Hidden in plain sight

Non-descript solid like objects with flush, shiny, metal skins: cloud computing precipitated in the peripheral rural landscape and industry parks of the Netherlands. The architecture of datacenters. It’s a type of architecture where the emergency exits, elevated from the ground due to the raised computer floor on the inside, become the dominant expressive architectural elements. A type of architecture that might be best characterized as highly secured warehouses devoid of enormous company logos and billboards, as datacenters are mainly geared at hosting large volumes of virtual traffic, rather than actual people. Terrains and buildings flocked with ‘one eyed birds’ that won’t shit on your car, mounted on steel tree branches. The abstract boxlike buildings express a message of nothing to see here and their accompanying stratified security systems exude you have no business being here; aiming to be hidden in plain sight. Security measures range from simple metal fences, to sluice gates, mantraps, biometric authentication systems and external lighting for surveillance at night, rendering datacenters to seemingly impenetrable fortresses or prisons, almost making one wonder if they are designed to keep people out or in, if there are even any people inside. A few parked cars do suggest some sort of human activity. Sometimes the hermetically sealed black and grey blockish structures have been draped in a more aesthetically pleasing veil, with hints of color provided by the welcoming committee of warning signs that warn for electric fences and CCTV surveillance, aimed at deterring any potential trespasser. Datacenters intent to guarantee continuity in service, stability, consistency and predictability, which is ensured by an elaborate back up infrastructure and failover systems. Conversely, the warehouse type architecture of sandwich panels expresses a certain volatility, hinting at some sort of ephemerality and lightness. This in contrast to the bulky server racks and installations that consume the same amount of energy as an entire neighborhood or town. Newly built extensions are conjoined to converted office buildings, warehouses or distribution centers by ‘architectural bling-bling’ in the form of shiny ventilation ducts and exhaust pipes. The technical installations are oftentimes clung to the back of the building (if there is a back to be identified) or positioned on the roof, resulting in a roof landscape ridden with technical installations and providing the building with a soundtrack of constant and consistent buzzing sounds of ventilation inlets, exhausts and transformers. The inventory of some datacenters also contains chillers, power substations and monumental cooling towers that, under the right climatological conditions, produce the real clouds of cloud computing. 

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Breaking the Shell | New Petrylon

Everybody seems to have a memory or association with these kinds of places. I am talking about the Shell refinery in the Port of Rotterdam, once the biggest refinery in the world, still the biggest oil refinery in Europe. Similar places, like DSM in the south of the Netherlands or the petrochemical complexes in the ports of Antwerp and Hamburg, bring back memories of sitting in the back of your parents' car while driving back from a summer holiday, in awe of the magically shimmering lights of seemingly endless industrial sites, like technological cities glowing in the evening sky. Inaccessible, almost alienating environments exist behind their gates, unknown to the public yet incredibly important for our daily lives.
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