Over 1900 acres of the city’s building fabric sits atop unstable ground. The harvesting of the Left Bank’s limestone and gypsum base has created a dense network of underground tunnels, canals, reservoirs and vaults – effectively resulting in a sponge-like foundation for the city.
The extraction began as early as 2000 years ago when Roman settlers began harvesting the stone. During the latter parts of the Middle Ages the quarrying supplied material for Paris’ construction boom. While these sites where originally located beyond the city’s edges, Paris continued to grow outward and the subterranean quarry sites that supplied the materials for projects such as the Louvre and Notre Dame were now directly (up to six storeys) below the sprawling city.
The first major collapse happened in 1774. As time went on more and more holes opened up; swallowing neighborhoods and their inhabitants and exposing the voids in the city’s foundation. Stabilization efforts began during the reign of Louis XIV and continue to today as the Inspection Générale de Carrières (ICG) patrol the tunnels in search of weak spots in the network now spanning hundreds of miles. Ironically the ICG’s activities have expanded on the original network through the addition of a new labyrinth of maintenance access tunnels. Inevitably, small collapses continue to occur with the largest of the recent past occurring in 1961 – killing 21 people.
The voided space of this network was partially filled when Paris’ over-crowded cemeteries began to leak in the late 18th century, resulting in a public-sanitation emergency. As a solution, the government brazenly began digging up the gravesites and transporting the remains to the former quarry locations. After almost a century of this practice, over 6 million skeletons were displaced to these new catacombs.
Other somewhat unexpected official/permitted occupants of the network exist today: There are the plump fish swimming in the 50 meter wide reservoir below Opéra de Paris Garnier and the opera staff who feed them. The Paris police force trains their underwater skills in the very same water body. The Banque de France built a vault 25 meters below ground in the 1920s. The vault is estimated to hold 2,600 tons of the country’s gold reserves.
The tunnels are accessed through entrances scattered across the city in places such as hospital basements, subway tunnels, church crypts and wine cellars of private residences; not to mention the thousands of manholes servicing the sewer system. While many of these access points have been blocked off by the ICG and entering the underground was made illegal in 1955, an unauthorized population continues to occupy the tunnels.
On one hand there are the ‘cataphiles’ – urban explorers who value the spatial qualities of the space as well as the feelings of liberation from society’s rules. On the other hand is the loosely formed collective known as les UX (for Urban eXperiment). While others appreciate the tunnels on their own terms, UX’s time in the underground is not spent wandering around but instead spent on improving some of Paris’ forgotten corners. For UX, the catacombs are a means, not an end. The group takes advantage of the highly connected network to infiltrate buildings from below and restore/repair valuable artifacts found above ground. Most notably, a UX team, working covertly at night, repaired the Paris Pantheon’s clock – which, with UX’s efforts, chimed for the first time in 50 years on December 24, 2006. Other improvements attributed to UX include restoring medieval crypts, building an underground cinema, and producing theatrical productions in monuments afterhours.
One of the first articles written about the secretive collective was written by Jon Lackman for Wired Magazine in February 2012. Neil Shea's article "Under Paris" and Stephen Alvarez's photographs in National Geographic (Feb 2011) are also great resources.
The Public of Lagos Agency of Trash Formation, Organization, Remediation, and Management (PLATFORM) is a graduate thesis project by Brian Lee of Rice University. The project addresses the issue of waste management in slum neighborhoods of Lagos. Lagos, Nigeria is a significant commercial, financial, and population center in Sub-Saharan Africa and the world. It is a city of rapidly shifting conditions and perpetual crises with issues of over population, pollution, limited circulation, waste management, density, poverty, and social disparity. For Lagos, an estimated population growth of nearly six percent equates to about a half a million new residents per year. The largest and fastest growing city in Sub-Saharan Africa, Lagos barely manages to support the influx of migrants and rural transplants seeking work in the region’s financial and commercial center, let alone the extreme internal birth rate of its own people.
The growth of Lagos has led to a conflict between two types of development. As the formal publically planned urbanization strategies have failed to keep pace with current growth rates, new inhabitants advance the expansion of informal slums. These slums rely on access from the water, bypassing existing modes of urban circulation and development. Large, dense communities have arisen along coastal regions, some settlements actually built on the water. The slums act as infill to the cities minimal vacant space and ignore the geographic boundaries of the city by expanding into the coastal waters of Lagos Lagoon. Not only do these slum areas face extreme challenges of poverty and sanitation, but predicted levels in sea-rise over the next one hundred years indicates that much of the territory of the coastal slums will be over taken by water.
The crises of waste management has become an opportunity and given rise to innovation within Lagos. Entire communities have developed around the disposal and organization of trash. Armies of sorters wait alongside dump trucks searching for valuable materials that can be sold and reused. Along the coastal edges garbage is used as fill. The trash is dumped into the water, covered in sawdust and sand and slums settlements are built on top of the newly acquired land. As a result, much of the water surrounding the slums has become contaminated.
The social and ecological extremes of the West-African center, however, have not thrown the city into an imbalance or disorder that the traditional model of urban planning would have predicted. These problems have been managed by an unconsciously collective effort from the citizenry. They are seen as opportunities for their inherent processes; a way to survive for the individual. Speaking of Lagos, Koolhaas said, “[the] shortcomings have generated ingenious, critical alternative systems, which demand a redefinition of ideas such as carrying capacity, stability, and even order”. This condition of adaptability and resourcefulness presents an interesting environment for an intervention that can better exploit innate aspects of the existing systems.
The radical conditions of Lagos promote new solutions for the city. Within each of these problems reside inherent processes and qualities that can become interdependent and beneficial to each other. Garbage provides the mass for coastal expansion, and defense from sea-rise. Expansion of the coastline provides new territories for the growth of slums. Geometry can maximize efficiency and minimize contamination.
P.L.A.T.F.O.R.M. seeks to make use of the processes associated with Lagos waste management and the expansion of the slums, while mitigating the harmful effects of contamination and providing a defensive barrier against sea-level rise.
PLATFORM was awarded the Thesis Prize at Rice University, and was recently published in MONU Magazine's issue on NEXT URBANISM
 Rem Koolhaas Mutations, Project On The City: Lagos p. 652
Our Friends at Animal Architecture are launching the inaugural Animal Architecture Awards. The competition seeks "exciting projects that engage the lives, minds and behaviors of our alternate, sometimes familiar companion species — insects, birds, mammals, fish and microorganisms – each one with unique ways of world-making. As our society re-examines its place in the global ecology Animal Architecture invites your critical and unpublished essays and projects to address how architecture can mediate and encourage multiple new ways of species learning and benefiting from each other – or as we say it here: to illustrate cospecies coshaping." Cospecies coshaping is an intriguing ecological principle that has the potential to integrate the "human" world with the "animal" world, so in fact we can eliminate these "terms" altogether. What interests me most is that architecture is sought as the mediator to bridge these two worlds (not just human but any species). I am very curious to see the projects from the competition and happy that it will expand our knowledge on the relationship between form and symbiosis. If you are interested in applying, the deadline is May 15th, and all information can be found here.
Barrick Gold’s recent bid to acquire copper miner Equinox Minerals suggests that the bullion giant sees copper as the new gold. Both minerals are currently valued at record highs. The price of gold has doubled in the past two years on account of investor fears of inflation and political turmoil. Copper’s rise is even more dramatic as, in the same two years, its value has tripled. Copper’s ductility and conductivity make it an essential ingredient in electrical products like electromagnets, wires and circuit boards. In playing such an integrated role in the manufacturing industry, copper has effectively emerged as a proxy investment in rapidly industrializing nations such as India and China.
We may see demand for copper may outstrip its supply in 2011. As demand continues to rise 21 of the 28 largest operations have no room left for expansion and 2015 marks the date were many of the globe’s largest mines will be exhausted (Salon.com). With this supply-demand imbalance many new mining projects have been slated for development. South American nations such as Chile and Brazil are proposing new mining operations as are nations within Africa’s Copperbelt such as Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
When we consider the price of copper against the price of fiber telecommunication cables, an entirely new type of mineral reserve becomes exploitable. Andrew Cohill of Design Nine, a US telecom consultancy firm, states that the world’s largest copper reserve is in the United States and its already been dug out of the ground. Cohill is referring to the hundreds of millions of pounds of copper hanging on telephone poles across the United States. On one hand there are the vast amounts of abandoned wires hanging from utility poles left by earlier economics where it was cheaper for telecom companies to lash new cables to utility poles without taking down the old ones. On the other hand, the remaining active copper wires could also be up for grabs as the value of copper telecom cables is higher (and continuing to rise) than the steady value of fiber-based conduit. Other operations have also made this connection. In the past few years theft of hanging copper wire in the US has been on the rise. Most notably three Colorado men were charged with stealing 20 miles of wire in October 2010! Interestingly, the copper price crisis could have a beneficial spin-off effect for many rural communities in the US. As abandoned copper wire is legally/ illegally cleared away, previously unavailable pole space can be claimed by new telecommunication networks desperate to piggyback on existing utility pole networks.
With warmer weather just around the corner those of us who didn’t brave cycling through the winter months are preparing our two-wheeled transit for another season. We are not alone. In cities across North America bicycle ridership is on the rise. Montreal and New York City have both increased their ridership by 35 and 28% since 2008 respectively. While some advocate for a vehicular cycling model where the bike is just another vehicle that should use the road under the same conditions as their motorized counterparts, the more dominant model advocates for strategies confronting the culture of fear where cycling is made safer and more accessible to a wider range of people. At one end of this approach we find striped markings on roads suggesting territorial bounds between cars and bikes. At the other end we have entire networks of separated lanes with their own systems of snow-clearing and traffic lights. Wherever your municipality lies on this scale, one thing is clear: innovative (both soft and hard) infrastructures play a major role in the development of these networks. Across scales and degrees of permanence here are some projects worth noting:
Light Lane - Instant Bike Lanes (soft + small)
Recognizing the bike lanes are an effective means of improving safety for everyone involved while simultaneously acknowledging that the cost of such lanes, averaging $50,000 per mile, is currently prohibiting their wide-spread deployment the designers of Light Lane, Alex Tee and Evan Gant (Altitude) have the following objective:
“instead of forcing cyclists to adapt their behavior to the existing infrastructure, the bike lane should adapt to the cyclist”.
The LightLane is a bike accessory that projects a well-defined virtual bike lane onto the surface upon which the bike is moving. Staking out a wider territory is believed to add to rider confidence, making the bike a more viable commuting alternative.
Bixi Bike (soft + large)
With its highly successful launch in Montreal in May 2009, the BixiBike public bike system is poised to launch in Toronto and Ottawa this upcoming season. The system has three major components: bikes, docking and pay stations. Users simply pay, either through subscriptions or per-use fees, and have access to a bike. After the ride, users return the bike to the docking station near their destination. With over 400 docking stations and 5000 bikes in Montreal, Bixi has ensured the network is robust and highly convenient throughout the downtown. The docking stations can be deployed on any hard surface in a few hours and require no additional infrastructure; in many cases the docking stations occupy a single street-side parking spot from May to November.
Copenhagen Cycling Railings (hard + small)
In a commuter cyclist mecca such as Copenhagen, small details continue to make a difference to the city’s cycling culture. Physically this piece of infrastructure offers little more than convenience – allowing cyclists to avoid dismounting their seats thereby waiting more comfortably for the light to change. Outside of this, this network of railings speaks to a mature cycling culture that has moved beyond meeting minimum requirements to look towards second generation innovation.
D.C. Union Station Bicycle Transit Center (hard + large)
As a peripheral extension to Union Station, already serving as a hub for trains, subway and buses, the Bicycle Transit Center (KGP Design Studio) seeks to connect the bicycle network to this the multi-modal terminal. Providing bike parking, change rooms, lockers and bicycle related retail and service the transit center further supports the bicycle as a viable transportation option.
Thanks to those that came out to Storefront for Art and Architecture on a chilly Friday in late January to celebrate the publication of Pamphlet Architecture #30: COUPLING and to hear provocative / entertaining manifestos as delivered by some of the brightest minds we know. This was part of the series called MANIFESTO and the theme was Infrastructural Opportunism, which came out of Pamphlet subtitle. Through collaboration with Storefront, we asked each participant to include 10 images and 10 (concise) manifesto points on the challenges and opportunities facing infrastructure in the 21st century. This led to a 100-point collective manifesto. Our dream team list included: MIMI ZEIGER on manifestos // INTERBORO on exclusion // DIANA BALMORI on realignments // PLANETARY ONE on stripping down // LYDIA KALLIPOLITI on remedies // ANDREW BLUM on tubes // JOYCE HWANG on interventions // MAMMOTH on expanding fields // JANETTE KIM on highjacking // and we put our money where our mouth is too ... INFRANET LAB on contingency
Mimi has already published her Infra-Opp manifesto, so we thought we would follow suit with ours. After all, what is an un-disseminated manifesto?
1. Know That There is a System of Systems
Arthur Jensen, played by Ned Beatty, in the 1976 film Network said: You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it, is that clear?! You think you have merely stopped a business deal -- that is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity, it is ecological balance! You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations! There are no peoples! There are no Russians. There are no Arabs! There are no third worlds! There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars! petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars!, Reichmarks, rubles, rin, pounds and shekels! It is the international system of currency that determines the totality of life on this planet! That is the natural order of things today! That is the atomic, subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and you will atone!
2. Architects as Expert Generalists Buckminster Fuller, labeled a dilettante and a dabbler in his age, was instead the forerunner of a new breed of designer / thinker that we like to call the expert generalist. Long live the new expert generalists!
3. Be Alert to What Has Just Happened; Be Entrepreneurial.
After a multi-day traffic jam in Hetaocun, China, Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times wrote: Stranded drivers chain-smoked, stomped their feet against the chill and cursed the government for failing to come to their rescue. As the night wore on, fuel lines froze and cellphone batteries died. The residents of Hetaocun, however, saw the unmoving necklace of taillights from their mountain village and got entrepreneurial. They roused children from their beds, loaded boxes of instant noodles into baskets and began hawking their staples to a captive clientele. The 500 percent markup did not appear to dent sales.
4. There is Always Missing Information, Use it. Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous 2002 speech yielded a term that now has its own Wikipedia entry: unknown unknowns. He said: [T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
5. Agile Maneuverability Rewrites Protocols
Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in the 2007 film There Will be Blood says: Drainage! Drainage, Eli, you boy. Drained dry. I’m so sorry. Here, if you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and I have a straw. There it is, that’s a straw, you see? You watching?. And my straw reaches acroooooooss the room, and starts to drink your milkshake... I... drink... your... milkshake!
6. Software Can be Big and Physical, Like Hardware
The Medusa Bag was conceived in 1988 to meet the anticipated requirement for large scale water imports to California as well as to Israel, Jordan and Palestine. Others at the time were looking into tanker conversions and pipelines, but no practical economic embodiment of these ideas was found. The bags size and shape have been optimized and the first prototype bag will be built using industrial polyester fabric and special straps. A bag containing 0.5 gigaliters of water would be 465 meters long and 110 meters wide, while a 1.5 gigaliter bag would be 670 meters long and 160 meters wide.
7. Be Resourceful
Thilafushi Island in the Maldives has grown at the rate of a square metre a day, as more and more rubbish is dumped here. Mountains of rubbish – plastic, metal tins and rusty oil barrels – extend as far as the eye can see. Unlike the adjacent resort islands, the only visitors here are the Bangladeshi workers who wade through the sludge and brave the stench to burn the tonnes of refuse that arrive at the island every day. Spotting the potential to generate revenue from the mushrooming island, the government decided to lease part of it for industrial purposes. Additional terrain was created using white sand and now giant cement cones, oil drums and the skeletons of future boats can be seen dotted around. Metal compactors compress junk into blocks for sale to India. Each tonne sells for US$175. The island has grown to such proportions that it now has a café, a restaurant, two mosques, a barbershop, a clinic, a police station and rather unexpectedly, a makeshift zoo.
8. Measurements Can be Misleading, But Oh So Fruitful
Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves is a book about a book about a movie about a house. A series of surveying measurements initially reveal that the house is larger on the inside than on the outside. The discrepancy is less than an inch, but is a sign of things to come. One day a small, closet-sized room appears in the home, although the outside dimensions remain unchanged.
9. Scalar Indifference
A thermokarst lake, also called a thaw lake, refers to a body of freshwater, usually shallow, that is formed in a depression by meltwater from thawing permafrost. This landscape operates by scalar indifference as pools appear and disappear under freeze and thaw.
10. Live By Strategy, Play by Tactic The Russian chessplayer Savielly Tartakower said: Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do, strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do.
A current exhibition at the Museum of London entitled ‘Postcards from the Future’ attempts to imagine how climate change will affect London. The illustrators, Robert Graves and Didier Madoc-Jones touch on issues such as the food crisis, rising sea levels, informal housing, etc. to give a vision for types of adaptation.
There are a few observations that can be deduced upon examination of the postcards. Firstly, the city will be succeeded by ‘nature’, further blurring the boundaries of the contemporary metropolis. Secondly, infrastructure and (select) monuments will be some of the last remaining elements in such a metropolis; and thirdly, that housing will take the form of dense informal settlements or ‘slums’. If one were to use these postcards as warnings, they would suggest more current design emphasis on infrastructural deployment, housing, and incorporating productive nature into the city. More importantly, the extreme visions reveal a lack of resilience in the city.
While these images are certainly provocative, they give little evidence of actual researched scenarios of climate change. The two typical depictions of such crises often are utterly utopian or dystopian (think archigram vs. archizoom), both of which are problematic. It is difficult for all to understand the exact ramifications of climate change, and that being said, I am interested on the role of nature and infrastructure depicted within these images. ‘Nature’ is presented as a violent force (ice, floods) or a productive element (the rice paddies, tidal energy), both of which co-exist within dense urbanity. Infrastructure is rendered as a centralized point condition (Kew Nuclear Power Station) or as a distributed field (Tidal/ Wind) in the absence of people (through the photomontages). These various depictions of both nature and infrastructure not only exist today but also are fairly traditional. Some of the more innovative postcards examine the merging of nature, infrastructure and the public in new ways. In this regard, the distributed field of infrastructure and the productive use of nature are interesting because they both embrace a larger surface condition, and therefore a notion of landscape. But this isn’t a picturesque or formal landscape of the English or French Gardens; it is a multivalent condition that could provide more resilience to the future metropolis.
The provocative images are on display from October 2010 to March 2011.
As the year winds down, I wanted to touch on two books – one that was released a few months ago and one to be launched… any minute- that may be of interest to our readers. The first is a recent publication from the GSD entitled ‘Ecological Urbanism’. Edited by Mohsen Mostafavi and Gareth Doherty, the book is essentially a tome that features both articles and projects that emerged/ presented at conference at the GSD in April of 2009. As the title implies, the book examines how the characteristics of ecologies – feedback loops, interdependence, shifting hierarchies, resilience, etc. can be used as a formal model for the design of the city (or metropolis). While Geddes planted the seed for this discussion almost a century ago, the shear number of voices encapsulated in this book depicts both the current interest and sense of urgency with respect to the topic.
Mohsen’s article that begins the book essentially sets the foundations of the topic. Moving between Guattari’s Three Ecologies, Branzi’s Weak Metropolis and Banham’s study on Los Angeles, Mohsen examines the political, economic and social ramifications of the Ecological Project. His text reads as an elaboration to his earlier piece “Landscapes of Urbanism” in the Manual put out by the AA in 2004, provoking the obvious question “What is the difference between Landscape Urbanism and Ecological Urbanism?” And while Mohsen does not answer this directly in his text, the implicit suggestion is that Ecological Urbanism is a model for the entire metropolis, whereas Landscape Urbanism - which originated in the brownfields of the rust belt of the US – typically operates within the drosscape produced by the contemporary metropolis. In that sense, the projects in the book do not seem afraid of form or necessarily position form in opposition to ecology.
Organized into sections ‘Anticipate’, ‘Collaborate’, ‘Sense’, ‘Curate’, ‘Produce’, ‘Interact’, “Mobilize’, ‘Measure’, ‘Adapt’, ‘Incubate’, etc. the table of contents reads as a generational ‘to-do’ list. Within these sections, projects and articles range from the scale of the city to the design of the envelope. As an ecological structure, it is refreshing to see the scalar indifference and the interconnected loops between building skins, form and the metropolis. Those familiar with the topics of landscape and ecology may feel that some editing needed to occur in this book, which often seemingly loses focus of its title. Simultaneously, however, it is a great introduction to the topic and a useful resource. I particularly enjoyed Charles Waldheim’s piece on Branzi’s Weak Metropolis and Pierre Bélanger’s Redefining Infrastructure. I would suggest picking up a copy if you are interested on the current debates of this subject or want an introduction to new forms of urbanism.
Now the second book that I am looking forward to (and have only seen glimpses of) is AD’s next issue entitled ‘Eco-Redux’ (edited by Lydia Kallipoliti). The book builds on Kallipoliti’s research which can be seen on the Eco Redux website, and features other interesting articles/ projects by Anthony Vidler, Mark Wigley, Francois Roche, Alexandros Tsamis, Eva Franch Gilabert and Mitchell Joachim, among others. The journal examines the radical projects from the 60s and 70s and current trajectories in Ecological Design. What is of particular interest is the ‘Soft’ Project that emerged during this time period, which this issue of AD touches on (and will be elaborated on in Bracket 2). More details on this issue of AD can be found here.
Coming off the contagious energy of the Foodprint.TO event last weekend, and the whirlwind of conversations (now thankfully on video) on Toronto’s food infrastructures, it was a pleasure to see the finalists of the ONE Prize competition included an agro-centered proposal by students - Drew Adams, Fadi Masoud, Denise Pinto, Karen May, and Jameson Skaife - from the University of Toronto. The ONE Prize competition had asked for proposals of productive landscape strategies in urban contexts. This team’s proposal re-considered the extensive network of publicly-owned hydroelectricity corridors cutting through urban infrastructures. They identified its potential as a food line - turning a land-use detractor (powerlines) into a land-use amenity (agriculture). Here is an accurate portrayal of a typical hydroelectric corridor from Toronto’s resident flaneur.
The Hydro Field design team writes that:
Within a 125 mile radius of downtown Toronto, there is approximately 8,145 acres of space to grow within Greater Toronto’s Hydro Corridors. This is the equivalent of 51 full 160-acre commercial farms, or 294 28-acre urban farms, or 58,500 0.14-acre community gardens. Such vast amounts of arable land suggest not only considerable feasibility but significant potential for a reduction in imported produce.
The team suggests the origanization of a body called FeedToronto (similar to BuildToronto and InvestToronto) will modulate seeding, harvest and distribution. Though the current land is owned by the hydroelectric company, the team proposes a provocative solution of a split ownership of ground rights (for cultivation) and air rights (for electrical transfer).
Converting the corridor into an (economic) amenity will dramatically affect adjacent land uses. Toward this, the team offers a range of types to demonstrate various Hydro-field edge developments - residential, institutional, commercial, and light industrial. You can imagine the possibility of harvest time cruising down a corridor in a Gleaner combine harvester in a single, continuous line, experiencing the field as an urban section through the city’s back hydro-electric (agro-)avenue.
We were excited to catch word a while back now that the fine folks that cooked up Foodprint NYC - Nicola Twillley and Sarah Rich - were exploring future locales to extend the foodprint series. Thankfully, Toronto has proven productive enough territory in which to host the second edition. And even better is that it is now less than 48 hours upon us - starting promptly at 12:30pm on Saturday, July 31. Foodprint Toronto is hosted at the Wychwood Artscape Barns (601 Christie Street, Toronto). For background, there are two great interviews of the organizers and their intentions over at Pruned and another at Azure. The foodprinters continue their themes cultivated at the first edition including: zoning diet; culinary cartography; edible archaeology; feast, famine, and other scenarios. Though of course now it is applied to the Toronto / Canadian agro-context and food climate. So many possible discussions and conversations: How does the most multicultural city in the world respond to the challenges of food and diversity? How do food imports compare to other North American cities? With Ontario as the bread-basket of Canada, how does food movement infrastructure operate? What policies are in place to support the scope of that movement? Simply to understand a comparative geo-food pulse between NYC and TO would be fantastic. Lola Sheppard will be on a panel, as well as several good friends and colleagues: Robert Wright (Associate Professor of Landscape, University of Toronto), Chris Hardwicke (urbanism.org), John Knechtel (Alphabet City), Shawn Micallef (Spacing / murmur)... in any case, here is the fantastic lineup of panels and speakers. Below are some teaser images from a studio at University of Waterloo on the Toronto Greenbelt, called Productive Territories: Grey, White, Green Belts. The studio brief states:
In 2005, Ontario passed its Greenbelt Act, which protected 1.8 million acres of farmland and green space, with the intention of limiting sprawl, the destruction of green space and prime agricultural land. In the same year, the Places to Grow Act was passed, which identified 25 urban regions which must to achieve certain densification targets. In the context of the Places to Grow Act, one might read within the Greenbelt Act a somewhat nostalgic vision of the relationship of city and nature, the former threatens the latter. Nature is seen as something to be preserved, while the city evolves.
There is no doubt that the Greenbelt Act was crucial, and that it has indeed been identified as one of the most successful Greenbelts in the world, both because of its scope and the because of the quality of lands it protects. And, there can be little doubt that Toronto’s suburban sprawl indeed continues to threaten our open landscapes, and in this regard is socially, economically, and infrastructurally unsustainable. The question arises, however, is any development in, or at the margins of the greenbelt, conceivable? Most significantly, many of the cities targeted in the Places to Grow Act contain what is known as the White-belt, rural lands within each community’s jurisdictional boundaries, that are not protected. Most of the cities have slated these lands for development, with the exception of a few such as Markham, which have declared the desire to protect a large percentage of these lands to maintain a food-belt. The studio’s investigations will position themselves precisely at these boundaries, between urban and rural, between domesticated landscape and one less so – between the grey, white and green-belts. The studio attributes new roles to the architect – not simply problem solver, but cultural, environmental and spatial detective, bringing to light the forces (economic, cultural and environmental) at work within a given geography, and the physical networks at the service of these forces.
Increasingly, carbon emission issues will need to be addressed at a very large, even regional and urban, scale to offset a downward spiral. And nowhere is this more pressing than in parts of rapidly-developing China. London Metropolitan University’s Unit 8, led by CHORA (Raoul Bunschoten) and Tomaz Pipan is exploring just such an initiative in a studio titled “Urban Incubators.” They write that “Energy is the city’s new design force.” Unit 8 investigated this by inviting students to develop a energy map of an area of Xiamen, documenting it as a “cohabitation of processes.” Index maps and scenario-modeling, techniques and methods well demonstrated in much of CHORA’s work, provides a catalyst for a prototypical urban approach. Each proposal was held accountable to 4 criteria: branding, earth (site prototype), flow (processes and exchanges), and incorporation (development strategy). The scale of thinking is powerful and ambitious. There are many fantastic provocative projects that emerged from the studio - though we thought to only highlight a few here, as the website itself is very effective. Proposals range in terms of implementability, scale, and degrees of publicness. Below is Patrick Fryer’s “Peri-Urban Aquaponic Infrastructure.” This project strategically inserts a vein-like network organization of agriculture in a site of expanding industrial lands. Aquaponic greenhouses form the primary agent in site, with a complementary matrix of composting and other ground-based agro-processes. The center spine is host to an intensive nutrient flow system, integrating the greenhouses. Intermittently strung along the spine are public programs including housing and schools.
[Peri-Urban Aquaponic Infrastructure - Earth, by Patrick Fryer.]
Another provocative project is “Algal Economies” by Tom Down. This project recognized that much of China’s “urban villages” have limited access to land and have struggled to find agency other than as a overcrowded hub for transient populations. Instead, this proposal offers biofuel, specifically algae harvesting, as a new economy for the residents. Scaffolding-like structured farms are integrated into the village architecture in semi-public and semi-private spaces, such as roofs, patios, and courtyards. Banks of algae production line these structures, offering a new produce for the new city: renewable energy.
A third project is “Bamboo Components” by Benjamin Walton. This proposal capitalizes on the wasted land that has emerged through the combination of rapid development and land ownership laws of Xiamen. These sites are then tested for intense bamboo farming. Bamboo is harvested for engineered timber construction in newly constructed production towers.
Editors Note: File under Feedback: Architecture’s New Territories, an InfraNet Lab seminar at Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design / University of Toronto. Guest post and images are by Gerard Gutierrez. -----------
The four species of Asian Carp, Bighead, Black, Silver, and Grass, have become a menace in the Mississippi River basin as desperate attempts have been made to stop its entrance into the Great Lakes. Its seemingly insatiable appetite has endangered many local species by consuming much of the local food sources as different Asian Carp species feed on aquatic grasses and various types of phytoplankton. The fish can reach a length of 4ft long and weigh up to 100lbs. This extreme size has also become a danger to recreational boaters and fisherman as the fish can jump up to 6ft out of the water when startled by incoming watercraft.
The initial introduction of this invasive species to the United States occurred in 1973 as Bighead, Silver and Black Carp from Taiwan were first introduced to the U.S. by an Arkansas fish farmer who used his own stock of Grass Carp as an experimental weed control agent. In 1979, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, working with a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), utilized Silver and Bighead Carp as an experimental cleaning agent in sewage treatment plants around the state. By the 1990s, a large population of Silver and Bighead Carp escaped into the Mississippi River when Southern aquaculture facilities became flooded. This event started the migration of the fish up the Mississippi River and has resulted in the great proliferation of the various species, especially bighead and silver. At its most extreme concentrations, the Carp has accounted for over 90% of the total biomass within certain stretches of the Mississippi and Chicago river systems.
The Chicago River system has become the final battleground for preventing the Asian Carp from entering Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes at large. Numerous attempts have been made to prevent the carp’s movements, amongst these has been the installation of two underwater electric fences by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2002 and 2006. These experimental barriers soon proved to be a failure as fish were found upstream from the fence. When the barriers needed maintenance, a poison was dumped into the river to stop the fish as vital work was completed. Most recently, extreme measures have been proposed that would close the Chicago Shipping Canal as a last resort to stopping the Carp from entering Lake Michigan.
Many entrepreneurs are currently developing new ways of utilizing the carp. The most obvious has become turning the many carp into a viable food export to various parts of Asia and certain parts of North America. Other emerging uses include processing the fish into animal feed, omega-3 oil and even using the fish as a source for bio-fuel. With these emerging uses, the fish can be envisioned as a lucrative future commodity that can be farmed on a large regional scale. In a future where the Asian Carp has entered the Great Lakes ecosystem, can large-scale Carp-farming help control the rampant growth of the invasive species? Certain stretches of the Great Lakes shores can be converted to large fish farming beds while many parts of the Mississippi River system can also become fish farming areas that would capitalize on the abundance of Carp that would be processed for food export, animal feed, omega-3 oil, and bio fuel.
Also from the Feedback seminar:
Corn Belt 2.0: Syncing the Starchscape, Matthew Spremulli
Re-Link: The Physical Network of Data, Ali Fard
Border Economies: the Maquiladora Export Landscape, Juan Robles
Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer, Fei-Ling Tseng
Editors Note: File under Feedback: Architecture’s New Territories, an InfraNet Lab seminar at Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design / University of Toronto. Guest post and images are by Matthew Spremulli. Matthew will be continuing this work in his MArch thesis, which will be blogged at the ever-expanding reField. -----------
Corn has unquestionably become the dominant crop farmed in the United States, which on average as a country produces in excess of 12.1 billion bushels/year. However, the story behind corn’s abundance at the large scale is actually a story of abundance on the extra small scale of the kernel itself, and that of a very specific corn-kernel type: Yellow Dent. Yellow Dent represents 99% of all Corn grown in the USA, grown principally for its amazing ability to yield a high amount of starch, yet none of which is able to be eaten directly off the cob by neither man nor animal! Thus, all of this “potentially” abundant food enters a long and varied chain of transportation and processing, to turn the inedible grain into something useful. Another way of looking at the story of corn is recognizing the vast amount of separate processing infrastructures.
Most of this corn (approx 50%) is being grown in a very specific area in the US, called the Corn Belt (Iowa, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana), thanks to the very specific climate and soil types that exist there the Yellow Dent crop (originally from Southern Mexico) flourishes. The Corn Belt is also where most of the processing occurs. US Corn has five major consumption uses: 1. Feed for livestock 2. Ethanol production 3. Exports 4. Food additives 5. Food products.
However, one of the more interesting threads through this story of abundant starch is that of the energy inputs/outputs in the transformation processes and how that can be traced. The production of corn both exhausts a large amount of energy and imported material and leaves behind a massive amount of wastes and by-products. One of the first things to consider in re-wiring the system would be to tie together the outputs from one process and potentially use them for an input of another. After examining the energy input/output process of making ethanol (as found in PDF The Energy Balance of Corn Ethanol), which represents one of the most energy intensive processes and also the most amount of useful by-products, there was potential to tie together points in the system and create closed-loop circuits. Another point to consider is how consumers never really get to experience any of these transformative corn-processes before it becomes an array of products on their store shelves.
Thus, a proposed intervention is to exploit the existing main mode of transportation for corn, the train, and turn it into a system of a traveling processing plant, corn product store, waste recycler, and industrial museum. The train breathes in the outputs from corn sub-systems, such as the waste run-off from cattle farming and then turn it into a fermented fertilizer by the time it reaches the corn crops of the Corn Belt. The train mechanics would need to be redesigned in order to double as the large mechanical processing gears and drums found in the Dry and Wet Milling processing plants. The train would travel along a dedicated loop that would sync the cities that create the food demand and the landscapes capable of producing the abundance. City folk would have the chance to see the processing of the corn as it passes through its line, and each train car would be designed to both perform its part of the processing while becoming an interface for the consumers and users.
Also from the Feedback seminar:
Re-Link: The Physical Network of Data, Ali Fard
Border Economies: the Maquiladora Export Landscape, Juan Robles
Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer, Fei-Ling Tseng
Excess typically implies in addition to what is required, a by-product, or residue. The continual growth model of our economic system produces a vast amount of excess. Could excess become part of a larger productive system if it was put to work? This meaning, is there an ecology of excess? This notion of Ecologies of Excess was the premise of an intriguing studio taught by Eva Franch Gilabert at Rice University, that I had the pleasure of reviewing last week. According to Franch, the ideological succession of machine for living by organism for living perpetuated the same social, political and environmental dilemmas of the previous century. Franch envisions a new movement, Ecologies of Excess, during the 22nd century that "provide us with a guide to thinking, designing and building based on what we, human beings, produce without measure: endless amounts of energy in social [crowds], political [wars], and environmental terms [pollution]. In sum: Excess" Set in the year 2101, the studio centered on the design of a Worlds Fair Exhibition Pavilion, deemed "Great Exhibition of the Works of Excess of All Nations". Each studio participant was to site their project in a different country and analyze the productive aspects of excess. The studio produced fascinating results, two projects of which are highlighted below.
Polymergy Waterscapes by: Igraine Perkinson
Polymergy Waterscapes looks at the garbage gyre written about by InfraNet Lab last year. The great pacific garbage patch is comprised of floating plastics that swirl within slow winds and ocean currents. Entitled Polymergy Waterscapes, Igraine envisions a future typology that builds upon and with this trash. Igraine states: Whereas traditional patterns of urbanity sought to settle away from trash, Polymergy Waterscapes creates a floating aquatic society that inverses this relationship, using garbage as a generative device for new urbanism. The pavilion adopts a labyrinthine open system of channels that brings the trash to its proximity by disrupting the clockwise currents of the gyre. These systems grow by means of compaction, reducing debris by a factor of ten.
Sited at an opportune location for gathering garbage - where winds and currents are slowest - Polymergy Waterscapes not only raises awareness of this emerging continent of garbage, but also incorporates programmes that can take advantage of garbage - spas (heat generated by recycling process), research labs, and various recreational activities of play. The accumulation or densification of the island over time slowly clears the larger mass of water. Here, garbage is the unit of growth and the subject for occupation.
Species Indetermina by: Ashley Johnson
Species Indetermina tackles the issue of species migration in ballast water. As globalized markets put increasing pressure on shipping, ballast water becomes a large issue. This water is typically polluted (with the residue of the cargo) and often contains alien species, which are dumped in ports far from their origin. These alien species often alter and eliminate parts of the local ecosystem. Ashley Johnson takes advantage of these alien species in her project, Species Indetermina, by containing the ballast water and creating core samples of wildlife and landscape from different parts of the globe. These contained ecosystem core samples essentially create a new zoo typology that is curated by shipping routes and alien ballast water. Johnson sites her project in New Zealand, where she notes, "in 2010 twenty new species of algae were discovered from samples taken in Auckland Harbour labeled species indetermina".
Her containment port located outside the harbor would allow "The people of New Zealand to sail five minutes off their own coast and enter exotic new environments, on sea level with the new life, as well as up above in restaurants and observation decks." What is interesting about this scheme is that while sited in New Zealand, it could provide a prototype for dealing with ballast water at all international shipping ports across the globe. A travelling network of contained (and contaminated) ecosystems, which introduce the public to new exotic worlds.
While the projects seemed fantastical, perhaps because of their future projection of 2101, the issues they addressed were imminent and the solutions were all - in some form - viable (particularly when looking at the proposed schemes for the oil containment in the Gulf of Mexico). By finding new solutions for excess, new "ecologies" can emerge that are fueled on our invisible waste. We are excited to hear that Eva Franch Gilabert was recently appointed the Director of the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York and we hope to see more on the Ecologies of Excess.
Editors Note: File under Feedback: Architecture’s New Territories, an InfraNet Lab seminar at Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design / University of Toronto. Guest post and images are by Ali Fard. -----------
With an estimated 1,733,993,741 users and a global growth rate of 380% since 2000 , it is easy to think of the internet as a free-flowing cloud of information accessible by all. However, unlike popular belief, our connection to the internet is not mediated by an uber high-tech network of satellites (or any of the other usual suspects). In fact, satellite links account for only 1% of all internet connections. Automatically, and incorrectly, thought of as a complex metaphysical network of information, the Internet consists of a highly physical network of lines and nodes; a simple system with inherent complexities. Simply put, it is a network of submarine communication cables laid across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and other water bodies that connect us to information databases in other continents. Although the technology has changed significantly, the network itself does not differ greatly from the network of submarine telegraph lines which existed as early as 1901. Much like long umbilical cords, these cables are the not-so-visible proof of our dependence on concentrated sources of information. These very real and physical “communication highways” establish links between information super hubs, while controlling internet’s dissemination of information. These lines, coupled with the terrestrial network of land lines and data centers, are the medium of the internet.
The lines and nodes of the internet, much like any other physical infrastructure, are prone to an array of politico-economic issues. Closely related to the politico-economic reading of the hierarchical structure of the world, much of this understanding of internet has to do with its very physical backbone. Areas with the least number of users get the best connections and others, like most of Africa, get nothing. We can clearly make out the users from producers. The redundancies of the submarine lines to North America and Europe have caused internet prices to plummet, which in turn has encouraged not only higher usage of internet but an active participation in the information world. Meanwhile, you can count the number of lines feeding Africa on one hand. As a result, prices are so high that even the lines that are already in place become meaningless, because of lack of use.
The Internet can be read as a dynamic network, but a network which is far from equally distributed. This unequal distribution is not because of lack of potential, but lack of means. It is clear that in today’s information heavy economy, to compete means to be connected. So, areas with little or no internet connection, which are already among the most economically unstable, get left behind and cannot compete. It is clear that the current state of the network privileges the most developed countries. This outcome is merely due to economic factors and not necessarily based on efficiencies and strengths of the network. So, how can this unequally distributed network be rewired to be able to function efficiently? How is this network affected with regards to the recent crisis in the economic structure of the world? How can a more logical rewiring of the network help African countries or other poorly connected areas of the world, while improving the system as a whole?
One possible rewiring scenario has to do with the strategic geographic location of Africa. With cheap land, availability of natural resources and proximity to Asia, Europe and South America, Africa can provide fertile grounds for international data center activity. Big Internet companies such as Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, whose data center activity is mostly concentrated in North America and Europe, can start investing in the internet infrastructure of African countries by providing better connections, and in return can be allowed to establish data centers in areas with little economic activity. These companies can take on an active role in shaping the information economy of Africa by not only providing internet connections, but also by providing jobs and training. All this cannot be achieved by corporate colonization, but through an active and dedicated participation in the growth of the information economy of the region. Although great imagination may be required in visualizing such proposition, and a great deal of analysis is required in understanding the ups and downs of such a mammoth initiative, it is in no way farfetched. It is in fact such a proposal that can bring much needed attention to how information is distributed throughout the world and provide grounds for discussion of possible new futures of the network. Also from the Feedback seminar: Border Economies: the Maquiladora Export Landscape, Juan Robles Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer, Fei-Ling Tseng Related: Rewiring (Tele)Geography
Editors Note: File under Feedback: Architecture’s New Territories, an InfraNet Lab seminar at Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design / University of Toronto. Guest post and images are by Juan Robles. -----------
The ongoing processes of trade and communication that now integrate the 21st century regional economies have created numerous territories of abundance. Among these spaces the maquiladora landscape, in the northern border of Mexico, has seen the greatest change in the last 50 years. From a manufacturing sun-belt territory limited to an area 20 kilometers south of the U.S.-Mexico border and saturated by U.S. investment; to an industry gaining strength across the Mexican country from Asian and European investment and reorganization.
[Even though the biggest concentrations of maquiladoras are found at the border, these territories of assembly are found all around Mexico.]
With maquiladoras mainly producing electronic equipment, clothing, plastics, furniture, appliances, and auto parts the industry has grown from under 2,000 factories in the early 1990s to over 3,000 maquiladoras concentrated along the major border cities of Tijuana, Nogales, Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, and Matamoros.
These plants began as part of a Mexican Border Industrialization Program in 1965 to solve the problem of rising unemployment along border cities caused by the end of the Bracero Program in 1964 when close to 180,000 Mexican farm workers were left without work. At its peak it employed over 445,000 braceros while the current maquiladora industry employs over 1.3 million Mexican workers. The intention of the maquiladora program was to clean up the border, attract more tourists, and create more jobs, not knowing that the new manufacturing landscape would bring numerous socio-political, economic and environmental problems to the region.
Unlike the typical manufacturing industries in the U.S., maquiladoras are labor-intensive assembly operations that import materials and equipment on a duty-free and tariff-free basis for assembly under the condition that the assembled product is exported out of the host country. These plants are mostly owned by European, Asian and U.S. corporations who take advantage of more lenient industrial development regulations and exploit cheap labor in close proximity to the U.S. market.
Maquiladoras export 90 percent of the assembled products to the U.S. with the electronics industry having the largest share of exports concentrated in Tijuana. The previous organization of these industries had parts shipped in from the country of origin, assembled in Tijuana, and exported to the U.S.
In response to the recent economic crisis, especially seen in electronics, the industry has created new clustered maquiladora parks in the primary NAFTA distribution-based border cities. This was a strategy to make the assembly industry more efficient in order to compete with strong competition from China’s Special Economic Zones. At the turn of the century, Mexico saw close to 500 plants close and move to Asian competitor countries but has recently seen an increase in investment due to the rise in shipping costs.
The use of a cluster system started attracting part suppliers to be closer to the assembly factory. The parts that would originally be shipped from overseas have begun to be manufactured by overseas-owned companies either in Tijuana or San Diego. Each plant is an independent company that works closely with the other plants to support new just-in-time production strategies in order to increase efficiency and reduce costs. The new strategies have made the border industry more efficient but have failed to respond to the socio-economic, political, and environmental conditions that continue to surround it. Could a new type of industry cluster provide more efficient, social, or productive trade ecologies? Would larger more integrated versions of this cluster system redefine development trends along the U.S.-Mexico border? Could the clustering of different industries along a larger territory linked by a rail system create a more efficient industrial ecology that responds to the poverty in these cities?
Also from the Feedback seminar: Bloemenveiling Aalsmeer, Fei-Ling Tseng
Editors Note: File under Feedback: Architecture’s New Territories, an InfraNet Lab seminar at Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design / University of Toronto. Guest post and images are by Fei-Ling Tseng. -----------
The Flower Trade is a highly sophisticated market with an infrastructure optimally tuned to the preferences of both the supply and demand side. The world knows three North-South flower markets: America, Europe/Middle-East/Africa and Asia.
These markets interact little with each other due to the logistic constraints of cut flowers. As opposed to many markets that utilize multiple middle men to get a product from its supply to its end destination, the flower market has reduced number of middle men (and therefore also costs) by making sure that most trade happens as directly as possible: between growers and wholesale buyers/exporters by means of Dutch auctioning.
In the Netherlands, flower auctions are run by co-operatives formed by the growers. Auctions require membership from both the supply and demand side of trade, which in turn ensures optimal coordination during all stages of the transaction process. The fact that a Dutch auction clock counts down the price instead of up, ensures the best price for farmers, and the best quality produce for what buyers are willing to pay.
The result of this system is that the first buyer sets the rough market price by bidding. Subsequential buyers often purchase within the range of the first bidder. Quite often the first bidder gets the best price because, as product availability decreases, the risk of missing out increases, and so does the price. [via flowerauction]
FloraHolland is the largest flower auction co-operative in the Netherlands--and likely the world. Specifically for the cut flower sector, it is responsible for the trade of 97% of all flowers within the Netherlands and 60% of worldwide trade. (via USDA PDF)
Though FloraHolland has six auction locations in the Netherlands, their Aalsmeer location (called Vereniging van de Bloemenveiling in Aalsmeer prior to the merger in 2008) deals primarily with the auctioning of cut flowers for export. Located strategically close to Schiphol Airport and many major highways, flowers arrive both globally and locally within 12 hours before the auctions starts at 6:00AM. They are stored in cooling rooms with varying temperatures--each type of flower having their own ideal temperature to be kept in stasis. Around 4:30AM, the auction trolleys (Dutch: stapelwagens) that fit 27 buckets (Dutch: fust) of flowers per trolley, are neatly lined up and hooked to a complex internal rail system.
Everyday, this rail system guides 21 million flowers and plants through any one of the five auction rooms (four for cut flowers, one for potted plants). These flowers and plants are traded between grower and buyer typically within 4 hours (6:00AM to 10:00AM), through 55,000 individual transactions on average. In other words, on each of the 13 auction clocks that Aalsmeer Bloemenveiling possesses, a new transaction is made every five seconds or less.
After the transaction has been made and the flowers roll out of the auction halls, they enter a distribution hall where employers of the auction buzz around on electric trucks (Dutch: electrotrekker), grabbing one auction trolley at the time and distributing the individual buckets of flowers to empty auction trolleys that belong to their new owners.
As all the morning trolleys have been emptied onto the new trolleys, the flowers are re-packaged by their new owners for transport to their end destination. This takes about two hours, at which point--around noon--the flowers would be on the road again headed towards their new destination. Flowers usually hit the storefront the next day following the auction. All in all, it takes about 36-42 hours for flowers to get cut until they reach their storefront end destination. For more information about flower auctions: There is a video that describes the internal workings of auction halls, but it only exists in Dutch. A bit off-topic but still infinitely fascinating is how technology has transformed productivity in greenhouses. Here is a video of the walking-plant-system. Watch as the auction trolleys move like zombies across the distribution halls to their end stations where they are individually fetched and redistributed by the electric trucks. The New York Times wrote a nice piece about Aalsmeer back in 1993 that is available online here.
Festival season is starting. In particular, we are excited about a slew of films that are part of the Canadian International Documentary Festival, nicknamed HotDocs, that runs April 29 - May 9, 2010 here in Toronto. With so many fascinating accounts represented in this edition, we thought it best to profile them here, for safe keeping. The tales we have selected chronicle landfills, clean energy wars, and land use ambiguities.
Waste Land, directed Lucy Walker (UK / Brazil)
Lucy tracks artist Vik Muniz and his work with pickers of recyclable materials in Brazil’s Jardim Gramacho, arguably the world’s largest landfill site.
Land, directed by Julian Pinder (Canada)
Burnt-out baby-boomers, Sandinistas, and ex-lefty capitalist developers clash in a wild-west showdown over land in a bucolic Nicaraguan seaside town.
Gasland, directed by Josh Fox (USA)
Flammable tap water, mysterious ailments, poisoned land and livestock, Sundance prize-winner Gasland exposes the environmental calamities and cover-ups caused by natural gas drilling.
Into Eternity, directed by Michael Madsen (Denmark, Sweden, Finland)
The scientific minds behind Finland’s massive underground nuclear waste storage facility, Onkalo, where radioactive waste must sit untouched for at least 100,000 years to neutralize its potential danger, are probed in Into Eternity.
Wistful Wilderness, directed by Digna Sinke (Netherlands)
The island of Tiengemeten is getting a makeover. Originally tamed to serve as agricultural land, its now being left to the elements to revert back to wilderness. Filmmaker Digna Sinke documents 15 years of transformation.
Tankograd, directed by Boris Bertram (Denmark)
Chelyabinsk, Russia, once the site of a top secret Cold War atomic bomb factory, is now the most radioactively polluted city in the world. Its residents live with the consequences of catastrophic leaks and dumped toxic waste as cancers, auto-immune diseases, and undrinkable water flow freely. But the city most foul sprouts a most unlikely growth—the vibrant, inspiring Chelyabinsk Contemporary Dance Theatre.
Dreamland, directed by Þorfinnur Guðnason (Iceland)
With its hydroelectric and geothermal power surplus, Iceland’s clean energy initiatives have attracted heavy industries whose pollution decimates natural vegetation. A tale of sabotage from the frontlines of the green revolution.
I Bought a Rainforest, directed by Helena Nygren and Jacob Andren (Sweden)
Jacob Andren, like over 400,000 other Swedish children, remembers raising money to help save a rainforest. Twenty years later, wondering if his efforts made any real impact, he visits Costa Rica to see whether this piece of land remains preserved.
They Come for the Gold, They Come for it All, directed by Pablo D’Alo Abba and Christian Harbarak (Argentina, Chile)
In a small town on the border of Argentina and Chile, the residents of Esquel are conflicted over a lucrative bid from Canadian mining company Meridian Gold. On the one hand, the mine will provide much needed work for residents, half of whom live below the poverty line. On the other hand, the gold and silver extraction requires large amounts of water and cyanide. You can access the complete listings--time, locations, details--here. Enjoy.
Total Design has two meanings: first, what might be called the implosion of design, the focusing of design inward on a single intense point; second, what might be called the explosion of design, the expansion of design out to touch every possible point in the world. - Mark Wigley, from "Whatever Happened to Total Design?"
This past Winter, I taught a seminar at the University of Toronto called Architecture’s New Territories [PDF]. In the coming weeks, I will be posting some of the research the students conducted during that term, which coincided with various readings and discussions. The position of the course began with a few key observations. ++ The idea of architecture as a self-reflexive, isolated, and willful internal wrangling of formal preoccupations does not have the ability (alone) to address and re-dress the opportunities and challenges in our contemporary design climate. ++ Architecture operating as a singular act on a singular site overlooks its capacity as a large feedback machine extending increasingly beyond itself. Its footprint, always already, is wide and complex. ++ Architecture’s potential, today, lies as much in its functioning as a surface, conduit, and container for ephemeral flows of resources, cultures, and energy as it does in its symbolic cultural and formal capacities. However this potential is increasingly hijacked by a "good practice" sustainable agenda often reducing it to efficiency and performance. How architecture gets its power, economy, materials, and labour, among others, is as essential to understanding the future role and operational capacities of a building on its site. In many ways this paradigm shift suggests a natural (economic) evolution in building culture toward privileging operational costs over capital costs. In short, the building response to its future time is valued as much as, if not more than, the building at its inception.
In Rosalind Krauss’s 1979 essay on sculpture’s expanded field, Krauss observed the practice of sculpture had been obscured and could only qualify itself in opposition to architecture and landscape. Using a Klein group structure, Krauss identifies three additional practices of sculpture that sculpture had been recently burdened with, and names them site-construction, marked sites, and axiomatic structures. Similarly, Architecture is in need of a range of situational qualifiers to establish its position amongst the rapidly expanding disciplinary terrain of landscape architecture and within the fractured and troubled territory of urbanism. But marking the expanded field in architecture can also be productive toward addressing new functions for architecture as a conduit, transmitter, and receiver for opportunities found within local and regional networks. To do so, we have removed architecture from the original Kraussian diagram and replaced with the problematic term "infrastructure." The resulting terms are: productive surface, civic conduit, and spatial container. Arguably architecture can now be any of these as a result of the pairings.
This seminar will pose the simple question of: Now what? How might architecture fruitfully capitalize on its expanded territory and how might we characterize its development? The seminar will be preoccupied with the airspace that architecture operates within and the logistics that support and influence it. Its immediate climate and larger environment, with those terms stripped of their dominant sustainability overtones, will provoke an understanding of architecture’s performance as a design act equivalent to other acts of design.
The seminar discussed architecture’s expanding operational opportunity and impact. Or, in short, an expanded understanding of architecture’s wider territory. This is in reaction to a burgeoning disciplinary loophole between economy, geography, ecology, landscape, urbanism, and architecture, a loophole in which architecture seems most primed to lead.
The course was structured around five territories: flows, velocities, ecologies, economies, and energies. Flows will look at questions of scale within architecture’s operation? Where is the end of a building’s envelope? How does it extend or how might it extend? And where does the site end and building begin? Velocities will look at the territory of mobility and its influence on architecture. will look at the territory of mobility and its influence on architecture. How could architecture engage directly its condition as a hub within a larger network? Ecologies will look at the question of architecture’s culpability within larger complex industrial and natural ecologies. How does architecture participate in urban (infrastructural) ecologies? How does or might architecture participate in natural ecologies? Economies will look at the influence of our global economies on architecture. What is economic influence beyond merely a design budget? How do economies produce architectural typologies? Energies will look at the opportunity of resources and climate in the formation of architecture. How does architecture address its airspace? How is architecture culpable in the production of energy beyond itself?
Students were asked to investigate and document a "space of abundance, excess, or inundation and tracks its relevant flows." These spaces would be considered typological of forms of urbanism as informed by globalization. It was argued in the course that these types of spaces are superlatives, but have been forgotten by design and architecture and, like an unmonitored species, have flourished to dominate the built landscape. In the coming weeks, we will share the projects of the students in a series of guest posts.
It is a typical North American scene: the hulking iconic residue of 20th-century industrial farming sitting there mocking any would-be re-user. Demolition costs are considerable enough that across North America, these monoliths have sat there vacant, unused, and on very few occassions adapted and appropriated. And here is an opportunity for just such an occasion. Emerging Terrain, an organization founded by landscape architect Anne Trumble, is taking on just such a case. At the intersection of I-80 and I-480, a series of 62 sequential interlocked concrete silos forms a massive wall (gate?) at the east end of Omaha. At 180 feet tall, the assembly has undeniable presence, and forms a wall to the some 76,000 cars on I-80 daily.
The Stored Potential competition is seeking proposals for gimongous 20 foot by 80 foot images to reclad the silos rippled surface. The potential for this to trigger development, reuse, and launch a new life for this massive form is potent. Proposals are due May 15. Images will be selected through an open call for submissions, printed to the scale of the enormous structure, hung to wrap the concrete cylinders, and celebrated with a giant dinner on-site at a table for the length of the elevator. If your image is selected, "after residing on the Omaha elevator for 3-4 months, the banners will travel to three other prominent vacant elevators throughout the state." Not a bad way to provoke visionary development and reuse. Get the competition brief PDF here [900k].
I am reminded here of Reyner Banhams homage to these hyper-functional (though mono-functional) masterpieces in his 1989 book A Concrete Atlantis. Banham argues the inherent comparisons between North American industrial building and the classic modernist architecture of the International Style in Europe. (MIT Press generously offers a sample PDF here. [5.15 MB]) What would you do with curving skin of a silo? How can your idea be both 2D and 3D? How will the massive scale of the image perform and communicate and to whom? How do you look backward to the history of these efficient farming monuments and yet forward to their inevitable new future use? Will they ever represent anything other than nostalgia? Looking forward to seeing the entries in May!