DOWN A BLOGGER’S DIGEST
The Reforestation of the Thames Estuary
On the Grid
“It is architecture that does not conform to the urban time frame. Rather, it’s occupation depends on the cycles of nature.”
Thames Estuary W
hile studying at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London, recent graduate Tom Noonan produced a series of different sized hand-drawings to illustrate a fictional reforestation of the Thames estuary. This return of a woodsy nature is the John Evelyn Institute of Arboreal Science, an imaginary trade organization. The urban scenario outlined imagining a future timber and plantation industry throughout London, and beyond. It’s like something out of Roger Deakin’s extraordinary book, Wildwood. In that book, Jeffreys describes a thoroughly post-human London, as the ruined city is reconquered by forests, wild animals, mud flats and aquatic grasses. “From an elevation, therefore,” Jeffreys writes, “there was nothing that was visible but endless forest and marsh. On the level ground and plains the view was limited to a short distance, because of the thickets and the saplings which had now become young trees. By degrees the trees of the vale seemed as it were to invade and march up the hills, and, as we see in our time, in many places the downs are hidden altogether with a stunted kind of forest.”
Noonan, in a clearly more domesticated sense, and it would have been interesting to see a more ambitious reforestation of all of southeast England in these images, has illustrated an economically useful version of Jeffreys’s eco-prophetic tale. Within these illustrations the reforestation of the Thames Estuary sees the transformation of a city and its environment, in a future where timber is to become the City’s main building resource. Forests and plantations established around the Thames Estuary provide the source for the world’s only renewable building material. The Thames river once again becomes a working river, transporting timber throughout the city. It is within these economic circumstances that the John Evelyn Institute of Arboreal Science can establish itself. The John Evelyn Institute of Arboreal Science at Deptford is the hub of this new industry. It is a centre for the development and promotion of the use of timber in London’s construction of future architecture. Its primary aim is to reintroduce wood as a prominent material in all of construction. Through experimentation, exploration and research, the Institute attempts to raise the visibility of wood for all architects, engineers, the rest of the construction industry and the public alike. Alongside programmes of education and learning, the landscape of the Institute houses the infrastructure required for the timber industry. Noonan provides that, as well. He describes the Institute as a landscape connecting Deptford with the river, not quite a building at all. It is an “architecture that does not conform to the urban time frame. Rather, it’s occupation depends on the cycles of nature.”
“Rope Facade Detail” by Tom Noonan
“The Dormant Workshop” by Tom Noonan
“The drawings are extraordinary and worth exploring in more detail.”
The architecture is created slowly. Its first years devoid of great activity, as plantations mature. The undercroft of the landscape is used just for education. The landscape above becomes an extension of the bank, returning the spaces of the Thames River to the public realm. The gaps and cuts into the landscape offer glimpses into the monumental storage halls and workshops below, that which eagerly anticipate the first log harvest. 2041 sees the arrival of the first harvest. The river bursts in a flurry of theatrical activity, reminiscent of centuries before. As the plantations grow, new architectures, infrastructures and environments arise throughout London, the banks of the Thames River and beyond. The drawings are extraordinary, and worth exploring in more detail, and while Noonan’s vision of London transformed into a working forest plantation would have benefitted from some additional documentation, such as maps, it is a delirious one. Considering the ongoing overdose of urban agriculture imagery passing through the architecture world, it is refreshing simply to see someone hit a slightly different note, to explore urban forestry in an aesthetically powerful way and to envision a world in which the future structural promise of cultivated plant life comes to shape the city.
A future timber and plantation industry stretches from the Thames Estuary throughout London. The reforestation sees the transformation of a city’s environment, in a future where timber is to become the city’s main building resource. Forests and plantations established around the Estuary provide the source for the world’s only truly renewable building material. The River Thames once again becomes a working river, transporting timber throughout the city. The John Evelyn Institute of the Sciences at Deptford is the hub of this new industry. It is a center for the development and the promotion of the use of timber within the construction of London’s future architecture. Its primary aim is to reintroduce wood as the prominent material in construction. “Timber Craft Workshop” by Tom Noonan
A sawmill with integrated wood chip facility, CHP biomass plant, fertiliser production plant, producing fertiliser from biomass ash, greenhouses and sandbanks form part of an ecological cycle, which encompasses a dialogue between the environment, city, community and the architecture community.
The architecture of the Institute sits on the banks of the Thames, and forms a connection of Deptford with the river. The architecture does not conform to the urban time frame as its neighboring developments do. Rather, its form and occupation is dependent on the cycles of nature. The architecture is created slowly. Its first years are devoid of great activity, as plantations mature. The undercroft of the landscape is used for education and administration to plan the future of the Institute and the industries involved. The landscape then becomes an extension of the bank, returning the privatized spaces of the Thames to the public realm. Gaps and cuts into the landscape offer glimpses into the monumental storage halls and workshops below, which eagerly anticipate the first log harvest. 2041 sees the arrival of the first harvest of fast-growing aspen and poplar. The landscape and river burst in a flurry of theatrical activity, reminiscent of centuries past. As the plantations spread wild, new architectures and infrastructures arise throughout London and the river banks of the Thames, and beyond.
utch photographer, Gerco de Ruijter, recently got in touch with a series of aerial photographs called Baumschule. Some of which, he explains, were taken by using a camera mounted on the end of a fishing rod. “How abstract can a landscape become while remaining a landscape?” de Ruijter asked himself. “I tried to find the answers for this question during extended travels, by searching for a fully natural landscape, not man made, and lacking any cultural presence. I found these natural-born sites in the New Mexico deserts formed by rocks, sand and all forms of erosion. A barren landscape with scarce vegetation.”
But in this same research, a quest for a kind of inhuman authenticity of the surrounding terrain, eventually brought him to the hyper-artificial landscapes of tree farms and nurseries in the Netherlands. He set about visually documenting what he calls “The Dutch culturally defined landscape” The Dutch landscape was efficiently drawn with functionality in mind on the drawing boards of urban and rural planners, tulip fields, hothouses, land worked by farmers on tractors with their GPS handy. As de Ruijter goes on to explain, even though the project documents “An extremely defined cultural landscape, it is the abnormalities that jump into view.” Returning
”How abstract can a landscape become while still remaining a landscape?” to the question,
De Ruijter suggests that “All of these objects arranged to form rows create a new form of abstraction, not due to the image’s emptiness but, to the contrary, because of the presence of so many things, and their patterns and rhythms,” as if we could farm and harvest our barcodes directly from the ground. Indeed, “I found an enormous variety of visual elements,” he adds. “They show up not just because of the different seasons, but through the stratification of the land, trees, soil and holes. The combination of a tight grid and the camera’s central perspective results in a distinct depth, while on a cloudy day fore and background may slide into each other.”
To take these photos, de Ruijter used a kite and a long fishing rod. He describes how the process worked. “On top of this rod is a 2" x 2" camera with a wide-angle lens. A self-timer is adjusted to give me enough time to telescope the rod and maneuver the camera above the subject. The frame of the image begins in front of my own shoes and measures roughly 30' x 30'.” It is fascinating to see, though, when the arboreal vitality of the trees overcomes the grid they’re planted in, to become fractally expressive of a different formal logic, one that exceeds any agricultural formatting of the current landscape. I should also point out that I have found some great views of a tree farm on Google Maps, a dot-matrix landscape that appears to be more cryptographic than it is botanical. An emergent garden of living QR codes.
All photos by Gerco de Ruijter
Upside Dome â€œIt is like seeing the underlying geometric logic of Western space bleed through from a hidden dimension.â€?
hen visiting the St. Michiel Church in Leuven one might overlook that the church doesn’t have a dome inside. Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenbergh build an installation that takes this seemingly trivial fact as a starting point and generate the missing dome in a remarkable way. Looking up at “Upside Dome” by Gijs Van Vaerenbergh, installed inside the St. Michiel Church in Leuven, Belgium, it is like seeing the underlying geometric logic of Western space bleed through from a hidden dimension.
The project was at least partially inspired, the architects write, by their recognition that the church itself actually doesn’t have a dome. Their intervention takes this seemingly trivial fact as a starting point and generate the missing dome in a remarkable way. Using the design technique of the catenary, a new structure emerges in the church. The Upside Dome is a real sized scale model, comprised of hundreds of meters of chain links, which is literally and figuratively the counterpart of the unfinished dome. In developing Gravity’s Loom, Ball-Nogues allowed the properties and limitations of a given material, in this case, string, to guide their work. When the array of strings is hung it will take the shape of an inverted dome through which a patterned color composition will be revealed that will represent the artists’ take on the Baroque embellishment. Nogues understand the oval shape of the Pavilion to be analogous to the classical Baroque architecture, which incorporated surface decoration to blur the distinction between what is architectural, sculptural, and pictorial.
The strings of Gravity’s Loom will each be painted to represent the imagined plan for a traditional Baroque ceiling pattern, a three dimensional volume that will blur into billows of color and snap into a focused geometry, depending on the where the viewer’s vantage point is. Here, too, then, we see the inverted, gravitationally shaped dome used as a stand-in for an otherwise absent piece of Baroque architecture. In “Upside Dome” the geometry of the gravity itself collides with the ornamental excess of Baroque architecture in a surprisingly appropriate and optically interesting way. These installations suggest a kind of minimalist Baroque, where emerging nests of curved surfaces take shape, both mocking and repeating the logic of the buildings around them. In March 2005, I caught a lecture by architect Goulthorpe at the University of Pennsylvania. He demonstrated a piece of software that I believe had been produced in-house at his firm. It allowed the architect to model the hanging of chains in virtual catenary curves, and thus to generate a variety of possible architectural shapes for future projects. He produced new curves in space. The method of analog calculation seen both in “Upside Dome” and in the work of Nogues that is, simply drooping pieces of chain or string through space until they stabilize, gives force as well as form to gravity and to the potential architectures tucked away in empty space.
All photos by Jan Berckmans