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Feral Dubai

This, which is Jonas De Ro's contribution to an exhibition on modern ghost towns at the Architecture Museum at Berlin's Technical University, isn't the most original in the history of post-apocalyptic eye candies, but it is definitely a refreshing contrast to the dime-a-dozen Ozymandian visions of a future Dubai in ruins. Instead of the desert, a rain forest crept in from out of nowhere.

Then again, one could easily mistake this as the next grand projet planned by the ruling monarchy: a steaming jungle with artificial lagoons, ironically cooled by underground refrigerators to counter the desiccating effects of the desert sun, and populated by marvelous beasts outfitted with GPS trackers and behavioral modification devices to prevent them from escaping their prescribed habitat range and munching on people.

Why contain your theme park in a mall when you can spread it out all over the city?

Graffiti as Tactical Urban Wireless Network

A Utah-based startup company called Chamtech Operations is claiming that its Spray On Antenna Kit can turn any surface into a high-powered antenna.

As explained by Anthony Sutera in the video below of his presentation at Google's Solve for X event, “Our material uses thousands of nano-capacitors that we can spray paint on in the right pattern. All of these little capacitors charge and discharge extremely quickly in real time and they don't create any heat. When we hook up our material to a radio, the signal hops from capacitor to capacitor very quickly, finds its happy spot, and launches into space.”

Imagine painting wireless antennas on walls. Instead of planting them as fake trees or simply uncamouflaged, phone companies will blend their unsightly cell towers into the landscape. They could even commission artists like Haas & Hahn to turn the city as though fully draped with Joseph's Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, its prismatic striations perhaps paralleling the electromagnetic waves rippling through the walls before radiating out into space. Making visible the invisible, as it were.

Haas & Hahn

Alternatively, they could enlist children from local elementary schools to reconfigure the city's electromagnetic infrascape in exchange for very plump donations. Is that mural on that once seamy but now chromatically resplendent underpass depicting the neighborhood's tempestuous history and encouraging future, their parents will ask. Why yes, they'll answer back, and you can also bounce phone calls off of it.


Elsewhere, graffiti artists will independently fill in the dead zones. Or maybe not to patch up the network, but rather as part of a collaboration with sound artists to create a pop-up pirate radio station to broadcast an improvisational audio documentary of the local area. During times of protest, they could be used to burst through whatever electromagnetic kettling the security forces might be using to prevent the crowds from organizing and reaching critical mass. If there's no graffiti antenna nearby, just whip out a Spray On Antenna Kit to reclaim the public spectrum.

In any case, I'd like those “nut jobs” at DEMILIT given some of the stuff and see how they might use it in one of their sonic tours of military landscapes. Will they spray it on crumbling bunkers and derelict silos, thus repurposing them into antennas to transmit in real-time the acoustic ecology of war?

What might avant-gardeners, who presumably already know how to harness energy from trees, do with the stuff if they find out that you can also apply them to trees and turn them into arboreal arrays?

Spray On Antenna Kit
Spray On Antenna Kit

Trees broadcasting themselves singing. An entire national park airing an epic botanical opera. The Amazon sending messages to exoplanets.

72 Hour Urban Action in Stuttgart (and Imagining Kowloon Skyfavelas)

You have just about a week to put a team together and vie for one of the spots in the next edition of the 72 Hour Urban Action competition, which the organizers bill as “the world's first real-time architecture competition.” If you can find only a couple of interested colleagues or no one at all, you can still apply as an individual participant or a small team, and if selected, you will then be joined into a larger team.

There will be ten teams in all. On take-off day on July 11, 2012, those teams will be tasked to “realize projects in response to the spatial and social challenges the sites and missions offer.” That is, in just 72 hours, they will actually have to build something that will “leave a lasting impact on the city's urban fabric.” And for all their efforts, the winning team will receive $4,000.

The members of the jury is worth mentioning. They include Joseph Grima, the editor-in-chief of Domus, and Eva Franch i Gilabert, director of Storefront for Art and Architecture. Also a member is Benjamin Foerster Bladenius of Raumlabor, the urban collective who designed a bubble pavilion, called the Spacebuster, which can be inflated almost anywhere and anytime into “a billowing urban room.”

Kowloon Walled City

Meanwhile, you will have to excuse me for prolonging this post by again fantasizing about urban sites of social and economic disturbances that have seen countless urban actions. So many urban hackers have passed through over the years and decades that on these sites — delineated perhaps by an autocratic master planner from another century — now stand towering, Kowloon-like skyfavelas made of the accreted remains of past installations.

Say, for instance, on the topmost layer are pavilions that provide cooling shades to people, who sit on benches designed and built during a delirious 72-hour period. Not particularly following any traditional garden layout are feral groupings of planters. During peacetime, the vegetation rustles a delightful chime. During times of protest, when the state has jammed the electromagnetic spectrum, they are converted into antennas to broadcast images of the burning city to the rest of the world. Inscribed on the pavers are hieroglyphs that simultaneously set the rules for an urban recreation and mark the game space. Atop solar-powered lampposts are aviaries and apiaries.

Below all that is a catacomb of old pavilions, and below that is another catacomb of pavilions above another catacomb, and so on all the way down to the street. This network of interior bosquets are structurally prevented from collapse by the root system of guerrilla gardens and an internal buttress system made up of the bones of chickens and goats reared and butchered at the urban farmsteads. Somewhere within this sedimentary maze of fossilized and repurposed DIYs are the Holy Grails of urban adventurers: dumpster pools fed by water from rainwater harvesters attached to the vertiginous façades of these rubbish heaps.

If you get lost inside, you might as well stay awhile, as other drifters have done, making your squatter camp out of the detritus embedded in the superstructure — in 72 hours, of course.

Benjamin Verdonck

Be sure to check out the installations from the Bat-Yam competition in 2010, and also the installations from an affiliated (until it sort of wasn't) competition in Melbourne last year.
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