The Civic Minimum

[Image: From Gravesend—The Death of Community by Chris Clarke].

Gravesend is a suburb east of London, hosting on its own eastern edge something of a secondary suburb: a mysterious town on the edge of town that turns out not to be a town at all.

It is a simulated English village built in 2003 by the Metropolitan Police working with Equion Facilities Management and a firm called Advanced Interactive Systems (AIS).

The barren streets and hollow buildings of this militarized non-place were designed for use as an immersive staging ground for police-training exercises, fighting staged riots, burglaries, bank robberies, and other crimes.

[Image: From Gravesend—The Death of Community by Chris Clarke].

Facades with no buildings behind them line the empty streets; in some cases, it is only through the aerial views afforded by a service like Google Maps that this reality is made clear.

Imitation bus stops, make-believe banks, and an oddly whimsical Pizzaland—like an end-times chain restaurant from Shaun of the Dead—sustain the illusion on the ground.

[Image: From Gravesend—The Death of Community by Chris Clarke].

Somewhat incongruously, an airplane fuselage also now rests beside a chainlink fence near the roadway, giving officers an opportunity to prepare for airplane hijackings.

There are even empty Tube carriages parked outside town for improvisatory police raids.

[Image: From Gravesend—The Death of Community by Chris Clarke].

According to AIS, their consultant-designers kitted out the site's "live-fire ranges with internal ballistic and anti-ricochet finishes, simulation and targetry equipment, and range sound systems," a complete multimedia package that would soon also include HD video projectors and even "laser-based 3D virtual training environments."

Architectural simulations embedded with high-tech, upgradeable media technology thus supply the necessary level of detail for repeating crimes, on demand, like strange social rituals.

[Image: From Gravesend—The Death of Community by Chris Clarke].

The photos seen here were all take by designer and photographer Chris Clarke, whose Flickr set of the series, including a dozen or so further images, is worth a look.

[Image: From Gravesend—The Death of Community by Chris Clarke].

For Clarke, the "facsimile" urbanism of this site at the end of Gravesend is actually something of "a warning—a prophecy of society's potential to alienate itself from itself." He suggests that these surreal scenes threaten to become indistinguishable from everyday life, our cities and streets stripped down to the civic minimum, used as nothing more than bleak stomping grounds for futuristic security forces armed with military-grade tools.

"We have estates, parks, nightclubs, tube stations," Clarke writes, "but is the community missing from Gravesend significantly more present in our inhabited cities and towns?" His own answer remains unspoken but obvious.

[Images: From Gravesend—The Death of Community by Chris Clarke].

Writing about this same site back in 2008, Brian Finoki of Subtopia called it a "new theater of the absurd."

It is, he wrote, "a city standing on the planet for one purpose: to be rioted, hijacked, trashed, held hostage, sacked, and overrun by thousands of chaotic scenarios, only so that it can be reclaimed, retaken, re-propped in circuitous loops of more dazzling proto-militant exercise, stormed by a thousand coordinated boots for eternity, targeted by hundreds of synchronized crosshairs of both lethal and non-lethal weapons."

[Image: From Gravesend—The Death of Community by Chris Clarke].

Check out more photos at Chris Clarke's Flickr page.

(Related: In the Box: A Tour Through the Simulated Battlefields of the U.S. National Training Center).

A Geography of Devices

[Image: Tokyo subway map, via re:form].

"Just as postal systems remade geographic places into zones determined by politics and history," Amy Johnson writes for re:form, "social media technologies are remaking them today."

"Historically," Johnson writes, "the categories of both who helps in natural disasters and who is helped have largely been organized around place, in this case mapped according to its political and geographic dimensions, by government agencies and relief organizations with parallel structures. Recently, social media has broadened the category of who helps—and in doing so, new technological places have joined political and geographic ones."

Johnson is describing the various spatial metaphors at work in Japanese disaster response plans following the Tōhoku earthquake in 2011, and the communication of those plans to the public via social media platforms. Evacuation zones defined by "suspiciously round numbers," so-called geocasting ("when a producer targets publishing to a particular region or location"), and the abandonment of traditional post codes in favor of "device locations" all play a part in her analysis.

After all, Johnson continues, "this is a decidedly different moment of history and politics, and the power balance among people, corporations, and states has shifted. The resultant new zones—and new configurations of zones—will further change this balance."

The internet of things, we might say, is also an emergency network of things, marking our spatial locations more efficiently than previous methods of territorial administration.

Read the rest over at re:form.

(Thanks to Nicola Twilley for the tip!)

We Can Terraform It For You Wholesale

[Image: Real estate development or avant-garde earthwork? The future streets of Ascaya; courtesy of Ascaya].

The website for the stalled Las Vegas development known as Ascaya—which we saw in the previous post through the aerial photographs of Michael Light—is itself quite remarkable and worth a quick visit.

At first glance, the site could actually be mistaken for some kind of strange new media art project, a near-future ad for an interplanetary terraforming corporation dedicated to selling huge geometric shapes directly to consumers.

Slow transitions drift from shot to shot as we peer out over these strangely beautiful, unfinished landforms in the desert, seemingly endless in number as they step back—and back, and back—toward the horizon.

It's like a planet reconfigured by obsessed geometricians—where, surreally, each individual form is actually for sale.

[Image: Another view of the abstract landforms of Ascaya; courtesy of Ascaya].

Accordingly, the website presents us with Romantic shots of uninhabited geometry, the gleaming towers of Las Vegas only barely visible in the background, catching the final rays of an arid sunset, as if this is actually the sprawling backdrop for a more interesting remake of Total Recall.

[Image: One more glimpse of Ascaya; courtesy of Ascaya].

In any case, my initial reaction in seeing the Ascaya website was that it could actually pass as a kind of online art auction for the world's most ambitious land art installation—not a real estate site at all—selling the work of someone far ambitious than, say, Michael Heizer or James Turrell.

After all, surely Ascaya, specifically in its unfinished state, is more seductive—and more interpretively exciting—than the, by comparison, almost absurdly boring "Spiral Jetty"?

Perhaps, next to the work of people like Walter De Maria, we should be studying Ascaya—and a pilgrimage to these weird black steps in the desert should be on the list of any collector of American land art.

Landscape, Redacted

[Image: "Looking east over unbuilt Ascaya lots, Black Mountain beyond, Henderson, Nevada," 2010; from Black Mountain by Michael Light].

Photographer Michael Light has a new book coming out this fall, published by Radius Books, with work documenting the construction and large-scale terrestrial formatting of two housing developments in the American southwest, one unfinished, one gaudily over the top.

They are known as Ascaya and Lake Las Vegas.

[Image: "Unbuilt Ascaya lots and cul-de-sac looking west, Henderson, Nevada," 2011; from Black Mountain by Michael Light].

Ascaya was meant to ascend into the desert hills like a vast residential staircase, its plots patiently shaped and awaiting their architecture—but these ambitious plans were radically decelerated into a state of suspended animation by the economic collapse of 2008.

It is now something more like a stalled earthwork, a vast land art installation made all the more amazing when seen from above.

[Image: "Unbuilt Ascaya lots and culdesac looking northwest, Sun City MacDonald Ranch development beyond, Henderson, Nevada," 2012; from Black Mountain by Michael Light].

The resulting landforms—huge berms, winding streets, flat-capped foundation piles, and carefully graded podiums of dirt and gravel—look at times like hard drive platters, chocolate bars, or even the tailings piles of a colossal mine.

This latter comparison was made by Light himself in a long interview Nicola Twilley and I recorded with him for Venue.

There, Light told us that "the more work I do in Las Vegas, the more I see parallels between the mining industry—and the extraction history of the west—and the inhabitation industry."
They do the same sort of things to the land; they grade, flatten, and format the land in similar ways. It can be hard to tell the difference sometimes between a large-scale housing development being prepped for construction and a new strip mine where some multinational firm is prospecting for metals.
"In other words," he continued, "the extraction industry and the inhabitation industry are two sides of the same coin. The terraforming that takes place to make a massive development on the outskirts of a city has the same order, and follows the same structure, as much of the terraforming done in the process of mining."

[Images: (top) "The Falls at Lake Las Vegas construction road looking north, Henderson, Nevada," 2011; (bottom) "Future house lots and abandoned mattress at The Falls at Lake Las Vegas, looking west, Henderson, Nevada," 2011; both from Lake Las Vegas by Michael Light].

"That was a revelation for me," Light added. "The mine is a city reversed. It is its own architecture."

The mine is a city reversed.

[Images: "Unbuilt Ascaya lots looking northwest, Henderson, Nevada," 2012; both from Black Mountain by Michael Light].

"Until 2008," the book's accompanying press release explains, "Nevada was the fastest-growing state in America. But the recession stopped this urbanizing gallop in the Mojave Desert, and Las Vegas froze at exactly the point where its aspirational excesses were most baroque and unfettered."

They call these homes "castles on the cheap," and one look at the houses of Lake Las Vegas reveals how apt this comparison can be.

[Image: "V At Lake Las Vegas pool complex, Via Visione at left, Henderson, Nevada," 2010; from Lake Las Vegas by Michael Light].

In one of the book's two essays, veteran landscape activist Lucy Lippard writes that the images offer "a disturbing juxtaposition of geologic and current time that the Surrealists could only have imagined."

[Image: "Monaco Lake Las Vegas home and foreclosed neighbor, on guard-gated Grand Corniche Drive, Henderson, Nevada," 2010; from Lake Las Vegas by Michael Light].

Honestly, these shots blow me away; it's as if Light has captured an act of topographical blackout—a whole landscape, redacted—as what should be hills and valleys are erased and obstructed by this imposed crystallography of settlements that never arrived.

[Image: "Ascaya Boulevard looking south up Black Mountain, morning, Henderson, Nevada," 2012; from Black Mountain by Michael Light].

In any case, the forthcoming book is already generating quite a bit of buzz—for example, being chosen as one of the "Best Fall Photo Books" of 2014 by Time Magazine.

[Images: Some shots of the books, which are actually bound together, back-to-back].

The reproductions look fantastic, as well; consider pre-ordering a copy (and, while you're at it, consider reading our interview with Michael Light over at Venue).

The book comes out somewhat appropriately on Halloween—a kind of economic horror story of landscapes gone awry.

Atmospheric Crystallography

[Image: From the original research paper (PDF), via Popular Science].

Popular Science reported last week that a "weird crystal"—a "salt made from cobalt"—can "absorb all the oxygen in a room," and, more crucially, release all that oxygen later, at which point it can safely be breathed.

I will confess that I initially thought this sounded more like some terrifying new air-weapon: after all, if "just a spoonful of the stuff can suck up all the oxygen in a room," then you're looking at a very potent, seemingly instantaneous method for causing mass suffocation. Drop a few spoonfuls of these crystals into a building's ventilation system, and... Well, you get the idea.

But the actual, far more productive implications are incredible (assuming further tests with the material pan out). The University of Southern Denmark-based researchers suggest, for example, that this could revolutionize SCUBA diving, "as the material can absorb oxygen from the water around the diver and supply the diver with it," meaning that "scuba divers could potentially leave their tanks at home," gearing up with just a few grains of salt. "

Extrapolate from this for a moment, however, and imagine all of the other confined spatial environments in which oxygen-emitting cobalt salts could upend conventional thinking. Long-term submarine missions; underwater scientific bases or other submerged structures of any kind; mines, collapsed buildings, and other underground spaces; or, perhaps most interestingly, even offworld space missions could all be equipped with radically minimalized oxygen storage systems, reducing costs.

You can thus imagine some strange new everyday reality several decades from now in which deep-sea divers or long-haul astronauts turn to a chewing gum-sized pack of salt crystals which they pop open as needed for emergency oxygen.

Think of this portable atmospheric crystal as the gateway to new spatial possibilities, letting us bring our atmospheres with us in just a few handfuls of salt.

Collapse

I received a review copy of Héctor Tobar's new book Deep Down Dark the other week and read the entire thing in one sitting. In it, Tobar tells the utterly mind-boggling story of the Chilean mine disaster of 2010, when 33 miners were trapped underground for 69 days after a catastrophic internal collapse of the mountain they'd been working within.

[Images: The escape capsule that brought the miners back to the surface. Photos taken inside the mine by the miners themselves; via the Associated Press].

You might already have read an excerpt from Tobar's book in The New Yorker, but the complete book is well worth your time; the expanded depth and context of Tobar's reporting is incredible, and the book's opening 50-odd pages describing the mine collapse are breathtaking.

The mine itself, Tobar explains, is a labyrinth: a honeycombed "underground city" of ramps and spiraling side-passages, all circling around and leading back again to the central "Pit," a Dantean void in the center of the mountain from which the miners extract their ore.

[Image: Illustration by Abigail Daker, courtesy of The New Yorker].

The sheer plurality of these underground tunnels, however, is camouflaged by just a smattering of small structures on the surface. Indeed, "the mine is like an iceberg city," Tobar suggests, "because these surface structures represent only a small fraction of its underground sprawl":
Below the ground, the mine expands into roads that lead to vast interior spaces carved out by explosives and machinery, pathways to manmade galleries and canyons. The underground city of the San José Mine has a kind of weather, with temperatures that rise and fall, and breezes that shift at different times of day. Its underground byways have traffic signs and traffic rules to keep order, and several generations of surveyors have planned and charted their downward spread. The central road linking all these passageways to the surface is called La Rampa, the Ramp. The San José Mine spirals down nearly as deep as the tallest building on Earth is tall, and the drive along the Ramp from the surface to the deepest part of the mine is about five miles.
Taken together, the book's opening chapters are an absolute masterpiece of geological horror. Ominous sounds of muffled thunder reverberate up from the very roots of the mountain. Strange moans, like a buried hurricane shaking itself awake in the mine's abandoned passages, echo up and down the central ramp, causing general unease amongst the men on shift that day.

It is, Tobar writes, "as if they are listening to a distant storm gathering in intensity," and his prose here is extraordinary:
During their twelve-hour shift these men have noted a kind of wailing rumble in the distance. Many tons of rock are falling in forgotten caverns deep inside the mountain. The sounds and vibrations caused by these avalanches are transmitted through the strong structure of the mountain in the same way the blast waves of lightning strikes travel through the air and ground. The mine is "weeping" a lot, the men say to each other. "La mina está llorando mucho."
Tobar builds and builds to the actual moment of collapse, like an orchestra tuning itself to some inevitable and apocalyptic note that only gets more terrifying as its implications become clear. There are dust clouds and claps of thunder; changes in air pressure and growing suspicions; then an event unlike anything I'd ever read about before—the complete internal cleaving of a so-called "mega-block" inside the mine.

Here, Tobar explains that a single block of diorite two times heavier than the Empire State Building has suddenly broken free inside the mountain. It immediately free-falls straight downward like a cork plunging into a bottle of wine, breaking through the spiraling ramp on hundreds of underground levels and completely—seemingly fatally—trapping the miners nearly at the very bottom of the entire complex.

[Image: One of Gustave Doré's engravings from The Inferno].

After hours—days, weeks—of audible strain and the popping of unseen faults, "the essential structure of the mountain must have failed."

It's as if the entire mountain is "pancaking" from within, Tobar writes: "the vast and haphazard architecture of the mine, improvised over the course of a century of entrepreneurial ambition is finally giving way."

For the trapped miners, the inhuman scale of this "mega-block" makes it into an almost totemic object, an otherworldly and supernatural mass. It is impossible for the miners to comprehend, let alone to see, in its entirety, and crawling around or—given their now drastically limited tools and virtually non-existent food supply—digging through.

As Tobar points out, "Only later will the men learn the awesome size of the obstacle before them, to be known in a Chilean government report as a 'megabloque.' A huge chunk of the mountain has fallen in a single piece. The miners are like men standing at the bottom of a granite cliff: The rock before them is about 550 feet tall. It weighs 700 million kilograms, or about 770,000 tons, twice the weight of the Empire State Building."

Sparkling and clean, freshly sheared from the very core of the mountain like a sculpture, it is "an object whose newness and perfection suggest, to some, a divine judgment."

And, terrifyingly, it is not done falling. "By spray-painting marks on the surface of the gray guillotine of stone blocking the Ramp," Tobar explains, rescuers trying to climb down from the surface have "detected that the vast, destructive 'mega-block' at the heart of the mine is still moving. The broken skyscraper of stone inside the mountain is slipping downward: A new collapse is possible at any moment."

The real bulk of the book, however, is the miners' ensuing captivity: their rituals of survival, their petty arguments, their ever-intensifying physical ailments.

We read, for example, about search-and-rescue teams as they mount fruitless expeditions downward to find the miners, "like a Himalayan expedition working in reverse, their goal to 'assault' the center of a mountain instead of its peak, with the air getting thicker and hotter instead of colder and thinner."

We watch as families, emergency drill operators, and even Chilean celebrities set up camp outside on the surface, forming an instant city of tents, klieg lights, and heavy excavation machinery.

And, perhaps most incredibly, we learn that NASA psychologists, whose work normally involves assisting crews of highly-trained astronauts willfully confined in tight spaces on long space flights, are called upon to adapt their advice for men involuntarily sealed deep underground. "They are like men on a mission inside a stone space station," in Tobar's words.

That the internal spaces of the Earth have become psychologically indistinguishable from deep space is just one of the many moments of symbolic vertigo that so pressurize the book.

[Image: Still from a video shot underground after rescuers on the surface drilled through to the trapped miners].

In fact, one of the strangest and, for me, most memorable secondary stories is the strange allure of the Pit—the vast, artificially mined cavity at the heart of these coiling and serpentine excavations. Some of the men are seemingly drawn to the Pit, obsessing over it either suicidally—tempted to leap into its depths in order to end their hunger and isolation—or as a means of possible escape. But these are perhaps one and the same thing, when you fear being lost for eternity.

In a scene seemingly straight out of the engravings of Gustave Doré, the hypnotic emptiness of the mine's "vast interior spaces" compels one of the miners—Florencio Avalos—to attempt an escape.

Wandering off, he squeezes through an opening between some boulders and soon finds himself on the edge a massive, apparently brand new cavern that no one had seen before.

[Image: One of Gustave Doré's engravings from The Inferno].

Tobar gives us the scene in almost dream-like terms:
Florencio squeezes through, and as he does so he sees a vast, open black space that swallows up the beam from his lamp. He crawls toward this precipice and loosens a rock, which falls into the blackness and lands with a crackling clap about two or three seconds later; his experience as a miner tells him the rock has fallen some 30 or 40 meters, roughly the height of a building that's ten or twelve stories tall. He realizes he's near some sort of new, interior rajo, or cavern.
Florencio has just "set eyes upon the new chasm created by the collapse and explosion of the skyscraper-sized chunk of diorite that destroyed the mine on August 5. The crumbling mountain is still spitting rockfalls every few days or hours, and Florencio is fortunate to have seen this chasm, and to have stood inside it, without being seriously injured."

[Image: Another still of the trapped miners].

I'm deliberately highlighting some of the key moments of spatial interest; the actual core of the book is the—at times, almost overwhelmingly emotional—human story of the miners' plight. It is not a book about geology or the mining industry, in other words, despite my own foregrounding of those details; it is very much a book about human survival, communities under pressure, and the enormous psychological toll of not knowing when your torment will end.

However, this also leads me to one of my few criticisms of Deep Down Dark: the final few chapters are so relentlessly and obligingly dedicated to describing the eventual, post-rescue fates of each miner that the book begins to feel more like a magazine profile, with some men buying fancy cars, others traveling around the world with football teams, another one drinking too much, another—somewhat astonishingly—actually going back to work in the mining industry.

But, taken out of the mine—out of this space of confinement, with all of its compression and drama—their individual life stories sadly lose a great deal of the incandescence they held in the underworld, precisely by being seen against a backdrop as mundane as everyday life. Perhaps that is one of Tobar's points; he very clearly shows, for example, how this sudden emergence into the global spotlight nearly destroyed several of the miners, its contrast with their forcibly introverted lives underground almost unbearable.

Nonetheless, I might suggest that the central void of the book—literally, the space of the mine—is, in genre terms, a monster: it is a haunting, even semi-divine force whose own fate, unfortunately, is left undescribed.

While Tobar does, of course, explain that the mine has been closed—it was even declared a sacred space by the Chilean government—Tobar seems to have missed an opportunity to bring us full circle, down again into the surviving galleries of this mine in the middle of the South American desert, its voids the size of skyscrapers gradually filling in with rubble weeping down from above.

After all, down there in the dust and absolute darkness nearly at the mine's lowest point, the so-called Refuge—a tiny locker room thousands of feet below the Earth's surface where the miners congregated to await either rescue or death—is, it seems, still intact, a room now sealed off from the surface but peppered with hand-written notes and objects the men deliberately left behind.

There is something weirdly nightmarish about this room—the very fact that it might still exist. Indeed, it's not hard to imagine the metal doors of those old lockers swinging shut or suddenly popping open now and again, their hinges rusted, trembling as distant caves implode in the mountain all around them—or to hear the sounds of small rocks slowly bouncing down from higher levels along the Ramp, like the awful and halting footsteps of someone lost and alone—as if the miners are all still down there.

Deep Down Dark comes out next week; consider pre-ordering a copy.

The Underground Wind Bulbs of Utah

[Image: From a PDF by Dresser Rand].

A new electricity distribution system being described as the "'Hoover Dam' of the 21st century" will bring wind energy from Wyoming to customers in California—and it will get there by way of a $1.5 billion artificial cave built specifically for storing air inside a salt dome in Utah.

The particular geologic site chosen for this underground storage facility is "a five-mile long, two-mile deep salt deposit," the Casper Star Tribune reports. "Electricity there would be used to compress air into four underground caverns hallowed [sic] out of the salt deposit. During times of high-demand, air would be released, turning a turbine to create electricity."

It's a kind of clockwork weather system buried inside the earth, like something out of the Aeneid.

Dresser Rand, the firm behind the new storage facility, describes a related complex they worked on in Alabama. In a PDF available on their website, they write that their technology allows them to "store air in a salt dome at pressures up to 1100 psig." To create that facility, the Alabama plant manager explains, "we solution mined it for 629 days. That created 19 million cubic feet of cavern storage." That's roughly half an Empire State Building of empty space.

Solution mining works by injecting brine down into salt formations, which dissolves the salt; the brine is then pumped back up to the surface, leaving behind huge empty spaces—artificial caves—usually shaped a bit like lightbulbs or distorted spheres. In fact, the process brings to mind the extraordinary spatial creations known as "sewage bulbs," melted directly into the glaciers of Antarctica, as described by William L. Fox in his book Terra Antarctica:
Water for the station is derived by inserting a heating element—which looks like a brass plumb bob 12 feet in diameter—150 feet into the ice and then pumping out the meltwater. After a sphere has been hollowed out over several years, creating a bulb that bottoms out 500 feet below the surface, they move to a new area, using the old bulb to store up to a million gallons of sewage, which freezes in place—sort of. The catch is, the ice cap is moving northward toward the coast (and Rio de Janeiro) at a rate of about an inch a day, or 33 feet per year. That movement means that the tunnels are steadily compressing; as a result, they have to be reamed out every few years to maintain room for the insulated water and sewage pipes. Because each sewage bulb fills up in five to six years, they're hoping—based on the length of the tunnel and the number of bulbs they can create off it (perhaps even seven or eight)—this project will have a forty-year lifespan. Ultimately, in about the year A.D. 120,000, the whole mess should drop off into the ocean.
In any case, these artificial caves in Utah—let's call them "wind bulbs"—will thus be linked up with California's electrical grid, forming a partially subterranean interstate megastructure for on-demand renewable energy transmission.

As the Casper Star Tribune points out, the entire system—this so-called "Hoover Dam of the 21st century," with a total price tag pushing $8 billion—could someday power as many as 1.2 million California homes and it could be operational as early as 2023.

(Originally spotted via @jonnypeace).

Untitled Landscapes

[Image: Untitled (Uranium tailings); Mexican Hat, UT, 2005, by Victoria Sambunaris, from Taxonomy of a Landscape].

Design writer Sarah Rich has posted some really spectacular images by photographer Victoria Sambunaris, along with a short Q&A discussing landscapes altered by human activities and industry.

Truck yards butt up against uranium disposal cells and open pit mines yawn over the horizon from border fences that stretch like continuous monuments through the desert.

[Image: Untitled (talc mine benches); Cameron, MT, 2009, by Victoria Sambunaris, from Taxonomy of a Landscape].

Sambunaris is, in Rich's words, "a 21st-century documentarian of human presence in the American landscape... a kind of mapmaker, displaying the layers of material and the layout of space that compose a particular geographic region."

[Image: Untitled (Houses); Wendover, UT, 2007, by Victoria Sambunaris, from Taxonomy of a Landscape].

These layers include infrastructure and housing, but also—and, in some ways, more interestingly—the subtle traces of invisible legislative superstructures that come to define the scenes in question.

For example, Sambunaris's shot of Yellowstone National Park—which you can see in the original interview—betrays human meddling on a different scale altogether, precisely through its absence of any visible interference. That is, the landscape depicted in Sambunaris's photo has, in fact, been artificially scrubbed clean of all human traces by an unseen scaffolding of political regulation—its declaration and protection as a National Park—making even this a kind of altered landscape, an arranged scenography planned and implemented from afar by human beings.

In any case, click through to read the full interview, but also consider picking up a copy of the photographer's new book, Taxonomy of a Landscape, with an accompanying essay by Natasha Egan.

Empty Landscapes of Invisible Dangers

[Image: "The Polygon Nuclear Test Site 1 (After the Event)," Kazakhstan (2011); photo by Nadav KanderNadav Kander, courtesy of Flowers Gallery].

The new book Dust by Nadav Kander documents the broken test-cities of the Soviet nuclear program, with shells of partially dismantled buildings lying scattered across the landscape like dead monuments, anonymous and unsigned.

[Image: "The Polygon Nuclear Test Site VII," Kazakhstan (2011); photo by Nadav KanderNadav Kander, courtesy of Flowers Gallery].

As the Guardian describes Kander's work—which opened just last week at London's Flowers Gallery—the "desolate is rendered sublime—almost too perfect—in these epic images of a land laid waste by Soviet nuclear ambitions."

What you're looking at are, in the gallery's words, "the radioactive ruins of secret cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia," architectural targets now collapsing wall by wall into the barren plain.

[Image: "Priozersk (Military Housing)" Kazakhstan (2011); photo by Nadav KanderNadav Kander, courtesy of Flowers Gallery].

The region they're in was known simply as the "Polygon," a suitably abstract designation for what was essentially a nuclear sacrifice zone. From the gallery:
Priozersk (formally known as "Moscow 10") and Kurchatov are closed cities, restricted military zones, concealed and not shown on maps until they were "discovered" by Google Earth. Enlisted to the pursuits of science and war, the sites were utilized for the covert testing of atomic and long distance weapons. Falsely claimed as uninhabited, the cities, along with nearby testing site "The Polygon" set the stage for one of the most cynical experiments ever undertaken. Scientists watched and silently documented the horrifying effects of radiation and pollution on the local population and livestock.
Kander's photos are on display until October 11, but you can also buy the book from publisher Hatje Cantz.

[Image: "The Aral Sea I (Officers Housing)," Kazakhstan (2011); photo by Nadav KanderNadav Kander, courtesy of Flowers Gallery].

In the meantime, be sure to check out the gallery's website for many more photos, and the artist's own portfolio includes other series well worth a look, such as photos from the Arctic Circle, from the ruins of Chernobyl, and even a fantastic, David Lynchian project called "Night," featuring all but depopulated suburban landscapes lit up by street lamps and garages.

(Note: This post's title—"empty landscapes of invisible dangers"—comes from Nadav Kander, as quoted in the Flowers Gallery press release).

Procedural Forestry

[Image: A "procedural forest gone wrong... or right?," developed by Florian Veltman].

We looked at procedural Brutalism the other week—and, deep in the BLDGBLOG archives, we explored the moors of a procedurally generated British countryside—so why not procedural forestry?

Designer Florian Veltman tweeted two screen grabs the other week, along with the quick comment that he was "working on a procedural forest." The first image, which you can see in his tweet, is just a path or small clearing—almost a holloway—cutting forward through a forest of algorithmic leaves and branches.

But it's the picturesque errorscape seen in the opening image of this post, and in Veltman's second tweet, that really caught my eye. Captioned by Veltman as a "procedural forest gone wrong... or right?," it resembles a kind of upended tectonic plate overgrown with vegetation, pierced by the alien presence of a miscalculated substrate erupting from below.

Procedural forestry, procedural geology, procedural oceanography—the very idea of a procedural natural history is just incredible. Unstoppable worlds endlessly flowering from roots of code. Imagine landscape information modeling becoming weirdly sentient, self-generating, and aesthetically sublime, laced with errors, topographies gone wild—stuttering and mutated—in the infinite seams between digital worlds.

We watch in unearthly awe as coded terrains crack open or glitch apart just enough to reveal their mathematical interiors, buried operating systems indistinguishable from nature whirring away within the roots and leaves.

(Indirectly spotted via @jimrossignol).

Celestial Chiaroscuro



An interesting new project called Satellite Lamps, by Einar Sneve Martinussen, Jørn Knutsen, and Timo Arnall, attempts to visualize the ever-drifting, never exactly accurate workings of GPS.

As the above video shows, the project uses "a set of lamps that contain GPS receivers, that change brightness according to the accuracy of received GPS signals. When we photograph them in timelapse, they reveal how the accuracy changes over time."

You're basically watching the indirect effects of signal drift, transformed here into ambient mood lighting that acts secondarily as a graph of celestial geography.

[Image: From Satellite Lamps].

In what the group calls a "selective history of how a piece of the Space Program has ended up in our pockets," they explain that the everyday reception of signals coming down from the constellation of GPS satellites is always subject to temporary errors, inaccuracies, and misalignments; this can be seen easily enough by glancing at nothing more than your own physical location, as mapped on your cell phone.

They also point to an interesting observation, made by artist James Bridle, that "if you leave a running app such as Nike+ or Runkeeper on your bedside table while you sleep at night, you will wake up to see that the app reports that you ran a significant distance, without doing anything. This, we speculated, is due to the way in which these apps are recording the GPS inaccuracies and counting these as actual, physical movements. In reality, these odd asymmetrical star-shaped tracks offer a map of the shifts of the phone attempting to locate itself."

This ghostly movement is not "real" in any spatial or geographic sense, but it nonetheless leaves digital tracks in our information profiles, like phantom trips being taken by our data-shadows in secret.

[Image: From Satellite Lamps].

So why not visualize this ongoing slippage—these minor tectonics events taking place inside the tools of geography—in a different form, not with, say, an iPhone scooting around all over your neighborhood at night, trying to keep up with the haunted midnight fugues of an errant running app, but with something stationary, something all the more uncanny for the invisible movements that seem to pass through it like an aurora?

This, then, is the point of Satellite Lamps, which flicker and dim to help reveal the invisible glitches in earth-to-satellite coordination, paradoxically unmoving chandeliers that shine in a chiaroscuro of side-effects leaking in from a parallel world.

[Image: From Satellite Lamps].

In any case, the project is voluminously explained and documented. Considering reading about GPS itself, about the team's strategy for giving visual form to invisible information, and, finally, about the physical realization of the lamps.

Implied Landscapes

[Image: "Colour experiment no. 61," 2014; photo by Jens Ziehe, via Tate Britain].

The forthcoming exhibition of J.M.W. Turner's late works at Tate Britain not only looks amazing, but it's also accompanied by a gorgeous new series of seven works by Olafur Eliasson.

Called "Turner colour experiments," the paintings were made after Eliasson "analyzed seven paintings by Turner to create Turner colour experiments, which isolate and record Turner’s use of light and color."

These are Turner's paintings, reduced and purified to form, in effect, circular indexes of every color Turner himself once used. They are landscapes, abstracted and distilled.

[Image: "Colour experiment no. 58," 2014; photo by Jens Ziehe, via Tate Britain].

In fact, these are actually just the most recent pieces from Eliasson's ongoing research.

As Eliasson writes, describing an earlier and related work called "Emergent fade—colour experiment," he hopes this work "will eventually lead to a new colour theory based on the prismatic colours." The technical effort behind all this is insane:
The visible colour spectrum in light ranges in frequency from approximately 390 to 700 nanometres. Since 2009, Olafur Eliasson has been engaged in a project that he hopes will eventually lead to a new colour theory based on the prismatic colours. He began these experiments by working with a colour chemist to mix in paint an exact colour for each nanometre of light in the visible spectrum. Since the initial experiments, Eliasson has used this palette to make a number of different paintings, known collectively as the Colour experiment paintings. Each painting is different and individual, but all are attempts at investigating what Eliasson hopes will evolve into a new colour theory.
Specifically in terms of Turner, Eliasson adds, his goals—seemingly something more from the world of material science than from the history of representational art—are to "begin an experimental study by abstracting the prismatic colours of Turner's palette and filtering them into a new, utopian colour theory."

[Image: "Colour experiment no. 60," 2014; photo by Jens Ziehe, via Tate Britain].

But what's perhaps most exciting about these, for me, is the idea that these are a bit like the color genetics—the base pairs and physical hues—behind Turner's extraordinary landscapes and atmospheres.

These imply Turner's landscapes, falling within the outermost parameters of their light and color.

In each wheel, in other words, we see the compressed and essential colors of Turner's sunsets, coasts, and rainstorms blowing in to shower half a continent with new tones, the sky cracking open as mountain air filters ambient light into shining cascades, first blurred then separated here down to the nanometer.

[Image: Installation view of "Turner colour experiments" by Olafur Eliasson; photo by Jens Ziehe, via Tate Britain].

I love the idea that these are the rays of light originally depicted by Turner, a kind of visual broadcast tuned to the exact same frequencies, only here purified and re-arranged.

It's as if seven huge cyanometers have been assembled inside the museum: Eliasson's brilliant engines through which Turner's old skies can shine again.

(Vaguely related: The Great Age of Clouds).

Procedural Brutalism

[Image: Procedural Brutalism by Cedric].

Here are a few GIFs of procedurally generated architecture by a game developer named Cedric, built using Unity. Cedric describes himself as an "indie game dev focused on social AI, emergent narrative and procedural worlds."

[Image: Procedural Croydon by Cedric].

These were pointed out to me by Jim Rossignol, who has both guest-posted and spoken at length here on BLDGBLOG about procedural architecture, and whose own development company, Big Robot, is behind the awesome "British Landscape Generator" whirring away beneath the rolling hills and cliffsides of Sir, You Are Being Hunted.

[Image: Procedural facades by Cedric].

The GIFs here are relatively big, obviously, so it might take a while for them to load, but then you can just sit back and watch the rule-based production of built structures pop, rise, and expand like urban accordions.

Imagine whole game worlds powered by real-time computation at the building level, constantly and parametrically fizzing with architectural forms, barely predictable new Woolworth Buildings and Barbicans sprouting on-demand from the ground whenever needed.