Buffer Space

[Image: Photo taken by Your Captain Aerial Photography, via Wired].

Here are two short, conceptually related pieces to read, both of which revolve around the notion of a buffer landscape: a marginal, otherwise unused land that is nonetheless deliberately maintained as a spatial intermediary between two very different zones.

1) The first of these pieces describes an acoustic buffer grooved into the landscape around Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. Wired writes that “these mysterious-looking formations”—a crystallographic ridged pattern of lines and diamonds designed by artist Paul de Kort and visible in the above photo taken by Your Captain Aerial Photography—is actually a series of “noise-deflecting ridges.” It is a garden of aeronautical silence, designed to nullify noises from the sky.

People identified only in the abstract as “researchers” apparently noticed that recently plowed agricultural fields near Amsterdam’s airport had an unintended side-effect: they dampened the constant, very aggressive sounds of airplane engines that had been coming out of Schiphol. Taking these “grooved landscapes” to their logical conclusion, Paul de Kort simply exaggerated that topography using what Wired describes as “GPS-guided robot excavators” to produce an abstract terrain that would precisely cancel-out the sounds of airplanes.

Their height and location thus corresponds not to some overlooked aesthetic tradition of Dutch landscape architecture, but to wavelengths of airplane noise.

Acting as the spatial equivalent of a giant mute button, these ridges and furrows thus help to silence local aircraft, erasing their otherwise deafening and thunderous engine noise for the sake of nearby suburban homes. Those same planes would normally drone and roar over the vast flatlands around the runways, where, as Wired writes, “noise can travel unobstructed for miles.”

As it happens, I’ve written before about one of my favorite landscapes in England, a small forest planted entirely for acoustic reasons outside of Heathrow Airport, southeast of London. This grove—a visually nondescript bank of trees that I’ve passed at least half a dozen times on my way to the airport—exists not for visual or aesthetic reasons but for its sonic effect on the space around it. The trees absorb echoes and reverb, roars and booms, and would never have been planted in the first place were it not for their function as an acoustic intermediary between domestic suburbia and international air travel.

In fact, these same acoustic buffer zones and sound forests have also been documented by photographer Bas Princen in his excellent book, Artificial Arcadia.

[Image: UN Border zone in Cyprus, photographed by Athena Lao, via War is Boring].

2) The other is a short but interesting interview over at War is Boring about the often literally changing nature of those spaces known as “no-man’s-lands,” or militarized dead zones.

These are landscapes, described in this Q&A with geographer Noam Leshem, that function as “a very significant space economically,” yet are also “a space that is constantly inhabited, governed, monitored and practiced.” As Leshem explains, however, the notion of no man’s land is actually “much older than 1915, i.e. the Battle of the Somme. It dates back to the 14th century and to London during the months preceding the plague, when the bishop of London buys a lot of land outside the city to prepare a mass grave ahead of the bubonic plague.”

Leshem’s current project is an attempt to learn “what do no-man’s-lands in the 21st century mean?” Check out the full interview for more.

(Thanks to Andrew Elvin for the Wired link).

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