Where The Alps Are A 3D-Printed Landscape Made From Artificial Snow

[Image: Photo by Danny Lane].

Earlier this winter, I missed an opportunity to travel over to Switzerland with architects Smout Allen and Kyle Buchanan who, at the time, were leading their students around the mountain landscapes of the Alps in order to learn about infrastructures of defense and national snow-production, among other things. It sounded like an amazing trip.

[Image: Photo by Kyle Buchanan].

However, I did get to see some photos sent back of the various and random things they visited in the resort city of Zermatt.

This included a huge machine known as The Snowmaker. Apparently originating in Israel, it was formerly used to cool South African diamond mines but since repurposed for spraying artificial snow onto ski slopes in the Alps.

[Images: Photos by Kyle Buchanan].

The carefully choreographed operation requires a fan-like array of buried water pipes, pipes that spread throughout the resort like capillaries.

Snow—or what passes for it—then sprays out of thin, reed-like valves called "lances"—

[Image: Photo by Kyle Buchanan].

—resulting in other-worldly piles of fresh white powder, perfectly sculpted domes that later require selective placement elsewhere.

[Images: Photos by Danny Lane].

The shaping of the mountain landscape—so easily mistaken for nature—exhibits obvious features of artificiality, including careful lines and striated grooves resulting from deposition, sculpting, and maintenance.

[Image: Photo by Danny Lane].

The machine is literally an oversized air-conditioning unit, waiting to be put to use by landscape-printing crews whose work is mistaken for winter. It so efficiently—though inadvertently—produced ice while cooling diamond mines in Africa that it has since been put to use 3D-printing popular tourist landscapes into existence, like something out of Dr. Seuss.

To at least some extent, The Snowmaker—and newer technology like it—has replaced older, fan-based snow machines. These thus now sit in a maintenance shed, like antique airplane engines, both derelict and obsolete.

[Image: Photo by Danny Lane].

This is all just part of the dramaturgical stagecraft of Switzerland: winter becomes a precisely choreographed thermal event that just happens to take on spatial characteristics amenable to downhill skiing.

In any case, there are nearly 1,000 individual snow-production machines in Zermatt, only one of which is The Snowmaker. The whole system is controlled from a central computer, apparently operated by one wizard-like figure who is really just a stoned twentysomething in a wool hat, turning different parameters on and off and spraying whole new European landscapes into existence outside.

[Images: (top) Photo by Danny Lane; (bottom) photo by Kyle Buchanan].

It's like the Sorcerer's Apprentice at the top of the world, 3D-printing recreational mountainscapes. The landscape is a computer he alone knows how to use.

Imagine if Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain had taken place amidst a massive, artificially maintained and 3D-printed winter, and you might begin to grasp the unearthly strangeness here, the surreal mechanical goings-on at great altitude.

What appears, at first glance, to be a simple ski holiday actually turns out, upon later inspection, to be a landscape-scale encounter with artificiality and snow-based 3D-printing.

(See also Gizmodo, where these photographs were first published; thanks to Mara Kanthak for her help with translation in Switzerland).

Kiln

[Image: Via Tunnel Business Magazine].

Something I wrote about a few weeks ago for Gizmodo is the abandoned Runehamar road tunnel on the southwest coast of Norway. The tunnel has been redesigned and given a new life for the experimental burning of trucks, cargo, and other vehicular structures in order to learn how subterranean road fires can best be extinguished.

It's a kind of Nordic funeral pyre built not for the bodies of kings but for the products of the automotive industry, an underground bonfire of simulated car wrecks that seems more like something you'd see in the fiction of J.G. Ballard.

The overall structure has been modified to serve as a closely-controlled thermal environment—more a furnace than a piece of transportation infrastructure—complete with an array of instruments and sensors, and a system of sprinklers and ventilation fans that let observers try out novel methods of fire suppression.

In a sense, this is what might happen if someone like architect Philippe Rahm was given a limited budget and hired to design experimental subterranean road infrastructure, with his work's focus on the thermal behavior of spaces and other non-visual dimensions of the built environment.

The Norwegian Public Roads Association explains why all this is necessary:
There is a need for more detailed knowledge on how and why various semi-trailer cargos burn so strongly and why they spread so quickly. The high heat exposure from the semi-trailers to the tunnel linings also needs more focus. The only reasonable way of finding an answer to these questions is to carry out systematic large scale experiments that can provide a better basis for the design of technical systems in road tunnels.
There's more to write about the tunnel, I'm sure, and there is a bit more detail in the original post on Gizmodo—including, for those of you curious, this PDF that comes complete with structural and thermal diagrams of the burning apparatus.

But I suppose I'm more interested in the sheer strangeness of an old road tunnel being transformed into a venue for controlled thermal events. It is ritualistic, repetitive, and pyromaniacal, as if vitamin-D-deprived engineers in lab coats have been endlessly sacrificing sacred cargo for some infernal mountain, an altar for automotive transubstantiation, where unknown driving objects are reduced to ash and studied, again and again, filmed and re-watched—until the next fire, when the sprinklers fill up again and the vents, like a buried engine, begin to roar.

(Via Gizmodo).