Posts Tagged ‘geography’

Enveloped: A TBE SHORT

In Thoughts on July 25, 2011 at 6:06 am

While a brutal heat wave gripped Chicago, a massive blanket of fog advanced from the lake and closed down every single one of the city’s beaches, due to zero visibility. In one lakeside neighborhood it was 75 degrees; in a landlocked area it was 86 and felt like nearly 100. It was surreal to see from nearly any vantage point, but from the air, it’s especially incredible.

Shock and Awe: failed landscapes and amphibious homes

In Excerpts, Thoughts on May 25, 2011 at 2:45 pm

The other day my friend Dan voiced a thought I’d been having for some time now: ‘It’s pretty fascinating,’ he said from across the table, ‘how disasters can actually create beautiful things too. Like, climate change—there’s gonna be some bad stuff, but there’s always a lot of cool, really beautiful things that come out of our destruction.’ I’m paraphrasing, obviously. I tried to get at his conversational, yet insightful tone, but I don’t think I succeeded.

But I’d been thinking similar things since reading Jared Diamond’s account of the early settlement of Iceland, how after they arrived in their boats, settlers went about raising grains and sheep just as they had in the British Isles. Though at first glance the island appeared to be similar topographically, Iceland was unique in geography and climate, which greatly affected its growing season. Eventually, 96 percent of its forests were gone, and half of its grasslands destroyed. “By the 1800s,” wrote Stephen Leahy in Earth Island Journal, “Iceland had become Europe’s largest desert; the people starved, and the once prosperous country became one of the world’s poorest.”

So when you go look at Iceland’s beautifully carved geography, its vast ravines and barren moonscape, know that it is a wasteland. A product of human failure, the utter destruction of nearly an entire people. Yet we would be telling ourselves only a half-truth if we were only to mourn this landscape. We can’t deny its beauty any more than we can deny the beauty of a photograph taken of a storm that might go on to kill hundreds of people.

Thinking of our ecological future reminded me of a brief description in Jim Shepard’s “The Netherlands Lives With Water.” I’ve read more than my share of urban plans and proposals for when the world begins flooding—some hyperbolic, others frighteningly practical—and this one is one of the better ones, maybe because it’s fictional, but I’m guessing it has more to do with how realistic yet imaginative it is.

“Sea-facing barriers are inspected both by hand and by laser imaging. Smart dikes schedule their own maintenance based on sensors that detect seepage or changes in pressure and stability. Satellites track ocean currents and water-mass volumes. The areas most at risk have been divided into dike-ring compartments in an attempt to make the country a system of watertight doors. Our road and infrastructure networks now function independently of the ground layer. Nine entire neighborhoods have been made amphibious, built on hollow platforms that will rise with the water but remain anchored to submerged foundations. And besides the giant storm barriers, atop our dikes we’ve mounted titanium-braced walls that unfold from concrete channels, leviathan-like inflatable rubber dams, and special grasses grown on plastic-mat revetments to anchor the inner walls.”

Think this is just fiction? Amphibious homes? That’s exactly what Morphosis Architects created in New Orleans.The FLOAT House was built as part of Make It Right’s efforts, led in part by Brad Pitt, to make the Lower Ninth Ward livable again. The people at ArchInnovations explain:

“In the event of flooding, the [FLOAT House’s] chassis acts as a raft, allowing the house to rise vertically on guide posts, securely floating up to twelve feet as water levels rise. While not designed for occupants to remain in the home during a hurricane, this innovative structure aims to minimize catastrophic damage and preserve the homeowner’s investment in their property. This approach also allows for the early return of occupants in the aftermath of a hurricane or flood.”

Nothing is static. The world we know has already been greatly altered by past generations. The next time you look out onto a great plain, ask yourself if it was always barren.

Bill Rankin, mapmaker

In Excerpts, Thoughts on April 28, 2011 at 7:19 am

If you’re as fascinated by maps as I am, Bill Rankin—candidate for a dual PhD in science and architecture at Harvard—is someone to follow. His maps, cataloged at Radical Cartography, have been included in numerous exhibitions, including the traveling Experimental Geography (which, if it doesn’t, should include Leah Evans‘ textiles). Above is Chicago by race. Anyone who lives here knows how segregated the city is; Time Out Chicago recently reported that,

While Illinois leads the nation in electing African-Americans to statewide office, we’re actually the third most segregated urban area in America. Among the reasons for the concentration of blacks on the South and West Sides, and whites to the North: historical (and now illegal) housing and lending practices, the concentration of impoverished blacks in public housing towers, and the Interstate Highways Act of 1956, which resulted in expressways like the Dan Ryan being routed through African-American neighborhoods in Chicago, further dividing black and white enclaves.

More maps below. Washington, DC, by income. Below that, a strangely disorienting one that takes a moment to grasp. I’ll let you figure it out.

History maps, happiness maps, DIY oil spill maps

In Excerpts, Thoughts on March 19, 2011 at 8:00 am

I’ve recently stumbled onto some maps of an abnormal nature…

History Map

An apartment-finder website created a Map of Chicago History, a geographic map that instead of pinpointing restaurants and music venues marks homes of famous mobsters, sites of important but long-gone structures, and events of historical significance.

Just blocks from our apartment is the home of Jens Jensen. And a half mile east, Nelson Algren’s residence.

Happiness  Map

Self-reporting isn’t the best type of data, but The New York Times’s attempt last week to “map the nation’s well-being” is an interesting interactive thing. Discover the cartographic patterns of depression, health-insurance coverage, and satisfaction with our communities.

World Typographic Map

Typographic maps aren’t new, but this one by Chicagoan Nancy McCabe (designahoy) is simply arresting.

US Bike Route System

A group is embarking on a historic effort to create an interconnected system of bicycle corridors throughout the country. The map it’s created shows realized routes in solid lines and future routes in faint, highlighted ones.

DIY Oil Spill Maps

GOOD reports on Grassroots Mapping, a team that for about a hundred bucks can reproduce the aerial photos that normally require satellites or at least private flyovers.

“During the media blackout, when FAA regulations prevented aircraft from flying lower than 4,000 feet above sensitive areas of the [Gulf oil] spill, Warren and the Grassroots Mapping team flew balloons and kites and captured incredibly vivid images of the oil spill’s impacts. Using simple online cartographic tools, the photos can be stitched together into bigger maps, like this one of the Lake Borgne wetlands east of New Orleans captured on June 11th of last year.” [Photo: GonzoEarth.]


Opening image.