SPECULATIVE LANDSCAPES 2014-2015
UG5 is interested in the contemporary landscape. The term 'landscape' emerged around the turn of the sixteenth century to denote a painting whose primary subject matter was natural scenery, natural forms (hills, lakes), occupied by flora and fauna.
A landscape is, therefore, an idealised depiction of the natural world, flattened from a single perspective and produced for consumption. It is by definition a human construct, a cultural fabrication. We have particularly focused our research on the landscape as a speculative terrain. We refer to speculation in its double connotation: as exploited for profit but also as a place for experimentation and innovation. On one hand, the natural environment is increasingly the subject of exploitation for food, goods, and resources, driven by speculation and profit. Intensive agriculture, mining, farming, waste processing and other industrial activities have eroded these natural settings into manufactured landscapes: highly processed terrains, often of surreal and striking beauty, On the other hand, these remote natural sites are often testing grounds, fuelling technological progress. From the simulation of space travel to nuclear weapon testing or the calibration of fighter planes and satellites, these activities leave a mark on the surface of the earth sometimes as important and lasting as geological shifts. They also enable technological progress, problematising preconceptions of the distinction between natural and artificial. From this standpoint, we associate the lands cape with the place of future vision, forecast and imagination. 'Speculation' implies risk, conjecture and imagination, which we adopted as key notions for this year's tasks. In this context, we considered how these sites could become springboards for visionary and exciting architectural interventions and programmes.
We asked ourselves: what is the future of the contemporary landscape? We travelled to the American Southwest in search of these mutated landscapes and constructed terrains and considered their possible futures. We visited Utah, Nevada and Arizona, where we witnessed intense case studies of these speculative landscapes exemplifying the complex dynamics between super-artificial environments and untouched natural habitats. We studied sites such as Cinder Lake, a simulated moon landscape on earth; the Bonneville salt flats, where ground speed records are consistently broken; the Yucca flats, testing site of the first nuclear bombs; and the Great Salt Lake, where infrastructure and industry have transformed ecology and physical qualities.
The unit is run as a laboratory, a testing ground for experimental thinking, encouraging creative and intellectual risks in developing personal architectural agendas for the projects. We speculated on how a small architectural intervention has the potential, like a seed, to precipitate a sequential transformation of the site's environment, reversing, accelerating or simply evolving its entropy, its genetic code. The technological blossoming of these seeds prepared the terrains for new possible activities and programmes, for building structures that redefine their genius loci.
York Tsing (Nerissa) Yeung,
Ren Zhi Goh,