[Image: "Constant time slices" reveal buildings buried in northwestern Argentina; image from, and courtesy of, the Journal of Archaeological Science, "Detecting and mapping buried buildings with Ground-Penetrating Radar at an ancient village in northwestern Argentina," by Néstor Bonomo, Ana Osella, and Norma Ratto].
While reading The Losers
last night for the first time—a graphic novel about a team of ex-CIA members now executing a series of elaborate heists against their former employers—I was pleasantly surprised to see that one of the final scenarios involves a small volcanic island featuring an abandoned village that had very recently been buried by ash and pumice.
In a nutshell, the buildings beneath all that rock and ash are still intact—and one of them contains a locked safe that our eponymous group of "losers" is searching for. So begins an unfortunately quite short scene of vertical archaeology: locating the proper building amidst the featureless landscape of ash, blasting a hole down through the building's roof, stabilizing the ceiling from within so that heavy-lifting equipment can be installed on the rooftop, and then descending into the hallways and staircases below by way of mountaineering ropes to find the safe.
For whatever reason, there are few things I find more exciting to read about than high-risk descents into buried cities, especially one that, as in the case of The Losers
, remains otherwise indistinguishable from the surface of the earth, only gradually revealing itself to be an extraordinary honeycomb of connected rooms and passages—and this brief moment in the book was made even more interesting when I remembered a handful of articles I'd saved last year, one of which also involves a lost village, buried by volcanic ash.
[Image: A selection of "time slices" from the buried buildings of northwestern Argentina; image from, and courtesy of, the Journal of Archaeological Science, "Detecting and mapping buried buildings with Ground-Penetrating Radar at an ancient village in northwestern Argentina," by Néstor Bonomo, Ana Osella, and Norma Ratto].
In a 1998 paper from the Journal of Applied Geophysics
, called "The use of ground penetrating radar to map an ancient village buried by volcanic eruptions," we read about a village in Japan called Komochi-mura, in Gunma prefecture: "The entire area surrounding the village is covered by a thick deposit of pumice derived from the eruption of Futatsudake volcano of Mt. Haruna, approximately 10km to the southwest of the village."
Beneath the modern village, its predecessor from the middle of the 6th century is buried by the pumice deposits. Since these were laid down over a very short period, the ancient village should survive in a high state of preservation and will therefore contain much significant archaeological information. Ground penetrating radar (GPR) has been used to investigate this site over a period of 10 years. As a result, the plan of the ancient village can be accurately mapped... In this paper, the authors demonstrate how GPR was able to map the structural remains of the ancient village under a deposit of pumice.
In addition to various buildings, "pit-dwellings," and other destroyed structures preserved but invisibly buried beneath today's village, "traces of brushwood hedges, paths and other slight features have also been identified by the survey."
These types of articles—on the remote-sensing of buried architectural remains, using technologies that "can detect and map buried structures without disturbing them," in the words of the paper I am about to cite—are increasingly easy to find, but no less interesting because of their ubiquity.
Another paper, then, called "Detecting and mapping buried buildings with Ground-Penetrating Radar at an ancient village in northwestern Argentina," published in 2010 in the Journal of Archaeological Science
, describes an archaeological survey in which ground-penetrating radar was used "in order to detect new buildings," including a system of "complex wall distribution and a number of unknown enclosures." These "new buildings," however, were just signals from the earth awaiting spatial interpretation:
The exploration showed signals of mud-walls in a sector that was located relatively far from the previously known buildings. A detailed survey was performed in this sector, and the results showed that the walls belonged to a large dwelling with several rooms. The discovery of this dwelling has considerably extended the size of the site, showing that the dwellings occupied at least twice the originally assumed area. High-density GPR surveys were acquired at different parts of the discovered building in order to resolve complex structures. Interpreted maps of the building were obtained.
"From the joint analysis of the transverse sections, time slices and volume slices of the data and their time averaged intensity," the authors explain, "we have obtained a final map for the new building"—where the "new" building, of course, is a much older, forgotten one, a structure interpretively remade and refreshed through this newfound legibility.
[Image: From "Archaeological microgravimetric prospection inside don church (Valencia, Spain)," by Jorge Padín, Angel Martín, Ana Belén Anquela, in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science].
Architecture, in this context, comes to our attention first as a series of "intensity blots continued through consecutive slices," an almost impossibly abstract geometry of signals and reflections, of patterned "electromagnetic responses" hidden in the landscape.
In all of these cases, it'd be interesting to propose a kind of archaeological discovery park the size of a football stadium, whose interior is simply a massive, open-span paved landscape on which small devices like floor-waxing machines or lawnmowers have been parked. Paying visitors can walk out onto this vast, continuous monument of bare concrete where they will begin moving the machines around, cautiously at first but then much more ambitiously, revealing as they do so the underground perimeters and outlines of entire villages buried deep in the mud and gravel beneath the building. The "park" is thus really a kind of terrestrial TV show of invisible architecture previously lost to history but beautifully preserved—that is, entombed—in the geology below.
In any case, in writing this post I've realized that I've accumulated over the past two years or so several gigabytes' worth of PDFs about these and other archaeological technologies—from mapping ancient ships buried in the Egyptian pyramids and micro-gravity detection of "shallow subsurface structures" in a church in Italy ("indicating," in the authors' words, "that the actual church was constructed above another one") to "archaeomagnetic data" taken from Roman sites in Tunisia—but here's at least one more reference for good measure.
In a paper called "Ground penetrating radar (G.P.R.) surveys applied to the research of crypts in San Sebastiano’s church in Catania (Sicily)," from a 2007 issue of the Journal of Cultural Heritage
, a team of Italian geophysicists explored "natural or anthropic buried cavities" under a church in Sicily—that is, both architectural chambers and caves physically inaccessible in the foundations of the building. Soon enough, the authors write, "the existence of hidden structures was revealed."
"In fact," they add, "a crypt with a barrel vault, under the central aisle of the church, and a room of small dimensions next to this crypt were identified. Moreover, near the altar, the presence of a quadrangular crypt with a cross-vault was revealed. The presence of such buried masonries confirms that the church, rebuilt on previous building rests, has been subjected along the centuries to repeated repairs."
[Image: The church of San Sebastiano in Catania, Sicily, courtesy of the regional tourism council].
There is something particularly awesome—that is, it is a story that lends itself particularly to metaphor—about envisioning a squad of well-equipped scientists setting up shop in a church in Sicily, using radar and rigs of strange antennae to scan the structure around them for secret rooms, heavenly nooks and crannies out of human reach. A kind of electromagnetic baroque. The paper cited in a caption above—"Archaeological microgravimetric prospection inside don church (Valencia, Spain)," by Jorge Padín, Angel Martín, Ana Belén Anquela, from a 2012 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science
—even includes such strangely resonant lines as calculating against "residual gravity anomalies" in a "microgravimetric correction for the altar," as if the high science of geophysical investigation has been rhetorically wed with theological speculation.
In the words of a paper by N. Farnoosh et al., published in a 2008 issue of NDT & E International
, analyzing a given architectural space becomes a question of "buried target detection" using high-tech means—that is, establishing a sustained and coordinated "electromagnetic interaction among the radar antennas, ground, and buried objects."
Here, the study of architectural history can very, very loosely be compared to astronomy: using tools of remote-sensing, including antennae, but targeted downward, into the earth, to reveal the flickering, gossamer traces of something that, for a variety of reasons, humans can't yet physically reach. Like astronomy, then, archaeology and architectural history become a case of interpreting signals from afar, not of stars and supernovae but of lost rooms and buildings beneath our feet.
In Richard Mabey's excellent history—and "defense"—of weeds
, previously mentioned on BLDGBLOG back in December
, he tells the story of Oxford ragwort, a species native to the volcanic slopes of Sicily's Mount Etna. Exactly how it arrived in Oxford is unknown, Mabey explains, but it was as likely as not brought back deliberately as part of an 18th-century scientific expedition.
[Image: Cropped photo of Oxford ragwort from the UK National Education Network].
But once it took root in Oxford, it began to spread—and Mabey tells the tale of its territorial expansion in forensic close-up. You can literally track this on Google Maps
. Quoting him at length:
Within a few years the ragwort had escaped from the garden (which is sited opposite Magdalen College) and begun its westward progress along Oxford's ancient walls. Its downy seeds seemed to find an analogue of the volcanic rocks of its original home in the cracked stonework. It leap-frogged from Merton College to Corpus Christi and the august parapets of Christ Church, then wound its way through the narrow alleys of St. Aldate's. It got to Folly Bridge over the Isis, and then to the site of the old workhouse in Jericho, where, as if recognizing that this was a place of poverty, threw up a strange diminutive variant, a type with flower heads half the normal size (var. parviflorus). Sometime in the 1830s it arrived at Oxford Railway Station, the portal to a nationwide, interlinked network of Etna-like stone chips and clinker. Once it was on the railway companies' permanent ways there was no holding it. The seeds were wafted on by the slipstream of the trains, and occasionally traveled in the carriages. The botanist George Claridge Druce described a trip he took with some on a summer's afternoon in the 1920s. [Ragwort seeds] floated in through his carriage window at Oxford and "remained suspended in the air till they found an exit at Tilehurst," twenty miles down the line.
So ragwort came to be everywhere, spreading across "analogous" landscapes that chemically and texturally mimicked the plant's home ground, establishing itself as an all but ubiquitous plant—an itinerant super-weed riding the nation's trains and piggybacking stone wall to stone wall—across the United Kingdom.
This step-by-step expansion of a life form's zone of habitation came to mind when reading the bizarre story of a runaway fungus in Kentucky. "The sooty-looking black gunk has been here for as long as anyone can remember," the New York Times
reported back in August 2012, "creeping on the outside of homes, spreading over porch furniture, blanketing car roofs, mysterious and ever-present." People in town thought it must be the result of pollution, or perhaps just the town being reclaimed by whatever original moldy life had once inhabited those valleys.
But no: "[I]t turns out the most likely culprit is Kentucky’s signature product, its liquid pride: whiskey, as in bourbon whiskey, distilled and bottled across the city and nearby countryside." The mold—called Baudoinia
—"belongs to a class of fungi that is almost prehistorically tenacious" (and, for good measure, Wired
adds that it is "a fungus that's millions of years old, older than Homo sapiens
And it is a dark and spreading presence on the buildings, streets, cars, and even road signs near distilleries, "indiscriminately colonizing exposed surfaces ranging from vegetation to built structures, sign posts and fences (including those made from glass and stainless steel)," the U.S. Department of Energy
warns, describing this ancient and sooty form of life.
[Image: Baudoinia growing on a fire hydrant; photo by Ben Sklar, courtesy of the New York Times].
Indeed, it's gotten so bad that towns along the historic Kentucky Bourbon Trail
are bringing suit against the distilleries, the New York Times
continues: "The dark residue is visible throughout neighborhoods on days when the air carries a slight yeasty smell from nearby whiskey warehouses and on days when it does not, in heat and in damp. It is difficult to get rid of, the lawsuit alleges, returning after repeated commercial cleanings."
A similar suit in Scotland is now in the works, where "the fungus is so rampant that it almost seems like part of the architecture." Here, I'm reminded of novelist Jeff VanderMeer
's idea of domesticated species of lichen being used as living architectural ornament—that, in his words, "much of the ‘gold’ covering the buildings was actually a living organism similar to lichen that [had been] trained to create decorative patterns."
[Image: Buildings covered in black, growing spotches of Baudoinia; photographer unknown, via Discover].
In any case, this prehistoric "weed," if you will—a mold not from the slopes of Mount Etna but escaped from barrels of whiskey—offers us an interesting variation on Richard Mabey's forensic tale of rooted but footloose infestation.
At the center of each story, we find an organism spatially and chemically dependent on the built environment of humans for its success, a species ready and perfectly able to "invade niches which resemble its original habitat," in Mabey's words
. Living stowaways, they make themselves at home on walls, porches, car hoods, trees, even, in the case of Baudoinia
, stainless steel, quietly thriving on whatever systems of objects they might find, eventually merging with and becoming part of the everyday landscape.
[Image: An otherwise unrelated image from NASA, an artist's rendition of the heliosphere and magnetic fields].
The Earth is "constantly crashing through huge walls of dark matter
," New Scientist
explains, "and we already have the tools to detect them."
This dark architecture in space consists of so-called "domain walls" that are like the boundaries between soap bubbles in foam. "The idea is that the hot early universe was full of an exotic force field that varied randomly. As the universe expanded and cooled, the field froze, leaving a patchwork of domains, each with its own distinct value for the field."
The Earth now randomly "crashes" through this "grid of domain walls"—a remnant "patchwork" of frozen, remnant force fields and now something perhaps less like soap bubbles and metaphorically closer to cosmic-scale magnetic ice, a structured frost we move through without seeing—on a scale of once every several years. So, not quite "constantly," as the lead sentence implies, but, given the age of the universe, I suppose that's constant enough.
But how do we find them, this grid of domain walls we apparently live within? We simply need to install dedicated magnetometers at stations around the world, and look for evidence of this colossal architecture wrapped all around us in the dark.
[Image: An otherwise unrelated photo of lift bags being used in underwater archaeology; via NOAA].
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA
, is hoping to implement a global infrastructure for storing mission-critical objects and payloads at the "bottom of the sea"—a kind of stationary, underwater FedEx that will release mission-critical packages for rendezvous with passing U.S. warships and UAVs.
It's called the Upward Falling Payloads
The "concept," according to DARPA, "centers on developing deployable, unmanned, distributed systems that lie on the deep-ocean floor in special containers for years at a time. These deep-sea nodes would then be woken up remotely when needed and recalled to the surface. In other words, they 'fall upward.'" This requires innovative new technologies for "extended survival of nodes under extreme ocean pressure, communications to wake-up the nodes after years of sleep, and efficient launch of payloads to the surface."
As Popular Science
describes it, it's a sleeping archive of "'upward falling' robots that can hide on the seafloor for years [and] launch on demand."
And you can even get involved: DARPA is currently seeking proposals for how to realize its vision for Upward Falling Payloads
DARPA seeks proposals in three key areas for developing the program: Communications, deep ocean 'risers' to contain the payloads, and the actual payloads. DARPA hopes to reach technical communities that conduct deep-ocean engineering from the telecom and oil-exploration industry to the scientific community with insights into signal propagation in the water and on the seafloor.
An informative "proposer's day
" will be held on January 25, 2013, where you can learn more about the program. It seems that, just a few years from now, storing objects for at-sea retrieval will be as ordinary as receiving an email.
Briefly, it seems worth mentioning that this vision of waking things up from slumber at the bottom of the sea reads like a subplot from Pacific Rim
, or like some militarized remake of the works of H.P. Lovecraft—wherein Lovecraft's fictional Cthulhu
, a monstrous and alien god, is described (by Wikipedia) as "a huge aquatic creature sleeping for eternity at the bottom of the ocean and destined to emerge from his slumber in an apocalyptic age."
Only, here, it is a gigantic system of military jewelry laced across the seafloor, locked in robotic sleep until the day of its electromagnetic reawakening.
(Thanks to Brian Romans for the link!)
This autumn—October 12-19, 2013—High Desert Tests Sites
aims "to take in everything from Joshua Tree, California, to Albuquerque, New Mexico," through a weeklong open event in which "artists and audience alike [will] traverse the desolate desert roads and explore the hidden gems, both old and new," between these two locations.
A call for participation
is up if you'd like more information or hope to join in; you have roughly two weeks to propose something. Earthworks, field recordings, sensory maps, experimental antenna fields conjuring new mountain aurorae, mineral gardens, a photonovella of speculative eclipse camps
and desert satellite trackers, illustrated myths of the flash flood—who knows.
(Thanks to Greg Hohman for the tip).
[Image: Lebbeus Woods, from San Francisco Project: Inhabiting the Quake, Quake City (1995)].
I thought I'd upload the course description for a studio I'll be teaching this spring—starting next week, in fact—at Columbia University's GSAPP
on the architectural implications of seismic energy and the possibility of a San Andreas Fault National Park
in California. The images in this post are just pages from the syllabus.
The overall idea is to look at architecture's capacity for giving form to—or, in terms of the course description, its capacity to "make legible"—seismic energy as experienced along the San Andreas Fault. As the syllabus explains, we'll achieve this, first, through the design and modeling of a series of architectural "devices"—not scientific instruments, but interpretive tools—that can interact with, spatially mediate, and/or augment the fault line, making the tectonic forces of the earth visible, audible, or otherwise sensible for a visiting public. From pendulums to prepared pianos, seismographs to shake tables, this invention and exploration of new mechanisms for the fault will fill the course's opening three weeks.
The larger and more important impetus of the studio, however, is to look at the San Andreas Fault as a possible site for a future National Park, including all that this might entail, from questions of seismic risk and what it means to invite visitors into a place of terrestrial instability to the impossibility of preserving a landscape on the move. What might a San Andreas Fault National Park
look like, we will ask, how could such a park best be managed, what architecture and infrastructure—from a visitors' center to hiking way stations—would be appropriate for such a dynamic site, and, in the end, what does it mean to enshrine seismic movement as part of the historical narrative of the United States, suggesting that a fault line
can be worthy of National Park status?
I'm also excited to say that we'll be working in collaboration with Marc Weidenbaum's Disquiet Junto
, an online music collective who will be developing projects over the course of the spring that explore the sonic properties of the San Andreas Fault—a kind of soundtrack for the San Andreas. The results of these experiments will be uploaded to Soundcloud
[Images: Lebbeus Woods, from San Francisco Project: Inhabiting the Quake, Quake City (1995) and an aerial view of the San Andreas Fault, looking south across the Carrizo Plain at approximately +35° 6' 49.81", -119° 38' 40.98"].
Course: Columbia University GSAPP Advanced Studio IV, Spring 2013
Title: San Andreas: Architecture for the Fault
Instructor: Geoff Manaugh
The San Andreas Fault
is a roughly 800-mile tectonic feature cutting diagonally across the state of California, from the coastal spit of Cape Mendocino, 200 miles north of San Francisco, to the desert shores of the Salton Sea near the U.S./Mexico border. Described by geologists as a “transform fault,” the San Andreas marks a stark and exposed division between the North American and Pacific Plates. It is a landscape on the move—“one of the least stable parts of the Earth,” in the words of paleontologist Richard Fortey, writing in his excellent book Earth: An Intimate History
, and "one of several faults that make up a complex of potential catastrophes."
Seismologists estimate that, in just one million years’ time, the two opposing sides of the fault will have slid past one another to the extent of physically sealing closed the entrance to San Francisco Bay; at the other end of the state, Los Angeles will have been dragged more than 15 miles north of its present position. But then another million years will pass—and another, and another—violently and unrecognizably distorting Californian geography, with the San Andreas as a permanent, sliding scar.
In some places today, the fault is a picturesque landscape of rolling hills and ridges; in others, it is a broad valley, marked by quiet streams, ponds, and reservoirs; in yet others, it is not visible at all, hidden beneath the rocks and vegetation. In a sense, the San Andreas is not singular and it has no clear identity of its own, taking on the character of what it passes through whilst influencing the ways in which that land is used. The fault cuts through heavily urbanized areas—splitting the San Francisco peninsula in two—as well as through the suburbs. It cleaves through mountains and farms, ranches and rail yards. As the National Park Service reminds us, “Although the very mention of the San Andreas Fault instills concerns about great earthquakes, perhaps less thought is given to the glorious and scenic landscapes the fault has been responsible for creating.”
[Images: (left) A “fault trench” cut along the San Andreas for studying underground seismic strain; photo by Ricardo DeAratanha for the Los Angeles Times. (right) A property fence “offset” nearly eight feet by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; a similar fence is now part of an “Earthquake Trail” interpretive loop “that provides visitors with information on the unique geological forces that shape Point Reyes and Northern California.” “Interpretive displays dot the trail,” according to the blog Weekend Sherpa, “describing the dynamic geology of the area. The highlight is a wooden fence split and moved 20 feet by the great quake of 1906.” Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey].
This is not a class about seismic engineering, however, nor is it a rigorous look at how architects might stabilize buildings in an earthquake zone. Rather, it is a class about making the seismic energies of the San Andreas Fault legible through architecture
. That is, making otherwise imperceptible planetary forces—the tectonic actions of the Earth itself—physically and spatially sensible. Our goal is to make the seismic energy of the fault experientially present in the lives of the public, framing and interpreting its extraordinary geology by means of a new National Park: a San Andreas Fault National Park
For generations, the fault has inspired equal parts scientific fascination and pop-cultural fear, seen—rightly or not—as the inevitable source of the “Big One,” an impending super-earthquake that will devastate California, flattening San Francisco and felling bridges, houses, and roads throughout greater Los Angeles.
From the 1985 James Bond film, A View to a Kill
, in which the San Andreas Fault is weaponized by an eccentric billionaire, to the so-called Parkfield Experiment
, “a comprehensive, long-term earthquake research project on the San Andreas fault” run by the U.S. Geological Survey to “capture” an earthquake, the fault pops up in—and has influence on—extremely diverse contexts: literary, poetic, scientific, photographic, and, as we will explore in this studio, architectural.
Indeed, the fault—and the earthquake it promises to unleash—is even psychologically present for the state’s residents in ways that are only vaguely understood. As critic David L. Ulin suggests in his book The Myth of Solid Ground
, on the promises and impossibilities of earthquake prediction, the constant threat of potentially fatal seismic activity has become “part of the subterranean mythos of people’s lives” in California, inspiring a near-religious or mystical obsession with “finding order in disorder, of taking the random pandemonium of an earthquake and reconfiguring it to make unexpected sense.”
For this class, each student must make a different kind of unexpected (spatial) sense of the San Andreas Fault by proposing a San Andreas Fault National Park
: a speculative complex of land forms, visitors’ centers, exhibition spaces, hiking paths, local transportation infrastructure, and more, critically rethinking what a National Park—both a preserved landscape, no matter how mobile or dynamic it might be, and its related architecture, from campsites to trail signage—is able to achieve.
Important questions here relate back to seismic safety and the limits of the National Park experience. While, as we will see, there is a jigsaw puzzle of literally hundreds of minor faults straining beneath the cities, towns, suburbs, ranches, vineyards, farms, and parks of coastal California—and much of the state’s water infrastructure, in fact, crosses the San Andreas Fault—there are entirely real concerns about inviting visitors into a site of inevitable and possibly massive seismic disturbance.
For instance, what does it mean to frame a dangerously unstable landscape as a place of aesthetic reflection, natural refuge, or outdoor recreation, and what are the risks in doing so? Alternatively, might we discover a whole new type of National Park in our designs, one that is neither reflective nor a refuge—perhaps something more like a San Andreas Fault National Laboratory, a managed landscape of sustained scientific research, not personal recreation? Further, how can a park such as this most clearly and effectively live up to the promise of being National
, thus demonstrating that seismic activity has played an influential role in the shared national history of the United States?
Meanwhile, each student’s San Andreas Fault National Park proposal must include a Seismic Interpretive Center
: an educational facility within which seismic activity will be studied, demonstrated, explained, or even architecturally performed and replicated. The resulting Seismic Interpretive Center will take as one of its central challenges how to communicate the science, risk, history, and future of seismic activity to both the visiting public and to resident scientists or park rangers.
Finally, the San Andreas Fault National Park must, of course, be located on the fault itself, at a site (or sites) carefully chosen by each student; however, the Seismic Interpretive Center could remain physically distant from the fault, although still within park boundaries, thus reflecting its role as a mediator between visitors and the landscape they are on the verge of entering.
[Images: (left) John Braund, Cartographer for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, March 1939, demonstrates a “new process expected to revolutionize map making… showing all the details of topography in a form true to nature.” His machine chisels topographic details using “a specially-designed electric hammer.” What new mapping devices might be possible for the San Andreas Fault, for a landscape unpredictably on the move? (right top) From Piano Tuning by J. Cree Fischer (1907). (right bottom) Bernard Tschumi, Parc de la Villette, Paris (1989). Can—or how do—we extract a site-logic from the San Andreas Fault itself?].
The first design challenge of the semester, due Monday, February 18, will be a set of architectural instruments for the San Andreas Fault
. These “instruments” should be thought of as architectural devices for registering, displaying, amplifying, dampening, resonating in tune with, or otherwise studying seismic energy in the San Andreas Fault zone.
These devices should serve as seismic translators, we might say, or terrestrial interfaces: instructional devices that inhabit the metaphorically rich space between human beings and the volatile surface of the planet they stand on. Importantly, though, students should not expect these mechanisms to function as realistic scientific tools; rather, this initial project should be approached as the design of experimental architectural objects for communicating and/or making sensible the seismic complexities of an unstable landscape, interpreting an Earth always on the verge of violent transformation.
Students should begin working through a series of drawings and desktop models, developing ideas for the devices, follies, and instruments in question; one of these devices or instruments should then be chosen for physical modeling in detail, including accurate functioning of parts. This model should then be photographed for presentation at the midterm review, though the resulting photographs can be embellished and labeled as display boards. Each student must also write a short explanatory text for the instrument (no longer than 150 words).
Finally, all of this material should be saved for later documentation in a black & white pamphlet to be made available at the GSAPP End-of-Year Show.
For precedents and inspiration, we will look at, among other things, the work of Shin Egashira and David Greene, whose 1997 booklet Alternative Guide to the Isle of Portland
will serve as a kind of project sourcebook; the U.S. Geological Survey’s Parkfield Experiment, in particular the Parkfield Interventional EQ Fieldwork
(PIEQF) by artist D.V. Rogers; the “prepared” or “adapted” instruments and other musical inventions of avant-garde composers such as John Cage
and Harry Partch
; Bernard Tschumi’s fragmented half-buildings and other grid-based follies for the Parc de la Villette in Paris (recast, in our context, as an organizational collision between designed objects and the illogic of the fault they augment); and the speculative machines catalogued by architect C.J. Lim in his book Devices: A Manual of Architectural + Spatial Machines
[Images: From Shin Egashira & David Greene, Alternative Guide to the Isle of Portland (1997)].
As Lim points out, devices share “a long and complex history with architecture.” He adds that “the machines of Vitruvius and Leonardo da Vinci,” among others, can be seen as functional compressions of architectural space, connecting large-scale building design to the precise engineering of intricate machinery. Lim’s highly imaginative examples range from Victorian-era phantasmagoria and early perspectival drawing instruments to navigation tools, wearable toolkits, and even sensors for detecting lost rivers in underground London.
[Images: From Shin Egashira & David Greene, Alternative Guide to the Isle of Portland (1997)].
One question for us here will also be in reference to scale
: how large does a “device” have to be before it becomes a “building”—or a landscape, or a city—and how can architects work effectively across these extremes of space (from a portable gadget to an inhabitable building to a landscape park to a continent) and extremes of time (from the real-time motion of a mechanism to the imperceptible million-year grind of plate tectonics)?
[Images: D.V. Rogers, Parkfield Interventional EQ Fieldwork (PIEQF), 2008. According to Rogers, PIEQF was “a geologically interactive, seismic machine earthwork temporarily installed in the remote township of Parkfield, Central California, USA. During ninety-one days of intervention, between the 18th [of] August and 16th [of] November 2008, the installation reflected 4000-4500 Californian seismic events. PIEQF interfaced with the US Geological Survey seismic monitoring network and was triggered by near real-time reported earthquake waves from magnitude (M) 0.1 and above… Surrounding the earthquake shake table and buried within the excavation at north, south, east, and west co-ordinate points, an array of vertical motion sensors were installed. These sensors (Geophones) were excited when walked over or jumped upon, causing the shake table to become mechanically active. Visitors to PIEQF engaged interactively with the installation becoming seismic events themselves when interacting with these sensors.”].
Our own devices will be performative, interactive, interpretive, and instrumental. They will amplify, distribute, reproduce, offset, counterbalance, prolong, delay, hasten, measure, survey, direct, deform, induce, or spectacularize even the most imperceptible seismic events.
[Images: Daniel Libeskind, Writing Machine (1980s). As Lebbeus Woods has written, describing Libeskind’s work: “Elaborately constructed and enigmatic in purpose, Libeskind’s machines are striking and sumptuous manifestations of ideas that were, at the time he made them, of obsessive interest to academics, critics, and avant-gardists in architecture and out. Principal among these was the idea that architecture must be read, that is, understood, in the same way as a written text.” In terms of our studio, what would a machine be that could “read,” “write,” or “translate” the San Andreas Fault?].
Again, these “instruments” should not be approached as realistic scientific tools, but rather as poetic, spatial augmentations of the San Andreas Fault. Students are being asked to use the problem-solving techniques of architectural design to imagine hypothetical devices at a variety of scales that will translate this unique site—a fault line between tectonic plates and an elastic zone of origin for millions of years of future terrain deformation—into a new kind of spatial and intellectual experience for those who encounter it.
[Images: Harry Partch, various stringed, percussive, and resonating instruments (1940s/1950s)].
Upon completing these devices, the second, most important, and largest project of the semester, due Wednesday, April 17, will be the San Andreas Fault National Park
proposal and its associated Seismic Interpretive Center
The Seismic Interpretive Center
should be an educational facility, equivalent to 30,000 square feet. Here, seismic activity will be studied, demonstrated, interpreted, and otherwise explained to the visiting public and to a seasonal crew of scientist-researchers who use the facility in their work. It might be useful to think of the Seismic Interpretive Center as a direct outgrowth of the instruments developed in the previous project, either by housing or emulating those devices. In other words, the Center could passively display seismic instruments for public use but simultaneously operate as an active, building-scale mechanism for engaging with or tectonically explaining the San Andreas Fault.
In practical terms, the proposed Center should be a fully developed three-dimensional building or landscape project, no matter how speculative or straight-forward its underlying premise might be, whether it is simply a museum of the fault or something more provocative, such as a partially underground public test-facility for generating artificial earthquakes. In all cases—circulation, materials, program, site—students must demonstrate thorough knowledge of their own project in the form of, but not limited to, the appropriate use of plans, sections, elevations, axonometrics, physical models, and 3D diagrams.
[Images: (left) Harry Partch, two instruments, 1940s/1950s. (right) Doug Aitken’s “Sonic Pavilion” (2009), courtesy of the Doug Aitken Workshop].
To help develop ideas for the Seismic Interpretive Center, we will look at such precedents as artist Doug Aitken’s “Sonic Pavilion” in Brazil, where, in the words of The New York Times
, Aitken “buried microphones sensitive to vibrations caused by the rotation of the planet,” or the artist’s own house in Venice, California, where, again quoting The New York Times
, “geological microphones… amplify not just the groan of tectonic plate movements but also the roar of the tides and the rumble of street traffic. Guests can listen in on this subterranean world without putting an ear to the ground. Speakers installed throughout the house bring its metronomic clicks and extended drones to them whenever Aitken turns up the volume.”
More abstractly, students could perhaps think of the Center as a variation on “Solomon’s House
,” a proto-scientific research facility featured in Sir Francis Bacon’s 17th-century utopian sci-fi novel The New Atlantis
. In Solomon’s House, natural philosophers operate vast, artificial landscapes and complex machines—rivaling anything we read about in Dubai or China today—to examine the world in fantastic detail. Bacon offers a lengthy inventory of the devices available for use: “We have… great and spacious houses where we imitate and demonstrate meteors… We have also sound-houses, where we practice and demonstrate all sounds, and their generation… We have also engine-houses, where are prepared engines and instruments for all sorts of motions… We have also a mathematical house, where are represented all instruments, as well of geometry as astronomy, exquisitely made…”
The larger San Andreas Fault National Park proposal within which this Interpretive Center will sit must include all aspects of an existing park in the National Park Service network of managed sites; however, students must push the National Park typology in new directions, taking seriously the prospect of preserving and framing a landscape that moves
[Images: (left top) AllesWirdGut Architektur, a Roman quarry in St. Margarethen, Austria, converted into public venue, park, and auditorium, 2006-2008. In a private email, responding to the image seen on the left, landscape blogger Alexander Trevi from Pruned suggested that perhaps it would be more interesting for us to think of the San Andreas Fault not in terms of a detached viewer—like the so-called Rückenfiguren (or figures seen from behind) in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich—but, as Trevi suggested, more like dancer Fred Astaire, physically and whimsically engaging in a choreographed state of delight with the Earth’s shifting topography. (left bottom) “Ice Age Deposits of Wisconsin” (1964) and a photo, taken from Flickr, of an Ice Age National Scenic Trail marker (2007). (right top) National Tourist Route Geiranger-Trollstigen, Norway. Architect: Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter. Photo: Per Kollstad. (right bottom, left to right, top to bottom, within grid) National Tourist Route Rondane. Architect: Carl-Viggo Hølmebakk. Photo: Vegar Moen. National Tourist Route Geiranger-Trollstigen, Norway. Architect: Reiulf Ramstad Arkitekter. Photo: Jarle Wæhler. National Tourist Route Aurlandsfjellet. Architect: Todd Saunders / Saunders-Wilhelmsen. Photo: Vegar Moen. National Tourist Route Ryfylke. Architect: Haga Grov / Helge Schjelderup. Photo: Per Kollstad. Courtesy of National Tourist Routes in Norway].
This means students must propose a working combination of such features as trails, lodging, visitors’ centers, educational programming, parking/camping, and other facilities that differentiate National Parks from their less developed counterparts, National Monuments, but with the addition of new types of structures and innovative landscape management techniques that might reveal future opportunities for the U.S. National Park system.
Here, we will look at a variety of precedents, including current plans for a “Manhattan Project National Park
” (a National Park that will preserve three geographically diverse sites key to the development of nuclear weapons during World War II); a proposal by photographer Richard Misrach for a “Bravo 20 National Park
” (a former U.S. Navy bombing range that would be preserved as a recreational landscape); the High Line here in New York City; an entirely underwater National Park Service “Maritime Heritage Trail
” in Biscayne Bay, Florida; the extraordinary, multi-sensory “Taichung Gateway Park
” proposal by landscape architects Catherine Mosbach and Philippe Rahm; the “Ice Age National Scenic Trail
” in Wisconsin; and, of course, a handful of already existing state parks and recreation areas in California—such as the Los Trancos Open Space Preserve
and the 206,000-acre Carrizo Plain National Monument
—that feature hiking trails and other recreational facilities that cross the San Andreas Fault.
The “Ice Age National Scenic Trail” is what we might call a planetary interpretive trail: “More than 12,000 years ago,” we read, “an immense flow of glacial ice sculpted a landscape of remarkable beauty across Wisconsin. As the colossal glacier retreated, it left behind a variety of unique landscape features… The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a thousand-mile footpath—entirely within Wisconsin—that highlights these Ice Age landscape features while providing access to some of the state’s most beautiful natural areas.”
However, no less useful in this context are the “National Tourist Routes
” that now criss-cross the geologically rich landscapes of Norway. In essence, these are new scenic routes for automobiles constructed through extraordinary natural landscapes, including coastal fjords and precipitous mountain valleys; however, these routes have also been peppered with signature architectural interventions, including lookout towers, roadside picnic areas, trail infrastructure, geological overlooks, and more.
But how do we define—let alone locate—a park on the scale of a fault line? Landscape architect James Corner suggests that the virtue of a “large park
”—which he defines as a park “greater than 500 acres”—is that it “allows for dramatic exposure to the elements, to weather, geology, open horizons, and thick vegetation, all revealed to the ambulant body in alternating sequences of prospect and refuge—distinctive places for overview and survey woven with more intimate spots of retreat and isolation.” He calls such parks “huge experiential reserves”—in terms of the San Andreas, we might say a kind of seismic commons.
Further, thinking about—let alone designing—architecture on this scale requires close attention to what landscape theorist Julia Czerniak calls legibility
. “The concept of legibility,” she writes in her edited collection Large Parks
, “extends from park design to the design process. In other words, to be realized, parks have to be legible to the people who pay for and use them.” After all, she adds, “in addition to questions of a park’s legibility that stem from recognizing its limits—‘where is the park?’—large park schemes with unconventional configurations provoke other uncertainties—‘how does it look?’ and ‘what can it do?’”
[Images: (left) One of only a few sites where the San Andreas Fault is designated with road signs; photographs by Geoff Manaugh. (right) Satellite view of the San Andreas Fault, rotated 90º (north is to the right)].
Complicating matters even more, we will also examine how National Park infrastructure—from interpretive trails to hotels and viewing platforms—function as immersive projects of landscape representation, even above, and possibly rather than, places of embodied physical experience. In other words, as Richard Grusin reminds us in his book Culture, Technology, and the Creation of America’s National Parks
, “just as Yellowstone and Yosemite were created as national parks in accordance with late-nineteenth-century assumptions about landscape and representation, so a national park today (whether scenic or historic) must be created according to present-day assumptions about media, culture, and technology.” Indeed, he adds, “national parks have functioned from their inception as technologies for reproducing nature according to the scientific, cultural, and aesthetic practices of a particular historical moment—the period roughly between the Civil War and the end of the First World War.” How, then, would a 21st-century San Andreas Fault National park both represent
the landscape in question?
To help us sort through these many complex questions, and to ease our transition from thinking and designing at the scale of a device or building to the scale of an entire landscape, we will be joined for one class by GSAPP’s Kate Orff
, a landscape architect and co-editor of Gateway: Visions for an Urban National Park
. Her experience with Gateway will be invaluable for all of us in conceptualizing what a San Andreas Fault National Park might be.
Finally, students must spend the last week of the semester, leading up to our final day of class on Wednesday, April 24, revisiting and refining all of their work produced over the term and, in the process, collecting all of their relevant project documentation. This project documentation will then be collected and published as a small black & white pamphlet, forming a kind of speculative architectural guide to the San Andreas Fault.
In addition to any boards and models necessary for explaining the resulting proposals, this black & white pamphlet will be produced in small quantities for guest critics and other attendees of our final review. It will also be made available to attendees of the GSAPP Year-End Show. Specific requirements—including number of images and length of accompanying descriptive texts—will be discussed during the semester.
One of the main inspirations for this course is architect Lebbeus Woods
, who passed away during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. In order both to honor Woods’s extraordinary influence but also to demonstrate the breadth of ideas and themes available to us as we explore the architectural implications of seismic energy, this syllabus will end with a few examples of Woods’s work that will serve as points of reference throughout the term.
[Images: (left top and bottom) Lebbeus Woods, from Underground Berlin (1988). From deep inside the Earth, Woods writes, “come seismic forces that move the inverted towers and bridges in equally subtle vibrations.” (right) Lebbeus Woods, two seismically “completed” houses from his San Francisco Project: Inhabiting the Quake, Quake City (1995)].
In his 1989 book OneFiveFour
, Woods describes a city all but defined by the seismic events surging through the Earth below it. It is a city ornamented on nearly every surface by “oscilloscopes, refractors, seismometers, interferometers, and other, as yet unknown instruments, measuring light, movement, force, change.”
In this city of instruments—this city as instrument—“tools for extending perceptivity to all scales of nature are built spontaneously, playfully, experimentally, continuously modified in home laboratories, in laboratories that are homes,” exploring the moving surface of an Earth in flux.
Woods imagines even the towers and bridges acting in geomechanical synchrony, riding out the shocks and resonance from the volatile geology below: “Like musical instruments, they vibrate and shift in diverse frequencies, in resonance with the Earth and also with one another… Indeed, each object—chair, table, cloth, examining apparatus, structure—is an instrument; each material thing connects the inhabitants with events in the world around him and within himself.”
In a closely related project—an unproduced film treatment called Underground Berlin
, also documented in the book OneFiveFour
—Woods describes the discovery of a fictional network of government seismic labs operating beneath the surface of Berlin, a distributed facility known as the Underground Research Station.
Woods explains as part of this scenario that, deep inside the Station, “many scientists and technicians are working on a project for the government to analyze and harness the tremendous, limitless geological forces active in the earth… a world of seismic wind and electromagnetic flux.” They are pursuing nothing less than “a mastery”—that is, a sustained weaponization—of these “primordial earth forces.”
The film’s protagonist thus descends into the city by way of tunnels and seemingly upside-down buildings—“inverted geomechanical towers,” in his words—inside of which dangerous seismic experiments are already underway.
Elsewhere, describing the origin of his so-called San Francisco Project
, partially inspired by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California, Woods asked: “What is an architecture that accepts earthquakes, resonating with their matrix of seismic waves—an architecture that needs earthquakes, and is constructed, transformed, or completed by their effects—an architecture that uses earthquakes, converting to a human purpose the energies they release, or the topographical transformations they bring about—an architecture that causes earthquakes, triggering microquakes in order that ‘the big one’ is defused—an architecture that inhabits earthquakes, existing in their space and time?”
[Image: A map in four sections (see below three images) shows the San Andreas Fault stretching from northern to southern California. The San Andreas “is just one of several faults that make up a complex of potential catastrophes,” paleontologist Richard Fortey writes in Earth: An Intimate History. It is “the flagship of a fleet of faults that run close to the western edge of North America... In places, maps of the interweaving faults look more like a braided mesh than the single, deep cut of our imagination.” Here, we see the San Andreas come to an end in Northern California at the so-called Mendocino Triple Junction. Maps courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey, from The San Andreas Fault System, U.S.G.S. Professional Paper 1515 (PDF); see original paper for higher resolution].
Readings & References
Online (Required Reading)
USGS Earthquake Hazards Program:
The San Andreas Fault System, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1515
The San Andreas Fault:
"San Andreas System and Basin and Range," from Active Faults of the World
by Robert Yeats (Cambridge University Press):
Where’s the San Andreas Fault? A Guidebook to Tracing the Fault on Public Lands in the San Francisco Bay Region
Of Mud Pots and the End of the San Andreas Fault:
U.S. Geological Survey Fault and Volcano Monitoring Instruments:
[Image: Map courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey, from The San Andreas Fault System, U.S.G.S. Professional Paper 1515 (PDF)].
Online (Reference Only)
California Integrated Seismic Network and Southern California Seismic Network:
California Strong Motion Instrumentation Program:
California Geotour Online Geologic Field Trip:
Carrizo Plain National Monument maps and brochures:
Ken Goldberg, Mori
and Ballet Mori
Doug Aitken, Sonic Pavilion
[Image: Map courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey, from The San Andreas Fault System, U.S.G.S. Professional Paper 1515 (PDF)].
Offline (Required Reading)
Smout Allen, Pamphlet Architecture 28: Augmented Landscapes
(Princeton Architectural Press, 2007)
Ethan Carr, Wilderness by Design: Landscape Architecture and the National Park Service
(University of Nebraska Press, 1999) — Introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 4
Julia Czerniak and George Hargreaves, eds., Large Parks
(Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) — Foreword, Introduction, and Chapter Seven
Shin Egashira & David Greene, Alternative Guide to the Isle of Portland
(Architectural Association, 1997)
Richard Fortey, Earth: An Intimate History
(Vintage, 2004) — Chapter 9: “Fault Lines”
John McPhee, Assembling California
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993)
David L. Ulin, The Myth of Solid Ground: Earthquakes, Prediction, and the Fault Line Between Reason and Faith
(Penguin, 2004) — “The X-Files,” “A Brief History of Seismology,” and “Earthquake Country” (though entire book is recommended)
Lebbeus Woods, OneFiveFour
(Princeton Architectural Press, 1989)
Offline (Reference Only)
Alexander Brash, Jamie Hand, and Kate Orff, eds., Gateway: Visions for an Urban National Park
(Princeton Architectural Press, 2011)
C. J. Lim, Devices: A Manual of Architectural + Spatial Machines
(Elsevier/Architectural Press, 2006)
Lebbeus Woods, Radical Reconstruction
(Princeton Architectural Press, 2001) — “Radical Reconstruction” (pp. 13-31) and “San Francisco” (p. 133-155)
[Image: Map courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey, from The San Andreas Fault System, U.S.G.S. Professional Paper 1515 (PDF)].
Film and Games (Entertainment Value Only!)
A View To A Kill
, dir. John Glen (1985)
, LucasArts (2008)
Music (Required Listening)
Our work this Spring will be paralleled by a series of musical experiments led by Bay Area sound artist Marc Weidenbaum’s Disquiet Junto
, an online music collective. The Disquiet Junto will be developing projects that explore the sonic properties of the San Andreas Fault and uploading the results of these seismic-acoustic experiments to Soundcloud
. Students will be required
to leave comments on these audio tracks as part of regular homework over the course of the Spring term.
The Disquiet Junto, a satellite operation of disquiet.com
, “uses formal restraint as a springboard for creativity. In 2012, the year it launched, the Disquiet Junto produced over 1,600 tracks by over 270 musicians from around the world. Disquiet.com
has operated at the intersection of sound, art, and technology since 1996.”
[Image: (left) A Rückenfigur looks at a highway cut through the San Andreas Fault in Palmdale, southern California; photograph by Nicola Twilley. (right) Aerial rendering of the San Andreas Fault, courtesy of NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (2000). If an earthquake presents us with a turbulent condition similar to waves in the ocean or a storm at sea, is the ship a more appropriate structural metaphor than the building—even if it’s an ocean that only exists for sixty seconds? What does orientation mean for the minute-long intensity of an earthquake—the becoming-ocean of land—and how do we learn to navigate a planet that acts like the sea?].
[Image: The World Trade Center towers, photographer unknown].
Amongst many other interesting moments in Siobhan Roberts's new biography of Alan Davenport
, the "father of modern wind engineering," is the incredible story of a room in Eugene, Oregon.
In August 1965, Roberts explains, "ads in the local newspaper... promised complimentary checkups at the new Oregon Research Institute Vision Research Center." But these promised eye exams were not all that they seemed.
The office was, in fact, a model—a disguised simulation—including a "stereotypical waiting room" where respondents to the ad would be "greeted by a receptionist" who could escort them into a fake "examination room" that turned out to be examining something else entirely.
While members of the public were led through a series of eye tests, looking at "some triangles," in Roberts words, that had been projected onto the wall, they were, in fact, being jostled back and forth, silently and unannounced, by motors installed on tracks below the floor. The room swayed, rocking side to side, shifting imperceptibly—or so the experiment was testing—beneath the feet of the volunteers and the actor-nurses who, without breaking character, took care of them.
It turns out that the whole thing was actually a wind-condition simulator for a pair of buildings that had not yet been publicly announced, let alone constructed: the future twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center. This quiet office in Oregon, paid for by the Port Authority
, was an unpublicized test-run for the high winds and other complicated atmospheric effects that would soon rock the two towers back and forth at their unprecedented height in southern Manhattan.
The room, "mounted on a wheeled platform driven by hydraulic actuators," thus tested unsuspecting members of the public for their physiological reaction to the swaying of the floor—testing whether "conflicting brain inputs" from the moving architecture "would cause synaptic confusion, or motion sickness—nausea, dizziness, fatigue," as Roberts writes.
Unbeknownst to them, then, people in Eugene, Oregon, in 1965, were helping to test the aerodynamic flexibility of two buildings that had not yet been announced and that would soon come to dominate the skyline of New York City—leaving at least me to wonder if some room today somewhere, some doctor's office or other nondescript chamber, whether a classroom or a restaurant, is actually a testing ground for as-yet unrealized architectures to come, be it in New York City, Dubai, Mexico City, or, who knows, even for future travelers to the moon.
(Thanks to Nicola Twilley for giving me a copy of Roberts's book).
[Image: Barbed wire, via Wikipedia].
One more radio-related link comes via @doingitwrong
, who mentions the use of barbed-wire fences as a kind of primitive telephone network.
"Across much of the west," C.F. Eckhardt
explains, "...there was already a network of wire covering most of the country, in the form of barbed-wire fences. Some unknown genius discovered that if you hooked two Sears or Monkey Ward telephone sets to the top wire on a barbed-wire fence, you could talk between the telephones as easily as between two 'town' telephones connected by slick wire through an operator's switchboard. A rural telephone system that had no operators, no bills—and no long-distance charges—was born."
The system relied upon the creative use of everyday materials as insulators; in fact, according to Delbert Trew, "the most clever, most innovative cowboys
used every conceivable type of device as insulators to suspend the wire. I have found leather straps folded around wire and nailed to the posts, whiskey bottle necks installed over big nails, snuff bottles, corn cobs, pieces of inner-tube wrapped around the wire and short straps of tire holding telephone wires to the post."
[Image: From a June 1902 issue of The New York Times].
This ranchpunk system of interlinked fences led to the "big ranches" being "among the first to install barbed wire telephones in an effort to be alerted when prairie fires started"—an early-warning device for previously disconnected ranch owners, not a divisive symbol of modern property but a network, a transmitter, an oral internet of fences.
[Image: One of the stations of Project ELF, via Wikipedia].
Further exploring the radio-related theme of the last few posts, Rob Holmes
—author and co-founder of mammoth
—has pointed our attention to something called Project Sanguine
, a U.S. Navy program from the 1980s that "would have involved 41 percent of Wisconsin
," turning that state into a giant "antenna farm" capable of communicating with what Wikipedia calls "deeply-submerged submarines."
Each individual antenna would have been "buried five feet deep" in the fertile soil of the Cheese State
, the New York Times
explains, creating a networked system with nearly 6,000 miles' worth of cables and receiving stations.
The Navy was hoping, we read
, for a system "that could transmit tactical orders one-way to U.S. nuclear submarines anywhere in the world, and survive a direct nuclear attack." This would "normally... require an antenna many hundreds of miles in length," according to the NYT
, but Naval strategists soon "realized that a comparable effect could be achieved by using a large volume of the earth's interior"—that is, "looping currents deep in the Earth"—"as part of the antenna." The hard and ancient rock of the Laurentian Shield
was apparently perfect for this.
[Image: From Roy Johnson, "Project Sanguine," originally published in The Wisconsin Engineer (November 1969)].
In other words, the bedrock of the Earth itself—not a mere island in the Antarctic
—could be turned into a colossal radio station.
A similar system, installed for preliminary tests in North Carolina and Virginia, "apparently flickered lightbulbs in the area and caused spurious ringing of telephones," like some regional poltergeist or a technical outtake from Cabin in the Woods
At least two things worth pointing out here are that a "scaled-down version" of Project Sanguine was, in fact, actually constructed, becoming operational in the northern forests of Michigan and Wisconsin from 1989-2004; called Project ELF
(for Extremely Low Frequency), it arrived just in time for the Soviet Union to collapse...
[Image: Inside Project Sanguine; photo from Roy Johnson, The Wisconsin Engineer (November 1969)].
...which brings us to the second point worth mentioning: a strangely haunting program known as "The Dead Hand," a doomsday device constructed by the Soviet Union.
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book
of that title, historian David Hoffman writes about a (still active) weapon of retaliation. The "Dead Hand" was built such that, if nuclear field commanders ever lost touch with military leaders back in Moscow during a time of war, a constellation of cruise missiles would automatically launch. This would happen not in spite
of a lack of living military leaders, but precisely because
everyone had been killed. That is, a machine would take over—thus the name "dead hand."
Each cruise missile, however, flying over the lands of the USSR, would emit launch commands to all of the missile silos it passed over. Missile after missile would soon soar—thousands of them—arcing toward the United States, which would soon be obliterated, along with the rest of the world, in a nuclear holocaust controlled and commanded by nothing but preprogrammed machines.
In any case, Project Sanguine was its own version of an end-times radio, an "immense subterranean grid
" transmitting to distant submarines by way of the Earth itself, humans using an entire planet as an apocalyptic radio device.
The previous two posts
have led to a number of interesting links, including several comments over at Reddit
that seem worth reproducing here.
There, a commenter named clicksnd
"used to be in a special forces Signal Detachment (as a server guy) and got awesome cross training from our radio section. One cool thing they taught us is that if we ever needed to boost range, we could wire up to a fence or, in a pinch, knife a tree and wire to it!" When you need a radio, in other words, considering just sticking some metal in a tree
To that, someone named pavel_lishin
responds: "I remember hearing a story, possibly apocryphal, about a college radio station that used some nearby railroad tracks as their broadcasting antenna, and it worked well enough for the entire town to receive the signal clearly. In fact, it worked a little too well. Someone drove up from a town a couple of hundred miles away, and asked them to knock it off, since the signal was being broadcast all the way down there and interfering with a different radio station." Perhaps you could broadcast a radio station via all the nails in the walls of an abandoned suburb.
Finally, replying to someone mocking the idea that antennas have ever been more complex than "just a piece of metal connected to a receiver," someone named cuddlebadger
says that, on the contrary, "the field has progressed a bit since 1919," when those tree-antennas were first being proposed
. Today, cuddlebadger
writes, "we have fractal antennas that look like [an] MC Escher drawing and work incredibly well. Genetic algorithms that design alien-looking antennas that are barely visible yet outperform many all-human designs. Someone even draws nanometer-scale antennas out of gold on tiny glass hemispheres for that extra efficiency. Antennas exist that can literally capture the electromagnetic radiation of sunlight!"
Electromagnetic Escher mazes made of gold, picking up emanations from stars: technology as myth achieved by other means.
[Image: Deception Island, from Millett G. Morgan's September 1960 paper An Island as a Natural Very-Low-Frequency Transmitting Antenna].
reminded me of an interesting proposal from the 1960s, in which an entire Antarctic island would be transformed into a radio-conducting antenna. Signals of international (or military submarine) origin could thus be bounced, relayed, captured, and re-transmitted using the topographical features of the island itself, and naturally occurring ionospheric radio noise could be studied.
[Image: A map of Deception Island, taken from an otherwise unrelated paper called "Upper crustal structure of Deception Island area (Bransfield Strait, Antarctica) from gravity and magnetic modelling," published in Antarctic Science (2005)].
In the September 1960 issue of IEEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation
, radio theorist Millett G. Morgan
, a "leading researcher in the field of ionospheric physics" based at Dartmouth, speculated that he could generate artificial "whistlers"—that is, audial electromagnetic effects
that are usually caused by lightning—if only he could find the right island.
"In thinking about how to generate whistlers artificially," Morgan's proposal leisurely begins, "it has occurred to me that an island of suitable size and shape, extending through the conducting sea, may constitute a naturally resonant, VLF slot antenna of high quality."
[Image: Deception Island, from "Upper crustal structure of Deception Island area (Bransfield Strait, Antarctica) from gravity and magnetic modelling," Antarctic Science (2005)].
He looked far and wide for this "naturally resonant, VLF slot antenna," eventually settling on a remote island in the Antarctic. "Following this line of reasoning," he explains, "I thought first of the annular Pacific atolls, but knowing of the fresh-water lenses in them"—that is, aquatic features that would destructively interfere with radio transmissions—"[I] rejected them as being too pervious to water to be satisfactory insulators. Also, of course, they are not found in suitable latitudes for generating whistlers."
Morgan's reasoning continued: "The Pacific atolls are built upon submerged volcanic cones and this led me to think of Deception Island in the SubAntarctic
, a remarkable, similarly shaped, volcanic island in which the volcanic rock extends above the surface; and which is located in the South Shetland Islands where the rate of occurrence of natural whistlers has been found to be very great."
Perhaps the island could be the geologic radio antenna he was looking for.
[Image: Deception Island, from "Upper crustal structure of Deception Island area (Bransfield Strait, Antarctica) from gravity and magnetic modelling," Antarctic Science (2005)].
Morgan points out in detail that mathematical ratios amongst the island's naturally occurring landscape features, including its ring-shaped lagoon, are perfect for supporting radio transmissions (even the relationship between the length of the island and the radio wavelengths Morgan would be using seems to work out). And that's before he looks at the material construction of the island itself, consisting of volcanic tuff, which would help the terrain act as an "insulator."
There is even the fact that the island's small lagoon is coincidentally but unrelatedly named "Telefon Bay" (alas, named after a ship called the Telefon
, not for the island's natural ability to make telephone calls).
[Image: Deception Island, from "Upper crustal structure of Deception Island area (Bransfield Strait, Antarctica) from gravity and magnetic modelling," Antarctic Science (2005)].
Morgan's "proposed island antenna" would thus be a wired-up matrix of transmission lines and natural landscape features, bouncing radio wavelengths at the perfect angle from one side to the other and concentrating broadcasts for human use and listening.
You could tune into the sky, huddling in the Antarctic cold and listening to the curling electromagnetic crackle of the ionosphere, or you could use your new radio-architectural set-up, all wires and insulators like some strange astronomical harp, "to generate whistlers artificially," as Morgan's initial speculation stated, bursting forth with planetary-scale arcs of noise over a frozen sea, a wizard of sound alone and self-deafened at the bottom of the world.
(Deception Island proposal discovered via Douglas Kahn, whose forthcoming book Arts of the Spectrum: In the nature of electromagnetism looks fantastic, and who also gave an interesting talk on "natural radio" a few years ago at UCLA).