UC Berkeley (Nick)



Aug '08 - Jun '10

  • anchor

    Glacier/Island/Storm pt 2: Super/Typhoon/Wall

    Nick Sowers
    Feb 26, '10 6:12 PM EST

    In the opening pages of Sonic Warfare, Steve Goodman cites a newspaper account of a "sound bomb" created by Israeli low-flying jets over the Gaza Strip, painting a sonic image of "broken windows, ear pain, nosebleeds, anxiety attacks, sleeplessness, hypertension, and being left 'shaking inside'." Sonic booms are a terrifying phenomenon and certainly constitute a vicious weapon when used against civilians. Here in the US, where we are safe from Israeli planes sweeping over our heads, newspapers often announce a sonic boom before it happens. (If supersonic travel ever becomes commercialized mainstream, newspapers will presumably have to add a page to the Weather section forecasting the sonic booms of the day.)

    To relate this back to the unfolding discussion this week, I am thinking about a moral dilemma which should be readily apparent. If we are to design the weather, how can we, as designers, maintain some degree of control or power over the unwieldy forces behind the design act—the real source of political power which initiates the project?

    I argue that to design or augment large-scale natural processes, one must analyze the political muscle it would to take to implement these projects in addition to dreaming up fanciful solutions. Who is going to do this, in other words, with what material, what money, how, when, where, and why? It's about being a radical pragmatist, to borrow a phrase from my thesis advisor. The project must be made inevitable, and built into that inevitability should be a few caveats which might have nothing at all to do with designing the weather and everything to do with ordinary architectural acts (e.g. your design creates a brown-field site, but you build-in the means to reclaim it).

    Going back to the sonic boom, I began with asking this question, since it is abundantly clear what my obsession is: how could sound shape the design of the environment? Sound is relevant because it propagates through an atmosphere. Sound is literally the vibration of air molecules. This plays out on many scales, across both normative modes of building (theatres, highway noise barriers) and exceptional ones, too (the sonic boom).

    Another Glacier/Island/Storm respondent, David Gissen of HTC Experiments and a faculty member at CCA across the Bay, made a great point this week. Gissen states that "it’s also time we set our sites to the average natures where real, actual power resides," to look at "neutral and boring natures" such as a dull grey sky. On the surface level, that's very far from the architecture of a sonic boom. Yet when you look behind the event to the agent responsible, I think it is both disturbing and thought-provoking to consider the military with its weaponized atmospheres which infiltrate our lives to the most basic, private, and ordinary level. The "sound of freedom" is perhaps best expressed not as a singular, terrifying flyover but an atmosphere of distant and persistent military jet noise flying training missions in the skies over the United States.

    What I am about to show here is exactly the sort of thing Gissen might be critical of: a design for the exceptional condition, a weaponized sky-and-ocean that responds to a singularity in weather, namely the super-typhoon. My thesis, which will posit the material of architecture as sound itself, can be tested both by the improbable infrastructure delineated below and by the design that I am producing for April, which takes the most mundane of mundanes, a US military base, and asks what sort of new ecologies might emerge from reconfiguring how a base is constructed. (Refer to this NY Times article from four days ago on A Base for War Training, and Species Preservation). In that regard, I am sympathetic to Gissen's desire for "the constructed average"; yet it is a "militarized" average that I wish to interrogate, and to test as it relates to a "civilian" average at the boundary condition where the two intersect.

    In pt. 1 I made the case for the military as a client and suggested going the next step to find alternative uses for a project that one assumes will actually fail; and that's where this proposal currently exists, hovering between a massive investment in some god-like infrastructure built by the military, and a built-in re-purposing toward future civilian and ecological ends.

    1. Nobody seems to want to host the Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station on the tiny island of Okinawa, subject to screaming F-22s and the din of choppers, which occasionally crash in the adjacent dense neighborhood. This is not a localized problem; where this base goes has implications for the entire Pacific region. The future relations of the US and Japan pivot on this issue. (Refer to the NY Times and the Washington Post for more). In the spirit of this week, which has seen some provocative posts on artificial islands , this necessary evil too needs its own island. Other islands in Okinawa have been proposed as sites, but the US Military ought to build a Futenma Island, a permanent, floating aircraft-carrier island. Sound crazy? The military already thought of this a few years ago, even going so far as to produce a rendering of the air station island connected by a causeway to the main island of Okinawa. Naturally, the first engineering concern in such a construction would be a typhoon.

    [image: tracked storms of the 2009 typhoon season]

    2. Typhoons/hurricanes/tropical cyclones are chiefly powered by the condensation of warm vapor at high altitudes, but they depend upon warm ocean temperatures to develop and gain momentum. In an intense storm, an eye will form, which can serve as a weak-point when outer thunderstorms develop and move inward to rob the eye of the moisture it needs to maintain angular momentum. The spiraling action depends on the Earth's rotation, the forces of which cannot produce typhoons 300 miles or less from the Equator.

    3. How can you shoot the eye out? Shock eggs are formed by the condensation of air as it is forced to move at extremely high pressures when a projectile breaks the sound barrier. This air pressure can serve a purpose. The shock egg can be maximized for disturbance. In a counter-intuitive mode of operation for aeronautical design, you could ask Lockheed Martin to develop a projectile which produces the maximum turbulence and disruption in the minimum amount of mass. Maybe it's made out of ceramic—a sonic-boom-clay-pigeon. Still, this projectile needs a gun.


    4. The Ghost Fleet at Suisun Bay, a collection of WWII-era ships tethered together in the inner Bay about seventy miles away, pose an environmental hazard. The toxic paint is now being scrubbed off in dry docks before they head for Texas to be scrapped. (Also refer to other ghost fleets.) How could these ships be turned into some sort of attraction without the expense of converting them into managed museums? Furthermore, they are already equipped with guns, which could be modified to launch the aforementioned projectiles.

    [ image source]

    6. With all of these spare ships floating around, why not convert them into Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion plants? OTEC works by pumping up cold ocean water and using the temperature differential with warm water at the surface to generate energy (some of which is simply used to pump up water to keep the system running). Reading the history reveals that this technology is nothing new; it was first proposed in the 19th century, and then later again by Tesla, though to this day it is deemed not cost-effective, due to the material expense of a long, large-diameter cold-water intake pipe. Just saying that the military will pay for it is not enough. The OTEC plants beckon for a tertiary use.

    7. Tourism and War: The aforementioned ghost fleet repurposed as OTEC power plants could be a huge tourist draw. Ghost ships can be sunk to form artificial reefs, but could they also be resurrected? From the depths of the Pacific to a position near the surface, Yamamoto's fleet might serve as attractions for Japanese tourists to witness the folly of their run at Pacific domination in the first half of the 20th century. These floating relics re-purposed as power plants could be opened to recreational divers in the typhoon off-season.

    So, bear with me while I mix all of these ingredients together.


    Futenma Island will serve as the pilot fortress along the Super/Typhoon/Wall, harvesting the power from the OTEC generators which would be housed in the mothball fleet ships shown as the USS Iowa at the top and the USS Wisconsin in the lower right. The concept is similar to a permeable groyne or a barrier island described by
    ( earlier this week.) Between F-22's and sonic boom cannons, this may well become the loudest place on Earth (a site of tourism for Noise Music enthusiasts?)

    Next, two sections describing both the performance of the wall in a storm and a post-failure re-purposing for tourism.

    [A cross-section through the Super/Typhoon/Wall, showing the OTEC output pipes dropping the surface temperature of the ocean and sonic-boom projectiles disrupting the phase of the typhoon and inducing thunderstorms. Image produced with Rachael Koffman]

    Poke out the giant's eye, then pull the rug from under his feet.

    Super/Typhoon/Wall section 2
    [A section looking at the front elevation of the wall, in the typhoon-off-season. Scuba divers explore the resurrected wrecks of the INJ Kagero Destroyer and an INJ 400-class submarine. There is an OTEC generator inside the over-turned Kagero with sonic-boom-cannons mounted on the hull. Image produced with Rachael Koffman.]

    Finally, a pair of plans showing the binary condition of storm-wall and krill-farm.

    [Cold water brought up from the depths of the Mariana Trench, about 1 degree Celsius, when mixed with warm water at the ocean surface, will generate power to fire the sonic-boom-cannons, plus, more importantly, water of a temperature averaged between the depth and the surface would be pumped out to literally sweep the typhoon off its feet.]

    [The water output from the OTEC facility, pulled from the nutrient-rich layer of the ocean, suggests a means to mitigate the effect of
    Ocean Desert. Krill farming is one possible by-product, and could in fact become the model should the wall cease to function as a typhoon-killer.]


    What happens when the typhoon wall fails? What could you do with this infrastructure if it fails to serve the purpose it was built for? Clean drinking water could be produced through OTEC. A 10 MW OTEC plant in the Marshall Islands will produce 2 million gallons/day of drinking water.

    Krill farming might have beneficial impacts on the food ecology of the Pacific, which depends so heavily on Spam. Could it be that this infrastructure serves not to dissipate typhoons but to get Oceania off Spam? Sounds like a project for Edible Geography.

    Thanks to Glacier/Island/Storm leader Geoff Manaugh for his correspondence, and everyone else who put up really thought-provoking stuff this week. (See also other typhoon walls via Pruned, the unofficial Glacier/Island/Storm curator.) It's been awesome. Cheers!

    • No Comments

    • Block this user

      Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

    • Back to Entry List...
  • ×Search in:

Affiliated with:

Authored by:

Other blogs affiliated with University of California, Berkeley:

Recent Entries