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Of golf courses, filtration plants, and green roofs
Mosholu Golf Course

Grimshaw, the landscape architect Ken Smith and the doyens of green roofs, Rana Creek, will soon combine two of our favorite memes: golf courses and civic infrastructure.

According to The Architect's Newspaper, the $2.1 billion Croton Water Filtration Plant, currently under construction in the Bronx, will be topped off with “one of the largest and most intensive green roofs to date.” Unlike Ken Smith's inaccessible and inorganic roof garden at the remodeled Museum of Modern Art in New York, this one will be open to the public as a fully functioning golf course.

It's landscape, architecture, infrastructure, eco-machine and land art all rolled up into one.

Mosholu Golf Course

So many things about this project are noteworthy, for instance, all this talk about sustainability when there's this golf course in the room. In common practice, golf courses are notoriously unsustainable. They are as land use intensive and ecologically suspect as new ex-urban developments on virgin land. They're water guzzlers, a symbol in post-water American West of irresponsible resource management. Seeing well-manicured, verdant greenery amidst a climate-changed sea of sand and rocks, or even hearing about Tiger Wood's golf course in Dubai, we can't help but think of them as the folliest of follies. In other words, a golf course described as “a true display of sustainable green design,” which might be the case here, is a bit of dissonance for us.

But to be perfectly clear, we think this to be one of the most interesting projects we have heard thus far this year.

Silver Lake Operations, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia
Silver Lake Operations #1, Lake Lefroy, Western Australia, 2007

Instead of an arboretum of indigenous flora as at Pedreres de s'Hostal, for this copper mine in Western Australia, how about an extraterrestrial garden of phytoremediating plants, both the unmodified and the genetically modified kinds, with gorgeously red- and orange-hued pools of metal-eating microogranisms?

Or you plant this ecosystem in all the disused open pits everywhere except here, where you merely design a circulation system interspersed with “educational signs” and some observation platforms — a masterpiece of topographical mapping, pictorial analysis and narrative making? Or you can scratch all that, and the only intervention you do involves installing a marker near the entrance, for instance, a cairn. How about Las Vegas neon marquee because beyond lies a terrestrial extravaganza? What routes people take inside will be up to them.

Or how about just a set of coordinate rendered perfectly on Google Maps' well-designed web interface? Should anyone want to visit the mine, at least they know where it is on the surface of the earth.
Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Israel

Welcome to Chicago! No, not that Chicago.

This is “Chicago”, the fake Arab town built by Israel in the middle of the Negev desert to train its military forces in urban warfare.

Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Israel

Though artificial, our hometown's dessicated twin is “highly realistic.” Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, whose photographs of “Chicago” are collected in this book and are replicated here, wrote: “To create this alternative universe, Palestinian architecture has been carefully scrutinized. Roads and alleyways have been constructed to mimic the layout of towns like Ramallah and Nablus. In one corner the ground has been covered in sand, a reference to unpaved refugee camps like Jenin. Graffiti has been applied to the walls with obscure declarations in Arabic: 'I love you Ruby' and 'Red ash, hot as blood'. Burned-out vehicles line the streets.”

Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Israel

Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Israel

Perhaps more interesting than its spatial “authenticity” is the fact that the “history” of this ghost town “directly mirrors the history of the Palestinian conflict.”

The first and second Intifada, the Gaza withdrawl, an attempted assassination of Saddam Hussein, the Battle of Falluja; almost every one of Israel's major military tactics in the Middle East over the past three decades was performed in advance here.

This is where generations of Israeli soldiers rehearse over and over again like actors in a Hollywood studio set. Here, with props on hand or littered about, they perfect their stage presence, try out some new moves and hand gestures, and fine tune their dialogues in front of cardboard cutouts of generic terrorists. Here also, they practice their showstopper: walking through walls. And then it's time to step out in front of live television cameras, the whole world already a captive audience, to play out their well-choreographed routines.

Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Israel

Meanwhile, “Chicago” is so named because its bullet-ridden fake walls apparently recall the punctured real walls of Al Capone's Chicago. While still acknowledging the dizzying complexity of Arab-Israeli relations, one wonders if a small yet meaningful step towards lasting peace could be taken if, on Israel's side, it stops vicariously engaging with the Palestinians in secret, replicant cities after first exorcising this mythological, gangster-infested Chicago from their collective memory and replace it with something real and true?

Not everyone was a mobster then, the same way not everyone offered something to our former governor for Obama's senate seat. The same way not all Palestinians are terrorists.

Chicago, Tze'elim Military Base, Negev Desert, Israel

In any case, should the ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman and his party's racist ideology get their way in a ruling coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu, and all Israeli-Arabs get expelled from Israel, their homes and cities dismantled and resettled over, at least part of their history, albeit one written by others, has been recorded for future archaeologists to study.

Subtopia: MOUT Urbanism
BLDGBLOG: A miniature city waiting for attack
Spatializing Algae 4: An Algae Farm in Senegal

Using their brand of computational algorithm and other tried and true methodologies, EcoLogicStudio dives into masterplanning on a regional scale in rural Disez, Senegal.

One component of their scheme is an algae farm deployed “in the confluence of vegetated ridges and flood plain toporegions” resulting in a visually compelling, vineyard-like organization. This is where renewable energy is produced and the location of a “research center on bioenergies and training facilities for locals.”

Go see.
Spatializing Algae 3: STEMcloud
BUTT: A Proposal for a Zine

No one wants to think about shit and the act of shitting. When we go, we want it out of sight and out mind as fast as we can quickly flush, for to linger longer than is socially acceptable could be a sign of an atavistic pathology. However, should an alien happen to drop by and see how much energy, time and resources we spend just on our sewers, it might think we are absolutely obsessed with our excrement. It would be right, of course.

We propose, then, a zine about this all too important biological process. Provisionally titled BUTT, it will collect any and all investigations into the myriad ways scatology is spatialized. Many will keep on regurgitating promotional materials like those automatically archived on dezeen but not BUTT. Everyone will talk about Daniel Libeskind but not BUTT. It's the contrarian preposition.

Coverage, then, will likely include ancient Roman sewers, Victorian public loos, modern pay toilets, the zero gravity toilet of the International Space Station, boutique pissoirs, big event porta-potties, battlefield latrines, methane farms, Appalachian heritage outhouses, Mexican sewer divers, and public transportation powered by poo.

Any proposal that sets out to rethink urban sewer systems, regardless of quality, will always be a featured content, and realized projects that address the sanitation needs of the other 90% will be automatically accepted for publication.

Published as well would be field reports from guided tours of municipal wastewater treatment plants, for instance, the world's largest located right on the periphery of Chicago, and also from illegal urban explorations of subterranean drainscapes.

A lucky freelancer would be sent off to Dubai to see if the beaches around the fourty-three-star Burj Al Arab hotel are still noxious with illegally dumped human waste. He'll probably write that it's actually clean but only because there aren't much sewage around to be spilt, as everyone has left. If the miniscule budget allows, another freelancer would be assigned to get an update on Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic and the Gaza Sewage Flood of 2007.

Interspersed throughout each issue would be engineering illustrations of sewer tunnels that immediately call to mind certain anatomical drawings by Jean-Jacques Lequeu.

How about self-portraits, preferably of architecture students, taken inside the bathrooms of post-Bilbao museums?

Shit. From Every Angle.

It'll be the infrastructural porn rag for the hipster design crowd, always mistakenly shelved in the fetish section, along with the German scheiße bestsellers, of your nearest independent bookstore.


Spatializing Algae 2: Urban Battery
Urban Battery

Urban Battery, by MOS, was the winning entry in last year's Flip a Strip competition, which challenged entrants to rethink and redesign the strip malls of Arizona. In response, the designers offered an “off-the-grid power station, vertical greenhouse and a billboard all at once.”

It's the unabashedly longitudinal literally flipped up.

Urban Battery

Largely leaving the strip mall intact, MOS concentrated on the parking lot, wherein stands a “300’ by 300’ lightweight structure support[ing] a series of thin glass channels housing a network of pipes, tubes, and algae to produce filtered, clean air and gases for biofuel. A system of wind turbines generates electricity supporting the activities of the strip mall and the surrounding neighborhood. It dispenses electricity through wind turbines, breezes and healthy air offsetting the effects of Scottsdale Road and the parking.”

Urban Battery

The team noted that the Scottsdale competition site “lacks any healthy urban infrastructures, no community centers, no pools, no green space, it's a dead quadrant.” To offset this, MOS added public and semi-public spaces underneath this vertical aquarium that would be used for dancing, yoga and other forms of physical activity. Additionally, these spaces are connected to other vertical gardens at other strip malls via bike and walking paths.

All put together, then, here is an urban infrastructure meant to counter the effects of obesity, pollution and urban sprawl.

Urban Battery

Meanwhile, could you pixelate those algae-filled tubes — that is, make them chromatically flicker either by chemical means or through changes in light filtration and salinity or some heretofore unknown method &dmash; so that you could make an avant-garde movie (or an animated billboard ad) to be shown for spectators parked in their cars on the parking lot or for motorists navigating through the urban flatscape?

The Geomagnetic Terrain
Combined Gravity Field Model EIGEN-CG01C
Spatializing Algae 1: Drip Feed
Venice Lagoon Park

While the science, technology and economics of turning algae into biofuel needs further research and refinement, that hasn't stopped designers from dreaming up projects using this new energy source as a point of departure in formal and systems experiments. We have been collecting many such projects over the past years and now would like to present some of the better ones to our readers in a series of posts. They vary in scales, deployment, logistics and context, so there should be something for everyone. Do take what you want from them.

We start with something regular readers will no doubt have seen before, from a year ago. The project is called Drip Feed, the winning entry from architects Thomas Raynaud and Cyrille Berger for the 2G Competition Venice Lagoon Park.

Venice Lagoon Park

According to Raynaud and Berger:

Our project for the urban park of Sacca San Mattia consists of reinvesting the island in a Venetian, multi-functional approach to urban planning, in the context of an enlarged metropolitan, tourist centre. The Drip Feed project on the Island of Sacca San Mattia puts into place an above-ground ulva rigida cultivation device that is in keeping with the Greenfuel system. A saprophyte structure that ingests polluted waste from local industry, and conceptually redefines the lagoon’s future water level, without harming the natural state of the island.

In other words, algae from the lagoon will be harvested and “farmed” inside bioreactor tubings filled with water taken also from the lagoon.

Venice Lagoon Park

This process of cultivation would produce the biofuel for the lagoon's transportation and somewhat incredibly, seaweed to feed the tourists. One other byproduct is oxygen, which would be used to reduce the eutrophication of the lagoon caused by industrial run-off. Supposedly, then, one would have to be careful not to reduce it too much or else a new source of algae would have to be found.

Venice Lagoon Park

Since Venice is “codified as a city-diversion,” Ranaud and Berger wanted to program this site of production into a site of consumption as well. The tubes are arrayed trellis-like. Above and below this emerald ground plane are spaces for activities, for instance, outdoor concerts and camping.

Venice Lagoon Park

Of course, the entire structure itself would be an attraction, an engineering marvel equal to the Renaissance churches and palazzos just across the lagoon. In fact, if the duo had followed the contours of the hills or better yet, sculpted some imaginary landforms into the structure, it might even compete with the sagging San Marco.

Venice Lagoon Park

How about recreating the skyline of La Serenissima?

During aqua alta, unlucky tourists will rent gondolas and vaporetti to sail underneath striated onion domes and bulbous, vegetal skies, bathed in modulated light and shadows.

Until its time to eat an overpriced seaweed à la carte menu.
City upon a Chicken
Pim Palsgraaf

If a city upon a hill is but a utopian dream, i.e., unattainable, how about a city upon a chicken? A mobile, disaster-averting city with easy access to cheap, local and free range produce, watched by the rest of the world as a model for a sustainable community.

@karimrashid Interviews @remkoolhaas
Karim Rashid and Rem Koolhaas

@karimrashid: How is life man? long time no see, let me know when you are back in NYC

@remkoolhaas: We'll see but not a lot of opportunity there right now.


Are they who they claim to be? Fo us, it doesn't really matter. We could go either way.

If he's a Fake Karim and he's a Fake Rem and they keep on tweeting (and maybe a Fake Zaha enters the fray), we could really be in for a bit of fun, something recalling the heady days of 2005 when The Gutter peaked in hilarious awesomeness.

But if that's really them, Rem's response says quite a lot. One could conceivably imagine him actually saying, “No way is my haute condominium gonna get built there now. Jacques, Pierre and Jean are totally fucked, too.” Or: “For really interesting stuff, i.e., my brand of architecture, look elsewhere outside Manhattan.” In which case, both aren't terribly shocking news. But if we consider Karim's question as something less quotidian than it looks, that it's actually the question that the entire architecture world this week has been clamoring an answer for, then we really have something interesting here. Many have asked the same question in articles, op-eds, blog posts and tweets: “How are you holding up after what happened to the TVCC, man?” But it was Karim who got a (public) answer back, and judging from Rem's reply, he wasn't rattled by it. (Or was he? Is his evasiveness a sign of inexpressible hurt and sorrow? Tough to crack that one.)

In other words, there's enough in those two tweets — less that 140 characters each — that a glossy architecture or design magazine could just publish them, mark off a couple of spreads as done, and then call it a day. An exclusive, privileged, intimate micro-look into the real-time personal and professional lives of the upper class.
We Are All Doomed
Jackson 5

Despite the country's lack of tourist infrastructure, its history of petro-conflicts, the nonstop flare-ups of ethnic and religious violence, and the fact that you need a letter of invitation to get a visa (and let's not forget to mention declining attendance at major resorts all over the world or even the lack of credit lines to fund ambitious mega-projects), The Motherland Group are nevertheless planning to build a $3.4bn slave history theme park and luxury resort with “the world's only museum dedicated to the memory of the Jackson Five” near Lagos, Nigeria.

If developers are still running around with such hysterical hubris (“The Motherland Group says their resort alone will pull in 1.4m visitors in the first year alone, rising to 4.4m in five years.”), so utterly complacent to the spectacular economic implosions of the last year or so, we — not just them — are all doomed.
Pamphlet Architecture 30
Pamphlet Architecture 30

Princeton Architectural Press is once again seeking proposals for the next installment in its Pamphlet Architecture series. This time, however, it's not as open ended as previous calls for entries. They've got a theme: infrastructure.

At a time of new government leadership committed to investing in America's Infrastructure, architects, engineers, and artists should propose new directions for transportation, energy, and agriculture at a continental scale. In this spirit, no visionary dimension is too large, no inventive proposal too ambitious to consider.

(Emphasis ours.)

The deadline is July 1, 2009.
Replicant Deserts, Wind-Dammed Canyons and Dune Cities
Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Remember in our post last month about the Tarim Desert Highway when we said it would be worthwhile to track down some of the research that went into protecting the highway from the creeping sand dunes? We've been doing just that since then, though, scientific journals being what they are, we kept stumbling into firewalls after firewalls. In other words, all that we have gathered so far are abstracts, which are perhaps fine for now. They're enough of a fodder for unhinged minds.

One abstract in particular describes an experiment using different kinds of “liquid polymers” to stabilize sand. These were sprayed onto test sandbeds in a wind tunnel and also on a patch of the Taklimakan Desert, where they “produced a strong crust 0.2-0.5 cm thick.” The last sentence reads:

Our results suggest that all the stabilizers exhibited good infiltration, crushing strength, and elasticity, and that they could thus be used to control damage to highways caused by blown sand in the Taklimakan Desert.

Obviously, the most logical next step here is not to do more studies but to give us an oil tankerful of this earth glue. With it, we'll paint the entire desert, thus freezing the landscape in time and space.

Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Better yet, how about re-sculpting the Taklimakan to mimic the landforms of, say, the Painted Desert of Arizona. The dramatic, stratified coloring won't be copied, but all its contour lines would be replicated exactly. Of course, in China, simulating exotic terrains isn't new. Remember Huangyangtan?

How about gouging deep canyons, which are graded, arranged, oriented, networked and coated with the binding agent in such a way as to enable strong, steady wind currents flowing through this bifurcated aeolian-shed? These air channels would then be planted with a forest of wind turbines. Or wind-dammed.

How about taking the sand glue to Inner Mongolia? Its desert dunes feed the powerful sandstorms that regularly blanket northern China and choke Beijing in a thick, suffocating fog of pulverized earth. These granular blitzkriegs then cross over high seas to bombard cities in the Koreas and Japan, causing respiratory and eye diseases. With the desertification of the region continuing apace and water resource too scarce to support afforestation, maybe these chemical encrustation will be increasingly considered as a viable solution to a whole list of environmental problems.

And again, instead of spraying it around willy-nilly, how about “stabilizing” a city: a false ruin seemingly long buried in the sand but only just recently revealed by the wind. Hundreds of such cities forming a new Great Wall of China protecting real cities against advancing deserts.

One could even suround Ordos, wherein the lucky owners of one of the 100 boutique cabins can undertake an Antonionian adventure. Their carefully planned disappearance will surely be the talk of the whole village. And everyone will be grateful to you, because what else could be interesting to talk about? For many, “trying” to find you would be good sporting fun in the middle of nowhere. “So Monica Vitti,” one habitué of The Moment Blog will remark.
Vacuum Chamber
Vacuum Chamber

Behold! The world's largest vacuum chamber constructed for vehicle testing of the new Orion spacecraft.

Thermal vacuum testing and electromagnetic interference testing will take place in the vacuum chamber. Thermal vacuum testing will confirm that the spacecraft can withstand the extreme hot and cold temperatures present in space, and electromagnetic interference testing will verify the reliability of Orion's communication and electronic systems.

Adjacent to this chamber is an earthquake simulator that will also subject the ship to the violent conditions of liftoff.

The 75,000-pound craft will sit on a huge vibration table; comprising a 125,000-pound mass that must be shaken with an intensity equal to that of a launch.


Twenty-four horns will blow high-pressured nitrogen gas to match the intensity level of the sounds produced during the launch. Most acoustic facilities have around two or three horns. But for this facility, everything is being built bigger in scale to more accurately assess the spacecraft.

In other words, when fully operational, or even when not, these will be two of the most interesting spaces in the world.

If ever Sandusky, Ohio becomes the unlikeliest host to an edition of Postpolis!, this certainly would be the perfect venue. Cut off from normal air, curators, speakers and audience will don pressurized spacesuits, communicate via crackling shortwave radio, move about and sit through sonic stillness. Can a lively, at times riotously boisterous, conversations be had under threat of suffocation? About such things as the testing grounds for space exploration and the messy historiography of their microearth capsules?

We think so.

Portable Hurricane
Disaster Lab
Other Disaster Labs
Poseidon vs. Aeolus
Ski Chicago
Ski Jumping

Berlin yet again; Chicago yet again. Earlier, we made a passing comparison between NURBN's Tempelhof See with The Hole. Now, to bring balance to the universe, we're twinning together Jakob Tigges' Tempelhof Mountain and a ski jumping ramp temporarily inserted into Chicago's Soldier Field in 1954 — after all, is the ramp not an intimation of a mountain in the way that Tigges' is a facsimile of a real one?

The latter is a mathematically perfect combination of topographical conditions. Contour lines, slopes and snow type, and maybe even favorable sun angles and prevailing wind direction for the athletes (and optimal viewing perspective for the better enjoyment of the spectators): all have been co-opted to actualize a very specific event space.

The former is similarly a complicated exercise in mountain design. Tapping into a pathological desire for unspoiled Nature, a patch of Alpine wilderness is recreated hundreds of miles away in the center of Berlin. If actually built, it would mostly likely be ridiculously programmed in the same way so many parts of the Alps have been absurdly landscaped for winter enthusiasts.

Ski Jumping

Before its renovation in 2003, the result of which garnered a rave review from The New York Times, even placed fourth in their list of the year's best new buildings, but got pummeled by local culture observers, Soldier Field was already being augmented, spectacularly at that if we are being honest.

Perhaps Zaha Hadid could be persuaded to design another ski jumping ramp, though this prosthesis would be hinged and can be flipped up whenever there's a Bears game. Those traveling along Lake Shore Drive or boating on Lake Michigan would see the wavy profile of a half Eiffel Tower. It's the technolicious abstraction of geology.

In any case, this sort of thing isn't as rare as we first thought. This ramp was erected in Empire Stadium, Vancouver, in 1958.

Ski Jumping

Even the stadiums of winterless Los Angeles were similarly augmented.

Ski Jumping

Ski Jumping

If you can't go to the mountains, bring the mountains to you.

POSTSCRIPT #1: A 1937 home movie captures "a winter sport & theatrics event at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Includes scenes of automobile theatrics, people skiing down a constructed ramp and ice skaters skating on an ice rink."

Ice Climbing in the Abandoned Malls of Foreclosure America
Pedreres de s'Hostal
Pedreres de s'Hostal

Pedreres de s'Hostal is a disused stone quarry on the island of Minorca, Spain. In 1994, the quarry saw its last stonecutters, and since then, the non-profit organization Líthica has been hard at work transforming this industrial landscape into a post-industrial heritage park.

Pedreres de s'Hostal

While not yet complete, the quarry must already be quite something to experience. To enter, one has to take a deep plunge into an abyss, a descent that may or may not be reminiscent of ancient myths. Persephone's abduction? Dante's guided tour of Tartarus?

Upon reaching the bottom of the central void room, you are compressed into an insignificant atom by monolithic walls, whose patterned textures of machine incisions and impossible staircases add to a hallucinatory effect. The scale is repressive, destabilizing.

Pedreres de s'Hostal

Should you regain back your bearing, there is a labyrinth of geometrically cut canyons to explore. You look up, and the eternally blue sky of the Mediterranean is framed by unnaturally straight edges, like a James Turrell skyscape, disorienting.

Pedreres de s'Hostal

This is where you get lost, where even time gets sucked into dark crevices.

Pedreres de s'Hostal

Pedreres de s'Hostal

Pedreres de s'Hostal

Or would it be more accurate to say that time is preserved here? Centuries of chiseling and sawing, the gradual subduction of the earth, slabs of bedrock carted away by generations of Minorcans: all are recorded on the rockface. Even the tools of the trade have been left to rust and decay out in the open, for instance, a sawing machine. There is even a short segment of a rail line.

Pedreres de s'Hostal

Pedreres de s'Hostal

Pedreres de s'Hostal

Pedreres de s'Hostal

Pedreres de s'Hostal

To add to your disorientation, there is a reconstruction of an enclosed Medieval garden, one cloistered by vertiginous cliffs.

What on earth is a Medieval garden doing here?

Pedreres de s'Hostal

Are you actually walking through the excavated remains of a Medieval city, buried long ago under volcanic ash like Pompeii, then mineralized and now in the process of extraction after its recent discovery?

Or was this whole landscape the aborted attempt at imitating the underground cities of Cappadocia or the sculpted ruins of Petra, the reason for its termination long forgotten? Now Nature is busy everywhere reclaiming its momentary lost territory. Stay here long enough and you yourself might similarly be absorbed, turned feral.

Pedreres de s'Hostal

In actuality, not only has the quarry been turned into an outdoor history museum decorated with artifacts, it's been landscaped as an arboretum showcasing native Minorcan flora. In keeping with the stonecutters' tradition of cultivating orchards and vegetable gardens in disused parts of the quarry, each excavated spaces plays host to a different plant community. One quarry room, for instance, has been set aside for fruit trees. Another one contains bushes and shrubs, and in another, cultivated olive trees and aromatic plants. In one quarry, there are ponds of freshwater Minorcan plants.

Pedreres de s'Hostal

Pedreres de s'Hostal

Pedreres de s'Hostal

Pedreres de s'Hostal

Once a landfill and fated to the amnesiac wilderness, divorced from collective memory, Pedreres de s'Hostal is clearly now a hotspot of activity.

Pedreres de s'Hostal

And a model for the rehabilitation of degraded landscapes everywhere.

POSTSCRIPT #1: Check it out on Google Maps here.
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