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Review 1: Thesis Article V.2 Resilience – Extreme Environment Liz Lessig Abstract: Architecture puts its faith in progress, in the future. The ideology behind progress is that things will be better, faster, more advanced. As stated by Nic Clear, “this faith of progress and betterment fails to ring true in the light of economic downturn, environmental catastrophe, increased levels of crime, the threats of terrorism and global pandemics”1 We are living in terrifying time. How does architecture deal with these problems? How does it address progress in regard to the current conditions we are faced with as a society? This thesis project investigates the inexorable invisible elements of threat that occupy our urban fabric. Constant phenomenas from climate change, water scarcity, populations growth, earthquakes, terrorism, and toxic threat dominates our environments. These elements of threat produces landscapes of fear. These territories, cities of nowhere, form no-go zones in our urban fabric. “Fear” is defined as “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”2 Response to the actual danger or anticipated risk of danger is a major individual and social psychological and emotional force in human history. Fear causes one to lock ones front door, our bicycles, our computers, even if that fear is not immediate. This fear also drives people from the places they inhabit, the places they call home. The research positions itself to examining these topics and territories of excess that create posturban spatial conditions. Research is trying to unpack and define these territories of extreme environments, by looking at past and present industrial operations and urban processes in relationship to ecological systems, cultural constructs and emerging technologies. These invisible elements of threat and fear are a material artifact of societies excess consumption of infinite natural resources, resulting in the conditions of toxicity and radiation. Through an investigation of the behavioral logics of the system, the inputs; of fear and toxic threat and outputs; such as displacement and adaptation involved, a design process can emerge that is concerned with architecture not as an object, but as a system. A study of the adaptations provides a lens of investigation of these sites in regard to temporal, shifting, and mutating conditions of toxicity. This lab examines how architecture has multiple influences that are in constant exchange with the environment in which they are situated. Moving forward there is an opportunity to challenge current policies that are in place and conventional practices in regard to how we address these sites of deficit or extremes. Architecture is not sufficiently addressing the current economic and social situation in regard to these invisible elements of threat. I hypothesize that there will be an increase in the net total of these dead zones because of an increase in toxicity and fear resulting from our economic patterns of consumption. By developing a methodology that is driven by an exploration of these unseen risks of these cities of nowhere, I hope re-interpret these relationships, that allows us to adaquently address these terriotories.
Clear, Nic. “A Near Future.” Architectural Design. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meyer>.
threat = adaptation
invisible material artifact of
boundaries landscapes of fear
toxic radiation mutation changing temporal exchange fluctuating
excess energy economic social consumption production gloriously catastrophic
adaptation new geographies
progress plumes atmoshphere
Article: Architecture puts its faith in progress, in the future. The ideology behind progress is that things will be better, faster, more advanced. As stated by Nic Clear, “this faith of progress and betterment fails to ring true in the light of economic downturn, environmental catastrophe, increased levels of crime, the threats of terrorism and global pandemics”3 We are living in terrifying time. How does architecture deal with these problems? How does it address progress in regard to the current conditions we are faced with as a society? This thesis project investigates the inexorable invisible elements of threat that occupy our urban fabric. Constant phenomena’s from climate change, water scarcity, populations growth, earthquakes, terrorism, and toxic threat dominates our environments. These elements of threat produces landscapes of fear. These territories, cities of nowhere, form no-go zones in our urban fabric. “Fear” is defined as “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”4 Response to the actual danger or anticipated risk of danger is a major individual and social psychological and emotional force in human history. Fear causes one to lock ones front door, our bicycles, our computers, even if that fear is not immediate. This risk of threat also drives people from the places they inhabit, the places they call home. ‘nowhere’ + ‘somewhere’ Within my investigation, there are two condition that I am exploring. ‘Nowhere’ and ‘Somewhere’. I am defining ‘Nowhere’ as a invisible material artifact of threat. This threat can take on an infinite number of forms from societies excess consumption, economic situation, to the conditions of toxicity and radiation. These threats take on the characteristics talked about by Easterling as, “these belts of special conditions constitute volatile, non-national spaces that move around the world like weather fronts on airborne, landed, or maritime currents”.5 These unseen threats are constantly shifting and mutating. ‘Somewhere’ is the context. The location and site in which these threats or fear are exhibited. It is a place where the risk of threat is still evident, but we are not aware. Can these adaptations, temporal, shifting, mutating conditions of toxicity within these extreme environments inform the architecture?
+ 22 years =
3 4 5
Clear, Nic. “A Near Future.” Architectural Design. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/meyer>. Easterling, Keller. Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and Its Political Masquerades.
Energy + Economics In the last century, the largest amount of energy that society has controlled has been devoted to the construction and maintenance of human habitats. Roger Hooke, a geologist, states, “we have now become arguably the premier geomorphic agents sculpting the landscape”6. That control or power is equivalent to the earth’s primitive power of sea floor spreading and mountain erosion. What is architecture role in regard to power? I argue that architecture must address the relationship between patterns of energies of production and excess that manifest themselves in societies consumptions and infrastructure products. “Without measure, human beings produce endless amounts of energy in social (crowds), political (wars) and environmental (pollution) terms. Previous models of that would see pollution, war and destruction as collateral effects or damage of desired systems of production.”7 Architecture has the ability to address these sites where these excess energy are situated. Architecture’s responsibility is to address these problems of energy, social and economic stress, and these territories of extreme toxic threat. Bataille argues for a new law of general economy, he argues that “the living organism, in a situation determined by the play of energy on the surface of the globe, ordinarily receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining life; the excess energy (wealth) can be used for the growth of a system (e.g., an organism); if the system can no longer grow, or if the excess cannot be completely absorbed in its growth, it must necessarily be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically.”8 These catastrophically release of excess energy are what creates these inexorable invisible elements of threat.
Kyshtym Diaster, Mayak
First Chalk Accident SL-1 Experiment 3 mile island
Sella eld, UK Windscale Fire, UK Saint Laurent Lucens, Switerland Jaslovshe, Czech
LEVEL 5 LEVEL 4
souce of data: INES Levels (International Nuclear Event Scale)
Element of Threat: Toxicity In regard to these invisible elements of threat, one area of focus is toxicity, specifically interested in nuclear radiation. Nuclear energy has always been at the forefront of society’s fears due to the testing of nuclear arms. As seen through the history of the cold war, with is deep impact on people
6 7 8
Davis, Mike. Dead Cities: a Natural History. AD: Eco-Redux. Architectural Design. Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share: an Essay on General Economy.
psychological and emotional state. The image below illustrates the threat of the current incidents and accidents in regard to nuclear events. Level 7 being the highest with only Chernobyl and now Fukushima falling into that category. This is stated as a ‘major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures’9 according to the International Nuclear Event Scale. This agency created by the International Atomic energy in enable response in regard to being able to communicate safety information regarding the event. Cities rich in history and culture, that have been eliminated and destroyed. The destruction of the built environment is also a loss of culture, religion, and place. These communities have been completely destroyed due to the excess of our consumption creating inhabitable environments. This destruction has been seen throughout the history of architecture, “there has always been a war against architecture”10. As building have always been a source of targeted, damaged, by war, this unseen threat of toxicity can be seen as another type of war. In War architecture the Center, Gailson, argues .... Risk
smoking 1.5 packs a day for a year lowest annual dose where increased lifetime risk of cancer is evident
EPA yearly limit on artificial radaition exposure to a member of the public
background dose by an avg. person
slight decrease in blood cell counts returin to normal in a few days
one year one day
eating a banana
airport security scan max permitted
average CT scan
fatal dose, dealth within 2 weeks
seizers and tremors. death within 48 hours
flight from New York to LA
temporary radiation sickness. nausea, lowblood cell count.
One hour dose 3km SW of Fukushima Plant
Dose from spending one hour on the ground at Chernobyl in 2010
one day one year
Per day in Tokyo, 250 km SW of Fukushima (107 days after the disater)
average total dose per person within 10 miles of 3 mile island
The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. Rep. Galison, Peter. “War Against the Center.” The Architecture of Science.
Release limit for a nuclear power plant for a year
(83 days after the disater)
per hour in surface water in tunnels outside Fukushima No. 2 reactor
maximum radiation levels detected at Fukushima per hour
10 min exposure to the Chernobyl reactor core after meltdown
How do you determine the levels of risk of these territories? What is acceptable risk, what are the effects of radiation on the human body? The risk of something that we cannot physically see, that we can not sense. Radiation can’t be smelled, felt, sometimes even we can’t imagine it damaging us. It is easy for society to dismiss something we cannot physically see or feel with our senses. The risk of radiation, and the effect on the human body is determined by the amount of radiation one’s body is exposed to as well as the time of exposure. There are many misconceptions regarding radiation. Spending a day in the 30 km zone of alienation next to the reactor is equivalent to the radiation of a typical dental exam. How to map risk is a methodology being explored in this thesis. How to create ‘maps of survival’ for these irradiated landscapes. To determine the levels of risk within these environments of threat. Risk mapping is technique used often outside the practice of architecture from the response to natural disaster, to economic investments, and even to access the quality of road infrastructure. In Alan Wiseman’s article, in Harper magazine, he describes a potential project that was initiated by a group of scientist in Chernobyl to supply data to the people living in the contaminated area. Unfortunately, after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 the allocated money was lost.11 Territories of Risk Territories of Risk can be examined through a lens of four nuclear toxic sites. This thesis is investigation four nuclear accidents, the Kyshtym disaster, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, to understand what those spaces are how response to these site is created. Looking specifically at the radioactive plumes that are associated with each of these nuclear disaster sites. The resulting plumes represent the invisible toxic threats which create new geographies in each of these areas.
Mayak, Soveit Union
Three Mile Island Accident
Prypiat, Ukraine 1986
Plumes + Atmosphere Atmosphere is a field that is constantly surrounding architecture. It is an invisible layer that is constantly in interaction. Contested in David Gissen, Subnatures, Gissen provides a welcome response to the typical theorist responses to nature and architecture. Gissen terms subnature as element of smoke, exhaust, dust, the heat of crowds, and mud as “undertheorized, underdiscussed, and undervisualized in architecture.”12 These are aspects that are often
Weisman, Alan. “Journey through a Doomed Land.” Harper Magazine. Gissen, David. Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments.
“overlooked in the more general discussion of what might be termed natural architecture.” Atmosphere and plumes provides a lens to examine the territories that are subject to economic downturn, environmental catastrophe, and threats of terror. The text is extremely prevalent in regard to the topic or framework of extreme environments. How does one define these territories of extreme environments? Gissen argues that “forms of nature become sub-natural when they are envisioned as threatening to inhabitants or to the material formations and ideas that constitute architecture.”13 Gissen describes subnatural as “the realm in which we can barley exist in the state that we currently conceive ourselves, both socially or biologically. It is that zone that is most fearsome, because it describes the limits in which contemporary life might be staged”.14 Why do we fear? Is it completely inherent in our society? Can we control it? If so, do we want that control? Plumes are worth investigation because they are natural phenomena within themselves. In addition, invisible movement that influence and change in regard to our environments. In terms of hydrodynamics, plumes are a column of one fluid or gas moving through another.15 In its movement there are several factors which influence it movements, including momentum, diffusion, and buoyancy. Radioactive plumes have additional layers of complexity applied. Formations of plumes are influence by a number of factors that contribute to the spatial configurations. First the wind speed, wind direction and duration are the primary factor in determining the path of radioactive plumes. Other influences include: amount of radiation being produced by the plant, the age of the plant, the amount of spent fuel rods stored on the site, as well as the history of shut downs, fires, and leaks. New geographies created by plumes can be catalyst for the future.
13 14 15
Gissen, David. Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments. Ibid. Schaefer, Vincent J., and John A. Day. A Field Guide to the Atmosphere.
Kyshtym Disaster The disaster at the nuclear fuel re-proesssing plant in Mayak, Russia occurred in 1957. At the time the Soviet Union was trying to catch up to the United States in regard to the development of nuclear weapons. The plume resulted from the explosion, moved to the northeast, to area’s 350 km from the plant. The are where the fall out occurred is know as the East-Ural Radioactive Trace (EURT) Three Mile Island Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating station, is situated in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. In 1979 a core meltdown occurred at Unit 2, a pressurized water reactor. It resulted in the release of approximately 2.5 million curies of radioactive gases, and approximately 15 curies of iodine-131. Three Mile is considered a level 5, an accident with wider consequences. Chernobyl At the time of the nuclear meltdown, Chernobyl was at a point of production that was capable of supplying 7 million costumers with electricity. The nuclear accident that occurred at reactor #4 25 years ago, had ramifications that were equivalent to 100 of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima. The site, provides an opportunity to examine the ‘afterheat’ of a nuclear disaster, particularly how the site has progressed and evolved since the incident. Nature has taken over and started to flourish. The site acts as a catalyst for the adaptations and evolving of rare species and new urban flora . Fukushima After Chernobyl, we thought we have figured out how to create safe nuclear energy, but then this March 11, 2011, the incident at Fukushima occurred. After the earthquakes and tsunami that occurred, there was a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns, and releases of radioactive materials at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. The radioactive contaminants that were release are moved through the air by wind. They easily cross continents and oceans, as has been witnessed since the 1950s following nuclear tests.
Control and power are often the topic of contention within architecture. Power and control often use camouflage and deception to hide there intentions. “Assumption of a proper political activity serves as the perfect cover for unorthodox political moves”16 Attempt of control and response to these invisible elements of threat, through control have not been successful. Examples of 60’s utopianism, 90’s gentrification have both just re-displaced people, and do not addressed the issues at stake. An analysis of these control as response to threat or fear allow you to read information regarding these sites. Goverment controls are often as James corner describes it “as with stitching up wounds to the skin that are only recurring symptoms of some larger failing, the continual patching over of problems...fails to adequately address their source”17 The control zones designated are not corresponding the larger hidden threats or issues. In a United Nations report it was founds that “Fear of radiation is a far more important health threat than radiation itself”.This process of analysis and documentation of these control as a response to threat or fear is a layer of information that the thesis through its experiments is try to unpack. The ‘cities of nowhere’ that are created verse the formations of plumes allow different way to parse the realities of the site. Testing “For this is the age of experimentation, and we have not yet learned to read its protocols”18 -Avital Ronell “the test drive’.
Chernobyl Disaster Kyshtym Disaster Mayak, Soveit Union INES (International Nuclear Event Scale) - introduced by the International Atomic Energy Agency Three Mile Island Accident Harrisburg, Pennsyvania
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster
“Trinity” rst-ever test of a nuclear weapon
“Castle Bravo” Largest weapon ever tested by the US.
Last Soviet nuclear test “Operation Crossroads” rst underwater nuclear explosion Hiroshima. Nagasaki. “Sedan” - part of operation plowshare Nevada Test Site
16 17 18
Easterling, Keller. Some Short Stories. Corner, James. “Eidetic Operations and New Landscapes.” Recovering Landscape. Ponte, Alessandra. “Desert Testing.” The Architecture of Science.
Ponte, in his article Desert Testing, he makes the connection and links between nuclear radiation and testing. Within architecture, testing has been a method of experiment, of exploration, of representation. In Ponte essay, Desert Testing he states the both the disciplines of science and art go through a series of experiments or tests. Through the use of the desert, Ponte provides an example of what experimental means in terms of science and art. Through mapping and examining nuclear events in regard to testing sites along with the accidents, both can be seen as testing and as stated by Ronell in Desert Testing by Ponte, “experimentation is a locus of tremendous ethical anxiety...that travels way beyond good + evil”19 Methodology Architecture’s current representational techniques are not capable of depicting change and degrees of transformation. Change, is an aspect within architecture that architects are constantly fascinated and transfixed with. These ‘cities of nowhere’ are active landscapes that are constantly undergoing change. Experiments and techniques that I have chosen to pursue, try to represent that change, and flux of our territories. The first step in my research is to categorize and index these typologies of nowhere, where these invisible elements of threat manifest themselves. These sites are what Easterling states as “overlapping boundaries at the edge of nations are often slushy, violent, conflicted, and dangerous”.20 This technique will allow me to look critically at these sites in relationship to the ‘in-betweens’ and ‘overlaps’ that emerge
Mutation Within nature there is no state of equilibrium, it is at constant flux, constantly changing, constantly adapting. In The Moment of Complexity, Mark Taylor stated, “for complex adaptive systems to maintain themselves, they must remain open to their environment and change when conditions
Ponte, Alessandra. “Desert Testing.” The Architecture of Science. Easterling, Keller. Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and Its Political Masquerades.
require it. complex adaptive systems, there fore, inevitably evolve, or, more accurately, coevolve”.21 This then invokes the question, how do you represent something that is constantly changing, fluctuating, mutating, evolving? “These belts of special conditions constitute volatile, non-national spaces that move around the world like weather fronts on airborne, landed, or maritime currents”22 states Easterling. Within nature, these phenomena exist. One can use the lens of atmosphere or plume formation to investigate mutating and changing territories. In addition time is a vital factor. How we rethink time, will change our behaviors. forgotten cities
Where are these conditions located? What are they? The conditions that are being defined can be seen though the writing of Richard Jeffereies in his book After London. “For this marvellous city, of which such legends are related, was after all only brick, and when the ivy grew over and trees and shrubs sprang up, and, last, the waters underneath burst in, this huge metropolis was soon overthrown”23 Richard Jefferies, After London (1886) The descriptive words illustrate a very similar description written by Weisman in his experience in Chernobyl, “once-trimmed hedges had run wild, their foliage so dense that many houses were
21 22 23
Furjan: ‘Eco-logics’ p. 20 Easterling, Keller. Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and Its Political Masquerades. Davis, Mike. Dead Cities: a Natural History.
nearly covered; when we drove through Chernobyl’s silent streets, branches of un-pruned chestnut trees grazed the sides of our bus.” The project presents a series of images of one of the many abandoned villages in the 19 mile evacuation zone surrounding the failed Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The poignant discomfort experienced at the village was primarily from the seemingly absence of activity. No human activity, no agriculture, no production, no sounds. All glimpses of civilization were almost completely gone. Lost to the underbrush. The vegetation had an explosive quality. Physical signs of radiation are missing, lost, or stolen. The nearly invisible houses were barren. No barrier’s exist, all signs indicating the 19 mile exclusion zone, have long been stolen. Only its starkness, a bizarre beauty, with unseen or un-felt radiation hovering over the landscape. How long will it take for this environment to recover? Even at this extreme environment, despite the risk of disease, many elderly people continue to live in contaminated areas of Ukraine. This is the only place they know as home. Sometimes they are the only ones living in these villages, often in conditions close to the 18th century. Architecture is about people. ‘Cities of nowhere’ where they unseen elements of threat exist, allows architects the opportunity to “have to redefine their operations is potentially a wonderful opportunity to recalibrate and reconsider who and what architecture is actually for.” 24
I contend that these conditions of threat are given conditions that will continue to increase. I argue not that architecture’s role is to remove the threat because that is not possible, rather how can architecture help to mitigate the damage to the earth’s environment and to our society’s psyche. Inexorable invisible elements of threat occupy our urban fabric. These threats are invisible, we cannot sense that they exist. It is not that we can eliminate this threat completely, but how can architecture address how we survive and inhabit these environments. How can we mediate these toxic site which are very likely to become more abundant in the future. How does the future of architecture question the current methods of operations in regard to these territories? How does the study of ‘cities of nowhere’ provide us with new techniques and tools to address the state of the urban environment? Instead of thinking of toxic sites as unwanted by-products of our excess energy, they have the potential to provides us with a fresh perspective to rethink how we approach and engage with these extreme environments. “It is that zone that is most fearsome, because it describes the limits in which contemporary life might be staged” 25
Clear, Nic. “A Near Future.” Architectural Design. p.9 Gissen, David. Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments.
Bibliography: Dead Zones_Cities of Nowhere AD: Eco-Redux. Architectural Design. Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share: an Essay on General Economy. New York: Zone, 1988. Brand, Stewart. Whole Earth Discipline: an Ecopragmatist Manifesto. New York: Viking, 2009. Clear, Nic. "A Near Future." Architectural Design. 79.5. 2009. p. 6-11. Describes how architecture can position itself in regard to the future. In addressing the current state of economic downturn, environmental catastrophe, increased levels of crime, Clear argues that archiwwtecture has an opportunity to reposition and re-calibrate who and what architecture is actually for. Corner, James. “Eidetic Operations and New Landscapes.” Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture. New York: Princeton Architectural, 1999. Easterling, Keller. Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and Its Political Masquerades. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2005. Analysis of what Easterling calls ‘spatial products,’ that exist outside the realm of normal jurisdictions are defined as commercial products that index the world such as retail, resorts, and malls. These ‘spatial products’ inform the organizations of our built environments. Easterling, Keller. Some Short Stories. Davis, Mike. Dead Cities: a Natural History. New York, NY: New, 2002. Davis takes on a apocalyptic view on america. He argues that the social and environmental chaos of our post-modern urbanscapes has been shaped by the creative energies of its catastrophes. Galison, Peter. “War Against the Center.” The Architecture of Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999. Describes the process of decentralizing American cities. Gissen, David. Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments : Atmospheres, Matter, Life. New York: Princeton Architectural, 2009. Elements of smoke, exhaust, dust, the heat of crowds, and mud Gissen argues are ‘subnature’ elements that have been overlooked in the discussion of what is termed as natural architecture. Jameson, Frederic. The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London [u.a.: Verso, 1993. p. 6 Discussions of postmodernism. Jameson brings to the subject an immense range of reference both to artworks and to theoretical discussions; a strong hypothesis linking cultural changes to changes in the place of culture within the whole structure of life produced by a new phase of economic history Ponte, Alessandra. "Desert Testing." The Architecture of Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999. Within architecture, testing has been a method of experiment, of exploration, of representation. Ponte unitizes the site of the desert, to provides an example of what experimental means in terms of science and art.
Schaefer, Vincent J., and John A. Day. A Field Guide to the Atmosphere. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981. Weisman, Alan. “Journey through a Doomed Land.” Harper Magazine, vol. 289 , August 1994, 4553. The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. Rep. Vinton, Luisa. Effects of Chernobyl. Rep. United Nations. Furjan: ‘Eco-logics’ Supplementary Reading: Bargmann, Julie. Lecture. DIRT STUDIO. Weisman, Alan. The World without Us. New York: Thomas Dunne /St. Martin's, 2007. Meyer, Elizabeth. Sustaining Beauty: The Performance of Appearance. JOLA. Spring 2008 Kwinter, Sanford. Soft Systems. Culture Lab. Infranet lab/lateral office, Coupling: Strategies for Infrastructural Opportunism (Pamphlet Architecture 30) To Be Read: Ballard, J. G. Crash. New York: Picador, 2001. Science fiction writer, that tackles issues of the future. His stories are one of post-apocalyptic dystopia genre. Klanten, Utopia Forever Map: 002 Quarantine Wigley, Architecture of Atmosphere Kwinter: ‘Landscapes of Change’ Morton: ‘The Ecological Thought’ Boyer: ‘Cybercities’ Weinstock, Michael. The Architecture of Emergence: the Evolution of Form in Nature and Civilisation. Chichester: Wiley, 2010. ‘No Stop City’, Archizoom
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