2/06/2013

The Editor's reading in progress | Bracket Goes Soft, and everything else

Two new books I received two days ago: Bracket [Goes Soft] and Alejandro Zaera-Polo's The Sniper's Log. A review on both books is forthcoming. I will start with Bracket, which I am currently reading. A so long-awaited little publication — albeit rather thick — co-published by Archinect, InfraNet Lab and Actar. As always, I am sharing my reading in-progress

This volume of Bracket [Goes Soft] is edited by Lola Sheppard (Lateral Office/ InfraNet Lab) and Neeraj Bhatia (InfraNet Lab/ Petropia), with contribution of Benjamin Bratton, Julia Czerniak, Jeffrey Inaba, Philippe Rahm, Charles Renfro and Geoff Manaugh.


A rapidly scanned Bracket's cover…

This volume deals with landscape-architecture and infrastructure (a first impression before the book review: I noted a unified approach to landscape-architecture-urban-infrastructure[*]), precisely a series of fundamental notions for a better understanding of the shifting contexts: soft systems, adaptability, non-linear, multivalent, interface, contingency, flexibility, remediation, among many others. To a certain extent, I may be wrong but I noted some similarities with Nina-Marie Lister and Chris Reed's research on Projective Ecologies (another long-awaited book announced to be published by Actar), Smout Allen's approach to landscape-urbanism or MAP Architects/David Garcia, SCAPE, mammoth, and as normal this can be,  both Petropia and Lateral Office. This is not a surprised as these agencies share the same interest in what Pierre Bélanger as well as Stan Allen — to limit to these two researchers — call, namely landscape as infrastructure — simply known as landscape infrastructure. Note that mammoth has a proposal in this second volume.

Below an excerpt from this publication. A proposal by Leigha Dennis titled Be Alarmed (49-56). Leigha Dennis is a New York and architect interested in the intersection of technology, infrastructure and buildings.

The communities that are located close to the chemical industries in Louisiana's industrial corridor are afflicted by forces that transcend human perception. While the presence of harmful dust, noise and the subjugation of space are apparent at many levels, and leave these communities vulnerable, it is the power of the unseen and the unknown that are the subject of this investigation.
The industries' intent to withhold information that is necessary for the public safety has left an overriding sense of uncertainty and anxiety. Chemicals are released into community environments and nearby ecologies, rendering the consumption of air, food and water toxic. Deposited deep below the homes of many communities lie containers for dormant toxic waste whose shelf lives and stability are unforeseeable. Similarly, underground, geological salt caverns are often used for the storage of chemicals and crude oil, leaving ground water at the risk of contamination. While the air above the ground is subject to invisible, harmful pollutants, the ground below equally conceals the existence of a corresponding precariousness.
Attempts at providing systems of security and alarm for nearby communities have been benign and otherwise unsuccessful, resulting in moments of panic and confusion. Alarm speakers, functional or not, dot the landscape, while intercoms have been installed in homes — asserting a latent paranoia of surveillance and potential disaster. As the chemical companies have grown, acquired farmland and sometimes entire communities, their expansions has subsumed the landscape — leaving homes within unsafe proximities from toxic sites sometimes only feet away. Industries build directly up to property lines as a not-so-passive warnings to leave, yet some homes remain — either in resistance, or simply because there is nowhere else to go. For those homes that are bought out, swaths of pastoral green-scape are left in their place — a visual illusion that everything is fine.
In many ways, these attempts have both succeeded and failed in achieving illusions of safety. The security systems that are implemented often act to secure the plants themselves, rather than the vulnerable residents in close proximity. Alarms are sounded when danger is eminent, leaving the final and only option of fleeing. The events that are alerted are extreme, such as explosions or massive spills. However, communities are exposed to varying levels of toxins in the air, water, food, and ground on a daily basis. These quantities of contamination are equally alarming, yet go unknown and unnoticed.
For the communities that remain, this project aims to provide methods for monitoring, revealing and alerting the daily conditions of toxicity. Designed as a type of public service announcement and kit-of-parts, it provides a transparency of information that does not currently exist for the public. Through a network of devices dedicated to seeing the unseeing, this alarm system will reveal levels of ground water, river water, and air contamination through recognizable and decipherable forms of display: a new kind of public utility. Personal kits to test vinyl chloride levels within homes, in drinking water, and in the body enable the residents to actively improve and keep their communities safe. By establishing trending in data, concentrations of contamination can be identified. The subterranean will be mapped above, while the air will be inscribed. The aesthetic of infrastructure is transformed into an active response system. Through the use of phyto- and sensor-technology, passive and active systems will alert to latent and harmful toxic levels, as well as provide the infrastructure for improvement in an altered and augmented landscape. Over time, the devices will improve contamination through remediation and awareness, resulting in their own optimistic obsolescence. 

A deep pleasure to read since it is right on my current investigation on networked ecologies, contingency, infrastructure. 

For anyone at all interested in infrastructure, adaptive design, landscape urbanism, this publication is more than essential. I will go back with a review in a couple of weeks. I am even considering organizing a Skype conversation with the editors along with a traditional review format. This can be an enjoyable occasion to go further, or — who knows — to discuss my point of view on this volume.

This aside, I will post this Saturday, the conversation I had two weeks ago with Tokyo and London-based Robert Schmidt III of Adaptable Future. You will probably note a similarity in the approach, in particular, his research on adaptability, non-linear, contingency. I hope to finish the audio editing tomorrow.
Then, as mentioned in a previous post, I wrote a piece for the Scandinavian magazine Conditions Magazine, a piece not to far from a series of topics related here and other platforms (Facebook, mostly) on future practices. The new issue supposedly will be available in March or April. As usual, I will go back to this news very soon.

[*] On the unification of building and infrastructure, see Pope Albert, "The Unified Project", Architectural Design, Vol. 82, Issue 05, September/October.

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