Proprietary Microcosms

[Image: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images, via In Focus/The Atlantic].

Spaces of military simulation have long been a theme of interest here, including the desert test-cities of California’s Fort Irwin or the law enforcement training architecture of U.S. police departments, so this shot of Brazilian police training “in a mock favela set up in Rio de Janeiro” caught my eye as part of a recent round-up of shots looking at preparations for the 2014 World Cup.

Police simulations such as these offer a peculiarly spatial insight into the ways humans attempt to make sense of the world. Their interest is always both political (declaring whole neighborhoods spatial threats, quarantining their population from the rest of the metropolis, then “pacifying” the streets with military force) and philosophical (how humans engage in highly ritualized, repetitive behaviors deep inside these proprietary microcosms of the world, like little demigods of a model universe lording over labyrinths and copies).

Someone builds a surrogate or a stand-in—a kind of stage-set on which to test their most viable theories—then they control that replicant world down to every curb height and door frame. Architecture then comes along simply as ornamentation, in order to give this virtual world a physical footprint—to supply a testbed on which somebody else’s spatial ideas can be verified (or violently disproven).

Finally, like the 1:1 scale model in which Google self-driving cars operate, techniques learned inside these proto-cities are then imposed upon the very thing those sites were meant to model, tricking the real-world favela into resembling its denigrated copy: a wild space neutered by the decoy it played no role in authorizing.

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