The winners were chosen by a jury of more than 20 leading architects, designers and storytellers, including Moshe Safdie, Tatiana Bilbao, Jurgen Mayer, Julia Koerner, Mark Foster Gage and Jane Yolen, among many other distinguished judges. Francesca Giuliani, a co-founder of Blank Space, said:
“This year’s winners utilize the power of narrative to explore complex issues like immigration, pollution, climate change, sea level rise, and the longevity of human impact. Time and time again, the Fairy Tales competition attracts creatives with a desire to inspire meaningful change in the world, through thought provoking and artistic submissions that wrestle with the most urgent, real issues of our time.
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 and 13 honorable mentions:
First Place goes to Lorena Cano Acosta and Nicolás Mendoza Ramos for “The Fall” Lorena and Nicolas are both Colombian architects, based in Bogotá. Nicolas has spent the last 2 years exploring the frontiers of architecture and storytelling in the entertainment industry, where he has worked as an environment artist on video game projects for both national and international companies. Lorena is also a designer passionate about emotional and critical design, with experience on editorial projects that deconstruct complex narratives into digestible, stunning visual pieces. They strongly believe that architecture should not be limited to shape buildings, but also used as a stage for ideas and concerns.
“”The Fall” was inspired by the mass exodus that people from Venezuela have been struggling for a while now, and how architecture and urbanism are not responding to this social problem. This is not an isolated issue- as it has been happening around the globe, boosting the belief that borders should be closed. We have normalized this matter and we have become more intolerant about the circumstances in which immigrants are subsisting. We have reached the point where we make invisible those who are in a different situation from ours. This tale portrays the story of a homeless woman who falls into a world that has forgotten its past and shows how media have misrepresented sensible subjects like environmental issues and migrations. The narrative challenges the reader to have a critical view of how our actions affect the world we are living in, reflecting human condition and evoking emotional impact.’
-Lorena Cano Acosta and Nicolás Mendoza Ramos
Second Prize goes to Nick Stath, for his story “Monuments of the Past” Nick is a concept artist, designer and illustrator based in Melbourne, Australia. Upon receiving his Masters in architecture from RMIT University, he has pursued working simultaneously as a designer in both Architectural Practice and the Entertainment Industry. His passion lies in creating visual stories of science-fiction that depict the relationship between the built and natural environment. His work is the continuous exploration of space, scale, composition and atmosphere, intending to evoke emotion that allows the viewers’ imagination to traverse.
“My story was inspired by climate change and how we currently take the beauty of our planet for granted. My desire was to represent this issue through a story that makes us wonder what life could be like in a future where mother nature and her resources have diminished before our eyes. A world where parents have to tell their children stories of what forests, mountains and grass fields where once like. My vision for this future environment was a series of over-scaled structures that hoist man made landscapes into the sky. These structures represent the monuments of our past.”
Third Prize goes to Anthony D’Auria for “Kraken in an 80 Million Gallon Tank”, Anthony is a designer of dubious repute from Portland, OR. He studied architecture at the University of Edinburgh and the Bartlett School of Architecture and he has worked throughout the US and in the UK on various projects that have, at times, become startlingly architectural. He is interested in the relationship between the stories people tell, the things people make and the way that the two often intertwine to reflect each other. He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY where he hopes to make it big someday.
““Kraken in an 80 Million Gallon Tank” was written on a cell phone, on a commuter ferry shrouded in mist over a period of 4 work weeks. Beyond simply being an exercise in listing synonyms for fog, the tale imagines an uncanny future that is humid and sticky – a future where things have been set in motion and no matter how big we build or how intricately we plan, they cannot be undone. How do we make sense of such a future? How do we live on the tenuous ground that past decisions have engendered? In the end, it all seems pretty hazy.”
The Jury awarded 9 honorable mentions to: Constantinos Marcou; Carl Ydergård; Xiaoyin Xie; Jono Bentley Sturt; Michael Leckie, Ryan Nelson, and Jason Hall; Anna Kuchera; Albert Orozco; Bojana Papic and Yann Junod; Ahad Almeida Sheikh; Erik Bean; Haley Koesters, Natalia O’Neill Vega, and Daria Piekos; Sungmin Kim, Junghun Park, and Hoyoung Roh; and Claudia Wainer.
“I almost died for a plastic bottle,” she says, putting a cigarette to her lips.
I’ve got to ask. “A plastic bottle?”
“You heard me.” I strike a match for her as she talks, “it sounds strange because you can find plastic bottles anywhere, but it happened.”
“Was it a special bottle?”
“No, just a regular one. Like the one you are drinking water from right now.” She answers vaguely.
I could hardly picture it. Why would anyone face death for something as cheap as plastic? Is she making this up? This is not the first time I’ve shared a cigarette with her and she sounds sincere, even lucid. But how would I know? I don’t really know her. Even though I have seen her so many times walking down this street, we have never exchanged more than a couple of words.
She looks up at the wall for a while. I do the same. There’s a lot of waste built into it. Bottles, jars, cans, bags, tires… all turned into a massive structure: The Ecowall.
“Do you know why that keeps getting higher every year?” She says, still looking at it.
“Maybe it’s the quickest way to process all the rubbish we produce into something useful?”
She looks hard at me and for the first time I notice she is quite beautiful. Her hair is messy, her clothes are dirty, her shoes are ragged, and she looks pale and tired, but there is still something mesmerizing about her. The wind is salty and freezing at this hour and I wonder if she has a home, but don’t dare to ask. I offer her another cigarette and light one for myself.
“That’s one way to see it, I guess…” She says, after a long pause. “But let me show you a wider picture. You know how people are always talking about global warming, right?” I nod. “Well, we can’t leave that aside, but it isn’t the core of this story.”
I smile, so she continues. “Many years ago sea ice was melting and sea levels were rising very rapidly. Nobody really cared until life became unbearable with so many floods. Some rich governments started to come up with all kinds of solutions to deal with it, but nothing really worked. Eventually, they decided to literally wall-off the problem. They hired architects and construction firms to build barriers and walls, protecting people from the sea.
“With these solutions some countries achieved to separate earth from water. So it became easier to keep throwing out trash in the sea. For them, the once feared ‘Garbage Patch’ was not a problem anymore, in fact it was the best way to get rid of waste and keep clean cities.” She flicks her cigarette to remove the ash and keeps talking. “Shockingly these measures became obsolete promptly. As sea levels continued to rise, so did the wasteful water. Entire countries perished, after a thick layer of our bluish planet covered them completely. And the most vulnerable populations suffered the greatest losses. Countless souls were lost and some more became a weird, annoying and different human species: immigrants.”
She looks up one more time and releases a deep sigh. I look at her astonished. How does she know all this? Why would she bring this up now? Is this really all about that plastic bottle?
“Back then the wall was not fulfilling its purpose.” She continues. “High tides were bringing back into the city the rubbish that was previously discarded, and with it, hundreds of homeless people from the outside. Exorbitant amounts of waste were piling up in the edge of the insufficiently tall wall, and more tons were being produced daily. One day a ‘clever idea’ emerged from that chaos. We could keep building a barrier against all these problems, by turning garbage into compact blocks for construction. That’s why The Ecowall was created. It was like putting a small Band-Aid on a big wound. The planet will keep rotting, but no one inside will have to see it, even better nobody will have to fix it.”
So there I am, leaning on the wall with a stranger and facing a hidden truth. She has a point. When the project of The Ecowall began, everyone was relieved because the streets were cleaner and the immigrants were relocated. Big companies promoted their products as a future contribution to the ‘eco-friendly’ project and consumers blindly believed it. As sales increased, production also picked up and no one seemed to care. Worst of all, I didn’t either.
I stamp out my cigarette and ask her if she has had breakfast yet. She says no, so I buy two cups of coffee and some bread. I keep just my cup and give the rest to her.
“Are you an immigrant?” I ask.
Her mouth is full of bread as she replies, almost dismissively. “Yes, but I wasn’t here when the wall was lifted up.”
I almost choke on my coffee. An immigrant? Where did she come from? How did she get in? I look up at the junk structure looming over us and try to figure out its height. It’s as tall as… taller than… no, it’s by far over it…? The damn wall ascends to an unimaginable height. It towers over the city, hiding many neighborhoods from the sun. Did she climb over? Impossible… and nothing can get through it. She was clearly delusional.
“How did you get here?” I ask playing along.
“I came by boat, along with many others.” She whispers. “We sailed for days across polluted waters filled with dead fish, desperately searching for land to live in. You can’t imagine the impotence I felt when we reached the border and found a ridiculously huge wall of more waste. Without knowing what else to do, we had to climb it to get out of the sea. Then we waited… we waited in vain for humanitarian aid.”
Tears fill her eyes.
She sits down on a discolored trash can and keeps silent. Her story is outrageous, but I find it hard not to believe it after seeing her eyes in despair.
“We had to live upon it. No one dared to climb down.” She picks up where she left off. “We made the best of what we found. You have no idea of how much fresh food is discarded daily. It all ends up there.”
I take a few steps away and look up one more time. No matter how hard I try, I can’t picture anyone living on that monstrous wall.
“Did you sleep on the eco-blocks?” I ask.
“At first we had to. Fortunately, it didn’t last long. People with all sort of skills are trapped there. We were saved by an architect and surprisingly for me, by an ornithologist.”
“An ornithologist. Bird expert.”
“Well, she was obsessed with the structures that weaver birds make to nest by tying leaf fibers. So, she suggested we could do the same and the architect came up with debris netting as a building material. We started upcycling and gradually accepted that human beings could easily live in the void, in empty shelters, made of empty materials, facing the emptiness of the world. And after all, we found our place.”
What on earth was she talking about? I mean, really, who could enjoy life in the void?
“How did you get into the city then?” I spit out.
“I was drunk and fell,” she replies calmly. “I was trying to reach a plastic bottle and slipped on the wrong side. I passed out while falling, so I’m not sure how I survived.”
I stare blankly at her. She’s been messing with me this whole time.
“Why are you telling me this?”
“That’s what I like about you,” she says with a soft voice: “You keep asking questions, even when the answers don’t satisfy you.”
She got me there. “We have blinded ourselves enough to unsee what is right in front of our eyes. Some of us have shut down our own consciousness and now we are trapped in our own crap, thinking of it as our salvation.”
After some time I take out a pair of cigarettes and I give one to her. She smiles and we smoke in silence with the Wall behind our backs.
January 17th, 2119
I tell my son stories of what it was like to climb the mountains on Earth whilst we watched the sunrise over Monument 37. Forests have vanished. Mountains are covered in dust. The colour of nature a century ago, now non-existent. Reaching 100 years since the rapid decline of forests & all natural elements, Governments across the world came together to create an array of architectural megastructures to hoist man made landscapes into the sky. Thousands of people now flock from all over to experience what nature on earth was once like. Our children of this generation can only imagine what living earth was once like. For hundreds of years the human race took Mother Nature and her resources for granted. She was diminishing in front of our eyes. Hectares of forests gone, land cleared for cattle grazing, cities expanded and urbanization consumed the natural landscape. We ignored the initial signs of climate change and when we took it seriously it was already too late. The green began to diminish and the dust started to flow as earth slowly began to resemble the Martian landscape.
Early morning. 7.15am
We depart and descend down the cliff face. Suddenly, our feet begin to tremble and the red dust around us starts to move. A giant gust of wind hits us as courier V34 passes overhead, delivering what appears to be part of a manufactured forest, to a nearby Monument. These man made trees above us appear to tower into the sky, they remind me of the last few remaining redwoods that I was lucky enough to visit as a child. The nostalgia kicks in as we watch it pass by. The powerful, bunkeresque vessels are designed to carry hectares of landscapes at a time, whilst providing people with scenic flights to the artificial landscapes. The trees are delivered to specific monuments where the tradition of forest bathing or shinrin-yoku continues. Being in the presence of the trees back when Earth was flourishing and in particular, its forests, was said to impose an array of health benefits and overall well-being. As the inhabitants of earth, we can only dream of experiencing what the Japanese once spoke of as bridging the gap between us and the natural world. We are now confined to our oxygen supply and can only try and reclaim the memories of what it was like to breathe in the fresh air of the trees.
We approach one Monument dedicated to the green mountains of the past Icelandic landscape. My son has never been here before. He will witness being among the vibrant valleys and ranges that I frequently speak of.
For the first time together we embark on an adventure inside this museum of natural landscapes. We must stay on the path because the soil adjacent to us is contaminated. We look up and see a fleet of couriers and scenic flight vessels heading to the artificial mountain tops. This Monument was said to be one of the first ever built. Its external walls clearly show its age and wear. Millions have stayed and inhabited its interior over the past few decades. Although it is said the buildings rooms are small and uncomfortable, people will happily endure their stay in order to wake up with what appears to be living landscapes. My son turns to me and says “dad, can we stay here tonight?” I hesitate to respond as I don’t want to disappoint him. These monuments are at full capacity for years in advance. So I tell my son “Maybe not today, but one day I promise”. He puts his head down, let’s go of my hand and continues to walk towards the over scaled architecture that awaits us.
As we ascend up the monument, we can already hear distant voices of excitement. As we step out of the lift shaft, the landscape stares us in the face and diminishes into the horizon. My son is silent. His eyes wide open. A museum of mountains, hills and farm land is grouped together into a visual and spatial experience recapturing Mother Nature. My son walks forward in awe. I have to hold him back. We embark on our journey through the landscape, strictly on the platform as we were told we can look, but not touch. We don’t know what materials these landscapes have been built from. We have so many paths ahead we can choose from. My son heads towards the path on the right. I can see why, the platform there appears to be the most populated as it is positioned across from the base of the largest mountain top that reaches into the clouds.
After an exhausting but thrilling day for both my son and I, we follow our path home over the dunes. He is running with joy, excited from experiencing what natural earth once was like. Suddenly, my son diverts from the path and runs. I rush towards him as he has stepped foot onto the contaminated and toxic soil. Despite being told that walking off the path could be fatal, I chase after him. I see his silhouette crouching in the distance. I turn on my flashlight only to see what I thought couldn’t be true. What looks like a plant reaches out from the dust. Could this be real?
It doesn’t really get that cold anymore, but back then, in the long dark of the North Sea winters, you could hear the older bladders–where the insulation had worn down or been scraped out by the bears–stretch and creak as the seawater inside them began to freeze. It’s been decades now since you’ve heard the keen that came with the retreat of the clouds and a stilling of the waves, but it still lingers fresh in your memory.
Tonight though, the clouds are thick and the air sweats with a saline humidity as you climb the tensile mast above South Settlement to see if you can make out the distant, blinking red light from Northport. The swirling brume, viscous and slow like white tar, obscures John’s signal but you linger for a moment to catch your breath and clean the condensation from your goggles. You glance a last time across the peculiar, bulbous landscape and take in the hulking mass of the bladders that hunch down towards the sea where the thick smell of salt is mixed with a tincture of methane seeping from the red algal blooms that have emerged this year with a startling fecundity. You yawn, knead the crick in your neck and make towards the ladder cage to head back down.
As you touch the first rung, you hear it. Muffled by the fog but distinct nonetheless, a ragged alien shriek saws across the night and sends a primal adrenal current lilting through your veins. The pitch, the timbre, you know it. You’ve heard it before but tonight, it is far too warm for the bladders to freeze.
You were born here on the platform and you left only twice. First, for two years to complete your studies at an dreary vocational college in Middlesbrough-On-The-Bay, where some days the tepid mist would roll in so thick off the North Sea that even the most experienced boatmen refused to plot a course through the low-lying cranes and smokestacks long rusted by the waves. The second time you left was for just three weeks to undergo a pulmonary procedure at a Newcastle clinic for an ailment that you still don’t entirely understand.
It was in your two years at Middlesbrough that you learned to steward the platform. They taught you how to patch the woven alumoskein textile by cutting away the sodden insulation around a leak and installing an isolation valve so that you could weld adjoining links together and seal the whole thing with a slurry of acrid bitumen. The sophisticated central control system had burnt out years ago, so you were taught to read the pressure on the bladders with a triangulating radio and how to manually adjust the draw of the pumps to raise and lower the water pressure. It’s demanding and meticulous work but there is a peculiar tidal cadence to it that keeps the tedium at bay. You’ve become so attuned to the rhythmic equilibrium of the platform that any imbalances leave you feeling dissonant and ill at ease.
You climb swiftly down the ladder, scanning the soft breeze for another shriek. Your boots touch the sandy scree that clings in the valleys between the bladders and your rapid steps part the wispy blonde combover of shoregrass that made its way here in the bellies of passing geese. Hastening through South Settlement, past the orange sprayfoam moundhouses, you grab your flashlight and throw your rifle over your shoulder. Your wife stirs in the other room, perplexed at your intentions. You quickly explain that you need to check the pressure on a few tanks about a mile northeast of here, as you head back into the dark.
When they first built your platform (and the three-score others like it), to protect coastal settlements from the 2 million square miles of rapidly melting sea ice, they gave it a 250 year lifespan. It would take a quarter of a millennium, they said, for the chloropanel arrays in the American Rust Belt to absorb enough carbon to re-calibrate temperatures and that, combined with an ambitious iceberg seeding program, would permit the strange island you call home to quietly sink away into the familiar seas long held within it. It’s been nearly a century and a half though and targets have been left unmet as these programs, once a cause celebre, now languished -adrift and dreary- amidst the geopolitical spectacles of the terrestrial realm.
You move carefully across the crest of a bladder. For you, walking across these undulating hills of alumoskein is second nature. You intuit the shifts and redistributions that occur as your weight moves along the membrane, your presence marked by slow, almost glacial, concentric ripples radiating along its surface. What is natural and intuitive for you however, is a treacherous novelty for the ever rarer adventurer who would arrive from the mainland to marvel at your bulbous, alien island. It’s a dangerous trek. Even experienced walkers can get caught in an active pressure shift and get buried in the cold, heavy folds of the alumoskein. You’ve certainly come across the huddled bodies of those who weren’t lucky enough to be quickly crushed as they starved slowly in their alumoskein pocket only to be exposed weeks later for the gulls to pick apart once the distribution changed.
When you were younger, some of the older folks -those among the first generation to be born on-platform- used to tell you this story. A kind of confused mash of North Sea mythology and shanty sailor lore, where one night, an unnamed engineer, drunk and restless off mainland brennevin lurched up to a control pod and jammed the intake pumps full throttle. The draw was so great, they said, that a young kraken, all tentacles and hooks and wild rolling eyes, was pulled loose from its submarine trench and swept straight into one of the 80 million gallon bladders. Curled around itself with hardly room to move in its new tank, the colossal creature slept and floated and fed on the brine shrimp that the pumps brought in. You could hear it, they’d say, when the nights got cold, you could hear it thrash and push against the walls, testing its strength, trying to claw its way back into the sea. When you were young, you’d hike with John among the rolling vessels and try to guess at which one it was trapped in.
The fog has thickened into a pale cataract across the night sky and the round summits of adjacent bladders hunch up to you as their more distant neighbors recede into the mist. You are getting closer to the sound and it is getting more frequent. Suddenly, it’s deafening. It’s no longer the subdued baritone of a distant fog horn but the atonal shriek of metal wringing itself into perverse contortions. You rush down through a valley between two bladders but, as you round the bend, a bear -a wiry thing, its once white fur stained an orange-brown from its tank insulation den- bolts at you. Agitated by the din, she barrels forward, teeth bared and growling. You fumble the rifle to your shoulder and frantically discharge a round towards her. It is only then that you notice the bloated bladder lurking behind the bear. It dwarves the others and for the barest fraction of a second, you wish desperately that you could take back that bullet that grazes the bear’s shoulder and careens into the distended and howling 80 million gallon vessel. As the bullet hits, the sounds envelopes you. Alumoskein splits like a punctured balloon and the tank water, pressurized by expanding gases and blood red with the brine shrimp and algae that produced them, smashes into you and the bear as your limbs, gun and claws entwine and tangle, and you are scraped through the valleys in a scarlet cascade that turns to pink then grey as it fades into the muted North Sea.
After the “Great Explosion” of many important parts of the planet, the cities were left floating in piles of sand, while only a few monuments survived. It’s been a few months since it was announced from the local authorities of Athens that the city had lost the Parthenon. The whole world is still in terror and in search for what is behind this disappearance of unspeakable proportions. During the restoration of the temple, marble made out of an unknown rock was found in the “Naos” while parts of the columns were constructed in a recent time period. Although it survived the “Great Explosion” – rumours speak about a secret organisation, which recently, after an unknown event that destroyed the Parthenon, restored it overnight with replicated parts. A young journalist, after months of searching, received an email from an anonymous woman who claims to have been working for the organisation as a historian. A few days later, they decided to meet.
Chapter 1: A topography of Monuments
The lady in blue opened the door inviting the young journalist inside her hotel room. His hands were shaking, covered in his own sweat as if he knew that on that hot July day, the very anticipated interview would change his worldview. On the other hand, the lady in blue was not a stranger to what it will seem to the young reporter later on, as extraordinary and mysterious. As a historian she had grown accustomed to the great divide between the certainty for the familiar and what she knew to exist beyond this delirious obsession.
“I would like to thank you” he said while placing his recorder on the wooden table “for choosing my column to go public with your story”.
The lady in blue hesitated to answer immediately. Second thoughts were running through her mind, but everything had led to this moment, she thought while starring out the window.
“This is a story far from the imaginary. People have this tendency for getting lost in the stories they tell themselves late at night because they know that those kinds of stories won’t disrupt their reality. This story is not my story. It belongs to the cities. It is our cities’ story”
“What should I call you?”
“Vienna” said the lady in blue
“You have been working for this organisation for how long now?” the young journalist asked in a very anxious manner
“I always dreamed of having a window with a view. The window asks for a view don’t you think? A view of a 16th-century Benedictine church alongside the Great Canal in Venice designed by Andrea Palladio or the Pyramids of Giza designed by no-one or even both. Who wouldn’t dream of a topography of outstanding monuments. But this was never the case for me. It has always been a wall. Then again, this dystopic coexistence of monuments and topographies was something I had the pleasure of experiencing on an everyday basis” she said, while ignoring the Journalist’s question.
“And what made the wall special?”
“I never said anything about the wall being special. The wall was made out of concrete and steel. Nothing remarkable or extraordinary about that. I started working for the organisation twenty years ago, after I had finished with my masters degree in London. They recruited me right after the “Great Explosion”. As you know, everything changed after that incident. A new era began for the measures the world had to take for the protection of our archaeologies”
Chapter 2: A Colony of Lost Artefacts
“Tell me more about the organisation. Is it part of a circuit?”
“Almost thirty countries are part of it, funding our secret colony. The island changes scene once a year. The scene needs to be of high historical, architectural and cultural significance. The conflict is great”
“Conflict?” the young journalist asked
“The conflict of who will claim the Great Island of Replica of course. The agony and fear of losing important moments of the past can bring out the worst in people. Nobody wants to lose a part of himself. We would occasionally explain that the wall was part of a Buffer Zone or the city’s boundaries and so the ownership status of the land needed to be in our favour. In time people would get used to this idea. Satellite maps were also hacked so they would match our story”
Chapter 3: Within the wall
“What exists inside the island? Can you elaborate?”
“Imagine a travelling circus. The greatest acts take place in the centre of the tent, while on the edge of the tent are all the other necessary yet secondary rituals. The wall is not just a fence or a boundary. It is a linear continuous space divided in rooms and in sections. It is the place we make and keep the archive. In the centre one would find what is left of the monument. It is usually a standard enclaved excavation site. This is the general protocol, although it varies depending on the landscape”
“What kind of procedures take place?”
“The procedures are pretty standard. The site is evaluated. Excavations are made, in parallel with the restoration, re-drawing and model making of the monuments. Models are made in different scales depending on the project and are handed to the government of the country who is hosting the island at the time. In case of an emergency or sudden destruction, the replica takes the place of the actual monument, so that the view of the city and identity will stay the same. The cities are made by its monuments. I see this as a pill to keep away the horror and the shock away- of the unfamiliar”
Chapter 4: Familiar ruins
“How did you choose which specific moment the monuments could be revealed to the world? Architecture didn’t survive the “Great Explosion” and it does not lay intact underneath the sand. Wouldn’t you say that you controlled the way we write history?”
The lady in blue felt intimidated by the journalist’s question. She lit up a cigarette and stared for a brief moment at the window. The monotonous image of pedestrians was helping her stay calm.
“History is never static. New discoveries take place every day. There is an organic way that ruins and moments of the past come to the surface and that is the way we re-evaluate ourselves throughout our existence. In order to have an objective view of the past, the organisation decided to make sacrifices on this matter. They believed that the crime scene needs to stay intact and in secrecy. After the Island completes its course -usually after a year- the wall is demolished, revealing the monument to the world in a condition often modified. The fate of the monument lays in the hand of the leading political power of each country, whether they will choose to let any destruction be part of a monument’s history”
Chapter 5: The Replica Project
“Off record, Mrs Vienna why have you decided to reveal your story about the Replica Project?”
“People deserve to know their history. They need to understand that the world is not made up from concrete walls and that monuments don’t appear out of thin air. Replicas exist and are made for a reason but they should never cloak history. History can be traumatic. The dusted forgotten objects, the absence of subjectivities, the abandoned and once habituated houses, the destruction of monuments in an era of conflict, the gardens and rivers you cannot cross are the leftovers of important historical moments. Moments that just like the window of this room, ask to be rediscovered beyond the cracks, as do all the mysteries and wonders of our world. Every single person has the right to know what makes our cities”
The lady in blue handed a dossier full of sketches, blueprints and documents regarding the Great Island of Replica to the young journalist. She took the underground for her way back home, to an apartment with a view of Stephan Platz.
She remembers how it was once one of her favourite replicas ever made in the island.
“Vienna!” she whispered while touching the glass. She spent that night next to the window, not dreaming but looking at her first window with one everlasting, not imaginary, exquisite view.
Today 06:11 AM
I dreamt I was at work again
Anyway, good morning. I see you left early. I’m sorry about last night. I want to tell you it doesn’t matter, we’ll figure it out.
Ok. I get it if you’re still mad. I’m sorry and I know I shouldn’t have said anything
Heading to the office now, who says dreams don’t come true. See you tonight
We’ll talk later
Today 06:34 AM
No way. Trams are cancelled…
Every year the same. You’d think they’d be prepared for some snow!
Just one word at a time?
Guess I deserve it
Have to walk to work. Seems I’ll be late again
Yeah tell my boss
Good thing we moved here, walking shouldn’t take much longer than the tram
This snow though!
Today 06:46 AM
Winter mornings are so weird
Especially this one? So dark, so quiet. Snow mutes the sound from everything around. Snowfall is dense, can’t see much except silhouettes of buildings. I guess if someone else was out I still wouldn’t even see or hear them. Kinda poetic if you think about it. It’s like I could be anywhere
Or any time. Remember plodding to school just like this. Puffball hat, snow wet mittens, Return of the Jedi-backpack over my shoulder. Nostalgia!
Sorry about the monologue
I get it if you’re mad but you’re texting like my dad
Today 06:58 AM
Somebody just left their car in the middle of the street? Engine running and everything
No one around
No footprints around either, guess whoever left it must have done so a while ago
I can’t see anyone… At least I don’t think so. It’s not too dark, there’s just the hard contrast to the snow everywhere. Can’t make much out. It’s like this intense blue morning light reflecting off the snow makes it hard to focus. The fog and snow are saturated by any tiny light source. Like this hot dog stand soaked in anthropocene green. A flickering light in the dark…
The snow’s not that bad? But still that must be why no one is out? Feels like there’s a storm coming but nobody told me
But then again why would people just leave their cars around?
I guess the weather may be building up to something. People are probably trying to wait it out, staying inside until it’s over
I think I saw someone
Today 07:10 AM
You’re not gonna believe this
Some woman is following me
Yes. I mean I didn’t exactly see who it was
Definitely shadowing me
Keeping a distance, can’t get a grasp. Snow
Had to run for a while
Feels like she’s still after me
Not funny. Hope not
Today 07:18 AM
Something is wrong
Where is everyone? Did I miss some crucial information about something?
Do you know anything about this? Is that why you’re acting cold?
Just arrived at the office
It’s completely dark, locked down
Can’t get in
Heavier snowfall now. Wrong day for sneakers
Guess I’m heading back home
You’re at work right?
Ok that’s good… Is anyone else there? Can you look up what’s happening?
Going home. Guess we’ll meet there?
At home? You know our apartment where we’ve lived for two years?
Ok. Guess you haven’t completely lost your mind then
Today 07:35 AM
What the hell!
How did you do that?
I saw you, stop it!
Why are you creeping on me?
How did you leap like that?
What’s going on?
Have you been following me all morning?
not following you
You were literally heading straight towards me
Creepy monkey leaps
Right there by the tracks
Well SOMEONE shambling up the street like a primate
Today 07:50 AM
Saw her again
This time suddenly just standing there
Gray milky eyes, staring at me
Just got away
It’s not you. I see that now
You have a fucked up doppelgänger though
It’s like she’s ALMOST human
Why is she following me?
Whatever she wants I can’t hide
Just want to get home
Today 08:00 AM
It’s so cold
Almost home, where are you?
lost your mind
It’s so cold
I just said that
Why are you just copy-pasting words back to me?
You’ve done this all morning!
Is this your idea of a joke? NOT COOL
A bit paranoid here, could you please write something new? Like a word I haven’t used today
a word I haven’t used today
What is my middle name?
Who are you?
Nora left the conversation
Today 08:02 AM
The mall opens every day at 3:00 A.M. with the arrival of shipments by truck from all over Korea and occasionally by plane internationally. Before the light of dawn, the shipment brought in by the hunters is cleaned thoroughly in the bathing rooms, before being dressed and prepared for display at the auction arena. Workers inspect the shipment and estimate the value of each catch.
Auctions start at 5:00 A.M. every day. Bids are made by the company executives. Purchased stock, now called trainees, are loaded into the storeroom. From there, they are primed for debut in what is called the DMZ MALL— a center for the production of K-pop located in the DMZ tourism-economic zone. Preparation of products can last years, as the process is both highly rigorous and painstakingly meticulous. Unsold trainees are immediately discarded. Those deemed defective or performing below average may be discarded at any time thereafter, at the discretion of the executives.
x x x
Mu entered the auction arena, unclothed. With a quiet confidence, she stepped forward onto the runway. As her feet cautiously threaded across the undulating surface, she was reminded that a fall from this height— nearly four stories— would have been quite frightening, even deadly. So she planted her feet firmly with each step and focused her eyes straight, unwavering, at the crowd of buyers in the balcony seats across from her. There were around fifty executives dressed in simple clothing, holding unwieldy binders of papers that were likely to slip out of their arms at any moment. They sat relaxed in their seats, yet exuded an intensity and sharpness like wolves eyeing their prey. These were people she admired yet feared— the brilliant technicians, masterminds some might even say, of Korean culture, who had transformed an impoverished country into one brimming with pride at the wild successes of their cultural exports— K-pop music, K-drama, K-beauty, K-fashion, K- you name it. Some might call them immortal, having more influence than politicians, and one could sense their power from a mile away, but Mu was prepared to face them for all that she feared them.
Her freshly washed body felt tender and was covered with a translucent white powder head to toe so that she appeared more radiant, dainty, perfect. Lights shone on her from every angle, so that no shadow was cast anywhere around her. When she reached the end of the runway, she bowed and introduced herself. The head buyer, wasting no time and in a business-like tone, instructed her to sing. She opened her mouth.
x x x
The hunters track her down in a village in Boseong, where she helps on her family’s green tea farm. Every parent is well aware of the hunters, who arrive night or day, lure children from home, school, or the park, and ship them to the training center at the DMZ. Parents are only notified by telephone after their child is taken away and reassured they will be taken care of as part of a group of young talents selected to join the prestigious academy, where career, fame, success are guaranteed— though the circumstances and methods remain ever so elusive. Some children might appear on television in a music video or on the cover of a debut album in a couple of years— to the shock and relief of their families; other parents might visit the park looking for their children, but often experience little luck as interactions between visitors are carefully regulated and monitored.
x x x
Amongst a group of fifty other catches, Mu stepped out of a white truck that had traveled to the DMZ in the darkness before sunrise. She felt the cold morning dew climb up her legs, and before she could find her balance, was ushered through a red door into a brightly lit stair well. The light and warmth immediately awoke her senses as she directed her gaze upwards to see a spectacular staircase, encased in thick bulletproof glass, rising up hundreds of feet upwards. This was one of the many stair shafts that dotted the DMZ in a grid pattern, so that the buildings “hung” between them, elevated above the ground plane. These stairs were built before anything else existed in the DMZ, a mark of cooperation between the two Koreas, encouraging joint projects on a shared vertical circulation “skeleton.” Amidst watchtowers and fencing, the “crystal stairs” became the symbols of Korean prosperity, graced by acclaimed stars whose influence could be felt across all facets of life in Korea— from hairstyles and political affiliation, down to their preferred brand of toilet paper. As she went up the stairs, a mesmerizing scene unfolded— theaters, museums, concert halls, baths, recording studios, crashing into each other…an architecture unlike she had ever seen. The theaters and performance halls were lodged in the original amorphous “mall” as the entire complex was destroyed, deserted, and rebuilt repeatedly over the course of the last hundred years, becoming a physical record of North-South relations. Cave-like and sculptural, but also highly artificial, makeshift, and endlessly exciting…
Lost in her thoughts, Mu jolted upon realizing that a nurse was prodding her face with a metal instrument that looked like a bent chopstick, first her face, and then her arms, belly, and legs, as if to check every cell of her body. Mu was in a room smaller than a pantry, trying to stay calm but unable to stop squirming and wincing, to which the nurse hid her frustration by consoling Mu in a sweet voice that it would be over soon. Stringent quality-control measures meant a morning of lengthy inspections in the hours before the auction by a skilled prep team, whose job was to inspect, bathe, and dress the catch. The surgeon entered afterwards, a petite lady with thick eyebrows and a permanent scowl, who came in wearing blue gloves and wielding a black ink marker. She acknowledged Mu’s presence for a brief second, before ferociously taking the marker straight to Mu’s face as if it were a canvas, marking it up with lines and dashes, as she narrated her thoughts in a straightforward manner— shave off the jaw line, accentuate the tip of the nose, widen the eyes, move the hairline down…
x x x
Korea has been forming and maintaining a K-pop army for nearly 100 years. It is a military draft of sorts, in which children ages 12-15 are drafted for 10 or more years of training and then contracted for another 15 years, with possible extensions, to become the faces (and pawns) of the ever-powerful Korean music industry— an industry instrumental in matters of politics.
K-pop has a rich history at the DMZ— first blasted across the border by the south as part of the loudspeaker propaganda warfare and launched over in balloons by NGOs seeking to disseminate South Korean music and movies. With elaborate music videos, flashy dance routines, youthful faces, and catchy lyrics, K-pop became a global phenomenon widely recognized for its role in inter-Korean relations. The first K-pop concert hosted in North Korea was attended by late Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un in the year 2018, receiving an extended standing ovation from the audience of esteemed political figures in attendance. Kim was a fan of girl group Red Velvet, and was reportedly “deeply moved” by the concert— after which the number of special economic and tourism zones in the North and along the border increased, as centers for the production and consumption of K-pop. The year 2018 also witnessed a speech by boy-band BTS in front of the United Nations, the first occurrence of its kind. Today, these children, and later adults, have become the peace-keepers of the Korean DMZ— keeping the conditions of the Korean peninsula in check, where war and peace continue to hang in delicate balance… to the soundtrack of Korean pop.
x x x
Rooster’s position was that the phrase “Happily ever after” was inherently bullshit.
“Think about it—when would that ever have made any sense?” He was getting animated about it as they made their way through the desert, and Chrysler could have sworn she could see his actual facial expressions flickering through his avatar image as he gesticulated. Even though the autopilot they had installed on the old pickup truck was fairly reliable, she kept a hand on the wheel. Not for the first time, she was glad she was the one in the driver’s seat.
He went on, elaborating. “Logically, mortality has been a thing for longer than stories, right? So anyone who could put together a story would have known that, at some point, we’re all going to kick the bucket, and the same goes for anyone and everyone we care about. Therefore, whoever coined the phrase would have to have been willingly deceitful.”
Chrysler sighed, exasperated. “Jesus, it’s kids’ stories, Roo. Does one phrase really matter that much?”
“Of course it matters!” He spluttered. “What if we had kids, Chry? Living in a world like this, would you think it’s OK to lie to them about where this is all headed? People need to be prepared for the future not only physically, but emotionally.”
This struck a nerve, but she knew that matching his energy would be counterproductive, so feigned a dry, quiet calm. “Ah, I see. So you’re saying that constantly telling kids they’re going to die will make for some well-adjusted adults, is that it?”
The sarcasm and the tone shut him up for a few miles. She didn’t like using a straw man argument on Roo…it made her uncomfortable, as the two of them had been closer than ever these days…. Nevertheless, it was pretty consistently effective in breaking him out of an argumentative loop, when he fell into one. So, as he stewed and worked up a counterargument this allowed her to shift her attention and absorb the view around them.
The interface was using the micro cams on the truck’s exterior to dissolve the roof and simulate the landscape they moved through—were they in Arizona now? Utah, maybe? It was hard to keep track. They’d been on the road a few days and leaving the route up to the autopilot. She knew they were headed roughly Northward to evade the impending seasonal storms and fires, but beyond that she didn’t trouble herself with the details. The interface would let them know when they were getting close to a relatively stable climatic zone. Their group had agreed to find a site that could ensure one month minimum with no extreme weather events, so she was looking forward to unpacking the dwelling unit and stretching her legs.
Being cooped up in a car had seemed a prime opportunity for Chrysler and Rooster to put time into the task they’d been assigned—writing new fairy tales. The adults of the group had agreed to jettison childhood narratives of the old world, to provide the next generation with more appropriate values and lessons for their nomadic existence. However, given such an important task, they had immediately gotten bogged down in the details.
In a steadier voice, Rooster finally said, “Look, I hear you. Stories are always selective versions of reality, after all. Right?” He waited, beak pointed in her direction. She tipped her head ever so slightly and the spire followed, allowing he might be onto something. “Ok, that’s fair. All I’m saying is that honesty is important. If we’re building new cultures, we have to learn from the mistakes of the generations that fucked up the world. And if we get to choose our values, I think a reverence for truth seems like a pretty good place to start.”
Nuance wasn’t always his strong suit, but she had to admit that Rooster had a point. As she was about to reply, Yeez appeared on the common band.
“Heads up folks, looks like the road is pretty iffy up ahead… probably going to need to go full manual.” Her attention returned to the road surface ahead. Sand had accumulated over the asphalt in places, obscuring its painted lines—the autopilot would have problems with that, and could glitch out, sending them off-course.
So it was that Chrysler spent the rest of the afternoon in tense concentration, clumsily piloting the truck over nascent drifts that would become dunes in some short while. She marveled that previous humans had held themselves as the pinnacle of machine navigating systems as their vehicles moved slowly, guided by the hesitant instincts of their meat-based pilots.
“Hard to imagine this getting better any time soon,” Yeez bleeped in.
“Yeah, we’ll have to update the protocols in case we’re routed back this way next season.” Her grip was tight on the wheel.
“On it,” said Rooster. He leaned back in his seat and the feathered head greyed out to indicate a lack of availability as he logged in to enter the new geographic shift. Their AI’s foundations had been written for measuring traffic and optimizing drive times, so it needed a nudge here and there.
They made camp somewhere in the desert after the road cleared up. The group had a standing policy of dropping avatars at night, and seeing her companions’ actual faces again felt centering to Chrysler. There was a quiet sense of ceremony to the building of fire, stringing of lines and washing laundry, and finally dinner with the group. Engagement with the base realities of their bodies’ needs was welcome respite after being in the interface all day.
Chry and Roo collapsed into their seats after dinner and slept, exhausted, with fingers loosely intertwined on the center console.
The next leg of the journey took them out of the desert, up through steep, verdant foothills into the mountains. The interface, (somewhat distressingly) seemed to be developing either boredom, a sense of humor, or both, displaying virtual signs of needless encouragement along the route that mimicked the old-school billboards they’d seen dotting historical highways.
As they moved through a rain storm Chrysler worried about the autopilot’s visual systems so once again took on manual control.
“I think I’ve got it,” she said suddenly.
“Uhh, maybe not now?” Roo murmured through clenched teeth as he stared through the windshield and the limited visibility in front of the truck.
“If we’ve got to curate reality to make an effective story then yeah, we edit! But we don’t have to start from scratch. Sure, 2,000 years of civilization seems like a lot, but on the timescales of geology, or evolution, that’s a drop in the bucket.”
Roo refused to meet her intense gaze, his knuckles white on the hand rests “Ahh, ok, I see your point…”
“No, I don’t think you do.” Her voice had become urgent and he was worried.
“How long did we have agriculture? Ten thousand years? Twelve? The very thing that made permanent settlements, specialization, and even architecture possible—that’s been around for less than ten percent of our existence as a species.
“Yeah, uh…” his voice hesitant, uncertain but considering now.
“I’m saying, for 90% of our species’ existence we’ve been transient. This isn’t the blip, Roo—this is a return to our natural state. We have all the stories we need.”
His head cocked, silent for a moment. Then he began to laugh—chuckling at first, then cackling wildly. She glanced over, worried, then joined him. They creeped through the downpour, laughing their heads off as they followed the interface’s arrows toward their next home.
One week later, Roo stepped from the tree line back into camp with a proud collection of nuts and berries in his bag. He was famished, and struggling to hold back from gorging himself before his prize was tallied in the group stores. Nevertheless he held back, and as he made his way through camp happened upon Chrysler reading their latest creation to a band of children.
“…and finally, as the caribou led her herd through the steep walls of the pass they stopped along a ledge and looked out across the new valley.”
She looked up as he approached and he could feel her smile from beneath the iconic skyscraper.
“It was green, and lush, and there was happiness for as far as they could see.”
12 years have passed since the catastrophic events on earth. There has been no communication from the planet during this time, and we have had to proceed on the basis that our small human colony on Mars as well as that on the international space station are the only surviving human outposts. The majority of our earth-orbiting satellites are dead. Those that are still functioning have shifted orbit and/or are unable to sync with our instrumentation.
We have not been able to ascertain whether human life – or any animal life, for that matter – persists on the planet. Our last recorded transmission from earth is dated 09 July 2186 – reporting a global state of emergency due to catastrophic climate and seismic events which were ravaging the planet. Global storm systems, combined with the shifting of tectonic plates led to large scale terrestrial flooding and continental shift, reducing the terrestrial land mass by approximately 40 percent.
Last month our instruments detected a small beacon of light on the earth’s surface, floating in the ocean. A three-person reconnaissance expedition was sent to earth from the international space station to investigate the beacon. This was a one-way mission. We are hopeful that the beacon is an indication that habitation on earth is still possible. Their mission was to report on the status of human civilization and the planetary ecosystem. We salute these astronauts for their bravery in returning to our native planet.
We received a transmission from the mission team earlier this morning. They reported that an empty vessel – a life raft of sorts – was found floating at the edge of the bituminous ocean. It was determined to be the source of the beacon. There were no personnel aboard, however, a Captain’s Log was found alongside a large scale mapping project – etched into the walls of the vessel, not unlike a prehistoric type of cave painting. The attached document transcribes the last entry in the Captain’s Log – dated approximately two months ago. The team also sent the five (5) attached images, documenting the beacon and surface condition of the planet.
Captain’s Log / SS Minnow / 2198.09.07
Henry Thompson, Ecological Anthropologist
I write this last journal entry with the hope that it will serve as a surviving record of human civilization on planet earth. I have been navigating the planet alone for approximately 12 years, mapping this new geography as I search for other survivors of the planetary apocalypse. I have yet to encounter any other human survivors, and seldom have I noticed any other living organisms. The planet has become desolate. I am unsure whether there are survivors in space, but as far as I know I am alone on this world. As an Ecological Anthropologist I feel a professional obligation to provide an anthropological record of the decline of human occupation of this planet. I can only hope that someone or something will find this documentation of the fall of the last human civilization – the Nacirema people.
Of the numerous empires that occupied the earth over the ten millennia of human civilization, it was the last empire – the Nacirema civilization – that was arguably the most catastrophically successful. Successful in terms of the immense prosperity that was built from the culture of Muelortep (or ‘rock oil’, as it was commonly known), and ultimately catastrophic for the planet-wide devastation that ensued from their ritual obsession with the black liquid.
This text builds on published anthropological research by Linton (1936), Malinowksi (1948), Murdock (1949), and Miner (1956). Most significant to this discussion is Miner’s landmark report Body Ritual among the Nacirema, which offered an early cultural critique of the Nacirema people and their proclivity towards deeply-rooted beliefs in magic and superstition.
Miner’s observations of the magical beliefs and practices of the Nacirema document a range of unusual behavioural aspects, which serve as examples of the extremes of human behaviour that result from mythological beliefs. Documentation of the decline of human civilization must start with the cultural mythology of the Nacirema people, specifically the obsession with rock oil which ultimately led them to extinction, along with the rest of the planetary species.
One cannot describe the Nacirema civilization without first describing their relationship to Muelortep. The entire civilization was founded on this black oil. It was a mythical multi-purpose substance. For the Nacirema people it represented freedom, and this they prized above all else. It powered their vehicles. It heated their homes and workplaces. They used it to cook. They used it for light. And the more of it they had, the more they needed. It wasn’t enough simply to extract it form the earth, it also had to be stockpiled and circulated. In fact, it became so fundamental to all aspect of human civilization that the Nacirema people rose to become the ruling super-elite of the planet.
For over two centuries wars were fought for control over the black liquid. The Nacirema were so busy fighting and controlling this resource that they didn’t notice what was happening to their planet. When the global scientific community reached a consensus regarding the severity of the damage that the ‘Muelortep Economy’ was having on the global ecosystem, the leaders of the Nacirema refused to acknowledge the research – perhaps it was blindness, obsession, or pure economic self-interest. The Nacirema’s pursuit of rock oil at all costs, despite it’s undeniable culture of harm and corruption is perhaps the strongest indicator of the ingrained belief in magic and denial of reason that led to the downfall of the Nacirema culture.
It started slowly at first, and there was little attention paid to it. By the time the crisis was openly acknowledged it was already too late. All the extraction and burning of the black liquid had started a chain reaction that was unstoppable. Even if they had tried to stop – which they really didn’t – it wouldn’t have mattered. By the year 2170 things were too far gone. The burning of rock oil fuels had created a build up of enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. As these gases built up in the atmosphere a whole series of related phenomenon occurred. First, the mean temperature of the planet rose by just a few degrees. This caused the polar ice caps to melt. As they melted, ocean levels rose and the planet flooded. With the floods, the weather patterns changed and became more extreme. Hurricanes ravaged the planet. Ironically, it was these extreme weather systems that destroyed all the infrastructure they had built for the flow of Muelortep. And as this infrastructure was destroyed, the black liquid spewed forth across the surface of the planet – poisoning the oceans, lakes, and rivers, particularly in many of the most populated areas. Ironically, the rock oil was toxic. It supported no life. Everything it touched died. The environmental failure was systemic and the planet became inhospitable, continually ravaged by violent storms, which only served to worsen the spread of toxins across the planet.
The Nacirema misunderstood the life of their world and their place in it. They had denied that their world was actually an organism, of which they were just a very small part. In thinking that they were separate from the planet they were blind to the fact that their exploitation of the planet was in fact self-defeating. Their blindness to the reality of the oneness of everything in their world that they continued these practices. In the end, the Nacirema became slaves to the black fluid. They suffered from a scarcity mentality that led them to battle for subterranean resources while a plethora of renewable energy sources were abundant at the planet’s surface: sun, wind and water. In the end it was the obsession with surfacing the rivers of Hades turned the entire planet into a type of Underworld, as the Nacirema alongside all other human tribes witnessed the catastrophic failure of the planetary ecosystem.
May 20th, 2049
Clouds of fine dust puff up against our 1972 Fiat as we turn off A14, the low-hanging branches of full spring trees daring to touch the windshield. I slow down as we approach our destination and carefully steer in line behind a grime-streaked sedan, avoiding any dips in the road that might rattle my grandfather’s prized automobile. In a clearing I can finally see the car wash that my grandfather insisted we seek out, 26 kilometers from our home outside of Paris. The entire way here I was bombarded with a monologue on the merits of the building we were about to see, a dissertation on building construction, stucco walls and outdoor courtyards, ‘pillowties’ I think he mentions, something about 5 points and the purity of modernism, a nome de plume and the importance of ribbon windows.
My grandfather was an architect. Now 90 years of age, he laments the recent developments in the architectural world and tries to convince me to read his favorite texts of modernism. He tells me about a time when buildings were a sacred art, aesthetic and untouchable, monumental and singular.
“Did you know that this used to be a house? The architect who designed it was fascinated by cars, and he claimed that the minimum turning radius of the car was an important basis for determining the design’s layout and proportions.
I find myself fascinated with the structure before us. The facade, formal yet serene on its own, seems to vibrate and glow as the mechanical brushes scrub clean the cars and toss water and soap bubbles into the air. The hiss of the hoses and hum of the heaters exclaim in stark contrast to the silence of the austere white geometries that lie above.
“Is that why it’s been turned into a car wash?” I ask over the whir of the machines as we slow into the dark forest of soapy foam brushes.
My grandfather replies, a sad smile appearing on his face. “Yes it is.”
July 26th, 2059
I returned to the states to attend university in an attempt to understand the rapidly changing built world and reconcile my ideas about architecture. At school I did not learn the principles and processes that my grandfather had always tried to teach me. Old paradigms have been erased and architecture has started a new, liberated from ideals and aesthetic and turned towards function and adaptation. This is the new architecture of the Opportunist movement, a movement that disregards culture and context and uses all available spaces to adapt to all available needs.
The tenets of Opportunism refute those of modernism. Structures that create unadorned facades and open spaces are deemed inefficient. Architectural icons are now defunct monuments to wasted space. Springing from a radical offshoot of ‘Adaptive Re-use’, Opportunism inserts the mundane into the avant-garde, merges public into private, and champions the coexistence of multiple functions in one structure. From the chaos of combination, freedom of production ensues.
My professors were adamant about the benefits of this architecture; two separate worlds colliding, renouncing the unseen benefits of architecture of old and transforming it into architecture of tangible value. Today I start my research travels, in hopes of truly understanding my profession.
January 11th, 2064
“And how do you feel, living in such proximity to someone’s office space?” I ask, edging casually towards the balcony.
“I hardly notice. I sleep, cook, and clean, just like you might at any other apartment building. I hang my laundry out to dry, water my plants. Who did you say you were again? You are with the Public Housing Department?
I take another step backwards. “I’ll just need to examine your terrace for one moment”. Lines of suspicion appear on her previously indifferent face. I slide the glass door open wordlessly and a gust of wind flows in. Turning to my left I realize I was one apartment off. The unit directly adjacent to the CMG tower is not unit 36K, but 36L. I glimpse down the façade of the building as it angles towards the ground. In a brightly lit conference room a man pitches a new soap opera. 3 meters away a mother expertly pulls her son away from the balustrade while reaching for her laundry on a clothesline attached to her apartment’s terrace.
I thank the woman for her time and hastily move towards the door.
In a cab on the way back to my hotel, I review my notes.
“OMA’s CCTV Headquarters was originally constructed as a quite unconventional tower, 2 masses rising from an angular base and connecting at a right angle that dramatically cantilevers over open space. In 2061, it was decided by Beijing’s mayor that the negative space created within the shape of the tower would be filled with public housing. The mayor sited China’s rapidly growing population and the importance of maintaining density in the city center as his main reasons for the decision.
I crave to see that moment where stucco meets silver – could a child playing in the living room see straight into the office of an executive? Does the strong metal expression of CCTV run straight through someone’s kitchen? Magnets stuck to it like a refrigerator? I can never seem to grasp the interface.
September 12th, 2070
The phone rings. I gaze out the window. My sister wants to know where we should meet before the concert. She is staying outside of Manhattan, at the Liberty Hotel, a tourist trap tucked in the base of the Statue of Liberty. I jokingly ask her if she got a spot in the presidential suite, a spectacular hotel room inside of the statue of liberty’s torch. A short laugh is her reply.
The city has transformed. With existing construction as its resource, Opportunism has acted as a parasite, the city its host. It has moved on from exploiting only monuments and icons to attacking the very fabric of the city. I have spent much of my life trying to understand it, the dissolution of the architecture that my grandfather once loved so much and now the ubiquity of the mundane within the monumental. New York has reached a new kind of grandeur. A scale-less network has permeated the city. It looks as if someone has taken up to finishing a colossal jigsaw puzzle, one that seems to change each night, and every piece must fit.
August 3rd, 2074
We enter onto what used to be the third floor, through an adjacent food hall. My daughter begged me to take her to the pool, even though there were many closer to the apartment we live in, which used to be a luxury high rise in midtown east.
Children laugh and chase each other down the ramps, throwing beach balls and taking sticky sips from boxes of lemonade.
“Can I go play?” My daughter asks, toting a bright pink beach towel, her goggles pressed up against her forehead.
“Just a minute,” I murmur, gazing up at the skylight, “Did you know that this used to be a museum? It was filled with fine art, and people would come from all over the world to see it.”
“That’s silly!” She giggles and shifts her feet, looking up the ramp where children sit next to their mothers in beach chairs. “Yes, I guess it is,” I reply. “Now go play, and be careful”.
I slowly make my way up the ramp, watching the sunlight dance on the lapping pool water. At once I feel the way my grandfather must have felt, grieving the beauty of a life of architecture past. But architecture must change and grow, and it is hard to argue with the glow of the white ramps reflected in the water, the joyful shrieks of laughter and the colorful confetti of inflatable toys that dazzle the pool. I reach the top, walking carefully to the edge of the highest diving board. I take a slow breath. I dive.
Long ago there lived a creature that was born of fear. No one ever saw this beast, but his steamy breath was felt rushing through the dark night air. Some said it was an animal unknown to this planet–others, a man who was deeply perturbed by his knowledge of the world. This creature lives on today. It dwells in a series of rooms hidden in the deepest caverns of North America. These rooms are a consequence of a curse that fell over this being long ago: a compulsion to store fragments and artifacts of history in its subterranean chambers. These objects date back to encounters of resilience, fear, and change in the heart of the Americas. They rest in a mausoleum of artifacts, a place haunted by the unseen creature, a reminder of its disappearance from the Earth.
My name is Ollin and my story begins in the Classic Period of Mesoamerican history. Many centuries ago, before my legacy of terror, I was a master builder of the Toltec tribe, the principal craftsman of the earthworks and the most skillful builder of my time. On the day of the highest sun, Spearthrower, ruler of the land, gathered me and his assembly of chiefs together at the Citadel with a plan to map the city of the gods. Spearthrower announced:
The gods have graced us with peace and prosperity, a time where tribes have come as one to create the great Mesoamerican civilization. Now is the time for us to build a fortress to last the ages. Our fortress will merge together the landscapes of the gods, bringing the surrounding mountains, forest, water, and sky to protect and nurture our land. Three pyramids will be erected in honor of our gods. These earthen watchtowers shall be placed directly below the stars and replicate the mountains they face. They will be connected by a path into the caverns of the dead, surrounding us, the living, with those we loved in this world. Where we now stand shall be god’s home, Teotihuacan!
As I listened to Spearthrower’s decree, a vision came upon me. I saw that completing this city would take many generations and that our plans for the city could be easily compromised. I stood at the footprint of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent and asked the god of renewal, Quetzalcoatl, to grant me the power to construct the city under my guidance. Quetzalcoatl heard my plea. The deity gifted me temporary immortality with the condition that, on the final night of construction, I was to stand on top of the temple and give my life as intended. When the night came, I contemplated the curses that would befall me if I did not follow through in my arrangement. Suddenly, in the midst of my thoughts, I heard the thundering of Quetzalcoatl. His slithering tongue described the curse that I would suffer: “You—you, with your plot to disobey the Almighty—know this: if you do not uphold your part of the pact and sacrifice yourself at the end of the project, your body will be fragmented, divided, dismembered. Your connections to the stars, cosmos, rivers and land will be disrupted. Borders will rip your skin to pieces creating divisions amongst people, animals, and memories. You will enter the Coatlicue state, a whirlwind of neighboring cultures, and remain there forever, forced to travel the borderlands as you pick up pieces of history discarded across multiple worlds.” I contemplated his words over the weeks that followed. I was one of the most capable builders the world had ever known, but I cherished my own life; I wondered if the wretched curse the god had described was not better than final death. Finally, I set my distant contemplations aside. Our civilization was advancing rapidly, and it was imperative that I use my gifts to build the monuments that Spearthrower had envisioned.
On the night I was to give my life away I broke my promise, for the greater good of the civilization.
Not long after I broke my promise to Quetzalcoatl, under the leadership of the ruler Moctezuma, the pyramids I had labored so long to build were seized by Hernán Cortés, a silver god that rode a beast from a faraway land. On this night of sorrows, Teotihuacan fell to rubble at the hands of a foreign army, now barely recognizable as a record of my people, I wept:
Great divine being, you have become fatigued, you have become tired: The heralds we thought you sent have rained over the city. Here, they have come to sit in your place, on your throne. Our temples made from stone, the strength of earth have been covered in drapes, gold, wood, gods, and entities. What was foretold by our rulers, those who governed this city has been compromised. The gods have been mortified by preposterous faith and belief! Come ask for your throne, your place, your land. Take possession of your house!
The gods, angered at me, did not hear my plea. Over the centuries that followed, new civilizations sprang up ever more divided. The land became like a split double-projection, dividing the map into North and South America. It is a memory of the past and my humanity began to change with it.
Chupacabra, Chupacabra! Chupacabra! Hide! Run! I was no longer Ollin and the new inhabitants of the land demonized me with the name Chupacabra. I lived near the Great wall of Mexico terrorizing people’s farmlands for livestock. Over time my body’s skin was beaten by the legacies of war and violence, resulting in a body shriveled by its past. My mind was clouded by the rage, toxins, and death that filled the land. My vision became hazy at the sight of watchmen guarding the states, occupying the land formerly held by my people. I had become a non-native, unrecognizable to the land I was born in. One night as I ran along the Mexico-US Barrier I came across a series of prototype walls that were to proliferate the line along the Divided states of North America. I punched, scratched, climbed, and dug at the walls. Defaced by exasperation I screeched:
Presidents have become gods and Homeland Security their barricades against the outside. The ground that was once shared by many has now been stolen by many more, terrorizing the outside with weapons, light, and walls. Fortification has become national, alienating the other using segments of wood, steel, and concrete along the boundary. As a result, humans have perished, animals have become extinct, land has been polluted, ecosystems have migrated, and cultures have been torn apart. The border walls demarcate the asymmetrical relationship between the two nation-states, like a material manifestation of the power imbalances that are embedded within the object. The wall is the border, it is the control and flow of people, it is the limit where the other side ends or begins.
I ran far away from the wall, deep into the territory that it has divided, full of horror, transformation, and flux. My humanity continued to change along with this deteriorating land.
I am now constructing another room, where I foretell what might come over the centuries ahead. The earth has been swallowed by my curse. Environmental degradation has melted the great precious stones of ice and water has taken over the lands. Humanity has created a fortress against nature that touches all parts of the world. The Americas have become archipelagos of devastations, and our greatest architects plan in vain against the unavoidable disaster. To this I say:
I have lived a timeline as long as that of god. I am no longer tied to the concept of time; rather, I have become a slave to the ideas of Western Man that construct borders around my consciousness, the land, and the universe, creating enclosures, fortresses that I can no longer escape. I record the consequences of eras and operate on the artifacts collected throughout. I now understand my curse: to lose my humanity is not to live my mundane existence, it is to live among all future human civilizations and see the outcomes of this world. Gods live away from the turmoil, the unbearable realities of the earth. I am no god, but a slave to the ruins of the world, accumulating fast and deep, now as ever.
I have been having this dream lately of falling in a swollen river after a heavy rainfall. I am carried away by the strong current of the murky waters. I try to swim towards the banks or grab onto something. But the force is too great and I am unable to resist it. I am struggling to keep my head above the surface long enough to catch a breath before being pulled down again into the depths of the inevitable.
+ + +
The film crew came again. After what happened, many came – ministers and presidents during election times, NGOs, international peace agencies and movie stars. At first we were happy to see them, to tell them about our predicaments, about the citrus groves we lost and the loved ones we have not seen in years. They showed their interest and sympathy with rehearsed expressions and shoe-box packages of imported candy, colouring pencils and blocks of scented soap for the children. But with their arrivals and departures nothing ever happened. The hope they brought quickly faded as the change they promised never took place. We grew weary of talking and their visits became fewer and further apart. Who are we to them after all – a campaign promise, a dinner conversation topic, a title in a highbrow movie festival, distant people in a land far from home.
I never imagined my life to be this way. But I guess it is so with most people, it never really turns out the way you expect it to. Sometimes I wonder about leaving, about going to the ocean. I long to embark onto its vast openness. Nothing but horizon in the distance where the limitless sea is spilling over into the sky. But where would I go and who would I become? What life would I hope to make for myself after I start over? I am not sure I would know how to be happy anywhere else. What scares me the most about leaving is not the unknown, but that I might never be able to come back to what I have now. After all, this old house and my mother’s pita in the rusty wood oven is all I ever knew and all I ever loved.
I thought I saw Keti today. I followed her silhouette around the street corner. I called her name, but she never answered. Hers was the first house in the village to be absorbed.
In summer when we were kids the villagers would dig out a basin in the river bed and we would all go swimming. We spent the afternoons on the rocks soaking up the sun and fading in and out of sleep. As the sun started setting behind the mountains, we would walk back to the village in a tranquil slumber from the heat and the cold water. Keti and I were always falling behind the other children, dreaming up a future that would never come true.
It seemed like it happened overnight, but in reality it was creeping up for months. Centimetre by centimetre. We all thought we were going crazy. The day my father’s grave was absorbed we thought he moved it himself. Some thought it was an omen and others started tying their citrus trees and chicken hoops to the ground. But the day the fence reached Keti’s front door, we realised it came from the other side. We were sane enough to know houses do not have legs. That was the last summer we went to the river.
Since then, olive groves, orangeries and whole mountains have been swallowed by the fences. Every year one more family is either separated or reunited beyond that metal line. It feels like we are losing the ground under our feet. The houses we lived in our whole lives are becoming foreign and our neighbours are turning into strangers. At first we thought it was just our village, but the stories are reaching us from all over the country. We are told of other absorbed fields, forests and towns, and divided cities. In the beginning we were relieved to know that this is not an isolated event and that there are others like us. But as the stories keep multiplying we are growing less comforted and more resigned. This invasive power is too great to be opposed.
I ponder sometimes on what will happen when the fences from east, west, north and south all meet each other. Will the village still exist? Or will it only remain as a memory, an outdated myth? Will our children speak the language of our mothers? Will they know of a different time? Perhaps they will write about us as savages who were reeducated and civilised. Or maybe one day, many years from now, we will get our land back. We might live again as we always have, content with what the land gave us and wishing for nothing else.
Of course Keti did not turn back when I called after her. It is better that way for both of us. The less we all know the better. But I do wonder if she still has dreams, and if hers are, unlike mine, more than just escapism.
Chapter 1 – A Cage in the Sky
The year is 2033. The Earth continues to suffocate us under our own blanket of waste, the population dwindles. Those who are left see giant objects the size of cities move high above the saffron skies casting ominous shade across the landscape. Some think the governments that survived came together to build a cage to keep us on Earth, others claim it to be a dome intent on saving what little we have left. The government’s call ‘fake news’ and brush us off. I know the truth.
My grandfather died in 83’. Those mysterious objects in the sky are parts of his creation, a planet sized puzzle of steel and carbon. He would often point to plumes of smoke in the air and say “Our ignorance flies above us”. To him pollution was nothing but resources we failed to harvest, ignorant of its value and destruction. I saw him as my impassioned grandad, others saw him as some sort of messiah.
Before passing he pushed his old journal to my chest and whispered “We must transcend and become one with nature, only then will we understand the pain we cause”. Technical drawings filled the journal, I sometimes like to think he would laugh at the thought of those markings in pen and ink now filled the sky, a giant geodesic dome anchored to Earth, a new Ozone to re-establish our broken atmosphere, his final effort to save us, we called it Biosphere 3.0.
My name is Dr. H. Fuller, I was the lead aerobiologist on Biosphere 3.0 for the better part of two decades, was being the key word in my prose. I look on now as an outsider, my employment was terminated after being found guilty of sharing my surface world access with a small bunker community in the outskirts of Moscow. I now live with them, 600 ft. deep.
Chapter 2 – The Surface
The youngsters in the bunker gather round me most days and ask for stories of the surface world, “a world before the skies turned blonde and the wind became sharp” I would tell them. The poor things had never seen daylight before I came along. Their mothers often scold me for telling them stories that would give them a false sense of hope. We are now beyond hope.
Permits are required to walk on the surface, these permits take weeks to obtain and cost more than a month’s harvest. Standing on the surface with no breathing equipment is fatal. The Oxygen levels on the surface hover around 1-2%, three minutes of un-assisted exposure permanently damages your cerebrum rendering your senses useless, no vision, no haptics, nothing. I lost a good friend to the surface some years back, he saw a break in the saffron skies and removed his hazmat suit to get a better look. He became a shell of a human in minutes, cowering as the rain and wind tore away at his skin. I will always remember the brilliant reflections in his eyes before he died.
To live a life on the surface you need to be rich, very rich. The millionaires and billionaires of yesterday hire aerobiologists like myself to condition their forts. I use the word ‘fort’ in this case deliberately. The only structures that have stood the test of time are those of war and greed. These brutalist relics pepper the landscape standing strong and tall. Lavender hues pulsate from their rainforest cores like lanterns, these are the multi-level hydroponic systems capable of refreshing the forts for decades without maintenance, my little brainchild actually. The living quarters sit above, most of the forts are capped with flamboyant extraction silos. The cores are almost too successful, excess oxygen gets pumped through the extraction silos back into the dying atmosphere, ostentation at its finest.
Chapter 3 – The Bunkers
When I joined the bunker the community they had all but given up, their irrigation systems had been destroyed by a flood some years ago. Before being axed from the Biosphere 3.0 project I had been sharing my surface world access with them so they could see the world before they passed, ‘assisted euthanasia’ the court deemed it. I would have been detained for life had it not been for my grandfather’s notoriety.
Today our community is 30 strong. Our bunker is an old soviet storm drain, these drains were so perfect for irrigation that many communities like this one began living under the guise of these brutalist giants. It is incredibly rare for a bunker community to have an aerobiologist among them, they often come to me to see what new contraptions I have thought up, it annoyed me at first but I have grown to love it.
I smuggled koi into the bunker some months back, I still have friends on the outside. They were the only living fish they could find, stole them from a client’s personal fort pond apparently. These extravagant carp formed a major part of the bunkers regeneration, for a month straight we slowly bled sunlight into our bunker, this created a humid chamber, the nitrate rich water circulated the bunker through the vapour and the rest is history. Abundant plant growth, purified water, proteins. Life.
Bunkers are routinely inspected by other Aero’s like myself, some of my old colleagues in fact. They say they are checking to see if we are ‘well’.. Sometimes they forget I was once one of them. They are seeing if we have died yet. Below our bunker lies the secret to our community’s unexpected prosperity. We no longer cultivate flora for traditional consumption as our yield is nowhere close enough to eat it, we breathe it. A few years ago I built a system below our bunker in the old hidden saloons, turns out my grandfather’s journal contained more than just the drawing for Biosphere 3.0. The community call the system ‘Lavandoye Legeki’.. Lavender Lungs to you and me.
Chapter 4 – Lavender Lungs
My grandmother suffered from a rare case of post-polio. She spent 15 years in and out of an old iron lung they dug up from the 50s. I was too young to understand what was going on. My parents told me she was training to go to outer space with Buzz and Aldrin. My grandfather hated these lies but promised my parents he would not reveal my grandmothers fate. Instead he showed me how the iron lung worked, how to maintain it. He would often say – “A negative pressure ventilator is all it is!” I was six… But in a way I understood. My grandmother could no longer control her muscles, her lungs being one of them, this chamber allowed her to breath ‘normally’.
My grandfather always had a ruler in his pocket, he drew the world with a technical eye. I would often see his hand moving in perfect vectors over the thin toothy paper of his journal, after my grandmother died his hands no longer conformed to a set of axis. He began erratically bending paper, folding it over, writing statements, painting with oil and coal. My mother told me he was venting, little did she know he was in fact in-venting.
The Lavender Lungs concept was the final challenge he left me, he had no idea how to build it, neither did I. I spent years testing old iron lungs, crystalline chambers and defusing matter to try and create his prototype. We have come a long way since then, each of the 30 pods in the Lavender Lungs is now capable of synthesising enough flora to sufficiently keep a human alive.. Indefinitely.
Chapter 5 – Transcendence
There hasn’t been a death in our bunker since the lungs were established. In-fact our older members seem to be getting stronger and faster. We are becoming something ethereal. Our understanding of the flora on the irrigation steps is becoming infinitely more complex, we can feel the elderflowers shiver as weather outside changes dramatically, we can smell the winecups shriek as the aeros approach for one of their unannounced inspections. Our very being is intertwining with the plant-life around us. We understand, we transcend.
“Mr. Speaker, thank you very much,” Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition and the Labour Party of the United Kingdom began, peering over smudged spectacles. “I would like to table a proposal which might be very much to the party opposite’s chagrin,” he gestured disapprovingly across the isle at Teresa May and the Tories. The camera cut to an image of a frowning Teresa May. It swept back to Corbyn and he directed the House of Commons’ attention to five images propped up behind him. “An optimistic vision of London and the Thames Estuary in the face of climate change.” He paused for effect, adjusting the red rose affixed to his lapel before continuing. “Historic experiments in urban idealism have seen dubious success. How can a politically ideal city enhance public space and empower public participation? These images…”
“Ohh shut it off please! It’s so boring,” groaned Mia, turning away from the television, dramatically rolling her eyes and feigning nausea. “Let’s watch cartoons instead!” She appealed only to find her parents asleep on the sofa, snoring contentedly. She switched the channel. Gosh politics really are boring, she thought, no matter what happened it was always the same.
“What could I do?” She pondered “That’s just the way it’s always been, and always will be! Right?” This kind of thinking had in fact carried on for quite some time; the seas were now ten metres higher and the weather much weirder. Her little London house was swamped by the flooded Thames. Water seeped in, bubbling under her door, sending the bed and dresser drifting sleepily about the room. Instead of slippers she had a pair of red boots that she would slip on to patter off to the loo.
One day a strange voting package arrived for Mia. She tore it open and discovered a miniature voting booth, a ballot card, and a strange set of instructions titled “Capital for the Collective: The Labour Miracle, a Spatial Referendum”. How curious, thought Mia, reading on.
This package contains the following:
(1) The exploration of the relationship between political idealism and urban formation within the context of climate change.
(2) A critique the threshold between ideology and pragmatism
(3) Instructions for how to return public space by empowering altruism, and civic philanthropy
(4) Instructions in community construction, demolition, and participation
Mia examined the ballot card’s four options, Protect, Provide, Participate, or all of the above. She scrawled a wobbly ‘X’ for ‘all of the above’ and deposited the card in the box remarking wistfully, “I do hope this makes voting fun, otherwise the afternoon will be terribly dull.”
There was a blinding rose coloured flash! In a dizzying instant Mia found herself on a boardwalk weaving between half flooded English row houses. Around her sprouted a strange and wonderful landscape at the edge of a floating city. Birds nested in old chimneys and ducks alighted from the reeds squawking furiously. In the distance Mia saw a series of grand red citadels punctuating the horizon. Closer still stood a twinkling carnival of a building with trellised walls that rose and fell like lungs exhaling puffs of a strange aromatic smoke.
“Why, it’s a grand trellis of vegetables!” Mia cried, passing under a fluttering red banner that read “Welcome to the Labour Miracle!”
“What is this place?” Mia asked a man trundling past with a vegetable laden wheelbarrow.
“Don’t you know? This is the Labour Miracle!” lectured the man, “Once upon a time there was a great political quagmire where nothing got done.
Finally, we all got together and cast our vote to imagine a sovereign city that harnessed climate change to return public space to the people! The city sits on sea level rise inundated London and the Thames Estuary. An architectural vision of optimism where exaggerated ideology is manifested in public space.”
“That sounds familiar but, I’m quite sure I don’t know what that means,” replied a perplexed Mia.
“Well,” said the man pointing out across the watery expanse, “you’re at the gateway to the city, the New National Health Service. Take the ferry to a Labour Citadel and see for yourself!” At the end of the dock Mia found the ferry, a strange vessel —a red double decker bus, but instead of wheels it was fitted with an inflatable hull made of patched orange life rafts. On board Mia discovered that the benches had been replaced by bicycle seats and pedals, together the passengers propelled the ferry forward.
The Strawberry Fields Forever stretched out around them as they peddled, translucent inflatable allotments bursting with bustling people plucking fruits and vegetables from bulging hydroponic growing beds. Enough food to feed all of London was harvested and brought to the towering Ministers of Tax and Spending which slowly wandered the flooded streets. Mia could smell their sweet fruity aroma before she saw them, standing like giant jelly puddings with workers climbing the scaffolded structures preparing red berries and fruits to make gigantic puddings which let off a delicious pink steam.
“Those puddings are for the people,” a distinguished looking woman next to her said as she pedalled steadily in her long frock and ornate ornithological hat. “It’s election day, do you have a ballot?” Mia felt the red ticket in her pocket and showed it to the woman. “Fantastic, deliver your ballot and there’ll be a great party, with pudding!”
Ahead the beautiful clay brick Labour Citadel towered up from the water. The inhabitable citadel wall was made of modular blocks each the size of a home. Disembarking, they rode an elevator to the Promenade Gate which stretched out across the flooded land connecting public spaces. Posters plastered against the brick revealed the splendour and scale of the Labour Miracle. The promenade was amidst a joyous celebration. Slices of flooded London were preserved as elevated Public Space Arcs. Students spilled out from the tented National Education Service buildings where they learned how to provide for their city. Below, Mia could see the bustling industry, employment, and labour of London protected from the rising sea by the inhabitable walls.
Above Mia inflatable candy coloured Champagne Socialists tottered and bobbed in the air while gigantic spools of printed political manifestos cascaded to the ground, swooshing through the air like twirling skirts. A confetti of glittering red ballots danced around her filling the air with frenetic excitement.
“How fantastic!” She exclaimed excitedly. People danced and sang and Mia was taken up in the crowd to a crystalline voting booth that leaned out over the edge of the promenade so the whole city spread out in front of her, each of the Citadels a triumphant red against the emerald green of the water. Everyone was empowered with public altruism. Mia, excited to return to the festivities quickly, filled out her ballot. As she slipped it into the ballot box there was another bright flash of ruby light! When she opened her eyes, the wonderful world had disappeared only to be replaced by her bedroom. Through the wall she heard the crackle of the television.
“Mr. Speaker we are the voice for change in our society because more people, particularly young people took part in this vote. They took part because they wanted to see things done differently and they wanted their parliament to deliver that change.” Mia smiled knowingly empowered by her participation in the Labour Miracle —it was all because of her magic vote. Slipping on her red boots she splashed over to the television to watch, next to her slumbering parents.
The trans-national Parliament for Political Climates generated more aid and legislation since its inception than any of the previous national Parliaments combined. Member 197 was reassured by this knowledge as she looked out across the expansive interior. There were rumors that the Parliament’s boundaries were infinite, but 197 suspected otherwise. It must be an illusion she thought, a trick of the eye — a metaphor for the expansiveness of the problems that were being faced.
Member 197 was running late, having overslept from a particularly difficult session the previous day. She felt weary but determined as she returned all of her personal items to her locker. Her identification number was stamped squarely into the face of the reflective metal. It read 197- 062. She was the 62nd person from her region to attend these parliamentary meetings since the Parliament’s formation 22 years ago. At the Parliament for Political Climates, each member was from one of the 413 coastal regions within the Indo-Pacific, and it was each of their jobs to represent their region in the legislation of climate-change. Although she was just a single person from a small island off the coast of Australia her opinion had equal weight to those belonging to larger nations.
197 was here to represent her region’s interests and foremost to draw attention to deteriorating habitats all around the world. She often thought chaos loomed just out of sight, affecting her every action and consideration. She slowly stopped to clear her mind while she slid the zipper of her comfort suit to its closed position at the nape of her neck. Gazing up, a field of large trusses loomed above her, arranged one after the other like soldiers marching for the cause. Pipes and ducts were arranged in a flexible grid pattern infilling the empty space within the structure, only leaving gaps for skylights that opened up to the exterior. Each pipe was distinct in size and color, but together they made up a dense web capable of producing almost any climatic condition imaginable. She knew the ducts could operate like traditional mechanical systems, producing airflow and humidity, but she also recognized that the vents and tubes could generate more sinister elements like smog and acid rain.
Barefoot, she began hurrying to the day’s first meeting, soil passing through her slender toes. There were many things that felt familiar in the parliament, but an equal number of unknowns. She recognized the beautiful eucalyptus growing along the lockers’ edge but had never seen the small animal that was hiding in its shadow. That was the nature of the parliament, nothing was as expected. She reached her destination and began listening to the discussion. The ground was bare; hardly any grass peaked through the trodden soil. Many discussions had taken place in this area days before, and from its disheveled state, she could surmise the previous meetings had not gone particularly well. This thought troubled her, but beyond she could see a new forest had taken root. Peering into the foliage, 197 could make out a baby deer lying near its mother. This brought a smile to her lips and reminded her that success happens every day at the Parliament; when balance is achieved habitats thrive.
It was three hours into this strenuous meeting on carbon dioxide emissions for the southern region of the Philippines when the atmosphere suddenly changed. Sweat began to bead across her forehead. She could tell her breathing was becoming strained. With urgent glances, each of the 15 members began to sit on the moist ground. They were running out of time and conserving energy would be crucial in order to come up with a swift conclusion; otherwise, the humidity and temperature would continue to rise.
The pace of their decision-making increased exponentially when sitting, and 197 began to feel the temperature decrease and her breathing finally ease. They made their final resolutions and a refreshing rain began to fall.
They had done well. Everyone began to rise with reassured grins on their faces. She suddenly wondered how the parliament’s vast mechanisms knew how and when to reward members. As if on cue, she heard a gentle whirring sound above their heads. Everyone looked up to see the shiny metallic orb, a non-human mediator known as a data collector was flying away. It was returning to its quadrant’s charging station after relaying the conditions of their decisions to the to the parliament’s mechanical systems.
She made her way back to the locker station. As she passed by a small group of members, she overheard the fierce debate about oil drilling off the coast of Sumatra. Passion was valuable in this place but it often wasn’t enough. It would burn bright and then fade. The most effective thing was to remain patient and focused with other collaborating members, and to use the Parliament’s harsh and changing conditions as a guide to finding potential solutions. She noticed member 333 lying on the ground but didn’t give it much thought, and just beyond the group she saw a pair of desert pronghorns veering away from the area to find a place that better suited their needs. She was not to interfere; it was part of how the system worked. Everyone knew the risks.
Increasing her pace she heard the faint chirping of birds. As she turned around, she saw a man holding a pressurized tank. The canister was releasing a hissing sound and after each squeeze of the nozzle, the bird’s chirping noises became more subdued. This was one of the responsibilities of the human mediators, to demonstrate how toxic gases like carbon dioxide, affect living things. This encounter only helped to further validate the decisions she made during her meeting.
As she finally arrived at her locker to rest, Member 197 felt relieved. The sound of falling water greeted her as Member 18 was showering off from his previous meetings. She watched him rapidly step in and out of the shower; his skin turned bright red each time the water touched his skin. The water was hot today, too hot. There was something wrong. Something was happening. The alarm sounded above her. She ran. She ran to her designated place while others fell in around her.
An emergency meeting had been called. Member 333 was in a more precarious physical state than 197 had realized. Her limp form was a visual illustration of the correlation between parliamentary decisions and the events taking place outside of the parliament. Each member was called to provide input on a recent oil spill. 197 knew that an environmental decision had to be made quickly for both the immediate health of member 333, as well as the citizens of the affected area.
Member 333 was slowly revived as actions were taken, and concessions between members were decided upon. It was in moments like these that 197 thought about her home the most. This Parliament appeared both innocent and jarring, and it had become an alluring destination both for legislators and the public. The afternoon sunlight streamed through the open skylights as the floating data collectors cut in and out of the light columns. She saw a slender giraffe stretching tall to look outside at the sun and feel the real breeze. Perhaps the weather was nice today, on the outside, the true side, as she liked to call it. Sometimes 197 could see constituents looking in on them from above. Some were suspicious and scared, but the majority seemed curious and hopeful. After all, the Parliament had managed to successfully place climate change policy at the forefront of the world’s attention. Since its inception, the Parliament of Political Climate had become an amalgamation of ecosystems, habitats, and a microcosm of legislative decisions designed to preserve life on Earth. The influence of atmospheric conditions was limitless within this subterranean interior, and the spectacle of it all would paradoxically prove to have long-lasting effects on the global reality.
Today is the day I am placing your urn in its resting place. I am sitting inside the Mortal Dome right now as I am writing this letter. It is my first time here, too. It is a huge dome filled with thousands of urns from all over the world. I have given it a lot of thought and decided to place you here. I am still not entirely sure if you would have approved being placed here. I always thought I knew you pretty well, but I am not so sure anymore. I mean, it has been years since we stopped talking to each other.
You have always been the most wonderful dad who supported me no matter what. So when I told you that I decided to follow a different religion than yours, I naturally thought you would be supportive like you always had been. If I had known that that was going to be the last proper conversation we were going to have, maybe I wouldn’t have told you about it in the first place. I still think about that moment all the time and I still don’t get it. I still don’t get how having different faith means we can’t connect to each other the way we used to. Yes, it is true we began to have differences over the years. Different rituals, different type of foods we can or cannot eat, different clothes for special days, different books we read before going to sleep and so on. But I always thought they were like any other differences we had like, my preference to coffee and your preference to tea. Your love for Cleveland Cavaliers and my love for Golden State Warriors. But we always ended up spending time together; sharing a cup of drink on late Sunday afternoons for all those talks we enjoyed so much and watching the NBA Finals together like it was an annual tradition for only two of us. When I was studying for the college entrance exam, you prayed to your god and I prayed to mine. When I did get in, I couldn’t tell or care which god answered who. All I remember is that you were up every night praying for me. I don’t know which god was listening to my prayers the day you had that accident because it was never answered. I just sat there in the hospital, at a loss, not sure who to pray to.
This dome is full of people from different countries and culture. I didn’t notice it at first, but now that I see it, many of the urns seem to indicate what kind of religion the owner used to have. A lot of people mourning for them seem to be wearing their ethnic or religious clothes as well. But, it doesn’t bother me the slightest, nor does it seem to bother anyone else here, because they all look like same black silhouettes to me. I don’t know if it’s the lighting or just my mood, but every single one of them looks exactly alike to me.
I guess being here reminds me that we are all the same, same mortals who all die in the end no matter how powerful or almighty their respective god is. It’s kind of funny to me because just the other day, I saw on the news that a country bombed their neighbor country for a war that started hundreds of years ago for some religious reason. I wonder people who died had any real connection to the religion they had to die for. Would they have thought it was worth it? Would it be worth it to make total strangers fight to death? I wish they could see what I am seeing right now that we are not that different in the very end.
So how is it up there? Are you happy that you are finally with the one you have been yearning all your life? Are you making excuses to your god for me, saying that I am just going through a rebellious phase and I will eventually go back to the old religion? To be frank, I couldn’t care less if you are looking down on me up there sitting next to your god or mine. All I know is that you are not sitting here next to me down here and I miss you. I could really use your comfort, your company like I have done my whole life. It has been years since we really talked to each other and it feels really good to finally talk to you. Not as a believer to another believer, but as a mortal to another mortal.
People who run this Dome told me that they let us reserve special spots and keep it empty if we want to be placed next to families and friends. I hope you don’t mind me being placed next to you in the future. I am sure my urn will look nothing like yours that have religious symbols and pattern. But, believe me, when you are standing here and watching all the urns from inside the dome, all you see are two urns that look exactly the same like any other thousands of urns placed here.
I hope to see you soon.
Yours dearest. Your son.
“The Mix Master is an iconic staple in anyone’s kitchen” – Kris Jenner, scolds her mother for not displaying her brand new appliance in an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Not long ago, women were defined by domestic duties. The cultural ideologies of femininity in the twentieth century centered on the performance of everyday housework through the rapid consumption of advertisements. These ads typically featured a feminine icon whose identity was mirrored by a tableau of pristine and shiny new appliances.
The marketing strategies of appliance conglomerates like General Electric or Frigidaire utilized a range of mediums like the magazine advertisements in Ladies Home Journal or television commercials to infiltrate the eyes and ears of both men and women. These companies effectively altered the discourse and visual media of an average single family household.
Refrigeration technology revolutionized the way food was bought and stored. The refrigerator quickly became an iconic symbol for modern lifestyle in the twentieth century along with the iconic image of the “housewife” expressing joy at its ability to keep groceries fresh. Gas then later electric ovens altered the preparation of meals and transformed cookery into photo-worthy displays. These ads not only appealed to technologies that would improve housekeeping standards but promised glamour and perfection while performing daily tasks.
Today new lifestyle standards are delineated by staging domestic tableaus with iconic artifacts like a “mix master.” These household items are used to sell desire by representing an identity: luxury, perfection, glamour, or beauty. Diligent consumers then imitate these images by buying and displaying their stuff.
With the influx of advanced media platforms the twentieth-century ad-man is dead. Instead, pop culture personalities are quietly influencing the design of interior spaces like the kitchen. And celebrity kitchens are the pinnacle of today’s trend towards spacious and supersized luxury. Effectively, an unusual subculture is advertised inside Hollywood homes.
For example, clips released from Season 16 of Keeping Up with the Kardashians featured an intense dispute between three sisters of the family. They are gathered in a Kardashian home, and the camera follows Kim as she moves around the kitchen. Marble countertops are sleek and pristine, emptied of any unsightly messes. A few pots rest on the stove yet no remnants or leftovers of the presumed meal are visible. High-tech appliances shimmer in the background begging to be bought. Every predictable cliché has been indulged as if the reality-star took a page out of an Architectural Digest magazine. However, the perfect tableau of the kitchen conflicts with the drama between the Kardashians. What would a kitchen look like if it radically mirrored the identity of its users?
The stuff usually hidden behind cabinets and within drawers would be scattered across countertops.
Dishes cracked from an unknown force maintain their usability.
Spills are not accidental but purchasable.
Chairs are crossbreeds of cute and familiar forms.
Hordes of kitchenly artifacts are deviously assembled on a shapely island.
The perfect image of the kitchen is more like a staged crime scene for new purchasable consumables.
Together the identity of the user and the kitchen radically coexist to produce an unusual interior experience. It promises an escape from the realities of housework. But It requires a forensic study of the entire tableau.
The viewer is confronted with several choices: to laugh at its absurdity, to be horrified by the graphic imagery or — armed with a credit card in hand — venture to the nearest IKEA, Target or Home Goods store to buy this stuff.