The Most Expensive Space in North America




Soon, however, carriers turned to fiber optic technology, glass lightbearing strands that can carry multiple data streams simultaneously. As fiber technology has become the primary means of carrying telecommunications traffic, the microwave towers on top have dwindled in importance”—they are now used by Verizon for connection to its cell phone network. With One Wilshire’s proximity to the coast and cable landing stations in the Santa Barbara and Ventura areas, a good portion of transpacific traffic from the Americas—and even Europe—flows through One Wilshire. As a consequence, One Wilshire is not only a staging ground for carriers connecting to the local system, it is a key peer-to-peer connection point. In the fourth floor Meet Me Room, telecom providers are allowed to run interconnects directly between each other without charge. By creating direct connections between each other’s lines in the structure, telecom providers avoid charges imposed by linking through a third-party hub. The result is a dramatic cost savings for the companies, allowing One Wilshire’s management to charge $250 per square foot per month in the Meet Me Room, the highest per-square-foot rent on the North American continent.

Because space in One Wilshire is at such a premium, companies run conduit to adjacent structures. Over a dozen nearby buildings have been converted to such telecom hotels, providing bases to telephone and Internet companies seeking locations near the fountain of data at One Wilshire. This centralization of information defies predictions that the Internet and new technologies will undo cities. But neither does it lead to a revival of downtown in classical terms. The buildings around One Wilshire are valuable again, but largely uninhabited. Ironically, if one of the reasons for the downfall of the American downtown is the slowdown in transportation and wear on infrastructure created by congestion, the emptiness of the streets in Los Angeles’s telecom district ensures that this will never again be a problem for this neighborhood.

One Wilshire stands as a continuous demonstration of the phases of the metropolis and the current state of the postmetropolitan realm. One Wilshire proves that the new functions of the city do not need a shape of their own but rather are repelled by that possibility. Physical form is secondary today. The transformation that One Wilshire undergoes from its construction in 1966 to the present parallels the transition from material reality to virtual reality, from Cold War to Empire. With the full development of the postmetropolitan realm and the corresponding global saturation of material production, we enter the world of immaterial culture.

The virtual is generally perceived as a drive against the spatial or physical world. Nevertheless, as One Wilshire demonstrates, the virtual world requires an infrastructure that exists in the physical and spatial world. Though Ether is formless, it has to be created. Its production requires an enormous amount of physical hardware and consistent expertise. Because of this, Ether is produced in places such as Hollywood studios, locations where highly skilled technicians can meet and collect around cameras and computers. Massive telecommunicational hubs like One Wilshire and their radial networks make the virtual world possible, and firmly ground it into the concrete cityscape. Once this raw data of Ether is created, it has to be stored and organized through stable control centers. These control centers, filled with row after row of servers, generate an enormous amount of heat and require vast cooling systems with multiple back-up power units in order to function without interruption. Constant monitoring of these systems is vital as interruptions affect the entire system. Once the data has been collected, it has to be distributed outside of the building. Fiber optic cable, currently the most effective way of transmitting large quantities of data out of the building into the rest of the world, is expensive to lay and requires a significant negotiations to secure rights-of-way. Most telecommunication companies cannot afford all of these investments individually and so pool their resources at a single location providing connectivity close to the transmission source. Through One Wilshire, virtually all of the global market leaders share a physical investment on the West coast. Being “plugged in” is their literal need, not just an abstract notion. Because One Wilshire is tied to this physical location, it undermines the concept of an autonomous virtuality, revealing instead the simultaneous importance and abandonment of the physical world.