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.


Some ideas for forestry projects (arborial ethicists beware):

<1> Attach thin vibrating wires to the branches of two oppositely-growing trees. As the wires are stretched due to natural tree growth – or given slack – the wind blowing across them will produce different notes. A tree that began as, say, C-major will become B-flat. This could be done to a variety of trees, using a variety of wires of various lengths and thicknesses, so as to produce an acres-wide arborial instrument which never ceases to change its drone.

<2> Attach a large stone to a system of ropes and pulleys. Attach the other ends of these ropes and pulleys to the branches of growing trees, and then again, onward, to the branches of other growing trees. As the branches grow, if the force has been correctly distributed, the stone will be lifted off the ground.
<2a> Once the stone leaves the ground, another, secondary, mechanical process could come into effect: say a turning wheel that tightens and/or otherwise alters the positions of the original ropes and pulleys.
<2b> This could start-off further mechanical processes – perhaps a bag of seeds is upended and, a dozen years later, new trees grow, entering the system.

<3> Plant a new grove using only one tree species, and rope the branches of all the trees together according to a carefully architected pattern. Return over the years as the trees grow to tighten the ropes, pulling and bending the branches into their desired shape or mold. Eventually the trees will form a complicated network of hallways whose canopies are interlaced branches. Domes, arches, etc., could all be created.

[Images from Pruned].

<4> A rope is attached to the top of a newly-planted tree. The other end of the rope is attached to a complex spring-and-coil machine that includes within it a pre-sharpened axe. The axe is attached to a long handle, a handle whose length is the exact distance between the machine and the tree. Further, the axe is only barely restrained from swinging by a small lever. Once the tree, several years on, has reached a certain height, the rope’s tension triggers the machine, lifting that small lever, and the axe swings round, burying itself into the tree’s trunk: killing – perhaps felling – the tree.

Tropo-electricity: or, how to turn the sky into a machine

In ‘Windmills in the Sky‘ we learn that: ‘Australian engineer Bryan Roberts wants to build a power station in the sky – a cluster of windmills soaring 15,000 feet in the air’ in the troposphere, where ‘there is enough energy in high-altitude winds to satisfy the world’s [electrical] demands.’ This resource is referred to as ‘high-altitude wind power’. The machines would ‘use GPS technology to maintain the crafts’ vertical and horizontal location to within a few feet. The craft will be brought to ground once a month or so for maintenance checks.’
An image which – perhaps to my discredit – immediately makes me think of films by Hayao Miyazaki.

But there are other angles to consider, including a sky full of hovering tropo-electric generators as: 1) atmospheric installation art; 2) tropotechnical engineering (v. geotechnics); 3) a fantastic idea for an animated science-fiction movie (again, viz Hayao Miyazaki);

4) a kind of retro-futurist Red Baron-era *Don Quixote* remake; 5) a nuts place to get a summer job, living on one of the windmills and making repairs from within the black skies of the troposphere; 6) something Rimbaud would’ve come up with while sipping absinthe; 7) etc.
Or 8), of course, lucky 8): how to turn the sky into a machine. Atmospheric irrigation, or the productive redirection of the planet’s rivers of air.
Or 9), too: a poetic insight into the otherwise unrecognized resources of energy and power all around us. Poetic engineering. Engineering as 3-dimensional poetry.