Today, as Frei and Bohlen remind us in MicroPublicPlaces, private interests prevail over public concerns. Political decisions are influenced by powerful private interests and private matters prevail over public concerns. The fracking industry is a case in point. It is driven by powerful, profit seeking private corporations accountable to nobody but their share-holders (see here), yet having profound and far reaching public consequences for the earth and all who live on it. The State such an industry finds ground in is not a public realm, but an institution or set of institutions to administer and manage these private households.
This model is profoundly out of touch with the reality of the anthropocene, the time we live in. This is the time of what Timothy Morton calls the time of “hyperobjects,” the time of things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans. They involve profoundly different temporalities and scales than the ones we are used to and do not fit neatly into the nested model of contemporary politics.
In Politics of Nature, Bruno Latour proposes an alternative model for a public realm to address this state of affairs, in which publics (plural) are mobilised around common matters of concern, or what he calls “things.” The word thing originally meant an assembly or a courtroom where people gathered to discuss a matter of concern. A thing is not a material object, but an event. Today, things are complicated networks of globally extending relations. It is this inherent public-ness of things that students were asked to make explicit in their studio project, the design of a new public place to gather humans and non-humans around a matter of concern they have in common. Non-humans (the earth, global warming, polluted water, birds, algae etc.) were to be given a voice in this dialogue, through science and / or aesthetics. Students were required to design the constitution or set of rules for this public realm to allow participants who do not agree to present their points of view; they were required to design a place where the thing could be enacted, both physically and virtually.
Claire Holton: MicroPublicTeaHouse
Our energy infrastructure is increasingly becoming fragile and less reliable with private interests prevailing over public concerns. Last years Christmas blackouts, show how unpredictable weather patterns can impact energy infrastructure. In response to this, my project proposes a prototypical MicroPublicPowerHouse employing off-grid geothermal heat and electricity in a village setting of Wareham, Dorset. The project is sited on existing public toilets that sit above a 1,300 m borehole, which was drilled by BP in the 1960’s. The site was chosen for its central village location and its geological properties providing 70 ˚c + heat. The project aims to bring the public closer to its energy source. Gathering human and non-human actors around a thing of ‘the earths heat’ creating a public resource for discussion and learning away from private control. Within this micro public place the earth’s heat is given a voice through a micro public tearoom and public washrooms. Here the heat is used to cultivate, dry and serve the tea, similarly washrooms are provided with hot geothermal water. The building is supplied with geothermal electricity. The public tearoom and public washrooms serve day-to-day rituals, while the centre as a whole provides one-off refuge facilities during extended blackouts for the community of Wareham. If a blackout occurs the MicroPublicPowerHouse can fuel surrounding public buildings (such as the community centre and the church) in Wareham with heat and light to provide extra shelter. It can also provide tea, hot food and washing facilities for those in need. The micro public powerhouse presents its self as a prototype for future public energy in and around the Isle of Purbeck. The prototype can be replicated, geology permitting, to deliver off-grid heat and electricity to the public.
Andrew Baker-Falkner: Hydrological Slice – MicroPublicWaterPurificationPlant
Numerous reports, conferences and warnings have argued that water will become the most important global resource in coming years. Increasing consumption due to a steadily rising population, along with localised events of severe water shortages in parallel with areas of extreme water saturation have resulted in water becoming a politicised environmental as well as a human concern. The controversial gas extraction method known as fracking uses approximately 18 million litres of freshwater per well per year, raising questions of the value of water as a resource in an age where there is increased pressure to maximise new energy production methods and technologies. This project deals with the dual aspects of environmental/human concern by filtering and purifying the contaminated water produced by fracking, while also encouraging people to think about water through direct and indirect experience of the process and the landscape it inhabits. The MicroPublicWaterTreatmentPlant is a linear water treatment plant regulated by speed of movement and views, forming an infrastructural / experiential / hydrological slice in the landscape.
Michael O’Hanlon: MicroSeismicPavilion
In the process of fracking the earth’s properties are irreversibly altered and the seismic waves produced have been known to reactivate nearby historic fault lines, causing earthquakes to occur more frequently and in locations that would otherwise be stable. The MicroSeismicPavilion explores the use and application of microseismic data as a tool for recording and experiencing the earth. It is part of a curated landscape experience, the Sonic Interpretation Centre, where invisible data meets physical landscape, experienced and comprehended as soundscapes. Data archives are exhibited in visual representation, through artistic visualizations and cartography.The Centre deploys instruments at a number of seismic monitoring locations corresponding to different geological strata in the Isle of Purbeck to enhance bodily experience of the surface topography and landscape. The data they gather is converted into sonic experiences of subterranean movement – the rumbling of earthquakes half a world away, the waves from ocean storms far out to sea and the twice-daily pull of moon and sun. This provides places for contemplation to consider big questions that people share, and to rethink our connectivity with the earth in the era of the anthropocene.
Alex Jaggs: Algae Observation Centre
This project is about how a built proposition and natural events come together. The scheme interrogates four hyperobjects: tidal flows, currents, intensive farming and global warming, and a single symptom resulting from the combined effects of all four, macro algae growth. Recorded instances of this autotrophic organism date back hundreds of years, but recently many sites along the South coast of England, including Poole Harbour, have seen an increase in the frequency and scale of algae blooms. Secluded areas of Poole Harbour such as Newton Bay provide the perfect growing conditions for algae species such as ‘Sea Lettuce’ and ‘Gut weed’ to thrive. Water runoff from fields within the Piddle and Frome catchment area carry agricultural nitrates to the harbour where they settle in areas of low tidal velocity, such as Newton Bay. The sun then bathes these nitrate rich waters and at the peak of July each bay is caked in a thick mat of algae. Consuming all of the available oxygen in the water and, consequently affecting a broad range of species, algae blooms are just one symptom of the Anthropocene. Located in a remote corner of Poole Harbour, I propose an Algae Observation Centre (AOC), an intervention to present, inform and theatricise the process of eutrophication and algae blooms. Those curious enough to approach will walk around the rim of a theoretical petridish and observe the algae develop as the currents rise and fall and sun passes overhead. Although an isolated research outpost for the Natural Environment Research Council and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the ARC is first and foremost an experiential space, one that highlights the hydrology of Poole Harbour and the consequences of the Anthropocene.
Lawrence Carlos: Institute of Environmental Ornithology
Human activity, land management practices, mineral extraction and climate change have all had and continue to have an alarming impact on the decline of bird species in the UK and their shifting migratory patterns across global territories. Poole Harbour in Dorset is a vital wintering ground for a huge variety of bird species but their presence in this region is increasingly at risk from direct and indirect man-made changes to this unique site. The Institute of Environmental Ornithology at Arne Lagoon aims to investigate and publicly reveal the myriad of factors that affect the behavior of birds as an indicator of the health of natural habitats and biodiversity. The design proposal facilitates both the culture of birding and academic research into the causes of bird population decline and distribution changes. In combining these programmes to create a new public sphere for issues surrounding habitat decline, the Institute’s purpose it to provide a curated habitat to locally safeguard and celebrate the existence of birds as an integral part of Poole Harbour’s ecosystem.
John Cook: Purbeck Seed Bank
This proposal looks further into the network of bioremediation strategies for polluted earth, namely to the collection, storage and distribution of bioremediating plant seeds. The investigation began with a study of the global network of existing seed banks, the information systems they use and procedures for the preparation of seeds for deep storage. Further research was conducted into the variety of plant species used in remediation strategies, the chemicals they extract, where their seeds are sourced and the costs of this procedure. A seed bank was proposed on the Isle of Purbeck as part of the existing network of global seed vaults to collect these seeds and preserve the diversity of remediating plan species, providing an armoury for future landscape remediation around the globe. The seed bank invites the public to observe the processes of seed preservation, highlighting the species, sources, quantities and economics of the operation, and the role remediating strategies play in relation to wide scale mineral extraction in the age of the anthropocene.