Friday, December 22, 2006

Orwellian Wormholes

Simply dubbed the “Tunnel Team” - a group of eighteen specialized Border Patrol agents who’ve been trained “in confined spaces and hand-to-hand combat” - was recently featured on a television news segment guarding the storm drain tunnels and underground passageways that extend below the border city of Nogales where Arizona and Sonora, Mexico meet.

[Image: Border Patrol agents open a gate that defines the U.S./Mexico border under Nogales. Photo by Don Bartletti / LAT.]

Around the clock this nocturnal crew claws its way through the foliage of one of the world’s darkest urban jungles where an immeasurable number of smugglers, bandits and courageous migrants cross paths with them every day often times without even knowing it. In fact, Richard Marosi, who recently wrote an unbelievably illuminating article on the topic for the Los Angeles Times (that I highly encourage you to read) – writes, it is so dark that the team’s high-tech night vision goggles are almost rendered completely useless in the tunnel's black hole-like reaches. One of the agents even said, "It's so dark, you feel vertigo — like the walls are coming in on you."

And so, welcome to the brave new world of cross-border tunnel migration and militarization – and, what could be the glimpse of a future (sub)urban world as more nation states wall off their borders from the increasing flows of global migration. Border tunnels are nothing new to Subtopia – in fact, we’re fascinated and want to write a crazy book about them and other counter-empire landscapes. But before we do, the Tunnel Team is waiting.

Wandering inside an imperceptibly sprawling black maze of asphyxiating hydrologic tubes and flooded hallways, this elite squad of tunnel rats tends to a whole range of preventative installations set up deep inside the bowels of this vast invisible borderlands architecture.

As they scoot through a long-winded knot of dank voids and jagged apertures, part of their job is to repair the heavy steel gates and other grates that have burst open from the pressures of recent floods, or have been hacked apart by coyotes determined to wormhole their way through the decrepit sewers – either way these openings look like timeless medieval valves leading to yet more unknown circles of Hell. And while maintaining a network of thermal vision surveillance cameras hidden in the bat infested corners of Nogales’ toxic netherworld, the agents regularly test other key remote sensors scattered more critically near the two main tunnel entrances – they even monitor various strategically placed rocks through out the substructure that act as trip wires, so, when moved, indicates that trespassers have come through.

[Image: Trails of discraded clothes and blankets inside a Nogales drainway. Photo by Don Bartletti / LAT.]

[Real quick - on that basis alone I’m sending Mike Rowe from the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs an email to this post, since he’s been whining about running low on things to keep him busy. One condition though: Mike, if you’re reading this and decide to go, be sure to take me with you.]

Anyway, through a bunch of news stories I soon discovered that the sewage infrastructure there is a hollow skeleton of Nogales itself – or, rather a gnarled intoxicated beast that has for decades choked the communities of both nations.

In Marosi’s article, we learn a brief history of the tunnels. For years, he says, “Illegal immigrants have breached drainage systems all the way along the border, from El Paso to San Diego. Most of them are of the claustrophobic crawl-through variety that prevents large-scale incursions”, or “gopher holes” as the military calls them. The Nogales tunnels, however, which are subsets of entire watershed infrastructure, are - by comparison, he says – borderzone superhighways.

[Image: An aerial photography of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, from a Critical U.S.- Mexico Borderland Watershed Analysis, Twin Cities Area Of Nogales, Arizona And Nogales, Sonora By Laura Margaret Brady, Floyd Gray, Mario Castaneda, Mark Bultman, and Karen Sue Bolm.]

”Once open waterways, today they stretch for miles under the traffic-clogged downtown streets of both cities, zigzagging roughly parallel to each other. […] In the smaller one, called the Morley Tunnel, an ankle-high stream of raw sewage and chemical runoff from factories in Mexico usually flows. The neighboring Grand Tunnel is up to 15 feet high and wide enough to fit a Humvee.”

The Morley Tunnel, though, is apparently so profuse with ammonia and chlorine stench that U.S. agents won’t even venture into it because of the sickness and nausea it induces. More dangerous even, since the tunnels were built to facilitate the spill off of monsoon rains they become extremely dangerous during certain parts of the year. Marosi indicates that this summer alone, at least five people were presumed trapped and drowned in floodwater.

For a good overview of the unique characteristics of the “Ambos Nogales” watershed and how it shapes a more enlightening diagnosis of the border condition in general, you can refer this GIS document. It’s also an interesting read because through its mapping of the degraded hydrology it conjures a historic reflection on the failed bi-national cooperation that has festered between the U.S. and Mexico for decades; the watershed becomes a literal reflection of their grossly negligent relationship. Talks about flash floods and population growth bring to surface evidence of avoided political dialogue over the exclusivity of the sewage infrastructure and its poor planning, and Nogales’ overall inadequate distribution of water supply through out the local region. We also learn that back in the 60’s, considerable amounts of Trichloroethylene (TCE) had been dumped at the United Musical Instrument factory near Meadow Hills, for which the people of Nogales fear today has left a dangerous plume of carcinogens in the local wells and wetlands areas. Then, we read how most of the colonias in the area haven’t even got access to proper waste management, and quickly it becomes obvious how the whole site seems to have played out as some sort of de facto ‘environmentally toxic’ border fence.

[Image: A satellite image of Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, from a Critical U.S.- Mexico Borderland Watershed Analysis, Twin Cities Area Of Nogales, Arizona And Nogales, Sonora By Laura Margaret Brady, Floyd Gray, Mario Castaneda, Mark Bultman, and Karen Sue Bolm.]

[Image: Well locations and water delivery lines within the Nogales watershed, as mapped in a Critical U.S.- Mexico Borderland Watershed Analysis, Twin Cities Area Of Nogales, Arizona And Nogales, Sonora By Laura Margaret Brady, Floyd Gray, Mario Castaneda, Mark Bultman, and Karen Sue Bolm.]

[Image: Sewer lines in the cities of Nogales, as mapped in Critical U.S.- Mexico Borderland Watershed Analysis, Twin Cities Area Of Nogales, Arizona And Nogales, Sonora By Laura Margaret Brady, Floyd Gray, Mario Castaneda, Mark Bultman, and Karen Sue Bolm.]

[Image: "Similar to the water delivery lines, sewer lines in the city of Nogales, Sonora are distributed according to monetary supply vs. human need; the colonias are not equipped with sewer lines at all. Image depicting those colonias in Nogales, Sonora that have no access to sewer and water delivery lines - as mapped in a Critical U.S.- Mexico Borderland Watershed Analysis, Twin Cities Area Of Nogales, Arizona And Nogales, Sonora By Laura Margaret Brady, Floyd Gray, Mario Castaneda, Mark Bultman, and Karen Sue Bolm.]

Essentially, the infrastructure has been left an exhausted corpse of overgrown concrete appendages and flogged lungs that today becomes a kind of mysteriously populated anti-city lurking below the real city above. It’s partly a thriving subterranean landscape with thousands of people traversing and living and conducting their own brand of commerce, but it’s also partly a massive industrial grave stewing with noxious hazards and quiet anonymous deaths. Maybe these giant tunnel-bored metacarpals fingering the earth will one day come to be revealed as the U.S./Mexico’s border equivalent of the Indian ghats infamously situated along the Ganges river - water levels raising and lowering while more and more borderzone settlements take to the underground in light of the increased immigration surveillance cementing itself at ground level.

With impending natural disasters due to climate change, and the continual siphoning of wealth to the very top of the socio-economic pyramid, the underground will perhaps serve as the last remaining refuge for the hyper-population movements of migrants, refugees and global squatters. But I digress...

Like some intrepid crew member scouring the intestinal spaces of an abandoned Hollywood space ship, Marosi says, “Sometimes the tunnel itself seems to be alive, producing from the humming and air flows a pulsing, low groan.”

I mean, it’s a scene straight out of Alien - Nogales’ hollow chambers hemorrhaging with far off drips and foreign gurgles that seem to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. A creepy techno-swampish soundtrack slithers behind the ears – it stalks the audience with an impossibility of silence. The theater suddenly goes pitch black. There is a kind of even eerier quiet for a brief second - the fumage of diverse shits and rank sewage cinches the nostrils. Then, the flicker of a woozy flashlight roaming over complexions of mold-encrusted concrete re-appears.

<[Image: Border Patrol agents inspect a drain tube for migrants that leads to Mexico. Photo by Don Bartletti / LAT.]

Picking up on a broken trail of dropped cell phones, discarded batteries, busted flashlight parts, Styrofoam kneepads, shreds of random clothing, a lost shoe, and a puddle of permanently undried blood, the Tunnel Team stops to fish out a drug smuggling pan from the mouth of a polluted river. Then they cut away a makeshift rope and pulley system that coyotes and drug smugglers have ingeniously rigged for guidance and circulating contraband. The agents paint over painted tags and remove strips of duct tape that serve as navigational clues for border crossers and confiscate stashes of hidden weapons that turn up under the chance glance of one of their hi-tech torches.

Tracking a group of migrants they lurk in corners against walls, being careful not to brush up against a tangle of exposed rebar, Marosi says, with “points sharpened by smugglers” waiting to “gouge people who get too close,” - and wait for them to pass “within an arm's length” before pouncing on them.

The Tunnel Team has only been in operation for a couple of months now but has already encountered “rapes, shootouts”, “methamphetamine-addicted assailants” and “young men working as drug mules [who] lug burlap sacks filled with contraband.”

One of the latest Nogales drug tunnels discovered only a couple of weeks ago had been hand dug along side the I-19 freeway and outfitted with a rope so that all the transport car needed to do was park momentarily beside the hole, swing open its door, haul up and unload the goods. According to this news segment from Channel 4, the rope systems are elaborate enough now between tunnel entrances that bodies are no longer even needed to go down into the tunnels and physically move the drugs. Attach them to a tray, pull a rope back and forth, and just like that - Done.

The same segment also states that “every 24 hours, the Tucson Sector is seizing 2,000-to-4,000 pounds of narcotics.” Numbers that have never been seen before. However, an interesting side note to that comes from a new report which claims the number one crop in America is now (un)officially - marijuana, reeling in an estimated $35b a year, “far more than the crop value of such heartland staples as corn, soybeans and hay, which are the top three legal cash crops.”

Morasi puts the number in terms of illegal immigrants that have been snatched in the tunnels from July through October, which is something like 1,704.

In an even bigger picture it looks like smuggler tunnels are completely taking over the border. For a while there it seemed like they were finding a new one almost every week. Approximately 40 have been uncovered linking cities in Arizona and California with Mexico since illegal immigration became such a focus. Some of the largest ones which crept up in and around San Diego and Tijuana are, we are told by Reuters, being constructed by “rogue mining engineers” brought in by cartels “to dig industry standard shafts and galleries." I have heard one report that one tunnel was discovered as deep as nine stories below the street. They are dug under homes, inside the floors of factory buildings. And while a couple of Mexican customs officials were recently busted for running one of the illegal border tunnels near Tijauana, numerous reports about U.S. Border Patrol agents being apprehended at street level checkpoints for allegedly trying to smuggle in military ammunition into Mexico – something the Mexican government has claimed as a long standing problem with the U.S. Border Patrol for years. Seven migrants a month or so ago had to be rescued from a drainage pipe in Otay Mesa after getting stuck in its narrow jaws. And it seems like at least every month we hear about some new tunnel being found, or sealed up with concrete, frivolously collapsed on some border crossers - not just along the border with Mexico, either. Even though the Canadian border isn’t riddled with tunnels the same way the Mexican is, several months ago a massive and fairly sophisticated tunnel was uncovered.

While preventing access to the tunnels remains the patrol’s top priority, the other side of the coin is watching all of the manholes that migrants use to make their escapes into the U.S. once they have successfully navigated the sewers and storm drains under places like Otay Mesa.

The 23-mile labyrinth of drainage pipes under Otay Mesa “leads to about 500 manholes scattered across about three square miles. From those openings into the bowels of the city, mud-covered migrants crawl out into streets, busy intersections and parking lots, creating a dizzying guessing game for U.S. Border Patrol agents.”

From the same Reuters article:
The migrant traffic below truck-clogged streets and new office parks underscores the persistence and desperation of people faced with crossing one of the most heavily fortified sections of the border.

The cat-and-mouse game took an ironic turn last month when migrants even surfaced outside the offices of the U.S. Border Tunnel Task Force. Those manhole covers — one in a secured parking lot — were welded shut after that, one of them also topped with three 35-pound bags of rocks and gravel.

But six more manholes, all potential escape hatches, lie within a block of the federal facility.

Unlike Nogales, the drainage system under Otay Mesa doesn't extend into Mexico but is just a hop and a skip away from the border. Hundreds of migrants have been arrested in the last year popping up from out of the drains. So far I think I read they have documented at least 80 confirmed exit point used by migrants.

The problem has grown serious enough that agents are teaming up with San Diego city engineers to create a computer map of the tunnel outlets and manhole system. Sensors will probably be installed soon on the manhole covers to alert when they are opened. But, in the meantime a dozen have been welded shut.

According to the article while “Policing the city's storm drain system is the responsibility of the Border Patrol” when it comes to unearthing drug tunnels, another task force beyond the ones like the Tunnel Team in Nogales claims jurisdiction.

[Image: The exit hole for the tunnel in Otay Mesa, photographed by Howard Lipin for the San Diego Union Tribune.]

Enter the federal Tunnel Task Force.

Based in San Diego the team, Reuters goes on to tell us, pools the resources of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection, and it draws support from a special U.S. military unit from an El Paso, Texas.
Originally called Joint Task Force Six, the combined-services unit was founded in 1989 to provide technical and intelligence support to federal police snaring drug traffickers on the Mexico border. It was renamed Joint Task Force North in 2004 and given an additional homeland security role.

The Tunnel Task Force was set up two years ago and meets weekly in a federal building close to the border. The search for tunnels is led by intelligence gathered by agents working with contacts on both sides of the border.

Its members are specialists in hunting for tunnels. Some learned their skills in the U.S. war in Afghanistan, where the search for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden initially focused on the Tora Bora caves and tunnel complexes near the Pakistan border.

If you want to get more technical, Tunnel Task Force engineers are using “geo-science technologies including ground radar, magnetometers and seismic detectors” to sniff the trail of "discreet voids left by man-made tunnels.” They’ve even begun digging their own tunnels in order to test equipment. But - not without their own skepticism.

And, as a matter of law, Congress earlier this year passed the Border Tunnel Prevention Act (Signed Into law) – which really only technically now makes it a crime to knowingly construct, finance, or allow the construction of an unauthorized tunnel across a U.S. international border. Individuals caught using such a tunnel to smuggle aliens, contraband, drugs, weapons, or terrorists face penalties of more than 20 years in jail.

But imagine, if you will, the entire planet one day completely dug out like some Leviathan cavity, some twisted circuitous earth-embedded vault full of warring micronations - of renegade mining teams, refugee excavators, and illicit tunnel-trade armies. What if the world above falls to ruin (from natural disaster, civil war, genocide, urban warfare, economic and environmental injustice) and below is eventually turned into a hollow root system for future subterranean populations of subtopian squatters, entombed survivors, drainage system dwellers, mine hijackers; the whole thing fissured into a vast international platform of networked shafts and secret galleries linking transborder mazes with mudrucker migration roads from China to Mexico; buried arteries pumping with global labor flows knotting through space, threading undetected twists and turns around the militarized tunnel architecture of the UN who tries desperately to prevent such base incursions. What if the more nation-states harden their borders above ground, the more they rot themselves away underground – and border geographies naturally become the sites for a de facto global border tunnel design? Just check out Gaza.

"Could they build a tunnel under the Rio Grande?" one official joked in the Reuters piece. "It really is just an engineering question. If the money is right for them, they can do whatever is possible."

(All images without captions were captured from the Channel 4 news video segments listed below.)

Nogales Tunnel Team patrols 24/7
Border Patrol finds two drug tunnels in Nogales
News 4 explores Nogales tunnels

Tunnels act as highways for migrants by Richard Marosi
Tunnel Task Force (Reuters)

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Sectarian Faultlines of Baghdad

[Image: I wanted to pass on a map I came across released by the U.S. Military in Iraq, which (in their own image) classifies Baghdad's ethno-sectarian divide based on 'the five most dangerous neighborhoods' according to their degrees of explosivity: Adhamiya, Amariya, Ghazalya, Khadamiya, and Khadasiya. The map comes from a pretty interesting article in the London Times, describing the capital city for what the occupation has let it become: that is, an absolute jungle that's been carved into a jagged chess board of volatile neighborhood faultlines where Sunni and Shia gangs have sealed off enclaves within enclaves of turf rivaling for political power. Urban Baghdad is almost completely dissected by a feral matrix of informal checkpoints, sniper alleyways, car bombed corridors, networks of micro insurgent-urbanisms; it is the city re-engineered by endless dueling barricades of postcolonial control; it is, above all, a scrappy imperial abyss. Bagdhad's guillotined real estate is a stage for indiscriminant slaughter, for militant dominance - blood trails in the streets mark a kind of demographic authority as much as they do the absence of an authority altogether. And it makes me ask, in all irony, where is Saddam's Iron Fist now when the American's need it most? (Thanks to MoJo for spotting this).]

Friday, December 15, 2006

"Sweet Tea"

According to an article in this week’s Metro Spirit, the The Army Corps of Engineers (Savannah District) awarded a $286 million contract to Phelps/Kiewit Joint Venture to build a brand new NSA facility in Augusta, Georgia. The site is Fort Gordon, a city already unto itself, and home to the Signal Corps and Signal Center, “the largest communications-electronics facility in the free world.” The installation covers 56,000 acres in eastern Georgia, and provides training, doctrine, force integration and mobilization for all Signal Regiment military and Department of the Army civilian personnel.

[Image: A hazy drawing of Fort Gordon, found via the recent article Out of thin air in the Metro Spirit, Dec. 14 issue 2006.]

Dubbed Sweat Tea, the National Security Agency, we learn, is building “a massive new operations facility […] complete with all the amenities: a workout room, nursing areas, a mini-shopping center, a credit union, an 800-seat cafeteria and thousands of exclusive parking spaces.” Even more so, “it will include a new shredder facility (for all those classified documents) and an antenna farm (to help listen in on enemy combatants like Osama bin Laden and Princess Di).”

[Image: Old footage from the Willard Training area, Fort Gordon, Georgia, found on this army site.]

Corey Pein wrote a fantastic article about the project, the secrecy of course surrounding its development, and how ironic it was that the project was only just announced after he and his fellow reporters went poking their noses into it. He writes, “According to unclassified NSA documents obtained by the Metro Spirit, the project will relocate all existing antennas to the southern end of the new site. The location provides the perfect look angles with no possibility for encroachment to their required line-of-sight in the future.” Furthermore:
The project also includes a new 7,600-square-foot Visitor Control Center, thousands of additional square feet for warehouses, a vehicle inspection facility, modular training spaces and modular workspace for the growing Navy contingent at NSA-Georgia.

The plans will also force some adaptations to existing facilities. The primary entrance to Back Hall, the socalled compartmented information facility on Chamberlain Avenue and 25th Street, will change to what is now the rear entrance.

The document, according to Pein, also says the main new structure, a 525,000- square-foot Regional Security Operations Center, should be complete by May 2010. And, apparently, a military source familiar with cost analysis told the Metro Spirit that the facilities may, in actuality, wind up costing more than $1 billion.

For background on the contractors: “Phelps appears to be part of Hensel Phelps Construction, which, four days after the 9/11 attacks, won the rebuilding contract for the Pentagon. It was worth up to $758 million. Kiewit is not as high-profile. In 2002, one of the company’s divisions won a $15 million contract to build a vehicle maintenance facility at Fort Gordon. Both companies are based in the military contracting mecca of Virginia.”

Now that I have all but re-posted the article in its entirely here, you should go read it for yourself. Pretty interesting talk goes on about black sites and intelligence budgets, and the sort of typical mystery that looms over how the project came to be revealed.

Also, check out these earlier NSA posts:; Mt. Seemore and the watchful gaze.

(via Defense Tech > Metro Spirit national security blog)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A "Military Sublime"

In case you somehow missed it, or didn’t quite get to finish it the first time around and now simply want to pick up where you last left off, but had forgotten (and just need a little reminder!); or in case you even wanted to reread it a second and third time; or, maybe, you just want to look at the pictures (as unbelievable as they are); perhaps, you want to reference it, for an essay or some blog post of your own, or something. I must point out Geoff Manaugh’s latest and greatest interview with photographer Simon Norfolk, which is all too relevant to Subtopia, to say the very least.

[Image: Simon Norfolk. "Bullet-scarred outdoor cinema at the Palace of Culture in the Karte Char district of Kabul." From Afghanistan: Chronotopia.]

A photographer who has somewhat divorced himself from the maw of photojournalism, his work positions and processes itself more like a form of landscape art; stark and present when all else is absent, like some forlorn architectural memory that lingers in the course of an unnoticed but epic moment of terrestrial reflection. And to that effect, his photos cast a brilliant light not only on the way landscapes can be photographically rendered but more so on how the production of space itself can be unraveled in the context of militarism and warfare. That is to say, he is the photographer of a military urbanism, and his images capture more than just the remnants of war that litter the landscape post-conflict, but peer into the formulation of space itself where the military is but an ethereal colonizer of all we inhabit.

Geoff writes, “His photos reveal half-collapsed buildings, destroyed cinemas, and unpopulated urban ruins in diagonal shafts of morning sunlight – from Iraq to Rwanda, Bosnia to Afghanistan – before venturing further afield into more distant, and surprising, landscapes of modern warfare. These include the sterile, climate-controlled rooms of military command centers, and the gargantuan supercomputers that design and simulate nuclear warheads. [...] Indeed, he reminds us, 'anybody interested in the effects of war quickly becomes an expert in ruins.'"

Norfolk himself explains in an earlier written text called Et in Arcadia Ego: "These photographs form chapters in a larger project attempting to understand how war, and the need to fight war, has formed our world: how so many of the spaces we occupy; the technologies we use; and the ways we understand ourselves, are created by military conflict."

[Images: Simon Norfolk. "The illegal Jewish settlement of Gilo, a suburb of Jerusalem. To deter snipers from the adjacent Palestinian village of Beit Jala (seen in the distance) a wall has been erected. To brighten the view on the Israeli side, it has been painted with the view as it would be if there were no Palestinians and no Beit Jala."]

Uh, yeah. And the interview hasn't even begun, which, as you can imagine goes on to cover more than I can possibly state here, and thus I really have to resist re-posting the whole damn thing. So, do yourself a favor and go read it right now.

Otherwise, if you must follow along out of sheer dedication to Subtopia, my dear and devoted reader, Norfolk goes on to say:

“All of the work that I’ve been doing over the last five years is about warfare and the way war makes the world we live in. War shapes and designs our society. The landscapes that I look at are created by warfare and conflict.
I'm trying to stretch that idea of what a battlefield is. Because all the interesting money now – the new money, the exciting stuff – is about entirely new realms of warfare: inside cyberspace, inside parts of the electromagnetic spectrum: eavesdropping, intelligence, satellite warfare, imaging. This is where all the exciting stuff is going to happen in twenty years' time. So I wanted to stretch that idea of what a battleground could be. What is a landscape – a surface, an environment, a space – created by warfare?”

“It ends up being like a relationship with the sublime – a military sublime. All of the work I'm doing, I might even call it: "Toward a Military Sublime." Because these objects are beyond: they’re inscrutable, uncontrollable, beyond democracy.”

So, on that note – go check it out in full BLDGBLOG form.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Two projects I’d like to bring to your attention taking their cue from the context of post-destructed Beirut: Unbuilt & Unrentable.

is a collaboration with Archis, Partizan Publik and Pearl, and from what I have gathered, different crews in Amsterdam and Beirut. Their aim is to help re-imagine the contemporary landscape of Beirut following the tragedy of it’s recent urban obliteration, and according to their website sounds like some cool projects are being kicked around.

Let me quote from one of the posts about the conceptual mission of Unbuilt:
When starting the Unbuilt blog, unbuilt meant for me destroyed, as in un-building, un-doing what a joint effort of people, different civilizations over the course of history constructed through the brutalities of war or other inhumane usages of technology, capital and energy. Now unbuilt started to mean something else to, it’s first meaning is still true, but after destruction there is work to be done. Sites unbuilt, waiting for the arrival of new endeavors. Dialogues to be established and common ground to be found.

In this situation it is important to find ways of working below official radars.

With an event recently held in Lebanon that has resulted in a Think Tank to churn over ideas, some interesting proposals have been put forth to help identify an Unbuilt platform for working in Beirut. If you are really interested, go to the site and browse it yourself, and if you want to get more involved this sounds like the perfect time. The group is working towards a presentation in the De Balie cultural centre in Amsterdam for February 2007 in order to formerly anoint their strategic cooperation.

Quickly, to sum up some of what is being kicked around: There’s been talk of hosting an international competition “to reconstruct the badly damaged neighborhood of Haret Hreyk in South-Beirut.” Competitions are always good, but often times fall short with just ideas gathering dust on paper. Nevertheless, critical thinking and ideas are sorely needed right now, and if even to just get diverse groups of people together to pay attention and consider rethinking urban efforts to rebuild community, suture identity, recast cultural history in new architecture, would be good. There’s a possible plan for “a public space watchdog institute and web-based platform that researches, documents and questions the ‘exclusive’ use of the public space of Lebanon.” Sounds useful, especially now when public space is so wounded and fetters in kind of amputated state of civic limbomania.

Makes me wonder, how should public space regeneration be looked at in times following intense conflict, where pubic space was but a few months ago a battleground? How are cities being transformed both by and for the purposes of militarization, occupation, foreign control? Public space as a political refuge, political territory, an ongoing civic war field? How can cities reclaim themselves from warfare, remake their streets into representing something epically anti-confrontational? In the folds of conflict and destruction, what are the types of projects, practices of urban design, directions of architectural healing, that should be explored to help overcome the urban corpus of war? Intense.

Two mentions that most piqued my interest are for a billboard reclamation project and a mobile architecture office. The Public Space Invaders can be glimpsed here, starting with a stencil and spray can the goal is simply to start and remind people that -- with a most basic claim -- the public space is indeed public and requires their treatment of it as such in order to begin to rebuild from there.

The bus project sounds excellent. A kind of mobile infill regenerative public space vehicle, that drives around and deploys, or adapts new public spaces out of the ruins, the ash. The essence of the bus is that ‘The public space will come to you,’ and will visit different (mixed) regions in Lebanon to create an instant sprout of new public sphere; a ‘Mobile architecture office for creative energy and architectural intelligence’ that initiates dialogue and focuses on the architect’s social responsibilities and how to work on a local level in close conversation with the population.”

And check this out, Bullet Lights:

All across Beirut you can find walls covered with bullets holes. Reminders of past violence, conflict and war. Moving through the city they are an all too familiar backdrop for any urban scene. This proposal that I called ‘bullet lights’ is reversing the meaning and experience of the ‘bullet hole wallpaper’ at diverse locations in the city. Introducing unexpected poetic moments of beauty. Beauty, ambivalently mixed with the physical testimonies of violence. The project doesn’t want to make a point it just invites people to look at things differently. Seeing things from more than one perspective is the starting point for empathy.

So, if you are in Beirut, or not, in Amsterdam, or not – wherever you are, if you have ideas I am sure Unbuilt would be down with hearing them. Maybe they should host some sort of discussion board on their website for online international conversation. I know I would be very interested in at least following along.

• • •

The other project which sort of leans in the same direction of re-examining the nature of public space in a post-war-torn ambiance of Beirut, calls for the public’s participation to gather and assemble photographs/films and/or images of utopian spaces in and amidst the universal dystopian wreckage. Ivan Niedermair from Austria calls the project "Unrentable" and describes it as follows:

“In the dystopic moment when all selectable positions loose themselves in undifferentiating panic, their own contours get blurred and a distinction among them isn’t possible anymore as well. All ways are open, all utopias can ‘rent; me and implant me into their clockwork. I am as rentable as the urban structure around me, rechargeable with any utopistic, idealistic… content. The city is a field of containers, overflowing me permanently with their contents. I need unrentable space!”
The project consists of the exploration of Urban structure in Beirut loaded with utopias etc. and the documentation in form of photography and/or film. The more different views on such “rentable spaces”, the more connections and in-betweens among them.

So, again, if you are in Beirut, camera in hand, snap a few and send them his way. I would be very curious to see what typology of space will come together from the public’s myriad angles.

Unbuilt / Unrentable.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

an unordinary seam where sky and sand meet

[Image: According to the photographers (foto + warner) who took this photo, it is of a beach on Lido Island, in Venice, Italy. That is all the info available, and perhaps all I need to make me love it. Yes, even this little blue stained plywood wall. Why? Well, it's no secret I'm obsessed with Walls and their inherent political representation, even if this one isn't a wall and just the side of some old weathered beach shelter. But, perhaps, because this one specifically is such a smooth almost marbled piece of the landscape, as if it were a kind of anti-wall by the way it is depicted. It becomes somehow inviting; like an unordinary seam where sky and sand meet that lusts after my attention.]

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Great Wall Preservatives

Starting Dec. 1, China will make it officially illegal to “remove bricks or stones from the Great Wall, to drive vehicles along it," to "build houses right up against it," and yes - get this: "to hold all-night rave parties on it." This CS Monitor article has the scoop, and offers a good summation of the current physical state of the Wall and the preservation policy (or lack of) surrounding it today.

[Image: This is a sculpture by artist Colwyn Griffith is part of a series entitled I can't believe it's not Empire. The Great Wall here is reconstructed completely out of rice krispies. 2004.]

Sitting on UNESCO's list of World Cultural Heritage sites since 1987 “there is no single Great Wall" the author writes. Instead, “there are stretches of wall, built at different times to keep out different enemies, and some of them are not 'walls' at all, but rather earthwork mounds or even ditches.” Together – as a kind of replica of the infinitely expanding theoretical global nomadic fortress I am so obsessed with here on this site – the different sections add up to several thousand miles' worth of defenses. Of which "some parts have been designated national treasures.”

From the article:
"Great Wall research is in a state of chaos," adds Dong Yahui, vice president of the Great Wall Society, a group promoting greater care for the wall. "The government still doesn't know how long even the [most recently built] Ming Dynasty wall is, how much is in good condition, or how much has collapsed. There is no central record."

After the collapse in 1644 of the Ming Dynasty the wall fell victim to neglect. China's new rulers came from one of the northern tribes the wall had been built to repel, so they felt no need to maintain it.

Reuters reported that three workers in Inner Mongolia were detained for digging up part of the wall to use as landfill in a local construction project. "It's just a pile of earth," one village leader was quoted as saying, according to the Xinhua news agency. Next week, anyone following their example will risk a fine of up to $62,500.

Anyway - I got to thinking, maybe all border walls should be built using rice krispy treats. They don't rot or really deteriorate, they're super cheap. And if you think about it, they're the ultimate preservative building block.
Those things are infinitely stackable and they last forever!
If you wanted to, you could build almost anything out of them. Though, this would probably open up a whole new era in illegal immigration. You might get masses of descending border-feeders instead of border-crossers, and the borders themselves would probably just be eaten away. What would that say about nation-states, or, say, the border fence and the food chain? Well, I don't know.
Anyway, I'm done with this silliness.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Architectural Clairvoyance and the Spaces of Terrorist Prevention

In a vaguely revealing article the BBC managed to visit “one of America's newest and most secret establishments”: the National Counterterrorism Center, or, the NCTC - described as the “beating heart of America's counter-terrorism nerve centre.”

[Image: Inside the US counter-terror nerve centre, BBC - 2006.]

Behind the walls of a non-descript building somewhere in a quiet Washington suburb, multiple watch-teams sift their way through an endless barrage of data viz and intelligence. For 12 to 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, they analyze over “6,000 reports [that] come through every day from satellite, electronic and human intelligence sources,” in an attempt to trace nothing less than the unfathomable patterns of a fortuitous geometry of hidden connections, that could somehow help predict the next terrorist attack.

[Image: As reported in this New York Times article on Open-Source Spying, These images represent terrorist attacks and some of the actors, weapons and targets linked to them. The physical relationship of the items suggests the level of connection. Illustrations by Lisa Strausfeld and James Nick Sears/Pentagram. Read this explanation.]

As if every attack were a sort of cryptic architecture forshadowed in scattered bits of incriminating data that merely waited to be extracted and linked together into unexpected form - I wonder, what architectural taxonomy we could decipher of past terrorist attacks by going back and re-analyzing all of the old data, and by connecting the dots of what we know now with what we knew only then. From that, could we create a sort of history of terrorism told in architectural form?
What if we found that all of the “early signs” surrounding each and every car bomb incident ironically took on a similar model, or data set - a like-patterned constellation of pre-intelligence? What if suicide attacks as a genre of terrorism revealed a kind of intelligence architecture that was consistent with all other suicide attacks around the world? Would surveillance and counter-terrorism experts become insane decoders of mysterious and elusive shape in data analysis? What if the task of “intelligence crunching” and “terrorism prediction” became a sort of informal practice of forensic architectural design? Would architects gain new stature as the clairvoyant heroes of terrorism prevention? Would the NCTC essentially become the most important architecture firm on the planet?

(yeah, whatever...thanks, Geoff for the news link!)

Peripheral Milit_Urb 12

[Image: Bubble City, a drawing by Kiel Johnson at Hyperbole Studios.]

DARPA's Immune Building Dedication is a research effort to develop, integrate, and demonstrate a system to protect buildings against chemical and biological warfare agent attack. This is the first-ever demonstration of an integrated system for building protection in an occupied building under real-world operating conditions. : House of Terror "This afternoon we were treated to a lecture on Budapest, Hungary's House of Terror, "illustrating the grim decades of Nazi and Communist repression." : Munich's New Synagogue opens 68 years after the Nazi Kristallnacht anti-Jewish pogrom when the old Synagogue together with other synagogues and Jewish buildings were trashed, looted and burned. : Penthouse Bunker With Pool : Bionic Dolphin Cruises at 80 mph : The Need for Speed - All Aboard the Underwater Express! to: "...demonstrate stable and controllable high-speed underwater transport through supercavitation. The intent is to determine the feasibility for supercavitation technology to enable a new class of high-speed underwater craft for future littoral missions that could involve the transport of high-value cargo and/or small units of personnel. : Offsite Releases "At the risk of shocking you, it turns out that underground nuclear tests in Nevada vented significant amounts of radiation." : Waging Peace in the Philippines 'it's an innovative, decidedly nonviolent approach by which U.S. military personnel—working with aid agencies, private groups and Philippine armed forces—are trying to curtail terrorist recruitment by building roads and providing other services in impoverished rural communities.' : Airport Defense: Lasers, Microwaves : On sale now: Israeli bomb shelters 'The Jerusalem Post notes that the underground shelter, for use by government officials in case of nuclear or conventional attack, was approved a decade ago (not in response to Iran). The bunker will have a tunnel leading to the city outskirts, emerging “at Emek Ha’Arazim outside Mevaseret Zion near the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road.”' : Google Earth Tracks Nukes : General Dynamics to Build Training 'Village' GDC's information technology unit will build an artificial Middle Eastern village near Amman, Jordan, to be used for urban combat training by the U.S. Army and its close allies. The buildings will simulate homes, apartments, banks, a police station, offices and retail shops, he said. They will be wired with high-tech instruments for day and night video and audio recording. The facility also will include special effects to simulate a battlefield. : “Can Dr. Evil Save the World”? details plans by Lowell Wood to solve the global warming problem using geo-engineering. : Portable Nuke Power Plant for the Army? some propose developing a self-contained nuclear power plant that could deploy with forces to provide energy for its garrisons and allow the service to significantly scale back its logistics operations -- including its reliance on foreign oil -- required to sustain troops around the world.

• • •

Caterpillar Homewrecker’s Visit to London: Since 2003 a campaign, triggered by the murder of ISM activist Rachel Corrie, has been building to force Caterpillar to end all contracts with Israel. People have taken action in the UK, the US and all over Europe. Due to pressure from campaigners and rebuke from the U.N., Caterpillar have been forced to make public statements about the use of the D9 by the Israeli army. Caterpillar’s position is that they no longer supply D9’s to Israel but they will not say whether they supply parts to maintain the Israeli army’s existing D9s. : House Demolitions in the West Bank : SmartMobbing against the IDF: The Israeli army cancelled a planned air raid on the home of a Gaza militant on Sunday after several hundred Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the building.

• • •

[Image: The Struggle for Iraq: The Budget, and an Ally; Idle Contractors Add Millions to Iraq Rebuilding, The New York Times, 2006.]


Iraq corruption 'costs billions' : U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Contracting, Networking Opportunity Day Draws Large Iraqi Turnout : Halliburton's subsidiary KBR, which has caused controversy for its role in reconstructing Iraq, has seen its shares soar after a listing in the US. : Reconstruction Continues... : Iraq Telecommunications & Post Corporation (ITPC), Iraq's sole fixed-line operator, has awarded Nortel a US$20 million contract to build a nationwide optical backbone to deliver high-quality high-bandwidth data, video and multimedia services for personal and business communications. : Halliburton Unit to Pay $8 Million for Overbilling : War, What Is It Good For? There are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, a total that is approaching the size of the U.S. military force there, according to the military's first census of the growing population of civilians operating in the battlefield.

• • •

Biocidal Terrain - "So setting aside for now any and all skepticism of the polymer's ability to significantly mitigate some future species-ending plague, might we expect biocidal fountains to proliferate soon: like CCTV cameras, littering your daily commute, and misting you from the moment you exit your house till you finally settle down on your office chair? How about so-called respiratory oases retrofitted for the Ebola virus? Or benches, bathroom doorknobs, subway handrails, playground swings, elevator cars, and even nauseatingly boring public sculptures fostering an entirely new level of public intimacy?" : Reinterred City - Simultaneously indulging the fantasies of Dr. Strangelove and the Soprintendenza, Andrew Evans wants to deploy a robot to cities devastated by an earthquake, whereupon this “burrowing robot negotiates through the unstable rubble and solid earth, creating an interred, inhabitable structure from recycled debris.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Little Hidden TeleTerrain

CBS News takes a peak at how "Telecommunication companies are camouflaging cell phone towers in elaborate disguises." Also, check out Pruned's earlier post Cellular Infrastructure. (Via Planetizen)