This Too Is Hypermississippian Hyperhydroengineering
Monday, March 22, 2010
For World Water Day, we offer the well-viraled OK Go video This Too Shall Pass and its dizzyingly intricate Rube Goldberg machine.
Rube Goldberg machines have long fascinated us not only because they're always eye-poppingly fun to watch but also because they're marvelous abstractions of monumental water infrastructure. If you think of those metallic balls and bowling balls as singular droplets or even molecules of water, and those swinging golf clubs and falling dominos as energy transiting through a system, then you can see how OK Go's DIY rig approximates a hydroengineer's titanic contraptions.
Instead of a terraformer's assembly kit of levees, dams, canals, channels, weirs, spillways, pumps, artificial reservoirs and hydraulic thingamajigs, these darlings of YouTube have Chinese soup spoons, ramps, tires, LEGOs and plenty of thingamabobs and whatnots, all hacked and whacked into an incomprehensible but precise configuration (or at least functionally precise during the take used for the video).
That thrill we get from seeing this toy Super-Versailles unravel surely compares to the excitement one gets (or supposed to get) from imagining a droplet's dizzying and often gravity-defying journey through an intercontinental mesh of concrete linearity and mammoth geometries.
The only thing in the video that's probably without parallel in the real world is the crowd cheering ecstatically at the end. In the real world, there should also be a crowd permanently encamped alongside our Super-Versailleses, hooting and hollering as the precious liquid passes by, maybe even sacrificing some virgins within these hallowed precints. The infrastructural gods must be appeased, lest we want our cities and civilization to shrivel up and die.
And perhaps someday, our water infrastructure will actually be the one approximating a Rube Goldberg machine, that is, when climate change has reconfigured, irrespective of population distribution, the spatial and temporal geography of our fresh water resource, thus forcing all nations to envelop the entire surface of the earth with a Coruscantian Super-Versailles, wherein the supersaturated African rain forests feed the taps of Sydneysiders or Greenland waters the anti-sandstorm greenbelt of China.
So mindbogglingly complex and gargantuan is this Super-Versailles that it will always be in a state of disrepair, always pockmarked with micro-disasters. Rather than wholly and expensively replace aged robo-watersheds, these weak portions will just be roughly patched up and augmented with diversions and bypasses. Elsewhere the hydrologically marginalized will augment the system with their own fractological DIY hacks. Entropy will only increase, and soon, there will indeed be buckets filled with Amazonian waters flying through the air from city to city.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
1) Edible Geography on It's A Tasty World, an exhibition on cutting-edge food science and food culture currently on display at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) in Tokyo, Japan.
2) Loud Paper on the Banham-esque gadgetry of boutique farming.
3) FASLANY on Bukowski-scapes. “The Red Hook Farm is a Bukowski-scape. It takes the nasty, the damning, the painful, the destructive- much of it self-inflicted- and makes it meaningful, interesting, alive, and sometimes beautiful. It utterly embraces the underbelly of the American Dream- the legacy left post-WWII urban policies, by drug and crime economies, the undefended communities harmed by classist and racist initiatives and by self-destructive tendencies. And it is prolific- the farm is growing, and not just producing more food, but expanding social interactions, forms of recreation, education and work, and diversifying local economies.”
4) On the Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi/Benaras, India.
5) sportsBabel on the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
Glacier/Island/Storm Week may have come and gone, but it needn't have ended with the last post. The bewilderingly knotting series of posts could be continually spliced with more projects and more commentaries. There's no reason why everyday can't be Glacier/Island/Storm Day. In fact, this sort of multi-blog symposium needn't augment just Geoff Manaugh's curriculum at Columbia, as one could dispatch an artificial glacier or a replicant island or Zeus aerosolized into a horny cloud to infiltrate other studios of other departments of other schools.
With that said, here then is Sea Change, or impending dune, Kristin Schuster's marvelous proposal for a beach access infrastructure on Galveston Island, Texas.
Completed in 2003 as her master thesis project at Rice University's School of Architecture, Sea Change was later published in the 7th issue, titled Landscape within Architecture, of the then twice yearly journal, now annual book 306090.
Rather than summarize the project with cursory commentary and strategic blockquoting, Schuster's article, with the kind permission of the publishers and editors of 306090, will be reprinted here in nearly its entirety. This is our ur-beach; no way were we going to hack it into pieces. It's probably hard to get a copy anyway, as the issue is out of print and sells for over $100 on Amazon, save one.
But before we get to Schuster's piece, it's worth prefacing it with a blockquote from guest editor David L. Hay's introductory essay.
For much of the twentieth century, architects were trained to conceive and represent their work as if in isolation. In keeping with the priorities of high modernism, context was acknowledged only in terms of formal and material aspects, primarily as apprehended through vision. When the structured illusions of modernism began to come undone, however, apprehensions about buildings as static and isolated objects quickly emerged in architectural theory and criticism. The qualities of stability and clarity long valued as attributes of monumentality became suspect because of their association with interpretive closure. In other words, the insufficiency of buildings as objects was attributed, in part, to their pretense to the contrary. As shaping influences, rigid ideals of form, structure, and type were abandoned in favor of dynamic conditions, forces, and flows. “Performance” in architecture, long identified with resistance to formal and programmatic change, is now associated with responsiveness, flexibility, and adaptability, on the model of navigation. In theory and criticism, the ideal resistance to interpretation has given rise to an orthodoxy of inconclusiveness in which ambiguity, subtlety, and suppleness are highly prize.
Now on to Sea Change.
Siting the Disaster
As a heavily developed coastal barrier island, Galveston is plagued by disasters. There is the sudden disaster—the intermittent bombardment of the island by tropical storms and hurricanes—and there is the slow disaster—the alarming rate at which the island’s beaches are eroding. Shoreline erosion and storm damage are treated as separate disasters, even though their effects are linked: the beaches and dunes are the island’s natural defenses against storm effects.
Once the economic capital of the Texas Gulf Coast, the City of Galveston is now a struggling tourist town. Potential in the form of property tax revenue from as yet undeveloped land and increased visitor traffic are bringing local government to push for development of nearly all of the remaining open land on the island in the form of second home development on the island’s West End. Although this means increased revenue for the city and county, the foundation of this economy is federal money in the form of subsidized insurance and disaster mitigation funds. These subsidies support high values for the private property that is threatened by the natural events that shape the land. In response, erosion and storms are met with resistive counter-measures that protect private property on the island at the further financial expense of county and federal taxpayers as well as the physical expense of the coastal environment.
Traditional protective measures such as the eleven-mile-long Galveston Seawall have been deemed too costly to build and maintain. Geotextile tubes are the latest technology employed to battle flooding and the creeping property line. Intended to replace eroded dunes and protect the hinterland by not allowing the shoreline to move landward, these resistive measures redirect the forces further down the island, causing increased erosion and beach loss in front of other unprotected property. While Geotubes are often billed as beach protection, they function as private property protection. Because sand continues to wash away while the stabilized shoreline ceases to move back, the beach disappears completely in front of these structures. As wave energy is not absorbed by these structures, the unprotected property adjacent to them will erode at an increased rate.
As a result of this process, the Texas General Land Office has designated West Galveston Island, the twenty-one miles of island down-stream of the seawall, a critical erosion area. Due to the channelization of the Mississippi River, which diverted up-stream sand sources, and the development of the Houston Ship channel, sand migration on Galveston Island functions at a deficit of 700,000 cubic yards each year. At the Western end of the seawall, the beach erosion rate is in excess of fifteen feet per year.
To counter this, beaches are currently rebuilt along Galveston’s shore through a process called beach nourishment. This is the process of replacing the sand that migrates off of Galveston beaches each year. Not a permanent solution, beach nourishment must be repeated periodically as sand continues to be lost. This process relies on the availability of compatible sand supplies, which are increasingly rare.
Mind you, the very property that is disappearing is that which sells for $850 per linear foot of beachfront and generates $34,000,000 in property tax revenue each year. This explains why of the twelve factors considered in the determination of a critical erosion area designation, private and personal loss is considered the most important while public access is third, public safety is eleventh, and human activity ranks as the least important factor taken into consideration. Ironically, the beaches that are sacrificed by these property protection strategies are the foundation of the tourism economy.
That private losses currently rank more critically than public access, safety, and human activity is particularly significant considering the historical political relationship between Texans and their beaches. Texas is unusual in that beaches are public (state) property. In 1977 the Texas Open Beaches Act (TOBA) legally established that “the area extending from the line of mean low tide of the Gulf of Mexico to the line of vegetation bordering on the Gulf of Mexico” is public beach. The main focus of the TOBA is to establish unrestricted access by the public to any publicly owned beach, primarily by disallowing construction that blocks access to the beach. While it seems completely unexceptional that private construction not be allowed on public land, the unstable nature of the shoreline in conjunction with the particular legal definition of the public property boundary set up by the TOBA creates a condition of perpetual conflict and struggle between private property rights and public access. The property line is always moving. Buildings that cross the boundary and become partially or fully on public land must be removed. From the perspective of the private property owner, the natural formal cycle of the island is a disaster.
The disaster that plagues Galveston Island is the collision between private property rights and public access to public land. The disaster is the economic collision between the forces that have shaped the island and Gulf Coast over thousands of years, and the people who don’t recognize them and thus claim ownership of the land. The disaster is not that the shoreline moves- the disaster is the fact that it is expected not to. The disaster is the perception of the land.
Drawing the Line
This perception is based on traditional models of barrier island formation, which conceptualize the island on a macroscopic scale as a cohesive mass of drifting sand—a kind of solid, if mobile, landmass. The trouble with these timeless abstractions is that they allow us to consider the island in way that causes our structures to be physically incompatible with the landscape. This incompatibility becomes most obvious at moments of disastrous structural failure as houses collapse into the sea after sand is eroded around their foundations. It can also be seen in the struggle for beach maintenance by property rights groups, as technologies based on these models are even further incapable of addressing the ambiguity between public and private. The tools and technologies currently used to design and construct in these environments treat them as fixed topography, as does the legal definition of the land. The primary assertion of the Texas Open Beaches Act establishes a line that is not a line at all. A new concept of the island is required, one based on an understanding of the island as an environment of forces. Such a conception requires new ways of building on the island and understanding what it means to do so. This understanding could lead to economically sustainable tourism-based modes of human activity and presence that directly confront notions of private property rights as currently practiced on Galveston Island. The first step is to engage the processes, and rectify the social relationship with them.
Modeling the Site
This project defines the island as a slurry—a semi-liquid mixture of sand and water in different ratios—rather than as a drifting mass of sand. There is no delineable distinction between the island and the body of water surrounding it, nor between the public beach and private hinterland. The lines of mean low tide and vegetation are ill-conceived as lines. This understanding of the island site gives credibility to the tidal, wave, wind, current, and submergence forces that have been identified as active in island formation by recognizing that they are perpetually active. They are not separate from or located outside the island, but material conditions of difference within it.
The tools and technologies exist to work within this concept. Whereas a topography map renders the site solid, passive, and receptive, a vector drawing models a slurry that is ‘alive’ with actively willful behaviors. By drawing the site as flow and form rather than topographic configuration, vector drawing allows the design to be based on the relationships present within the site which remain constant even as the configuration changes. In dealing with an unfixed site, designing for the relationships rather than the configuration ensures the relevance of the intervention beyond the dissolution of the current configuration.
[The opening image plus the two above] reveal the complex relationship between the weather and the landscape as they are traditionally conceptualized. Each is an iteration built on the previous, a rendering of the forces and forms present at the site over one calendar year. More importantly, these drawings provide formal and operational implications for the proposed system of beach access, as well as the foundation for a three-dimensional cad drawing process to test and represent the final design proposal for beach access.
To recognize that the landscape is active gives new imperative to the act of intervening. To intervene in such a site is to harness the activity of the site, redirecting the energy of the slurry to effect the desired change indirectly. The landscape will do the work. The intervention must remain viable in the kinetic environment, and it must be flexible enough to ride with the slurry. In other words, it will function at the level of the relationships within the slurry, and the relationship between the slurry and humans.
Meshes are the ideal structures in such an environment, having both structure and flexibility. A mesh with inherent structural properties, such as a pleated textile, will support the functional interests of human activity while strategically mediating the behavior of the slurry. The flexibility of such a mesh is limited by the size of the pleats and their orientation in relationship to overall size of the piece of material. Thus, for the scale of application relative to the scale of the pleats necessary to give the given material structure, a panel size can be determined. The use of a panel system allows for added flexibility in the deformations, and strategically controlling connections between panels and layering of different material types can add greater sensitivity to specific conditions of the slurry.
Blurring the Line
The proposed beach access infrastructure takes the form of a system of geotextile panels in order to take advantage of the natural abilities of a mesh to strategically mediate the behavior of both people and a slurry. There are three panel types, each of which corresponds to different conditions within the slurry. Each panel corresponds to a zone of the site, and is able to mediate the slurry and human circulation in the specific ways noted due to construction of the layered section and combination of the materials used. Each panel is anchored in the slurry at only two points, the center of the short edges. As a result, the panel is able to radically deform to accommodate the current configuration of the landscape and the total panel construction in order to remain viable as a system of beach access that is traversable by humans. The combination of unidirectional pleats, spring straps, and a dimensionally stable edge ribbon create specific deformational behaviors that both impact the smoothness of the resulting configuration and add significant sectional characteristics which mediate and channel circulation at another scale. As paths are no longer traversable, new panels must be connected to the system. The result is a constantly configuring system of pathways that operate according to the physical principles of the ecology rather than the territorial logic of human occupation.
The pathways literally blur and stretch the legal boundaries of the site. Physically, the system allows the forces present to be productive of dry beach and dunes as sand is scooped up and channeled inland. Without the system installed, the beach will not exist, having been sacrificed in futile attempts to halt the erasure of the private property inland of it. Without the beach, the island’s $350,000,000 tourism economy would suffer. Politically, the system inverts the current set of priorities which value private property rights over public access to the beach. Due to the physical effects of the intervention, beach access would become a desirable element on private property, whereas now it is often illegally removed or obscured by private property owners wishing to exclude the public from their land and vistas.
Fundamentally, the system makes the workings of the forces within the landscape visible and serves as a marker for the work they can do. Erosion is transformed into a productive process as island change becomes real in the popular concept of the place. By upending the popular conception of the coastal landscape, this project lays a path for dialogue about building technologies and land-use policies more appropriate in a fluid landscape.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
1) Videos of the Foodprint NYC panel discussions are now on iTunes U.
2) The Wall Street Journal on Mumbai's skywalks. “To lift the pedestrians that power this city above the fray, Mumbai is building more than 50 elevated walkways. The skywalks will sprout from train stations across the city and snake over the traffic for up to two miles to create a pedestrian express lane.” So many wrongs.
3) Mammoth on the future forests of the Eastern Seaboard.
4) F.A.D. on reclaiming the Florida Everglades. “The debacle at the south shore of Lake Okeechobee demonstrates that the Everglades restoration is a bit of a misnomer. The science-based engineering effort is much more a project of reclamation because it’s virtually impossible to recreate the Everglades as they originally were due to the extent of transformation that has occurred and the existing colonization of the territory by corporate processes. Not to mention all of the imported invasive plants, animals (such as escaped and willfully released Burmese Pythons) and other organisms that will never be fully removed.”
5) FASLANYC on James Corner and Field Operations. “[W]hile long renowned for his pretentious intellectual attitude, it is now reaching a new level. In a phone interview he and Mr. Hawthorne were discussing the new Santa Monica project. When discussing the budget, Corner had the temerity to remark of the 25 million dollar budget that 'it's hardly generous, but it's not bad'. Well, excuse us, Mr. Corner. Excuse us for not having 130 million to throw at a project!! Excuse us for putting only 25 million toward the park in the middle of the worst recession in 80 years when forced furloughs, state budget crises, home foreclosures, and long-term unemployment are all common place.”
Trestles Beach Access Competition
Architecture for Humanity must be after our hearts!
Access to Trestles, one of North America’s most celebrated waves, is under threat due to safety and environmental concerns. Currently, over 100,000 people each year follow informal trails through wetlands and over active train tracks to gain access to the surf breaks at Trestles. These impromptu manmade paths present a safety hazard with passing trains and threaten the fragile ecosystem of Trestles.
The deadline for registration and submission is April 17, 2010.
Once you've fully reviewed the project brief and guidelines, check out the comment section where there is an interesting discussion about the need for such a competition. One commenter appears to be arguing that since a self-perceived element of hazard is an important part of the landscape's character, a designed access path “will just take the adventure away and whole surfing experience.” The landscape is sublime, and making it “safer” would betray this supposedly inherent nature.
Setting aside the question of just how one goes about determining the “true” nature of landscapes (there's no such thing, if you were wondering), is there a design solution that will give you the best of both worlds: sublimity and ADA approval? Where is that balance? Does one even have to strive for balance, aiming instead for a strategy that's unequal parts feral wilderness and bureaucratic restrictions?
Perhaps we're bringing our own baggage to the discussion but territoriality seems to be bubbling just below the surface of the comments critical of the competition. Reading between the lines, we suspect that inaccessibility is being seen as a filter separating those who don't mind and indeed can navigate the dangers of passing trains (e.g., surfers) from the public at large. The former have proprietary use over this beach while the latter are interlopers. A safer route would presumably bring the wrong kinds of users, the “rude people” (non-surfers?) who “go off the paths” and “will bring trash.” If you're on a wheelchair or intimidated by informal trails or a non-surfer, this landscape just isn't for you. But should it remain “closed” to you? Should (and could) this space be made a bit more egalitarian?
In any case, we're very excited about this competition, and can't wait to see all the submissions, not just the finalists.
UK landscape artist Kane Cunningham is planning to rig his new home with cameras not to film the stunning views of the North Yorkshire coast but to document its imminent destruction. Sitting precipitously close to the edge of a cliff, the house could fall off at any moment. Coastal erosion has already eaten away most of the garden.
Some nearby houses were similarly threatened but were condemned and demolished in advance of the migrating cliff edge. Cunningham, however, wants the climate-changed sea itself to devour his bungalow.
Interestingly, Cunningham bought the house, worth £150,000 two years ago, for just £3,000 on his credit card, “a deliberate financial transaction suggesting the link to credit, subprime mortgages, property ownership, debt, loans, the financial markets, property speculation, boom and bust.”
“It’s global recession and global warming encapsulated,” adds the artist.
POSTSCRIPT #1: In March, the BBC reported that Kane Cunningham had changed his plans. He'll demolish the house rather than let it fall off the cliff.
The Retreating Village
Of quarantine pieds-à-terre, nuclear-waste landfills, Ebola tours, illegal orchids, and the Zoo of Infectious Species
If you're in New York in the next few weeks, consider stopping by Storefront for Art and Architecture for Landscapes of Quarantine, an exhibition curated by Geoff Manaugh, of BLDGBLOG, and Nicola Twilley, of Edible Geography.
Typically, quarantine is thought of in the context of disease control. It is used to isolate people who have been exposed to a contagious virus or bacteria and, as a result, may (or may not) be carrying the infection themselves. But quarantine does not apply only to people and animals. Its boundaries can be set up for as long as needed, creating spatial separation between clean and dirty, safe and dangerous, healthy and sick, foreign and native—however those labels are defined.
An opening reception will be held this week on Tuesday, March 9. It's free and open to the public.
Meanwhile, we did some curating again and hashtagged 10 relevant posts: #quarantine.
“This is Botanydome. Death is listening, and will take the first plant that screams.”
Monday, March 08, 2010
Natural Selection by Tim Simpson, now of Studio Lithero, is “an instrument that competes plants against each other. The device empowers plants to control the fate of others using sensors and mechanised shears in a Darwinian race for survival. The sensors set above the plants detect the first to grow to a specified height, at which point it is saved, and the others fatally chopped.”
One wishes this was marketed for the home decorating market, perhaps through a partnership with Martha Stewart Living Omnipedia or Home Depot; a mass produced kinetic sculpture that approximates the violence and savagery of nature, the brutal facts from which indoor plants seem happily divorced, that is, if they're lucky enough to have attentive owners.
You can take bets from your houseguests on which one will win the race, and everyone can check the status of the race on Twitter. The victor will tweet, “I RULEZ!” The losers, “PWNED.”
In any case, be sure to watch this video of an actual race.
Sunday, March 07, 2010
1) The Guardian on the 21st century African land grab. In 20 or more African countries “land is being bought or leased for intensive agriculture on an immense scale in what may be the greatest change of ownership since the colonial era.
An Observer investigation estimates that up to 50m hectares of land — an area more than double the size of the UK — has been acquired in the last few years or is in the process of being negotiated by governments and wealthy investors working with state subsidies. [...]
One of the countries is Ethiopia. It's “one of the hungriest countries in the world with more than 13 million people needing food aid, but paradoxically the government is offering at least 3m hectares of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world's most wealthy individuals to export food for their own populations.”
2) Serial Consign on airlocks.
3) Foreign Policy on China's golf obsession. “While between 100 and 300 courses are expected to be built [on China's tropical island province of Hainan], the most mysterious project — and by far the most audacious — is the latest offering from Hong Kong's Mission Hills Group, already owners of a 12-course resort in southern China's Guangdong province. Its Hainan club, when completed, will be the world's largest, with some 22 courses covering an area nearly 1.5 times the size of Manhattan.”
4) Wikipedia on the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association.
5) Spiegel on the garbage of Naples. “The Italian-German solid-waste profiteering scandals provide insights into a booming industry. According to investigations by Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), up to two million tons of household waste have already been dumped illegally in German waste dumps and former landfills.”
Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Here's a possible new trend among the absurdly style conscious urban dwellers: carbon self-sinks.
After a day spent cutting and splicing your DNA at the GM spa, heat trapping gases will be calcified in the bones of your upper and lower limbs each time you breath them in. Whenever you inhale, you're growing and cultivating your own osseous topiary. You can trim it with the geometric rigidity of Le Nôtre or the Impressionist brambles of Gertrude Jekyll. For those without balconies or even an access to an exterior fire escape for an herbal pot or two, this might be the only chance to enlist your latent green thumb.
Match your mobile quasi-rock garden together with your favorite sustainable ensemble, and you'll receive envious glances from your fashionable rivals at the post-catwalk garden parties during Fashion Week, possibly even catch the normative camera eye of The Sartorialist. Yes, it will hurt, but probably not as much as wearing hooves.
Once your postnatural peruke becomes an unmanageable thicket, you can have the whole thing sawed off by your favorite coiffeuse to the stars, who will then send the excised growth to an underground storage facility. Climate change as body modification infiltrating and occupying the rarefied physical and social spaces of the Nouveau Regime.
Michael Jackson as Landscape Architecture