Glacier / Island / Storm

The past week has been particularly busy, as everything behind the scenes here has been geared entirely toward the launch, later today, of two courses I'll be teaching this spring in New York City: a research seminar on blackouts at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and a design studio up at Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

Both of these courses will be the subject of updates now and again here on the blog over the next few months, but I thought, for now, that it'd be fun simply to put my Columbia course description & design brief up to start that ball rolling.

[Image: Photo via the Alfred Wegener Institute].

The purpose of this studio is to look at naturally occurring processes and forms—specifically, glaciers, islands, and storms—and to ask how these might be subject to architectural re-design. We will begin our investigations by looking at three specific case-studies, including the practical techniques and concerns behind each. This research will then serve as the basis from which studio participants will create original glacier/island/storm design proposals.

GLACIER: For centuries, a vernacular tradition of constructing artificial glaciers in the Himalayas has been used to create reserves of ice from which freshwater can be reliably obtained during dry years. This is the glacier as non-electrical ice reserve, in other words; some of these structures have even received funding as international relief projects—for instance, by the Aga Khan Rural Support Program in Pakistan. Interestingly, the artificial glacier here becomes a philanthropic pursuit, falling somewhere between Architecture For Humanity and a sustainable water-bank.

Through an examination of glacier-building techniques, water requirements, and the thermal behavior of ice, we will both refine and re-imagine designs for self-sustaining artificial glaciers, structures made without the use of fossil fuels and for the purpose of storing fresh water.

But what specific tools and spatial techniques might this require? Further, what purposes beyond drought relief might an artificial glacier serve? There are myths, for instance, of Himalayan villagers building artificial glaciers to protect themselves against invasion, and perhaps we might even speculate that water shortages in Los Angeles could be relieved with a series of artificial glaciers maintained by the city’s Department of Water and Power at the headwaters of the Colorado River…

ISLAND: Building artificial islands using only sand and fill is relatively simple, but how might such structures be organically grown?

In the ocean south of Japan is a complex of reefs just slightly below the surface of the water; Japan claims that these reefs are, in fact, islands. This is no minor distinction: if the international community supports this claim, Japan would not only massively extend its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), complete with seabed-mining and fishing rights, but it would also block China from accessing those same resources. This would, however, also limit the ability of Chinese warships to patrol the region—and so the U.S. has publicly backed Japan's territorial claim (China does not).

Okinawan scientists have thus been developing genetically-modified species of coral with the express idea of using these species to “grow” the reefs into a small but internationally recognized archipelago: the Okinotori Islands. Think of it as bio-technology put to use in the context of international sovereignty and the U.N. Law of the Sea.

The stakes are high—but, our studio will ask, by way of studying multiple forms of reef-building as well as materials such as Biorock™, where might other such island-growing operations be politically and environmentally useful? Further, how might the resulting landforms be most interestingly designed?

STORM: For hundreds of years, a lightning storm called the Relampago del Catatumbo has flashed in the sky above Venezuela’s coastal Lake Maracaibo. The perfect mix of riverine topography, lake-borne humidity, and rain forest air currents has produced what can be described, with only slight exaggeration, as a permanent storm.

This already fascinating anecdote from the natural world takes on interesting spatial design implications when we read, for instance, that Shanghai city officials have expressed alarm at the inadvertent amplification of wind speeds through their city as more and more skyscrapers are erected there—demonstrating that architecture sometimes has violent climatological effects. Further, Beijing and Moscow both have recently declared urban weather control as an explicit aim of their respective municipal governments—but who will be in charge of designing this new weather, and what role might architects and landscape architects play?

We will be putting these—and many other—examples of weather control together with urban, architectural, and landscape design studies in an attempt to produce atmospheric events. For instance, could we redesign Manhattan's skyline to create a permanent storm over the city—or could we rid the five boroughs of storms altogether? And under what circumstances—drought-relief in the American southwest or Gulf Coast hurricane-deflection—might our efforts be most practically useful?

• • •

The studio will be divided into three groups—one designing glaciers, one designing islands, one designing storms. Each group will mix vernacular, non-fossil fuel-based building technologies with what sounds like science fiction in order to explore the fine line between architectural design and the amplified cultivation of natural processes. Importantly, this will be done not simply for the sake of doing so (although there will be a bit of that…), but to address much larger questions of regional drought, international sovereignty, global climate change, and more.

Required readings include the specially assembled coursepack and associated PDFs, and there will be a handful of screenings, one or two studio visits by experts in these fields, and a few other collaborative online resources yet to be announced.

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Anonymous James Ewing said...

On buildings and wind, ever walk by the Flatiron Building on a breezy day?

January 20, 2010 12:51 PM  
Blogger Alexander Kramer said...

This blog is always very interesting, especially when thinking of trying to build naturally occurring events.

I just looked up the Relampago del Catatumbo, and was fascinated to learn it is probably the highest producer of ozone.

What if we discovered and recreated the exact variables needed to produce such large lightning storms to rebuild our ozone?

I want to see how the UN would handle such a proposal, and who would or wouldn't be up for it.

I look forward to your posts!

January 20, 2010 12:52 PM  
Blogger Fred Blasdel said...

There's already lots of artificial hydrology at the headwaters of the Colorado River

Around the turn of the century, several private companies built a complex system of ditches along the sides of mountains to collect water that was being 'wasted' on the aquifer and divert it into reservoirs, from which they would sell water rights to people downstream, using public rivers as the transport. Adding to the craziness, all of this was built on government land that is now Rocky Mountain National Park, and grandfathered in.

It's hydrological seigniorage!

The Grand Ditch is one of the major ones, more are documented in a book from the period (categorized as 'Juvenile Nonfiction'!)

Shortly afterward the Laramie-Poudre Tunnel was built to reclaim water being 'wasted' on Wyoming, which later sued but lost.

I spent a summer up there in Gould, CO — where my Uncle used to have a longtime seasonal job that involved clearing the ditches and tunnel of detritus before the snowmelt in spring, and maintaining them through the season. They had a wild multi-day annual party at the isolated Tunnel base camp, which was powered by solar panels hooked up to diesel-electric locomotive batteries.

There are also bigger more modern diversions like the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, but they're all public works, not odd legacies of robber-barons applying their railway business model to water.

January 20, 2010 4:08 PM  
Blogger faslanyc said...

I hope you guys are going to be working closely with scientists and students and not just faux/post-intellectualizing biomimicry and parametric modeling exercises?

January 20, 2010 4:29 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

As a prosepctive Columbia M. Arch student (currently applying for Fall 2010) I would be so excited to have this course as a studio. Good luck with it and keep us updated!

January 20, 2010 7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anab said...

Geoff, this is a fantastic studio, I would love to be a fall student in Columbia to attend this! Good luck, will follow the updates.

January 20, 2010 9:48 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

We will do whatever it takes, faslanyc, to ensure more negative comments from you. That seems to be unbelievably easy, to the point of open parody, so BOOM: straight-As for everyone. High five. Play Freebird. We will breathe and you will fault us for it.

Fred, thanks for the links; Dead Pool is a particularly eye-opening book in that regard—by which I mean the artificial hydrologies of the upper Colorado—as is, of course, Cadillac Desert, a book that might literally have changed my life; it's an amazing book (if you're interested in water). The Colorado River operates less as a river, in any accepted sense of the term, these days and more as a graph of the electrical consumption of cities in the U.S. southwest. To be honest, I find all of this absolutely amazing, and the idea of the L.A. Department of Water and Power maintaining artificial glaciers in the mountains southwest of Denver just blows me away. I'm really looking forward to seeing what my studio comes up with.

Sarah, good luck with the application! It would be nice to have you in my class.

Alexander, one of the papers that my studio's participants will be reading explores that exact issue: who has the authority to alter or control the weather, and does existing U.N. legislation effectively cover this emerging field? If not, upon what legal precedents might future weather-control legislation be based? These are genuine questions; no one has the answers.

And, James, imagine how cool it might be to have an atlas of those strange atmospheric events inside cities around the world—the wind-blown intersections, the impossible streets—so that we could actually travel to and explore inadvertent moments of weather design, from Shanghai to the Flatiron to Philadelphia's 20th & Market? Where buildings interact in ways architects never anticipated to produce high winds or concentrate thunderstorms. It would be awesome; I would buy that atlas. The Atlas of Unintended Weather Events. An Architectural Primer.

January 20, 2010 9:52 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

And, Anab, I'll definitely post updates; your own projects have been a huge inspiration!

January 20, 2010 9:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some predictions: Expert digital dreamers users who, after reading several Doomsday climate essays, will generate beautiful Photoshop collages with drop-shadowed people and solar flares. They will feature exquisite composites from Google images and comparative Illustrator diagrams, pie charts, and figure ground drawings that no one will ever closely inspect, let alone try to comprehend. Which isn't to say this won't inspire some down-to-Earth fundamental breakthroughs among those who decide to dot a panoramic sky scraper ghost town in the desert with hand made shelters. Que the hazy effect of the almighty Diffusion filter and a distant camel. Zoom out the scale to 10 miles, then 100, then 1000 to reveal something inspired from Avatar, pulsating with magical greenery.

But who would dare suggest the recent case study of terraforming via an earthquake? Or does that cross some kind of line?

This studio is the present day example of why I, along with several others, dropped out of that $34K/year art school in 2007 because we generally felt we were taking an advanced course in the Emperor's New Photoshoped Clothes.
Let the buyer beware.

January 21, 2010 2:46 AM  
Anonymous Agentvlin said...

Glacier / Island / Storm / ... Beneficial Climate Change?

In 1938 John Bradfield (the engineer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge) proposed to flood a large inland basin of Australia, called Lake Eyre.
The 'Bradfield scheme' was designed to provide irrigation to large tracts of inland Australia but, more interestingly, it soon became seen as a possible 'mechanism for promoting favourable climate change across a vast area'. A 'beneficial' climate change.
It was though at the time that 'a permanent increase in the area of the interior covered by surface water — possibly including a permanently filled Lake Eyre — would raise the humidity of the atmosphere through evaporation, leading to a higher average rainfall across the inland.'

And whilst the science has proven Bradfields theory wrong, the concept is just as facinating today.
As you rightly point out, the potential to generate desirable weather events with a combination of hydraulic engineer, geographic surveying and new technolgies (such as cloud seeding) leads to your question, who will be in charge of designing this new weather, and what role might architects and landscape architects play?

Have fun with the studios! And don't forget to reference Supermans 'Fortress of Solitude'.

January 21, 2010 8:56 AM  
Blogger faslanyc said...

The topic is super expansive and ambitious, both of which can be good or bad depending on your values (though it is certainly in keeping with bldgblog). But I was taken aback that there was literally no mention of any scientific/engineering partnership of any kind in the description, especially considering the richness of the academic community here in the city.

January 21, 2010 9:43 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

faslanyc, that is a perfectly justifiable point, but I am hoping that the "one or two studio visits by experts in these fields" that I mentioned, above, will offer useful examples of scientific expertise in things like Biorock™, the behavior of ice, and more. Will there be an explicit collaboration between this studio and, say, scientists up at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory? Alas, no; but there will be what I hope is an ongoing, scientifically useful information exchange. There will be an interesting online component, as well, but I am still arranging that (and thus unwilling to announce it before everything is confirmed). That will include legal, historical, and, for good or for bad, speculative expertise, we might say.

I want to add, though, that I find it surprising you might associate BLDGBLOG with parametric design advocacy; I know you already think all I do is promote "shitty eco-urban park-like places"—in fact, my approach to architecture in general seems to annoy you—but enthusiasm for giant webby parametric algorithms isn't something I often express.

So, yes, I too hope that my students don't go down the path of simply collaging massive and spiraling mathematical forms across a tropical landscape and then labeling it "Artificial Reef." Or whiting-out a section of landscape in a Wikimedia photo of the Rocky Mountains and calling it "Artificial Glacier." If that is all that this studio produces, I will be disappointed.

Meanwhile, anonymous, I would love to hear what it is you were hoping to study before you dropped out of Columbia. After all, the easiest thing in the world is to find someone who complains about the department they are enrolled in—economics, art history, business, physics, English, architecture—and stumbling upon someone who has changed careers due to lack of interest, or dashed expectations, is not much harder. The world is full of people like that. But to hear someone actually describe an alternative vision of an institution in a convincing way... That would be very interesting.

So what is it that you were hoping to study when you went to architecture school? Urban housing, large-span engineering, new materials design, hotels & museums, infrastructure...? All of these could be fascinating studios to lead, but 1) I would have no business teaching a course like that, I'm afraid, despite my interest in the subject matter, and 2) these are ideas or suggestions that you could very easily take up with the administration of any school in the world, hoping to convince them to hire both visiting and permanent faculty according to different criteria. You can write a letter, write a blog post, organize an event.

Alas, it is always easier to leave anonymous comments here and there on other people's blogs, all over the internet, complaining; meanwhile the world you want so badly for someone else to change just keeps chugging on.

January 21, 2010 10:16 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

nnelg, I've deleted your comment; go find another blogger to bother about italics. It's the least interesting criticism imaginable.

January 21, 2010 5:05 PM  
Anonymous diamon said...

Here's an example that might cross the boundaries of your course a bit.

In Niagara Falls, a number of high hotels have been built over the past few years along the Canadian side. This has changed the prevailing winds. In winter, these winds would blow the mist from the falls towards the trees, which would become coated in ice, and were often mishapened and broken by the weight of the ice.
With the change of winds, there is less ice deposited, and the trees appear to be taller, with fewer broken branches. Is this beneficial? Is some other life form affected by the change?

January 21, 2010 7:53 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

diamon, interesting story! On a vaguely related note, there is also evidence that the large outdoor pond at the Bellagio in Las Vegas has, through evaporation, altered the humidity and, thus, the local climate on that section of the Strip.

An extravagant water feature has—presumably by accident—become a minor example of geoengineering.

January 22, 2010 12:43 AM  
Anonymous Gerard said...

I'm in favor of reinstating nnelg's comment dated January 22, 2010 12:02AM, if only to declare his/her line of supposedly valid (hard to really gauge, what with all the thick muck of vitriol) inquiry prematurely concluded, because as per Godwin's law, he/she pretty much lost much of his/her credibility by Nazifying her remark at the end.

He/she wrote: "i'm being absolutely serious here." Well, nnelg, can we be sure of that now?

January 22, 2010 12:51 AM  
Blogger nnelg said...

will this one see the light of day for more than an hour? who knows.

to gerard, touche. absolutely valid point. it is starting to feel like a dictatorship here, though, at least for the last day or so. seems like this dude only allows blind/bland adulation. those posts stay up for-ev-er. i wouldn't call my now-dead comments "vitriol," however spirited they might've seemed. there are legitimate points in them that this guy refuses to answer. my impression is that he doesn't know what to do in the face of disagreement. anyway, thanks for supporting my reinstatement, sir.

but what's great about being subtracted like this is that it totally validates everything i said about this guy's complete inability to take criticism, even when it's extended and reasoned (however poor my attempts at the latter, the point remains). it reminds me of this afternoon when i played a video game against an 8-year-old. i ran his first kickoff back for a touchdown and he turned the game off. couldn't take it. but it looks like all of this is irrelevant since this "exchange" will look like nothing but confusion.

edible geography is a sweet blog, though. that writing is crisp, clear, and 100% legit. this dude should have her read over his stuff before it goes public.

January 22, 2010 3:54 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

nnelg, let me remind you that in your ongoing attempts to show me how bad a writer I am, you have resorted to fart jokes, writing with ALL CAPS EMPHASES (while railing against my use of italics), and even making Hitler references. You also consistently hold yourself up as a model for me to follow, citing the fact that you, too, are a writer, and that you, too, are a teacher, but then you hide your own blog from public view and you choose to remain anonymous. If your point is that I need very seriously to rethink how other people read what I write here, then I find it mind-boggling that you cannot see why I would consider your own comments to be nothing but emotionally driven personal attacks against me, and not helpful moments of criticism at all.

Helpful criticism is suggesting that I invite scientists into my studio to discuss with my students how artificial reefs actually operate; helpful criticism is suggesting that I open up future meetings that I might host to a broader public before claiming that I intend to demonstrate alternative education models. These are genuine points; it would be ridiculous to delete comments like those (which is why you can still read negative comments on this post and elsewhere).

But using hundreds of words to psychoanalyze me, compare me to a Nazi, and tell fart jokes isn't even remotely helpful. To do those very things while seriously believing that you are offering this world a mature counterpoint to the way I write is astonishing.

I would take uninformed enthusiasm about astronomical processes and speculative plate tectonics any day over your endless self-trumpeting, nnelg. You say I should write more like you, yet you offer none of your own writing for public consumption.

Then there's my "refusal" to deal with what this commenter has accused me of (since, what, October? does this person have nothing else to do?). His or her attitude toward the use of italics is incomprehensible to me. Using italics is like using capital letters or semicolons; it's a grammatical option available to all writers. Italicization emphasizes phrases, marks translations, highlights neologisms, and sometimes even takes the place of quotation marks. To insist that everyone in the world was raised with the belief that italics are only a way to aggrandize the author is ludicrous. If I, too, thought that italics was a form of self-puffery, I wouldn't use italics. For this same commenter then to typographically present his or her arguments with select phrases IN ALL CAPS simply compounds my feeling that this person is both irrational and self-deceiving (the Hitler references don't help).

Finally, there is something vaguely disturbing in how this commenter has managed to personalize this. These aren't examples of helpful literary advice, but weird attempts to diagnose me as if I have a personality disorder. Most readers can perhaps imagine that this feels quite similar to being stalked when someone I have never met repeatedly tries to denounce my personality in minute detail.

I'm not averse to reading criticism, which is why negative comments can be found throughout the archives stretching back six years. For the record, the commenter I'm addressing right now, and whose comments I've deleted for reasons cited above, finds this website pretentious, badly written, uninformed, riddled with over-excited statements of the obvious, and consumed with a need to use italics every three phrases; to make things worse, I follow nothing to its logical conclusion and instead merely alight on topics for a few hundred words before flitting off to settle onto something else... before my enthusiasm runs out. Rinse, repeat. Well, no doubt these are accurate observations! And I'd assume other people reading this comment right now agree.

But until this particular commenter learns to control his or her rhetoric and actually engage in productive conversation, his or her comments are not welcome here.

Suggestions for alternative strategies are welcome.

January 22, 2010 8:48 AM  
Blogger nnelg said...

hi there--after letting the dust settle a bit, i should take a step back. i agree with you about the unnecessary bitchiness, dictator references, etc of my previous posts in this thread and elsewhere. there's really no need to lapse into that kind of thing, so i apologize for doing so. the anonymity, relative or otherwise, of the interwebs makes it way too easy to devolve into that kind of rhetoric. it has died.

to be totally clear, for the final time, about why i drew attention to particular features of your prose style is that i take it to heart that form and content are intimately related. so, when philosophical shorthands get italicized, over and over, i'm legitimately curious as to what's going on with that specific prose quirk. everyone has their own style, sure, and you point out that italics are just one of many visual emphases upon which a writer may draw. this is absolutely true.

but i remain unconvinced by your suggestion that you don't use them for "self-puffery," or whatever the term was. it would be no different than if you used a lot of mixed metaphors or drifted into super touchy-feely descriptions of things. though architects tend to ignore the importance of this, form has a lot to say about its content (this is first-day composition class stuff), and i was merely wondering why you so frequently put the vaguest of ideas so prominently on display. on another post i listed a few of those examples if you need specifics. granted, i'm noticing that i was too snarky in my own expression.

and, in conclusion, i to say a few things about your well-reasoned but ultimately melodramatic response. sure, it matches the bitchiness of my posts in intensity (and even duration), but there are a few points worth clarifying:

--to call this an issue of "stalking" or whatever is really out of control. you were deleting my comments--juvenile as they may be, they still deserve to sit in this fairly random corner of the internet--and in return i got defensive about that. this kind of behavior really does seem like a case of self-puffery, when you assume that a spirited round discussion, however immature, is tantamount to something unethical and inhumane. not even close, dude. even another poster, gerard, mentioned how strange this was (though his point was heavily qualified).

--finally, i want to mention that using the "i guess we can't all write as well as you do" line is a total cop-out. my comments weren't meant strictly to be ad hominem blows, though i can now see why they might've been taken that way. i'm not suggesting that i write perfectly, or that my status as a composition teacher makes me an infallible expert on the subject. as everyone who's ever taken a class knows, there are fairly arbitrary (but necessary) standards that serious intellectual work should meet--clarity of expression, logical structure, definition of key terms, etc--that i saw in limited quantity in some of your posts. if "serious intellectual work" isn't your bag, then consider all of my criticisms retracted. if it is, however, then i think the original questions remain valid (in a denuded and modified snark-free form).

it's not strange to focus on an author's writing style--humanities professors make a living by doing that very thing. to suggest that it's creepy, stalkerish, or what-have-you is just really nefariously "defensive," as you put it above. like many people, i'm glad this blog exists--i just bristle when it seems to fall into the larger problems, ventriloquized in beautiful satire by the "anonymous" commenter above, we see so often in architectural criticism. once more, i apologize for drifting so far off course. thanks for the response.

January 22, 2010 8:20 PM  
Blogger Journeys Within Our Community said...

This is really very interesting that you are pursuing this topic and I look forward to following the conversation as it develops. I am straddling two approaches to this topic right now in my own work. One side is my architecture studio taught by Amy Anderson who is a product/former faculty of Columbia. The other side is the natural disaster training center which I am on staff with here in Hawaii. Right now I am developing course work related to the subject of climate resilient cities which the World Bank recently released a report on. The focus of the disaster center is the use of urban planning and architecture to mitigate and adapt to extreme weather events caused by climate change. So unexpectedly I find myself simultaneously involved in both highly conceptual and very practical approaches to this subject.

Reading some of the previous comments regarding the merit of such conceptual approaches it reminded me of something written in the very first edition of Volume:

"The architect is an attractive but endangered species. Despite the media's current fascination with our biggest names, the expiration date of the idea of the artful builder has long passed. The discipline will become splendidly irrelevant, if not extinct, unless new modes of engagement are cultivated. Cherishing the ancient conviction that the architect is first and foremost a public intellectual, an activist synthesizer of diverse forms of knowledge, an eloquent commentator on the world, our schools must go beyond themselves. The figure of the designer has to be redesigned - now.

The architect's gift is to offer reflections upon shelter, turning the resolution of practical demands into an interactive discourse. Schools tend to underestimate the unique intelligence of the architect, seeing innovative, conceptual, technical, and aesthetic experimentation as a risky force to be entertained only after practical responsibility has been established. But it is the special responsibility of the architect to open the very concept of shelter to our most creative thinking. All the traditional forms of protection (structural, environmental, psychological, medical, legal, economic, historical, and moral) can and must become sites for the most radical work."

You got to love it!

February 26, 2010 5:17 AM  

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