Work title: Suspended Harvest: Smog Farming in Mexico City (0000901766)
For when the morning breezes blow toward the town at sunrise, if they bring with them mist from marshes and, mingled with the mist, the poisonous breath of creatures of the marshes to be wafted into the bodies of the inhabitants, they will make the site unhealthy. -Vitruvius, 1 AD
The practice of urbanism has long been concerned with the capture and release of vapors.
While early conceptions of air were that of an absence, a vacuum, there was always a hint of something more. Until the 19th century, there was a fear of the air at night, which, unilluminated, was believed to carry disease and miasmata—a fermentation or vapor that arose from rotten soils, swamps, or slums and contaminated the air. The unruly vapor permeates the history of health from Vitruvius to Florence Nightengale. Miasma was attributed to nearly every health concern, from epidemics of plague and cholera, to nighttime colds and chills.
In 1624 the alchemist Robert Boyle published Suspicions about the Hidden Realities of the Air, and advanced the notion that air is not a homogenous vacancy, but rather composed of bodies of minute material from a number of sources. Air is no longer singular; suddenly, its bodies are countless—a multiplicity, operating at n dimensions.
And what new bodies began to augment this multiplicity? The industrial age brought a wealth of new sources—coal, steam, petroleum. And within these clouds of steam, hazes of smog, and volumes of gas, our cities ran. Because of its chemical nature, this air could be felt within—it produced violent reactions from the body; coughing, inflammation, and respiratory disease. The slow poisoning of nitric oxide… In the modern age, miasma becomes reality.
In a post-oil reality, it is the waste of today that will become the fuel of tomorrow. Brownfield energy crops for biofuel, methane from landfills, wastewater treatment powered microbial fuel cells. . . like the oil man of the previous century, the landscape architect is an environmental prospector. What, then, might a heavy body of air have to offer?
The intervention for this project will treat this contaminated edge, between industrial reality and the atmosphere above, as a potential resource, and seeks both remediate and to harvest from it.
The Smog Harvester is a synthetic life form, crossbred from an animal mother, cultural ephemera, environmental phenomena, and technological innovation. An intervention that hinges between Spanish baroque, modernism, and a visceral horticulture; between relics and the almost-imagined. It feeds, it responds. Electric and biotic—a charged fog attracts, and a mangy skin sweats the environment, a physical precipitation. Smog particulate is absorbed, processed, and excreted in wetness. It breathes in rhythm with the train lines, the oscillation of traffic. The city moves and the creature heaves. The beast slips through its territory; it lingers, it hangs, it vanishes.
This animal is mythological, in that it is born as much from culture as it is from nature. Its bones are vaulted, its joints are machined, its surfaces are tooled. Yet it holds no nostalgia, nor speaks of morality. It is a register—it absorbs, it reflects. It thrives on industrial byproduct—and when that disappears, it will migrate.
Maintenance and care of the Smog Harvesters becomes a cultural practice. The construction is not the Other, but it is worn, it is mobilized by humans. It exists in multiple forms, at multiple scales. It is domesticated—it requires maintenance, grooming, adjustments.
What features of the Smog Harvester cannot be readily perceived within the Continuous Fog are imagined; thus, each beast is unique to each citizen.
According to Delueze and Guattari, this animal is a State animal; yet it is state-less.
This is a project about a practical mythology. Ecological remediation and sustainable practice will only become commonplace once the dominate culture has mutated and a desire emerges. While “green” is largely a current consumer fad, it will need to assert a larger role in the collective consciousness beyond consumptive products. It must place itself within the cultural motivations and desires. As capitalism is defined by the principle of accumulation, the emerging ecological practice will take on a new definition, and thus a new practice. A story is told, a myth is born.
Not mimicry, not imitation, not nature but a continuous augmentation, a biologically extended surface. Through our breath we are united with our environment…