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_____________BY_NICK_AXEL____
Fire has defined global culture for millennia, from the self, family, and car to the home, hearth, and highway. [1] Electrical energy, divorced from fire and its traditional methods – wood, coal, and oil – presents a radical alternative to current ideas of civilization as such. Only recently have humans been able to harvest the sun, to become photosynthetic. This ability is an opportunity to interpret the world, and ourselves in it, anew. With ten thousand times as much solar energy arriving in Earth’s atmosphere as humanity currently uses, we suffer from excess, not lack. [2]
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Its virtual plenitude has led some thinkers to believe that electricity will inevitably undermine scarcity-based economic logics and cost nothing. [3] Supply exceeds demand. But like every energy system, electricity is a question of distribution. And even if the grid covered the entire world – with the sun shining, the wind blowing, and the seas churning somewhere at all times – it is impossible to guarantee that harvest and use match. Both are irregular. Thus, the question of the electric is not whether a sufficient flow can be generated, but what to do with the inevitable surplus.
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If excess electricity cannot be used, it becomes waste. Unless, that is, it is stored. Storage might very well be the other defining feature of human civilization. [4]  It allows the cyclical necessities of human life (eating, drinking, warmth) to overcome the irregularity of time (seasons, daylight, weather). Storage is also where and how power accumulates. Electrical storage has historically assumed the form of the battery. Flexible and mobile, they make devices portable and keep power running after dark or in the event of an emergency. While their territories largely remain hidden, batteries are everywhere, and even more everywhere every day.
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The relationship between storage and use is a defining question for the future. The issue of excess must extend beyond the balancing of temporal dynamics and into the domain of use itself. What would it mean to incessantly embrace excess? What can be constantly done? The electric is not just a problem of storage, but a question of the sink. For this we need philosophy, but we also need design. With space as its mediator, the future of architecture lies in the malleability and mobilization of human behavior and that which underwrites it: desire. [5]
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[1] See Luis Fernández-Galiano, Fire and Memory: On Architecture and Energy, trans. Gina Cariño (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000) and Brett Bloom, Petro-Subjectivity: De-Industrializing Our Sense of Self (Fort Wayne, IN: Breakdown Break Down Press, 2015).

[2] Kiel Moe, “Not-Zero Energy,” in Embodied Energy and Design: Making Architecture Between Metrics and Narratives, ed. David Benjamin (New York and Zurich: Columbia GSAPP and Lars Müller Publishers, 2017), 145.


[3] Thomas Rau, “Back to the Source,” interview by Nick Axel and Arjen Oosterman, Volume 47 (Spring 2017): 116–121.

[4] See James C. Scott, Against the Grain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017).

[5] Elvia Wilk, “Is Ornamenting Solar Panels a Crime?,” e-flux Architecture, April 9, 2018.
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