Fluid Currency*


With No-Stop City, Archizoom envisioned a high-tech Amazonia, a large continuous interior, an air-conditioned and artificially lit space with apartments as storehouses of memory. If we consider the Internet as an extraurban layer, we might read cities as the realisation of this system, free in its itineraries and its choices; an urban system with no borders, housing a mass society with neither centre nor frontiers, where social dimensions become spatial dimensions multiplied ad infinitum beyond the limits of architecture and the interior. It is said that the emergence of the internet has also facilitated significant variations in modes of production, and the distribution of information and capital. Educated citizens have started to question how monetary systems work, and how they might be improved to respond to their own needs, quite aside from to the interests of governments and the market [both of which are controlled by corporations].

No-Stop City. Archizoom Source: exhibitiondesignlab

Sometimes described by its enthusiasts as “the Internet of Money”, Bitcoin is a platform combining cryptography and software to offer an alternative currency and payment-tracking system. It is made possible by a distributed network that both produces Bitcoins, and at the same time verifies each transaction taking place. Since they are wholly virtual, Bitcoins are not backed, nor controlled, by any government or corporation; allowing instant payments with nearly zero fees available to everyone with internet connection. As with gold, Bitcoins are recognisable, divisible and limited, but also much easier to transport. Although, just like the internet and its apparent virtuality, the processes required to create and exchange cryptocurrencies are done at a real-world site. Even the ‘invisible’ needs a physical infrastructure.

PiMiner Bitcoin mining machine. Source: Raspberry Pi

Mining Bitcoins is an energy intensive activity and requires sophisticated hardware. The vision of a single digital-money fanatic mining Bitcoins in the loneliness of a home computer is now consigned to [recent] history, and mining has moved to data centres and the cloud. Given that just over half of all the maximum 21 million Bitcoins that will exit have been released, and that the value of a single Bitcoin has dramatically risen over the last months, mining has now reached an industrial scale.

The market of mining is similar to that of the data centre industry, and has witnessed the rise of startups providing installations in locations with favourable climates or low-cost electricity, such as Iceland, Hong Kong, Canada and Washington. This is the start of an industry that could possibly take the next hundred years to exhaust the supply, and which relies on companies specialised in hyperscale computing, and geothermal and hydroelectric energy. Further, as M.Bedford Taylor notes in Bitcoin and the Age of Bespoke Silicon, the industry has facilitated the development of completely new machines, without the support of any major company.

Blue-datacenter-Green-Grid-1024x768Mining Facilities. Source: CloudHashing

miner03Mining Facilities. Cooling system. Source: Bitcoin CloudHashing

In spite of so many advances, Bitcoin infrastructure still needs to become more energy efficient. The use of advanced liquid-cooling solutions has allowed the implementation of mining facilities in old industrial buildings [as has happened recently in Hong Kong]. If it continues to grow, this industry could lead to the revitalisation of derelict industrial spaces, or the conversion of outdated data centre facilities.

5GwtIU2vBitcoin Mining. Cooling system roof installations. Source: ASICMINER

The spatial implications could reach geopolitical level if considering the use of disputed Arctic regions to host cryptocurrency mining operations and data preservation. At the world-scale, cryptocurrencies could support the market of remittances from migrating workers and eliminate bank commissions, allowing millions of people excluded from conventional banking into the system, accessing to the Internet with their mobile phones.

In Archizoom’s No-Stop City, “the future dimension of the metropolis will coincide with that of the market itself”. We shouldn’t perceive Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as money, but as warnings to the capitalist market and the nation state. They are virtual experiments with physical inputs and territorial consequences; but also collective efforts to build fair exchange systems, driven by citizens of “the Fluid Metropolis” to come.

*This article was first published on Fulcrum. Bedford Press, Architectural Association. London
If you’re around there this week, make sure to get your risograph copy.
Thanks to Jack Self for the invitation and editing and also to Shumi Bose for instigating connections.

About this entry