BLDGBLOG 12/04/2013 18:16[Image: Via the Extreme Environments & Future Landscapes program].
Returning briefly to the theme of landscape devicesparticularly in the run-up to the launch of Landscape FuturesI thought I'd post a quick look at a trip to the Arctic island of Svalbard last autumn led by David Garcia with students from the University of Lund School of Architecture.
As part of Lund's Extreme Environments & Future Landscapes program, students flew up to visit "the far north, beyond the Polar Circle, to Svalbard, to study the growing communities affected by the melting ice cap and the large opportunities for transportation and resources that the northeast passage now offers."
[Image: Via the Extreme Environments & Future Landscapes program].
There, the students would also research first-hand the performance of "urban structures in the extreme cold."
[Images: From a series of "light beacon studies" by Marta Nestorov].
However, Garcia adds, during their time in the extreme environment of the north, the group also "tested and probed the surroundings with surveying equipment designed and built for the expedition, at urban and natural landscapes, from -30 degrees Celsius to overcast blackout weather."
[Image: An instrument for analyzing "perception and interpretation of the aurora borealis" by Christopher Erdman].
Some of that equipment is pictured here, ranging from a colorful audio device "used for testing sound absorption properties of snow" to a kind of portable oven meant for testing the thermal-insulation qualities of "ice tiles" that might someday be used in constructing frozen architecture.
[Image: Device "for testing sound absorption qualities of snow," by Milja Lindberg and Liina Pikk].
For their test of the acoustic properties of snow, for example, using tripods seen in the above photo, students Milja Lindberg and Liina Pikk designed an experiment that would operate "by transmitting sound onto snow and reflecting it to a receiver":
The device consists of three parts. A blue transmitter tube (Ø 60mm) sends focused sound frequencies through a speaker fitted at one end of the tube. A red receiver tube 20mm wider in diameter picks up sound waves reflected from the snow test bed. Both tubes are connected to tripods with an angle adjuster that works as a protractor to set the right angle. This piece also connects two lasers on top of the tubes. The lasers meet in the middle of the snow test bed.[Images: The aforementioned device "used for testing sound absorption qualities of snow," by Milja Lindberg and Liina Pikk].
The accompanying pink & lavender light show lent a strangely theatrical air to the operationperhaps also inadvertently revealing the possibility of designing "architecture" in snow-intensive environments using nothing but colored light.
[Images: A device for performing "biomimicry of polar plants" by Clemens Hochreiter].
Clemens Hochreiter's installation for studying the "biomimicry of polar plants," meanwhile, was an attempt to reproduce the shapes of Arctic flowers in small translucent shells, in order to testif I've understood this correctlywhat architectural shapes might be most useful in future greenhouse design.
Hochreiter hoped to "clarify if it [is] possible to improve the microclimate within the flower shaped volumes by using transparent, translucent, light absorbing or light reflecting materials."
[Image: Device for studying the "insulation properties and light transmission" of ice tiles, by Daniela Miller].
Continuing to move through the projects relatively quickly, we come to Daniela Miller's study, pictured above, which seems to be one of the more practical investigations of the bunch. Miller's goal was to analyze the ability of specially made "ice tiles" to insulate against heat loss as well as to transmit light.
[Images: Ice tiles by Daniela Miller].
"The tiles are produced in different thicknesses," Miller explains, "and some of them encase different kinds of material. Using a heat source within the box, the insulation properties of the tiles can be measured with a thermometer. The other series of studies deals with the translucency of the tiles. A light source is placed inside the box and the light intensity and quality crossing through the tile can be measured with a luxmeter."
The "different ice and snow plates were produced by use of a mould system," she adds, and each tile was subsequently "registered and analyzed to quantify the most relevant data"; this was all part of her attempt to explore "the potential of benefiting from ice and snow in architecture."
BLDGBLOG 12/04/2013 05:25[Image: Photo by Ravell Call, Deseret News, courtesy of KSL].
Utah's Bingham Canyon Mine, one of the largest active copper mines in the world, had a massive landslide last night, which makes for quite an extraordinary coppery blur against the orderly terraced geometry of the hole itself.
[Images: Photos by Ravell Call, Deseret News, courtesy of KSL].
"The copper-mining company [Kennecott] was aware of the impending slide ," local news station KSL reports, "and had warned residents near the mine Wednesday that a slide was possible any day."
Kennecott engineers had been detecting ground movement as far back as February. At the time, the movement amounted to just fractions of an inch, but it was enough for the company to close and relocate the mine's visitors center. "This is something that we had anticipated," [a company spokesperson] said of the slide. "We knew the slide was imminent. We had relocated machinery, we had rerouted roads, we had rerouted utilities, we had rerouted buildings."But the ground had faster plans, and it rerouted the roads itself.
[Image: Photo by Ravell Call, Deseret News, courtesy of KSL].
Oddly enough, the Bingham Pit, as it's colloquially known, was the subject of one of the earliest posts on BLDGBLOG, as well as a recurring site of visual investigation in the work of photographer David Maisel. "These sites are the contemplative gardens of our time," Maisel writes, "places that offer the opportunity to reflect on who and what we are collectively, as a society."
It is an absolutely amazing landform perhaps made all the more otherworldly by the Herculean levels of terrestrial obliteration its creation required: planetary resurfacing performed on a jaw-dropping scale.
[Image: An aerial photo of the Bingham Canyon Mine, Utah, by David Maisel].
Last night's landslide only adds to its terrestrial interest, giving us hints of what fate might ultimately befall all the many mines, flattened mountains, hydroelectric dams, and other gigantic acts of human industryopen wounds, lasting far longer than citiesthat currently surround us.
[Image: Photo by Ravell Call, Deseret News, courtesy of KSL].
After all, even our deepest mines will erase themselves, buried in flash floods of rock, carrying nearby architecture, roads, and all memories of themselves along with them.
(Bingham landslide photos originally spotted via Chris Rowan).
BLDGBLOG 11/04/2013 19:38New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority has released some new shots by photographer Patrick Cashin of the so-called "86th Street cavern," through which the future 2nd Avenue subway will someday travel.
[Image: Inside the "86th Street cavern"; photo by Patrick Cashin. View larger!]
The artificial caves are roughly 100 feet below street level. Quoting from a now-subscriber only article originally published back in 2009 in the trade journal New Civil Engineer, Wikipedia offers a glimpse of the difficulties: "Of the below-ground obstacles, Arup director of construction David Caiden says: 'Its a spaghetti of tunnels, utilities, pipes and cablesIve never seen anything like it.' Additionally, the project must go over, or under, subway lines, Amtrak railway lines, and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel linking Manhattan and Queens." It's woven through the city like a carpet.
[Image: Photo by Patrick Cashin].
It's extraordinary, though, to see how easy it is to forget that, when walking up and down stairs inside subway stations, you're actually walking around inside a series of relatively dark and irregular caverns
[Image: Photo by Patrick Cashin].
their walls and ceilings seemingly held in place only by an acupuncture of rock bolts, a monochrome world of uneven geologies smoothed over by shotcrete and disguised by tile.
[Images: Photos by Patrick Cashin].
I bookmarked an old article that seems relevant here, especially in light of the next image, that the tunnels had been "blessed"made holyby a Catholic priest back in August 2012. In a short article written with suitablyif obviousDantean undertones, we read that "the priest, Rev. Kazimierz Kowalski of the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel on East 90th Street in Manhattan, stepped over rocks into a small clearing away from the shaft to be clear of falling objects. And there he began to pray, blessing the underground cavity where the Second Avenue subway tunnel is taking shape."
[Image: Photo by Patrick Cashin].
Fascinatingly, he then made architectural reference to the urban work of laying down this subterranean layer of the city: "Reading from a letter of Paul to the Corinthians, he added, 'For no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely our Lord'," something I quote not out of theological advocacy but for the interest of a possible religious connection between mining out "a spaghetti of tunnels, utilities, pipes and cables" beneath New York City and the establishment of a metaphoric "foundation" upon which a future city might sit. Tunneling, we might say in this specific and limited context, is God's work, the subway system secretly a consecrated labyrinth of artificial caves, its stations like chapels drilled into solid bedrock.
[Image: Photo by Patrick Cashin].
The priest then "sprinkled holy water on the ground and invited the sandhogs to sing sometime for his parishioners."
[Image: Photo by Patrick Cashin].
In any case, I feel compelled briefly to revisit something in Jonathan Lethem's recent novel Chronic City, in which we read about a tunneling machine that has gone "a little out of control" deep beneath the streets of New York, resurfacing at night like some terrestrial Leviathan to wreak havoc amongst the boroughs. From the book:
"I guess the thing got lonely"Eventually the machineknown as the "tiger"is spotted rooting around the city, sliding out of the subterranean worlds it helped create, weaving above and below, an autonomous underground object on the loose.
"That's why it destroys bodegas?" asked Perkus.
"At night sometimes it comes up from underneath and sort of, you know, ravages around."
"You can't stop it?" I asked.
"Sure, we could stop it, Chase, it we wanted to. But this city's been waiting for a Second Avenue subway line for a long time, I'm sure you know. The thing's mostly doing a good job with the tunnel, so they've been stalling, and I guess trying to negotiate to keep it underground. The degree of damage is really exaggerated."
(For a tiny bit more context on the Lethem novel, see this earlier post on BLDGBLOG, from which the final line of the current post is borrowed).
The Long Now Foundation 11/04/2013 18:00
A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the game.
We might think of games as things we play as make-believe universes in which we might wander around for a period of time, engaged in activities that have little to no bearing on our ordinary lives. But ordinary life can, in many ways, also be thought of as a form of play. In the real world, too, we (mostly) play by the rules; we employ strategies in order to achieve certain objectives, and we interact with fellow players.
At last weeks Game Developers Conference, designer Jason Rohrer presented a new game that brings all these different dimensions of play together. In response to a design challenge prompt that asked developers to come up with the last game that humanity will ever play, Rohrer designed a game that is both infinite and finite, lived and played and very, very long term.
Rohrers game is intended not to be played for another 2,000 years. In order to ensure its longevity, he built its board and pieces out of solid machined titanium. Anticipating a temporal language barrier between himself and future generations, he wrote the games instructions in the form of symbols and visual diagrams.
In order to ensure that the game would not be played before its time, Rohrer buried it at a precise but unknown location in the Nevada desert and turned the process of finding it into a game itself. At his conference presentation, Rohrer gave each member of his audience a sheet that listed 900 unique GPS coordinates. Taken together, these handouts contained a million possible locations, only one of which corresponds to the games actual site. If one person checks one of these GPS coordinates each day, it is guaranteed that the game will be found within one million days, or 2,737 years.
In the last chapter of The Clock of the Long Now, Stewart Brand writes that
Infinite games are corrupted by inappropriate finite play. Governance (infinite) is disabled when factional combat (finite) becomes the whole point instead of providing helpful debate and alternation of power. Cultures (infinite) perish when one culture seeks to eradicate another. Nature (infinite) is dangerously disrupted when commercial competition (finite) lays waste to natural cycles. Finite games flourish within infinite games, but they must not displace them, or all the games are over. (1999:161).
Rohrer has not only taken this to heart, but has in fact taken it a step further: the finite board game he has buried in the desert is ultimately intended to be the simple starting point for the infinite game of long term thinking.
BLDGBLOG 10/04/2013 03:14Many of today's most original and bizarre visions of alternative worlds and landscapes come from the workshops of Hollywood effects studios. Behind the scenes of nondescript San Fernando Valley offices and warehouse spaces (if not outside California altogether, in many of the other nodes in the ever-expanding global network of cinematic effects production, from suburban London to Wellington, New Zealand), lurk the multidisciplinary teams whose job it is to create tomorrow's monsters.
Mike Elizalde of Spectral Motion applies make-up to actor Ron Perlman, as Hellboy.
Spectral Motion, the effects house responsible for some of the most technically intricate and physically stunning animatronic creatures seen in feature film today, is no exception. Based in a small strip of anonymous one-story warehouse spaces squeezed in between a freeway and rail tracks, and overshadowed by a gargantuan Home Depot, Spectral Motion has developed monsters, effects, and other mechanical grotesqueries that have since become household nightmares, if not names.
Since its founding, by Mike & Mary Elizalde in 1994, the firm has worked on such films as Hellboy & Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Looper, Attack the Block, Blade 2 & Blade: Trinity, X-Men: First Class, The Watch, and this summer's highly anticipated Pacific Rim.
This winter, while out in Los Angeles on a trip for Venue, I had the enormous pleasure of stopping by Spectral Motion with Nicola Twilley in order to interview Mike Elizalde, CEO of Spectral Motion, on a cloudy day in Glendale to talk all things monstrous and disturbing. To a certain extent, this interview thus forms the second part in a series with BLDGBLOG's earlier interview with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, and the present conversation, reproduced below, pairs well with Mignola's thoughts on what we might call landscapes of monstrosity.
Our conversation with Elizalde ranged from the fine line that separates the grotesque and the alien to the possibility of planetary-scale creatures made using tweaked geotextiles, via the price of yak hair and John Carpenter's now-legendary Antarctic thriller, The Thing.
Mike Elizalde behind his desk at Spectral Motion.
Elizalde, a good-humored conversationalist, not only patiently answered our many questionswith a head cold, no lessbut then took us on a tour through Spectral Motion's surprisingly large workshop. We saw miniature zombie heads emerging from latex molds (destined for a film project by Elizalde's own son), costumes being sewn by a technician named Claire Flewin for an upcoming attraction at Disneyland, and a bewildering variety of body partsheads, torsos, claws, and even a very hairy rubber chest once worn by footballer Vinnie Jones in X-Men: The Last Standthat were either awaiting, or had already performed, their celluloid magic.
The visit ended with a screening of Spectral Motion's greatest hits, so to speak, with in-house photographer and archivist Kevin McTurka chance to see the company's creations in their natural habitat. We walked back out into the flat light and beige parking lots of the Valley, a landscape enlivened by our heightened sense of the combination of close observation and inspired distortion required to transform the everyday into the grotesque.
Geoff Manaugh: Id love to start with the most basic question of all: how would you describe Spectral Motion and what the company does?
Mike Elizalde: We are principally a prosthetics, animatronics, and special effects creature studio, but we are also a multifaceted design studio. We do a lot of different kinds of work. Most recently, for example, in partnership with one of my long-time colleagues, Mark Setrakian, we built anthropomorphic bipedal hydraulic robots that engage in battle, for a reality show for Syfy. Its called RCLRobot Combat League. Its pretty astounding what these machines can do, including what they can do to each other.
Battling it out in Robot Combat League with two robots"eight-feet tall, state-of-the-art humanoid robots controlled by human 'robo-jockeys,'" in the words of Syfydesigned by Mark Setrakian of Spectral Motion.
Nicola Twilley: Are the robot battles choreographed, or do you genuinely not know which robot will win?
Elizalde: Oh, no, absolutelyits a contest. It really is about which robot will emerge as the victorious contender.
RCL is not only one of our most recent projects, but it also shows that, here at the studio, we can do everything from a very delicate prosthetic application on an actor, to an animatronic character in a film, to something thats completely out of our comfort zonelike building battling robots.
I always tell people that, if they come in here with a drawing of a car, we could build that car. It is a very diverse group that we work with: artists, technicians, and, of course, we use all the available or cutting-edge technologies out there in the world to realize whatever it is that we are required to make.
Mike Elizalde of Spectral Motion shows us a creature.
Manaugh: What kind of design briefs come to you? Also, when a client comes to you, typically how detailed or amorphous is their request?
The Long Now Foundation 09/04/2013 21:05
The exhibit is a 24-hour long film that consists of snippets from the past 70 years of cinematic history–the clips all unified by the common trait of having clocks or referencing a time of day in them. To accomplish this task, Marclay hired a team of assistants that watched films and gathered sections that included a clock or watch, eventually compiling a repository of thousands of clips that were sorted by time. Marclay, whose past work has included remixing and DJ-ing, stitched together the clips into a 24-hour video collage. The scenes range from hospitals and car chases to bedrooms and restaurants, all spliced together and reminding us of the role of time in narrative.
The film is meant to be played for 24 hours straight, with the time on the clocks in the film perfectly matching the actual time of day. In this sense the entire piece is a clock itself, as well as a meditation on how we use clocks - it implicitly asks for 24 hours of your time, yet you spend the entire film literally watching the minutes tick by.
One of the central objectives of the Clock of the Long Now is to encourage people to think about deep time and how it has and will shape the world around us. In contrast, Marclays piece emphasizes the small moments that make up life–waiting for someone at a restaurant, realizing that youre late to an appointment, suddenly waking up at 4am. By mashing these moments together into a full day of disorienting situations, Marclay asks us to contemplate just what it is that creates our unified sense of these moments.
The exhibit will be shown until June 2nd. During this time, there will be several 24 hour screenings for those that want see the work in its entirety.
The Long Now Foundation 08/04/2013 18:04
Anyone who has traveled abroad or simply eaten at the ethnic restaurant around the corner will appreciate the richness of cross-cultural diversity our world has to offer. Each part of the world has its own cuisine, its own social organization, its own religious practices, and its own fashions. Cognitive research has always assumed that underneath this incredible diversity, humans nevertheless all have the same basic wiring: even if we believe in different things, we ultimately possess the same cognitive skills and respond to external stimuli in similar ways.
The most interesting things about cultures may not be in the observable things they do the rituals, eating preferences, codes of behavior, and the like but in the way they mold our most fundamental conscious and unconscious thinking and perception.
In the early twentieth century, anthropologists realized that culture affects not just the way we behave, but also the way our mind engages with the world. Inspired by developments in psychoanalysis, these scholars began to explore how personality and psychological functioning are shaped by the cultural environment. Margaret Mead, for example, famously argued that the experience of adolescence on Samoa bears little resemblance to what we know of American teenagers, debunking the assumption that the wrought experience of puberty is the result of purely biological factors. A few decades later, Robert Levy and Jean Briggs showed that culture affects the way we experience and express emotion; and the work of scholars like Mel Spiro and Rick Shweder has stimulated research on how the human sense of self is shaped by the cultural environment.
Watters features the more recent work of anthropologist Joe Henrich, who took this line of scholarship a step further by combining ethnographic work with cognitive research methods. In 02010, he co-authored an article in which he showed that responses to classic cognitive tests (such as the Müller-Lyer Illusion) in fact vary across cultures. In other words: even the human modes of reasoning and perception that we believed to be universal are in fact uniquely shaped by our cultural environment.
Cognitive skills, Henrich and his colleagues argue, are not hardwired into our brains at all: there is considerable cross-cultural variation in the way we respond to and make sense of environmental stimuli. We develop these divergent cognitive styles because the worlds we grow up in vary so widely from one another. Think of the vast differences between the world of lower Manhattan, say, and a remote village in the Himalayan mountains; or between a capitalist society and a socialist state. A New Yorkers perception of lines, colors, and distances will differ considerably from that of a Nepali, just as a Frenchman and a North Korean may not agree about the definition of fairness. Though we are all born with the same brain, that soft tissue is shaped by our environment as we develop our cognitive capacities and socialize into our community. And that environment is inevitably, indelibly shaped by the culture of which we are a part. Like language, we might think of culture as an encapsulated universe.
Henrichs research unsettles decades of cognitive research, and not just because it debunks the idea of a universal pattern of human functioning. As it turns out, the particular population commonly studied by psychologists and economists lies at the very edges of the human bell curve.
Economists and psychologists, for their part, did an end run around the issue with the convenient assumption that their job was to study the human mind stripped of culture. The human brain is genetically comparable around the globe, it was agreed, so human hardwiring for much behavior, perception, and cognition should be similarly universal. No need, in that case, to look beyond the convenient population of undergraduates for test subjects. A 2008 survey of the top six psychology journals dramatically shows how common that assumption was: more than 96% of the subjects tested in psychological studies from 2003 to 2007 were Westerners with nearly 70 percent from the United States alone. Put another way: 96 percent of human subjects in these studies came from countries that represent only 12 percent of the worlds population.
Henrich and his colleagues refer to this population of college students as WEIRD not only because they happen to be Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic, but also because this population turns out to be such an outlier. Henrichs research proves that American modes of perception are not the rule, but a radical exception to it. Watters writes:
It is not just our Western habits and cultural preferences that are different from the rest of the world, it appears. The very way we think about ourselves and others and even the way we perceive reality makes us distinct from other humans on the planet, not to mention from the vast majority of our ancestors. Among Westerners, the data showed that Americans were often the most unusual, leading the researchers to conclude that American participants are exceptional even within the unusual population of Westerners outliers among outliers. Given the data, they concluded that social scientists could not possibly have picked a worse population from which to draw broad generalizations. Researchers had been doing the equivalent of studying penguins while believing that they were learning insights applicable to all birds.
Watters suggests that it may be one of those uniquely Western psychological features that led us to believe that our cognitive functioning is free of culture. Looking upon ourselves as free and autonomous individuals, weve come to assume that while we may live inside a culture, our essence somehow exists beyond and independently of its bounds.
Not only does Henrichs r
BLDGBLOG 08/04/2013 17:36[Image: A plane lands at Heathrow, London; photo by Simon Dawson, courtesy of Bloomberg].
A short article in The Economist raises the possibility that television signals in London, England, could be turned into a passive, aircraft-detecting radar system.
A system such as this "relies on existing signals, such as television and radio broadcasts, to illuminate aircraft."
This involves using multiple antennas to listen out for signals from broadcast towers, and for reflections of those signals that have bounced off aircraft, and comparing the two. With enough number-crunching, the position, speed and direction of nearby aircraft can then be determined. Passive radar requires a lot of processing power, but because there is no need for a transmitter, it ends up being cheaper than conventional radar. It also has military benefits, because it enables a radar station to detect objects covertly, without emitting any signals of its own."Will soap operas and news bulletins end up helping to direct aircraft in Londons busy skies?" The Economist asks. The idea of the entirety of London becoming a passive aeronautic device, pinging both commercial aircraft and military planes, and tracking the encroachment of unmanned aerial vehicles on urban airspace, all simply by piggybacking on the everyday technology of the television set, is pretty eerie, as if living in a giant radar dish powered by late-night entertainment.
London becomes a weird new kind of camera pointed upward at secretly passing aircraft, your living room taking pictures of the sky.
It also brings to mind the so-called "wifi camera" developed way back in 2008 by Bengt Sjölén and Adam Somlai Fischer with Usman Haque. The wifi camera "takes 'pictures' of spaces illuminated by wifi in much the same way that a traditional camera takes pictures of spaces illuminated by visible light."
[Image: The "wifi camera" by Bengt Sjölén and Adam Somlai Fischer with Usman Haque].
You can thus create images of architectural spaces, almost like a CAT scan, based on wifi signal strength, deducing from the data things like building layout, room density, material thickness, the locations of walls, doors, windows, and more, albeit to quite a low degree of resolution.
[Image: Signal data and its spatial implications from the "wifi camera" by Bengt Sjölén and Adam Somlai Fischer with Usman Haque].
"With the camera we can take real time 'photos' of wifi," its developers write. "These show how our physical structures are illuminated by this particular electromagnetic phenomenon and we are even able to see the shadows that our bodies cast within such 'hertzian' spaces."
It's a kind of electromagnetic chiaroscuro that selectively and invisibly "illuminates" the built environmentuntil the right device or camera comes along, and all that spatial data becomes available to human view. It's like a sixth sense of wifi, or something out of Simone Ferracina's project Theriomorphous Cyborg.
Here, the comparison to the London TV radar system is simply that, in both cases, already existing networks of electromagnetic signals are operationalized, so to speak, becoming inputs for a new form of visualization. You can thus take pictures of the sky, so to speak, using passive, city-wide, televisual radar, and you can scan the interiors of unknown buildings using wifi cameras tuned to routers' electromagnetic glow.
[Image: From the "wifi camera" by Bengt Sjölén and Adam Somlai Fischer with Usman Haque].
Apropos of very little, meanwhile, and more or less dispensing with plausibility, it would be interesting to see if the same sort of thingthat is, passive radar, using pre-existing signalscould somehow be used to turn the human nervous system itself into a kind of distributed, passively electric object-detection device on an urban scale. Nervous systems of the city as sensor network: a neuro-operative technology always scanning, sometimes dreaming, interacting with itself on all scales.
BLDGBLOG 08/04/2013 02:39An interesting symposium at Columbia University later this month looks at "the ecology of New York City":
This symposium will explore a range of ecological research happening in and around New York City. The program is focused on three themesorganisms, environment, and historywith speakers from a range of disciplines including community ecology, evolutionary biology, ecophysiology, paleoecology, archaeology, and conservation. The research presented here spans multiple taxa including plants, microbes, birds, and mammals.The event is free and kicks offas a lot of academic events unfortunately doat 9am on a Saturday morning, but if you're up and at 'em and want to stop by, the program looks pretty compelling. Expect the marginal ecologies of vacant lots, green roofs, urban waterways, regional bird migration, marshlands, and even a look back at "Early Foods and Medicines of 17th Century New Amsterdam: Cross-cultural Plant Population Exchange and Environmental Change in the Lower Hudson Valley," when the plans growing along the river could perhaps be thought of as a kind of cultivated pharmacy garden. Finally, the symposium wraps up with a speculative look ahead to the ecology of greater New York in the year 2409 AD, with Eric Sanderson of Mannahatta fame leading the conversation.
You must register to attend, after which you'll find everyone in room 501 of Schermerhorn Hall at Columbia University's Morningside Campus on Saturday, April 20.
(Thanks to Nicola Twilley for the tip!)
BLDGBLOG 07/04/2013 20:28[Image: The WWI terrain model of Messines, Belgium, in Cannock Chase, England; photo, "taken probably 1918 by Thomas Frederick Scales," courtesy of the National Library of New Zealand].
Past Horizons reported the other week that "a large concrete terrain model on Cannock Chase, representing a section of the Great War battle of Messines Ridge, is to be excavated" by archaeologists later this year.
The preserved but damaged model "represents the section of the front captured by New Zealand troops," and, indeed, the model itself was used most extensively by troops from New Zealand who had been stationed in England during the war.
[Image: The concrete model at Cannock Chase, including a viewing hut; photo via The First World War Camps of Cannock Chase].
The construction of the model is itself pretty fascinating, as it was accomplished with the forced help of German POWs:
The Messines model had been constructed at Brocton in 1918 by men from the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, using German labour from the nearby prisoner of war camp. The use of trench maps and aerial photographs ensured the model, constructed in concrete, had a high degree of accuracy; trenches, strong points, railways, roads and buildings all being represented. The model was used to train soldiers in topography and to show how an impeccably planned battle could be won with minimal casualties. One feature, believed to be a "viewing platform" around three sides of the model still exists.The "full excavation" to occur later this yearhopefully more photographs of the model will emerge onlinewill include the "recording and reburial" of the simulated landscape.
[Image: A viewing hut for studying the model landscape; photo via The First World War Camps of Cannock Chase].
An interpretive centercomplete with an interactive 3D digital model of the nearby 3D concrete model of the actual 3D battlefield in Belgiumwill also be constructed, to guide visitors through the site and to "explain how these models were used to prepare troops for battle."
Near the model, however, lie the rest of the training camps at Cannock Chase, the subject of at least one historical website about these wartime facilities, where we read about the preserved earthworks used to train soldiers for trench warfare:
Front line trenches were typically constructed in a pattern which in plan resembled battlements (also known as the Greek Key pattern) with the intention that attackers were fired upon from three sides. Conversely communication trenches connecting the front line with reserve trenches were built in a zig-zag pattern. This ensured that if the front line trenches fell the enemy would not have a clear line of sight down the length of the "communication" trench and could therefore not enfilade (fire straight at) approaching reinforcements.They were topographic baffles, we might say.
[Image: The scale of the model becomes more clear in this photo, also via Past Horizons].
Briefly, I'm reminded of an aside by natural historian Tim Flannery in his long but extraordinarily interesting book The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People, where he comments on the Maori origins of European trench warfare tactics.
The Maoripre-European but remarkably recent inhabitants of the islands of New Zealandhad been brutalized, in Flannery's telling, by their own environmental mismanagement of their adopted island home, all but exterminating the indigenous wild bird population and reducing themselves, through egregiously unsustainable hunting practices, to an almost stereotypically Hobbesian state of nature.
They had thus long been at war amongst themselves, fighting over the archipelago's steadily dwindling sources of proteinwhich is when the British came along, unknowingly stumbling into the midst of what Flannery describes as a chaotic and very nearly continuous state of ecologically-necessitated human conflict.
The British, Flannery explains, thus learned firsthand that the Maori had already gone to ground, so to speak, digging themselves into defensive trenches and other complex earthworks as their battles became both more extreme and more sophisticated. "Indeed," Flannery writes, "during the Maori defense of the pa [or fortress] Puapekapeka, the British learned their first lessons in trench warfare and underground bunkers from the Maori. They were to turn these tactics to their advantage in the First World War."
Of course, as we've explored elsewhere on BLDGBLOG, Flannery's claim is an overstatement"siege mines" and other forms of militarized earthworks had already long existed in the European war tradition, well before English seafarers reached New Zealandbut it's an interesting claim, nonetheless, and it resonates strangely with this vision of New Zealand troops studying trench geometries on a large-scale 3D concrete model in the middle of WWI England, preparing to dig themselves into "Greek key" and zig-zag patterns over on the European mainland.