Five Opportunities for Planetary Acupuncture —
Critic : Andres Jaque (Office for Political Innovation)
Buell Center Paris Prize Finalist
Presented at 2020 Columbia Climate Summit
For this project, I am interested in the establishment of a formalized nomenclature for the concept of planetary acupuncture, or a planetary-scale intervention that redistributes or maximizes a set of global, environmental, or biopolitical conditions. The architectural interventions, framed via the contradictory forces compelling the implementation of large-scale infrastructural works and the ways that they can be informally subverted as heterotopic spaces, attempt to reveal a series of complex, invisible processes that exist in the world and builds upon or exacerbates them.
For the site of the scheme, we propose as a testing site the complex, precarious natural and political systems currently at play within the Sermilik Fjord, located in the southeast of Greenland along the same latitude as Reykjavik, Iceland. There exist myriad opportunities to apply the conceit of planetary acupuncture to the Arctic, as it is a region with global climatic impacts, with a focus on Greenland as the Greenlandic ice sheet is rapidly thinning and contributes more and more to global sea level rise. In this fjord system alone exists a symbiotic system of three, marine-terminating glaciers that are among the largest and fastest-receding glaciers in the world. The scale of the fjord system itself is relatively is relatively small, but this minuscule size betrays its maximal, potential global impacts. In the Sermilik, architecture exposes and grants agency to a variety of forces via minute alterations to the fjord’s ecologies. Greenland’s interplay with the Arctic Council, or a high-level intergovernmental forum representing the interests of the Arctic states and peoples, is also of note, as the Arctic Council’s intentions often can be interpreted as contrary to its actions due to the complex, often contradictory initiatives (financial, scientific, political, etc.) that influence it and cause entanglements.
1. The Boreal Barricade —
The year is 2020, there are a projected 7 years left in the Global Carbon budget and the planet warms an additional 1.5 degrees. The Paris climate change deal comes into effect with the goal of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial times. Climate scientists and engineers appeal to the Arctic Council and propose a potential solution to the glacial retreat: geoengineering the glaciers via the deposition of a primitive, underwater wall or berm – huge piles of sand and stone, stretching miles across the seafloor – to change how these glaciers respond to the warming ocean and atmosphere, dramatically slowing or reversing their collapse.To help understand the scale of such an intervention, a 100m high wall with sloping sides of 15-45 degrees could be built across the 6km fjord in front of the Sermilik fjord system at its narrowest point by dredging .1 cubic kilometers from Greenland’s continental shelf. It was through this process of geoengineering at all that the idea of planetary acupuncture began to become conceptualized. This is an architecture of volume.
2. Agropolis Necropolis—
The year is 2030. Exposure of new soils and reduction of permafrost permits new life to grow. Others claim that Greenlandic warming, increased precipitation, and reduction of permafrost have exposed cultural artifacts in the region, which require protection. Archived research from the beginning of the 2000s shows that Norse explorers once lived and died on the Sermilik, their graves and the ruins of their agrarian society buried beneath ice, earth, snow and soil through the years.
The Agropolis Necropolis is extended over the site and doubles as both an infrastructure of cultivation and preservation. Acting simultaneously as a sort of archaeological research park and space of cultivation, outposts are placed around the periphery of the large site in order for agents to observe the surrounding rocks and soils. Zones are established to cultivate different forms of flora and plant life by minutely controlling atmospheric conditions and nutrient deposition. A large, research center is included to maintain and study the landscape. The intervention is at once a site for research, preservation, and containment. The dwarf willow is a prime example of a species to be cultivated along the landscape. The plant, known for its minisculeness (growing less than 10cm high) and hardiness in the Arctic region has demonstrated its capacity to steady loose soils via its expansive root system.
The architecture in this proposal exists between the tension of the large-scale infrastructural projects of a planetary authority attempting to pursue its cultural interests and the small-scale agency of little plants. At the Agropolis Necropolis different species exist in symbiosis to produce a new commons, and an artificial ecology is produced via architecture in order to preserve, observe, and reserve a cultural, geological, and biopolitical landscape. This is an architecture of stability.
3. Aphrodisiac Amplifier—
The year is 2040. In the Sermilik Fjord, arctic biodiversity is placed under immense strains due to increased competition among cold-weather adapted animals and animals from southwardly regions migrating more and more North. Strains are placed on habitats of polar bears, whales, arctic char, etc. To offset all of this, a Nature Research Center of the Arctic Council working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (which has operated in the Fjord since the 2010s) is proposed. This intervention looks at the opportunity for a planetary acupuncture embodied within the potential of an arctic research station and how the physical infrastructures and thermodynamic requirements of research can be appropriated for more interim, illicit uses as a way of providing multifarious, subversive benefits for alternative agents present in the fjord ecology.
For instance, the discussion of underwater mineral mining in the region has been complicated by recent discoveries illustrating that the sea floor is not a desert, but a biome of diverse creatures, actors that draw their livelihood and increased metabolism via the proliferation of rare earth particulates and calcium carbonate in the waters of potential deep sea mining locations. By using a series of machines at the sea floor typically used aquatic mining operations, the sea floor of the area, rich in rare earth, can be lightly “tickled” to increase the availability of rare earth and calcium carbonate, providing minerals for animal hedonism, pleasure, sex., creating an explosion of biodiversity which affects planktonic creatures, fish, seals, whales, and polar bears in a single, water column.
This intervention, appropriating the infrastructures and dynamics of material exploitation, reimagines an artificial ecology where a new parable of hedonism can exist, and silicon and carbon-based life can exist in symbiosis. This is an architecture of atmospheres.
4. Terra Informa—
The year is 2040. The arctic zone is seen as embodying a set of conditions which are extremely favorable for the maintenance of data servers. The data server can be cooled naturally via controlled exposure with the environment; as data centers can get as warm as 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and the energy costs of cooling them are mediated and maintained via their strategic location in areas of stable climatic conditions, abundant freshwater, and extensive networks of renewable energy. This intervention for a planetary acupuncture, positioned in an isolated region, proposes a data center for arctic histories and research in the area, cooled by glacial freshwater and air, that would redistribute climate change and energy to a focused area to create a new series of interpolated ecologies, simultaneously introducing subversion and optimism into the scheme of such a proposal.
Looking primarily at how data centers are typically structured on a single plane to efficiently cool and nourish the artificial life of the server, the architecture here is instead subverted and reconfigured in a vertical arrangement to create a series of modular towers containing pods of data servers. The benefits of this arrangement is that new server pods can be added to the towers as larger amounts of data are collected, each pod has a maximum exposure to the arctic environment. By controlling the amount of pods per tower, as well as the configuration of these pods, we can theoretically accumulate different levels of thermal energies to create different environments and biomes on an extension of land above.
This intervention, appropriating the infrastructures and dynamics of data collection, reimagines an artificial ecology where a new parable of climate distribution can exist, and silicon and carbon-based life can exist in symbiosis. This is an architecture of energies.
5. Altered Carbon Compound—
The year is 2050 , 6 million people now die per year from complications with air pollution, 6.3 billion people will live in cities, global carbon levels are at an all time high. Technologies that once existed only on a relatively small-scale, experimental level in the 2010s like Carbon Sequestration, Carbon Dissolution, and Direct Air Capture of Carbon are now more refined due to the heavy investment in them that occured desperately over time and the heavy research accomplished for them done under the Arctic Council Starting in the 2010s. The Sermilik fjord is of note to all of these processes as it was discovered by Arctic researchers in the 2010s that carbon can be stably reallocated to basaltic and igneous rocks, the former being relatively rare in the world, both being present in the fjord.
Carbon dioxide is captured directly from the air, converted and densifier into pellets of carbonate by using light hydroxide, and then converted in a slaker into carbon dioxide and calcium oxide, these materials are used to produce a light hydrocarbon fuel that is derived holistically from carbon dioxide produced in the air. The offset carbon dioxide produced as a result of this process is then concentrated and combined with water to produce bicarbonate, or carbonated water. This is then injected 700 meters into the ground to the deep layer of basalt in the site, where the solution reacts with rock in order to produce calcium carbonate, the most stable form of carbonate. Over the course of thousands of years, these calcium carbonates will seep to the surface, and it is hoped that new forms of plankton will flourish there and establish their own, localized, post-anthropocene ecologies.
This intervention, the Altered Carbon Compound, imagines how chemical processes on a minute level can be exacerbated with architecture in order to provide a series of multifarious benefits for multiple agents present in the fjord and across the globe. This is an architecture of exchange.
These Five Interventions operate as five imaginary cosmologies of climate redistribution in a reality where climate change is now taken as inevitable, where entire paradigms of nature, ecology, society, politics, etc., aim to be reconstructed and redesigned. These Five Interventions do not claim to fix climate change, but instead propose methodologies with which we could operate within its contexts. These Five Interventions establish territories where different logics and desires of the land are projected and overlaid; like their sites, they are places at once of survival and pleasure, where the man-made and the natural blur.
These Five Interventions take as a theoretical framework the position of nature indicated in the tenets of Queer Ecology, an interdisciplinary, emergent field of research that aims to reimagine biopolitics via the lens of queer theory. Queer ecology attempts to challenge the binary notions of ecology and sexuality, while simultaneously transforming material and symbolic places into just, autonomous, sustainable forms. From a critical viewpoint, queer ecology thematically attempts to explore the position and possibility of ecologies without nature, essentially questioning what is natural or living to produce a new, improved, and more inclusive definition of the form and mechanics of nature.
These Five Interventions envision an architecture that exists between the tension of the large-scale infrastructural projects of a planetary authority attempting to pursue its geopolitical interests and the potential way these infrastructures and their offset energies can be appropriated by alternative social groups (“the unnatural” “the degenerate” “the animal”) to rebuild ecology, society, politics; producing optimism in pessimism. These five interventions – Boreal Barricade, Agropolis Necropolis, Aphrodisiac Amplifier, Terra Informa, Altered Carbon Compound – are Five Opportunities for a Planetary Acupuncture.