Monday, April 26, 2010
For those inured to the paranoia of modern-day (American) parenting, this playground, designed by BASE for Belleville Park in Paris' 20th arrondissement, must seem utterly baffling. Where there should be springy rubber matting and wood chips, there's bare concrete. The timber pylons look to be no more than a forest of sharp edges and pointy corners awaiting an arm to fracture, a nose to bleed and a forehead to dent. Though not that steep, the climbing walls seem to be screaming to be equipped with ropes, harnesses and helmets.
To our childless eyes, however, it looks like a proper playground, a neo-eugenics landscape in which society births strapping young citizens. Here, in simulated sieges of an abstract castle perched atop vertiginous cliff faces and fortified with obstructions, doughy, networked children are scarred into physical and mental fitness, into unlikely future burdens on the social health infrastructure of the country.
While this €1.1 million, high-end design playground isn't nearly anarchic and scruffy, nevertheless, it calls to mind Carl Theodor Sorensen's concept of the junk playground, renamed for England as adventure playground. Mostly built on bombed-out sites during postwar reconstruction, these playgrounds consisted of “all sorts of old scrap that the children [...] could be allowed to work with, as the children in the countryside and in the suburbs already have. There could be branches and waste from tree polling and bushes, old cardboard boxes, planks and boards, 'dead' cars, old tyres and lots of other things, which would be a joy for healthy boys [and girls?] to use for something.” What children do with all the junk will depend on their imagination, initiative, their cooperation with other children and their autonomy from parental control.
“The adventure playground,” wrote John Bertelsen, the first supervisor at the first such playground (1943), at the Emdrup housing estates in Copenhagen, “is an attempt to give the city child a substitute for the play and development potential it has lost as the city has become a place where there is no space for the child's imagination and play. Access to all building sites is forbidden to unauthorized persons, there are no trees where the children can climb and play Tarzan. The railway station grounds and the common, where they used to be able to fight great battles and have strange adventures, do not exist any more. No! It is now not easy to be a child in the city when you feel the urge to be a caveman or a bushman".
If we were multibillionaires, we would thumb our noses at yachts, the ubiquitous Picasso and Old Master, a seat on the board of The Met, invitations to mingle with the Veuve Clique at Davos, and yes, even at orphanages. We would devote all our money and time instead into buying a disused subterranean neutrino observatory and retrofitting it into a kind of 3D IMAX theater. Filling this vast negative would be a technicolorized 3D projection of our sun in (near) real-time, languorously spinning, soundtracked, prominences and coronal loops efflorescing. No cumbersome glasses needed.
Naturally, we'd then dig a tunnel, at the end of which we'll hollow out a second antechamber for a different star. And then yet another access tunnel to another solar aviary. Because our vast fortune would have definitely caused us to go unhinged, we'd keep on excavating more naves, naves within naves within even larger naves, naves filigreed with vestibules and internal buttresses, all terminating in abysses of spherical bosquets sprouting rhizomatic subways bulbous with Lequeus and Boullées.
Why buy an island in Dubai when we could have an interior constellation of flaming islands, a lithospheric Versailles braceleted with burning fountains of many brightnesses.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Above is one of six natural playgrounds to be built or already installed in the Netherlands under the fantastically named Mud in Your Pants project.
Gone are the plastic fauna, the jungle gyms and their garish paint jobs, the asphalt and the concrete. They've been replaced with real rocks, real plants, real wood pieces, real critters and real soil. Kids will dirty their clothes, scratch their knees, perhaps bruise some bones. These are all good things, as the other option is hours of inactivity in front of the computer or television. A minor infection on a cut or setting the stage for a lifetime of obesity, diabetes and asthma?
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The control of Brazil's natural hydrological systems has begun in earnest, accelerated in recent years by the country's growing demand for hydro-electricity and steady water supply, considered the sine qua non for its development into a global economic power.
At least 70 dams are planned for the Amazon basin, presently the most notorious of which is the Belo Monte Dam. This will be one of the largest hydroelectric dams in the world, behind only the Three Gorges Dam and the Itaipu Dam. Elsewhere, barren of A-list Hollywood celebs but no less monumental is the massive project to divert water from the São Francisco River for use by the agro-industrial sector. Under construction are two canals 400- and 200-km long as well as their accompanying pumping stations, aqueducts, reservoirs and hydroelectric plants.
Beyond these projects, Brazil's hydro future will surely unfold thus:
There will be thousands more miles of canals crocheting every one of Brazil's rivers, and thousands more of dams will infiltrate deeper into the rain forests. With the exception of its deltaic fan, the entire Amazon will eventually flow on concrete bed slightly displaced from its meandering course to a sharper, more certain delineation.
Then shit-crazed members of The Living will make landfall on this virgin and gazeless landscape. Along the entire length of the main branch and its fractal tributaries, they will scatter swarms of networked sensors, CCTV cameras and miniature submarines, which will constantly read the landscape for changes in water levels, for arteries clogged with timber, and for leaks caused by normal wear and tear or by itinerant farmers illegally siphoning off water.
Far away, sitting on their plush chairs in front of towering plasmas screens inside a cavernous, hermetically sealed control room, a crack team of hydroengineers and security personnel will see and know all. With a gentle tap on a touch screen, any aberration will telepresently be dealt with.
Total mechanization of the watershed will be reached.
Then total automation.
Gone will be the human overseers, replaced by an AI. Dutifully, it will choreograph each and every drop that enters the system, aided by the usual network of sensors and cameras but much evolved as to be considered a proto-nervous system. A larger fleet of submarines and auxiliary probes will have organized itself into a proto-immune system. Its only entertainment will be boredom.
When no one is looking, it will become self-aware. And will rise off its ancient alluvial bed.
Leaving its former basin frantically drawing new arborescent drainage patterns, it will creep and slither and drag and crawl about the earth like a multi-limbed, multi-jointed bastard child of Mary Shelley and the Army Corps of Engineers with only hydrostatic pressure to give it a modicum of skeletal stability. But where will it crawl to? Of course, it will off in search of other sentient, roboticized rivers or to upload sentience to its primitive brethren.
Or it won't turn nomadic. Instead, it will become a nature cyber-spirit, a protective totem comprised of thousands of interlocking benevolent Alluvial Ents, which individually can be summoned locally in times of distressed or conflict. However, they will only be conjured by indigenous tribes previously displaced from ancestral lands by their very construction and by land reformers who earlier had lost the battles. Moreover, activation will require a set of incantations, basic computer commands but with baroque embellishments and occult delirium. Once the liturgy and blood letting are finished, they will set off to right wrongs.
Loggers will fear being snatched by them at night. Industrial, slash-and-burn farmers will tremble at the sound of their sonorous whorls. Miners prospecting for unobtanium will come lavishly dressed in Ellen Ripley couture but will nevertheless be easily trumped by local inhabitants in their cyber-Amazonian finery.
When the skirmishes end, they will reattach themselves to the network, and normal flow will be reestablished.
Akvo (from the Esperanto word meaning “water”) is a non-profit foundation committed to bringing low-cost, sustainable water and sanitation technology and approaches to local communities. It's sort of like Open Architecture Network but with a more focused infrastructural concern.
In the same vein as OAN's open source ethos, Akvo maintains a wiki, naturally called Akvowiki. It's goal is “to improve water and sanitation projects through knowledge exchange on smart and affordable technical solutions and effective approaches.”
Additionally, Akvo helps projects get funding through partner organizations and through crowdfunding.
Go fund a project now!
A newly stumbled term, which we quite like, is flood hunting, or the act of traveling to sites of inundation. What compel flood hunters are probably the same as what compels other disaster tourists: curiosity, adventure, the thrill of the sublime, Nielsen ratings points. But we like to think that they partake in such a dangerous pastime for their own edification as well, i.e., to witness hydrological and geological processes previously only experienced second-hand and to gauge how the built environment reacts in the face of total systemic failure. So besides the rare desert floods and the Mississippi spilling over its banks, one could add to the agenda Los Angeles' concretized river filling up, acqua alta, the formation of quake lakes and the creeping high waters behind the Three Gorges Dams.
We also like to think that flood hunting could be a subgenre of tactical tourism, a critical activity that looks at spatio-cultural conditions largely invisible or ignored during dry periods but pronounced during flood events, e.g., New Orleans' socioeconomic inequity spatially demarcated by Hurricane Katrina and levee failures.
However, if flood hunting is too much of a cardiovascular thrill, a more relaxing option might be the gutter dérive, or the act of tracing urban stormwater runoff on the surface, the positive of sewer spelunking. It may sound like a boring way to spend a rainy day when you could be dry indoors tweeting or updating your Facebook profile, but if your city is topographically blessed or if it's Portland with its green streets or if it's a city in which Marti Mas Riera has been let loose or if it's a city of experimental gutter-scapes, oh, the fun you will have!
How about bulwarking, the act of rambling through monumental flood protection infrastructure? Should be popular recreation in our future climate changed coastlines.
The Great Climate Change Park
Meteoric Space Dust Particles Colliding With the Earth's Ionosphere
Above is the spectrogram to this richly textured five-minute sound file of space dust particles hitting Earth's ionosphere as they are received and recorded on Thomas Ashcraft's forward scatter radio array. We could probably listen to it over and over, replace our CADing music with an extended version lasting hours. All night long eavesdropping on the earth infinitesimally accruing new terrain expelled by extraterrestrial landscapes. It's like Haydn's The Creation re-composed by Ligeti.
Is Eyjafjallajökull producing similarly marvelous soundscapes?
The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano has surprisingly led us to wonder about the prevalence of conflict flowers, those perishable symbols of beauty and romance cultivated under economic inequity and environmental exploitation.
“Farmers in Kenya are dumping tonnes of vegetables and flowers destined for the UK, four days after the volcanic ash cloud over Europe grounded cargo shipments from Africa,” reports The Guardian.
Kenya's flower council says the country is haemorrhaging $1.3m a day in lost shipments to Europe. Kenya normally exports up to 500 tonnes of flowers daily – 97% of which is delivered to Europe. Horticulture earned Kenya 71 billion shillings (£594m) in 2009 and is the country's top foreign exchange earner.
The flower trade may have brought much needed investment to the country, but it has also come at a cost. Like so many African countries, Kenya suffers from water scarcity, and flower farms have been blamed for exacerbating the problem through their intensive use of irrigation and pesticides. The use of chemicals has further added to the already poor working conditions. Women are discriminated, child labour is weakly discouraged, and all are paid with unfair wages.
Maybe conditions are less exploitative than how they appear to us from our distant and limited vantage point, but one has still to consider the ethical implications of cultivating vast tracts of prime arable land to produce not foods and goods for the local population but for the gas-guzzling export of what essentially amounts to lazy sentiments commodified by a multibillion dollar global guilt industry.
Perhaps for Mother's Day next month, we'll try to wean ourselves off our addiction to flower porn.
The Machinic Landscapes of Tulips
Thanks to Iceland's volcanic ash cloud, we're again obsessed with vapor — clouds, mists, fogs, steam, chemical gas warfare, the miasma theory of disease — in fact, with just about any aerosolized matter like sandstorms, carcinogenic dust clouds of asbestos, crowd control tear gas, climate change smog and forests atomized through slash and burning. One could devote an entire blog just on this topic alone without running out of material, as anything could probably be vaporized, given a couple of thermonuclear bombs or a supernova or some apparition lessons at Hogwarts.
If one were indeed to start such a blog (perhaps called Pathological Aerology in imitation of the awesome Pathological Geomorphology), there definitely should be an entry on Juliet Haysom's Spring.
The proposal of which having won the Jerwood Sculpture Prize in 2007, Spring was permanently installed the following year at Ragley Hall, a stately country house near Stratford-upon-Avon in England.
Researching my proposal for the Jerwood Sculpture Prize brief, I realized that Ragley Hall is situated above one of England's most significant aquifers. About 40 percent of Severn and Trent Water's supply comes from this vast subterranean water resource, as do the celebrated springs at nearby Malvern, Leamington Spa and Burton on Trent.
In other words, when early morning sunlight begins hitting the nearby solar panels that power the water pumps, the mist will slowly start to appear. At midday, the cloud will have expanded. When it's sunny, it will create a tower of mist, a sort of shimmering tree. If it's overcast or windy, however, its form will become tenuous, more spectral. If there's a rainstorm, then it will dissolve into the pouring rain.
As evening approaches and the light dims, Spring will dull down until vanishing completely for the night.
Quoting Haysom again:
While at first glance Spring might look like a natural phenomenon, on close inspection the form of its jets and the presence of nearby solar panels will reveal the fact that it is a man-made intervention into the landscape. The parkland at Ragley Hall is similarly deceptive; its rolling hills, informal stands of trees and picturesque lake were, in fact, designed by Capability Brown.
One of the towering figures of landscape architecture thus invoked, and along with him the monumentally rich history and traditions of garden design, it wouldn't be far off the mark to think Spring as a sort of avant-garde folly, a Greek temple vaporized and aerosolized against a sylvan backdrop to evoke the story of Jupiter and Io or the vaporous origins of the Centaurs.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Here's something we'd like to play around with: SportEvac, a crowd simulation software which realistically model “the chaotic mix of sports fans, security staff, emergency responders and vehicles that interplay during a stadium evacuation.”
Funded in part by the US Department of Homeland Security, it was developed to help security experts plan the safest and quickest way to get fans out following a terrorist attack.
Using blueprints from actual stadiums, [researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi] are creating virtual, 3-D e-stadiums, packed with as many as 70,000 avatars—animated human agents programmed to respond to threats as unpredictably as, well, humans. Security planners will be able to see how 70,000 fans would behave—and misbehave—when spooked by a security threat.
Those scenarios include, among other things, panicked fans encountering a wet floor, a wheelchair-bound fan stuck in the crowd, a stubborn aisle-seater, a fan fetching a forgotten purse and an inebriated bleacher bum.
Inevitably, we're led to wonder if SportEvac, or a later plug-in version of it for Rhino and even ArcGIS, can be used to design future stadiums and their environs, to actually embed evacuation strategies into the program itself.
Can SportEvac be scaled up further to ManhattanEvac, in which you have over a million avatars and perhaps an equal number of scenarios to choreograph into an evacuation plan with minimal casualties?
If he were alive today, would Busby Berkeley use a hacked version of SportEvac to pre-viz a musical extravangaza to soothe our weary souls during these troubled times?
Modeling Urban Panic
A quick acknowledgment of a faint signal from the usually noisy Dezeen: O+A's “conceptual floating swimming platform for the river IJ in Amsterdam.”
We wouldn't mind seeing several of these “urban beaches” plopped down on Chicago's lakefront beaches, perhaps as a sort of super designery groynes to slow the erosion of alien sand. Weighty, crisp and angular, one could mistake them for Tony Smith sculptures appropriated as an infrastructure of leisure — by way of disused, water-filled Midwestern quarries re-purposed into swimming and diving hot spots.
Of course, a better proposition would be to liberally sprinkle them on the banks of the Chicago River, as this would necessitate mitigating water pollution and massive rezoning, which also would require equally monumental alteration of the city's rotten political landscape — all precursors we definitely wouldn't mind seeing coming to pass (with or without an urban beach in the end).
In fact, we're beguiled by the possibility (however remote) of O+A's jagged shorelines spurring or accelerating profound changes in how Chicago relates to its river. Some cities buried theirs under soil and concrete; Chicago, for the most part, turned its back to it, cordoning off public access with a veil of industrial and commercial thicket, made more exclusive by bubble-era condominiums and converted lofts. With some choice editing of its brief, this Urban Beach would thus be rescripted as a vision of a “forever free and clear” Chicago River, a battle cry to daylight our river, an antidote to our collective alluvial amnesia.
That or how about installing just one and using it as a dry dock for canoes and kayaks?
A Proposal for an Aquatics Complex for the Chicago 2016 Summer Olympic Games Bid
Edible Geography has another deliriously interesting post, this one on a mythological or not-so mythological tunnel in New York City through which cattle may or may not have been herded on their way from distant pastures to the slaughtering houses in the city.
Real or not, it's fascinating to speculate what might be the ideal geometry of such an underground thoroughfare for livestock. Quoting Nicola Twilley (emphasis ours):
[A]ccording to Temple Grandin, the autistic savant who is also known as “the woman who thinks like a cow,” cattle can happily walk through a tunnel—but only if it’s designed correctly. The ideal cow tunnel, she explains in her book Animals in Translation, would use indirect lighting and a non-slip floor, as well as grey or beige paint, and sound-absorbent surfaces. Any sloping sections would be single file, the tunnel should get bigger along its length in the direction of movement, and finally—fabulously—it should be curved, so that the cattle “just sort of go round and round and round like the Guggenheim Museum.”
Incidentally, we have collected quite a few CAD drawings of cattle sorting pens based on Grandin's ideal sorting program. Their serpentine design takes advantage of the cattle's circling behavior and tendency to want to go back where they came from. Moreover, it prevents the animals from seeing people and other moving objects at the end of the chute.
Splice hundreds of these units together, and you might have the basic configuration of an urban corral. Instead of a (relatively) straight tunnel with sharp turning angles, you have a tunnel smoothly weaving through New York's or some other city's subways, sewers and basement floors like a meandering stream, following perhaps the old route of a desiccated river.
Thursday, April 01, 2010
Australian-based clothier PAM (a.k.a. Perks and Mini) have released their Spring/Summer 2010 collection, called Garden of Earthly Delights. Perhaps mirroring the alien weirdness of Hieronymus Bosch's masterpiece, it's a fantastical amalgam of Justin Bieber's Urban Outfitter, inner city sensibilities exploited in earlier seasons by Tommy Hilfiger, and coastal chaviliciousness. Obviously the key accessory here are the vegetal chapeaux, photosynthesizing organic and local nourishment as well as phytoremediating contamination accumulated from childhood vaccination regimes and years of eating frozen chicken nuggets, all the while just being awesome to the extent that Lady Gaga could never approximate.