We've set up a new Flickr set and stuffed it with photos of egg-shaped sludge digesters culled from the web, simply because they're absolutely beautiful. They're readily photogenic — with or without dramatic lighting.
In the sewage treatment process, these extraordinary womb-like structures break down the organic solid matter in the wastewater into more stable materials. With additional processing, some of these byproducts are turned into fertilizers. These digesters also generate biogas with a high proportion of methane that can be used to power the machines. In fact, in large treatment plants, they can produce more electricity than the installations require. The egg shape makes this process more efficient. Compared to their more conventional cylindrical counterparts, they require less energy, maintenance and space. That they are aesthetically pleasing is probably just a happy coincidence.
They're clearly calling out for a book deal, so it's worth asking again if they've ever been the subject of a 1,000-pound coffee table book published, say, by the interior decorator Taschen.
Or have they perhaps been the object of interest in a typological study by a special-interest niche publisher and released as a slim print-on-demand pamphlet?
Are the next Bernd and Hilla Becher out there now documenting these industrial Fabergés?
Continuing a visual meme of late, above is a thick vermillion fog re-landscaping the city of Sydney anew. Writes The Sydney Morning Herald, “Sydneysiders have woken to a red haze unlike anything seen before by residents or weather experts, as the sun struggles to pierce a thick blanket of dust cloaking the city this morning.”
The photograph is just one of hundreds documenting this freak meteorological event. No doubt there will be thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, taken before the last grain of sand settles down. And as these images find their way into each and every blog in the universe, alighting twitter, Facebook and forums, and yes, even as they infiltrate the local evening news, the water cooler and the rest of old media, it's worth quoting again from Diller + Scofidio's Blur: The Making of Nothing.
When we speak about weather, it's assumed that more meaningful forms of communication are being avoided. But is not the weather, in fact, a potent topic of cultural exchange - a bond that cuts through social distinction and economic class, that supersedes geological borders? Is not the weather the only truly tangible and meaningful thread that glues us all together? Is not the weather the only truly global issue? In truth, contemporary culture is addicted to weather information. We watch, read, and listen to weather reports across every medium of communication, from conventional print to real-time satellite images and Web cams. The weather channel provides round-the-clock, real-time meteorological entertainment. Boredom is key. But boredom turns to melodrama when something out of the ordinary happens. Major weather events are structured like narrative dramas with anticipation heightened by detection and tracking, leading to the climax of real-time impact, capped by the aftermath of devastation or heroic survival.
Edible Geography & Other Blogs
Now our monthly list of blogs and sorta-kinda-maybe-like-blogs blogs. First up is the pick of the bunch:
Edible Geography. After working behind the scenes of BLDGBLOG and contributing marvelous posts for years, Nicola Twilley now has her own blog. Check out her post on mushroom farming in an abandoned railway tunnel and cupcake gentrification.
And the rest:
Animal Architecture. With an interesting niche claimed, all it needs are more projects to post. Help them out with tips.
For more, check out our
Call for Paradises
There are still two weeks left in this year's International Garden Festival at the Jardin de Métis/Reford Gardens in Quebec, but organizers have already sent out the call for proposals for next year's festival.
The theme will be Paradise.
From the competition brief:
Since time immemorial mankind has re-imagined the idea of paradise on earth through the garden and has imagined places of great beauty. These places, by evoking our senses, have pulled us out of our everyday world to experience the sublime.
The deadline is November 6, 2009. If selected, you will be given a budget of C$25,000 to develop and construct your installation.
Returning to Métis/Reford
Dying in the Dying-field
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
We have already published the above photo on this blog, just yesterday in fact, way at the end of Buttology 2. But we're reproducing it here, as it is possibly the most haunting photo we have ever posted. It deserves its own entry.
The photo is actually a stereograph, taken by the prolific traveller and photographer James Ricalton during a lengthy trip to China in 1900. Unfortunately, we can't find its twin. Published in China Through the Stereoscope: A Journey Through the Dragon Empire at the Time of the Boxer Uprising, Ricalton describes this “dying-field” and its occupants on page 62 thus:
Dying-places are ordinarily in homes or in hospitals, but this poor fellow has neither a home nor a hospital in which to die. We are here in a vacant space near the river—a sort of common littered with refuse and scavenged by starving dogs. It has been named the Dying-place, because poor, starving, miserable outcasts and homeless sick, homeless poor, homeless misery of every form come here to die. The world scarcely can present a more sad and depressing spectacle than this field of suicides; I say suicides, because many that come here come to voluntarily give up the struggle for existence and to die by sheer will force through a slow starvation. They may be enfeebled by lingering disease; they may be unable to find employment; they may be professional vagrants; they come from different parts of the city and sometimes from the country round about. They are friendless; they are passed unnoticed by a poor and inadequate hospital service; they become utterly discouraged and hopeless and choose to die. Their fellow natives pass and repass without noticing them or thought of bestowing aid or alms, and here it is not expected; they have passed beyond the pale of charity; it is the last ditch; they are here to die, not to receive alms.
A bit later, he directs the reader to another person in this wrenching scene.
This far-gone case of destitution and misery is not the only one in this last retreat of human agony; you see another in the distance, probably a new arrive, as he yet has the strength to sit erect.
Transfixed as we were with the man in the foreground, we hardly noticed at first the other figure in the background. Even the camera seems to have cast him aside.
Here now is the fantasy table of contents for the fantasy second issue of Buttology, a fantazine for the spatial study of waste.
Examining The Waste Stream
“Garbage is the effluent of our consumption, and it flows backwards through the landscape of Los Angeles. Unlike liquid wastes, which drain downslope to the sea, the tiny tributaries of trash, from millions of homesteads, collected by a fleet of thousands of trucks circulating in constant motion, hauling to nodes of sorting, distribution, reuse, and, finally disposal, flow up the canyons and crevices to the edge of the basin.”
No Island is an Island
Mining and exporting its rich deposits of phosphates, formed from bird shit deposited over thousands of years, the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru had for a time the highest GDP per capita. But with the depletion of its major natural resource and the mismanagement of the trust fund set up to provide for its post-phosphate future, the country now has one of the lowest. It wasted away its island in return for not much.
To keep its economy afloat, it allowed the creation of secret offshore banks. Some of these banks' headquarters are no more than shacks, but through one of these shacks in 1998, “Russian criminals laundered about $70 billion, draining off precious hard currency and crippling the former superpower.”
In 2001 until 2007, Nauru agreed to settle Afghan and Iraqi refugees fleeing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein and seeking asylum from Australia. With the millions of dollars in aid the government received in return, one would have expected decent accommodations for them, but living conditions were not much better than those at Guantanamo.
And then there was that deal it made with the United States to set up safe houses in China for North Korean defectors.
Runner-up in the Pamphlet Architecture #30 competition, and currently on view in the Burnam Plan Centennial exhibition Big. Bold. Visionary. Chicago Considers the Next Century (where it's one of a very, very, very few handful of projects that actually fit those three modifiers) is UrbanLab's proposal for an alternative wastewater treatment system for Chicago.
“[T]he Frog’s Dream project attempts to re-establish a sustainable relationship between city and suburbia. It proposes to transform the vacant McMansions, at the periphery of cities, into eco-water treatment machines, commercially known as Living Machines, in which a micro-ecosystem of plants, algae, bacteria, fish and clams are present to purify the water. A micro-wetland ecosystem will be formed around these mansions to sustain larger wetland animals and plants. The project also involves transforming the highway system into a multi-functional infrastructure that transports cars, trains and bikes, as well as forming a network to facilitate water transport between a city and its surrounding suburban wetlands.”
“The peri-urban Revitalization Element [puRE] is a catalyst for fostering sustainable development within existing suburban areas, by re-envisioning a classic suburban icon—the swimming pool—and transforming it into a productive, water-treating element within a community.”
Q&A with Rose George
Rose George is the author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. Last month in The New York Times, she answered questions sent in by readers about toilets, sewage and other topics about waste disposal in New York City. Here's a sample:
Q: Are there any ways to use the large amount of human waste generated by New York City for the common good, like turning it into drinking water or compost, for example, that would not require a huge financial commitment or a significant change in infrastructure?
Dying in the Dying-field
“Dying-places are ordinarily in homes or in hospitals, but this poor fellow has neither a home nor a hospital in which to die. We are here in a vacant space near the river—a sort of common littered with refuse and scavenged by starving dogs. It has been named the Dying-place, because poor, starving, miserable outcasts and homeless sick, homeless poor, homeless misery of every form come here to die. The world scarcely can present a more sad and depressing spectacle than this field of suicides; I say suicides, because many that come here come to voluntarily give up the struggle for existence and to die by sheer will force through a slow starvation. They may be enfeebled by lingering disease; they may be unable to find employment; they may be professional vagrants; they come from different parts of the city and sometimes from the country round about. They are friendless; they are passed unnoticed by a poor and inadequate hospital service; they become utterly discouraged and hopeless and choose to die. Their fellow natives pass and repass without noticing them or thought of bestowing aid or alms, and here it is not expected; they have passed beyond the pale of charity; it is the last ditch; they are here to die, not to receive alms.”
Tips for the next issue will be much appreciated. We're especially looking for built works, thesis projects, entries submitted to (ideas) competitions and proposals of a highly speculative nature.
BUTT: A Proposal for a Zine
Genetically Modified Ordnance
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Speaking of genetically modified organisms, we only just now learned that research on the land mine-detecting plant, which we briefly noted here, was discontinued last year.
Aresa, a Denmark-based biotech company, had genetically modified thale-cresses and later tobacco to change color when their roots come in contact with a chemical released into the soil by decaying explosives. This new technology promised to become a cheap and safe method to detect landmines, which still injure and kill thousands of civilians each year.
But the company felt the market potential of its land mine plants was declining. It would take a few more years to develop the technology, and mine-clearance machines, according to them, has already gained “official status as the preferred mine-clearance method. Mine-clearance machines are able to clear larger areas more efficiently, which has led to falling prices in mine clearance.” Consequently, they decided to focus on “investment in mine contaminated land in Croatia” — real estate, in other words.
Aresa will still work towards de-mining its properties, no doubt using those mine-clearance machines. So probably unrealizable now are some of the more beguiling methods they would have used (or not) to broadcast their botanical sensors, such as misting mine fields with a GMO gas cloud. And using cargo airplanes: instead of carpet bombing them with high explosive TNTs, they'll drop cluster seed bombs, which disintegrate a few feet above the ground before showering these killing zones with transgenic seeds. Re-bombing landscapes to save thousands of lives.
One item that we ended up not including in our survey of reclaimed under spaces is a proposal by West 8 “for transforming the 10.8 km disused railway line surrounding the city-heart of Gwangju [South Korea] into a usable green corridor.” One element in their proposal is a botanic bridge containing massive concrete tree-pots planted with representative samplings of indigenous Korean flora.
Which would creep along the entire length of the redesigned railway line in staggered but graceful steps. A forest on move and on the prowl for new vistas, rustling their branches and leaves melodically with their own velocity.
On rooftops across the city and with binoculars on hand, people will wait for these walking shrubs to pass by and try to identify one or all of the specimens, which would be changed periodically. Treewatching. It's the new urban hobby.
Under Spaces 3
This is a quick survey of sorts in three parts. The first two parts covered built projects. This last part contains two unrealized projects, one a student thesis project and the other a masterplan for a major urban revitalization program.
Published in 306090 07: Landscape within Architecture (2004) is Hans Herrmann's Public Domain and the Dispersed City, his thesis project at Clemson University. Sited at the intersection of Interstate 85 and Interstate 285, also known as the topologically knotty Moreland Interchange, in Atlanta, Georgia, this project aimed “to provide new forms of access to the space of the interchange through the introduction and incorporation of an urban park. As a device, the park is designed to bring focus and articulation to the roadway’s existing status as a public monument.”
Because this issue of 306090 is out of print and used ones are rather expensive, we'll quote a good chunk of the article, specifically the part about “organizational tactics”:
The park is arranged according to three structuring systems. One system is made up of a network of paths and event pads or surfaces that define activity zones both on and above the ground plane. The paths link event pads located throughout the park, while also carrying services that may be used to delineate individual event spaces. Power, water, and other utilities are supplemented by secondary sets of inlays (e.g., information-conveying conduits such as telephone lines, DSL, satellite feeds) that are accessed through the paths and pads. The pads and surfaces are paved, inlaid, or sometimes planted. To promote varying forms of occupation, the pads feature points of connection to the utilities supplied through the adjoining paths.
The East River Waterfront Esplanade and Piers is a planned series of public spaces below and in the vicinity of F.D.R. Drive, an elevated highway on the eastern edge of Lower Manhattan.
The masterplan was developed by multidisciplinary teams that included Ken Smith Landscape Architect, SHoP Architects, several engineering firms and the planning and transportation departments of New York City. You can download it from here.
Now it's your turn to let us know in the comments (or on twitter — @pruned) what similar “reclaimed” spaces below still functioning highways, bridges and rail lines that we have missed.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
We're paying a return visit to the Center for PostNatural History, this time for Permitted Habitats, their infographic on genetically modified organisms allowed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for field tests since 1987. This map shows where these neo-florae have been released into the environment, which institutions have applied for the permits to conduct the experiments, and what enhancements these organisms have been engineered with, for instance, drought tolerance and fungal resistance.
Having taken many joyrides over the years throughout Illinois, which according to the map has hosted many of these real world trials, we may have driven past by one or two of these plots. But we wouldn't know. Some protocols may have been set up so that no rogue environmentalists will come and uproot the plants, say, electrified fences or surveillance sensors, but perhaps the best form of quarantine is anonymity and apparent ordinariness. One passes by them oblivious, because they are as unremarkable as the next hundreds of thousands of rows of corns. But of course they're not. To once again borrow from Trevor Paglen, these are genomic dark spots in the landscape, fully alight with the Midwestern sun.
One of the things we like about this map is how the icons pop in and out, sometimes massing together and swelling to shroud an entire state before desiccating gradually. Quiet passages of solitary icons here and there, then a massive pileup; transgenic thunderstorms developing over some skies somewhere, possibly flooding an uncontaminated gene pool with a deluge of foreign DNAs. It's like watching the time-lapsed maps of The Weather Channel.
Or the as yet uncommissioned The Transgenic Weather Channel. Instead of actual meteorological events, it will track these genetic fringes, these dark topographies shrouded in secrecy by Big Agro, Big Pharma and their patent lawyers, for any signs of quarantine breaches. When something jumps over the fence, periodic bulletins will be issued.
High 70s. Clear in the a.m. Thick fog of insulin pollen in the p.m.
Sirens will blast across the whole county.