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Urinating in London
Elaine Gennard-Levy spent so much time one day looking for a public toilet in London that she decided to build her own.

Clark Sorensen

According to this Bloomsberg article, “in December, she opened a luxury ladies' room on Oxford Street, Europe's busiest shopping area. Use of the toilet and powder room at the facility costs 5 pounds ($10).”

Her boutique pissoir is apparently “helping to fill the gap left by a decline in public bathrooms in London. The number of toilets dropped 40 percent from 2000 to 2005, leaving 415 to serve a population of 7.5 million, government figures show. That's not including the 28 million people who visit the U.K. capital each year.”

But why is there a shortage? The article explains:

The shortage belies London's history as an exemplary provider of public toilets. Its first public lavatory was built in the 12th century at the site of what is now the Royal Bank of Canada's offices. During the Victorian era, public bathrooms multiplied, and often boasted mosaic tiling and copper pipes.

Such facilities have sometimes fallen afoul of new laws. The Disability Act, which came into force in 2004, requires that public toilets be accessible to wheelchair users or have suitable alternatives nearby. Rather than invest in ramps and elevators, some authorities have shut or sold older restrooms.

Furthermore, “a 53 percent increase in London house prices during the past five years has helped fuel the decline of the public toilet, as authorities sell valuable real estate to developers.”

Clark Sorensen

Admittedly, we want to see a further decrease in public bathrooms in London and elsewhere, because as chronic public urinators ourselves, we like hearing stories and tips from tourists who have had to navigate in pain through unfamiliar locales looking for somewhere secluded enough to take a piss. Where might we, for instance, relieve ourselves around the Vatican on a late Tuesday night? At night, is it safer to do it in the park or the alleyway? Illicit cartographies to share with fellow travelers or collect for future editions of Lonely Planet City Guides.

As an experience of landscape as visceral as, say, seeking shelter during an earthquake or from an incoming tornado, public urination is at least worth investigating in a landscape architecture studio.

Urinating at the Eisenman

The Giant Crystal Caves of Naica
Naica Caves

“The largest natural crystals on Earth have been discovered in two caves within a silver and zinc mine near Naica, in Chihuahua, Mexico,” a Discovery News article reprinted here tells us. “Reaching lengths of over 20 feet, the clear, faceted crystals are composed of selenite, a crystalline form of the mineral gypsum.”

Naica Caves

Naica Caves

If you're thinking of exploring the Naica caves, you might want to bring along your own climate controlled biosuit and an ample supply of oxygen as the temperatures inside are an unbearable 150˚F with 100% humidity. It will be like walking into a blast furnace. One death has already been recorded, that of a miner trying to steal some of the crystals: “He tried to take some plastic bags filled with fresh air inside, but the strategy didn't work. He lost consciousness and later was found thoroughly baked.”

There are now plans to air-condition the caves.

Sites of Managed Anxiety
Anti-avalanche fences

The beautiful rhyming scheme of anti-avalanche fences, or mountain implants, as photographed by Lois Hechenblaikner.

Anti-avalanche fences

Anti-avalanche fences

Anti-avalanche fences

Which remind us that we are still waiting to hear of a competition for a new ex-urb community development sited, as per international trend, deep into the wilderness, and programmed to co-exist successfully with wildfires, 100-year floods, rock falls, outbreaks of new super-viruses, snow avalanches, or some other human-induced disasters.

“How deeply am I willing to go into the wilderness?”

The Sands of Singapore

An interesting article about another construction boom was published yesterday in the The New York Times.

Some countries have strategic oil reserves; others stockpile rice or wheat. The island nation of Singapore has emergency reserves of imported sand.

The sand is there to secure Singapore’s insatiable demand for concrete, a reminder of its vulnerability as a nation without a hinterland to supply it with vital resources.

The government is now being forced to tap its sand hoard after its usual supplier, Indonesia, abruptly banned exports in February, citing the impact of a recent Singaporean construction boom on Indonesian beaches and island environments.

The ban touched off the latest in a string of disputes between Singapore and its neighbors over water, land reclamation, satellite concessions, corporate takeovers and the flight patterns of the Singapore Air Force, just to name a few.

In searching for more background on the embargo, we learned that the vast majority of sand Singapore imports go to reclaim land. This new real estate is then developed into industrial parks, commercial and housing developments, port and airport facilities, and other critical infrastructure. Over the last four decades, these projects have increased the country's physical footprint by nearly 20%, and more are planned in the coming decades.

This territorial expansion, however, came at the expense of its own hills — not very tall ones, but hills nevertheless — which were sheared flat, their truncated peaks dumped into the sea. And then there are the islands in the Malaysian and Indonesian archipelagos, some of which are now in danger of disappearing, if not already fully submerged beneath the waves. Large tracts of mangrove forests along the coast were consequently destroyed — suffocated by a flood of pulverized hills and islands, as it were, soon to be followed by another deluge, courtesy of global warming.

Indonesia previously banned such exports, but a robust trade in illegal sand did little to curb the environmental degradation. If anything, this geological thievery provided for some curious incidents on the high seas. For instance, back in 2002, the Indonesian navy sent two warships to capture seven vessels suspected of smuggling sand to Singapore. Not banned military technology or illegal immigrants or weapons-grade enriched plutonium or even an actual atomic bomb — but sand.

(24: The Movie? You buy a MacMansion in a remote barrier island, but the beach behind your house isn't quite up to your standard of an ocean-side paradise. Thus, you decide to purchase several tons of sand, precipitating an action-packed thriller half-way around the world involving your landscape architect, geologists, shadowy international trade syndicates, government trade ministers, corrupt provincial governors, local paramilitaries, environmentalists, fugitives, container ships staffed by multinational sailor-for-hires with dubious histories, warships, dredgers, and, yes, illegal sand. Of course, Jack Bauer will have to navigate through all the assorted plot points to prevent a disruptive regional conflict from erupting.)

Anyway, to go back to Singapore's emergency stockpile, the image of mountain ranges made up entirely of finely grained immigrant soil, rising and diminishing in response to economic demands and international geopolitics, within or along the periphery of a crowded metropolis, is outrageously fascinating. At the very least, it might inspire an interesting art installation.

Javanese hills and Bornean ridges simulating Singapore's erased topography.

Immigrant Soil
New Mecca
Abraj Al-Bait

There was a very interesting article a couple of days ago in The New York Times concerning the current construction boom altering the landscape of Mecca.

In addition to the ongoing projects to improve the city's pilgrimage infrastructure, the article tells us that “an entire mountain is being flattened to make way for a huge hotel and high-rise complex. And elsewhere, cranes dot the skyline with up to 130 new high-rise towers planned for the area.”

Jabal Omar

Quite a few more cranes are to be found in another multi-billion dollar complex, the Abraj al Bait, under construction just across from the Kaaba. The tallest of its towers, a hotel, is projected to be the seventh highest in the world and will loom high over Islam's holiest site.

Perhaps in keeping with the city's historical status as a major commercial center, a mall recently opened as part of the same development. This mall, we read, is “outfitted with flat-panel monitors with advertisements and announcements, neon lights, an amusement park ride, fast-food restaurants and a lingerie shop.” And Cartier, Tiffany, H&M, Topshop and, of course, Starbucks.

Not surprisingly, some feel that “Mecca is becoming like Las Vegas.”

Abraj Al-Bait

Quoting the article:

Progress has exacted a heavy price in Mecca. More pilgrims than ever can come here, thanks to billions spent on tunnels and infrastructure to accommodate them. But in exchange, the city’s once famed night market, where pilgrims brought their wares to sell, is gone. The Meccan homes and buildings that filled the area near the mosque were demolished in the 1970s to enlarge the mosque. The neighborhoods and families who lived near the mosque and welcomed pilgrims have long since moved away.

And again (with apologies):

Dr. Ahmed of London has cataloged the destruction of more than 300 separate antiquity sites, including cemeteries and mosques. He says the house where the Prophet Muhammad lived was razed and today a dilapidated library, with its windows and doors shuttered, stands in its place.

Or, to mutilate Clifford Geertz: nothing changes or alters like the unconditionally and unalterably sacred.

Abraj al Bait photos @ SkyscraperPage Forum
Jabal Omar photos @ SkyscraperCity Forum

Reconfiguring the Jamarat Bridge
Granular Blitzkrieg
Sandstorm Moving into Al Asad, Iraq

Caught on film and uploaded to YouTube, of course.

Earth-Fountain Redux
Giant Guatemalan Sinkhole
Via the awesome gravestmor, who earlier alerted us to the movie trailer of the Mexican documentary feature, En El Hoyo, we learn that on February 23, “after rumbling for weeks, part of a poor Guatemala City neighborhood plummeted some 30 stories into the Earth.”

Giant Guatemalan Sinkhole

According to National Geographic News, “the reportedly 330-foot-deep (100-meter-deep) sinkhole swallowed about a dozen homes and is so far blamed in the deaths of three people—two teenagers, found floating in torrent of sewage, and their father, who was pulled from the chasm.”

While everyone knows who the real culprit of this terrestrial villainy is, Guatemalan officials nevertheless blame rainstorms and a ruptured sewer main for the sinkhole. “After the collapse, the seemingly bottomless depths gave off tremors, sounds of flowing water, and the scent of sewage,” we also learn.

It's at times like this when we wish there was a secret cabal of landscape architects, all possessing extraordinary design abilities and astounding planning skills: The League of Super Amazing Landscape Architect Friends.

Holed up in their subterranean lair designed, of course, by Barco, they wait, surveilling seismic monitors, Google Earth imagery, RSS news feeds, global hydrographs and ambient air sensors, until a new geological wound on the surface of the earth calls out for them.

When another giant sinkhole suddenly appears in another major city, a red light flashes immediately on one of their giant screens, sirens blaring. Within minutes, they are parachuting down towards the disaster zone. And mere seconds after they've landed, they already have sketched out the schematics for a fantastic vertical park, sure to draw thousands of tourists, mountain climbers and well-funded graduate students of garden history, who will come for exactly one hour to analyse the site and then spend the rest of their fellowship money whoring and boozing it up. The park won't erase the tragedy, obviously, but it might serve as a fitting memorial. Plus much tourist revenue will be generated.

Or when a mayor too powerful for everyone's good decides to build a multi-billion dollar stormwater deep tunnel, representatives from the league will rappel down City Hall, to the dumbstruck faces of aldermen, to offer inexpensive municipal stormwater management alternatives. Tax payers across the city will rejoice.

Is there an open-pit mine polluting your watershed? Have no fear, Julie Bargmann's protégé will come to the rescue.

Have you spotted another coastal development? Send an anonymous tip to the league and a Super Amazing Landscape Architect Friend or two will pay the developers a visit to point out the idiocy of their whole plan with powerpoint presentations.

Tunnel-Digging as a Hobby
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