Data Diving is a data center and sauna retreat, set within a remote cyborg landscape in northern Sweden. Taking inspiration from the trend of enterprise data centers built in northern climates, Data Diving links local and global geographies—mixing a vernacular experience and aesthetic with the infrastructure of big data—to create a fantastical possibility for human experience.
In the early 1970s, Buckminster Fuller imagined a grid of shared solar energy. It would be a globalizing force, managing collection and distribution of the resource as day and night alternated across continents. Fuller’s grid puts aside the inefficiency of energy transmission and did not anticipate advances in battery storage, but it foreshadowed a similar infrastructure, one based on information instead. The abundance of fiber optic line laid in the 1990s and early 2000s quietly allowed cloud computing to flourish. Today a worldwide network of undersea cables move ceaseless packets of information at the speed of light.
Data centers are the nodes in this international network. They consume electricity and drink water ferociously, the price of powering and cooling so feverish a pace of calculation. They occupy land and use resources. As buildings, they are characterized by two big ideas: the efficient centralization of the physical footprint of computation into grid-based layouts; and heroic, specialized mechanical systems that define their sections.
But they are non-places, meant to house undifferentiated racks of undifferentiated machines, viewed as a computational commodity, whose presence in any locale is unrelated to the digitally-supported human experiences in which they transact. Virtualization has reinforced this abstraction, as it is no longer even relevant to pinpoint the box in which a computation takes place.
And since they are no place, they can be located anywhere with good fiber optic access. Beginning in the mid 2000s, the burgeoning need for data center capacity and the mounting financial incentive for efficiency led the largest tech companies to optimize data center deployment. New enterprise-scale facilities cropped up where land and electricity were inexpensive and ambient temperatures minimized cooling loads.
In turn, these climate and real estate conditions are the basis for economic activity, and often times renewable utility development, in some unexpectedly remote rural areas. Data Diving is a back-to-the-land movement, an opportunity for re-contextualizing the landscape and architecture of data as sustainable local and regional ecologies.
Infrastructural investment has always blended technological progress with architectural and urban ideas, reflecting values and creating opportunity for public space and engagement – whether it be in grand infrastructural gestures or neighborhood power substations disguised as civic pillars. Just as structural achievement made the eiffel tower or brooklyn bridge wondrous, the concentrated scale of mechanical throughputs required by big data—electricity, waste heat, water, information—is unprecedented as a basis for architecture and public space.
Data Diving begins in far northern Sweden. The site is a steady half day traverse on skis from the nearest town, over a flat plain between the mountains and the ocean, cut by rivers dammed for hydroelectricity farther upstream. The land is a patchwork of elongated rectangular plots in various stages of being logged. Jagged-edged clearings open now and again to surround collections of houses and barns, with open hayfields interlocking the forested patches like a misfit array of thin blocks.
Close to the site, the white of early spring snow gives way in melted patches to hints of ridges furrowing from east to west. The southern face of these tiny crests is more likely to be bare, whitened instead by the unlikely sight of daisy petals. Hydronic tubing carrying heat away from servers selectively melt what would ordinarily be snowy fields.
Eventually, an abrupt break in the vegetation reveals a vast clearing, perpendicular to the grain of the logging plots. Its edges are crisply sliced walls of budding growth. The daisies accrue in number, gathered in the greatest density around glassy pools of melt, some letting off gasps of steam. In the distance, a vertical curtain of thin white rods shimmers in light and shadow, half-concealing glimpses of a view beyond.
Up close, the curtain becomes a facade of thin poles, drawing from the ground up to twice eye-level. Servers are arrayed within a liquid-based cooling system sunk in a trench below, while recreating visitors enjoying an elevated landscape of hot pools and sauna huts are visible above. Massive glue-laminated frames hold up the deck, clad in locally harvested fir.
The rectangular pools housing servers below are aligned in regularity. Inside each of them are rigid fins of servers. The roof is an elevated mechanical plenum where heat exchange occurs between the liquid surrounding the fins in the pools below, the hot pools above, and the surrounding landscape, carried by sheets of supply and return conduit.
Contrasting the regularity of the servers below are a mosaic of lake shaped pools above – clustered like a landscape of lakes, of different temperatures and sizes, revealed below in the ceiling of the server hall by their translucent undersides.