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"Sewer Sweet Sewer" - TV room, image still from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 TV series

Can infrastructure be architecture?

D r a g o ș    M i h a i    D o r d e a 


Originally defining the foundations and other unexposed parts of constructions as necessary in order to erect the visible part of the buildings, the infrastructure[1] is, of course, a part of architecture. In contemporary practice I think we should also include heating, gas, electricity, and other grid and off-grid installations that define the livable qualities of the designed spaces. Following this reasoning, for me, from the scale of the single family house to the scale of small and medium cities, infrastructure remains a part of architecture, an important one I would say, but it does not yet become architecture[2].


In most cities the infrastructure is an invisible foundation (streets, data connections, sewage, water pipes, metro lines, etc.). One of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Genova[3], challenges the usual perception of architecture and infrastructure due to the dense development and the difficult natural landscape. In this city the boundary between architecture and infrastructure becomes fuzzy. The city is both architecture and infrastructure, whether walking on the streets (bridges in many cases) or entering the multistory basements of the medieval city blocks.


Probably the most obvious example of architecture-infrastructure hybrid is Le Corbusier’s urbanization of Algiers. Here, the architecture (mostly housing, as intended in the modern paradigm) – becomes infrastructure (or we could say in this case that architecture becomes urbanization and vice-versa?). The project is a manifest, it embodies in a purified form traits of the qualities that define architecture and its relation to infrastructure in big cities. Architecture is both housing and monument, while the transportation infrastructure in this example mutates and becomes the coronation of the architecture and not its foundation (relation that can be seen throughout Le Corbusier’s architecture where the pilotis liberate the building from its “grounded” condition.)


Passing from the manifest of the city-territory to the iconic manifestation of it – New York, we find that the infrastructures are the true monuments; they can trigger awe sensations which only the best architecture examples can do. It is because of their pure form derived from a specific use, their esthetically undisputed materials and their dimensions that connect directly to the scale of the whole city that those infrastructures acquire true architectural characteristics. On a visible level, the transport infrastructure is as much a part of the iconicity of big cities as their most important buildings, while, on an invisible level, the city’s physiology resolved through huge underground networks of inhabitable spaces has mutated into an important part of the metropolitan imaginary. An unused part of the sewage system of New York becomes home to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles[4]. The four heroes that protect the big city find shelter in infrastructure as do many people on the fringes of society in real life. The infrastructures, true monuments of big cities and shelters for human life become, as such, architecture.


[1] The term – infrastructure – has acquired in recent times meanings on different levels like economic, social, political, etc. One can say that designing and building a new stadium contributes to the sport infrastructure of the city/region/country. So, in contemporary terms, infrastructure is (also) architecture. But my answer to the question is related to infrastructure as the links between the human settlement with the ground, the sky and the physiological connections – streets, sewage, etc.

[2] It is difficult to give a definition of architecture, but I would consider these qualities – sheltered space sustaining human life, being defined by a certain kind of monumentality (corresponding to the decoration of the shed in Venturi Scott-Brown definition)

[3] As a student, in 2003-2004, I followed the design studio of Jean Pierre Dürig at Accademia di Architettura, Mendrisio, entitled Infrastructures and sited in Genova. We had to envision projects that had to deal with the overwhelming infrastructural density of this city.

[4] The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (often shortened to TMNT or Ninja Turtles) are four fictional teenaged anthropomorphic turtles named after Renaissance Italian artists. They were trained by their anthropomorphic rat sensei in the art of ninjutsu. From their home in sewers of New York City, they battle petty criminals, evil overlords, mutated creatures, and alien invaders while attempting to remain hidden from society. They were created by. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. – source:, accessed 15.09.2017

Dragoş Mihai Dordea is an architect, Member of the Romanian Order of Architects (OAR) and Swiss Society of Engineers and Architects (SIA). In 2005, he earned master’s degree in architecture from the Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI), Accademia di Architettura Mendrisio (AAM) with a project that received two awards: The SIA Prize and Premio di Comune di Padova. The Padua City Prize granted a scholarship for the Master of Advanced Studies in Architecture of the Territory from the USI – AAM, which he graduated in 2007. He is developing both professional and academic practices since 2008, when he opened the architectural practice Dordea Dragoș Mihai B.I.A. and started teaching at “Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urbanism in Bucharest, Faculty of Architecture (UAUIM). In 2014, he received the doctorate in sciences of architecture with the thesis: Mutations in the Architecture of Individual Dwelling in Romania 1947-1989. Currently he is lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture, UAUIM.

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