Book Talk: Deb Chachra | How Infrastructure Works


On March 13th, join us for the next installment of the Municipal Art Society + Housing Works author series, featuring a discussion with author Deb Chachra, moderated by journalist Clive Thompson!

The pair will discuss Deb’s recent publication, How Infrastructure Works. The book is “a new way of seeing the essential systems hidden inside our walls, under our streets, and all around us” (Penguin Random House). Deb and Clive will talk all things infrastructure across New York City, the United States, and beyond.

View photos from the event on Flickr.

About the Book

Infrastructure is a marvel, meeting our basic needs and enabling lives of astounding ease and productivity that would have been unimaginable just a century ago. It is the physical manifestation of our social contract—of our ability to work collectively for the public good—and it consists of the most complex and vast technological systems ever created by humans.

A soaring bridge is an obvious infrastructural feat, but so are the mostly hidden reservoirs, transformers, sewers, cables, and pipes that deliver water, energy, and information to wherever we need it. When these systems work well, they hide in plain sight. Engineer and materials scientist Deb Chachra takes readers on a fascinating tour of these essential utilities, revealing how they work, what it takes to keep them running, just how much we rely on them—but also whom they work well for, and who pays the costs.

Across the U.S. and elsewhere, these systems are suffering from systemic neglect and the effects of climate change, becoming unavoidably visible when they break down. Communities that are already marginalized often bear the brunt of these failures. But Chachra maps out a path for transforming and rebuilding our shared infrastructure to be not just functional but also equitable, resilient, and sustainable. The cost of not being able to rely on these systems is unthinkably high. We need to learn how to see them—and fix them, together—before it’s too late. Read more here.

Wednesday, March 13
6:00 PM — 8:00 PM

Housing Works Bookstore
126 Crosby Street
New York, NY 10012


  • Author Deb Chachra (Featured Writer) and journalist Clive Thompson (Moderator)
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  • Praise for "How Infrastructure Works" by Deb Chachra (Penguin Random House).
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Meet the Speakers

Deb Chachra, PhD, Professor of Engineering, Olin College of Engineering

Deb Chachra is a Professor of Engineering at Olin College of Engineering, where she was among the earliest faculty, and the author of How Infrastructure Works: Inside the Systems That Shape the World. Besides infrastructural systems, her research and teaching interests include design, materials science, and bioengineering. She speaks, writes, and consults broadly at the intersections of design, education, technology, and culture. Dr. Chachra lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Clive Thompson, Journalist

Clive Thompson is a longtime magazine writer on science and technology. He’s a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and Wired, and a frequent contributor to Mother Jones and Smithsonian. His latest book is Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World, and he’s currently at work on his next book — about climate, micromobility, and his 4,000-mile bike ride across the US. He’s also a guitarist with his two bands, Lipstick Driver and the Delorean Sisters.”