Common Ground

Located in Silver Valley in northern Idaho, Common Ground synthesizes biotic and abiotic materials of data centers and ecosystems in order to recast architecture’s agency within ever-changing environments. To the public, the stuff of “the cloud” is ubiquitous yet inaccessible—personal information circulates through corporate-owned material networks that remain hidden from view. By 2030, however, data centers will have a more localized presence. Learning from the post-colonial theorist Homi Bhaba’s concept of “hybridity,” this thesis proposes an alternative model of data storage that embraces liminal conditions for cultural and ecological exchange.

The project spans a forty-mile region that accommodates the Northern Pacific Railway, Interstate 90 and Highway 3, and long-haul fiber optic lines. The Coeur D’Alene Native American Tribe occupies the area and has endured changes to their lands due to settler colonialism. Specifically, they have been affected by pollution from immense mining efforts that have contaminated the soil and Coeur D’Alene River. Regional attempts to expand internet infrastructure will require indigenous data governance and a critical awareness of site in order to deliver better service to the Coeur D’Alene people and surrounding communities.

Common Ground co-opts underexplored EDGE data center technology that brings users in close proximity to cloud computing resources and cached content. The project redesigns three separate locales, each one serving a specific constituency and prioritizing an aspect of digital storage: Index, Flow, and Archive. Between these sites, digital files pass through metallic fibers embedded in fluorescent rocks and encode servers cooled by open-air pools of toxic runoff and, if archived, the DNA of camas plants. This distributed infrastructure creates public sites of material exchange along the trail network that redescribe ecologies, foster new intimacies with data, and highlight the limitations imposed by binaries that shape the built environment.
Faculty Advisor:
Cyrus Peñarroyo