The territoriality of the cloud is not always hidden away in devices, pipes, or server farms. Sometimes the cloud’s centralizing logic finds expression within architecture, urban design, and the brick and mortar of physical spaces. The “smart” brand of urbanism is one built up of equal parts neoliberal spatial strategies and techno-utopian ideologies, which attempt to bridge the gap left by weakening government oversight and the deteriorating agency of public urban planning institutions in cities worldwide. Cash-strapped cities wanting to compete with other global cities for jobs and development dollars give away billions in incentives just for the chance of having a tech giant land in their town. For the most part, the urban projects of the cloud—the “smart” cities, towns, neighborhoods instigated by tech companies that treat data as a resource to be extracted—take the form of enclaves, campuses, or neighborhoods that are contextually closed-off, controllable, and technologically decked-out. In a lot of ways, these projects are the culmination of all the other layers of Farms, Pipes, and Mines. The concentration of resources and infrastructures, selective regulatory suspension and lucrative incentive packages, and the uninterrupted access to user data as well as control of key infrastructures, all coalesce into detached enclaves that operate in a vacuum that is deemed necessary for “innovation” and technological “experimentation.” The idea of the campus, as an urban morphology, is invoked here both as the internalization of control over seemingly finite and defined conditions, as well as a defensive mechanism against external forces, which are manifested as either governmental/regulatory, social, or environmental. In advancing their neoliberal agendas the urban projects of the cloud seamlessly combine utopian imaginaries, frontier ideologies, and extrastatecraft strategies to generate enclaves of privilege, which are separated from the larger urban realm. In doing so, each aspect carries with it the escapist and the separationist ideals coded into the campus morphology.
Locating the clustering of technology activities in and around Seattle, WA
The core spatial strategies of the cloud first take shape in the spatial experimentations of the campuses and headquarters of tech companies. And as sites of "experimentation," they have to be shielded from natural disasters and sociopolitical fluxes. In other words, they have to be environmentally, socially, politically, and contextually protected. In parallel, we are now seeing the rise of the headquarter campuses of large tech companies as they try to enhance their cultural identity and corporate image. Designed by “starchitects” like Norman Foster (Apple), Frank Gehry (Facebook), or Bjarke Ingels and Thomas Heatherwick (Google), these corporate campuses have become the horizontal monuments of the contemporary information economy. Coupled with the culturally integrated products they produce, and the libertarian ideologies they advance, contemporary technology companies have transformed from corporations into pseudo-cultural institutions.
even though it is outside of California, Amazon's HQ is well positioned within a techno-logistical landscape and has built on Seattle's historical global ties and its proximity to Microsoft's HQ to create a high tech landscape outside of Silicon Valley
Formed within the relative vacuum of enclaves, the “best practice” models and foundational ideologies of tech campuses are subsequently exported globally and seep into the general spatial psyche, masquerading as innovative and novel spatial forms that produce equally innovative results. Often packaged as developmentalist strategies, the continual paraphrasing of the most pronounced urban morphologies of the Silicon Valley (the campus, the techno-industrial park, etc.) in the contested geographies of Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, have produced emerging forms of territorial expansion. Chief among these spatial arrangements is the rapid process of enclave urbanization that emerges as a result of the infrastructural and socio-political dependencies of high-tech industries.
Amazon's SLU HQ within its extended operational landscape.
Amazon properties and facilities are in Magenta.
Amazon's office space footprint in Seattle, including its initial SLU campus and their extensions in downtown Seattle. Black hatched areas (construction zones) are mostly to be occupied by other tech companies (Google, Facebook, and others) that have followed Amazon here.
The presence of massive tech companies like Amazon is likely to alter the urban dynamics of the cities in which they land. With plans to extend its footprint globally, especially in Bellevue, WA and Northern Virginia, Amazon is likely to transfer over the same urban forms and ideologies that are deemed successful in Seattle. Hence it is important to understand these forms and structures as well as the changing landscape that will ensue following the entrance of a tech giant.
of the Cloud
location of regional and local offices of major technology companies
Google Facebook Apple Microsoft Amazon