Platforms and Palimpsests

Urban Landscapes of Data in Northern Virginia


  • Ali Fard University of Virginia



Data platforms increasingly mediate the relationship of society to the data it produces and therefore form a critical layer of the contemporary link between data and urbanisation. However, the current discussion of the impact of data platforms on urbanisation is limited on one hand by an overly metaphoric articulation of platforms, which obscures the material geographies and infrastructural landscapes of data production; and on the other hand, by an administratively bounded reading of platforms, which confines the discussion to only their most visible impact in cities. In this article I argue that to fully capture the impact of platforms on urbanisation we need to overcome these limitations by examining the ‘operational landscapes’ of data production and circulation. This extended ontology of platforms positions the spatial discourse of technology in relationship with other forms of capitalist spatial production and opens up the material geographies and infrastructural landscapes of data production for critical engagement as integral parts of the sociotechnical construction of platforms. By examining the data landscapes of Northern Virginia, I illustrate how historic and contemporary forces, actor networks, and urban dynamics contribute to the construction and maintenance of the extended geography of data platforms.

Author Biography

Ali Fard, University of Virginia

Ali Fard is a researcher, designer, and educator, currently an assistant professor at the University of Virginia School of Architecture. Fard’s work operates at the intersection of design and global urban processes. He is particularly interested in the spatial imprints of technology and the urban disposition of infrastructure, and how design research can help ground the operational complexity, spatial hybridity, and territorial scales of technical systems. Though writing and his design research practice AF/DR, Fard has been involved in a range of award-winning projects that reinforce design’s critical and multi-scalar role within the territorial dynamics of contemporary urbanisation.


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