Of Power’s (authority’s) many sites, power (energy) holds a special place. Beyond their linguistic identity lies a complexly entangled history, from Lenin’s famous equation of Communism with “Soviet power plus electrification,” to America’s recent war for oil in Iraq. Over the last century, the nation’s patchwork of energy grids has been shaped by and helped shape its ruling machines, from community councils to regulated monopolies, to markets and smart-grid feedback networks. Consumption has been no less charged, with recent weatherization and efficiency campaigns marking realignments between governments, corporations, NGO's and citizens.
These agents of power are deeply interconnected. Governments not only regulate, but incentivize and showcase energy efficiency. Utilities are transforming into insured, de-regulated distributors and de-coupled efficiency managers rather than commodity producers. Corporations lobby politicians and advertise sustainable product lines for concerned consumers. They expand frontiers of marketing and production while being pushed to account for the externalities of energy production such as pollution and global warming. International NGO’s and grass-roots activists raise awareness and influence policy. Media spins tangible narratives around visceral price shocks, oil spills, and natural disasters. Effective alliances between disparate factions cut across public and private sectors and shift over time with changes in technology and the larger political climate.
So the question becomes which kind of alliances are we going to construct. If energy schemes distribute resources and profits, then who sets, who is served by, and who is responsible for achieving our energy objectives? How are constituencies—from tax payers to shareholders—cultivated and how do they direct energy reform? How do we make decisions about power democratically?
Architecture is often both a product of these contingent alignments and a ploy to overturn them. From WPA dams to mid-century air-conditioned office towers, from the Hudson Yards rezoning to the World Trade Center site, fluid formations of public and private capital have been drawn together in constructing new forms of civic enclosure. Public infrastructures are re-purposed by changing ideas of the street, and re-routed by Nimby interests. Cities jockeying for Olympic bids and lucrative tax bases brand themselves with high-profile architectural symbols. In the shadow of energy crises, architects imagine the face of social reform, variously grappling with nostalgic images of stability, organizing bureaucracies that normalize professional standards, and giving shape to new configurations of authority. Given these strategies, how can architecture articulate new spaces of power? As architects, what kind of response is within our power?