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The Library of Paleo-Air
Urban Ice Core - Indoor Air Archive, 2003-2008, David Gissen


We love reading other people's project proposals: fantastical proposals, provocative proposals, silly proposals, worldchanging proposals, wish-we've-thought-of-it-first proposals. And this, by David Gissen, is a good one: a “fantasy archive for the retrieval of future data related to the indoor atmosphere of cities.”

When I was writing my dissertation, I lamented the fact that we had no archive of indoor air; as we do for all other manner of indoor elements of the built environment—furniture, designed objects, fashion. The specific content of the air of the interiors of the past is lost to us — its bio-physical make-up is gone; we really can’t study it with a full range of analytical methods. But I wondered...what if we archived our current indoor urban atmosphere for the historian of the future? Why would we do this, and how would this be done?


The thought of future urban climatologists in a library of paleo-air, perhaps located on some rocky arctic island, is mindnumbingly interesting.

Imagine cylinders of atmospheres piled high up like drilled ice core samples or perhaps room-sized chambers stacked like shipping containers in vast, darkly lit corridors, all categorized by time, geography and socioeconomic class.

One section contains the indoor chemicals of credit bubble lofts built overnight on gentrified inner city neighborhoods. Another section might be those sampled from rammed earthen homes in Africa, off the grid, with dung-fueled stoves. Or would it be more interesting if they were all jumbled up together? In the morning you're detecting the tell-tale aroma of modern Scandinavian furniture stewing with other chemical exhalations of conspicuous consumption; in the afternoon, something with a bit less artificial provenance.

Out of thin air, a physical space is then reconstructed.

Be sure to check out Gissen's proposal to recreate the “smokey air of Pittsburgh at the early 20th century” above the Pittsburgh of the early 21st century.


Vapour City
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