Monday, March 12, 2012

Daytona Tide

[the 'new washing miracle' was the agent that saved the day at Daytona after Juan Pablo Montoya's unfortunate run-in with 200 gallons of jet fuel]

If you are a regular reader of this blog then you are probably already a huge NASCAR fan, in which case you have no need of our recounting of the events from the recent Daytona 500.  However, in case you are unaware, the race was spectacularly marred when driver Juan Pablo Montoya’s #42 car careened out of control and in to the back of a jet-dryer safety truck, igniting 200 gallons of jet fuel.  Amazingly no one was seriously hurt.  The crash was a source of high drama however.  As you may have guessed, jet fuel burns extremely hot and is difficult to extinguish, properties which pose an imminent threat to asphalt paving.  The banked turns of Daytona are pitched so steeply- 31 degrees- that the surface was in danger of undergoing bituminous liquefaction and oozing down the turn into the infield.  Fire crews eventually took to dousing the blaze with the “new washing miracle”- Tide detergent and the race was able to restart, despite the newly created rough strip.

That got us thinking- how in the world would one pave a turn banked at 31 degrees?  Stock cars use momentum to stay high in those turns and sling around them.  But a paver-roller would just topple over on its side as it tried to slowly creep along with its high center of gravity.  It turns out the construction of the banked speedway turns is a fascinating story involving highly specific techniques and strategies.  To build the high banked turns in the flat Daytona topography millions of tons of gravel were excavated from a borrow pit n the center of the oval, creating what today is known as Lake Lloyd.  Once the turns were built up, paver rollers were anchored to bulldozers set on top of the banks, creating a sort of gravel-asphalt-paver-roller-spelunking assemblage.  The construction specifics of this landscape, and mega-stadia in general, begs the question:  what could landscape architects bring to this situation, and why aren’t they traditionally involved? 

[repelling paving equipment on the 31-degrees banked turn at Daytona is fed with material by a crane-conveyor from below and anchored from above by a bulldozer with some kind of adjustable side arm]

Granted, a landscape architect may often have some role in the site planning of the parking lot, or in helping fit the edges to urban adjacencies.  But at a smaller scale such as a city park we would also be involved in the actual construction of the field, in deciding where the excavation should come from, or how steep specific slopes should be.  There is a tradition with the field of designing the interior objects of the landscape which somehow gets lots past a certain scale. 

There seems to be two thresholds at play, either of which serves to filter out the landscape architect: a machine-threshold, and a program-threshold.  When the machines of operation get too big, or when the program gets too specific, the role of the landscape architect in creating the landscape architecture shifts dramatically.  It is not just a question of specialization- looking to a specialist for key decisions- because this also could happen in design a constructed wetland, or in collaboration with an artist in design a plaza.  Rather, it is one of relegation- the landscape architect begins to concern themselves with the aesthetic experience of entry sequences and other bit parts.  Perhaps this is as simple as the profession remaining narrowly focused on the propagation of 19th century landscape typologies.  We would suggest however, that a bigger factor is the lack of instrumental theory in the field.  It seems that only in the last 20 years have we rediscovered an interest in developing the tools to add real value to the creation of these other landscape types.

Whatever the case, we have a soft spot for these landscapes.  And not just because we love “hot, nasty, badass speed”, but because they are technologically and socially important landscapes that traditionally have little space for landscape architecture as traditionally practiced.  These important projects at the margins of practice offer the chance for testing the boundaries of landscape practice.  One might imagine a history/theory course that looks exclusively to stadia to recount an alternative history of landscape practice.  Beginning with Elysian Fields in Hoboken instead of Manhattan’s CentralPark, a parallel history of landscape practice might be examined with further insights into economics, nationalism, instrumentality as social and material practices, resource extraction, and structures of meaning.  Guest lectures would include Brian Katen onthe lost racing ovals of Virginia, Rob Holmes and Michel Serres on soccer landscapes and the theory of the quasi-object, Nate Berg and WrightThompson on the social construction of Brazilian soccer, and Diego Maradona on a new method of constructing landscape he calls:  “a line of coke and an ungodly run through the whole of the English backfield”. 

Sign us up.

[Daytona Speedway and International Airport coexist side by side; the lighting system installed at the Speedway in 1998 to run night races had to designed not to interfere with planes landing at the airport]