The installations invite humanity to loosen its grip on the planet

A series of dramatic maps, draped like tapestries on the walls of the main ballroom of the historic Sinel de Cordes Palace in Lisbon, Portugal, portray the myriad pathways humans have created: highways, railways, sea lanes, power lines, submarine cables, etc. — to tame and exploit the Earth.

The maps, marked by a dense network of lines culled from vast data sets that capture complex global networks, form the core of “Terra Infirma – Terra Incognita”, an immersive installation created by Yale architects Joyce Hsiang and Bimal Mendis on show at the Lisbon Architecture Triennial. Collectively, they invite viewers to reconsider the relationship humans have with the planet against the backdrop of climate change and related crises – the “infirma” referred to in the title.

By meticulously mapping the infrastructure that supports communication, travel, trade, resource extraction, and other human endeavors, Hsiang and Mendis aim to call attention to relatively pristine or unknown parts of the globe, such as the ocean floor – the “unknown” of the installation’s title – and inspire others to reflect on how to preserve such places or recover previously exploited areas and return them to the “unknown” state.

Ultimately, the project proposes that humans find ways to “roll back and withdraw their status as a truly global species.”

Human encounters with the planet have been exploitative in nature,” said Mendis, assistant dean and director of graduate studies at the Yale School of Architecture and dean of Plan B Architecture & Urbanism, an interdisciplinary design and research collaboration based in New York. Haven. “Our project is a conscious way of asking ourselves how we can find a balance between construction and deconstruction or extraction and conservation. How could we relate to the unknown in a different way, not as something to be colonized and exploited? How could we go back to places like that used to be unknown back to the unknown, as an act of intentional disengagement?

Yale School of Architecture faculty members Bimal Mendis and Joyce Hsiang combine data analysis, mapping and artistry to produce immersive installations that demand an “unexploration” of the Earth.

The installation is the second iteration of Mendis and Hsiang’s planetary mapping project that will be featured at an international architecture exhibition this year. A similarly themed installation, “The World Turned Inside Out,” was exhibited at the recently concluded Venice Architecture Biennale. This earlier version featured a massive three-piece open globe. Detailed drawings, similar in content to the maps on display in Lisbon, covered the front and back of the broken globe’s 86 steel frames. As in the Lisbon exhibition, the idea was to highlight portions of the Earth as yet unclaimed by humans and imagine the possibilities for further accumulation.

Our project requires an ‘unexploration’ of the Earth,” said Hsiang, a professor at the School of Architecture and dean of Plan B Architecture & Urbanism. “It outlines and looks for ways to protect these undiscovered spaces and talks about retreat practices in an effort to allow once undiscovered areas to recover from the exploitative practices involved in it. Our work is somewhat utopian and speculative, but it is very much grounded in an analysis of existing infrastructure and the organization of urbanization on our planet.”

The urgency of the climate crisis makes discussing these ideas especially important, Hsiang said. The effects of climate change have created new “unknown” spaces in the form of land exposed by retreating glaciers or dried up lake beds, she said. Steps could be taken, she added, to protect these newly discovered areas, rather than exploiting them for minerals and other natural resources.

The project, which includes both installations, is supported by Yale’s Franke Program for Science and the Humanities, an initiative that connects academic majors and encourages groundbreaking interdisciplinary projects.

Our work does not follow traditional boundaries,” Hsiang said. “Support from the Franke Program made both installations possible. We are very grateful. The funding enabled Hsiang and Mendis to work with a team of research assistants, many of which are past and present students of Yale University.

“Mapping as knowledge” has been one of the long-standing intellectual themes we have pursued for our talks and projects at the Franke Program, and we were delighted to support Joyce and Bimal in their unique installation project which calls attention to the transformations that urban planning has been operating on the planet,” said astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan, who heads the Franke Program.

Tackling climate change, Mendis said, requires a multifaceted approach. “The problems facing the planet are not just scientific in nature,” she said. “If we just throw science at it, we won’t find all the answers.”

Person standing in front of large scale map
“Terra Infirma – Terra Incognita”, an installation presented at the Lisbon Architecture Triennial in Portugal, is composed of large-scale maps depicting the infrastructure that supports communication, travel, commerce, resource extraction and other human endeavors.

For the installation, the Yale architects combined intensive data and spatial analysis with design and artistry to present people with information and new ideas about the planet in a way that Mendis hopes will capture their attention and possibly influence their thinking and life. their imagination.

We find that because the globe and the maps are large-scale and immersive, it really changes how people relate to them,” Mendis said. “Something clicks when they see data in physical form and at scale. book, a drawing or a digital model do not have the same effect”.

Mapping and modeling infrastructure networks across national borders on a global scale is no easy feat. There is no single source of data to rely on, and countries tend to classify roads and other infrastructure differently. Creating the maps involved reconciling these discrepancies and transforming massive amounts of data into a compelling visual presentation, Hsiang said.

The Lisbon installation takes advantage of its setting in a palatial 18thnineteenth-century building that once belonged to a noble family. Its layout is a play on the map rooms that European aristocrats had in their mansions and palaces, Hsiang said. The maps evoke the portolan charts used by seafarers to navigate, which were interwoven with lines outlining routes from port to port.

While the idea of ​​humanity loosening its grip on the natural world may seem fanciful at first blush, the ideas proposed by the Yale architects already have real-world applications that are rooted in spatial planning and design, Hsiang said.

For example, intentional abandonment, the withdrawal of people from areas they have exploited or inhabited, is the idea behind nature reserves and national parks. No-fly zones, usually implemented for military purposes, could be enforced to protect the environment and preserve dark skies. Mary clausethe term in international law that describes when a state closes navigable waters to other countries could be repurposed to free swathes of the ocean from overfishing, entanglement of undersea cables and the endless consequences of fossil fuel extraction, Hsiang and Mendis said .

The concept of “points of inaccessibility”, a term describing the point on the ocean furthest from the coast – Point Nemo in the case of the Pacific – could be applied in other ways to protect natural resources by intentionally designating places as “remote”, Hsiang said.

On the one hand, these ideas reflect a change of values ​​that might seem impossible for some,” he said. “On the other hand, they are very real because they already exist. They are forced all the time. It’s just a matter of what you choose to impose and why.

Terra Infirma – Terra Incognito”, which opened on 18 October. 1, will be visible until December 5.


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