[Image: Pole Dance, P.S. 1 competition-winning design by SO-IL].
I have to admit to being less than overwhelmed by the annual P.S. 1 competition—aka the Young Architects Program—as well as by the annual Serpentine Pavilion in London, but this year's P.S. 1 winner, by Brooklyn-based SO-IL, looks pretty amazing.
[Image: Pole Dance, P.S. 1 competition-winning design by SO-IL].
Although it will be nothing but a sea of bungee-anchored soccer nets and wobbly fiber-glass poles—with some colored balls thrown overhead as mobile ornaments—the structure has the feel of being the framework for an emerging game, an obscure sport whose spatial rules are yet to be determined.
As the architects themselves explain in their initial proposal, "On discovery of its elasticity, visitors engage with the structure, to envision games, test its limits or just watch it gently dance."
[Image: Humans creating a future archaeological site on the moon].
In a meeting today in Sacramento, commissioners might vote to register items left behind on the moon by Apollo astronauts "as an official State Historical Resource," the L.A. Times reports.
After all, "California law allows listing historical resources beyond the state's borders—even if it's more than 238,000 miles away."
Some of the 5,000 pounds of stuff Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin abandoned at Tranquility Base was purposeful: a seismic detector to record moonquakes and meteorite impacts; a laser-reflection device to make precise distance measurements between Earth and the moon; a U.S. flag and commemorative plaque. Some was unavoidable: Apollo 11's lunar module descent stage wasn't designed to be carted back home, for instance.
"They were told to jettison things that weren't important," anthropologist Beth O'Leary, "a leader in the emerging field of space heritage and archaeology," tells the newspaper. "They were essentially told, 'Here's eight minutes, create an archaeology site.'""
If the Apollo site does become, incredibly, a California state landmark, this decision will open a legal path for the location to be recognized as an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. This, in turn, will help protect it from vandalism during "unmanned trips to the moon by private groups, and even someday by tourists." While the implied vision of Indiana Jones, Astronaut, is an exciting one, the idea that the State of California could someday have historical jurisdiction—or something like it—over a fragment of the moon's surface seems genuinely astonishing to me. Perhaps we could even have it declared part of Los Angeles County—the first offworld municipal exclave.
Texas and New Mexico also have plans to "place the items on historic registries" later this year, we read.
Somehow this morning I ended up reading about an artificial island and devotional chapel constructed in Montenegro's Bay of Kotor.
"In 1452," we read at montenegro.com, "two sailors from Perast happened by a small rock jutting out of the bay after a long day at sea and discovered a picture of the Virgin Mary perched upon the stone." Thus began a process of dumping more stones into the bay in order to expand this lonely, seemingly blessed rock—as well as loading the hulls of old fishing boats with stones in order to sink them beneath the waves, adding to the island's growing landmass.
Eventually, in 1630, a small chapel was constructed atop this strange half-geological, half-shipbuilt assemblage.
Throwing stones into the bay and, in the process, incrementally expanding the island's surface area, has apparently become a local religious tradition: "The custom of throwing rocks into the sea is alive even nowadays. Every year on the sunset of July 22, an event called fašinada, when local residents take their boats and throw rocks into the sea, widening the surface of the island, takes place."
The idea that devotional rock-throwing has become an art of creating new terrain, generation after generation, rock after rock, pebble after pebble, is stunning to me. Perhaps in a thousand years, a whole archipelago of churches will exist there, standing atop a waterlogged maze of old pleasure boats and fishing ships, the mainland hills and valleys nearby denuded of loose stones altogether. Inadvertently, then, this is as much a museum of local geology—a catalog of rocks—as it is a churchyard.
I'm thrilled to announce that Edible Geography has teamed up with Sarah Rich to host a public event here in New York City next month; it will take place at Studio-X and will also be broadcast on Columbia University's iTunes U channel.
Nicola's own description of the day's themes says it best:
The free afternoon program will consist of four panel discussions: “Zoning Diet,” about the hidden corsetry of policy, access, and economics that gives shape to urban food distribution; “Culinary Cartography,” a look at the kinds of things we can learn about New York City when we map its food types and behaviors; “Edible Archaeology,” about the socio-economic forces, technical innovations, and events that have shaped New York food history, in the context of the present; and “Feast, Famine, and Other Scenarios,” an opportunity to collaboratively speculate on changes to the edible landscape of New York in both the near and distant future.
Each panel, she adds, will feature "a range of voices, including designers, policy-makers, flavor scientists, culinary historians, architects, anthropologists, health professionals, and food producers and retailers." The line-up so far looks amazing, and a public announcement of all confirmed speakers should be up soon.
So if you're interested in how food shapes cities, from urban culture to built geography, mark your calendar—and I hope to see some of you there.
Foodprint NYC will take place on Saturday, February 27, from 1-5:30 p.m., at Studio-X, 180 Varick Street, Suite 1610, New York City. Here's a map.
On the advice of a friend here in New York, my wife and I went over to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn on New Year's Eve to watch the school's underground steam infrastructure be transformed, temporarily, into a thunderous musical instrument. Somewhere between subterranean calliope and mutant wave organ, steam-powered explosions of sound threatened to deafen everyone as it turned 2010.
I've finally gotten around to uploading some footage I shot that night; you can watch (a very badly edited) clip, above.
[Image: Pratt's underground steam HQ, stitched together and cropped by iPhone].
According to the Municipal Art Society, Pratt's steam-powered plant "is the oldest privately-owned, continuously operating, power plant of its kind in the country"—and, once a year, it gets turned into a gigantic musical instrument. One of the whistles used has even been repurposed from an old steamship, the S.S. Normandie.
The implication here, that you can attach pieces of musical instruments, and even old ship parts, to your city's existing infrastructure and thus generate massive waves of sound is pretty astonishing; this might be a very site-specific thing, to be sure, and something only Pratt has permission to do to its own steam tunnels, but the mind reels at the possibility that this could be repeated throughout New York. For instance, on any point of the existing steam network as documented last month by Urban Omnibus:
Every winter, a typically unseen machine becomes visible in the streets of Manhattan: Con Edison’s District Steam System. Seen from the street as steam leaking from manholes, or more safely vented through orange and white stacks, leaking steam hints at an underground energy distribution system that is the largest of its kind in the United States and offers a chance for the public to become more aware of and more involved in how the city works.
As Urban Omnibus adds, "the steam system is largely ignored by the public until things go wrong"—or, of course, until that system is turned into a city-scale musical instrument through a maze of well-placed reeds, valves, and resonators.
The city is a saxophone, your grandfather explains, pointing down through sidewalk steam-grates as haunting whistles begin to sound. We have always lived inside an instrument, he adds, even if not all of us have known.
[Image: The black pyramid at Tama-Re, the Egypt of the West].
After watching a documentary about Ted Kaczynski—the Unabomber—a few months ago, I got to looking into the supermax prison where Kaczynski is now being held in the mountains of Colorado. And there are a lot of bizarre people up there, including Andrew Fastow, former Chief Financial Officer of Enron, and Charles Harrelson, the (now deceased) hitman father of actor Woody Harrelson.
One of the inmates who particularly stood out, however, was Dwight York. York is "an author, black supremacist leader, musician, and convicted child molester," Wikipedia tells us, and he built a colorful, Ancient Egyptian-themed instant city on several hundred acres of forest land in the U.S. state of Georgia.
[Image: Tama-Re photographed from above, via Wikimapia].
The Urban Dictionary's description of Tama-Re is amazing; it reads like every race-based fear of the white U.S. middle class summed up in one surreal location.
When York and his Nuwaubians moved there and began erecting pyramids and obelisks there was much curiosity about the group. However trouble started when the citizens became aware of the fact that York was an ex-Black Panther and a convicted felon and statutory rapist who was preaching the gospel that whites were mutants and were inferior to blacks. There is also a foam rubber alien on display in the compound that causes problems with public relations. Officials have had problems with the Nuwaubians failing to comply with zoning and building permits that coincide with what they have created. The Nuwaubians feel that this is a racist attack.
It's hard to top a "foam rubber alien," but the fear-factor nonetheless gets ratcheted up a notch:
Many children from upper middle class cities have left college to live in poverty at the cult's compound, Tama Re. This has caused a lot of turmoil in the lives of many families who can't accept the fact that their sons and daughters have left them to follow an alien messiah. Throughout the grounds speakers everywhere emit the humming sound of Egyptian chants 24 hours a day. Inside one of the pyramids you can buy books and clothes as well as a Dr. York doll. The people who live on the land dwell in a trailer park full of double-wides. York claims his people are Moors who traveled by foot from Africa to what is currently Georgia before the continental drift. The only problem with this "indisputable" fact is that the moors were Muslims who existed way after the birth of Christ which was only approximately 2000 years ago.
Ergo, there was no way in plate tectonics that they could have walked all the way to Georgia.
In June 2005, after the compound's governmental seizure, financial forfeiture, and ensuing sale for $1.1 million, outright demolition began. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported at the time, the local sheriff was on the scene, "speaking with relish as he watched crews tear through the series of obelisks, statues, arches and buildings. Many of the dozens of structures were weathered and in disrepair. He said very few of the Egyptian structures or objects were worth salvaging. 'It feels good to tear down the SOB myself,' he said. 'By the middle of next week, there will be nothing but a couple of pyramids.'"
How, though, could these sorts of messianic compounds be addressed by and incorporated into architectural discourse? How do tacky black pyramids full of Luxor references complexify or contradict something like Venturi & Scott-Brown's ideas of pop cultural ornament discussed just this past weekend at Yale?
Put another way, when will religious compounds meet their Tom Vanderbilt—that is, a journalist willing to travel around the world writing an architectural history of these fringe religious environments and stylistically eccentric cult enclaves?
These are sites built such that their every spatial detail is not justified by some historically rigorous academic architectural code, but because they function, psychologically, as a piece-by-piece tuning of the built environment. Add enough ornamental references together, these spaces say, and some weird new Messiah might yet someday return. It is functional ornament.
[Image: The ashes of the David Koresh compound in Waco, Texas].
Of course, I'm fascinated by the idea that Tehran, for instance, has been analyzed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—who trained as a traffic engineer—for its ability to handle the crush of cars and pedestrians that will show up to greet the returning Messiah. And, spatially speaking, I would love to read more about the now-destroyed Texas farmhouse inside of which David Koresh once preached his Branch Davidian gospel. But what about the central headquarters of Aum Shinrikyo, where LSD-fueled physicists meditated in the dark, crowned with well-lit helmets of electrodes, or the mirrored room inside of which Heaven's Gate cultists once strangled themselves out of fear of Hale-Bopp?
Somewhere between Spaced Out, Survival City, and the excellent (though over-exposed) Gomorrah, a seriously amazing book about the architectural design of religious compounds is waiting to be written.
Princeton Architectural Press should contract Sam Jacob and Charles Holland to write this, immediately: gonzo architectural criticism in an era of the postmodern religious baroque.
[Image: Fresh Kills landscape masterplan by Field Operations, via Mammoth; "With 2,200 acres filled with 150 million tons of trash to contend with," Metropolis writes, "the challenge is making Fresh Kills public and safe, which means covering the garbage mounds with some four feet of fresh soil. The park would grow itself with cost-effective soil farms that aren’t eyesores." Read more at the Freshkills Park Blog].
Mammoth has posted a great list of the best architecture of the decade. It runs the gamut from groundwater replenishing infrastructure and Chinese high-speed rail to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and the iPhone, by way of the Large Hadron Collider, Rome's Pontine marshes, and a library in Medellín (among others).
The purpose of the list, they write, is "to share a handful of the reasons that we’re genuinely excited about the future of architecture, and to hopefully engender a bit of that excitement in a reader or two." It's an inspired (and refreshingly non-building-centric) list of innovations (like microfinance) that have affected the built environment—and yet another reason why Mammoth is one of the best architecture blogs being written anywhere in the world today.
As a list, it also fares very favorably against the mind-numbing self-congratulation of other critics' decade-in-retrospect lists, in which the last ten years appeared to exist only to validate the publishing decisions of people who, long ago, forgot how to engage with anything more than a shaving mirror.
Keiichi Matsuda, a student at the Bartlett School of Architecture, produced this fantastic short video in the final year of his M.Arch. It was, he writes, "part of a larger project about the social and architectural consequences of new media and augmented reality."
The latter half of the 20th century saw the built environment merged with media space, and architecture taking on new roles related to branding, image and consumerism. Augmented reality may recontextualise the functions of consumerism and architecture, and change in the way in which we operate within it.
The bewildering groundlessness of surfaces within surfaces is beautifully captured by this video, and its portrayal of drop-down menus and the future hand gestures needed to access them is also pretty great. Augmented-reality drop-down menus are the Gothic ornamentation of tomorrow.
Now how do we use all that home-jamming ad space for something other than Coke and Tesco? What other subscription-content feeds can be plugged into this vertiginous interface?
Take a look—and you can find more thoughts, and another video, on Matsuda's own blog.
I was excited finally to pick up a copy of Icon's February issue today; it is, in its entirety, an exploration of how fiction can be used to explore architectural ideas and the future of the built environment.
China Miéville's story, "The Rope is the World," takes place amidst "the space elevators, the skyhooks, the geostationary tethered-dock haulage columns" of a planet bound to its lower atmosphere by giant pieces of astral infrastructure. However, these elevators, in Miéville's telling, are doomed to become fantastic aerial ruins, turning the Earth into "an irregularly spoked wheel" studded with abandoned elevator shafts, each "longer than Russia." Derelict chain-cities hang flaccid in the skies. What might Caspar David Friedrich have painted in such a world?
Bruce Sterling, meanwhile, presents us with a world in which nothing seems to exist but broadband access—and that world is far from exhilarating. The story's accompanying photograph shows us a Windows-powered laptop sitting alone on a plaster-flecked apartment floor, plugged into the wall of a room that otherwise has nothing in it; this solipsistic interior, void of anything like human presence or culture, reminded me of an old Peter Lamborn Wilson interview in which Wilson launches into an amazing rant against the rise of home internet use (even if I don't agree with his conclusions):
Yes. You're slumped in front of a screen, in the same physical situation as a TV watcher, you've just added a typewriter. And you're "interactive." What does that mean? It does not mean community. It's catatonic schizophrenia. So blah blah blah; communicate communicate; data data data. It doesn't mean anything more than catatonics babbling and drooling in a mental institution. Why can't we stop?
In Sterling's fictional world, these empty interiors freed of all personal possessions, with not even a place to sit, pulsate with instant access to Gmail; you can check your Twitter feed even if you can't cook a decent meal.
But when the story's protagonist obtains a mail-order 3D printer ("This sleek and sturdy overnight parcel contains everything one might need for do-it-yourself, open-source digital home fabrication," Sterling writes), he or she gains an ability to produce objects—which then seems to be greeted with hipster disillusionment, rather than with ecstasy.
Indeed, the story ends on a low note; its final line: "I have to print my bed, so that I can lie in it."
I have to admit to having already read that final sentence courtesy of Matt Jones's Twitter feed a few weeks ago, and I had imagined, between then and now, a totally different story. I had pictured Sterling's story, called "The Hypersurface of the Decade," set in a world where personalized 3D printers create everything from our furniture to our food; today we might print our boarding passes at home before getting on an airplane, but tomorrow we will print our hamburgers, TVs, and even bedspreads.
Maybe we'll print dogs and subway passes and prescription medications. Maybe we will even print our children.
Maybe it's just a question of having the right new infrastructure of pipes—no, not those pipes. Maybe we need to forget ink cartridges; we'll just subscribe to personal flows of speciality ingredients, chemical mixtures that come to us through a radically retooled infrastructure of pipes embedded in the walls of our cities. As unsurprising to someone in 50 years as piped water is to residents of New York today, anyone will simply print a pill of Prozac when they really need it or even print themselves a birthday cake.
Forget killer apps; all you need is the right printhead. Plug it into a nozzle on the wall and voilà.
In any case, I had pictured a story set in some strange Dr. Seuss world of instantly-printed objects. Forget furniture and clothing and utensils. Forget the Apple Tablet; instead you'd carry portable printheads, emitting on-demand, dissolvable realities of the present moment. Trapped in a room, you'd simply print a hammer and attack the wall. Of course, in many ways that is exactly what Sterling has described in his story, but it takes till the last three or four paragraphs to get a glimpse of this malleable world.
But, speaking only for myself, I'd love to spend more time inside this strange fever-dream in which instantly realizable objects appear left and right. I would hold something not unlike a gateway in my hand—some fabulous new printhead—spraying forms into the world of human beings.
Pick up a copy of Icon's Fiction Issue before it disappears.
[Image: Australia's Cadia gold mine, photographed by Jacky Ghossein for Getty Images, spotted at the Big Picture].
L.A. Times | "Ozone from Asia is wafting across the Pacific on springtime winds and boosting the amount of the smog-producing gas found in the skies above the Western United States," the L.A. Times reports.
Economist | "Much of [California's central valley] was an inland sea in its geological past," we read in the Economist, "and its alluvial soils and Mediterranean climate make parts of it, particularly the San Joaquin valley in the south, about the most fertile agricultural region in the world. But this status is at risk because water, the vital ingredient to make the soil productive, is increasingly scarce."
Popular Science | Undersea Cables Could Be Used as an Early Tsunami Detection System: "Monstrous tsunami waves, like the one that killed over 200,000 people in the Indian Ocean in 2004, create an electric field as they form. This field could possibly be sensed by a network of underwater sensors."
ABC | "U.S. military veterans are sorting through a massive government archaeological collection that has been neglected for decades, with the hope of archiving the stone tools, arrows and American Indian beads that were found beneath major public works projects."
Scientific American | Simulating the growth of the Tokyo subway system using slime mold: "A Japan-based research team found that if they placed bits of food (oat flakes) around a central Physarum polycephalum [slime mold] in the same location as 36 outlying cities around Tokyo, the mold created a network connecting the food sources that looked rather like the existing rail system."
[Image: A "shipworm invasion" is threatening "thousands of Viking vessels and other historic shipwrecks" in the Baltic Sea, National Geographic reports; photo by Paul Kay, Oxford Scientific Photolibrary].
Scientific American | "Wind energy could generate 20 percent of the electricity needed by households and businesses in the eastern half of the United States by 2024, but it would require up to $90 billion in investment," according to Scientific American.
BBC | "A new US assessment of Venezuela's oil reserves could give the country double the supplies of Saudi Arabia," we read at the BBC.
Brookings Institution | The Suburbanization of Poverty: "Suburbs saw by far the greatest growth in their poor population and by 2008 had become home to the largest share of the nation’s poor."
Washington Post | "The gravelly beaches of Prince William Sound are trapping the oil [from the Exxon Valdez] between two layers of rock, with larger rocks on top and finer gravel underneath... creating a nearly oxygen-free environment with low nutrient levels that slowed the ability of the oil to biodegrade."
Financial Times | Stray dogs in Moscow are "evolving greater intelligence and wolf-like characteristics"—as well as an ability to use the subway.
[Image: Sectional model through the preparation bench, Bloodline pavilion by Caroline O'Donnell; Bloodline is supported by the Akademie Schloss Solitude].
Bloodline is the outcome of O'Donnell's 2007 fellowship and residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude, a grant-making and residency institution housed in the late-Baroque "Solitude Castle" near Stuttgart in southern Germany.
Karl Eugen, Duke of Württemburg, built Schloss Solitude in 1763 as a private pleasure house—a cross between a party castle, summer retreat, and hunting lodge. Solitude was intended to be more intimate and less formal than his royal palace at Ludwigsburg, like the Trianons were to Versailles.
[Image: Akademie Schloss Solitude, via Wikimedia].
Among the prerequisites for an eighteenth-century aristocrat to achieve relaxation were a natural setting and, perhaps more importantly, minimal interaction with the servant classes. However, since domestic service was still required (aristocratic relaxation did not encompass preparing, serving, and cleaning up after meals, for example), palace architects had to resort to an extremely elaborate set of spatial tricks and distortions to make the servers as invisible as possible. The original design for the Petit Trianon even included a mechanism for raising and lowering the dining table through the floor so that it could be set and cleared out of sight.
According to O'Donnell, "The guides at Schloss Solitude could not understand why I wanted to see the service spaces, and tried to convince me that they were not interesting. I kept telling them in bad German that I was an architect and therefore interested in uninteresting spaces, but that seemed to cause more confusion."
[Image: The secret service spaces at Ludwigsburg (left) and Schloss Solitude (right)].
What she found, eventually, were a series of awkward and cramped service cupboards and passages, filling in the spaces around the formal, symmetrical rooms. They are the negative space of pure classical order; the banished evidence of domestic effort and bodily needs.
Interestingly, O'Donnell noticed that at Karl Eugen's main palace, Ludwigsburg Castle, the formal rooms are arranged around the edge, concealing a rabbit warren of service spaces in the interior.
Meanwhile at Solitude, the reverse is true: the cupboards, closets, and service passages are banished to the edge, with the result that seven of the fourteen windows on the perfectly symmetrical south façade actually open onto these deformed, hidden spaces.
[Images: (top) The south-facing façade of Schloss Solitude, in which seven of its windows actually open onto service spaces, rather than public rooms; via. (bottom) The negative spaces into which domestic functions were banished at Schloss Solitude (left); many were used as fire-spaces (right)].
Among the domestic functions concealed in this way was fire maintenance: tiny fire-spaces were used for storing firewood and also enabled servants to stoke open fires while remaining behind the scenes.
O'Donnell explained that when she finally gained access to a fire-space, she noticed "the effects of this small-scale and contorted space on the body," but she was most fascinated "by this idea of the fire-space as a window, through which the stooping servant had a rare window into the lives of his masters"—and, in some ways, a more complete or privileged understanding of the space of the palace as a whole.
[Image: Bloodline, showing the stacked grillholz cuboid exterior concealing the irregular interior].
So, back to the barbecue pavilion: O'Donnell's Bloodline proposal would use 360 bags of grillholz (German barbecue wood sticks) as the cladding—enough for a summer season, or ninety barbecues at four bags per cook-out. As July fades into August, and then into September, the pavilion will gradually be dismantled: the architecture's fiery function will lead it to literally consume itself from the outside in. This is an incredibly poetic literalization of the shelter's function: architecture parlante at its finest.
The pavilion also plays on O'Donnell's initial fascination with Solitude's squished fire-spaces. Bloodline begins the summer as a perfect, platonic cube, but gradually grills itself down to an awkwardly shaped frame that mirrors a section through the original fire-space. In other words, through use, the mini-barbecue palace will reveal its contorted, service-space origins—a slow, season-long process of revelation.
[Image: The pavilion will begin the summer as a platonic cube before being eroded through repeated barbecuing to reveal its hidden fire-space form].
Like Solitude's original fire-spaces, which servants had to bend down and crawl to enter, the Bloodline barbecue pavilion is only designed to fit one person. And, as in the originals, that one person—the servant or barbecuer-in-chief, depending on how you look at these things—has a unique, more omniscient view.
Ludwigsburg and Solitude castles are linked by Solitudeallee, each palace is also aligned on its own axis of symmetry. When O'Donnell looked at these lines in satellite view, it became clear that there was a third axis, emerging from the forest, which was missing a castle.
Ingeniously, O'Donnell's proposed site for Bloodline means that our barbecuing hero, standing in front of the grill-window on the southwest-facing side of the pavilion, is the only person in their party who can see that they are actually inside the missing third castle.
[Image: Plotting the axes and intersections of Ludwigsburg and Solitude: O'Donnell explained that "only the forest is missing a castle"].
In other words, while their friends and family relax in the grounds outside the pavilion, eating sausages they haven't had to prepare, "only the servant (or grill-master) will know the truth," explains O'Donnell, "although they can sneak others in, to share the secret."
[Images: (top) Renderings of Bloodline show the grill-window and entrance; (bottom) Bloodline interior, looking out toward the grill-window's privileged view].
In terms of grilling experience, the barbecue pavilion that becomes a secret, personal castle seems second to none. "After that, the sausages are not my responsibility," O'Donnell told me. "There are however custom spaces built into the pavilion on the west side for a fire-extinguisher and a fire-blanket, as well as a big vent on the east side that aligns with the prevailing wind and uses the stack-effect to ventilate the space naturally."
A couple of thoughts immediately come to mind here: firstly, that this is the perfect Father's Day gift. After all, doesn't every red-blooded male secretly crave his own barbecue castle: a private space of solitude, unspoken power, and burger perfection? Lowe's or Homebase could even stock build-your-own kits, for an extra DIY frisson.
[Image: (left) Inside Bloodline (the server has clearly snuck in a few friends); (right) Stacked grillholz will form the façade and the barbecue fuel. The wood sticks' color even matches the ochre putty exterior of Schloss Solitude].
I'm also reminded, via a link that was (coincidentally?) sent to me separately by Caroline O'Donnell, of Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham's theory that cooking is the root cause of human civilization. His basic idea is that the discovery of cooking allowed us to unlock many more calories in food, which gave us more energy for less effort, which in turn resulted in a massive increase in brain size in Homo sapiens (as compared to our primate ancestors).
[Images: Stages of consumption. At the end, all that will remain is the ash bench (bottom right), which O'Donnell plans to leave on site once the summer is over, "as a clue to the missing castle"].
That expanded brain of course led, eventually, to the flowering of the Baroque, in which rococo pleasure palaces were cleverly designed to hide any evidence of cooking facilities. O'Donnell's pavilion gives cooking its due once again, as over the course of the summer Solitude's missing third palace is revealed to be a a functional fire-space, rather than the abstracted perfection of a symmetrical cube. Barbecuing German day-trippers will thus be paying inadvertent homage to the role of fire in human civilization.
[Image: Some of O'Donnell's incredibly complex cut files for fabrication].
Caroline O'Donnell is working with Akademie Schloss Solitude to secure funding for the pavilion: the hope is to install it during the summer of 2011. My thanks are due to her for an incredibly interesting conversation, and also to Nathan Friedman, who has been working on Bloodline with O'Donnell for the past few months.
(Note: This post, written by Nicola Twilley, was originally published on Edible Geography).
Chronicle Books put out an absolutely gorgeous book documenting Maisel's work last year. From the project's own description:
David Maisel's Library of Dust features copper canisters in varying states of metamorphosis. The containers are photographed individually, black backdrop in place, each posed like a subject sitting for a portrait. Maisel's treatment of these objects is apropos. The canisters, once stored in a dilapidated outbuilding of a state-run psychiatric hospital, hold the cremated remains of people—more specifically, the unclaimed ashes of the asylum's patients. The Oregon State Hospital, inaugurated as the Oregon State Insane Asylum in 1883, interred the canisters in an underground vault in the mid-1970s. As the vault flooded repeatedly, the canisters—some containing remains more than a century old—underwent potent transformations. The chemical composition of each cremated body's ashes has caused unique and colorful mineralogical blooms to form on its individual copper surface.
The gallery opens at 6pm—roughly one hour from now—and the show will stay up until February 27, 2010. Be sure to stop by if you are near; here is a map.
For those of you already familiar with this project, meanwhile, Maisel has been working on a new, long-term series called "History's Shadow." This consists entirely of "re-photographed x-rays of art objects from antiquity," and the results offer eerily delicate views inside objects thousands of years old. An example appears below, but the whole series is well-worth checking out in full.
I would love to see an architectural version of this project, with Maisel somehow re-photographing large-scale x-rays of cathedrals and temple walls, peering inside columns, arches, and ruins, with buttresses doubled and tripled with the grain of their rock revealed, stuttering into the silent core of an object not ever meant to be seen this way.
(I was fortunate enough to have an essay included in Maisel's Library of Dust; you can read that essay in its entirety on BLDGBLOG).
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.
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.
[Image: A C-141 Starlifter flying toward sunset; via Wikimedia].
A cloud of metal dust released by U.S. military airplanes in the skies 100 miles west of Los Angeles caused a temporary blackout in the city and "interfer[ed] with radar at airports in southern California" when the cloud began blowing back toward land.
What exactly was the purpose of this inadvertently weaponized offshore atmospheric event? "The Navy says it spread several thousand pounds of the particles of chaff in an operation 100 to 300 miles offshore designed to test its ability to jam radar," the New York Times reported.
However, all of this actually occurred 25 years ago, in January 1985; I simply stumbled upon it while researching blackouts.
The idea, though, that there are airplanes flying somewhere out there west of Los Angeles creating strange weather for those of us on shore—clouds sculpted on the rising winds of the Southland, drifting unpredictably toward Santa Monica—seems both extraordinary and all too ready for capitalization. Sunsets on demand! Your least favorite celebrity gets married on a Malibu terrace and repurposed military aircraft paint the distant skies red, weaving fantastic ribbons of color in front of the falling sun.
It's like something out of J.G. Ballard's old short story "The Cloud Sculptors of Coral D," in which famous portraits are carved into passing cloud forms by trained kite operators standing below on the shores of a tropical island. They have invented a stunning, lo-fi, vernacular 3D printing that can only be applied to the earth's atmosphere.
“Lifted on the shoulders of the air above the crown of Coral D, we would carve seahorses and unicorns, the portraits of presidents and film stars, lizards and exotic birds,” Ballard wrote, describing this new mythology of atmospheric design and the "manicurists of the air" who so beautifully practiced it.
Or, for that matter, perhaps this strange meteorological event—the metal chaff of a new weather emperor, self-installed atop his flying throne, deploying cloud-weapons across the horizon—was an electromagnetically active twist on the anti-hero from Roberto Bolaño's novel Distant Star. There, we meet a skywriting poet-pilot with a penchant for fascism who sells his political soul to the Nazis in order to write his Romantic words in huge drifting scripts above the mountains of South America.
He becomes "a Michelangelo of the sky,” as Ballard might have it.
Meanwhile, radar-jamming clouds of nanoparticles settle onto the plates of outdoor diners in Venice Beach, salting take-out pizzas and dusting the bodies of sunbathers, as screens inside the LAX control tower madly ping with invisible aircraft.
Mitchell Joachim and Maria Aiolova of Terreform 1 have launched the From Mowing to Growing competition, aka the One Prize.
The competition hopes to inspire design research into "larger issues concerning the environment, global food production and the imperative to generate a sense of community in our urban and suburban neighborhoods."
From Mowing to Growing is not meant to transform each lawn into a garden, but to open us up to the possibilities of self-sustenance, organic growth, and perpetual change. In particular, we seek specific technical, urbanistic, and architectural strategies not simply for the food production required to feed the cities and suburbs, but the possibilities of diet, agriculture, and retrofitted facilities that could achieve that level within the constraints of the local climate.
Citing the work of Fritz Haeg, the competition brief points out that "North Americans devote 40,000 square miles to lawns," more than is used "for wheat, corn, or tobacco." Further, U.S. residents "spend $750 million dollars a year on grass seed alone while only 2% of America’s food is locally grown." So, the competition asks:
Prizes go as high as $10,000, and judges include Cameron Sinclair and Kate Stohr of Architecture For Humanity, vertical agriculturalist (agriverticality?) Dickson Despommier, and many more. Register by March 31, with submissions due before April 30.
If you're near New York City tomorrow night, Friday, January 15th, Exit Art is hosting an event in honor of the Waterpod project, exploring the twin ideas of interactive architecture and "reinventing social spaces."
The Waterpod, if you are not familiar with it already, "was a floating, sculptural structure designed as a futuristic habitat and an experimental platform for assessing the design and efficacy of living systems fashioned to create an autonomous, fully functional marine shelter." It traveled around the waterways of New York, bringing equal parts aquatic farm, mobile bio-utopia, and urban sci-fi to the hydroscape of the city.
As a self-sufficient, navigable living space, the Waterpod showcased the critical importance of water within the natural world. Collectively embracing the richly-patterned folkways of the five boroughs of metropolitan New York, the Waterpod reified positive interactions between communities: private and public; artistic and societal; scientific and agricultural; aquatic and terrestrial.
The New York Times described it as "an independent project [artist Mary] Mattingly dreamed up three years ago to explore the possibility of creating a self-sufficient community on the water—a kind of aquatic version of the Biosphere 2 complex built in the Arizona desert in the 1980s—that might offer an alternative to living on land in the future, if 'our resources on land grow scarcer and sea levels rise,' she said."
Tomorrow night will feature three short presentations by Natalie Jeremijenko, "an artist whose background includes studies in biochemistry, physics, neuroscience and precision engineering"; architect Maria Aiolova, cofounder with Mitchell Joachim of Terreform 1; and myself, followed by a panel discussion and public Q&A. For my own part, I plan on discussing a number of hydrological topics, including the vernacular design of artificial glaciers and other kinds of "ice reserves" as a response to global water shortages, and, given time, to present a brief look at the history of weather control and urban storm cultivation.
Entrance is free, although there is a suggested donation of $5, and there is a cash bar to ease the mood of a Friday evening; things kick off at 7pm, and you will find us all gathered at 475 10th Avenue, near 37th Street. Here is a map and more info about the night in general.
I'm in the strange (and semi-sleepless) situation of having our apartment rented out for the day while a Ewan McGregor film is produced in our building. The industry of urban film location scouts seems particularly fascinating to me, I have to say; you put out some flyers in a certain neighborhood, say, asking for something really quite specific (in our case, south-facing windows on the fourth floor or higher) and I suppose you then just hope that someone in a specific building will respond or perhaps you just deal with what you get (and I wonder if there are films out there whose screenplays, or whole characters, were actually adapted based on location availability). But the idea that, out there somewhere, there is a little black book, or a huge three-ring binder, a whole mythic cabinet, full of hand-me-down insights about buildings and rooms and rooftops and halls and stairwells scattered throughout the city is amazing to me, a collection of first-hand urban research that architects would do very well to access and study. Advanced film location as an esoteric science of the city. Architects could rent these binders by the hour, interviewing film set installation professionals about the lived reality and emotional impact, the narrative demands and implications, of increasingly precise spatial parameters. Rooms with wall-to-wall carpet on the Upper West Side, with east-facing windows, are apparently perfect for divorcee clients... Meanwhile, location scouts drive lonely around the city, maps in hand, looking up through odd-angled windows at barely glimpsable pieces of punched tin ceilings, imagining the internal lives of yet-to-be-acted future characters. Taking notes. Filing photographs. Assembling a dossier on this unpredictable constellation of rooms, charting the human impact of the city to a degree that no other industry can ever quite have.
(Note: This is actually the first blog post I've written entirely on an iPhone, out for breakfast, typing very slowly with one finger... a method that seems to require more practice!)
While watching Die Hard the other night—easily one of the best architectural films of the past 25 years—I kept thinking about an essay called "Lethal Theory" by Eyal Weizman—itself one of the best and most consequential architectural texts of the past decade (download the complete PDF).
In it, Weizman—an Israeli architect and prominent critic of that nation's territorial policy—documents many of the emerging spatial techniques used by the Israeli Defense Forces in their high-tech, legally dubious 2002 invasion of Nablus. During that battle, Weizman writes, "soldiers moved within the city across hundred-meter-long 'overground-tunnels' carved through a dense and contiguous urban fabric." Their movements were thus almost entirely camouflaged, with troop movements hidden from above by virtue of always remaining inside buildings. "Although several thousand soldiers and several hundred Palestinian guerrilla fighters were maneuvering simultaneously in the city," Weizman adds, "they were so 'saturated' within its fabric that very few would have been visible from an aerial perspective at any given moment."
Worthy of particular emphasis is Weizman's reference to a technique called "walking through walls":
Furthermore, soldiers used none of the streets, roads, alleys, or courtyards that constitute the syntax of the city, and none of the external doors, internal stairwells, and windows that constitute the order of buildings, but rather moved horizontally through party walls, and vertically through holes blasted in ceilings and floors.
Weizman goes on to interview a commander of the Israeli Paratrooper Brigade. The commander describes his forces as acting "like a worm that eats its way forward, emerging at points and then disappearing. We were thus moving from the interior of homes to their exterior in a surprising manner and in places we were not expected, arriving from behind and hitting the enemy that awaited us behind a corner."
This is how the troops could "adjust the relevant urban space to our needs," he explains, and not the other way around.
Indeed, the commander thus exhorted his troops as follows: "There is no other way of moving! If until now you were used to moving along roads and sidewalks, forget it! From now on we all walk through walls!"
[Image: Israeli troops scan walls in a refugee camp; photo by Nir Kafri (2003), from Eyal Weizman's essay "Lethal Theory"].
Weizman illustrates the other side of this terrifyingly dislocating experience by quoting an article originally published during the 2002 invasion. Here, a Palestinian woman, whose home was raided, recounts her witnessing of this technique:
Imagine it—you’re sitting in your living room, which you know so well; this is the room where the family watches television together after the evening meal. . . . And, suddenly, that wall disappears with a deafening roar, the room fills with dust and debris, and through the wall pours one soldier after the other, screaming orders. You have no idea if they’re after you, if they’ve come to take over your home, or if your house just lies on their route to somewhere else. The children are screaming, panicking. . . . Is it possible to even begin to imagine the horror experienced by a five-year-old child as four, six, eight, twelve soldiers, their faces painted black, submachine guns pointed everywhere, antennas protruding from their backpacks, making them look like giant alien bugs, blast their way through that wall?
In fact, I'm reminded of a scene toward the end of the recent WWII film Days of Glory in which we see a German soldier blasting his way horizontally through a house, wall by wall, using his bazooka as a blunt instrument of architectural reorganization—"adjusting the relevant space to his needs," we might say—and chasing down the French troops without limiting himself to doors or stairways.
In any case, post-battle surveys later revealed that "more than half of the buildings in the old city center of Nablus had routes forced through them, resulting in anywhere from one to eight openings in their walls, floors, or ceilings, which created several haphazard crossroutes"—a heavily armed improvisational navigation of the city.
So why do I mention all this in the context of Die Hard? The majority of that film's interest, I'd suggest, comes precisely through its depiction of architectural space: John McClane, a New York cop on his Christmas vacation, moves through a Los Angeles high-rise in basically every conceivable way but passing through its doors and hallways.
McClane explores the tower—called Nakatomi Plaza—via elevator shafts and air ducts, crashing through windows from the outside-in and shooting open the locks of rooftop doorways. If there is not a corridor, he makes one; if there is not an opening, there will be soon.
Over the course of the film, McClane blows up whole sections of the building; he stops elevators between floors; and he otherwise explores the internal spaces of Nakatomi Plaza in acts of virtuoso navigation that were neither imagined nor physically planned for by the architects.
His is an infrastructure of nearly uninhibited movement within the material structure of the building.
The film could perhaps have been subtitled "lessons in the inappropriate use of architecture," were that not deliberately pretentious. But even the SWAT team members who unsuccessfully raid the structure come at it along indirect routes, marching through the landscaped rose garden on the building's perimeter, and the terrorists who seize control of Nakatomi Plaza in the first place do so after arriving through the service entrance of an underground car park.
What I find so interesting about Die Hard—in addition to unironically enjoying the film—is that it cinematically depicts what it means to bend space to your own particular navigational needs. This mutational exploration of architecture even supplies the building's narrative premise: the terrorists are there for no other reason than to drill through and rob the Nakatomi Corporation's electromagnetically sealed vault.
Die Hard asks naive but powerful questions: If you have to get from A to B—that is, from the 31st floor to the lobby, or from the 26th floor to the roof—why not blast, carve, shoot, lockpick, and climb your way there, hitchhiking rides atop elevator cars and meandering through the labyrinthine, previously unexposed back-corridors of the built environment?
I might even suggest that what would have made Die Hard 2 an interesting sequel—sadly, the series is unremarkable for the fact that each film is substantially worse than the one before—would have been if Die Hard's spatial premise had been repeated on a much larger urban scale.
For example, Weizman outlines what the Israeli Defense Forces call "hot pursuit"—that is, to "break into Palestinian controlled areas, enter neighborhoods and homes in search of suspects, and take suspects into custody for purposes of interrogation and detention." This becomes a spatially extraordinary proposition when you consider that someone could be kidnapped from the 4th floor of a building by troops who have blasted through the walls and ceilings, coming down into that space from the 5th floor of a neighboring complex—and that the abductors might only have made it that far in the first place after moving through the walls of other structures nearby, blasting upward through underground infrastructure, leaping terrace-to-terrace between buildings, and more.
An alternative-history plot for a much better Die Hard 2 could thus perhaps include a scene in which the rescuing squad of John McClane-led police officers does not even know what building they are in, a suitably bewildering encapsulation of this method of moving undetected through the city.
"Walking through walls" thus becomes a kind of militarized parkour.
Indeed, recent films like The Bourne Ultimatum, Casino Royale, District 13, and many others could be viewed precisely as the urban-scale realization of Die Hard's architectural scenario. Even The Bank Job—indeed, any bank heist film at all involving tunnels—makes this Weizmanian approach to city space quite explicit.
[Image: From Die Hard; it's hard to see here, but an LAPD SWAT team is raiding the Nakatomi Building by way of lateral movements across the surrounding landscape].
Tangentially, I'm reminded of Matt Jones's thought-provoking 2008 blog post about the urban differences between the Jason Bourne and James Bond film franchises. Jones writes that "there’s no travel in the new Bond"; there are simply "establishing shots of exotic destinations." By the end of a Bond film, he adds, you simply "feel like you are in the international late-capitalist nonplace," a geography with neither landmarks nor personal memory.
Compare the paradoxically unmoving, amnesiac geography of James Bond, then, to the compressed spaces of Paul Greengrass-directed Jason Bourne films. These films are "set in Schengen," Jones writes, "a connected, border-less Mitteleurope that can be hacked and accessed and traversed—not without effort, but with determination, stolen vehicles and the right train timetables." Indeed, Jones memorably suggests, "Bourne wraps cities, autobahns, ferries and train terminuses around him as the ultimate body-armor."
Rather than Bond’s private infrastructure [of] expensive cars and toys, Bourne uses public infrastructure as a superpower. A battered watch and an accurate U-Bahn time-table are all he needs for a perfectly-timed, death-defying evasion of the authorities.
The space of the city is used in profoundly different ways by Bond and Bourne—but to this duality I would add John McClane of the original Die Hard.
If Jason Bourne's actions make visible the infrastructure-rich, borderless world of the EU, then John McClane shows us a new type of architectural space altogether—one that we might call, channeling topology, Nakatomi space, wherein buildings reveal near-infinite interiors, capable of being traversed through all manner of non-architectural means. In all three cases, though—with Bond, Bourne, and McClane—it is Hollywood action films that reveal to us something very important about how cities can be known, used, and navigated: these films are filled with the improvisational crossroutes that constitute Eyal Weizman's "Lethal Theory."
On the other hand, as Weizman points out, this is not a new approach to built space at all:
In fact, although celebrated now as radically new, many of the procedures and processes described above have been part and parcel of urban operations throughout history. The defenders of the Paris Commune, much like those of the Kasbah of Algiers, Hue, Beirut, Jenin, and Nablus, navigated the city in small, loosely coordinated groups moving through openings and connections between homes, basements, and courtyards using alternative routes, secret passageways, and trapdoors.
This is all just part of "a ghostlike military fantasy world of boundless fluidity, in which the space of the city becomes as navigable as an ocean."
Treated as an architectural premise, Die Hard becomes an exhilarating catalog of unorthodox movements through space. I would suggest again, then, that where the various Die Hard sequels went wrong was in abandoning this spatial investigation—one that could very easily have been scaled-up to encompass a city—and following, instead, the life of one character: John McClane. But, when taken out of Nakatomi Plaza—that is, out of the boundless, oceanic fluidity of Nakatomi space—McClane is reduced to an action film cliché whose failing charisma no amount of wise-cracking can salvage.
(I remembered while writing this post that I actually discussed Die Hard on National Public Radio last year; you can listen to that show here).
BLDGBLOG ("building blog") is written by Geoff Manaugh. The opinions expressed here are my own; they do not reflect the views of my friends, editors, employers, publishers, or colleagues, with whom this blog is not affiliated.