Prototype | Public Data Center

Ian Spadin

Fifth year BARCH studio
Instructor: Bosuk Hur 

Data centers are an important piece of modern infrastructure that remain widely unseen. They are built in locations where land is plenty and electricity is cheap, which also hides them from the public eye. Quoting Alexander Taylor, who writes on this subject: “Perhaps the greatest trick tech companies ever pulled was convincing the world that their data doesn’t exist, in physical form, at least.” This prototype proposes the data center as a public amenity to combat the placelessness of “The Cloud.” It is built to serve the surrounding population by providing one server computer to every citizen of San Francisco. The structure takes the abstract Cloud and makes it concrete. People who use The Cloud can see where their data lives. Practically, this also serves to reduce latency issues, allowing more functions to be moved off of computers and onto The Cloud. Servers are stored in shipping containers to provide modularity. This allows the facility to expand and shrink over time while allowing equipment to be upgraded regularly. Modularity also provides a way of better understanding the scale of the facility – each container represents 1,520 people. The structure is equipped with an overhead gantry crane to move containers throughout the building. The Cloud is made into a concrete idea by constructing a floating cloud of concrete. The structure sits above an old warehouse without actually touching it. This juxtaposes an old warehouse against a new warehouse, deliberately leaving the new warehouse wildly out of scale to communicate what modern data usage looks like.

The project integrates a thermal bath to allow people into the building and see even more precisely where their data is kept, as well as how the facility is operated and maintained. Heat for the baths is provided by the data center, which uses cold bay water for cooling. Visitors can literally bathe in the heat that their data usage creates.

Some finer details about the project to finish: The data center and the baths have two separate circulations that meet in the center with dual intertwined stairs, providing vertical circulation to both programs. Bathers can see across the central atrium into the data center.

Visitors enter through the bottom and take an elevator to the middle floor for the changing rooms. From there, the floors above and below have large to medium sized baths, and the uppermost floor has private/individual spa programs. The lowest floor houses backend functions such as administration and laundry.