When companies sell us the cloud, it seems that they are talking about something magical and fantastic. Its imagery is futuristic looking, filled with shiny lights, and coming from a science-fiction movie. However, we are not concerned about what the cloud is. They are black-boxed and top-secret places, where all our information takes live.
We have seen attempts from the companies to make those spaces more transparent. They open the doors to the cameras and display all the machines. Yet, this hypervisibility of the infrastructure and this pure image that they give of the cloud allows them to keep the people naive.
The truth is that the cloud relies on data-centers that stock all that information that we generate every day. One of its effects is the need for infrastructure around the planet. These buildings are environments designed from humans to robots, and for that reason, their design is a copy-paste around the world. Data-centers are structures designed for machines, which means that no human is working in that environment, so there is no need to follow cultural necessities.
Images from data centers around the globe.
In the same manner during industrialization, the landscape was also affected by the construction of new buildings. Hilla and Bernd Becher, two german photographers, recorded these changes in the landscape from the late 1950s . In their work, we can see collections of images depicting industrial buildings. Even if the buildings have very similar shapes because they have the same finality, there are subtle differences probably because of the construction methods and the cultural necessities from each place.
Pictures from Hilla and Bernd Becher’s work.
In the future, we will need more infrastructure to support all the data that we generate. Jennifer Holt and Patrick Vonderau write about one of the upcoming “technological dramas” that the technology in data storage is not as developed as the amount of information to store . In conclusion, the landscape is going to be even more exploited in the future, overcrowded with the same buildings all over the surface.
 Biro, M. (2012). From analog to digital photography: Bernd and Hilla Becher and Andreas Gursky. History of Photography.
 Holt, J. and Vonderau, P. Where the Internet Lives. Data centers as cloud infrastructure. Signal Traffic.
One of the principles of the aesthetics of contemporary houses and offices is the hiding of wires. We cannot stand the sight of such technical ugliness: an unpleasant black spot in the plastic clear neatness.  The inhabitants of these houses or the workers of these offices live surrounded by all the objects they need in order to survive in nowadays society. Since they manage to do anything through well-designed interfaces put on stylish plastic covers, they never have to think about cables, magnetic fields, chips, and pipelines. And for this very reason, technicalities are carelessly perceived as unessential and can be out of sight. After all, using Mies van der Rohe’s words, “less is more”.
However, the hiding of the media infrastructure that pervades our environments is a false and short-sighted liberation. Quoting from Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, “kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and figurative sense of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence.”  Indeed, there will be always a moment when those magical objects stop working and need some maintenance or repairing. As Bruno Latour argues, we become aware of the information infrastructure when the device does not function and we are forced to tear that veil of Maya, facing the materiality of the problem. 
If we give a quick glance through history, the refusal of the aesthetics of infrastructure seems more a recent fact. Roman aqueducts are considered beautiful, but nobody will be happy to live nearby a water tower or a trellis. Houses and villages were built along the streets and at the trivia, but nowadays few people would like to have a room with a view on a motorway, a railway or an airport. Watermills and windmills make us dream of idyllic landscapes; power plants devalue the prices of houses of the neighborhood. Print houses and newsies were at the very core of Renaissance cities; whereas data centers and antennas are located aside.
– Roman aqueduct, Segovia, Spain
If mainstream architecture and design can be considered kitsch in Kundera’s terms, it must be said that not all the professionals of these fields behave in the same way. Indeed, there are many examples of deliberately exhibited technicalities in architecture, such as Centre Pompidou by Renzo Piano  (defined as a “love at second sight” by the National Geographic) or the Tōkyō Tower by Tachū Naitō . Aren’t those examples of infrastructural honesty, provoking all the non-engineers that the materiality of information is not complicated, but complex and fascinating? Aren’t they revealing us that this is what our society is made of and that we should understand?
– Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
– Tōkyō Tower, Tōkyō, Japan
The novel by US philosopher Robert Maynard Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is about that. Differently from a Romantic approach, Illuministic beauty lays on the rational comprehension of and unmediated astonishment for the relations between parts of a multiplicity. Through knowledge, the observer can appreciate the object on a more profound level, whereas “romantic” people are condemned to a life of incomprehension and irritation. 
Indeed, the average human is illiterate about the materiality of media infrastructure: he prefers to ignore such irrelevant details and gets annoyed when he has to deal with this matters. In his “romantic” perspective, the media he interacts with are magical objects that work due to some reasons beyond the possibilities of his comprehension. He feels much more secure in the plastic-covered illusion that there is nothing more to understand but the interface on the surface.
We do not want to see cables and wires because we do not want to see our ignorance.
 Lisa Parks and Nicole Starosielski, Introduction, in Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructures, University of Illinois Press (2015)
 Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 68 Publishers (1984)
 Bruno Latour, Where Are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts, in Shaping Technology-Building Society. Studies in Sociotechnical Change, Wiebe Bijker and John Law, MIT Press (1992)
 Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France (1977)
 Tachū Naitō, Tōkyō Tower, Tōkyō, Japan (1958)
 Robert Maynard Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, William Morrow and Company (1974)
Infragraphy is a compilation of critical student artworks and short essays dealing with the materialities of media technologies and their environmental implications. The volume presents artworks and texts from the course ‘Media and the Environment’ in the Fall of 2020 at the Department of Media, Aalto University. The course is a series of scholarly readings about and around the themes of media including media’s relations and impacts on the so-called Anthropocene, thermocultures of media, ecologies of fabrication, media and plastics, Internet of Things, Planned Obsolescence, e-waste, and media’s energetic landscapes. A key approach of the course is to introduce artistic methods and practices that could address emerging media materialities. The student artistic outputs are presented in a final exhibition.
This fourth volume of Infragraphy compiles a series of artworks and companion essays as a response to the contemporary discourse of political economy of media and related environmental implications. The volume begins with Lassi Häkkinen’s Screen of Death that plunges us through the computer interface and web browser to a distant cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His accompanying essay meditates on the disjunction between the digital, mining and labor, as a way to reflect on extractive practices. Phuong Nguyen’s De-Terraforming Impacts of Humans on Earth takes us on a virtual tour of damaged landscapes as a result of the digital starting from the environs of Silicon Valley, Bayan Obo mining district in China, to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Cloud Materialities by Qianyu (Sienna) Fang sets up a game-like low-tech alternative computer interface to examine critical themes related to the various materialities of digital media. Oskar Koli’s provocative kinetic sculpture installation makes us ponder on deep time, automation, and fossil fuels. The installation sets up the recursive stroke of a programmed and automated feather that brushes off grains from a piece of coal. Koli insists on calling it ‘Untitled’ since the viewer could very well have a multitude of interpretations.
Addressing environmental damage, Anze Bratus uses pollution datasets along with urban images from around the world to create generative soundscapes. His installation Acoustics of Pollution highlights how pollution levels as a result of a legacy of industrial activities and fossil fuels exponentially increase and damage the environment. Studies on Invisibilityby Tuula Vehanen examines urban radiation, especially with regard to 5G networks in Helsinki. Vehanen’s photography attempts to render radio frequency visible and provokes us to consider the impacts of exposure to humans and ecosystems. By poetry and painting, Dominik Fleischmann’s Restless Bodies reflects on technology and purity. His work makes us think of where technological necessity of perfection and extraction might eventually lead us. Finally, Mirya Nezvitskaya presents a performance installation Collecting Your Waste that combines her research in materiality, posthumanist philosophy, performance and artistic practice. Her work challenges us on many levels by threading together colonization, extraction, plastic waste and performance.
The landscape and what our image of the landscape is like is due to a long tradition that includes traditional landscape painting, traditions of aesthetics, place of residence and a landscape catalog conveyed by the media. A landscape is often thought to be beautiful when it does not directly show the human handprint. “In Finland, it is customary to talk about ‘untouched nature’. Few proverbs are so untrue and downright false, ”writes Ismo Tuormaa  Pure or untouched nature as a concept is misleading. According to research, old, natural or nature-like forests make up well below 5 per cent of Finland’s forest area. It may take a hundred years to a thousand years to return to a perfect natural state, depending on the tree species in the forest. In the United States, for example, it has been estimated that the restoration of felled deciduous forests to virgin forests will usually take one or two complete tree generations, ie 150 to 500 years. 
Urban landscapes rest on built infrastructure. The infrastructure is visible and invisible at the same time. As long as it works, it is not thought of. And yet the urban landscape is very strongly shaped by infrastructure. Media exists increasingly as the true landscape forming force.  Infrastructures as pipes, power plants, highways, sewers, pylons carrying the high voltage, cables, transmission Towers, data centers, wasteland and power lines are central to shaping our cityscape. Ports and power plants are monuments of our time. There is a certain beauty in manufactured landscapes, says Samir Bhowmik.
The disadvantages of the built infrastructure are pollution, radiation and the removal of living space from other organisms, as well as the energy, natural resources and the resulting pollution used to create the infrastructure.
According to research, the urban environment affects our well-being in many ways, for example by increasing stress, raising blood pressure and disturbing concentration, while nature calms down. Positive effects on, among other things, heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension can be seen after just a few minutes spent in nature.
According to biophilia theory, innate attachment to all living things is the foundation through which we have been able to achieve sustainable forms of life in general. Literally, “biophilia” means love of life and living systems. 
Man has made a decisive contribution to the reduction of species diversity. In order for nature to sustain life, its diversity must be safeguarded. Indeed, species interactions play a key role in diversity. No species thrives or functions in isolation, but in conjunction with other species
Roughly speaking, it can be said that we have found and named about 20 percent of the Earth’s species. This means that species that we do not yet know and that could be potentially useful are constantly disappearing from the world. We may lose species that could have been the origin of a new drug or a new food source. While the situation seems inconsolable in many ways, researchers firmly believe there is still hope. One reason for optimism is that, compared to previous generations, we have much more information and tools to solve problems. 
Green infrastructure is a design approach whose key principles include a holistic approach, cross-sectoral systems thinking, the pursuit of multiple benefits (ecosystem services, but also public health and economic benefits, for example) and a long-term strategic perspective on urban habitat management.
A dense urban structure is beneficial for mitigation measures, but the urban environment is vulnerable to the changes brought about by climate change. Mitigation and adaptation should therefore be seen as parallel goals that must both be taken into account in the development of the urban environment. It should be possible to take the next step past mitigation measures towards adaptation. Resilience is a new key concept in sustainable development. 
In England, a London Green Grid has been created which seems to be a very interesting and comprehensive green infrastructure program. The main goals for green infrastructure planning in London are climate change mitigation and adaptation. In this context, flooding and heat island are seen as key threats. Other key goals include increasing green infrastructure in the metropolitan area, for example by planting 10,000 new trees in the metropolitan area. In Finnish cities, compaction and thus the shrinking of the green sector in cities is still ongoing. 
Various innovations have been and are being developed to build a greener infrastructure. The most radical green infrastructure solution is Bosco Verticale in Italy. Bosco Verticale is a residential building consisting of two buildings, in which dizzying tree plantings and other vegetation have been planted in the building. Recycled water and energy produced by solar panels are used for irrigation.
The Bosco Verticale (“Vertical Forest”) in Milan has hundreds of trees and more than 2,000 plants embedded into its façade
Nature-based solutions currently seem to be the key word for EU environmental funding.  Biomimetics is an activity that seeks to understand innovations produced by nature and then transfer them to human activities. Identified benefits include e.g. energy efficiency, utilization of photosynthesis, durable and lightweight structures, and resilient solutions for different situations. 
Since 2007, the Baubotanik research team at the University of Stuttgart has been developing structures that combine living trees and steel structures. The idea is therefore to develop and test living load-bearing structures.  Baubotanik describes a construction method in which structures are created by the interaction of a technical joint and plant growth. For this purpose, living and non-living building blocks are interconnected so that they grow together to form a plant-technical composite structure: The individual plants merge to form a new, larger overall organism and the technical elements grow into the plant structure. For this approach, the term building botany was established in 2007 at the Institute of Fundamentals of Modern Architecture (IGMA) at the University of Stuttgart.
The Baubotanik research team is developing structures based on living trees.
Living root bridges in Northeast India are grown, functional structures from the antenna roots of the Indian rubber tree (ficus elastica). The khasi and jainti peoples of southern Meghalaya have developed various techniques to take advantage of the growth stages of the rubber tree. Increased bridges connect houses, fields, villages and markets. 
Green roofs and green walls are essential building blocks of green infrastructure in a densely built big city. Productive roofs will be the thing of the future. One of the test roofs also had a combined green roof and solar panels. This solution also has its own name “biosolar roof”. 
Oslo is a good example of the innovative nature of small town landscaping. Green walls and roofs have expanded into grass fields with tram rails, natural meadows in the urban area and biogas-heated benches. Oslo won the European Green Capital 2019 designation.
A green city like Helsinki is admired elsewhere. The challenges in greening cities and building green infrastructure are in a really dense urban structure at a completely different level compared to Finnish cities, many of the implemented projects are expensive and still remain in the degree of green frosting. It is much easier to take green infrastructure into account during design and construction. 
Perhaps green infrastructure can act as a bridge between industrial infrastructure and the natural environment.
Samir Bhowmik and Jussi Parikka, “Infrascapes for Media Archaeographers,” Archaeographies: Aspects of Radical Media Archaeology, eds. Moritz Hiller and Stefan Höltgen, Berlin: Schwabe Verlage, 2019: 183-194.
This first volume of Infragraphy is a compilation of critical student writings and photo essays about media, infrastructure and the environment. These texts are outcomes from the “Archaeology of Media Infrastructures” Master of Arts course in the Spring of 2019 at the Department of Media, Aalto University Finland. The course examined media infrastructures including the concept of deep time, the materialities of the Internet, Artificial Intelligence, digital labor, water, energy, and critical infrastructure.
I remember very well when in 2013, Facebook opened its first data center outside of the US in Luleå, a northern city in Sweden. It was in all the big news channels. One of the largest and most impactful social media corporations chose Sweden!
For Luleå, the deal with Facebook was a great advertisement for the city. One of the world’s most influential corporations chose to put its facilities there. Data as a product has the appearance of modernity, innovation, high-technology, creativity and in this case, green energy. It goes well with the way Sweden as a nation wants to market itself. Most news articles were written in a weirdly proud manner. The primary reason stated by Facebook was the natural cooling of the servers, provided by the cold climate, and the science magazine Forskning och Framsteg wrote an article jokingly named “This is where your likes are cooling down” (1). I remember spontaneously feeling proud as well. We Swedes are raised with a hate/love relationship to the USA. We love to feel better than the Americans, to look down on them for their capitalist, openly class dividing society structure. But we also watch mostly TV series and movies from Hollywood and think that English is much cooler than Swedish. Secrectly, we all want to move to New York, LA or San Francisco and pursue the American dream. We are sold the idea of a service society, where machines do the dirty work and we can sit back and enjoy our touch screens and fancy clothes.
That dream, however, soon fades if one leaves the big cities. Up until a few decades ago, Sweden was an industrial country, with people working in factories, farms, forests and mines. And even though we are pushed to believe that the industrial society died to give birth to the service based society, Sweden’s economy is still based on those old industries. Facebook and other IT companies make a good front page, but the dirtier industries supplying them with material and energy still exist. And this is where Luleå’s history as an industry city becomes interesting.
Luleå has largely flourished because of the iron mines in Malmberget close by, where Luleå has served as the harbour for exportation of iron goods since late 1800s. The municipality now consists of 77000 people and the city hosts one of Sweden’s leading technical universities. In the meantime, the mining town Malmberget is literally collapsing. The mine has created a 200 meter hole in the ground, constantly growing and swallowing buildings and roads. This has caused the city to expand in new directions and buildings are being moved away from the hole’s edges. In the future, Malmberget will not exist in the place where it is today.
The hole in Malmberget municipality, called Gropen in Swedish.
The mine is utilised by state owned corporation LKAB, which also runs the world’s largest underground mine in the inland city Kiruna (see map below). There, the effects of the mining are even bigger. The whole city of Kiruna is now being moved to a new location since the current one is collapsing. Some buildings are moved, but most of the city will be built completely from scratch to house all the mine workers and other citizens. The new city is said to be financially, socially and environmentally sustainable (2).Kiruna’s new city center in the front, with the mine visible in the far left.
Meanwhile, the ecological impact of the mining industry next door is non-reparable. Mining disrupts the landscape and leaves open wounds in the ground. There is always a risk of toxic contamination of fresh water and lakes. The mining industry in Sweden stands for 10% of the CO2 emissions of the country. The indigenous people of the Nordics, the Sami people, have historically and in the present fought against the mining industries since the effects for them can be loss of land, contamination of fresh water and reindeer routes from summer to winter pasture land being cut off (3). Still today, Sweden’s liberal mineral laws permits foreign companies to exploit land without the owner’s permission. The UN have critiqued Swedish governments for not doing enough to protect the indigenous people and their rights to their land (4).
Kiruna at the top and Luleå at the lower right on Google Maps.
Facebook is now planning to double the size of their data center in Luleå, making it 100,000 sqm. The center is purely driven on water energy, according to Facebook. It directly or indirectly gives full time work for 400 people per year, compared to LKAB who employs around 4000 people in Sweden, with a majority working in the northernmost regions, and indirectly provides work for thousands more through related industries. Sweden’s iron mines jointly produces 90% of the iron in Europe.
Some journalists raised the concern that data centers wouldn’t be able to replace the traditional industries, such as mining and forestry, when it comes to employing large numbers of people. Others have claimed that Facebook is just the first of many data companies that will open centers in northern Sweden, thus leading the way for more work opportunities in the future. But how many jobs can this sector actually produce, and especially in relation to its high energy consumption? Will it be possible for all those data centers to run on water energy? Probably not.
As stated previously on the blog, new media infrastructures are often built on top of existing infrastructures. The data center is no exception. In 1910-1915, a large power plant was built in Lule älv, a river ending in Luleå, to be able to replace some of the coal imported from Europe. But the water flow was too high during Spring. Eyes fell on the newly inaugurated national park surrounding Stora sjöfallen, at the time one of Europe’s biggest water falls. The decision was taken from the government to exclude the water fall from the national park so that it could be dammed, with the consequence that the water flow in the river could be controlled like a tap. The Sami people who fished in the area, and who’s reindeer lands would be put under water, were not asked for permission. If the same decision was taken today, it would lead to massive demonstrations from the public (5). I have been at Stora sjöfallet myself. It is a large silent lake with a small flow of water coming down the water fall.
Surely it isn’t Facebook’s fault that those precious nature resources were destroyed a hundred years ago, and one can argue that the mining industry is necessary for providing the world with minerals. But the societal structure that killed Stora Sjöfallet at the beginning of the century is still working its magic, but now on a global scale. With a promise of work opportunities, multinational corporations are allowed to exploit land and energy resources not just in developing countries, but also in Sweden, whether they are producing minerals or data. Only a tiny portion of the capital produced goes back to the local inhabitants, and even less to the indigenous people. Those mines provide material that is necessary for computers, phones, cables, etc to exist in the first place. So Facebook’s “clean energy footprint” is not so clean after all. But perhaps, if we continue down this path of environmental destruction, the world will look much like the inside of a data center in the end. Lots of blinking machines, but no life.