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


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.

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