Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Denny Regrade

["spite mounds" created by the Denny Regrade project in Seattle, 1904-1931; note the jet hose in the center of the picture blasting away at the mound on the right and all of the ladders and sluice tunnels at the bottom of the photo, with a person holding it for scale; the Denny Regrade is just one of the many "geological slurry" events in the seismically active, glacially scoured landscape of the American Pacific Northwest]

The latest installment of the “Advancing Deltas” research is up over on Free Association Design.  There Brett Milligan gives a fascinatingly detailed chronicle of the large-scale movement of sediment from the former reservoir behind the now-breached Condit Dam on the White Salmon River to the much larger Bonneville Dam on the Colombia River.  The tale is an actor-network-history of the breach, one in which the scientists and engineers have the ability to mobilize huge quantities of sediments yet are thwarted in their attempts to even monitor certain aspects of the “compiled torpor… suddenly jettisoned across landscapes like a geological slurry.”

Towards the end of the account Milligan questions whether previous engineering notions of systems thinking and their concomitant reductionist tendency and focus on control would allow for the conceptualization of interventions such as the Condit Dam project.  He rightly points out that with the current project a measure of control is still present, though in “new and expanded forms.  Here we are subject to the forces of water and the enigmatic behavior of huge repressed swarms of particles.”

Lured by this event and Milligan’s a-n-t account we couldn’t help digging into a few other instances of these historical “geological slurry” events in the Pacific Northwest for a bit of context and comparison.  In 1894 the largest meteorological flood in the history of the Columbia occurred.  At the town of The Dalles peak discharge was measured at 35,100 cubic meters per second, enough to cover a football field in 25 feet of water every second.  By contrast, the highest peak discharge recorded on Europe’s largest river, the Danube, was 15,900 cubic meters per second, the peak discharge on the Mississippi during the Flood of 1926 was over 70,000 cubic meters per second.  The flood wiped out the old fort and an adjacent small town just north of where the Bonneville Dam is now located.  These were both 19th century constructions that had sprung up to control the portage around the cascades on the Colombia River.  Those cascades were the material remnant of another, much larger event.

Perusing the USGS circular on the largest floods in history shows this 1894 flood to be only one tenth the size of the flood of 1450 caused by the breaching of the “Bridge of the God’s” earthen dam.  The dam was created earlier when the southern faces of Greenleaf Peak and Table Mountain were sent hurtling into the Columbia River Gorge by the Bonneville landslide.  The event created a stillwater reservoir behind the dam for some 100 miles that reorganized the settlement patterns of the Klickitat and Chinook living in the area and drowned forests for 35 miles east of the dam.  When the dam broke due to the water pressure and seismic activity, the result must have been something like that flood on Alkali Lake that almost drowned the X-men and turned Gene Grey into the Phoenix.  The remnant was the Cascades.
[a google earth image of the Bonneville landslide area on the Columbia River; the fort and town of Little Cascade that was wiped out in the flood of 1894 was built along the portage road which cut through the area labeled "Bonneville Landslide"; the landslide was caused by sloughing off of the southern half of Greenleaf Peak and Table Mountain and resulted in a huge earthen dam on the Columbia; today the course of the river is more than 1 mile to the south and the cascade near the Bonneville Dam, in addition to the massive escarpments on what remains of the mountains]

The Denny Regrade
Lest we think, however, that the geologic history of the Pacific Northwest is merely some romantic transcendentalist tale of the power of nature and the pitifulness of humans, the boomtown of circa-1900 Seattle offers us the Denny Regrade project.  Undertaken as part of a sweeping public works agenda to boost real estate values and reconfigure the town into a major population center, the Denny Regrade was nothing less than the sluicing of an entire hill into Elliot Bay.

Blasting away at 16 million cubic yards of earth with 20,000,000 gallons of water per day and running it downhill into the bay was of course met with a certain resistance.  For one, the crumbled geology itself proved difficult.  The hills of Seattle were depositional sediments formed when glaciers receded and the variegation and size of some of the sediments required the mobilization of a wealth of instruments- sluices, tunnels, conveyor belts, horse drawn tractors and wagons, power shovels, short-track railroads, and scows with specially designed seacocks were all put to use as the project progressed over the next three decades.  In addition, the property rights of certain residents who refused to budge meant that their houses were left standing like the sweet old man in “Up” while the grading went on around them.  These contested actions left the intrepid residents stranded 100 feet in the air until these “spite mounds”, as they were known, eventually succumbed and Virgil Bogue was brought in to provide his vision for the future city.  It was an insane and wildly ambitious project, and even though the geological material was corralled, the Bogue Plan was soundly defeated and the visions for a new downtown and real estate bonanza never came to fruition.

The picture rendered through actor-network-theory is less one of a great battle with humans on one side and nature on the other, the two clashing heroically together atop their trusty steeds on Battlefield Earth, and more a kindergarten playground with shifting allegiances, unfair bullying, promiscuous flirtation and pants-wetting, all in a short half-hour.  The “Advancing Deltas” research is an exciting new chapter in this story.  When seen in this broader context one of the issues that the research project surfaces is that of the agency of things, be they Pliocene-era geologic formations, Chinook settlement patterns, white salmon, homeowners in Seattle, or the best-laid plans of internationally renowned designers.  More specifically, it calls our attention to issues of agency and intentionality, and the liminal space created by the difference between the two.
[the fate of the Denny Hill; an actor network history might trace those individual sediment particles down to Elliot Bay to check in on how they gave rise to new docklands or strip malls]

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Landscapes, Hyperobjects, and the Linguistic Turn: some thoughts on Timothy Morton’s “Zero Landscapes in the Time of Hyperobjects”

[Image from "Zero Landscapes in the Time of Hyperobjects" by Timothy Morton in GAM 07; Ice island calves at the coast of the Petermann Glacier, provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 team and the United States Geological Survey]

Not too long ago we got our grubby hands on Timothy Morton’s provocatively titled essay “Zero Landscapes in the time of Hyperobjects”.  It was written for the Graz Architecture Magazine, a publication of the Graz University in Germany and boasting of a very fine editorial board and an absolutely bulletproof lineup in issue 7.  Morton is the author of the recent influential books Dark Ecology and The Ecological Thought, and has spent a lot of time in the last year speaking on object- oriented philosophy.  Last January we read on his blog the following quote:

I had such a good time composing an essay for Graz Architectural Magazine that I thought I should just share it a little bit. It's called “No Landscape”—the issue is about the role of landscape in ecological design (I believe). I take the “Zero” in the issue's title very seriously. I mean absolutely no more landscapes, whatsoever...”

We were intrigued.  And while Morton’s writing style is the type that leaves you confused and squeamish, akin to your uncle getting a bit boozy at the family reunion and inviting you into the basement to check out his Norfolk and Southern model train dioramas, Morton’s polemics are so relentless in banging home the point, like some kind of bass drummer in a marching band, and the ideas so troubling that it is usually worth the time to do the reading.

"Zero Landscapes in the time of Hyperobjects" follows this trend.  The essay weirdly relies on analogies laid down in the Matrix, and while we are fans of the mating of pop culture and scholarship that is still no excuse to throw out quality, which is exactly what you are doing when you venture in to the world of post-Point Break Keanu Reeves.  In the essay Morton offers a schematic for his “hyperobject” which he defines as “massively distributed in space and time” and characterizes as “viscous, squishy, non-local and transdimensional.”  This is immediately compelling. 

The idea that the Mississippi River can be understood as a hyperobject implicating everything from USACE technological regimes and structures, the Laurentian Shield, the Gulf of Mexico, and Monsanto is a powerful and challenging conception that serves to open up a wealth of new questions and courses of action.  It’s also nothing new.  The idea that historical landscape practitioners (be they designers, farmers, surveyors, or foresters) did not consider the fact that a particular landscape is profoundly influenced by and consists of geological structures that expand beyond human conceptions of time, the sun’s energy and light, and water from the air or rivers beginning outside of the frame is wrong.  Of course, bad landscape designers may not have considered some of these factors, but we generalizations shouldn’t be drawn based on the Keanu Reeves of landscape.  The simple fact that geologist Nathaniel Shaler was a key faculty member and taught lecture and design courses as a member of the first landscape architecture department in the United States should be enough of an anomaly to call for further examination at the least.

The fact is that Morton’s definition of landscape is fundamentally dominated by a Eurocentric art-historical interpretation with special emphasis on the linguistic and etymological aspects of the practice.  And this is understandable.  Many of our most prominent recent theorists have claimed to be full on champions of semiotics, from Ann Spirn [the language of landscape] to James Corner [the hermeneutic landscape], and the Betsy Rogers-style historiography that has tended to dominate landscape pedagogy and practice in the modern period, a fact we attribute in part to the European Turn.

In one of the best passages, Morton states:

If we’re going to think beyond the modern period, beyond the era of philosophy, society and ecology in which we have been stuck for about two hundred years, then we will have to let go of the idea of landscape as a picture in a frame, even if the picture is liquid and motile, like a movie.  Why? The problem is the notion of the frame, and the distance the viewer has to assume for the landscape to appear as such. Because of this distance, the landscape embodies a subjective (whatever word works best for you here, “spiritual,” “ideological,” whatever) state. The picture is about the attitude you must assume to look at the picture. It’s less about land, then, and more about scape. 

[a gorgeous map of the the Eerie Canal as landscape/hyperobject; image courtesy of David Rumsey maps]

We appreciate that “Zero Landscapes” serves as a powerful critique of the late 90’s tendency of landscape practitioners within the academy to call everything “_scape” (there was even a European journal by that exact name).  But it is wrong to assume this trend is indicative of a landscape ontology.  Morton discards landscape because he sees it as being situated within an artistic tradition of painting, without realizing that this historical slice of landscape practice can be seen as drawing from the larger field of the artes plasticas.  This places landscape practice apart from [though related to] the literary arts. 

He also fails to realize the picture frame, which for him is a fatally flawed instrument of aesthetic distance, is a historically specific fact and not one that is ontological to landscape.  People painted landscapes at that time and put them in frames for specific reasons, much like people today take photos with their phones, put them up and flickr, and then tweet them out.  Both of these are interesting and germane, but neither is fundamental to landscape practice. 

We have argued that acts of territorialization, the making and transgressing of boundaries, are fundamental to landscape ontology.  This act could be through the aesthetic frame that enables the construction of specific views but this is only one possibility.  Acts of surveying, establishing political-economic property boundaries, understanding ecological territories such as a watershed, or the creation and policing of electromagnetic territories for the Greenbank telescope are also acts of territorialization.  What is more, it seems foolish to completely discard or disregard the frame, even if we agree with Morton that it has been way too heavily relied upon in the last two centuries.  The whole epistemological notion of object-oriented ontology is not to obliterate historical concepts but rather can be summed up in two words:  more everything!

The irony of the hyperobject schematic is that it suggests a further definition of the idea of landscape.  The spatial implications of Morton’s hyperobject lead him to the conclusion that space is not a container but rather a space-time manifold.  This definition is drawn directly from Graham Harman’s definition of space in Guerrilla Metaphysics and is based on a topological understanding of space.  This area of study has not been explicitly explored by landscape theorists, but it is fundamental to any real definition of landscape as a practice that is concerned with the properties of an object that remain or persist under continuous deformation, be it the erosion of slopes, the growth of plants, or the contingent choreography of people tailgating before a football game.

We have proposed before that a topological study of landscapes might offer a way in to better understand the differences in fixity and contingency in the landscapes we inhabit.  For all its flaws, Morton’s essay ultimately establishes a different imperative:  “Once we become aware of long-term effects of hyperobjects, we cannot abolish this awareness, and so they corrde our ability to make firm decisions in the present.  Hyperobjects force us to live this paradox, and design with it.” 

It’s all very Genesis 3:6.  Nonetheless, it does point to a real difference between intentionality and agency in the landscape, and compellingly suggests future landscape designs will have to grapple with this minute chasm.  More hopefully, it offers the rudiments of some of the conceptual tools that will be needed in this task, specifically his defining and characterizing of the hyperobject and challenging the historical biases and weaknesses of the landscape approach.  These should be further prototyped and tested and added to the good work already underway.

[Adam, Eve, Satan, the hills, the sky, the groundwater, the mycorrhizae, all together in the Garden of Eden hyperobject/landscape on the Sistine Chapel]

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Radford Army Ammunitions Plant

[the radford army ammunitions plant- RAAP- and the New River]

Obsolete military installations rightly receive a good deal of attention from designers these days, and this trend has only increased in the last year with all of the focus on national parks and their role in making the territory.  On a recent episode of the terragrams Casey Brown makes a compelling argument for landscape designers turning their sites toward functioning militarized landscapes.  Today we’d like to imagine a Marxist turn to this speculative trend, and propose that a further emphasis on modes of production might enable a more varied and nuanced response to the militarization of the landscape and acts of territorialization.

In the years leading up to World War II the United States was woefully underprepared for major combat operations.  One of the primary responses to this situation was the proliferation of Army Ammunitions Plants across the American landscape.  With the fall of France in 1940 congress appropriate defense funds and over 60 ammunitions factories were constructed across the nation in a three year span.  The first batch of three were constructed as models for similar installations where many of the concepts and demands of a modern ammunitions plant were tested.  One of these original test plants is located outside of the town of Radford in southwestern Virginia. 

Built under the auspices of the Department of Army Matereial Development and Readiness Command (DARCOM), the Radford plant produced the single-base smokeless powder that was the primary propellant for American military ammunition in WWII.  Reading through the bewildering treasure trove that is the Historic American Landscapes Survey we can learn that site selection was governed by seven criteria:
1) a southern location to ensure easy access to cotton (a basic raw material for smokeless powder production.
2) access to coal suitable for steam production
3) a mid-continental location as a defense against enemy bombardment
4) proximity to two main railroad lines
5) availability of an ample water supply for processing purposes
6) a relatively level site to avoid excessive grading
7) availability of suitable labor.

The tiny mountain town of Radford was built on the banks of the New River which is the only river that flows west through the Appalachains to become part of the Ohio River Valley.  As such, it served as a gateway to the west and was a logical nexus in the railroad network as it expanded west in the 1850’s.  It’s proximity to the coal areas of West Virginia and the base flow of the New River and flat floodplain afforded the opportunity for easy building required by the military in war time.
[the worker housing at the Radford Army Ammunitions plant was definitely not blast proof; the architecture seems to fit nicely between the shitty company town of pre-WWI and post-WWII ticky-tack suburban housing]

One requirement seems problematic, however.  Given what the military had learned of the difficulties encountered when inculcating southern labor to the demands of military culture with the Harpers Ferry debacle, why would they ever choose to locate another arsenal in deep western Virginia?  We have a theory:  it probably had to do with the massive polytechnic land grant university just 8 miles up the road that was literally created in the name of cranking out engineers, technicians, and farmers well-versed in the rigors of technological labor (for a short insight into this idea check out JB Jackson’s “Looking into Automobiles”, or for a much longer exigesis, David Noble’s America by Design).

Reading further in the historic survey we read the explanation for the particular and fascinating spatial patterns and objects within the arsenal landscape: 
Buildings used in the first stage of the process, where the material handled is highly flammable but not explosive, are grouped together in a section known as the “cotton area.”  Those used in the second stage, where the material handled is highly explosive, are widely spaced and form what is called the “powder line.”  Material is conveyed from one building to another first by flumes, then by motor trucks, and finally- when the highly explosive stage is reached- by small hand carts.

... From here on a unique type of construction, adapted to handling explosive materials, is required.  All of the buildings in the powder line make use of “blow out” construction designed to control the direction of an explosion through one or more extremely light screens which will “blow-out” with a minimum increase in the air pressure within the building.

A second method of limiting the effects of explosions… is used in the solvent recovery buildings and those in the finishing area, which are spaced from all other buildings and from each other and surrounded by barricades.  Spacing varies according to the maximum amount of explosive which is to be processed or stored in the building at any one time. 

Barricades are constructed of heavy timbers with a plank face on each side and a screened dirt fill, making a solid wall with an average of approximately 5-foot thickness to absorb the shock of any possible explosion.  Their height roughly corresponds to the height of the buildings they surround.

These dueling axes of design- the internal genetic logic versus the environmentally determined- offer a compelling and seemingly complete theory of arsenal landscapes, a notion that is advanced Gilles Deleuze in Difference and Repetition.  Unfortunately, this does not account for the agency of the landscape itself, but rather assumes it is merely the result of the friction created between internal logic and external relations, like a town that springs up at the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil.  Levi Bryant says it better:  “missing in Deleuze’s mapping of developmental relations, however, is a role for the agent itself in its own construction.” 

At the RAAP this can be seen in the post-war history of the place, and the recent developments on the site.  In its WWII heyday the arsenal employed over 20,000 workers and the facilities still contain 2,754 buildings, 132 roadway miles, 26 railroad miles, 21 miles of security fence, and 60 miles of piping.  The workforce has been reduced to 2,000 and the site is now operated by ATK as the sole producers of TNT for the US Army.  TNT, trinitrotoluene, was historically produced at the site with a process that created a toxic residue called “redwater” which then had to be disposed of.  This process, as well as the constant blast testing, coal fired power plant, and other propellant manufacturing processes resulted in the arsenal being included in the EPA’s superfund program in 2000

[if the rail tracks are the internal logics and the road is the environmental forces, is that a landscape we see materializing there in the middle ground?  or a dodge stratus?]

In 2007 a new process of TNT manufacture was developed at the plant which eliminates the redwater waste stream for a compound called isotrioil.  According to the USAEC’s website the new process reduced greenhouse gas emissions by a factor of ten, and the isotrioil waste product is useful as a component of dynamite, which is coming in handy in the DOT project to widen Interstate 81 just down the road.  Many of the arsenal’s old buildings and facilities are vacant and there is evidence in the aerials that the vegetation of the flood plain is reclaiming some of the old buildings, despite the presence of acid drainage pools and heavy metals.

In some ways the project is exciting- it is a real example of what Pierre Belanger describes as the “latent reciprocity between industry, waste, and urbanism,” and suggests that the re-integration and activation of our soiled industrial sites need not be limited to park-making.  More than that, though, we are interested in the topological aspect of these landscapes, and the agency of the places themselves, set in a sort of duel with its own genetic makeup and the forces acting on it.  There is something about a landscape that has the capacity to endure even when the internal logics fail or the external relations are disrupted. 

And now, please enjoy a short google earth tour of some other ammunitions plants.  They are the very essence of the phrase difference and repetition and are our twisted, god-forsaken heritage; let’s not blanket them all with a 19th century historical landscape typology.

[the lake city ammunitions plant in buckner, missouri]

[the army ammuntions depot in hawthorne, nevada; covering 147,000 acres it is the largest storage facility in the world]

[red river ammunitions depot, in texarcana, TX]

[the massive and now obsolete army ammunitions plant in Charlestown, Indiana]

[the obsolete Joliet ammunitions plant in Wilmington, Illinois]

Sunday, February 5, 2012

1776 and a Field of Mirrors

[the hydrological network of Mendoza, Argentina at the edge of the Andean Cordillera includes a massive hydroelectric dam, a municipal park, and the fascinating Campo Espejo de Agua sewage treatment facility which feeds irrigation systems for 2,200 hectares of agricultural production in the region]

In 1933 historian Herbert Eugene Bolton noted that 1776 was a big year in the Americas.  In addition to the US Declaration of Independence it was also the year that the Viceroyalty of La Plata was established in South America, with Buenos Aires as its capital.  This was done to prevent further expansion south by the post-treaty Portuguese Empire and to fend off the imperial efforts of the British, who had already established themselves on the Falkland Islands and were gunning for Buenos Aires. 

This event authored in a fundamental restructuring of the Spanish American Empire.  Up until this point the colonial expanse was Pacific-oriented.  The entire political-economic structure of the expansive Spanish portion of the continent was funneled through Lima in the Viceroyalty of Peru.  The great distances and dispersed populations and economic activiites from the Darien Gap to Tierra del Fuego were largely supported and protected by the the silver mining operations of Potosi whose fortunes were in decline by the late 18th century.

Since 1561 the city of Mendoza existed as an outpost for travellers going from the important cattle town of Buenos Aires to Santiago.  The situation is brutal- subject to sand storms, floods, and earthquakes all in within site of the highest mountain in the Americas, it is an area with some water but requiring great effort to harness the rivers flowing down from the Andes.  The pre-Colombian Huarpes established a series of settlements based on canals and fields for agricultural production.  This structure was utilized and eventually added to by the Spanish settlers.  Mendoza was a stopping point, a place to rest and gather supplies as one got ready to head through the Libertadores Pass on the ways to Santiago.  It was an outpost to an empire located in a severe landscape.

With the formation of the La Plata Viceroyalty in 1776, all of that changed.  Mendoza was now a border town, the western anchor of the soon-to-be-independent Viceroyalty of La Plata.  Within a century it would be the end of the line for the major east-west railroads and highways of the 19th century.  Its geo-political situation had changed from an outpost to a population center.
[Liberator Pass, also known as the Caracoles, is the main terrestrial connection between Chile and Argentina; because of this it has been the most important economic and geo-political connection between the two countries since the formation of the Viceroyalty in 1776]

[Mendoza was the western terminus for the east-west rail line General San Martin, nationalized in 1946 under Juan Peron, which served to tie the country and its agricultural products to the capital city of Buenos Aires and its port]

The earthquake of 1861 leveled the town and brought to the forefront a host of public health issues including the need for clean potable water, sewage effluent disposal, and protection from the floods and sandstorms of the Andean cordillera.  The response in 1896 was a park.  A massive muniicpal park located on the western edge to protect the town from the sand, modulate the town water supply, and improve the air and water quality.  Of course, just like at New York’s Central Park, the project was open to the valid criticism of being simply a real estate venture intended to boost the property values of the ruling class.

The park is impressive and unites an astonishing array of historical and contemporary uses that have enabled the town to thrive in this extreme environment.  The park consists of forests, fields, a stadium, a zoo, a regatta club, rose garden, playgrounds, national monuments, carriage drives, lakes, a native plant nursery, and playgrounds.  I’ll stop but the list goes on and would be astonishing were it not so common to this landscape typology.  The most important aspect of the park asserted at the time was that it was to be a massive forestation effort- by covering the hills on the western side of town with an intensely managed landscape of native trees the designers hoped to drastically reduce the sand storms coming off the mountains into town.  The forest and lakes were also imagined as a massive stormwater infrastructure, limiting the discharge from the hills into town during rain events, easing the burden on local sewers and reducing flooding.

What interests us today is the types of questions that come up when considering this park in the context of frontiers in borders in the American landscape.  When understood as the result of turning a town that was an imperial outpost in the Andean foothills into a population center meant as a western pole to the federal capital in the east, then the park must immediately be considering as one piece in the construction of a hydrological landscape that enables this population to grow.  It is something like the public-domestic interface of a much larger and more powerful entity at work enabling the habitation of 1 million people here.

As a population center in a semi-desert climate, the procurement and use of water is the most primary objective.  The water for the metropolitan area comes from the recently completely Potrerillos Reservoir.  The hydroelectric dam had to be designed to resist the high levels of seismic activity in the area.  The city uses 10,000 liters of potable waterper second, 85% of which is processed through the municipal sewer system.  Then things get interesting.
[the Campo Espejo de Agua sewage treatment complex in the northern section of the Mendoza Metropolitan Area; the complex sends treated sewage through a system of lagoons which renders the water progressively cleaner; as a whole the Mendoza hydrological system serves to transfer a massive amount of water from the Mendoza River to the Rio Diamante system and converts much of it to an entirely new product beneficial for agricultural uses]

Much of the treated effluent is then reused for agricultural irrigation through a system of agreements between the provincial water and sewer board and local farmers and agribusiness corporations.  Most of this is funneled through the Campo Espejo de Agua (Field of Water Mirrors), a spectacular installation of treatment lagoons that not only treats the sewage to a level acceptable for agricultural irrigation, it also seems to switch transport much of the water in the region to an entirely different basin- from the Rio Mendoza to the Rio Diamante.

The result of this constructed landscape is a center of population and agricultural production in an environment that receives only 7.87 inches per year (for comparison, Los Angeles receives over 15 inches per year).  It also brings up many questions such as what kind of social-ecological landscape results when an entire river basin is diverted to another at the base of the Andes Mountains?  Nonetheless it is a compelling opportunity to understand these situations not as systems or urban patterns but as landscapes.  The use of treated effluent in this severe landscape has began in 1945.  As an example of the synergistic coupling of wastes and industrial production in the American landscape it offers a chance for what Pierre Belanger calls the "latent reciprocity between industry, waste, and urbanism".  And it affords another example why instead of always looking east/west we should look north/south, too.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Landscapes and Instruments

[the powerful, graceful movements of the triple articulated arm of the backhoe works steadily to excavate the earth it sits on; the views it frames, the radii it creates, and the interaction moments with people, machines, and material work to make landscape as it excavates for building footers and utility pipes]

We wanted to take a moment to announce a new effort we’ve got going on called “Landscapes and Instruments”.  It is a project interested in- wait for it- the way instruments make landscapes.  It is as simple as it sounds.  The one key thing to be clear about is that instruments are not at all limited to machines or tools.  Rather, following Dewey’s instrumental theoryof knowledge, the suite of instruments is expanded to include the full range of tools, techniques, ideas, concepts and even the movements of the body that are developed by organisms as a method for reorganizing their environment when experiencing conflict in a specific situation.  

Right now the effort is organized according to the following:  1) a project (landscapes and instruments), 2) a theory (landscape instrumentalism), and 3) a first speculative proposal (Tierra Plastica).  The hope is to continue developing and implementing proposals over time to test the methodology and theory.  You can check out the thesis statement, bibliography, definition of landscape approach, theoretical underpinnings, and urban context as well as follow the blog for research on the political-economicsituation, the areas of focus, the importance of dredging and other themes.  A tumblr has been set up to share the images that are now being produced fairly regularly.

We’d love to invite anyone interested to check out the project and follow the progress on both the blog and tumblr.  Suggestions, criticisms, links, and feedback are not only welcome but demanded, you rat bastard sons of bitches!  Or whatever.  But our hope is to create a platform to pursue the work within a constellation of interested and challenging ideas.  It is very much an open-ended pursuit, a pirate ship scouring for booty, and will almost certainly end in defeat in the gallows at the hands of her highness’ royal navy.  Nonetheless, we invite you along.