Exploring the relationship between architecture and water

A documentary via Architectural Review and The Old Royal Naval College.


“Glitches, Flash Crashes, and Very Bad Futurists”…


Last fall, Vincent deBritto and Ozayr Saloojee invited Rob Holmes to come visit their Resilient Infrastructures project at the University of Minnesota; his main contribution was to deliver the lecture above. The lecture examines a particular class of landscape problem, which he has provisionally described as “glitches and flash crashes”, argues that this kind of problem reveals a potentially (literally) disastrous flaw in the project of distributed design, and concludes by recommending that architects and landscape architects draw on the tools and methodologies of the discipline of futurism to become better futurists.

h/t m.ammoth.us

Steve Lansing on Bali’s water temples

Steve Lansing, a senior fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, discusses the Byzantine system for the distribution of water from a volcanic lake in Bali to over two hundred farming villages. Known as subak’s  are a type of water management (irrigation) system for paddy fields on Bali island, Indonesia. For Balinese, irrigation is not simply providing water for the plant’s roots, but water is used to construct a complex, pulsed artificial ecosystem.[1] Paddy fields in Bali were built around water temples and the allocation of water is made by a priest. the system has been in use since the 12th century, and is an example of an egalitarian and sustainable (still in use) hydraulic infrastructure. What is particular interesting about the system however, is the relationship between ritual/religious and the engineered landscape(s). As Professor Lansing notes “It’s one of the few functioning, ancient democratic institutions that we know about. It’s kind of beautiful”.

amphibious or waterscape urbanism?

In an article for The Kansas City Star titled Architects’ answer to rising seas: floating homes, Denis D Gray examines the the cutting-edge field of aqua-architecture. Examining projects in countries including the Maldives, Thailand and of course the Netherlands, Gray discovers that in order to prepare, for the already growing effects of sea-level rise and future climate change, these littoral countries are exploring new models.

To me the idea of a urbanism or architecture that is resilient and flexible enough to absorb/respond to this new situation seems to me more about the middle ground of both earth and sea, thus the use of the term littoral. However, in the article Danai Thaitakoo, a Thai landscape architect perhaps drawing on recent academic currents uses a different term. He explains “Climate change will require a radical shift within design practice from the solid-state view of landscape urbanism to the more dynamic, liquid-state view of waterscape urbanism“.

Yet, for me the term “waterscape urbanism” more readily recalls the post-war dreams of Japanese and Americans architects, for entire marine cities, to which the piece earlier alludes. Although the point, may simply be a semantic one, lost in translation.

A ‘second geography’ of logistical spaces, scientific management and the ‘age of anxiety’

Three recent essays published by Mute explored the connections between surveillance, national security and logistics-driven production.

In the first Logistics and Opposition, Alberto Toscano examines the anti-urbanist presuppositions of insurrectionary anarchism.

For my purposes however, what is paramount is what this logistical view of post-Fordism tells us about the character of antagonism, and specifically of class struggle. Narcissistically mesmerised by hackers, interns and precarious academics, radical theorists of post-Fordism have ignored what Bologna calls ‘the multitude of globalisation’, that is all of those who work across the supply chain, in the manual and intellectual labour that makes highly complex integrated transnational systems of warehousing, transport and control possible. In this ‘second geography’ of logistical spaces, we also encounter the greatest ‘criticality’ of the system – though not, as in the proclamations of The Coming Insurrection , in the isolated and ephemeral act of sabotage, but in a working class which retains the residual power of interrupting the productive cycle – a power that offshoring, outsourcing, and downsising has in many respects stripped from the majority of ‘productive’ workers themselves.”

Further he argues that the inherent urban character of logistics as a mode of production suggests that anti-urbanist visions of post revolutionary space/time are in fact counter-productive. Drawing from a 2010 essay by Mike Davis, Toscano believes that our utopian future perhaps lies in cities themselves.

In the second What the RFID is That?, Brian Ashton zooms in on the microscopic technologies surveilling and shaping working lives. Although scientific management was a product of the late 19th century Ashton contends that contemporary capital’s ability to gather, archive and correlate information on the worker/consumer is simply the logical extension of that old idea. Whether at the human scale a la RFID chips, employer provided workplace badges, drug test, computer monitoring or at the larger scale a la Echelon or other government projects for data-mining all he concludes:

As the welfare state model of social control is being dismantled, the need for other forms of control increases. The hegemonic structures are there to encourage us to interiorise the control mechanisms – the prison, the factory, the asylum and the school, for example. As sketched out in this article, capital and the state are using technologies like GPS and RFID to back up the already existing mechanisms of control”

Finally, in the third Anxious Resilience, Mark Neocleous explores how the neoliberal state’s production of generalised anxiety…produces subjects that fit perfectly with the needs of capital. Provactively, Mark wonders:

I want to suggest that the management of anxiety has become a way of mediating the demands of security. It has done so within a broader logic of endless war. We have been told time and again that the War on Terror is a war like no other: this is a war without end, a permanent state of emergency, a peace which is also war. Because of this, the ideas of war and peace have been increasingly subsumed under the logic of police and security. Might we not think of the age of anxiety as a form of police power deployed for the security crisis of endless war?

Even more interesting he goes on to make the arguement that the spread of the concept of resilience or  resiliency is “Central to this process“. Implying then that all the talk amongst design professionals in recent years of the need for resilient urbanism et al., may perhaps be a less progressive (politically at least) notion than as generally articulated.

As many as half a billion trees!

“In 2011, Texas experienced an exceptional drought, prolonged high winds, and record-setting temperatures,” Forest Service Sustainable Forestry chief Burl Carraway told Reuters on Tuesday. “Together, those conditions took a severe toll on trees across the state.”

He said that between 100 million and 500 million trees were lost. That figure does not include trees killed in wildfires that have scorched an estimated 4 million acres in Texas since the beginning of 2011.

As Bruce Sterling noted “These guys who burble stuff like “Mother Nature is amazingly resilient” are part of the problem. Mother Nature wasn’t resilient enough to defend her trees from this climate crisis.” When you talk of landscape scale changes of this magnitude, it seems as if articulating any response becomes difficult. Certainly any sort of designed intervention. What would one propose in response? I would suggest that we should explore the possibilities of post-successionary landscapes, considering that a generation has been removed from the local ecological. Are sequential, ecological processes of the sort suggested by the term successionary able to address problems of this magnitude quickly or effectively enough? What is the time scale for an appropriate response?

Finally, a note on resilience. In contrast to Bruce’s comment re: climate change and ecological resilience, I will note that that Texas Forest Service Sustainable Forestry chief, Burl Carraway is quoted in the above linked article, as suggesting that the problem doesn’t require a (human designed) response. Carraway in fact argues that what Mother Nature has damaged, Mother Nature can repair. Though his line of reasoning isn’t all that reassuring as it is predicated on an assumption, which may be proved false, “Assuming the rainfall levels get back to normal“…..