Very Large Structure
Very Large Structure is a proposal by Manuel Domínguez for a mobile land management mega-machine for Castile and León in Spain. It's a walking city, for want of a better term, though rather than conceived as a global wanderer perpetually moving on to greener pastures, the VLS remains in basically the same place to tend to and improve the pastures that it's got.
To save me the time of summarizing the project, which is impressively researched and fleshed out, I'll direct you to his entire PowerPoint presentation being hosted at Taller al Cubo.
Before you head out to download the file, I want to quickly invoke the opening line of Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines, the first in a quartet of novels about walking cities (on tracts, like the VLS) in a resource-depleted future preying on smaller walking cities and their supplies, literally swallowing them whole when caught —
It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.
— and hope that that should cue a parallel world Dakar Rally in which walking cities race against each other. On the dried-out bed of the Mississippi River, Chicago compete against Manhattan once every four years down towards the Gulf of Mexico, and the winner not only will enlarge their hunting ground but also represent North America in the world championship held in the silted expanse of the former South China Sea.
And then there's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
New South China Sea
Over the years, I've been slinging drive-by proposals for island nations in the Pacific to cope with sea level rise. These have included landfill-turned-megaparks, skyscraper enclaves and climate change reservations. In a throwaway line in a post about the floating artificial islands of Vincent Callebaut, I suggested that China should slice off a piece of the Tibetan plateau and then, in a kind of perversion of carbon emission trading, export it as flood-proofing fill.
As it happens, The Guardian reported yesterday that China is planning to decapitate 700 mountains! Projected to cost £2.2 billion, this “mountain-moving project” will level off “500 square miles (130,000 hectares) of land 50 miles from [Lanzhou], which is the provincial capital of arid Gansu province” in the country's northwest. On this future plateau will be a new metropolis with “gleaming skyscrapers and leafy parks.”
The article doesn't mention how much volume of earth will be displaced, but with 700 mountains, it's probably safe to assume that there will be enough to lift, for instance, Kiribati high above the flood waters. I say Kiribati because they recently announced plans to buy land in Fiji, about 6,000 acres to possibly act as a backup homeland for some of its 103,000 citizens. East Timor has also offered some of its land. But why move to other islands (mountains, really), when you could move the mountains to you?
Perhaps there's actually more than enough earth to save everyone from drowning. If that is indeed the case and all endangered islands get topped off, it raises the possibility that China will eventually claim sovereignty over a vast swathe of the Pacific. After all, the most important bits of the islands will quite literally be Mainland China. Paralleling its wacky adventures in the South China Sea, it will forcefully take control over all the natural resources inside its newly annexed Exclusive Economic Zones. So U.N. Conventions be damned, again. As an added bonus (or maybe even the ultimate goal), it will gain a potent countermeasure against America's Pacific Century.
But surely the U.S. will notice the whole thing before it's too late and hastily start exporting chunks of the Rockies and the Appalachians? Surely a trade war in lobotomized mountains is inevitable?
Soft Pavilions 2
Watching this soft robot from the folks at DARPA momentarily morphs into something suggesting a domed canopy during its slow and jerky pneumatic migration, surely one can't help but suggest that it should be scaled up, perhaps into something that can accommodate a lecture series event. Flip it over, and you only need water for a swimming pool. Lay it flat, and you've got an outdoor stage or a bouncy playground. Nomadic pop-ups for our biosynthetic future.
But since this post is really a revision of my earlier Soft Pavilions, imagine them at the slightly grander scale of vacation retreats, or more specifically, beachfront McMansions. At the start of summer, or when their multi-billionaire owners and families are en route, a herd of soft robots will emerge from their off-season hibernation in the dunes and crawl out to their lot by the sea. Once there, they fuse together and form a colony of spatial zooids. By regulating the liquids flowing through their built-in hydraulic buttresses, they can adjust their temperature and change colors (ranging from birds-of-paradise flamboyance to tactical camouflage). They can also glow through chemiluminescence.
At the end of the season, these polyps will detach from each other and burrow back into the sand, returning the beach its rolling dunescapes. If a major hurricane is on the way and digging in might not offer enough protection, some may escape into the waters, while others head further inland where they may be corralled into shelters. Returning back to the shore after the storm has passed, they may yet again serve as emergency centers.
You could think of these DARPA biothings as post-natural elaborations of the small dune-sheltered cottages that used to be quite common on coastal lands, particularly on the barrier islands. When needed to be moved, they could be jacked up, rolled on logs, and shipped to the mainland on barges. Considering the all too familiar devastation of Hurricane Sandy and the growing specter of depleted federal funds for reconstruction, this resilient strategy of retreat and settlement should inform any future policy on coastal development.
In the meantime, consider all these Soft Pavilions made not just of silicone but grafted with the muscle cells of rat hearts, perhaps culled from rats captured escaping tunnels flooded by hurricanes. Instead of hibernating in the dunes, these “chimaeric systems of living and non-living components” swim about in the oceans — medusoid McMansions frolicking like a smack of jellyfishes, pumping and flexing to the psychosexual beats of Rachel Armstong, until called up to the surface to make temporary camp.
Replace the cells from rats with that from its morphological kin, the immortal jellyfish, and “[i]t is possible to imagine a distant future in which most other species of life are extinct but the ocean [and coastlines] will consist overwhelmingly of immortal [McMansions], a great gelatin consciousness everlasting.”
Download the Geologic Now
Monday, December 03, 2012
A short reminder, if you're in New York tomorrow December 4th or can make a quick jaunt, that Studio-X NYC will host a launch event for Making the Geologic Now, the new book edited by Jaime Kruse and Elizabeth Elsworth.
Making the Geologic Now announces shifts in cultural sensibilities and practices. It offers early sightings of an increasingly widespread turn toward the geologic as source of explanation, motivation, and inspiration for creative responses to conditions of the present moment. In the spirit of a broadside, this edited collection circulates images and short essays from over 40 artists, designers, architects, scholars, and journalists who are actively exploring and creatively responding to the geologic depth of “now.” Contributors’ ideas and works are drawn from architecture, design, contemporary philosophy and art. They are offered as test sites for what might become thinkable or possible if humans were to collectively take up the geologic as our instructive co-designer—as a partner in designing thoughts, objects, systems, and experiences.
Amazingly, also tomorrow after the event, you can download the book as a PDF at Punctum Books' website.
POSTSCRIPT #1: The book also has a website: http://geologicnow.com.
Welcome to the Coldscape
Previewing an upcoming exhibition co-organized with The Center for Land-Use Interpretation (CLUI), Nicola Twilley, of Edible Geography, takes us on an abbreviated tour of North America's coldscape, the “vast and immeasurable volume of thermally controlled space” that “is as ubiquitous as it is varied.” Exactly how varied? According to her undoubtedly incomplete list for Cabinet Magazine, these spaces of “distributed artificial winter” include shipping containers, floating fish factories, international seed banks, livestock semen storage, cheese caves, banana-ripening rooms and sushi coffins.
These are spaces in which a perpetual winter has distorted or erased seasonality; spaces that are located within an energy-intensive geography of previously unimaginable distance—both mental and physical—between producers and consumers. Artificial refrigeration has reconfigured the contents of our plates and the shape of our cities—it has even contributed to the overthrow of governments, as anyone familiar with the rise and fall of United Fruit can attest. Perhaps most bizarrely, although their variations in form reflect the particular requirements of the perishable product they host, coldspaces have, in turn, redesigned food itself, both in terms of the selective breeding that favors cold-tolerance over taste and the more fundamental transition from food as daily nourishment to food as global commodity.
Information about the CLUI exhibition is, I'm hoping, forthcoming.