There is no Zero: Continuous Remix in the Geologic City (Geologic City report #11)
04.22.2011, 9:04 am
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FOP 2011

On March 11, 2011 FOP felt the context of our work shift irrevocably. As events continue to unfold in Japan, we sense the need to find new modes of response, including new ways of thinking about designing for deep time.

A monumental convergence of geologic forces and human designed infrastructures is taking place in Japan. And we’re still far from understanding the changes that are being propelled by it.  For the next few weeks, FOP will take to the road (air, and sea) and extend our practice and process into new geographic and aesthetic territories.  We’ll attempt to sense what possible new directions we might take up from “here”—in the wake of events in Japan.

We look forward to engaging with others who might sense, as we have written about previously, that as a result of the earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing nuclear disaster, “architectures, infrastructures—and artworks—will risk being irrelevant at best, dangerous at worst, if their designers don’t take the newly gathered information into account and recalibrate.”

It now seems worth considering how humans might design if the interminable downstream and indeterminable outcomes became primary design specifications. It also seems worth exploring ways for humans to scale ourselves and our actions in relation to geologic material and force.

We’ll address these ideas directly with students and faculty at Olso School of Architecture and Design on May 10, 2011 in a presentation entitled, “There is No Zero: Continuous Remix in the Geologic City.”  We’ll talk about how the frame for our Geologic City project has changed in light of new information and sensations that we’ve gleaned from events in Japan.

For us, it’s now dramatically clear there is no “outside” of the materials and flows that compose our cities or planet. Humans are in constant negotiation, exchange, and remix with the materialities and forces of the world. It appears our future work as artists, designers, educators, engineers and architects (and quite possibly the work of long-term human survival itself) will be to find ways to navigate, design, and live in relation to what we humans can’t plan for, can’t account for, or can’t even imagine.

For our talk in Oslo, we’ll take up the notion of “zero” in cities (as in, zero carbon emissions, zero waste, zero footprint). We’d like to suggest that a city such as New York can be understood only as a complex, multilayered interchange of vectors of geologic materials, forces and flows in which there is no “zero” point. There is only a continuous (and often radical) remixing of earth materialities that will propagate into deep time. As a result, we can only and ever design and make in relation to a highly consequential remixing of materialities – and to the potential outcomes generated by newly formed assemblages of the human and non-human.

We’d like to suggest that the aim for “zero impact” has been not only futile, it also distorts an inherent reality of life:  both our efforts to conserve and our acts of “consumption” generate new potentialities. By aiming for “zero,” we run the risk of distracting ourselves from the opportunity (even if it is a messy one) to take up an urgent design challenge:  that of imagining and working with the complex consequences and assemblages that are set in motion when we design built environments and infrastructures.  

no zero, FOP 2011

Through the site visits for Geologic City, we experienced New York City not only as a concentrated composition of primordial materiality, remixed into forms ranging from piles of road salt to bridges and buildings. We also experienced it as a dynamic space of continuous negotiation among humans, materials, and time.  Here, each movement, human and non-human, sets into motion fantastically unpredictable assemblages and events.

We’ll consider each site remaining in the Geologic City project not only in terms of its sheer materiality, but also in terms of what “actions” these materials incite in the world.  What possibilities and exchanges do they set into motion as they come into contact with humans, markets, politics, labor, fashion trends — or even unpredictable meterological or geologic events?  How might these materials remix with others in ways that “reshape” our world on both small and large scales?  In other words, what deep futures might we be designing ourselves into because of the ways we intentionally and unintentionally design our Cities?

Humans are presently setting up what comes next. What falls out of these setups might arrive tomorrow, next week, or in 1,000 years. Regardless, it seems newly important to acknowledge that our actions and designs set the stage for what becomes of the future. All materiality on the planet was continuously remixing long before we arrived.  This process will continue on with or without us, and it will be coupled with what we set into motion.


During our time offline, in typical FOP style, we’ll take up the journey-form as our process. In late May, we’ll post updates and documentation of geology-related field expeditions, including one to the Reykjanes Ridge in Iceland where the North American Plate meets the Eurasian Plate.  We’ll also be making an extended trek above the Arctic Circle to Lofoten.  There, we’ll experience a section of a newly designed assemblage of public art, landscape, highway infrastructure, geology, and local culture known as Norway’s National Tourist Routes. Stay tuned for updates next month.

FOP 2011

2 Comments so far
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Just as there is no outside of the materials and flows of assemblages that govern our lives, it may be worth highlighting that at least with respect to a time period of hundreds or possibly thousands of years, the internet’s existence is subject to change and this need be carefully considered in the context of future design. One of the contemporary powers of this particular blog, for example, is its depth of geological respect and subsequent effort to organize around such forces. FOP is like a lighthouse on a stormy horizon and I shudder to think at what would happen if suddenly I stopped receiving these and other future minded updates due to a vast internet failure or power disruption. Some day in the future, the power of this form of communication will in fact be profoundly tested, perhaps many times over, and as today’s depleting energy supply may force our technological switchboards to become more nimble, one has to consider whether or not it may be worth storing some of this internet data in actual physical spaces that do not require screens or electrical input. Here, seeds for future crops should be hidden as well, and lots of maps with various pictograms and legends indicating that the survival of the species may critically depend on how we communicate with one another. Can’t wait to see what you discover in Iceland and perhaps you should consider leaving some sort of time capsule for future travelers to the region. What, indeed, would such a time capsule even look like?

Comment by John

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