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Draft Chapter Two: Practice: Process, Compile, Render

This chapter describes software, organisational practices, and strategies that have arisen as a response to the massive volumes of data that have accumulated during engagement with Lambeth’s housing databases.

A crisis of files and directories

At this moment the “HousingDatabase” directory on my laptop contains 16,694 directories, 120,601 files and 253 different file types. The directory is an archive of written analysis, notes, images, recordings and code snippets which attempt to make sense of the complexities of housing, activism, law and public consultation within urban regeneration schemes.

Documents in .pdf, .doc, .txt, .xls, and .md formats delineate; written reports, personal notes, timelines of events, financial assessments, and notices of intent to demolish homes. While human and machine readable code within .json, .csv, .py, .sh, .js, and .c files contain programmatic strategies to interpret and cope with the mass of data. The majority of these files have been introduced via partially understood software installation and computational processes, where unfamiliar .bumpedrc, .am, .dylib, and .tap file-types will only be read by computational processes.

The “HousingDatabase” directory on my laptop contain sub-folders titled ‘activities’ and ‘LambethCressingham’ with 62 more sub-folders that collate texts, code, images, video, audio and housing data assembled through different research, design, arts, programming, engineering, and activist activities. These activities involve an individual and collaborative response to Lambeths public consultation, freedom of information requests, legal proceedings, attempts to get repairs undertaken to mine and others homes, visits to industry housing conferences, and group meetings. Each activity, of which this text is one, can be understood as a mode, device or strategy of engaging with the complexity of Lambeth’s housing databases.

Mutable code, a kind of pre-software, has been written to recursively navigate directories, search for text files, then parse their titles and content for specific naming and formatting conventions. Methods of standardisation provide a hook for the software to automatically compile and render text, image, video into new formats to be read as documents or handouts for review, critique and reflection. The pre-software, organisational structure, and rendered outputs are a mediated human-non-human process, something akin to writing in a notebook, design workbook, artists sketchbook, or programmers scratchpad.

The pre-software provides means to cope with massive volumes of data, while simultaneously suggesting new devices to understand the housing database as a process that makes calculable residents of CGE and their homes. Likewise, my entanglement with the housing database has been suggestive of code that attempts to structure, format, think through and present multiple scales of engagements with the database, through the banality of directory structures, relational systems, forms of standardisation, and categorisation, where a distinction between any discipline, activity or domain is blurred.

TUFE:: extenive use of a wide margin to display notes, images and charts.