As reported today in New Scientist and elsewhere, the same basic principles used in recent experiments to render objects invisible at least in some parts of the electromagnetic spectrum have been employed to develop a dike system that can shield objects they surround from water waves.
This system is composed of “concentric rings of rigid pillars.” Waves passing through its “labyrinth of radial and concentric corridors” are not cancelled out but rather are reconfigured (re-sculpted?) in such a way that they pass through the object inside with little or no effect.
If this scheme can work in scaled-up versions, it may well protect vulnerable coastlines, entire islands and offshore oil platforms from destructive tsunamis.
While acknowledging the skepticism of so many directed at this tsunami cloaking device, we have to confess to being quite mesmerized, to the detriment of our rational faculties, by the incredibly poetic image of these barriers submerged in the gloomy depths: a flooded forest of concrete colossi diffracting sunlight into its own prismatic corridors.
Perhaps they've been turned into artificial coral reefs to generate some ecotourism income to diversify the local economy and offset construction costs. Or maybe they've been topped off with wind turbines. Or both: The Anti-Tsunami Wind Farm and Barrier Reef Wildlife Park. Surely an ideas competition must be held so as to generate other possible programmes.
In any case, it's probably something Peter Eisenman would design if hired by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Thousands of years from now, when the glaciers come to reclaim back territories they had once surrendered and sea levels retreat in response, they will begin to emerge out of the waters: false skyscrapers barnacled with the ossified remains of countless generations of organisms but still retaining their minimalist geometry; a labyrinth of monoliths taking measurements of a landscape in flux but whose true functions have long been forgotten.
“They are memorials to ancient mariners lost at sea,” one of our many-times-great-grandsons will speculate.
“They're astronomical observatories,” another will suggest.
“You're both wrong,” a future crypto-geographer will shout. “It's a contemplative space designed by a 21st century landscape architect, though rather than being used as a place of serene meditation, it became the well-concealed playground of horny teens, drug dealers and rapists, as well as the pissoir of inebriated sports fans.”
Soon afterwards they will shriek in frustration like Kubrickian apes.
Versailles in the Pacific
“On evacuation and atomization uses his self-energy and on drifting atomization sea waters skywards”
Via del.icio.us/bldgblog, we discovered the above photo from the National Maritime Museum. In the foreground, you see a group of bathing machines en route to the waters off Scarborough in Yorkshire, England.
A common sight in beach resorts in the 19th century, bathing machines allowed women to change their clothes in private, reach the waters without parading through open stretches of beach in their bathing suits, and then frolic about in relative privacy and without violating contemporary notions of modesty. Queen Victoria certainly had one, and like it, these caravans of propriety, of social mores too foreign for our own eyes, were simple wooden structures. Lest they invite voyeurs, they were built without windows, otherwise there were little ones inaccessible to prying eyes. Some were made of canvas and still others were very luxurious affairs, but all of them were on wheels, pulled in and out of the surf by horses or brute human power.
Perhaps there's something to be learned from this outmoded sea-side etiquette. Instead of building a palatial beach house with five bathrooms that will only be used as a summer retreat, you build something more modest, say, a tiny house — on wheels.
When the next Category 5 hurricane eyes your neck of the woods, it, of course, retreats to safer harbors. You don't even have to ask tax payers to bail you out after damaging winds and storm surges have deconstructed your Martha Stewart Living centerfold into driftwood and then ask/beg/litigate again to pay the federal flood insurance of your replacement colossus designed by Toll Brothers. Considering the current economic climate, there probably wouldn't be enough federal money left that can be earmarked for beach fortification that only benefits you, who, in turn, probably couldn't afford a rarely inhabited second (or third or fourth) home.
From a vernacular architecture of Victorian social conventions to a zeitgeist architecture of fiscal sobriety.
In any case, part of the label of the photo reads: “Scarborough made the headlines in 1993 after a landslide caused the Holbeck Hall hotel to fall into the sea.” Holbeck Hall should have been on wheels, too.
Other Bathing Machines
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
#1: The New York Times visits Alan Berger and gets a tour of his reclamation project in the Pontine Marshes. Says Berger, “The solution has to be as artificial as the place. We are trying to invent an ecosystem in the midst of an entirely engineered, polluted landscape.” Much earlier, The New York Times tagged along with the landscape architect and his class to a severely polluted mining area in Colorado.
#2: Thanks to Things Magazine, we finally learned what is now on the former site of Osaka Stadium: the green oasis of Namba Parks.
#3: The Farnsworth Flood of 2008: Blair Kamin, architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, reports here, here and here — the comments are worth a read. Something tells us this won't be the last postscript bearing this sort of news.
#4: “Dos Personas encadenarons sus brazos al suelo en una galería subterránea a cuatro metros de profundidad para evitar, o al menos retrasar, el desalojo y derribo del inmueble que ocupan en el centro de sevilla.”
#5: Boing Boing picked up our post on Agro-veillance, and the comments there are worth a read. They create a dialogue that a lot of blogs, including ours, long for.
#6: For a different strategy than the one planned to uncover and preserve the flooded ancient city of Seuthopolis, take a look at the proposed underwater museum of Alexandria.
Glacier-Sailing with the Katabatic Winds
Last month, we read on Der Spiegel about a German researcher who was conducting an experiment into slowing or stopping altogether the melting of Alpine glaciers.
Geographer Hans-Joachim Fuchs in the western German city Mainz has another idea. He wants to harness the power of cold mountain winds — so-called kabatic [sic] winds, or streams of cold, dense air that flow downhill — with windscreens. The screens would keep the cool air on top of the glaciers, perhaps preserving them for a little while longer.
For some reasons — maybe because our attention was somewhere else, i.e., too many RSS feeds, too little brain cells — we thought Fuchs was using the windscreens as though they were sails, to catch the winds to thrust the glaciers away from the higher temperatures of lower elevations. Curioser, we began wondering if they could also work on the ice caps of Greenland and Antarctica, where they will slow their march towards the sea. Or vice versa, if you want your glaciers to melt faster so you can increase your habitable territory, make oil exploration easier, and want to sell freshwater at exorbitant prices to water-parched countries.
Our full cognitive abilities did eventually return, but frankly, we should have just continued on misreading the article, because the real experiment is as absurd and farfetched as our own speculations.
“Something like that would certainly not be very effective,” says one glaciologist about Fuchs' idea.
“Even if you built a wind screen big enough, it's doubtful whether you could meaningfully alter the wind patterns,” says another glaciologist.
Fuchs is not a glaciologist.
Perhaps Fuchs and all the others should just forget about solving the local effects of climate change and directly combat global warming head on. Attack the virus, not the symptoms.
So for instance, Fuchs can re-conceptualize his windscreens as a source of sustainable energy. To do this, he may want to collaborate with Sheila Kennedy and his durable plastic curtains gets replaced with her photovoltaic curtains.
There isn't enough sun in the Alps, you say, not to mention Kennedy's electrified fabric probably isn't scalable from domestic use to industrial use?
In that case, forget the solar textiles; use piezoelectric curtains to harvest wind energy. Array them on the the sides of mountains and along the valleys to create katabatic tunnels and magnify the force and duration of the winds.
Meanwhile, with the snows gone and vegetation not yet well-established, rockslides will be more frequent. Solution: collaborate with Cemagref, the world leading institution in avalanche science. Ask them to engineer your mega-clothesline to act like a deflection or catchment dam when disasters strike. You will definitely need some anti-landslide protection, because developers would be lulled into a false sense of security and build where they shouldn't.
And if these anti-avalance protections aren't enough, you could always apply certain types of bacterium known to hold post-glacial soil together like cement.
You still say they won't generate enough electricity to make a difference, even if all of Europe's soon-to-be iceless mountains are curtained? Very well. Forget Europe.
Let's head to Nepal, Tibet, Peru, Bolivia, Eritrea and elsewhere cut off from the grid, where a now less extensive installation may not be enough to power the microwave and the washing machine and the space heater and the television and all the lightbulbs in the house at once but they will provide enough electricity to power the public water pump, the medical instruments in the clinic, the low-kilowatt fixtures in the school, and home radios.
Collaborate with FogQuest, and they could be turned into fog water collectors as well.
But to return to Europe and to Fuchs, his curtains may yet still have a meaningful effect if they were again re-conceptualized as an art installation, one that hopefully can bring even more attention to the local effects of global warming and forces people to question their lifestyles.
His ideas may be “crazy,” the butt of jokes among true glaciologists and climatologists, but at least with his frequent appearances in the mass media, more are now keenly aware that their precious glaciers are disappearing.
In an homage to Christo and Jeanne-Claude, he will title it: Running Fence v2.0.
Spiraling corkscrew-like from the zenith of the Matterhorn down to its base, they'll billow in the katabatic winds like Tibetan prayer rags, awaiting the passing of one landscape and the coming of another.
“A new approach to management of the American shoreline is urgently needed”
Friday, September 19, 2008
Another passage from Against the Tides; we just can't help ourselves.
Here, Cordelia Dean is actually quoting the conclusions of a report written in 1981 by a group of coastal geologists and signed off by many more experts in the same field of study. Their intent was to convince local, state and federal policy makers to restrict development on American beaches. Nobody listened. Considering recent meteorological events, perhaps government officials may want to buy them lunch and do some coastal policy pow-wow.
1. People are directly responsible for the “erosion problem” by constructing buildings near the beach. For practical purposes, there is no erosion problem where there are no buildings or farms.
Again: To be continued.
POSTSCRIPT #1: In searching for an image to accompany this post, we stumbled accidentally into this article from All Headline News. It's title reads: “Texas Law Might Prevent Some Owners Of Beachfront Homes Destroyed By Ike From Rebuilding.”
The state legislature proposed the new law because it was tired of spending millions of tax dollars to restore beaches eroded by nature each year around houses built on the coastline. Limiting development near the shore would reduce costs to the state of storm damage, disaster response and erosion.
Do other states have similar laws in the books or being drafted by their legislatures? Let us know.
Constituency of Ignorance
Thursday, September 18, 2008
This post simply reproduces a passage from Against the Tide, a nice introductory survey of the American coastal built environment, by New York Times science editor Cornelia Dean. The littoral landscape is a continuing fascination here, and this post is but another iteration of this meme. There will be others, with those that had come before, including this one, acting collectively as a prologue.
So, quoting at length:
Almost half of all construction in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s took place in coastal areas, and demographers estimate that by the year 2000, 80 percent of Americans will live within an hour's drive off the coast. By 2010, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration says, population density along ocean coasts will be almost four hundred people per square mile, as against less than one hundred per square mile for the rest of the nation.
To be continued, of course.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
1) Strange Harvest on Stonehenge and tourism infrastructure.
Stonehenge is a monument to contemporary doubt, to fallibility, competing theories and conflicting mythologies. And perhaps these confusions explain the curse of the Stonehenge Visitors centre. Because, though seemingly benign, visitors centres are highly strung cultural artefacts.
It just seems so strange to us that the country of garden follies (culturally mediated engagement with nature and history), the grided architecture of metes and bounds, and the literary invented landscapes of the Lakes District could still be having problems negotiating between the manmade and the natural and between authentic experience and drive-by tourism. Haven't these issues been resolved already over there?
2) Bustler on the winners of the Brooklyn Grand Army Plaza competition.
3) BLDGBLOG on nuclear power stations as national historic landmarks. Reading this and remembering Fantastic Journal's travelogue to England's seaside village of Dungeness, we were reminded of Derek Jarman's garden and how it appropriated the nearby nuclear power station into a landscape folly. It's the radioactive machine in the garden.
4) SUBSURFACE Magazine on Issuu.com. A student publication from the Department of Landscape Architecture, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
5) The New York Times on planting a meadow.
[W]ith the growing interest in sustainable gardening and the widespread dissatisfaction with the time, expense and chemical fertilizers required for traditional lawn care, meadows are becoming increasingly popular. A perennial meadow in bloom, its colors constantly changing with the play of light and shadow, may be nature at its most alluring. Yet, as random and natural as a meadow looks, there is nothing haphazard about creating one. Planting a meadow, it turns out, is as rule-bound and time-consuming as planting any perennial border.
6) Defense Tech on liquid-cooled underwear, BBC News on robo-skeleton for the paralyzed, and Wired Gadgets on d03: ready-to-wear for extreme landscapes. (As a possible ground cover, d03's “intelligent shock absorbers” calls to mind Stoss' Safe Zone, a temporary garden installation for the International Garden Festival, Les Jardins de Métis / Reford Gardens.)
And with that, this series is retired.
Of mini-Big Bang birth chambers, server farms, neo-cathedrals and the Tenth Circle of Hell
While everyone is waiting for the first high-energy collision of CERN's Large Hadron Collider sometime next month, might we interest you meanwhile with our previous posts on this mega-machine?
In our first, we wondered if all those scientists working at CERN — after having successfully mapped out the landscape architecture of reality, of course — would want to reconfigure The Machine so that it could levitate a grove of trees.
And self-powered lighting fixtures; some artificial turf and mildly meditative Zen boulders; a few dozen rabbits, cute or otherwise; anti-gravity hydrology; and of course, the all-important signage: “Warning: If Not Rapture, May Cause Death.”
It's Dante's unexplored Tenth Circle of Hell, which is reserved for landscape architects designing absolutely boring landscapes.
In our second, we were struck by how cavernous some of the underground spaces are. They are Europe's new naves, domed interiors, barrel vaulted arcades and side chapels, very fitting ecclesiastical vocabulary where Science is the de facto New Religion and CERN its St. Peter's.
We wondered, too, whatever happened to one of its unbuilt basilicas, the Superconducting Super Collider down in Texas, and learned that one company is marketing it out as a server farm to credit bureaus, banks and other industries in need of high security data centers.
In other words:
Where the Big Bang might have been simulated endlessly, extra dimensions observed for the first time, and the fundamental construct of Nature elucidated, it might soon be filled with the buying patterns of ex-urbanites at Wal-Mart, hilariously awful credit ratings of college graduates, and our entire archive of bukkake porn.
You can probably skip our third and last post, but do look at the two photos there — one of which appears above — and let us know who the photographer is, if you do know. We're rather pedantic when it comes to giving credit to all the images that we use.
The Rhizotron of Illinois
Over the summer we heard a lot about the Rhizotron and the Xstrata at London's Kew Gardens. In published reports, these new attractions were always twinned together; in fact, on the official website, it's the “Rhizotron & Xstrata Treetop Walkway.” The Xstrata literally takes visitors up to the canopies, and because of the close pairing, we naturally thought that its subterranean equivalent, the Rhizotron, was just as spectacular in terms of design and engineering.
Of course, this was before we saw photographs of the Rhizotron, before when we couldn't help but picture garden lovers navigating through damp and dimly lit passages, bumping their heads into gigantic (simulated) roots, watching all manners of animals burrowing and nesting in the soil (behind museum glass windows), and learning firsthand all the different soil horizons. (“The soil has architecture?!?!” the pasteurized denizens of the concrete jungle will cry out.)
This was also when we have already worked ourselves up into a frenzy by imagining and choreographing its spatial experience: first a descent into the abyss like Jules Verne, then all sense of geography gets lost — or you literally get lost — until somehow you emerge out into the open at the other end, squinting hard at the fullness of the British sun as you ascend up, up, up to the trees, the heaviness and claustrophobia of the earth replaced with buoyancy and vistas.
Alas, to the disappointment of our own making, we later learned that the Rhizotron is no more than a concrete bunker, not that extensive and probably not even wholly subterranean. Up against one wall is a bronze installation, a stylized root system inlaid with educational multimedia. On the floor is a strip of flashing lights. How all of these could engender a meaningful engagement with the hidden landscape is quite puzzling.
Consider, then, “the largest fossil forests found anywhere in the world at any point in geological time.” The discovery was first reported by practically everyone the summer before, and it is finding its way through the wires again this week with the report that these ancient rainforests — one of the first to evolve on the planet — was wiped out by global warming 300 million years ago.
What has always fascinated us about these mineralized landscapes is that they were found in underground coal mines in Illinois. To see them, you would have to put on a hard hat and maybe pack an emergency oxygen canister, because here, the proverbial walking through a forest means spelunking through an extensive underground network of tunnels.
Let the U.S. Department of Interior declare the tunnels a national park. Open it to the public, and you have the Rhizotron of Illinois.
There, while ducking low ceiling, getting soiled, fighting claustrophobia and coughing up pulverized coal, you get to survey the ecology of an extinct landscape. Up against one wall is a dense mat of ferns, and on another are some delicate fronds frozen in time. Look up, and you might see the grass-like leaves of the “giants of coal age forests,” the lycopids, or the diamond patterns of their bark.
The walls, ceilings and floors are plastered with complex geometries in such a way that we are reminded of incomplete mosaic floorings of imperial Roman villas. Typical of Roman paintings, we have images of nature decorating an interior space. It's a garden scene, in fact: a rainforest of the very distant past, a mythological age when the U.S. was straddling the equator, rendered with the tessarae of “ancient vegetation - now turned to rock.”
As splendid as Lascaux's prehistoric cave paintings. As marvelous as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (though this might have a truer version of the Creation story).
Accessing the Wilderness, or: A Proposal for a National Park of Abandoned Gold Mines
If blanketing UK cities with a thick scopic fog of CCTV cameras weren't enough, the countryside may soon find itself placed under similar heavy surveillance. But this, curiously enough, might be a good thing.
As reported by BBC News last month, researchers from technology firm QinetiQ and from Aberystwyth University flew an autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) “over fields in England and Wales to map the nitrogen levels in soil, to determine whether fertiliser applications were needed.”
The data collected was then used to create a Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) map, which “tells you the difference between 'green crops' that are photosynthesising and bare ground.” Where there is bare ground, more fertilizer may be needed.
Equipped with this NDVI map, some GPS locators and a techno-pimped out John Deere, farmers would thus be able to target areas in need of supplemental nutrients and to better estimate how much to use, potentially releasing less fertilizers that otherwise would leach out and pollute water sources down the hydrological line. This is precision farming.
Of course, you can use the same information-gathering technique to monitor other environmental conditions, such as soil moisture, disease outbreaks and pest population.
The ecological impact is potentially huge. Imagine only watering crops that need to be watered (and only when required) instead of flooding the entire field. Imagine as well spraying just those diseased plants with herbicides (and only when there is an outbreak) instead of suffocating acres and acres of fields with poison all the time. Better yet, you send in a cadre of Medusa agrobots networked to GPS satellites to surgically excise these botanical tumors.
With a surveillance network such as this, one wonders if you can re-purpose it to monitor other things, say, the urban poor doing a bit of nighttime grocery shopping while the food crisis and subprime armageddon rage on in the inner cities. When detected, they get sprayed with herbicides.
How about GMO crops? Design these neo-plants to emit a characteristic glow in the infrared or ultraviolet wavelength, and you can be alerted when they've jumped the fence. And don't forget to allocate part of the network to keep a look out for anti-GMO anarchists.
It's entirely possible that future pharms will be as heavily monitored as prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and as maniacally firewalled as CIA servers.
Meanwhile, how about using a similar surveillance network to monitor acts of agro-criminality?
As food prices have soared in recent months, farmers in the UK and in the U.S. have started to abandon conservation programs. Through these programs, farmers receive government subsidies for letting some of their fields lay fallow, but not as much if they were to now grow cash crops like wheat, soybeans and corn. Consequently, many of these uncultivated croplands, which have greatly helped restore wildlife habitats and reverse topsoil erosion, are being farmed once again.
Farmers are required to notify the government when they opt out of these programs. But do they really? Could they not be alerting the local agriculture bureau in order to keep their subsidies?
Specially in the U.S., it's rather difficult to tell if a farmer is being honest or not. There is just too much land. To make it easier to detect promises kept and promises broken, the U.S. Department of Agriculture initiated the National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP).
NPR had a report on this crop crime unit:
Farmers may seem like trustworthy people, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking no chances. It's spending tens of millions of dollars to create an enormous computerized map of every farmer's field in America. The program is intended to make sure farmers are doing what's required to earn their government subsidies.
We are told that the maps generated from these overhead reconnaissances aren't released to the public, as doing so might violate the farmers' privacy. But imagine releasing them to the internet wilderness of distributed grid computing, data pornographers, meme-hungry social networking sites, open source virtuality and web-savvy eco-guerrillas.
It'd be like Stardust@home or SETI@home, except you're asking the teeming Web 2.0 masses to look for terrestrial counterfeit. Instead of surveying the Martian landscapes for uncatalogued craters and landforms, citizen agro-agents will survey nearer terrains in search of horticultural deviants, the tenuous peace between the urban and the rural be damned.
Persuade Wired, Boing Boing, Engadget, Slashdot and even Land8Lounge to blog about this, and you could have an army of volunteers comparing maps for hours on end, late into the night, during lunchbreaks or boring studio lectures to spot planted fields where there should be reconstructed prairie or wetlands. This may even be the only time they get to interface with that other wilderness beyond the urban periphery — with Nature — for an extended amount of time.
Protecting your tax dollars while saving the environment and enjoying the outdoors.
But will England's green and pleasant land become an aviary of sorts for pilotless airplanes (how about solar powered mini-dirigibles?), whose droning bird songs in B-flat will commingle with the melodic twittering of traditional birds, the hypnotic chirping of crickets and the nostalgic rustling of grains against the wind? “Ah, the sounds of summer,” passing urbanites will plaintively sigh.
Will America's majestic horizons darken with a murmuring data cloud kicking up a neverending electromagnetic storm?
POSTSCRIPT #1: Boing Boing picked up our post on Agro-veillance, and the comments there are worth a read. They form a dialogue that a lot of blogs long for.
InfraNet Lab: Enviro-veillance
Is Landscape Architecture dead?
Editors at kerb, the annual landscape architecture journal compiled by undergraduates at the Landscape Architecture program @ RMIT, are calling for submissions for their 17th edition. They want to know:
Is Landscape Architecture dead?
Got some thoughts? Then send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The due date for abstracts is only a few days away — 5 September 2008 — but we are told that they will be happy to accept abstracts and full submissions up until 26 September 2008.
And by abstracts, they mean a 100-250 word outline of the proposed submission - be it written, multimedia, photoessay, model images, etc. The format is open; anything submitted will just need to be accompanied by text.