Fortress urbanism 3

As security culture intensifies and cameras are installed and walls are built and our cities become slowly fortified – Baghdad, for instance, as Dexter Filkins writes in tomorrow’s *NYTimes*, “seems a city transported from the Middle Ages: a scattering of high-walled fortresses, each protected by a group of armed men. The area between the forts is a lawless no man’s land, menaced by bandits and brigands” – I’m left wondering if perhaps Belfast – yes, Belfast, though maybe Derry (once the most televised city on earth due to the incredible extent of its police CCTV network) – could someday serve as a predictive future history for cities like London and New York – or, for that matter, Baghdad.

That coming urban secrecy and fortressed paranoia is, in fact, already marked in advance for future readers in a poem by Seamus Heaney:

‘O land of password, handgrip, wink and nod,
Of open minds as open as a trap,

Where tongues lie coiled, as under flames lie wicks,
Where half of us, as in a wooden horse
Were cabin’d and confined like wily Greeks,
Besieged within the siege, whispering morse.


This morning from a dewy motorway
I saw the new camp for the internees:
A bomb had left a crater of fresh clay
In the roadside, and over in the trees

Machine-gun posts defined a real stockade.
There was that white mist you get on a low ground
And it was déjà-vu, some film made
Of Stalag 17, a bad dream with no sound.

…We hug our little destiny again.’

(from ‘Whatever You Say Say Nothing’)

Wind mirrors at 20th & Market, or: feeling the microclimates of distant tectonic events

For those of you who also live in Philadelphia, you may have noticed that the intersection at 20th and Market Streets is perhaps the windiest such junction on the entire eastern seaboard. By some Luciferian inversion of urban feng shui, the empty lot on the NE corner there forms a system with the nearby railway, which forms a system with the god awful bldg on the NW corner, which works with that ridiculous overhanging outdoor lobby of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, all of which works with the quasi-maritime climate of southeastern Pennsylvania to form a kind of standing tornado in front of FedEx-Kinko’s.
You can literally see plastic bags whirling in a vortex 30-feet in diameter, just whirling and whirling and then your clothes fly sideways and your umbrella pops inside-out if it’s raining.
Then I was reading last night in the new “Special Edition” of *Scientific American* (“Our Ever Changing Earth”) that “Tectonic events, such as the development of the Himalayas, may have influenced world climate.” (This is roughly 800,000 years ago).
But think about that: there’s the entire planet, and then this one little region starts to lift up. At first it’s just little hills, like the Cotswolds, and maybe you can hear the wind moan on lonely nights and the local birds use the updrafts to experiment with territorial expansion.
But the hills get bigger, slowly, every year. The wind patterns begin to change. You don’t even notice it at first. But seeds scatter further in thunderstorms, and forests grow in expanding rings. Flowers find themselves colonizing little plains and valleys miles and miles away from where they originated. (This could lead to the field of biogeography: or, deducing the tectonic landscape of nearby regions by the success & expansion rates of local wildflowers. In fact, I’m reminded here of an article I read about two years ago in *The Guardian*, that an Australian man began to notice strange flowers growing in his garden; it turned out that a drought on the other side of the country had led to dirt, seeds, and bits of soil being blown all over Australia. The result: in this man’s garden, strange flowers did grow…).
But the mountains continue to grow. Storms themselves grow in intensity, affecting weather elsewhere, hundreds of miles away. Now entire continental wind systems have changed; there’s a rain-shadow over some of the deeper gorges, and a desert begins to form. This affects regional temperature variation. Cyclical weather from the coast changes its distant land routes, moving further north or bending round the mountains and interweaving with weather from elsewhere. An island two thousand miles away now experiences harsher rainy seasons, as two previously unrelated storm systems merge and move toward it every November. This leads to heavy forestation – which leads, in a million years, to coal beds, and wars, and Halliburton…
But the mountains keep growing. Entire planetary atmospheric networks have been altering, year after year. Now a continent on the other side of the earth finds large, sea-going, migratory birds landing on its shores every winter.
The point is that distant tectonic events produce microclimates, which in turn affect macroclimates, which in turn affect microclimates farther away.
Such as the intersection at 20th & Market, in Philadelphia. I suppose you could produce a wind-map of the Greater Philadelphia region, and here’s where we leave landscape and hit architecture: what buildings could be removed, starting fifty miles away, that would change the unmoving tornado of wind at 20th & Market? Moving closer – within ten miles – which walls or fences could be built just a foot higher – or lower – to augment the effect? Does a new housing development in Montgomery County make it easier or harder to walk across 20th & Market?
Moving closer, into the intersection itself, could you actually map-out the thermal vortices and architectural directions that shape the wind within the intersection, and then build special “wind mirrors,” or redirectional shields, controlled by a central computer, that, in certain positions, entirely negate, erase, eliminate, and deny the wind from forming in the first place?
You toggle the little wind mirrors until the wind disappears – and suddenly the intersection goes silent. The skirts of financial professionals flutter back to knee-height. Comb-overs stayed combed over. I stop grimacing.
Could you attach wind mirrors to every building in the city, producing an artificial microclimate specific to Philadelphia?
Could you do the same to New York City, and to Boston, and to Washington DC, and then arrange them all so that extremely high-powered, hurricane-like winds blow northeastward, destroying Halifax and grounding planes at London’s Heathrow?
The Wind Gun. Or: How to weaponize a landscape.
You could rig sailing contests. Neutralize rainstorms. Assist sunbathers perturbed by the hubris of a cloudy atmosphere.
Stay tuned for a similar idea, actually… Soon.

The hanging gardens of Long Island City

In what turns out to be an oddly inspiring article, we read about the green-roofing of New York City and Chicago.

Green-roofing – really just planting a garden on your roof – is – well, just read the article: “The carefully selected plants and soil – engineered to weigh only a fifth as much as typical dirt – help clean the air and absorb rain that would otherwise become storm-water runoff. And when many of them are clustered together, green roofs can reduce the urban heat island effect (densely populated cities tend to be hotter than surrounding areas because of the heat-trapping properties of tall buildings, asphalt and concrete).”
In other words, they’re anti-parking lots.
They’re the *ne plus* of the *ultra* for the world of urban car park management.
In any case, “‘Isolated green roofs are expensive insulation,’ Ms. Hoffman [executive director of Earth Pledge] said. ‘But when you have a whole community of green roofs, it changes the microclimate of the area and reduces demand for energy.'”
Because of such efforts elsewhere, not only does Chicago’s City Hall have a green roof – the first municipal building in the city to do so – but in Long Island City roof gardeners are now at work: “A matrix of 1,500 planters will have 20 different species of plants intended to show off their red, yellow and green colors, visible from the Queensboro Bridge when in full bloom.” After all, “Long Island City has 667 acres of empty flat-roof surfaces suitable for vegetation, an area more than three-quarters the size of Central Park.”
So what do we have to look forward to?
Landscape design involving multiple levels of altitude, distributed across multiple clusters of buildings. The hanging gardens of Long Island City. Golf courses parring-off above the roofs of the Meat Packing District. Color-coded blooming cycles visible from space. In 2009, a fierce rooftop landscapers’ rivalry breaks out: on the one hand you have a descendent of Frederick Law Olmsted; on the other, an upstart firm of BLDGBLOG readers. The main problem right away, of course, is that there’s not nearly enough tension in that rivalry, but hey: war is declared. Ever more extravagant gardens are planned and planted; rope bridges and lightshows (special UV lights that help the plants to photosynthesize at night: leading to the question: if cinemas showed movies using UV light, could you grow plants by, say, *Invasion of the Body Snatchers*? could you grow a tree that has *Logan’s Run* literally burned into its leaf-structure and canopy?) and hammocks and rare hybridized clone-flowers growing in baroque-to-minimal patterns all over the city. The Oak and Maple district, where leaf tourists come every October to see spectacular colors. The Orchards of Gramercy Park; Gramercy Apples. You can follow lines of yellow flowers planted along old historic walking paths; lines of red flowers signify walks of military interest. Blue flowers are for cultural history. Massive clouds of moths are released into the city by the Olmsted descendent, cross-pollinating everything in sight; films are projected upon them from the windows of high-rises.
New hybrid roses bloom in the shadows of glass factories given over to sunflowers and lavender. At night you can smell the city’s strange perfumes…
Well, I’m losing interest in this image, but you get the picture.

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.

British landscape (and ‘earthquake storms’)

A new British landscape show (paintings, sketches) at Tate Britain – that is: a new show of British landscapes, not a show of new British landscapes – and another show, albeit televisual, about geologic activity in the Med’s ancient past – including earthquake storms set to destroy Istanbul (“Over the last 60 years… the ruptures of the North Anatolian fault have moved steadily westwards – in 1939, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1957 and 1967 – from the comparatively sparsely populated parts of eastern Turkey to the industrial heartland of the north-west. Then, in August and November 1999, two of the strands just east of Istanbul that had yet to break ruptured in earthquakes that left over 35,000 dead, destroyed 15,000 buildings and cost $10–25 billion in damage. Earthquake geologists are convinced that the quakes have now added stress to the last remaining significant unruptured strand, the section of fault that lies in the Marmara Sea, directly offshore of Istanbul”) – shaping the lifestyles of today…
While you’re at it, we’ve got some landscape investigations to smoke our Holmesian pipes through:

Waste-island Ireland and the ‘necklace of incineration’

No, it’s not Harry Potter 7, but a landscape problem: in a relatively recent article in The New York Times, we discover that Ireland’s garbage collection practices have resulted in the production of a new coastline: “The earthen cliffs near this seaside harbor town have been sporting colorful decorations recently: erosion by the gentle waves of the Irish Sea has exposed the scraggly remants of hundreds of blue, black and yellow trash bags.”
A “roaring black market in garbage collection” has produced this new landscape – or, landscape engineering through waste-management practices. It’s a new surface of the earth made of industrial debris (“twisted wrecks of unidentifiable junked machines”).
As the sea encroaches and the artificial terrain of human rubbish is revealed – the new outer edge of the Irish island – we find not bedrock, not archaeological sites, not even *terra firma*, but a bunch of old computers and kitchen waste.
Think of it as the next millennium’s Skara Brae:

To help counter this formation of a counter-landscape, Ireland is funding “what one newspaper called a ‘necklace of incineration’ around Ireland” – that is, a necklace of incineration plants.
In any case, what coasts we have yet to discover (or build)…

The light/surface fold: advertisements, Steven Holl, et cetera

I noticed several years ago that the pine forests outside Chapel Hill, NC, fill with a strange white light in winter, and not for the obvious reasons that, yes, it’s winter, so the leaves are all gone: ergo more light.
Nope: it’s because the angle that the earth takes in relation to the sun has changed, as it does every winter, and so the forests have literally begun to glow: the sun has begun hitting them at a different angle.
Winter, in this regard, is really a question of spherical geometry, angles, and trigonometric effects at long distances: sun–>earth/angle of incidence (or whatever). One of winter’s more interesting side effects, then, is the way that it transforms shadows – making them longer and thinner – while simultaneously illuminating objects from the side. This brings out details that go unremarked – and unlit – in other seasons.
All of these written reflections having been inspired by this photograph:

What’s interesting here is how the billboard enlists sun/earth trigonometry in the selling of suntan lotion. Who’da guessed?
But so I got to thinking about what would happen if you did more of that with architecture, if you learned a spatio-architectural lesson from however brief a glance at that billboard.
The deliberate shadow-machining effects of different times of day, say, in the vein of Steven Holl: entire hallways and galleries and courtyards and milled surface details could become visible only at specific hours, perhaps in pre-patterned ways.
Like an inhabitable sundial, you would always know it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon because the little grilled incisions in the plaster of the upstairs walls just appeared. They were invisible before that, and will be invisible again: but now is their moment in the light…
Or you know it’s noon because there are suddenly no shadows of any kind in your courtyard: you’ve angled everything perfectly for that moment. The space folds in on itself, reboots back to undisturbed white, and at 12:01pm the shadows reappear.
I just mean to point out the connection, here, between architecture and astronomy – via spherical, planetary trigonometrics – not because I’m the first to do so or even because it’s ultimately all that interesting, but because every little mundane trace – mere shadows – can be seen as an indication of literally superior, astro-stellar relationships.
Every shadow, if you do the math right, if you know the angles and the trig and the spherical velocity of objects in space, is actually an indication of the time of day – in a calendar that precedes Swatch and Swiss Army and electricity and even biological organisms as such.
And every kid with a flashlight – every person with a match or candle – every architect, even – can participate. Everything you build can be – and is automatically – an astronomical event.

Grant Morrison’s Manhattan

Grant Morrison’s *Manhattan Guardian* comic book series popped up in The New York Times this past weekend. In making/drawing it, Morrison was ‘attracted by the fun of curating a personal version of New York,’ and he ‘laced [the city] with architectural marvels that were proposed but never actually constructed’ – including buildings by Gaudi, Hans Hollein, Lloyd Wright (‘Ellis Island Key’), and even Robert Moses (the Mid-Manhattan Expressway).

As Morrison descibes it, he wanted to create ‘a more exalted New York,’ using speculative architecture.

Psychovideography / ‘Fortress Urbanism’

And so now New York City may attempt to install the total cinematic dream that has consumed London’s private security firms for the past three decades, lost as they are in the Warholian ecstasy of filming every last centimeter of urban space, week after month after year, in what is surely the largest outright expenditure of cinematic ambition since… perhaps since film began. That dream is known as the ‘ring of steel’ – part of what I call ‘military urbanism,’ and what is referred to by Eric Lupton, in The New York Times, as ‘fortress urbanism.’
‘For more than a century now,’ we read, ‘winged dragons flanking a shield have guarded each entrance to the City of London. In recent decades, this coat of arms has been reinforced with an elaborate anti-terrorism apparatus known as the “ring of steel,” consisting of concrete barriers, checkpoints and thousands of video cameras. City planners call the system, set up to defend against bombings by the Irish Republican Army, “fortress urbanism.”‘

It would be interesting to put ‘fortress urbanism’ into the context of utopia/dystopia, were that not 1) immediately obvious, and 2) less interesting than going further, into the realm of a generalized psychovideography of urban space.
When Alison and Peter Smithson write that ‘today our most obvious failure is the lack of comprehensibility… in big cities,’ and that the very ‘aim of urbanism is comprehensibility’, we should perhaps reconsider the proclaimed purpose of public surveillance.

The 24-hour closed-circuit voyeurism we impose upon the voidscape of empty car parks and untraveled motorways all around us is already a response to the directionless sprawl of 21st century space. As such, security cameras are the next phase of an advanced urban sociology, a vanguard attempt at understanding the limits, contents and directions of our cities; these cameras have nothing to do with security – unless, of course, cognitive security is the issue at hand.
But to introduce a new term here, we would find ourselves discussing not *psychogeography* – that outdated fetish of a new crop of uninspired theses, from Princeton to the AA – but *psychovideography*, the videographic psyche of the city. If security firms are the new providers of our urban unconscious, a hundred thousand endless films recording twenty-fours a day, indefinitely, then we should perhaps find that the outdated methodologies of the psychogeographers have hit an impasse. The geo- is now in the video-, as it were, and the -graphy survives just the same. Throw in some 24-hour psycho-, and we begin to see the city through the lens of an unacknowledged avant-garde: a subset of the film industry whose advance front has taken on the guise of security.

The security industry, in this case, finds itself a (presumably unwitting) heir to John Cage. As Cage himself wrote, ‘There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear.’ London’s private security firms could hardly agree more passionately – and that surveillant/cinematic enthusiasm now spreads to New York and Chicago.
J.G. Ballard: ‘He had spent the past days in a nexus of endless highways, a terrain of billboards, car marts and undisclosed destinations.’
Iain Sinclair: ‘The landscape is provisional.’
The response: psychovideography. Endless filming. Install the umbrella of a total cinema and move freely into the next phase of urbanism: fortress urbanism.
‘Security’ is a red herring; we are witnessing instead the triumphal rearing-up of an unconscious cinematic fantasy.

Accordingly, we find ourselves, everyday, living more fully than ever before in the utopia of someone else’s inescapable, fortified film set.

The Department of Homeland Cinematics.