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Prunings XLV
Agnus scythicus

Now that we'll be posting some of the more interesting links and articles that we find out there as individual entries, our Prunings will be retired soon. But not before we reach L, because this auspicious initial calls for something special. But what? Any ideas?

Meanwhile, here are some blogs, discovered recently or otherwise:

Architectural Scholar

Buildings & Grounds

Check-in Architecture

Fantastic Journal

Metropolis POV

Paisajes Mineros

The First National Park of Mars
National Park on Mars
Phoenix Mars Lander

Surely we can hope that someday NASA will grant landscape architects access to the Phoenix Mars Lander, specifically to its multi-million dollar garden ho, if only to make intentionally artistic marks on the cryoturbated terrain of Vastitas Borealis.

When the spacecraft's primary goals have been achieved quite awhile back and in fact have been exceeded exponentially, surely scientists and mission administrators will universally agree then that the scientific return of its instruments — at the very near end of their operational life — can be outweighed by purely creative pursuits.

If not the Phoenix, then perhaps either of the two rovers, Opportunity and Spirit. They are certainly two of the best landscape photographers working anywhere, comparable to Ansel Adams, but they could also carry on the artistic and philosophical endeavors of Michael Heizer and Robert Smithson.

With their extendable rock abrasion tools, one can have a field day excavating swales in mathematically precise parallel rows that may or may not foreshadow the coming terraforming activities of terrestrial exiles. At the moment neither delineating accessibility and inaccessibility or co-opting distant terrain under one's control but perhaps soon there will be Martian ha-has marking territorial claims while simultaneously constructing views for the sole enjoyment of the privileged class in a socioeconomically stratified new world.

Or with their set of wheels, one can make patterned incisions in some patch of sandy soil. They seem to recall Richard Long in the beginning but a snapshot by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter later reveals that they are the outlines of future cul-de-sacs. The sad origin of Martian urbanism.

How about piles of rocks? Each one given names so as to weigh them down with cultural signification?

Or maybe none of the above because you consider these iconographies as ancient and irrelevant vocabularies. In which case, we wait to see what you come up with.
The Return of the Intergalactic Planetary Landscape Architect
Sarcos exoskeleton

Because someone was posting a bunch of Popular Science links to this weekend, we discovered an article about a wearable robot being developed by Sarcos for DARPA.

In the article, you will read about “the latest and arguably most advanced exoskeleton in existence”; other exoskeletons by other institutions who are competing with Sarcos for Army grants; the history of these machines; a cartoon character; and someone who is called the “Willy Wonka of robotics.”

Sarcos exoskeleton

There isn't much more we can say beyond that laundry list of items you'll encounter in the article, so we are left here with publicly fantasizing an Illinois — where Pruned is domiciled, in case you were wondering about this apparent arbitrary choice of geography — a future Illinois or a literary Illinois or an academic Illinois or even the real one wherein all landscape construction firms in the state have had their migrant workers, here legally or otherwise, outfitted with autonomous exoskeletons.

Because that vortex of immigration politics swirling around Capitol Hill has markedly reduced their labor pool, contractors have decided to invest in the development and, once perfected, in the deployment of these military gizmos, thinking that a lone worker wearing an Ellen Ripley couture can do the job of half a dozen workers, if not more.

Mowing the lawn and blowing leaf litter become a breeze. Pavers by the tons can be carried in one go. Stormwater bioswales get excavated without heavy machineries. A topiary wonderland complex in the love-hybrid style of Michelangelo and Bernini can now be sculpted without sweaty profusion.

The CEO of Caterpillar, an unavowed fan of Cinquecento garden design, wants to create for his palatial mansion located just outside the company's world headquarters in Peoria, Illinois, a replica of the Villa D'Este gardens, an exact copy, in fact, except that it will be planted with native vegetation of Plant Hardiness Zone 5a.

Despite the complexity of recreating late Renaissance, Mannerist and Baroque landscape elements, not to mention the signature terracing of the original site in contourless prairie country, the project is finished in record time. In one day.

Villa d'Este, Tivoli

Monumental projects and middling chores are done with ease and, of course, high profit margins.

But something else besides the economics of small businesses has changed.

The other has become a spectacle. Where before residents of the affluent northern suburbs of Chicago prefer to admire the beauty of their landscape without the thorny politics of immigration, race and labor, they now appropriate their laborers into their own aesthetic consumption practices.

In other words, instead of scurrying them away out of view or sending them home to their part of town just before the guests arrive to your Martha Stewart-inspired garden soirée, you let your pneumatic gardeners continue on with their work, instructing them to remain strategically framed by well-pruned maples, as in a Picturesque scene. When the canapé trays get passed around, you direct your guests' attention to the machine in the garden busy producing and maintaining landscape scenes of pastoral delights.

“So very Jean-Paul Gaultier,” the woman in the hat will say.

And if things get a bit boring, you clap your hands, dim the lights and your cybernetic living sculptures begin to perform a Carmontellian proverbe, titled, perhaps, Le Nord.

Sarcos exoskeleton

During the day in sprawling backyards and exclusive golf courses around town, kids flock to them with xenophilic enthusiasm. “He is way cooler than Iron Man.”

There are no more furtive glances, only uninhibited gazes akin to birdwatching. Gawking as though they were fountains, temple follies or Reptonian livestocks.

Until, of course, they rebel.

One day a charismatic landscape architect, who's probably seen too many PBS documentaries on Che Guevara and Cesar Chavez, rides into town. Angered by the exploitative conditions of the migrant workers, he galvanizes them into action. First there are the casual meetings with the employers, then a letter-writing campaign to elected officials, followed by protest marches and the founding of a union and membership drives. All of which, unfortunately, fail to correct what he perceives to be unjust.

One night, then, he and his comrades break into storage depots across the state to gather up all the XOSes; the first strike in their rebellion begins at sunrise.

Atop an artificial hill divined up from the flat terrain by his soldiers in their former lives, the newly christened Spartacus, FASLA, surveys their objective, a sleepy ex-urb, hoping that he remembers well the lessons he had learned from reading J.B. Jackson.

The sun is now up.

Animaris geneticus, or: Intergalactic planetary landscape architect
The Bleex, or: Intergalactic planetary landscape architect, Part II
Prunings XLIV
Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory

1) The National Science Foundation on a sprawling subterranean science laboratory that will allow “researchers to probe some of the most compelling questions in modern science.”

What are the invisible dark matter and dark energy that comprise more than 95 percent of everything visible in the universe? What is the nature of ghostly particles called neutrinos that pervade the cosmos, but almost never interact with matter, and what can certain kinds of extremely rare radioactivity and particle decay reveal about the fundamental behavior of atoms? Will this site help reliably predict and control earthquakes? What are the characteristics of microorganisms at great depth?

They might as well study the physical, psychological and social effects of living in underground communities, perhaps as an analogue of future lunar and martian urbanism.

2) The Guardian on post-water Barcelona. Remember that plan to import water to the city because of the severe drought? It's no longer being considered; it's being carried out.

3) Subtopia on Germany's involuntary park.

4) In chronological order, we make money not art, WorldChanging, Click opera and designboom blog on Atelier van Lieshout's SlaveCity, “a dark architectural vision of perfect efficiency, and sustainability-as-principle-of-oppression.” Zero carbon footprint, zero humanity.

5) The Wall Street Journal on cooking at the South Pole.

6) Buildings & Grounds on Peter Walker's celebrated Tanner Fountain.

7) Scientists at the Research Center Jülich on artificial photosynthesis.

8) The National Science Foundation on gasoline growing on trees.

A Real Columbarium in the Pacific
Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

There is actually a lighthouse, this one in the Pacific, that has been turned into a columbarium.

Called the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, it sits on a rugged island just off the coast of Oregon state. From above it looks like a solitary Greek monastery sitting precipitously on a promontory, one of only a few in the Athosian peninsula to escape a future deluge.

And it just might look like an ideal sanctuary to store your remains, a picture-postcard perfect locale where your family and friends might at least enjoy visiting, with a phenomenal view to alleviate their grief.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

Except, of course, for a couple of things:

1) Eternity by the Sea Columbarium, the company who owns the lighthouse and who converted it into a cemetery, lost their license in 1999 because of inaccurate record keeping and because their columbarium isn't technically one. The urns, which are supposed to be placed in niches, rest instead on boards and concrete blocks.

When the company tried to get a new license in 2005, their application was rejected. They now spend most of their time and money on lawsuits filed against them.

2) The sea is so treacherous that a helicopter is the only way to reach it — that is, if the owner of the island, the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex, even allows you passage to the lighthouse in the mild weather of spring and summer when seabirds are nesting.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

But if you're one who's not looking for a peaceful rest in your unconscious days of being dead; actually prefers the thunderous sound of ocean waves constantly slamming into the rocks; doesn't mind sharing quarters with cormorants and common murres; and is thoroughly amused by the image of Charon as a helicopter pilot ferrying your soul across the Styx on whirring oars, then simply contact the proprietors.

They're still making offers for space. Even if they don't have a license.

A Little Columbarium in the Atlantic
A Little Columbarium Forest in the Arctic
On cemeteries
Dos personas en el centro de Sevilla
Dos personas en el centro de Sevilla

POSTSCRIPT #1: Many have asked for the complete text; we relent: “Dos Personas encadenarons sus brazos al suelo en una galería subterránea a cuatro metros de profundidad para evitar, o al menos retrasar, el desalojo y derribo del inmueble que ocupan en el centro de sevilla.” Original.
The Village Unvanishes
Barcelona Village

The ruins of a medieval village above Barcelona, under 150 feet of water at the bottom of a reservoir since the 1960s, has “re-emerged into the light.”

An 11th-century church spire, entombed in the murky depths for decades, towers once again over dry ground. And that is because “in a year that so far ranks as Spain's driest since records began 60 years ago, the reservoir is currently holding as little as 18% of its capacity.” To make matters worse for the people depending on its waters, climate scientists have forecasted “still drier conditions to come in the approaching decades.”

So what other remnants of civilizations lie patiently waiting at the bottom of reservoirs to once again bath in the glow of the sun?

Or more interestingly, not ruins of villages or cities but a monstrous beast birthed by a landscape suffering from too much water, concocted in a toxic stew of asphyxiated forests, leftover sewage and drowned lives, incubated by climate change. Cloverfield in the Mist.

Boullée in North Dakota
Safeguard Program

From the HABS/HAER collections in the Library of Congress comes these gorgeous photographs of an anti-ballistic missile complex in North Dakota.

Several such sites were planned as part of the Safeguard Program, but only this was ever completed. And after being in operations for just 4 months, it was deactivated.

Safeguard Program

In the years since, countless drunken youths and their spray paints have made pilgrimages to these Pharaonic ruins of the U.S. Army. No doubt one of them must have wondered whether if it was simply a matter of coincidence that this pyramid, whose walls he was pissing on, resembles the unfinished pyramid in the Great Seal of the United States, its once radar equipment being the Eye of Providence, the all-seeing eye.

Or if the military counts among its ranks a cabal of Freemasons constantly and surreptitiously finding ways to channel their aesthetic inclinations, in the face of institutionalized prohibition against self-expression and individuality. Sculpted berms here, geometrically-patterned rows of exhaust stacks there, mastaba-shaped radar facility right over there, chalked footpaths everywhere.

The U.S. anti-ballistic landscape as a subset of Land Art.

Safeguard Program

Safeguard Program

Safeguard Program

One of his companions, a blogger of the built environment, will later report these inebriated musings, speculating further that those anonymous soldier-bureaucrat-architects must have been great admirers of the unbuilt works of Étienne-Louis Boullée. As an homage, they designed the radar building in the form of the master's pyramidal cenotaphs.

Safeguard Program

Even their monument-complex are pierced with holes, this blogger will blog, although they are not cosmically aligned. You will not see stars; they do not form constellations. Rather, they are aligned to millions of city dwellers halfway around the world, under surveillance, targeted for total erasure.

A Little Columbarium Forest in the Arctic
Columbarium Forest

Alas, the auction for the Point No Point Lighthouse has been cancelled. Something about safety requirements of the U.S. Navy.

However, there are some alternatives, for instance, this flippin' ship.

R/P FLIP (Floating Instrument Platform)

Known formally as the R/P FLIP, it's a mobile research station used by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography principally to “study how sound waves behave under water,” but during its 40 years of operation it has also collected data on the “way water circulates, how storm waves are formed, how seismic waves move, how heat is exchanged between the ocean and the atmosphere, and the sound made underwater by marine animals.”

You can see it position itself vertically, as well as the crew, refrigerators, stoves and coffee pots adjusting to the changing spatial configuration, in this short video.

The ship is the only one of its kind, but surely hundreds should be built, each one interning the pulverized remains of the dead. Or housing a single occupant. One could be the family mausoleum of a Greek shipping magnate. Thousands. Tens of thousands.

A not-so-little forest of columbaria bobbing about in the future ice-free waters of an auroral Arctic.

Should their ballast decay and the whole vessel sinks to the bottom of the ocean, it will simply be a return to standard practices.

Or how about floating wind turbines?

Floating Wind Turbines

This must be where the billion-dollar burial industry enters the potentially billion-dollar green industry.

On cemeteries
A Little Columbarium in the Atlantic
Point No Point Lighthouse

It's about that time of year again, a few weeks before the anniversary of this blog when we go searching for something special to treat ourselves with. For the first anniversary, we ordered a few of these architectural notecards by Andrew Zega & Bernd H. Adams. Last year we looked into getting a weather modification machine, specifically this portable hurricane, before deciding to buy a couple more notecards.

This year, we'll probably just order yet more notecards, although what we really want is this lighthouse, pictured above, which is being auctioned off by the fantastically named U.S. Office of Property Disposals. It's located in Chesapeake Bay about 5 nautical miles from the nearest shore. It has “elements of the Second Empire architectural style,” we read.

When the auction ends, perhaps we'll learn that Zega & Adams gave the winning bid. They plan to remodel it into a chinoiserie pavilion, so that they can reenact some of the wildest garden debaucheries of Marie Antoinette.

Or preferably, we find out that a fan of Arnold Böcklin is the new owner. He wants to convert the building into a columbarium.

In still weather or rougher seas, the dead will metaphorically cross the Styx to their final resting place, which in its former life illuminated and guided the lost but, like them, is now extinguished.

On cemeteries

A Little Columbarium Forest in the Arctic
A Real Columbarium in the Pacific
Prunings XLIII

1) Dwell on L.A.'s blind spots and interstitial spaces. Geoff Manaugh interviews CLUI's Matthew Coolidge.

2) The Stranger on the topography of terror, or: How Seattle's famed Freeway Park became “a garden of earthly delights—for the city's crazed murderers and inhuman rapists.”

3) Cabinet Magazine on geophagia.

[S]oil eating is poverty and hunger's most extreme outpost. It is an activity that is charged with a strangely archaic quality where a lack is miraculously turned into a surplus. In his febrile state of hunger, the soil eater transforms the clay of the bed river into filling food. He is set within a hallucinogenic landscape where the very ground he walks on is transformed into nourishment.

4) Deborah Fisher on her Monuments to Vanishing Cities.

5) AlterNet on the National Mall redesign. “Critics of the redesign [...] are complaining that the National Park Service's proposed redesign, still in its formative phase, is a subtle attempt to restrict [the] time-honored ability to congregate and complain.” NPS disagrees.

6) BBC News on uranium-eating fungi for “toxic war zones.”

7) culiblog and Cornell Mushroom Blog on growing food in transit.

‘Made in Transit’ is a supply chain concept in which the food grows on board a vehicle on the way to the supermarket, shifting the paradigm of packaging from preserving freshness to enabling growth, and shifting ‘best before’ to ‘ready by.’

8) Edouard François, who designed this marvelous aviary, takes on garage doors. See it?

Mobile Art Park
Mobile Art Park

When we were fantasizing about Venice as a reconfigurable jigsaw puzzle, we had in mind, among other things, PARA's submission for an ideas competition to “rejuvenate” the “ruins” of New York City's Roosevelt Island.

Called Mobile Art Park, it's a cultural and sports complex conceived as a “network of floating barges.”

The barges form a migrating network that extends throughout the regional waters of New York’s five boroughs and beyond. Linking together in multiple combinations, the barges accommodate different events at the scale of the entire Southpoint site. Dispersed throughout the city, the barges bridge culturally disparate enclaves with the vibrant communities of artists already thriving in the city.

Each barge, then, could hold a tennis court, a skatepark, a farm and a farmer's market, a forest or a combination thereof. There are wind turbines as well.

Mobile Art Park

Mobile Art Park

Mobile Art Park

Mobile Art Park

Having been reminded recently of MVRDV's Dutch Pavilion languishing in the now shuttered grounds of Expo 2000 in Hannover and also the ruins of Expo 1992 in Sevilla, we propose that in a future universal exposition, all buildings should rest atop floating platforms. Or are actually the floating platforms themselves. Each one would be built by the participating nations in their own ports, anchored there until the start of the expo nears and the armada needs to be assembled.

In this world's fair, the overall theme could be future coastlines, perhaps established by Adriaan Geuze of West 8. He is hired as creative director, because he once curated The Flood.

In his program brief, he will call attention to the fact that “around the world cities are situated on low-lying coastal zones and in delta regions where rivers enter the sea. These are amongst the most fertile areas and are well linked by sea and land to the world. But these are also cities with populations in the millions that are now highly vulnerable because of the threat of flooding.”

Of course, Adriaan Geuze will have plenty of solutions to combat this threat to showcase at the host city, New Orleans.

Or it could be the first ever major international event to be held on international waters, just offshore from Burma's Irrawaddy Delta with a satellite venue a few miles from Bangladesh's Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta.

As its national pavilion, the U.S. will send the supercarrier USS Nimitz, which accidentally rams into Zaha Hadid's pavilion. Tant pis.

When the expo ends, each pavilion will return to their home port, becoming art centers or public open spaces or artificial reefs.

Floating Pool
Venice on Stilts

Speaking of Venice, there were some reports a couple months ago telling us that officials are “pursuing [a] proposal with great interest” that could save the city from sea level rise.

According to Agence France-Presse, “Local officials and engineers are planning to lift buildings under operation 'Rialto' by up to one metre (3.3 feet) using piston-supported-poles to be placed at the bottom of each structure. This will take around a month per building if each structure is raised by eight centimetres (3.14 inches) a day.”

Project Rialto

Project Rialto

Project Rialto

There is another project, one that is actually being realized, to save Venice. Called the MOSE Project, it involves constructing adjustable barriers at the three entrances to the Venetian Lagoon. While these barriers may protect the city from future floods, buildings whose lower levels are already submerged will remain inundated, continuing to rot at their foundations. In other words, there is really no change in the status quo.

Project Rialto, on the other hand, will restore access and functionality to once flooded floors. There is also the possibility of lifting the building still higher if needed, for instance, if sea level rise exceeds the design parameters of the barriers and overtops them. Meanwhile, the city and its neighborhoods may begin to resemble what they were like before things started sinking.

Of course, we have to wonder why would you want to revive an image of its past? It won't reverse the exodus of its citizens or prevent it from becoming an open air museum.

Why not use this opportunity to play around with the built environment? You could, for instance, jack up this palazzo up higher than 3.3 feet. Or that palazzo by a towering 50 feet.

Sculpting negative spaces, reconfiguring campi, creating a second piazza.

Better yet, you slip in a barge under them. Venice as a tectonic jigsaw puzzle, its mini-island pieces floating but firmly tethered for most of the time until the curator of a future edition of the Architecture Biennale wants to rearrange things.

Or until the Art Institute of Chicago decides to organize a blockbuster exhibition on Venetian palazzos or Tate Britain on Turner's Venice. When their entreaties for loans are answered, chunks of the city will unmoor themselves from the lagoon. Once equipped to ward off Somalian pirates, they will simply sail away, leaving behind some scaffolding wrapped with full-scale photographic replicas of the borrowed architecture to let disappointed tourists know what they are sorely missing.

Galveston on Stilts
London as Venice
London as Venice

This is lovely. It's London re-imagined in 1899 as La Serenissima-upon-Thames. Go see.

Of course, when London gets flooded for real by the middle of this century, the city will not look quite as charming. No Lonely Planet devotee would want to go there during his gap year. Instead, it would most certainly become a pestilential swamp, ridden with malaria and mutagenic superviruses, a methanous bog slowly digesting St. Paul's.

London as Venice

And behind every crumbling facade, a coven of sub-humans patiently waits for the night when they can continue their hunt for Will Smith.
The Machinic Landscape of Tulips

Spotted yesterday on Der Spiegel is the above photograph of tulip farms in the northern Netherlands. No doubt artificially induced to coincide with Mother's Day in the U.S. and in many other countries this month, we see the fields explode in Suprematist technicolor.

It's Nature turned into a machine, detached from the natural cycles of time and geography — in other words, detached from itself — re-landscaped here to service a $40 billion global flower industry.


Once harvested the flowers will embark on a whirlwind journey. They will pass through greenhouses, cutting rooms, auction houses and conveyor belts — in fact, through a massive industrial complex not unlike the gargantuan automobile assembly plants of the Big Three — before then being loaded on to trucks and cargo planes, enlarging their carbon footprint en route to points elsewhere, where they may be placed in quarantine spaces by customs officials with other flowers similarly displaced from other growing regions till they are finally allowed to continue on to neighborhood flower shops and awaiting mothers.


Unnaturally but beautifully assembled bouquets as mobile landscapes.

Salt Ponds
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