Towards a new website

My sincere apologies for not having posted anything since 2015. But as I announced 3 years ago, I've been very busy and finally have fallen into certain dose of exhaustion. But I am back on track.
So, Urban Lab Global Cities will no longer be hosted by blogger. This blog is clinically dead! I will keep it open a few while but will let blogger to close it.
I will be launching a new website. For now, I just posted its beta version. Tons of details are slowing me down but the link will provide the information you need to know about this new object of obsession. The blog (via wordpress) is online but, with patience and enthusiasm, the full website will be online very soon (still learning codes).
Farewell Blogger!


Some thoughts on a submission on Resource territories and climate change

My sincere apologies for not having been productive over these months but I was particularly busy.
This following text is notes and ideas for a text that I submitted (finally rejected), days ago, for an American journal of architecture on correlation between side effects of resource territories and the pressing question of climatic changing contexts in the context of architecture. What interested me was not so much the relation of climate and resource extraction. With a strong evidence, this issue of toxic emissions strongly contributes to change the biosphere's climatic and geological conditions. One of the central themes of my text was the emphasis placed on the objects generated by spatial and material destruction for extractive and processing purposes. What type of objects are they? And why do they matter? These objects are derelict, abandoned buildings, crumbling infrastructure, put it simply ruins. These very discrete material traces cannot capture our attention but are as toxic as the emission of contaminants, pollution and toxic waste that extractive and processing activities generate.
An abandoned well tested by researchers of the Princeton University, the Allegheny National Forest. Photo credit The Princeton University. Originally appeared on PhysdotOrg

I focused my submission on the transformation of Russian Arctic Circle's space during the Soviet era while I admit that I am not a specialist of this region (even of Russia). I view the Soviet era (in particular the Stalinist era in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s) as a good example of the limit and contradictions of the production of space for economical and technical purposes, in particular in extreme environments. For these notes on this text, however, I'll be expanding on the entire resource territory, at the scale of the planet. Some examples: the Niger Delta, Sumgayit (Azerbaijan), parts of United States (Pennsylvania, for instance), parts of France (mining regions) to name a few. A very vast geography of resource production-related ruins at the scale of the planet.
An abandoned, unplugged well near the Allegheny National Forest | Photo courtesy Scott Detrow/State Impact Pennsylvania. Originally appeared on State Impact, 2012

With regard to resource territories, as a technological space, we usually look at these spatial products, these platforms, tanks, storages, pipelines in activity. This, however, is a mistake to neglect those obsolete, crumbling infrastructures, those broken buildings, abandoned wells, destroyed pipelines due to lack of maintenance, to sabotage or as targets in warzones (we all know pipeline is a favorite target in war zones) since they provide us information of (1) the type, force, time, scale, and rhythm of spatial destruction related to the production of resource territories; (2) the lack of quality or, to put it simply, the obsolescence of many infrastructure as a legacy the 19th and 20th centuries; (3) as a result, they, simply, pollute soils, water and air affecting both environment and population.
Discharge from an abandoned well killed an acre of vegetation in Oneida County. Originally appeared on Tom Wilber's blog

The intention of my submission was not to deliver positive messages in the form of architectural scenarios to remediate these challenging issues. Neither was my intention — in the worse case — to formulate negative messages that would blame architecture for its contribution to the accelerating climate change. This submission situates within the following problematic: What can architecture do with the déjà-là? Indeed it poses the question of the negative déjà-là, these ruins that expand their territory into far beyond their location and beyond this, the role and position of design practices in creating these spatial products with lack of quality standards in such particular sites as extreme environments — the desert, the Amazon, the Arctic, the Ocean —, conflict-pattern regions, or primarily sparsely populated regions (villages or small-scaled human settlements) over the late 19th and the 20th centuries.
Abandoned Pipeline, near The Headland, Hartlepool, Great Britain | Photo courtesy Alison Rawson
According to Alison Rawson, "There are several of these rail topped pipelines heading out to sea. Once part of the now abandoned Steetley Magnesite Works."
Originally appeared on Geograph

With evidence these ruins pollute the territory they are shaping, the places where they have been erected in. But they also pollute the scale of the biosphere through the emission of toxic elements or oil and gas leakages. Most of these resource production-related infrastructures were built at a time when companies and governments did not take into consideration quality standards and, worse, side effects on both humans and nonhumans. In surveying these crumbling infrastructures, broken and collapsing buildings and factories, I attempted to look into the (in)direct correlation between the resource territories-related infrastructural space and climate change. It indeed is commonly admitted a direct correlation between resource extraction and climate change throughout emission of greenhouse gas, methane, sulfur dioxide, arsenic, oil leakage, and other negative by-products.
Abandoned pipeline in Tarraleah Power Station, Wellington, Australia | Photo courtesy Simon Cullen/ABC. Originally appeared on ABC

Yet what about those derelict infrastructures and buildings that are abandoned after mining and drilling operation shut down? My research led to state that the very political importance of these ruins has been neglected over decades certainly in order for capitalism not to confess its non-interest in detrimental impacts of this technological zone on space and bodies. Let me borrow this concept from Timothy Morton, wicked problem which strongly illustrates these ruins. A wicked problem, Timothy Morton writes, means "a problem that one can understand perfectly, but for which there is no rational solution. A super wicked problem, he continues, is "a wicked problem for which time is running out, for which there is no central authority, where those seeking the solution to it are also creating it, and where policies discount the future irrationally.[1] There is no rational solution to deal with these ruins because of the high price of their maintenance and upgrading programme. Yet these issues will be revealed to us as dangerous or, even, wicked as their toxicity will become more relevant, more vivid. It's just a matter of time.
Abandoned gas well in high grass | Photo courtesy Steve Hillbrand, U.S. Fish and wildlife service, originally appeared on Public Domain Image

In the world there are many abandoned objects in the forms creating their own zone and affect. Let's take for example, the extreme environment of Russian Arctic Circle with its numerous abandoned infrastructures, buildings, with industrial functions, many of them built in the Soviet era, next to, or part of the built environment. Images of crumbling infrastructures and buildings under snow and due to melting permafrost, broken or incomplete transport networks and factories, in Norilsk, Murmansk, and other Russian Arctic Circle's sites can easily be found on Internet. What these images show is the spatial and material traces as a factor of the destructive forces of the production of resource production-related space. Not only do these spatial products affect the natural processes generating viscous and violent phenomena — melting permafrost, rising land and water temperature, more frequent and violent cold storm, acid rains, boreal forest and tundra loss — and the population who lives there, but, and as a consequence, they also stick to us, are part of us[2]. The region has been suffering from some of the worst land and air pollution in the world with a population whose life expectancy is 10 years below the Russian average (which itself if particularly low)[3].
An oil-pumping equipment standing abandoned at the oil well near Surgut in Siberia | Photo courtesy EPA/Vadim Rusakov |
Originally appeared on New Europe

Ruins obey their own logic, yet they interfere with us by disrupting the clear-cut rules of our logic (for instance to say it with Timothy Morton, the world in its entirety has since long evaporated, becoming a vast, planetary technological zone made up of clusters of technological zones)[4]. Given their toxicity, they also disturb the clear partition between their spatial and temporal inscription, and living and non-living bodies and space. Their discrete agency and power will reveal to us as we will be confronted with the question of climate change and its affiliated shifting contexts. In that respect, we will be forced to account not only for their presence as well as for their toxicity[5]. More precisely, these ruins, broken infrastructures and buildings are becoming "omnipresent planetary entities", or hyperobjects, to say it with Timothy Morton, 'vastly distributed agents' co-responsible for turning the surface, subsurface, air and water into dead land, waters and poisoned air at a dramatically accelerated pace[6].
Abandoned Transpolar Railway in Salekhard-Igarka, Siberia, Russia. Originally appeared on Russia Trek
Another view of the abandoned Transpolar Railway in Salekhard-Igarka, SIberia, Russia. Originally appeared on Russia Trek

For that matter, I convoked a series of texts that deserved to be read by architects interested in these industrial wastelands. These texts were a great source of inspiration to explore this critical issue of ruins within resource territories and see how they contribute to the accelerating environmental degradation, and by extension, climate change. I merely cite some of them. Henri Lefebvre unsurprisingly is on top of the list with his account of Production of Space[7] that I associated with Gaston Gordillo's excellent Rubble. The Afterlife of Destruction[8], in particular his concept of destruction of space. Gordillo, through the question of rubble, examines the destructive force of the production of space in the region of Gran Chaco, northern Argentine reminding us that the production of a new space for technological use — agribusiness, waste processing, resource extraction, military or scientific operations — or simply put, abstract space always results from the destruction of the original space which of course, in turn, generates tangible traces of former places. Henri Lefebvre, Gaston Gordillo reminds us, emphasizes that "this abstract space is inherently violent, a 'lethal' space that 'destroys these historical conditions that gave rise to it'". I was much interested in the material and spatial traces that the present abstract space produces as a factor of disruptive or side effects of this abstract space. These polluted, derelict, debilitating places, I repeat, are now living with us. As Timothy Morton forthrightly affirmed, "we are no longer able to think history as exclusively human, for the very reason that we are in the Anthropocene."[9]
Cap of Kola Superdeep Borehole, Siberia, Russia | Photo courtesy Rakot13, 2012. Originally appeared on Inhabitat

These ruins, which are the negation of negation given their toxicity and viscosity, are forced on us. They have their own agency and power. As I wrote above, these 'politics' obey their own logic. The awareness of the lethal effects of these ruins will appear as terrible shock for us. In that respect, we will no longer be able to ignore or deny their presence near us. What this imposed presence of resource production-related ruins makes explicit is that human existence is situated in a complex space of toxicity, contaminants and pollution at the scale of the planet, a reality witnessable only as the form of indirect effects, but that is not yet, at least immediately, noticeable. This negation of negation is inscribed in a very critical, odd context where ruins, built environment, industrial sites and networks, and nature are intertwined, a context that gives these resource production-related ruins a strong political signification. As by-products of the age of industry, capitalism, and technology, they now are, menacingly, part of our life. While we humans are trying to fix this environmental degradation that we have been producing over centuries with our current system — capitalism —, tools and technical knowledge, these ruins will force us to take into account that "[…] capitalism is reactive rather than proactive, it might contain a flaw that makes it unable to address the ecological emergency fully."[10]
While these ruins are conspicuous to us (if you go to an industrial expedition in these places like Pyramiden, Norilsk, Niger Delta, to quote a few, you'll be facing with their massive scale, their material presence on site, their lethal interaction with both humans, non-humans and space), their toxicity are invisible and very discrete. Yet they affect us: not only are the population who live in the site affected — many of them die of radiation sickness — but they expand their toxicity into the scale of the planetary. Put it differently, bodies are caught in the force field of intermeshed zones — zones emitted by these broken objects, zones that climate change is producing, zones that we create for economic and technical purposes, and zones that constitute the world.
If I go further than the simple presence and visibility of these ruins of infrastructure and buildings, I will take account of their material dimension but not of their spatial and toxic dimension and implication. Nonlocal things, Timothy Morton writes, on account of their invisibility, float around "in an infinite void, since there is strictly no 'around' in which these things float: one is unable to locate them in a specific region of spacetime."[11]
Why did I decide of looking at resource production-related ruins? Geologist Jan Zalasiewicz delivers one but very simple response: "At an ever-increasing rate, we are currently creating examples of the most amazing (and, in the far distant future, perhaps the most puzzling) trace fossils likely to appear in the history of the planet."[12] Put it differently, resource extraction is one example of many forms of production of human trace fossils. So the question that can be posed is as follows: what will the far future architect, urban chronicler, or whoever excavate? Ruins, but not simple ruins. Negative, toxic ruins, debris, as material or human trace fossils, factor of ever-increasing human footprint on the Earth.

[1] Morton Timothy, Hyperobjects. Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2013), 135.
[2] A walk on western ancient mining, oil and gas sites show thousands abandoned resource operation-related infrastructures many of them to be found to be leaking a certain amount of methane. An example can be found here. To have an idea of how such leakage can affect both natural process and living beings is the problem of arsenic as depicted in Mehrarg Andrew A., Venomous Earth. How arsenic caused the world's worst mass poisoning, (New York: MacMillan, 2005). Methane is added into the list of poisons as a proof that the Earth has evaporated. About this affirmation, see Morton Timothy, Hyperobjects).
[3] Sassen Saskia, Expulsions. Brutality and complexity in the global economy, (Cambridge: Belkamp Press, 2013) 156.
[4] Morton, Id., 101.
[5] When for instance poisons like methane will be clearly and officially detected in these derelict infrastructures and buildings.
[6] Morton, id., 53.
[7] Lefebvre Henri, Production of Space, (Bognor Regis: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991), 289.
[8] Gordillo Gaston, Rubble. The Afterlife of Destruction, (Durham: University of Duke Press, 2013), 79.
[9] Morton, id., 5.
[10] Morton, id., 21.
[11] Morton, id., 42.
[12] Zalasiewicz Jan, The Earth after Us: What Legacy will Humans leave in the Rocks, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 165.


Resource Territories and The Russian Far North: An Introduction

The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of nature’s force to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization or rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848

No space vanishes utterly, leaving no traces
Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 2000 (1st edition: 1974) (French version), 1991 (English version)

Verkutlag, or the Camp at Verkuta established in 1931 for coal mining
Courtesy Photo: Stanislaw Kialka, Tomasz Kizny
originally appeared on RFE/RL

In the coming weeks, I will be posting a series of essays that will be exploring three key-concepts regarding resource territories: contingency, control and accountability. With these concepts, I'll be attempting to address the interrelation between extractive activities (more precisely resource extraction-related apparatus ranging from extraction to resource urbanism) and the forms of violence that this apparatus produces. As I will repeat through this presentation and in the next essays, resource territories are matter of destruction of space in order to exploit its possibilities, what constitutes this space, that is its resources. Destruction of space is always followed by the building of new forms of space, or abstract space, space shaped by and for humans (Lefebvre 2000/1991, Gordillo, 2014). Hence this idea of spatial destruction as creative negativity. The space that predates the destruction contained historical conditions and information that are replaced by new historical conditions and information whether negative or positive. Spatial destruction generates social, political, economic, cultural and environmental modification that involve displacement, poverty, conflicts, violence, landscape degradation, radioactivity, biodiversity loss, and so on and on.

Abandoned buildings in Vorkuta
Courtesy Photo: Tom Balmforth/RFE/RL
Originally appeared on RFE/RL

For this matter, I'll be using a series of concepts that I borrowed from the field of military geography; this includes spatial proximity through contiguity or distance and spatial contingency, control over space, spatial destruction, environmental modification. I will also borrow from the field of philosophy —more precisely acceleration, negativity, abstraction, contingency. 
I’ve been working on these essays for a long while and they are part of an ongoing long research on the contingent relationship between resource extraction activities, humans and the biosphere, and violence that this contingent relationship produces. These essays will mainly be engaging with the problem of violence at multiple levels and its instrumentalization for extraction purposes. I will focus on the Gulag camps’ activities in the mining zones and oil wells of the Far North as example of the establishment of resource territories and the forms of control over space and bodies, and even violence. The core point of these essays is that violence is part of the logic of resource territories. Violence produces and is produced by resource territories. It is declined at the scale of the living, the biosphere, the economic, the political, the cultural. What are the technologies, spatial arrangements, and artefacts that shape Resource territories? How does resource extraction affect beings and non beings? What does resource extraction do to the natural environment? What kind of spatial contingency emerges from the coupling of extraction and these specific territories of the far north?

Resource territories are matter of control over space and bodies, land claims, access, and sovereignty, contingency and uncertainty, as well as geography, geology, engineering, design, techniques, technologies, apparatuses, procedures and spatial arrangements. Remote areas, what we call the outside, because of their geographies, their localities, and their climactic features are sparsely populated, if not uninhabited, or on the contrary case, are economically blockaded. The lack of connectivity, of infrastructure, accentuates their geographic isolation. Yet, the age of the polar exploration over the the end of the 19th- and the 20th centuries has participated in dismantling spatial boundaries, and consequently, territorial expansions, industrialization and urbanization of the whole USSR territory. The Soviet interest for these regions is similar with that of Canada, Denmark, Great Britain and Norway. These regions concentrate a massive amount of natural resources which arouses interests and curiosity and provokes land claims, disputes or even violence for control over these spaces. They incarnate a politics of territorial expansion for the sake of a control over lands and seas, their components, namely natural resources, raising a series of intricate questions ranging from access, land acquisition, resource extraction-induced displacement, development-induced displacement, to forced and illegal labor, violence, torture and even murders for resource extraction purposes (Mitchell, 2014; Marriott and Minio-Paluello, 2014; Sassen, 2014; Gordillo, 2014; Watts and Peluso, 2001).

As said above, these essays will be exploring the formation of resource territories in the USSR through the implantation of the Gulag Camps, the development of oil and mining activities, and the integration of the Far North into the state territorialization ambitions. Murmansk, Norilsk, Kolyma, Pechora, Vorkuta were geographically landlocked places yet rich in natural resources. Access to these regions was limited to slow mobility due to a lack or inadequate infrastructure. There were no roads leading to these areas. The implantation of forced labor camps to support the Soviet Union’s Five-Year Plan played an important role in the Stalinist apparatus of territorialization of the whole USSR (Applebaum, 2003; Barenberg, 2014; Josephson, 2014). Today these cities are typical of resource urbanism which activities mainly rely on extraction and processing of minerals. 
Arctic Population Map | © Lola Sheppard and Mason White/Lateral Office | New Geographies No. 1, 2009

Most of these regions were uninhabited or sparsely inhabited with indigenous people until the construction of forced labor colonies. Yet, their fields are full of resources. These include large deposits of oil and coal as well as metals such as nickel, copper, and, apatites, ceramic materials, iron ores. Given their toxicity, raw material extraction have harmed local population, workers and environment. These affect soil and air, producing by-products, or waste; they also are invisible and nonlocal that can be spread in a very large scale, that of the biosphere (Morton, 2013).

The geography that these essays will be addressing is a precarious frontier resource field. The landscape consists of taiga (southern part) and tundra (northern part). Subsoils are permafrost which affects any form of vegetation like trees except pine trees in the southern areas (taiga). Grass and shrubs dominate these areas. Climate is very harsh with freezing temperatures typical in the Arctic territory and the extreme north of Siberia, with record lows reaching -50°c (-58°F), and windy conditions. After decades of resource extraction, engineering and construction, this extreme territory has been reshaped, transformed into an abstract space, more precisely, an urban space mainly dedicated to resource extraction and processing. Indeed, the landscape has changed dramatically with the construction industrial complexes, apartment blocks and equipment, roads, as well as mining and industrial activities. A part of these cities however is gradually disintegrating due to thawing permafrost, as for example the city of Norilsk.
Norilsk from the serie Days of Night - Nights of Day | © Elena Chernyshova, 2012-2013

In spite of these barriers, these regions have occupied a central place in the apparatus of the USSR economy, mass industrialization and urbanization of the whole USSR. The formation of the camp system displayed in the whole territory of the USSR to people these landlocked areas, and exploit their resources (minerals, fishes, wood) for the needs of the country, and their shift into company towns are great examples of the acceleration of the process of urbanization and industrialization. As Benjamin Noys put it, the «lag between the reality of devastation and the desire to embrace new capitalist technologies as the means to create a new communist society produced a contradiction» (Noys, 2014). This contradiction, that Noys raised, is well-illustrated with a range of concerns including traces of human activities in these extreme territories in the form of spatial et material destruction (ruins, rubbles, toxicity, pollution), spatial proximity through contiguity between work areas and workers' barracks and, then, company towns that surround these industrial complexes. 
Norilsk Industrial complex, also known as Norilsk Nickel | © The Moscow Times, 2011
Originally appeared on The Moscow Times

Landscape degradation, toxic environment, building damage, cancers, and other harmful spatial products are the result of this spatial proximity and human activities. Spatial destruction leads to a new form of, better an abstract space, modeled by humans for human needs (Lefebvre, 2000/1991, Gordillo, 2014). In the case of these territories, precarious technological tools have become the tools of this machine of destruction that are territorialization and industrialization. This destructive process, to quote Gaston Gordillo, has degraded spaces, buildings and lives (Gordillo, 2014). Along with the physiographic and climactic conditions and the impossible requirements of the Five-Year Plan, this form of technology-induced violence has contributed to the destruction of thousands lives (Applebaum, 2003). In this list can be added most of workers’ lack of knowledge, skills and expertise in mining and drilling activities — most of them being political prisoners — as a form of handicap that, yet, did not concern the central government.
What this list above shows is the political nature of space particularly patent in the Communist accelerated industrialization and urbanization. Gulag Camps were unsurprisingly political as they reveal the schizophrenic character of the Stalinist politics of productivity. The human labor, transformed into machines, was forced to make up for Soviet lack of technology (Josephson, 2014). The Soviet Union’s lack of advanced technology, and a degrading economy due to civil war, has forced the government to adopt a brutal form of process of production relied on labor and acceleration. The proletarian poet Aleksei Gastev «saw the destruction (…) as the possibility of a new beginning» (Noys, 2014).
Too much is destroyed, much destroyed to the point of madness, to the point that chronology is wiped out, but even more is begun, begun with open naiveté and faith. We have to accept all that, accept it without conditions, accept it as the emotional-political manifesto of the times and give ourselves up to the whirlpool of the new epoch, where the general platform must be bold rationalism (Carden, 1987, Noys, 2014).
The lack of technology, again, has been filled with the integration of living labor into the machine characterized by the ‘zeal of labor’, a form of robotization of humans — or ‘man-machine’ — for the sake of Communist productivity. As Noys put it, «rather than being reduced to the ‘mere appendage’ of the machine, the worker will control and direct the machine, reworking capitalist technology to communist ends» (Noys, 2014). Workers’ lack of skills and knowledge, their naiveté or inexperience, was viewed as a form of positive, if not creative, negativity as it could make living labor more flexible in accordance with Marxism:
while in communist society,…, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic (Marx, 1845; Noys, 2014).
Anne Applebaum, in her very long research on the Gulag System, has depicted the way in which workers operated in the mining fields using precarious tools, such as hand tools, to dig the frozen soil and extract minerals and drill oils. They also built their own needs and services, their settlements, consisting of wooden or concrete barracks and other basic infrastructure to support their labor, Watchtowers, all closed with barbed wires, or open in the case of the implantation of camps in islands (Applebaum, 2003). 

So was the lack of concerns on the environmental impact that the formation of these Russian resource territories for military and industrial purposes would have produced. Destruction of space should be understood as political. It resulted of this accelerated process of production promoted by Stalin, a lack or absence of knowledge, skills, and expertise, at least at the beginning, on the geological, physical and climactic conditions of the Far North. These wooden or concrete buildings, we will see, have been constructed on a permafrost soil that are not adapted to such constructions. In the same way that these mining and oil activities have been operated on this type of soil which accelerated the thawing of permafrost and the toxicity of the landscape with metals. These high impact activities contributed to rising temperature and ice melting. As architect and co-founder of Lateral Office, Mason White, put it, the shifting conditions of these areas, in particular the Barents Sea, make «previously inaccessible areas thought to be resource fields now developable» (White, 2009).

Resource territories require knowledge, specific skills, expertise, and fields ranging from geology to engineering and construction. The building of roads, railways to link these strategic points to the Russian main cities, of apartment blocks, airports, industries, and other infrastructural networks including pipelines necessitate specialists’ skills and expertise including architects, engineers, and planners. Architecture and planning cannot be dissociated with the setting of the labor camps and resource territories. Stalin understood it when he decided to convoke architects, engineers, planners and other specialists to build these territories. Of course, most of them were arrested for sabotage and counter-revolutionary act and sent to the Far North, Siberia and other colonized territories including Kazakhstan. The actual Norilsk, Vorkuta, or Murmansk, these company towns, are the result of a long process of trials and errors, of failure characterized by Stalinist accelerationism. Material evidence of this failure can be seen with damaged abandoned buildings, apartment blocks sinking because of the thawing permafrost soil on which they have been implanted, because of the ignorance, or lack of interest in the danger of building on this type of soil. This is the case of Norilsk, mentioned above, a closed and toxic city. People and buildings have been severely impacted by toxicity, contamination and pollution owing to their spatial proximity to industrial complexes and mining sites.

The presence atmospheric pollution of heavy metals leads to a drop in the immunity of city residents, which is so vital in our climactic conditions… we are falling sick and dying.» (Sassen, 2014).
Traces of this machine of destruction, can be found with ruins and rubbles of gulag camps and industrial and mining complexes and derelict infrastructure near the city of Norilsk. Images of these previous gulag camps and damaged buildings mirror the process of transformation from a sparsely territory, or historical conditions of this place, to an urban space, or resource-related urban space that challenges contamination, toxicity and pollution. These ruins, rubbles, damaged objects, waste, derelict industrial industries, contaminated land, lakes and rivers are part of this abstraction of space. These abstract objects are also characteristics of past, present and future because of their nonlocality and atemporality. Their are the heritage of mining and oil activities of the 20th century and pose the question of how these places can be designed in the 21th century that tackle these political, social, cultural and environmental impacts.
Derelict buildings
Norilsk City, from the series of Days of Night - Nights of Day | © Elena Chernyshova, 2012-2013 

This globally is what the next essays will be exploring. I do not speak Russian. My research consequently (and unfortunately) is limited to English-written documents. This said, the aim of this series of short essays is to apprehend resource territories in the scope of resource extraction control over space and bodies, contingencies, accountability and violence. I am particularly interested in addressing the spatial, political, social, biospheric implication of the fact that resource territories have long been viewed as closed territories, with their own legal, ethical, political, social, and cultural frames. Put it simply, as I mentioned above, resource territories must be understood as social, political, economic, and biospheric. As Saskia Sassen stated in her book Expulsions, much of the 21st century will be concerned with the social, political, economic, and (and I stress the ‘and’) biospheric situations and conditions (Sassen, 2014). It will be requiring another approach to design, namely, no longer at the scale of the site but at the scale of the territory. It also will be requiring to take account of the by-products, wastes, or hyperobjects, that we, humans, are creating within our activities and that will affect us for a long time on (Morton, 2013; Byant 2014). Such issues should be regarded as an opportunity for the architect, the landscape architect, and the planner to develop, implement an adaptive ecological design that encourages a resilient, scalable process of use, extraction, and remediation. Resource territories, as zone-like-enclaves or extraterritorial zones, are indicative of 20th-century model of human domination on nature, and industrialization and urbanization at the scale of the planetary, to limit to two examples. These remote areas also are the location of what some observers call petro-violence (Watts, Peluso, 2001), that is petro-violence on bodies and environment.
Another issue to discuss when challenging such northerly territories is to rethink how buildings and infrastructure should operate in this context. In another part of the Arctic circle, the Canadian Arctic, Lateral Office is questioning these complex situations and conditions that this region imposes. The Canadian Arctic also is subject to a landscape transformation under the extent of industrialization and urbanization. The agency calls for a reconsideration of the status of the architect as no longer an architect as problem-solver but an architect as opportunity-seeker. This approach opposes to the 19th- 20th-century engineering and construction based on the domination of geography, of nature.
How can architecture contribute to new conceptualizations of alternative formats for these petro-landscapes and petropolises? How can designers and planners tackle the specificities and inequities of this space of contradiction to propose something new? In the present case of the Polar North, how do we learn to live in the North?


Applebaum Anne (2003), Gulag. A History, (New York: Anchor Books).
Barenberg Alan (2014), Gulag Town, Company Town - Forced Labor and its Legacy in Vorkuta, (New Haven: Yale University Press).
Bhatia Neeraj, Casper Mary (eds.) (2013), The Petropolis of Tomorrow, (Barcelona: Actar Publishers).
Bryant Levi (2014), Onto-Cartography: An Ontology of Machines, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press).
Elden Stuart (2013), The Birth of Territory, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press).
Elden Stuart (2009), Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty, (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press).
Forensic Architecture (ed.) (2014), Forensis. The Architecture of Public Truth, (Berlin: Sternberg Press). 
Gordillo Gaston (2014), Rubble. The Afterlife of Destruction, (Durham: Duke University Press).
Josephson Paul (2014), The Conquest of the Russian Arctic, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).
Lefebvre Henri (2000), La Production de l'Espace, (Paris: Economica), 4th edition).
Lefebvre Henri (1991), The Production of Space, (London: Wiley-Blackwell).
Marriott James, Minio-Paluello Mika (2014), The Oil Road. Journeys from the Caspian Sea to the City of London, (London, UK/Brooklyn, US: Verso Books).
Mitchell Timothy (2013), Carbon Democracy. Political Power in the Age of Oil, (London, UK/Brooklyn, US: Verso Books).
Morton Timothy (2013), Hyperobjects. Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press).
Noys Benjamin (2014), Malign Velocities. Accelerationism and Capitalism, (Winchester, UK/Washington, US: Zero Books).
Sassen Saskia (2014), Expulsions. Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy, (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press).
Watts Michael, Peluso Nancy (eds.) (2001), Violent Environments, (Ithaca: Cornell University).
Weizman Eyal (2011), The Least of All Possible Evils. Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza, (London, UK/Brooklyn, US: Verso Books).
White Mason (2009), 'Resource Fields. Gas Urbanism and Slick Cities', in Knechtel John, Fuel, (Cambridge: MIT Press), 70-93.
White Mason, Sheppard Lola (2009), 'Meltdown: Thawing Geographies in the Arctic', in New Geographies, Vol. 1, 130-137.


Land acquisition in remote areas: the case of Baku

This recent article written by The Guardian's critic of architecture Oliver Wainwright about Zaha Hadid's Baku Prize winner for the Heydar Aliyev Center raises a range of questions and concerns from land acquisition by dispossession for extractive operations, pipeline corridors, urban development, to the ethical stance of architecture. The aim of this text does not concern the Heydar Aliyev Center itself which, in my view, is a beautiful building, very Zaha-Hadid signature. I, however, will retain one but very essential question: land acquisition by dispossession. This issue of land acquisition by dispossession along with displacement and proletarianization of the very population that live in peripheral, remote locations is at core of the formation of frontier zones. Below is some hints, or short reflections on this practice.
Land acquisition by dispossession poses the question of the place and status of the body, those who live in these areas and are, consequently, affected by oil activities. Along with affected local residents is the question of land at issue illustrated by dispute, protests, sabotage or compromises as well as deterritorialization, reterritorialization in these exclusive territories. What I propose below is some glances from my ongoing research on urbanism, infrastructural design related to resource extraction — part of Contingency, the first volume of Uncertain Territories —, more precisely on operationalized landscapes with this question in mind: what design opportunities for such peripheral regions? What can architecture do to tackle these complexities?
Re-Rigging. 2010 | © Lateral Office/Infranet Lab
Image originally appeared on Fei-Ling Tseng's website

"The government has pursued a programme of illegal expropriation and forced eviction across the city, without proper compensation of its residents," Oliver Wainwright writes. On May 10, 2013, it has been reported that more than 3.641 apartments and private properties have been demolished in the center of Baku, a zone named as 'zone of illegal demolition.'
Shocking though this can be, land acquisition by dispossession, along with displacement and proletarianization of local populations, is a common practice in extractive regions. Extractive activities demand huge amounts of land for extraction, production and distribution of oil via the pipelines and other transportation networks.

Allow me for engaging in a more technical analysis of land acquisition before going any further. In her recent book SubtractionKeller Easterling has proposed this term 'subtraction' to explain the act of building removal. Land acquisition by dispossession can be associated with 'subtraction' as shown in regions affected by conflicts as well as in frontier zones. To limit the discussion to the frontier zones of resource extraction, this practice of subtraction consists in scraping buildings in order to acquire lands for, mostly, operationalization and reorganization of landscapes for corporate profits. In our case, this practice of land acquisition by dispossession provides a large amount of lands available for oil activities in which local residents are disallowed to live or cultivate. To facilitate such practice, the 'Resettlement Action Plan' has been implemented in order to compensate to the affected local landowners for the construction of pipeline corridors. If many landowners have received compensation, some complained to have lost their land by force or live near the pipelines. James Marriott and Mika Minio-Paluello have met many residents who have lost their lands accusing local authorities and multinational operators for having illegally purchased or forced people to sell their lands with no compensation despite the 'Resettlement Action Plan'. In some cases, corruption and lack of transparency can be a deep problem in frontier zones. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline is an example among many others. Its function is to link three countries Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey to allow for the circulation and distribution of oil to terminals. A report notes that the construction of the BTC pipeline has affected about 4,100 households in Azerbaijan, about 1,800 in Georgia. In Turkey, approximately 296 villages and 13,000 parcels have been affected by the pipeline corridor (Starr and Cornell, 2005).

The 'Resettlement Action Plan' has been developed to cope with the population of these three countries affected by the construction of the BTC pipeline. The principle is to purchase or lease parcels of land for the project. In many cases, as have been said, tenants and land users have received a three-year compensation for the loss of their land. Yet, in some cases, local inhabitants living in Baku, Tbilisi, Ceyhan and along the pipeline share with the authors of The Oil Road the same statement of having been evicted from their land.
Another but significant factor is these enclaves are marked by poverty and unemployment. In the case of Azerbaijan, 42% of the population is below the poverty line. Moreover, labor protests increased with workers employed at the construction of the BTC pipeline, to continue with this example (but examples of poor labor conditions in oil regions are numerous), who have complained of being mistreated in terms of working conditions, inadequate housing and medical treatment (Mitchell, 2013).

As Marriott and Minio-Paluello show, the BTC pipeline is a fascinating example in terms of transparency and corporate social responsibility (CRS) (Barry, 2013, Marriott and Minio-Paluello, 2014). Allow me for a short moment to define this corporate social responsibility so that we will more easily attest its importance in frontier zones. A corporate social responsibility is an interesting tool for oil governance actors and institutions insofar as it allows to compensate and pacify affected communities and to scale up any concerns — environmental, countries, financial — related to oil production (Bridge and Le Billon, 2013). It is broadly employed everywhere a zone is constituted for exclusive operations.
Re-Rigging. 2010 | © Lateral Office/InfraNet Lab
"Project for a multifunctional offshore oil platform in the Caspian Sea. Can we learn from the Caspian Sea's non-human occupants to extend the momentum of oil operations into the post-oil future?"-  Maya Przybylski
Image originally appeared on e-flux

The construction of pipeline corridors should be considered in terms of their environmental and social impacts, more specifically, how these pipeline corridors affect local populations and environment. The small village of Qarabork, 187 kilometers along the pipeline from Sangachal Terminal is an example. Marriott and Minio-Paluello state "along the pipeline's route through Azerbaijan and Georgia, there were only two places where its construction would involve destroying houses; Qarabork was one of them." A solution for the oil multinational BP, one of the oil firms very active in this region, consists in running pipelines underneath the homes of local populations, in order, on the one hand, that the pipeline be 'safe, secure and unseen' (Barry, 2013), on the other hand, that they avoid eviction and resettlement (or simply compensation). In this context, it is important to deal with such critical issues, namely affected communities, in such exclusive territories of operation. Indeed, Pipeline affected communities are defined by their distance from the pipeline route and workers' settlements, namely: "within a 2 km corridor either side of the route or are within 5 km of a potential worker camp or pipeline yard" (BTC/ESIA 2002a, Barry, 2013). The book The Oil Road provides material and spatial evidence in relation to oil operations, including the construction of road, railways, of course, pipeline corridors, oil rigs, and so forth, their impact on local communities with the transformation of daily lives, changing patterns of settlements and landscapes marked by a unclear urbanization.

Above is presented a series of hints and ideas not exclusively on petropolis, but more largely, on operational landscapes and their material and spatial consequences. I received many books related to oil that I think can be very informative for architects, landscape architects, and planners to tackle this problematics. As I wrote earlier, this is an ongoing, long research part of another but large-scale research for the first volume of Uncertain Territories. I'm working on two more short papers, this time, on 'technological zone' that I find very significant and fascinating in relation to oil, and the interdependence of corporation and urbanism for oil activities.

(*) About 'affected communities' see Andrew Barry, Material Politics: Dispute along the Pipeline (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).

Some suggestions:

Barry Andrew, Material Politics: Dispute Along the Pipeline, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013)
Barry Andrew, 'Technological Zones', European Journal of Social Theory, May 2006, 239-253
Barry Andrew, Political Machines: Governing a Technological Society, (Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 2001)
Bhatia Neeraj, Casper Mary (eds), The Petropolis of Tomorrow, (Actar Publishers, 2013)
Bridge Gavin, Le Billon Philippe, Oil, (Polity, 2013)
Brenner Neil, 'Urban theory without an outside', Harvard Design Magazine (37), 2014, 42-47
Brenner Neil, Schmid Christian, Implosions/Explosions. Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization, (Jovis, 2013)
Elden Stuart, The Birth of Territory, (University of Chicago Press, 2013)
Easterling Keller, Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and Its Political Masquerades, (The MIT Press, 2008)
Easterling Keller, Subtraction, (Sternberg Press, 2014)
Ghosn Rania (ed.), New Geographies, 2: Landscapes of Energy, February 2010
Labban Mazen, Space, Oil and Capital, (Routledge, 2008)
Lefebvre Henri, The Right to the City, Writings on Cities, eds. and trans. Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas, (Blackwell, 1996 [1968])
Lefebvre Henri, Le Droit à la ville (suivi de) Espace et Politique, (Seuil, 1974)
Marriott James, Minio-Paluello Mika, The Oil Road: Journeys from the Caspian Sea to the City of London, (Verso Books, 2014)
Milligan Brett/Free Association Design, A Corporate landscape urbanism, July 2010
Mitchell Timothy, Carbon Democracy, (Verso Books, 2013)
Przybylski Maya, "Re-Rigging Transborder Logics Across The Bounded Site", in Bhatia Neeraj, Casper Mary (eds.), The Petropolis of Tomorrow, (Actar Publishers, 2013)
Reed Chris, Lister Nina-Marie, Projective Ecologies, (Actar Publishers, 2014)
Rees Judith, Natural Resources. Allocation, Economics and Policy, (Routledge, 1990 [1985])
Starr S. Frederick, Cornell Svante E., The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline: Oil Window to the West, (Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, 2005)
Watts Michael, 'Crude politics: Life and death on the Nigerian oil fields', 2009, (pdf)
White Mason, Sheppard Lola, Coupling: Strategies for infrastructural Opportunism, (PAP, 2011)


Fulcrum #93 Transformations

My apology for this long absence. With these recent busy weeks, I, shamefully, have not been able to find a moment to share my research.
I recently wrote a short piece for the 93rd issue of the excellent little publication Fulcrum edited by the very prolific Jack Self (co-editor of Real Estates: Life without Debt with Shumi Bose). Neither will I discuss this short piece. Nor will I post an abstract as you can download it on Fulcrum. I let you read it and that of Oscar Johanson Battersea Recuperated that composed this Fulcrum #93 Transformations.
I, however, will merely share the books that helped me write this essay.

I have been engaged for a long while in a very long research on what is related to operational landscapes, precisely negative impacts marked by the extent of the industrialization and the urbanization of the Earth: wasted landscapes, toxic materials, pollution, resource extraction, and so on. There is a long list of books that can help the architect, landscape architect, planner as well as the historian of architecture, the critic, the editor, the curator and the theorist to pave her way for a better understanding of and developing new methods and techniques to apprehend these landscapes .
This shorter essay was an opportunity to explore, albeit rapidly, one of my great interests, namely Levi Bryant's account of machine. A very complex concept that, in contrast with that of object, allows for more precision to what things are doing and how things interact. Two books, as precious help, are The Democracy of Objects and Onto-Cartography. I include Levi Bryant's blog Larval Subjects in which you can find loads of texts that illustrate his research and interests from onto-ecology, science to ethics. Bryant's account of machine helps me to build an understanding of toxic materials' characteristics, their timescale, how toxic materials, as nonhuman beings, interact with other beings, humans including. Should we learn to live with them? Or would we be able to recalibrate these toxic landscapes? Two questions that will dominate this new era.

With a strong evidence, Timothy Morton's hyperobject reinforces my study of Levi Bryant's machine. His three books Ecology without Nature, The Ecological Thought and Hyperobject are three important guidances. Not to mention other books such as Stacy Alaimo's Bodily Natures, Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter, Lateral Office's Coupling, and The Petropolis of Tomorrow edited by Neeraj Bhatia and Mary Casper. The Petropolis of Tomorrow, for example, includes two series of photographs, namely, on the one hand those of filmmaker Peter Mettler's Petropolis, or aerial pictures of the Alberta Tar Sands and, and on the other, those of Photographer Garth Lenz's The True Cost of Oil, again aerial photographs of the Alberta Tar Sands, have guided our steps in our research.

This energy we can find in the field of philosophy, in particular ecological philosophy, ontology or onto-ecology, but also the field of science, provides new trajectories and perspectives for the ecological theory and design. I'm working on two large-scaled research. The first one, as you know, is Uncertain Territories' first volume titled Contingency programmed for 2015. The second one is a series of events in the form of conversations part of Uncertain Territories that will be exploring consequences of operational landscapes and the role of ecological and infrastructural design in problem-forming these shifting environments. This includes wasted landscapes, resource extractive territories, extreme territories, ocean-turn. Consequently, these authors, mentioned above, are, in my view, of great importance to mobilize the production of knowledge we need to gain in understanding of this ecological turn.

I hope you will like this short piece.


Petropolis. What is to be done?

Two weeks ago or so, Matteo Pasquinelli, a theoretician, shared via facebook a video entitled Google and the World Brain. Visiting the website Thought Maybe, for further information, I found another documentary entitled Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands produced by filmmaker Peter Mettler:
Canada's tar sands are the largest industrial project ever undertaken-spanning the size of England. Extracting the oil and bitumen from underneath unspoiled wilderness requires a massive industrialized effort with far-reaching impacts on the land, air, water, and climate. It's an extraordinary industrial spectacle, the true scope of which can only be understood from an aerial view. Shot primarily from a helicopter, Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands offers an unparalleled view of the world's largest ever industrial project…
Peter Mettler has shot Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands from a helicopter. The Alberta Tar Sands area is located in the Canadian boreal forest occupying a large area of 141,000 sq. km (54,000 sq. mi.). These deposits comprise Athabasca Oil Sands, Peace River and Cold Lake. This area is the primary locus of oil sands extraction in Canada and one of the earth's largest reserves of fossil fuels. A petropolis, then, is defined by a high dependence on natural resources — oil, natural gas, coal — marked by a political-economic system. Other examples of petropolis are Macaé (Brazil), Baku (Azerbaijan), among others.

What this video shows is nothing less than a pressured environment through surface mining activities. Guilty, toxic landscapes. These images force us to reconsider our position toward resource extraction, and more broadly energy. Guilty or not guilty? Shame or not shame? Consider accountability. As Brendan Cormier rightly puts it in his essay 'Accounting for guilt', the acceleration of environmental issues through industrial activities will contribute to more accountability. Resource extraction is a "strong generator of guilt." These images pose the question of ethics and its relation with industrial activities within the (re)configuring of, and the becoming-unstable of territories for industrial purposes. Allow me for convoking physicist and philosopher Karen Barad for a better understanding of the role of ethics towards these extreme landscapes. As Barad writes:
The point is not merely that there is a web of causal relations that we are implicated in and that there are consequences to our actions. We are a much more intimate part of the universe than any such statement implies. If what is implied by 'consequences' is a chain of events that follow one upon the next, the effects of our actions rippling outward from their point of origin well after a given action is completed, then to say that there are consequences to our actions is to miss the full extent of the interconnectedness of being. Future moments don't follow present ones like beads on a string. Effect does not follow cause hand over fist, transferring the momentum of our actions from one individual to the next like the balls on a billiards table. There is no discrete 'I' that precedes its actions. Our (intra)actions matter — each one reconfigures the world in its becoming — and yet they never leave us; they are sedimented into our becoming, they become us. And yet even in our becoming there is no 'I' separate from the intra-active becoming of the world.
How to measure our responsibility in these shifting landscapes? What is to be done?
Syncrude Upgrader and Tar Sand © Garth Lenz
> "The refining or upgrading of the tarry bitumen which lies under the Tar Sands consumes for more oil and energy than conventional oil production and produces almost twice as much carbon. Each barrel of requires 3-5 barrels of fresh water from the neighboring Athabasca River. About 90% of this is returned as toxic tailing into the vast unlined tailings ponds that dot the landscape. Syncrude alone dumps 500,000 tons of toxic tailings into just one of their tailings ponds everyday." | Garth Lenz
Originally appears on National Geographic
I'm reminded of these aerial pictures taken by Garth Lenz (see the 31st issue of Volume Magazine and The Petropolis of Tomorrow). Garth Lenz documents how the boreal landscape has been transformed through resource extraction. The point of view is similar to Mettler's video: aerial views providing a panoramic view of the damaging landscape. Mettler's video Petropolis and Lenz's images do not show the before-and-after but the process, the changing environment of the Boreal Forest.
Tailings Pond in Winter, Alberta Tar Sands | © Garth Lenz
> "Even in the extreme cold of the winter, the toxic tailings ponds do not freeze. On one particularly cold morning, the partially frozen tailings, sand, liquid tailings and oil residue, combined to produce abstractions that reminded me of a Jackson Pollock canvas." | Garth Lenz
Originally appeared on National Geographic
The architect Kelly Nelson Doran has made a great contribution to our understanding of these changing landscapes of the Alberta Tar Sands, examining the mechanism of oil sands extraction, the accelerating landscape transformation through this method of extraction. As Kelly Doran argues, the "future of this landscape is the unfortunate byproduct of blame." Indeed, oil sands industries, he continues, "have developed an orchestrated set of landscape behaviors based on emerging hydrological, logistical, technological and legal parameters." Oil sands or tar sands are a mixture of sand, clay, and water, saturated with viscous form of petroleum, also known as bitumen. This is based upon a specific technique of extraction consisting in strip mining:
Initially, while constructing the massive upgrading facilities required to separate bitumen from sand, the boreal forest is gridded off; its land clear-cut; its soil drenched, drained and dried; and its roughly ten-meter-thick layer of overburden (musked, soil, gravels, rock) is removed and stocpiled before any mining can occur. Simultaneously, massive embankments for holding and tailings ponds are constructed adjacent to the future mines to provide the necessary fluids to lubricate the transportation of the crushed sand, which will then have steam pumped into it to separate the oil.
This method, however, has a cost: the deterioration of these landscapes producing "more carbon" and "a major source of airborne toxic pollution." The territory around the extractive site is becoming a landscape-level disturbance that transforms, accelerates biodiversity decline — exhausted rivers, habitat fragmentation and degradation, endangered and threatened species, deterioration of wetlands. These sites, or extreme sites, now are left physically, environmentally, and economically for someone else's problems. As an example of this, as Garth Lenz puts it, the use of pipelines, seismic lines, and pumping stations "impacts a far larger area than the mines and contributes up to ninety percent reduction of key species, including the Grizzly Bear and Woodland Caribou." Not to mention health risk occurring at a very large scale.
Petropolis | © Peter Mettler
Orignally appears on InfraNet Lab
> "A tailing pond is a toxic lake so dangerous that air cannons and scarecrows are used to deter wildlife." | Peter Mettler
Originally quoted in The Petropolis of Tomorrow
What will the geologist or, more simply, the urban explorer of the distant future be seeing? In a recent conference entitled Environments of Extraction that brought together architect Neeraj Bhatia (The Open Workshop, InfraNet Lab), Dr Paul Fennelly, Rob Holmes (mammoth) and Justin Fowler (Manifest Magazine) at Storefront for Art and ArchitectureRob Holmes states that "humans are acting as geological change agents." In other words, humans participate in a radically and accelerating changing environment made out of industrial waste, carbon dioxide concentrations, contaminating radioactive materials. I'm reminded of this text written by the author of science-fiction Paolo Bacigalupi The People of Sand and Slag, in particular this dystopian future of damaged landscape and posthuman alienation. Humanity, Paolo Bacigalupi writes, "has transcended all the things that require us to partake of what we might call ecosystem services. They live off sand and mine waste and don't notice the loss. They don't need nature, and that has implications for how they interact with their world."This may be this kind of future landscape the geologist and the urban explorer will be living in.
Petropolis | © Peter Mettler
Originally appeared on InfraNet Lab
> "A giant earth mover transports earth mined at an open pit for processing to separate the bitumen." | Peter Mettler
Originally quoted in The Petropolis of Tomorrow
With a strong evidence, our accelerated activities and change of our world will be increasingly difficult to ignore, leaving traces on the planet's land surface. These disturbances can be ranged from toxic materials, oil residues to mining leftovers, sand, liquid tailings. Let me borrow this notion of hyperobject from the philosopher Tim Morton to translate these disturbances.
The Petropolis | © Peter Mettler
Originally appeared on InfraNet Lab
> "Open mine pits in the tar sands are often fifty metres deep" | Peter Mettler
Originally quoted in The Petropolis of Tomorrow
An hyperobject, as Tim Morton defines, is an object that is massively distributed in spacetime relative to humans. It could be global warming, radioactive materials, planets. It could be "a black hole, […] the Lago Agrio oil field in Ecuador, or the Florida Everglades, […] biosphere, or the Solar System, […] the sum total of all the nuclear materials on Earth; or just the plutonium, or the uranium." Hyperobject, he continues, is "so vast, so long lasting, that [it] def[ies] human time and spatial scales." These hyperobjects will outlast our lifetime. In my view, this concept of hyperobject can be an interesting concept in order for ecological design to investigate, address such extreme territories as Alberta Tar Sands.
Tar Sands at Night, Alberta Tar Sands | © Garth Lenz
> "Twenty four hours a day the Tar Sands eats into the most carbon rich forest ecosystem on the planet. Storing almost twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests, the boreal forest is the planet's greatest terrestrial carbon storehouse. To the industry, these diverse and ecologically significant forest and wetlands are referred to as overburden, the forest to be stripped and the wetlands dredged and replaced by mines and tailings ponds so vast hey can be seen from outer space. | Garth Lenz
Originally appeared on National Geographic
I would argue that Peter Mettler's video and Garth Lenz's photos bring to the forefront important questions of accountability, guilt, and agency. In few words, these images highlight the ethical value of industrial activities, here extractive activities: reclamation, land degradation, pollution, toxic soils and water issues (polluted rivers). The physical inscription of extractive activities and its affiliated infrastructures reveals three key points: impact, scale, and investment. As first the question of impact of extractive activities as an irreversible wound on the land's surface and below the land's surface of the Canadian boreal landscape.
Petropolis | © Peter Mettler
Originally appeared on InfraNet Lab
> Water taken from the local watershed ends up in toxic lake called tailing ponds | Peter Mettler
Originally quoted in The Petropolis of Tomorrow
As second is the issue of scale. It is to operate at a wide range from the local to the planetary and from minutes to thousands of years. It has been demonstrated at length that these scales are defined as ecosystems.
Petropolis | © Peter Mettler
Originally appeared on InfraNet Lab
> "Giant deposits sulphur sit next to Syncrude's Mildred Lake facility" | Peter Mettler
Originally quoted in The Petropolis of Tomorrow
Extractive activities, themselves, are a very large system that absorbs a set of scales and deploys itself from the micro to the macro, the local to the global. What affects here has a strong impact there. In her essay for Bracket Almanach [Goes Soft], Lola Sheppard evokes a new approach to understanding territorial operation, she names epigenetic territory, claiming that architecture is to operate at "the scale of the broader territory, a space expanded and thickened with environmental data, competing social and political claims, economic forces, systems of mobility, ecological systems, and urban metabolisms."
Tar Sands Upgrader in Winter, Alberta Tar Sands | © Garth Lenz
Originally appeared on The National Geographic
> "The Alberta Tar Sands are Canada's single largest and fastest growing source of carbon. They produce about as much carbon annually as the nation of Denmark. The refining of the tar-like bitumen requires far more water and energy than the production of conventional oil and produces twice as much greenhouse gas." | Garth Lenz
Originally quoted in The Petropolis of Tomorrow
The integration of the territorial will provide new opportunities for landscape-architecture-urbanism in tackling problems at multiple scales. For example, the operation of extraction does not limit to extract natural resources, rather, participates in an entire logistic network involving extraction, production, distribution and consumption. But the new approach is to integrate what will follow this second point: re-calibration of these landscapes, or, more simply, ecosystem as investment.
Confluence of Carcajou River and Mackenzie River, Mackenzie Va | © Garth Lenz
> The Carcajou River winds back and forth creating this oxbow of wetlands as it joins the Mackenzie flowing north to the Beaufort Sea. This region, almost entirely pristine, and the third largest watershed basin in the world, will be directly impacted by the proposed Mackenzie Valley National Gas Pipeline to fuel the energy needs of the Alberta Oil Sands mega-project. | Garth Lenz
Originally appeared on The National Geographic
Third, investment. Considering landscape as investment is, as we mentioned earlier, to take account that toxic byproducts will outlast our lifetime. They will be our long-term issues. In this context, it is to pose exploration, extraction, production, distribution, consumption and re-calibration of affected landscapes as central in order we, first, to implement a strategy for the productive reuse of these decommissioned, damaged areas, second, to rethink or inscribe the scale of waste management and treatment into the oil industries' agenda.
Boreal Forest and Wetland, Athabasca Delta Northern Alberta | © Garth Lenz
> "Located just 70 miles downstream from the Alberta Tar Sands, the Athabasca is the world's largest freshwater delta. It lies at the convergence of North America's four major flyways and is a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl and considered one of the most globally significant wetlands. It is a threatened both by the massive water consumption of the tar sands and its toxic tailings ponds." | Garth Lenz
Originally appeared on The National Geographic
What productive strategies can be implemented to respond to this specific situation of extreme territories? Can we make waste as resources? These territories have been manufactured in response to human demands for energy. The following questions are: what would we do with these exhausted territories? Would we leave them physically, legally, ecologically and economically to become someone's else problem?
Dry Tailings, Alberta Tar Sands | © Garth Lenz
Image originally appeared on National Geographic
> "Shells atmospheric fine tailings drying field demonstration project at their Muskeg River mine. This has the potential to accelerate the reclamation of tailings in the future." | Garth Lenz
Originally quoted in The Petropolis of Tomorrow
I, again, make reference to Kelly Doran. It seems that oil sands companies are implementing strategies to "transform the entire region into a constellation of engineered endorheic basins incongruously designed to sustain ecosystems that perform at pre-development levels". The aim of this closure-planning is to produce a post-extraction landscape, say, an "equivalent land-use capability, optimizing the value of the watershed, timber, wildlife habitat, fish habitat, recreation potential or other resources and taking into account stakeholder preferences," the oil industry Suncor reports. If efforts to remediate the boreal landscapes are undeniable, the risk of permanently disturbing the pre-existing ecosystem is to take into account. Kelly Doran points out that this approach "masks the reality of a dramatic habitat shift," including a population growth (from roughly 50,000 to 125,000 over the past 20 years. It may reach at 225,000 by the year 2040) that will occur an accelerating urbanization of the region. Put it simply, this closure-planning seems much more respond to urban pressures.
Tar Pit | © Garth Lenz
Originally appeared on The National Geographic
> "Trucks the size of a house look like tiny toys as the rumble along massive roads in a section of a mine. The largest of their kind, these 400-ton capacity dump trucks are 47.5 feet long, 32.5 feet wide, and 25 feet tall. Within their dimensions you could build a 3,000 square foot home. The scale of the tar sands is truly unfathomable. Alberta Energy has reported that the landscape being industrialized by rapid Tar sands development could easily accommodate one Florida, two New Brunswicks, four Vancouvers, and four Vancouver Islands." | Garth Lenz
Originally quoted in The Petropolis of Tomorrow
What can we learn from these extreme territories? That a landscape is a network, an assemblage of human and nonhuman actants (Bennett, Latour) or machines (Bryant) — trees, habitats, species and their constructions, energy, rivers, wind, minerals, forest, soil, humans and their social constructions, oil, sands, tailing ponds, toxic water, bitumen, stockpiles, toxic waste, electromagnetic field, pipelines… More importantly, an assemblage should be considered an ecology within which all the elements are interconnected, pluripotent, contingent rather than fixed, static, linear. Moreover all these objects, whether humans or nonhumans, are sensitive to internal and external flows and fluctuations, as Jane Bennett rightly stated. It is not too far from our three points mentioned above, and I repeat here: impact, scale, and investment. What you modify here affects there and there. In this context, the tangled contribution of these objects constitutes an assemblage, an ecology, a landscape.
Black Cliff, Alberta Tar Sands | © Garth Lenz
Originally appeared on The National Geographic
> "Tar sands pit mining is done in benches or steps. These benches are each approximately twelve to fifteen metres high. Giant shovels dig the tar sand and place it into heavy hauler trucks that range in size from 240 tons to the largest trucks which have a 400-tons capacity Black Cliff, Alberta, Canada." | Garth Lenz
Originally quoted in The Petropolis of Tomorrow
This concept of assemblage offers a great occasion to widen the angle of vision in rethinking the agency of ecological design. But prior to this, it may be relevant to revisit the very concept of agency in integrating nonhumans in acknowledging the importance of nonhuman agency, here landscape, there toxic waste, there again species, habitats, as the same level as human agency. It is to admit the existence, the acknowledgment of what Jane Bennett promotes, that is, an agency that doesn't restrict itself to the simple human agency. Agency, rather, enlarges its sphere, its boundaries in including nonhuman bodies. To go further, human bodies and nonhuman bodies are parts of an assemblage within which they interact with each others within larger networks of agency.
Aspen and Spruce, Northern Alberta | © Garth Lenz
> "Photographed in late autumn in softly failing snow, a solitary spruce is set against a sea of aspen. The Boreal Forest of northern Canada is perhaps the best and largest example of a largely intact forest ecosystem. Canada's Boreal Forest alone stores an amount of carbon equal to ten times the total annual global emissions from all fossil fuel consumption." | Garth Lenz
Originally appeared on The National Geographic
What is at stake, finally, is the role and implication of design in rethinking a more adaptive approach that would recalibrate, re-program, reshape at a territorial scale whilst maintaining the ecology, biodiversity's patterns in place. What kind of ecological design can we elaborate that would tackle this issue of industrial waste, these damaging landscapes, from the smallest scale to the planetary scale? An ecological design is, by definition, an approach that demands the capacity for resilience, responsiveness, and adaptability to change, internal and external disturbances. Rob Holmes proposes an approach, he names generative capacity of extractive landscapes capable of absorbing issues occurring through extractive activities, of coupling human economy (logistics and infrastructural formats), geologic activities with ecological efficiencies (natural landscapes). In other words, the tangled contribution of objects, that is, social construction and natural construction, problem-forms, reshapes these extraction-related landscapes.
Tailings Pond Abstract, Alberta Tar Sands | © Garth Lenz
> "So large are the Alberta Tar Sands tailings ponds that they can be seen from space. It has been estimated by Natural Resources Canada that the industry to date has produced enough toxic waste to fill a canal 32 feet deep by 65 feet wide from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, and on to Ottawa, a distance of over 2,000 miles. In this image, the sky is reflected in the toxic and oily waste water of a tailings pond." | Garth Lenz
Originally appeared on The National Geographic
The discussion Environments of Extraction which addresses the peculiar relationship between urbanism and resource extraction provides key questions to rethinking these human-impacted landscapes.
Petropolis | © Peter Mettler
Originally appeared on InfraNet Lab
> "Air emissions from the tar sands include 300 tonnes of sulphur a day" | Originally quoted in The Petropolis of Tomorrow" | Peter Mettler
Originally quoted in The Petropolis of Tomorrow
Neeraj Bhatia, the co-editor of the book The Petropolis of Tomorrow with Mary Casper (Plat Journal), asks us to examine the fitness or suitable of our tools to solve resource extraction problems. The Petropolis of Tomorrow is also a design investigation, directed by Neeraj Bhatia, into an alternative approach to designing oil-related cities. This hyperfunctional, resilient petropolis proposes the integration of waste and garbage management and treatment as key question to extractive landscapes, namely a detoxi-city which purpose is to challenge environmental pollution, toxic waste, and other industrial byproducts in "co-opting and coupling […] hydrological flows to oil refinement and processing in order to both contain, cleanse, and reintroduce waters that have been used and affected by the industrial processes proposed for the site," Rodney Bell, Julia Gamolina and Zuhal Kol, three architecture students participants in this design The Petropolis of Tomorrow, write. To say it differently, what is at stake is to propose hyperfunctional infrastructures of industrial waste, contamination management and treatment, again scalable, responsive to ecological, environmental, climatic, economic and social flows and fluctuations. I would argue that the inclusion of such task of treating these hyperobjects, these industrial waste, pollution, greenhouse gases and water issues is a great opportunity to enlarge decision-making of architects…

For those interested in this subject, a further reading, that I hope, will enlarge your knowledge on this topic:

Bacigalupi Paolo, Pump Six and Others Stories, Night Shade Books, 2010.
Barad Karen, 'Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter comes to Matter', Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3), 2003: 801-831, (pdf).
Barad Karen, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, Duke University Press Books, 2007.
Bennett Jane, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Duke University Press Books, Series: A John Hope Franklin Center Book, 2010.
Bhatia Neeraj, Casper Mary, The Petropolis of Tomorrow, Actar Editorial, 2013.
Bryant Levi, The Democracy of Objects, MPublishing, University of Michigan Library, 2011.
Cormier Brendan, 'Accounting for Guilt', Volume, 31(Spring), 2012: 19-22.
Doran Nelson Kelly, 'Europe's Oil Sands - Dirty of an Offshore Appetite', Volume, 31(spring), 2012: 122-125.
Doran Nelson Kelly, 'Operational Alternatives: (Re-)Configuring the Landscape of Alberta's Athabasca Oil Sands', 306090, 13, 2009: 40-43.
Doran Nelson Kelly, 'After Extraction,' Topos, (82), 2013: 37-41.
Ellsworth Elizabeth, Kruse Jaimie (eds), Making The Geologic Now, Punctum Book, 2012.
Lenz Garth, 'Exposing the Oil Sands', Volume, 31(Spring), 2012: 91-95.
Lenz Garth, 'The True Cost of Oil', in The Petropolis of Tomorrow, Actar Editorial, 2013: 32-63.
Morton Timothy, 'Zero Landscapes in the Time of Hyperobjects', Graz Architectural Magazine, (7) 2011: 78-87.
Mettler Peter, Petropolis, in The Petropolis of Tomorrow, Actar Editorial, 2013: 352-383.
Morton Timothy, The Ecological Thought, Harvard University Press, 2010.
Morton Timothy, Hyperobjects. Philosophy and Ecology after the  End of the World, University of Minnesota Press, 2013.
Morton Timothy, 'Guilt, Shame, Sadness: Tuning to Coexistence', Volume, 31(Spring), 2012: 16-18.
Morton Timothy, 'Environmentalism', Romanticism: An Oxford Guide, 2005: 696-707.
Sheppard Lola, 'From site to territory', in Bracket Almanach [goes soft], (2), Actar Editorial, 2003: 175-180.

Morton Timothy, Hyperobjects, lecture, 2010

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