BLDGBLOG 25/08/2012 20:01[Image: From "Landscape Abbreviated" by Nova Jiang].
"Landscape Abbreviated" by Chinese-born, New York-based artist Nova Jiang is "a garden that is simultaneously a machine." It is an algorithmically controlled "kinetic maze"a different kind of switching labyrinth"that periodically generates new pathways for the viewers to follow."
The resulting landscape, Jiang explains, is controlled by "a software program that continuously generates new maze patterns based on mathematical rules; they rotate to form shifting pathways that encourage visitors to change direction and viewpoints as they move through the space." In a sense, they are landscape turnstiles, blocking or enabling pedestrian movement.
[Image: From "Landscape Abbreviated" by Nova Jiang].
Individual rotating "modules" in the animated landscape have been "planted with moss gathered from backyards, sidewalks and subway grates around New York," we read, and, although the project is, for now, confined to a gallery space, the artist hopes to produce a larger, more robust outdoor version, perhaps even at the urban scale, imagining it "taking over a town square somewhere, where the inhabitants wake up each morning to find a new pathway for them to explore."
[Images: From "Landscape Abbreviated" by Nova Jiang].
The photos shown here give only a relative sense for the landscape's machinations in small-scale, but a short video is also available on Jiang's website.
BLDGBLOG 11/08/2012 20:55[Image: Aerial photo of the roundhouses site, courtesy of Network Rail].
Another short piece from Archaeology this month highlights the discovery, earlier this year, of the remains of railway "roundhouses" outside York, England. Sadly, they'll soon be covered over by new construction: "Archaeologists are working to record and preserve the site, which is still called by its nineteenth-century name, 'The Engineers' Triangle,' before the new buildings are erected on top of the roundhouses."
It would be a fascinating design challenge to incorporate the oddly shaped foundations into the plans or local street pattern of any future construction, evenor perhaps especiallyif the resulting building is not itself circular. Inside, strangely nested curved rooms, ramps, and corridors corkscrew down to the basement, where, embedded in the ground like a mandala, are the unexplained stained bricks of an earlier industrial era, still influencing the movements of people above.
BLDGBLOG 11/08/2012 20:40The previous post reminded me of a site I've meant to post about literally for years now, ever since first reading about it in Michael Welland's book Sand.
[Images: Sand mines, via Michael Welland's excellent blog Through the Sandglass].
Toward the end of his book, Welland points out the role sand plays in the making of concreteand, of course, the role concrete plays in the making of a city like New York. But where, he asks, did all the sand that made the concrete that made Manhattan actually come from?
"In 1865," we read, "mining began on the northern shore of Long Island to collect sand washed out from retreating ice age glaciers."
Immigrant workers from Europe, many from Sardinia, first hauled sand with wheelbarrows; the excavations grew with mechanization, and eventually the cliffs and the landscape were leveled. Port Washington was the center of the business, as endless convoys of barges carried the sand to Manhattan. The last sandpit closed in the 1990s, by which time more than 200 million tons of sand had been excavated to build the citybridges, highways, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and the World Trade Center.As the New York Times reported back in 2008, a "monument honoring the sand mining industry" has since been erected in Port Washington, from whence more than 140 million tons of sand were excavated. There is still one open tunnel there, as well as "the remains of a conveyor," in the landscapewhich has since been turned into a golf course. Historic photos of the site in its sand-mining heyday are pretty incredible.
A helpful website exists, meanwhile, courtesy of the Port Washington Public Library, offering a wide swath of resources about "the geography and geology of the sandmines; the machines used by the sandminers; occupational culture and folklife; immigration history; recreational activities in the sandbanks; sand company enterprises; and the accidents and disasters that befell the sandminers and scow captains who transported raw materials to New York City and beyond." Anyone with an interest in landscapes of dredge would do well to take a read through the site's many transcripts and oral histories with former sand miners.
(Earlier on BLDGBLOG: New York Quarry].
BLDGBLOG 11/08/2012 20:08[Image: Geologist Earle McBride's microscopic images of war sand on the beaches of Normandy].
A short piece in the September/October 2012 issue of Archaeology magazine highlights the presence of spherical magnetic shardsremnants of the D-Day operations of World War IIfound hidden amongst natural sand grains on the beaches of Normandy. "Up to 4 percent of the sand is made up of this shrapnel," the article states; however, "waves, storms, and rust will probably wipe this microscopic archaeology from the coast in another hundred years."
This is not a new discovery, of course. In Michael Welland's book Sand, often cited here on BLDGBLOG, we read that, "on Normandy beaches where D-Day landings took place, you will find sand-sized fragments of steel"an artificial landscape of eroded machines still detectable, albeit with specialty instruments, in the coastal dunes.
I'm reminded of a line from The Earth After Us: What Legacy Will Humans Leave in the Rocks?, a speculative look by geologist Jan Zalasiewicz at the remains of human civilization 100 million years from now. There, we read that "skyscrapers and semi-detached houses alike, roads and railway lines, will be reduced to sand and pebbles, and strewn as glistening and barely recognizable relics along the shoreline of the future."
The oddly shaped magnetic remains of World War II are thus a good indication of how our cities might appear after humans have long departed.
BLDGBLOG 07/08/2012 19:05Speaking of sailing and the city, Studio-X NYC will host the Dredge Research Collaborative's inaugural DredgeFest symposium and NYC harbor boat tour next month.
[Image: Beach replenishment, Rockaway Beach, New York; photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers].
DredgeFest will take place over two daysSeptember 28 and 29and it will be "a symposium about the human acceleration of sediments, and the technologies and techniques weve invented [to] manage it."
DredgeFest SymposiumThe boat tour, in particular, is not to be missed:
Friday, 28 September 2012: 1pm-6pm
Studio-X NYC, 180 Varick St, Suite 1610 | Free and open to the public
DredgeFest Harbor Tour
Saturday, 29 September 2012: 1pm-6pm
Limited seating | Buy your tickets before September 6th at $34 (regular price $45)
On Saturday, September 29th, the Dredge Research Collaborative (and Studio-X NYC) will lead a boat tour of New York City's dredged landscapewith live commentary from the US Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service. Well see active dredging going on in the Ambrose Channel, which is being deepened to prepare for the opening of the Panama Canal Expansion, beach replenishment at Plumb Beach, and the rebuilding of marshy islands in Jamaica Bay, which had nearly eroded entirely over the past century.More information, including a great list of speakers for the symposium on September 28, is available at the DredgeFest website. Hope to see some of you there.
The tour will be a heady mixture of light architectural theory, expert observations and heavy machinery, aimed at anyone and everyone who is not only interested in understanding the role of dredge in the functioning of New York, but seeing dredge in action. If you are at all curious about how New York's shoreline became what it isor what it will become in the futureyou should come along.
BLDGBLOG 07/08/2012 18:41[Image: An otherwise unrelated engraving of ships in London by William Miller (1832)].
Last week, we looked at the new book London Under by Peter Ackroyd, a very readable, if not quite path-breaking, introduction to the world beneath the streets of London. Roughly halfway through, while describing the Islington tunnel, Ackroyd makes a brief comment that seems worth repeating here.
The Islington tunnel, which is open to tours, is explorable, Ackroyd explains, by means of a very long boat that takes you beneath the sidewalks, heading up-river into darkness. "The voyage takes approximately twenty minutes," he specifies, "during which the voyager, on a barge or a small boat, has the uncanny sensation of sailing beneath the city."
Sailing beneath the city! With the sense of an urban legend, someone lost on a skiff amidst the roots of churches and skyscrapers, passing through the domes and arches of an inland sea, fishing in cisterns, forever unable to dock, forgotten, ageless, and afloat on buried rivers.
BLDGBLOG 07/08/2012 17:18In an earlier post today, the idea of tuned rocks in a tumbler came upwhich reminded me that musician and sound artist Akio Suzuki, known for, amongst other things, his extraordinary found-rock flutes and other handheld accidental instruments, will be performing in Brooklyn next month at the ISSUE Project Room.
Suzuki "will perform on a range of unique instruments including an iwabue, the ancient stone flute passed down through his family for many generations, and the analapos, an instrument he invented in the 1970s that creates echoes through the acoustic transmissions of a spiral cord stretched between two metal cylinders." Performing with Suzuki on Thursday, September 27th, will be Otomo Yoshihide and Gozo Yoshimasu.
(Akio Suzuki previously mentioned here. Thanks to Carlos Solis for the tip!)
BLDGBLOG 07/08/2012 16:50[Image: Field Studies 2012 runs 10-13 September 2012 in London].
Field Studies 2012 kicks off next month in London. Previously covered on BLDGBLOG here, Field Studieswhose website unfortunately auto-plays sound"is a four-day summer-school led by three acclaimed sound artists and composers. It explores the possibilities of engaging with places through listening, and working with recorded sound as a creative and practical tool in the context of architecture, the city and art practice."
Placing the following questions into an architectural or urban context seems incredibly promising: "How do you notate and communicate sounds? How can listening exercises and recorded sound complement the more established creative repertory of writing, drafting and sketching, or taking photographs? How can something that is ephemeral, and ever-changing, meaningfully inform the making of things that have permanence?"
Visiting faculty and lecturers this year include Brandon LaBelle, Lee Patterson, Davide Tidoni, Helen Frosi, Joseph Kohlmaier, and Christina Kubisch.
Find out more info, including fees and eligibility, at the Field Studies website.
BLDGBLOG 07/08/2012 16:30[Image: Outside the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, London; all photos by BLDGBLOG].
Before leaving London last week, I learned that the Whitechapel Bell Foundry was offering walk-in tours for the duration of the Olympics, so Nicola Twilley and I headed out to seeand hearwhat was on offer.
[Image: Inside the Whitechapel Bell Foundry].
I'd say, first off, that the tour is well worth it and that, while the Foundry is always open for tours, everyone on hand to help us along the self-guided tour seemed genuinely pleased to have members of the public coming through. Second of all, if you have any interest at all in the relationship between cities and acousticssay, the influence of bells on neighborhood identity or the subtle differences in city soundscapes based on different profiles moulded into church bellsthen it's a fabulous way to spend the afternoon.
We were there for nearly two hours, but I still felt like we were rushing.
[Image: Bell-making tools at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry].
In any case, the Foundry bills itself, and is apparently recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, as the oldest manufacturing company in Britain. They made Big Ben; they forged the first Liberty Bell; they created, albeit off-site, the absolutely massive 23-ton 2012 Olympic Bell; and, among thousands of other, less well-known projects, they even made the famed Bow bells whose ringing defines London's Cockney stomping ground.
[Image: The ingredients of loam].
The self-guided tour took us from buckets of loam, used to shape the earthen moulds into which "bell metal" (an alloy of copper and tin) is later poured during casting, all the way to the mind-blowing final sight and sound of the bell-tuning station.
Here are some quick photos, then I'll come back to the tuning process.
[Images: Interior of the Foundry, plus some of the casting/pouring equipment. In the bottom two images, the frames visible on the back wall were used to cast, from left to right, Big Ben; the original Liberty Bell; the Bow bells; the enormous 2012 Olympic Bell; and another bell, on the far right, that I unfortunately don't remember].
The next sequence shows the casting of hand bells. We were basically in the right place at the right time to see this process, as the gentleman picturedwhose denim vest had written on it in black marker, "I'm not mad, I'm mental, HA! HA! HA!"pulled apart the suitcase-like casting frame seen in these photos to reveal gorgeously bright golden bells sitting silently inside.
Using powder, almost like something you'd use to sugar a cake, and an air-hose, he removed the bells from their loamy matrix and got the frame ready for another use.
[Image: The bells are revealed and powdered].
The whole thing was a kind of infernal combination of kilns and liquid metal, soundtracked by the sharp metallic ring of bells resonating in the background.
As the origin site for urban instrumentsacoustic ornaments worn by the city's architecture to supply a clockwork soundtrack that bangs and echoes over rooftopsthe Foundry had the strange feel of being both an antique crafts workshop of endangered expertise (kept afloat almost entirely by commissions from churches) and a place of stunning, almost futuristic, design foresight.
In other words, the acoustic design of the citysomething that isn't even on the agenda of architecture schools today, considered, I suppose, too hard to model with Rhinowas taking place right there, and had been for centuries, in the form of vast ovens and casting frames out of which emerge the instrumentsshining bellsthat so resonantly redefine the experience of the modern metropolis.
So that brings us to the final stage of the Foundry tour, which was the tuning station.
[Images: Tuning a bell; note the shining flecks of metal on the floor, which have been scraped out of the bell in order to tune it. "Tuning" is thus a kind of mass reduction, or reductive sculpting].
Assuming I remembered this correctly, modern bells are tuned by having tiny bits of metalmere flecks at a timescraped or cut away from the inside. This produces an incredible texture of bright, polished grooves incised directly, even violently, into the metal; the visual effect is absolutely magical.
[Image: The grooved interior of a recently tuned bell; in the bottom image, note the word "tenor" written on the bell's inner rim].
Even better, while these massive bells are rotating anti-clockwise on their turning plates, having their insides scraped away, they are actually ringing!
Deep below the abrasive droning roar of the bell turning you can make out the resonant tone of the bell itself. The effect was like listening to tuned rocks falling endlessly in a tumbler, polished into acoustically more beautiful versions of themselves. This process alone could make a new instrument: a full orchestra of bell-tuning stations, as if mining shaped metals for their sounds.
Finally, then, the tuning process is controlled by one of three ways, often used in combination. One uses software; you ban
BLDGBLOG 06/08/2012 16:10Two Studio-X network events that might be of interest this week:
For those of you in or near Mumbai, India, on Friday, August 10th, architect and "aerospace entrepreneur" Susmita Mohantypreviously seen on BLDGBLOG herewill be discussing the design possibilities for architecture in lunar environments. The talk takes place at Studio-X Mumbai, it starts at 6:30pm, and it can be found at Kitab Mahal, 192 D.N. Road, Fort, Mumbai 400001.
Back here in New York, meanwhile, on Saturday, August 11th, Matthew Coolidge, director of the Center for Land Use Interpretation, will present his recent (and ongoing) research into the landscape infrastructures of the Meadowlands. Some of you might remember this post on the Meadowlands from two summers ago; if not, it's a good starting point to pique your curiosity before Coolidge's talk.
Coolidge will show a "slideshow safari into the industrial swamps of the Meadowlands... a superlative antipode to the great urban spaces that surround it," at Studio-X NYC, 180 Varick Street, Suite 1610, 16th floor, kicking off at 7:30pm. Free and open to the public; no RSVP required.