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


Post Planetary Capital Symposium

A very intriguing symposium is Post Planetary Capital Symposium. This symposium will be held on March, 24th, 2014 at The Center for Transformative Media, New York. As I couldn't access The Center for Transformative Media's website — certainly a server error —, I merely propose this link. Below the presentation:
As the dull glow of nationalism and cold war politics has faded from governmental space programs it is little surprise that space exploration has undergone widespread privatization.
Yet it is only recently that potentially massive profitability has accelerated off-planet projects, replacing narrower and perhaps unrealistic dreams of space tourism with asteroid mining (purportedly a multi-trillion dollar industry) and long term Mars colonization. Such projects present an odd combination of new technologies (especially advanced robotics) and lower cost older technologies (rocket propulsion) deployed in unfamiliar and lawless territory.
While much has been said regarding the internal limits of capital, much yet remains to be said about how capitalist imperatives can be taken off-world, questioning whether capital[ism] has external limits as it begins to spread across the solar system and out into space. Is the fact that asteroid mining extends an old logic of environmental degradation rendered moot by its non-terrestrial location? Does off-world colonization by non-governmental entities lay troubling ground work for the advent of mega-corporations and unregulatable capitalism?
Furthermore, the complicity between capitalist expansion and space exploration which centers upon large-scale collective action potentially questions stock oppositions between capital and ecological betterment, technological progression and radical politics, as well as space travel and non-national collectivity. This one day symposium aims to address the potential strategies and claims surrounding these issues. 
Post Planetary Capital is organized by Ben Woodard, and Ed Keller. Ben Woodard is the author of this book I've already mentioned On an Ungrounded Earth: Towards a New Geophilosophy. As for Ed Keller, he is the co-editor of Leper Creativity: Cyclonopedia Symposium with Ed Keller, Nicola Masciandaro and Eugene Thacker. Two years ago, his lecture Massive Addressability and Post-Planetary Design at The Bartlett discussed this notion of addressability: "a defining characteristic of our rapidly accelerating global network of connections, and emerges when cities, buildings, materials, objects, creatures, sites, books, words, molecules, all act as agents in a global, reciprocal ontology of things that can find each other. Across longer timeframes- decades, centuries or millennia- this set of relations inevitably scales up to the post-planetary. We cannot think of design a century from now without taking it off planet. The consequences of this leap are profound. What could be more disruptive to a human-centered model of ecology than this reframing of the agency of things? What new economies, what new modes of individual and collective sovereignty, will emerge as design goes beyond geopolitics and comes to grips with an increasingly urgent cosmopolitics?"
He is also the editor of this tumblr Post-Planetary Design. If you are interested in his research, visit his tumblr.
As for the participants, Benjamin Bratton, Ed Keller, Kai Bosworth, Carla Leitao, Geoff Manaugh (and Gizmodo), Rory Rowan, Keith Tilford, Ken Wark, Ben Woodard, and Kazys Varnelis. A very great panel!
I'll be following this conference. I hope to have further information soon including a livestreaming, hashtag…
Post Planetary Capital Symposium will be held at The Center for Transformative Media, New York, Monday, March 24, 2014 from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm.

In order to patiently wait for this conference, I recommend this round-table Google/ Arctic/Mars at Studio-X NYC/ GSAPP Columbia on May 8th 2012. This round-table gathers Ed Keller, Benjamin Bratton and Geoff Manaugh on the emergence of a new geography — from the virtual to the off-world — and speculating a to its future political organization.

Credit video: Google/ Arctic/ Mars Round Table | © GSAPP Columbia


News: Call for competition, Conditions Magazine, Designing for Free Speech, Bracket 4, two suggestions to read

My deepest apology for not having posted for a long while. I'm working on a draft on designing coastal regions in the age of technology, storms, flooding, and sea level rise. It's less a post on the topic of designing water-related regions than a point of view on four design research I found particularly relevant.

I profit to suggest two books that you may already have read. If not yet:
Spoil Island: Reading the Makeshift Archipelago by Charlie Hailey. I don't remember whether mammoth, Free Association Design, Landscape Archipelago, or maybe bldg blog talked about the book. Anyway, I warmly suggest its read. A spoil island is an "overlooked place that combine[s] dirt with paradise, waste-land with 'brave new world,' and wildness with human intervention" as the author describes. I found this book very interesting. In particular this statement: "to examine the marginalized topography of spoil islands is to understand emergent concerns of twenty-first-century place-making, public space, and natural and artificial infrastructure."  An abstract:
On our passage along the chain of spoil islands, we are able to read the topographic record of their formation. Islands closer to the shore, and consequently in shallower water, are higher because dredging was deeper. Vegetation on the islands diminishes along with contour, and the last is marl and sand. From above, you would see the clarity of the tapering archipelago's plan, with islands larger in area closer to land, and the last seaward mark visible as a spectral bank or reef just below the water's surface. Angled a few degrees south of due wet, the datum that controls this island chain's incipient logic is the channel that also hints at this area's unlikely history as an industrial landscape. The channel is the terminus of the Cross Florida Barge Canal, partially dredged between 1964 and 1971. The consistency of its controlling depth and width yields greater volume of excavated material in she shallower waters closer to shore. History is made legible in topography.
The second suggested book is Out of Mountains. The Coming Age of Urban Guerrilla by David Kilcullen, an Australian strategist, counterinsurgency expert, and founder of Caerus Associates, a strategy and design consulting firm. If you want a longer review on the book, I suggest to read Geoff Manaugh's article on Gizmodo.
As I wrote on Goodreads, I read Out of Mountains in the light of landscape-architecture-planning. While I admit I have no knowledge on military strategy, this book nonetheless is worth reading. Out of Mountains is on future conflicts and future (coastal) cities. With a population growth, a littoralization of the world and a displacement of conflicts toward coastal cities, Kilcullen calls for a new approach to designing coastal regions. Rapid urbanization of coastal regions, if not well-planned, well-controlled, could trigger a series of interlinked complexities from urban poverty, floodings, through other anthropogenic and natural pressures. In particular in low-income countries, but not only. A particularity, given these factors I mentioned, lies on the connectivity of these areas: each house is equipped with satellite TV, cell phone and the Internet generating a complex network of coastal cities. As the author argues, these three trends, that is, population growth, littoralization and connectedness, will be making our world more complex as well as more open, more unpredictable as well as likely more violent with an increase in tension at small scale but with a global repercussion. I am certain those with a strong interest in military strategy will appreciate this book.
Needless to say that the active agent/landscape-architect-urban designer-planner-infrastructuralist has a precious role to play in proposing a more holistic, resilient, integrated approach to designing coastal regions. This is one of the messages that the book delivers, at least the message that concerns my interest. An abstract:
Thus, just as climate projections don't say much about tomorrow's weather, projections of current trends say little about future wars. But they do suggest a range of conditions — a set of system parameters, or a 'conflict climate' — within which those wars will arise. This because, as the anthropologist Harry Turney-High suggested more than thirty years ago, social, economic, political, and communications arrangements influence war making so profoundly that "warfare is social organization." Thus, the specifics of a particular war may be impossible to predict, but the parameters within which any future war will occur are entirely knowable, since wars are bounded by conditions that exist now, and are thus eminently observable in today's social, economic, geographic, and demographic climate.
If we accept this idea, along with the fact that war has been endemic to roughly 95 percent of all known human societies throughout history and prehistory, it follows that warfare is a central probably a permanent human social institution, one that tends (by its very nature as a human activity) mainly to occur where the people are. This is especially true of nonstate conflicts (guerrilla, tribal, and civil wars, or armed criminal activity such as banditry and gang warfare), which tend to happen near or within the areas where people live, or on major routes between population centers. And it follows that since the places where people live are getting increasingly crowded, urban, coastal and networked, the wars people fight will take on the same characteristics.
We can summarize the conflict climate in terms of four drivers, sometimes called megatrends, that are shaping and defining it. These are population growth (the continuing rise in the planet's total population), urbanization (the tendency for people to live in larger and larger cities), littoralization (the propensity for these cities to cluster on coastlines), and connectedness (the increasing connectivity among people, wherever they live). None of these trends is new, but their pace is accelerating, they're mutually reinforcing, and their intersection will influence not just conflict but every aspect of future life.
This book could be an interesting subtopic for Conditions Magazine's discussion on architecture in this new era, as is proposed in its 13th issue 'The End of the Beginning'.
As I announced several months ago, I wrote a piece, an editorial for the 13th issue of this Norwegian magazine. My piece discussed architecture's vulnerability to the techno-culturo-climatic-ecological shift. I will post an abstract of my piece later this week. This issue 'The End of the Beginning" is more like an open issue, a platform to discuss architecture's reaction to future, to uncertainty and, of course, the status of architectural practice today and in the future. I've not read the other contributors' piece yet. Conditions Magazine has gathered a set of editorials by Neyran Turan, José Vela Castillo, Rebekah Schaberg, Anna Ulak (see also her blog The Architecture of Villains), Rachel Armstrong, dpr-barcelona (and of course their blog), Superpool, Marco Vanucci, Thomas Mical, Brendan Cormier (and Volume Magazine), Ole Moystad, NTNU, Johanne Borthne, Davide Tommaso Ferrando, Dan Handel, Philippe Rahm, Patrik Schumacher (and of course), Arno Schlüter and Sasha Cisar, Clark M. Thenhaus, Pavlina Lucas, Rutger Huiberts, Edgar Gonzalez, Joanna Grant, Julia Sedlock, Ylva Frid, Martin Abbott, Mauro Gil-Fournier, and me (Annick Labeca).

This said, a call for competition for 'Designing for Free Speech. Re-imagining spaces in New York City as Places for Free Speech, Assembly, and Creative Expression' launched by Theatrum Mundi, in partnership with the AIA New York. The aim is to transform New York City spaces into places for public demonstration, "to re-imagining and idealizing existing spaces that have the potential for animating the public, especially spaces that are not traditionally considered in this frame". This call for competition is not limited to architects, landscape architects, urban designers and planners. It concerns other fields: activism, performers and "any other perspectives that have a relevant impact on the new design approach."

Below four items that may help you:
Is the space publicly-owned or privately-owned?
Is the space flexible for many public uses?
Is it open 24 hours a day?
Is it anchored by uses that attract movement throughout the day?

Well, if you're inspired by this call for competition, if you want to participate, you can have further information on their website Designing for Free Speech.

And this call for competitions reminds me another call, this time, for submissions.
Bracket has launched a call for submissions for its fourth issue Takes Action. Starting from Markus Miessen's quote: "When humans assemble, spatial conflicts arise. Spatial planning is often considered the management of spatial conflicts." In this sense, Kilcullen's book Out of Mountains could be a very productive inspiration for this call for submissions.
Visit the website for a longer presentation of this call for submissions. This issue poses a series of questions that reinforces its political 'touch': what are the collective projects in the public realm to act on? How have recent design projects incited political or social action? How can design catalyze a public, as well as forums for that public to act? What is the role of spatial practice to instigate or resist public actions?
I'm not sure if this edition is particularly interested in the tight relation between architecture and activism or if it poses the question of criticism within design practice.
I, then, am reminded of Miessen's installation for the Biennale de Lyon, France, in 2007 (unfortunately the page is in French for those who don't speak French), a design-as-politics-typed of installation, entitled The Violence of Participation. His installation was a discursive space to allow a heterogeneous group of participants — from those accustomed to the public discussion — critic, politician, architect, social actors — to the 'unsolicited' participant (the people) — to trigger conversations on concepts of participation, the inconsistence between democratic concepts (agonism, for instance), and what it means to live in Europe today. This installation was prolonged with a book The Violence of Participation published in 2007 by Sternberg PressFrom what Position is One Talking? (a discussion between Markus Miessen, Ingo Niermann, Ralf Pflugfelder,  Tirdad Zolghadr, in The Violence of Participation) can be a good point of departure to participate to Bracket 4's Takes Action
This fourth edition is looking for design work and papers that "offer contemporary models of spatial design that are conscious of their public intent and actively engaged in socio-political conditions."
If you want to submit your piece, visit Bracket's website for further information, deadline, etc.


Close, Closer ı 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennial : Reinventing architecture's agency

My apology for being very unproductive these last weeks since I am particularly busy with projects in which I'm directly or indirectly involved including the interview with Neeraj Bhatia (here and here) which, as I wrote in a previous post, may go to another platform. Again, when official, I will let you know where and when to read the interview. However, I may post not-selected questions/responses in this blog.
Another project on which I am working is my first guest-posting but again I may content merely with posting abstracts as I'm thinking of publishing them. If so, this will be by 2014.


Last week-end I was in Lisbon for the triennial whose theme is Close, Closer. This was my first-ever trip to Lisbon, a very beautiful European city with its port, its very lively streets, and colored buildings, and its famous tramway.

The Lisbon Architecture Triennial has been founded in 2007. For this third edition, the committee has elected as Artistic Director a young and notable British curator Beatrice Galilee who has co-curated the Gwangju Design Biennial 2011 with Helen Hejung Choi. For this Triennial, she teamed up with three curators Liam Young, co-founder of Tomorrow Thoughts TodayUnknown Fields Division and Under Tomorrow Sky, Mariana Pestana and José Esparza Chong Cuy, and co-curator Dani Admiss. The curatorial team's aim was to draw on a political manifesto that claims that a new form, (rather new forms), of architecture practice is emerging out. Of what? The 21st century? Multifaceted crises? As the curatorial team states, Close, Closer tackles "the political, technological, emotional, institutional, and critical forms of global spatial practice." At issue is new forms of practice. New forms of practice, still stammering but seething, still fragile but resolute (see here and here).

Close, Closer is presented as "an intense and multiple debate network on 'what architecture can be,'" says José Mateus, Chairman, also founding Director of José Mateus Arquitecto at a moment when Portugal, but many European countries a well, is struggling against a profound economic and identity crisis. Seven months or so ago, I interviewed the curatorial team for a first look at the curatorial content, strategies — even at a primary stage — and goals behind Close, Closer. Remember the website. The curatorial team regularly posted new questions about what architecture could be: What else can architecture do? When does produce architecture? What answers should architecture be giving today?, and so forth. This website, particularly dynamic since based on a participative mode, invited us to reply to these questions, be you architect or not. Beatrice Galilee said that:
The premise of this event is not to give answers, but to position questions about the condition of architectural practice today. These questions — pregnant with meaning or innocent in their simplicity — contain both a statement and a call to action. They resonate on a public stage beyond traditional discourse in order to find their way to a conversation between disciplines of culture and structures of real power.
The theme — a generation of young architects in the face of an ever-changing world— reveals architecture's position today.
This, the third Lisbon Architecture Triennale, has been commissioned and procured in the midst of the yo-yoing economic fortunes of a faltering Eurozone country where, currently, unemployment for graduates stands at 40%. This is the generation of young architects who may ask themselves if they should be designing the architecture of networks and systems, of societies or conversations, rather than buildings.
What interested me in this third edition is the curatorial function of architecture, how architecture can tackle these complex, multi-faceted issues within curating, or what position, role or function curating can play within the architectural apparatus. At stake is the potentiality that curating can offer to architecture in going out of its ivory tower, just as some of the participants of Close, Closer said, to push the architectural practice to be more engaged with the world from the smallest scale to the extra-largest scale. For that matter, I decided to focus on one of the exhibitions programmed there, namely Future Perfect. I will profit from this occasion to discuss the contingent trait of architecture.

As an evidence what is at issue, albeit partly, in this third edition, at least in accordance with my interest, is the relationship of the architect and his discipline, and, beyond this, the world. A unquestionable fact: The architect cannot content merely with the scale of building, or, to push further, the very act of building. On one hand, the architect is now extending his skillness in operating at a larger system — not necessarily the scale of the city, but that of the regional, the territory, the planetary — I'm speaking of infrastructure. On the other hand, the architect, more politically-engaged, uses other forms of practice, that is to say, curating, writing and publishing. Although many of them do not build, their influence on architecture is strong. Other build but use these extra activities as a means of leveraging their built projects. But what is common is that they aim to repurpose the architectural practice.

An example, present in Close, CloserAndrés Jaque and his firm the Office for Political Innovation, for instance, examines "the potential of post-foundational politics and symmetrical approaches to the sociology of technology to rethink architectural practices," as he states in his website. He participated in a three-day event 'Super Power of Ten' at the Triennial including two talks 'Radical Pedagogies: A conversation', and 'Phaidon Atlas Talks'. He also took part in 'Definition Series/OLD: from elderly to lateness' at Storefront IS Lisbon, a project curated by New York-Based Storefront for Art and Architecture, which was also part of Close, Closer. The list of the participants is long. And you should have been there at the opening days to profit from the program: exhibitions, talks, performances, etc.

For those who couldn't be present, other events were scheduled within these four months including Spatial Agency composed of Jeremy Till, Tatjana Schneider, and Nishat Awan, who curated a two-day event (17-20 October), The Institute for Radical Spatial Education, an event part of the Institute Effect. The event's ambition was to re-imagine professional and pedagogical agendas for architecture through a series of 'actions' that will alter the space within the gallery and beyond, the curators said. If you have read Jeremy Till's Architecture Depends, you certainly are familiar with the purpose of this event. In his book, he defends a new contingently educational methodology for a better — or real — engagement of architecture with the uncertainties of the world.

Not far away from Spatial Agency was Design as Politics, another two-day event (20-23 November) curated by Wouter Vanstiphout and Marta Relats. The event is declined as an exhibition "of the work undertaken at the institute and through a series of talks." The participants were invited to vote in the line of participative exhibitions.

I decided not to attend the opening week despite the fact that a large number of events were scheduled in September. I decided to go to the Triennial the last week.
Future Perfect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC, 2013
Future Perfect ı Close, Closer 2013. Image credits: ULGC 2013

Which brings me to one of the strongest points. Of great interest, indeed, was Future Perfect, an installation curated by Liam Young with a large panel of contributors, mostly scientists, technologists, designers, artists and science fiction authors, including Rachel Armstrong, Marshmallow Laser FeastBruce Sterling, Bart Hess, Tim Maly, Cohen van BalenFactory Fifteen, and Warren Ellis, among others. As the curator presents
Future Perfect ı Close, Closer, 2013. Image credit: ULGC 2013.

Emerging in the shadows of the decaying towers of a post-oil Dubai, geo-engineered by climatologists and influenced by the imminent economic boom of the Indian subcontinent it is a terraformed urban island. A city is grown rather than built, a creature, living, breathing and computing, a seething ecology that has become a new metropolitan megaform. A speculative urbanism, an exaggerated present, where we can explore the wonders and possibilities of emerging biological and technological research and envision the possible worlds we may want to build for ourselves. For the future is not something that washes over us like water, it is a place we must actively shape and define. Through fictions we share ideas and we chronicle our hopes and fears, our deepest anxieties and our wildest fantasies. Spend time in the districts, read the fictions of those who live there, meet friends and strangers, listen to their stories and share their lives. Some of us will be swept up in what the city could be, others will be reserved and look on with caution. We have not walked these streets before, what things may come, in a Future Perfect.
More explicitly,
Future Perfect ı Close, Closer, 2013. Image credits: ULGC 2013

Future Perfect is trying to present a vision of the future that is somehow ambiguous. I don't think it is completely utopian or positive, but neither is a classical dystopian vision of the future with dark skies and endless rain. It is somewhere in between. Right now we are in a really interesting moment where there are so many unknowns about the future: biotechnology, climate change, failing economies. All these things are massive issues, which as a culture we just don't know how to deal with.
We began the projects with a think tank of scientists, technologists and futurists — these individuals are actually in the process right now of making the future. They are in labs and in companies and are building the things that we are going to be faced with in the next 20 or 30 years. And I think engaging them is a really unique thing to be doing — putting them in direct collaboration with artists, designers and visualizers, to communicate those ideas broadly. We have created an entire fictional world with all the subtleties of a real city, with characters and stories that describe their lives. This is an imaginary place but it is built out of the cutting edge research that is happening right now in places such as MIT Media Lab, or in the bio labs of Michigan University, a leading proponent of biotechnology, where extraordinary world class coders, digital artists and scripters are working. These practitioners, industries, companies and universities, are really shaping what our cities are going to be.
Future Perfect ı Close, Closer, 2013. Image credits: ULGC 2013

The installation was housed in the Museu Da Electricidade (the Museum of Electricity) occupying two spaces. In the first space, two installations: a Quarantine zone composed of lightning, and a model of a speculative, terraformed, land or decaying city. In the second room a large installation composed of five zones including The Looms, The Wilds (a forest including a video installation), the Supercomputer, The Garment District (prosthetic bodies), and The Lookout (a video installation).
And Nowhere a Shadow | Cohen van Balen | Future Perfect ı Close, Closer, 2013. Image credits: ULGC 2013

The common denominator of these speculative projects lies in the transformation of the individual body, or the collective bodies (the city) in the face of emerging technologies, climate change, ecological and economic crisis. How can human beings adapt to this transformation?
And Nowhere A shadow | Cohen van Balen | Future Perfect ı Close, Closer, 2013. Image credits: ULGC 2013
For the youth tribes of Future Perfect the body is a site for adaptation, augmentation and experimentation. They celebrate the corruption of the body data by moulding within their costumery all the imperfections of a decaying scan file. Shimmering in the exhibition landscape is a network of geometric reflective pools of molten wax. Their mirrored surface is broken by a body, suspended from a robotic harness, plunging into the liquid. A crust of wax crystallises around its curves and folds, growing architectural forms, layer by layer, like a 3D printer drawing directly onto the skin. Slowly the body emerges, encased in a dripping wet readymade prosthetic. It is a physical glitch, a manifestation of corrupt data in motion, a digital artefact. They hang from hooks like a collection of strange beasts and frozen avatars. Body prints, imperfect and distorted and always utterly unique.

Chupan Chupai, a film produced by British Factory Fifteen, showed a group of children playing, running around the city. As Jonathan Gales and Paul Nichols, co-founders of Factory Fifteen, stated: "through their play the children discover how to hack the city, opening up a cavernous network of hidden and forgotten spaces, behind the scenes of everyday streets."
Chupan Chupai | Factory Fifteen | Future Perfect ı Close, Closer, 2013. Image credits: ULGC 2013
One may be attracted by the color of the images: yellow, blue, red, orange, green in contrast with brownish-colored buildings unfolding the fast-urbanization of the Indian society that will absorb tradition… or human contingency.
Chupan Chupai | Factory Fifteen | Future Perfect ı Close, Closer, 2013. Image credits: ULGC 2013
Watching this film, I was reminded of Zygmut Bauman's Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts, in particular this sentence "the birth of the new requires the death of the old." The children are innocently confronted with "an emerging technology and economic superpower." Put it simply, they are facing or will be swallowed by the machine, the interlinked facets of urban growth and globalization.
The Garment District | Bart Hess | Future Perfect ı Close, Closer, 2013. Image credits: ULGC 2013

The Garment District | Bart Hess | Future Perfect ı Close, Closer, 2013. Image credits: ULGC 2013
The Garment District | Bart Hess | Future Perfect ı Close, Closer, 2013. Image credits: ULGC 2013
Another video-based installation is And Nowhere a Shadow produced by Cohen van Balen, part of Future Perfect, consisting of a woodland including metal structures whose functions are to feed blueberry plants. Cohen van Balen describes this woodland as follows:
And Nowhere a Shadow | Cohen van Balen | Future Perfect ı Close, Closer, 2013. Image credits: ULGC 2013
We are wandering a new kind of wilderness, where the line between biology and technology is becoming increasingly indistinguishable. Through genetic modification, engineered meat, cosmetic surgery and geo-engineering we are remaking our world from the scale of cells to the scale of continents. The woods, wild and mysterious from afar, appear as a stage on which every element is considered. Genetically engineered plants, artificially sustained, are hanging from the trees, embedded in the ecology yet detached from it. Their scaffolding systems of gleaming steel and neon light sway in the wind, waiting. Grey wolves approach the structures during the night to scratch their body on the steel branches. In an intricate arrangement of devised symbiosis, the contraption takes on the role of host organism. The wolf's movements generate electricity for the system, while the blueberries are engineered to contain rabies vaccine in its fruit to protect the animal from self-destruction. Cameras transmit footage of the wolf's presence around the globe, adorned in invisible garlands of electric display, to be enjoyed by those whose passion for the spectacle of wilderness sustains its survival.
Again, this reminded me R&Sie(n)/New Territories's Lost in Paris, in particular this fern, a plant that grows around the house. Not surprising since R&Sie(n)/New Territories develops a speculative architecture. In this project, and just like van Balen's And Nowhere a Shadow, technology is interconnected with nature. The plant is fed with an engineered nutrient mixture combined with harvested rainwater. This system, then, is monitored by the inhabitants to prevent the fern to decay and, in doing so, to protect the building and its dwellers from externalities.
The Supercomputer/Pushing Boundaries | Marshmallow Laser Feast | Future Perfect ı Close, Closer, 2013. Image credits: ULGC 2013

A disappointment, however, was another installation, the Supercomputer/Pushing Boundaries by Marshmallow Laser Feast. Not the project on its own but its curatorial approach. It seems to me that another curatorial strategy would have been more appropriate for this installation. Indeed, I nearly missed it. It is because I noticed a visitor intrigued by a wall that I raised my head and finally saw the projection on the wall. The room likely was too dark for that installation. Such curatorial decision raises the question of grouping a complex set of micro-projects with their own context when one of them probably would have required another option. Indeed, it seems to me that the other installations have overwhelmed the Supercomputer, unless it was intentional.

Here lies the Triennial's conceptual center: architecture's agency. What position, what role can architecture play in an ever-changing world, when everything goes fast causing unpredictable, irreversible turbulence? What methodology? What is the architecture's agency in the face of this shift? Or, better, what could we do?

The common denominator of these micro-installations resides in the exploration of bodies across a shifting society, technological apparatuses, connectivity, and uncertainty creating new potentials for design. Liam Young wrote in his statement that "Our familiar infrastructure of roads, buildings and public squares are giving way to ephemeral digital networks, biotechnologies and cloud computing connections." This paradigmatic shift is profoundly transforming our perception and relation with others, with space as well as time. It is also redesigning us. Transformation is going too fast to be controllable calling into question design's potentiality, say, what is design's agency in the face of this transformation? How design can tackle it? For my perspective, this is the message that this set of curatorial projects attempted to convey. What if architecture reconsiders its relationship with contingency? That architecture is bound to contingency, as Alisa Andrasek forthrightly wrote in the 25th issue (summer 2012) of Log Journal of architecture, this is an indisputable fact. And no-one will contest her statement. She, then, is right to claim that architecture, however, has not integrated contingency. In this context, this is indisputably that architecture must cope with contingency to problem-address a set of uncertainties. And no! Not everything is under control except if we, happy nihilist, continue to view our changing world as a… continuation (I am thinking of Timothy Morton's excellent essay "Same as it ever was"for the 35th issue of Volume Magazine.)

Speculative architecture allows for trials and errors to stimulate creativity. An object, for instance, is too unstable or irreversible to be finished. It must be capable of absorbing contingency to adapt and respond to uncertainties. This is one of the characterists of speculation: never allow for finite product, accept processual, becoming. Second, society, as a large, contingent and complex system, becomes a laboratory to explore, or speculate a set of scenario that could leverage new ideas, new potentiality. Neither cannot its contours be fixed. Nor cannot they be hard. So are its structures. Society must be understood as fluctuating all the time. Remember what scientist Ilya Prigogine said about fluctuations: "[T]hese fluctuations are sometimes amplified on the macroscopic level and lead to non-equilibrium structures, to biological structures, and so on." Now failure. Failure is at the core of society. Society is based on trial and errors like nature. And yes, not everything is under control, once again in that you have to deal with contingency, indeterminacy, instability, fluctuation and change. See these hyperobjects like radioactive decay, weather, biological cell, the Earth, they are some examples of irreversibility. It seems to me that Future Perfect attempts to unfold the importance of integrating this very fact that we no longer must consider our modern world (or architecture,  or nature, or city, or any object) stable, finite. It also reveals that future should not be comprehended as something too blurry or, on the contrary, too predictable. Future is fluctuant and ever-changing, consequently creative and innovative. So must be urban space. As Liam Young explains
In Future Perfect the city is being avidly redefined. For instance, I live in London and my friends live in London, but I spend most part of my time on Facebook or on my twitter network, therefore my experience of London is actually an augmented one. It is one distributed across luminous rectangles scattered around the planet. The city as a physical place is starting to disappear as a notion altogether. In this sense, the Future Perfect city isn't necessarily just about a place, but about a community, and this community is connected through technology. The Future Perfect city is an assemblage of devices, servers, proxy locations, IP addresses and of people positioned at the end of fiber optic cables and circuit boards, scattered across the world. And, in the end, the physical place that we describe is just one place. I wouldn't necessarily call it a city in the traditional sense — it is a community that is formed through technology. In general Future Perfect is interested in the idea that emerging technologies are fundamentally changing the way that we live and interact with each other. They are fundamentally changing the idea of what a community is or what a city is.
Imagining the future allow for tackling the present. Liam Young continues
We take emerging trends and we exaggerate them, we play them out in a series of different scenarios so that we can test them and access them. We can talk abstractly about something like climate change, we can see it on the news, we can hear scientists talk about how many degrees the temperature is rising or how many meters the ocean level is rising, but it is not very tangible.
Hence the critical function of speculation, or science fiction:
Science fiction has a great capacity to communicate these urgent ideas and present them in a way that generates a conversation. And that allows us to be more active in thinking about what our future is what futures we want. We can all collectively try and get to somewhere preferable, exciting and positive as opposed to just waiting for us to have the future thrust upon us by forces larger than ourselves.
Let me put these fascinating problems aside for another moment. Back to the Triennial, and more explicitly to the curatorial function of and its articulation with architecture. How does architecture articulate curating?
The reason why I have gone too far with my analysis of Future Perfect is that I wanted to stress a possible articulation of fiction, speculation, contingency and curating within the notion of potentiality. Fiction and speculation first (allow me for putting these two notions at the same level for that matter). Let me go back to Liam Young's statement about the potentiality of science fiction as a tool to "communicate these urgent ideas and present them in a way that generate conversation." Curating is a form of fiction or speculation. It lies in "critically examining the present". Curating can allow architecture for testing, experimenting as François Roche said about the role of exhibition in his design practice. I'm thinking of Une Architecture des Humeurs, this design research/exhibition for instance. For the architect, the exhibition can be "a suite of visual indices," as François Roche said, or a result of a research, this is, at least, how it seems to be articulated in R&Sie(n)/New Territories. In the case of Roche, the exhibition is part of his practice, like research, a process, or a speculation.
First, the architect extends his role into a curator. Second, the exhibition elaborates, experiments, tests a scenario-based project that deploys, a "constantly mutating sequence of possibilities", to paraphrase François Roche. An approach not very different from Future Perfect to a certain extent.
What interested me in this Triennial, beyond the theme of future practices as elaborated by Close, Closer, is the way the curator, Beatrice Galilee and her associated curators have articulated the potentiality that curatorial function can offer to architecture. Of course Future Perfect is not the only exhibition that stresses this potentiality. Other exhibitions and events have done it but differently. Galilee and her curatorial team have used curating to investigate the state of architecture practice in this new and intricate era, how the discipline of architecture is challenging this very complex mutation that is transforming architecture profoundly (and, in turn, how this mutation is challenging architecture). In this context, Close, Closer is an example of the potentiality of curatorial practices in enabling a discussion about architecture's agency in tackling these issues presented by the show.
With an evidence, this form of curating may have not seduced everyone. Some critics have complained the lack of coherence or the dizzying problematic of the edition or, worse, its puerility. To the contrary, it seems to me that these critics reveal a misunderstanding of the potentiality of curatorial practices within architecture. Such criticism, in fact, is itself too accustomed to pre-codified exhibitions — the solo show, or the mid-career survey or the group show. Or, it also is possible that the format of the biennial itself should be clarified in its distinction from the Venice Architecture Biennial model and its national pavilions. The field of art has already engaged a reflection on it. Given the growing number of exhibitions, biennials as well as other forms of curatorial practices like lecture, conversation, or even, publication, it won't be a surprising if architecture is confronted with this task of engaging a serious reflection of the potentiality of curating as an expanded field, at least to avoid such misunderstandings.
The Institute Effect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC.
The Institute Effect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC.

Neither did I find Beatrice Galilee and her associated curators' curatorial approach to this edition the best curatorial approach architecture ever has. Nor, on the contrary, would I say another curatorial approach would have been better, or something has not been deepened enough for a better understanding of the curators' statement.
The Institute Effect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC.

Beatrice Galilee is neither the first nor the only one to break with the tradition in curating architecture in this manner — I'm wondering, for instance, what curatorial methodology Think Space's curators will establish for their exhibition Money — a hint: the curators have opted for a competition-based curatorial strategy. These curators are no longer willing to merely fill up an available space. As I attempted to demonstrate, they aim to project their own ideas, their research into the space.
The Institute Effect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC.
The Institute Effect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC.
The Institute Effect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC.

The Institute Effect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC.
The Institute Effect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC.

The Institute Effect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC.
The Institute Effect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC.
The Institute Effect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC.
The Institute Effect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC.
The Institute Effect ı Close, Closer, 2013, Image credit: ULGC.

Close, Closer was curated by Beatrice Galilee, and co-curators Liam Young, Mariana Esparza, José Esparza Chong Cuy, assisted by Dani Admiss as the third edition of the 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennial, from September 12 to December 15, 2013.

All subsequent quotes by the curatorial team and architects in this blog are drawn from their writings in the triennial catalogue.

* Liam Young (ed.), Expect Everything and Nothing Else, Booklet for 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennial/Close, Closer, 2013
* 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennial, Close, Closer ı Os Lugares Estão Para As Passoas e Vice-Versa, Catalogue Guide, 2013.
* Thinking in Practice, Future Perfect ı An Interview with Liam Young, 2013
* Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts, Polity, 2003.
* Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends, MIT Press, 2009.
* Jeremy Till, "Scarcity contra Austerity", Design Observer, 10.08. 2012
* Scott Timberg, "The architecture meltdown", Salon, 4. 02. 2012
* Alisa Andrasek, "Open synthesis// Toward a resilient fabric of architecture", in Log journal of Architecture, Issue 25, Summer 2012.
* R&Sie(n)/New Territories and Caroline Naphegyi, "Protocols & Process ı in Cahier Spécial du magazine Mouvement, pdf (in French. in English).
* Timothy Morton, "Same as it ever was", in Volume Magazine, Issue 35 "Everything is Under Control", 20-22.
* Catherine Rampell, "Want a Job? Go to College, and Don't Major in Architecture", The New York Times, 5.01.2012
* Asada Akira, Prigogine Ilya, Time and Creation ı An Interview with Ilya Prigogine (pdf).

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