Landscapes, landscapes, landscapes...
Let's start with io9 on “show caves,” the garden grottoes of the 21st century.
In an earlier age, these simulated abysses were the playgrounds of kings and their terminally bored queen consorts; popes and their cardinals, who may or may not have been their illegitimate sons; and the titled nobility and the desperate lesser aristocrats. Now, as suggested by Geoff Manaugh, these Hadeses in miniature should be taken up by “investor class Brits, hip-hop moguls, and easy-money Hollywood types.” Instead of getting drunk every night or coming up with another act to fool doctors into prescribing them drugs, they funnel their money and creative energies into “vast, echoless complex[es]” whose “stalactites have been precision-cut by CNC-milling machines, the walls shaped by computer-programmable routers.”
Especially for those whose summer blockbusters hits have never really given them much satisfaction, they might find the artistic fulfillment they have long sought in these void canvases.
But as an aside, it is said that Marie Antoinette tried to escape from the mob that had come to take her to Paris, and eventually to prison, in the grotto of the Petit Trianon. Intended as a site for diversions, a refuge from the rigid protocols of the royal court, the grotto was also one of the stops on her way to the guillotine.
A contemporary re-imagining of this anecdote might involve a young, successful independent film actor; an addiction to show caves that spirals out of control, causing him to loose his grip on reality; a mob of TMZ paparazzi; and some prescription drugs. Jules Verne: A True Hollywood Story.
Next we have Wikipedia on KBR, Inc., the engineering and construction company, formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton. Some of the company's projects undertaken for the U.S. government include Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. “The camp,” we read, “is built mainly of wooden, semi permanent SEA (South East Asia) huts and is surrounded by a 2.5 meter high earthen wall. To construct the base two hills were lopped off and the valley between them was filled with the resulting material.”
In Afghanistan, “KBR was awarded a $100 million contract in 2002 to build a new U.S. embassy in Kabul.” The company also receive $216 million “for work under Operation Enduring Freedom” which involved “establishing base camps at Kandahar and Bagram Air Base and training foreign troops from the Republic of Georgia.”
KBR's activities in Iraq are no less extensive. “The United States Army hired KBR to provide housing for approximately 100,000 soldiers in Iraq in a contract worth $200 million, based on a long-term contract signed in December 2001 under the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP). Other LOGCAP orders have included a pre-invasion order to repair oil facilities in Iraq” and “$28.2 million to build POW camps.”
We now wait for the Princeton Architectural Press or Actar or, dare we dream, Spacemaker Press to publish a much needed critical appraisal of KBR, Inc. and its adventures in military urbanism.
Now on to Vapor, a new exhibition at the Southern Exposure gallery in San Francisco in which Amy Balkin, Futurefarmers, Natalie Jeremijenko, The Living, Eric Paulos and Preemptive Media takes on “our declining air quality as the subject matter, medium and metaphor for creative work.”
Often inspired by forms of activism, the works react to the sources of climate change through the use of technologies – sensors, databases, and communications equipment – that are only recently accessible outside a lab. In this sense, the show's title also refers to the growing means by which this art is being produced, in addition to the ubiquity of greenhouse gases and other air conditions that serve as this art’s medium. Vapor proposes new ways of modeling, testing and finding solutions to the problems of air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.
Via Loud Paper.
One wonders what Correggio might have created with air quality as his subject matter and medium. Perhaps a new version of his Jupiter and Io inspired by the recent reports of dust storms blowing from the Gobi Desert and across over the Yellow Sea. Jupiter rendered as vaporized earth, dyed with the toxins of an industrialized China, on its way to its yearly tryst with Io, i.e., a timid Korea and an emasculated Japan. Erotic rapture turns into bloodied respiratory convulsions.
Or what about John Constable and J.W. Turner? How would those cloud-obsessed painters have approached smog?
Moving on to dams, reservoirs and their effect on sea level change.
Reporting on a research led by Benjamin Chao of the National Central University in Taiwan, National Geographic News tells us that “dams and reservoirs have stored so much water over the past several decades that they have masked surging sea levels.” In fact, “without dams, sea levels would have risen 30 percent more than they already have.”
So while the world waits for green technologies and sustainability practices to deliver on their promises and for China and India to adopt them, and then afterwards wait yet again for the expected results to show up, we should have the Israelis to put up barrier walls around Antarctica and Greenland to contain all their fresh water so that Bangladesh don't have to suffer climatic genocide.
Onwards to slum tourism, or “poorism.” From The New York Times:
From the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the townships of Johannesburg to the garbage dumps of Mexico, tourists are forsaking, at least for a while, beaches and museums for crowded, dirty — and in many ways surprising — slums.
Is this voyeurism? Is it exploitation? Does it “change the reputation of the slums one tourist at a time?” Sponsor our trip, and we'll report back to you.
Meanwhile, one tourist was quoted in the article as saying something extraordinarily interesting. Speaking of an incident during her tour to one of Rio de Janeiro's favelas, specifically when “a young man approached the group, smiling and holding a cocked gun,” Rajika Bhasin said she became “just very aware of [her] surroundings, and aware of the fact that [she] was on this guy’s turf.”
Can one, then, become better attuned to the intricacies of the built environment when placed under threat of bodily harm? Can landscape architecture students acquire a more robust set of landscape reading skills if they are dropped down every academic year in the middle of Rocinha or Soweto and left there to fend for themselves for a week?
Flânerie in the slums.
And finally, on the impending coastal crisis, a good overview of landscapes at risk.
By mid-century, more than half of the U.S. population will live within a day’s drive of a coast or lakeshore. Once the realm of small villages and ocean-based economies, these areas are now heavily developed and populated with tourists and secondary homes. Many inhabitants appreciate the scenery, but assume shorelines never change.
That's because they're idiots!
Billions of years of geologic history have shown that coastal areas are the least constant features on the planet’s surface. Tropical storms (hurricanes) and extratropical storms (Pacific storms, nor’easters) devastate shorelines. In addition, the post-glacial rise in sea level enables storm surges to destroy coastal areas at higher and higher elevations each century. Fixed structures built on coasts with rising sea levels may be doomed.
And we'll report here when they fail.