Below are some screen captures taken from animations of cross-bedding formation that you can download from the U.S. Geological Survey.
The sinuous patterns that you see on the sides of these modeled landscape correspond to actual stratigraphic markings in the real world — earth's own hieroglyphs that can be read and interpreted, allowing one to piece together a narrative of events from deep time.
Similar images appeared here quite awhile back, then in monochrome. Having recently been reacquainted with them, we thought it would be fun to post another series, now in sepia.
And we also thought it would be fun to imagine a new urban public space inspired by these animations.
It's Chicago's Federal Plaza — that “space in between” three black boxes by Mies van der Rohe in the Loop — turned into a giant version of Janis Pönisch's Dynamic Terrain. Into an undulating patch of the urban grid.
Uploaded into this terrestrial machine would be all the data accumulated by the USGS on cross-bedding. Flip the switch and ancient worlds get resurrected, forming and deforming once more for all to see. During the morning hours, extinct sand dunes come alive, and in the afternoon, Jurassic riverbeds get their chance to distort and convulse in a forest of Miesian lines.
And all the while, office workers enjoy their lunchtime break undisturbed; tourists listen in to a lecture on Chicago architecture in a valley temporarily sheltered from the surrounding tectonic upheavals; and the homeless get comforted by the mesmerizing rhythms of this amorphous surface.
Until, of course, some unfamiliar wave patterns begin to rattle the whole place. The USGS has detected a 9.0 earthquake somewhere in the world, and since its servers are networked to the plaza, this potentially catastrophic event gets replicated in Chicago in real-time. Everyone who was there — who was tempest tossed by telepresent seismic waves, bruised but not battered — gets interviewed by CNN.
Or maybe it's been hacked, because someone has a grievance with the government. The plaza has always been the site of political protest; after its renovation, however, organizing large crowds has been difficult. But as proven by these hackers, it can still process acts of civil disobedience.