The latest edition of Kerb is out now. Compiled and edited by students at the RMIT University of Architecture of Design, Kerb 19 is jam packed with “useful guides for navigating new post-evolutionary territories of design.”
They include cybernetic fireflies, bioluminescent billboards, genetically engineered sound gardens, digital herbariums, oyster farms, mycorhrizal extrastructures, rubblescapes, jellyfish houses and bacillithic erg-cathedrals.
These and and many others are “unified by an insistent desire to establish new, considered interrelationships with the natural world. This edition hopes to inspire design practice which works towards a methodology of porosity, integrity of intent, spontaneity and responsiveness. We are accountable for fashioning modes of production founded on acceptance of our role and place within the grander scale of things.”
Go get your copy today!
(Im)possible Chicago #28
Tourists are always on the look out for the homeless here, as though they were on a treasure hunt. When they spot one, they become unhinged, voraciously snapping photographs of them and even with them. That’s because, from the first day of spring until the end of autumn, with some breaks in the summer, the Chicago Parks Department dresses the city’s vagrant population in ghillie suits.
Looking like a cross between the Swamp Thing and Cousin It, a ghillie suit is a type of camouflage clothing worn mostly by snipers and hunters to blend into their surrounding. To enhance its stealth profile, the already shaggy garment is sometimes augmented with bits of vegetation found in the area.
Once considered a nuisance, now the homeless in their ghillie suits are welcomed ornamental additions to the city’s public spaces. Before a stinking mound dozing off on manicured lawns; now a Picturesque hermit cocooned in his wearable hermitage. Before a pitiful blot on the street you always try to avoid eye contact with; now a mobile micro-garden strutting its vegetal spectacle alongside beautifully landscaped medians and curbside mini-Edens. Before when they came together to commiserate, they were loitering; now it's a pop-up Versailles.
(Im)possible Chicago #23
There are no families in Chicago that live under the same roof, for each member lives separately: husbands from their wives and children; siblings from each other and their parents.
A few—and they are almost always the dads—choose single accommodations in bachelor pieds-à-terre, but most prefer to share quarters with the members of other dispersed clans. Fathers with other fathers, mothers with other mothers, parents with a brood of unrelated children.
There are all sorts of domestic arrangements, as different as the next, but not a single one involve immediate blood relatives (that is, up to and including the grandparents) living at the same address. The closest they can be to a next of kin is two blocks away.
Families still come together. They eat at the same table, nurse their sick loved ones back to health, and celebrate the high holidays in one big gathering. But at the end of the day, they retire to separate dwellings.
If they want to speak to someone about something, they simply tap on their touch walls and if answered, it then flickers with the videoconference images of their telepresent family. At the other times, the walls simply broadcast images of empty rooms, splicing dislocated spaces, as it were.
Meanwhile, holographic avatars move about the house like ghosts, passing easily through doors and furniture, some of which are part of a network of surveillance sensors. In fact, every decorative knickknack is an ambient actuator of a data stream.
Even the plants are wired to both monitor the health of your family and display these sensor readings botanically. In other words, if they seem vigorous, your child is physically well. If they’re starting to droop or yellow, then it’s time to call the doctor.
Mapping the Dark Geography of Sand
To alleviate its space problems, the tiny island nation of Singapore has been reclaiming land from the sea since the mid-1960s, expanding its total land area by nearly 25% as a result. And it's still growing.
With no hinterlands to supply it with natural resources, however, it has to import sand, the primary landfill material. But exactly where, the Singaporean government does not disclose. Its supply lines are not public information.
Perhaps partly because of this blackout, reporters from the Associated Press recently tried to track down some of these supply lines. They ended up in Cambodia's Tatai River, where they found “an industrial nightmare” in the middle of “a tropical idyll.”
Lush jungle hills give way to a flotilla of dredgers operating 24 hours a day, scooping up sand and piling it onto ocean-bound barges. The churned-up waters and fuel discharges, villagers say, have decimated the fish so vital to their livelihoods. Riverbanks are beginning to collapse, and the din and pollution are killing a promising ecotourism industry.
The environmental degradation caused by these illegal dredging operations can explain why Singapore is reluctant to reveal its sources. It does not want to be seen as taking advantage of its poorer neighbors or counter its image as a leader in sustainable development.
A few years ago, Singapore's insatiable demand for sand was blamed for the disappearance of some islands and beaches in Indonesia, then a major supplier, which resulted in that country banning sand exports. A decade earlier, Malaysia imposed a similar ban, and last year, it was Vietnam's turn. These bans, however, did not stop the flow of sand from these countries, as an illegal trade flourished. And then there's the secretive police state of Myanmar, which might become a major supplier.
We're inevitably left to wonder if Trevor Paglen or other experimental geographers might want to continue the AP's investigative tour of sand piracy in Southeast Asia, tracing all the dark lines of mineral extractions and trade, starting from erased islands, dying beaches and nightmarish “tropical idylls,” all the way to the strategic sand reserve depots, booming construction sites and artificial islands of Singapore.
Might this dark geography be mapped out like this?
The Sands of Singapore
(Im)possible Chicago #22
Students in their senior year of high school must pass a comprehensive final exam on the subject of Chicago streets. They cannot graduate otherwise.
In the drawing section, they must sketch out the layout of the city in its entirety, making sure to label every road correctly. In the oral section, they are asked to recite the shortest route, give or take one block, between two addresses. The final section is the essay. Last year’s one-word topic was “63rd,” and the year before was “Garfield.”
The success rate is surprisingly high, or maybe not that unexpected considering these kids have been collaging their mental pictures of the grid from their very first day of kindergarten, fleshing them out street by street, alleyway by alleyway, year after year. Those who fail are usually the newly arrived.
At least an hour of the school day is devoted to doing memorization drills. Geospatial facts are recited over and over as though they were sacred verses. During this hour, the hallways have the sonic ambience of a madrasah.
Names of streets are constantly being converted into poems and song lyrics. In fact, each year produces a long laundry list of new mnemonic devices. Maybe one day a descendant of Carl Sandburg will collect all these scraps of ephemeral verses, like a WPA archivist sent out to do field recordings of folk music and oral histories before they are lost, eventually collating them into a multi-volume Homerian epic: The Odyssey set on the grid.
After soccer practice or ballet lessons, students make their parents take long, circuitous detours on the way home. Field reconnaissance of sorts. When they’re old enough to drive, they continue their cartographic survey on their own or with friends. On some nights, roving gangs of teenagers out on a scopic prowl clog the streets, making for scenes straight out of American Graffiti, but with Google Streetview vans.
After graduation, they head en masse to the forests and deserts and oceans and polar ice caps.
(Im)possible Chicago #21
The Chicago with only one mode of passenger transport: the piggy-back ride.
Among other things, this has created a servant class of musclemen and a leisure class of Geishas. One might expect the city to have densified to keep down the mileage. It did not, for the musclemen are incredible beasts of burden and can easily carry the truly dainty Geishas from one end of the city to the other.
Gyms are a ubiquitous sight. Practically every neighborhood has at least one, from the local franchise of the mega corporate chains to the small family business operation and to the pop-up of roving journeymen. Most of these places also serve as central dispatchers, fielding service calls from riders and then doling out the requests to their members. A turf war periodically erupts and engulfs the whole city.
At first the Geishas and their musclemen piggy-backed on the streets. But after one too many scuffles with pedestrians, the city decided to fulfill the dreams of an earlier age and laid out an extensive network of elevated walkways. To help cushion the feet, they are landscaped with industrial strength turf.
(Im)possible Chicago #20
The Chicago in which neighborhoods were renamed with the names of other neighborhoods. Englewood for Beverly, Lithuanian Plaza for Boystown, Cabrini-Green for Edgewater, and so on with the rest. With this flip flopping some prejudices and biases were transplanted while others remained, becoming even more entrenched when new residents moved in by mistake. A few stigmas were erased, balanced out by new predispositions cropping up elsewhere.
A Mountain for the Netherlands
A couple of years ago, architect Jakob Tigges proposed building an artificial mountain on the grounds of the defunct Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. The outsized ambition not only matched the building's monolithic swagger but also provided a provocative alternative to the mediocre plans the city was considering for the site.
Perhaps inspired by Tigges, sports journalist Thijs Zonneveld wrote a column a couple of months ago proposing that the Netherlands builds its own artificial mountain. Like Tigges's, Zonneveld's mountain would serve as a recreational space, an iconic landscape with spectacular views, and a popular destination for climbers and ramblers. It's nature reconstructed into a pleasure machine.
But this one “caught the public's imagination.” In fact, there are serious plans in the making.
That many people are taking Zonneveld's idea seriously shouldn't be a surprise, because according to him, the Dutch are “obsessed” with mountains. More significantly, this monumental terraforming is not unknown to them. They're even experts at it.
Take Flevoland, for example, the youngest and flattest of all Dutch provinces. The province, which was created starting in 1916, lies to the east of the IJsselmeer artificial lake, and much of it is below sea level. Cornelis Lely, an engineer, spent more than 30 years devising a plan to reclaim more land from the sea, in tried-and-true Dutch fashion. He wanted to drain the Zuiderzee, a bay with an area of more than 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles). The megalomaniacal plan succeeded, creating the IJsselmeer and Flevoland — and the Netherlands gained an additional 2,412 square kilometers of land mass.
Flevoland is the proposed site of the mountain, and its construction would just be a continuation of Lely's project.
One wonders if there's a new geological meme brewing, albeit one with a lineage we can trace back to the heroic age of literal nation-building and to the topographical fantasies of aristocratic gardens. Will it be popping up all over the place much like another meme, the artificial island? Although with sea levels on the rise and cooler latitudes migrating to warmer coordinates, might the exuberant and cooler contours of artificial mountains become the more popular plaything among the megalomaniacs?
We're betting this is the brief for an independent landscape studio to be hosted by Studio-X NYC and led by its newly appointed directors, one of their night schools in which participants from diverse fields such as computer science, geography, botany, meteorology, statistics and geoinformatics meet together to sketch out an algorithm for ecological totality.
It is common today for even consumer-grade cameras to tag the images and videos that they capture with the location of the image on the earth's surface ("geolocation"). However, some imagery does not have a geolocation tag, and it can be important to know the location of the camera, image, or objects in the scene. For this imagery, analysts work hard to deduce as much as they can using reference data from many sources, including overhead and ground-based images, digital elevation data, existing well-understood image collections, surface geology, geography, and cultural information. Such image/video geolocation is an extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive activity that often meets with limited success.
To sign up, visit the website of who we believe to be the studio's sponsor, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), an agency described as the DARPA for the intelligence community.