Friday, August 29, 2008
In Palm Desert, California, we read in BBC News, “$20,000 (£11,000) of golden barrel cacti have been stolen in six months.”
In an effort to conserve water in drought-stricken southern California (and money in economically anxious times), the city substituted its “lush lawns” with native desert plants. Now their xeriscaped roadside verges and median strips are lined with cactus, agave, red bird of paradise and lantana. Unfortunately, the “slow-growing varieties, such as golden barrels and agaves, have been targeted” by thieves. The large golden barrels, in particular, “can fetch up to $4,000 (£2,200)” while the smaller ones, with a wholesale price of $100, can be resold in the black market for $50 to $60.
So now “hidden security cameras monitor places where large numbers of the plants are located, while officials will start putting microchips in some cacti, so that stolen ones can be identified.”
They will also soon start recruiting migrant workers for their new Cacti Scene Investigation task force, unfortunately undoing their fiscal conservation.
This crime fighting unit, of course, will inspire a new police procedural drama on network television. CSI: Botany. In each episode, using state of the art gizmos and plain old human insight, dashingly photogenic botanists will hunt down horticultural deviants: orchid thieves; rogue pharmers hired by Iran to breach America's food security; identity theft rings hacking into the wireless networks of major retail stores using outdoor fake shrubbery; guerrilla gardeners; Ken Smith and many others.
POSTSCRIPT #1: The U.S. Department of Agriculture's crop cops doing some forensic aerial photography.
Michael Jackson as Landscape Architecture
Taking inspiration from Michael Jackson — that creature from a future “world of pure synthesis, pure self-creation“ — let's fantasize the modified body becoming a legitimate site for landscape architecture.
Landscape design begins to infuse recombinant DNA techniques into the creative process. To be licensed as landscape architects, interns must be well-versed in advanced genetic engineering. To be able to deform and reconstruct, they may even be required to get a medical degree.
Urban agriculture then takes a provocative turn. We become our own self-fertilizing, mobile edible estates. Locavores measure distances not in miles but in feet and inches, if not at all. Transporting food achieves zero carbon footprint, which becomes negative if the pollution-eating properties of our neo-organs get factored in.
But what of our food service sectors, such as restaurants and supermarkets and the infrastructure that supports them? What of the clothing, personal grooming and home furnishing industries? Will we dwell as usual? No, the urban grid needs to be radically reconfigured.
And what of our parks? There are still large ones, but an instant Central Park can be constituted anywhere and anytime there's a large crowd, for instance, during rush hour traffic on the “streets” or inside/outside the Olympic stadium watching the fireworks of the opening and closing ceremonies. It's the parkless park. Organize a rooftop “barbecue” summer party, and a temporary rooftop garden in the form of blobby geo-bodies gets landscaped. In other words, parks and gardens are still a physical manifestation of urban sociability and diversion.
One thing remains unchanged as well. The body, like gardens, is still a terrain manipulated by the demands of style, fashion and pretense. The body, like gardens, is the site and object of consumption. Grooming your GMed anatomy, like gardening in the aristocratic landscape of Versailles or in the cul-de-sac frontyards of Orange County, is a tactical game of social one-upmanship. No one wants to be caught dead using cheap turf or with a dry patch or having less alterations than Michael Jackson, unless it's considered au courant in your socioeconomic milieu.
In any case, if we find ourselves landless in the crowded city of tomorrow, perhaps amidst the future ultramegametropolis of New Tokyo-Beijing-Shanghai-Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Manila, we can cultivate our own epidermic Eden.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
As reported by SciDev.net earlier this month, Namibia may soon construct its own solar updraft tower outside its capital city. This renewable-energy power plant isn't going to be a prototype to test the technology's engineering and economic feasibility; rather, it is proposed to be an actual working plant plugged-in directly to the country's electrical grid.
Not to be confused with a solar power tower, to which sunlight is focused by mirrors arrayed at its base, this one produces energy by “heating air inside a vast transparent tent, several kilometres in diameter, at the base of the tower. This hot air rises inside a tall concrete chimney, driving wind turbines linked to generators. The tent can also be used to grow crops.”
We should state that questions of its feasibility don't so much interest us as the image of hundreds of these Apollonian axis mundi dotting the desert, puncturing both sky and land.
It may be one and a half kilometres high and 280 metres wide, but is that enough to meet the desired energy output?
Will its power be as cheap as coal power?
Can Namibia and its partners afford the $900 million price tag?
Somehow contemplating these and other issues can't be as fascinating as imagining an arid rainforest of solar towers mechanically evapotranspirating in the Kalahari, divining the surrounding air into static mini-hurricanes, their whirring blades immitating the mating rituals of imagined fauna. No one will doubt that this new landscape is as much a natural part of the country's ecology as the boabab tree. In fact, so vast is it that it may be considered a new terrestrial biome and given its own Köppen classification.
Give them a geometrically interesting facade, and everyone will want to cultivate their own rainforest, with the enthusiasm never given to wind farms.
Meanwhile, The New York Times will have to rewrite their recent Namibian travelogue to include this “dazzling geological display” and “otherworldy landscape.”
Spatial High Jinks
Last week, Phronesisaical reminded us again of Wafaa Bilal's Domestic Tension, a piece of performance art, which they describe as “a brilliant commentary on war and the complicity of those for whom distance creates a sense of false reality and moral neutrality.”
From The National:
For 30 days, Bilal lived in a 4.6 by 9.8 metre performance space [at Chicago’s FlatFile Gallery], while people around the world watched – and targeted him – through a webcam attached to a remote-controlled paintball gun, capable of firing over a shot per second at the Iraqi in question.
While it won't be as powerful or even catch the attention of the Department of Homeland Security, how about installing webcams to watch over landscapes as their mineral wealth gets extracted? Next to it would be a garden hose, with which you could target passing miners. Dirt clinging onto them will be washed away; they may even be refreshed by its cool waters. And you, the direct beneficiaries of their labor, will also be cleansed of your consumerist sins. Tele-absolution.
This performance art will be titled It's the least that I could do.
Also last week (and on the same day), Design Under Sky pointed us to TRASH: anycoloryoulike, a public art installation in which “standard piles of trash are replaced with artist-created bags” to decorate the streets of New York. The project simultaneously “beautifies the city and calls attention to waste consumption.”
Next summer, artist Adrian Kondratowicz, with Miuccia Prada's patronage, will cloth the homeless with green ready-to-wear, thus “beautifying urban parks and calling attention to human waste.”
Continuing on with this last week meme, here are two items posted the day before Phronesisaical and Design Under Sky published theirs.
Firstly, BLDGBLOG covered a “bouncy chapel” for the penitent on vacation on the beaches of Sardinia. It “comes complete with an altar, an apse and a confessional.”
It also reminded us of another inflatable church installed this May on a parking lot in Troy, New York. Though not built for traditional worship, it was a 1:1 scale reproduction of the church — “a historic site in the fight to abolish slavery” — that once stood on the same site.
According to Olivia Robinson, Josh MacPhee and Dara Greenwald:
Spectres of Liberty is a public memory, site-specific art project. Beginning with a sense of loss about the changing built environment of Troy, New York, we set out imagining ghosts of demolished buildings and structures. Through imagining inflatable sculptural extensions to buildings whose facades have been destroyed to thinking about recreating vanished historic sites, we decided on creating a ghost of the Liberty Street Church.
Seen through the diaphanous walls of this ghost church, visitors themselves appear ghost-like, ectoplasmic, haunting the same space as the past.
Lots more photos here, via Critical Spatial Practice.
Secondly, Dezeen showed some photos of a stair-like viewing platform, which the Office for Subversive Architecture attached to the 17-kilometer-long, blue fence surrounding London's future Olympic Park. Climb up, and for a moment you can infiltrate “the secrecy surrounding preparations for the 2012 Olympics.”
It recalls to mind Heavy Trash's viewing platforms for gated communities in Los Angeles. Some photos here.
To borrow language from Sites Unseen: Landscape and Vision, they are framing devices for a staged aesthetic experience and to suit a sociopolitical agenda.
Many have posted Michel de Broin's Superficielle before, and it was Vvork's turn last week. It's a lovely sculpture that renders the landscape into a Cubist puzzle.
Quoting de Broin:
Upon invitation to reflect on the notion of transparency, that led me into the forest to envelop the contour of a large stone with fragments of mirror. The large stone, tucked away deep in the woods, became a reflective surface for its surroundings. In this play of splintered radiance, the rock disappears in its reflections. Because it reflects one cannot be mislead by its presence, yet we cannot seize it, rather it is the rock that reflects us.
A horrible, horrible last sentence, but a marvelous, marvelous installation nonetheless.
It Still Turns and Returns
Largely unreported by everyone is a fringe architecture festival scheduled at the same time as the Venice Biennale; also staged in La Serenissima, this Slamdance of the star-studded exhibition is titled Not There: Architecture Beyond Building. Advanced media previews sent to the cut-and-paste cognoscenti suggest that an installation involving a milking rotary will likely be showstopper. Displaying a surprising mastery of artspeak, the Betsky-rejected farmer-artist from Des Moines, Iowa tells us that this event performance considers the current world food crisis; the grotesque beauty of technological efficiency; agriculture as a legitimate art practice; and farms as sites of experimentations and thus possible ground zero for new and alternative theories of landscape architecture. To attract attendees, carry bags will be given away.
It Turns and Returns
Thursday, August 21, 2008
In today's weekly batch of articles on The New York Times' Home & Garden section, there is a good summary of current trends in environmental landscape design: “Over the past five years, as climate change has become more obvious and energy costs have spiraled up, a number of designers have begun to champion an approach to landscaping that marries traditional environmental concerns — sustainability, biodiversity, restoration, conservation — with a sensitivity to aesthetics and a flexibility that they said was missing from green-gardening crusades of the past.” Go see.
Artfully Planned Decay
Small Food Nation
Perhaps what's critically missing in the present manifestation of urban agriculture — into which one could lump together Fritz Haeg's Edible Estates, Slow Food Nation, Middlesbrough and temporary boutique farms, among other things — are some faunal decorations.
You don't see Holstein cows lazily lying on the lawn waiting to be milked or a herd of Texas longhorns fighting through traffic (or migrating along decommissioned subway tunnels or stampeding on a re-redesigned High Line) on its way to an abattoir amidst haute condominiums in the gentrified Meat Packing District. Where is the flock of sheep grazing on rooftop gardens while next door, higher up in their lofts, neighbors delight in such charming rural view?
There's no need to state the obvious reasons why you can't rear livestock in the front yard, but if one impediment is physical size, there is the Dexter, a miniature cattle that is “the world’s most efficient, cutest and tastiest cow.” From The Times:
For between £200 and £2,000, people can buy a cow that stands no taller than a large German shepherd dog, gives 16 pints of milk a day that can be drunk unpasteurised, keeps the grass “mown” and will be a family pet for years before ending up in the freezer.
The Dexter may still be too big, in which case, you breed one no larger than a small German shepherd dog. Or tinier still that they'll fit right in with the chickens in the hen house. Throw in some miniature pigs, miniature spring lambs, miniature deer and some miniature other, and your Lilliputian ranch is set.
Of course, instead of the heroic farmer of the American Midwest or the pastoral shepherd of the Romantic past, you could emulate Doctor Moreau. New farm animals hybridized from distinct species: docile, thrive in small urban allotments, quite edible and healthy, and for the amount of food, water and energy they consume, produce proportionally more meat than their genetic parents. This is radical sustainability for the era of food crisis.
But if overcoming the psychological barrier of eating chimeras is going to take some time, they can be used to decorate your garden in the meantime. And when they enter your view from inside your tiny house — Picturesquely framed as these post-genomic peacocks are by the windows, it'll be like looking at a landscape painting by the Old Masters — you can't help but contemplate the philosophical and ethical implications of this post-industrial cuisine. Or make up new recipes for when past the barrier.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Lord Smith of Finsbury, the new head of the UK's Environment Agency, talked to The Independent about a wide range of issues, but this is what he said about coastal erosion, the government's defense plans, and why those plans may involve abandoning parts of the British coastline to the sea.
“We know the sea is eating away at the coast in quite a number of places, primarily – but not totally exclusively – on the east and south coasts. It's a particularly huge issue in East Anglia, but in quite a number of other areas as well.”
It would seem that though the British coast managed to keep the Spanish Armada, Napoleon and Hitler away from its sands, it will not be able to stop the rising sea.
In any case, it's not really earth-shattering news and, as it is another instance of politicians giving sound bites rather than actual specifics, nothing new as well, but given the opportunity afforded by a related and current bit of news to post photos of the armored beaches of Happisburgh under assault by the North Sea, we'll take it.
All photographs are by Andrew Stacey.
Meanwhile, we are reminded of an article published in the The Guardian nearly two years ago. It's about two coastal villages — Kilnsea in Yorkshire and Happisburgh in Norfolk — whose coastal defenses were crumbling, becoming infrastructural ruins in a Picturesque water garden, as it were. Both villages were told by the government that their groynes and revetments were not going to be maintained, essentially putting their community at risk and turning their homes into worthless real estates.
However, Kilnsea managed to secure funds for flood protection, because it has businesses to protect and “a fair share of forceful and articulate inhabitants” who, supposedly, know “how to play the system.” No money is to go to Happisburgh, because it has “poor houses” and the “cost-benefit ratio is too high”.
One must wonder here whether Lord Smith's “priority areas” will similarly be a function of political influence. Will the baron's plans be another case of money going where money is?
And only because the Olympics are in the news everywhere, one also has to wonder if those plans will be affected by the dramatic increase in construction cost of the London Olympics. It's interesting to imagine quaint hamlets by the sea turned to flooded ghost towns, because the money that could have saved them had been redirected to pay for Zaha Hadid's natatorium.
As East London gets “regenerated,” a village somewhere on the British coastline undergoes its version of cultural cleansing. While one locale gleams with “civilizing” architecture, its antipode becomes a wasteland, whose history gets obliterated and whose inhabitants gets displaced and stuffed into imported FEMA trailers, refugees not of wars but of misallocations of infrastructural funds. The eyes of the world will be directed on the jewel, and because they are weak, because they are too easily mesmerized, their gaze will not be straying too far to notice the new climate change ghettos.
Here are some more photos of “multiple lines of defence” turned into “multiple lines of disarray.”
There are other sorts of defensive armaments decaying on the beach, such as this wartime pillbox.
After having tumbled from above some time ago, it now quietly lies on the sand below, sinking, totally in submission to the slow erosional forces of the waves. Fortress England under attack not by aerial bombardment but by geology and oceanography.
This may be the fate of all of Happisburgh: a city reduced to Suprematist abstraction. All concrete slabs, mere foundations that can't even support itself against erasure.
To repeat: all photographs are by Andrew Stacey and were downloaded from his website. For his Happisburgh photos, start here.
The Retreating Village
landscape.mp3: BLDGBLOG interviews Smout Allen
Some blogs discovered recently or otherwise:
InfraNet Lab, the digital playground of Mason White, Lola Sheppard and Lateral Architecture, investigates “the spatial byproducts of contemporary resource logistics,” such as enviro-veillance, Icelandic data islands, artificial wave-breaking reefs, etc. They must be after our hearts.
Armatures for a fluid landscape, as photographed by Toshio Shibata.
Notes on Some Selections from the Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers
Vicksburg Harbor Project
Several memes running through this blog come wonderfully together in Gazex®, an anti-avalanche system manufactured by Technologie Alpine de Sécurité (TAS): terrestrial augments, wilderness access, urban/wild interface, disaster urbanism, climate change and (admittedly a stretch) fountains.
From a distance, they look like disembodied talons jutting out from the rockface, ready to prick at imminent disasters. With their array of remote sensors, they are constantly reading the landscape; the mountains are kept under constant surveillance, lest they want to endanger quaint Alpine hamlets and new luxury ski resort developments above Denver or lose skiers to the wintry wilds.
When an avalanche is deemed likely, it detonates a mixture of oxygen and propane gas in its explosion chamber. The resulting hot gas is then directed downwards to the zone at risk.
TAS describes their product as the best avalanche prevention mechanism, as there are “no explosives to handle and no personnel interventions in or near danger zones.” But will there be any market for it in the near future? At least in the Alps, demand may soon vanish due to “a change in the large-scale weather pattern.”
From New Scientist:
In the late 1980s, there was a dramatic step-like drop in the amount of snow falling in the Swiss Alps. Since then, snowfall has never recovered. In some years, the amount that fell on the plateau between Zurich, Bern and Basel was 60 per cent lower than was typical in the early 1980s, says Christoph Marty at the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos. He has analysed snowfall trends spanning 60 years and adds that the average number of snow days over the last 20 winters is lower than at any time since records began more than 100 years ago.
Maybe TAS should start manufacturing artificial snow machines? Preferably not.
Should you want to see it in action, you can download this video. There is another, but that file may be corrupt, as it won't unzip for us.
It's the new version of Geoff's Earth-Fountain©, the present memorial to a vanishing landscape and the future memorial to an extinct one. Depending on who you ask, that bang echoing through the valley will be regarded as a mournful wail or a joyful bellow heralding the arrival of something new.
Sites of Managed Anxiety
Wearable Anti-Avalanche Homes
On view till 27 September 2008 at the Center for Architecture in New York are select entries from the South Street Seaport - Re-envisioning the Urban Edge competition. Unfortunately, no images are provided.
Thankfully, N.E.E.D., whose entry was awarded First Place, provided us with images of their winning proposal: “an aquaculture-driven floating park, inlaid with combinational modules of public indoor programs.”
“South Street Seaport,” writes N.E.E.D., “has always been closely connected with infrastructural industry of the city. Being a port and a market for fish, it actively switched its urban structure according to development of transportation modes and storing methods of goods. To continue this historical trajectory of being a highly responsive urban district, the project proposes a fish farm(works), where the future of aquaculture actuates the next transformation phase of the area.”
But fish grown in the waters of New York City? Somehow locavores might still prefer frozen fish trucked in from afar over fresh ones from the East River. There is a “sustainable water purification system,” though the way the project statement reads, one is made to think that this is for cleaning water that has been contaminated by this near-shore aquaculture and not to sanitize river water for use in the farm.
Nevertheless, as with any ideas, this shortcoming can easily be resolved with further development.
One wishes here, though, that the spongy, osseous kelp forest underneath was extended above the water line: a spongy, osseous rain forest within which fishes swarm. New York's new skyscraper-aquariums.
Still, we do like the idea of extending the territory of Manhattan, a phenomenon not without historical precedence. You could even push the entire edge all the way out with these “half-submered pontoons,” thus stitching the island and the other boroughs together.
While everyone above enjoys the floating park and its many programmed cabinets de verdure, and amidst hilarious territorial disputes over, say, where Manhattan begins and Brooklyn begins (or vice versa), an aquatic eco-machine purifies the water below to a level that 1) eating its locally grown fish will not physically and psychologically repulse people; 2) urban agriculture moves away from the grotesquely expensive real estate of Manhattan into the less(?) expensive real estate of the tidal estuary; and 3) when there's an architecture biennale/festival in the city, someone will stage The Continuous (Sushi) Picnic.
Of course, you could also implement these designs to waterfronts elsewhere.