[Image: The Buncefield explosion, via the BBC].
In one of the more interesting landscape design stories I’ve read this year, New Scientist reported back in March that the massive, December 2005 explosion at a fuel-storage depot called Buncefield in England, might have been strongly assisted by the site’s landscaping.
“A few years ago no one would have predicted that a row of trees and shrubs could make the difference between a serious fire and a catastrophic explosion,” the magazine suggests. But now, it’s becoming a reasonably accepted notion that the physical layout of the Buncefield site’s plantlife—from the “shrubs and small trees” down to their individual “twigs and branches”—can work to contain and concentrate, and, worse, add explosive surface area to what would otherwise have simply been a gas leak.
Indeed, the ongoing investigation at Buncefield “might change the way storage depots, refineries and pipelines are designed, and how the sites are landscaped [emphasis added]. Along with conventional safety features like sensors and alarms, site operators may have to rethink the way that trees, hedges and shrubs are positioned.” Investigators have concluded that “even structures on nearby commercial developments could help to accelerate a flame,” meaning that, in the design of any landscape, from industrial parks to corporate lawns, there is a previously unknown capacity for detonation.
What’s incredible about this—if proven true—is that the potentially explosive landscaping of sites such as Buncefield might suggest, according to New Scientist, new geometries or diagrammatic possibilities for the design of jet engines, in particular “a novel aircraft propulsion system called a pulse detonation engine.” The garden as jet engine!
Putting this into the context of other landscape typologies, such as ritual gardens or sacred groves—as if we might someday have orchards that churn and pulse with controlled coils of fire, like the engine of some vast arboreal machine—makes this terrifying topographical phenomenon seem all the more mythic and extraordinary.
(Previously on BLDGBLOG: Star Garden).