Spatial Logistics

The Five Thousand Pound Life: Land was a symposium on rethinking land and its value in light of climate change organized by The Architectural League and co-sponsored by The Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design in September 2014.

The Spatial Logistics panel invited an industrial real estate developer and two designers and academics to unpack the spatial dimensions of the sometimes hidden networks of logistics and debate their consequences — the good, bad, and unknown — for design and society.


5KL: Land | Spatial Logistics | Alex Klatskin | Recorded September 26, 2014

Alex Klatskin illustrates the physical manifestation of logistics on the landscape through the lens of waterfront container terminals and inland intermodal centers. He demonstrates the significance of the shipping container as not only the dominant mode of transporting goods but also a means of delivering infrastructure to places without any, beginning with the delivery of over 150,000 containers of supplies to American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Through the lens of historic and current trade routes, Klatskin shows how climate change has affected the distribution of goods — with new routes, such as the Northwest Passage, now navigable due to ice cap melting — and people — with locations like the remote coast of Greenland now habitable and open to development. He argues that we should “preserve” and “revere” our logistical landscapes, noting how waterfront container terminals will provide crucial storage capacity and impact attenuation during a storm event.


5KL: Land | Spatial Logistics | Rob Holmes | Recorded September 26, 2014

Rob Holmes details the significant relationship between landscapes produced by logistics and climate change, yet cautions that the consequences and opportunities of these landscapes are difficult to predict. Using the current expansion of the Panama Canal as a case study on landscape generation through logistics, Holmes demonstrates how the dredging and expansion of the canal — an attempt to reclaim a share of global commerce that has shifted to the Suez Canal and the United States intermodal system — has created an “engineering shockwave.” The need to accommodate so-called “post-Panamax” ships has led to port expansions on the Atlantic and Gulf costs, including the New York Harbor, where the clean sand removed through dredging has created the unexpected opportunity for marsh restoration in Jamaica Bay. Holmes argues that the competition of logistics has created a “zero sum game” with misaligned incentives in which the winners, losers, and reverberations are unclear, and poses the question: how can design constructively enter into this work?

Read more about landscapes produced by logistics on Urban Omnibus in “A City Built on Dredge.”


5KL: Land | Spatial Logistics | Jesse LeCavalier | Recorded September 26, 2014

Jesse LeCavalier traces the spaces and invisible networks that circulate goods, people, and resources created by logistics. He dissects a recent advertising campaign by United Parcel Service (UPS) — “Logistics makes the world work better” — to understand how supply chain logistics “tries to deny space” and collapse distance (and therefore time) in pursuit of improved efficiency, lower costs, and increased profits. Drawing from his extensive research into the architecture and logistics of Walmart, he tours the sequence of trucking, unloading, sorting, distribution, floor display, and purchasing that determines our consumption of goods. He concludes with a revision to the UPS advertising slogan: “Logistics makes the world.”


5KL: Land | Spatial Logistics | A Conversation on Spatial Logistics | Recorded September 26, 2014

In conversation with Coral Davenport, a reporter who covers environmental policy for The New York Times, Klatskin, Holmes, and LeCavalier consider multiple ways that design intersects with logistics. All three believe that design — a creative process that is, by nature, inefficient — should learn from logistics. As Holmes describes it, design disciplines should co-opt this set of techniques and orient them to a set of values other than economic efficiency, thus playing a proactive rather than reactive role in determining the kinds of spaces we as a society want. Klatskin cites two examples of the implications of the continued pursuit of efficiency in design: the shift in e-commerce distribution strategies from distant warehouses to the urban core and the design and production of customized packaging as “the new frontier for efficiency.” An important message from the entire session is well summarized by LeCavalier: the language of logistics should “become more a part of our vocabulary” so that we can all talk about where our things come from and where they go.


Alex Klatskin is a General Partner of Forsgate Industrial Partners, a private industrial real estate development and investment firm based in Teterboro, New Jersey.

Rob Holmes is an assistant professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Florida and co-founder of Mammoth, a blog about infrastructures, logistics, landscapes, and architecture.

Jesse LeCavalier is working on a book about the architecture and logistics of Walmart, forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press. He is a member of Co + LeCavalier and an assistant professor of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where he coordinates the first year design studio.

Coral Davenport covers energy and environmental policy for The New York Times.


The Five Thousand Pound Life (5KL) is an initiative of The Architectural League on new ways of thinking, talking, and acting on architecture, climate change, and our economic future.