(Roughly) Daily

“We shape our infrastructure; thereafter it shapes us”*…

Long-time readers of (R)D will know of your correspondent’s regard for Deb Chachra and her thoughtful pieces on infrastructure (see, e.g., here and here). On the occasion of the publication of her (terrific) new book, How Infrastructure Works: Transforming our Shared Systems for a Changing World, another (R)D regular, Hillary Predko of Scope of Work, talks with Deb…

Deb Chachra is a material scientist and engineering professor at Olin College who writes extensively about infrastructural systems. Astute readers may have noticed that she is one of the thinkers most frequently cited in SOW: I recently referenced her work, as did TW earlier this year. Deb also joined as a guest writer in 2017. Her thoughtful writing forefronts the interplay between technical and social factors, calling infrastructure the way we take care of each other at a planetary scale.

I have loved following Deb’s work over the years, and her new book, How Infrastructure Works: Transforming our Shared Systems for a Changing World is a fascinating and nuanced extension of the same ideas. In compelling prose, the book traverses the history of the infrastructure systems we live with today and considers the new pressures posed by climate change. Another SOW favorite thinker, Robin Sloan, says, “Deb Chachra is the perfect guide not just to how infrastructure works but also how it feels. This book is just like the power plants it describes: a precise machine, a fountain of energy.”

In a world saturated with news of climate doom, How Infrastructure Works lays out a hopeful vision of a future – and one that is grounded in the technical realities of the world. Deb Chachra dreams in systems, and we are all invited to step into that dream. I recently sat down with Deb to talk about her book, and her perspective on the world and work…

An interview with Deb Chachra (@debcha), author of How Infrastructure Works: “An Ode to Living on The Grid,” from @the_prepared.

* Dax Bamania (a riff on a quote about tools often mis-attributed to Marshall McLuhan)


As we study structure, we might spare a thought for a man whose innovation added tremendous value to a ubiquitous 19th century infrastructure, George Pullman; he died on this date in 1897. An enginner and industrialist, he revolutionized rail travel when he designed and manufactured the Pullman sleeping car (and industrial relations, when he founded a company town in Chicago for the workers who manufactured it).

Pullman’s first sleeper


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