Pruned — On landscape architecture and related fields — ArchivesFuture Plural@pruned — Offshoots — #Chicagos@altchicagoparks@southworkspark
Health, Spatialized and Tagged
Proton Therapy Center

Disease is in the air, so we thought we'd offer up all our disorganized musings on spatializing health by way of tags. You can scan through tidbits about the politics of pollen, disease tours, subterranean pharmlands, reconfiguring the sky to combat suicides and the hilarious 2007 World Infection Tour of Andrew Speaker.

Tagging our posts is something we have always wanted to implement here but have only recently done so when we redesigned the blog's layout. In other words, there may be some stray epidemiological posts that we haven't yet labeled — in fact, there are still so many posts that need tagging — but what has already been stamped with the health tag should be enough to encapsulate our M.O. in this subject.

Proton Therapy Center

Meanwhile, as we are wont to do, we decorated this post with a couple of images taken from an old New York Times article about a cancer therapy using proton accelerators.

The machines accelerate protons to nearly the speed of light and shoot them into tumors. Scientists say proton beams are more precise than the X-rays now typically used for radiation therapy, meaning fewer side effects from stray radiation and, possibly, a higher cure rate.

If a particle accelerator calls to mind the Large Hadron Collider, then you can imagine the sheer gargantuan size of these anti-cancer machines. One of these machines can weigh 222 tons, costs $100 million and requires “a building the size of a football field with walls up to 18-feet thick in which to house it.” In other words, it's “the world’s most expensive and complex medical device.”

One wonders how much energy it needs, and whether hospitals had simply connected it to the electrical grid or had to build a dedicated power generator. If it's the latter, did they also put up another building to house it in?

We may be overimagining the logistics here as usual, but our minds are reeling into hyperdrive as they imagine clusters of buildings connected together by arrays of electromagnets and miles of wirings, swarming with technicians and operators, buzzing with the grinding gears of three-story tall gantries, all overseen from a cavernous control room of wall-to-wall LED monitors. And the central focus in the entire sprawling complex is just a narrow beam of invisible protons.

Given the extent some people in the U.S. are willing to go through to cure their illnesses despite the costs, and how the medical industry is an all-too willing pill pusher — and of course, these proton accelerators just prove that — we can't help but wonder when we might see a new cancer treatment regimen so incredibly complex, an entire city has to be built for it. When a patient starts treatment, it draws energy from all around, even from deep inside the earth. The whole landscape shudders and contracts.

Have you seen the planet destroyer in the trailers for the new Star Trek movie? Will it be like that, though with a finer but still mindbogglingly powerful beam? Somehow we think the indescribably absurd American health care system will make it happen and beat the equally preposterous American military industry to the punch.
Cedar Island
Cedar Island

Stunning news via The Associated Press. Undeterred by the stories of Dubai, the global financial apocalypse, a shaky national political system, the occasional war and sectarian violence, the Beirut-based developer Mohammed Saleh wants to develop “a 3.3-square-kilometre, artificial island shaped like a cedar tree as a major attraction off Lebanon's coast.”

This US$8 billion “paradise” would be aimed primarily at “Lebanese expatriates who have nostalgia for their country and would like to invest in it.” For reasons we can't yet process without experiencing cognitive failure, this marketing strategy will somehow insulate the project from the economic crisis.

In any case, if ever some reclusive billionaire who fantasizes about being the Rockefeller of archi-bloggers and then actually doles out patronage to these outsider spatialists, including us, we would like to use our grotesquely plump fellowship to create a sort of travel guide to the world's artificially terraformed coastlines. In the same illustrative vein as John Briscella's The Urban Gridded Notebook and Work AC's 49 Cities, we'll document with near encyclopedic breadth the fluctuating peripheries of Manhattan, Chicago, Singapore, Dubai, Tokyo and whatever cities that have undergone coastal expansion. San Francisco was once imagined with twin peninsular augments. What other cities were planned to be implanted with geological prosthesis? And what urban (hi)stories can one gleaned from these littoral recontouring?

It will be an antipode history to the future extractive history of sea level rise.

We Are All Doomed
Future Inter-Dimensional Bloggers Dino-ridin' in a Landscape

They're all out there, surveying the built and natural environments for you with whatever tools they've got, and probably having fun doing it. Go read their reports.

A New F*cking Wilderness

Bad British Architecture

Dave's Landslide Blog


Low-tech Magazine



Mobile City

Resilience Science


For our public blogroll, see our list of RSS feeds [good links] on Bloglines. Which of these you are going to subscribe to (or whether or not you are going to follow even one of them) will be up to you.

To do:

1) Choose from any of these hyper-surveilled storage reservoirs in the Pacific Northwest.

2) Excavate “teacup” basins in a plaza. Downscale their dimensions in proportion to the reservoirs selected in (1) so they will all fit within the installation site.

3) Ring the basin interior with concentric steps-cum-seats.

4) Hack into the servers of the U.S. Department of the Interior where the data on water levels at the reservoirs is collected and parsed. (Or does the bureau have an API?)

5) Re-network the flow of data from these real-world reservoirs, so that not only will the numbers get rendered into info-porn, they will also determine the water levels of your simulant reservoirs.

A PostNatural History Museum
Richard Pell

Corpus Extremus (LIFE+) ends today and will be capped off later tonight with some interesting lectures, one of which will be given by Richard Pell, a professor of art at Carnegie Mellon. He will talk about his Center for PostNatural History, whose mission is “to acquire, interpret and provide access to a collection of living, preserved and documented organisms of postnatural origin.”

Pell has a couple of pieces in the show. Transgenic Organisms of New York State is “a survey of genetically modified organisms that are created, bred, or exist in the state of New York,” and Strategies in Genetic Copy Prevention catalogs and displays “examples of techniques and technologies used during the past century to prevent living organisms from reproducing.”

With his creative output, Pell is trying to reimagine the natural history museum, and by extension, questions our concept of Nature. At least to our knowledge, you don't see natural history museums organizing family-friendly exhibits of bioengineered life, let alone collecting and cataloging them. (We'll be absolutely thrilled if someone tells us otherwise.) But modified living things have been part of our physical and cultural landscape for thousands of years, more so in recent decades with our ever expanding ability to manipulate organisms. On a farm out there somewhere, wheat genetically modified to resist pests better than unadulterated strains is now growing. On a pasture out there somewhere, a clone waits until its ready for its own Dolly moment in front of the world media. On a lab out there somewhere, a biotech entrepreneur is copyrighting recombined lines of DNAs before they are released into the wilds. No natural history museums are documenting this other “natural history” with encyclopedic intensity, but as repositories of knowledge, they should.

Other Simulated Worlds
Extreme Terrains
Shelf Life by Suzanne Anker / Corpus Extremus / Exit Art

We regret not posting this sooner, as it sounds very interesting, but if you happen to be in New York in the next couple of days, we suggest you stop by Exit Art for Corpus Extremus (LIFE+), an exhibition presenting work by artists who are “uniting science and art to challenge conventional understanding of both fields.”

This exhibition and its programming covers diverse topics, among which are the “extended” and the “obsolete” body; prolongation of life; life outside of the body; patenting life; genetically programmed life; hardwired spirituality; cyborgian and hybrid life and intelligence; male pregnancy and gender roles and stereotypes that are changing with developments in reproductive technologies; scientific and artistic ethics in relation to “the Other” that challenge anthropocentric hierarchies; and last but not the least – the ethics of the biotech aesthetics, employing techniques for mere visual effect.

One of these “recombinant mix[es] of the poetic, political, fantastic, clinical, ironic and utopian” is InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies (2008) by Jennifer Willet.

InsideOut: Laboratory Ecologies by Jennifer Willet / Corpus Extremus / Exit Art

Inside a portable tent, we are told, as we haven't seen the show in person, the artist “presents biotechnological materials and techniques that normally exist only within the laboratory environment. By taking actual laboratory specimens outside of their confined and secured environment, InsideOut challenges the closed relationship the laboratory has with external or 'natural' ecologies.”

This sculptural installation has an immediate resonance for us, because our most basic medium — the enclosed garden — is itself a laboratory, a space of experimentation that is physically and conceptually detached from the larger landscape. Its quasi-hermetic condition may not necessarily contribute to a highly charged atmosphere of innovation; nevertheless, gardens are fecund breeding grounds for new forms and new theories of landscapes: horticultural chimeras, fake hills, constructed views, nature as spectacle, paradise as a garden, playgrounds as antidote to urban living, landscapes as propaganda, etc. These inevitably spill over the walls, changing not merely the “outside” tectonically but also how we then interact with what is transformed. With new landscapes come new social and political systems. Just look at the experiments in mannered irregularity at Stowe and the “imagineered” hyper-reality of Disneyland and how they have influenced the practice of landscape architecture, architecture and urban design.

One has to wonder, then, what are the landscape implications of these investigations into post-nature, this blurring of the natural and the artificial, this ever increasing confusion between biology and machine, over what is life and what is non-life? What are the spatial consequences of Dr. Frankestein's monsters busting out of the confines of these science labs? What will the world look like when even our understanding of what is the body and by extension our concept of the self gets fundamentally reconfigured?

Our future selves and our future landscapes are in those petri dishes.

Shelf Life by Suzanne Anker / Corpus Extremus / Exit Art

Meanwhile, another piece in the show is Suzanne Anker's Shelf Life (2009) by Suzanne Anker.

“This sculptural installation,” as described by our tipster David Hays, “features LED lighting panels of differing wavelengths, such as 'red' or 'blue,' above a series of aluminum 'seed houses,'” and it “functions as a food-bearing micro-system. From glow-in-the-dark plants to grow-in-the-dark herbage, new botanical technologies are rapidly developing. Proliferating due to photosynthesis, these living food production machines — plants — turn light energy into food.”

And another one is NoArk II by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, of The Tissue Culture and Art Project.

NoArk II by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, The Tissue Culture and Art Project / Corpus Extremus / Exit Art

NoArk II is intended to raise questions about the taxonomic challenge posed by the creation of new bio-technological life forms. A cabinet of curiosity, NoArk II is constructed of an experimental vessel designed to sustain living cells and tissues, alongside museum specimens of preserved animals. In a sense, this is a unified collection of unclassifiable sub-organisms, or as the artists refer to them — extended bodies.”

A couple of things related or otherwise to this piece:

1) Seed Magazine published this week an article about our symbiotic relationship with bacteria. We read the astonishing fact that there are “100 trillion bacterial cells in our bodies, outnumbering our human cells 10 to one,” and that rather than eating us alive from the inside out and outside in, some of their biological functions complement our own.

Even more astonishing, they may even be us. They are extra-corporeal organs we have been continually implanted with since birth — or to use Catts and Zurr's term, they are our extended bodies. As the article explains, “[o]ur bodies are, after all, composites of human and bacterial cells, with microbes together contributing at least 1,000 times more genes to the whole. As we discover more and more roles that microbes play, it has become impossible to ignore the contribution of bacteria to the pool of genes we define as ourselves. Indeed, several scientists have begun to refer to the human body as a 'superorganism' whose complexity extends far beyond what is encoded in a single genome.”

2) To recycle some questions asked in previous posts: if and when geoengineering as a solution to many impending environmental crises proves to be financially unfeasible, can we go “ultra-local” and hack our own bodies, for instance, to augment our own skins with photosynthetic cells to “grow” our own food — local and organic to the extreme? What will happen to farms and to other sites of production? And what new epicurean culture will this bring about?

How about modifying our intestinal ecologies in such a way that our biological waste is greatly reduced or is somehow “transformed” that our billion-dollar sewer infrastructure becomes obsolete or at least cheaper?

How about piezoelectric skins to harness enough energy from anatomical deformations to power iPhones for a day's worth of tweeting?

Basically, what we want to know is: where is biotechnology taking us and do we want to go along for the ride?

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