A coronal mass ejection from the sun on August 31, 2012, produced spectacular auroras on Earth several nights later. Photograph courtesy of NASA/GSFC/SDO. Below, Herbert â€œShortieâ€? Clark maps the terrain using a plane table and telescopic alidade, early 1900s. Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.
This surreal image appears, at first glance, to portray some new sort of medical diagnostic tool, but it is simply a dairyman listening to the radio while milking his cow, c. 1923. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
John Braund, cartographer for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, demonstrates a “new process expected to revolutionize map making… showing all the details of topography in a form true to nature,” March 1939. The machine chisels topographic details using “a speciallydesigned electric hammer.” The center image shows Alexander Graham Bell and assistants testing one of Bell’s many experimental kite designs, July 7, 1908.
A professor at the U.S. Naval Observatory looks through a 26-inch telescope, August 1924. All photographs on this page courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division—the Harris & Ewing Collection, Gilbert H. Grosvenor Collection of Photographs of the Alexander Graham Bell Family, and National Photo Company Collection, respectively.
Claude Birdseye, the aptly named Chief Topographic Engineer for the U.S. Geological Survey, charts the Grand Canyon, 1923. Photograph courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey. Below, a 1959 Army Field Manual photograph depicts a ball-shaped targettracking radar installation used as part of a U.S. NIKE Missile Battery. Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
U.S. Geological Survey members measure a baseline in New Mexico, 1883. A missile detection and tracking facility at Cape Cod Air Station, constructed in 1978, scans the horizon for incoming warheads. This â€œradar pyramidâ€? is part of the
PAVE PAWS network, or Phased Array Warning System. Both photographs courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. A WiFi camera by Usman Haque, Adam Somlai-Fischer, and Bengt Sjölén reads the strength of wireless internet signals through walls, thus inferring a picture of the densities and obstructions of the architectural spaces around it. The “WeatherField” project, pictured bottom-right, is a collaboration between Mason White, Luis Callejas, Matthew Spremulli, and Alexander Laing. Their project “is a shape-shifting energy generation park along a strip of sandy beach in Abu Dhabi between Yas and Saadiyat Islands,” offering “a variety of ways to engage with climate and renewable energy, as an economic sponsor, as a visual or physical experience, and as information.”
A U.S. Geological Survey “level crew”—pictured above—surveys a line from Mojave to Keeler, California, 1905. Photograph courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey. For a speculative project called “Theriomorphous Cyborg” (2011), architect Simone Ferracina proposed a series of intermediary devices, organized in the form of a game, through which humans could alter their perception of the built environment.
LANDSCAPE FUTURES Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions
Edited by Geoff Manaugh FUTURES
Nevada Museum of Art Center for Art + Environment 160 West Liberty Street Reno, Nevada 89501 U.S.A. T +1 775 329 3333 nevadaart.org nevadaart.org/ae/center Library of Congress Control Number: 2011940606 ISBN (Actar) 978-84-15391-14-2 DL: B.31219-2012 Design Everything Type Company (ETC) Brooklyn, USA Printing Ingoprint printed in Spain.
Actar Barcelona—New York actar.com email@example.com Distribution ActarD Barcelona—New York actar-d.com Roca i Batlle 2 E-08023 Barcelona T +34 93 417 49 93 F +34 93 418 67 07 firstname.lastname@example.org 151 Grand Street, 5th floor New York, NY 10013 USA T +1 212 966 2207 F +1 212 966 2214 email@example.com
All rights reserved. © edition, Nevada Museum of Art and Actar, 2013 © texts, retained by their authors © images, retained by their authors
“Man at telescope”— image top right— photographed between 1916 and 1919. A “tide-predicting machine” (center) developed by Dr. E. Lester Jones, Chief of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, 1915. Bottom right, a radar-scanning facility at Clear Air Force Station, Alaska, photographed by Gregory Sims in 2001. All photographs courtesy
of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division: the Harris & Ewing Collection and Historic American Buildings Survey. Visible right is a geodetic diagram plotting the U.S. national grid.
Exhibition Sponsors Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions was generously sponsored by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The exhibition was a feature of the Nevada Museum of Art’s 2011 Art + Environment exhibition series and a backdrop for the 2011 Art + Environment Conference. About the Nevada Museum of Art The Nevada Museum of Art is the only art museum in the state of Nevada accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. Designed by internationally renowned architect Will Bruder, the new museum facility opened in 2003 and is the heart of Reno’s downtown cultural district. The four-level, 60,000 squarefoot building is inspired by geological formations located in northern Nevada, a reference that resonates metaphorically with the museum’s scholarly focus on art and environments. The Nevada Museum of Art is a museum of ideas. While building upon its founding collections and values, it cultivates meaningful art and societal experiences, and fosters new knowledge in the visual arts by encouraging interdisciplinary investigation. In 2009, the Museum established the Center for Art + Environment (CA+E), an internationally recognized research center that supports the practice, study, and awareness of creative interactions between people and their natural, built, and virtual environments. William L. Fox was appointed as the CA+E’s first Director. Among the Center’s significant archive collections— including materials by 400 artists and organizations across all seven continents—are documents, sketches, and models relating to Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer, the Center for Land Use Interpretation, and Lita Albuquerque’s Stellar Axis project.
The Nevada Museum of Art was founded in 1931 by Dr. James Church and Charles Cutts. Church was an early climate scientist who constructed the first snow survey station to measure water content on Mount Rose in the Sierra Nevada. The shared interdisciplinary interests of Church and Cutts continue to shape the ongoing programming and focus of the Museum and Center for Art + Environment. nevadaart.org nevadaart.org/ae/center About ACTAR ACTAR is a Barcelona- and New York-based publisher of groundbreaking books in architecture, graphic design, and contemporary art. Their publishing program focuses on works by established and emerging architects, designers, and photographers at the forefront of contemporary praxis and theory. ACTAR’s titles represent a broad cross-section of the seminal works and individuals who affect the character of current research and practice and its relationship to a global societal context. actar.com About ETC Everything Type Company (ETC) is a NY-based design studio founded by Kyle Blue & Geoff Halber. The studio specializes in identity, publishing, and interactive projects for clients spanning culture and commerce. everything-type-company.com
Contents 4 Acknowledgements 5 Foreword 6 Dataland 9 Landscape Futures 49 Interviews by David B. Walker
by William L. Fox
by Geoff Manaugh
49 Historyâ€™s Apparatus with David Gissen 65 The Active Layer with Mason White & Lola Sheppard 77 Insect Spectacles with Chris Woebken 87 Living Interface with David Benjamin & Soo-In Yang 99 Architectural Monsterology with Liam Young 115 Superscape with Mark Smout & Laura Allen
177 Work 225 Sourcebook 226 Landscape Futures Super-Workshop by Geoff Manaugh 237 A Journey to the Top of the City of Los Angeles by Center for Land Use Interpretation 241 OIAML: Oceanographic Instrumentation and Mediated Landscapes by Rob Holmes 248 Buried Treasure by Jan Zalasiewicz 252 Doppler by Rob Holmes 252 The Climate Engineers by James Fleming 263 The Architectural Production of Nature, Dendur/New York by David Gissen 275 (Im)possible Chicagos by Alexander Trevi 278 Instantaneous Lines by Smudge Studio 284 The Delta Pen by Scott Geiger 289 Mauna Loa Observatory by Rob Holmes 290 Sensory Devices by Cassim Shepard 293 Mobile Geodesy by Rob Holmes 294 Landscape in Suspension by Sam Jacob
Acknowledgements Landscape Futures, the book and exhibition both, could never have happened without the incredible patience and support of the Nevada Museum of Art staff, particularly Ann M. Wolfe, William L. Fox, David B. Walker, Rachel Milon, Colin Robertson, Erik Flippo, Brian Eyler, Amy Oppio, and the indefatigable Chris Martin. The exhibiting artists and architects—David Gissen, Mason White, Lola Sheppard, Chris Woebken, Kenichi Okada, David Benjamin, Soo-in Yang, Liam Young, Mark Smout, and Laura Allen—were, of course, instrumental to this project (including Johan Hybschmann, who generously assisted with installation). Photographers Jamie Kingham and Dean Burton helped to document the resulting work in all its diversity of scales and angles. Designer Atley G. Kasky assisted with an early version of this publication; Geoff Halber and Kyle Blue of Everything Type Company in Brooklyn produced the gorgeous book you’re currently holding. Anna Tetas and Albert Ferré at ACTAR took on the book with enthusiasm when their support was most needed. University College London contributed to our thorough documentation of the work of Smout Allen. All participants in the January 2011 Landscape Futures SuperWorkshop—particularly, Matthew Coolidge and Sarah Simons of the Center for Land Use Interpretation—deserve singular recognition for their intellectual camaraderie. Virgin America helped to bring us all together in person. Jonathan Rennie helped to organize trips to many relevant sites in the southwest; geologist Brian Romans participated in some early conversations about terrestrial mechanisms; and Nicola Twilley offered indispensable help with the curator’s essay. Finally, all of the authors, artists, architects, scientists, and photographers whose work appears within these covers deserve sincere thanks.
Curatorâ€™s Essay by Geoff Manaugh FUTURES
When the Nevada Museum of Art first suggested back in May 2009 that we could perhaps work together to mount a new exhibition in their 2,500 squarefoot contemporary gallery, and that I could take a shot at curating it, they were looking for what they called at the time an exploration of “landscape 2.0.” This term was not intended as a formal title for the proposed exhibition, however, but more as a gesture toward something that would allow us to document, even participate in, the ongoing digitalization of landscape studies. Such an exhibition could thus take as its subject everything from Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and satellite mapping (Google Earth) to blogging and the “spatial humanities,” broadly speaking, which has reached something of a crescendo today in theorist James Bridle’s idea of the New Aesthetic, with its concern for how machines, from traffic cameras to military drones, algorithmically view and interpret the world around them. Concepts for a global satellite triangulation system. Images courtesy of the U.S. National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Geodesy Collection.
At the time the Museum called, I was sitting in a Los Angeles hotel room, getting ready to fly south to Australia for the summer to teach an intensive design studio called Urban Islands. Urban Islands takes place every two or three years on an uninhabited, post-industrial site in Sydney Harbor called Cockatoo Island: it is a small and quite extraordinary island of dry docks, abandoned quarries, derelict prison cells, former school buildings, and wartime shipbuilding yards that the city hopes to transform someday into a popular tourist site. One of the other instructors that year was architect Mark Smout, who, along with his partner Laura Allen, is half of the London-based design firm Smout Allen. Smout Allen’s 2006 entry in the legendary Pamphlet Architecture series from Princeton Architectural Press remains one of the best, and I was eager to see what Mark and his students might produce.
As it happens, that trip to Sydney was very well timed: working alongside Mark and traveling around the country for a few weeks after the workshop was over proved to have several unexpected—and very positive—effects on the eventual curatorial direction of Landscape Futures.
To make a long story short, Mark’s assignment for his students that year on Cockatoo Island included the production of small optical devices, inspired by the disruptive techniques of “dazzle painting” first developed by artist Norman Wilkinson—and subsequently applied to British battleships—during World War 1. Wilkinson’s strategy was to use differently colored and oddly patterned geometric shapes apparently interrupting one another along competing lines of perspective, thus making it all but impossible, Wilkinson hoped, to determine how large an object (in this case, a Naval warship) really was, in what direction it might be headed, or even if it was one object or many. Where this particular tactic differs from military camouflage is that dazzle painting does not attempt to mimic an object’s background; instead, dazzle painting seeks to design and implement a visual style of ornament so difficult to understand that, no matter what context a dazzle-painted object might appear within, it would be, in a sense, dimensionally incomprehensible. In other words, a dazzle ship sitting alone in the middle of the desert would be just as visually confusing to someone seeing it in its more expected context, sailing aggressively toward an enemy coastline. However, the history of camouflage, as an optical technique, is also relevant here. In her book Hide and Seek, PREVIOUS SPREAD author Hanna Rose Shell describes the late 19th-century The Electrotape was research of Abbott Thayer, an American painter often credited with the invention of modern camouflage. Thayer “a precise electronic surveying device identified two primary methods for making an object that used microwaves disappear: what he called, on the one hand, “obliterative to measure distance. countershading,” and, on the other, as if foreshadowing the The first commercial emergence of dazzle ships, “disruptive patterning.” These unit of this device two complementary optical effects could make something was created in 1961. It yielded centimeimperceptibly unite with—or thoroughly blend into—its ter accuracy over immediate background. distances from 100 Giving his research an explicitly ecological spin, Thayer meters to 40 kiloemphasized that, in the natural world of animal hunting meters, and in all grounds and wild habitats, this happens only from specific weather conditions, angles, at specific times, and in front of specific backdrops. day and night. Two units were needed, “Every animal has evolved,” we read in Shell’s summary of Thayer’s argument, “to disappear in the specific environ- one to send the signal and the other ment and at the specific instant in which it otherwise to receive it.” would have been most vulnerable. The dappled clothing Image and caption of the peacock, the hot pink of the flamingo, and the yellow courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey. splotches of the warbler are each, according to Thayer,
associated with a specific instance in time and position in space.” It is thus only when the animal is at its most vulnerable, surrounded by the context in which it is most likely to be preyed upon—forest floor, marshland, coral reef, savannah—that the animal’s optical self-cloaking mechanism kicks in, functioning, through the special effects of camouflage, to make the animal visually evaporate by way of the patterns and shapes appearing on its body. After all, Shell notes, in the world of camouflage, “not showing up is, at times and places, both a strategic necessity and a worthy aspiration.” It is not a metaphor, in other words, to say that what we refer to as “nature” is, in fact, a highly competitive multimedia environment in which animal bodies—acting literally as biotechnologies of landscape display—change coloration in order to blend in to certain backgrounds at certain times. It should not be surprising here to learn that the tactical advantages of dynamic animal camouflage have been noticed by the U. S. military. In September 2012, it was reported that scientists at DARPA—the U. S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—have, in the words of Houston Chronicle blogger Eric Berger, devised a way to “hack into [a] squid’s complex nervous system and control this process.” Specifically, Berger writes, “researchers, including Robyn Crook at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, identified the nerves that control the coloration of the squid’s skin, and demonstrated their ability to change its color on command.” The animal body thus becomes a kind of living device: a semiautonomous 3-dimensional screen that can be reprogrammed at will to show patterns, colors, and shapes (raising some fascinating, though morally troubling, questions when seen in the context of Cassim Shepard’s essay, a short history of optical devices—from “phenakistascopes” to stroboscopes— later in this volume).
Mark Smout’s research into architectural dazzle objects sought to transform how the landscape in which those objects had been placed could be reinterpreted and newly understood. These objects were not architectural—at least, not as such. They were more like visual interruptions: using motifs “drawn from geological maps, dazzle ships, and nautical communication systems,” as Mark later explained in a short essay written for Urban Islands, these minor objects peppered here and there around Cockatoo served as temporary, spatially ambiguous additions that could change how the island was perceived, measured, and navigated. Visually out of synch with its own immediate context, a dazzle object can thus catalyze new, potentially disorienting spatial relationships between foreground and background, inside and outside, light and shadow, solid and void. We might say that such an object is architecture, then, but architecture in its most compressed and powerful form: a design intervention with no traditional “building” in sight, more like a grenade of spatial effects. In the end, Mark’s students successfully built and fabricated many of these
(often rather clunky) handheld devices and portable mechanisms in order to frame, point out, or otherwise highlight different locations around the island. The implication, I thought, was brilliant: rather than design a large-scale, iconic addition or alteration to the island, an artist or architect could simply introduce minor ornamental objects—a kind of instrumental jewelry—that would nonetheless have disproportionate spatial effects on the context in which they were placed.
This idea of a disorienting and catalytic spatial object bears comparison to the work of two recent graduates from the Bartlett School of Architecture in London, Matthew Shaw and William Trossell, who currently work together under the name ScanLAB Projects. With the U.S. Geological technical support of Faro Laser Scanning, Survey crew member ScanLAB have embarked upon a series of investigations holds aloft a that, taken as a whole, reveal some of the most extreme landscape measuring design implications for laser scanning technology, or rod in the hills LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging). Curious to see if of West Virginia, they could produce 3D scans of diaphanous, even immate- September 1921. rial spatial events, for instance, such as fog banks, smoke, Photograph by George Stanley Druhot, humidity, and mist, ScanLAB have revealed a rich world courtesy of the U.S. of implied built environments. Geological Survey. For an ongoing project called “Stealth Objects,” Shaw and Trossell have been exploring “the subversion of city-scale 3D scanning in London.” As they explain it, “the project uses hypothetical devices which are installed across the city and which edit the way the city is scanned and recorded.” These hypothetical stealth objects with complex LiDAR-jamming geometries include “boundary miscommunication devices” to “offset, relocate, and invent spatial data such as paths, boundaries, tunnels and walls,” as well as objects that can “go undetected by surveillance while twisting, offsetting, distorting, and subverting city-scale 3D scanning.” These latter experiments include “speculative LiDAR blooms, blockages, holes, and drains,” all of which are “the result of strategically deployed devices which offset, copy, paste, erase, and tangle LiDAR data around them.” ScanLAB’s work not only heralds a whole new class of architectural ornament (ornament as digital camouflage, designed to be seen only by laser-scanning equipment) but also entirely new types of building façades (augmented reality meets LiDAR). In both cases, it is a kind of implied architecture, invisible to the naked eye, that pops up only on laser scanners at various
points around the city. ScanLAB refers to this latter possibility as “the deployment of flash architecture”—flash streets, flash statues, flash doors—that only exist as data artifacts in scanning gear. Stealth statuary and other anomalous spatial entities could thus dot the cityscape, perceptible only as representational effects in the technologies through which we view them, acting, in a sense, like spatial watermarks or invisible writing. Of course, it is not hard to imagine the military becoming interested in the future of this research, suggesting as it does stealth body armor, stealth ground vehicles, even stealth forward-operating bases, all of which would be geometrically invisible to radar and other sensing equipment.
When Urban Islands was over, my wife, Nicola, and I took some time off to stay down in Australia and travel around the country’s east coast for a few weeks before heading home. One night, we found ourselves in a tourist hotel in Cairns where I was flipping between channels on the in-room TV. It wasn’t long before I stumbled onto the final fifteen minutes or so of a U.S.-produced documentary about the Apollo space program. At the moment I tuned in, the show was looking at the present-day work of an astronomer based in west Texas. It turns out, the documentary explained, that the Apollo program never really ended; there is still one experiment, still very active, involving at the time of the documentary a lone man stationed in a small lab in Texas, working out of a hut that could have passed for a garden shed. What was his job? To shoot lasers at the moon. A laser beam as thin as a pencil would leave this modest installation—which was utterly transformed when its roof sliced opened to reveal the mysterious machines that would produce a sublime beam of light, shooting upward into the heavens. Upon reaching the moon, the resulting laser—that, because of the effects of the Earth’s atmosphere, was now a kilometer in width—would hit a small tray of reflective prisms called a retroreflector array that had been left behind on the moon’s surface by American astronauts. When even just three or four photons from that laser finally returned to the Earth, having reflected off the prismatic array, this man in west Texas, armed with computers running complex software packages, could begin to measure whether or not the moon was orbiting the Earth faster than predicted by Einstein’s relativity. It would be a wild understatement to say that I don’t fully understand the implications of this experiment and that I might even be describing its purpose incorrectly in the above paragraph; but, when the documentary on our hotel television began showing images of the reflective tray, and when a shot of that spectacular, lonesome beam of pure light shooting up from the middle of nowhere toward the moon appeared on screen, I had an overwhelming urge to get in touch with Mark Smout. It was as if the most outlandish and literally off-world speculative proposal by Smout Allen—prisms on the moon, a landscape
Geoff Manaugh Fog scanned as part of research work called “Slow Becoming Delightful” by ScanLAB Projects (Matthew Shaw and William Trossell). Courtesy of ScanLAB Projects/scanlabprojects.co.uk.
A physical prototype from the “stealth objects” series by Matthew Shaw and William Trossell; these “hypothetical objects” can “offset, copy, paste, erase, and tangle LiDAR data around them.” Image courtesy of ScanLAB Projects/scanlabprojects.co.uk.
Photograph courtesy of Christian Houge/Nevada Museum of Art. christianhouge.no
Photographer Christian Houge’s ongoing Arctic Technology series—from which this image is taken— offers a fascinating, expeditionary look at large-scale scientific installations on the Norwegian island of Svalbard. Svalbard is an unusually isolated far-northern landmass located between Norway and the North Pole. Its pristine air, minimal population, and nearly radiofree environment make it an ideal site for scientific
work, thus the high number of elaborate antennas and other installations found there. Svalbard, in fact, is but one of many landscapes all over the world—from South Africa and Western Australia to the “National Radio Quiet Zone” in the mountains of West Virginia—in which massive pieces of equipment necessary for cutting-edge physics experiments have been constructed and installed. Achieving electromagnetic isolation on this scale—entire
landscapes quarantined from outside interference—presents an intriguing new branch for architectural investigation, including new possibilities for landscape design. As but one minor example of this, innovative forms of shielding and enclosure have been developed to help reduce interference from distant sources of radio waves; the scientific equipment and its careful siting in the landscape—styled not in a local ver-
nacular but according to the spatial needs of a particular experiment—thus paradoxically gives architectural form to the very thing whose influence it is trying to minimize. These radiofree landscapes on the very edges of the inhabitable world could be thought of as a kind of spatial arms race waged against the growing presence of electromagnetic interference in everyday life.
Curator’s Essay Apollo 11 astronauts install the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package (EASEP) on the moon, including the Lunar Laser Retroreflector array, or LRRR, a prismatic tray that would reflect lasers shot from Earth. Courtesy of NASA.
device that would not at all have been out of place in their edition of Pamphlet Architecture—had been built and realized in the 1970s by NASA.
Several months later, Nicola and I had an extraordinary opportunity to visit this experiment, officially now called the Apache Point Observatory Lunar LaserRanging Operation, or APOLLO, named after its new location in the mountains of south-central New Mexico. On our way driving up from the wasteland of Alamogordo on a road past huge and violent rock strata, like a storm frozen at sea, we drove through the town of Cloudcroft before heading south—and higher—through the pine forests another 15 miles to the telescope complexes of Apache Point and the National Solar Observatory. At the National Solar Observatory, our first stop, we took a short self-guided tour, reading about “dark time surveys,” “ripples of dense matter left by sound waves that were frozen in space shortly after the Big Bang,” and the A lunar laserranging experiment underway at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Photograph courtesy of NASA/ GSFC/Debbie Mccallum and Tom Zagwodzki/ Goddard Space Flight Center.
magnetic equivalent of smoke rings moving through space. In the main telescope facility, we stared somewhat awestruck at a TV screen, an antique set seemingly left over from the 1960s, that flickered with live sunspots as if someone had trained a surveillance camera at the sun. Behind the building, on a fantastically clear spring day, we found a cluster of small telescopes standing there wrapped in waterproof tarps, their legs visible at the bottom like overstocked barbecues in a suburban backyard. Heading onward to Apache Point, we met with Dr. Russet McMillan who generously gave us a private, behind-the-scenes tour of the facility. This included a glimpse of the software used to control the experiment, an introduction to the geometry of the retroreflecting arrays themselves, and, best of all, a visit upstairs to the actual laser room with its huge tanks of liquid nitrogen coolant and a diagram labeled “Delay Line Prisms” inside the door of a locked cabinet. Dr. McMillan walked us through the complex—a surprisingly massive hilltop structure of internal bracing and concrete walls—into what felt like an underlit office in a warehouse. Here, she pushed a bottom and the walls and roof split open, sliding aside to reveal the extraordinary smell of a late-afternoon spring pine forest and a light breeze. We stood there looking out at the blue sky and treetops, and the moon— with its prismatic array of Smout Allen-like objects—was up there waiting to appear after nightfall.
Dazzle objects, prisms on the moon, laser-scanned stealth ornament: it became increasingly clear to me that, if the goal was to curate an exhibition on the digitalization of landscape studies—that is, an exhibition that explored data and topography, surveying and information technology, future terrains and “landscape 2.0”—then there was a whole, readymade world of spatial technologies for us to consider. The world was already filled with extraordinary instruments, handheld sensors, mechanisms, experimental arrays, and other, often semi-autonomous, networked machines through which humans, on a continual basis, without pause, on every continent of the Earth and even at the bottom of the sea, have been recording and interpreting the world around them. These are “devices of wonder,” in the words of art historian Barbara Maria Stafford, machines that “not only constrain what it is possible to see but also determine what can be thought” by those dependent on them. Seen this way, even scientific instruments, such as radio telescopes, neutrino detectors, seismographs, and ground-penetrating radar used in archaeological surveys—even lumbering and lonely Mars rovers packed with instruments for off-world exploration—also reconfigure, albeit in very different ways, our existing understanding of a given landscape. These, too, could be displayed in an art museum alongside other more explicitly “artistic” works; to say that NASA and Smout Allen share many interpretive and conceptual overlaps in their work is thus not—or not only—a poetic exaggeration. Taken together, through the data they produce, these and other instruments
Listening to the Mississippi River through a hole in the ice (c. 1940), courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Patent for a hydrological machine from Smout Allenâ€™s research for Landscape Futures.
reveal the existence of spaces, objects, forces, and influences that humans would otherwise never be able to perceive. Charged particles passing through the Earth; ruined buildings locked within ancient flows of volcanic lava; vast and invisible radio galaxies turning hypnotically through space. Given the right instruments, humans gain access to and, more importantly, begin to interact with entire systems of objects and landscapes that were present all along but had otherwise been physically undetectable, camouflaged or hidden against an inhuman context or background. As it happens, this turn toward spatial instrumentation is a very old and very architectural concern. As C.J. Lim— also based at the Bartlett School of Architecture—writes in his book Devices: A Manual of Architectural + Spatial Machines, “Devices have shared a long and complex history with architecture. The machines of Vitruvius and Leonardo da Vinci were devised in times of peace and war for both the construction and destruction of the built form.” Citing Victorian mechanical phantasmagoria, theatrical stage-sets, and experimental architectural studies of speculative machines—mobile image-projection equipment, climbing robots, navigation tools, drawing instruments, sensors for detecting lost rivers, wearable toolkits, and more—Lim presents a compelling vision of the architect as spatial tinkerer, inventing new constellations of intermediary spatial products that can transform how human beings understand the spaces around them. Made from such things as plastic tubes, ball bearings, litmus paper, and lighting filaments, the “spatial machines” cataloged by Lim wander forth into the world, activating and sometimes literally shedding new light on overlooked nooks and crannies in the landscape.
The 2012 Dachstein Mars Cave Experiment transformed an Austrian ice cave into a laboratory for simulating the surface of Mars, including testing the effectiveness of future exploration gear, from spacesuits to semiautonomous remotesensing vehicles. Photographs copyright OEWF (Katja Zanella-Kux) and Association Planète Mars (APM).
From here, it is only a small jump to consider much larger technical undertakings, moving up to the scale of buildings and even to an entire metropolis. In his book OneFiveFour, for instance, architect Lebbeus Woods describes a speculative city ornamented by networked systems of “oscilloscopes, refractors, seismometers, interferometers, and other, as yet unknown instruments, measuring light, movement, force, change.” It is an urban-scale physics experiment, or Vitruvius updated for the 31st century. In this city of instruments, Woods imagines even the towers and bridges acting in strange geomechanical synchrony, as the buildings themselves “are kinetic instruments that measure the earth’s inner dynamic.” “Like musical instruments,” he writes,
“they vibrate and shift in diverse frequencies, in resonance with the earth and also with one another… Indeed, each object—chair, table, cloth, examining apparatus, structure—is an instrument; each material thing connects the inhabitants with events in the world around him and within himself.” This vision of the built environment as a constellation of scientific instruments actually has fascinating overlaps with the history of Christian cathedrals. In a remarkable book called The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories, historian J. L. Heilbron explores the long-standing astronomical interests of the Catholic church (in fact, the Vatican still owns and operates, in collaboration with the University of Arizona, Tucson, a large telescope facility in the mountains of southeastern Arizona). These studies were motivated less by a love for scientific learning, however—after all, this is the same organization that excommunicated Galileo and burned Giordano Bruno at the stake—than by something altogether more prosaic. “The problem,” Heilbron writes, “was establishing and promulgating the date of Easter.” Accurately maintaining the Christian calendar thus required Lebbeus Woods-like architectural inventions, including the ornamental augmentation of cathedrals in Florence, Bologna, and even the Vatican itself with meridian lines, quadrants, and solar gnomons that could measure, or give visual coordinates for, the perceived seasonal movement of the sun. The entire building, in this analysis, is designed to function as a kind of sacred astronomical device, passively recording and making visible the dynamics of heaven far above. The connective thread between these examples—from Smout Allen’s dazzling ornamentalism or an entire city designed by Lebbeus Woods to be “in resonance with the earth,” to the cathedral as passive solar experiment— can be found by focusing on and foregrounding the mechanisms, devices, and spatial machines through which the human understanding of a landscape might be radically refigured. These intricate models by architect Nat Chard explore a series of instrumental scenarios, including a “bird automata test track” for studying and filming mechanical flight, and various domed cameras and “drawing machines.” Images courtesy of Nat Chard.
The central curatorial question for Landscape Futures was thus right there, and suddenly seemed obvious: What if we could take the deceptively minor spatial intermediaries through which humans see and understand the Earth and put them into the context of such things as land art, geography, landscape anthropology, the digital humanities, and more? What if we could commission our own such devices—what sorts of traces and data clouds might they track, collect, or interpret? Who would invent them? How might they transform our understanding of the environment in which we live? Surely, I thought, these machines and experiments, these technologies and instruments, belonged in any serious conversation about landscape studies or the future of spatial design practice. Surely, in the vast space between Christian cathedrals and seismographs, between Lebbeus Woods and abandoned mines converted into high-energy physics experiments, between Smout Allen and NASA, there was fertile ground to explore. A few brief examples of how profoundly a device can affect our understanding of the landscape will hopefully demonstrate what my goals were in turning toward instruments, devices, and architectural inventions in the curatorial brief for Landscape Futures. In the September/October 2008 issue of Archaeology magazine, author Samir S. Patel profiled a team of particle physicists from the University of Texas, Austin, called the Maya Muon Group. For the past few years, we read, this group has been using repurposed muon detectors—“an almost featureless aluminum cylinder 5 feet in diameter” designed for “silently counting cosmic flotsam called muons,” or “ghost particles,” in Patel’s words, ceaselessly raining down from space—to peer inside archaeological ruins in Belize. There, these machines have been put to work searching for previously undiscovered internal spaces—rooms and corridors that may or may not exist—inside what the project’s scientists refer to as merely a “jungle-covered mound.” This “mound” might not be a mound at all, in other words: not a mountain but a building, a forgotten work of architecture long ago consumed by the forest and now masquerading as part of the natural landscape. Not the Earth, then, but an unnatural addition to it. Because dense materials, such as walls and mountain sides, block more muons than open spaces or empty
“By means of this chronograph,” the Library of Congress explains, “Dr. L.V. Astin records the weather signals sent down from the radiometeorograph attached to the balloon as it soars anywhere from 9 to 11 miles in the upper air.” Image courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.
Images courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.
An interview with David Gissen FUTURES
History’s Apparatus More specifically, when we think about reconstruction, we might think about something like Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s reconstruction of the Campo Marzio outside Rome. One of the key aspects of this, in addition to illustrating a more antiquarian concept of reconstruction, is that Piranesi introduces the idea of architecDAVID GISSEN: Reconstruction is something tural reconstruction as a kind of agitation. I’m increasingly interested in—the role that In other words, Piranesi’s engravings were reconstruction can play within architecture a statement about what Rome once was— and, more tangentially, within architectural but they were also a statement about what interpretations of nature. cities might be based upon our selective But, first, I should give you a sense of what interpretations of the past. I mean by “reconstruction.” Within arOne of the key features of the city, chitectural history, when we talk about Piranesi’s reconstruction, we’re generally describ- engravings were as Piranesi depicted it, is that it doesn’t really have streets. He imagined the city ing an activity by which an architect a statement or architectural historian visually about what Rome as just an agglomeration of buildings— of architecture—and streets were simply reinterprets a building from the past. It once was — the peripheral places left open in could be a building that he or she has but they were between. But he was doing that as a seen fragments or ruins of, or it could also a statebe a building that he or she has only ment about what form of critique—or I prefer the term agitation—as a kind of a pinprick to his read about within architectural literature cities might contemporary architectural audience. from the past. be based upon Now, reconstructions can take In either case, it generally involves our selective some act of visual representation and interpretations on a much more literal form, and they do, especially in the 19th century; but re-interpretation. of the past. their agitational role continues, and Some relatively early examples I think we often lose sight of this. In Paris, for of architectural reconstruction are by Johann instance, there’s the Place Vendôme. The colBernhard Fischer von Erlach, from his history umn standing today in the Place Vendôme is of architecture—also considered the first history a reconstruction of a column built by Napoleon of architecture—from the early 18th century. to commemorate his victory at Austerlitz. One of the things I find interesting about But that was also a reconstruction, of Trajan’s von Erlach’s reconstruction—and von Erlach column in Rome. was an architect reconstructing the buildings For anyone who knows Paris, this is like of the past for an architectural and, frankly, the swanky Madison Avenue of Paris now. aristocratic audience—is that, in addition to It’s where you go to shop at Cartier. What’s reconstructing buildings he had never seen but interesting to me is that, in 1871, when the only heard about or, in some cases, that didn’t Communards—the neo-Republicans of Paris— even exist, he was also reconstructing nature. wrested the city back from the ownership class Von Erlach imagines himself as reconstructand turned Paris into the first real example ing, for an architectural audience, a Chinese of revolutionary urbanism—they took over the landscape that is itself a reconstruction city, they ended property, they ended work of earlier natural forms. He’s saying that, within as we know it, and all of this lasted about three the activity of Chinese architecture, there months before it was brutally put down—one is already a reconstruction of even more of their first artistic acts was to bring this ancient landscapes. column down. This idea of reconstructing nature—bringing Gustave Courbet, the very famous Preback a nature that once existed but is lost—is, Impressionist painter who was also the head in a sense, embedded within the history of of artistic works for the Commune, therefore architecture and, thus, within the potential work said, our first act will be an act of destruction. of the architect. GEOFF MANAUGH: Let’s start with the idea of reconstruction, which is something you and I have talked about at great length and is also a theme that pops up more and more in your work.
An Interview with David Gissen He and his fellow artists and Communards brought the column down and created the mound of Vendôme. Courbet said it was the greatest artistic act of the 19th century. My research on the column and its destruction has revealed the most fascinating bits of data. For instance, I found these old photos of the Commune in the Berkeley library: they actually built a story and a half hill out of hay, and had all the window shutters around the square closed so that when they toppled the column it wouldn’t damage the street. The shutters were closed so that all the dust and debris that shot out wouldn’t break the glass. In fact, just to continue this random line of thought, when the Situationists, headed by Guy Debord, began writing about the city, they reclaimed this act. They said it was one of the great revolutionary acts of urbanism—the creating of this mound. The Communards had made a landscape in the city out of a militaristic monument. Anyway, as soon as the Communard revolution was suppressed, one of the first acts of the new public works commission was to rebuild the column—to reconstruct a reconstruction in the Place Vendôme. When you go there today, you are seeing the second iteration of that column, and its real urban history is completely erased to us. So reconstruction and destruction have an interesting dialectic, one that I think is possible, but not necessarily easy, to recover. The theme of reconstructing nature runs throughout much of your work, including the essays in your book Subnature. How did you first get interested in the subject?
When I was a graduate student, for my thesis project I wanted to do some sort of reconstruction. But I didn’t want to reconstruct a Greek temple; I didn’t want to reconstruct ancient Rome. I was interested in how reconstruction could have an agitational relationship to the present, and I was also—and have been for a very long time—very much interested in ideas of urban nature. So I decided to reconstruct a building type that existed very briefly on the East River and Hudson River in New York City, called floating
bath houses. These buildings were first built in the late 19th century as a place in which newly arrived immigrants to the city would have a place to wash themselves. To bathe. Bathing in the 19th century had two meanings: it meant to clean or to wash yourself, of course, but it also had a recreational form. To bathe was what, today, we’d call swimming. What was so provocative to me in thinking about this, when I was a student in the mid 1990s, is that people once swam in the rivers of New York City, which, at the time, when I was a student, seemed completely disgusting. They still are quite polluted, of course, but, at the time, just the image—the very thought of somebody swimming in the river—was repulsive. When I decided to reconstruct these buildings, I wanted to do it as a provocation about what the river might become. At this time, in the mid ’90s, there was only the very beginning of a discussion about creating boulevards so that people in the city could have access to the rivers and enjoy those landscapes from a recreational perspective; but I wanted to throw this out there as a way to think about the river could become much more than just something to observe. So, in 1999, we exhibited a suite of drawings, models, and photographs at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City. What was really kind of exhilarating for me at the time—I was quite young, in my 20s—was the fact that this exhibition, which was very modest and simple, was picked up by the local newspapers, including The New York Times and the Village Voice, and people really reacted to the exhibition in exactly the way the exhibition was designed to operate. In other words, the exhibition was designed to produce a certain kind of reaction and I was very happy that it did: it offered a vision of what the East and Hudson Rivers of New York City could be through a reconstruction. Not that we could necessarily realize this today, but it does make us think about what is possible with our bodies in a city and with the landscape that surrounds that city. It was funny, though: after doing that exhibition, everybody was like, “Can you do an exhibition about pools in Central Park? You can reconstruct the pools that Robert Moses once
History’s Apparatus haas that the extension of a museological mentality into the city is such a dangerous thing. Museums are not places where things get frozen for all time; rather, they’re sites where things, and the contexts of things, become intensely and endlessly debated. Again, think of the Elgin Marbles. More to your point, there’s a suggestion in your questions that there might be something very dangerous in a curatorial, conservationist, or preservationist agenda being wielded in the city. There’s a risk of stagnation. And when you talk about the idea of a future landscape— of a landscape’s future, of landscape futures— you might immediately think of a landscape saturated with, or filtered through, technology, instead of a landscape seen through the mentality of historical preservation. But the idea of the future always implies a present and a past—and we need to think about what the role of the historical might be within some near or immediate concept of the future. What is the role of history in quote-unquote landscape futures? What is the historian’s relationship to the future?
The Active Layer An interview with Mason White & Lola Sheppard FUTURES
The Active Layer
GEOFF MANAUGH: Let’s start with the piece itself, which has an imposing though quite elegant presence in the gallery. What’s the concept behind it? MASON WHITE: “The Active Layer” is part of a larger series of research and design projects that all look at the far northern context, which is typically seen either as a militaristic enterprise—a purely strategic enterprise, through things like the Distant Early Warning Line or events like Operation Nanook, which is a military tour conducted there by the Canadian Navy—or as a place used only for remote scientific research outposts, such as Eureka in Nunavut. Instead, we’re looking at what kinds of architectures might come out of that region, if it were treated not as the globe’s far northern attic condition but as its own local context. Of course, it’s not well populated; there are around 100,000 inhabitants above 60-degrees north. We were looking at that question as part of a multi-year research project. In particular, the geological foundation of this region is called the “active layer,” which yields a type of landscape phenomenon called thermokarst. Thermokarst is basically when the permafrost layer heats up, partially
melts, and then collapses, and the active layer is the topmost level of soil that shifts rapidly between freeze and thaw states. That is pretty much the basis of any life there; it’s how you get plants, which mammal species feed off of, and then humans feed off of those mammal species. So it’s a key phenomenon—the active layer—this thin and fragile layer just above the permafrost.
We’re using the idea of freezing and thawing to explore what kinds of architecture might occupy that space, what kind of architecture might relate to that environment more directly. LOLA SHEPPARD: It’s also becoming a site for other projects that aren’t necessarily situated on that exact geography. In other words, the active layer allows us to talk about a particular kind of landscape that is constantly
An Interview with Mason White & Lola Sheppard oscillating between land and water, between freeze and thaw. In that sense, the active layer stands in for a whole host of geographic conditions that this project then specifically addresses. I’m interested in the larger implications of such a climatically, politically, and even economically dynamic landscape. I’m curious how you, as designers, can best diagnose what is appropriate now for that landscape, versus a kind of predictive or projective—even preemptive—look at emerging future scenarios. You know, a project that will only be appropriate in fifteen years, or after radical climate change. Do your northern projects aim to catalyze or instigate new conditions, or do they respond to something that currently exists? G.M.
idea is that a hospital is a big, burdensome building and an air terminal can equally be a big, burdensome building; so our proposition is that, if there are about four communities, and they’re dispersed by 500-700 kilometers from each other, then they can form one hospital, even though they’re spatially separated. They’re in four different locations, but there’s a kind of Voltron logic here, where, even though they’re in diverse locations, they are linked together by plane. They tap into a larger set of communities cooperatively opening a single facility—in this case, a hospital—on a manageable scale. That’s a strange architectural logic that comes out of a strange situation—and we really embrace that logic.
More generally, because these are small communities and they’re very remote, part of our interest was to ask: can one envision M.W. a broader role for infrastructure? This is crucial. Well, it’s a very strange context, in the sense An airport is the only way in and out of many that everything there already does not belong. northern communities, so its role could It truly is a frontier. On top of that, it’s so potentially expand. difficult to design, say, two generations ahead; It’s the same thing with the idea of a school: it’s much easier to design within just one could it expand to take on other functions generation. I think the situations we are looking in a larger network, and hence have the ability at exist more in the near future; they would to adapt or expand its role and be shared address immediate concerns, but the way amongst potentially many in which they would address those concerns communities over time? That’s would be obliquely. That’s where Let me give you an example: we have the element of where the element of trying to a project that we call “Health Hangars.” It trying to proj- project into the future happens, looks at a phenomenon that is very common not so much in the sense of ect into the in the north: medivac-ing. Basically, you have future happens, predicting future directions a community of 800 people and you’ve got for the culture or the economic not so much a pregnant woman or somebody’s who circumstances of those comin the sense got tuberculosis, and they need to be flown by of predicting munities, but simplyto envision airplane to the nearest hospital, which is some- future direcmore possibilities for the infratimes a two-hour flight away. The air industry tions for the structure that responds to this becomes a major lifeline—and social line— culture or the unique context. amongst these very distant communities, who economic cirG.M. are all in the process of investing millions It’s interesting that your cumstances of of dollars in small but legitimate air terminals. those communi- northern work also includes Air freighting, air travel, etc.—these are vital for ties, but sim- infrastructure aimed at their economic well-being. ply to envision nonhuman users, such as the The project that we put on the table would more possibili- “Caribou Pivot Stations.” What combine a hospital with an air terminal. are the challenges of designing ties for the It’s got a very specific configuration of what is infrastructure nonhuman infrastructure, geared toward land use, what is geared toward that responds so to speak, or infrastructure air use, how does freighting work, where to this unique for other species? is a place for the patients, etc. Basically, the context.
The Active Layer
In their 2010 project for “water farming” in California’s Salton Sea, Lateral Office proposed an ambitiously multi-faceted new infrastructure that could combine water purification, public recreation, and wildlife habitat renewal. “Easily replaced or upgraded,” the architects write, “these infrastructures double as landscape life support,
creating new sites for production or recreation. The ambition is to supplement landscapes at risk rather than overhaul them, combining existing landscapes with emergent systems to catalyze a network of ecologies and economies in a new public realm.”
An interview with Chris Woebken FUTURES
Insect Spectacles in. But I don’t consider myself a scientist; that’s not what I am. The easiest thing to do, actually, is to create projects like “Animal Superpowers,” where you’re basically creating toys for kids. They shift the perspective and it’s really fun, but the idea of creating larger interactions with water and fish—or with bats, through the “Bat Billboard”—is very difficult. With the bats, I had the idea to take these animal interactions further and to use the structure of the billboard not only as an interactive habitat, but to have it work also for a brand. I was actually thinking about Motorola, whose logo is a bat. Because, once you take these kinds of ideas into a commercial realm, and you try to make something like this into a viral advertisement, or into something that works for a brand while still functioning as a fun installation in the city that talks about ecological issues, there are just so many factors involved. It’s more difficult to design and to make sure it works. For now, the “Bat Billboard” is just a concept, but I can easily imagine it becoming real and working as some form of advertising—to do this type of work for a commercial client, but still create these kinds of ecological relationships. That’s more difficult than creating something like toys that shift perception. So the question is, really: is this work about making people imagine new things, and think about ecological issues and consider new urban possibilities? Or is it really about having hard data and creating real fact- and sciencebased installations? Because I’m interested in both. Animal Superpowers started off with the idea of looking at animal perspectives, and creating these toys, but then it started to expand more and more, which was great. It’s interesting that you mention the playfulness, though, because I really need to watch out that it’s going to stay that way. The humor and the playfulness is key to getting people engaged in these types of issues. That’s how you make science really accessible.
An interview with David Benjamin & Soo-In Yang FUTURES
Architectural Monsterology with a new perspective on the emerging ecological conditions we are designing for. So, in 2010, we went to Western Australia, which is referred to as “the quarry of the world.” We landed in Perth and we went straight out to the Kalgoorlie Super Pit, which is one of the deepest gold mines in the world. It’s a hole so big that it has its own weather system and a series of strobe lights to help keep planes away from it, because otherwise they would drop into the vacuum caused by the vortex. We went on to Wiluna, which is an underground gold mine, and then up to Newman, which is the largest iron ore mine, and where we get our steel from as architects. Then we followed the train line all the way through to Port Headland, a town blanketed in a thick layer of rusty red dust, which is where Australia ships all that iron ore over to China and Iceland. Along the way, we had lots of meetings with geologists, miners and engineers, and we learned about the models that they work with. Basically, they work with LiDAR data and satellite images, looking for anomalies in the landscape. They can do things like measure the gravity content of the land; they can sense fluctuations in gravity and in magnetic fields. And they use this data to construct what are basically phantom visions of the ore body hidden below the surface. Some of them even referred to themselves as storytellers, because they intuitively read all this information and then conjure a speculative image
Photographs from the gold mines of Western Australia, taken by Liam Young and Oliviu LugojanGhenciu/olgv. net, part of an Unknown Fields Division trip exploring distant landscapes of extraction.
of what this ore body might be like—a new kind of Dreamtime about where and how large it might really be. It’s on the basis of these stories that this entire infrastructure is installed and put in motion. The mining engineers are basically designers. They develop all this fragmentary data into models, which become the design of the pit itself. But then what happens is, based on gold prices, the pit model changes. In other words, if the gold price or the mineral price is higher, then the pit gets wider as it becomes cost effective to mine areas of lower concentration. This happens nearly in real-time—the speed of the machines digging the pit can change over the course of the day based on the price of gold, so the geometry of the pit is utterly parametric, modeling these distant financial calculations.
An Interview with Liam Young
Actually, there are areas where they know there is gold, but it’s in such low concentrations that, with the technology at the moment, it’s not efficient to mine it out. But they know the technology will advance to such a point
that it someday will be efficient to mine it, so they’ve basically sectioned those places off. That land is lying in wait with a kind of latent wealth. So what we found is that the landscape— although it’s rock and earth and minerals— is actually a virtual construction, in a way. It’s a construct of technology, the changing gold price, and these virtual models. It’s an accelerated geology, with mines—on the scale of what would take rivers millennia to produce—linked to an entirely virtual index. But it is also a very real, physical place. We went a kilometer underground to explore where the gold comes from, visiting these extraordinary machines—these lumbering beasts and strange creatures in a warren of passages— all programmed and controlled remotely. All this paraphernalia is to get gold out of the ground and quantify how much was in there. There’s even a bacteria tank where they’ve engineered a new type of bacteria to release the gold from the ore it’s attached to. At the end of this process, we went into the gold room. There are just a few of these scattered around Australia. We met Pete, who’s like the superhero of the mine. He’s the guy who, once or twice a week, gets to pour the gold and make gold bars—and one gold bar in this form, which is refined from 40 trucks of rock, is worth around $150,000 US. It goes straight from the gold room into a plane with armed guards, then into the Perth mint for refining, and then it is flown to an underground vault in a place like London or New York. Essentially, it goes from one hole in the ground into another. Again, this virtual construction of landscape is based purely on the storytelling that mining engineers invent around an imagined ore body that they think is underground. They dig it out in order to quantify it, and to prove that their stories and models are true. All we need, then, is a new technology—a more accurate technology that is able to measure all the gold in a plot of land—and perhaps we wouldn’t have to take it out of the ground at all. We wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of digging it all up only to stick in another hole somewhere on the other side of the world. On another Unknown Fields mission we
Architectural Monsterology took a group of students to Iceland to see the other end of this process. What happens is that raw bauxite comes from Australia, and it then goes over to Iceland where it gets smelted into aluminum. We send it all that way—halfway around the world—because of the ultra low cost of energy in Iceland. The title of that studio was actually “The End of the World and Other Bedtime Stories.” We went there, basically, because we wanted to see anxieties about the world collapsing. We wanted to go and see the glaciers melting. We wanted to go and see a place where all of these discussions of climate change are actually being experienced first-hand. But what we found was—you know, we met with all these meteorologists, and we tried to probe them about the dangers, the pessimism, and the fears they had about the future and about climate change, but what we actually found was this country full of extraordinarily happy and optimistic people. In a way, we were going there for the end of the world—but what we found was an ecology and a country full of aspirations and hope. Because Iceland is set: they’ve got unlimited water resources, they’ve got unlimited geothermal energy, their country is actually growing by the speed that our fingernails are growing. They’re going to be a global superpower, man. [laughter]
Despite this image of Iceland and the Arctic Circle as the last fragile wilderness, or northern frontier, what’s actually happening there is a burgeoning hydrogen economy. And the hydrogen economy is usually seen as this perfectly green movement but, in reality, it’s spawned a new landscape of aluminum smelting plants—an incredibly polluting industry. Underlining this pristine wilderness is a
kind of sinister undercurrent, where they see how much they can thoroughly exploit their natural resources. The other industry that they’ve developed to make the most of their unlimited power is that of data storage and server farms. We explored the idea of what this industry might become—a new typology of industry based around data storage and geology.
With Tobias Jewson, for example, one of the students that year, we developed the idea of the data fossil, a kind of accelerated geology that could be used to store digital data in the ground. You could hack geological processes to store data in a version of a 3D QR code—a data rock. You would create structures that can be read through MRI scans, or through ground-based radar, and they would actually store data within the landscape of Iceland. Crystalline forests of data would be a new form of geology—reimagining the pristine landscape as a data archive, somehow echoing the economically encoded mines we visited in Australia. We went back to the Arctic in the winter of 2011, visiting Barrow, Alaska, on the winter solstice to learn more about anthropological ideas of cyclical time, the international date line, the vast military outposts up there scanning the frontier, and the incredible infrastructure of ice roads and oil pipelines. For instance, Alaskan Inuits, informed by ancestral environmental traditions, embrace the uncertainties of the future with a deep belief in their own adaptability—an interesting contrast with environmental scientists, who attempt to assemble observations and data into climate models that predict the future as precisely as possible. Caught between improvisation and premeditation, these cultural relationships to landscape and time offer very different approaches to the idea of “landscape futures.”
An Interview with Liam Young
Photos by Liam Young, Dessislava Lyutakova, and Alexander Laing (alexanderlaing.com) document the Unknown Fields Division trip to Barrow, Alaska, for the 2011 winter solstice.
Architectural Monsterology There’s a consistent theme throughout your work, including the Landscape Futures exhibition, of the idea of natural history— but the limits of natural history, or even the future of natural history, where genetic modification, animal cyborgs, sentient biotechnologies, and other kinds of invented creatures will exist happily side by side in otherwise pristine landscapes. Can you talk a bit more about your interests here, in these mythic tales and design fictions of an augmented nature to come? G.M.
The core interest in this part of the work is the idea that myth and imagination plays much more of a role in our conception of nature and science than we typically acknowledge. Nature is a moving target. Through the expeditions, what we’ve realized is that there is no real nature anymore—at least not in the sense that we have culturally defined it. Our work is about teasing this out, acknowledging this complexity, to see if thinking about nature in traditional terms is in any way relevant. Perhaps the very idea of nature needs to be reevaluated in the context of prime-time cosmetic surgery, gene manipulation, modified crops escaping into the wild, augmented animals, even things like the occupation of the electromagnetic spectrum and emergent A.I. In this world, we must understand ecology and nature in new ways. We must not continue to see technology and nature in opposition to one another, but we must rethink our conservationist ecological position. What is required is a cultural shift and a redefinition—even a new word—for the idea of nature. We need new design strategies and new designers for a new kind of wilderness. This is not to We need new design strate- undercut the hard-fought battles already won by the conservation gies and new movement; it’s just to suggest designers for that we need to be far more radia new kind of wilderness. cal in our approach. There was a point—and I’m talking back in ancient Rome with people like Pliny the Elder and his volumes of natural history—when our view of nature was one of allegory. This was a time when travel to exotic lands meant encountering monsters and exotic beasts. Our current concept of nature—a tradiL.Y.
tion of biology—is one that really began through myths and stories, and these evolved into more objective things, like zoology, when people started to classify plants and animals. But what’s interesting is that, even then, you encountered a lot of hoaxes and fake specimens. For instance, there’s Charles Waterton, an early 1800s biologist who traveled through South America collecting specimens; he was a contemporary with Joseph Banks and all these guys. But he was also a taxidermist. He would come back to London with all the extraordinary creatures he had discovered on his travels through South America, but he would try to put forward, amongst this mix, various animals that he collectively classified as non-descripts: animals that couldn’t fit into the typical classification categories. A number of these non-descripts were actually very wellcrafted taxidermy hoaxes—things that were part eagle, owl, and heron. So, even in this time when people were trying to be empirical about biology, there was an underlying layer of imagination and mystery that kept the allegorical understanding of nature alive. At some point, superstition disappeared from nature and science but, now, there are all of these unknowns about emerging technology, and I think there’s a renewed possibility for myth and fiction in reframing our cultural relationship to nature. We’ve always used stories and narratives as techniques for dealing with unknowns—whether it was understanding the orbital rotation of planets around the sun, which meant that, when we lived in a culture based on agriculture, we developed whole solar mythologies in order to understand why the sun would rise and fall at the beginning and end of each day. The potential to use these same techniques as a way of thinking about the ways we might relate to these emerging technologies—a kind of engineering folklore— is really interesting, I think. For example, there are things like Japanese monster stories—like Godzilla, a monster born out of Japanese culture trying to deal with the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with the terrifying new technology of the atomic bomb, through narratives in film and television. Jorge Luis Borges, in his Book of Imaginary
An Interview with Liam Young golems that can’t be killed, almost as if, in a Judeo-Christian culture, the robot is akin to a slap in the face of God. In any case, my point is that any comparative mythology should include a detailed look At what different cultures view with horror. That’s actually the core of a new collection that I’m doing, based in Japan. I’m interested in this idea of an evolutionary theory of technology, of technological myths. After going to the Galapagos, it was so interesting to visit Japan and see the increasing specialization and speciation of technology there. For instance, I can take my phone from London to anywhere in the world, but it’s only Beings, describes what he calls Liam Young’s “necessary monsters”: cathartic “Bioluminescent recently that Japanese phones can go in the opposite direction; Japanese phones have creatures that are a particular Billboards” become so increasingly specific to certain culculture’s way of dealing with the will roam the anxieties of their time. I wonder city of the fu- tural needs in Japan that they are more or less if we could start to design these ture like rats useless in other countries—or they’re functional in all the wrong ways, I suppose. The actual sorts of stories and myths into or squirrels, technology has evolved in a culturally deterour future cities and landprojecting scapes. We try to use narrative images on bac- mined way. Or take their extravagant robotic and the illustration of fictional terial screens. toilets, or the vending machine culture: all of these things mean that you get an increasing scenarios as imaginative tools to speciation of culturally based technologies. explore potential new relationAnd I wonder, just as with Darwinian evoluships with nature. tion, about the potential for mutations within G.M. that ever-increasing landscape. It’s also interesting to look at how certain things can seem technologically One of the projects I’m working on there inevitable within the narrative arc of Grecois an investigation of the obake and yokai, Roman mythology—for instance, talking a collection of ancient myths and monsters, but statues or the angelic world of cyberspace. to reframe them through new technologies— Western mythology, in a sense, prepares to make a whole new technological bestiary. It us for these things, so we’re ready for them will be a collection of robotic specimens framed when they arrive. But this applies not only as migrating infrastructure within cities. to future scenarious that are depicted One of these will be a suicide monster, which stalks the forests beneath Mt. Fuji. It’s as desirable; it also applies to things that essentially a suicide infrastructure that referinspire fear. For instance, there’s an ongoing ences the tremendously high suicide rates theme in Japanese horror films of the in Japan and the landscape of the Aokigahara mistreated ancestor, the betrayed child, or the abused family member who comes Forest, an infamous site where many people go back with a grudge to haunt and torment to commit suicide. It gives this buried cultural the living. In a very family-centric culture, phenomenon a technological expression, these are nightmarish possibilities. But this by designing into the forest this creature that is the same society that has no trepidation stalks the woods. I don’t know a polite way at all about, for instance, robots, which of describing this—it sneaks up and painlessly are, by contrast, a perennial source of worry kills people who are walking through the forest, for the West, with our myths and stories of then it excretes their remains as fertilizer for out-of-control, autonomous machines and a new forest of cherry blossom trees. These L.Y.
Architectural Monsterology gorgeous pink trees start to bloom inside a dark green, shadowed forest as a living memorial of the people who gave up their lives there. I think the potential to mutate technologies based on very specific cultural quirks and idiosyncrasies is super interesting. To build on that, and to design into the structures of cities, and into the objects we fill our world with, these personalities and superstitious tendencies. To speculate on how design may play a role in developing new cultural relationships with the inevitable byproducts of industry, a changing climate, and the anthropocenic world. I’m curious about the ethical implications of some of your projects. On one level, there are morally dubious propositions like suicide monsters or ecologically problematic ideas like robotic invasive species and synthetic bees; and, on another, there is an ongoing repurposing of existing technologies, many of which originally come from things like the extraction industry or even the military. I’m curious where ethics come into this—if at all—and what sort of critical role your work plays.
We are interested in the role of the architect as provocateur. We try to develop projects that ask questions and that identify new arenas for operation rather than just finding solutions to problems posed to us. The work does hope to explore emerging ethical questions, as well, not by taking a particular position but by generating discussion, instigating debate, and acknowledging complexity. There are a number of parts to that in relation to your question. The initial idea you mention—of technology transfer—is a super interesting one. As designers, we typically are much further down the line, in terms of the emergence and development of these technologies. So much research today is driven by the funding body—by a corporation or a science lab or the military, who only pay attention to the types of problems they want to fund—which means that technology transfer becomes much more interesting than the actual problem that begins the research process. That transfer, or the misuse of the original technology, is the real site of innovation,
although, in terms of time, it happens much further down the line. For example, I was talking to Mark Pilkington recently, the UFOlogist, about “Project Palladium,” which is essentially radar-spoofing technology. Various conspiracy theorists maintain that radar spoofing is the idea of creating phantoms or ghosts in radar images. You can actually create these strange apparitions that will pop up on enemy radar screens so that their hidden squad of jet fighters will reveal themselves as they try to track down this phantom signal. This means you can see where they are and start to track them with your own stealth planes and so forth. The thought is that, when pilots see strange behaviors on the radar screen and report them as UFOs, what they’re actually reporting is tests of radar-spoofing technology. I like the idea that you can create ghosts and apparitions within this spectrum—but you could also create absences or shadows. For instance, there was an article in Wired last year about the U.S. military’s development of roving network-robots and autonomous drones that they could launch across a place like Egypt, when the government cut off internet access to prevent people from organizing protests. These drones would fly off and hover above the city, and create ad hoc connections and networks. We have just finished a project inspired by this called Electronic Countermeasures. We built a flock of quadcopter GPS drones from components originally intended for aerial reconnaissance and police surveillance to create a flying pirate file-sharing network. Part nomadic infrastructure and part technological creature, they were rebuilt and programmed as a kind of aerial Napster:
An Interview with Liam Young they swarm into formation, broadcasting their illegal network, and then disperse, only to reform elsewhere. I’m also interested in the idea that we could take the network-drone—which is emblematic of the militarization of the electromagnetic spectrum—and subvert that by turning them into signal-jamming robots. You can imagine designing shadows within the electromagnetic spectrum—creating points of absence. That might lead to the idea of stealth buildings or stealth spaces, where people can drop out of the network entirely and disappear from the grid. Silence and invisibility could become as intriguing a commodity as connection. One of our roles as designers is to co-opt things that are developed through the military, and to imagine their implications and consequences when deployed in other contexts. But the other thing to talk about, in terms of ethics, is that a lot of these projects are speculative. They were never intended as real propositions, to be put forward or taken out to venture capitalists for potential start-ups. That’s a critical role of the designer, as well: to launch a project that may be inherently questionable, but to launch the fiction of that project with utter conviction—to present it to the world through various media and force a response, a conversation, or a debate to occur. This is very different from when you hear a couple of talking heads on the BBC describe, in very abstract terms, the latest development in robotics, or the latest potential of biotechnology. There, we’re forced to make ethical judgments on whether or not we want that to be part of our world—we have to decide whether or not it’s positive or dangerous—based purely on abstract research that exists and is presented in a vacuum. But the real potential of these sorts of projects is to explore the future implications of new technologies through design scenarios, and to present them in such a way that we can start to develop emotional, cultural, or social responses to them. We can play some of those scenarios out so that we can actually make informed decisions about whether these things are worth trying to develop in more empirical terms later on. I suppose that’s why some of our projects
For a 2012 project called “Electronic Countermeasures,” Young explored the possibility of launching a drone filesharing network that could bring internet connectivity to cities where information is tightly policed.
are inherently ambiguous about whether or not they’re positive projections or cautionary tales. Operating in the media of speculation or fiction allows one to do that. You know, typically, in a client-based relationship you can’t present something that’s deliberately dystopian. You can’t walk into a client meeting for a new museum in Dubai and say, “Guys, have a look at this—it’s going to be fucking horrible.” [laughter] You inherently have to present a positive position. Let’s go back to the Unknown Fields Division. What future destinations might in store, and what sort of research questions are you hoping to address? G.M.
Before we decide where to go next, we have to look at why we travel to these places in the first place. Design students often stay within the very closed and hermetic world of the design studio. What we try to do is open up that place to include an exploration of alternative worlds—to take students out to these places as a means of looking back at our own familiar world from outside. Essentially, we travel as designers and documentarians, as reporters and visionaries both—part journalist, part sciencefiction soothsayer. By collapsing these on top of one another, you get a confluence of fictional design strategies thar play out in these sites as test beds, but then offer a critical reading of our own cities back home. It’s the same shift of perspective one gets
Architectural Monsterology when looking at the present through the lens of science fiction. At the first Thrilling Wonder Stories that you and I put together back in 2009, Warren Ellis mentioned that science fiction is not about prediction: science fiction is actually an exaggeration of the present as a means to unpick it and reveal something about it. Prediction is only ever science fiction’s side effect. In a way, that idea—the distancing gaze offered by science fiction—is the same impetus behind traveling to these wild and mysterious places. On our most recent trip we went to Chernobyl and saw a new form of wilderness that has emerged from technological disaster. This is a theme we are interested in following further on future missions. We’ve also started to plan an expedition up the Congo River, as a contemporary retelling of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness but, instead of the ivory trade, we want to examine the rare-earth mineral industry and the militarized landscapes that are a consequence of our digital device manufacture. We also only touched on the Amazon when we did our Ecuadorian tour. I would be interested in going back to the Brazilian Amazon to explore the forest’s pharmaceutical industry. This continues on from our conversation about the mythic relationship with nature: to go back to this extraordinary landscape of the forest, where a commercial industry is now intertwined with an indigenous culture of medicinal herbs and hallucinogens. Another trip—in terms of our discussion about militarized technology—would be to go through Vietnam and Cambodia, and to look at sites in the context of guerilla warfare and post-war landscapes, sort of updating Lebbeus Woods’s work in Sarajevo. It’s a very different type of warfare, one that occurs through camouflage in the rain forest and through emergent terrorist networks. One of the professors I worked with as an undergrad—named Tom Cohen— was a former student of Paul de Man’s and a colleague of Jacques Derrida who first introduced me to critical theory and deconstruction, and who also went on to write several books about Alfred Hitchcock. In any case, in one of his many essays, Tom discussed animal life—specifically, the idea that
creatures like rain forest insects are engaged in a kind of media war of chemical signs and countersigns, fought by means of dissimulation, where insects evolve to look like twigs and whole species mimic and camouflage themselves as other species. It’s natural history joined to a very particular kind of media theory, by way of deconstruction. L.Y. We’re actually working on some camouflage projects at the moment. I think a history of camouflage is a nice indicator of our changing relationship to landscape and nature. For instance, modern ideas of camouflage begin with dazzle ships, which were about disguising form—not blending in to the background, but simply disrupting the recognizable form of a ship or a troop vehicle so that you didn’t know which direction it might be moving. It’s based on techniques of misdirection, where nature isn’t seen as a thing that one is meant to assimilate with, but as a foreign, exotic thing that is very much separate from ourselves. That, then, evolved into the idea of blending in—like with the Ghillie suit, and the face paint, and the textile patterns—where nature is seen as a connected entity that we can start to disappear into and that we can be a part of. That’s where jungle warfare starts to come into its own. Then, contemporary camouflage starts to move into the electromagnetic spectrum, with stealth planes, signal jamming, and electronic countermeasures—these new, invisible spectrums of war. These are the new forms of landscape that we now occupy, and the idea of camouflage, and the tactics of how we disappear, has suitably shifted or morphed. So I’d like to explore, in the jungles, the idea of disrupting form vs. disappearing into nature, to look at how, as designers, we can see the new natures of the digital landscape and its interface with existing jungle environments. Embedded within that are questions for the architect as to what we can do in a world where the dominant building material now exists outside the physical spectrum. This means that we must rethink the very core of what our profession is. That would be a great future studio.
An interview with Mark Smout & Laura Allen FUTURES
Superscape GEOFF MANAUGH: I first became aware of your work in 2006, when the Augmented Landscapes pamphlet came out. Can we go back to that pamphlet briefly and discuss some of the broader themes it explored— including active landscapes, mechanical architectures, visual scenography, and so forth? What about those particular themes still propels your design work today? MARK SMOUT: Broadly speaking, as the title suggests, the pamphlet is about augmenting landscapes: pursuing more of a positive and symbiotic relationship between architecture and landscape, and looking at how that might generate a more proactive or productive form of architecture. An example of that, I suppose, would be the “Ballistic Instruments” project. Had we not squeezed that into the Pamphlet when we did—had we not tied it off for publication at that point in time—we probably wouldn’t have finished it in the same way. We would have followed it through a bit more, and made a series of projectile devices, and we’d be launching instruments out in the middle of the Norfolk coast right now—I’d probably still be doing it! [laughs] It would have been a five-year project.
LAURA ALLEN: And it was about the horizon. It was about the horizon and architecture— about the place of the horizon in architecture. We were looking at the way that objects fit into or stand against the horizon, to see how architecture could function differently in that visual context. That then became a springboard for the later “Retreating Village” project, in that we went on to examine how things like the facades of buildings might work to break up the horizon visually with a disruptive pattern
In their book Augmented Landscapes, Mark Smout and Laura Allen write that, for “Ballistic Instruments,” pictured here, “a split-second spatial event is triggered which reveals the nature of the sites which [these instruments] temporarily occupy.”
An Interview with Mark Smout & Laura Allen or a disruptive material on the front, like dazzle ships from World War II. The façade patterns could be illuminated from certain angles, so the architecture would disturb the visual line of the horizon in a way that wasn’t purely spatial. I’m talking about perceptual illumination here— not just a series of lights on sticks or something like that. It was about perceptual shifts. We’re very interested in perception, landscape, architecture, and drawing—that sort of thing. So “Ballistic Instruments” would be all about firing objects up into space to let you see where the sky meets the land. And that would have been in one of three ways: one would be with a line, one would be with a flash of chrome, and the other would use a chromed net that could fly onto an object—a house or a tree— to help you understand how three-dimensional a silhouette could really be. The design process of understanding these projectiles—how they perform and what’s needed on site to make them into functioning tools—was all imagined, however. They weren’t ever fired. They were, in a sense, conceptual prototypes for a test. They were not necessarily instruments that were meant to be used, in other words; the design of the instruments
was itself the test. We quite like working like that. It’s rather akin to Mike Webb’s Temple Island project, which is sort of a conceptual device that may or may not exist and may or may not work.
Both of those projects are devices in the sense that they’re supposed to be performative somehow. They’re meant to instigate a sensation or to make you aware of something. In a sense, they’re not supposed to be benign; they’re supposed to be very active, even though, in the majority of cases, they’re not really doing anything. They’re not twirling around or moving. It’s their perceptual effects that are very dynamic.
Devices are also very good ways of describing complex systems. Systems exist everywhere in the landscape—from regional ecologies to spatial systems within architecture—and a device is a more or less complex system. It’s a way of describing a situational relationship between known—or unknown— objects. That’s how we use them.
The “Retreating Village” project is
Diagrams from NASA detail “local apparent time” and “local real time” for the LANDSAT system, including precession, implied orbital planes, the “geocenter,” and more. Courtesy of NASA.
Superscape it’s a very bland map with just the occasional little dot of sand in it. But, when you compare that to a map where I come from, in north Wales, that’s an incredibly rich depiction of coal seams, different forms of limestone, and loads and loads of stuff that you’d never know was going on under the soil. I like the idea that the vast majority of the stuff on that map you just can’t see—you don’t even know it’s there. So you like maps of geologic strata that humans can’t normally see, and, Laura, you like temporary geographies of air that usually aren’t mapped at all. G.M.
And that would make a good project! [laughs]
L.A. They’re also just super graphics—and they’re narratives. They’re little stories about a place at a particular moment, before it changed or became something else. At the moment that that map was made, that’s where those things were. And things also stick around: British maps, for instance, are absolutely full of old battle sites and remains of priories and Roman stuff. Even on a current map, you’re looking at 2,000 years’ worth of habitation.
The unit this year is looking at “infrastructural architectures and megaurban ecologies.” Infrastructure is key.
What I think is really great about this trip is the liberty of an everything-goes environment like New York. Part of the challenge for the students so far is that we’ve been asking them to make a lot of assumptions, and to move forward on the strength of their own proposals rather than based on intensive research about the city.
The idea of urban infrastructure also feels a bit more tangible when you’re not actually in that city. It’s easier to think of it as an abstract system of pipes and conduits and roads and cables, and then to come up with your own scheme or proposal—to really frame an idea—before you test it out in the real situation. If you’re doing that while standing there, you can get maybe too wrapped up in the details and lose your best ideas.
And a lot of the students so far have been coming back to us with environmentally focused proposals, not in terms of climate but in terms of urban cycles, processes, logistics, and delivery—the landscape of Manhattan as one enormous bit of malfunction. That’s been really exciting. L.A.
Finally, this interview comes to an end a few weeks before you arrive in New York City for another super-workshop, featuring a different group of students from the Bartlett. I’m curious how this very different type of environment—architecturally dense and vertically layered with subways, sewers, and even Revolutionary War-era artifacts— might operate in a Smout Allen scheme. In other words, we’ve spoken so much about remote landscapes, open airspace, hidden geologies, and so on, but I wonder if working in a place like Manhattan or Queens, where other human constructions are front and center, might challenge your idea of an “envirographic” architecture or if it might, in a sense, more accurately correspond to the promises of your design approach.
Landscape Futures Work
Landscape Futures travels the shifting terrains of architectural invention, where new spatial devices on a variety of scales—from the inhabitable to the portable—reveal previously inaccessible dimensions of the built and natural environments. The projects on display, and the traces they uncover, suggest that the landscapes around us are more like sheet music: an interpretive repository of exhilarating variation made newly sensible through perceptual instruments and recording devices, always open to reinterpretation. The poetic ensembles of speculative machines seen in Landscape Futures include a mix of large-scale installations, technical prototypes, imaginative geographies, and portable instrumentation, each providing unexpected access to invisible streams of data generated by the environments around us.
Further, these landscapes are constantly evolving—through climate change and plate tectonics, always becoming future versions of themselves—and so, too, must the filters through which we understand the world be adjusted and updated. From philosophical toys to ironic provocations, these devices are not merely diagnostic but creative, deploying fiction as a means of exploring alternative futures: landscape futures, terrestrial scenarios for which we have no other guide.
David Gissen Museums of the City
Architectural historian David Gissen offers four provocative images of the city transformed into a museum of itself: often-overlooked landscapes from the city’s own past literally reframed in complicated ways. If the internal space of the museum can be seen as a device for turning everyday objects into historical artifacts and works of art, what happens when museological devices leak out into the city at large? Gissen writes that “that what we understand to constitute material history is very often the ‘stuff ’ (art, objects, nature) that we carefully illuminate in a museum, prohibit people from touching in public space, place in controlled environments in archives, and conserve in often highly visible ways.” So, his project for Landscape Futures asks, when plinths, lighting, scaffolds, and high-end air-conditioning sys-
tems take up residence in the streets, alongside urban rivers, even in the trees and plazas of a functioning metropolis, how does their presence transform the way we approach and understand these newly encapsulated scenes? “What matters, as much as the sites I focus on in the city (urban rivers, highways, monuments, verdure),” he suggests, “is the apparatus that transforms urban stuff into objects of our interest.” Gissen’s images thus foreground the interpretive infrastructures through which objects enter official history, giving them a monumental, highly public form. Funding for Museums of the City provided by the Center for Art + Environment, Nevada Museum of Art, and the Chalsty Fund & Faculty Development Fund, California College of the Arts.
Museums of the City
“Central Park, New York City” from Museums of the City (2011), David Gissen (rendered by Victor Hadjikyriacou). Image background: courtesy of Getty Images [undated].
Chris Woebken & Kenichi Okada
Chris Woebken & Kenichi Okada Animal Superpowers
What does the world look like to animals—to a giraffe, say, its head towering over trees and buildings? How do birds sense the airspace they soar through? Is the Earth strangely overwhelming at the scale of an ant? Interaction designers Chris Woebken and Kenichi Okada attempt to answer these questions, tongue firmly in cheek, with the whimsical notion of “animal superpowers”: wearable toys through which children can immerse themselves in the extraordinary sensory experiences of other species. These playful devices allow their users to inhabit the landscape from a radically new sensory perspective, reframing the human relationship both with the planet and with the other animals that call it home.
The “Giraffe” device from Animal Superpowers (2008) by Chris Woebken & Kenichi Okada. Photograph by Jamie Kingham.
Chris Woebken & Kenichi Okada
The “Ant,” “Bird,” and “Giraffe” devices from Animal Superpowers (2008), Chris Woebken and Kenichi Okada. Installation photographs by Jamie Kingham. Park photograph by Chris Woebken.
Liam Young Specimens of Unnatural History
Architect-provocateur Liam Young presents a cautionary tale of ecological preservation gone awry. In these new additions to his ongoing Specimens of Unnatural History series, we see conservation’s limit case, where autonomous packs of biotechnological robot drones have been deployed to protect even the most idealized landscape—Darwin’s Galapagos—from invasive species. Are curated landscapes still natural, these creatures grimly ask, and, if not, are they still worth preserving? Young’s “nearfuture bestiary of designed and augmented monsters,” as he describes it, patrols the closely calibrated landscape of this future-perfect nature. Half animal, half machine, Young’s devices—a collection of architectural beasts,
robotic infrastructures, and hacked military devices—suggest that even the most distant Eden will soon be no more than a “robot zoo,” in his words, populated by the invented and the assembled, not the evolved, where nature is managed, controlled, and uncannily augmented. “As we stalk the strange and unfamiliar landscapes of robotics, biotechnology and ubiquitous computing,” Young predicts, “we will encounter a new form of engineered nature that we are not yet able to categorize.”
Specimens of Unnatural History
Specimens of Unnatural History (2011-ongoing), Liam Young. Photographs by Jamie Kingham.
Smout Allen (Mark Smout & Laura Allen) Neo-Nature: Envirogrammic Prototypes for Lanzarote, Techno-Nature: Envirogrammic Prototypes for the River Severn, London’s Hydro Infrastructures: Buffering Scarcity and Abundance, & Surface Tension
A vertically organized kinetic network of more than 2,000 individual parts is suspended from the ceiling of the gallery. Cranked mechanisms, computational devices, golden space blankets, and counterbalanced fluidic switches pulse through undulations and waves that mimic the droughts, rains, surges, and floods of the planet’s hydrological cycle. Subject to its own internal tides, Surface Tension is landscape as technological infrastructure: both animated and annotated with complex recording devices. With their related proposals for “new natures” in Lanzarote, the River Severn, and deep inside an unnamed fictional metropolis of the future, architects Mark Smout and Laura Allen have produced working mechanical pro-
totypes that make visible the processes through which water is managed and distributed the world over. In the process, Smout Allen make a coherent if magical machine out of the everyday technologies of water management—showing that the technical systems through which we manage water, if only we could notice them, are as mythic as water itself. Special thanks to Johan Hybschmann, Kyle Buchanan, and Sandra Youkhana, with additional help from Jon Kaminsky, Amy Hiley, Ioana Barbantan, Janinder Bhatti, and Rae Whittow-Williams. Specific thanks to University College London (UCL) Architecture Research Fund for financial support. Project documentation by Stonehouse Photographic.
“Ground Cloud,” “River Reversed,” and “Current Accumulator” from Neo-Nature: Envirogrammic Prototypes for Lanzarote (2011), Smout Allen.
Source Book 226 237 241 248 252 252 263 275 278 284 289 290 293 294
Landscape Futures Super-Workshop by Geoff Manaugh A Journey to the Top of the City of Los Angeles by Center for Land Use Interpretation OIAML: Oceanographic Instrumentation and Mediated Landscapes by Rob Holmes Buried Treasure by Jan Zalasiewicz Doppler by Rob Holmes The Climate Engineers by James Fleming The Architectural Production of Nature, Dendur/New York by David Gissen (Im)possible Chicagos by Alexander Trevi Instantaneous Lines by Smudge Studio The Delta Pen by Scott Geiger Mauna Loa Observatory by Rob Holmes Sensory Devices by Cassim Shepard Mobile Geodesy by Rob Holmes Landscape in Suspension by Sam Jacob
LANDSCAPE FUTURES SUPER-WORKSHOP 10-17 JANUARY 2011 | LOS ANGELES, CA By Geoff Manaugh
Army Corps of Engineers map of Los Angeles, California (1955).
Super-Workshop Organizers Geoff Manaugh BLDGBLOG bldgblog.blogspot.com Mark Smout and Laura Allen Smout Allen/Bartlett School of Architecture smoutallen.com David Benjamin The Living/Columbia University GSAPP thelivingnewyork.com
David Gissen, CCA Author of Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments htcexperiments.org
Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse Smudge Studio smudgestudio.org
Matthew Coolidge, Sarah Simons, and Ben Loescher Center for Land Use Interpretation clui.org
Alex Robinson Office of Outdoor Research orscapes.com Christopher Hawthorne Los Angeles Times latimes.com
Hadley Arnold Arid Lands Institute aridlands.woodbury.edu
Christian Chaudhari cargocollective.com/ccd
Liam Young Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today tomorrowsthoughtstoday.com
Emily White and Lisa Little Layer layerla.com
Ed Keller AUM Studio/Parsons, New School for Design aumstudio.org
Tim Maly Wired Design wired.com/design
BLDGBLOG bldgblog.blogspot.com Center for Land Use Interpretation clui.org Nevada Museum of Art nevadaart.org Virgin America virginamerica.com
Los Angeles River at sunset; photo by Dan Marmot.
Photograph courtesy of USC Libraries Special Collections/Doheny Memorial Library/California Historical Society Collection, 1860-1960.
Landscape Futures Super-Workshop Original Brief The purpose of this 7-day Super-Workshop, generously hosted by the Center for Land Use Interpretation (CLUI), will closely parallel the themes of the exhibition Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions, on display at the Nevada Museum of Art from August 2011 to February 2012. That exhibition, and this super-workshop, will examine how landscapes and our perceptions of them can be radically transformed by spatial intermediaries, portable technologies, and information design—the instruments, devices, and architectural inventions of the exhibition’s title. Specifically, super-workshop participants and exhibitors alike will explore the multitude of ways through which landscapes can be read, cataloged, mapped, and otherwise reinterpreted using specialty equipment, both speculative and real. A central question of both the exhibition and the super-workshop will thus be how future tools of landscape investigation—new spatial devices on a variety of scales, from the inhabitable to the portable—can be imagined, designed, and fabricated. As such, the super-workshop will be both a critical look at the very nature of architectural invention as well as an artistic or speculative exploration of the planetary sciences. The resulting “devices” will thus include objects, models, prototypes, and other spatial proposals, ranging from the physical to the digital, from the geological to the conceptual, and from deep-time to the hand-made. Over the course of the week, our readings and discussions will include a mix of natural history, materials science, contemporary and historical landscape investigations, and a critical overview of existing landscape sensing & measurement technologies; we will also examine design projects by Smout Allen, The Living, Shin Egashira & David Greene, ScanLAB Projects, Protocol Architecture, the United States Geological Survey, Caltech Robotics Lab, NASA’s Apollo Project, and many more. In the process, and taking advantage of its urban setting in Southern California, the Landscape Futures Super-Workshop will maintain a strong focus on the built and natural landscapes of Los Angeles, a densely populated region prone to forest fires, drought, and flash floods, smog, landslides, and debris flows, climatic extremes, seismic activity, surface oil seepage, coastal fog, and subterranean methane clouds. These infrastructural connections with a repressed nature, in the complex manufactured terrains of greater Los Angeles, will be closely scrutinized. To begin, workshop participants will visit a series of flood-control dams and landslide remediation structures in the San Gabriel Mountains. In his seminal 1989 essay “Los Angeles Against the Mountains,” author John McPhee introduces us to the often bizarre spatial defenses found on the periphery of Los Angeles through which whole neighborhoods try to survive in the fallout paths of rockslides, debris slugs, and other forms of “geologic mass wasting.” The outermost suburbs of L.A. have reached A “carbon bank” for Los Angeles by what McPhee calls the “real-estate line of maximum advance” against super-workshop participant Emma the dark bulk of the San Gabriels—a range “divided by faults, defined Flynn, Bartlett School of Architecture. by faults, and framed by them.” The San Gabriels “are nearly twice as high as Mt. Katahdin or Mt. Washington,” McPhee adds, “and are much closer to the sea. From base platform to summit, the San Gabriels are three thousand feet higher than the Rockies.” However, they are also “disintegrating at a rate that is also among the fastest in the world.” As such, the San Gabriels produce extraordinary rockslides: “On the average, about seven tons disappear from each acre each year—coming off the mountains and heading for town,” McPhee explains. These slides are known as debris slugs, and they “amass in stream valleys and more or less resemble fresh concrete. They consist of water mixed with a good deal of solid material, most
Debris basins overlook Los Angeles from the city's mountain periphery. Photographs by Geoff Manaugh.
The De Mille and Chaplin Airports located at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and what is now Fairfax Avenue (formerly Crescent Avenue); photographed in 1920. Photographs courtesy of UCLA.
Readings & References
Peter Lang and William Menking, Arid Lands Institute, Superstudio: Life Without Los Angeles Objects (Skira) Over the course of the superHadley Arnold workshop, we will read and/or C.J. Lim, Devices: A Manual of refer to the following materials: Architectural + Spatial Machines Students (Elsevier/Architectural Press, Brandon Cohen Smout Allen, Pamphlet Architec- 2006) Abel Garcia ture 28: Augmented Landscapes Tony Gil (Princeton Architectural Press) John McPhee, Stephen Hartounian Assembling California Eric Ladouceur Paul Thomas Anderson (dir.), (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Joel Leon There Will Be Blood Jason Tosatto John McPhee, “Los Angeles David Trimble Archigram, A Guide to Archigram, Against the Mountains” with Jeremy Delgado 1961–74 (Taipei Fine Arts in The Control of Nature Museum) (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Columbia University Reyner Banham, Los Angeles: Reza Negarestani, Cyclonopedia: Gsapp, New York City The Architecture of Four Complicity with Anonymous Ecologies (University of Materials (re.press) David Benjamin California Press) Michael Novacek, Time Traveler Students Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) — Sarah Carpenter Los Angeles and the Imagination Chapters 1 and 10 Rikki Frenkel of Disaster (Vintage) Zhong Ren Huang Fred Pearce, When the Rivers Kooho Jung Keller Easterling, Enduring Run Dry: Water, The Defining Nathan Smith Innocence: Global Architecture Crisis of the Twenty-First Century Jayson Walker and its Political Masquerades (Beacon) — Chapters 1, 3, 6, 24, (MIT Press) — Chapter 3 27, 28, 30 (“El Ejido”) Bartlett School Roman Polanski (dir.), of Architecture, LONDON Shin Egashira and David Greene, Chinatown Alternative Guide to the Isle of Mark Smout Portland (Architectural Associa- Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: tion) The American West and its Students Disappearing Water (Penguin) Ioana Barbantan Richard Fortey, Janinder Bhatti Earth: An Intimate History Martin Scorsese (dir.), Sigrid Bylander (Vintage) — Chapter 9 The Aviator Emma Flynn Victor Hadjikyriacou William L. Fox, Making Time: Kim Stringfellow, Greetings Amy Hiley Essays on the Nature of Los from the Salton Sea: Folly and Jon Kaminsky Angeles (Shoemaker & Hoard) Intervention in the Southern Cali- Rina Kukaj fornia Landscape, 1905–2005 Adam Landsdown-Bridge David Gissen, Subnature: Archi- (Center for American Places) Dan Marmot tecture’s Other Environments Theodore Games Petrohilos (Princeton Architectural Press) Chris Taylor and Bill Gilbert, Justin Randle Land Arts of the American West Marcus Todd Thomas Gold, The Deep Hot (University of Texas Press) Spencer Treacy Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels (Springer-Verlag) David L. Ulin, The Myth of Solid Ground: Earthquakes, Prediction, InfraNet Lab and Lateral Office, and the Fault Line Between Pamphlet Architecture 30: Reason and Faith (Penguin) Coupling: Strategies for Infrastructural Lebbeus Woods, OneFiveFour Opportunism (Princeton (Princeton Architectural Press) Architectural Press)
A Journey to the Top of the City of Los Angeles A Center for Land Use Interpretation Walking Tour
This tour is a 10.6 mile round trip hike or bike ride with 2,800 feet of elevation gain on a fire road. The journey begins in Haines Canyon and concludes at an antenna farm, atop the highest point in the City of Los Angeles, 5,074 foot Mt. Lukens. Along the way you will see evidence of the interaction of the built landscape with the precipitous mountains that surround the urban fringe of Los Angeles. The trip is strenuous, so bring plenty of water. This trail can be very hot during the summer months, and the summit can be cold and windy.
Photograph by Steve Rowell, Center for Land Use Interpretation
The Trailhead N 34ยบ 15.35' W 118ยบ 16.37' The trail begins 11 miles northwest of Pasadena. By car: Take the 210 freeway to Lowell Ave.; head north on Lowell Ave.; at the end of Lowell Ave. take the left fork, which is Day St.; make a right on Haines Canyon Ave. (Make sure that you park south of the no-parking signs.) Proceed to the end of the street and past the locked gate. The trailhead begins at the end of Haines Canyon Ave. By bus: Take the #90 or #91 bus to Haines Canyon Ave. and Foothill Blvd., walk north
on Haines Canyon Ave. to Day St.; continue directions as above. The San Gabriel Mountains are part of the Transverse Ranges and run east-west, unlike the majority of mountain ranges in California such as the Sierras, which run North-South. The Transverse Ranges include the San Gabriels as well as the Santa Monica Mountains, the San Bernardinos, and the Santa Inez range near Santa Barbara. All of the Transverse Ranges owe their height to the San Andreas Fault, which takes a detour towards the east in Southern California. The San
Buried treasure BY Jan Zalasiewicz
Armageddon strikes. Perhaps it comes in the shape of nuclear war, or a new virus—deadlier than AIDS and more infectious than the common cold—or a collision with a huge meteorite. Whatever the cause, imagine that Homo sapiens suddenly passes into history. It’s a shocking scenario, but perfectly plausible—witness the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. What kind of legacy would we leave behind? Today, we are rulers of the planet. A hundred million years from now, will we just be history, or geology and paleontology, too? The dinosaurs, masters of the Earth in their day, certainly left impressive remains for paleontologists to pick over. But we are only one species, whereas they were many. Also, they were around for about a hundred million years, while we have managed less than half a million. And it is only in the past 250 years, since the Industrial Revolution, that we have had a truly global impact. What’s more, although dinosaur remains are impressive, they are strikingly rare: around the world only a few thousand skeletons have been found that are anywhere near complete, together with scattered footprints and occasional eggs. This is partly because dinosaurs were near the top “Buried Treaof the food chain and so there were relatively few of them, but also because they lived sure” was orig- mainly on land. When they died, their bodies were exposed to the elements, and scatinally pubtered and recycled by the myriad agents of scavenging and decay. Only those few that lished in New were rapidly buried by floods or sandstorms were destined to be preserved for posterity. Scientist, vol. How would our legacy compare? Fossil human skeletons might turn up here and 158, issue there. After all, we’re very numerous and, by burying our dead, we certainly give our 2140, 27 June remains a head start over those of the dinosaurs. There may even be a few examples 1998; reproof soft tissues being preserved. But it’s not just bodies that can survive the ravages duced here with of geological time. Trace fossils such as burrows, trails, and footprints leave their own permission of more oblique signature. Dinosaur footprints and even nests have been found. New Scientist. Our own trace fossil systems are a lot more robust than those of the dinosaurs. They include roads, houses, and foundations. On average, over a lifetime we each account for some 500 tons of sand, gravel, limestone, and clay, from which the hard-wearing artificial rocks known as concrete and brick are made. Then there’s iron, steel, copper, and plastic.
The eastern edge of the Astarte sanctuary, discovered during excavations at Tell-el-Nasbeh (Mizpah), 1932, from the G. Eric and Edith Matson Photographic Collection, U.S. Library of Congress.
Jan Zalasiewicz is Senior Lecturer in Geology at the University of Leicester, UK, and a former employee of the British Geological Survey. A field geologist, palaeontologist, and stratigrapher, Zalasiewicz teaches various aspects of geology and the Earth’s history to undergraduate and postgraduate students, and is a researcher into fossil ecosystems and environments across over half a billion years of geological time. He has written three books published by Oxford University Press: The Earth After Us (2008), The Planet in a Pebble (2010), and, with Mark Williams, The Goldilocks Planet (2012).
In urban areas, the accumulated rubble of centuries of building form a significant geological deposit. Let’s call it the urban stratum. Unlike the dinosaurs, we’re good burrowers, and the urban stratum is shot through with a complex skein of pipes, tunnels, cables, and pilings which can go deep underground. The steel and concrete pilings that prevent the skyscrapers of New Orleans from sinking into the soft muds of the Mississippi Delta, for instance, extend to depths of nearly a hundred meters. We have transformed substantial parts of the planet’s surface, and done so amazingly quickly.
Safely buried That’s quite a start. But ultimately all would erode away if the burial did not become permanent. Once the urban stratum is underground, out of reach of the wind and rain, eroding rivers and scavenging animals, the process of fossilization can begin. Such burials happen surprisingly often. The keys are location and tectonics, aided or hindered by the rise and fall of global sea level. Let’s start with tectonics. Much of the Earth’s crust is moving Our own trace up, down or sideways in response to the movement of the tectonic fossil systems plates from which it is constructed. These plates, crashing together are a lot more and grinding past each other, can throw up mountain ranges and robust than cause earthquakes. Less conspicuous, but more widespread, are those of the the wrinkles that extend hundreds of kilometers from the immediate dinosaurs. They regions where plates touch, and around the stretched area of crust include roads, where plates are pulling apart. These wrinkles make sections of houses, and the crust seesaw, placing them on a tectonic escalator that takes foundations. tens or hundreds of millions of years to ascend and descend. Britain, for example, has been nudged by the opening of the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and the building of the high Alps on the other. We have a pretty good idea how today’s tectonic escalators are behaving. Los Angeles, for example, is on an upward trajectory, pushed by pressure from the adjacent San Andreas Fault system, and is doomed to be eroded away entirely. But areas that are steadily going down, and where sediment has been piling up layer by layer over tens of millions of years, are more promising sites for preservation. The more sediment piles up, the more the crust is compressed by the sheer weight of deltas and silting-up coastal plains. So a descending tectonic escalator is given a powerful additional push, and the stage is set to produce ideal pickling jars for cities. The urban strata of Amsterdam, New Orleans, Cairo, and Venice could be buried wholesale—providing, that is, they can get over one more hurdle: the destructive power of the sea. Sea-level changes play a central role in preserving the sedimentary record, particularly in the low-lying, subsiding coastal plains and deltas around the world on which much of our urban stratum is being built. A drop in sea level would tilt the balance towards erosion and destruction. Conversely, a sea-level rise could favor preservation. The speed of sea-level rise is critical. If it is slow, then there will be plenty of time for the sea’s destructive power to remove large swathes of land. But if sea level rises rapidly, these low-lying landscapes will be drowned and preserved. It is increasingly clear that there were very rapid changes in the recent geological past, caused by the tendency of the world’s great ice sheets to collapse suddenly. If the delicately poised West Antarctic Ice Sheet were to slide suddenly into the sea, as the ice sheets of North America did 10,000 years ago, many coastal cities would be plunged underwater, and in a geological instant would be carried into the realm where fossilization begins. Considerations of how your meager collection of bone and tissue, rings, and garments may be preserved almost pale into insignificance compared with the several hundred tons of concrete,
01. Ancient Bonneville wave-cut bench affords scenic perch for Salt Lake City suburb
02. I-80 cuts across Bonnevilleâ€™s lakebed, severing the Great Salt Lake from its ancestral shorelines
03. Salt Lake City spreads below the line where Lake Bonneville lapped 15,500 years ago
04. Current stage of remnant Lake Sevier, desiccated by forces of the Great Basin
05. Strandlines as infrastructure, activated for material flows; Kennecott Smelter Facility
06. Lakebed as playing field in suburban development, built atop former copper pit evaporation ponds
07. Eroding lake line hovers above an exit ramp into the Great Salt Lake desert
08. Oasis of the Anthropocene on the desert lakebed
09. Petrified shoreline stranded for now in time and space
10. Lakebed parsed into zones both exclusive and excluded
11. A mountain buried to the top in deep desert sediments, once an island in Lake Bonneville
12. 15,500 years ago, the site of historic Wendover Airfield was submerged under 870 feet of water
13. Landscape imprinted by wave-formed undulations
14. History held beneath the basin, B-29 atomic bomb loading pit; Wendover Airfield
15. Breaking point; scoured to bedrock by Lake Bonnevilleâ€™s catastrophic flood en route to the Pacific
16. Landscape futures: fluctuation, waters return, lake lines to come
tation of capitalist space—the levelling of difference, the regularity, and the inescapability. In fact, this field of abstraction might recall the images produced by the radical Italian architecture group from the 1960s, Superstudio, images of what they described as “negative utopias.” Their collages of The Continuous Monument: An Architectural Model for Total Urbanization (1969-71), showing a single building made up of a strictly observed white grid relentlessly expanding over the world’s landscapes, were created as “forewarning images of the horrors which architecture was laying in store for us with its scientific methods for the perpetuation of existing models.” Of course, the suspended ceiling is the opposite of a monument, so lightweight and loose-fit that you can—and often do—just throw it up. Its earnest unmonumentality is perhaps even more horrific than Superstudio’s ironic monument. The suspended ceiling is a device designed to cover space as fast, cheap, and quickly as possible, without having to resolve any real architectural issues of how one material meets another. It represents the epitome of modern construction techniques: a simple panacea that solves the problem of the ceiling’s mess of services—the wires, pipes, and ducts that we need to deliver environments of reasonable comfort. But, more than this, the conception of space suggested by the suspended ceiling is oppositional to traditional ideas of architectural space. It dissolves ideas of threshold and hierarchy into an endless sameness. It dispenses with the need for detailing: up in a zone out of reach, it’s hardly held together at all. Push those panels, and you’ll feel how fragile this stuff really is—just the lightest and simplest of connectors to the real building fabric, the tiles just resting lightly on their frames. This delicacy is the result of engineering the efficiency of fabrication, transportation, and installation to its absolute limit: Never was so much space covered by so little. The very idea of a “false” ceiling is, of course, a strange idea—but not one without precedent. We could think of other kinds of false ceilings: the painted heavens of, say, the Sistine Chapel where the scenography of the ceiling is differentiated from its engineering or material surface, instead becoming an image of the most remarkable “above” imaginable. In a sense, the suspended ceiling is, like Michelangelo’s frescoes, an idealized image. Both vividly hallucinate an imaginary image of an “above.” Both are images depicting an omnipotent belief system, applied to a real architectural ceiling. The suspended ceiling idealizes the secular and ordinary image of a ceiling. It is perfect in its pure self-referentiality, an image of ceiling suspended beneath a ceiling, an immaculate image of its own totality and spatial completeness. If you pass a new office building at night, its floorplates still empty and the lights still on, you’ll see suspended ceilings stacked floor on floor. Their pristine surfaces glow with an overexposed florescent brilliance, as though something almost supernatural were happening in those voided spaces of capital. It’s here that the suspended ceiling achieves a moment of Superstudio-esque monumentality, a sublimely banal dystopia; a flat grid in which you can lose yourself in endless repetition, left or right, back and forward, as though you might be anywhere. Just as ancient cultures looked up at the stars and inscribed into this surface an intense density of myth that framed human existence, the suspended ceiling contains our own contemporary myths. It’s here that we can perceive our position within a new conceptual condition: the landscape as continuous, connected grid. Wherever you may find yourself, look up and imagine the coming of the grid, as its square-bysquare extension tiles the surface of the planet, its flimsy installation and just-good-enough aesthetic equalizing in every direction over the planet. As an agent of the generic space of the network, the abstract grid that the suspended ceiling manifests already exists everywhere, over even the most far-flung wilderness and desert as much as the teeming of a metropolis. Indeed, sometime in the near future we may yet come to recognize the grid as our true natural habitat. A cross-Europe trip during an election cycle might then reveal the same three-quarter portraits of smiling candidates, now green-screened onto images of suspended ceilings, disappearing into an infinite one-point perspective.
In this conceptual landscape, everything is part of an infinite and equalized surface—seamlessly connected, entirely abstracted.
A U.S. Geological Survey team member uses a â€œtellurometer,â€? a microwavebased distance-measuring device. Its name comes from the Greek word for Earth, tellus.
Target practice/ range-finding device, 1913; photograph by Harris & Ewing, courtesy of the Harris & Ewing Collection, U.S. Library of Congress.
ABOUT GEOFF MANAUGH Geoff Manaugh is the author of BLDGBLOG and The BLDGBLOG Book, former senior editor of Dwell magazine, and a contributing editor at Wired UK. He has taught at Columbia University, the University of Southern California, and the University of Technology, Sydney, and he lectures widely on architectural topics at museums, schools, and other venues around the world. In addition to curating Landscape Futures for the Nevada Museum of Art, Manaugh co-curated, with Nicola Twilley, Landscapes of Quarantine, an independent design studio and exhibition at Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, exploring the future of medical distancing and the spatial history of quarantine. Manaugh is also a freelance journalist, writing for, among others, Wired, Popular Science, The New York Times, Volume, Domus, and many websites, and he is currently writing a book on burglary and architecture, to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2014. Geoff Manaugh lives in New York City where he is co-director of StudioX NYC, an off-campus event space and urban futures think tank run by the architecture department at Columbia University.