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On May 3-4, we’ll be at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO) for a conference called Landscapes of Energy. We’re honored to be a part of this gathering. We’ll be sharing some evolving ideas and work in our presentation entitled “Streaming Landscapes.”
Contemporary life is a dynamic and teeming space of exchanges that involve the geologic—a constant negotiation of movement and materiality among humans, geologic forces and materials, and past and potential futures. Most recently, we’ve been making work that offers the following provocation: “What if anticipating geologic scales of force, change, and effect became a common design specification for energy production and distribution projects, policy-making, and infrastructure design?”
As our recent time in Japan has made clear to us—landscapes ARE energy–they are movement, they are composed not of inert things or objects, but of dynamic events. Doreen Massey’s work has inspired us to consider landscape to be a simultaneity of trajectories and unfinished stories. Not, as Massey points out, a simultaneity of a closed system, but a simultaneity of movement. A landscape is a product of connections being made and unmade. Its changes of state unfold continuously at wildly diverse speeds and scales, thanks to the flows of energy that compose it and that it becomes.
The planet is “streaming” as it always has. But it seems that humans are living this fact in new ways, as volcanic ash clouds thwart international travel, nuclear power plants disperse cesium around the globe, and debris slides erase portions of cities in minutes. How might we meet and engage the energy released by landscapes are in motion?
map of volcanic ash spreading across Europe from the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland, from Skynews.com, 2010
As a condition of contemporary life, the planet’s continuous state of flux seems to be taking on new meaning and consequence for human beings. Humans have intensified their reliance upon their ability to harness landscape streams and derive ever-increasing scales of energy from them. At some moments, our infrastructural projects and capacities—our abilities to divert, capture, and reconfigure landscape streams—seem to rival geologic forces in scale. But they don’t, really. And as our efforts become more intense, dense, and complex, more and more is at risk.
For our presentation in Oslo, we’ll be sharing some of our previous landscape-based research trips and projects, such as the Limit Case Postcards and Below the Line. We’ll also apply these projects to future interests, including our ongoing engagement with the cascade of consequences resulting from the Fukushima-Daiichi meltdowns. This ongoing event is a powerful reminder of how essential it is to address infrastructure as the arrangement of forces and things in relation to each other. And also in relation to the reality that there are a multitude of earth forces capable of rising up and challenging our best design and engineering capacities, which can mean the difference between mere accident and international catastrophe.
How might we design and respond to the contemporary conditions of life differently by taking ‘streaming landscape” as our point of departure?
After the conference, we’ll join the Landscape Journeys research project–an initiative of AHO’s Institute of Urbanism and Landscape and supported by The Norwegian Research Council. The research expedition will include traveling the ring road of Iceland and visiting present and future sites for hydro-electrical and geothermal energy.
The landscape of Iceland streams at a speed much greater than the landscapes that most of us live within. What takes millenia to form or come apart in other places happens much faster there. In Iceland, the meetings up of geologic force and human activity—two vastly different scales of events—are intensified, literalized, and encompassing. This is perhaps most exquisitely illustrated by the Jökulhlaup, a glacial outburst flood.
Some of Iceland’s infrastructure supports our efforts to think in terms of “streaming landscapes.” We hope to learn more about how Icelandic people acknowledge the streaming-ness of their landscapes through the ways they design and live with their infrastructures. We’re especially drawn to Icelandic examples of flexible, responsive infrastructure design. From here, it appears that geologic realities of Iceland could offer vital instruction about how we might imagine and design infrastructures capable of streaming in response to the earth forces that confront and challenge them. Some Icelandic highways and bridges are designed to bend, break, and hold only so long before giving way to the mega floods that result when volcanic explosions melt huge areas of glaciers in an instant. They could assist us in learning new ways to build and live responsively within the planet’s streaming landscapes.
*Special thanks to Janike Kampevold-Larsen for her support and interest in our work.
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