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Prosthetic Gardens
Daekwon Park

Has Frank Gehry's Millennium Park pavilion somehow uprooted itself and gone nomadic? Did it creep along — like a lumbering, mechanized Ent with chunks of soil, patches of lawn, some award-winning tree cultivars and bewildered dogs and their equally dumbfounded and shrieking owners still clinging to its ribbings — through the few blocks of busy downtown Chicago towards the Sears Tower, where it is now attached, as well as to other skyscrapers nearby, its structural profile reassembled, Transformer-like?

Daekwon Park

Or are these Chicago's new vertical parks, to where anyone in the buildings, from the chief executives to the accountants in window-less cubicles to the receptionists, can escape the unrelenting woes of the global credit crisis, there contemplating whether to jump or, better yet, change career and enroll in a landscape architecture program?

Daekwon Park

Are these, then, the solution to a critical shortcoming of green roofs — what of the façades?

Daekwon Park

Or was this Daekwon Park's entry for the annual eVolo Skyscraper Competition, a proposal “to reunite the isolated city blocks and insert a multi-layer network of public space, green space and nodes for the city?”

Gut Flora
Bouffant Topiary

Prunings XLI
Daniel Gustav Cramer

Blogs, blogs, blogs, except when they're not.

1) Three by “arcady”: gardenhistorygirl, good church design and playscapes.

2) СОВЕТСКАЯ АРХИТЕКТУРА, or Soviet Architecture, as documented by other cosmic communist constructions photographers.

3) Materialecology, by Neri Oxman.

4) At 168 Elm Ave., there is a sustainable pilot project with green stormwater management technologies, best management practices (BMP's) and Low Impact Development (LID) principles.

5) Grist has a special series on the Army Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi River. There are 8 articles.

The New Hydrological Temples of Modern India
India's Water Crisis

To coincide with tomorrow's World Water Day, the day chosen by the UN “to draw attention to the plight of the more than 1 billion people world wide that lack access to clean, safe drinking water,” Nature has published a special issue on the present and worsening global fresh water shortage.

Our planet is facing a water crisis in public health: more than a billion people in developing nations lack access to safe drinking water, and more than 2 billion lack proper sanitation. And in the near future, water shortages are likely to spread into other key sectors — notably agriculture and energy.

While not merely pointing out the obvious, the issue also takes a look at some of the ways the crisis is being tackled. For instance, you can read about some of the new methods to disinfect and decontaminate water; new efforts to increase water supplies through the safe re-use of wastewater; and new strategies to increase farmers' yield in places where rains are often unreliable.

There is also an article on new technologies to greatly reduce the impact of desalination, called “the most energy-intensive form of water supply,” on the environment.

Every article is available online to non-subscribers but only temporarily, as some of them will be taken behind Nature's pay-per-view firewall in a week's time. So it's a good idea now to download the PDFs and save them in your archives.

Meanwhile, while they are still freely accessible, we'd like to take a closer look at one article about India's gargantuan endeavor “to link the majority of its major river basins through a vast network of canals, diverting billions of litres from the country's more water-rich river basins to those that are water-deprived.”

India's Water Crisis

As if imagined by rogue Army Corps engineers driven out of town after the Katrina fiasco, the project would re-knit the country's hydrological network “through a 10,000-kilometre long network of 30 canals, several of which will intersect with more than one river. The project, which is estimated to cost about US$200 billion, also includes the construction of 32 major dams.”

It's terrestrial reconfiguration as a means to control weather. A recontoured landscapes where the effects of the monsoon cycle are distributed throughout the Subcontinent. A new geography where “dry seasons” and “wet seasons” become less of a temporal experience.

[T]he interlinking project will put an additional 35 million hectares under irrigation — close to doubling the area fed by major irrigation projects in 2003, according to a press statement by Suresh Prabhu, then chairman of the NWDA Taskforce on Interlinking Rivers. In doing so, he stated, the project will combat drought in 250,000 hectares across the country, and reduce flood damage along the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers basins by some 20–30%. The perennial flooding of these two rivers, which together carry 60% of the nation's freshwater resources, last year caused $850-million worth of damage and killed more than 1,000 people.


[T]he project could also supply about 34,000 megawatts of hydropower — roughly doubling the current level of hydropower, which lies at just over 25% of the country's current electricity needs.

While hard facts are hard to come by, some are nevertheless considering the scheme as the biggest water project in the history of the world, even surpassing China's South-to-North Water Transfer Project.

India's Water Crisis

India's Water Crisis

Of course, as with any new hydrological project of this magnitude, there are calls for less monumental schemes. As but one example of a low impact strategy put forward to solve the water crisis, we read:

The solution lies in better management of existing water resources, rather than importing water for irrigation. A simple way to do this is by using large tanks to collect rainwater, which is later supplied to fields during dry periods. Indian irrigation practices could also be made more efficient. A lot of water is lost in evaporation or through drainage from unsealed irrigation canals, and the common practice of flood irrigation is wasteful compared with drip irrigation, which supplies water directly to the plant's roots. But the water used for irrigation is free, so Indian farmers have little incentive to adopt more economical methods.

But this is India, where “disciplines such as physics and engineering are highly respected” and the environmental sciences are the “untouchables: unseen and unheard.”

As Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, once said, dams are the “temple[s] of modern India.”

India's Water Crisis

So one wonders what new deities will spring forth from these concrete rivers and what new rituals will be created to celebrate the wonders of moving water against topography, against gravity.

Will these canals be lined with ghats, like those steps found in the holy city of Varanasi, on which pilgrims descend to “launch religious offerings of sweet-meats, fruit and flowers downstream on a small straw mat” without wading through fecal matter, garbage and strange odors?

Is the spatial ordering of this vast network of canals, as illustrated in the map of India above, really just a 21st century free-form interpretation of the mandala or some other formalized symbol of Indic mythology?

If not, could they be the markings of new pilgrimage routes?

India's Water Crisis

Perhaps when and if the project ever gets finished, a new chapter of the Mahabharata will be written, its epic tales of demons and gods, sages and wise men, civil servants and bureaucrats, hydroengineers and environmentalists largely taking place in these new landscapes.

Dispatches from the Super-Versailles
Floridian Theatrum Machinarum
Notes on Some Selections from the Visual Images Database of the Mississippi Valley Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers
Resilient Urbanism
Sea cucumbers

According to The New York Times, scientists at Case Western University have created a material that stiffens from a soft state when stimulated. It can also do the reverse, from pliable to rigid. This material, we read, was inspired by the skin of sea cucumbers.

That skin is a nanocomposite material, consisting of tiny fibers of collagen embedded in a softer matrix. When the animal secretes certain chemicals, the fibers form bonds and the whole matrix stiffens.

In their work, described in Science, Dr. Weder and his colleagues used cellulose nanofibers in a polymer matrix. A major difficulty, Dr. Weder said, was having the nanofibers distributed properly, “like a three-dimensional spider web.”

For the time being, experiments on it mainly involve finding new ways to treat Parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders.

Hopefully to no one's surprise, we wonder if they can be used as a building and landscape construction material. An entire city built on sea cucumber-like skins.

Perhaps in next year's City of the Future competition, a brash, up-and-coming design firm will propose encasing San Diego in “stimuli-responsive polymer nanocomposites” so that when the next 10.1 earthquake comes along, the whole city contracts to protect itself.

No, wait — shouldn't that be the other way around? From a hard state to a more elastic state to better ride out the tectonic hurricane? When the tremors end, houses, highways and sewers revert back to their solid state with nary a crack. But if there are any, the sea cucumber polymer matrix will simply patch things up, healing itself, as it were.

Or has someone proposed this already?

In between seismic events, some kind of architectural hacking might ensue.

Landscape Hints
Discovered recently are these digitized before-and-after landscape illustrations by Humphry Repton, the prolific and influential English landscape designer of the 18th and 19th centuries, taken from what must be the only complete online facsimile of his important texts.

That book, with the wonderfully wordy title of Sketches and hints on landscape gardening : collected from designs and observations now in the possession of the different noblemen and gentlemen, for whose use they were originally made : the whole tending to establish fixed principles in the art of laying out ground, published in 1794, can be found at the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.

Humphry Repton
Humphry Repton

Flip over a flap and a new landscape paradigm just might appear.

Writes gardenhistorygirl — who first alerted us to their online presence:

Long before cable TV popularized instant makeovers of houses, gardens, wardrobes, bodies and souls, Humphrey Repton knew the power of the 'before' and 'after'. His famous Red Books were presentation sketches for his potential clients; lovingly detailed watercolors with flaps that lifted or swept to the side to show in turn the existing landscape and how he proposed to improve it. They are still treasured in museums, national and municipal properties, and private homes across England.

More before-and-after landscapes follow.

Humphry Repton
Humphry Repton


Humphry Repton
Humphry Repton


Humphry Repton
Humphry Repton


Humphry Repton
Humphry Repton


Humphry Repton
Humphry Repton


Humphry Repton
Humphry Repton

A quick word about these two images, for they are hilarious. The landscape alteration here does not seem to involve any physical changes but rather just the addition of livestock — farm animals as decorative elements, living sculptures even, transforming the English countryside into a mythical Romantic idyll.


Humphry Repton
Humphry Repton

Or you add some sheep.

One wonders if the direct descendant of this pastoral tradition is the current vogue of visualizing landscapes adaptively reused for the coming climate-changed, post-oil, post-water world. And here we're thinking of Farmadelphia, Chicken Wing, Animal Messaging Service, etc. — landscapes which are populated by a new breed of Henry David Thoreaus.

Flip over the digital flap and you find Romantic hero-ecologists practicing an imagined earlier sustainable way of life adopted for an aestheticized vision of the future.

Agro Park
Hargreaves Associates - Shelby Farms Park

A recent competition asked participants to develop a master plan for Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, Tennessee. The organizers had quite lofty goals. In no uncertain terms, they wanted the newly transformed park be the Central Park of the 21st century. It has to be everything: “a new regional center for growth, a new destination for residents, a jewel of civic pride, and an attraction to people from around the world.” One shouldn't be surprised if at the last minute they decided not to require that it must bring about world peace and end global warming, because why can't we ask of our parks, especially the future great ones, to induce social equality and be like an ecological beast-machine gobbling up all the CO2 produced by the South.

In any case, how does one design a great park? It's a rather dauntingly complex problem, which, as one might suspect, the three chosen finalists peripherally addressed by focusing on another.

How can the agricultural past inform the design of an urban park?

The answers, as provided by Field Operations, Hargreaves Associates and Tom Leader Studio, are very interesting, if not reminiscent.

Field Operations - Shelby Farms Park

For Field Operations, agriculture seems to mean hyper-productivity, virility, each day a rigidly structured set of activities. Thus, a hyper-park.

Shelby Farms Park is already today an amazing reserve of public parkland and amenity. It’s huge scale offers an extraordinary resource for people who are interested in large-scale recreation activities – strolling, jogging, cycling, roller-blading, picnicking, dog walking, swimming, camping, horse-back riding, dog training, fishing, shooting, gardening and the like. It’s agricultural heritage is also a great resource for land husbandry practices, including farming, research, energy, education and markets.

Our design vision amplifies these trends toward higher intensity and variety of uses. [...] Twelve distinctive landscapes will each support certain uses and activities, allowing a coherent “place” structure for the many varied user groups set within a larger Park setting.

At 4500 acres, definitely a bigger acreage than Central Park and nearly four times the size of the future Orange County Great Park, there certainly will be enough space to incorporate all of these planned uses.

Field Operations - Shelby Farms Park

For Hargreaves Associates, the sweeping monumentality of agricultural landscapes finds expression through their signature style — the braided topography — by which all activities and spaces are organized.

Hargreaves Associates - Shelby Farms Park

From their project statement:

We have approached the site by examining the site-specific qualities that make it a beloved destination today: expansive fields, sweeping views, spectacular sunsets, rolling hills, nestled lakes, extensive walking trails, equestrian trails and events, farm lands, hands-on learning about agriculture and nature, a country drive, and bottomland forests. There is much at Shelby Farms Park to be discovered.

We have integrated those elements by creating a multi-layered design that intertwines the various existing areas of the park. A network of landscape and movement systems provides for recreation and access by foot, by bike, by horse, by shuttle...and by boat. A system of beautiful lakes that reflect the memorable Memphis sky allows a connection to the river - both real and metaphorical as well as a whole new movement system on the site.

Whereas Field Operations makes use of the grid and compartmentalization, Hargreaves Associates prefers terraforming.

Hargreaves Associates - Shelby Farms Park

And then there's the master plan by Tom Leader Studio.

Tom Leader Studio - Shelby Farms Park

Quoting in full:

All you have to do is read the name. The history of farming is the most useful way of thinking when looking toward the future of Shelby Farms Park. This is a huge piece of land that has been in the process of breaking down into 3 or 4 separate domains. Due to the size and available resources, the only viable strategy for creating a singular park is to work closely and dramatically in partnership with nature. That’s what farmers do – they closely study the soil, climate, hydrology, transport, market, and come up with a plan for cultivation that builds on the best aspects of their land. This is a plan for cultivating a very big park. This is how you grow Memphis.

What does that mean? It means we have introduced a whole series of crops that are not literally corn or soybeans but things that address some current issues in the city. For example, health and fitness - how to reverse the trend toward obesity and type 2 diabetes? By developing a substantial local organic farm, restaurant, and sustainable food scene where little currently exists - spawning a whole new green industry. By greatly expanding enjoyable ways to get exercise – swimming, canoeing, trail running, hiking over a vast network. By harvesting enough solar energy to take the park off the grid. By creating a home for the native Memphis music scene – a place where local bands and musicians can gather, find studio space, find a ready-made audience on a big lake with a beach, a place for performance at all scales. These and several other important “crops” for Memphis are what we want to grow here at Shelby Farms Park.

Conceptually, it isn't at all that different from the other two. Minimalism to all three is a non-starter; horror vacui pervades throughout — although, now that we think about it, this is probably a condition of the competition itself, from the organizers being fearful of a perception that public money may seem to have been wasted if there's only nature there and if soccer moms can't occupy their hyperactive broods with things to do at the new park.

In any case, though somewhat more clearly vocalized by Tom Leader Studio, all three finalists have turned the park into a kind of social engineering, a tool with which sedentary, fat, uncultured, carbon-producing Southerners are cultivated into fit environmentalists who may or may not be avid supporters of the local music scene but are otherwise aesthetes.

Tom Leader Studio - Shelby Farms Park

Be sure to check out more images of the master plans by all three teams at the Shelby Farms Park website. Also, the organizers have set up a YouTube account where you can watch videos about the park itself, the competition and interviews with the principal designers.

The winning design will be announced on April 9, 2008.

POSTSCRIPT #1: Field Operations wins!

On agro

More Defiant Gardens
Defiant Gardens

In the midst of wars, there are gardens. Here are photographs of three and their gardeners; all were downloaded from Defiant Gardens (the website).

Above is a photo Bill Beardall during his tour of duty in Vietnam in 1970. In a letter to Kenneth Helphand, author of Defiant Gardens (the book), Beardall wrote about his “oasis”:

It had a calming affect on me to come back to my ‘hootch’ where, as a Marine Helicopter Pilot, after a long day of flying missions in the I Corps area to see a little bit of green growing by my doorway. What you see in the first attachment is early in my garden’s life. The bananas grew much taller, the periwinkles as well. The watermelon actually produced fruit, although by the time they were beginning to show any size, the Marines pulled out of Vietnam.


Persistent watering kept [the bananas] flourishing, much to the amusement of my squadron mates and the Vietnamese workers in our area. The Portulaca [and] periwinkle [...] were for color, easy to grow, and satisfied my artistic need for a change from the olive drab of our flight suits and aircraft. The watermelon was simply a challenge and a wish for the wet lushness of the fruit. As small as it was, it was my oasis. Many a day or late evening I would sit on my ‘patio’ drink a ‘cocktail’ and enjoy the setting of the sun in the West. I could almost block out the medevac choppers going out and the sound of the artillery in the distance. I have never forgotten much from that war and never my oasis.

Several decades later, in another conflict region, one still finds evidence of this primordial desire to cultivate.

Defiant Gardens

From Kabul, Lt. Janette Arencibia wrote to Helphand:

I have been here for three weeks and have a year to go. Other soldiers (including coalition forces) have been establishing gardens in this country for the last several years.

My job as a gardener is to share my passion with the other wonderful individuals who have already made Afghanistan more beautiful.

I am attaching a few pictures from a small garden in Kabul, specifically at Camp Cobra, an Afghan National Army base. This garden was created by an officer in the Afghan National Army with a passion for flowers. I listened to him passionately tell the story of the origin of the seeds.

One country over towards the east, another garden is passionately tended to.

Defiant Gardens

From Sgt. Carl J Quam, Jr.:

I came up with the idea, along with Sgt Wanzek, because we were missing home, farming, and the joy of growing something. We had a spell when supply lines were all but cut by the insurgents, and I said we might be able to grow our own vegetables, since the MREs dont have them and the supply trucks werent making it to our FOB. Friends of myself and SGT Wanzek, named Nathan and Stacy Hoehn in Valley City, ND, had the seeds donated by the Valley City Nursery. The Hoehns also sent over some garden hose and a sprinkler, the sprinker we didn’t use. We learned from the locals to irrigate with deep trenches and let the water soak into the dirt in between. [...] At the time of garden prep, planting, weeding and watering, Sgt Wanzek and myself, along with the rest of our crew, were running 4-6 combat patrols a week, in 100-140 degree weather. When we came back to our area, we had a hard time getting motivated to work and weed, but we did. Like I said, it was good therapy to relax after a day of dodging roadside bombs, RPGs and escorting semi trucks full of unexploded ordinance over the worst stretch of road in northern Iraq.

We wanted to include the gardens tended to by detainees at Camp Iguana in Guantanamo Bay — yes, even those in limbo have gardens; with seeds saved from their meals, they were able to grow small plants like watermelon, peppers, garlic, cantaloupe and even a lemon tree about two inches tall — but unfortunately, there are no photos to be found. Perhaps you have some and are willing to share?

Defiant Gardens
Prunings XL
Desire Lines

Landscapes, landscapes, landscapes...

Let's start with io9 on “show caves,” the garden grottoes of the 21st century.

In an earlier age, these simulated abysses were the playgrounds of kings and their terminally bored queen consorts; popes and their cardinals, who may or may not have been their illegitimate sons; and the titled nobility and the desperate lesser aristocrats. Now, as suggested by Geoff Manaugh, these Hadeses in miniature should be taken up by “investor class Brits, hip-hop moguls, and easy-money Hollywood types.” Instead of getting drunk every night or coming up with another act to fool doctors into prescribing them drugs, they funnel their money and creative energies into “vast, echoless complex[es]” whose “stalactites have been precision-cut by CNC-milling machines, the walls shaped by computer-programmable routers.”

Especially for those whose summer blockbusters hits have never really given them much satisfaction, they might find the artistic fulfillment they have long sought in these void canvases.

But as an aside, it is said that Marie Antoinette tried to escape from the mob that had come to take her to Paris, and eventually to prison, in the grotto of the Petit Trianon. Intended as a site for diversions, a refuge from the rigid protocols of the royal court, the grotto was also one of the stops on her way to the guillotine.

A contemporary re-imagining of this anecdote might involve a young, successful independent film actor; an addiction to show caves that spirals out of control, causing him to loose his grip on reality; a mob of TMZ paparazzi; and some prescription drugs. Jules Verne: A True Hollywood Story.

Desire Lines

Next we have Wikipedia on KBR, Inc., the engineering and construction company, formerly a subsidiary of Halliburton. Some of the company's projects undertaken for the U.S. government include Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. “The camp,” we read, “is built mainly of wooden, semi permanent SEA (South East Asia) huts and is surrounded by a 2.5 meter high earthen wall. To construct the base two hills were lopped off and the valley between them was filled with the resulting material.”

In Afghanistan, “KBR was awarded a $100 million contract in 2002 to build a new U.S. embassy in Kabul.” The company also receive $216 million “for work under Operation Enduring Freedom” which involved “establishing base camps at Kandahar and Bagram Air Base and training foreign troops from the Republic of Georgia.”

KBR's activities in Iraq are no less extensive. “The United States Army hired KBR to provide housing for approximately 100,000 soldiers in Iraq in a contract worth $200 million, based on a long-term contract signed in December 2001 under the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP). Other LOGCAP orders have included a pre-invasion order to repair oil facilities in Iraq” and “$28.2 million to build POW camps.”

We now wait for the Princeton Architectural Press or Actar or, dare we dream, Spacemaker Press to publish a much needed critical appraisal of KBR, Inc. and its adventures in military urbanism.

Desire Lines

Now on to Vapor, a new exhibition at the Southern Exposure gallery in San Francisco in which Amy Balkin, Futurefarmers, Natalie Jeremijenko, The Living, Eric Paulos and Preemptive Media takes on “our declining air quality as the subject matter, medium and metaphor for creative work.”

Often inspired by forms of activism, the works react to the sources of climate change through the use of technologies – sensors, databases, and communications equipment – that are only recently accessible outside a lab. In this sense, the show's title also refers to the growing means by which this art is being produced, in addition to the ubiquity of greenhouse gases and other air conditions that serve as this art’s medium. Vapor proposes new ways of modeling, testing and finding solutions to the problems of air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.

Via Loud Paper.

One wonders what Correggio might have created with air quality as his subject matter and medium. Perhaps a new version of his Jupiter and Io inspired by the recent reports of dust storms blowing from the Gobi Desert and across over the Yellow Sea. Jupiter rendered as vaporized earth, dyed with the toxins of an industrialized China, on its way to its yearly tryst with Io, i.e., a timid Korea and an emasculated Japan. Erotic rapture turns into bloodied respiratory convulsions.

Or what about John Constable and J.W. Turner? How would those cloud-obsessed painters have approached smog?

Desire Lines

Moving on to dams, reservoirs and their effect on sea level change.

Reporting on a research led by Benjamin Chao of the National Central University in Taiwan, National Geographic News tells us that “dams and reservoirs have stored so much water over the past several decades that they have masked surging sea levels.” In fact, “without dams, sea levels would have risen 30 percent more than they already have.”

So while the world waits for green technologies and sustainability practices to deliver on their promises and for China and India to adopt them, and then afterwards wait yet again for the expected results to show up, we should have the Israelis to put up barrier walls around Antarctica and Greenland to contain all their fresh water so that Bangladesh don't have to suffer climatic genocide.

Desire Lines

Onwards to slum tourism, or “poorism.” From The New York Times:

From the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the townships of Johannesburg to the garbage dumps of Mexico, tourists are forsaking, at least for a while, beaches and museums for crowded, dirty — and in many ways surprising — slums.

Is this voyeurism? Is it exploitation? Does it “change the reputation of the slums one tourist at a time?” Sponsor our trip, and we'll report back to you.

Meanwhile, one tourist was quoted in the article as saying something extraordinarily interesting. Speaking of an incident during her tour to one of Rio de Janeiro's favelas, specifically when “a young man approached the group, smiling and holding a cocked gun,” Rajika Bhasin said she became “just very aware of [her] surroundings, and aware of the fact that [she] was on this guy’s turf.”

Can one, then, become better attuned to the intricacies of the built environment when placed under threat of bodily harm? Can landscape architecture students acquire a more robust set of landscape reading skills if they are dropped down every academic year in the middle of Rocinha or Soweto and left there to fend for themselves for a week?

Flânerie in the slums.

Desire Lines

And finally, on the impending coastal crisis, a good overview of landscapes at risk.

By mid-century, more than half of the U.S. population will live within a day’s drive of a coast or lakeshore. Once the realm of small villages and ocean-based economies, these areas are now heavily developed and populated with tourists and secondary homes. Many inhabitants appreciate the scenery, but assume shorelines never change.

That's because they're idiots!

Billions of years of geologic history have shown that coastal areas are the least constant features on the planet’s surface. Tropical storms (hurricanes) and extratropical storms (Pacific storms, nor’easters) devastate shorelines. In addition, the post-glacial rise in sea level enables storm surges to destroy coastal areas at higher and higher elevations each century. Fixed structures built on coasts with rising sea levels may be doomed.

And we'll report here when they fail.

Aurora Bibliothèque
Aurora Borealis

“For reasons not fully understood by scientists,” NASA tells us, “the weeks around the vernal equinox are prone to Northern Lights.”

This is a bit of a puzzle. Auroras are caused by solar activity, but the sun doesn’t know what season it is on Earth. So how could one season yield more auroras than another?

To better understand auroras, NASA sent five satellites, collectively called THEMIS, or Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms. During the mission's first year of operations, the satellites have “observed one geomagnetic storm with a total energy of five hundred thousand billion (5 x 10^14) Joules,” which is “approximately equivalent to the energy of a magnitude 5.5 earthquake.” And then there are those so-called magnetic ropes, which are magnetic fields that are “organized much like the twisted hemp of a mariner’s rope connecting Earth's upper atmosphere directly to the sun. Solar wind particles flow along the ropes in whirligig trajectories leading from the sun to Earth.”

To repeat: Solar wind particles flow along the ropes in whirligig trajectories leading from the sun to Earth.

Aurora Borealis

Having recently been alerted by BLDGBLOG to these proposals for the George W. Bush Presidential Library — speculative architecture via air mail; manifestos for $0.41 — we can't help but wonder:

Can you build a library out of auroras?

Can these shimmering ribbons of earthly solarity be turned into a repository of knowledge?

Using a translation matrix yet to be programmed and actuators yet to be invented, you could digitize, say, the entire content of BLDGBLOG into charged electrons and protons, which you would thereafter eject from a fleet of satellites orbiting between the earth and the sun. These particles would then hitch a ride on solar winds, eventually colliding with artificially produced charged particles floating in a finely reconfigured magnetosphere. Writing in the sky with remnants of stars.

Or you could use the satellites to weave and unravel those “magnetic ropes” to manipulate the flow of solar wind particles, as one would strum the strings of a cello to create certain photonic vibrations.

Alternatively, instead of satellites, you could have a gigantic circular struts floating above the poles. Through millions of spray nozzles, charged particles will be exhaled, the amount and timing and direction being determined by a complex algorithm yet to be conceived.

Aurora Borealis

When all things are working (or not working), the polar regions will be alight with the transliterated works of Mr. Manaugh. The whole landscapes singing Homeric tales of undiscovered subterranean rooms, lunar urbanism, buttressed buttresses and magmatic Baroque churches. The still waters of the Icelandic fjords and the hushed glacial fields of Alaska filled with the geomagnetic crackling of encoded artificial islands and algal farms.

However, in order to listen to them — i.e., to read them — patrons would need to use sensors yet to be developed located in spaces yet to be spatialized.

Aurora Borealis

A couple of things:

1) Going back to the original question, should that now ask: can you make auroras out of libraries?

2) Not in a million years did we think that we would ever reference Babylon 5 and Diller+Scofidio in a single sentence in this landscape architecture blog, but our description above reminded us of the Shadow Planet Killer and the Blur Building.

Aurora Borealis

Could Dani Karavan's Negev Desert observatory serve as a model for the library's access terminals?

Aurora Borealis

“But shouldn't libraries be universally accessible?” you might object. “Not everyone can afford the trip. A few can't even stand the cold.”

Very well then. Forget BLDGBLOG — sorry, G! — this will be the new wing of the Vatican Secret Archives, open only to scholars with academic credentials and well-funded fellowships. In fact, forget our north pole, let's make them even more inaccessible and file them on other planets.

Heretical gospels howling by Jupiter's magnetic fields.

Aurora Borealis

For more photos of auroras, check out this Flickr pool.

Goodbye, Alaska!

Vapour City
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