the use of glass, the incorporation of ‘nature’, the emphasis on spaces of cooperation and creativity are all marshalled towards future company growth. Green building is symptomatic of how this process unfolds today within the so-called digital economy. It is the architectural component of what Nick Srnicek has identified as the ‘emerging’ business model of platform development. A platform is a digital infrastructure that extends control over both distribution and production, drawing its users into a common web of interaction. Greenhouse architecture represents the extension of platform-based companies’ realm to the distribution and production of certain kinds of life (and the uneven social relations that make them possible) within the spaces of capital accumulation. While human life has always been a raw material for capital, it is increasingly blurred within, and extracted as part of, a larger socio-environmental ecology. At the same time, today’s corporate architecture casts doubt on the novelty of the digital economy. For while the institutions and technologies may have changed, glass architecture has long served the purpose of making brutal stratifications of class, race and gender appear transparently natural.

Image: The “Genius Grove” at the Apple Store in San Francisco. Via Mute.