The Politics of Palm Fronds
Saturday, November 25, 2006
“Fed up with the cost of caring for the trees, with their errant fronds that plunge perilously each winter, and with the fact that they provide little shade,” Los Angeles has declared war on its iconic, though invasive, palm trees.
According to the New York Times, “The city plans to plant a million trees of other types over the next several years so that, as palms die off, most will be replaced with sycamores, crape myrtles and other trees indigenous to Southern California. (Exceptions will be the palms growing in places that tourists, if not residents, demand to see palmy, like Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards.)”
Litter-Free Landscapes and The Politics of Pollen
Our Daily Bread
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Director Nikolaus Geyrhalter takes us on a tour through the dizzyingly spectacular landscape of high-tech agriculture: from hermetically sealed chicken hatcheries as sterile as computer chip factories to geospatially precise cultivated fields where crops mature right on cue and on to utopian factories with frightening efficiencies but whose assembly lines would be the perfect setting for a Busby Berkeley musical.
No voice-over commentary and no interviews; just some choice music, and the “whirring, clattering, booming, slurping” hydraulic breathing of heavy machineries.
Below a highway overpass that has split a neighborhood in the Dutch city of Zaanstadt for decades, you can now find a supermarket, soccer fields, a skatepark, a fishmonger and a florist, a basketball court, and a car park. There is even a marina.
Designed by NL Architects, presumably with input from the local government and the public, the “intervention provides a quick solution to re-establishing the connection between the two parts of the divided township whilst also regenerating a space that had become dead, literally and symbolically in the shadow of the flyover.”
Moreover, this was the Joint Winner of the 2006 European Prize for Urban Public Space, a biennial competition organized by several architecture institutions.
A similar urban intervention in nearby Amsterdam is West 8's Carrasco Square, whose vacuity and hilarious desire lines inscribed on its neatly drafted geometry only make me wonder if letting it be inhabited by the homeless, drug addicts, prostitutes and their tricks, the idled youths, migrant workers, hardy native grasses, and landscape architecture PhD candidates on so-called field research would simply be a better use of public space.
In the U.S. there is Louisville's Waterfront Park, designed by Hargreaves Associates. This is the Great Lawn. The same office was also commissioned to do a temporary installation for SFMOMA's Revelatory Landscapes exhibition, taking as their site the intersection of Interstate 280 and Highway 87 — “a forbidding, yet somehow common landscape.”
In Chicago, there's the McCormick Tribune Campus Center at IIT.
Finally, from the master of messy public spaces, Walter Hood, there is Splash Pad Park in Oakland, California. Although you don't get to see much of the design in the website provided, just imagine the teeming masses you see in the photos buying their groceries, cooling off in the fountain, displaying a bit of civil disobedience, or simply minding their kids and walking the dog are doing so underneath a heavily trafficked highway.
POSTSCRIPT #1: Walter Hood's finished website now include photos of Splash Pad Park.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
The Amos Power Plant in Raymond, West Virginia, as seen from an ordinary backyard, and as photographed by Mitch Epstein, who coincidentally is part of ecotopia, the 2nd ICP Triennial of Photography and Video.
“In a time of rampant natural disasters and urgent concerns about global environmental change,” the catalogue tells us in that familiar bombastic messianic tone that so many often employ, “this exhibition demonstrates the ways in which the most interesting and engaging contemporary artists view the natural world. Shattering the stereotypes of landscape and nature photography, the thirty-nine international artists included in this survey boldly examine new concepts of the natural sphere occasioned by twenty-first-century technologies; images of destructive ecological engagement; and visions of our future interactions with the environment. Considering nature in the broadest sense, this exhibition reflects new perspectives on the planet that sustains, enchants, and—increasingly—frightens us.”
The exhibition ends 7 January 2007.
Those not living or traveling to New York before then are fortunate in that some of the artists have their own website. For instance, Mary Mattingly, featured earlier here in this post -- her entire line of post-apocalypse haute couture, New Time timepieces, and wearable homes are online.
David Maisel is here.
Catherine Chalmers' cockroaches and genetically engineered mice are here.
Simon Norfolk is here. And there's also this post.
Harri Kallio's flock of dodos are nesting here.
Sam Easterson's animal and vegetable videos, which I once mistook to be part of an extensive surveillance network in the American West monitoring the mental condition of reclusive landart artists and alerting the Army Corps of Engineers whenever their earth moving activities compromise the tectonic integrity of Nevada -- well, a handful of them are here.
As for the others, a search through artnet should suffice. Hopefully, fellow bloggers will start downloading some of these photographs, and create their own personal surveys of ecotopias for everyone to view for free. After all, an admission price of $12 is obscenely extravagant; the best things in life should be free.
The Programmable Amusement Park
“Why build a one-off ride that will eventually lose its appeal when you can create an infinite number of rides by using a programmable industrial robot?” asks gizmag.
Indeed, why go through all the trouble of clearing the last remaining stands of old-growth forest to make way for amusement parks that would only further unsustainable ex-urban development and extend travel time for gas-guzzling über-SUVs, when you could be building them, say, in the Loop or Millennium Park in Chicago as an interactive kinetic sculpture?
Quoting the article at length: “German company KUKA Roboter GmbH builds industrial robots for the automotive, aerospace and foundry industries, among others. Its fully-programmable 5- and 6-axis robots can reach of up to 3.7 metres with payloads of 570kg and are employed around the world for applications such as material handling and machine loading. Kuka has partnered with Canada’s Primal Rides to provide a new fully interactive amusement ride. The KUKA KR 500 robot will be used as the building block of Primal Rides’ new robotic gaming ride. The interactive ride can be designed to match customer’s requirements in theme, intensity and realism and to cost effectively change themes to adjust to rider appeal.”
And you can order the rides singly or as a whole group of Robocoasters, “each with its infinite range of programming options and ride variants: lined up in a row and performing the same acrobatic ride program in perfect harmony.”
Or you can order the Octomone, a swirling, gyrating mass of mechanized tentacles not that taxonomically different from a triffid.
Monday, November 13, 2006
What's a public space without an extended guide in mandatory self-correction and self-surveillance that reads like an IRS tax code?
For more, check out Ken McCown's modest but hopefully growing Flickr photoset. In the meantime, is there a Flickr pool for this kind of signs?
“How deeply am I going into the wilderness?”
Monday, November 13, 2006
A chunk of Canada is moving to California. Literally.
Next month Vancouver-based Polaris Mineral Corp., in partnership with the 'Namgis and Kwakiutl First Nations, will begin mining sand and gravel deposits from the Orca Quarry on Vancouver Island. Once extracted, they will then be transported via conveyor belts to waiting Panamax ships. Interestingly, parts of the conveyance system are submerged, supposedly, so as not to pollute the pristine view for passing hikers, kayakers, and mountain bikers.
Initially, most of what's mined there will be sent to the San Francisco area where “overall demand for construction aggregate is driven primarily by population growth and the resulting need for infrastructure expansion and maintenance.” Afterwards, who knows. Maybe soon all the new houses in the continental U.S. will be built entirely of imported Canadian soil. Or perhaps in the decades to come a freer global trade in islands and mountains will result in skyscrapers constructed entirely out of the Himalayas or interstate highways built from Pacific archipelagos, ingeniously self-erased before the impending sea-level rise had the chance to do so.
Orca Sand & Gravel Project
The Kuiper Belt Necropolis
The first ever extraterrestrial cemetery is set to launch next month, reports Wired: “On Dec. 6, the desert silence near Upham, New Mexico, will be shattered by the roar of a SpaceLoft XL rocket hurtling skyward from Spaceport America. The payload: individual capsules containing the ashes of 179 people, part of the Legacy Flight program, among them the late actor James (Scotty) Doohan and Gemini program astronaut Gordon Cooper.”
So will this new Kuiper Belt of micro-earths solve the high ecological cost of earthbound cemeteries? Not entirely, because there's a catch: “You're not actually 'buried' in space; you don't embark on an endless orbit of the Earth. The duration of the flight all depends on the apogee of the orbit, and can range from two to several hundred years, depending on the service the customer requests.”
Still, I do like the idea of gravesite visits reprogrammed, for instance, as a typical American suburban backyard barbecue. While the burgers and hotdogs are grilling, family and friends will consult NASA's Satellite Tracking service to determine the path of a spacebound crypt.
There will be a hubbub about vectors and declinations, some frantic ballyhoo about latitude and longitude. And there will also be a row about whether to use the metric system or English units, but then it's finally time. The lights are switched off, someone opens up a Bud Light, and everyone takes turns peering through the telescope as their dearly departed passes them by overhead.
Or maybe everyone will drive up to derelict observatories up in the mountains, made obsolete by more powerful telescopes or urban light pollution. A pilgrimage to necro-planetariums, through picturesque winding roads and autumnal colored forests.
When their orbit finally decays completely, they will then simply fall back to earth in a blazing, primordial meteor shower towards a cratered necropolis, their final impact coordinates having been picked, reserved and paid for centuries ago.
Columbiad Launch Services
Landscape architects as landscapes
Forever Fernwood, Part III
Posting the Dead
Hill of Crosses
Forever Fernwood, Part II
Nature is dead. Long live Nature.
Monday, November 06, 2006
This is what happened:
Yesterday I sneaked into the ground zero hole.
Actually, I had no idea that this was possible, but I just passed the gate and walked down, and nobody really took notice. The first 3 levels down, everything is still quite messy, but the rest of the 119 below zero floors, are perfectly intact.
I took the speed elevator to go all the way to the bottom floor -121 to enjoy the view. I was a clear day and you could really see far away. all the way down, All of negative -Manhattan, the subways, the negative of the statue of Liberty, the roots of central park, really very nice.
I had a negative-coffee at the cafeteria and the white servant that worked at the counter, really thought I was telling here a joke when I said that all the positive had been blown away 2 years earlier.
Drawing by Hannes Kater. Text by Serge Onnen.
The Forest Freak Show
Monday, November 06, 2006
“Months after Bruno the Bear was knocked off in Bavaria,” reports Spiegel Online, “Germany finds itself faced with another freak animal dilemma. An albino deer has appeared in the eastern German state of Saxony. Hunters smell blood, and basically everyone else wants to protect the animal.”
So will this as yet unnamed “snow-white deer with pink eyes skin” become another hysterically inconsequential megaspectacular media event to rival Paris Hilton and Natalee Holloway? Will Deutsche Welle send reporters to interview conservationists and celebrities pleading for the hunters to leave it alone? “As a rarity and natural phenomenon, it should be allowed to live,” these environmentalists will probably say.
As a matter of fair and balanced journalism, will they also interview the hunters, who will no doubt argue that the “white deer is a mutation. It does not belong in the wild. It should be shot.”
In any case, I'd like to resurrect an old proposal for a new cable channel, sort of a cross between The Weather Channel and Animal Planet, providing round-the-clock, real-time reports and analysis of news events at the intersection of human and animal cultures.
From their worldwide headquarters in Chicago, legions of landscape architects, all in their matching red correspondent jackets, will be flown in to Alaska to cover the arrivals of Avian flu-infected birds; to new Floridian exurban developments where alligators prowl the streets; to remote bird sanctuaries where orphaned birds are instructed in the ancient art of flying; to Nigeria where pet hyenas and baboons are all the rage; to all the major urban parks presently being invaded by the wilderness; and to Oslo to cover the culture war over the recently opened exhibit on gay animals.
And all of these stories will be treated like major weather events, “structured like narrative dramas with anticipation heightened by detection and tracking, leading to the climax of real-time impact, capped by the aftermath of devastation or heroic survival.”
For the 50th anniversary of the International House of Japan in Roppongi in 2002, Takeshi Ishiguro “created a machine which pops out smoke rings automatically from a box which is placed in the large garden - every 5 minutes. The smoke shapes into a perfect circle first and gets transformed immediately depending on the wind etc. When there is no wind, it goes straight up to the sky keeping its shape until it finally disappears.”
You can watch the smoke rings in action on the artist's website.
And for more about the machine and Ishiguro's other works, you can read his interview with PingMag.
Meanwhile, what Takeshi Ishiguro should do next is construct more of these machines and place them all over Rome. Then on a cloudless and windless day, they will huff and puff away the complete text of Ovid's Metamorphoses — the epic poem translated into vapourous morse code.
At Piazza del Popolo, for instance, you will be able decipher the passage wherein Zeus turns himself into a cloud so that he could seduce the maiden Io without his eternally vengeful consort Hera detecting their tryst.
Elsewhere, at the more tranquil Giardino del Quirinale, you can read about how the Centaurs came into being from a curious coupling between King Ixion and Nephele, a cloud nymph who Zeus had created in the shape of Hera.
Everywhere churches, gardens and palazzos are wondrously oozing with smoke. The Eternal City seemingly dematerializing into air.
You wake up one morning in an unknown hotel in an unknown city. You try to remember, but their names have escaped you completely. The previous night's drunken revelry has fried up a bunch of short-term memory cells.
Sensing that a rare opportunity for some topographical experiment has just presented itself, you decide not to ask anyone where you are. Instead, you go out for a walk to find out for yourself, studying the native flora, indigenous architecture, and vernacular street patterns.
It's urban forensics! Or CSI: Landscape Architecture.
But unfortunately, there's this thick fog blanketing the entire city. It's hampering your terrestrial sleuthing. It's hard to see anything at all, let alone the street signs. There's a clearing now and then, but it's zero visibility most of the time.
Could this be London? Paris in April? Mexico City chocking on smog on a Tuesday? Los Angeles meteorologically held hostage by Geoff Manaugh? It's really difficult to be certain.
Later on, you begin to notice that there's a pattern to the way the vaporous voids and non-voids pass you by. It's some sort of an encrypted message. You know this, because you were once in the Boy Scouts of America and had learnt from their field manuals how to interpret morse code and Native American smoke signals. You even earned a merit badge for it.
And so you go into the nearest park. You find a bench, sit, and get comfortable. Then you begin decoding.
After 13 hours of manic translating, fingers blistering, bloodied, whole hands cramping, you read what you've got written down:
its slow erosions of peninsulas and islands, its persistent formation of homothetic islands, peninsulas and downwardtending promontories: its alluvial deposits: its weight and volume and density: its imperturbability in lagoons and highland tarns: its gradation of colours in the torrid and temperate and frigid zones: its vehicular ramifications in continental lakecontained streams and confluent oceanflowing rivers with their tributaries and transoceanic currents, gulfstream, north and south equatorial courses: its violence in seaquakes, waterspouts, Artesian wells, eruptions, torrents, eddies, freshets, spates, groundswells, watersheds, waterpartings, geysers, cataracts, whirlpools, maelstroms, inundations, deluges, cloudbursts: its vast circumterrestrial ahorizontal curve: its secrecy in springs and latent humidity, revealed by rhabdomantic or hygrometric instruments and exemplified by the well by the hole in the wall at Ashtown gate, saturation of air, distillation of dew: the simplicity of its composition, two constituent parts of hydrogen with one constituent part of oxygen: its healing virtues: its buoyancy in the waters of the Dead Sea: its persevering penetrativeness in runnels, gullies, inadequate dams, leaks on shipboard: its properties for cleansing, quenching thirst and fire, nourishing vegetation: its infallibility as paradigm and paragon: its metamorphoses as vapour, mist, cloud, rain, sleet, snow, hail: its strength in rigid hydrants: its variety of forms in loughs and bays and gulfs and bights and guts and lagoons and atolls and archipelagos and sounds and fjords and minches and tidal estuaries and arms of sea: its solidity in glaciers, icebergs, icefloes: its docility in working hydraulic millwheels, turbines, dynamos, electric power stations, bleachworks, tanneries, scutchmills: its utility in canals, rivers, if navigable, floating and graving docks: its potentiality derivable from harnessed tides or watercourses falling from level to level: its submarine fauna and flora (anacoustic, photophobe), numerically, if not literally, the inhabitants of the globe: its ubiquity as constituting 90 percent of the human body: the noxiousness of its effluvia in lacustrine marshes, pestilential fens, faded flowerwater, stagnant pools in the waning moon
Lo! You're in Dublin!
Today is Bloomsday!
And there are 13,000 Takeshi Ishiguro machines installed throughout the city belching out James Joyce's Ulysses. Unabridged.
Yet More Gardens-in-a-Petri
Wednesday, November 01, 2006