BLDGBLOG 28/02/2013 12:10[Image: Photo: The "cemetery and church at Teampull Eion, Isle of Lewis," courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland].
One of many things I was excited to discover while working on the British Exploratory Land Archive project, and while getting ready for tonight's lecture at the Architectural Association, is the "Scotland's Landscapes" collection of aerial archaeology photographs from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
[Image: (top) The "remains of White Castle Fort"; (bottom) the "remains of the Northshield Rings." Photos courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland].
"As the glaciers of the last Ice Age receded," we read, "Scotland's earliest ancestors ventured northwards, exploring a wild, fertile territory. Nomadic hunter-gatherers at first, they made the decision to stay for goodto farm and to build. From that moment on, people began to write their story firmly into the fabric of the landscape." Indeed, today, "every inch of Scotlandwhether remote hilltop, fertile floodplain, or storm-lashed coastlinehas been shaped, changed and moulded by its people."
[Image: Photo: The (modernday) "Fife Earth Project at St. Ninian's Open Cast Site," courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland].
Quoting at length:
The landscapes they lived on were remarkable in their diversity. Vast forests of pine and birch ran through one of the worlds oldest mountain rangesonce as high as the Himalayas but over millennia scoured and compressed by sheets of ice a mile thick. On hundreds of islands around a saw-edged coastline, communities flourished, linked to each other and the wider world by the sea, the transport superhighway of ancient times.Many of the resulting settlements have the appearance of inland islands, isolated shapes and ringed perimeters still visible from the air.
[Image: Photo: The "remains of the lazy beds and enclosures at Muidhe on the Isle of Skye," courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland].
In any case, here are some of the photosjust a random selection of eye-candy for a Thursday afternoon.
[Images: Aerial view of Lochindorb Castle, courtesy of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland].
Meanwhile, these and many other photos are available in a new book by James Crawford, called Scotland's Landscapes: The National Collection of Aerial Photography, and you can see more online here.
BLDGBLOG 25/02/2013 09:04[Image: Photo by Mark Smout of a photo by Mark Smout, for the British Exploratory Land Archive].
I'm delighted to say that work originally produced for the British Pavilion at last summer's Venice Biennale will go on display this week at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London, beginning tomorrow, 26 February.
This will include, among many other projects, from studies of so-called "new socialist villages" in China to floating buildings in Amsterdam, to name but a few, the British Exploratory Land Archive (BELA) for which BLDGBLOG collaborated with architects Smout Allen in proposing a British version of the Center for Land Use Interpretation in Los Angeles. BELA would thus survey, catalog, explore, tour, document, and archive in one location the huge variety of sites in Britain altered by and used by human beings, from industrial sites to deserted medieval villages, slag heaps to submarine bases, smuggler's hideouts to traffic-simulation grounds. A few of these sites have already been documented in massive photographs now mounted at the RIBA, also featuring architectural instruments designed specifically for the BELA project and assembled over the summer in Hackney.
[Image: From the British Exploratory Land Archive].
However, if you're curious to know more and you happen to be in London on Thursday, 28 February, consider stopping by the Architectural Association to hear Smout Allen and I speak in more detail about the project. That talk is free and open the public, and it kicks off at 6pm; I believe architect Liam Young will be introducing things. Meanwhile, the aforementioned study of floating architecture in Amsterdam will be presented by its collaborative teamdRMMat the RIBA on Tuesday night, 26 February, so make your calendars for that, as well (and check out the full calendar of related talks here).
The RIBA is at 66 Portland Place and the AA is in Bedford Square.
BLDGBLOG 16/02/2013 16:56[Image: Green screen; image via Geek Magazine].
Earlier this week, Petro Vlahos, described by the BBC as "the pioneer of blue- and green-screen systems" in cinema, passed away. Vlahos's highly specific recoloring of certain surfaces in the everyday built environment allowed "filmmakers to superimpose actors and other objects against separately filmed backgrounds"; they are walls that aren't really there:
He called his invention the colour-difference travelling matte scheme. Like pre-existing blue-screen techniques it involves filming a scene against an aquamarine blue-coloured background. This is used to generate a mattewhich is transparent wherever the blue-colour features on the original film, and opaque elsewhere. This can then be used to superimpose a separately filmed scene or visual effects to create a composite.Special effects, animated actors, entire sets and spaces that weren't physically present during filming: these aquamarine-colored surfaces are almost conjuring windows through which other environments can be optically inserted into filmed representations of the present moment.
These sorts of walls and surfaces are not architecture, we might say, but pure spatial effects, a kind of representational sleight of hand through which the boundaries and contents of a location can be infinitely expanded. There is no "building," then, to put this in Matrix-speak; there are only spatial implications. Green screen architecture, here, would simply be a visual space-holder through which to substitute other environments entirely: a kind of permanent, physically real special effect that, in the end, is just a coat of paint.
It's interesting, in this interpretation, that "green screens" or a rough optical equivalent are not more commonly utilized in architectural or interior designeven if only as an ironic gesture toward the possibility that, say, a group of friends taking photographs in your living room, with its weird green wall on one side, or in the lobby of that hotel, with its green screen backdrop, might somehow be able to insert into the resulting photographs otherwise non-present spatial realities, as if they had been photographed in front of a Stargate or a Holodeck, a window creaking open between worlds.
In fact, this was exactly the strange feeling I had when living just two buildings away from a green screen lot in Los Angeles, as if the painted green surface there, looming over the empty lot on our street corner, was standing sentinel, patiently awaiting new worlds to appear, all the while being nothing more than a wall of green plywood.
BLDGBLOG 15/02/2013 16:59[Image: "Three tri-bar targets remaining at Cuddeback Lake... the flat surfaces are peeling, crumbling and sprouting, producing dimensionality, and relief." Photo by and courtesy of the Center for Land Use Interpretation].
"There are dozens of aerial photo calibration targets across the USA," the Center for Land Use Interpretation reports, "curious land-based two-dimensional optical artifacts used for the development of aerial photography and aircraft. They were made mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, though some apparently later than that, and many are still in use, though their history is obscure."
These symbolslike I-Ching trigrams for machinesare used as "a platform to test, calibrate, and focus aerial cameras traveling at different speeds and altitudes," CLUI explains, similar to "an eye chart at the optometrist, where the smallest group of bars that can be resolved marks the limit of the resolution for the optical instrument that is being used."
[Image: A tri-bar array at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; via CLUI].
Formally speaking, the targets could be compared to mis-painted concrete parking lots in the middle of the nowhere, using "sets of parallel and perpendicular bars duplicated at 15 or so different sizes." This "configuration is sometimes referred to as a 5:1 aspect Tri-bar Array, and follows a similar relative scale as a common resolution test chart known as the 1951 USAF Resolving Power Test Target, conforming to milspec MIL-STD-150A. This test pattern is still widely used to determine the resolving power of microscopes, telescopes, cameras, and scanners."
[Image: A "standard tri-bar test pattern on the Photo Resolution Range at Edwards that has been greatly expanded," CLUI writes; via CLUI].
CLUI points out that the history and location of the tri-bar patterns corresponds to the rise of high-altitude "flying cameras" developed during the Cold Wari.e. spy planes whose purpose was not to deliver ordnance to the far side of the world but simply to take detailed photographs.
[Image: An "especially exotic" expanded tri-bar array at Fort Huachuca, Arizona; via CLUI].
Further, "the largest concentration of calibration targets in one place is on the grounds of Edwards Air Force Base" in California, "in an area referred to as the photo resolution range, where 15 calibration targets run for 20 miles across the southeast side of the base in a line, so multiple targets can be photographed in one pass. There is some variation in the size and shape of the targets at Edwards, suggesting updates and modifications for specific programs. A number of the targets there also have aircraft hulks next to them, added to provide additional, realistic subjects for testing cameras."
A quick scan of Google Maps locates the photo resolution range relatively easily; broadly speaking, just go up to the right and down to the left from, say, this point and you'll find the targets.
[Image: Calibration targets from the photo resolution range, Edwards Air Force Base; from Google Maps].
Although I am truly fascinated by what sorts of optical landmarks might yet be developed for field-testing the optical capabilities of drones, as if the world might soon be peppered with opthalmic infrastructure for self-training autonomous machines, it is also quite intriguing to realize that these calibration targets are, in effect, ruins, obsolete sensory hold-overs from an earlier age of film-based cameras and less-powerful lenses. Calibrating nothing, they are now just curious emblems of a previous generation of surveillance technology, robot-readable hieroglyphs whose machines have all moved on.
(Via the Studio-X NYC Tumblr).
BLDGBLOG 10/02/2013 20:57With my eyes on all things fault-related these days, as we're now in the third week of the San Andreas Fault National Park studio up at Columbia, I was interested in a brief moment from poet Simon Armitage's new memoir, Walking Home.
[Image: Hadrian's Wall (not the wall described below) on the Whin Sill, via Wikipedia].
While hiking with a friend across a geological formation called the Whin Sill, in the northern Pennines, Armitage learns something extraordinary:
Stopping to appreciate a high and long dry-stone wall that bisects two valleys, [his fellow hiker] Chris explains how the shape, size, colour and consistency of the stones begins to change along its course, a consequence of wall-builders using the nearest available material while quarrying across a fault-line, so the wall becomes a kind of cross-section of the bedrock below us, and a timeline also, and after a few minutes of looking I almost convince myself that I can see the difference.Whether or not this is even geologically trueand Armitage himself seems hesitant to accept the insightthe idea that fissures in the earth can be made visible in architecture is an implication worth contemplating, as if human spatial constructions, or, more importantly, the materials from which they're made, can act as signs or perhaps symptoms for long-dead titanic events of incredible force and violence otherwise invisible inside the planet.
(Thanks to Nicola Twilley for the tip!)
BLDGBLOG 10/02/2013 18:22[Image: Recording a landscape; photo courtesy of Jan Magne Gjerde, via Past Horizons Archaeology].
Last winter, Past Horizons Archaeology ran some remarkable photos from a site in NW Russia, close to the border with Norway, where more than a thousands petroglyphs have been discovered carved into the horizontal surface of the local bedrock.
Most of the site had been buried under 5,000 years' worth of mud, soil, and plant roots, and was only recently cleared by Jan Magne Gjerde, who otherwise works as a project manager at Norway's Tromsø University Museum.
[Image: The team looks down at the earth they will soon record; photo courtesy of Jan Magne Gjerde, via Past Horizons Archaeology].
"In the summer of 2005," we read, "Gjerde drove more than 1000 kilometres east to Lake Kanozero," where the glyphs are located.
"Together with Russian colleagues he discovered what he calls some of the worlds oldest animated cartoons." The glyphs, in other words, constituted a narrativein this case, of a bear hunt. The sprawling series of images depict "a hunter who is heading uphill on skis and tracking a bear. The ski tracks are just as one would expect for someone going up a slope with a good distance between the strides. The hunter then gets his feet together, skis down a slope, stops, removes his skis, takes four stepsand plunges his spear into the bear."
Indeed, "The figures depicted in the Lake Kanozero rock carvings include moose, boats, whales, humans, harpoon lines, beavers and all kinds of other ordinary and extraordinary images and scenes from the distant past."
[Image: The petroglyphs; photo courtesy of Jan Magne Gjerde, via Past Horizons Archaeology].
Interestingly, though, "Boats represent one of the most popular motifs in the rock art of Kanozero; they form 16% of all figures," historians E.M. Kolpakov and V.Y. Shumkin explain in a paper published in Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia.
[Image: Boat glyphs from Lake Kanozero, courtesy of Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia].
In addition to the obvious interest of the site itself, though, the ensuing method of documentation is pretty awesome: Jan Magne Gjerde and his team camped out for ten days and traced all of the petroglyphs with chalk, covered the whole thing with huge plastic sheets, and then traced onto the sheets with felt-tip pen the graphic storyboards seen on the rocks below. This could then "be brought back home and properly photographed and documented." [Image: The petroglyphs and their tracing paper; photo courtesy of Jan Magne Gjerde, via Past Horizons Archaeology].
It should be published as a graphic novel! The world's oldest comic book.
Meanwhile, as part of the ongoing Venue projectwhich has slowly been accumulating posts, for those of you who haven't checked in for a whilewe have been visiting a number of petroglyph sites out west in the United States, including images of animal hunts and atlatl-throwing etched into the rocks outside Las Vegas, of all places, and Utah's famous "Newspaper Rock," a kind of literary pilgrimage site, or monument to narrative media.
But these sorts of sites also always make me think that we cannot be far away from having easily deployable, personally affordable, field-rugged 3D milling machines capable of carving petroglyphs of our own into hard rocks anywhere in the world. Set up a Petroglyph National Sacrifice Zone or a Petroglyph Park on private rocky land somewhere in the Peak District or the mountains northeast of Yuma and build up the scaffolding for your inscription robot -slash- writing machine, and a future mythology of rock glyphs might emerge, carved two inches deep in solid granite.
[Image: Field scaffolding set up to study rock art in Egypt; photo ©RMAH, Brussels, courtesy of YaleNews].
Literature becomes a place you visit, a rock-carving district of canyons and massifs tattooed with bands and sprays of plots and character arcs. Shelled, self-repairing robots chisel all day and night, GPS-stabilized and surrounded by clouds of rock dust. Goggled supervisorslibrarians of geology partially deafened by chiselswander the site, preparing themselves to someday lead tours through this labyrinth of glyphs and words.
BLDGBLOG 06/02/2013 13:54New milling techniques applied to glass and plexiglass panels could be used to "create windows that are also cryptic projectors, summoning ghostly images from sunlight."
[Image: A piece of milled plexiglass acting as a projecting lens; via the Computer Graphics and Geometry Lab at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne].
They do so by "taking control of a seemingly chaotic optical phenomena known as caustics," in the words of New Scientist. Mark Pauly and Philippe Bompas have been experimenting with so-called "caustic engineering," combining Pauly's background in computational geometry and Bompas's interest in manipulating otherwise "unintentional light shows produced by the reflection and refraction of light from curved mirrors or glass structures." Indeed, Bompas's work has a somewhat Neoplatonic overtone, as it involves "working backwards from a pattern of light to deduce the structure needed to create it."
Working together, Pauly and Bompasnot Bompas and Parrset out to fabricate "a large, transparent plate capable of generating a high-resolution image when a light was shone through it," and they "chose to make the plate in perspex, which is easier to shape than glass." You can see it in the image included in this post.
The architectural implications are obvious, and are brought to the fore by the New Scientist article from which I'm quoting. For instance: "Now [Pauly and Bompas] hope that the technique will be used in architectural design, to create windows that mould sunlight and throw images or patterns onto walls or floors," which, if timed, milled, and manipulated just right, could produce a slowly animated sequence of images being projected by an otherwise empty window during different times of day. After all, "it should be possible to create a transparent plate containing several overlayed caustics that become visible as an animation as the light source moves."
One piece of glass, infinitely dense with visual imagery, a kind of dream-prism casting slow two-hour films across the floor as the day goes by.
[Image: Reflections off glass or other polished surfaces could be controlledthat is, manipulated into producing recognizable images or specific shapesby way of "caustic engineering"; Creative Commons photo by Flickr user passer-by].
This can work not only with light passing through milled transparent surfaces but with light bouncing off complexly shaped reflective surfacessomething the article describes as pieces of metal that look like "the mildly dented bodywork of a car" (i.e. parametric formalism in architecture today) creating recognizable images in the weird sprays of light they produce.
Curve a building just right with the daily passage of the sun, placing caustic windows at key moments so that their reflections or projections overlap like edits, and your building is now a cinema: an optical landmark with content, in the narrative life of the city. Buskers offer optional soundtracks. Reflection festivals arise on sidewalks. Milled glass objects play filmloops in the sun.
BLDGBLOG 06/02/2013 09:00The long-awaited second installment of Bracket, a co-publication of Archinect, InfraNet Lab, and ACTAR, is finally here. The new issue is themed around "soft systems" in architecture and landscape design, or "systems, networks and technologies that are responsive, adaptable, scalable, non-linear, and multivalent," as the editors describe it. The resulting soft-systems issue was edited by Lola Sheppard and Neeraj Bhatia of InfraNet Lab, with guest input from Benjamin Bratton, Julia Czerniak, Jeffrey Inaba, Philippe Rahm, Charles Renfro, and myself.
This month, Bracket will be hosting no fewer than three launch parties for the issue: Thursday, February 7th, at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture in Cambridge, Ontario, at 11am; Sunday, February 17th, at Architecture Center Houston, with presentations by Neeraj Bhatia, Scott Colman, Ned Dodington, and Christopher Hight; and this Friday, February 8th, at Studio-X NYC in Manhattan, kicking off at 6:30pm, with short presentations by Neeraj Bhatia, Fionn Byrne, Michael Chen, Leigha Dennis, Sergio Lopez-Pineiro, Chris Perry, and a few brief comments of my own about the guest-editorial process. The Studio-X event is free and open to the public, and takes place at 180 Varick Street, Suite 1610; information about the other events can be found through the links, above.
Read more about the Bracket editorial project at their website.
BLDGBLOG 29/01/2013 21:00[Image: "Constant time slices" reveal buildings buried in northwestern Argentina; image from, and courtesy of, the Journal of Archaeological Science, "Detecting and mapping buried buildings with Ground-Penetrating Radar at an ancient village in northwestern Argentina," by Néstor Bonomo, Ana Osella, and Norma Ratto].
While reading The Losers last night for the first timea graphic novel about a team of ex-CIA members now executing a series of elaborate heists against their former employersI was pleasantly surprised to see that one of the final scenarios involves a small volcanic island featuring an abandoned village that had very recently been buried by ash and pumice.
In a nutshell, the buildings beneath all that rock and ash are still intactand one of them contains a locked safe that our eponymous group of "losers" is searching for. So begins an unfortunately quite short scene of vertical archaeology: locating the proper building amidst the featureless landscape of ash, blasting a hole down through the building's roof, stabilizing the ceiling from within so that heavy-lifting equipment can be installed on the rooftop, and then descending into the hallways and staircases below by way of mountaineering ropes to find the safe.
For whatever reason, there are few things I find more exciting to read about than high-risk descents into buried cities, especially one that, as in the case of The Losers, remains otherwise indistinguishable from the surface of the earth, only gradually revealing itself to be an extraordinary honeycomb of connected rooms and passagesand this brief moment in the book was made even more interesting when I remembered a handful of articles I'd saved last year, one of which also involves a lost village, buried by volcanic ash.
[Image: A selection of "time slices" from the buried buildings of northwestern Argentina; image from, and courtesy of, the Journal of Archaeological Science, "Detecting and mapping buried buildings with Ground-Penetrating Radar at an ancient village in northwestern Argentina," by Néstor Bonomo, Ana Osella, and Norma Ratto].
In a 1998 paper from the Journal of Applied Geophysics, called "The use of ground penetrating radar to map an ancient village buried by volcanic eruptions," we read about a village in Japan called Komochi-mura, in Gunma prefecture: "The entire area surrounding the village is covered by a thick deposit of pumice derived from the eruption of Futatsudake volcano of Mt. Haruna, approximately 10km to the southwest of the village."
Beneath the modern village, its predecessor from the middle of the 6th century is buried by the pumice deposits. Since these were laid down over a very short period, the ancient village should survive in a high state of preservation and will therefore contain much significant archaeological information. Ground penetrating radar (GPR) has been used to investigate this site over a period of 10 years. As a result, the plan of the ancient village can be accurately mapped... In this paper, the authors demonstrate how GPR was able to map the structural remains of the ancient village under a deposit of pumice.In addition to various buildings, "pit-dwellings," and other destroyed structures preserved but invisibly buried beneath today's village, "traces of brushwood hedges, paths and other slight features have also been identified by the survey."
These types of articleson the remote-sensing of buried architectural remains, using technologies that "can detect and map buried structures without disturbing them," in the words of the paper I am about to citeare increasingly easy to find, but no less interesting because of their ubiquity.
Another paper, then, called "Detecting and mapping buried buildings with Ground-Penetrating Radar at an ancient village in northwestern Argentina," published in 2010 in the Journal of Archaeological Science, describes an archaeological survey in which ground-penetrating radar was used "in order to detect new buildings," including a system of "complex wall distribution and a number of unknown enclosures." These "new buildings," however, were just signals from the earth awaiting spatial interpretation:
The exploration showed signals of mud-walls in a sector that was located relatively far from the previously known buildings. A detailed survey was performed in this sector, and the results showed that the walls belonged to a large dwelling with several rooms. The discovery of this dwelling has considerably extended the size of the site, showing that the dwellings occupied at least twice the originally assumed area. High-density GPR surveys were acquired at different parts of the discovered building in order to resolve complex structures. Interpreted maps of the building were obtained."From the joint analysis of the transverse sections, time slices and volume slices of the data and their time averaged intensity," the authors explain, "we have obtained a final map for the new building"where the "new" building, of course, is a much older, forgotten one, a structure interpretively remade and refreshed through this newfound legibility.
[Image: From "Archaeological microgravimetric prospection inside don church (Valencia, Spain)," by Jorge Padín, Angel Martín, Ana Belén Anquela, in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science].
Architecture, in this context, comes to our attention first as a series of "intensity blots continued through consecutive slices," an almost impossibly abstract geometry of signals and reflections, of patterned "electromagnetic responses" hidden in the landscape.
In all of these cases, it'd be interesting to propose a kind of archaeological discovery park the size of a football stadium, whose interior is simply a massive, open-span paved landscape on which small devices like floor-waxing machines or lawnmowers have been parked. Paying visitors can walk out onto this vast, continuous monument of bare concrete where they will begin moving the machines around, cautiously at first but then much more ambitiously, revealing as they do so the underground perimeters and outlines of entire villages buried deep in the mud and gravel beneath the building. The "park" is thus really a kind of terrestrial TV show of invisible architecture previously lost to history but beautifully preservedthat is, entombedin the geology below.
In any case, in writing this post I've realized that I've accumulated over the past two years or so several gigabytes' worth of PDFs about these and other archaeological technologiesfrom mapping ancient ships buried in the Egyptian pyramids and micro-gravity detection of "shallow subsurface structures" in a church in Italy ("indicati
BLDGBLOG 20/01/2013 19:16In Richard Mabey's excellent historyand "defense"of weeds, previously mentioned on BLDGBLOG back in December, he tells the story of Oxford ragwort, a species native to the volcanic slopes of Sicily's Mount Etna. Exactly how it arrived in Oxford is unknown, Mabey explains, but it was as likely as not brought back deliberately as part of an 18th-century scientific expedition.
[Image: Cropped photo of Oxford ragwort from the UK National Education Network].
But once it took root in Oxford, it began to spreadand Mabey tells the tale of its territorial expansion in forensic close-up. You can literally track this on Google Maps. Quoting him at length:
Within a few years the ragwort had escaped from the garden (which is sited opposite Magdalen College) and begun its westward progress along Oxford's ancient walls. Its downy seeds seemed to find an analogue of the volcanic rocks of its original home in the cracked stonework. It leap-frogged from Merton College to Corpus Christi and the august parapets of Christ Church, then wound its way through the narrow alleys of St. Aldate's. It got to Folly Bridge over the Isis, and then to the site of the old workhouse in Jericho, where, as if recognizing that this was a place of poverty, threw up a strange diminutive variant, a type with flower heads half the normal size (var. parviflorus). Sometime in the 1830s it arrived at Oxford Railway Station, the portal to a nationwide, interlinked network of Etna-like stone chips and clinker. Once it was on the railway companies' permanent ways there was no holding it. The seeds were wafted on by the slipstream of the trains, and occasionally traveled in the carriages. The botanist George Claridge Druce described a trip he took with some on a summer's afternoon in the 1920s. [Ragwort seeds] floated in through his carriage window at Oxford and "remained suspended in the air till they found an exit at Tilehurst," twenty miles down the line.So ragwort came to be everywhere, spreading across "analogous" landscapes that chemically and texturally mimicked the plant's home ground, establishing itself as an all but ubiquitous plantan itinerant super-weed riding the nation's trains and piggybacking stone wall to stone wallacross the United Kingdom.
This step-by-step expansion of a life form's zone of habitation came to mind when reading the bizarre story of a runaway fungus in Kentucky. "The sooty-looking black gunk has been here for as long as anyone can remember," the New York Times reported back in August 2012, "creeping on the outside of homes, spreading over porch furniture, blanketing car roofs, mysterious and ever-present." People in town thought it must be the result of pollution, or perhaps just the town being reclaimed by whatever original moldy life had once inhabited those valleys.
But no: "[I]t turns out the most likely culprit is Kentuckys signature product, its liquid pride: whiskey, as in bourbon whiskey, distilled and bottled across the city and nearby countryside." The moldcalled Baudoinia"belongs to a class of fungi that is almost prehistorically tenacious" (and, for good measure, Wired adds that it is "a fungus that's millions of years old, older than Homo sapiens").
And it is a dark and spreading presence on the buildings, streets, cars, and even road signs near distilleries, "indiscriminately colonizing exposed surfaces ranging from vegetation to built structures, sign posts and fences (including those made from glass and stainless steel)," the U.S. Department of Energy warns, describing this ancient and sooty form of life.
[Image: Baudoinia growing on a fire hydrant; photo by Ben Sklar, courtesy of the New York Times].
Indeed, it's gotten so bad that towns along the historic Kentucky Bourbon Trail are bringing suit against the distilleries, the New York Times continues: "The dark residue is visible throughout neighborhoods on days when the air carries a slight yeasty smell from nearby whiskey warehouses and on days when it does not, in heat and in damp. It is difficult to get rid of, the lawsuit alleges, returning after repeated commercial cleanings."
A similar suit in Scotland is now in the works, where "the fungus is so rampant that it almost seems like part of the architecture." Here, I'm reminded of novelist