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Galveston on Stilts
Galveston

In her amazing book Against the Tide: The Battle for America's Beaches, Cornelia Dean recounts all too briefly what Galvestonians did to their city after the hurricane of 1900, which killed nearly 6,000 people and reduced what was then considered “the center of commerce for the entire Southwest” into a mountain of driftwood. Rather than retreating from the shifting sands to higher elevations, perhaps on the Texas mainland, we read that the city decided to remain where it stood and build a seawall to fence itself off from future disasters. More incredibly, it then raised everything behind the wall — houses, churches, offices, trees, gardens — by as much as 17 feet, and the revealed negative stratum was flooded with silt.

It was a “plan that even in an era of engineering daring stood out for its size, cost, and audacity.”

Galveston


According to Dean:

The lifting operation was one of sheer brawn. Laborers ran beams under the buildings and mounted them on screwjacks that burly men turned by hand. In this way, 2,156 buildings were laboriously hoisted, a quarter of an inch at a turn, until they reached the requisite height and new foundations could be built beneath them. Meanwhile, children climbed rickety catwalks to reach their schools; housewives hung their laundry from lines strung fifteen feet above the ground.

Even substantial structures took to the air. At St. Patrick's Church, a three-hundred ton brick structure, services continued as it rose to the grunts of laborers manning two hundred screwjacks beneath it.


To repeat: At St. Patrick's Church, a three-hundred ton brick structure, services continued as it rose to the grunts of laborers manning two hundred screwjacks beneath it!

Galveston


Once airborne—a proto-Archigram city in quasi-flight—dredged fill was delivered from a canal that engineers had dug down the middle of the island.

Day and night, dredges moved back and forth between Galveston Harbor and this canal, dredging up fill from the harbor bottom and spewing it out on either side of the canal in a slurry of water and sand.


There were some residents who did not want to jack up their properties; these same people then witnessed their houses getting “drowned in the slurry of sand.”

The owners of several elegant Victorian mansions declined to subject them to the rigors of the screwjack. Instead they let the pumped sand fill their first reception rooms or turned them into basements. The lawn of one graceful brick house, once surrounded by a ten-foot wrought-iron fence, is now edged by ornamental ironwork about a foot high—the top of the fence is peeking up through the surface of the fill that now surrounds it.


So who wants to take a bet on when Galveston will get jacked up again?

Or for that matter, when will it be done to New Orleans, Dakha, Venice, New York, and every other major cities in the world threatened by sea-level rise?

Galveston


Galveston

Galveston

Galveston


Galveston




The Army Corps of Engineers: The Game
Portable Hurricane
Portable Hurricane


Our second anniversary is fast approaching, so we've been looking for something to treat ourselves with, the same way we treated ourselves to some passkeys to Kubrickian and Schnitzlerian sex orgies. A very promising candidate comes from the University of Florida: the world's largest portable hurricane wind and rain simulator.

According to the article linked above, the simulator has eight 5-foot-tall industrial fans that can whip up winds up to 130 mph (Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale). Researchers at the university will use it to blast vacant homes not only with hurricane winds but also with high-pressure jets that mimic wind-driven torrential rain.

“The goal: to learn more about exactly how hurricanes damage homes, and how to modify them to best prevent that damage.”


Obviously, we'll have better use for it:

1) Take it to New York during Postopolis! and blast the Storefront to see how well Vito Acconci and Steven Holl can structurally withstand a Category 3, if its configurable fa├žade is supple enough, malleable enough to respond to weather (architecture vs. landscape; objectified forms vs. enigmatic forces; formalism vs. uncertainty; fixed dynamism vs. ambiguous processes; starchitects and MoMA'd provacateurs vs. landscape architecture bloggers). That or to demonstrate the effects of climate change on the city with exceedingly more immediacy and greater visceral effects than some Google Earth overlay showing the city inundated by sea-level rise. In any case, we'll call it an art installation.

2) Take it to Montana where we'll seek out a Hollywood mogul with millions of dollars to spare, and because he is bored out of his wits, he's more than willing to fund our proposal for a landscape intervention: a hurricane-scoured Floridian landscape simulated on the badlands - terrifying, sublime, beautiful.

And 3) take it to our nearest constructed grove and then let loose our inner Axel Erlandson.
Unraveling the cosmos in the depths of Antarctica
IceCube


A team of astrophysicists and engineers are busily boring through the ice caps of Antarctica. More than 70 holes will be drilled, spread out over an area approximately 1.5 square miles. Each one will be 1.5 miles deep, or at least 4 times the height of Sears Tower, and wide enough to fit one person snugly. A string with about 60 optical sensors will be lowered into each hole, after which water is pumped in and allowed to freeze, thereby locking the sensors in place.

So what is it?

IceCube


It's a telescope, of course.

Called the IceCube, it's a chunk of the polar ice caps turned into a gigantic scientific instrument, which astronomers hope will capture a few wayward neutrinos, those extremely elusive subatomic particles that travel for millions of light years through space, passing right through galaxies, planets and extraterrestrial civilizations but rarely colliding with even a single atom. In fact, trillions of them are passing through your body while you're reading this post. Right now. Every second. Undetectable.

These ghost particles come from exploding stars, gamma ray bursts, black holes and neutron stars. So when completed, this cubic kilometer telescope will enable scientists to gaze into some of the most distant bodies in the cosmos and witness its most violent events. And if those aren't enough, it may even help to unravel some of the mysteries behind dark matter.

IceCube


IceCube


Trying to observe neutrinos — and other cosmological phenomena — always seem to make for fascinating landscape and architecture.

For instance, there is the Super-Kamiokande, that water-filled “giant crystal cathedral” somewhere deep underground in Japan. It once suffered a catastrophic accident six years ago but was recently restored to its former beatific grandeur, as the photo below can attest.

Super-Kamiokande


And then there's CERN's Large Hadron Collider, featured twice before on Pruned here and here, which when it comes into service later this year or the next, will help scientists detect subatomic particles far more elusive than neutrinos.

CERN Large Hadron Collider


The Very Large Array radio astronomy observatory in New Mexico is a favorite landmark on Google Maps.

Lastly, we've always been fascinated by this unfortunately resized photo, downloaded via this BBC News article, of UK professor Jim Hough. At his feet is “a shabby, corrugated metal sheeting. For a moment, it looks like an upturned pig through until you realize it stretches for hundreds of metres.”

Jim Hough

“The sheeting hides a trench,” the article goes on to explain, and protected within is “the vacuumed tube of an experiment Hough believes will finally detect the most elusive of astrophysical phenomena - gravitational waves.” Angled perpendicularly to another tube, both of which have been plopped down on the countryside, both running next to some country road (which must surely offer travelers picturesque views of quaint English cottages and pastoral landscapes), besides hedges, through farms and pastures, surriptitious and rather banal looking — it's a new kind of telescope for a new kind of astronomy.

Which leads us to wonder what other astronomical infrastructure lies half-hidden somewhere in the landscapes, masked as public works in the streets of, say, Chicago or as ornamental decorations on the sides of gentrified high rise condos and intentionally innocuous office towers or as patches of urban forests whose trees spend all their time detecting and capturing intergalactic radio waves instead of sunlight for photosynthesis — all of which have been aggregated and networked into a kind of telescope the size of North America.

The vernacular built environment as a subfield of astronomy. Or vice versa.

Landscape architects and neighborhood gardeners would be recruited. You sign up on some website, and before the week is over you receive a small package containing seeds in the mail. But they are not just any seeds. These ordinary-looking seeds have actually been genetically modified to detect X-ray bursts from the sun or from some extragalactic sources located halfway across the Universe and emitted billions of years ago. Come winter, you send in dead flowers, leaves and whatever seeds that have been produced to a central processing lab where they are grounded, bombarded with lasers, and analyzed. Gardening as collaborative distributive astronomy.

Or instead of plant material, you get some weirdly futuristic devices and contraptions that look like — and do indeed function as — lawn edgers or cupolas for your gazebo, but obviously you know full well that they attuned to the songs of black holes.

Large professional firms, meanwhile, will get something a bit larger — a freight shipment of what must seem like a full-scale version of Frank Gehry's stainless steel acoustical tresllis, which must be installed in their next Super Park project. There, above the heads of picnickers enjoying the night's program of light classical music, it will scan the heavens for remnants of the Big Bang.

The whole earth upturned so that we might get a glimpse of Creation.
Postopolis! Begins!
Postopolis!

At the Storefront for Architecture and Art, New York. The hosts: BLDGBLOG, City of Sound, Inhabitat and Subtopia; their guests: assorted.
Deep Lake Water Cooling System
Deep Lake Water Cooling System


Surely this can be applied here in Chicago, right?

Enwave and the City of Toronto have created an innovative cooling system that brings an alternative to conventional air conditioning to cool Toronto's downtown core — one that is clean, price competitive and energy efficient. A permanent layer of icy-cold (4°C) water 83 meters below the surface of Lake Ontario provides naturally cold water. This water is the renewable source of energy that Enwave's leading-edge technology uses to cool office towers, sports & entertainment complexes and proposed waterfront developments.


The system has been in operation since 2004.

A similar form of air condition is being used in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At Purdy's Wharf, we read here, it “provides all the cooling for the building for 10 ½ of the year. During the remaining six weeks, the buildings use conventional chillers, but the seawater is used to cool the condensers. The system was paid off in two years, and saves the complex more than $100,000 annually in electricity and maintenance costs.”

In the U.S., Cornell University is implementing its own deep lake water cooling system.

Deep Lake Water Cooling System


Wikipedia has an entry, of course.

Landscapes as organs of extended physiology
Macrotermes michaelseni


In 1962, entomologist Jean Ruelle — as if possessed by the unborn spirit of Rachel Whiteread — filled a mature Macrotermes michaelseni mound with cementitious slurry, waited until it hardened, and then eroded every bit of the sculpted soil with water and trowels.

The revealed solidified negatives was nothing short of spectacular.

Macrotermes michaelseni


Of course, Ruelle and all the other entomologists who have performed similar “moundectomies” after him weren't actually pandering for a solo show at the Guggenheim or Tate Modern. In actuality, they were trying to find out how these earthen towers — which serve the respiratory needs of millions of termites busily tending to their underground fungi-farms — self-regulate their living environment in response to changing internal and external conditions.

They were investigating as well whether similar principles could be used to design buildings that need few or no mechanical services (e.g. heating and ventilation) and so use less energy and other resources than conventional structures.

Macrotermes michaelseni

According to Dr. Scott Turner at SUNY-ESF, “these mounds are devices for capturing wind energy to power active ventilation of the nest. They are adaptive structures, continually molded by the termites to maintain the nest atmosphere. This ability confers on the colony emergent homeostasis, the regulation of the nest environment by the collective activities of the inhabitants.”

Macrotermes michaelseni

Understanding how these mounds function, then, might inspire new types of structures that are self-suficient, environmentally friendly and cheap to run.

Quoting at length this article found at SciDevNet:

Evidence suggests that the temperature inside termite nests rarely varies by more than a few degrees, though outside temperatures can range from below freezing at night to 40 degrees Celsius during the day.

Researchers believe the structure of fine tunnels and ducts inside the mound play an important role in regulating temperature, as well as moisture levels and the replenishment of oxygen.

It seems that different parts of a mound's structure control different aspects of the nest environment. Moisture, for instance, appears to be regulated both in the mound's underground 'cellar' and possibly through evaporation from the top of the mound.

And although the termites must generate waste, none ever leaves the mound, indicating that there is some kind of internal system for recycling waste.

But what is most remarkable is that all this is achieved without drawing any energy from the outside world, or, as [Dr. Rupert Soar of Loughborough University's School of Mechanical and Manufacture Engineering] puts it, “they do it without being near the power station”.

[...]

“As we approach a world of climate change, we need buildings that are more responsive to our environment,” says Soar. If the average temperatures rise, he explains, there will not be enough energy to power air conditioners around the world.


And of course, there is also the possibility of constructing similar structures suited for use not only on arid, hostile environments on Earth but maybe one day on the Moon and beyond.

Dispatches from a Post-Water Chicago
Growing Water by UrbanLab

We failed to mention it when it was chosen to represent Chicago in the History Channel-sponsored “City of the Future” competition, and then failed again when it beat out the other two notable entries from New York and Los Angeles. For a Chicago-based blog with an extraordinarily abnormal interest in hydrology, hydroengineering and hydropolitics, this is downright criminally negligent.

So to make amends, we'll take some excerpts from a recent article in the Chicago Reader on the winning proposal: Growing Water by Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen of UrbanLab.

Growing Water by UrbanLab

Rather than collecting and transporting wastewater through a mindbogglingly complex network of sewers to a massive central building complex, the whole city becomes one giant ecological machine treating and recycling 100% of the water it uses: “A series of 50 'eco-boulevards' spaced every half mile from Rogers Park to Roseland would run east-west from Lake Michigan to the subcontinental divide between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins at about Harlem Avenue--thin green ribbons running across the city that would replace pavement with green space, greenhouses, and wetlands for the treatment of waste and storm water.”

Not only will these eco-boulevards clean up wastewater and act as temporary storage sites for storm water, they will double as parklands as well, a new green infrastructure to supplement the city's “Emerald Necklace” of public parks, boulevards and waterways. New constructed wetlands, prairies and forests, botanical gardens, organic farms, fishing holes and swimming ponds, wildlife preserves and woodland trails to remake the city in the image of its own motto: Urbs in Horto, or City in a Garden.

Furthermore, “each eco-boulevard would jut out into Lake Michigan and end in a man-made peninsula to accomodate solar arrays, wind turbines, and geothermal wells to power the treatment processes. 'Terminal Parks' would mark the eco-boulevard's western extremes. These large green spaces would be surrounded by a residential and work complexes to accommodate returnees from the outer suburbs,” possibly reducing sprawl.

Growing Water by UrbanLab

Growing Water by UrbanLab

Of course, this will make two of Chicago's great engineering feats redundant. Firstly, the Chicago River, which was reversed in 1900 by the 28-mile-long Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, can be re-reversed so as not to drain freshwater any further from the lake and then dump this increasingly precious commodity into the Gulf of Mexico where it becomes useless.

Secondly, the multi-decade, multi-billion dollar 109-mile Deep Water Tunnel will be converted for new subway lines, which will alleviate increased urbanization. But while those billions taken out of taxpayers may not be recovered, other cities may be inspired to find less expensive alternatives to wastewater treatment and stormwater management.

Growing Water by UrbanLab

For those in Chicago next week on June 8th, the model built for the competition, as well as the other two finalists and the other Chicago entries, will go on display at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Destination Necropolis
Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia


That cemeteries can be a place other than for eternal rest, mourning, and the occasional architecture tour is not unheard of, but the list of activities seem to be growing ever more varied and outlandish.

“Historic cemeteries, desperate for money to pay for badly needed restorations, are reaching out to the public in ever more unusual ways, with dog parades, bird-watching lectures, Sunday jazz concerts, brunches with star chefs, Halloween parties in the crematory and even a nudie calendar,” reports the New York Times.

Moreover, at Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery where six Titanic victims are buried, tourists can dine on a “nine-course re-creation of the last supper aboard [the] ill-fated ocean liner.” Oakwood Cemetery, which previously hosted a medieval-style wedding, will have a Renaissance fair this summer, complete with jousting tournaments. And recently at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, “a 70-piece marching band serenaded the grave of John Philip Sousa, and dog owners held a parade for dogs dressed as historical cemetery personages, including a Union soldier.”

So if cities ever want to reactivate dead urban spaces, they need only put some dead bodies there, preferably of famous people, and in mausoleums designed by Rem Koolhaas and Ken Smith.
Defiant Gardens
Defiant Gardens by Ken Helphand


Defiant gardens are gardens created during times of extreme crisis, built behind the trenches of World War I, on both sides of the Western Front; in Jewish ghettos and Nazi concentration camps during World War II; in POW and civilian internment camps, tended to by prisoners and their captors alike; in internment camps for Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II; in garrisons, depots and battalion headquarters; in refugee camps; even on the hollowed out concavities left behind by the Blitz. They are “short-lived, their marks on the land quickly obliterated.”

And to learn more about them, either read this report from NPR or purchase Kenneth Helphand's engrossing book Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime.

Defiant Gardens by Ken Helphand


Defiant Gardens by Ken Helphand


Defiant Gardens by Ken Helphand


Defiant Gardens by Ken Helphand


Defiant Gardens by Ken Helphand



More Defiant Gardens
Airborne-Diving in the Southern Ocean
Airborne-Diving in the Southern Ocean


“Capability Brown” has been one our most prolific tipsters. Always answering our open call for anything remotely related to landscape architecture, he recently directed us to the Wired blog Gadget Lab, specifically to this entry about a DIY “device that will charge your USB-capable devices while you do what you do best. Breathe. Using some parts scavenged from an old CD-ROM drive, a simple electronic circuit, and a few rubber bands you will soon be huffing and puffing your way to fully-charged pseudo-useful electronic gadget nirvana.”

Airborne-Diving in the Southern Ocean


Reviewing the links he's sent us over the past year, we've noticed, to our astonishment, that however unrelated they seem to be, they blend together into a very intriguing landscape idea.

To illustrate, we'll begin by saying that “Capability Brown” likes to send us information on piezoelectricity after seeing how interested we are in the material as an alternative, human-generated energy source. We're slowly investigating the websites on his list.

Airborne-Diving in the Southern Ocean


Possibly anticipating us dreaming about a wearable power charger tailored from flexible piezoelectric membrane, “Capability Brown” alerted us a few of months ago to the launch of H-Bomb, purportedly the world's first power heated wetsuit from Rip Curl. The heat, which you can crank up to 65°C (150°F), is generated by two Polymer Lithium Ion batteries.

“These are the same batteries found in your mobile phone, ipod and laptop computer,” we learn. “There is no danger of exposure to these batteries by radiation, electric shock or explosion – even if it is called the Bomb! The batteries weigh 0.12kg each and are positioned on your lower back where they are cushioned against your body by a layer of neoprene sponge so you can't feel them.”

You will be able to recharge the batteries in the The H-Bomb2.

Airborne-Diving in the Southern Ocean

Airborne-Diving in the Southern Ocean

While the thought of surfing somewhere in the Arctic Circle sounds incredibly adventuresome, we prefer deep-sea diving to splashing about on the beach, and trying out our piezo-wetsuits somewhere with a better selection of flora and fauna. Correctly guessing our wish, “Capability Brown” e-mailed us this BBC News article on the discovery of nearly 700 hundred new marine species in the vast, dark deep-sea around Antarctica.

As part of the ANDEEP (Antarctic Benthic Deep-Sea Biodiversity) Project, scientists “spotted 674 species of isopod (a diverse order of crustaceans), most of which had never previously been described; more than 200 polychaete species (marine worms), 81 of which were found to be new species; and 76 sponges, 17 of which had previously been unknown.”

Airborne-Diving in the Southern Ocean


Fantasizing a bit further, wouldn't it be better to bring the Southern Ocean closer to us? “Capability Brown” obviously divined our dreams over a year ago when he directed us to velo-city after reading about it on Archinect.

Proposed by architect Chris Hardwicke, “velo-city is a high-speed, all-season, pollution-free, ultra-quiet transit system that makes people healthier. Using an infrastructure of elevated cycle tracks velo-city creates a network across the city. The elevated bikeways are enclosed in tubes to provide protection for all season cycling. The bikeway tubes are separated by direction of travel to create a dynamic air circulation loop that creates a natural tail-wind for cyclists. The reduction of air resistance increases the efficiency of cycling by about 90% allowing for speeds of up to 40 km/hr.”

Airborne-Diving in the Southern Ocean


When BLDGBLOG wrote about it, we left a comment:

Why not fill it with water? An aquarium in the sky. A deep oceanic riverine current but on stilts and theters. Watch eels slithering their way through the interlocking tubular loop-de-loop-de-whoop. Or a pack of migrating humpback whales -- the latest leg on their Darwinian odyssey...from sea to land then back to sea again, and finally, to the skies. And if the entire structure collapses, well...back to land again in a sort of Douglas Adams dysfantasia. And why not some bioluminescent hatchetfishes, twinkling in the night sky where stars have long been blotted out by urban light pollution. Surely a very romantic evening can be had under the shimmering Aquarium in the Sky. Until...of course...a 40-ton humpback whale comes plunging down.


Exploring the deep in the skies above Chicago, loop-de-loop-de-whooping in loop-de-loop-de-whoops, knotted to the exact hydrodynamic flow patterns of the Southern Ocean. Or they could even be patterned after the violent hydrothermal whirlpools in the mid-ocean ridges: over Rome are the rivers coursing through the Marianas Trench, and over Cairo the convections of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

Watch Japanese “researchers” hunt whales for “science” or schools of tuna rhyming with flocks of starlings. Near where a loop dips to within a few feet off the ground, children play next to Charybdis, the Kraken and the Leviathan.


Versailles in the Pacific
Open-Ocean Aquaculture
Prunings XXIX
Bernard Lassus


1) DMZOO by David Yang

A dystopian vision of a cloning facility and zoo for the de-militarized zone in Korea.


2) Pamphlet Architecture 28: Augmented Landscape by Smout Allen

Features a landscape architecture practice for the first time in Pamphlet history. London's Smout Allen presents five projects that respond to the way in which man has enlarged the landscape through architecture and infrastructure, manipulating and blurring perceptions of what is natural and what is artificial.


3) The Hanging Cemetery of Baghdad by Nannette Jacowski and Ricardo O.C. de Ostos

Proposal for a gigantic funerary structure floating above war torn Baghdad.


4) Transient Sedimentation by Lars Kordetzky

Contemporary cities are characterized by fluidity. They grow beyond their borders and converge along different lines. Some cities are erased by natural occurrences, while other disappear due to the construction of dams and are rebuilt at other locations. Transient Sedimentation explores the effect of movement and relocation on cities and landscapes and includes experimental architecture in Manhattan, Vienna, and other locations.


5) La Conchita mon amour by Christina McPhee

A site study of the aftermath of a deadly debris that occurred in 2005 in the town of La Conchita, California, north of Los Angeles. La Conchita remaps the problematic of living with disaster in California in immediate, raw terms. Global warming appears to be accelerating the danger. Without resources for healing or leaving, La Conchita lives on in abandonment. McPhee's images reach through obsessive layers of visual data towards an integration beyond the material facts of the site. The large-scale images that result from this process are topologies of absence and recovery.

 
Moving the Vatican Obelisk
Domenico Fontana, Della Trasportatione dell'Obelisco Vaticano, 1590

The epic choreography of moving the Vatican obelisk, as illustrated by Natale Bonifacio for Domenico Fontana's 1590 manuscript Della Trasportatione dell'Obelisco Vaticano.

Domenico Fontana, Della Trasportatione dell'Obelisco Vaticano, 1590

The obelisk was carved during the reign of Nebkaure Amenemhet II (1992-1985 BCE), and originally stood in the Temple of the Sun at Heliopolis. The Roman emperor Caligula brought it to Rome in 37 AD as one of many tokens of the Roman conquest of Egypt, and erected the spoil on the spine of his eponymous circus, later renamed for Nero.

A millenium and a half later, in 1585, Pope Sixtus asked Domenico Fontana to move the 330-ton Aswan granite the quarter mile or so to St. Peter's Square. The operation was carried out using hemp ropes and iron bars weighing 40,000 pounds, plus 900 men and 72 horses, and took about 5 months to complete. It was no easy move. Nevertheless, the entire event proved to be a spectacle, captivating the city's populace.

Domenico Fontana, Della Trasportatione dell'Obelisco Vaticano, 1590

We would be remiss if we didn't briefly mention that the relocation of the obelisk capped the tail end of the slow but inexorable epic reconstruction of the city of Rome by the papacy after the Western Schism.

When the popes returned from their Avignon sojourn, they found the city nearly deserted, a hulking heap of trash, the center having the look of a backwoods country. It looked beggarly; or as Petrarch described the one-time center of the world, “a matron with the dignity of age but her grey locks disheveled, her garments, and her face overspread with the pallor of misery.”

Starting with Nicholas V in the mid-15th century, the popes as master urban planners set about returning the city back to economic prosperity and to pastoral preeminence in Christendom. Old roads were opened up, and new ones built. So were new palaces, churches, and piazzas. Entire neighborhoods were razed down, others cleaned for re-habitation. Monumental schemes were planed, re-planned, and then finally executed. Broad, straight roads swept through the landscape, irrespective of the hilly terrain and existing grid, connecting all the mother churches with each other, to other holy sites and to the city gates.

Pilgrims soon circulated about the urbis as though it were a theater; and for all intents and purposes it was indeed one huge stage, wherein souls were saved or condemned while the church cashed in, watching their coffers bloat from selling indulgences. From one basilica to another basilica, from one severed finger to a decapitated martyr's head to yet another saintly relic, pilgrims traversed the reconfigured urban landscape, praying, chanting, giving offerings, receiving absolution and using the vast store of saintly sculptures and monuments as props.

It was as carefully choreographed as moving the Vatican obelisk.

Domenico Fontana, Della Trasportatione dell'Obelisco Vaticano, 1590

Domenico Fontana, Della Trasportatione dell'Obelisco Vaticano, 1590

We would be remiss as well if we didn't briefly note that most art historians seem to like to comment that not only did the obelisk provide the ideal visual anchor and spatial coherence to a large, open public space but, with the mounting of a cross on the summit, this once trophy of Roman imperialism became a trophy of the Catholic church. The triumph of Christianity over paganism, as it were.

Of course, one can only wonder who will make this trophy of a trophy into their own trophy one thousand or so years from now.

Or in a bit of performance art inspired by Busby Berkeley, will Maurizio Cattelan steer through the Baroque avenues of Rome four parade balloons in the exact shape and dimensions as the minarets of Hagia Sophia? With a cast of thousands and the entire zoological content of Bioparco di Roma? It'll be a new Roman triumph, passing through the Arch of Constantinople. The minarets will get stuck and so must be deflated. Cities in Western Europe and Muslim countries will riot.

Domenico Fontana, Della Trasportatione dell'Obelisco Vaticano, 1590

(Also read about Ramses II's 10-hour journey through the streets of Cairo in this BBC News article. Apparently tens of thousands of people lined the streets to witness the spectacle.)


Della Trasportatione dell'Obelisco Vaticano

Chicken Wing
Tom Leader Studio

In a fun little adaptive reuse project, landscape architect Tom Leader and his colleagues Roman Chiu and Sara Peschel want to add chicken coops on wheels to one of the great icons of Modernism, the Farnsworth House, in order to prepare it for the “coming survivalist era of radical sustainability.”

The project takes inspiration from past retrofits:

The current tendency to embalm our historical monuments, trying to maintain them precisely as they were in their functional lives, is a relatively new practice. Most of the great monuments of ancient Rome were adapted in the middle Ages for re-use in some "parasitical" way related to their basic form and system. The Coliseum became a large scale apartment block as well as a stone quarry. Domitian's Arena was converted to the hippodrome-shaped Piazza Navona with stores resting their foundations and partitions on the surrounding groins and vaults.


Similarly, so that it can stave off future threats of demolition and floods, the new extension is meant to provide income for its own maintenance. One wonders though how much the eggs will have to cost to pay for heating and to replace broken windows.

Meanwhile, someone should propose retrofitting Philip Johnson's houses in New Canaan, Connecticut into a boutique abattoir. Organic spring lambs reared in an Arcadian setting, then slaughtered with modernist efficiency. Johnson's Loins® for $500/lb.

Or genetically modified pigs nurtured in Johnson's “perfected” landscape, then ensanguinated in hermetically sealed glass hamlets, their butchers soothed from the horrors of blood and squealing with an enveloping view of Nature.

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