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Harvard GSD Masters in Landscape Architecture 2013, Advisor: Pierre Bélanger
The Nomad, The Technologist A 21st Century Steppe Fable
“Nomads usually form self-governing communities…Since these settlements are temporary, they hardly affect the natural environment at all…they leave practically no traces behind them…” -Konstantinos Doxiadis, Ekistics “…in the 19th century mankind had come to terms with space, and that the great question of the 20th was the coexistence of different concepts of time.” -Chris Marker, Sans Soleil
This thesis is posed as a projective fable and a design strategy where a country’s political economy become catalyzed through leveraging sectors that have been traditionally seen as anti-modern and challenges towards development. It unravels in the form of a video, available here: http://vimeo.com/68771160
Written Summary Ideas of remoteness and underdevelopment have been shaped by universal indices from the World Bank to the United Nations alongside lack of geographical data – vague census figures, outdated GDP numbers, and little knowledge of desert steppe ecologies. In confronting Mongolia’s state of development, two predominant narratives emerge: one of a noble, backwards nomadic pastoralism and the other of a modern, urbanized, resource rich country. Yet in unearthing an arc of history and the metadata of Mongolia’s geography, the current condition of the country is far more complicated than investment development reports purport. While there are vast amounts of untapped mineral resources, the difficulty remains in transporting these resources out of the country, with a lack of infrastructure preventing market entry and access to global economic networks. What Mongolia does have is a wildly rich, extreme mobile culture. Nomadic pastoralists traverse hundreds of kilometers, in regular forms of movement for quality grazing ground. Informal markets and advanced information telecom infrastructures pervade the country, alongside airfields that disappear from one season to the next. Micro grids and decentralized energy infrastructure add to the ways immense mobility is enabled for nearly half the country’s population.
This project uses the narrative device of a young Mongolian geographer who embarks on an ambitious Ten Year Plan for his country, a strategy which uses the Steppe’s highly variable climate and seasonal ecology to propose nomadic capitalism: an economy of time. He proposes 133 roving, nomadic free trade zones across Mongolia that exist seasonally according to current nomadic movement, capitalizing on nomadic pastoralist movement to form a logistics company for the transport of everything from cashmere to coal. In his pursuit of systematic and geographical scale planning, he automates his mapping, deriving an algorithm for temporary urbanization based on available ecological data and probabilities of nomadic movement with the insertion of what he deems appropriate infrastructure: the bathhouse, the airfield, the hangar and the naled (man made ice shield). All these infrastructures are agile and their uses amplified or dialed down depending on season.
Using this algorithm he generates a series of master plans for all 133 FTZs, alongside the suitable locations for his proposed infrastructure, which become transformed and sized according to the FTZ’s seasonality, rainfall and vegetation. In understanding the role of data and its past and future role on Mongolia’s territory, he proposes repurposing sensors leftover from mining exploration to inform camp configurations, collecting data on soil inundation which gets sent through his overall master plan framework for real-time camp configuration information. This information is transmitted via cellphone, a resource that 98% of the country’s population has access to. The fable continues, projecting towards the end of the Ten Year Plan, where nomadic logistics becomes the rule, and pastoralists expand to grassroots mapping in order to detect new mineral deposits. Mongolia’s economy has soared, in comparison to its neighbor, China, whose strategy of infrastructure building for economic growth is in rapid decline. In return, China begins a Great Green Wall project to prevent an invading Steppe ecology, an ecology which has been leveraged carefully to Mongolia’s success. As the story ends, the year is 2021, and the circumstances of the fiction seem far closer to reality than fable.
The Steppe’s economy and ecology of time: Current economic cycles and correlated movements, Project economic cycle and movement
Indexical Model showing abstraction of DEM + additional layering in preparation modeling stochastic movement through a compiled suitability model. If the old model for urban planning (an industrial based one) was points/lines as function of cost and suitability boundaries, vivid plans for an advanced capitalism use a Markov chain for calculating probability and eventual steady state. Below: Diagrams to conceptualize process of abstracting the DEM (digital elevation model), which serves as an index of value for terrain/ topography. The same type of raster index can be produced for other functions, such as grazing suitability or cellphone service availability. The indices of suitability can also be added into one overall raster image, weighted and averaged, then with movement modeled through it.
Top Left: Bathhouse Elevation + Interior Render Top Right: Image still from modeling projected nomadic pastoralist movement, emergence of master plan Bottom Right: Naleds, a Soviet Technology of manmade ice shields intended to store drinking water for summer droughts Below: Section view through settlement
Typical Airfield Hangar: Agile infrastructure for multiple uses Below: Active season use + off season (winter) use, including ICT tents, markets. Right: Interior Renderings Below: Parametric construction of hangar -- responsive to specific FTZ site conditions of sunlight, soil conditions, fodder storage needs and locally available aircraft sizing (northern Mongolia = soviet aircraft, southern Mongolia = more modern aircraft). Interior tent space area can be adjusted based on programming needs, which is connected to location in overall Mongolian geography. Shapes were modeled using Kangaroo Physics Engine.
Logistics Control Room
Fodder Storage unit
Market ICT Ctr
This layered model shows the topography of site 35 (Sayan Ovoo), its hardware (logistics corridor), but most importantly serves as a study model for real time data of soil moisture to live update the Rhino model. As sensor points increased or decreased in moisture levels, it changed the settlement grid in Rhino, either decreasing or increasing in density based on subdivision rules established through precendent study of nomadic camp sites. A second level of processing occurred after the distorted grid was gathered in order to make this approach abide by the overall rules of the stochastic matrix/nomadic capitalist index.
In collaboration with Deren Guler, with support from BRAF, AWESOME and Kickstarter
FLOAT: Beijing In the spring of 2012, global attention shifted to an invisible, imperceptible landscape; particulate matter suspended in the air smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter. The source of all this attention was the Beijing US Embassy’s independent monitoring and subsequent public broadcast via Twitter of air quality readings, which at one point was “crazy bad”. The Chinese government found the US Embassy reports to be more abrasive than helpful, accusing the embassy of violating the terms of diplomatic relations. In a country, where everything is political, the element of air quality data became restricted, censored and tightly controlled in an effort to shape public perception of state efforts and ease attitudes towards tensions between environmental health and rapid economic development.
Through the playful act of kite flying FLOAT_Beijing has empowered hundred of citizens to take action and protest current air quality standards, leading to people driven improved policies for healthier lives. FLOAT is a tool to collect air quality data and circumvent state controlled, highly censored channels of information. At community workshops participants learn about the health hazards of air pollutants and their detection through DIY sensors, which they learn to build and attach to kites. FLOAT modules are designed to be transparent and reconfigured by users. Residents challenge the invisibility of official data by flying their air quality sensing kites in highly visible public spaces. Kites have a strong cultural history in China which draws in diverse people connecting them to new technologies. Participants gain awareness about air quality, but more importantly, through FLOAT_Beijing, become active agents in monitoring, and eventually transforming their own environments. FLOAT Beijing has two components; a workshop and public kite flight that uses a special kite prototype developed which detects carbon monoxide, VOC and other pollutants. Detection levels are displayed through LED lights that change in color, creating a constellation of air quality indicating lights in the night sky. During the workshop, the act of making the sensing modules reveals new relationships to Implemented Summer 2012. For video documentary see: chinafile.com/stars-haze For more visualizations and images head to: f-l-o-a-t.com
Top Left : Wiring scheme and components for FLOAT module Top Right: Data and anomalies in air quality Bottom Right: Soldering at FLOAT workshop
FLOAT Workshops + Flights
Harvard GSD, Studio Critic: Miho Mazereeuw
Willets Point Flushing Bay Studio project
“This is a valley of ashes--a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of gray cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-gray men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
The Valley of Ashes, Willets Point, continues to be a whirl of automotive centered activity today. It hosts some of the cheapest auto repairs in the metro NYC area, and remains a thriving socio-economic center, all in close proximity to LaGuardia Airport. Recent concerns center around Willets Point as a place of urban blight, yet it remains crucial as an industrial support and to NYC’s larger economy. Renderings and proposals speak to a dream of perfect apartment houses, commercial/retail and center around giving a new life to the neighborhood from the new CitiField stadium right across the street. Developers and city officials have viewed the site as tabula rasa – a place that has to be transformed in its entirety, and the existing users of the site who occupy fringes of society, much like Gatsby’s day, moved out of the neighborhood. A model urbanism is imagined, complete with happy housing developments. Yet despite such optimism, in the midst of this remains many questions about the site that have yet to be answered. How will the local economy survive, with the loss of such revenue from auto repairs? Where will displaced workers be employed if the entire site becomes shiny apartment complexes? How can we develop new housing on top of land that remains highly vulnerable to flooding and storm surge? How do we navigate its close proximity to the airport and quality of life issues? Where does the revenue for such developments come from? How do we even begin to tap into the site when massive amounts of contamination that remain barriers to development need to be dealt with? This strategy, Graze City, proposes we see all of these questions and problems as opportunities, that these problems, once set in motion can form a new strategy for a different kind of urbanism.
Research: NYC Airports Economic Contribution and projected expansion
Flushing Bay: Available dredge material for land reclamation, correlation between waterfront land, industrial zoning and noise levels
It’s a simple strategy. It proposes that the adjacency to LaGuardia is an advantage, as LaGuardia is one of metro NYC’s biggest economic drivers and employers. By tapping into the existing dredge cycle, land can be reclaimed and filled in between existing storm surge barriers to allow for the much needed expansion of LaGuardia airport and cargo handling facilities. Many new employees will be needed, allowing former Willets Point workers jobs. Revenue will be generated for the city through increased cargo and logistics companies using and renting the facilities.
Research: Seasonality, basic building typology and square footage, alongside phytoremediation-grazing systems
This revenue can be used for a cheap remediation strategy: phytoremediation using salt tolerant plant species that also serve as incredible grazing fodder. By bringing in livestock to ecologically proliferate and use the expanded site as grazing ground, even further revenue can be made out of this low cost initial investment.
As the strategy moves on, further residential development, buoyed and protected from storms by new flood infrastructure, put in by a city intent on keeping this invaluable economic logistics site will be phased in. A central corridor connects the logistics and cargo handling that is closest to the airport all the way through the residential neighborhoods. This new connection serves as a way to create a new transport node for residents – plugging into the existing 7 train.
Graze City becomes a place where logistics, New Yorkers, sheep and cows come to play. Together. Through specific design interventions from urban cow pokes to integrating animal management with office buildings, the strategy allows for all to interact while being low maintenance – after one piece of the strategy is set in motion, it becomes a cycle that can generate new partnerships, new revenue and a new vision of urbanism for the 21st century
Section views of Graze City/Willets Point site (top to bottom): Industrial/Bonded Logistics Zone Warehouse/Cargo facilities Cargo-Office space Residential mixed use Commercial, 7 Train station
Graze City: New Partnerships
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