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Keller Easterling, "Pirates and Errors"
February 21, 2003

Keller Easterling, Professor of Architecture at Yale University, spoke at UWM on Friday, February 21 under the joint sponsorship of the Department of Architecture and the Center for 21st Century Studies. Her title was “Pirates and Errors.”

Easterling is interested in the role that characteristically American architectural forms, especially those that architects may consider banal, play in political struggles around economic development in nonwestern nations. She began by exploring the notion of a pirate as someone who exploits the inevitable failures of systems.

Her research has focused in particular on the areas of "error" that mark the points where the separate worlds of global empire collide; the organizations that flourish in these zones can be called "piratical" in that they both transmit and process such error, churning up the smooth seas of empire and exposing the complexity, even criminality, that lies behind even its most banal facades. For Easterling piracy thus represents both a fact of our current situation and a potentially fruitful theoretical position, one that, for architects at least, can reveal "cheating" to be an ethically correct choice in certain political situations.

The second part of Easterling's talk offered a number of examples of such zones of error: cruises organized by Hyundai that brought passengers from the South to a secured encampment in North Korea to view natural landmarks; immense greenhouses near El Ejido, Andalusia, running for miles through a narrow weather-defined band of territory to produce cherry tomatoes for European and American consumption using cheap immigrant labor; automated port complexes in Rotterdam and Pudong relying on legal regimes of extra-territoriality; information technology campuses in India; and global religious cartels with colossal architectural ambitions.

In all these cases, Easterling argues, architectural research can help us understand the spatial disguises and masquerades that run through world politics and the transnational marketplace.

click here for the full Center newsletter (Spring 2003) in PDF format




Center for 21st Century Studies

Merry Wiesner-Hanks

Center for 21st Century Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201 USA
tel: 414-229-4141; fax: 414-229-5964; email:



  Last updated 6/23/06 by EMW