Alexander Kalli's graduation project for the Architecture department ADS3
 at the Royal College of Art offers a provocative reflection on the punishment system in the UK.

HMPark Life was triggered by the reaction to last Summer's England Riots: the public wanted to see the looters severely punished, courts were advised to hand out tough sentences, the Daily Mail suggested that incarceration might not be enough since -they wrote- prisons are little more than 'holiday camps' and the government stepped in with the proposal to subject inmates to 40-hour working weeks.

HMPark Life is a radically new type of prison that would be built in the middle of London. The project questions this drive to turn a prison population into a cheap labour force - one that works not just to provide skills to inmates in the name of 'rehabilitation' but forces offenders to be both visibly productive and punished to quench the public's ever-present blood thirst for justice.

The prison is modeled on the concentric circles of Hell in Dante's Inferno: the higher the offense, the harsher the punishment and the deeper within the Earth the sinner is sent.

Prison Canyon Section. Courtesy Alexander Kalli

At HMPark Life, the gradation of current UK prison security categories reflect this gradual increase in offense and need for security. The architecture of the prison pushes the analogy even further: it is built deep into the ground, with the most dangerous offenders finding themselves at the bottom of the structure. But the project also introduces an element of spectacle with the possibility for the public to come during their leisure time and gape at the prisoners.

With high security at the deepest point climbing up to an open prison at the surface of the offender-made canyon, this seeping of the prison into the well-healed high street of Herne Hill provides moments of inmate / outsider interaction in the form of a theatre, library and workshops. A public viewing platform perched on the prison main's circulation core provides an ideal point from which to survey the throng of productive inmates, leaving the public with the sense of satisfaction. This is the new panopticon.

Geological survey. Courtesy Alexander Kalli

I had to interview the young architect who brought Dante Alighieri and the Daily Mail in such close contact:

Hi Alexis! The project seems to be a reaction to last year's riots. Did any other event, piece of news, aspect of social or political life inspire the project?

While writing my dissertation, investigating the physical implications of Michel Foucault's 'Heterotopias', which are a series of principles that define the nature of what creates deviant/ synchronised/ paradoxical/ time based/ exclusive or inclusive and illusory spaces; I came across the essay Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard with the statement,

"The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth - it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true."

As a Londoner, watching the riots unfold on the rolling news from the safety of my suburban family home. I was not only astonished at the randomness of the violence, but also the erratic reactions to it. Passers-by, "social commentators", politicians, all had their own over-simplified and unsurprising takes on the events blaming education, the benefits system, bankers' bonuses and the X Factor. But as statistics started to emerge that a majority of the perpetrators had previous criminal convictions, everybody knew there was going to be some kind of reactionary policy making by the Conservative lead coalition Government. I didn't have to wait long.  

The Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced less than a month after the events sweeping changes to the way offenders were to be reformed in Prisons.  The phrases "providing skills", "rehabilitation through purposeful work" several weeks later turned into "offenders shall 'earn their keep'". Working a full 40hr week doing menial tasks like laundry or gluing light bulbs together and getting paid up to £10 per week.  

This apparent confusion over the purpose of skilling-up offenders or work as punishment is what inspired me to create HMPark Life. Rehabilitation was no longer for the benefit of the offender, but was a tool for the state to either reassure the liberal section of society that offenders were being offered skills to better themselves and the more conservative amongst us that offenders were being put to work as punishment.  

To me this resonated with the Jean Baudrillard quote.  With this new legislation what was now the purpose of being locked-up?  HMPark Life is the state's cover up that conceals the truth that it has no vision for the purpose of incarceration, only to appease the public.

Photo courtesy Alexander Kalli

Could you describe exactly how HMPark Life works? Its structure/architecture? In particular Dante's Inferno and the circles of Hell.

Dante's Inferno, the first part to the epic poem 'The Divine Comedy' acted not just as an allegory for the horrors and turmoils of hell but also for its clear programatic and spatial organisation. Throughout history there have been many versions of diagrams explaining the descending rings of hell and all follow the poem's stepped, conical canyon description bellow the surface of the earth, with Lucifer and a frozen lake at its deepest point.  The lower you descend the more heinous the sin one had committed. This logic seemed appropriate for a prison.  

UK prisons are divided into 7 different security categories, 4 specifically for adult males. Category A is the Highest security for those who pose the most risk to the state and public, B is for those who still pose a risk to the public but also is where remand prisoners are sent (those awaiting trial or sentencing), C is for offenders who cannot quite be trusted in an open prison and D is open conditions. This security gradient fitted easily with the Inferno and so by placing the highest security (greatest sin) at the base of HMPark Life with B, C, on levels ascending with the Open category D on the surface it gave the project a clear structure. From then on the rules were to keep the 'enlightened' programs such as the library/ visitors' centre and theatre on the surface and more arduous menial tasks such as furniture making or clay pit digging for those in the descending levels.  

Prisoners' circulation is always on the surface of the building to offer a full view to public onlookers while wardens are hidden in a warren of tunnels running behind the main structure. Everything in the prison is made out of bricks manufactured on site as part of the category B punishment. The idea being that the arc segment of prison would one day complete itself into a full circle. Cells have different sized window openings depending on the level of punishment while those at the very bottom live in hollowed out caves, barely above the water table. The architecture is borne out of a need to maintain secure barriers between each level and for the structure to securely hold back the earth. The building therefore becomes the surface of the canyon face.


Dante's Inferno also worked as a way of planning the views to depict parts of the project. The poem is divided into 34 Cantos or chapters, each describing Dante's journey further into the depths.  The Canto numbers on the views relate to the points within the poem that are identical to parts of the prison; for example Canto III describes the 'Lost forest' and the entrance to Hell, which in HMPark Life has become a woodland littered with trees disguising columns and the library/ visitor centre.  Some of which function as light funnels for the prison workshops bellow and provide perches for CCTV cameras.  Canto IX is the point at which Dante looks back at where he had come from, Canto V is where judgement of sins are passed deciding on the level of inferno, so here I show the public observation tower.  Canto XXXIV is the lowest point depicting the worst sinners' accommodation with cells of category A.

Photo courtesy Alexander Kalli

Photo courtesy Alexander Kalli

Why did you locate the prison in Brockwell Park?

Brockwell Park is just south of Brixton, where some of the worst rioting occurred. It acts as a barrier between the affluent neighbourhood of Herne Hill to the East and a large council estate to the West and contains the must have pleasant park facilities such as a restored 1920's lido, an organic community garden and tennis courts. It is also half a mile from the existing HMP Brixton.  

During my Research I discovered HMP Brixton to be the worst in terms of the Prison system's own ratings. No outdoor space, offenders spend up to 23hrs a day in their cells designed for one in the 19thC but now accommodating up to 4, unsanitary conditions, rat infested and the building is Grade II* listed so updating the facilities is bizarrely out of the question. By placing the prison in the park I'm merely following current legislation to its extreme.  

"Prisons should be built within close proximity to communities in order to form close links and aid integrating offenders back into the community" planning guidelines state.

London's inner city prisons such as Pentonville and Brixton occur in the midst of residential areas, behind high walls barely sign posted they almost disappear into the urban fabric. It was important to the project that opportunities were borne out of program conflicts with the context: Pleasure/ Punishment, Play/ Work, Freedom/ Enclosure.  

Finally with prisons being so over crowded, and London's prisons lacking in the legally required space then London's parks become an ideal site, especially since the prison is to be our prison and become part of our leisure time experience.

Image courtesy Alexander Kalli

Also i was wondering about the kind of people who would want to watch the inmates working. I suspect, like you probably did, that among them we'd find mostly readers of the Daily Mail. In my view, most readers of the DM are far more dangerous than prisoners. So what would protect the inmates from the public?

I did draw a lot of inspiration from the Daily Mail. It is always useful to look at something so opposed to your own opinions in order to draw something out of yourself.  The headline "Prison is a Holiday Camp" popped up a few times in the Daily Mail, citing inmates' ability to access TV (for a fee) and table football.  Though if you asked the inmates of HMP Brixton i'm sure their opinions would differ.

HMPark Life does not respect the inmates rights to a decent level of privacy. At the central point to the prisons arc is a public viewing tower. In Jeremy Bentham's 'Panopitcon' the institution, or prison warden lie at the centre of the plan, with uninterrupted views of the prisoners' cells. The point being the architecture creates the constant feeling of being under observation without a warden needing to be there. HMPark Life places the public at the centre of this new panopticon.  

There is a viewing platform for each level of security as you descend the tower. I imagined the more casual park passer by might take their children as a warning for misbehaving and perhaps the lower one goes you might come across characters like Jeremy Kyle, or a demonstration by 'Parents Against Pedophiles'. Now i'm thinking Gordon Ramsay would happily sit there with the Daily Mail crowd. I caught 5 minutes of his new series where he's getting some inmates of HMP Brixton to make fairy cakes, when I heard the tagline "Gordon Ramsay thinks it's time Britain's prisoners paid their way." I had to switch it off.  For a man arrested for 'gross indecency' in a male public toilet you'd think he'd want to distance himself from this issue of public humiliation as a form of punishment, unless this is a long overdue part of his community service.

Photo courtesy Alexander Kalli

HMPark Life would host different categories of prisoners. Do they mirror the already existing categories?

The categories of prison exist already.  But only in a few instances do prisons of differing categories occur on the same site and they never share facilities.  For example, Belmarsh Prison (Category A) is the UK's highest security Prison where those charged (or not quite charged) of terrorism are held. But next door is a male juvenile detention centre.  

HMPark Life layers these categories from D - Open conditions occurring on its surface to A - High security housed in the bottom of the canyon.  

Lina Bo Bardi, Sesc Pompeia (image manystuff)

Finally, i had a look into the publication that accompanied the exhibition at RCA. One of the chapter is "precedency study" and it features works by Herzog & de Meuron, Lina Bo Bardi's Sesc Pompeia, the prisons of Piranesi. Could you explain briefly how you draw inspiration from them?

References are important in trying to develop a language that informs the project whilst at the same time being sympathetic to the way I like to draw and depict. CaixaForum Madrid by Herzog & de Meuron was mainly a formal reference. The perforations and it's 'cragginess' being conducive in a way to design the caged exercise spaces of the inmates, with differing perforation densities in accordance to the level of punishment/ prison category. In Lina Bo Bardi's amazing Sesc Pompeia in Sao Paulo I was looking at the system of exposed circulation and the ruthlessly efficient series of walkways that jut between its two monolithic towers.  The most immediately obvious precedence I drew from was Piranesi's Carceri d'invenzione (imaginary prisons) etchings.  HMPark Life's 4  'Cantos' used the same techniques of awkward angled view points and constricting the image inside the frame as well as a disorientating sense of scale.  In Piranesi's etchings it is quite hard to judge how big this world is until he places a crumpled figure somewhere in the foreground.

Thanks Alexis!

Sponsored by:

Flyhead Helmet, from the Environment Transformer project. 1968. Zamp Kelp, Ortner, Pinter, Haus-Rucker-Co. Image courtesy Ortner & Ortner Baukunst

Archigram, Superstudio, Ant Farm, Haus-Rucker-Co. It's hard not to get excited by the radical architects whose work started to appear in the late 1960s.

For some obscure reason i haven't been able to locate the wikipedia entry about Haus-Rucker-Co. but if you're curious about their work, there is a lot to (re)discover at the retrospective of the Viennese group currently hosted by WORK Gallery, near Kings Cross: inflatables capsules for two, parasitic structures, breathing devices, utopian ideas, helmets and pneumatic prostheses. It's critique of architecture and architecture as critique at its best.

It's almost shocking to see how, 40 years after their inception, Haus-Rucker-Co.'s ideas might still be relevant to anyone interested in art & technology, public interventions, immersive environments and (critical) design.

The exhibition, titled Inner World / Innen Welt: The Projects of Haus-Rucker-Co., 1967-1992, shows archival drawings and collages, photographs, models and original ephemera spanning Haus-Rucker-Co.'s 25-year collaboration. The show marks the 20-year anniversary of Haus-Rucker-Co.'s dissolution. Haus-Rucker-Co. was founded in 1967 by Laurids Ortner, Günther Zamp Kelp and Klaus Pinter, later joined by Manfred Ortner. Already working together as Ortner & Ortner on major building commissions from the mid-1980s, Manfred and Laurids Ortner went on to develop an extensive portfolio of built projects, propelling the preoccupations of Haus-Rucker-Co. into a new realm.

Hasty tour of what you can see in the exhibition:

Oase Nr. 7, a personal oasis with a diameter of 8 metres protruded from the façade of the Museum Fridericianums during the 1972 Documenta.


Haus-Rucker-Co, Oase No. 7 (1972), in Kassel. Image courtesy Ortner & Ortner Baukunst

The Mind Expander allowed two people to isolate themselves from their environment and enter in spiritual communion with each other (maybe?!?)

Mind Expander, 1967. Image courtesy Ortner & Ortner  Baukunst

Mind Expander, 1967. Image courtesy Ortner & Ortner Baukunst

Mind Expander, 1967. Image courtesy Ortner & Ortner Baukunst

"The Mind Expanding Programme aimed to explore the inner world, and to improve the psychological capacity of those who took part in the individual elements, as well as those who witnessed them in some way."

Ballon  für  Zwei, 1967. Image courtesy Ortner & Ortner Baukunst

Gelbes Herz (Yellow Heart), a "communications space-capsule for two people".

Yellow Heart Plan AA, 1969.jpg
Gelbes Herz (plan), 1968. Image courtesy Ortner & Ortner Baukunst

Gelbes Herz, 1968. Image courtesy Ortner & Ortner Baukunst

Nike was an installation for the Forum Metall Linz exhibition. The photographic replica of the headless Victory of Samothrace was projected upwards from the rood of the University of the Arts. The works sparked a debate about the work itself and the state of contemporary art. After 27 months of controversy, it was discreetly removed under the cover of the night.

Nike, 1977. Image courtesy Ortner & Ortner Baukunst

The Inclined Plane was an element of temporary architecture that visually separated Vienna into two halves. The half towards the inner city was bordered by the black surface of the plane, the other half, facing away from the city, by the plane's other, white surface.

Inclined Plane. Image courtesy Ortner & Ortner Baukunst

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Turm Neuss, 1985. Image courtesy Ortner & Ortner Baukunst

Views from the exhibition:

Image WORK gallery

Image WORK gallery

Image WORK gallery

Image WORK gallery

Haus Rucker PV505.jpg
Image WORK gallery

To coincide with the exhibition, WORK has published a special edition of PAPERWORK that includes photos, essays written by members of Haus-Rucker-Co. as well as an interview with Manfred Ortner.

Giant Billiard, 1970.jpg
Giant Billard. Image courtesy Ortner & Ortner Baukunst

Inner World / Innen Welt: The Projects of Haus-Rucker-Co., 1967-1992 is at WORK gallery until Saturday 1 September 2012.

An architectural Time Machine by architect Heechan Park explores how to create an architectural time-based event.

As the machines blow vapour rings that double as ephemeral scent zones, the public not only experiences a visual performance of smoke vortices travelling through space, but they also perceive scents that are temporally spatialised and visualised.

An architectural time machine, mechanism of vortex air firing. From a performance at the Old Depot in London

I read about the installation while clicking through Ollie Palmer's website, and contacted Heechan to ask him more details about his mysterious machines.

First performance at Old Depot, London, 2011

First performance at Old Depot, London, 2011

Hi Heechen! An Architectural Time Machine 'creates a series of vortex air and ephemeral scent zone.' It also looks like a canon to me. How did you build it and how does it work exactly?

An architectural Time Machine project was started as looking at how one sense can be translated into other senses. In particular, there were speculative looks at the possibility that ephemeral and invisible elements such as rhythm, scents and air current could create dynamic and temporal architectural events like musical performance.

AATM create an architectural time-based event as blowing vortex rings with scents to rhythm, they unfold tempo in space. These give observers not only an unfolding spectacular performance of rhythmic vortex rings travelling through space, but also vortex rings and scents from the machines are temporally spatialised and visualized. Observers also can smell different scents from different machines and trace moving vortex rings. When the machines stop their performance blowing vortexes, the formed space gradually vanishes as the space is ventilated.

There is a great and unique mechanism firing vortex rings. The mechanism is electronically auto-controlled. As a mechanism controls the interval of vortex firing time, it brings accurate manipulating a rhythmic beating. To achieve this, I employed an 'Alternate rectilinear motion' mechanism, which is given to the rack-rod by continuous revolution of the mutilated spur-gear. Bungee cord in the barrel forces the rod forward to its original position on the teeth of the gear as shown below. As controlling speed of rotation of spur gear, machines achieved rhythmic beating of series of smoke rings.

Sketch for vortex firing mechanism, Prototype 02

A stepper motor, which is mounted on main spur-gear, makes it possible to control the speed of rotation of the main spur-gear releasing the hammer-rod to blow air out. A stepper motor, which converts electrical pulses into discrete mechanical movements, is employed.

The results gathered in a series of experiments led the project to the next step of making the progressed version of the machine. Three different scales of machines were created. Each machine has different abilities of performance due to its scale and power of motor. For instance, each machine performs different travel distances of vortex rings and smoke capacity. These differences could be compared to different scale in musical instruments. The machines are named as Nolan, Van Eyck and Petit Manuel, who are cloud sculptors in J G Ballard's short science fiction 'Cloud sculptor of Coral D', who shape clouds with their strange glider having cloud-sculpting devices in the wing.

I used CAD/CAM technologies such as laser cutting, SLS, CNC milling etc. Particularly these technologies make it possible to process rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping by using SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) has already been practiced through my toy project. Rapid prototyping built a 1:5 scale model in order to test and prove a part of the machine before full scale fabricating. Moving mechanisms, sculptural shapes and the body frames of the machine were tested. Then this has led the constructing of 1:1 scale machine.

The test of a machine, Van dyck

Fabrication for three machines

The work sounds a bit sci-fi to me. Where did you get the idea for AATM?

You are right. I got an idea from 'Cloud sculptors in coral D', J.G. Ballard's science fiction, in which the three gliders shape clouds with strange machines. I got an idea regarding this project when I was in front of massive loudspeaker in a club. I felt energy of sound from the speaker crashing my body. I thought invisible energy could be translated visible dynamic performance.

But also, I have been very interested in Architectural time based event, looking at how observers can experience time moving in space as observing the performance of machines or devices in space.

Leonardo Da Vinci mentioned 'tempo', which referred to 'speed of time, 'musical' or 'harmonic' time. It might be easy explanation about AATM that it allows observers to experience 'tempo' in space with scents. A series of vortex air from machines construct ephemeral time based event. After travelling through space and time, it just vanishes as space is ventilated.

Here is the best quotation from Stephen Gage in order to help you to understand my inspiration from architectural time based event. "Once we consider architecture to be time based and enmeshed with the way that people perceive and use it, we find ourselves short of reliable conceptual tools that can be used to understand our craft. As an event or series of events in time, we can consider architecture as a performance containing both human and non-human changing protagonists"

First performance at Old Depot, London, 2011

First performance at Old Depot, London, 2011

The way the vortex rings remain perfectly circular as they rise in the air is impressive. How did you achieve that?

The vortex air generator is an old and traditional toy. It works with simple principles of physics.
Blowing a short puff of air through a circular aperture produces a smoke ring. Amazingly it travels as keeping its shape.

But, on a windy day outside, the machines could not have successfully performed. Strong wind destroys smoke rings immediately when it comes out from a machine. It's similar to the cloud sculptors of J.G. Ballard who could not perform when dark clouds were coming, which presage rain. However, it could be acceptable as it is the nature of performance, which is temporally affected by weather and site specific conditions.
It's not rocket science.

A test for accurate vortex firing

The machine creates scent zones. But what do they smell like? and how/why did you chose that scent?

The idea of putting scent to my machines just came out as a funny idea. I thought my machines could create a funny event to make people smile. For example, I just imagine that when the machine faces a guy, it fires smoke with bacon scent, and if the machine meets a pretty girl, it might fire rings with gentle flower scent.

Basically, my time machines cannot make scent itself, but you can put all the scents you want in it.

When I was developing these machines, I found there are some great potentials with various scents. I came across George William Septimus Piesse, an English chemist and perfumer, who offered a music-inspired taxonomy of scents. Following his music taxonomy of scents, I made scent music cord. For instance, C major cord could be made with Orange flower, Almond and Southernwood scent.

I thought that my 8 machines could play scent music with 8 scents.
Imagine these ridiculous 8 machine play 'Over the rainbow' with 8 scents without sound!
You can chose various scent you want to have in various kinds of events, for example, my machines could have a unique event for Chanel's perfume, such as Chanel's new perfume launching event. And if you put a specific flavour into my machine, people can breathe and taste smell within the event that my machines create.

Sketch for final prototype, Petit Manuel

Plan for installation at the Portico, University College London

Are you planning to develop the work further?

I hope to develop AATM and want to enjoy making various events. I have made six AATMs. It was my Masters project at the Bartlett school of architecture, UCL.

It was definitely an architecture project about architectural time based events and I believe I achieved my aim to set up a theoretical base on my interest through this project at Bartlett. I think it's time to apply my AATM to various artistic events over architectural theory. I am keen on involving in various events wherever there is a nice atmosphere and fun people to enjoy my machines.

Also I want to have performances in specific places and buildings, which have their own architectural proportions. As AATMs make a proportional rhythm that the building or
place owns by generating vortex air, the rhythm of a building' proportion can be represented. For example, in a Greek temple, AATM might make rhythmic beating of
Fibonacci series. It might be a fantastic poetic performance in such a historic place.

I enjoy collaborating with Ollie Palmer, a designer of Ant Ballet. We have a plan to have an event next year. It's going to be really fun!

Any other project you'd like to mention?

At the moment, I have been making a small toy called 'Inigo', which is a part of architectural toy project. I have been devised a series of mechanical toys, Toys are printed in one piece by using SLS (Selective Laser Sintering), which allows multiple moving parts to be operated in one piece.

Please visit the web site of Experimental Toy Factory, which I founded last year.

Thanks Heechan!

All images courtesy of Heechan Park.

Inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Image courtesy Steve Rowell


As i mentioned this morning, The Center for PostNatural History in Pittsburgh has recently opened The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, an exhibition that takes the famous "Doomsday Vault" as its starting point.

Opened in 2008, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV) preserves seeds from nearly every nation on Earth in an underground cavern engineered to withstand catastrophe. It is located on the outskirts of Longyearbyen, on the arctic island of Spitsbergen, Svalbard Archipelago, halfway between the North Pole and Norway.

The seeds stored in this biological safety deposit box are duplicate samples held in seed banks worldwide. The facility is about 130 meters above sea level to protect it against any rise in sea level as a result of global warming, nuclear attack, and earth quakes. The vault itself has been tunnelled 120 meters into the mountain, in order to guarantee stable permafrost.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

The exhibition currently on view at the Center for Postnatural History is a joint research and extrapolative project by artists Signe Lidén, Annesofie Norn, and Steve Rowell. Together, they examine the meaning and function of the world's largest and most well-protected collection of agricultural diversity.

The artists traveled to Longyearbyen in February, August, and September 2011 and came back with hundreds of photographs, videos, and audio recordings. The collaborative work also includes an experimental garden, field guide, and map from a survival kit designed to help future generations successfully locate this critical cache of seeds.

Bigger version. Courtesy Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: "The map above reveals the speculative geopolitics of the territory surrounding the vault, in a possible future-scenario in which China, Russia, and NATO have established military bases and industrial sites there. The document includes locations of navigation hazards, beacons, and other points of interest: emergency food/fuel caches, communication towers, weapons dump sites (radiological, chemical, even biological), wind turbine farms, ship wrecks, ruined oil platforms, undersea communication cables, etc. Since a treaty was signed in 1925, Svalbard has been officially demilitarized. But, WWII saw the sacking and burning of Longyearbyen by German troops and covert intelligence activities by both the US and USSR. Evidence of this can be found in historic photos and declassified documents and maps in the Cold Coast Archive exhibition."

Steve Rowell, In the Best of All Possible Worlds

The Cold Coast Archive project investigates and explores human beings' efforts to preserve civilization and defy the inevitability of its demise. We look at the vault as a whole: its practical, political, historical and symbolic structure, its arctic location, as well as its infrastructure and cultural nuances, with all the research concentrated at this site, as a backdrop to explore the human relationship to time between now and eternity.

I spent several hours yesterday clicking through the website of the project. It contains sound files that gives us a feeling of the atmosphere in the area as well as video interviews with the people who live there: from the world´s northernmost surfer to the miners working in the coal mine, from volunteers attempting to protect the coast from oil spills to experts in plant breeding and genetics. And of course there are dozens of stunning images. I've asked Steve Rowell to comment a couple of them for us:

Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: "This is an artist's billboard mural (not sure who) on the road between the airport and the Sval Sat earthstation on the plataeu above the Seed Vault. The whole region is historic and active coal mine country. There's an active mine a few hundred meters down the road from this sign and the seed vault is situated between two closed mine shafts."

Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: "We did drive these snowmobiles on a tour of the Advent valley and Temple Fjord / glacier. Typically we drove a 4x4 van (white one in one of the pics) or walked. There are no roads between the 3 active towns on Spitsbergen. Besides Longyearbyen, there are two mining towns: Barentsburg (Russian and Ukranian almost exclusively) and Svea Gruva (Norwegian). Remote Pyramiden was a Russian town, but now completely abandoned. The northernmost Lenin head is there as well as baby grand piano in an empty Russian hotel building. In the winter, when I went, travel outside of Longyearbyen was a pretty serious task and involved a mandatory guide who was licensed to carry a rifle, and trained to shoot and kill a polar bear if need-be. Anyone who leaves town MUST carry a rifle for self defense, along with a trailer (dog-sled or snowmobile) with enough supplies, food for 3 days."

Inside the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: "These are the doors to the inner vault where the seeds are being stored. There are three inner vaults. Only 1 of the 3 is being used now."

Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: "Yeah, pretty amazing how wrong that one is. This is one of many that I found at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC in their maps collection. Did you notice the CIA map? There was no note of this being declassified, but I'm sure it is. The yellowish coloration in my photo isn't from a hi-lighter marker, but residual adhesive from tape that I removed. I noticed two white pieces of tape in both corners and peeled them back to reveal that the CIA had designed and printed this. All that Arctic strategizing is now coming to fruition. Russia was in the news this week about a deal that they just signed with Exxon-Mobil to explore the Russian Arctic for oil, incl the area to the East of Svalbard. "

Image courtesy Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: "A peninsula on Spitsbergen between Longyearbyen (the vault) and Barentsburg. Incredible how many shades of blue exist up there in the winter, long blue spectrum wavelengths reflecting infinitely between atmosphere and snow. "

SvalSat. Photo by Steve Rowell

Steve Rowell: This one is an "Aerial view of the SvalSat facility."

SvalSat. Image by Signe Lidén

Svalbard Satellite Station, aka SvalSat, is a large satellite earth station located on the island of Spitsbergen, above the Seed Vault. In a mountain nearby, the only remaining coal mine in operation provides power to the Seed Vault. On the mountain top above it, a research station monitors aurora borealis. As the website Cold Coast states, So here we have dramatically contrasting manifestations of space and time at an immense scale: on the mountain tops, instruments that reach deep into space and measure the present and predict relatively close future; deep underneath in the ground, two cavities - one harvesting the energy of fossilized rainforest created millions of years ago and the other protecting life into eternity.

Antenna array in Adventalen, near Longyearbyen. Image by Signe Lidén

And finally, Steve Rowell was kind enough to send me some views from the exhibition The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at the Center for Postnatural History:

View of the exhibition The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at the Center for Postnatural History. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

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View of the exhibition The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at the Center for Postnatural History. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

View of the exhibition The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at the Center for Postnatural History. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

View of the exhibition The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at the Center for Postnatural History. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

View of the exhibition The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault at the Center for Postnatural History. Image courtesy Steve Rowell

The Cold Coast Archive: Future Artifacts from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is on display at the Center for Postnatural History until August 15th, 2012.
See also Alexander Rose's account of his visit to the Vault with Steve Rowell.

On Tuesday, i took that decrepit and charming train that goes from Liege to Maastricht to visit one of my favourite architecture centers: NAIM / Bureau Europa.

Part of a research on the relationship between architecture and conflict, their current exhibition ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism explores the constructive and destructive forces of architecture through the work of Israeli architect Malkit Shoshan.

The show is an approachable and moving extension of the book she published a few years ago: Atlas of the Conflict. Israel-Palestine. The book was mapping literally and figuratively the appearance of a nation at the detriment of another one and highlighting the influence that political agendas have on urban planning and architecture. But instead of displaying countless maps at Bureau Europa, the curator and architect found inspiration in a story that toured the world in 2009: the one of the zebra of the Gaza zoo.

Because they couldn't afford to buy and smuggle a real zebra through the tunnels like they did with the other animals, the owners of the Gaza zoo used masking tape and black hair dye to paint a donkey into a zebra. It was an instant hit with children.

Image: Bureau Europa

Image: Bureau Europa

The exhibition ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism has turned Bureau Europa into a small zoo. The first animals you meet in the gallery --if you visit it during the weekend-- are donkeys. Unpainted and peacefully eating their hay. They symbolize the daily struggle to lead an almost 'normal' life in the Gaza Strip where regular trade continues to be prohibited, where almost no construction materials or raw materials is allowed to enter, where the population is isolated and subject to electricity cuts of 4 to 8 hours per day, where there is no longer access to regular, clean water and where, according to the World Food Programme, "The evidence shows that the population is being sustained at the most basic or minimum humanitarian standard."

Apart from the donkeys, Bureau Europa also hosts rats. Nested in tunnels, running around or playing on a wooden wheel. The lovely rats evoke human beings living in an area, the Gaza Strip, that is running out of space. The Strip has one of the highest densities in the world. Add to that its inhabitants are not allowed to construct nor rebuild what has been destroyed by bombings (or the Israeli practice of moving through walls) since construction material is denied entrance in Gaza. There's no high rise building, no tower, no skyscraper to make room for parks, cultivation and proper public infrastructure.

Image: Bureau Europa


In 1958, John B. Calhoun conducted over-population experiments on rats. The ethologist provided a group of rats with food and water but the size of their cage was considered sufficient for only 50 rodents. As the population grew there were soon too many rats for each to have its own territory and the animals became increasingly stressed. Males became aggressive. Mothers neglected their infants. Cannibalism began. The rodents had lost the ability to live harmoniously together.

Image: Bureau Europa

Fortunately, Gazans manage to keep a remarkable sense of humour and many still hope that peace might one day prevail. Hence the third group of animal present in the gallery: doves.

The walls and windows around the installations are covered in posters that illustrate and provide facts and figures about the history of zoos around the world, the human zoos of the 15th to 18th century, how most of the animals of the Gaza zoo had died of starvation or because of bombing during the Israeli war on Gaza, how wild animals are smuggled through the tunnels, the movement for animal rights, the black market, architecture in Gaza, living conditions in the Gaza Strip, etc.

Elsewhere, a strip of sand suggests that the Gaza Strip used to be a place of rest for travelers.

Image: Bureau Europa

Apart from the installations, Bureau Europa also exhibits books related to the topic of the show as well as a series of short documentaries or tv news reports such as the one below (it broke my heart so i've never watched it till the end):

Gaza's only zoo is up for sale

But why bring zoo and Zionism together? According to Shoshan, the origins of both can be traced back to the Age of the Enlightenment: the classification of nations (Jewish people had none at the time) and the classification of nature. The urban zoo emerged at the same time as the ideology that calls for the establishment of a homeland for Jewish people was gathering strength.

Image: Bureau Europa

Image: Bureau Europa

Image: Bureau Europa



ZOO, or the letter Z, just after Zionism remains open at NAIM / Bureau Europa through 20 May 2012.

Related: Book review: Atlas of the Conflict. Israel-Palestine.
Previously at Bureau Europa: Clip/Stamp/Fold - The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X-197X, Rien Ne Va Plus at Bureau Europa in Maastricht, Changing Ideals: Re-thinking the House at NAI in Maastricht, State Alpha, on the architecture of sleep, Edible City - Part 1 and Part 2.

Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong, by Gordon Matthews, Professor of Anthropology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (available on Amazon USA and UK.)


Publisher The University of Chicago Press Books writes: There is nowhere else in the world quite like Chungking Mansions, a dilapidated seventeen-story commercial and residential structure in the heart of Hong Kong's tourist district. A remarkably motley group of people call the building home; Pakistani phone stall operators, Chinese guesthouse workers, Nepalese heroin addicts, Indonesian sex workers, and traders and asylum seekers from all over Asia and Africa live and work there--even backpacking tourists rent rooms. In short, it is possibly the most globalized spot on the planet.

But as Ghetto at the Center of the World shows us, a trip to Chungking Mansions reveals a far less glamorous side of globalization. A world away from the gleaming headquarters of multinational corporations, Chungking Mansions is emblematic of the way globalization actually works for most of the world's people.

Gordon Mathews's compendium of riveting stories enthralls and instructs in equal measure, making Ghetto at the Center of the World not just a fascinating tour of a singular place but also a peek into the future of life on our shrinking planet.

Image by Gerald Figal

The mall in the ground floor of Chungking Mansion. Photo by bricoleurbanism

Chungking Mansions inspired Wong Kar Wai's Chunking Express movie. It is also where my literary idol of the moment, Harry Hole, is found smoking opium at the beginning of The Leopard. Chungking Mansions is a derelict 17 storeys high building located in one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong. It offers dirt cheap accommodation for tourists and traders, shops selling clothes, souvenirs or small electronics (copies and originals), curry restaurants, foreign exchange offices and other services. Mathews calls it "an island of otherness in Hong Kong." A place that Chinese people find to seedy to enter, where the lingua franca is english and an informal gathering place for ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, particularly South Asians and Africans in search of a better (or rather richer) life.

Photo by Shin K

The book gives a perspective on globalization i had never heard about before. Not only because it talks about globalization from an anthropologist's point of view but also because it focuses on what Matthews calls "low-end globalisation" of which Chungking Mansions is a central node. The protagonists of low-end globalisation are relatively small fry compared to the corporations we usually associate with the word 'globalization.' They are traders coming from Sub-Sahara African countries who carry in their suitcases the goods they buy from Chinese manufacturers (the author calculated that a trader can fit 250 to 300 mobile phone within an airline baggage allowance), hoping to make a big profit from it back in their home country, once they have paid the necessary taxes and bribes at customs. Or they are young people from Kidderpore in Kolkota who land in Hong Kong because the ticket fare to the city is cheaper than any other destination where they could find work. They arrive with sari and basmati rice in their suitcase, stay on extended tourist visa, work for pitiful wages in a curry house and go back home with clothes to sell in their neighbourhood. In Hong Kong, these traders and illegal workers struggle to buy a Cup Noodle at the nearest 7-Eleven. Back in their home country, they are regarded as successful members of the middle-class or upper-class.

In "low-end globalisation", people still use cash and favour face-to-face business.

Whether they are traders, shop owners, asylum seekers, prostitutes, or temporary workers, these people end up in Chungking Mansions because it offers cheap accommodation, because it is located in a city-state that doesn't have strict visa rules and because Hong Kong is a gateway towards Southern China where mobile phones and textiles are manufactured at low prices.

Photo by Alasdair Pettinger

Room at Germany Hostel in Chungking Mansion. Photo by bricoleurbanism

Photo by Shin K

Photo by Lucy Lou

Matthews explores the building through its history and location, the groups of people living there, the goods that pass through it, the laws that govern (with much laxity) the transactions taking place in the building. The final chapter speculates on the future of Chungking Mansions.

Matthews's passion for Chungking Mansions and the people that inhabit it is contagious. I read the book from cover to cover over the weekend. His writing is clear, entertaining, and it never verges on the intimidatingly academic. The personal stories collected from the traders, shopkeepers, asylum-seekers and other people who pass through the building make the book even more engaging.

Berfrois has an excerpt of the book. And Foreign Policy has a photo set of CM.
Photo on the homepage by Shin-K.

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