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Provocations on Infrastructure: Age

provocationsoninfrastructureThe last king raised the funds to build the hospital. Projects of this scale is difficult to achieve without an expansive capital or a groundswell of public support, and bonds were sold in order to finance the construction of the medical center of Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa. That was decades ago, before the coup that changed the course of history. But the complex still remains as the kind of infrastructural resilience upon which the healthcare of an entire country depends. It’s still in operation, and while its dim corridors and concrete construction no longer shines resplendently, it lives on. People in white coats squeeze quickly through the patients and their families whose bodies crowd the corridor. From nine to five, people from the far flung corners of the nation congregate here, referred by their illnesses to seek medical treatment.

The map of the complex at the entrance tells of the weathering of history: paints flecking off mimic the way tiles start to come loose from the buildings shell, the rusting of the steel scaffold mirrors the weathering of the concrete. Even when it was new, it was probably used more as an icon of achievement rather than a useful directory. Few text adorn this image. One wonders how to navigate the maze that spans two city blocks. The fading colors reveal that no one has had the time to maintain it or refresh it. New buildings continue to go up, but their existence are not affirmed by this old map. I don’t think a new map has been made either.

I think the age of the sign gives people the impression that there isn’t much money circulating around the place. Otherwise, the map, or the hospital, would be new. Or, at least look new. Instead, there are old things that people still try to make serviceable. Old things can be treasured and become valued antiques, but like this old map, everyone is too busy or too overwhelmed or too something, to care for it. Neglect. It shows because the entropic forces of the world constantly seeks to return to disorder. More likely, there is just not enough money for a project of this size, whether we want to maintain, renew, or rebuild it. Goodness knows there is demand: Millions of citizens would have it so, but their collective voice is not what it once was.

We know that the patina of age will continue to grow, perhaps until it is no longer serviceable. Should the time come then when we want to restore the project’s old splendor, how shall it be financed, and how will it look? Or, if buildings are simply shells that keep out the rain, we will only need to do something when the roofs cave in. Concrete is pretty tough; the building will probably last for another half a century after the icon of itself turns to dust. An emergency. Only then will it seem like we should do something. Until then, will just keep the status quo. The hospital is fine enough.

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