Radical transformations of land use, infrastructure, and ecology taking place beyond urban city limits have been described by Neil Brenner as operational landscapes of planetary urbanization, which have made urban density possible. Throughout history the blunt physicality of the continental U.S. can be observed most clearly in the unbounded landscapes of the near-infinite U.S. interior. The spatial practice of operational landscapes in the Great Plains was geographically harnessed to take advantage of its mild climatic conditions and proximity to larger markets. This essay will provide a case study of two Great Plains infrastructural projects and present the spatial advantages of remoteness as a means to understanding the architectural and societal value operating within them. The U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) located near Omaha, Nebraska includes advanced technological infrastructure that has spawned major call and data centers. More recently, telecom giants Paypal, LinkedIn, Facebook, TD Ameritrade, Google, and Yahoo continue to locate their headquarters and data centers near Omaha. Over the next several years, the Facebook data center is anticipated to grow by 1 million square feet, making it the third largest data center in the world. Additionally, Iowa-80, the world’s largest truck stop located on Interstate-80, services highway transportation logistics throughout the U.S. interior. Iowa-80 offers numerous amenities and is essentially a mini-city for 18-wheel truck drivers. Like the data centers, Iowa-80 is a necessary architectural outcome of logistical operations. Both are often overlooked for their lack of architectural significance, but as these architectural outcomes become increasingly necessary, we should examine how to create better designs while simultaneously advocating for architectural and societal values. These projects are noteworthy examples of remote architectural buildings facilitating urban civilization via national operational landscapes. They will provide a closer look at the current spatial condition of remoteness that privileges societal needs (internet, data, and logistics).
David Karle is an Associate Professor and Director of Architecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate course on architecture and urbanism. Karle’s research addresses broad questions beyond the architecture discipline that seek to identify and visualize spatial patterns of urbanism that largely remain undocumented. In 2015 he was recognized as a Great Plains Fellow by the Center for Great Plains Studies for his contributions to this discussion. His writing has been published in the Journal of Architectural Education, MONU, Manifest, CLOG, and Mas Context.