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radical energy systems <Speculations on connecting decentralized energy flows with networked ecologies in the post-oil era>


radical energy systems <Speculations on connecting decentralized energy flows with networked ecologies in the post-oil era>

//JASON A. IMMARAJU BARTLETT SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON Unit Tutor: enric ruiz-geli masters in architectural design 2010-2011

//ONLINE PRESENCE: main: DAYglo writing: tumblr (process): email: all photographs of the inglewood oilfields taken by jason immaraju









“You must picture the consternation of our little town, hitherto so tranquil, and now, out of the blue, shaken to its core, like a quite healthy man who all of a sudden feels his temperature shoot up and the blood seething like wildfire in his veins.” Albert Camus, “The Plague” 1

//INTRODUCTION - CRISIS In our current post-industrial era of globalization, the term crisis is littered in the media in various forms. We live in an era of instability and inability of what is to be done in reaction to crisis. However, crisis historically has changed the way we live in our world and has dictated the way a system evolves in response to massive destructive changes. As Mark Wigley observes, “The field of architecture is devoted to suppressing a sense of crisis but is propelled by the very thing it represses. As the art of limits, architecture is always in a dialectic with crisis.”2 Therefore, it can be inferred that crisis is either a catalyst that motivates a better, fitter system that can resist whatever initially triggered its formation, or is a destructive force that completely eliminates the system’s existence. It is essential to understand the nature and effects of the specific crisis at hand in order to speculate on architectural solutions. One of the most threatening crises is the global issue of climate change. It is a well-known fact that the building sector is the largest consumer of energy (65% of total electricity production in the United States) and as a result, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions (30% in the United States).3 The feeble attempts towards energy efficiency and making buildings “green” is not enough to deal with this issue. One major cause of the climate change problem is the way our global community currently produces, distributes and consumes energy. This thesis is a critique on how society currently controls energy flows and a speculation on innovative alternative methods of energy production, distribution and consumption. The thesis is also a proposal for a radical intelligent ecology that would emerge from the new methods of decentralized, localized energy flows and how this would motivate new ways of living. The hypotheses proposed will be applied to the city of Los Angeles because it is known for its relentless energy consumption and is in a constant state of crisis in various forms and scales. The project is located in the Inglewood Oil Fields—a site chosen specifically to demonstrate the changing status of oil alongside renewable energy systems in the post-oil era. The close proximity of the site with the surrounding Los Angeles sprawl enables an effective comparison of the proposed networked energy system with the existing grid. This thesis report will discuss three areas of investigation as initial trajectories—energy flows, Los Angeles ecology and networked empathic relationships. These interrelated sections will lead to more specific research investigations and will integrate the specific methodologies by which the research is demonstrated in chronological order throughout the report. 01

“It was not architects, but engineers and builders of bridges, roads, viaducts, railways, as well as the polytechnicians- those are the people who thought out space. [architects]... are not the technicians or engineers of the three great variables- territory, communication, and speed. These escape the domain of architects.” Michel Foucault, “Space, Knowledge, and Power” 1


//ENERGY FLOWS The first and second laws of thermodynamics state that the energy in the universe is constant and that entropy (unusable, dispersed energy) is always increasing. These basic laws of physics are crucial to understand when observing how humanity has historically controlled and evolved from energy flows. There is a direct relationship between energy flows and cultural transformations as the methods and intensities of harvesting, distributing and storing energy are the basic parameters behind the way history evolves (whether it be energy in the form of agriculture, water, fossil fuels or electricity). This project is primarily focused on how current centralized energy sources feed urban grids at high intensities thus creating a highly damaging source of entropy. In order to understand the current relationships between energy consumption and climate change, it is essential to observe what the energy industry is currently proposing to address this problem. These observations will be analyzed, critiqued and will help inform the main thesis argument. Forward-thinking companies such as IBM and Schneider Electric are actively proposing to implement smart meters into the existing grid to regulate energy usage.2 This adaptation of the existing system would make energy production more efficient and cut down on needless consumption, but also yields individual control of energy to centralized authoritarian companies. This solution is susceptible to outside “energy hackers” and corruption within the central control points. This “Smart Grid” model is already active in many cities and is a viable short-term solution to excessive energy consumption. However, future climate conditions and depletion of natural resources may prove this system to be insufficient for crisis situations. This system also does little in changing the mentality and lifestyles of the energy consumers. Progressive thinkers such as Jeremy Rifkin propose the “Distributive Energy Model” built on a Hydrogen economy.3 This model is much more democratic than the corporate solution as it involves individuals actively producing and sharing energy with one another, while storing surplus energy in the form of hydrogen batteries. Rifkin’s ideas on the “Third Industrial Revolution” involve turning existing buildings (as the predominant problem) into energy producers within the city, networked together with an intelligent grid. Localizing energy flows in a decentralized network creates a much more stable system and encourages an increased awareness of other participants. However, Rifkin’s model is still an adaptation of existing typologies and existing grids. This thesis will take the distributive energy model to a different level, where unplugged typologies that are interlinked by intelligent responsive networks will motivate a radical new way of living. 03

Currently, the energy provided to the city of Los Angeles is generated from centralized sources.4 If any of these major sources of power are cut off, or eventually run out of resources, Los Angeles will be prone to a major energy crisis. This city grid energy model demonstrates the centralized, unstable nature of energy production and distribution. However, the average Los Angeles resident continues to remain unconcerned despite the precarious urban situation, and consumption levels continue to rise. The main hypothesis resulting from this research is that if energy production shifted from one centralized source into many decentralized sources using renewable energy systems, the entropic damage would decrease dramatically. This decentralized heterogeneous system would require a collaborative network to emerge as a way to sustain itself locally. Merging existing communication network technologies with localized energy production flows would not only provide a sustainable and reliable energy network, but also motivate new ways to interact with the environment and society.

<TERM 1 SPECULATIONS> The work in term one was focused on developing this hypothesis in the typical Los Angeles suburban home. Fictional narratives were conceived based on personal research, Los Angeles culture and ground-up individual ambition. These narratives revealed the lives of suburban energy traders bent on converting their conventional home into an energy production machine. The machines that intended to hack the existing status quo were represented through a series of cut-away axonometric collage drawings depicting a typical Los Angeles house with machinery inserted within. These representations are meant to give an everyday impression of how a future decentralized self-regulating energy system could operate. This exercise was valuable in establishing the basic parameters of a decentralized system in the city as a first step, as well as starting the initial research direction. However, the drawings told the story of adapting (or hacking) an existing system rather than completely reworking the energy grid to make a more compelling argument against the current solutions proposed by the industry. Furthermore, although specific methods of energy production were outlined, the new ways in which energy would be consumed was not inherent. The next termâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work was focused on refining the produce-share-consume energy relationships and establishing the specific starting parameters of the project.


“The Engine Farmer”


“The City of Angels is unique, not simply in the frequency of its fictional destruction, but in the pleasure that such apocalypses provide to readers and movie audiences. The entire world seems to be rooting for Los Angeles to slide into the Pacific or be swallowed by the San Andreas fault.” Mike Davis, “Ecology of Fear” 1

//ECOLOGY OF LOS ANGELES Although considered by many to be a planning and environmental disaster, Los Angeles is a unique urban ecology: a phantasmagorical world conceived by the collective consciousness of the millions of individuals who make up its complex cultural tapestry. It is a city where individualism and experimentation is accepted, and in some cases, required. The city is a major node in propelling arts, fashion, music, cinema and architecture into our global communities. The city’s history, climate, diverse population, abundant resources and countless other factors formulate an ideal incubator of innovation. However, the social tapestry built on massive quantities of energy throughout the past two centuries is facing major consequences for its consumption. Reliance on the automobile for individual mobility has created a large-scale emission zone. City expansions into the foothills demanded the need for “mountain cropping,” which in turn has caused massive erosion and mudslides. Water needed to sustain the otherwise desert city is still pumped in from only two sources. The dry climate of the mountains combined with the harsh Santa Ana winds are a perfect recipe for regular firestorms that create immense clouds of ash that engulf the entire city. In order to speculate on future proposals for many of these problems, it is essential to view the complex city as layers of ecologies: assemblages of culture, climate, dreams, and movement motivated by energy over time. Banham’s “Four Ecologies” presents a clear (yet outdated) view of the city’s evolving history. The essay looks at the city as composed of four interrelated systems: the coastal ecology, the foothills, the flatlands and the transportation infrastructure.2 It articulates a clear vision of Los Angeles’ fascination with absurdity and the city’s love affair with individual independence through mobility. Banham’s analysis is useful to understand the history behind the city and the mentality of its citizens. Mike Davis and John McPhee presented a much more morbid vision of Southern California in the face of environmental crisis. “Ecology of Fear”3 and “Los Angeles Against the Mountains”4 outlines the ongoing catastrophic chaos inherent with the city. Despite the typical Hollywood-tainted picture that Southern California is the ideal paradise, the real ecology is one of destruction and despair for many. Earthquakes, fires, floods, drought, debris flows, smog, and many other destructive forces constantly plague the Los Angeles landscape, motivated by a combination of natural and anthropogenic causes.


The link between ecology and the project investigations became more apparent after reading Guattari’s essay “The Three Ecologies.”5 The three ecologies as presented by Guattari are the mental ecology, the social ecology and the environmental ecology. Guattari blames the destruction of the three ecologies on unrestricted capitalism motivated by mass media. Los Angeles is a perfect paradigm of both of these forces in continuous action (the extravagant lifestyles of the Hollywood elite, the epicenter of worldwide media transmission, etc.). Since the world is now interconnected into a global community, the most severe effects of First World consumption are not felt locally, but in the Third World resulting in exploitation of cheap labor, natural resources and despair. The global community is made passive to this phenomenon through mass media that instigates neutrality and universal subjectivity. Guattari introduces the term heterogenesis6 to describe the strategy of individuals and social groups to constantly reinvent themselves as a way to motivate personal subjective attitudes towards everyday life. This project will attempt to address strategies to instigate a type of heterogenesis within the city and provide useful critiques of the existing status quo. A main strategy Guattari introduces is to think transversally, meaning to look at nature and culture as being inseparable systems to be equally considered. He sums it up best in the concluding paragraph: “By means of these transversal tools, subjectivity is able to install itself simultaneously in the realms of the environment, in the major social and institutional assemblages, and symmetrically in the landscapes and fantasies of the most intimate spheres of the individual.”7 How can this project critique the current lifestyles of this city in regards to energy and material consumption? Is it possible to develop a resilient interdependent ecology that can withstand crisis in various forms? These questions applied to the urban context of Los Angeles motivated the main design decision to work with the Inglewood Oil Fields—the largest contiguous productive oil region in the city. Los Angeles is known for its love affair with oil—motivating the automobile industry that in turn spawned the endless sea of asphalt that composes the city’s monumental freeways, streets and parking lots. Los Angeles was also a key player in the global oil industry—providing up to a quarter of the world’s oil supply in the 1920’s.7 Much of the city’s affluence and reason for development has stemmed from the petroleum industry. However, the oil reserves are drying up fast; although Los Angeles still actively extracts local crude oil, the city now imports over 65% of its petroleum.8 08

The Inglewood Oil fields are located in the central part of West Los Angeles, near Baldwin Hills and Culver City. The 950 acres are littered with the oscillating “nodding donkey” pump jacks, suspended power lines and silhouettes of palm trees in the distance. La Cienega Boulevard passes right through the heart of the oil field and provides passing motorists a glimpse of a very dystopian landscape. The oil fields compose an island within the homogenous urban sprawl—an isolated land of fenced off industrial activity. The landscape has been scraped into a sea of contoured terraces supporting the industrial infrastructure that peppers the rock below with over 1200 wells drilled in the past century. However, despite the industrial control over the landscape, the rich native biodiversity continues to thrive— pushed into this rare pocket of land by the surrounding asphalt cityscape. Although the land is still yielding oil, experts claim that the reserves will become unprofitable for processing, refinement and distribution in the next fifteen to twenty years.9 A massive land battle will inevitably ensue over this valuable land, thus making it an appropriate speculative testing ground for the thesis proposal. The opening parameters of the project assume that the landscape has been declared a “post-oil zone” and thus acts as a site for reworking energy flows and re-appropriating the use of oil in the twenty-first century. The process of oil extraction in the oilfield is relatively economical, as it merely requires a basic electric motor to power the existing pump jacks. This means that the extraction process could potentially continue at a slower rate while the status of the crude oil would change in nature, value and use while becoming an integral part of the project’s system. Furthermore, the existing unproductive oil wells can be retrofitted to extract geothermal energy from the earth. Locating the project on this particular oilfield presents a unique position to critique various systems. Firstly, the isolated nature of the “crude island” presents an ideal geographical position to be unplugged from the existing energy grid while still maintaining an urban locality. This means that the existing notions of “green architecture” still plugged into the surrounding archaic energy grids can be compared and re-evaluated when compared to the unplugged distributive system proposed. Secondly, the rich history of oil embedded within the site presents an opportunity to critique the way society views and consumes petroleum by juxtaposing the oil extraction with the localized renewable energy systems. This ongoing extraction process in the post-oil zone will redefine the way oil is perceived in a self-powered networked architectural system.


<TERM 2 SPECULATIONS> The decision to work with the oilfields was the first critical parameter in continuing the project in term two. The site was viewed as an “open energy island” where this absurd networked ecology could grow as a dystopian spectacle for visitors. The speculation began by developing a master plan of the site. A map of the existing oil wells was procured and was used as a template for the network to be designed. Distributive energy systems were collaged over appropriate locations and in turn motivated the design of an energy network—a continuation of the collage drawings shown before but assembled as new typologies. The city’s fascination with the absurd and hyperreal situations as depicted in the research sources mentioned previously motivated the design decision to formulate a phantasmagorical landscape powered and interlinked by the network (a surreal open-sourced Disneyland nightmare). The images that were created were not intended to be literal architectural proposals, but rather an illustrative series of symbiotic relationships to provoke the feeling of various situations. The images were also used to communicate how even an ecologically driven project could take on a dystopian Los Angeles-specific feeling with the amalgamation of various energy machines.

Opposite: First Iteration of a Master Plan



Although this exercise produced compelling imagery, the main specific ingredient of the site was not integral to the speculation—the oil embedded below the earth. A dialogue was necessary in the project to start comparing the “free” energy sources above with the valuable volatile compound below. Furthermore, after a visit to the site, it was obvious that a top-down orthodox master planning approach was illogical for a project of this nature. There were many conditions in the site that simply would not work with the planned interventions and more conditions that felt too beautiful to be altered. The experience of walking through the post-industrial landscape set in rich native biodiversity was highly reminiscent of Tarkovsky’s Stalker, a film that depicts a lush landscape merged with industrial relics where nature and cultural residues are inseparable and interdependent. After experiencing the site firsthand, it was determined that the absurd cultural assemblage approach would ruin the inherent beauty of the post-industrial environment and that a new layer more congruent with the existing system would have to be conceived. Furthermore, a new strategy for planning a project of this magnitude and complexity had to be developed instead of continuing to design over the 950 acres. This realization led into the research of network design, evolutionary behavior and cybernetics in order to develop a self-regulating and responsive system driven by bottom-up parameters rather than a top-down series of predesigned components.

Opposite: Industrial Relics Algae Forests



“We now face the haunting prospect of approaching global empathy in a highly energy-intensive, interconnected world, riding on the back of an escalating entropy bill that now threatens catastrophic climate change and our very existence. Resolving the empathy/entropy paradox will likely be the critical test of our species’ ability to survive...This will necessitate a fundamental rethinking of our philosophical, economic and social models.” Jeremy Rifkin, “The Empathic Civilization” 1

//EMPATHIC RELATIONSHIPS Rifkin observes that with every successive increase in energy flows in civilizations, a new sense of awareness of the self and an increased relationship with others starts to emerge.2 For example, in the Industrial Revolution, one can see how the intensification of energy flows through fossil fuel based energy production methods caused many new cities to evolve rapidly and motivated innovation and increased global interactions. However, the second law of thermodynamics affirms that an increase of energy usage leads to an increase of entropyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;In the case of fossil fuels, entropy exists in the form of emissions expelled after combustion and a depletion of resources. The constant increase in energy production through the proliferation of power plants, factory towns and eventually, gasolinepowered transportation in turn built up a sizeable entropy bill that has inflicted severe damage on the planet. However, the intensification of energy production led to new communication technologies, shortened distances with transportation networks and changed the planet into the global village we know today. The availability of information presented by anyone connected to the World Wide Web has connected and empowered individuals on a global scale. This effect has created a plethora of new perspectives and has reshaped the way people think and interact. This psychological link involving understanding and connecting with the lives of others is known as empathy. Although empathy has traditionally been known to be more of a corporeal bond between individuals, the mentalities of the networked generation have expanded the definition. There is a new sense of emerging altruism present in the virtual world in that users are eager to share information at no benefit to themselves. Crisis is felt instantaneously throughout the world after images, twitter feeds and other simultaneous data outputs are transmitted thus leading to immediate relief response. The recent protests and uprisings in the North African countries have been made possible by democratic virtual communication. Individual subjectivity is constantly mutating in the form of personal websites, blogs, remixed media and other forms of online interaction. A heightened empathic awareness has instigated a more interdependent and collaborative generation. Economic systems have also taken on a more empathic nature empowered by the democratic freedom of virtual networks. The concept of distributive capitalism has emerged as a means of sharing property by subscribing to access a public system rather than physically owning private property. The transition from private ownership to a more socialized sharing system has changed the way society views a commodity. This economic transformation parallels the main thesis argument of designing a network as opposed to a buildingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;users take part in a more stable, interconnected and decentralized network rather than a fragile component. 15

The paradox presented by Rifkin3 is the main problem concerning the global energy crisis: how do we conserve and even increase empathic connections with our fellow human and the natural environment while decreasing the entropic effect on the planet? The research trajectory of empathic relationships led to investigations on the field of cybernetics as a method of connecting individuals with a networked ecology. Cybernetics focuses on objects and their changing relationships to the environment. Weinstock describes the field as organizing the mathematics of responsive behaviors into a general theory of how machines, organisms and systems of all kinds maintain or change themselves over time.4 He goes on to define feedback as the steering device that regulates behavior by using information from environments to measure actual performance against desired performance. In other words, the cybernetic system analyzes the object in the environment and determines the next action of the object based on what forces are around it using feedback. Network design is a relatively new concept for architectural designers and research into how current practices are implementing cybernetic strategies into their respective fields was necessary. The research process began with “Network Practices,” a compilation of essays by current practitioners, artists, theorists and biologists. This resource was valuable in exposing the interdisciplinary nature of network design, as well as the methodologies currently being experimented with. Anthony Burke (editor of the publication) introduces the concept of a network as a “structure of relationships between things.”5 He goes on to describe how networks are evaluated on their performance depending on established parameters such as flexibility, self-organization, adaptability, as well as humanist parameters such as social organization, aesthetics, and culture. In other words, system design is a simplified emulation of biological ecosystems.


Mark Wigley, expert on network theory, continues this discussion in his essay “The Architectural Brain.” He uses the analogy of the brain to define a network: “The network itself is a brain, a thinking machine and each thought belongs to the network as a whole regardless of the particular geometry being activated at any moment…”5 This version of a network is a collaborative, socialized one—similar to Rifkin’s economic observations of empathic connections. Wigley goes on to discuss the possibilities of a radical networked architecture: “An extended pattern of interconnections defined each situation rather than the things being connected. Architecture could be seen as an agile, responsive and evolving system like any other to be found in the natural world.”6 His argument parallels the ones made by Weinstock: by designing an intelligent system rather than an isolated component, architecture can become a much more integrated part of the natural environment in the way it performs and negotiates with various changing parameters. Wigley’s historical overview of network practices in architecture all point to a concept of society’s inclinations towards freedom. Walls open up, structure becomes lighter and perceptions of space are based more on ambient intensities than physical edge conditions. Vertical hierarchy moves towards a more horizontal democratic distribution of ideas, materials and energy. Anthony Burke continues the discussion of different ways network practice has been executed in contemporary design. He outlines the concept of a protocol, defined as a “language that regulates flow, directs netspace, codes relationships and connects lifeforms.”7 This idea of “Protocological Architecture” is evident in Burke’s work in the form of complex design diagrams describing layers of movement trajectories, fields of activity and generative nodes. He uses these diagrams as a method to develop an ambient system of navigating and perceiving the open system rather than dictating physical boundaries. These schematic plans develop ideas of organization and relationships between the parts and are an effective method to help design a network. The project uses cybernetic strategies to network the energy system with an intelligent ecology. It will demonstrate the possibilities of using environmental inputs (through the use of sensors) and human inputs to create an open system. The project will also develop its own protocol language as a way to drive its specific purpose. In this way, the project merges existing network technology with a reworked energy flow system to regulate a self-powered landscape that is activated by changing human and environmental conditions.


“The aim of an evolutionary architecture is to achieve in the built environment the symbiotic behavior and metabolic balance that are characteristic of the natural environment.” John Frazer, “An Evolutionary Architecture” 1

//EVOLVING PROGRAMS The research into cybernetics and network design led to establishing the programmatic variables of the project. Since the project is at a large scale and includes many components, it seems to be the best strategy to “grow” the architecture using bottom-up rules rather than pre-design everything in a top-down master plan. A key aspect of the site is that each contoured terrace has a similar vernacular and ecology thus making it a perfect blank canvas to generate an open network. The research trajectory involving evolution, growth patterns and emergence began with D’Arcy Thompson’s “On Growth and Form. The most compelling observation in his book was that “… the form of an object is a diagram of forces.”2 This observation forms the basis for emergence investigations, as it infers that everything created naturally or artificially is in constant flux created by the forces acting upon its molecular composition. In other words, everything is part of a complex series of systems that continually subject the objects within the system to energy, material and information forces, both naturally and artificially. We have to look at things as part of their evolving history and not only at their immediate present—how will the object be destroyed, eroded, chemical changes, etc. Emergence is a branch of study that focuses on how forces shape the growth and evolution of various systems. It is the study of spatial patterning created by energy motivating material movement and phase change. It looks at these processes both naturally and artificially as well as how evolving objects go through a series of feedback loops—each loop informing a new spatial configuration for the next molecular placement. John Frazer’s “An Evolutionary Architecture” examines the possibilities of using growth and evolution processes found in nature in architectural design. His publication outlines a new methodology that focuses on designing the instructions to generate a form rather than designing the form itself. Looking at natural ecosystems as a paradigm that “recycles materials, permits change and adaptation and make efficient use of ambient energy,” Frazer states, “The solution to our environmental problems may lie in relating architecture to the new holistic understanding of the structure of nature.”3


In the forward of Frazer’s book, noted cybernetician Gordon Pask states, “The role of the architect here…is not so much to design a building or city as to catalyze them; to act that they may evolve.”4 Pask’s argument effectively summarizes the changing role of the profession from designing components to designing systems thus informing a more responsive intelligent architecture. This methodology is currently being rigorously experimented and used in the professional field through the use of parametric software and advanced simulations that are capable of generating thousands of design alternatives. However, this practice is still very much focused on formal novelty and complexity on the surface of architecture while ignoring the relationship between the architecture and the user. Is it possible to give control of parametric design to the user, so architecture can become responsive to his/her desires? Instead of merely freezing a single iteration of a parametric design, can we design a new architecture that has the capability of “live update” according to various environmental conditions? Frazer’s research led into the work of Michael Hensel and Achim Menges in the publication “Morpho-Ecologies.” This compilation of design proposals demonstrates a more updated continuation of Frazer’s ideas using the new software available. One of the most significant methods discussed is contextsensitive growth modeling. The authors describe this process as “directly interrelating morphogenesis and environmental input…based on Lindenmayer systems, a formal description of simple multi-cellular organisms.”5 L-systems are usually expressed in simple algorithms that develop into extremely complex fractal systems. These growth systems (based on existing environmental fractals such as algae growth, plant growth, snowflakes, etc.) can be modeled and visualized on available software. These growth patterns can also respond to parameters set by the designer such as gravity, boundaries, attractors, obstacles, air fields, and many other inputs. The authors go on to describe their process as a “shift away from programme as design-defining towards design as programme-evolving. Programme should thus be understood, not as a pre-design list of requirements, but rather as a post design opportunity for human activities to be time-, space- and environment-specific on the basis of individual and collective preferences.”6 Although the author’s arguments are relevant and worth noting, the work depicted in the publication seems incongruent. This large niche of the architectural field seems to be inundated with the fascination of evolving formal complexity while totally disregarding the fascinating potential of parametric-based programs and events related to cultural activity.


An essay entitled “Differentiation, Hierarchy and Energy in Natural Systems” by Michael Weinstock is included in the MorphoEcologies publication and effectively outlines how energy flows at different scales produce diverse and complex patterns in nature. Weinstock also discusses the possibilities of applying a “metabolic strategy” to architectural design: “Architecture must make a positive contribution to the environment, and can do so by developing a metabolism for buildings and cities that extends far beyond the minimizing environmental strategies of ‘sustainability.’ A model abstracted from complex natural systems must incorporate individual and groups of environmentally intelligent buildings, with interlinked systems of material and energy flows, organized to generate oxygen, sequester carbon, fix nitrogen, collect and purify water, acquire solar energy, and respond intelligently to impending climatic changes.” 7 Weinstock’s closing argument is helpful in focusing the priorities and goals of the thesis argument: by abstracting various natural processes in producing, transferring and consuming energy at various scales, it is possible to develop new strategies and perceptions in architectural design. By emulating the genius behind nature’s symbiotic ecosystems, architecture can transform from a series of fragile components to a resilient interdependent system of relationships that reduce entropic damage by sharing energy flows. In this way, architecture can change the way we live and can enable a closer and more visceral connection to the natural environment. This vector of research into evolution and emergence proved useful in defining architecture’s potential in responding more intelligently to environmental parameters and developing the same adaptability found in natural ecosystems. However, the technical parametric approach using scripts and generative software is not a focus of the project despite being a viable possibility. The autogeneration of a plan based on bottom up parameters and swarm intelligence remains as a fascinating solution, but is not part of the main thesis methodologies. The project will still be defined as an interdependent energy sharing ecology, sharing the same underlying ideas of the referenced speculation on evolutionary and cybernetic practice. The core idea of proposing an evolutionary energy sharing system as opposed to a preset static building is the main argument resulting from this research.


The focus of the research after term two was on developing the system in the micro scale as opposed to the earlier macro planning exercise. The main area of concentration was to demonstrate a symbiotic relationship between the human and energy flows in the surrounding environment to create an interdependency rather than the current prevalent attitude of domination over the natural environment. While a numerous amount of energy producing technologies are available and integral to the system, the relationship between a human and algae biofuel extraction on the oilfield was the prime area of focus. Crude oil is nothing more than ancient algae remains that have been subjected to intense heat and pressure in anoxic subterranean conditions over a long period of time. Since this process is exclusive to certain parts of the planet and not broadly distributed, access is restricted and therefore gives crude oil its value. Algae biofuel, on the other hand, presents exciting opportunities to not only produce a cleaner resource unconstrained by geographical location, but also to fit into a closed loop cycle. Michael Pawlyn, architectural expert on sustainable environments, explains the benefits of shifting our lifestyles and spaces in a recent TED talk.8 He explains nature as a “catalogue of products” where the waste of one organism in an ecosystem becomes the nutrient for another. This process of “biomimicry” gives value to the waste that we would usually discard and effectively motivates a more resilient and sustainable system. This shift is what Pawlyn describes as moving from a linear to a closed loop process and presents a massive opportunity in design in the way entropy is recycled into the system rather than discarded. The algae biofuel extraction process fits perfectly into the closed loop model as it requires simple abundant resources (usually in the form of byproducts or waste) found anywhere on the planet to operate: algae, sunlight, carbon dioxide and water infused with nutrients. This simple process can form a cyclical bond with a human (where the human waste and carbon emissions feed the algae while the algae supply the human with oil) and can foster a multiplicity of other connections that can form a stable alternative ecology.


<TERM 3 SPECULATIONS> This interest in closed loop cycles combined with the research on cybernetics and evolution prompted an experiment based on developing a living lab with an interdependent relationship with an algae colony. The self-powered living lab would consist of an aeroponic skin system to grow food, a localized water harvesting system and spaces for the human to inhabit within the substrate of the dwelling, sharing the same oxygenrich air as the exterior aeroponic system. The biodegradable waste from the inhabitants would be processed in anaerobic chambers and the resulting digestate would be fed to the algae colony that would then in turn provide the users with biofuel. This relationship was represented as a diagrammatic assemblage.

Diagrammatic Assemblage 23

Once this diagram was established, evolutionary planning strategies were employed in order to demonstrate how this micro-system would grow on the site. The first strategy involved using the existing oil well locations as generative nodes. The diagram evolved formally based on surrounding topological parameters. The second strategy employed involved overlaying a grid onto the existing topology as a reference structure for the nodes without using site conditions as a guiding parameter. A brief experiment using a swarm intelligence script was employed to develop possible transportation trajectories (based off of moth flying patterns between the specified nodes set as targets), but the results were unsuccessful (although the generated lines were aesthetically appealing). The swarm intelligence component proved to be a large undertaking and not a major component of the overall project argument. Both planning strategies yielded similar results and was an effective exercise in evolving a diagram into a site. However, the vocabulary of the diagram was too abstract and still incongruent with the underlying aesthetics of the post-industrial landscapesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;these generative planning tactics would not work with the subtle beauty of the native machines coexisting with the rich natural biodiversity. While the closed loop processes inherent in the micro living system can be developed further in the design, the exercise of developing a master plan seemed to be of little importance when compared to the over arching sitespecific issue of how the current status of oil can be critiqued, changed and integrated into the architectural system. A new design vocabulary derived from the local machine aesthetic had to be conceived in order to better fit the project with surrounding parameters.

Opposite: Planning Strategy 1 Planning Strategy 2



“Drainage! Drainage, Eli, you boy. Drained dry. I’m so sorry. Here, if you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and I have a straw. There it is, that’s a straw, you see? You watching?. And my straw reaches acroooooooss the room, and starts to drink your milkshake... I... drink... your... milkshake!” Daniel Plainview, “There Will Be Blood”

//THE CHANGING STATUS OF OIL Peak oil is defined as the point at which maximum oil production has been reached. This particular point is the center of controversial discussions: optimists affiliated with the industry predict that global peak oil will occur between 2030 and 2035, while other experts in the field claim that it has already peaked in 2006.1 While the official data is yet to be established, it is clear that the world is heading into the post-oil era. This issue is currently generating a multitude of discussions regarding changing the consumption attitudes of the developed and developing countries whose lives depend on the seemingly endless oil supply streaming from the invisible spigot. Crude oil is not only the basis for transportation uses but also the integral ingredient for plastics, building materials, fertilizers, synthetic textiles and countless others. This commodity is completely integrated in our contemporary lifestyle, and petroleum-based products will inevitably become more expensive, scarce and thus less relevant due to rising oil prices and slower rates of production. Furthermore, oil is the source of the historical geopolitical tension that has gripped the global community. Modern warfare and threats of mass destruction all hinge on the control of oil resources. Only the elite civilizations can compete in this deadly battle, as it requires massive amounts of capital and military force to secure, develop, maintain and distribute the black gold. In addition to the continuing high rates of consumption enjoyed by the First World, developing nations are experiencing a higher demand rate to support a growing infrastructure and transportation industries. The crude oil submerged under the oil field is the main design driver of the project, as it is a valuable site-specific substance relevant to the global economy, culture and socio-political relations. How does its value change and can it play a part in the new ecology developed above the wells? What is to be done with this volatile compound capable of generating large amounts of energy? How will this design decision fit into the transition phase from oil to renewable energy?


Going back to the striking resemblance of Tarkovskyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s film Stalker and the industrial landscape of the Inglewood Oilfields, there is a rich connection beyond just the surface level similarities. At certain moments in the film, at water-specific locations, Tarkovsky slowly pans over the reflections in the waterâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; revealing various submerged artifacts of the previous culture juxtaposed with reflections of the environment above. The most poignant parts are when the protagonist is shown half-immersed in the water, merging himself with the reflections of the landscape. This scene demonstrates a similar powerful empathic connection with the landscape discussed in earlier sections. As one can observe, the reflections play a huge part in the film in how they take on mediatory role between the viewer and the surrounding landscape. Like vintage photographs, these reflections distort the scene into a double exposure of the submerged relics and the environment to communicate the specific themes of loss, longing and desire. How does this mirage-like phenomenon play a part in this specific project, and how can this effect be demonstrated through architectural systems? The reflective ingredient of oil can play an interesting role in alternative methods of its perception.

Scene from Stalker

Scene from Stalker 28

A striking example of misappropriated oil is Richard Wilsonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s 20:50 installation. This site-specific experiment consists of a room filled with a layer of sump oil contained within an elegant metal shell. The highly reflective quality of oil in the room gives the perception of a mirage-like expansive space larger than its actual physical constraints. Occasionally a cross breeze may blow gently across the surface revealing the hidden viscosity of the mirror. This installation revealed a myriad of possibilities of how oil can be used in a more aesthetic and architectural purposeâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;reflecting and expanding the perception of the surrounding environment in a similar way Tarkovskyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s long pans evoke strong emotional resonances. In this landscape where oil is presumed to no longer primarily power engines or used in cheap products, it will be integrated with the architecture as a series of lenses motivating a new way to navigate and perceive the surrounding environment and overall urban setting.

20:50 by Richard Wilson

The commodified value of oil will inevitably change if it is misappropriated in new methods on the site. It can act as an alternative currency within the system, a type of jewelry or even conserved for a large-scale explosive event. It can also take on the ironic role of motivating a system to reactivate the productivity of the earth that it previously colonized. Regardless of its new uses, narratives of alternative oil uses will be a main design driver to create new situations and topologies layered over the existing infrastructure.


Developing situations in the system proposed is highly relevant to Constant Niewenhuysâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; New Babylon project2â&#x20AC;&#x201D;a massive conceptual city depicting the burial of menial automated processes below while suspending new territories for play above, thus invigorating the inner creativity of every human being. New Babylon is a significant reference to the project as it is a demonstration of human freedom in various spatial conditions determined by ambient situations. Even though the project is not so focused on the issue of play or creativity, it is very similar in that it involves an expansive drifting series of ambient spaces (specific to various situations) suspended over the existing industrial infrastructure below. Furthermore, the New Babylon diagrammatic structure applied to the project incorporates an intelligent energy regulating network connecting the production, storage (hydrogen batteries) and consumption between various nodes to create a responsive, resilient ecology. The design vocabulary of the suspended system will be extrapolated from the existing industrial infrastructure below in order to merge the two layers in a cohesive fashion. Furthermore, the engine-like motion of the rotating pumpjack piston will be captured in various shifting possibilities of the proposed design. The new time-based layer will be designed primarily around the new appropriations of oil in order to demonstrate radical new possibilities of living in the post-oil era.

Opposite: Layering a New Industrial Vocabulary



“Architecture can and does produce positive effects when the liberating intentions of the architect coincide with the real practice of people in the exercise of their freedom.” Michel Foucault, “Space, Knowledge and Power” 1

//CONCLUSION The thesis is an investigation on how reworked energy flows can motivate new ways of living within a designed networked ecology. The three main subjects of investigation (energy flows, Los Angeles ecology and networked empathic connections) and their respective vectors of research converge to form an argument against the current methods used by the industry to confront the problem of climate change and entropic damage to the planet. The thesis also examines methods to change the lifestyle of the individual in regards to energy consumption and personal relationships to the surrounding environment and fellow human beings. The project motivated by the thesis investigations is a self powered networked ecology set in the Inglewood Oil fields in Los Angeles. It takes a critical stance on the historical consumption attitudes of Los Angeles and is deliberately sited in an open â&#x20AC;&#x153;islandâ&#x20AC;? within the city to motivate new typologies of off the grid living. It uses distributive energy systems drawing energy from local renewable sources. These distributive systems are interlinked using an intelligent network to create a self-regulating responsive environment. The main design motivator driving the project is the extraction and reappropriation of oil as a key architectural element within the system. The projectâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s integration with oil demonstrates new aesthetic and innovative use for oil as a critique of the current consumer mentality as well as provoking a muchneeded shift in the post-oil era lifestyle. The existing extraction infrastructure found on the site will be merged with a new layer of suspended programmatic scenarios that demonstrate new attitudes towards oil amidst amalgamations of renewable energy technologies. This speculative proposal is intended to raise questions concerning how society currently deals with energy flows as well as to instigate new perspectives regarding empathic relationships between humans, technology and the landscape.


//INDEX INTRODUCTION 1. Camus, A. (1947). The Plague. London : Penguin Classics. p. 16. 2. Wigley, M. (2009) Space in Crisis. New York : C-LAB: Urban China Bootlegged for Volume. 3. US Building Council. (2008) Why Build Green?

ENERGY FLOWS 1. Crampton, J. (2007) Space, Knowledge and Power: Foucault and geography. London : Ashgate Publishing Limited. 2. Schiller, C. and Fassmann, S. (2011) Generating Insightsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;Accelerating into a New Era in Energy. IBM publication. 3.Rifkin, J. (2009) The Empathic Civilization. New York : Penguin Group, p. 543. 4. US Energy Information Administration. (2010) Annual Energy Review: Los Angeles Energy Sources. 44% - Imported Coal Power 26% - Local Natural Gas 11% - Local Nuclear Power 19% - Local & Imported Renewable Power

ECOLOGY OF LOS ANGELES 1. Davis, M. (1998) Ecology of Fear. New York : Metropolitan Books. p. 276. 2. Banham, R. (1971) Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. London : The Penguin Press. 3. Davis, M. (1998) Ecology of Fear. New York : Metropolitan Books. 4. McPhee, J. (1990)The Control of Nature. New York : Farrar Straus Giroux. 5. Guattari, F. (2000) The Three Ecologies. New Brunswick : The Athlone Press. 6. Ibid., p. 51. 7. Ibid., p. 69. 8. The Lay of the Land. (Spring 2010) Urban Crude: The Oil Fields of the Los Angeles Basin. Center for Land Use Interpretation Publication, p. 21. 9. Ibid., p. 31.

EMPATHIC RELATIONSHIPS 1. Rifkin, J. (2009) The Empathic Civilization. New York : Penguin Group, p. 2. 2. Ibid., p. 181. 3. Ibid., p. 39. 4. Weinstock, M. (2010) The Architecture of Emergence. West Sussex : John Wiley and Sons Ltd. 5. Burke, A. and Tierney, T. (2007) Network Practices. New York : Princeton Architectural Press, p. 25. 6. Ibid., p. 31. 7. Ibid., p. 33. 34

EVOLVING PROGRAMS 1. Frazer, J. (1995) An Evolutionary Architecture. London : Architectural Association Publications, p. 9. 2. Thompson, D. (1961) On Growth and Form. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, p. 11. 3. Frazer, J. (1995) An Evolutionary Architecture. London : Architectural Association Publications, p. 16. 4. Ibid., p. 7. 5. Hensel, M. and Menges, A. (2006) Morpho-Ecologies. London : Architectural Association Publications, p. 54. 6. Ibid., p. 58. 7. Ibid., p. 306. 8. Pawlyn, M. (2010) Using Natureâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Genius. Ted Talk: ( michael_pawlyn_using_nature_s_genius_in_architecture.html)

THE CHANGING STATUS OF OIL 1. Zittel, W. and Schindler, J. (2007) Crude Oil: the Supply Outlook. Report to the Energy Watch Group, p. 12. 2. Sadler, S. (1999) The Situationist City. Cambridge : MIT Press. Section on New Babylon.

CONCLUSION 1. Crampton, J. (2007) Space, Knowledge and Power: Foucault and geography. London : Ashgate Publishing Limited.

//OTHER KEY REFERENCES THEORY, PRACTICE & LITERATURE 1. Cook, P. (1999) Archigram. New York : Princeton Architectural Press. Plug-In City 2. Corbellini, G. (2008) Bioreboot: The Architecture of R&Sie(n). Milano : 22publishing. 3. Craig, J. and Ozga-Lawn, M. (2012) Pamphlet Architecture 32: Resilience. New York : Princeton Architectural Press. 4. Debord, G. (1999) The Society of the Spectacle. Cambridge : MIT Press. 5. De Landa, M. (1997) A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. New York : Zone Books. 6. Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987) A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press. 7. Dery, M. (1996) Escape Velocity. London : Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. 8. Diller, E. and Scofidio, R. (2002) Blur- The Making of Nothing. New York : Harry N. Abrams. 9. Eliot, T.S. (1922) Wasteland. 10. Reiter, W. (1999) Vessels and Fields. New York : Princeton Architectural Press. 11. Smout Allen. (2007) Pamphlet Architecture 28: Augmented Landscapes. New York : Princeton Architectural Press. 12. Vinge, V. (2006) Rainbows End. London : Pan Macmillan. 13. Virilio, P. (1997) Open Sky. London : Verso.

FILMS 1. Anderson, P. (2007). There Will Be Blood. Paramount Vantage. 2. Lynch, D. (1984) Dune. De Laurentiis Production Company. 3. Polanski, R. (1974). Chinatown. Paramount Pictures. 4. Tarkovsky, A. (1979) Stalker. Gambaroff-Chemier Interallianz Production Company.

ARTISTS 1. Wilson, R. 20:50 (Large scale installation involving reflective oil) 2. Sze, S. Various Works dealing with assemblages. 3. Saraceno, T. Various Works dealing with suspended biospheres. 4. Beesley, P. Hylozoic Ground. 5. Tetsuo Kono + Transolar. Cloudscapes.



Radical Energy Systems  

<2011>Speculations on connecting decentralized energy flows with networked ecologies in the post-oil era. M.Arch AD Thesis Report - Bartlet...

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