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Wikileaks and the Architecture of Data-loss Paranoia

Part 1 Dissertation 2011
Roberto Costa
University of Edinburgh Edinburgh | UK
As of August 2010, the whistle-blowing organisation Wikileaks has been storing some of its servers at data centre Pionen White Mountain, in Sweden. Located 30 meters below downtown Stockholm, the facility was originally designed as a Cold War-era, nuclear-proof bunker and has now been converted into a high-security data centre. It is has been shaped and (re)shaped by motives of paranoia, which – neither entirely true nor completely cut off from reality – have produced spaces responsive to the collective fears of different times. The paranoia expressed by Pionen’s designers was initially the possibility of a nuclear holocaust and today the paranoia is rooted in the cyber risks of a pervasive digital age, or what has been called the ‘fifth domain of warfare,’ after land, sea, air and space.

Such data bunkers have received little attention as architecture. This original dissertation draws on the history of shelter protection, the psychology behind Cold War popular culture, and the infrastructure of the digital world, to bring together tools for conceiving the architectural implications of a very contemporary topic. Wikileaks is just one piece of a much larger continuum of changes in the ways that people, governments, and institutions relate to one another in this new age of connectivity. Having said that, there is scarcely any other cultural practice that concerns itself with calming fear, averting danger and guaranteeing security to the same extent as architecture. Works of Paul Virilio, Ken Adam, Jacques Derrida, and Nicolas Negroponte contribute to the understanding of a new building type that was not necessarily derived from traditional architectural discourse.

The investigation reveals a new phase in architectural thinking that deserves attention, one that deals with the arrival of the unprecedented speed and pervasiveness of the Internet. The Pionen bunker’s seemingly paradoxical capacity to provide stability, as well as reinvent itself, is one much sought by architecture in the fast-changing technological world of today. It is hoped that this investigation fosters new fields in architectural design that have only become possible due to recent technological developments.

Roberto Costa

Martin Parker
Dagmar Weston
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