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Atlas Paddling A Manifesto

Part I of II

Not only is climate change real...

01 // A Beautiful Wall

No one knows how many of the Marbles

tell true stories, but they line the length of tallest

opening and the ensuing neighbourly chatter

wall you will ever see. Each one, lit by its own

reverberates against the high wall and meets your

scented brazier, talks of a city long gone, which

ear like a cloud of acoustic perfume.

can only be rebuilt and refurbished in your mind.

Like shards of broken glass, they are scattered

by the flames forever dancing in their braziers

in ways which follow no logical pattern, and

just above your head, as they share enough heat

can be rearranged into new formations each

to keep you warm for a summer’s evening. If

time someone touches them. If shards can be

the moods are spirited, the stories you hear will

refashioned to form either a wine glass or a

outshine the ones set in stone, their preciousness

window anew, so can the Marbles tell multiple

enhanced by their impermanence. I have lingered

histories at the same time, one for every onlooker,

there many nights, listening to the old advising

each as valid and as true as the next. In their

the young, abandoning my thoughts to odd tales

intricacy, the uncarved spaces within the pieces

looking at the bas-reliefs through half closed eyes,

receive your anxiety about the current world: how

until all but the things around the fire disappeared

it will never produce any event remarkable enough

- I even forgot about the tumultuous roars of the

to be immortalised through marbles, braziers, or

sea which lies just beyond the wall.

the wonderfully strange plants lining the spaces between them - only then, their purpose is fulfilled. The Marbles are immortal and they stare down at our slow extinction.

Below the carvings, flames frantically

dance in the ornate braziers, each burning with an incense carefully selected by the carers specifically remunerated for this task. As this is the sight many see when they first enter the city, the smells of the past flood your nostrils, exposing our culture while simultaneously covering up the marine miasmas floating above.

If you ever find yourself meandering in

the area mid week, I recommend you find the time to visit the Marbles close to dusk, when the gib doors lie open, and locals are pouring through. What is meant to be a space of solitude and silent reverence is jolted into life by the dancing shadows of the ones who clean the walls, change the scents, or weed out undesirable vegetation growing in the gardens. As the sky darkens and


the work starts winding down, the sound of bottles

Don’t hesitate to approach and warm up

One of the Marbles shows the desolation of the landscape before the inhabitants arrived.

Atlas Paddling

02 // The End of Conservation

The wall is a barrier between two different

conditions: one worth keeping, the other, not so

inhabitants new and old, swaying in a syncopated

much. It is also the catalyst for a metamorphosis,

rhythm, giving birth to a new city from a cloud

from a place of tall towers despised by many, to

of dust. Above shop, sports pitch, town hall and

an uncanny one of exoticism and attraction, where

house, a new shop, a new sports pitch, a new

soothsayer and savant, artisan and critic, thief

town hall and a new house arose, an inversion of

and jailor break bread together, whether by choice

the district’s old patterns.

or circumstance. An arrondissement of its own

authority, where those too many to be oppressed,

in earnest, struggling to see beyond wooden

but too few to make a change, linger on the sides,

catwalks, extensive hoarding and ladders. But

as history has always placed them.

you see, permanence or completion were never

ambitions here - the heavy foundations of the

When the waters came in and took the

‘When will it be finished?’ you might ask

derelict docklands with them, a voice was quick to

buildings which were supposed to make them

declare it was addressing two pressing ailments

stand forever, had made it certain that now they

of the City - floods and heritage. ‘For what is the

had to lie dozens of meters below the water. The

spirit of this metropolis if not one of equal love for

foundation of the new district will be change itself.

both our future and past?’

You will then realise, while looking at a floating

It was addressing the floods by welcoming them

street, or a house anchored in the side of the wall,

into the City, building gargantuan cylinders to act

metal supports clamping uncomfortably at the

as trepanation, directing the water towards the

brilliant white, that something cannot be destroyed

skies so that they would not spread horizontally.

if it stays unfinished.

But, within this decision, sacrifice was implicit, as neighbourhoods would now need to be be flooded - or, as some remarked, ‘conserved’ for posterity, a submerged Pompeii with starfish, coral and crabs as fresh citizens.

And such is the story of this part of

the City - it began with an encasing wall, while displacement was running in parallel. The river then started growing within, foaming and meandering its course through what once were streets, now an extension of its muddy bed. Reflected in the swelling pool you could only see tall, lagan towers, a lonely clue of the city which once stood there.

When the sounds of the rushing waters

ceased, they were soon replaced by ones different in nature. Bandsaws, hammers, drills, chisels and


cutters were cavorting within the decisive grasps of

Proposals for integrating the incoming effects of climate change within urban life. Image 2 (right) shows a public baths with all the excess water, while Image 3 (below) shows the formation of a lacustrine village.

Atlas Paddling

03 // The Gardens of Guilt

Few are the ones who remember that

our City used to grow once, when our appetite for

named after what an old woman once said, seeing

dwellings was as relentless as our imagination.

it from above.

Now, we have too many; our citizens, searching for

the high ground which would grant protection from

of eyes are watching us; we, the strange creatures

the rising seas, have left them behind, derelict and

who denied them their original habitats, who are

barren, the darkness in their windows like missing

now desperately trying to hold onto the diminishing

teeth in a crooked, well-meaning grin.

numbers of both ourselves and our planetary

family by inviting them into our homes. Their

In time, one by one, the empty buildings

From behind the exotic foliage, many pairs

started disappearing altogether, sometimes

gazes are not vengeful, but curious, as there is

leaving behind a door, a window, a cornice, or a

something germinating in the heart of the Mosaic,

fragment of wall; new piles of carcasses sitting

a most bizarre secret, which greatly confuses

atop old ones, of pine trees, rubbish, and plague

beasts large and small. When the inhabitants of

victims, all buried before anyone can remember.

the Mosaic tire of seeing a panther chasing an

Now cleared, the voids were appearing differently

antelope across the savannah, they need only

to anyone who looked at them - a mother saw

exchange house with the ones who are now bored

playgrounds for her unborn son, while a priest saw

of the penguins endlessly synchronising in their

a handsome spire, its sides encrusted with pious

diving, swallowing the plentiful fish whole. In this

words of devotion. Between all of the spaces,

way, the watchers always have a constant fresh

no idea remained unbuilt - a new City made of

supply of subjects, and vice versa.

pauses started to emerge, growing as the old one

shrunk, made only from the opportunities the latter

bears and birds of paradise, are species that have

never had.

already gone extinct, and are now replaced either

by highly sophisticated automata, or by humans

While these spaces became farms,

But the secret is that amidst lions, hyenas,

hospices, and inns, in the neighbourhoods

who, driven insane by the guilt of knowing the

of the fair and wealthy, gates with intricate

truth, have recreated the animalistic appearance

ornamentations of sea shells, acorns or mango

with their garb. They live on the pastures, grazing

fruit began to span the voids between the

and migrating with their quadruped step siblings,

sumptuous mansions. As you pass them by,

or in marshes with diaphanous fogs, swimming

through a door left slightly ajar, you might glimpse

with the alligators, eating frogs, and opening their

a wild goat running up the vertical side of a snowy

mouths to let the tickbirds clean their teeth. This

mountain, an elk quietly grazing in the middle of a

secret is so precious, and their guilt so intensely

tundra, a lion leading his pride through the empty

infernal, that even they are now convinced of their

wilderness, or a scarab beetle pushing a sphere of

own bestial nature.

dung while drawing long, undulating lines through glittering sands. These forlorn worlds have now found new life in the City, each on a different street according to their origins, echoes of ecologies


long gone; together they form the Great Mosaic,

The Mosaic, as that old woman once saw it.

Atlas Paddling

Part II of II

... it has already happened.

04 // A Beautiful Wall II

After the founders held this City for

a while, we managed to buy it off them fairly

stopping us from choosing which one to save first

cheaply.1 A new City, a garden surrounded by

should disaster strike again. Sometimes sluice

spires of steel and glass, will erase and replace

gates, with advertising on them, other times an

old, shabby buildings, made of soil and timber.

embankment, with a hill and a sports pitch on top,

They will not be defined by the thousands of

this protection would never reveal its true purpose

people they host, the contorted forms they might


have, or the materials which make them up, but

by the millions of dreams and anxieties inspired in

has named it, will replace a few of the marshlands

anyone who looks upon them. They host myths of

we have previously taken, when we took the

success, desire, importance and capital, to replace

geological limitation of our estuary as a guideline

the ones about the First Mother, the Giant Spider

to be challenged. Even now, echoes of how

and Witch of the Whirlwind.

practical, advisable and profitable would be to

extend our City further into the ocean, building up


The chosen land would be surrounded

We hope that the Dry Line, as its architect

by waters so as to make sure that our dreams

the diminishing marshes with more filler and stack

would aim no lower than the skies. Change, we

rooms on top, can still be heard.6 In turn, other

thought, would thus be limited, but it still defines

voices talk of building up the seabed and leaving it

us - every moment you listen carefully, it makes

like that, soil offered as a sacrifice to the angered

someone yell ‘The City I know is dead!’, while

oceans. All speak about the temporary nature of

another simultaneously shrieks ‘The City has

our plans, and I have to ask myself about how

never been more alive!’, although they never seem

anything can be long-lasting in a City made of

to hear each other. As it became clearer that the

stacked cards.

large island was not sufficient, divided in myriad

fragments as it was, and boosted in its height

from all the dreams our City is haemorrhaging into

as much as possible, we started taking from the



plains, marshlands, and even seabed; they all gave in to our touch like warm plasticine.4

As the accidental was replaced by the

concrete, and the light we gave made the stars impossible to see, we realised that our hubris was never meant to last. By the hot tarmac, in place of the forests we felled, tall rulers now stood in the mud, our fear growing along with the height of the dried algae after each tide. A barrier that is simultaneously a museum, a promenade, and a park should protect us from the storms that have taken lives, buildings, and walkways.5 We would share it, a patch of land bringing together


all of the neighbourhoods it passes through,

Somewhere else, the waters are swelling

Paper and concrete walls protect forests of steel and glass.

Atlas Paddling

05 // The End of Conservation II

once again, separating the waters of our Lagoon

Rumour has it that once, our City was

described using fifty five different cities, and

from the surrounding seas.9 A long wall, honest in

I can see at least two: one is the place where

its appearance, will hide below the seabed, filled

most of the inhabitants live, constructed using

to the brink with salty water, emptied as needed

larch wood, brick, mortar and stone, while the

in high tides,10 and finally appearing as a slight,

other has been growing steadily for centuries,

lifesaving line just below our horizon.

and it is inhabited by those who, after visiting us,

became split themselves, living both here and in

a place where it did not belong, making all of our

their homes across the continents. In other cities,

histories increasingly supernatural. At first, nature

where you rush to make a meeting, you cannot

worked with us - sediments from the sea have

turn a corner without bumping into someone who’s

petrified the stilts upon which we built, but limiting

doing the same, and time refuses to fit within the

the flow of water around the Lagoon has allowed

minuscule box on that spreadsheet. Instead of

for very little refreshing exchange between the

people turning corners, here you see the trace of

two entities. Minuscule creatures now gnaw at our

a couple realising they are pioneers as they hit

piers,11 and we need to intervene again, creating

a puddle with the tip of their shoes. In place of

yet another history which should not have existed.

busy intersections, you have boats gliding over

Our narrative is one of decay, where we have

the surface of the Lethe, each hosting a local who

fallen apart for centuries while other Cities were

points at the rock where a famous merchant once

built in a day. The source of our anguish is planting

sold their exotic wares from around a world that

the seed of delight into the heart of those who

seemed much bigger. Unlike in other cities, it is

want to see us.

impossible to rush here, because on every canal,

bridge, street or square, you get stuck in the thick

Cities, we are caught between two distinct deaths

cloud of Memory our visitors left behind.

- that of our buildings and the end of our decay. If


As the second City continually grows, the

You see, as we are caught between two

our buildings survive, how long before the City of

first one shrinks, contorts, and eventually sinks.

Memory becomes more real than the one built in

How can our waterways help our movements,

larch wood, brick, mortar and stone?


when they are flowing inside our houses and squares? Increasingly, citizens have left the Lagoon we inhabit, and most of the people staying, move through here transiently, unfettered by the miasmas and dangers of a sinking City. It might not appear so, when our buildings look like relics arranged in a beautiful museum display, but we turned to machinery to keep us above the waterline. Using technology, we summoned a figure from long ago, described in a book of simultaneous self help and lies, to part oceans


From the beginning, our City was born in

Proposal by J. Inaba for treating Venice’s historic fabric, while flooding parts as to encourage part of the decay.

Atlas Paddling

06 // The Gardens of Guilt II

We are far, yet if you were to squint you

As we glimpse at the last few hilltops

would see a mirror, showing neither past nor

disappearing under the ocean, we know we

present. As far as we are, you can still hear us,

will have to leave soon, and there are whispers

and even if you might not know it, you have felt

about where we should go. Rumour has it that

our touch before. Our City, nested amongst three

as you walk on the side of the ocean, in every

rivers and the ocean, is faced with a tormenting

millimetre of growing tides you can hear the

choice - we could bank all our shores and stop

dreams, ambitions and achievements of someone

millions of citizens from suffering at high tide, or

who lives far away. Within every swollen wave, I

welcome the waters, let them wash over our thirsty

can hear an engine starting, a plane landing, a

crops, and let the sediment feed the soil. We

fracking operation at the same time as my other

know it will be complex - not all embankments will

ear picks up on an incoming landslide, the final

be the same, as not all the waters help us live.

breath of the last banteng, an albatross letting out

Sweet, clear rivers coming from the mountains

a curious shriek after coughing up a bottle cap.

meet in a great, flowing, life-giving sea, which

when no one looks, pours out of its bed. When

from behind a piece of cloth.17 Can you feel our

the mud dries, we take the market stalls out, and

touch while we’re drowning?


resume life.

A journey made for millions of years is

now being disrupted - at high tide, the meeting point between ocean and river is shifting closer to the heart of our territory. Wells, crops and streets are accounts of how poisonous the oceans can be, their increasing salts flowering on the walls of our houses and in pools on our farms.13 Barrier after barrier gets built on the edge of our deltas to stop this tug, yet they return to mud before we can repair them, as despite the financial buttressing you have offered,14 our efforts were feeble and cannot anticipate the cyclones, droughts, and tides.15 Our trade is just as unpredictable, with no telling when we can return your generous investment so for now, we will sink our fingers in the mud and clay, push it in mounds on the riverside, build lacustrine villages awaiting their inevitable lakes, and raise our wells above the salts.16 On stilts, our City can again become green, even if for a short while.


To you, a thousand hands appear as one

From salted wells and stilted houses, we escape over trade routes that shift their course less than the Ganges.

Atlas Paddling

Epilogue // Seas of Possibility

On a table there lies a slender candle,

its orange glow starting to give your hands a

the process. Perhaps you should mention how

soft shadow against the stack of messy papers

built cities tarnish the ambition of their unbuilt

below. Their corners bent, they sometimes stick

predecessors, where the loudest demagogue with

as you rest your elbows against them, but you

the most putrid heart shouts over the noise, and

barely notice it - your eyes are following the wax

the devoted preacher who promised deliverance

trickling down the sides, finally reaching the dark

doesn’t show up when it rains. You could also

mahogany surface on which the candle rests. A

share a dream, withhold specifics and stay your

small mound appears as it cools, catching the last

hand before it draws the blueprint, with the sole

pale rays of sun in its depths, although not before

instruction being to hurt or laugh only when

a few scatter just under the surface. Something

another does.

about the fragile warmth refracted through the

ochre reminds you of a conversation held long

at the benevolent, polite smiles lined below the

ago, in the terracotta churchyard of a warm city,

evening’s first timid constellations, and open your

your voice vaporous amidst the buzz of both

mouth to speak; much is to be decided when

people and bumblebees.

you’re lost in between oceans and the stars.

A gentle breeze, followed by a slight

movement catches your attention. The flame trembles as you stand and walk over to the balcony. Below the crystalline sky and the swaying tree canopies, filling the space between the crumbling remains of old buildings, an endless sea of faces is staring up towards you. Crammed like hens in a coop, some hug, while others peak over the crowd resting on their friends’ shoulders, all sharing an expression of curious anticipation, their courteous smiles softening the slightly worrying character of the scene. In the front, clutched in their eager hands, you can distinguish tools - screwdrivers, bandsaws, pick hammers, trowels.

You know what they are expecting, and

you are faced with a dilemma - how will you tell them where to find the Good City? For every city that is built, a thousand imaginary ones await their turn, so you weigh your choices carefully. You could talk about how difficult they are to construct, how some imagined cities are damaged from the


beginning, while built ones become damaged in

Walking out onto the balcony, you look

Amidst oceans, I finally had time to think.

Atlas Paddling

Endnotes R. Koolhaas, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan (New York, 2014), p. 39.


Gill, D. Sam, I. F. Sullivan, Dictionary of Native American Mythology (USA, 1994), pp. 57-60.


L. Freeman, F. Braconi. “Gentrification and displacement New York City in the 1990s.” Journal of the


American Planning Association, No. 70 (2004): pp. 39-52. T. Steinberg, Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York (Simon and Schuster, 2014),


pp. 89-90. O. Wainwright, (2015). “Bjarke Ingels on the New York Dryline: ‘We think of it as the love-child of Robert


Moses and Jane Jacobs’” in The Guardian [Online]. Available: mar/09/bjarke-ingels-new-york-dryline-park-flood-hurricane-sandy [2017, May]. T. Steinberg, Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York (Simon and Schuster, 2014),


p. 112. I. Calvino, Invisible cities, trans. William Weaver (London: Vintage, 1997).


M. Portanova, (2015). “Mose, in dieci anni 1,3 miliardi di costi in piu. E allarmi inascoltati” (Italian) in


Il Fatto Quotidiano [Online]. Available: [2017, May]. F. O’Sullivan, (2016). “Venice’s Vast New Flood Barrier Is Almost Here in The Atlantic Citylab [Online].


Available: [2017, May]. lbid.


J. Inaba, et al. “Learning from Venice.” Perspecta, Vol. 41 (2008), pp. 140–143.


H. Brammer, “Floods in Bangladesh: II. Flood Mitigation and Environmental Aspects.” The Geographical


Journal, Vol. 156, no. 2 (1990), pp. 158–165. lbid.


H. Brammer, “Bangladesh’s dynamic coastal regions and sea-level rise.“ Climate Risk Management, Vol.


1 (2014), Pages 51–62. lbid.


M. R. Ratal, “The Bangladesh factory tragedy and the moralists of sweatshop economics.“ in The


Guardian [Online]. Available: [May, 2017].

Image references Image 6: Inaba, J. et al. “Learning from Venice.” Perspecta, Vol. 41 (2008), pp. 140–143.


Bibliography Brammer, H. “Bangladesh’s dynamic coastal regions and sea-level rise.“ Climate Risk Management, Vol. 1 (2014), Pages 51–62. Brammer, H. “Floods in Bangladesh: II. Flood Mitigation and Environmental Aspects.” The Geographical

Journal, Vol. 156, no. 2 (1990), pp. 158–165. Calvino, I. Invisible cities, trans. William Weaver (London: Vintage, 1997). Freeman, L., and Frank Braconi. “Gentrification and displacement New York City in the 1990s.” Journal of

the American Planning Association No. 70 (2004): 39-52. Inaba, J. et al. “Learning from Venice.” Perspecta, Vol. 41 (2008), pp. 140–143. Koolhaas, Rem. Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan (New York, 2014). O’Sullivan, F. (2016). “Venice’s Vast New Flood Barrier Is Almost Here in The Atlantic Citylab [Online]. Available: [2017, May]. Portanova, M. (2015). “Mose, in dieci anni 1,3 miliardi di costi in piu. E allarmi inascoltati” (Italian) in Il Fatto Quotidiano [Online]. Available: [2017, May]. Ratal, M. R. “The Bangladesh factory tragedy and the moralists of sweatshop economics.“ in The Guardian [Online]. Available: [May, 2017]. Sam, D., Sullivan, F. Dictionary of Native American Mythology. (USA, 1994). Steinberg, T. Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York. (Simon and Schuster, 2014). Wainwright, O. (2015). “Bjarke Ingels on the New York Dryline: ‘We think of it as the love-child of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs’” in The Guardian [Online]. Available: mar/09/bjarke-ingels-new-york-dryline-park-flood-hurricane-sandy [2017, May].

Atlas Paddling