Dune Bank Suitcase

This has been a long summer of hotel rooms, from Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, and an incredible range of interesting stories has passed by that I didn’t have a chance to post. So I thought I’d briefly reach back into the past three weeks or so and salvage a couple things I wish I’d had a chance to cover when they first popped up. In other words, you’ve probably already seen these—but they’re worth the attention, nonetheless.

[Image: Markus Kayser‘s Solar Sinter].

1) The video documenting Markus Kayser‘s solar-powered 3D printer—capable of producing complete glass objects from loose desert sand—has been viewed more than half a million times on Vimeo, presumably because the design implications of his experiment are so compelling.

[Image: Markus Kayser‘s Solar Sinter].

As Kayser explains, the “process of converting a powdery substance via a heating process into a solid form is known as sintering and has in recent years become a central process in design prototyping known as 3D printing or SLS (selective laser sintering).”

These 3D printers use laser technology to create very precise 3D objects from a variety of powdered plastics, resins and metals—the objects being the exact physical counterparts of the computer-drawn 3D designs inputted by the designer. By using the sun’s rays instead of a laser and sand instead of resins, I had the basis of an entirely new solar-powered machine and production process for making glass objects that taps into the abundant supplies of sun and sand to be found in the deserts of the world.

Watch the video yourself, if you haven’t yet seen it:

As you can see, the objects produced are quite rudimentary, but it’s hard not to imagine something like this scaled up—an urban-sized glass factory in the desert, out of which strange future objects are released—or even mobilized, wandering the dunes, sintering Great Wall-sized pieces of desert architecture directly into the landscape, perhaps even dune-sailing across the hills of another planet, printing forward operating bases into that alien terrain.

[Image: Markus Kayser‘s Solar Sinter].

If you haven’t yet seen the following video, meanwhile, it makes an interesting partner with Kayser’s project. Here, we watch as a parabolic mirror concentrates sunlight to a point so hot it melts rock:

Perhaps solar-powered bedrock-sintering is the next logical step for Kayser’s technology: 3D-printing whole mountain landscapes from artificially produced magmatic lumps, like something from a fever-dream by Vicente Guallart.

2) A couple years ago, we looked at an artist’s book called 15 Lombard Street by Janice Kerbel. Kerbel’s book is “a rigorously researched masterplan of how to rob a particular bank in the City of London”:

By observing the daily routine in and around the bank, Kerbel reveals the most detailed security measures such as: the exact route and time of money transportation; the location of CCTV cameras in and around the bank along with precise floor plans that mark the building’s blind spots. Kerbel’s meticulous plans include every possible detail required to commit the perfect crime.

A similar idea was taken up recently by architect Armin Blasbichler. For an architecture seminar at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, Blasbichler’s students “had been assigned to pick up a bank in the city, study it, identify its Achilles’ heel and plan a bank robbery,” as We Make Money Not Art explains.

[Image: From Armin Blasbichler’s bank robbery course; via We Make Money Not Art].

Although Blasbichler’s interview with WMMNA is worth reading, my own interest in his course is less in the idea that, as Blasbichler suggests, bank robberies are a way to foreground “the continuing marginalization of the role of the architect.” What interests me more is the idea that bank robbers have a very specific, albeit highly illegal, understanding of architectural space—indeed, we might even say that bank robbers understand the city better than architects do, and, in the event of a successful heist, better even than the police meant to patrol it.

[Image: From Armin Blasbichler’s bank robbery course; via We Make Money Not Art].

Of course, I am using the phrase bank robbery to refer to a specific type of heist, a uniquely ambitious form of breaking-and-entering: tunneling into a vault, dodging security cameras, picking locks, exploding whole walls or doorways, not merely handing a note to the teller and walking out with sacks of money.

But in this sense, the bank robbery becomes a very specific kind of spatial operation, one that cuts through architecture along unprecedented obliques and diagonals. It is counter-space: an illicit misuse of plan and section. In the process, the bank robbery produces and exploits perforations in the built environment; it operates by way of gaps, sudden accelerations and pauses unplanned for by the bank’s own protective administrators. In one sense, the bank robbery proceeds by asking a simple question: how do we move through this building as if the building is not really there?

3) The so-called “internet in a suitcase” is an astonishing example of soft infrastructure. As the New York Times explains the overall idea:

The Obama administration is leading a global effort to deploy “shadow” Internet and mobile phone systems that dissidents can use to undermine repressive governments that seek to silence them by censoring or shutting down telecommunications networks.

The effort includes secretive projects to create independent cellphone networks inside foreign countries, as well as one operation out of a spy novel in a fifth-floor shop on L Street in Washington, where a group of young entrepreneurs who look as if they could be in a garage band are fitting deceptively innocent-looking hardware into a prototype “Internet in a suitcase.”

This suitcase “will rely on a version of ‘mesh network’ technology, which can transform devices like cellphones or personal computers to create an invisible wireless web without a centralized hub.” This means that files “could hop directly between the modified wireless devices—each one acting as a mini cell ‘tower’ and phone—and bypass the official network” altogether.

A similar technology is referred to in the article as an “expeditionary cellular communication service.”

[Image: Internet-in-a-suitcase, via the New York Times].

The Jason Bourne-like, black ops thrill of this is clear: you parachute in behind enemy lines—or you smuggle, by way of some dusty, unpoliced airfield unmarked on official maps—a suitcase-sized portable internet. A kind of electromagnetic nervous system unfolds like living origami from your luggage, creating a “stealth wireless network” through which you and your fellow rebels can remain connected to data from the rest of the world.

The internet-in-a-suitcase thus joins the city-in-a-box in the annals of on-demand infrastructural utopias, spatially influential packages theoretically outside of political control.

On the other hand, I can’t help but think that this is all a bit like Gordon Gecko’s infamous cellphone from the movie Wall Street: an almost absurdly clunky solution that will be replaced sooner than we might expect by something much more sleek, embedded, and ubiquitous, requiring not even the weight of a carry-on bag but operating through something as small as an RFID chip.

It will be the internet-from-nowhere, a connective ghost whose quasi-magical presence has been promised to us not only by the gurus of modern technology and political liberation, but by ancient myths and folktales: a cloud of voices from afar to which we are invisibly connected at every moment, everyday.

4 thoughts on “Dune Bank Suitcase”

  1. That bowl is a gorgeous thing and needs no apology.

    My extrapolation would be to solar powered subway tunnel boring. I will just leave that here.

  2. Wouldn't it be cool if Markus Kayser's "solar-powered 3D printer—capable of producing complete glass objects from loose desert sand—" could be used in making glass shelters in the desert. This brings to mind Nadar Kalili's attempt to make ceramic houses out of adobe domes in Iran. That effort seems not to have worked out due in no small part to the cost and environmental impacts of firing said houses with oil but with solar power that might not be an issue. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  3. Geoff, there is actually a project to scale up the above solar project in the Sahara, perhaps you've heard of it? The idea is brilliant – to do the same as the above – except to manufacture actual solar cells, using solar cells… a self replicating strategy that could have massive implications in terms of harnessing desert solar power. It is being investigated by a Japanese univerisity… I wish I could remember where I read about it.

  4. The 'internet in a suitcase' reminds me of the short story "Unwirer" by Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow. With similar tools, people are establishing independent networks around the world. Worth the quick read.

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