Monday, October 29, 2007

That's Some Pig!!!!

Album Cover to Pink Floyd's Animals (1977)

(On the architectural significance of the pig). At a review this past Friday, I was admiring a student project that placed pigs and humans in close quarters. This lead to some excessive ruminations on the iconography of the everyday pig. For another class, Emily Thompson remarked that pigs were the "SUV's" of preindustrial society. Pigs were on the brain.

But while considering the student project, I remarked that the greatest statement concerning the architectural significance of the pig comes not from a designer, but from Pink Floyd. Yes, that Pink Floyd. I was remarking specifically on the cover to the band's 1977 album, Animals. The cover art features a giant, inflatable pig flying through the smoke stacks of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's Battersea Power Station. According to Pink Floyd's website, the inflatable pig was launched during the album cover photoshoot, in 1976. A marksman was on hand to shoot the pig in case it broke free from its moorings. On the second day of shooting, the pig did become unmoored, and flew onto incoming Heathrow traffic, causing delays. Heathrow control tracked the pig up to an altitude of 18,000ft, asking all traffic to be aware of a giant pig flying in the area. The pig eventually landed gently on a pasture.

Pink Floyd's pig is heavyhanded symbolism. Animals was famously inspired by George Orwell's Animal Farm, and thus the pig is associated with control (Pig="Pig"=Police). But the image of a pristine, plump pig flying in between Battersea's massive cooling towers ... one would not be surprised to hear Raymond Williams or Leo Marx invoked. And the latter is especially poignant, as Animals tracks the reintroduction of the garden into the machine.

Images of Jeffrey Shaw, Pig for Pink Floyd (1977) (Source: Medien Kunst Netz)

Although we can thank Storm Thorgerson (a member of the English graphic design collective Hipgnosis) for Animals' cover art, it was Jeffrey Shaw, an architect, who created the inflatable pig for Pink Floyd's North American tour in 1977. The pig, designed to fly inside arenas, above people's heads as the band played on, definitely echoed Shaw's own thoughts on architecture, spectacle, and pneumatics. In a 1969 article for Art and Artists entitled "Concepts for an Operational Art", Shaw declares architecture as a "multi-state and responsive morphology of structure." Shaw continues:
The environmental planning of an age is not neutral ... rather it is the expression of the prevailing attitudes, and when in existence it reinforces those attitudes by structuring the basic elements (house, street, city landscape) from which we infer the structure of the whole. One of the main festures of the present environmental design programme is a monumental rigidity which precludes any significant role or identity of the user. It is the same third-rate democracy as the political structure as a whole ... the range of freedom given (voting and furniture) is demeaning. To counteract this and again indicate to every individual his capacities as architect of the totality, an alternative form of environmental situation is envisioned which is in itself as undetermined as possible, depending for its life and forms on participant action and invention. Pneumatics seem at this moment to be one of the mose useful means of realizing this programme. But not as a futuristic fantasy on paper, but as an event in operation now, confronting the institutional monolith in its midst (1969: n.p.).
Indeed, for Shaw, the rock concert and the flying inflatable pig may as well be indicative of a "particular structuring of art/architecture/spectacle/technology" that "makes operational an expanded arena of will and action open to everyone" (1969: n.p.). Yet the pig's delicate slalom among the power station's slender towers remind us of a different type of inflatable spectacle.

Plaque commemorating a 1915 Zeppelin Raid on London, Farringdon Road (Source: Paul Frink)

From 1915 to 1916, the Marine Luftschiff Abeitlung (Naval Airship Unit) introduced the new L20-type Zeppelin to bomb Allied land and sea targets. L20's were the largest airships of their day -- they were 163.5 meters long and 21.7 meters in diameter, and could carry a payload of about 16,000 kilograms (around 16 tons). On January 31, 1916, nine L20's under the command of Korvettenkäpitan (Commander) Peter Strasser set out for a nighttime assault on Liverpool. The weather conditions were poor along the English coast, and through a series of navigational errors, the assault fleet ended up lumbering over East Anglia. The L14, commanded by Kapitänleutnant (Lieutenant Commander) Alois Boecker, started attacking targets in Tammworth, Overseal, and Swadlincote, with little effect. He turned the L14 towards Darby, and hit several high-profile targets with high-explosive and incendiary bombs: the Rolls-Royce Factory and Testing Track, the Metallite Lamp works, the Midland Railway's Carriage and Wagon Works, a lace factory, as well as some open sites and minor industrial buildings. According to a 2001 article from the Derby Evening Telegraph, the casualties amounted to 61 dead and 101 injured. In nearby Scunthorpe, results from the same air raid tell that the victims included "three people and a pig."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Built To Last

Yucca Mountain, Nevada

A very interesting set of propositions. First, how do you build something that will last 10,000 years? And second, 10,000 years from now, how do you let others know that you've built this something? This is especially important if the thing you've built is designed to store, of all things, nuclear waste.

As we all know, the controversial Yucca Mountain Repository is a giant site located inside a mountain designed to handle and store spent nuclear reactor fuel and radioactive waste. Because of the long half-lives of the various radioactive materials to be stored inside the mountains, the Department of Energy took on the task on building a structure that would last as long as needed to accommodate the 10,000+ year process of radioactive decay. This type of building would prevent contamination of human environments at least until other types of technologies can be developed to handle the problem.

As part of the contract, the Department of Energy entrusted the Nuclear Regulatory Division with creating signage to be deployed at Yucca Mountain warning future generations of what is actually inside the mountain. According to the U.S. Office of Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM), the signage system placed along Yucca Mountain constitutes "a redundant message system consisting of perimeter monuments, smaller markers, and larger monuments serving as information centers" that "would convey information by an unnatural-looking design, the strategic placement and use of materials, and the use of many languages and symbols."

Artist's rendering of one of the monument/information centers at Yucca Mountain (Source: OCRWM)

The OCRWM continues:

A series of tall enduring monuments about 25 feet high would be placed along the site’s perimeter as well as on and near the mountain’s crest. They would be designed to be noticed and to endure natural events, even water from future floods or the build-up of sand dunes deposited by wind. The warning messages on the monuments would be inscribed in several languages as well as pictures and symbols. The languages that would be used are the six official languages of the United Nations: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. The messages may also be displayed in some simplified form of the sign language used by the hearing impaired. Linguists have recommended that a variety of picture symbols be used, including perhaps a unique international symbol for “nuclear waste repository.”

These messages would be inscribed about 40 inches or higher above the ground’s surface to prolong legibility. To better withstand corrosion and erosion, the monuments could be constructed from either granite or basalt. The messages must survive natural forces and remain legible and comprehensible as long as possible. Natural factors to be considered are abrasion from wind-borne particles, general surface erosion, and “desert varnish,” a dark coating or polish often found on rock surfaces after long exposure in desert regions; desert varnish is typically caused by a buildup of iron and manganese oxides.

The shapes and dimensions of the monuments are also important factors. The current concept calls for the perimeter monuments to be six-sided cones pointing upwards at varying angles. As shown in the schematic drawing, they would rise out of the ground above the repository near the larger monuments, as well as around the entire surface perimeter of the underground repository. They would be designed to be unnatural-looking so they would draw attention, but not be misconstrued as memorials of honor.
The monuments would be accompanied by a series of "nine-inch warning markers ... anchored into the ground and easily visible by a wandering human being. These markers would be designed as a redundant message system. To ensure the markers would last, they could be made of diverse durable materials such as granite, fired clay, and stainless steel. Each marker would display the international radiation symbol and one of the written messages."

Site plan of OCRWM's system of monuments and signage at Yucca Mountain Repository

The project is ambitious in its scale, to be sure. One wonders about the degree of detachment one must employ in order to be involved in such a project. After all, NRC and OCRWM are designing for a time when natural and non-natural landscapes will be altered, when such surfaces will bear the mark of unforeseen climactic change, and when humans will have a completely different relationship with their environments.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Malaria! - Geld/Money

A (198x) video from Malaria!, a totally fascinating band affiliated with the Neue Deustche Welle (German New Wave). This video is (I believe) part of the permanent collection at K21/Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Taking Stock

Aggregät456 has been around a little over a year now. You wouldn't know it, especially since I post so infrequently, and especially since I received relatively few comments. I have all this site-meter-tracking stuff, which kinda gives me an idea of who reads this website and when. But honestly, I have a difficult time reading these, seeing that such apps are primarily designed for those who are trying to maximize the return on their investment.

Which is to say .... that has nothing to do with this website. And I cannot really tell you what it's about. Yes, I study architecture. I write about architecture. I think about it during my waking hours .. I have to, it's my job. This site first started out as a way to hash out paper ideas for school. Then it became a place to place aborted paper ideas. And then, a place to repost papers or projects I have previously written. And now?

Today, I visited, a site that (along with Speedbird, BLDGBLOG, and others) I frequent daily. Kazys' latest post is a totally apposite commentary on the nature of blogging, a post that is rightly critical and tacitly pessimistic about the relationship between self-publishing and the built environment. But what struck me about the post was a link to a top-ten list of architecture blogs ... a list that includes this very website.

Aggregät456 is listed as a "must read." Although I am incredibly thankful for the positive encouragement, I have to ask, a must read for who? Architects? Urban planners? Graduate students? Undergraduates? Dilettantes? Enthusiasts? I only ask because the site never aspired to much more than a virtual notebook, a place where I could communicate with the very ideas and images that continue to interest me to this day.

In other words, I share Kazys' own ambivalence about online publishing. I wonder how this site will change over time. I already changed the color scheme. That's something, right?