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Sn 3 - Ep 7

WORMSPACE
by
Dan Taeyoung
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🌖🌚🏨🌫🎢🚜🚚🏛🍯🐡🏝🕡

Let’s pretend that we are extraterrestrials examining the human habitat in NYC. What we will find is that most humans in this city live as “renters,” which means that someone called a “landlord” owns and controls the terms of their dwelling, as well as its spatial possibilities. [1] Once humans occupy a space, it immediately becomes locked in a struggle between the renter’s desire, which is to fully inhabit and alter the space, and the landlord’s financial incentive, which is to maintain that space's pre-inhabited, post-construction state.

Other, non-human organisms alter Earth’s environment constantly in a process called “niche construction.” [2] Yet, it would seem that humans themselves mostly live and work in dwellings that are resistant to change: spaces that are designed, developed, constructed, and renovated well before a human even occupies them. [3] Leases limit tenants to “normal wear and tear,” enforcing a form of spatial stasis through the threat of deposit forfeit. A dwelling is not a medium (a thing to shape and be shaped by), but a property holding value to be preserved, maintained, and circulated.

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In information technology terminology, the term “WORM” stands for “Write Once Read Many.” It describes a data storage device where data is written only once but read many times, like CDs, vinyl, or magnetic backup tape. WORMs can’t be modified after their initial creation. They are meant to be created once, then disseminated and replayed, not altered or shaped.

If there's Junkspace and Airspace, [4] then there's also WORMspace. WORMspace is created once but lived in multiple times. WORMspace makes “users” out of inhabitants. WORMspace discourages painting, nailing, screwing things into walls, let alone turning an apartment into an indoor greenhouse, a trapeze gym, an art gallery, a bookstore, a turtle habitat, or a fabrication shop. [5]

WORMspace produces Stockholm syndrome. Not only do we inhabit a built environment that we cannot change, but over time we even convince ourselves that life inside immutable space is ideal, minimal, beautiful. An aesthetics of non-alteration blossoms from this resignation: wonderful furniture, beautiful lamps, rugs, plants, well-designed objects – all placed within a readymade spatial context. WORMspace is hard to see, because it’s everywhere. WORMspace is what happens when you turn the residential lease and “normal wear and tear” into an aesthetic. It is an aesthetic of landlord power.

NOTES 🚘🏀🐤🍏🌎🍇

[1] 66% of NYC residents are renters, according to the 2017 New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey (NYCHVS), US Census Bureau, sponsored by the NYC Dept of Housing Preservation and Development.

[2] This is a crucial process in which organisms alter each other’s environments and coexist in a co-created ecology. For an introduction to niche construction theory, see Kevin Laland, Blake Matthews, and Marcus W. Feldman, “An Introduction to Niche Construction Theory,” Evolutionary Ecology, no. 30 (2016): 191–202.

[3] Of course, it is not only landlords but also building permits, inspection processes, limited access to tools and materials, limited space and noise issues that make it difficult for inhabitants to alter their spaces. But consider that commercial spaces, for which landlords often accommodate and expect more alteration and which is shown in their leases, have a wider variety of spatial typologies because tenants have much agency over their spaces.

[4] See Rem Koolhaas, “Junkspace,” in “Obsolescence,” special issue, October, no. 100 (Spring 2002): 175–190, and Kyle Chayka, “Welcome to Airspace: How Silicon Valley helps spread the same sterile aesthetic across the world,” The Verge, August 3, 2016.

[5] These are, in fact, rare non-WORMspaces I have witnessed inside NYC rental apartments.
 
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