BLDGBLOG 19/12/2012 22:36[Image: The Wiederin bookshop in Innsbruck, Austria; photo by Lukas Schaller, courtesy of A10].
Barely in time for the holidays, here is a quick look at some of the many new or recent books that have passed through the home office here at BLDGBLOG.
As usual, I have not read all of the books listed here, but this will be pretty clear from the ensuing descriptions; those that I have read, and enjoyed, I will not hesitate to recommend.
And, as always, all of these books are included for the interest of their approach or subject matter as it relates to landscape, spatial sciences, and the built environment more generally.
1) Map of a Nation: A Biography Of The Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewitt (Granta).
2) The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel, Jr., Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor by Marguerite Holloway (W.W. Norton).
These two fantastic books form a nice, if coincidental, duo, looking at the early days of scientific cartography and the innovative devices and mathematical techniques that made modern mapping possible. In Rachel Hewitt's casea book I found very hard to put down, up reading it till nearly 2am several nights in a rowwe trace the origins of the UK's Ordnance Survey by way of the devices, tools, precision instruments, and imperialist geopolitical initiatives of the time.
Similarly, Marguerite Holloway introduces us to, among many other things, the first measured imposition of the Manhattan grid. I mentioned Holloway's book the other day here on BLDGBLOG, and am also very happy to have been asked to blurb it. Here's my description: "This outstanding history of the Manhattan grid offers us a strange archaeology: part spatial adventure, part technical expedition into the heart of measurement itself, starring teams of 19th-century gentlemen striding across the islands eroded mountains and wild streams, implementing a grid that would soon enough sprout skyscrapers and flatirons, Central Park and 5th Avenue. Marguerite Holloways engaging survey takes us step by step through the challenges of obsolete land laws and outdated maps of an earlier metropolis, looking forand findingthe future shape of this immeasurable city."
For anyone at all interested in cartography, these make an excellent and intellectually stimulating pair.
3) The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane (Viking).
4) Weeds: In Defense of Nature's Most Unloved Plants by Richard Mabey (Ecco).
I've spoken highly of Robert Macfarlane's writing before, and will continue to do so. His Wild Places remains one of my favorite books of the last few years, and I was thus thrilled to hear of his newest: a series of long walks (and a boat ride) through the British landscape, from coastal mudflats to chalk hills and peat bogs, following various kinds of well-worn routes and paths, the "old ways" of his book's title. Macfarlane's writing can occasionally strain for rapture when, in fact, it is precisely the mundanenondescript earthen paths and overlooked back woodsthat makes his "journeys on foot" so compelling; but this is an otherwise minor flaw in a highly readable and worthwhile new book.
Meanwhile, Richard Mabey has written an almost impossibly captivating history of weeds, "nature's most unloved plants." Covering invasive species, overgrown bomb sites in WWII London, and abandoned buildings, and relating stories from medieval poetry and 21st-century agribusiness to botanical science fiction, Mabey's book is an awesome sweep through the world of out-of-place plant life.
5) The Maximum of Wilderness: The Jungle in the American Imagination by Kelly Enright (University of Virginia Press).
6) In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of the Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery by Annette Kolodny (Duke University Press).
7) The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise by Michael Grunwald (Simon & Schuster).
These three books variously describe encounters with the alien wilderness of a new world. Kelly Enright's look at "the jungle in American imagination" reads a bit too much like a revised Ph.D. thesis, but its central premise is fascinating, looking not only at the complex differences between the meaning of a jungle and that of a rain forest, but exploring, as she phrases it, "some of the consequences of expanding an American image and ideology of wilderness beyond American shores," from Theodore Roosevelt to the early days of tropical anthropology.
Annette Kolodny's review of what can more or less be summarized as Sound Signature
BLDGBLOG 18/12/2012 16:14Electrical networks emit such a constant, locally recognizable hum that their sound can be used to help solve crimes.
[Image: Random sound file using Sound Studio].
A forensic database of electrical sounds is thus being developed by UK police, according to the BBC. "For the last seven years, at the Metropolitan Police forensic lab in south London," we read, "audio specialists have been continuously recording the sound of mains electricity. It is an all pervasive hum that we normally cannot hear. But boost it a little, and a metallic and not very pleasant buzz fills the air."
Any digital recording made anywhere near an electrical power source, be it plug socket, light or pylon, will pick up this noise and it will be embedded throughout the audio.Even withor, in fact, because ofslight fluctuations in the level of local electric power, such recordings can reveal sonic traces of where and when they were recorded; these barely audible details act as "a digital watermark," the BBC explains, secret audio artifacts that put "a date and time stamp on the recording."
This buzz is an annoyance for sound engineers trying to make the highest quality recordings. But for forensic experts, it has turned out to be an invaluable tool in the fight against crime.
You can thus acoustically prove that someone was in a certain part of, say, London at a certain time of day, and that a given audio recording is thus genuine (or faked), due to the exact signature of what electrical networks in that part of the city had been doing at the time.
It's like cosmic microwave background radiation, an immersive soundtracka sea of acoustic metadatahidden in the built environment, detectable electronically, droning all around us at a volume usually below human hearing.
(Via New Aesthetic).
BLDGBLOG 17/12/2012 03:59Some of my favorite architectural images of all time come from a series of photos taken by Fred R. Conrad for the New York Times, showing the remains of an 18th-century ship that was uncovered in the muddy depths of the World Trade Center site, a kind of wooden fossil, splayed out and preserved like a rib cage, embedded in the foundations of New York City.
[Images: Photos by Fred R. Conrad, courtesy of The New York Times].
Although it's almost embarrassing to admit how much I think of thishoping, I suppose, that some vast wooden fleet will someday be discovered beneath Manhattan, lying there in wait, disguised as basements, anchored quietly inside skyscrapers, masts mistaken for telephone poles, perhaps even slowly rocking with the tidal rise of groundwater and subterranean streamsit came to mind almost immediately while re-reading a short book by art historian Indra Kagis McEwen called Socrates' Ancestor.
Really more of an etymological analysis of spatial concepts inherited from ancient Greece, from the idea of khôra to the myth of Icarus, McEwen's book has at least two interesting moments, the first of which relates directly to ships.
[Image: Greek triremes at war, via Pacific Standard].
"At one important point in its history," she writes, "Athens literally became a fleet of ships."
When Themistocles evacuated Athens in 481 B.C. in the face of the Persian threat, the entire city put out to sea, taking with it its archaion agalma [or cult statue] of Athena Polias. And when, according to Plutarch, a certain person said to Themistocles "that a man without a city had no business to advise men who still had cities of their own" Themistocles answered,That is, the city took to the waves, physically and literally abandoning solid groundleaving the earth behind, we might sayto go mobile, en masse, cutting through the water like Armada from The Scar, novelist China Miéville's "flotilla of dwellings. A city built on old boat bones." In The Scar, Miéville envisions "many hundreds of ships lashed together, spread over almost a square mile of sea, and the city built on them... Tangled in ropes and moving wooden walkways, hundreds of vessels facing all directions rode the swells."It is true thou wretch, that we have left behind us our houses and our city walls, not deeming it meet for the sake of such lifeless things to be in subjection; but we still have a city, the greatest in Hellas, our two hundred triremes.
Incredibly, in the very origins of Western urbanism, this offworldor at least offshorescenario actually played itself out, with the evacuation and subsequent becoming-maritime of the entire city of Athens, Greece.
The whole city just picked up, left dry ground, and sailed off for the horizon.
Briefly, McEwen's book has at least one other detail worth mentioning here: a comparison between ancient shipbuilding techniques and weavingor, as she says, "the way ancient shipwrights assembled their craft is clearly analogous to the technique of weaving. To edge-join planks with mortise-and-tenon joints is, essentially, to interlace pieces of wood."
In the shipyard, planks laid in one direction were fastened to other planks by tenons that penetrated, or interlaced, the planks at right angles in order to bind them together. Similarly, on a loom, the warp threads (analogous to planks) extended in one direction are bound together by weft threads (analogous to tenons and pegs) traveling orthogonally, which interpenetrate the warp threads at right angles to make the cloth.McEwen weaves this together with Vitruvius's descriptions of the very first buildings, where, in Vitruvius's own words, "first, with upright forked props and twigs put between, they wove their walls." That is, they "wove their walls" with woodmaking some of the Western world's earliest architectural structures, as McEwen summarizes, both the product of and identical with "an upright Greek loom."
That is, they were textilesas were ancient Greek ships. Like floating pieces of oversized clothing woven together from fallen forests.
I feel compelled to mention here that some of the most advanced techniques in architectural fabrication today involve, as it happens, a return to looms, or the 3D-weaving of architectural parts and spaces using, in some cases, technologiessuch as carbon fiber weavingborrowed from the automobile industry (as seen in the eye-popping video embedded above).
In any case, it is quite a heady thing to consider all this at once: vast looms at the southern tip of Manhattan, weaving in real-time an interlocking lacework of carbon fiber ship-buildings that depart immediately for the rising seas of the north Atlantic.
The city reveals its inner logic is not that of a grid but of a fleetnot landlocked buildings but patient shipsas silent streets peer out at the sea with longing.
(Vaguely related: Ground Conditions).
BLDGBLOG 13/12/2012 20:09[Image: A carved sandstone model of the incredible walled fortress-city of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, found where else but within the walled fortress-city of Jaisalmer, Rajasthan; photo by BLDGBLOG].
In his new book Oblique Drawing, architectural historian Massimo Scolari refers in a footnote to a story that I have to assume is familiar to many readers, but one that was new to me, connecting architectural models to acts of espionage.
"A significant example [of this connection] is reported by Vasari in the case of the siege of Florence of 1529," Scolari explains.
During the night, Tribolo and an assistant secretly built an accurate relief model in cork, several meters wide, of the city and its fortifications. It was smuggled out of the besieged city in various pieces concealed inside bales of wool. This allowed the pope, aided by Baldassarre Peruzzi, to direct operations from a distance."Although the relief was made in the style of a pictorial view," Scolari adds, "it was considered evidence of espionage."
This cork model, meanwhile, conjures images from some as-yet-unwritten novel in which small, seemingly discontinuous models of a city are made in cork and then set floating down the river out of town; guards seeing the models float past simply assume some toymaker's cart has overturned upstream or that a careless woodshop has tossed its inventory into the river.
But these models are acts of war, to be assembled into a complete model later, and the spatial details they reveal are the vulnerabilities of the city.
[Image: Model of Jaisalmer; photo by BLDGBLOG].
Elsewhere, Scolari refers to other connections between spatial representations of the city and the possible military implications of those representations, once they reach their intended audience. He describes, for instance, "painter-spies who depicted the enemy's fortresses," under the guise of a leisurely aesthetic pursuit, and even Goethe once being forced to watched powerlessly as "local authorities" in Malcesine, Italy, "tore up the drawing he had made for his own pleasure of an abandoned castle." After all, they reasoned, it might have been a fortifications study, or what we might call structural espionage disguised as sketching.
Among many things here, what's interesting about all thisaside from the dizzying variety of possibilities that arise when thinking about a kind of alternative history of the architectural model as a tool for heists, espionage, assassination, and urban warfareis that this feared dual-use of architectural images is still alive and well today. We need look no further, for instance, than to often-illegitimate photography bans inside government buildings (or subways), or limits on cameras inside retail stores, or, in the case of my trip to India earlier this year from which the above photos come, a ban on taking photographs from a boat of the Mumbai harbor and even a nationwide ban on aerial photography that was only lifted back in 2004.
In all cases, images depicting architecture are seen not as representationally innocent parts of architectural history but, we might say, as warfare by other means. Indeed, one could easily imagine an entire wing of a spy museum somewhere consisting of nothing but declassified architectural models made with whatever raw materials were available at hand, assembled for no other purpose than to undercut the very spaces they aim to depict.
BLDGBLOG 11/12/2012 22:47[Image: Monumentalizing mismeasurement in Ecuador; photoby Meridith Kohut for the New York Times, courtesy of the New York Times].
At the end of her forthcoming book The Measure of Manhattan, author Marguerite Holloway refers to the impossibility of precisely locating, using today's GPS technology, the bolt left behind by surveyor John Randel, her book's subject, back in 1811 as he staked out Manhattan's future grid.
Being on the road right now, I don't have my copy of Holloway's book with me, so I won't be able to quote her book directly; instead, I will rely on the New York Times for some brief context. Randel spent "10 years staking out and marking the intersections from First Street to 155th Street with 1,549 three-foot-high marble monuments and, when the ground was too rocky, with 98 iron bolts secured by lead. (He had to resurvey 30 miles after vandals or disgruntled property owners removed the markers.)"
Manhattan at that time was thus, however briefly, a kind of game board or field of acupuncture pointsa ghost grid, in advance of the city it surveyedwith thousands of monuments and bolts pinning down the spots where streets and intersections would soon appear.
Holloway's concluding point, however, is that even something as real and tangible as Randel's iron bolts, anchored by lead into solid bedrock, nonetheless remain extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to map with objective accuracy. The earth slips outside of our satellites and survey systems, even if only by a fraction of a centimeter, always just beyond the promise of perfect measuring.
[Image: The grid arrives before the streets it surveys].
I thought of this recently when two quick stories popped up on my radar:
1) Down in Ecuador, a country named after the Equator that passes through it, a monument dividing the northern and southern hemispheres is, as it happens, in the wrong place:
Those who visit the Middle of the World, a government-owned park that pays tribute to the Equator, are not drawn by the trinket shops or cafes offering roasted guinea pig. They want to stand on a yellow line painted on the ground here that is said to be precisely at Earths midpoint0 degrees latitude, 0 minutes, 0 seconds.According to one person there, the ground conditions at the actual Equator are not stable enough to hold a monument nor to welcome the huge crowds that regularly arrive to see it; according to someone else, however, the monument's original builders "believed they were placing the monument in the correct spot, except that measuring techniques at the time were not as accurate as they are today, so they were off by a few hundred feet."
Except that it is not.
The Equator is hundreds of feet to the north.
This is why a private counter-monument has been built, supposedly on the real Equator, in a place called Inti-ñan: "just a two-minute drive from the Middle of the World, at a small, privately owned site called Inti-ñan, there is a sign on a gate saying that its location is 'calculated with GPS' to be exactly at 0 latitude." However, as we glimpsed with the help of Marguerite Holloway, commercially available GPS is not as precise as most people believe it to be, and it is subject to its own asynchronies and drifts. (For those of you interested in the political implications of inaccurate mapping technologies, amongst other things, be sure to keep a look out for Laura Kurgan's Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics this coming spring).
[Image: From Laura Kurgan's You Are Here: Information Drift, 1994].
As such, we read, even nominally accurate GPS readings at Inti-ñan actually "varied depending on how devices were calibrated. That, [a local guide] said, was why, on this occasion, a visitor's GPS held over the line of bricks that Inti-ñan uses to mark its claim to equatorial exactitude showed that it was still several yards to the south of where it ought to be."
Passing their GPS receivers over the monument like dowsing rods or geodetic ghost detectors, these tourists of the world-system would thus realize, again and again, that they both were and were not standing in the wrong place, both arriving at and never quite reaching their destination.
2) The south pole is also adrift, surrounded by rings of obsolete monuments. Indeed, "in Antarctica, 'X' never really marks the spot."
In a recent piece for the Guardian, Frances Stonor Saunders explains that "the south pole doesn't stay still."
It drifts at a rate of about 10 metres a year, and because of the Earth's axial tilt... it also wobbles. Every New Year's Day, the pole's marker is moved to indicate its new position, though in the time it takes to drive the marker into the ice-pack the pole has already shifted slightly.In fact, Saunders points out, "There are other poles on Antarctica, and they too move around, pursued by scientists with their markers."
There's the pole of inaccessibility, for the greatest distance from a coast; the cold pole, for the most frigid place; the pole of variability, for the spot with the greatest range in atmospheric pressure. The most (upwardly) mobile is the south magnetic pole, which has moved over 500 miles north-west since its discovery by members of Shackleton's Nimrod expedition more than a century ago.All these lines and tropics, equators and poles, passing back and forth over the fallible monuments that mark them, as entire planet-spanning systems of measurement and location miss their marks by inches, feet, kilometers, degrees, momentarily accurate but almost always wrong.
(Antarctica story spotted via @nicolatwilley).
BLDGBLOG 06/12/2012 16:01The New York Times this morning profiles a plant pathologist at Washington State University named Gary Chastagner, who "heads one of the nations half-dozen Christmas tree research labs." These labs include institutions such as WSU-Puyallup (producing "research-based information that creates a high-quality Christmas tree product for consumers"), New Mexico State University ("screening provenances of many native and non-native commercial Christmas tree species"), NC State (whose research includes "support on agritourism aspects of Christmas tree farms," as well as a related Christmas Tree Genetics Program), and many more.
[Images: Photos by Randy Harris for the New York Times, courtesy of the New York Times].
While I realize there is absolutely no connection here, and that this is purely and only an example of conceptual confusion, I will admit that there was initially something of an odd thrill in reading about "Christmas Tree Genetics," as two ideas briefly and incorrectly overlapped: the Christian doctrine of transubstantiation (or the belief that the body and blood of Christ appears, literally, in physical form here on Earth, through the transformation of everyday materials such as bread and wine... and Christmas trees?) and the European-druidic worship of various tree species, thus implying, as if from some strange theo-botanical forestry program, the genetic modification and/or enhancement over time of new holy tree species, with iconic and sacramental trans-subtantial holiday forests cultivated on research farms throughout the United States.
In any case, this national Christmas tree research program includes apparently extreme steps that almost seem to justify such an otherwise misbegotten interpretation, including "the largest and most sophisticated of operations," as described by the New York Times, where scientists "harvest almost a million trees a year from an 8,500-acre plantation and remove them by helicopter" for analysis elsewhere, and a brief experiment that tested "whether you can successfully hydrate a Christmas tree with an IV drip," like some arboreal patient seeking hospice from an ecosystem that betrayed it. You could probably soon get an M.S. in Christmas Tree Science.
The goal is to develop new and improved tree species for both indoor and outdoor display during the holiday season, and, along the way, to create a tree that can last weekseven monthsin a post-mortem state without shedding its needles.
These ever more clean and tidy trees can thus pop-up in houses, retail displays, shopping malls, outdoor plazas, and Catholic high schools around the world, forming new "migratory forests," in the words of architect Sam Jacob, that take up residencebut not rootin our cities once a year before retreating, in wait, for the next season.
This vision of a pop-up forestan instant indoor ecosystem of genetically perfected, not-quite-trans-substantial tree speciesbrings to mind a different kind of pop-up forest, one that I wrote about for the most recent "year in ideas" issue of Wired UK.
[Image: From Wired UK's "World in 2013" issue, courtesy of Wired UK].
That all too brief piece looks ahead to an age of "insurgent shrublands," disturbed landscapes, and other "fast-emerging but short-lived ecosystems in an era of nonlinear climate change." It refers to work by, amongst others, Natalie Boelman and Kevin Griffin, who are currently pursuing otherwise unrelated work at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, and science writer Andrew Revkin; and it covers a variety of ideas, from the changing soundscapes of the Arctic as the rapidly defrosting polar north fills up with new, invasive bird songs, to the increased likelihood of tree-branch collapse as certain speciessuch as oakgrow much faster in polluted urban atmospheres.
In this context, the idea of a "pop-up forest" takes on a different, altogether less celebratory meaning.
[Image: From Wired UK's "World in 2013" issue, courtesy of Wired UK].
You can read the pieceas well as one by Ferris Jabr on electricity-generating bacteria and a short article by Jeremy Kingsley on open-source constructionhere.
BLDGBLOG 04/12/2012 22:23[Image: Laser-scanning King Tut's tomb, courtesy of the Factum Foundation].
On the 90th anniversary of the discovery of King Tut's tomb, an "authorized facsimile of the burial chamber" has been created, complete "with sarcophagus, sarcophagus lid and the missing fragment from the south wall."
The resulting duplicate, created with the help of high-res cameras and lasers, is "an exact facsimile of the burial chamber," one that is now "being sent to Cairo by The Ministry of Tourism of Egypt."
[Image: Laser-scanning King Tut's tomb, courtesy of the Factum Foundation].
This act of architectural replication-at-a-distance has been described in a fascinating bookletfrom which these quotations comejust released by the Factum Foundation as an extreme act of conservation, "a new initiative to safeguard this and other [Egyptian] tombs... through the application of new recording technologies and the creation of exact facsimiles of tombs that are either closed to the public for conservation reasons or are in need of closure to preserve them for future generations."
[Image: Laser-scanning King Tut's tomb, courtesy of the Factum Foundation].
Assembling the back-up tomb took place further south, in Luxor, requiring a step-by-step process. Laser-equipped conservationists first had "to digitize the tombs, archive and transform the data and then re-materialize the information in three dimensions at a scale of 1:1."
[Image: Routing tomb details into polyurethane, courtesy of the Factum Foundation].
And it's quite a meticulous process.
The booklet both describes and visually documents the time and attention that went into everything from milling minute details into polyurethane sheets to printing full-color replica wall images onto "a thin flexible ink-jet ground backed with an acrylic gesso and then an elastic acrylic support... built in seven layers [that are then] rolled onto a slightly textured silicon mold" that serves as the artificial tomb walls.
Even that skips the thousands of hours devoted purely to laser-scanning.
[Image: One of the scanning set-ups used to "record" the tombs, courtesy of the Factum Foundation].
Taken all together, this has proven, the Foundation explains, "that it is possible, through the use of digital technology, to record the surfaces and structure of the tombs in astonishing detail and reproduce it physically in three dimensions without significant loss of information."
Interestingly, we read that this was "done under a licence to the University of Basel," which implies the very real possibility that unlicensed duplicate rooms might also someday be producedthat is, pirate interiors ripped or printed from the original data set, like building-scale "physibles," a kind of infringed architecture of object torrents taking shape as inhabitable rooms.
However, equally interesting is something else the project documentation mentions: that every historical monumentevery tomb, artifact, or even outdoor spacecomes with "specific recording challenges," and these challenges include things like humidity, temperature, and dust. This, then, further implies that the resulting "exact replicas" could very well include what we would, in other contexts, refer to as render glitches, or simply representational mistakes built into the final product due to flaws of accuracy in the equipment used to produce it.
As such, given enough time, a huge budget, and lots of interns, we could perhaps expect to see a series of these "exact" copies gradually diverge more and morea detail here, a detail therefrom the original reference space, a chain of inexact repetitions and flawed surrogates that eventually come to define their own architecture, with, we can imagine, no recognizable original in sight.
[Image: Printing the facsimile, courtesy of the Factum Foundation].
This story of King Tut's duplicate tomb brings to mindamongst other things, including multiple complete replicas of the prehistoric cave paintings at Lascauxa collection of 3D-printed cuneiform texts at the Cornell Creative Machines Lab.
For that project, professors Hod Lipson and David I. Owen "had the idea of implementing 3D scanning and 3D printing technology to create physical replicas of the tablets [using ZCorp powder-based ink-jet printers] that look and feel almost exactly like the originals."
[Image: 3D-printed replicant cuneiform tablets by Hod Lipson and David Owen at the Cornell Creative Machines Lab].
The idea is that, with the right networks of scanners and printers, as well as curatorial access to museum collections around the world, perhaps we might be able to reproduce, more or less at will, otherwise unique historical objects. We could download ancient stone tools, for instance, print out a quick wall fragment to use in a lecture, or sew together expertly aged carpets and clothes.
Why go to a museum at all, then, when you can simply buy the right printhead?
The nature of how we might encounter historical objects in an era of near-exact 3D recording technologiesthat is, that such objects might not be encountered at all, having long ago been replaced by "authorized facsimiles"returns, in many ways, to an earlier mode of object conservation and inheritance.
In their book Anachronic Renaissance, for instance, Alexander Nagel and Christopher Wood write of what they call a long "chain of effective substitutions" or "effective surrogates for lost originals" that nonetheless reached the value and status of an icon in medieval Europe. "[O]ne might know that [these objects] were fabricated in the present or in the recent past," Nagel and Wood write, "but at the same time value them and use them as if they were very old things." They call this seeing in "substitutional terms":
To perceive an artifact in substitutional terms was to understand it as belonging to more than one historical moment simultaneou
BLDGBLOG 03/12/2012 03:31For anyone in or near Los Angeles next weekend, consider stopping by Foodprint L.A., hosted at LACMA.
[Image: A robot strawberry harvester, courtesy of Robotic Harvesting LLC].
There are two things to attend. The first is a ticketed walking tour, which kicks off on Saturday, December 8th, at 1pm; it will be led by indefatigable design writer Alissa Walker: "En route, well check out the roasting equipment at LAs celebrated Handsome Coffee, explore the inside of West Central Produces state-of-the-art banana-ripening facilities, preview a future Ferry Building-style food market, and more."
Those banana-ripening rooms alone deserve an exclamation point, as Edible Geography's write-up of an earlier such tripalbeit to a facility here in New Yorkmakes clear. In Nicola's highly-recommended exploration of what she calls the "vast, distributed artificial winter that has reshaped our entire food system" and that "remains," she says, "for the most part, unmapped," we read that banana-ripening rooms are "a specialized architecture of pressurized, temperature- and atmosphere-controlled rooms that, contrary to logical expectation, require heavy-duty refrigeration." As such, they are a kind of spatio-thermal fantasy straight out of the work of architect Philippe Rahm.
[Image: A banana-ripening room photographed by Nicola Twilley, via Cabinet Magazine].
Get your tickets here and hopefully we'll see you at 1pm on Saturday for what should be a fantastic afternoon.
The second half of Foodprint L.A. is also the main focus, a free day of panel discussions and public Q&As, centered around food and the landscape of greater Los Angeles, from water to waste, synthetic biology to robotically-harvested strawberries:Until the 1950s, Los Angeles County was the top agricultural county in the United States; now, it has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the nation. With the Los Angeles Food Policy Council approaching its second birthday, the timing is perfect for a truly cross-disciplinary discussion that explores the past, present, and future of food and the city. Foodprint L.A. panelists will explore the forces that have shaped the Angeleno foodscapefrom taco trucks to the world's largest Frito factory and the eviction of South Central Farmand speculate on how to feed Los Angeles in the future.As usual, this installment of Foodprint features four panels: Feast, Famine, and Other Scenarios (moderated by Alexis Madrigal); Edible Archaeology (moderated by Sarah Rich); Culinary Cartography (moderated by Nicola Twilley); and Zoning Diet (moderated by myself, of all people).
[Image: Courtesy of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council].
This daylong series of panels is free and open to the public, and it includes everything from paleofuturism and the future of cheese, to variant apples and global appetites. Hope to see you thereand feel free to browse the ever-expanding Foodprint event archive to find out more, or pick up a copy of the newly released Foodprint Papers, Volume 1.
BLDGBLOG 30/11/2012 19:28[Image: An otherwise only conceptually related photo by Steve Rowell shows the LAPD's Edward M. Davis Emergency Vehicle Operations Center & Tactics/Firearms Training Facility in Granada Hills, CA; courtesy of the Center for Land Use Intrepretation].
I was fascinated to read yesterday that a cyberwarfare training city is under construction, to be opened by March 2013, "a small-scale city located close by the New Jersey Turnpike complete with a bank, hospital, water tower, train system, electric power grid, and a coffee shop."
I envisioned whole empty streets and bank towerssuburban houses and replica transportation depotssitting there in the rain whilst troops of code-wielding warriors hurl electromagnetic spells from laptops against elevator circuit boards, sump pumps, and garage doors, flooding basements, popping open underground gold vaults, and frying traffic lights, like some gonzo version of The Italian Job wed with the digital wizardry of a new sorcerer class, the "first-line cyber defenders" who will be trained in this place, our 21st-century Hogwarts along the freeway. Then they clean it all and start again tomorrow.
Alas. Although this, in many ways, is even more interesting, the entire "test city" truly is miniature: indeed, the whole thing "fits in a six by eight foot area and was created using miniature buildings and houses, [and] the underlying power control systems, hospital software, and other infrastructures are directly from the real world."
Nonetheless, this 6-x-8 surrogate urban world will be under near-constant microcosmic attack: "NetWars CyberCity participants, which include cyber warriors from the Department of Defense and other defenders within the U.S. Government, will be tasked with protecting the city's critical infrastructure and systems as they come under attack. Cyber warriors will be presented with potential real-world attacks; their job is to defend against them. Missions will include fending off attacks on the city's power company, hospital, water system and transportation services."
Which means, in the end, that this is really just an enlarged board game with an eye-catching press releasebut there is still something compelling about the notion of an anointed patch of circuits and wifi routers, accepted as an adequate stand-inan electromagnetic stunt doublefor something like all of New York City, let alone the United States. A voodoo doll made of light, animated from within by packet switches, under constant surveillance in an invisible war.
BLDGBLOG 27/11/2012 17:32There are at least two events tonight, Tuesday, November 27th, that are worth stopping by if you're in New York.
[Image: "Salvage Architecture" by production designer Paul Lasaine from Matt Bua and Maximilian Goldfarb's Drawing Building archive].
While I will be busy co-hosting a book release party for Matt Bua and Maximilian Goldfarbwho just published a collection of images from their Drawing Building online archive of "works that convey architectural alternatives, by-products, expansions, or critiques of our inhabited environments"at Studio-X NYC, 180 Varick Street, Suite 1610, at 7pm, I also wanted to post a quick note that there is an interesting sonic event happening nearby, at 291 Church Street, for a new project by Marc Weidenbaum's Disquiet Junto exploring the sonic universe of retail sounds.
Weidenbaum is a highly prolific, Bay Area-based collaborative producer of always surprising music, sound, and noise projects, including a soundtrack for the city of Lisbon and Instagr/am/bient, which produced "25 sonic postcards" inspired by musicians' images on Instragram.
Tonight's eventpart of an exhibition curated by Rob Walker called As Real As It Getswill be "an exercise in sonic branding," as the participating musicians "will gather to perform speculative sound works that employ as source material documentary audio from retail establishments." Each "will present imagined soundscapes inspired by Émile Zola's characterization of the department store, in his novel The Ladies' Paradise, as 'a machine working at high pressure.'" (Read an interview with Weidenbaum about the project at the Free Music Archive or Rob Walker's essay on the project, "Listening to Retail").
Retail soundscapes will buzz, hum, and sing starting at 6:30pm at 291 Church Street, and, a half-hour later, up the street at 180 Varick Street, Suite 1610, we'll be kicking things off with Matt Bua and Maximilian Goldfarb. Stop by both if you can.