This simple enough map by the BBC News illustrates the spread of cholera in Zimbabwe and, by extension, the years of infrastructural neglect, failed land policies, and a world community too impotent to deal with humanitarian crises. Confirming that no disease cares much for arbitrary lines drawn on pieces of (digital) paper, it also shows the epidemic crossing international borders into South Africa.
The abstraction is powerfully unnerving, for it belies the human tragedies on the ground: barren farms, shuttered schools, empty hospitals. In Harare, “manhole covers in the streets hemorrhage water because underground pipes have burst” only to be mirrored inside homes, during the night, by bodies draining of fluids.
As a review and a prediction, this is the year nearly finished and will be the year nearly here.
This is now and the future, everywhere.
While writing our earlier post on Rome, we remembered that the city is pockmarked with stone markers accurately recording the dates and high water marks of historic flood events. Most are embedded on the sides of buildings, and their inscriptions read something like this:
ANNO DOMINI MCDXXII IN DIE SANCTI ANDREE CREVIT AQUA TIBERIS USQUE AD SUMITATEM ISTIUS LAPIDIS TEMPORE DOMINI MARTINI PAPE V ANNO VI.
In the year of the Lord 1422 on the day of Saint Andrew the water of the Tiber rose as far as to top of this stone, in the time of Pope Martin V, his sixth year.
In many markers, a finger, from which a swirl of lovely, frothy curlicues swooshes out, points instead to the upper limit of inundation.
According to Aquae Urbis Romae, “nearly one hundred flood markers still exist,” with the earliest dating to the 13th century. None from earlier eras are extant, but presumably there were many, a collective testament to a watery past.
When it wasn't being ravaged by veritable dry disasters such as barbarian invasions, plagues and fires, Rome drowned.
Minor Urban Disasters
Something about the Tiber River nearly breaching its banks and nearly submerging Rome in torrents and mud earlier this month reminded us of an antipode event last year. It's one of our favorite stories that entire year.
As reported by Reuters, “water supplying Rome's world-famous Trevi Fountain was cut off when a builder across town damaged a 2,000-year-old pipe.” Luckily enough for the carabinieri who might have had a riotous mob of tired, sweat-drenched tourists on their hands, the fountain didn't dry out; it simply recycled the water already in its basin. Unfortunately, “many smaller Rome fountains spluttered to a halt.” Equally unfortunate, we didn't hear too much of pissed-off Germans and English hydro-hooligans ransacking museums and pillaging nearby archaeological sites.
But what could have caused these minor urban disasters?
A search using a waterborne video camera through the ancient pipe tracked the blockage to a house in the high-end Parioli neighborhood on the other side of the Villa Borghese park, where builders were making a private underground car park.
Interconnected narratives of spaces, infrastructures, people, histories — all of that — all incredibly fascinating.
But we weren't satisfied with how the story ended (the water was temporarily diverted to a “younger pipe” while repairs were being done): so let's concoct some plot points for the pilot episode of, say, CSI: Rome. Let's imagine that a body has been encased in that concrete.
To solve this murder case, an obscenely photogenic forensic cartographer must map out the Eternal City's subterranean trash heap of functioning and disused aqueducts. Is it a simple mafia hit or is it something more deliciously sinister, a more expansive, twist-n-turny mystery that can be story arced through an entire season, even the whole run of the series?
“Follow the flow,” orders his supervisor.
However, he soon realizes that the technology at his disposable can't possibly do such a complex task. He calls 811, but no one answers, and it's not even lunch time. “So Italian,” he grumbles, in Italian.
Desperate, he makes a call to the Italian subsidiary of some leading global research company to see if they can supply him with advance technology. He knows that it'll be tit-for-tat, that at an unannounced later date, they will call in their favor and he will have to oblige them unconditionally, he is still willing to go into a bargain. Primetime televisual exposition requires that the company immediately procures for him exactly the right tools for the job: he is given a batch of RFID-tagged robo-spiders and dedicated access to their private fleet of spy satellites.
The mapping begins. Large sets of numbers are uploaded, downloaded and then crunched by supercomputers. Slowly, Rome's negative voids get digitally unearthed.
So begin as well those disembodied whispers, furtive glances from strangers in the streets, vague feelings that the contents of his office desk have been messed about. Up in those gilded residences of Parioli, a curtain parts slightly each time he comes by to conduct his investigation. There are forces working to derail him, but there are also others who want his map completed. But why?
During one espresso-filled night, he gets his first major break in the case: from out of that rhizomatic mess of ancient and modern hydro-infrastructure, a pattern emerges...
Ensanguining the Trevi
Friday, December 19, 2008
Counting Crowds: it's all politics really.
The Parkless Park: the pageantry of mass psychology.
Crowd Dynamics Ltd.: services include crowd control modeling, evacuation planning, traffic management, pedestrian flow engineering, and queuing analysis.
Pedestrian Laboratory: subjecting human test subjects to urban nightmares in order to make public spaces more user-friendly.
Reconfiguring the Jamarat Bridge
The Kumbh Mela Array: people power, Part I.
The Second Great Leap Forward Pamphlet #14: Queuing: “It's civilised to queue, it's glorious to be polite.”
Modeling Urban Panic: can you predict crowd behavior? If so, what would that mean to the built environment?
Crowded: people power, Part II.
Mapping the Inauguration: imagining a multi-touch urban planning orgy.
Mapping the Inauguration
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Today in Washington, D.C., at a meeting of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, a 40-by-40-foot map being used to plan out next month's presidential inauguration was revealed to the public.
One can't help but be utterly fascinated by the image of military personnel swarming around this map or looking on from above in the bleachers to play out scenarios of what will happen and what might happen in a sort of cartographic war game. They aren't scheming an invasion of some foreign shore but rather the invasion of the nation's capital by the populace.
Parade routes are highlighted, staging areas parceled out, and observation platforms and giant viewing screens placemarked. Critical to any large events, outflow zones are delineated, first aid stations positioned, and emergency evacuations modeled to determine the best way to control the incoming flood and counteract any disastrous perturbation. Equally important to these security measures, a mobile sewage infrastructure (i.e., porta-potties and pump trucks) to be grafted temporarily onto the grid is also being devised.
But wouldn't it have been incredible to learn that they are using wall-to-wall (or floor-to-floor) touch screens instead? Or how about that gigantic LCD screen used during the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies? And that this “magic floor” is networked to tablet PCs and Blackberries and maybe even to iPhones? In the stands are federal and local officials working collaboratively and interactively at constructing strategies and counter-strategies, all the while seeing their work evolving right before them on the armory floor. While the majority may be participating in the process semi-remotely, others do so by literally standing on the screen: hands, feet and even whole bodies manipulating the digitized city in an orgy of multi-touch urban planning.
Or what about an airplane hangar retrofitted into the world's biggest CAVE™? During the inauguration, it would serve as the tactical command center.
Of course, all of this would be overkill; the analog map is sufficient enough. But what about when, at some future inauguration of an even more grotesquely popular president-elect, tens of millions of people are expected to descend upon the city on that one day?
Rosa Barba Prize 2: The Ocean Pools of Madeira (and Sydney)
Try as we might, we couldn't find a lot of information about these swimming pools in Câmara de Lobos on the island of Madeira. Designed by Lisbon-based Global Arquitectura Paisagista, Lda., they were shortlisted for the 5th Rosa Barba European Landscape Award.
We sent inquiries about hi-res images and followed links after links after links hoping that one would lead to site plans and project statements. So far, we only managed to unearth the image above and a terse, unattributed text describing the pools as a “seafront recuperation project that incorporates traditional elements so as to intervene in the landscape in a way that adapts the project to the geomorphic specificities of the island.”
Are there only those two pools? Are those rust-colored gardens part of the project? Is that gray-colored wall concealing interior spaces of, say, changing rooms, restaurants and access corridors to nearby buildings? We haven't a clue.
We were tempted to muse about what this has to say about our research skills (has our reliance on Google over the years eroded them to embarrassingly remedial level?) or the reach of our network (are we just not frequenting the right boîte in the Meat Packing District?) or the media savviness of landscape architects (is the profession not selling itself enough?).
But then we were reminded of our favorite post from Super Colossal and thought that reproducing it here, with some drive-by commentaries, would be a better use of our time.
In that post, then, Marcus Trimble introduced us to the wonderful ocean pools of Sydney.
Sydney, as we all know shares one of its edges with the Pacific Ocean, and another with the Blue Mountains. Along the eastern edge are many beaches, and to my surprise in putting this post together, almost all of these beaches has its own pool carved somewhere into its rocky perimeter.
Suprematist fractalogy on the coast of Australia.
Perhaps after reading Trimble's post, The New York Times then commissioned their own article about these watering holes.
“Rock pools,” their travel guide proclaims, “are one of Sydney’s defining characteristics, along with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, though not as well known.”
Just about every Sydney beach has one, usually at the southern end, to give swimmers some protection when the southerly winds bring cold air and big seas. Most have changing rooms and showers, and are free for swimmers. Serene at low tide, choppy at high, they are, in many ways, the original infinity pools.
One wonders here if it might not be too far off to say that this infrastructure of leisure is a key generative matrix of Australian national identity or perhaps of just Sydney's civic identity.
Reading the article, you sense that so embedded are they in the cultural geography of the city that they've become an indelible part of its psyche, soaked into its citizens' genetic makeup after so many decades dipping into these baptismal fonts.
At the very least, though, and if we can go by Trimble's biographical anecdotes and those of the commentators to his post, this urban hydrological network is a spatial generator of collective memory and nostalgia.
I learnt to swim at one of these pools, waking up at dawn to walk down to the pool with my cousins every morning of every summer for far too many years. We would trudge down, get shouted at and our strokes demolished by an ex life guard by the name of Johnny who it seems, had never spent a moment out of direct contact with the sun and had the skin to prove it. If Johnny was feeling particularly nasty, he would lead all the kids up to the point, and instruct us all to jump and swim back to shore.
We suspect that should a more frequented blog were to write of these pools, it would receive a torrent of reminiscences from Sydneysiders waxing poetic about whiling away the halcyon days of their youth there; about their very first swimming lessons under threats of being swept out to sea; about the time when sharks were on the hunt just outside the trapezoidal walls; and about graduating from these shallow enclaves and into the vast abyss — their rites of passage.
In any case, a few things:
1) The most extensive online resource on these pools seems to be the one maintained by M. L. McDermott, whose dissertation covers their environmental and cultural history. She also maintains a Flickr account with tons of photos. Unfortunately, both have not been updated in a while.
2) One of the more interesting facts we read in The New York Times article is that one pool is only for women and children and is officially exempt from antidiscrimination laws. “Built in the 1800s, it was long known as the ‘nun’s pool.’ Today, Muslim women in scarves are more often seen, along with pregnant women and older women.” This pool is “a venerable Sydney institution.”
3) We were reminded of a proposal by Vicente Guallart — whose Microcoasts we wrote about previously — for a hexagonal beach layered atop a rocky headland in Vinaròs, Spain, thus smoothing out the rugged surface for easier occupation. There is also an artificial wooden island, floating in open waters during the summer and berthed onshore during the winter, further extending the coastline. In the middle of this mobile landscape is an opening, a hexagonal ocean pool of sorts.
Should a beach, say, in Long Island have its sand eroded away down to jagged bedrock by sea level rise and the Army Corps of Engineers isn't going to pay for expensive beach nourishment schemes and coastal fortifications (and not because they've realized that such efforts will do more harm than good but because, let's face it, with two wars and a federal treasury doling out hundreds of billions willy-nilly, is there any money left to be earmarked for projects that will only benefit so few?), this is a convincing alternative.
4) Maybe there should be a remake of Frank Perry's masterpiece The Swimmer, set not in the rotting morass of pre-1968 suburban New York but in the sun-dappled waters of a heroic landscape.
We're not going to imagine our protagonist suffering from existential angst. It's much worse than that: he's just watched that Oscar-mongering drivel that is Australia.
To cleanse himself of the movie's gooey confection, he decides to take a dip and run a few laps in each of the rock pools, a redemptive journey that leads from the movie theater back to his home.
Along the way, he'll meet kooky characters whose doppelgängers have appeared in such quirky 1990s Australian fares as Muriel's Wedding, Cosi, Proof, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Love Serenade, and Flirting.
In the frothy, Champagne surf, he'll stitch together a contemporary narrative and discover a (more) real Australia.
POSTSCRIPT #1: Super Colossal has a follow-up to their survey of Sydney's ocean pools.
Rosa Barba Prize 1: Nicolai Kulturcenter
On the coast
Deep-Sea Living in the Underground Tunnels of New York City
Easily one of the best stories we read last month came from The New York Times, and it was about a leak in the tunnels that bring water to New York City. It's no ordinary leak, we read.
For most of the last two decades, the Rondout-West Branch tunnel — 45 miles long, 13.5 feet wide, up to 1,200 feet below ground and responsible for ferrying half of New York City’s water supply from reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains — has been leaking some 20 million gallons a day. Except recently, when on some days it has lost up to 36 million gallons.
Using previously posted news items to put 36 million gallons of wasted drinking water into perspective, in May, Barcelona imported via ship cargo some 6 million gallons of emergency drinking water in the first of 6 shiploads per month for three months. Then in June, drought-hit Cyprus started importing from Greece some 14 million gallons of water per day until, presumably, this past November.
One lesson that can be gleaned from these figures is that a properly maintained infrastructure should be part of any conservation program, as important as reducing, recycling and reusing, in a climate-changed post-water world.
Meanwhile, the task to repair the leak is similarly extraordinary:
The city’s Department of Environmental Protection has embarked on a five-year, $240 million project to prepare to fix the tunnel — which includes figuring out how to keep water flowing through New Yorkers’ faucets during the repairs. The most immediate tasks are to fix a valve at the bottom of a 700-foot shaft in Dutchess County so pumps will eventually be able to drain the tunnel, and to ensure that the tunnel does not crack or collapse while it is empty.
This is actually the best part:
The city has enlisted six deep-sea divers who are living for more than a month in a sealed 24-foot tubular pressurized tank complete with showers, a television and a Nerf basketball hoop, breathing air that is 97.5 percent helium and 2.5 percent oxygen, so their high-pitched squeals are all but unintelligible to visitors. They leave the tank only to transfer to a diving bell that is lowered to the bottom of the oval-shaped shaft, where they work 12-hour shifts, with each man taking a four-hour turn hacking away at concrete to expose the valve.
Considering that “New York has one of the world’s most complex water systems” and that its hydraulic infrastructure will expand in ever greater complexity to meet the demands of an exploding population in the city and “upriver,” we like to imagine here a type of urbanism derived from a perpetual cycle of infrastructural repair and disrepair.
It all starts with a leak. Once fixed, another one is discovered immediately, and so the city dispatches another crew of deep-sea divers to disassemble the concrete and whack and wedge and screw shut a replacement tunnel.
Then more leaks, larger crews, longer time spent in aqueous near-darkness.
As the city's surface population grows to a billion — or billions — so will the denizens of its negative surface, because there is always a leak to repair in this urban ticking time-bomb of cholera and dysentery. To let it go uncaulked and flood the basements of suburbs and towns is to invite hydro-anarchy.
So with less and less opportunity to decompress, these deep-sea public works service corps will simply make camp permanently. They will live and work inside hyperbaric chambers. They will marry inside submarine cathedrals and synagogues; have children; rear them under compressive, metal-buttressed skies; drop them off to helium-filled schools; develop indigenous customs, idioms and myths.
They will even evolve a new dialect to accommodate their “high-pitched squeals.” Hydroengineering has reconfigured their biology, and so they must adapt.
They will also die there, with their bodies sent to the surface for burial.
It's a satellite city grafted onto an infrastructural rhizome of hydraulics; the spatial consequences not of some surface cataclysm but, to rephrase Koolhaas, of its parent city becoming a mere accumulation of minor urban disasters.
Tunnel-Digging as a Hobby
BLDGBLOG: Infrastructural Domesticity
A Toxic Tour Through Maryland's Industrial Poultry Landscape
Using a recent article in the New York Times on Maryland's poultry industry, an itinerary could be cobbled up together that might begin at a “farm with 150,000 chickens.” There, peripatetic toxic tourists will marvel and then scale “mountains of manure” before undertaking a typical British ramble through the drainage basin of the Chesapeake Bay, scoping the terrain for lesser contour lines, for swales, for ditches where rivulets and streams spiked with phosphorous and nitrogen might be flowing en route to the estuary and its oxygen-depleted algae gardens — reading the landscape with the hermeneutic attention of a Talmudic scholar, as it were.
Like any rambler with rights of way, or for that matter the overwhelming odor from “650 million pounds of chicken manure” which drifts about, indifferent to territory and borders like a vaporous cloud, they will not be confined by and indeed can trespass over metes and bounds.
For fans of the vernacular architecture of pre-crisis industrial agriculture and Flickr habitué, there will be plenty of opportunity to take photographs of the tour's architectural highlight: “500-foot-long chicken houses [that] stretch from the roadways like airplane hangars” and whose “gigantic fans suction ammonia from the birds’ waste, filling the air for miles around.”