Watermarks

Last night in Bristol, England, marked the start of Chris Bodle’s Watermarks Project. For the next week, Bodle will be projecting onto the facades of buildings throughout Bristol estimated future high-tide marks should the entire Greenland ice cap melt.

[Image: From Chris Bodle’s Watermarks Project].

The idea is brilliant; I love the idea of mapping the future earth onto the earth of the present, of overlaying onto our present geography the virtual presence of a geography yet to come.

In many ways, I’d even say that this project can be divorced from its immediate context of climate change science and applied to any number of terrestrial processes, from the projected future and the hypothesized past. Whether mapping lost lakes of a different era or tracing the edges of disappeared lagoons that still haunt the streets of San Francisco – or reminding urbanites of the sport-fishing possibilities beneath Manhattan – we are alive within laminations we will never fully map or comprehend.

And these geographic superimpositions needn’t all by hydrological: the constant erasures and revisions of the earth through plate tectonics represent an unlimited supply of counter-landscapes we might explore.

I’m reminded of John McPhee’s fantastic book Assembling California – part of his equally great collection Annals of the Former World. There, McPhee describes how entire “Newfoundlands, Madagascars, New Zealands, Sumatras, [and] Japans” have all come together, rammed into place, one into the other over millions of years, to form what we now call California. Walking around Los Angeles, or through the coastal hills of Bug Sur, you’re not walking on unified ground at all, then, but across “the metamorphosed remains of what had once been an island arc.”

The ground here is all wandering, nomadic wreckage, only it’s been temporarily “consolidated as California,” McPhee writes.

So could all those old islands be flagged, their mutated and compressed remains – sheer gravel, lone hillsides, folded slopes, and whole mountain ranges – marked out with surveyors’ tape? The Archipelago Project. You cross and recross lost geographies made visible through an artist’s intervention – or follow a new state hiking path that meanders around the edges of minor fault lines yet to open.

[Image: From Chris Bodle’s Watermarks Project].

In any case, projecting the earth’s future oceans onto a contemporary cityscape is an almost unbelievably stimulating idea.

These are the data points of a world yet to come, you might say, made visible here on the fronts of a hundred buildings – a future or alternative version of the earth coming into focus all around us.

(Via the RSA’s Arts & Ecology site, thanks to Nicky!)

Zones of Exclusion

[Image: The charismatic boundaries of an earlier worldview – here, the Hereford Mappa Mundi].

Note: This is a guest post by Nicola Twilley.

Another question for the topic of whether or not a “dense assortment of buildings” can ever be a real city: What is London for an eighteen-year old whose entire urban experience is confined to 200-square meters and who has never seen the Thames?

Researchers at the University of Glasgow, sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, have spent the past two years asking young residents of Bradford, Peterborough, London, Glasgow, Sunderland, and Bristol to draw maps of their own individual urban experience in order to explore micro-territoriality as both a cause and a symptom of social exclusion. You can read the full PDF of their report here.

“In Glasgow, Sunderland and Bradford,” they found, “a recognizable territory might be as small as a 200-meter block or segment.” In Tower Hamlets, London, fifteen and sixteen-year old boys mapped their world into three streets, a football pitch, a barber shop, mosque, Indian restaurant, and – just beyond the clearly marked “Front Line” – an off-license, or liquor store.

[Image: From the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, “Young people and territoriality in British cities” (download the PDF)].

Some of the sketches even remind me of medieval maps: the known world is an island of familiarity, simultaneously shown much larger than scale but made tiny and precious by the monsters of “Terra Incognita” that surround it. In the case of a 15-year-old girl from Bradford, today’s dragons are “moshers,” “chavs,” “Asians,” and “posh people” – all “Enemys.” The researchers found that teenage boys display an even more complete ignorance of the world beyond their perceived boundaries: these two maps of the same area in Glasgow were drawn by young men in the same class at the same school, who live on different sides of the same road.

[Images: From the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, “Young people and territoriality in British cities” (download the PDF)].

The report’s authors examined the causes, nature, and impact of micro-territorialization. Their research uncovered Bristol’s “postcode wars,” where gangs spray-paint their postcode in rival areas as a form of aggression, as well as descriptions of the maneuvers involved in going to school in one part of Bradford that match the Schlieffen Plan in strategic complexity. “In some places,” they note with reference to Glasgow and Sunderland, “territoriality was a leisure activity, a form of ‘recreational violence.’” In other words, bored and economically deprived teenagers are transforming 1960s council estates and Victorian terraces into a real-world, multiplayer World of Warcraft.

Of course, excessive loyalty to the local, and the resulting lack of mobility, has a significant and negative impact on access to education, services, and job opportunities. In the words of one interviewee from Glasgow:

If your horizons are limited to three streets, what is the point of you working really hard at school? What is the point of passing subjects that will allow you to go to college or university if you cannot travel beyond these streets? What’s the point of dreaming about being an artist, a doctor, etc., if you cannot get on a bus to get out of the area in which you live?

The report points out an interesting irony here: current policies in urban regeneration are dominated by strategies to increase “place attachment” as a means “to reinforce social networks and maintain the quality of an area through pride.” However, the areas that actually generate such loyalties are, in the authors’ words “often ones that have little that conventionally invokes pride.”

It was difficult to say which was more depressing – the relentless defense of a featureless piece of open space on the fringes of a Glasgow housing scheme where there is nothing whatsoever by way of amenities, or the confinement to a socially isolated but densely populated and built-up quarter-square-mile of London of young men for whom the culture and wealth of one of the world’s great cities might as well be on another continent.

The report goes on to identify 244 anti-territorial projects (ATPs) currently in progress across the UK. Most use sports or other “hook” activities to encourage association and to teach networking skills. Disappointingly, none tackle the issue in terms of the design of physical space.

So what does the anti-territorial city look like? Some things to consider: unsurprisingly, the report found that most conflicts “occurred on boundaries between residential areas, which were typically defined by roads, railways, vacant land or other physical features.” The city center also becomes a venue for bigger showdowns: a youth worker in Peterborough explains that “the flashpoints are in the city center, the ‘big stage,’ the one place they all, you know, congregate on a Saturday.” Finally, the researchers found that micro-territorialization took place across the spectrum of low-income housing stock, from “high-density, flatted, inner-city estates; traditional, pre-1914 areas of terraced housing; and suburban, often council-built environments.”

As the authors rightly point out, lack of jobs and economic hardship are key structural forces contributing to “problematic territoriality.” But what role does urban planning, landscape design and the built environment have to play?

Can the design of the city itself generate – or mitigate against – territoriality?

(Note: Read the Guardian‘s take on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report here and here).

Subterranean bunker-cities


[Image: A map of Wiltshire’s Ridge quarry/bunker system; see below].

An article I’ve not only forwarded to several people but planned whole screenplays around, frankly, reveals that there is a sprawling complex of tunnels located beneath Belgrade.
There, a recent police investigation “into the mysterious shooting of two soldiers has revealed the existence beneath the Serbian capital of a secret communist-era network of tunnels and bunkers that could have served as recent hideouts for some of the world’s most-wanted war crimes suspects. The 2-square-mile complex – dubbed a ‘concrete underground city’ by the local media – was built deep inside a rocky hill in a residential area of Belgrade in the 1960s on the orders of communist strongman Josip Broz Tito. Until recently its existence was known only to senior military commanders and politicians.”
So how big is this concrete underground city?
“Tunnels stretching for hundreds of yards link palaces, bunkers and safe houses. Rooms are separated by steel vault doors 10 feet high and a foot thick. The complex has its own power supply and ventilation.”
But hundreds of yards? That’s nothing.


A secret, 240-acre underground bunker-city has recently come onto the UK housing market.


With 60 miles of tunnels, located 120 feet underground, the whole complex is worth about 5 million quid.


The complex was constructed “in a former mine near Corsham in Wiltshire where stone was once excavated… for the fine houses of Bath.”
This subterranean city, as the Times tells us, “was a munitions dump and a factory for military aircraft engines. It was equipped with what was then the second largest telephone exchange in Britain and a BBC studio from where the prime minister could make broadcasts to what remained of the nation.”
Radio broadcasts echoing across a landscape of craters.


And now it’s for sale.


[A note on these images: these are all photographs – by the very talented and highly prolific Nick Catford – of the Ridge Quarry, in Corsham, Wiltshire, which geographically matches with the Times description, above. That said, the description of the Ridge Quarry provided by Subterranea Britannica does not seem to indicate that we are, in fact, looking at the same mine/quarry/bunker system. (There is a discrepancy in the amount of acreage, for instance). Anyone out there with info, thoughts, or other et ceteras, please feel free to comment… Either way, however, they’re cool images, and Subterranea Britannica is always worth a visit now and again].

Britain of Drains


Here are some absolutely spectacular photographs of sewers, drains and tunnels, taken by urban spelunkers from London, Bristol, Manchester and beyond:


[Images: See this ridiculously great website for loads more photographs – almost every one of which could be uploaded onto BLDGBLOG with open enthusiasm – as well as for relevant bits of info on tunnel locations and all further et ceteras; meanwhile, an upcoming BLDGBLOG entry will pursue more of this, with a London bias, soon].


An entrance to the topological undercity, a parallel world of drains and bricked abstract passages, monolithic concrete feeder chutes re-leading lost rivers through darkness.

Musicalizing the weather through landscape architecture

The idea of listening to a landscape – how to podcast a landscape, for instance – tends to be literally overlooked in favor of a site’s visual impact or even its smell. When I was in Greece a few years ago, for instance, hiking toward an abandoned village on Tilos, every step I took crushed wild onions, herbs, and different flowers, and a temporary envelope of scent, picked up by breezes, floated all around me as I walked uphill. I may not remember every single detail of what that path *looked* like – but I do remember how it *smelled*.
It was like hiking through salad.
In any case, you don’t often see people packing up the family car, or hopping onto a train, to tour Wales or the Green Mountains of Vermont so that they can listen to the hills – they’ll go out to look at autumn leaf colors, sure, or take photographs of spring wildflowers. But to go all the way to Wales so they can hear a particular autumn wind storm howling through the gorges, a storm that only lasts two days of every year? Specifically going somewhere to *listen to the landscape*.
Seasonal weather events and their sonic after-effects. The Great November Moan.
All of which brings me to the idea of sound mirrors.


Musicalizing a weather system through landscape architecture.
BLDGBLOG here proposes a series of sound mirrors to be built in a landscape with regular, annual wind phenomena. A distant gully, moaning at 2am every second week in October due to northern winds from Canada, has its low, droning, cliff-created reverb carefully echoed back up a chain of sound mirrors to supply natural soundscapes for the sleeping residents of nearby towns.
Or a crevasse that actually makes no sound at all has a sound mirror built nearby, which then amplifies and redirects the ambient air movements, coaxing out a tone – but only for the first week of March. Annually.
Landscape as saxophone.


It’s a question of interacting with the earth’s atmosphere through human geotechnical constructions. Through sound mirrors.
What you’d need: 1) Detailed meteorological charts of a region’s annual wind-flow patterns. 2) Sound mirrors. 3) A very large arts grant.
You could then musicalize the climate.
With exactly placed and arranged sound mirrors atop a mesa, for instance, deep inside a system of canyons – whether that’s in the Peak District or Utah’s Canyonlands National Park – or even in Rajasthan, or western Afghanistan – you could interact with the earth’s atmosphere to create music for two weeks every year, amplifying the natural sounds of seasonal air patterns.
People would come, camp out, check into hotels, open all their windows – and just listen to the landscaped echoes.


A few questions arise: in this context, does Stonehenge make any sounds? What if – and this is just a question – it was built not as a prehistoric astronomical device but as a *landscape wind instrument*? You’d be out there wandering around the Cotswolds, thinking oh – christ, it’s 5000 years ago and we’re lost, but: what’s that? I hear Stonehenge… And then you locate yourself.
Sonic landmark.
This raises the possibility of building smaller versions of these sound mirrors in urban neighborhoods so that, for instance, Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg sounds different than Mitte, which sounds different than Kreuzberg – which sounds different than South Kensington, which is different than Gramercy Park… Etc.
You’d always know which district of the city you were in – even which city you were in, full stop – based on what the wind sounded like.
(Which reminds me of another idea: that, to attract people to a city without much going for it, you could *flavor the water supply*: make it taste like Doritos, for instance, and then sell that on huge billboards: buy your new home in Detroit, the water tastes like Doritos… the water tastes like tofurky…).
Second: is there a sonic signature to the US occupation of Baghdad? And I don’t mean rumbling Hummers and airplane engines, I mean what if all those Bremer walls –


– generate sounds during passing wind storms? All the American military bases of Iraq moaning at 3am as desert breezes pass by.
What does the occupation *sound like*?
A sonic taxonomy of architectural forms could begin…

Car park picturesque and the Texas tower


On a site that is rather amazingly drenched with typos, misspellings, and other grammatical errors, we found this call for developing a car park picturesque, or “landscaped tarmac for leisure” – surely the post-human car park could be retroverted for this…?
Meanwhile, for all you Maunsell Towers fans –


– there’s the Texas tower: 75 miles east of New Jersey, though now collapsed into the sea, it was “intended to provide advance warning of enemy air attacks,” as “part of the Distant Early Warning system (DEW line) encircling the United States and Canada.” It collapsed into the sea, however, and killed everyone on board. Archigram meets James Cameron’s Abyss.


So I’m writing this at the beginning of a month-long James Bond marathon on AMC-TV, and am thinking, in this context, how all of Bond’s villains seem really to be renegade techno-architectural contractors of some sort: you have that fake volcano movie, the hollow high-tech island of Dr. No, that stupid ice-city of the last (please!) Pierce Brosnan Bond, and what else was there – oh, Moonraker


– in a particularly aerospatial moment of villainous ambition. In any case, then it occurred to me: that’s exactly what Osama bin Laden is/was – he’s a contractor. He built highways.
Plus ça change: he’s an ultra-rightwing Bond villain.