The Return of the Intergalactic Planetary Landscape Architect
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Because someone was posting a bunch of Popular Science links to del.icio.us this weekend, we discovered an article about a wearable robot being developed by Sarcos for DARPA.
In the article, you will read about “the latest and arguably most advanced exoskeleton in existence”; other exoskeletons by other institutions who are competing with Sarcos for Army grants; the history of these machines; a cartoon character; and someone who is called the “Willy Wonka of robotics.”
There isn't much more we can say beyond that laundry list of items you'll encounter in the article, so we are left here with publicly fantasizing an Illinois — where Pruned is domiciled, in case you were wondering about this apparent arbitrary choice of geography — a future Illinois or a literary Illinois or an academic Illinois or even the real one wherein all landscape construction firms in the state have had their migrant workers, here legally or otherwise, outfitted with autonomous exoskeletons.
Because that vortex of immigration politics swirling around Capitol Hill has markedly reduced their labor pool, contractors have decided to invest in the development and, once perfected, in the deployment of these military gizmos, thinking that a lone worker wearing an Ellen Ripley couture can do the job of half a dozen workers, if not more.
Mowing the lawn and blowing leaf litter become a breeze. Pavers by the tons can be carried in one go. Stormwater bioswales get excavated without heavy machineries. A topiary wonderland complex in the love-hybrid style of Michelangelo and Bernini can now be sculpted without sweaty profusion.
The CEO of Caterpillar, an unavowed fan of Cinquecento garden design, wants to create for his palatial mansion located just outside the company's world headquarters in Peoria, Illinois, a replica of the Villa D'Este gardens, an exact copy, in fact, except that it will be planted with native vegetation of Plant Hardiness Zone 5a.
Despite the complexity of recreating late Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque landscape elements, not to mention the signature terracing of the original site in contourless prairie country, the project is finished in record time. In one day.
Monumental projects and middling chores are done with ease and, of course, high profit margins.
But something else besides the economics of small businesses has changed.
The other has become a spectacle. Where before residents of the affluent northern suburbs of Chicago prefer to admire the beauty of their landscape without the thorny politics of immigration, race and labor, they now appropriate their laborers into their own aesthetic consumption practices.
In other words, instead of scurrying them away out of view or sending them home to their part of town just before the guests arrive to your Martha Stewart-inspired garden soirée, you let your pneumatic gardeners continue on with their work, instructing them to remain strategically framed by well-pruned maples, as in a Picturesque scene. When the canapé trays get passed around, you direct your guests' attention to the machine in the garden busy producing and maintaining landscape scenes of pastoral delights.
“So very Jean-Paul Gaultier,” the woman in the hat will say.
And if things get a bit boring, you clap your hands, dim the lights and your cybernetic living sculptures begin to perform a Carmontellian proverbe, titled, perhaps, Le Nord.
During the day in sprawling backyards and exclusive golf courses around town, kids flock to them with xenophilic enthusiasm. “He is way cooler than Iron Man.”
There are no more furtive glances, only uninhibited gazes akin to birdwatching. Gawking as though they were fountains, temple follies or Reptonian livestocks.
Until, of course, they rebel.
One day a charismatic landscape architect, who's probably seen too many PBS documentaries on Che Guevara and Cesar Chavez, rides into town. Angered by the exploitative conditions of the migrant workers, he galvanizes them into action. First there are the casual meetings with the employers, then a letter-writing campaign to elected officials, followed by protest marches and the founding of a union and membership drives. All of which, unfortunately, fail to correct what he perceives to be unjust.
One night, then, he and his comrades break into storage depots across the state to gather up all the XOSes; the first strike in their rebellion begins at sunrise.
Atop an artificial hill divined up from the flat terrain by his soldiers in their former lives, the newly christened Spartacus, FASLA, surveys their objective, a sleepy ex-urb, hoping that he remembers well the lessons he had learned from reading J.B. Jackson.
The sun is now up.
Animaris geneticus, or: Intergalactic planetary landscape architect
The Bleex, or: Intergalactic planetary landscape architect, Part II