Logistics Takes Command.
Architecture, Warfare, Abstraction.
Published in Log no.35, fall 2015. Originally presented at the AHRA International Conference Industries of Architecture: Relations, Process, Production Newcastle University, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape and further elaborated for the Historical Materialism Conference in Rome, September 2015
The term "logistics" derives from the Greek logizomai standing for the art of reckoning, organising, planning. Through time it achieved a strict military connotation, dealing with the composition, lodging and movements of troops, the arrangement of provisions in hostile territories, the transportation and storage of artillery, food, medicines and fuel. Logistics also entailed the organisation of the battlefield, the construction of defensive systems and urban settlements, the planning of infrastructures and communication networks.
Architecture is of logistic origin. Not by chance Vitruvius’ De Architectura, the first Western treatise on architecture, was written by a soldier for Julius Caesar as a technical compendium of concrete and abstract machines. The Renaissance exegesis of Greek and Roman military treatises, along with the revival of the Vitruvian machinatio, established the foundations of an architecture of logistics, able to frame the emerging capitalist system of production, exchange and labour division.
Logistics not only revolutionised the form of battles, cities and fortifications but also the way architecture was produced. The evolution of firearms demanded economical investments and geographical expeditions, geometrical calculations of ballistic trajectories and accurate territorial surveys. The introduction of orthogonal projections detached the act of vision from the singularity of an observer towards infinite point of views, as the objectivity of axonometry replaced the vanishing-point of perspective. Cities were analysed as assemblages of objects, people and fluxes of commodities: as measurable and controllable machines.
Thus, long before the industrial revolution and mass-production, it seems that the particular convergence of warfare, technical representation and civic organisation produced an apparatus for administering space and time through abstract rationality, which today provides the unavoidable condition for any metropolis to subsist. This essay will attempt to read logistics by means of its architecture, retracing its genealogy through some of the spatial devices it produced and the struggles which triggered its development between the 14th and the 21st century.