Monday, July 27, 2009

reading Utopia

Utopia / by Sir Thomas More. First published in Latin in 1516

"Well, the island is broadest in the middle, where it measures about two hundred miles across. It's never much narrower than that, except towards the very ends, which gradually taper away and curve right around, just as if they'd been drawn with a pair of compasses, until they form a circle five hundred miles in circumference. So you can picture the island as a sort of crescent."
"Aircastle is built on a gently sloping hill-side, and its ground plan is practically square. It stretches from just below the top of the hill to the river Nowater, two miles away, and extends for two miles and a bit along the river-bank... Right up to the town, and for several miles beyond it, there are strong tidal currents which change direction every six hours."

"The streets are well designed, both for traffic and for protection against the wind. The buildings are far from unimpressive, for they take the form of terraces, facing one another and running the whole length of the street. The fronts of the houses are separated by a twenty foot carriageway. Behind them is a large garden, also as long as the street itself, and completely enclosed by the backs of other streets. Each house has a front door leading into the the street, and a back door into the garden. In both cases they're double-swing doors which open at a touch, and close automatically behind you. So anyone can go in and out- for there's no such thing as private property."

More's description of Utopia starts with a detailed description of the (non) site and continues with an account of Utopos's manipulation of the peninsula to detach from the mainland and form an island. This first act in the making of Utopia is acknowledging the natural surrounding and situating in relation to it. An island as a self contained parcel can be fully controlled as a closed system. In More's Utopia, a perfect order (and therefore happiness) is achieved due to absolute control over all variables. Every person is accounted for, through the position of the Stywards whose job is to make sure no one is idling, while they should be working for the benefit of the community. all cities are built according to the same plan, all houses are identical, all Utopians wear the same dress. Utopia asserts only one plan as the right one. Under this plan, all must be equal, and to achieve that, similar. Utopia is the ultimate experiment in control, it allows no re-organization, self identity or free-will. In a non compromising world of no change, Utopia and Dystopia are two sides of the same coin.

Was More genuinely envisioning Utopia as the ideal society? Or was he using it to criticize his own society? Could Utopian thought be used as more than a rigid (unrealizable) system of rules? I would like to believe it can act as a vehicle of change, allowing people to envision a better way of life. However, in a (post) post-modern world Utopia must become a different thing altogether. It must incorporate contradicting visions, complexity and evolution. Perhaps 'Heterotopia' is a more fitting term, since it speaks of an 'other-place' or 'places of otherness', as opposed to 'Utopia' which is a 'non-place'.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Site specific

Choosing a site in this vast emptiness, or appearance of, is not obvious. It is tempting to look for an existing urban form to intervene with. However, the thesis is concerned with how infrastructural systems can be stretched to provide an added economic value (energy export) while creating a renewed sense of community. It appears that the best strategy to achieve this would be to start with a 'tabula rasa'. The determining variables will then be the existing large scale infrastructure, natural or man-made. The site considered is the intersection of wadi Pharan and Road 40. Pharan is an ancient watershed, the largest in the Negev, which is today dry most days of the year. During rare rainfalls it overflows, draining the entire Negev Plateau. Road 40 is bisects the desert connecting its northern node Beer-Sheva, with the southern one Eilat. This road functions as a life line for all the Negev's communities, connecting them to the electrical grid and the national water carrier. They both meet in the very center of the Negev, a distance of approximately an hour away from any other populated settlement. Following is a closer examination of the four potential sites and their relationship to the Wadi and the road:

Monday, July 20, 2009

spirit of a place

In his travels through the 'holyland' Mark Twain's impressions of the Negev desert were as follows:

· “There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent- not for thirty miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation. One may ride ten miles, here abouts, and not see ten human beings.

To this region one of the prophecies is applied: "I will bring the land into desolation; and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it. And I will scatter you among the heathen, and I will draw out a sword after you; and your land shall be desolate and your cities waste.” No man can stand here and say the prophecy has not been fulfilled.”

The Innocents Abroad- Mark Twain

Seeing familiar places through a foreigner's eye is a transforming experience. A century
and a half later, the Negev seems much the same. Traveling through it is always a point A to point B adventure, in which midway idling is an impossibility. Localized initiatives and settlements are scattered through out, yet still this is an unconquered/unrealized wilderness at Israel's very backyard. A backyard comprising approximately 60% of this much contested land.

Monday, July 13, 2009

inversing the grid

As customary, a working abstract is in order...
Here it is, as per today's revision.


In the context of global climate change and an escalating energy crisis, leading to further desertification of arid zones among them the Negev desert in Israel, this region, as many other drylands, is faced with prospects of a bleak future. A state of crisis brings about a need to re-examine and inform a re-organization of social and urban structures, as a pre-requisite for prosperous survival within this complex ecosystem. At the dawn of a renewed and urgent search for alternative global sources of energy, the Negev is presented with the opportunity to utilize and capitalize on its most abundant resource: solar radiation.

This thesis will explore how communal ideologies and urban texture co-evolve dependently of one another. It will suggest new paradigms for a post carbon world, mainly in the planning of community infrastructural patterns. In the particular case of desert communities, it will propose the inversion of the electrical grid to a multi-directional system. Energy production is envisioned as a viable source of livelihood for such remote communities, enabling them to shift from a consumer to a producer role. Such shift will inevitably destabilize the existing urban grid and with it an outdated social structure in need of reconsideration.

This context represents an opportunity, embedded within the obvious crisis, to re-envision desert communities. Inspired by a critical look at a rich array of earlier visions for this area, from the biblical profits to David Ben-Gurion’s ideas of a flourishing Negev, this work wishes to establish a contemporary vision of a sustainable, diverse and productive desert society.

desert event

constructing a desert mythology

Myth 1
To call Acacia a city, would be an unreasonable exaggeration in the eyes of a foreigner. To the naked eye Acacia consists only of four trees arranged around an unused well. Nevertheless, this is the oldest city in the world. It appears in any map ever depicting human civilization. In a universe of vast emptiness, Acacia is a spectacular event.