A City-Machine

Architecture, some­thing I con­fess to, is an act of div­ina­tion. The Architect di­vines space, and there­fore con­structs a prac­tice of ar­chi­tec­ture which is a di­vin­ing-ma­chine. It is an in­stru­ment by which one knows, per­haps rep­re­sents this know­ing – it is a process in­hab­it­ing the city – it divines’ the city as it works it­self in­side the city.
— First pub­lished in Arch’it, April 2001


A fluid, a globe in space con­sti­tuted by mu­tual at­trac­tions-re­pul­sion of mol­e­cules in the ex­panse of space. A prod­uct of forces—of elec­tric­ity-mag­natism, of grav­ity, of fire, of com­ing to­gether of par­ti­cles, of mass and grav­ity. Always mo­bile.

A City-Machine, com­pu­ta­tions of the ac­tions of flu­ids upon flu­ids—the Jamuna river bed in the heart of New Delhi, small bunds canalise and con­trol the ve­loc­ity of the river flow, siphons are cre­ated which are then used as a en­grav­ing edge to chisel the soil it­self. The en­graved earth is car­ried as par­ti­cles sus­pended within the en­grav­ing fluid, only to reach repos­i­tory ar­eas, where the wa­ters pause and de­posit their con­tents, giv­ing the city a new set of pla­teux in the heart of the river.

The di­ur­nal flux of the river flow, and mon­soon floods level’ this for­ma­tion, which is gen­er­ated time and again. And a new for­ma­tion grows over years. There are no fi­nal­i­ties and fix­i­ties here, the new ur­ban struc­ture emerges in a process of in­scrib­ing and eras­ing, it ap­pears and lapses over time. It is all a mat­ter of vis­cos­ity, of ve­loc­ity, of ooz­ing and de­posit­ing.

Life ex­ists within this mo­bil­ity, an­i­mals in­habit the earth’s flows, on the crusts that form upon the earth’s molten core. In the oceans, the air and what we pre­sume to be terra firma.


Animals make cities, we know this—an­i­mals in­habit this earth, an­i­mals must pro­tect their bod­ies from this earth. Animals must gather in their mul­ti­tude, in-mass, they must form in a cor­pus in or­der to sur­vive this earth. They must spe­cialise, they must del­e­gate, they must evolve and orig­i­nate prac­tices in or­der to sur­vive. They must syn­chro­nise as a body, within the body of this earth. But be­fore that, they must en­close.

Animal prac­tices ar­tic­u­late the body of this earth. By their en­clo­sure they bring about con­structs within the body. Constructs spe­cific to a species, to a gen­era, to a group. They con­sti­tute net­works, they form habits and be­hav­iours. They have sys­tems and rules, they even have abil­i­ties to trans­gress rules, apes are not can­ni­bals, for ex­am­ple, ex­cept un­der spe­cial cir­cum­stances.

We must en­close, not from the body of the earth, but within our ab­strac­tions. We must en­close not in­side but from the body of this earth. And we must speak about this en­clo­sure. We have al­ways cre­ated vir­tual worlds; or ar­chi­tec­ture, in other words. Architectures that speak about our ex­is­tence, or of origin’ and Techne.


Homo Sapiens make build­ings—this is a part of their process of syn­chro­ni­sa­tion, their ter­ri­tior­i­zli­a­tion within the body of this earth. And in this man­ner they are like all other an­i­mals, yet there is some­thing unique about the Homo Sapiens’ processes. They ab­stract. They cre­ate val­ues quite alien to the body of this earth. They alien­ate sub­stances from the body, they cre­ate processes of pro­duc­tion that are grafted onto the body, they cre­ate flows—or move­ments that the body does not reg­is­ter in the same way.

Homo Sapiens have this unique abil­ity to stack ab­strac­tions. To rep­re­sent, and then to op­er­ate upon the rep­re­sen­ta­tion. It is not enough for them to live, they must speak about it. They must sep­a­rate from them­selves, they must ex­pand their ter­ri­to­ries—they must be­come com­plex. That which is given is not enough for us.

We must dwell within the mo­bil­i­ties, ar­chi­tec­tures we must have, ar­chi­tec­tures we must ab­stract form this prac­tice of mak­ing cities—of form­ing bod­ies within the body of this earth. Architecture is the process by which we in­sist on our sep­a­ra­tion from our an­i­mal­i­ties. Something is stolen from our an­i­mal­i­ties; some­thing is pu­ri­fied and held in front of as a mir­ror or an il­lu­sion. A mi­rage. An ex-cen­tric­ity that must mo­bilise us.

A City Machine

A City-Machine puts to test this sim­ple state­ment: Architecture Maps the City, and ar­chi­tec­ture mim­ics the city: it is in turn mapped by the city. It is the in­stru­ment par ex­cel­lence wielded nec­es­sar­ily by the cen­tral pow­ers as they come to form the city.

A ma­chine con­structed of flows, and an ar­chi­tec­ture shaped by the en­er­gies la­tent in the flow: by it­self. The place al­ready has the en­ergy and the ma­te­r­ial for ar­chi­tec­ture—grav­ity, vis­cos­ity, gra­di­ent, de­po­si­tion and forces of na­ture. The ur­ban ques­tion con­cerns, then, the mash­ing of the Homo Sapiens into this ma­chine, the body of earth it­self. Homo Sapiens with his ur­ban mo­tives, sep­a­rated from the body of the earth: stand­ing up­right as a num­ber of mod­ern mytholo­gies would have it. In any case, sep­a­rated from the body of earth and wrapped in a shell of ar­tic­u­lated space, made sym­bolic and mean­ing­ful. Shell of lan­guage and the pos­si­bil­ity of lan­guag­ing. Into the shell brought about by the in­sti­tu­tion of the laws of pos­ses­sion, sim­ple or oth­er­wise, of ex­change so on. Homo Sapiens, an­i­mal, trapped in his own economies.

A City Machine ex­ists in the City like Water in wa­ter. It cre­ates se­ries of ar­tic­u­la­tions that come about as or­gans form within the me­dia, the City as we know it, as its forces con­sti­tute a Flexion, a City-Machine is no more than a di­a­gramme of these forces: con­tained within and shaped by—at once shap­ing its ar­ma­tures, the city as is seen and ex­pe­ri­enced.

The re­sult­ing con­di­tion: we see a rup­tured body of the city, if the city was con­sid­ered a cor­po­rate en­tity, this is a new or­gan­ism sprout­ing or­gans ex­tracted from mul­ti­ple ori­gins. Organs ex­is­tent in a state of con­stant provo­ca­tion. It is by provo­ca­tion that they pro­pel them­selves and change. Urban sys­tems are gen­er­ated of this an­tag­o­nism. One sees the be­gin­ning of a vast lo­ca­tional logic, a dis­persed sys­tems of pseudo places. The bricks of a new city.

The city will then be un­der­stood as a vast process of de­cod­ing-en­cod­ing. Values em­bed­ded into its struc­ture [the prox­im­i­ties, ex­po­sures: the whole logic of lo­ca­tion in re­la­tion to the sys­tem of flows in-them­selves] are de­coded, and build­ings ac­tu­ated—rep­re­sent­ing this de­cod­ing. Buildings for­malise the de-coded. They come into ex­is­tence as they rep­re­sent val­ues de­coded and thus ex­ploited: brought into light. Into the do­main of ex­changes.

The de­cod­ing-en­cod­ing brings tan­gi­ble shapes to the form of the city: its’ struc­tures, sig­ni­fi­ca­tion and other iden­ti­fi­able at­trib­utes. The city, in other words, be­comes a prod­uct of up­root­ing. Of fluid masses of the up­rooted, I’ is placed within the ten­sions, the provo­ca­tions. I’ must con­stantly adapt, cam­ou­flage one­self [mimesis]: one takes a stand, or takes flight. People mir­ror, build­ings mir­ror. Ephemeral conventions’ come into ex­is­tence.

Bereft of mo­tives be­yond it­self the city rep­re­sents only it­self. To it­self. Like an an­i­mal it con­stantly en­deav­ours to re­pro­duce it­self. And de­vour­ing it­self in or­der to re­pro­duce. It con­tains, is con­tained and even con­sumes it’s own ex­cre­ment. At times, we wit­ness the twi­light of the city. It cop­u­lates with it­self. It com­putes and be­comes a City-Machine.

It is an ethe­real city. We in­habit it, wraith­like. We, the dream walk­ers.

Anand Bhatt, 30th April 2001

Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex, Missile Site Control Building, Northeast of Tactical Road; southeast of Tactical Road South, Nekoma, Cavalier County, North Dakota, USA
Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex, Missile Site Control Building, Northeast of Tactical Road; south­east of Tactical Road South, Nekoma, Cavalier County, North Dakota, USA: Photographic copy of pho­to­graph, dated 20 April 1971 (original print in pos­ses­sion of CSSD-HO, Huntsville, AL). Photographer un­known. Later view of mis­sile site con­trol build­ing. Of in­ter­est is the es­cape tun­nel, which was even­tu­ally buried un­der­ground Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, re­pro­duc­tion num­ber HAER ND-9-B-17


  1. If we want to cor­re­late the ap­pear­ance of writ­ing with cer­tain other char­ac­ter­is­tics of civ­i­liza­tion, we must look else­where. The one phe­nom­e­non which has in­vari­ably ac­com­pa­nied it is the for­ma­tion of cities and em­pires: the in­te­gra­tion into a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, that is to say, of a con­sid­er­able num­ber of in­di­vid­u­als, and the dis­tri­b­u­tion of those in­di­vid­u­als into a hi­er­ar­chy of castes and classes. Such is, at any rate, the type of de­vel­op­ment which we find, from Egypt right across to China, at the mo­ment when writ­ing makes its de­but; it seems to favour rather the ex­ploita­tion than the en­light­en­ment of mankind. This ex­ploita­tion made it pos­si­ble to as­sem­ble workpeo­ple by the thou­sand and set them tasks that taxed them to the lim­its of their strength: to this, surely, we must at­tribute the be­gin­nings of ar­chi­tec­ture as we know it

    Text ex­cerpt from A Writing Lesson,” Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes tropiques. New York: Criterion, 1961; pp. 290-93. (Translated by John Russell, with some mod­i­fi­ca­tions)