The winners were chosen by a jury of more than 20 leading architects, designers and storytellers, including Daniel Libeskind, Bjarke Ingels, Jenny Sabin, Cornelia Funke, Maria Aiolova and Roman Mars, among many other distinguished judges. Francesca Giuliani, a co-founder of Blank Space, said:
“Over the past five years, the Fairy Tales architecture competition has captured the imagination of thousands of participants from around the world – from students and aspiring architects to multinational firms and Pritzker prize-winning architects. The competition has become a repository for the social and environmental issues that are at the forefront of architects’ minds and captures the most pressing themes in highly imaginative and sometimes provocative ways.”
Since its inception in 2013, the annual Fairy Tales challenge has attracted thousands of participants, and winners have gone on to develop their stories into successful Kickstarter campaigns, short films, comic books, and exhibitions.
This year’s jury selected three prize winners, a runner up and 9 honorable mentions:
First Place goes to Louis Liu and Senyao Wei for “Deep Pool That Never Dries” Louis is an architectural designer currently working in Beijing, and along with a few friends, have their own firm called CO- work. He grew up in Toronto, and received his M.Arch from the University of Toronto. Louis had also lived and worked in Germany. During his spare time, he loves to create fantasy and sci fi illustrations. Louis is also Senyao’s boyfriend. Wei Senyao grew up in China, and is a graduate of the Communication University of China where she studied literary criticism. She is currently an editor and writer in the new media industry. Senyao looks forward to the day where she no longer critiques and reviews, but authors real literary work. Senyao is also Louis’ girlfriend.
“In 2017, we lived in Beijing and felt the government’s call for demolition. On the same day, many private media outlets in China broke out. We still remember the anger, sadness, panic, protest and disappointment against the government that were spread in the private and personal media during those two days. Afterwards the public went out of control and the government began to exercise strict control over the news. During that time, the area where Beijing was demolished was chaotic. The internet was also in disarray. However, we did not live at the scene. We did not see for ourselves how the government dismantled it. We only learned about it through the private media outlets — the same city and what happened on the other side.”
“We then began to think whether these news were really reliable? Of course they were not reliable. They were not written by reporters. They were written by a group of angry ordinary people. What were they angry about? Because Beijing, like every major city in the world, has a large population, it is crowded, and has many poor people. Therefore, we believe that the biggest problem in Beijing is not to disperse the poor population but to readjust the structure of the city. In this case, the so-called freer private media actually did a very bad job, in which it did not look at this in a greater picture and sought a solution, but instead focused deeply on the matter and complained. So at the end of the story, Lao Tzu’s words means that if you want to reach the truest side of the city, then throw away all the media and its mediums, then every minute and every second of your life in this city is the most authentic look of the city.”
– Louis Lui
Second Prize goes to Sasha Topolnytska, for her story “Ascension” Sasha is an architectural designer born and raised in Kiev, Ukraine; educated in the United States receiving her M.Arch from the University of Michigan. She currently works at Deborah Berke Partners Architecture in New York City. Sasha’s personal work explores the simple idea of making our built environment a better place through architectural design, urban adaptation and cultural storytelling. She believes that architecture has a power and agency to improve human lives. “The idea for my story is very simple: sustainability can no longer be just an option, it is imperative for the survival of humanity on this planet. The story itself does not go into defining major issues our plant is facing right now. Instead, the story takes us to a fictional future, envisioning a consequence from human activity. While “Ascension” is a story about Earth, who eventually must resort to defending herself by trying to rid her surface of all human and human made objects, it is also an emotional journey of people fighting to stay and learn how to be a friendlier neighbor.”
Third Prize goes to Ifigeneia Liangi for “The Paper Moon” Ifi is an Architect and an Illustrator who grew up in Athens, Greece and studied in the UK. She has worked as an architectural assistant and exhibition designer in London and is now doing a PhD research by design at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, where she is also a teaching fellow. Her PhD research is in the field of Architectural Storytelling, and she is currently writing, making, and illustrating a magical realist fairy tale that takes place in a small neighbourhood of Athens called Kipseli (which literally translates as beehive), a place devastated by the political and economic crisis. Her research is tackling the idea of the figurative in architecture, the sculpted or painted figure as having a parallel to a character in a story. She is proposing that in the same way in which a story cannot be told without a character, architecture cannot speak without figures, be it literal or allegorical. This means that a speaking architecture can give the potential for spaces to tell stories that are meaningful by being both magical and critical.
“I’d like to think of my story as a magical realist fairy tale, challenging ideas of the classical fairy tale, such as for example a linear rather than complex relationship between good and evil. I believe that in the new “antimythical” fairy tale, the quest of the characters should not only be personal, a greater awareness of the self, as we are not all striving for the same idea of happiness. Instead, I believe that narratives should engage with wider questions and ideas, with a clear and responsible voice towards adults, but most importantly, children.”
– Ifigeneia Liangi
The Runner Up this year was NEMESTUDIO for “Middle Earth: Diaramas for the Planet” an architectural office that produces work ranging from buildings and installations to speculative projects in various scales. The office has been recognized with several awards, most recently the 2016 Architectural League New York Prize for Young Architects. “The Middle Earth project is about architecture’s imagination of climate change. The question of the project was: In light of our current political crisis around climate change, what can architecture possibly contribute toward a new planetary imaginary of our contemporary environment beyond environmentalism? Their inspiration was dioramas in natural history museums and their interesting positioning between reality and fiction.”
– Neyran Turan from NEMESTUDIO
The Jury awarded 9 honorable mentions to: Zhang Haotian and Li Tianying; Carl Ydergård; Kah Mun Tham; Lorena Cano Acosta and Nicolás Mendoza Ramos; Eric Wong; Lambert David; Fouad Addou and Sulejman Gusic; Samantha Anderson; and Alberto de Salvatierra.
This year, to cap the competition, the best stories from the last five years of the Fairy Tales have been compiled in a high quality hardback anthology for the first time ever. The book, “Storytelling Architecture,” is made possible by Volume, a new publishing platform. The book is crowdfunding now at Volume.
On the evening of November 18, the Beijing municipal government held a press conference, Su was sent to attend.
Su heard from the government that the destroyed apartment was 80 meters long and 76 meters wide, occupied by 400 migrant workers. The fire caused the government to hasten the removal of these “slums.”
According to Beijing’s official statistics, in 2016, the long-term resident population in Beijing was 21.7 million. The entire urban ecology was on the brink of collapse and the government proposed redistributing urban population to ease the crowdedness in the city centre.
The whole city is divided into boxes — homes, offices, neighbourhoods, transportation. People travel from box to box, and a Beijinger spends lots of money to buy bigger and more private boxes to show their achievements. People’s lives are related to the purchase of space; the conditions of marriage is to have a house, and the proximity of the house to a good school. These boxes represent one’s life. And now the government will expel those who don’t own a box.
“I have to go there and see for myself.” Su wrote to the chief editor on WeChat.
“Please, be careful.”
Su came to the scene. There was no one on the streets, the shops were closed, on the door plastered with an official notice: must be removed within three days, leftovers would be treated as rubbish. A temporary portable dwelling had already been half torn down. Inside, a bunk bed, cupboard, leftover bowls, and water tap can still remind Su of its past owner. An old lady who lived in this neighbourhood accepted the interview. She said that this was the home of a young man “Right when he left for work this morning, the house was torn down by the excavator. He knelt in front of the demolishing team begging for them to stop, but they just pretended like it was nothing.” The old lady pointed to her right, “That apartment building, although no problem, has been forbidden to rent. It’s been a day since the tenants last had electricity and water.”
The building’s front doors have all been forcibly removed. Each household has about 20 square meters of space, all filled with stuff. One of them had an old man tied to the bed so that he could not get lost while his son went to work.
From afar, Su heard boots steps in the hall. The old man quickly covered his eyes with both hands, trembling.
A few people in uniforms crossed the doorway and shouted, “Move quickly!”
There was a woman’s scream next door, cursing, “Screw you! It’s not illegal to my home now!?” Su rushed out and saw a middle aged woman waving a kitchen knife and using her body as the non-existent door.
After the woman scolded the uniformed men away, she came to the room of the elderly and kneeled beside him. Su noticed the woman was crying, her composure like a defeated soldier that had just encountered a family member.
After Su left, she turned on her phone, arranged some photos and updated her Wechat “moment”. Many other reporters replied words of encouragement, and that they are on the way. She knew they were racing against the government’s ban on the report.
Su went directly back to the office, spent the night finishing the report, and had it sent to the editor’s mailbox by 4 am. By 7 am, the editor told Su that they have just received notice that all newspapers cannot report anything related to the clean-up campaign. Not ready to give up, Su left the office with despise towards these so-called “colleagues” for not doing anything.
Su knew that there exists another box space – cell phone, and that people are infatuated with this virtual space without borders and rules. This space quietly grew to house tens of millions of personal media in a short time, becoming the window to the city. Soon it became the go-to news outlet for the general public, standing side by side with the population, denouncing national media as the lying mouthpiece for the government. However, the exists a deformity in that these personal media seeks only to please the public. Claiming to be self-professed journalist, these people do not care about authenticity, wanting only to put on an expressive mask over their repressed lives. Their readers would then put so much emotions into the little boxes in their hands, that when the screen eventually turns off, they could only look sluggishly at the city around them.
Su went to her friend Hua, who owns a personal media. Because of this, Hua does not need to go to work or have an office. He writes and forwards articles on the computer every day and receives about ¥10,000 daily. He lives well in Beijing. Hua exclaimed, “The manuscript should have been given to me earlier! The government has long been untrustworthy.”
Upon reaching Hua’s home, she felt tired, and dozed off on the sofa. It felt like a short time when Hua’s excitement woke up.
“Su, wake up!” Hua exclaimed, “Your manuscript is fantastic! More than 300,000 people have read it!”
“How long have I slept?”
“Just about 6 hours. Turn on your phone! Everyone is forwarding your article!”
Su quickly read the comments of the article, she turned to Hua. “This is not something to be happy about, we have just screwed up.”
“As long as you tell the truth, more people will know the truth. You did a good thing.”
The article was forcibly deleted at the time when it got 500,000 views. Surveillance has won this round of the struggle. However, by erasing the story, the government further tapped the intrigue of the people.
Most readers do not care about those being expelled from the city, they just want to prove their own intellect and independence. They would not have even been to the scene, but instead sit at home and feverishly constructs an image of a cruel government in their minds, further firing the rage of the public. On the chance that the government does try to speak, these fervent netizens would label such speech as lies.
By evening, all related keywords were banned on the Internet. As a result, the places where the demolition occurred have essentially disappeared. Hua told her, “This is new media, our existence is peculiar. I find more people would rather believe me, a stranger without any credibility, than to believe the government that rules them. So just write what they want and they will trust you.”
“But you have deleted some of the information in the essay, the whole article is now about the government and not the expelled people!” Su replied.
“People want to see something so they can vent their emotions. Every word in the article is still written by you, just some words were deleted. The real news is for those who are not harmed but are afraid of being harmed.”
Su once again returned to the place of demolition, most of the building is now gone. In the middle of the block is a two-story garbage pile with clothes, quilts and various kinds of furniture.
The apartment building with the woman and old man has been emptied, the windows and doors completely removed. The hollows on the wall looks just like a skull.
A teddy bear lies face down the street. Its owner probably forgot about it before leaving. A few young boys passed by and picked up the bear, about to light it on fire, “Burn them! Burn them!”
“Stop!” Su snatched the bear. A man warned Su to leave quickly.
“I’m a reporter, I’m not here for trouble,” Su said.
Suddenly the man shouted angrily, “It’s you that messed up everything! Did you live here? Do you know the crime rate here? Do you know how real estate agents take advantage of the tenants to make money? The families lived in such a small area that they couldn’t even change clothes without being seen. Children play with and eat things on the ground and get sick. Have you seen these? Yes, everyone is eligible to live in Beijing but they are more eligible to live like a person.”
The man pointed to the apartment that caught fire and said, “My old friends who were expelled, old friends who sat with me when I quarreled with my wife. When he left, he didn’t even look at me. His wife spat in my face. But I had to get rid of them because I have seen the scorched body after the fire, and I don’t want them to be next! I would rather have them hate me. That is speaking the truth. Do you know the truth?”
Su left and closed her eyes. She heard people’s footsteps rush by her. She heard cars, wind, are the voices in this city. She felt the crowdedness on the subway, the city’s temperature. She thought of an ancient Chinese philosophy, “All tangles untied, All dust smoothed. It is like a deep pool that never dries.” The city itself is the truth, but it accepts our lies.
From the diary of the unknown survivor.
I woke up laying on my back. My head hurt and I felt dizzy. I pulled away a chair that was laying on my leg. I felt a terrible pain in my right shoulder. I was still in my apartment, or at least it looked like it, except it was upside down and I was sitting on a ceiling. All of my furniture sprawled around me. I tried to think of the last thing that I could remember before I woke up: I was sitting in my chair in my living room and reading the news on my laptop and then…nothing. I remember nothing. I woke up. I’m staring at my room. I’m confused. It almost looks like someone rotated it 180 degrees. Is this why my shoulder hurts? Because I landed on it as I was falling down (up)? Nonsense. There is a giant hole in a floor (or what was a ceiling the last time I remember). Where is my coffee table? When I got up, I walked toward the window, in search for any sign of explanation. As I looked out, I suddenly remembered the headline of the news I was reading right before it happened: “The World is Losing Its Gravity”.
Nothing manmade had to be: it was made by choice…
It’s been 20 years since the day the world lost its gravity. Well, it’s gravity to us, that is. At first, it looked like everything on Earth has lost it, but as we started to look around we realized that the trees, plants, rocks, and animals were still living on the Earth’s surface. After some time of grieving and sadness, what happened has finally started to settle in. We were being punished; prohibited from living on the surface of this planet. It is almost as if the Earth unshackled herself of all of unnecessary things: humans and all human-made. I am one of the survivors that did not drift into space. I was one of the lucky ones. I was inside of a building, on that day it happened; in a building that was grounded well enough into the Earth’s crust to not fly out into space.
We live in between, trying to survive everyday with fear of falling into space…
Earth no longer pulls us toward herself. We no longer can step on her surface. In order to survive in this world we had to figure out how to move around the space that surrounded us. Since we no longer could easily walk out of our buildings without falling “up”, without disappearing in the sky, we had to invent a system of circulation.
First, we clung to buildings and street lights, as points of attachment to keep ourselves tethered. Soon we realized that these man-made objects, our navigation, wasn’t stable. Eventually the buildings and lamps ripped out of the ground once you put more weight on it. We had to figure out another way of moving around. Trees are rooted into the ground and did not lose their gravity. Trees still belonged to the Earth. We started using trees as points of attachment for our circulation systems. There were not enough trees in the cities, so we started planting more. We planted trees on roads, sidewalks…everywhere. Trees grew tall and wide. We had to be careful with the materials we selected for walking surfaces of our circulation systems. Materials had to be permeable to not cast heavy shadows on the surface of the ground and light. Our survival depended on trees receiving enough sunlight. We also had to be strategic and careful about how much weight we put on the circulation systems. We had to walk in small groups so that the weight of us did not cause a tree to be ripped from the ground. Slowly, we’re learning. Learning to live in these cities with no gravity.
Man and ground are no longer one…
Cities are no longer safe for us to live in. The trees and plants started to populate city streets, spreading their roots deep into the ground. As a result of heavy vegetation, the sidewalks and roads have started to crack. Breaking. Detaching. Shooting up into the sky destroying our circulation systems. Buildings have been falling apart, piece by piece. Slowly dissolving into space. It became unsafe to live inside of buildings in the city. We had to leave. We had to move to forests, away from the crumbling infrastructure of civilization. We planted more trees and moved further into the outskirts.
We live in a forest now. A forest that we cherish and preserve; it helps us to stay here. Our houses are attached to tree trunks. Our homes are minimal and lightweight. We don’t own furniture. We don’t need any. The gravity is reversed for us, the sunlight enters our homes through the floor and we adjust our homes accordingly. Hell and heaven is reversed for us. If we want to see the sky we look down. If we want to see the Earth we look up.
Every day we wake up thankful for still being here. Every day we hold on to Earth. Earth that no longer wants us. Earth no longer receives our bodies. Everyday we hope.
We hope that maybe someday the Earth will forgive us…
I am well made. I am round. It’s a good shape. Sometimes I’m oblique. At least that’s what they say. I’m also papery. But not that thin paper that you can see through. I’m made of good quality paper. Thick and textured. Yes it is! If I really wanted I could make shapes with my body. Yes I could! I could fold into a paper boat. Or a paper frog. Or even a paper wolf. And then I’d swim and I’d jump and I’d howl! And then I’d shine from joy… Yes… I would…!
And I will.
Once Upon a Time, there was a paper moon. It was pinned in the sky and wanted to shine like the stars. So it decided to go to a witch. After the big flood, the sea level could touch the sky with the high tide. One starry night, the paper moon approached a star who was shining because it had fallen in love. With a starfish. The star would meet the starfish with the high tide. The moment it reached its peak, the paper moon rolled on the starfish and drifted into the sea to get to the house of Electra Hoover, the witch with the electric hoover.
Electra’s house was floating. The only houses that survived the big flood were neither the taller nor the more sturdy ones, but the ones that had an imagination. In Electra’s house lived the things that she had saved during the disaster: A circus’s tent which was painted with watermelons and knew the lyrics of “Watermelon Man”; two characters reminiscent of Comedia dell’arte; a big fish who liked to bite; innumerable frogs; her lucky black cat; and The Three Little Pigs together with the big bad wolf. Electra was a part-time witch and she liked to feed the birds who nested in her electric hair. Birds liked her hair because it reminded them of the electricity cables. Her full-time job was in the circus as a magician. Every evening, the people and animals of the floating city would take their boats and visit the circus.
The circus’s guard was a giant Grandmother. She wore a sewing machine as a hat so that she could stitch the stars back in place when they fell in the sea. In the circus also lived Astra, the astronaut who sold pop-corn. In his day job he sold orange-juice. He drove a vespa-house and collected oranges with his golden friend the frog. With every orange-juice that he sold, he also told a story. Astra liked to ride on his golden frog and jump high up in the sky, pretending he is in space. He was determined to tell stories to the whole city, because he believed that this was the only way to keep it afloat.
The paper moon arrived in Electra’s house, and hid in a shadow on a spotted wall. Electra’s house had spotted walls which would light up and make it look like the starry sky. In that way the pirates wouldn’t see it at night. That stormy afternoon, Electra was desperately trying to collect the rain with her hoover in order to make clouds and reduce the sea level, when Astra passed by on his vespa-house.
Everything will eventually sink. And the paper moon will drown and how will we find our way through the night? She said.
I’ll ask the wolf to howl and push the paper moon away from the water so that it doesn’t drown… Astra replied.
The paper moon, who had rolled inside Astra’s vespa-house, heard these words and felt weaker than ever. It was helpless. It even forgot why it had gone down on earth. So it crumpled and rolled under the vespa-house’s bed. Weeks went by, but it was so sad that it wouldn’t wake up. The floating city had started to lose its orientation when travelling through the night, until one day, the paper moon felt a warm porous skin touching its epidermis.
What are you up to? Said the golden frog.
Can’t you see I’m sleeping? Replied the paper moon.
I can see that. And I can see that you are not even dreaming.
I do as I like. Leave me alone.
I once had the chance of becoming a prince you know.
Why are you telling me this? As if I care. Why didn’t you become a prince?
I didn’t want to take the responsibility of prince-hood, and now I live as a frog for ever. I eat flies and I help the astronaut with his stories, but that’s all.
You can tell stories?
Well yes, why do you think she saved us?
Saved who? What are you talking about? Just let me sleep ok?
Electra saved the fairy tale characters. And also two comical ones from a street theatre, so that people wouldn’t forget how to laugh. But these two are so sad that they have decided to fall in a permanent state of daydreaming. Laughter is rare these days… And it’s one of those things… that keeps us afloat.
So are you a fairy tale character then?
Yes I am. And a very good one too. As I said, with my life I changed the ending of a classic.
So you know many fairy tales then? And all of the astronaut’s stories too?
Tell me one.
Once Upon a Time there were three little pigs who were architects. They liked to build concrete houses illegally in the middle of a forest where a wolf played. The concrete gradually took up his playground space. So he knocked on their door and kindly asked if they could stop building in the forest. “Go away, you horrible monster!” Said the two little pigs. But the third kept silent. A few months later, the forest had almost disappeared. So the wolf kindly knocked on their door again. “Go away, you horrible monster!” the two little pigs replied again. The wolf had no place to play, and sat on the concrete in melancholy. One day, as he was plucking daisies and looking at the sunset, he saw a pink dot at the edge of the concrete forest. He approached slowly, and saw the third little pig taking all of its things outside its house. The bed, a red balloon, a bicycle… “What are you up to?” Said the wolf. “I have a plan. I will fill in the concrete houses with soil and seeds and then I’ll blow up parts of their roofs so that the rain and the sun can come in. And the concrete houses will blossom into a new forest!” Said the third little pig filled with sadness, because it knew what was coming… The following months the two little pigs started a fierce propaganda. They would take photographs of the roofs and publish them saying that the wolf has gone mad and is blowing up their houses and chasing them to eat them. They even wrote a fairy tale about it! Happily, the propaganda didn’t work and the forest started to blossom. But then the big flood came in, and the forest was destroyed again. The wolf saved all three little pigs from drowning. Now the four of them live in a fragment of that forest, which is the circus’s back garden. They are planting it all together, and some orange trees have already blossomed.
The paper moon rolled on the frog’s back and they jumped together on an orange tree. From that day, the frog would tell Astra’s stories to the paper moon and the paper moon would scratch them on its skin with a twig. They spent months writing, and the paper moon became an expert in folding itself in order to make more space for the letters. So the stories started to overlap, creating new meanings.
When there was no more paper to scratch on, the frog took the moon and rolled it on the palm of the Grandmother giant, who stitched it up in the sky. And the sun came up, shining through the paper moon. As the rays travelled through its inscribed skin, all those words fell on earth through their shadows. And the city was cast with a veil of stories.
Once upon a time, the climate of the Earth finally changed. Glaciers have shrunk. Global carbon dioxide, temperature and sea levels all rose to unprecedented levels. Land ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland saw an acceleration of ice mass loss. There was no discussion of climate change at this time. It was just a fact of life. There were no climate change skeptics, no deniers, and not even any indifference to this matter. Children books contained many tales of climate change, in which it was usually depicted as this bothersome wolf that kept coming back. The word “nature” was deemed as a term that belonged to the ancient humans. To regulate conflicts that arose between nations because of the negative consequences of climate change and to maintain harmony between countries, International Council of Environments was founded. In its inaugural meeting, the Declaration on Post-Natural Environment was drafted and signed by all countries, whose major item was to build the first International Museum of Post-Natural History. The museum was going to exhibit records, collections, historical specimens in relation to climate change with stories on animals, fungi, ecosystems, geology, paleontology and climatology and improve the humanity’s understanding of this new post-natural world.
“If there is no nature left as we know it, we believe it is our responsibility to showcase it’s the history of idea of nature to the world. What would the first world’s Post-Natural History Museum look like? How do we represent an archeology of climate change to future generations? Where should it be located?” declared the Council Secretary in the big press conference right after the meeting. After months of deliberation, the Council decided that a giant museum built at the very middle of the earth, situated at the 00N 00E, the exact location on Earth where the equator crosses the prime meridian near the Gulf of Guinea, Africa. The museum was named as the “Middle Earth.” Instead of classifying natural specimens (as it would be in a normal natural museum), Middle Earth contained large scale dioramas each of which displaying a specific problem brought by climate change and took place at the “middle of the earth,” i.e., around the equator, the earth’s zero-degree latitude: the melting of the icebergs, deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia, plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean, sand mining in Singapore, and the e-waste dump sites in Ghana.
The entrance hall of the museum had a giant relief map model, which showed the exact location of the museum on earth. The museum was made up of an enfilade of many rooms, each contained a large scale diorama. Each room was at the scale of a building with a distinct form. Each of these rooms acted as an environmental archive, a cabinet of curiosity in relation to climate change.
First room of the museum was named as the “Theaters of Deforestation.” It was a large room containing dioramas that depict the deforestation process in Brazil and Indonesia, around the zero-degree latitude. Each diorama depicted the act of clearance, the removal of forest for a non-forest use. Each diorama displayed a particular tree species and the activities of its clearance in detail.
Second room of the museum was named as the “Plastic Pacific Hall.” The room contained a large diorama that portrayed the plastic trash collected in the Pacific Ocean.
Third room was named as the “Room of Icebergs,” which contained a large diorama that displayed the melting of the icebergs and their drift to the coastal regions around the earth’s zero-degree latitude. During their visit to this museum, a student asked her teacher: “Is this diorama depicting the era in which people started to see giant icebergs at their coasts?” “Yes,” replied the teacher. “
Fourth room was named as the “Giant Triptych of Air Conditioning,” a diorama which depicted the extravagant use of air-conditioning around the world’s zero-degree latitude. Each frame depicted the use of air-conditioning in relation to the daily activities of the ancient humans.
Citizens of the world would take the Middle Earth Grand Tour to this building to appreciate the earth and its recent transformation. After their visit to the Middle Earth, they would be filled with astonishment and admiration for this rare thing called the Earth.
+ + +
In light of our current political crisis around climate change, what can architecture possibly contribute toward a new planetary imaginary of our contemporary environment beyond environmentalism? Despite its urgency and relevance, climate change has yet to be conceptualized as a cultural and political source around which our discourses on architectural representation and imagination can shape. Middle Earth takes on this task by presenting a set of unconventional collisions between architecture and climate change, which all extrapolate broader concerns of the city, environment, and geography through the lens of specific architectural questions such as form, representation and materiality. These collisions not only stage and reflect on the critical issues of our present condition, but, perhaps more importantly, allow us to resituate architecture’s engagement with the world through a different kind of realism. Instead of associating realism directly with mere depiction of reality, Middle Earth understands realism as an aesthetic tension created between the reality itself and its representation, a tension that often deals with how to make the familiar and the commonplace become slightly strange. Situated as an alternative to hyper-realism, hyper-surrealism, or hyper-abstraction the project speculates on the possibilities of a slightly (un)familiar realism for architecture. That is, while taking their cues from real events and facts of current environmental conditions, Middle Earth slightly abstracts or de-familiarizes these realities with the use of a familiar artifact (diorama) in order to push the limits of our public and disciplinary imagination about climate change. It renders the geographic scale as a tangible entity through the limits and potentials of architectural thinking.
Once upon a time, there lived a certain individual with many red hoods. She was the last of the Order of Red Capes, the creme de la creme as far as benevolent capes went. The Order had been supporters of shaky wrists and protectors of bad backs, the champions for the elderly and retrievers of cats. Sadly, this not-for-profit was now past glory days. A hundred year legacy felled by a wolfish wrath all because of one encounter in the woods.
Red Cape had been on her first visit to an elderly charge. Skipping and singing in the dead of night, she had failed to realize Big Bad Wolf creeping behind. When poor old Granny answered the door, Big Bad proceeded to swallow her whole. Red was not spared herself; she followed shortly as the Wolf’s dessert. Sheer luck had it Big Bad wasn’t too bright, he fell asleep at the scene and was arrested for his crime. After Big Bad’s belly was emptied and sewn, he tried to push the blame on Red. Lucky for her, Granny soon testified and the cunning fiend was then swiftly charged (“I’ll never forget the smell of his breath, he really should have a mint or two!”).
Red was duly suspended for her negligence that night and the Order received their share of bad press. Lawsuits and settlements quickly followed and the Order of Red Capes was declared passé. Their befriender services saw a huge decline and they found themselves targets of a wolfish kind. You see, with the incarceration of Big Bad, the other Wolves had resolved to overthrow mankind. They now had vendettas against Grannies and Red Capes – also because they were tired of living outside (“Why, there’s no heating in caves!” they cried). So the Wolves, like the Pigs before their time, decided the time for their reign was ripe. The Red Capes were wiped out on that same night; save for Red who was out trying to make amends with all her might – keeping Granny from being laundered (that’s a tale for a different time; of excess bedding, mistaken identity, detergent, and mites).
In the meantime, the new rulers enslaved the abled and cast out the rest. The Wolves banned everything red and anything old. Then, they enacted a new social order, one forbidding and cold. It gave rise to an Impatient city determined to be rid of its lame and old:
“In this city of brusque feet,
time moves twice within these walls.
Stairs made for restless climbs,
ramps replaced by steeper kinds.
Emerald lights that know no sleep,
roads loop to the same beat.
In-between there is no pause,
Patient city its name was not…”
Those exiled fled to the sewers underground that night, anything to escape the beastly sight.
It is here in the sewers a few decades on, where we find Red Cape living as a masked red knight. Now an underground vigilante at the service of the exiled tribe, one creaky hip and a crummy knee won’t keep her from serving with befriender pride. The sewers had long been diverted and now hides a city within a maze of traps. Tunnels full of wrong turns, alligators, and Machiavellian rats. Such protection was needed, however, for the Impatient City above had descended into further decline. The Wolves now ran governments fuelled by kinship and tribe. Nepotism, feasting, and a fair amount of bribes led to a greater rich-poor divide. Warring factions erupted over power and birthright. Each pack guarded their castles with distrust and against strife. Those enslaved were worked until they were deemed too slow for the city’s quick pace. Then they were discarded at the fringes and laid to waste. Each night when Little Red made her surface jaunt, she found scores of greying slaves outside, abandoned without a place to return. In the spirit of the benevolent Capes who perished that night, Little Red knew she had to mend this divide. Together with her posse of above-sixty-fives, they formed an army of Scarlet Knights. Defenders of the sewers and keepers of the light, they vowed to make the very Bad Wolves cry. So this last Cape and her Scarlet Knights looked for a perfect time to strike. They would stand up against the segregation and ageist creed that the Wolves had set up in their stead.
It wasn’t long before an opportunity arose. Each year when the moon loomed full and bright, the Wolves would gather for Howling Night. The city, except slaves, of course, came to a complete stop; with floats and parades followed by feasts and fights:
“On this one night of the year
when the moon is duly ripe
packs meet up to howl and fight
a pageantry of brawn and might.
They will huff and they will puff
on the biggest house in sight
For a sash of gold awaits
and a gleaming crown of pride.”
In the weeks before Howling Night, the Scarlet Knights dug right up to the Main Hall. Hollowing out floors and loosening boards, they placed brimming cauldrons in these voids. The pots were full of Granny’s broth which the Knights would later boil. While the hall was rigged above, stones and rocks were ground below. Concrete blocks and iron ore, nothing was spared for the grand affair. The Knights then hid the weighty mix in their makeshift lair, a float they had hijacked close to the fair. They would make the delivery during rehearsals en route to the square. In the kitchens, they had spies in charge of the festive fare. Then they lay hidden until it was time for their trap to snare.
The Knights didn’t have long to wait before a horn in the distance pierced the night. A symphony of howls echoed in response, accompanied by the hustle and bustle of a float parade. Through the walls of their trojan float, the Knights heard the sounds of a City in rejoice. On the other side, the Wolves, with joyful abandon, descended on the glorious feast. An assortment of pies, ribs, fowl, and game; jellies, cakes, and sugared towers all catered to their gluttonous whims. The air was thick with grunts and growls, as they drank and devoured meals whole. The Scarlet Knights stayed hidden in their float; they wanted to make sure the Wolves had their fill. Slowly, as their bellies filled up, a chorus of burps resounded all around and the Wolves began to line up for their puffing debut. Strangely sluggish on leaden legs, they dragged their swollen bellies across the checkered floor. Not once did they hear how the floorboards creaked and groaned.
Just as the first Wolf prepared to puff, the knights crept out of their lair and took their positions. From behind the queue, Red Cape came swinging, knocking the wind out of an unfortunate few. Upon seeing Red Cape appear, the rest of the Wolves scrambled to their feet. Sadly, their stance was more painful stagger than steady gait. Weighed down by their bellies, the Wolves struggled to where the old woman dangled as bait. Despite her deep wrinkles and their addled state, they recognized Red as the one who had then, sealed Big Bad’s fate. Snarling and spitting, they closed in around her. Their thirst for revenge and bloodlust filled the air as they jostled and clambered trying to reach their scarlet prize. Each desired to be the one to finish off the last Red Cape for there was more glory in this than a crown and a golden sash. But alas, their combined weight was now too much for the rigged floor to bear! With a sickening crack, the Wolves fell tumbling into brothy depths where bubbling cauldrons waited to swallow their first catch. The few Wolves who managed to escape fled to their old caves by the fringe. Only, wastelands greeted them, guess they found out where sewage now went.
The kingdom of Wolves was now kaput. Instead, a land determined to be rid of ageism or segregation awaits:
“In this city of little divide,
stairs made with bad hips in mind,
ramps replaced by gentler kinds.
Emerald lights that pause for sleep,
loops are broken for prams and canes.
In-between are gardens and seats,
For multi-generations to trade tales and tweets.”
It was the happiest day of my life. Finally we were in control of our own country again. We were in charge of our own front door and we could decide who we would let in and who wasn’t welcome. We no longer had to listen to all those unelected bureaucrats tell us how to live our lives. It was a long and painful road but it was worth it. We simply couldn’t handle all those immigrants anymore. They brought their own culture and religion and didn’t want to adapt. I barely heard anyone speak our language anywhere i went. This wasn’t my country anymore. They had taken over completely and we were expected to adapt. You couldn’t even say a thing without being branded a racist. Enough was enough.
I remember casting my vote and seeing the polls come in. The politicians were surprised only because they didn’t understand what we the people had been trying to tell them for decades. Finally somebody stood up for our own people. Finally we had a strong leader who told it as it is and didn’t care about being politically correct. Finally we fought and took our country back. We were the first, but others quickly followed and built their own walls.
I remember the many summers spent in the back of my parents’ car very well. We would drive to the sea, to the mountains, to grand cities far beyond the invisible borders that only existed on maps in the school’s geography classroom and on my phone’s screen. We would cross five different countries, with five different languages on signs along the road, and yet I could still use the exact same coins from my piggy bank to buy an ice cream at any gas station. To me these coins were just pocket money my parents gave for chores and birthdays. At best they represented the freedom to buy the silly or delicious things I craved for at any given time. I didn’t yet understand how they also represented something bigger and more important. Something more beautiful.
They represented the shared ideals, hopes and dreams of people on opposite sides of invisible borders. Borders that hadn’t been real borders in a very long time. Borders that did not ask you to stop, that did not ask you who you were or what you were doing. Borders that made you feel welcome in the form of small signs along the road that said: ‘’Welcome’’, ‘’Bienvenue’’, ‘’Wilkommen’’
We felt welcome anywhere and we were welcome anywhere. But that was before the walls went up.
I’m so tired of these endless white walls. We move between them together with a group of people from different countries. We speak different languages, we eat different foods and we make different jokes, but at the end of the day we are all searching for the same thing. I had no choice but to escape my home in search of freedom and happiness. Everyone here just wants to live somewhere without war and hardship. We are all fleeing from something and looking for a better life somewhere behind these white walls.
On the other side of these walls people are so focused on themselves and keeping refugees out, that nobody cares about the no man’s land network that exists between the walls. Crossing a wall into a country is difficult, almost impossible according to some, but moving through the no man’s land network is a walk in the park. Borders used to be something you crossed, but now, borders are something you can actually move in between freely. Freely that is, until you reach that last bright, white wall that stands between you and your dreams.
Along the way we heard some people speak of a new utopia in between the walls. They said that people who weren’t able to get asylum in a new country had built their own society in no man’s land. What kind of utopia could you build in this barren land? I can’t imagine wanting to stay here. I’m sure it will be difficult to find refuge in a new country, but somehow, I will succeed.
It wasn’t until my first year in architecture school that I went into the walls myself. Growing up I was taught that only bad things existed and happened between the walls. Every year we celebrate their construction during the second national independence holiday and how it saved us from immigrants who would only bring us more crime and troubles. My new friends at university called it all propaganda and showed me pictures from inside the walls. They said that people had started a new, peaceful society where people of different cultures lived together in harmony. I didn’t know what to think. We live in an age where you just can’t know what it is real anymore. Despite all those fake news awareness classes in school, it’s almost impossible to know what to believe. Everything could be real, everything could be fake.
What I saw between those walls was unbelievable, but it was real. In Architecture school we study all kinds of ideas for utopian cities, but this was reality, not theory. The barren land of dirt between the walls has become a lush, green forest with modular and flexible structures that have grown organically towards the edge of the walls, but never reaching them. The structures are filled in by independant users or used for communal spaces and buildings. A fixed grid brings order into the chaos and offers the base on which this new society can expand and grow. The variety of cultural backgrounds is reflected in the different architectural styles within the cubes. From Islamic mosques and African mud-brick structures to Asian wooden vernacular architecture, everything is present in this vibrant society.
What isn’t present is the fear and hatred that fills each country behind those white walls. People are warm and friendly and they live their lives the same way we do. Going to school, going to work, spending time with family and friends, laughing and crying. What they had been searching for behind the walls, but couldn’t reach, they have built themselves in between the walls. In the meantime, that which they have built here, has disappeared from the other side of the walls. So I escaped the fear and hatred and made no man’s land my home.
When things change slowly, whether it’s for better or worse, you don’t really notice it. The year we moved into this apartment was actually the year they started building the wall. We were all so convinced of the necessity to take back control over our borders that we didn’t notice how much we had changed ourselves and our society in the process. I had seen life before the walls, but our children grew up knowing only the reality within the walls. Perhaps they were what opened my eyes. Their schoolbooks and the way they were taught about our country and the world outside these walls was worrisome. I love our country, of course, but not everything and everyone outside the walls is bad or something or someone to distrust.
I had underestimated what this would all lead to. All this anger and fake news made us so paranoid and distrust everything and everyone around us. At the same time everything between the walls seems to have become what we used to be. The walls used to keep the immigrants out, but at some point we became prisoners of our own walls. Both the physical walls we had built and the walls of fear, hatred and distrust. These aren’t the first walls that people tear down in search of freedom, but it’s ironic that we who built them, now want to escape from them.
He was twenty-four when he had first heard of the Torus. Well, Tori actually. Although he wasn’t sure what the plural term for torus was. Either way, it had been three years since he heard of the structures. Three years of researching. Three years of planning. Three years of convincing family members that the decisions he was making were sane. And today was the day he set eyes on his first one. There it was in its upright beauty. There was little sunlight on that foggy day, but the little light that existed was emphasizing the top curve, and casting a shadow on the bottom half. The fog sat heavy between him and the structure demonstrating the distance that still existed between him and the inanimate object. He felt a huge sense of relief in its presence. The Torus represented the universal truth he had been searching for these past three years.
It was seven years ago when he first had heard of the regulatory speech bill that would change the country’s news industry forever. Seven years of dwindling news sources. Seven years of deciphering if what he read in the newspaper was true or false. He found it exhausting. He was a mathematician. Well, maybe not a true mathematician, could he really declare himself that? Either way, he had been studying math for six years now and that was long enough for him to understand the beauty of mathematical truth. And this is what led him in search for the fabled Tori.
It was five years ago when the mention of an upright torus first appeared. He had been following some of his favorite professors, keeping track of any new lectures or books that were being produced. His favorite, Jacqueline Turney, had recently moved to Talca, Chile for a visiting professor position. Her husband, Ernest had followed. The two of them were people who always carried a sketchbook around. Jacqueline’s filled with numbers and diagrams of knots. Ernest’s with sketches of bridges and details. Talca provided the two with plenty of opportunities to sketch. The city was in construction mode as the area was still recovering from the catastrophic earthquake. The streetscape could be divided into pre-earthquake and post-earthquake, but the courtyards still existed. There they would be, sitting across a table from each other, sipping on mate, sketching away. It was one of those courtyard sessions that the two decided to collaborate. The first Torus was drafted in a sketchbook and that drawing would then go on to be used unintentionally in many conspiracy theories in the years to come.
He stood there still in awe of the Torus beyond him in the remote landscape of southern Chile. It was time to make his way through the fog. With each step he admired the construction logistics, the care that had taken place in the construction of each panel, and the simplicity of the structure. He admired the beauty of a torus and its tessellation capabilities, shown here with a rectangle. His mind jumped to the Escher coloring books his elementary school teacher had him complete and to his geometry teacher who made him produce tessellations with paper and scissors. Now to see a live form of the tessellation was impressive to him. The square panels were a nod to the torus in the 4th dimensional space, in which the geometry was a flat rectangle. Even with his background in math it was still difficult to visualize this phenomena in his brain. What a cool, mesmerizing geometry. And there it was in front of him. Math was true to him, beautiful, and a break from the media, lies, government, and violence that existed at home.
Now came for the test of the conspiracy theories. It was rumored that the geometry had a sonic barrier surrounding it. The only individuals who could enter were Jacqueline and Ernest. This just seemed absurd to him. He’d heard of indescribable sonic weapons used in Cuba, sonic booms used in movies, invisible fences used on dogs. But on humans? Around architecture? Well that would be silly. Yet there he was. He’d spent years researching it. Reading all the conspiracy theories behind it. Deciphered the validity of each, and now there he was testing it. He inched closer and finally he felt the presence of something he’d never encountered before. It was as if a gust of wind just blew his way, but there was no end to the gust.
In fact, there was no actual movement of air pressure. Bizarre. He couldn’t quite wrap his brain around the physics. What exactly was happening? He kept trying to take a step forward. Head down, ready to take the impact. No further movements could be made. After several attempts he stopped trying. He felt silly and intrigued at the same time. Some of the deep dark internet threads that he would find himself reading were turning out to be true. He set up camp in close vicinity.
As close as one could get to the invisible barrier. After realizing how many hours of hiking he’d completed to get to this remote spot he decided an early night was a good idea. A cold and quiet evening had passed. He hadn’t seen another human in three days. But there always was the possibility of running into others. The Tori had a weirdly cult-like following. Many others were searching to find it. But it took a great amount of effort to piece together all the hints about the location of each. Not to mention time, money, and resources to actually make the voyage. The fact that there were five Tori could possibly mean that others were on a different journey to find a different Torus, but in his mind this was the most attainable.
The morning came, dew accumulated on his tent, and the brisk air that had blown in meant that the morning was going to be a rough, cold start to the day. He unzipped his tent to view the Torus. Sticking out his finger, he poked the air. Resistance was still there. He had so many questions. Why had Jacqueline and Ernest designed this? How? Were they in the Torus currently? Were the other Tori sizes the same? Was the sonic barrier the same? Were they near mountains where it blended in with the surrounding peaks? Could one be in the water? What about in a desert where it stuck out above the horizon? He always wrote these questions down, saving them to ponder at another time. After preparing an unappetizing dehydrated camping breakfast, he set off to explore the perimeter of the barrier. With each new meter he would step towards the structure to test the barrier and would map it out in his sketchbook. He’d try to walk backwards through it, throw a rock at it, pour water into it. All were the same. Finally he returned back to the entrance of the Torus. This time he pulled out his flashlight. It was still daylight but he shown the light ahead of him. It was as if the particles of light were reflecting some matter in the air. He leaned in. Got no further in, but moving his head left and right he began to see images, something that mimicked a holograph. He walked around the entire perimeter, sketching what he was witnessing. There were four images total. One Torus in a grass field with a pond and field beyond and a lone camper admiring it from afar. One Torus atop a rocky landscape hiding in a dense fog. Another Torus in a marshland, sitting on a blend of water and tall grass. And lastly a Torus in a meadow with wood planks leading a male and female to its entrance.
He finished his sketches. Closed his book. And knew it was time to find Torus number two.
When time was still young and history had not yet been engendered, the Five Celestial Sovereigns—as They would come to be known—forged a new world they called Urantia. A planet of immense beauty, sunsets were always rufescent and the sky was always pink. Water, whether shallow or deep, was always tinged with those same warm tones, and even the air shimmered with a distinct iridescence.
The Five had been attentive to provide a wide variety of topographies, each fashioning landscapes of their choosing and reflective of Their personalities:
The Fifth, both the youngest and most exuberant, fashioned the sky—providing a breathable atmosphere and clouds to filter light.
The Fourth, and most ambitious, created the oceans—vast reservoirs of water that covered the majority of the planet.
The Third, always the rebel, created the deserts—dry and hot to contrast the wet oceans and cool skies.
The Second, and most pragmatic, created the mountains—seeking the strong and solid stability of stone to tower above both the oceans and deserts.
The First, both the oldest and wisest, created the plains—a curiously ambiguous landscape that would occupy the liminal space between all other topographies. Decidedly solid like the mountains, yet sometimes dry like the deserts and sometimes wet like the oceans, the plains would even periodically reflect the heavens—blurring the horizon between the sky and the sea. Urantia was truly a sight to behold.
However, despite the animated time cycles of the geology and meteorology of Their creation, the Five Celestial Sovereigns grew bored and restless with a world that was largely static. Realizing creation should be a continuous forward movement that resists entropy, the Five collectively forged an intelligent and sentient race of beings they called humanity.
Spread across the landscapes of Urantia, humans—with the gift of self-awareness and free-will—provided a new dimension to creation. The Five were pleased. Humans were messy and chaotic, self-centered and self-less. They were unpredictable, and therefore brought dynamism to the places they touched.
The Celestials’ satisfaction, however, did not last long. Not burdened with mortality, the Five had unwittingly made Their planet beautiful but unhospitable. Or, at least, humanity did not yet have the tools to survive. The Five had also forgotten to create a source of nourishment and sustenance! Their humans, nonetheless determined to survive, slowly languished and died.
The Five, now realizing they could not successfully create what They did not understand (and not wanting to err a third time), made a pact: They would each trade Their primordial immortality for two things. The first would be a mortal physical form to enable the Five to act as guardians to the young race for one millennium. The second would be the materialization of Their divine spark into a gift of Their choosing for the collective benefit of humanity. So having reached a consensus, They once again placed humans on Urantia and began Their process of kenosis.
The First took the form of a strong but slow-moving quadrupedal being with an enormous shell it would carry on its back. This heavy feature, the First concluded, would allow it to house humans wherever it went. It would possess scaly skin to weather wet and dry conditions, while circulating cold-blood through its body to avoid over-heating the humans it would carry. As a gift, the First created a complement to fresh water rain: milky rain—a nutritious liquid that humans could ingest for sustenance or use for irrigation to bring new life to barren lands.
The Second, not desiring mobility, took root at the crown of three mountains with a form that would incrementally grow tendrils deep into the earth and high into the heavens. Its gift would be the seasons. Modulating its own annual birth and rebirth of sorts, the Second would bear fruit each year to both delineate time aligned with the cosmos and feed humans. Like the milky rain, the Second’s fruit possessed seeds that could also bring forth new life.
The Third, seeking efficiency for an arid and sandy climate, took the form of a simple yet versatile legless being that could curl or unfurl for displacement or delight. It improved on the design of the First’s scaly skin, by sheathing itself entirely in individual scales that would serve as protection but become renewed through an annual molting process governed by the Second’s seasons. As for a gift, thinking neither milky rain nor seeded plantings would be too common in the deserts, the Third decided to birth its gift in the form of thousands of different eggs that could be eaten for nourishment or raised as various species of “animals.”
The Fourth, with guardianship over the oceans, split itself into twin beings locked in a perpetual dance to navigate the surface and the deep. The Fourth also improved on the Third’s design by adding fins and a breathing system capable of handling both water and air. For its gift, the Fourth populated the oceans with thousands of new aquatic animals—activating a watery ecosystem and providing a fourth source of food for humanity.
The Fifth—having overzealously created the sky and now out of ideas—in a moment of vanity, chose the form of humanity itself at a gigantic scale to remain suspended in levitation above the earth. Energized by the ability to continually resist gravity, the Fifth took some of the Second’s seeds and the Third’s animals and the Fourth’s aquatic animals and gave them the power of flight. The sky, the Fifth determined, would not be a solitary sovereignty.
Now with physical bodies on Urantia itself, the Five Celestial Sovereigns began the task of educating humanity on all five corners of the world.
The First taught humans about cartography, literature, mathematics and sculpture. Continuously wandering the plains of Urantia, the First helped established the roaming city of Áo on Its back. Carved entirely out the shell It carries and painted with minerals and liquids found along the way, Áo was to become the most beautiful and inspired of the cities of Urantia. Exhibiting excellent planning, artistic flourish, and a smartly-dense “urban” form, Áo is organized around a central domed temple to knowledge—housing the largest and most extensive of libraries ever assembled on Urantia.
The Second taught humans about religion, mining, agriculture and physics. Having chosen to remain fixed in one place, the Second helped establish the fortified city of K’aban around Itself. K’aban’s inhabitants—possessing the deepest knowledge about death and the afterlife—modeled their city as an enormous mausoleum with impenetrable walls of stone (procured at nearby quarries) oriented to the four cardinal directions. Not wishing to disturb the ceremonial layout of their city at the “navel of creation,” farms were built just beyond the mountains.
The Third taught humans about astronomy, medicine, commerce and law. Excavating a burrow around a circular promontory, the Third helped establish the concentric city of Per-Wadjet. Exhibiting a circular organization of increasingly tall and narrow buildings for efficient air ventilation, Per-Wadjet’s remote location under a cloudless sky proved perfect to learn the secrets of the stars while also inspiring courageous adventurers to travel as merchants to the other cities for the exchange of goods and knowledge.
The Fourth taught humans about fishing, biology, music and seafaring. Living in the sea, the twin beings of the Fourth helped establish the floating ring cities of Aru and Ura. Maximized for buoyancy and fishing, Aru and Ura are made up of light and low-standing structures that border an extensive system of docks and platforms for seafaring vessels. Attuned to the sounds of the sea, the inhabitants of Aru and Ura are known for their unrivaled music.
And finally, the Fifth taught humans about metallurgy, chemistry, meteorology and electricity. Suspended in perpetual levitation, the Fifth helped establish the flying city of Thurium. At 500 city blocks, Thurium is the largest and most advanced of the five major cities of Urantia. Its inhabitants learned to harness metal and combustion, and with the strong gravitational pull of the Fifth’s sheer mass, it allowed for the city to be built perpendicular to the horizon.
Ultimately, the Five Celestial Sovereigns would fade after their millennium of mortality, but their dedicated efforts had produced the mother civilizations that, over time, would seed and populate the rest of Urantia. Their divine spark would live on.
I am in a bad health. And I’m afraid it can’t be cured. Probably all architects are. I digest a modicum of fame and money but I want to make a whole universe. How is it possible? I know it’s not but I just can’t resist this idea! I have been suffering from this malnutrition for about two months, which was as much torture to me as two centuries, ever since I failed the interview. No, I didn’t fail, I quitted. I can’t imagine myself sitting in the office making colorful, timeworn renderings just to defeat other less colorful, more timeworn renderings in endless competitions. And I don’t know why fifty thousand other graduates from architectural schools in China are still fighting for this. So I quitted. If there is one thing I can never bear, it is banality.
Wait…What am I even saying. It must have been another rigmarole of mine. I shouldn’t have shown my anger…no, not anger, my inappropriate negative emotions. We architects are supposed to pretend we don’t exist, and devote ourselves for a better world, right? Sometimes I wish I were in Italy of 500 years ago. But who am I really? Honestly, it can be cruel to ask a young man in his twenties, who grew up in a working-class family in the market economy, and happened to begin his architectural study because he randomly wrote “architecture” in the investigation before the Chinese entrance exam, to perform like an aristocrat. I am not complaining, not at all. I’m just feeling a bit uneasy, doc.
Sorry, you are not my doctor. You are my wardmate. For me, maybe not for you, what are these all about? The oversized ambitions, involuted theories, and grandiloquent presentations? Yet they were so enchanting. I couldn’t live without them. I spent hours every day searching for the delicate drawings and stirring proposals done by architects and illustrators, and I got even more ravished in pushing myself through every painstaking design, round and round of self-denial until exhaustion, with an imaginary identity of a superhero with extraterrestrial knowledge that is working universally in any hypothetical context. You know, with great responsibility comes great details in your drawings. But later on, I found that, maybe, the pain was the very thing that I got addicted in: The pain was not a byproduct of design, it was the real purpose; I did not design architecture, I designed an intricate escape game playing against myself! Just look at the face of mine when running away from the jail, and that of another me that manages to seize the prison-breaker time and time again. Aren’t they beautiful? I relish the agony so hard when I am pushed by myself to the corner, struggling and screaming silently. Of course I need to keep it silent, otherwise everyone else will know my secret masochistic hobby. Umm, well, I guess, um, I might have gone a bit too far. Don’t you judge me. Name one architect that doesn’t enjoy self-torture. No one? That’s because those who don’t are already excluded by the definition of architect! Ha! Um…Wait a sec…I need a walk outside.
Ahhh…Yes, I just got reminiscent of the fact that I cannot move anymore. Forgetful, wasn’t I. You may ask why I nailed myself on the floor. Well, this is actually a part of my masterwork. I decided, two days ago, to make myself into an architectural design. And you know what? This would solve all the problems! I draw pleasure from designing with pain, and this time, my body hurts as well. I can feel every single part of my work stabbing in my flesh, and this is just amazing…Let me fetch the screwdriver…Also, I can finally make something real, fulfilling my duty as a true architect, instead some soliloquizing visionary. It doesn’t matter anymore whether any client will hire a 24-year-old architectural student. And the government no longer needs to worry about having another vagrant that is potentially occupying social resources. In general, this capital world exchanges architecture with architects, and we architects are consumables. Now that one superfluous architect volunteers to be diminished. What a noble move it should be…Excuse me, I need to pull the wire ahead…Done…
Have a look at this elegant joint between the intricate metal ware and my chest, please, and focus on the connection, the way this screw bolt is tightly grasped by the wound. Does it sting you, even if you are not the one that is bleeding? If it does, then I am making a real masterpiece. There is an old Chinese saying of a silkworm making cocoon around itself which means getting caught in one’s own trap. But this is not shameful at all. This is exactly what we do with architecture! Architecture is a solid structure consisting of a bunch of intricate self-reference, just like a cocoon. An incredible resemblance, isn’t it?
Well, yeah, such a pity it is, that this is very likely to be my last work, but I am not ending up alone in this meager room. I am going to let the whole world know my existence, and surely they will. I want fame! I have been so hungry! Since I can’t really count on money, being famous is the only way left for me to get rid of this chronic malnutrition! Can you imagine how popular this work will be when it’s posted on the Internet? It will be an unprecedented hot spot! First people may say it disturbing but soon they will definitely find themselves obsessed with it. Numerous architects will be imitating me and they should be. There should even be a world-wide competition of architect-houses! We architects always desire to perpetuate ourselves, and I’m doing this right now, literally.
It…is finally coming to an end, after days of hard work, finally, just a last screw to be tightened. Now I can barely move. There I am, as sound and stable as a building. I wish…I wish I could raise my head now to see how beautiful the work is. But it doesn’t matter anymore, for someone else is going to appreciate this instead of me. Now I just need to finish the last step…um, wait.
Who is supposed to take a picture of me?
We had nowhere else to go. That’s why we stayed so long – Me and my brother. When you have absolutely nowhere to go, you linger. You tell yourself, “Maybe tomorrow will be better?”. Once we left on one of the very last evacuation shuttles, it was like we had a silent understanding. We never talked about our old hometown again. But even though I was only a kid at the time, memories from the final weeks in the city are still disturbingly clear.
It all started with the tunnel. The city had planned it for years, it was an ambitious but expensive project. When the massively delayed construction finally started it wasn’t to everyone’s liking. Critics seriously doubted its financing and the time-plan seemed highly optimistic. Local politicians suffered record-breaking low approval rates. Originally meant as a fresh start for the city, by the time of the groundbreaking ceremony the tunnel was a standing joke among city residents. People hated the tunnel. But even though the project was scrutinized and ridiculed, no one quite expected the consequences. No one thought it would be this bad.
The first rats came during the initial the days of construction. It wasn’t unexpected; any large-scale underground work is bound to scare some of the subterranean urban residents out of their habitats. Rats are often described as vicious and aggressive when in fact, their shyness is what keeps them undiscovered for so long in an infested home. At first, you would see them in the streets during nighttime. Sometimes you would hear them in the bushes and of course they would tip the occasional trash can. We were told it would decrease with time.
As work with the tunnel progressed, the rats got gutsier. Like scavengers they would roam the open-air cafés of the city and eat whatever they could find. It was disgusting. Apparently, rats can gnaw through anything you can scratch with a knife. Tenants reported cracking noises in their walls and rumors about smaller dogs being attacked started making it into the local newspaper. Children were told to stay away from the city parks, as they seemed especially infested with the increasingly aggressive rodents. Pest control companies were completely swamped, all caught off guard. People organized amateur extermination squads, but it didn’t make much difference. If anything, it made the rats angrier.
A couple of weeks in, the tunnel construction was abruptly put on hold. By then, it was quite clear the number of rats was not decreasing. Whole city blocks had been abandoned, some after being so heavily infested rats were tumbling out of windows falling to their deaths in the streets outside. People started packing their bags. As trash and food disappeared with the fleeing humans, rats were attacking birds, abandoned pets, and even unsuspecting zoo animals.
Remnant people started experiencing sickness, dubbed Rat fever, in lack of a better word for it. Except for the festering rat bites symptoms included fever, nausea, and paranoia. The rats had nibbled away at electric cables and telephone lines. Communications with the outside world were cut off. Human life in the city could no longer be sustained.
Floods of rat were dominating the city. Winding rat tails slithering like snakes in a pit anywhere you looked. Rats thrive living in hordes in their own filth. Some places were so crowded the rats were literally living on top of each other. Under these circumstances a sick anomaly evolved. Occasionally a couple of rats got stuck together. In particular, their tails became tangled. Once this happens the rats seem to lack wits, and will, to separate themselves. Entangled clusters of a few, up to as many as thirty, rats started to creep the streets.
Knots of rat moving as one. Historically this phenomenon has been known as a Rat king. Under normal circumstances it has always been regarded as highly uncommon. Some have even been claiming it’s a solely mythical… Creature? In folklore rat kings were generally seen as a bad omen, particularly associated with plagues. If the messed-up rats don’t accept their new situation, or if too many of the entangled rats die, the rat king’s life is usually quite short. However, in rare cases under the right circumstances, the rats proceed to live their lives and move together as one. It’s as if a hive mind takes over the swarm and steers it towards unrestrained survival. These rat kings may thrive for years.
After a couple of months every last human had left the city. Rats and disintegrating buildings was all that remained of the ghostly town. It finally seemed the rat population had reached a point when there was no longer enough food to support them all. Human supplies were long gone, trash too. Only rotten stumps remained of plants and crops. Other animals were all just clean bones.
In a dark Darwinist turn of events the rats would adapt once again. As hunger spread rats started attacking each other. As omnivores, rats can and will eat anything – even if it’s still alive. Violent chaos would break out among starving rodents. Less aggressive individuals were the first to disappear in the natural selection as stronger specimen would simply devour weaker ones. The few rat kings who ganged up on other rats seemed particularly successful at swarming their prays and surviving the mass famine. Survival of the fittest. It was the first time the total number of rats in the city began to decrease.
“The flood prevailed. All flesh that moved perished. Birds, cattle, beasts and every swarming thing. All mankind; of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, vanished. Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and birds of the sky. They were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah the king was left.”
– Genesis 7:20-23?
Decades have passed since the evacuation. The perimeter around the city is still sealed off. No one is allowed to enter under any circumstances, however the fence is not as carefully guarded as it used to be. If you climb up on it you can sometimes see the city in the distance, it looks calm. The stench is long gone, sometimes you can even hear birds sing.
Returning to the city is tempting. I understand the fascination of the abandoned, believe me. Fantasizing about what’s left is highly intriguing. It’s like an itch you can’t scratch – Or can you? You start obsessing about the return. A quick trip, just to look around and take a few photos. You imagine you can get closure, make up with the haunting memories of the departure. If you take the bike, you’ll even be back before dark. You just want to revisit your old house, see that it’s still there, even though you yourself were the one to desperately set it ablaze in that last attempt to push the infestation back. Part of the reason I am writing this is to tell you I understand. However, the main reason is to warn you. Don’t make my brothers mistake.
Rat kings eat flesh.
I opened my eyes and immediately covered my ears. Alarms were wailing, like the howls of a great animal wanting to come out of the depths. Without it, it would be very easy to lose track of time in this sunless world. Countless footsteps rumbled on the ceiling, filling my room with particles of dust that hung over the rays of bioluminescent light that came from outside my window. As I listened the alarm cycle for a third time, I imagined being an explorer and going out every night to face the unknown on the surface and not having to wake up for the harvest.
I got up when everything went quiet and I walked towards my window. Standing there, I could see a great lake, full of blue lights that twinkled with the movement of the water. The animals, restless, swam from side to side, as if they knew that their time was approaching. The lake reminded me of my grandfather and his stories of when men inhabited the surface long ago. Was this the same blue of that infinite sky that at night shone filled with small balls of fire called stars? I’ve always thought of the glow worms on our roofs as their replacement. My grandfather didn’t like them.
I snapped out of my daydreaming, shook the dust on my bedsheets and put on my suit. I was a little late, so I took the plain jelly-plants that my mother had left for me and swallowed them quickly, without drinking anything. Food is bland, water is expensive and times are hard.
When my father was alive, we did not lack for anything. He was a collector and a very good one at that. He used to dive into the deepsea to gather food, explore the depths and find viable energy sources. It was a risky job in an environment we can’t completely understand. No one knows if the deepsea was created by the heavy rains that started when everything went awry or if some guy Jacobsen’s water cycle theories are true. I hope to one day find out. Maybe I can help like my father used to.
My father’s findings were fundamental to the progress of the colony. He not only captured animals and extracted plants that served as food as other collectors, but he also found new species in the depths that were useful for the colony. My mother is one of the researches that spearheaded the alteration and use of these species, first by making them bioluminescent with the luciferase enzyme. We have a whole array of glowing plants and critters that light our tunnels, houses and the docks to the depths. Glow bugs, spores and such.
Now my mother and others are busy finding ways in which bioluminescence can be used as a power source. Geothermal energy is barely enough and the technology is old, difficult to repair.
I left my cave and walked hastily through tunnel No. 8 towards the plantations. I’m a harvester, like most young, and our job is to care for the genetically altered crops that we grow underground. They have algae DNA, so they don’t need sunlight, glow fluorescent red, and produce tasteless foods that are better swallowed quickly. Their fibers can also be woven and their sap processed to be used in construction. It’s a boring, thoughtless job and I can’t wait to grow out of it. Becoming an adult is where the fun begins. They get to be explorers or researchers.
As I walked, the red shift in the glow at the end of the tunnel told me I was getting close. Everyone was making their way to their stations to check their quotas and schedules under the bug light to start the day’s work. Even the small children and the old have work to do. Slackers are bad for everyone, but not being too eager to start your day is allowed.
Near the intersection that lead to the plantations, tunnel No. 8 passes by old, derelict constructions from long ago. They should have collapsed years ago, but are mostly left like that to remind us of our past, of why we are here in the first place. Why life is so hard and delicate in the Downworld.
I once played hide-and-seek inside the old, rectangular buildings. The adults were not happy and everyone was forbidden to go back in. I’ve never been inside since.
Humans used to live in places like these – when they were not falling apart – but our species greed and hunger for power changed everything. We are taught that in the surface-world large colonies called countries were always competing with one another for power, money and control, and finally waged a Climate War that destroyed almost everything. But school is not great for details on history. Too much has been lost to time, decay and bad memories.
My grandfather used to tell me stories about the past, stories he’d heard from the older generations, when they had not forgotten so much. My dad seldom believed them. Legends and myths, fables, he called them.
I arrived at my station, the last in my group. I had yet to pin one of the blue bug-pins beside my name. That day I had to check the air pumps that controlled air pressure and quality for malfunctions around section 5 of the plantation. A less menial and more delicate task than cleaning caps and gills or leaves and trunks.
I grabbed the tools that where assigned to me, ordered my daily rations and grabbed a map with all the air pump locations to plan out an efficient route. Lost time meant less work, which meant less food at the end of the day. Another alarm wailed around us to signify the start of the day’s activities.
Checking air filters and pumps surrounded by the red glow kept reminding me of my grandfather’s stories. He said it all started in the end of the twentieth century when three countries started to develop weather control technologies. I wondered if those technologies were any similar to what I was working on: machines that controlled air flow, temperature, humidity and such – but bigger. Maybe as big as this colony, as the whole cave. Sounds impossible.
Most pumps usually don’t need too much maintenance. They get clogged with glow bugs and plant material that is pretty easy to spot. Only if left working and clogged for too long will they malfunction and catch fire. Years ago there was a big fire that apparently made a lot of people suffocate. My grandfather also said the big weather machines malfunctioned, but they didn’t catch fire: they couldn’t be stopped when they needed them to stop or someone didn’t want them to stop. You can just unplug the air filters, but plugging them back on can jolt them and fry them. Maybe it was something like that.
According to my grandfather, the weather machines were used to improve agriculture and recover something called ozone layer in the beginning. But soon countries started to use them to artificially alter the world and cause disasters they could exploit.
He said that in the beginning of the twenty first century things were looking bad, but people still didn’t notice. Hurricanes, floods, droughts and storms started to occur in unusual places around the planet, killing thousands. And it just kept getting worse as these countries fought over control, disrupting each other. The truth eventually got out, my grandfather said, but it was already too late to course correct and now we live in the Downworld. I wonder how they could benefit from such chaos. It makes little sense and my dad is probably right in not believing him. He also says there’s rich people living in colonies in Mars, another planet among the stars in the sky.
Air pump 15A5 was very badly clogged, but was still working. Whoever had maintenance rounds the week before probably didn’t check it properly. Unclogging two weeks of glow gunk was sure to put me behind schedule. As I toiled away in the red glow of the harvest, gloves sticky with bioluminescence, I kept wondering about the past and my grandfather’s stories and how people didn’t really seem to work together. Maybe they didn’t depend so much on each other. Maybe someone did benefit from all that chaos and destruction. We can never know for sure.
The design thesis asks ‘how can Britain be a truly united kingdom?’ and ‘what is the re-imagined role of capital cities to suggest new urban cohesive typologies’. ‘Cohesion’, the new capital city of the United Kingdom is located at the centre of the British Isles – the Isle of Man. It is the speculative driver and investigative model to cultivate accessibility, green sustainability and compassion. The narrative aims to re-unite an arguably broken Britain in the 21st century, providing for the disenfranchised generation within the UK and the increasing dislocated global communities.
A new capital
In the past century, countries have considered the relocation of their capitals and more than 200 capital cities have since emerged. They have either decided to move their capitals away from primary cities to secondary cities to separate and better serve their required functions, or have constructed entirely new cities from scratch. To outline a few, Canberra was founded as a capital for the newly federated Commonwealth of Australia, Islamabad in Pakistan was to be a more accessible capital built for equality and locational security, Kurokawa for idealist renewal and reflection of independence in Japan and Abuja in Nigeria to alleviate ethnic and religious tensions. In a number of circumstances, the relocation of a capital was part of a necessary transition for new nation states and even the emergence of whole cultures.
In the UK, The Government has sought, for many years, to spread its spending outside the south-east geographic eccentricity of the country. Efforts have included the relocation of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to Swansea, HM Revenue and Customs to Newcastle upon Tyne, alongside the relocation of many operations of the BBC to Salford, near Manchester. However, attempts at relocating companies by offering subsidies and tax breaks has generally had little success. It could be argued that, moving the capital would carry the significant weight necessary in altering the counterbalance in the distribution of population and wealth.
Relocating Britain’s capital may appear totally fanciful and farfetched, however, such a move has been considered in the past to the regions of Lancashire and York, a more geographic centre. With London being an unusual capital of both government and commerce compared to most major economies, a separation of the two may seem desirable when compared to the few cities with a single capital – France and Russia are models of over-centralisation and the Japanese government has been considering a relocation from Tokyo for some time. Similarly, geographical separation from the city and its financers could provide a different light and outlook on the United Kingdom from a non-London perspective. The relocation would at foremost, see a radical geographical redistribution of wealth and eased pressures on London’s transport and housing market. If we consider the relocation of the capital as a shift in balance of contending forces, a binding centre to mediate separated regions, a revival of past glory or the promotion of a new national consensus, then a renewed capital could once again capture the imaginations of the nation much like the earlier visions of Morris, Howard and Abercrombie. If this consideration was to be taken seriously, a truly United Kingdom may not be such an improbable proposition after all.
‘It is the speculative driver and investigative model to cultivate accessibility, green sustainability and compassion’
With rising house prices, population congestion and development burdens concentrated in the south-east, London has seen intensive pressures to maintain its capital status with little to redistribute wealth, re-imagine a new capital and to reinvent in a truly United Kingdom. Recent figures indicate that the average price of a home in London was estimated at £450,000, whereas in the North, it was nearer to £150,000, a threefold difference.
Similarly, according to Lucian Cook, director of residential research at Savills’ analysis of the Census and Land Registry data, “Houses in London’s ten most expensive boroughs are now worth as much as the property markets of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland combined”, underlining the extent of Britain’s growing wealth divide. Correspondingly, the Department for Communities and Local Governments 2015 English Indices of deprivation indicates that Middlesbrough, Knowsley, Kingston upon Hull, Liverpool and Manchester, all of which are located outside or North of London, have the largest proportions of highly deprived neighbourhoods in England. The 2012 London Olympics saw major developments in its lead up. London’s race to build the Shard, the tallest tower in Europe upon its completion only held such status momentarily. The busiest international airport in the world, London Heathrow has also been under intense consideration to increase its airport capacity, adding to the concentration of growth and pressures in the corner of the south-east. Other transport developments include the High Speed Rail 2. Some believe this to be a positive initiative by bridging the nations north-south divide, however, it could also be argued that a faster connection to London could make it less attractive to travel to the surrounding regions.
“Accessibility”, “Green Sustainability” and “Compassion” aims to place a forward-looking lens on some of these problems. Accessibility relates to the geographical relocation of the country’s capital and how this has the potential to alter the counterbalance in the country. Green Sustainability refers to the architectonic interventions within the proposed new capital which aims to provide energy, clean water, food and shelter sustainably. Compassion speculates on the duty and role of a renewed united kingdom to provide for the refugee crisis and disenfranchised generation. The proposal does not seek to find a solution to current issues, but it aims to speculate on an alternative and questions the “what if” scenario. The city Cohesion does however nonetheless posits itself as a forward looking model of confidence, solidarity and cohesion.
Description of Each Drawing
Drawing 1 View from Isle of Man Context: The everyday norm in the context and typical street on the Isle of Man is contrasted by the backdrop of new tectonic infrastructures.
Drawing 2 Home Street Home: Waste collected around the British shores is collected and made in to land units. These mattresses roll out around the Isle of Man. A new housing typology emerges providing for the refugee crisis and the disenfranchised generation. As the land units fold up, housing façade panels lined with services are hoisted in to position. Life in the everyday new suburban house begins amidst the early stages of the cities construction.
Drawing 3 New Hyde Park: Attached at careful intervals along the islands mountain hub, the Noble Gardener grazes and cares for a vertical wall of food. Each gardener welcomes guest to eat and cook together. Equality and security is ensured in Cohesion with readily warm deserts offered to travellers upon their arrival. The spirit of gardening and growing is demonstrated; topiary is encouraged in the endearing and fun image of the Queen as a symbol and figurehead for inclusivity.
Drawing 4 Chandelier High Street: Built in the image of Leed’s Town Hall, UK’s largest town hall and one of the earliest civic infrastructures to help assess local needs, the chandelier hubs provide community centres, nurseries and public platforms where freedom of speech is welcomed. The chandeliers float along the main avenues lining a 24 hour lit high street.
Drawing 5 Masterplan Aerial: An aerial of Britain’s new capital, Cohesion, an allegorical masterplan on the Isle of Man
« Hurricane Mora hits Bangladesh again, with winds of up to 84 mph damaging thousands of homes and forcing the evacuation of 450, 000 people […] The meteorological department warned local inhabitants against a tide that could raise sea levels by up to 1.7 meters in several coastal districts in Bangladesh »
Article published on tuesday 30 May 2117 by The Real News Network
At the antipodes of the neo-cybernetic city labeled ‘smart city’, we are going to focus on the resilience of Bangladeshi people.
So why Bangladesh? You ask. Well, because our team recently had the chance to go there and we noticed the emergence of a radical architectural position; which differs greatly from the privileged options in the West.
Currently facing ecological and demographic shifts and with the upcoming International Climate Congress, it seemed to us beneficial to observe with more detail this surprising perception of the world, specific to the local culture.
As you may know, Bangladesh was once landlocked in between some isolated Indian provinces of West Bengal and the Independent Republic of Assam, former Burma. To sum up the geographic situation of Bangladesh, which was considered at the time the most fertile and prosperous area of the Indian subcontinent; the delta, and in particular the rich biodiversity which goes with, has been gradually disintegrating during the 21st century. Two factors are responsible for this change; one is natural and the other is human. But, What is less generally known among us all is that during the last decade, Bangladesh has seen the very identity of the country mutate to adapt to this new environment.
Historically bordered by the Indian highlands to the south, and Burmese to the east, Bangladesh was a flat country, only about 5 meters above sea level. Located at the confluence of the three largest rivers in the world, the Ganges, the Bramaputra and the Megna, also crossed by more than three hundred rivers, the border between the land and water did not really exist. This deltaic country, built on a fertile sandbank, has learned, over the centuries to cohabit with water.
Bangladeshi people have quickly tamed the local river system, to the point that ultimately as a society, they became dependent on the natural water system for every aspect of life. As a source of food, of course, but
also as a means of transportation and economic development. Monsoons and cyclical floods were, for example, taken into account to irrigate lands, fertilize arable crops, fisheries, etc.
But this positive aspect was tempered by another reality of water, less friendly and more coercive. With 85% of the land prone to flooding, Bangladesh had its feet in water. Human activities were constrained by submersion cycles, which generate substantial logistical and humanitarian problems over time.
Bangladeshi people were familiar with the bipolarity of water, as two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, water is Barsha, generous and conciliatory. By fertilizing and nourishing the land, water was essential for growth and abundance of life. But on the other hand, water was also Bonna, impulsive, destructive, who comes cyclically to tear apart infrastructures, harvests and cause untold suffering, even death.
For centuries, the balance between Barsha and Bonna was maintained, both by regulation mechanisms of the ecosystem itself, and also by good human understanding based on common sense and the special connection with the ecosystem. Indeed, the 180 million inhabitants of the country, spread out over a large but nevertheless fragile sandbank in between the chain of the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal had found a way to cohabit with water, by simply raising people up to the top of earthen embankments, named ‘Killa’.
But the situation has changed in recent decades. Despite the resilience of Bangladesh populations, the virtuous cycle of water has deteriorated, becoming more and more unpredictable. The currents have gradually transformed in depth, the territory, and the country has had to submit to the violence of the natural elements.
Of the twenty biggest storms of the last fifty years, seven took place in Bangladesh. These numbers have a real and disproportionate cost, which will undoubtedly strike consciences; more than five hundred thousand victims in ten years, according to the latest report of the World Climate Institute. This same report estimates that between 1980 and 2023, more than four hundred natural disasters took place in the Bangladesh region, causing many casualties and impacting the lifes of hundreds of millions of people in the this area. Cyclones alone caused the death of two hundred and forty thousand people, just for the year 2042.
Facing soil and water salinization, Bangladeshi farmers have been forced to reconvert their old paddy fields into fish and shrimp farming. For example, the mangrove swamp forest of Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was severely affected by this salinisation process, and has been over the year entirely converted into shrimp farms becoming one of the largest exporters in the wolrd just behind China, but ahead of Japan.
If the economic consequences for the country have been positive, and the adaptability of the local populations must be duly noted, it should be remembered that this metamorphosis has had a price, the biotic transformation of this green and fertile country into a vast salt marsh dedicated to industrial shrimp production.
After centuries of resistance, Bangladesh has been renamed the ‘country of mad rivers’. Caught between the massive shrinking of Himalayan glaciers and the rising waters of the Indian Ocean, most of the Bangladeshi coastal area is now submerged.
Over the years, the increasing violence of hurricanes has caused salinization of the interior lands. Initially, storms moved seawater far behind the coast, and then due the pressure of these climatic events and the collapse of natural banks and dikes built by humans, seawater has put down all resistance. Salt water flooded hectares of arable land. Agricultural land became unproductive, and built infrastructure was little by little destroyed or submerged and finally abandoned.
In 2043, according to the eustatic forecast of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Bangladesh has lost nearly 17% of its territory, and 40 million of its inhabitants have seen their standard of living fall below the precarious floor; homeless, landless, and without means of subsistence.
On those observations, the state and civil structures of Bangladesh have put in place a real plan of adaptation based on a reorganization of local conditions. The motto of this program, or rather of this series of more or less organized measures that have emerged in the first half of the 21st century, is a real “return to the territory”, in the search not for a fight against water, which recent history has proved to be vain, but rather in a sort of synchrony between the aquatic elements and humans.
This re-territorialization revolves around a major axis, which is the use of water. By reinterpreting the local heritage, by questioning the place of water in the former everyday life, Bangladesh shows a strong desire to look to the future. They have decided to use an element, present in the water and until very recently, depreciated: salt.
After several years of research and development, the country , now capable of reconfiguring seawater desalination techniques (already used for decades in the middle east to produce drinkable water), in order to transform the brine into a construction material.
The improved technique, named electrodialysis, separates salt from water thanks to a continuous electrical current. At some point, when the crystallogenesis limit is reached, the salt saturated solution, is transformed into a growth material. The sodium chloride present in the water passes from a disordered liquid state to an ordered rigid material.
Thereby, salt, once responsible for the biotic transformation of Bangladesh and the disappearance of good soil, is being used in the development of an artificial, hybrid nature of architectural elements and rocks salt.
A new refuge ground takes shape above seawater, by agglomeration of crystalline salt.
Thanks to this new architectural concept, 25,000 shelters have been built on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, giving shape to a network of habitable offshore salt platforms raised above sea level. These human groups are gradually reconquering abandoned sectors, sheltering new forms of lacustrine societies, allowing life to emancipate in this vast salt water ecosystem.