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The following news articles are geared toward students and other professionals.
Constructing the Anthropocene Print E-mail
Monday, 27 February 2012 18:56

[Bingham Copper Pit, Utah]

Predicated upon accommodation humans have become one of the geologic forces affecting the earth. Growth required materials and energy. And to produce those forces, extraction is required from deep within the earth to reach material made from millions of years of geologic pressures. Technology has allowed us to hasten certain geologic processes at our will.

Many scientists believe we have ushered in a new epoch of the collective affect of human intervention on biological, physical and chemical processes on the Earth system, they are calling it the Anthropocene. The Royal Society in one of its papers describes the name as “a vivid expression of the degree of environmental change on planet Earth.” It means that human activity has left a “stratigraphic signal” detectable thousands of years from now in ice cores and sedimentary rocks.

[Coal slag heap pile, West Virginia]

We can imagine geologists many of years from now studying the stratification layers and wonder how our epoch will unfold? Could it mark the end of an era caused by a self-inflicted catastrophic event, digging and burying ourselves out of existence. Or might this layer reveal the change that occurred at a period where the foresight to design our own geology perhaps delayed such an outcome. The boundaries between epochs are defined by changes preserved in sedimentary rocks—the emergence of one type of commonly fossilized organism, say, or the disappearance of another. The speed at which vast amounts of non-organic material can be produced might define a shorter geologic time frame. One that is conceivable to occur within our own, or our children’s time, even containing multiple layers.

The Bingham Copper Mine in Utah is one of the biggest man-made depressions in the world, it can be seen from space. Operating for more then a century now the mine represents one of the largest zones of human existence. Faced with the thought of what happens to the mine when profitable extraction ends, the operators looked to Robert Smithson to engage the mine. Rather then hiding the scars, Smithson proposed highlighting the violence of the creation of the negative hollow form, the realisation is made into the revelatory through physical manifestation. Bingham is of course only one of a long list of Anthropogenic zones of extraction. By 2250 most of the natural resources will be mined out of the Western US, leaving 100,000 square miles of reclaimed landscapes.

[Landfill Mountain]

Cities are possibly the biggest human geologic intervention. New York City, as stated by Friends of the Pleistocene, is its own geologic force. Buildings constructed from local sandstones and schist from the triassic and jurassic period form skyscraper canyons of transformed rock, at times aligning celestially with the sun displaying the phenomena of time in the same way stone monuments have done for millennia. Before the Pangaea split, the tallest mountains in the world stood where the skyscrapers currently sit, mimicking there scale, constructed from their remains.

The dredging of the harbor and digging of tunnels continues to altar the shape of the coast. Governor Island’s current form was created with the 4,787,000 cubic yards of fill excavated form the Lexington Avenue Subway tunnel in 1901. Battery Park extended Manhattan southward into the harbor using debris from the 9/11 attacks. The major shipping routes in New York Harbor need constant dredging. The Army Corps of Engineers plans to extract  roughly 2 million cubic yards of dredge material from the Harbor each year, that material most often getting shipped out of state to landfill or abandoned mines to be disposed. The dredgers artificially repeat the process that created the harbor, scraping the bottom sediment as the Wisconsin glacier did 12,000 years ago. The city is in constant flux due to it’s own geo-dynamics that will continuously transform it for thousands of years to come.

[Anthropocene Construction Sketch. Image by Adam E. Anderson]

We are focusing on the “Anthropogenic” layer of waste. The effort and energy of extraction, production, and disposal of fossil fuels, geologic commodities, and construction is awesome in scale, as well as the waste material created as a result.. The now closed Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island New York is monumental, reaching over 150 ft. in some areas and containing some of the most noxious chemicals known to man. It is a human geologic event, an archeology of excess caused by rapid city growth and abundance. The landfill upon becoming full, and closed, becomes a mountain. In the case of Fresh Kills it was treated as a massive wound, covered with little acknowledgement to the toxic human generated strata below.

We seek to understand the fear associated with waste that results in its displacement to marginal landscapes, often to the detriment of low-income inhabitants. Part of this fear we believe stems from how many view nature as idyllic memory of it without us. Landscape paintings from the romantic period depict pristine wilderness’s and disregard the reality of human development, which inevitably leaves behind the ugly, waste. The images of Field Operation’s Master Plan propose a similar notion of nature rescued, with renderings of flowered covered meadows, and as critic John May refers to as “wholly fantastical Photoshop collages of upper-middle class recreational enjoyment.”

[Anthropocene Geologic Construction Timeline. Image by Adam E. Anderson]

The critique of the Fresh Kills proposal stems from its contribution to the perpetuation of the fallacy of pristine nature, especially in urban conditions, and when, and only when we are able to think beyond these ubiquitous idyllic notions can innovation in how waste is treated in the urban system occur.

This is a proposal of constructing this layer of the anthropocene in a way that challenges how we view waste, not by romanticising it, but by giving it authenticity, by accepting the ugly and transforming it into a perpetual functional organism of the city.

The landscape architect becomes not only a designer of landscapes but of geologic processes. The landscape architect is contracted to a project for life, continuously sculpting the site at his will. The landscape becomes a long performance, and the architect its conductor.

 


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Copyright © 2014. Robert Hewitt | Clemson University professor of Landscape Architecture.
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