I was at one of Dan Hon’s Hallway Tracks yesterday, featuring special guests Deb Chachra and Georgina Voss as they talked about their respective magnificent recent books, How Infrastructure Works and Systems Ultra.

Held under Chatham House* rules, there were lots of brilliant questions and directions the ninety minutes took, both in conversation and in the chat. As I was sitting listening, this idea emerged, and I doodled it on a card:

Infrastructure and Systems are the warp and weft of the fabric on which society stands.

I thought I’d take two minutes this morning to expand on the metaphor slightly, as a warm-up exercise for some writing I’m doing today.

First of all, some carpet 1.01. Yes, I recently watched that episode of ‘Inside The Factory too.

When weaving on a loom, the warp is the twisted cotton that is stretched out going away from you. It would typically be selected for strength, be of uniform colour, and typically unseen in the finished pattern.

The weft on the other hand is the colourful, pattern-making stuff. Brightly coloured wools, for instance, which will come to characterise the final piece.

A traditional rug being woven on a carpet vertical loom

Therefore, you might think of infrastructure as the warp – strong, consistent, boring – and the systems threaded throughout as the weft – they give pattern and colour to the appearance and experience of the rug.

When we think of modern infrastructure today, they are tightly woven, of varying quality in places, and so in need of repair. Because nobody is going to fork out for a whole new carpet. Perhaps they are even covering older surfaces that would work well enough as flooring if we peeled the fraying carpet back.