Trans-Scalar Lecture: Seçil Binboğa
Monday, January 30, 2023
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
Held in-person in the UH Architecture Building Theater.
Scaling the Region: Soil, Image, and the Politics of Infrastructural Design in Cold War Turkey
From 1948 to 1967, Turkey received numerous infrastructure loans for the construction of projects like dams, roads, pipelines, and ports under the United States-designed Marshall Plan. A group of engineers, planners, geologists, agronomists, cartographers, photographers, and filmmakers combined visual techniques of topographic surveying with political discourses on infrastructural development to craft an American frontier on Turkish soil. As a result, the country’s lands, rivers, and seas were transformed into imagined natural resources to be channeled toward the reconstruction of postwar Europe—a process entangled in the long-term transformation of the Mediterranean basin into a Euro-American defense zone, known as NATO. The infrastructures of Cold War Turkey illustrated the emergence of a neocolonial design paradigm, which this talk will conceptualize as “scaling.” Scaling was less an entirely commensurable action plan than it was an aggregate of purposefully incommensurable practices, including classification of soils, engineering of rivers, and mapping of the Mediterranean. Scaling practices rendered agrarian hinterlands fungible in a capitalist construction market and exposed peasants and laborers to the uncertainties of an urban indebtedness. Through a visual analysis of scaling practices, this talk ties together the larger ideological stakes of global financial institutions, investors, contractors, military strategists, and commodity traders in the remaking of the Middle East as a geopolitical region. Analyzing Cold War infrastructures from a critical design history perspective provides insights into how U.S.-sponsored development operated as a “war by other means”—one that capitalized, financialized, and weaponized built and cultivated space.
Seçil Binboğa works on transnational histories of infrastructures and resource extraction with a focus on Turkey and the Middle East. Her book project, “Scaling the Region: Visuality, Infrastructure, and the Politics of Design in Cold War Turkey” traces the political, discursive, and cultural regimes that were reconstituted by U.S.-sponsored infrastructural design practices—such as soil maps, multi-purpose dams, urban engineering plans, and port development programs. Through archival research into representational forms and visual media, in Turkey and the U.S., Binboğa examines how infrastructural investments reconstructed “the regional scale” as an environmental object of rule. Her current research and teaching engage with architectural and geographical theories on scale, Cold War visual culture, the anthropology of infrastructure and materiality, and environmental histories of the modern Middle East. Binboğa completed her Ph.D. in the Architectural History and Theory Program at the University of Michigan, before joining the College of Architecture.
Historically, design disciplines have been attached to specific scale spectrums -the scales of Industrial Design, Interior Architecture, Architecture, Urbanism, or Territory- However, the objects we design are not inert assemblies of material forms. In every design decision we make, we mobilize, increase pressure, and transform the Earth’s system, including within human and non-human life forms. Every design decision can provoke ecological tension, inequality, and disruptions that lead the planet to amplified natural catastrophes for which no one can quite be blamed. Design is trans-scalar if we realize simple equations: every pile produces a whole, and every material form has its equivalent negative somewhere else.
How do we think and practice design ethically when acknowledging the objects we design are not innocent, but the intractability washes the responsibilities of natural catastrophe? The way of displaying the complex reality of design is by disclosing its trans-scalar powers. Objects of design are assemblages of many layers -the ecological, political, social, formal, material, technological, and environmental-combined in ethical and aesthetic forms. When these layers come together in exemplary works, they disseminate knowledge by becoming paradigms.
In this new era of ecological consciousness, design becomes an embassy, a cross-section, of all these layers representing the myriads of scales in which every design decision operates from the molecular to the cosmic scales. This program series posits the question of trans-scalar design via the social, cultural, historical, and environmental realms and how designers respond to the responsibilities of trans-scalar materiality.
- UH College of Architecture and Design Theater