Change of Seasons in Compressed Time

Marey, Pelican in Flight (via muhka.be)

Marey, Pelican in Flight (via muhka.be)

In some ways the opposite of the work of Marey and Muybridge, wherein what occurred over a short amount of time was slowed and explained in fragments, I have included below a video that compresses what occurs over a longer period of time into a shorter and more understandable timeframe. From what I believe was late October to mid-December, I photographed a tree outside my apartment window each morning, the daily images of which are presented here in a time-lapse that – because it has the ability to demonstrate long processes in a short time – shows what I would have missed otherwise. In this case, I have found myself surprised by not only the daily variance in light levels and shadows, but by the quick pace at which the leaves finally changed after a prolonged summer.

Aquaculture as an Aesthetic Waste-Eliminating Food Production System

Please find attached my final research paper here, which studies three historic and contemporary aquaculture systems and their implications for improving not only our agricultural system, but the way in which we understand and distribute waste.

Fish Pond, Pompeii

Fish Pond, Pompeii

Kolkata Wetland System (via Google Earth)

Growing Power (via Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education)

Growing Power (via Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education)

On the Ecological/Web City/Paradigm

Gormley, Collected Sculptures

The representation of the ecological/web city or paradigm is in many ways its imagination.  We are very much still in the paradigm of a city – a world – dependent on (and with the privileges and disadvantages of) using mass stores of energy in fossil fuels.  Time and distance have compressed, and in the process we have largely lost an understanding of restraint and the constraints of the natural world.  As a result we find ourselves in need of a new paradigm, one that is not entirely new (as it returns to some extent to a balance with nature achieved by some societies in the past) and simultaneously must address wholly new concerns and thus prevents a nostalgic return (as we now must address the needs of unprecedented numbers and with the tools/privileges/responsibilities engendered by modern technology and science).  Yet though this world is not entirely new, the representation of the ecological/web paradigm (or however we come to term it) is nevertheless an exploration of the potential, the perhaps, the world as it is not yet.  And so in effort to give form to these ideas, I have included below what I think may constitute this new citytype/paradigm at the human, building, city, and world scale.

What I believe will be a defining characteristic of this paradigm is a figure/field relationship that, while still recognizing the individual, understands that the individual is of the same material/essence as its surroundings, what to me is jointly Buddhist and scientific.  In the realm of the representation of the human, in the history of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man or Corbusier’s Modulor, I can think of no better representation for the human in the ecological/web paradigm than Antony Gormley’s sculptural series entitled “Feeling Material.”  He writes on his website that many of the sculptures in this series are created through a matrix of rings, which uses an “unending spiraling line that span[s] a web around the body, orbiting close to the skin and then spiraling out into space: an energy zone.”  The body is visible in the field, but very much a part of it, and the boundaries between the individual and the environment – of the same material – become indistinct.

Gormley, Sculpture in "Feeling Material" Series

At the building level, I believe that the return of/to nature is paramount.  More specifically, instead of imagining the building or street as separate from nature, it becomes instead new ground; the artificial enables the natural, and in turn, through not only awareness of natural cycles but as their “aid,” we reject the concept as being distinct from nature and instead help enable its processes in our built environments.  The figure remains, but it is dissolved and acts as enabler.  To this end, I have included what has been new ground before – the ruins of Ta Prohm at Angkor in Cambodia – which, like many other former temples and cities, has become a base for the natural.  Although this image represents to an extent a collapsed society, it is nevertheless a hopeful one – that through this understanding, a sustained society can exist and can create environments that not only enables its own livelihood, but that of other systems.

Alex Dally MacFarlane, Ta Prohm, Cambodia (via alexdallymacfarlane.com)

Alex Dally MacFarlane, Ta Prohm, Cambodia (via alexdallymacfarlane.com)

Approaching the city scale, I would further the two previous representations with the addition of the concept of decentralized centralization.  Through decentralization, the hierarchies of former cities and organizations begin to dissolve and democratize, but in terms of city form, this is joined by smaller centralizations to enable very basic urban needs: walkability, access to transit, et cetera, all the while maintaining connections to one another and permitting the infiltration of the natural.  To this end, I include Richard Register’s drawing of a modified San Francisco, a city in centers that are connected to one another and separated, with nature and agriculture filling the interstitial spaces and its surroundings.

Register, Ecocity (San Francisco as Decentralized Centralized Units)

Register, Ecocity (San Francisco as Decentralized Centralized Units)

Finally, the new representation of the world would not be complete without its gradual broadening in scope and scientific exploration.  As the map expanded to include the “New” World, so too must the map expand to include the world’s place in the universe.  As we do not know the nature of the universe or its form or number of dimensions, this map below cannot expand beyond our paradigm – but it can demonstrate what we do know: that we are a part of a much larger system, and that we can begin to give the components within it names.

Earth in Universe (via shareme.com)

Earth in Universe (via shareme.com)

On Invisible Architecture and Storytelling

Rahm, Digestible Gulfstream (via Diffusive Architecture (diffusive.wordpress.com))

Response to Behnisch, Rahm, and Addington Readings

Storytelling in architecture – which I have perhaps incorrectly defined as intended communication from the architect to the visitor/user of the architecture – is a question that has risen for me multiple times in previous years.  I must admit that at the beginning of my studies I was partial to it; as an undergraduate, where my studies in architecture paralleled those in English, I found that the texts we read at times had influence on my architectural projects, and that the joint study of architecture and narrative was not unfavorable.  It had in fact influenced my work in two central respects – in helping to clarify my own ideas about a project and, in a manner more directly applicable to narrative, in the way in which I hoped to communicate ideas about a site or a program to imagined users.  I had found, for instance, that the question of building in a historic area in St. Paul became slightly unmuddled through the filter of Garcia Marquez – that the purchase of a mirror in Love in the Time of Cholera because it had held a woman’s “beloved reflection” for more than two hours asked essential questions about memory, absence, and subsequent alteration of what had come before.  Or that, while designing a visitor’s center for an archeological site in Oaxaca, a narrative of moving from the low-lying region of the commoner to the raised site of the elite was more important than one fixated only on the latter.

Despite what I thought were relatively successful projects at the time, I had gradually considered such an approach – designing with a narrative in mind – to be less and less convincing.  Why raise this issue now, then, some four years following the design of those two projects?  Despite this lack of interest in recent years, I found Phillipe Rahm’s criticism of the concept of storytelling in “Meteorological Architecture” to be highly frustrating – partially due to the fact that I could not determine why I suddenly disagreed, and partially because a potential answer only came weeks later, in lines and lines of data.

Behnisch and Transsolar, From Energy.Design.Synergy

The data offered by Behnisch Architekten and Transsolar Climate Engineering in the catalogue of their exhibition Energy.Design.Synergy is, to an extent, what Rahm offers in various projects of his own – use of a quantification of the everyday, of what we can see and what we cannot.  What became explicit in the excerpt above, however – which led to a better understanding of Rahm’s work – was that Behnisch connects this data to the human condition.  By extension, it is made clear here that quantitative knowledge of what makes us comfortable, healthy, et cetera, helps us become so when used accordingly, and that at the confluence of the age of information and various environmental crises, we can sort through the overabundance of data to help create the architecture we need to address the issues of potentially greatest importance.  Moving through such an architecture is to experience a narrative of our time, and to an extent, of other times.

In returning to Rahm’s work, it became clear that despite his own efforts at removing himself from the narrative, to make a “story-less” architecture open to multiple interpretations, he nevertheless created a narrative – one that is not unlike the work of Behnisch, and which perhaps proposes instead an even more effective category of storytelling for architecture.

Digestible Gulfstream (featured at the top of the post and below) attempts to be a “landscape that is simultaneously gastronomic and thermal,” utilizing the information of the human comfort level to provide a variety of conditions, supplemented by foods that cool or heat the body.  What results is an exploration of the invisible, or the work of an architect who wishes for visitors to his project to be able to experience aspects of the world they may not be aware of on a daily basis.  With an emphasis no longer on the visual, Rahm creates architectures of various other kinds – meteorological, gastronomical – but always makes these other architectures known through the human body, through sensation, and connecting it to that which surrounds and interacts with the body.  What results is a different understanding of humans and nature than what has existed for numerous decades.  In fact, his work may be a successful answer to a question posed by Michelle Addington in “Contingent Behaviors”: instead of an architecture in which a person is separated and protected from the surrounding environment by architecture as envelope, Rahm’s work uses small technological and other systems to control temperatures and comfort and thus permits a more substantial connection to the surrounding environment.  As such, in an age in which encouraging the public to be more conscious of natural cycles is of great importance, the dissolution of the architectural envelope and the emphasis of the surrounding environment is in many ways a narrative of value comparable to that of Behnisch’s work.

Rahm, Digestible Gulfstream (Thermal) (via Phillipe Rahm Architectes)

Rahm, Digestible Gulfstream (Food) (via Phillipe Rahm Architectes)

To this end, Rahm’s work could be argued to be very much about communication, of emphasizing the invisible and providing feedback to the users about their experiences – through their consumption of different foods and their location relative to the sources of heat or cold.  In fact, I would argue that instead of rejecting the concept of storytelling and the single interpretation, Rahm does what the best authors do: provide a narrative that permits exploration, of multiple interpretations, of continual reward upon returning again and again.  With this definition of storytelling in architecture, of multiple interpretations, of reinvestigation of human-nature relationships, of indicating to this and future generations that some of us worked to address the issues of our time with the tools of our time, I must admit I have returned to an extent to how I approached architecture in previous studies – as an English major.  The question, potentially, is not whether such a narrative should be intended or included, but what that narrative should say and through what means it should be communicated.

(Note: Perhaps the most ironic aspect of Rahm’s rejection of storytelling (unless the irony of lack of understanding is placed on my shoulders) can be found in the images he uses to describe the Gulfstream: a comic strip, which in addition to describing the progressive activities of the Gulfstream’s users in its frames, also includes an image of a woman reading about the project while using it.  The strip outlines one potential interpretation, one set of actions conducted by one set of people, of which there would be many more – and in case they did not understand how to use the Gulfstream, it came equipped with a set of instructions of its possibilities for use.  Perhaps Rahm is here trying to leave the storytelling to the comic and the book – and not the architecture – but I would argue the narrative and communication nevertheless remains in the piece itself, and is in its own way a storytelling architecture of today.)

Rahm, Digestible Gulfstream (Storytelling) (via Phillipe Rahm Architectes)

For the Roots of Music

Because I am in need of a place to share a film for Sustainable Communities, a planning course at the School of Architecture, I include here my only non-Systems, Sites, and Building post.  The film documents my studio’s trip to New Orleans this past September, where we met with the Roots of Music, a non-profit music education program in need of a larger facility to accommodate the high number of students currently on their waiting list.

For the correct video size, press the button immediately to the left of the Vimeo logo, then play, and then turn off scaling at the top right once full screen has been entered.

Waste, Food, Aesthetics, Aquaculture

Update on Research Project

In the process of looking at historic aquaculture systems, what became immediately apparent was that the artificial growth of fish can extend well beyond the realm of food production to include  the seemingly troublesome combination of waste management and aesthetics.  Indeed, in what was originally intended to become a technical investigation of aquaculture, I have gradually found that a broader perspective is a necessary counterpoint, as it seems that with looking at the growth of fish we can find ourselves investigating numerous essential issues ranging from the creation of ecosystems to microclimatic control.  To this end, my research has become focused on not only the growth of fish in artificial ponds, but also many of the related environmental topics that can be affected by/emanate from such a pond or tank.

To an extent, the fishponds of ancient Italy had already developed this network.  According to James Higginbotham, the inclusion of artificial fishponds, known as piscinae, at historic homes was as much a social and aesthetic act as agricultural.  As evident in the excavations and plans below, many affluent Romans maintained piscinae, an indication of social status and often a focal point of residences that was also a source of food.  In order to feed the fish, the caretakers of the fishponds would use organic waste to feed the fish, including decaying fishparts, assorted fruit, and dried figs in addition to smaller fish.  A highly aesthetic experience that also cooled the air through evaporation, fishponds were an important part of certain Roman residences.

Fish Pond, Baiae

Fish Pond, Baiae

Fish Pond, Tivoli

Fish Pond, Pompeii and Systems

Although this touches on a number of issues that might stem from fishponds, there are modern examples in which aquaponics has been used to treat waste to a much further extent, while still providing food production and a place currently enjoying ecotourism and great biodiversity.  As discussed in greater detail in a previous post (found here), a series of wetlands outside of Kolkata treats sewage from the city that is approaching 14 million in population – and uses that sewage in the production of vegetables and fully one-third of the city’s yearly fish consumption.

Diagram Exploring Systems at East Kolkata Wetlands

In continuing with modern investigations, Hans Haacke also addressed greywater reclamation through the Rhine Water Purification Plant (1971), a project that incorporated fish on a small-scale and indoors.  Although this project did not incorporate fish growth for food, the concept – in addition to his Condensation Cube – reminds us of the fact that many of the attributes of the Kolkata Wetlands and Roman fishponds can be incorporated indoors and at small-scale.  In doing so, all of the associated attributes of the fishpond can be brought within the home to numerous advantages, outlined in the final diagram below that will serve as the groundwork for the research over the remainder of the semester.

Haacke, Rhine Water Purification Plant (via Flickr user ipcsublime2010)

Haacke, Condensation Box (via carolynrordam.blogspot.com)

Indoor Fish Pond Possibilities

Sources for Research:

Bandyopadhaya, Tarasankar, et al.  Preliminary Study on Biodiversity of Sewage EFD Fisheries of East Kolkata Wetland Ecosystem. Kolkata: Institute of Wetland Management and Ecological Design, 2004.

Bunting, S. W., et al.  Workshop Proceedings – East Kolkata Wetlands and Livelihoods.  Kolkata: West Bengal Pollution Control Board, 2001.

Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe.  Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food.  New York: Free Press, 2002.

Ghosh, Dhrubajyoti.  Information Sheet on Ramsdar Wetlands. World Wide Fund for Nature – India (accessed September 17, 2010).

Higginbotham, James.  Piscinae: Artificial Fishponds in Roman Italy.  Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Juniper, Tony.  “Kolkata: Wonders of the Waste Land.”  Guardian Weekly (UK), August 6, 2004 (http://www.mindfully.org/Water/2004/Kolkata-Wetlands6aug04.htm) (accessed September 19, 2010).

Kundu, Nitai, Mausumi Pal, and Sharmistha Saha.  “East Kolkata Wetlands: A Resource Recovery System Through Productive Activities.”  Proceedings of Taal2007: The 12th World Lake Conference, edited by M. Sengupta and R. Dalwani, p. 868-881.  2008.

Newman, Peter.  “The Distributed City.”  Blog Post, Island Press, February 2, 2009. (http://blog.islandpress.org/300/peter-newman-the-distributed-city) (accessed September 18, 2010).

Ragain, Melissa.  Alchemy and Aquaculture: The Art of Ecosystem ca. 1970.  Master’s Thesis, University of Virginia, 2006.

Rome, Adam.   The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Royte, Elizabeth.  “Street Farmer.”  The New York Times, July 1, 2009 (accessed October 11, 2010).

Sumner, Jennifer.  “Sustainable Horticulture and Community Development: More Than Just Organic Production.”  Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, Vol. 33, No. 4 (2009): 461-483.

Yasmeen, Gisele.  Urban Agriculture in India: A Survey of Expertise, Capacities, and Recent Experience.  New Delhi: International Development Research Centre – South Asia Regional Office, 2001.

Alderman Library Bike/Bus Hub

Included below is the latest iteration of the Bike/Bus Hub, a project that has been designed primarily through the lens of thermal experience.  The project incorporates a bus stop,  at-grade bike storage for a bike sharing program, and an underground facility  that provides secure bike storage, showers, and changing rooms.  As described in greater detail in the following images (all of which can be found here: Bike/Bus Hub (Full Document)), the project attempts to create a variety of thermal experiences while meeting the needs of various users and facilitating an environmentally-conscious means to provide energy when needed.

Perspective of Bike/Bus Hub

Location of Hub

Thermal Experiences of Hub Visitors

Solar Canopy and Plan

Winter Thermal Conditions

Summer Thermal Conditions

Development of Bike/Bus Hub

Based on a series of drawings and diagrams that charted potential thermal experiences for various users of the Bike/Bus Hub from an earlier post (found here), the following drawings have attempted to ground those ideas in a measured model.  Visitors to the center, we imagine, would be able to access a bike share and a bus stop at grade, as well as take a bike underground for secure storage and a shower in the center of campus.  In doing so, whether a person waits for the bus or borrows a bike under a canopy of photovoltaics and solar tubes or uses the underground facility, that person will experience a shift from the heat of Charlottesville summer – enabled by the shade of the canopy or the moderation of interior temperatures underground by the cooler temperature of the earth.  Further, very stark changes in temperature are allowed through the showers – either through channeling water through the solar tubes of the canopy for hot water (details for which are found below and on Charles’ blog here) or directly through retention ponds to allow for cold water.  As a result, the visitor can experience dramatic shifts of temperature in the process of arriving at the center, using it in various ways, and leaving.

However, while the drawings below indicate that we have begun to create some of these thermal conditions, our discussion this evening stressed the fact that only four types of thermal conditions are allowed – the experience of the heat outside the hub in the summer, the drop in radiation provided by the canopy, the relatively cool temperatures allowed by moderating ground temperatures when the bike storage area is used, and the intense hot or cold provided by the showers.  Missing are designed transitions or gradients in between these spaces, the attention to the changing area after leaving the shower (which is for now left to the temperature of the rest of the underground space), and the attention to human-specific scale.  The design is also overwhelmed by one large thermal area – that of being underground.

More attention to these issues is needed.  Although by some measurements the model is relatively developed, it is largely undeveloped in terms of how we intended to design – based on thermal criteria.  By this measurement, what we have remains vague, undefined, and – to use an appropriate visual term – somewhat colorless.  Gradients and other elements, of course, will occur despite our lack of design intent in this regard, but I must in my next diagrams at least acknowledge their existence – if not learn from that representation how they might be manipulated.  There is more to come in this regard.

Schematic Plan (Hot and Cold Water Sources and Circulation)

Schematic Plan (Areas of Varying Temperature)

Schematic Section (Hot and Cold Water Sources and Circulation)

Schematic Section (Areas of Varying Temperature)

The Importance of Policy as Feedback in the Bay System

Assignment 3 – Response to the Bay Game, Second Post on Reactions to Bay Game

If the Bay Game is an adequate representation of the Chesapeake and the systems that bear upon it, then what must be the foremost of reactions to the play of the game is that when we remove ourselves from the “omniscient” aerial and enter into it, much of the knowledge gained from a broader systems view is lost.  Although the preparation for the game – and, indeed, the topics of the course – helped provide a means to see the interactions of the system and how to intervene in it, I must admit that despite my efforts to think broadly and systemically in my decisions, my actions remained largely blindfolded.  I still thought in terms of a system, but one that pertained far more to myself than that of the whole – that of individual finance.  I sat, surrounded by “locals,” who – if I may – were likely as blindfolded: there were connections of substantial importance between us, indeed with the class as a whole, but for all practical purposes we acted as islands.  The conversations I overheard were of financial concern, always.  The conversations I engaged in were financial.  Because it was the foremost graphic on the main screens, the thing for which we each were responsible, and the central means of feedback, the independent balancing of individual budgets seemed to be the driving force of the Bay Game system.

Although this last statement overshadows the fact that I and surely others attempted to meet financial needs while avoiding environmental harm (i.e., I only purchased infill properties to limit impact on existing greenfields), it might be argued that the Bay system is reduced for land developers to the following – with other elements and connections there, but unseen:

Interests of a Land Developer (Individual)

And of course, the impact of multiple islands of land developers acting independently weighs upon the system.  While seamen and farmers have at least some form of feedback loops (i.e., less marine life to harvest, increased need in pesticides/fertilizers to maintain crop harvest), the detrimental impacts of developers remain downstream and largely uninfluential on the rate of new property and land purchases, leaving them seemingly acting as islands without any indication of their larger impact.

Islands of Land Developers, All Acting Independently

However, although I was not fully aware of this while playing the game, I realized during the preparation of these diagrams that the game – and the actual system – does have an important means by which even developers can be informed of their impacts on the bay through runoff and land overdevelopment.  That is, although figures on development’s detriment to the Bay may not be provided, impacts to finances are: through incentives that encourage infill and sustainable development, the government has provided a means by which developers can respond to the needs of the Bay.  Included in annual reports of expenses of land and development were tax breaks or penalties for beneficial and harmful actions, which arguably pushes a developer to choose more wisely in his or her decisionmaking.  As a result, the reinforcing loop of “sales generating the purchase of land to generate more sales” becomes balanced by financial awards or incentives to limit environmental damage to the Bay, modifying the above diagrams as indicated below.  Formerly without visible ways of engaging the larger system, incentives now provide that route, that feedback.

Connection to Larger System for Land Developer

Incentives Provide Link to Larger System (Many Individuals)

If we expand to looking at the Bay system at a larger scale that involves fishermen and farmers before incentives, we can see the feedback loops evident for the latter groups – but not the developers.  The feedback loops that do exist for the farmers and fishermen, however, are as likely to reinforce hazardous or detrimental action as good:

Larger System without Incentives (Reinforcing Loops)

With incentives to limit pesticides, erosion, overfishing, and detrimental development practices, each of these actions begin to be balanced by policy.  Developers are encouraged to build sustainably and in the existing city; farmers are encouraged to minimize erosion and runoff; seamen are encouraged to fish at sustainable rates.  Although there are certainly limitations to such policy, and it proves very difficult to incentivise  in such a way that will maintain salaries and the environment’s health, policy here proves essential to balancing potentially reinforcing loops.  And the most important – the most effective part – of this is that it is directly applicable to finance.

Larger System with Necessary Incentives to Balance Reinforcing Loops

Although the above diagram only addresses indirectly the natural systems that was the focus of my previous diagram (seen here), I would argue that this model more accurately addresses the system of the Bay as defined by potential intervention/problem points.  My understanding of the Bay system is now one of independent actors with independent goals, each of which act primarily in the interest of their financial needs – because it is this that is largely the basis for survival in our society.  It is generally only with adequate wealth and food/supplies that we care for the environment; without this, as is seen in the Bay or in areas of deforestation around the world, we meet our independent, short-term needs before other concerns.  Through incentives that aid in meeting short-term needs, there is a means by which we can begin to break the reinforcing loops that might eventually lead to the collapse of resources and wealth that Meadows warns of.  Although the government that likely supplies these incentives is very much a part of the system in question, it has tools by which these reinforcing loops can be modified, improving the overall state of the Bay.  Without such balancing means, developers such as myself would act without a direct means to be influenced by any detrimental actions, which would lead further and further to the poor health of the Bay.  The model or diagram of the Bay system, thus, must have far greater emphasis on its human players than my previous diagram did, for only through understanding the independent human players in the system can its overall health – human and otherwise – be improved.

Potential Improvements to the Bay Game:

As indicated above, the foremost realization that came from playing the Bay Game was that it is difficult to remind oneself of the broader societal and environmental needs of a system when faced so aggressively with the needs to address financial concerns.  This, of course, is an important lesson to learn, as it helps us keep in mind that without feedback and without financial security, various stakeholders and actors pertaining to the Bay system can and do act independently and in the short-term – as I found myself doing despite preparation for thinking about the Bay as a larger system.  As a result, I would not change the game as it is played; the sense of loss of direction I gained in the game is important to experience.

However, I would argue that feedback remains essential – both for players following the game and for the real Bay actors and stakeholders.  Understanding – indeed, being taught – how the system might be improved is essential – and could therefore change the actions of the players of the game and the fishermen, farmers, developers, etc., near the Chesapeake.  To this end, I propose the use of a program that models the Bay system and all its inputs and connections that allows a single user to control all aspects of the game following a first trial, providing him or her with immediate feedback as to how a single action might impact the health of the bay, as well as the social and financial welfare of Bay stakeholders.  By allowing a person to see the impacts of a single action – and combinations of actions – on these issues, we might be able to better understand how to intervene in the Bay system – something that could be extended to farmers, developers, seamen, etc., in the Bay.  This comprehensive understanding of the interconnections between parts and how to leverage different aspects of the system would aid considerably in addressing Bay issues – and help leave players with a better understanding of how to intervene afterwards if they felt largely unsure, as I did, of how an individual might make different decisions to improve Bay health while addressing financial and other independent needs.

Carolin Horn, Jellyfish Program (Similar Groups Circulate)

Such a program could either be modeled after the existing game, but provide a greater vantage point – or, it could follow a system similar to that posted above and below, a video for which can be found here.  Such a program allows for a user to highlight one aspect of a system and see directly the related systems/connections.  Other related parts group around it, while systems with less or no bearing move away.  By clicking on two parts, the user is able to see the connections between the two elements, which would provide an opportunity to expand what is seen here to include the effects one system or change might have on another system – and what would happen to other subsequent, connected systems.  What results is a highly interactive visual aid that demonstrates what a single choice might affect, and which can serve the basis for other decisions in the intention of improving the Bay.

Carolin Horn, Jellyfish Program (Connections Evident)

Ancient/Emergent Agricultural Systems and Modern Technology: A Research Proposal for Urban Aquaculture

Illustration of Aztecs Building a Chinampa (via corbisimages.com)

We find ourselves at the confluence of two essential and far-reaching trends: that of exponential global population growth and what might be described as a collective forgetfulness.  As a recent lecture by Tanya Denckla Cobb of the Institute for Environmental Negotiation indicated, we are at a moment in history in which we must provide for the nutritional and other needs of an unprecedented amount of people, and yet certain aspects of knowledge gained over centuries or millennia to that end have been in the process of being replaced or superseded by elements of modern culture or technology.  As Cobb described, desert farming, for example – once a highly successful and widespread means of  food growth for indigenous populations of the southwestern United States – has become limited to such an extent that it may no longer be practiced within the coming generation.  Although the demand for food growth in such climates will continue – and perhaps expand with global desertification – this means of farming that has evolved or emerged through the trial and error of generations may no longer exist, largely replaced presently with a global, industrial food production and distribution system dependent on oil and modern technology that remains out of balance with natural systems and human needs.

It is in reaction to this larger global state that my research proposal arises.  Although I reject by no means the importance and potential promise of technology and am in fact an adamant proponent of vertical farming, I have a growing apprehension toward a dependence on modern technologies to address our current and future food needs.  Instead, I hope to investigate and expand upon the promises of modern technologies and vertical farming through technical and systemic lessons provided by millennia of previous agricultural experimentation.  Indeed, because agriculture is central to our establishment of cities, the issues addressed en route will not only be that of food generation but waste, quality of life, and others – thereby helping to place modern food growth in the context of historic and present natural and cultural systems.

Growing Power (via littlehouseontheurbanprairie.wordpress.com)

To begin to address this larger issue for this semester, I will focus on one aspect of a potential indoor or vertical farm – that of aquaculture, or the synergistic production of marine animals (e.g., mainly fish) and plants together.  In order to combine the lessons offered by both traditional and modern aquaculture, this will be based mainly on two in-depth case studies: the indoor aquacultural system evident at Growing Power in Milwaukee and the emergent fish farming currently in place at the East Kolkata Wetlands, which utilizes the sewage from the city to generate fully one-third of its fish consumption.  I will investigate in depth how produce and fish are grown and how these methods fit into natural and cultural contexts, as well as speculate as to how these systems might be adapted and improved for future application.  In addition to this, I will place both projects in a larger historic context, which will include other means to grow plants aquaculturally such as was evident at Tenochtitlan before Spanish conquest (seen in the image at the beginning of the post).

Considerable research from written sources will be needed to do so, some of which are included at the end of the post.  However, I will also be in need of help from primary contacts, especially for aid in understanding the systems in place at Growing Power.  I have contacted Growing Power for information regarding their facilities, and have also contacted Mr. Wayne Reckard at The Kubala Washatko Architects, who serves as project director for the forthcoming vertical farm for Growing Power’s expansion.

Although a considerable portion of the information gained from these case studies and historic context will be in written form, diagramming the systems graphically will be especially important both in terms of understanding the systems in place and their application to future farms.  In order to do so, I hope to extend beyond Meadows’ examples of diagramming systems to utilizing what Edward Tufte proposes in Envisioning Information, in which he provides a series of recommendations to help the clarity of communication of an complicated information graphic.

Although his recommendations and their application in diagramming systems effectively deserves a separate post, I have provided two diagrams here that I posted earlier in the semester when I was speculating about my research project that attempted to incorporate Tufte’s recommendations.  (A recent post about the East Kolkata Wetlands can be found here, and an early post about systems in vertical farms, in part a response to my introduction to Thinking in Systems, can be found here.)  I plan to combine the larger systems thinking of the latter image with the easily identifiable visual qualities of the former to help explain the systems at work in the case studies.

Diagram Exploring Systems at East Kolkata Wetlands

Diagram of Hydroponic Farming Systems

Therefore, through systems graphics and a narrative about these two case studies and other historic examples, I hope to discern and describe ways in which aquaculture can be produced sustainably and, through incorporation with surrounding natural and cultural systems, help contribute beneficially to other aspects of the built and natural environments.  Because a former employer of mine hopes to begin an aquaculture business in Minneapolis, as I mentioned in a previous post, I feel an especially immediate need to explore these issues so that his business might not only function well by itself but improve issues pertaining to waste, community engagement, and nutritional health of the surrounding area.  In this way, instead of relying fully on modern technology that may be divorced from the larger history of fish production, we will be able to grow fish in a way that demonstrates to a greater extent the wisdom of trial and error through generations of farmers.

Sources for Research:

Bandyopadhaya, Tarasankar, et al.  Preliminary Study on Biodiversity of Sewage EFD Fisheries of East Kolkata Wetland Ecosystem. Kolkata: Institute of Wetland Management and Ecological Design, 2004.

Bunting, S. W., et al.  Workshop Proceedings – East Kolkata Wetlands and Livelihoods.  Kolkata: West Bengal Pollution Control Board, 2001.

Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe.  Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food.  New York: Free Press, 2002.

Ghosh, Dhrubajyoti.  Information Sheet on Ramsdar Wetlands. World Wide Fund for Nature – India (accessed September 17, 2010).

Juniper, Tony.  “Kolkata: Wonders of the Waste Land.”  Guardian Weekly (UK), August 6, 2004 (http://www.mindfully.org/Water/2004/Kolkata-Wetlands6aug04.htm) (accessed September 19, 2010).

Kundu, Nitai, Mausumi Pal, and Sharmistha Saha.  “East Kolkata Wetlands: A Resource Recovery System Through Productive Activities.”  Proceedings of Taal2007: The 12th World Lake Conference, edited by M. Sengupta and R. Dalwani, p. 868-881.  2008.

Newman, Peter.  “The Distributed City.”  Blog Post, Island Press, February 2, 2009. (http://blog.islandpress.org/300/peter-newman-the-distributed-city) (accessed September 18, 2010).

Rome, Adam.   The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Royte, Elizabeth.  “Street Farmer.”  The New York Times, July 1, 2009 (accessed October 11, 2010).

Sumner, Jennifer.  “Sustainable Horticulture and Community Development: More Than Just Organic Production.”  Journal of Sustainable Agriculture, Vol. 33, No. 4 (2009): 461-483.

Yasmeen, Gisele.  Urban Agriculture in India: A Survey of Expertise, Capacities, and Recent Experience.  New Delhi: International Development Research Centre – South Asia Regional Office, 2001.