A Cenotaph for Tailings

[Image: From "Mining Cenotaph" by Alexis Quinteros Salazar; courtesy of the RIBA President's Medals].

Here's another project from the RIBA President's Medals, this one by Alexis Quinteros Salazar, a student at the University of Chile in Santiago.

Called "Mining Cenotaph," it imagines an "occupation" of the tailings piles that have become a toxic urban landmark and a spatial reminder of the region's economic exploitation.

[Image: From "Mining Cenotaph" by Alexis Quinteros Salazar; courtesy of the RIBA President's Medals].

A museum would be carved into the tailings; in Salazar's words, this would be a "building that captures the history and symbolism behind mining, enhancing and revitalizing a memory that is currently disaggregated and ignored and has a very high touristic potential."

[Image: From "Mining Cenotaph" by Alexis Quinteros Salazar; courtesy of the RIBA President's Medals].

In an architectural context such as this, the use of the word "cenotaph" is a pretty clear reference to Étienne-Louis Boullée's classic speculative project, the "Cenotaph for Newton." Over multiple generations, that has become something of a prime mover in the history of experimental architectural design.

Punctured walls and ceilings bring light into the interior—

[Image: From "Mining Cenotaph" by Alexis Quinteros Salazar; courtesy of the RIBA President's Medals].

—while the roof is a recreational space for visitors.

Of course, there are a lot of unanswered questions here—including the control of aerosol pollution from the tailings pile itself and that pile's own long-term structural stability—but the poetic gesture of a public museum grafted into a pile of waste material is worth commending.

[Image: From "Mining Cenotaph" by Alexis Quinteros Salazar; courtesy of the RIBA President's Medals].

The detail I might like this most is where the structure becomes a kind of inversion of Boullée's dome, which was pierced to make its huge interior space appear illuminated from above by constellations. Here, instead, it is the perforations in the the rooftop that would glow upward from below, as if in resonance with the night skies high above.

[Image: From "Mining Cenotaph" by Alexis Quinteros Salazar; courtesy of the RIBA President's Medals].

Salazar's project brings to mind a few other proposals seen here over the years, including the extraordinary "Memorial to a Buried Village" by Bo Li and Ge Men, as well as Brandon Mosley's "Mine Plug" (which actually took its name retroactively from that BLDGBLOG post).

Click through to see slightly larger versions of the images over at the RIBA President's Medals website.

[Image: From "Mining Cenotaph" by Alexis Quinteros Salazar; courtesy of the RIBA President's Medals].

Finally, don't miss the Brooklyn food co-op posted earlier, also a recent President's Medal featured project.

Colossal Cave Adventure

[Photo: "Mega Bike" at the Louisville Mega Cavern; photo courtesy Louisville Mega Cavern].

An underground bike park is opening up next month in a former limestone mine 100 feet beneath Louisville, Kentucky.

At 320,000-square feet, the facility is massive. Outside Magazine explains, "the park will have more than five miles of interconnected trails that range from flowing singletrack to dirt jumps to technical lines with three-foot drops. And that’s just the first of three phases to roll out this winter."

[Photo: "Mega Bike" at the Louisville Mega Cavern; photo courtesy Louisville Mega Cavern].

That's from an interview that Outside just posted with the park's designer, Joe Prisel, discussing things like the challenges of the dirt they've had to use during the construction process and the machines they used to sculpt it.

[Photo: "Mega Bike" at the Louisville Mega Cavern; photo courtesy Louisville Mega Cavern].

It's not the most architecturally-relevant interview, if I'm being honest, so there's not much to quote here from it, but the very idea of a BMX super-track 10 stories underground in a limestone mine sounds like a project straight out of an architecture student's summer sketchbook, and it's cool to see something like this become real.

Brooklyn Super Food

[Image: From "Brooklyn Co-operative" by Yannis Halkiopoulos, University of Westminster; courtesy RIBA President's Medals].

I was clicking around on the RIBA President's Medals website over the weekend and found a few projects that seemed worth posting here.

The one seen here is a beautifully illustrated proposal for an "alternative supermarket" in Brooklyn, New York, that would be located in the city's old Navy Yard.

Note that, in all cases, larger images are available at the project website.

[Image: From "Brooklyn Co-operative" by Yannis Halkiopoulos, University of Westminster; courtesy RIBA President's Medals].

Its designer—Yannis Halkiopoulos, a student from the University of Westminster—pitches it as a food-themed exploration of adaptive reuse, a mix of stabilized ruins, gut renovations, and wholly new structures.

He was inspired, he suggests, by the architecture of barns, market structures, and the possibility of an entire urban district becoming a "reinvented artefact" within the larger economy of the city.

The results would be a kind of post-industrial urban food campus on the waterfront in Brooklyn.

[Image: From "Brooklyn Co-operative" by Yannis Halkiopoulos, University of Westminster; courtesy RIBA President's Medals].

From Halkiopoulos's description of the project:
The project is a response to current plans which are to demolish the row of abandoned houses to build a suburban supermarket. Once home to high ranking naval officers the eleven structures have been left to decay since 1960. The response is an alternative food market which aims to incorporate the row of houses and re-kindle the consumer with the origin of the food produced and promote regional traditions, gastronomic pleasure and the slow pace of life which finds its roots in the Slow Food Movement NY.
It includes a slaughterhouse, a "slow fish market," preservation facilities, a "raised tunnel network" linking the many buildings, and more.

[Image: From "Brooklyn Co-operative" by Yannis Halkiopoulos, University of Westminster; courtesy RIBA President's Medals].

The buildings as a whole are broken down tectonically and typologically, then further analyzed in their own posters.

[Image: From "Brooklyn Co-operative" by Yannis Halkiopoulos, University of Westminster; courtesy RIBA President's Medals].

There is, for example, the "slaughterhouse & eating quarters" building, complete with in-house "whole animal butcher shop," seen here—

[Image: From "Brooklyn Co-operative" by Yannis Halkiopoulos, University of Westminster; courtesy RIBA President's Medals].

—as well as the "slow fish market" mentioned earlier.

[Image: From "Brooklyn Co-operative" by Yannis Halkiopoulos, University of Westminster; courtesy RIBA President's Medals].

Most of these use exposed timber framing to imply a kind of unfinished or incompletely renovated condition, but these skeletal grids also work to extend the building interiors out along walking paths and brise-soleils, partially outdoor spaces where food and drink could be consumed.

These next few images are absurdly tiny here but can be seen at a larger size over at the President's Medals; they depict the stabilized facades of the homes on Admirals Row, including how they might change over time.

[Images: From "Brooklyn Co-operative" by Yannis Halkiopoulos, University of Westminster; courtesy RIBA President's Medals].

Part of this would include the installation of a "raised tunnel network," effectively just a series of covered walkways and pedestrian viaducts between buildings, offering a visual tour through unrenovated sections of the site but also knitting the overall market together as a whole.

[Images: From "Brooklyn Co-operative" by Yannis Halkiopoulos, University of Westminster; courtesy RIBA President's Medals].

In any case, I really just think the images are awesome and wanted to post them; sure, the project uses a throwback, sepia-toned, posterization of what is basically just a shopping center to communicates its central point, but the visual style is actually an excellent fit for the proposal and it also seems perfectly pitched to catch the eye of historically minded developers.

You could imagine Anthony Bourdain, for example, enjoying the sight of this for his own forthcoming NY food market.

[Image: From "Brooklyn Co-operative" by Yannis Halkiopoulos, University of Westminster; courtesy RIBA President's Medals].

In a sense, it's actually too bad this didn't cross their desks; personally, I wouldn't mind hopping on the subway for a quick trip to the Navy Yard, to wander around the revitalized ruins, now filled with food stalls and fish mongers, walking through gardens or stumbling brewery to brewery on a Saturday night, hanging out with friends amidst a labyrinth of stabilized industrial buildings, eating fish tacos in the shadow of covered bridges and tunnels passing overhead.

More (and larger) images are available over at the President's Medals.

Music for the Asset Bubble

[Image: Photographer unknown, via Root Blog].

Via some indirect links following an email tip from Sam Grawe, I stumbled on this collection of ambient music "mostly emanating from the corporate infrastructure of the 1980s asset bubble. FM synthesis, prefab 'lifestyle' soundscapes and the illusion of nature in a hyper-urban environment."

It's music as the icing on the space—a sonic introduction to new forms of interiority, smoothing your transition into supermodernity—or soundtracks for architecture in an age of capital accumulation. New Age meets non-place. Imagine a room that makes no sense until you play the right music in it.

While you're listening, however, don't miss this album composed by digital music pioneer Hiroshi Yoshimura for a "commission by the Shiseido cosmetic corporation to promote a forest-scented perfume (the LP comes in a plastic bag sealed with its scent)." The nested layers of representation and artificiality here are amazing.

Perhaps someone should write a thesis on the ornamental evolution of the New Age interior, moving from the Spaced Out drop cities of Alastair Gordon's book to a sparsely furnished apartment somewhere in the sprawl of 1980s Tokyo where an insomnia-wracked executive stares at a bleeping digital toy in a state of Zen-like concentration, the sound of synthetic rain forests playing on hidden speakers embedded in the wall.

(Thanks, Sam!)

A City in the Glacier

[Image: Courtesy of Icecave Iceland].

There's an interesting construction/excavation project going on over in Iceland right now: an artificial tunnel and cave complex being dug into the Langjökull Glacier.

When complete, the publicly accessible infra-glacial facility "will consist of numerous nooks and dens which will house exhibitions, information, restaurants and even a small chapel for those who would like to marry deep within an ice cap."

Bringing tourists nearly 100 feet below the surface of the glacier, the structure is expected to become semi-permanent, lasting through the summer months for years to come.

[Image: Courtesy of Icecave Iceland].

The so-called "Icecave" is set to open later this year, and is not far from Reykjavik; for now, its entrance consists only of some understated plywood framing, with no real indication of what awaits below—or within, as the case may be.

[Image: Courtesy of Icecave Iceland].

But tunnels, bays, and side chambers are currently under construction, being chipped down by excavation equipment and drills, and then further shaped by hand tools.

[Image: Courtesy of Icecave Iceland].

I love the idea that all of this is essentially doomed—that the chambers will eventually collapse or melt, even if only decades from now, and that the glacier itself will presumably someday refreeze, free of all these spatial abnormalities.

At which point, the architecture of subtraction could simply start all over again, like a 3-dimensional Etch-a-Sketch of brand new ramps, tunnels, and stairs, all burrowing down toward bedrock. A ritually renewed space, a kind of negative Ise Shrine in the ice.

Or perhaps we need a Mole Man of the Glacier.

In any case, lights are now being installed in the walls, giving the place an otherworldly glow that comes from within the structure itself—

[Image: Courtesy of Icecave Iceland].

—with the truly awesome effect that nearby rooms will seem to glow through the ice walls, revealing themselves as illuminated shapes, even appearing to shine through the floors and ceilings.

This same strategy, using frosted glass floors, walls, and ceilings, in a building otherwise made from dark-stained timber or masonry, would be beautiful.

[Images: Courtesy of Icecave Iceland].

Meanwhile, huge ducts like something out of a frozen warehouse or sub-glacial military base criss-cross the frozen ceilings and extend deeper into the glacier.

[Image: Courtesy of Icecave Iceland].

Indeed, I'm reminded of the incredible story of Camp Century—or Project Iceworm—a U.S. military city built under the ice of northwestern Greenland. Here's a video about it, if you're curious:



As explored on BLDGBLOG back in 2011, Camp Century was a sprawling complex of prefabricated architectural units and steel arches installed within the ice cap, and, astonishingly, it was powered by a portable nuclear reactor.

[Images: Camp Century under construction; photographs via Frank J. Leskovitz].

In any case, the Langjökull excavations are meant to finish up later this year; check back on the Icecave homepage for its opening date.

Glitches in Spacetime, Frozen into the Built Environment

Back in the summer of 2012, Nicola Twilley and I got to visit the headquarters of GPS, out at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado.

[Image: Artist's rendering of a GPS satellite, via Wikipedia].

"MASTERS OF SPACE"

Over the course of a roughly two-hour visit, we toured, among other things, the highly secure, windowless office room out of which the satellites that control GPS are monitored and operated. Of course, GPS–the Global Positioning System—is a constellation of 32 satellites, and it supplies vital navigational information for everything from smartphones, cars, and construction equipment to intercontinental missiles.

It is "the world's largest military satellite constellation," Schriever Air Force Base justifiably boasts.

For somewhat obvious reasons, Nicola and I were not allowed to bring any audio or video recording devices into the facility (although I was able to take notes), and we had to pass through secure checkpoint after secure checkpoint on our way to the actual room. Most memorable was the final door that led to the actual control room: it was on a 15-second emergency response, meaning that, if the door stayed open for more than 15 seconds, an armed SWAT team would arrive to see what was wrong.

When we got inside the actual office space, the lights were quite low and at least one flashing red light reminded everyone inside that civilians were now present; this meant that nothing classified could be discussed. Indeed, if anyone needed to hop on the telephone, they first needed to shout, "Open line!" to make sure that everyone knew not to discuss classified information, lest someone on the other end of the phonecall might hear.

Someone had even made a little JPG for us, welcoming "Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley" to the GPS HQ, and it remained on all the TV monitors while we were there inside the space.

[Image: Transferring control over the GPS constellation. Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force/no photographer given].

Surreally, in a room without windows, a group of soldiers who, on the day we visited, were all-male and looked no more than 23 or 24 years old, wore full military camouflage, despite the absence of vegetation to blend into, as they controlled the satellites.

At one point, a soldier began uploading new instructions to the satellites, and we watched and listened as one of those artificial stars assumed its new place in the firmament. What would Giordano Bruno have made of such a place?

This was the room behind the curtain, so to speak, a secure office out of which our nation's surrogate astronomy is maintained and guided.

Appropriately, they call themselves "Masters of Space."

[Image: A "Master of Space" badge from Schriever Air Force Base].

In any case, I mention all this for at least two reasons:

A 50,000km-WIDE DARK MATTER DETECTOR

Edge to edge, the GPS constellation can apparently be considered something of a single device, a massive super-detector whose "time glitches" could be analyzed for signs of dark matter.

As New Scientist explained last month, "The network of satellites is about 50,000 kilometers in diameter, and is traveling through space—along with the entire solar system—at about 300 kilometers a second. So any time shift when the solar system passes through a cosmic kink will take a maximum of 170 seconds to move across network."

The temporal distortion—a kind of spacetime wave—would propagate across the constellation, taking as long as 170 seconds to pass from one side to the other, leaving forensically visible traces in GPS's navigational timestamps.

The very idea of a 50,000-kilometer wide super-device barreling through "cosmic kinks" in spacetime is already mind-bogglingly awesome, but add to this the fact that the "device" is actually an artificial constellation run by the U.S. military, and it's as if we are all living inside an immersive, semi-weaponized, three-dimensional spacetime instrument, sloshing back and forth with 170-second-long tides of darkness, the black ropes of spacetime being strummed by the edges of a 32-point star.

Even better, those same cosmic kinks could theoretically show up as otherwise imperceptible moments of locational error on your own smartphone. This would thus enlist you, against your knowledge, as a minor relay point in a dark matter detector larger than the planet Earth.

THE ARCHITECTURAL EFFECTS OF SPACE WEATHER

While Nicola and I were out at the GPS headquarters in Colorado, one of the custodians of the constellation took us aside to talk about all the various uses of the navigational information being generated by the satellites—including, he pointed out, how they worked to mitigate or avoid errors.

Here, he specifically mentioned the risk of space weather affecting the accuracy of GPS—that is, things like solar flares and other solar magnetic events. These can throw-off the artificial stars of the GPS constellation, leading to temporarily inaccurate location data—which can then mislead our construction equipment here on Earth, even if only by a factor of millimeters.

What's so interesting and provocative about this is that these tiny errors created by space weather risk becoming permanently inscribed into the built environment—or fossilized there, in a sense, due to the reliance of today's construction equipment on these fragile signals from space.

That 5mm shift in height from one pillar to the next would thus be no mere construction error: it would be architectural evidence for a magnetic storm on the sun.

Take the Millau Viaduct—just one random example about which I happen to have seen a construction documentary. That's the massive and quite beautiful bridge designed by Foster + Partners, constructed in France.

[Image: The Millau Viaduct, courtesy of Foster + Partners].

The precision required by the bridge made GPS-based location data indispensable to the construction process: "Altimetric checks by GPS ensured a precision of the order of 5mm in both X and Y directions," we read in this PDF.

But even—or perhaps especially—this level of precision was vulnerable to the distorting effects of space weather.

EVIDENCE OF THE UNIVERSE

I have always loved this quotation from Earth's Magnetism in the Age of Sail, by A.R.T. Jonkers:
In 1904 a young American named Andrew Ellicott Douglass started to collect tree specimens. He was not seeking a pastime to fill his hours of leisure; his motivation was purely professional. Yet he was not employed by any forestry department or timber company, and he was neither a gardener not a botanist. For decades he continued to amass chunks of wood, all because of a lingering suspicion that a tree's bark was shielding more than sap and cellulose. He was not interested in termites, or fungal parasites, or extracting new medicine from plants. Douglass was an astronomer, and he was searching for evidence of sunspots.
Imagine doing the same thing as Andrew Ellicott Douglass, but, instead of collecting tree rings, you perform an ultra-precise analysis of modern megastructures that were built using machines guided by GPS.

You're not looking for lost details of architectural history. You're looking for evidence of space weather inadvertently preserved in titanic structures such as the Millau Viaduct.

[Image: The Millau Viaduct, courtesy of Foster + Partners].

FOSSILS OF SPACETIME

If you take all of this to its logical conclusion, you could argue that, hidden in the tiniest spatial glitches of the built environment, there is evidence not only of space weather but even potentially of the solar system's passage through "kinks" and other "topological defects" of dark matter, brief stutters of the universe now fossilized in the steel and concrete of super-projects like bridges and dams.

New Scientist points out that a physicist named Andrei Derevianko, from the University of Nevada at Reno, is "already mining 15 years' worth of GPS timing data for dark matter's fingerprints," hoping to prove that GPS errors do, indeed, reveal a deeper, invisible layer of the universe—but how incredibly interesting would it be if, somehow, this same data could be lifted from the built environment itself, secretly found there, inscribed in the imprecisions of construction equipment, perhaps detectable even in the locational drift as revealed by art projects like the Satellite Lamps of Einar Sneve Martinussen, Jørn Knutsen, and Timo Arnall?

The bigger the project, the more likely its GPS errors could be read or made visible—where unexpected curves, glitches, changes in height, or other minor inaccuracies are not just frustrating imperfections caused by inattentive construction engineers, but are actually evidence of spacetime itself, of all the bulging defects and distortions through which our planet must constantly pass now frozen into the built environment all around us.

(Very vaguely related: One of my personal favorite stories here, The Planetary Super-Surface of San Bernardino County).

Immaculate Ecologies

[Image: Via the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge].

"We will put up the mountains. We will lay out the prairie. We will cut rivers to join the lakes." So says the narrator of a nice piece of ecosystem fiction by my friend Scott Geiger published over at Nautilus.

This corporate spokesperson is building virgin terrain: "all-new country, elevated and secured from downstairs, with a growing complement of landforms, clean waters, ecologies, wilderness."

I was reminded of Geiger's work when I came across an old bookmark here on my computer, with a story that reads like something straight out of the golden age of science fiction: a corporate conglomerate, intent on spanning vast gulfs of space, finds itself engineering an entire ecosystem into existence on a remote stopping-off point, turning bare rocks into an oasis, in order to ensure that its empire can expand.

This could be the premise of a Hugo Award-winning interplanetary space opera—or it could be the real-life history of the Commercial Pacific Cable Company.

[Image: Via the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge].

The Company was the first to lay a direct submarine cable from the United States to East Asia, but this required the use of a remote atoll, 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu, called Midway, not yet famous for its role in World War II.

At the time, however, there was barely anything more there than "low, sandy island[s] with little vegetation," considered by the firm's operations manager to be "unfit for human habitation." The tiny islands—some stretches no more than sandbars—would have been impossible to use, let alone to settle.

Like Geiger's plucky terraforming super-company, putting up the mountains and laying out the prairie, the Cable Company and its island operations manager "initiated the long process of introducing hundreds of new species of flora and fauna to Midway."
During this period, the superintendent imported soil from Honolulu and Guam to make a fresh vegetable garden and decorate the grounds. By 1921, approximately 9,000 tons of imported soil changed the sandy landscape forever. Today, the last living descendants of the Cable Company's legacy still flutter about: their pet canaries. The cycad palm, Norfolk Island Pine, ironwood, coconut, the deciduous trees, everything seen around the cable compound is alien. Since Midway lacked both trees and herbivorous animals, the ironwood trees spread unchecked throughout the Atoll. What else came in with the soil? Ants, cockroaches, termites, centipedes; millions of insects which never could have made the journey on their own.
Strangely, the evolved remnants of this corporate ecosystem are now an international bird refuge, as if saving space for the feral pets of long-dead submarine cable operators.

[Image: Via the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge].

The preserved ruins of old Cable Company buildings stand amidst the trees, surely now home to many of those "millions of insects which never could have made the journey on their own." Indeed, "the four main Cable Company buildings, constructed of steel beams and concrete with twelve-inch thick first-story walls, have fought a tough battle with termites, corrosion, and shifting sands for nearly a century."

It is a built environment even down to the biological scale—a kind of time-release landscape now firmly established and legally protected.

It's worth pointing out, however, that the constructed frontier lands of Scott Geiger's fictions and the national park of curated species still fluttering their wings at Midway share much with the even stranger story of terraforming performed by none other than Charles Darwin on Ascension Island.

This is, in the BBC's words, "the amazing story of how the architect of evolution, Kew Gardens and the Royal Navy conspired to build a fully functioning, but totally artificial ecosystem." It's worth quoting at length:
Ascension was an arid island, buffeted by dry trade winds from southern Africa. Devoid of trees at the time of Darwin and [his friend, the botanist Joseph] Hooker's visits, the little rain that did fall quickly evaporated away.

Egged on by Darwin, in 1847 Hooker advised the Royal Navy to set in motion an elaborate plan. With the help of Kew Gardens—where Hooker's father was director—shipments of trees were to be sent to Ascension.

The idea was breathtakingly simple. Trees would capture more rain, reduce evaporation and create rich, loamy soils. The "cinder" would become a garden.

So, beginning in 1850 and continuing year after year, ships started to come. Each deposited a motley assortment of plants from botanical gardens in Europe, South Africa and Argentina.

Soon, on the highest peak at 859m (2,817ft), great changes were afoot. By the late 1870s, eucalyptus, Norfolk Island pine, bamboo, and banana had all run riot.
It's not a wilderness forest, then, but a feral garden "run riot" on the slopes of a remote, militarized island outpost (one photographed, I should add, by photographer Simon Norfolk, as discussed in this earlier interview on BLDGBLOG).

[Image: The introduced forestry of Ascension Island, via Google Maps].

In a sense, Ascension's fog-capturing forests are like the "destiny trees" from Scott Geiger's story in Nautilus—where "there are trees now that allow you to select pretty much what form you want ten, fifteen, twenty years down the road"—only these are entire destiny landscapes, pieced together for their useful climatic side-effects.

For anyone who happened to catch my lecture at Penn this past March, the story of Ascension bears at least casual comparison to the research of Christine Hastorf at UC Berkeley. Hastorf has written about the "feral gardens" of the Maya, or abandoned landscapes once deeply cultivated but now shaggy and overgrown, all but indistinguishable from nature. For Hastorf, many of the environments we currently think of as Central American rain forest are, in fact, a kind of indirect landscape architecture, a terrain planted and pruned long ago and thus not wilderness at all.

Awesomely, the alien qualities of this cloud forest can be detected. As one ecologist remarked to the BBC after visiting the island, "I remember thinking, this is really weird... There were all kinds of plants that don't belong together in nature, growing side by side. I only later found out about Darwin, Hooker and everything that had happened." It was like stumbling upon a glitch in the matrix.

In the case of these islands, I love the fact that historically real human behavior competes, on every level, for sheer outlandishness with the best of science fiction for its creation of entire ecosystems in remote, otherwise inhospitable environments; advanced landscaping has become indistinguishable from planetology. And, in Scott Geiger's case, I love the fact that the perceived weirdness of his story comes simply from the scale at which he describes these landscape activities being performed.

In other words, Geiger is describing something that actually happens all the time; we just refer to it as the suburbs, or even simply as landscaping, a near-ubiquitous spatial practice that is no less other-worldly for taking place one half-acre at a time.

[Image: A suburban landscape being rolled out into the forest like carpet; photo by BLDGBLOG].

Soon, even the discordant squares of grass seen in the above photograph will seem as if they've always been there: a terrain-like skin graft thriving under unlikely circumstances.

Think of a short piece in New Scientist earlier this year: "All this is forcing enthusiasts to reconsider what 'nature' really is. In many places, true wilderness vanished thousands of years ago, and the landscapes we think of as natural are largely artificial."

Indeed, like something straight out of a Geiger short story, "thousands of years from now our descendants may think of African lions roaming American plains as 'natural' too."

Monumental

[Image: "Historical Monument of the American Republic" by Erastus Salisbury Field].

I just spent far too much time clicking around on Archi/Maps, where—amongst dozens of other images—this painting by Erastus Salisbury Field, showing a proposal for an "Historical Monument of the American Republic," seemed worth a quick post.

Check out related images under the "utopia" or "monument" tags.

Under London

[Image: Bond Street platform tunnels, courtesy Crossrail].

Crossrail—the massive, 73-mile rail project currently underway in London, including twin-bore 13-mile tunnels—has released a handful of new photos showing the underground works.

[Images: Bond Street platform tunnels, courtesy Crossrail].

I'm a sucker for images of the human form stranded amidst the shadows of massive, dimensionally abstract spatial environments, so I thought I'd post these purely as eye candy.

[Image: Bond Street platform tunnels, courtesy Crossrail].

If you want a bit more info on Crossrail itself, consider reading "London Laöcoon" or the second half of "British Countryside Generator," both earlier on BLDGBLOG, or simply clicking around on the Crossrail website, including a few more photographs.

(Spotted via @subbrit and Ian Visits).

The Neurological Side-Effects of 3D

[Image: Auguste Choisy].

France is considering a ban on stereoscopic viewing equipment—i.e. 3D films and game environments—for children, due to "the possible [negative] effect of 3D viewing on the developing visual system."

As a new paper suggests, the use of these representational technologies is "not recommended for chidren under the age of six" and only "in moderation for those under the age of 13."

There is very little evidence to back up the ban, however. As Martin Banks, a professor of vision science at UC Berkeley, points out in a short piece for New Scientist, "there is no published research, new or old, showing evidence of adverse effects from watching 3D content other than the short-term discomfort that can be experienced by children and adults alike. Despite several years of people viewing 3D content, there are no reports of long-term adverse effects at any age. On that basis alone, it seems rash to recommend these age-related bans and restrictions."

Nonetheless, he adds, there is be a slight possibility that 3D technologies could have undesirable neuro-physical effects on infants:
The human visual system changes significantly during infancy, particularly the brain circuits that are intimately involved in perceiving the enhanced depth associated with 3D viewing technology. Development of this system slows during early childhood, but it is still changing in subtle ways into adolescence. What's more, the visual experience an infant or young child receives affects the development of binocular circuits. These observations mean that there should be careful monitoring of how the new technology affects young children.
But not necessarily an outright ban.

In other words, overly early—or quantitatively excessive—exposure to artificially 3-dimensional objects and environments could be limiting the development of retinal strength and neural circuitry in infants. But no one is actually sure.

What's interesting about this for me—and what simultaneously inspires a skeptical reaction to the supposed risks involved—is that we are already surrounded by immersive and complexly 3-dimensional spatial environments, built landscapes often complicated by radically diverse and confusing focal lengths. We just call it architecture.

Should the experience of disorienting works of architecture be limited for children under a certain age?

[Image: Another great image by Auguste Choisy].

It's not hard to imagine taking this proposed ban to its logical conclusion, claiming that certain 3-dimensionally challenging works of architectural space should not be experienced by children younger than a certain age.

Taking a cue from roller coasters and other amusement park rides considered unsuitable for people with heart conditions, buildings might come with warning signs: Children under the age of six are not neurologically equipped to experience the following sequence of rooms. Parents are advised to prevent their entry.

It's fascinating to think that, due to the potential neurological effects of the built environment, whole styles of architecture might have to be reserved for older visitors, like an X-rated film. You're not old enough yet, the guard says patronizingly, worried that certain aspects of the building will literally blow your mind.

Think of it as a Schedule 1 controlled space.

[Image: From the Circle of Francesco Galli Bibiena, "A Capriccio of an Elaborately Decorated Palace Interior with Figures Banqueting, The Cornices Showing Scenes from Mythology," courtest of Sotheby's].

Or maybe this means that architecture could be turned into something like a new training regimen, as if you must graduate up a level before you are able to handle specific architectural combinations, like conflicting lines of perspective, unreal implications of depth, disorienting shadowplay, delayed echoes, anamorphic reflections, and other psychologically destabilizing spatial experiences.

Like some weird coming-of-age ceremony developed by a Baroque secret society overly influenced by science fiction, interested mentors watch every second as you and other trainees react to a specific sequence of architectural spaces, waiting to see which room—which hallway, which courtyard, which architectural detail—makes you crack.

Gifted with a finely honed sense of balance, however, you progress through them all—only to learn at the end that there are four further buildings, structures designed and assembled in complete secrecy, that only fifteen people on earth have ever experienced. Of those fifteen, three suffered attacks of amnesia within a year.

Those buildings' locations are never divulged and you are never told what to prepare for inside of them—what it is about their rooms that makes them so neurologically complex—but you are advised to study nothing but optical illusions for the next six months.

[Image: One more by Auguste Choisy].

Of course, you're told, if it ever becomes too much, you can simply look away, forcing yourself to focus on only one detail at a time before opening yourself back up to the surrounding spatial confusion.

After all, as Banks writes in New Scientist, the discomfort caused by one's first exposure to 3D-viewing technology simply "dissipates when you stop viewing 3D content. Interestingly, the discomfort is known to be greater in adolescents and young adults than in middle-aged and elderly adults."

So what do you think—could (or should?) certain works of architecture ever be banned for neurologically damaging children under a certain age? Is there any evidence that spatially disorienting children's rooms or cribs have the same effect as 3D glasses?