LandFab, or Manufacturing Terrain

[Zealandia topography. Considered by many a lost continent (micro-continent), Zealandia sank after separation from Antarctica some 130 million years ago.]

[Zealandia topography. Considered by many a lost continent (micro-continent), Zealandia sank after separation from Antarctica some 130 million years ago. Separated or future originary?]

Editors Note: File under Glacier / Island / Storm, a studio run by BLDGBLOG at Columbia University GSAPP. Island Edition. -----------

Gilles Deleuze, in "Desert Islands," distinguishes between two types of islands, continental (separated) and oceanic (originary) islands. He writes, “Continental islands serve as a reminder that the sea is on top of the earth. Oceanic islands that the earth is still there under the sea gathering its strength to punch through to the surface.” While certainly staying true to deep-time, geological phenomenon, he does overlook another obvious case of artificial islands, which are simultaneously originary—because they are often constructed from scratch—and separated—because they are often grown upon annexed foundational granular material. The previous century was witness to an abundance of innovative development energy in producing something solid amidst something entirely liquid. It most early cases of land fabrication, catalysts of the artificial, manufactured islands type are centered on volcanic heroism, political anomaly, or development opportunism.

[The Federated States of Micronesia consists of 607 islands extending 1,800 miles and is divided into four states. Nan Madol is on the eastern state of Pohnpei.]

[The Federated States of Micronesia consists of 607 islands extending 1,800 miles and is divided into four states. Nan Madol is on the eastern state of Pohnpei.]

1. NAN MADOL // What better place to start than volcanic heroism. The early occupants of The Federated States of Micronesia constructed Nan Madol, a series of 92 artificial rectangular islets, for nobility made of basalt prisms in about 1300. Megalithic land manufactured of columnar basalt formed seawalls stacked like logs, with coral rubble fill behind the seawalls. The basalt seawalls and breakwaters of Nan Madol have survived centuries of brutal Pacific conditions and have become symbiotic with the existing island coast.

[Nan Madol map.]

[Nan Madol map.]

 

[Arguably earths first prefabricated material, basalt prism columns are formed through the cracking of cooled lava.]

[Earths first prefabricated material, basalt prism columns are formed from the mathematics of cracking cooled lava.]

Columnar basalt forms when flowing lava is spread think over a large area and cools simultaneously from the top (air cooling) and bottom (earth cooling). It contracts as it cools, but due to irregularity, the entire body does not contract. Instead, the contract is localized and cracks form, resulting in polygonal columns of basalt that are only a few feet wide. The early Pohnpeians of Nan Madol used these columns in a manner similar to log-cabin construction with alternating rows.

[A portal marking the entry into the mortuary enclosure of Nandauwas of Nan Madol. Constructed entirely out of basalt prisms, est. 1200.]

[A portal marking the entry into the mortuary enclosure of Nandauwas of Nan Madol. Constructed entirely out of basalt prisms, est. 1200. Apologies for the tourist, but it is useful for scale.]

Today, Nan Madol’s ruins, often called the Venice of the Pacific, are connected by a grid of shallow canals. (In fact, “Nan Madol” originates form the term “spaces between,” which carries a double meaning of between land / water and literally the canal-like spaces between its enclosures.) Again, Deleuze is useful here. From Desert Islands he writes: “Islands are either from before or for after humankind.” Islands are themselves a kind of geologic ruin—or in some way considered partial complete or partially eroded. How ideal then to have Nan Madol, artificial island, nestled within Micronesia, an originary island.

[Deshima is a Dutch trading post setup in 1634 on artifically constructed land in Nagasaki Bay, so as to prevent foreigners from touching Japanese soil.]

[Deshima is a Dutch trading post setup in 1634 on artifically constructed land in Nagasaki Bay, so as to prevent foreigners from touching Japanese soil.]

2. DEJIMA // Now for the case of political anomalous artificial land fabrication. The Japanese constructed Dejima, a man-made island in Nagasaki Bay in 1634. The island was constructed on the orders of the shogun to accommodate merchants, who were later expelled leaving only employees of the Dutch East Trading Company (also known as VOC) in 1641. At 120 meters by 75 meters wide, the fan-shaped island was administratively part of Nagasaki, but autonomous in many other ways. It housed residences for twenty Dutchmen, warehouses, and some accommodations for Japanese officials. With 150 interpreters deployed to Dejima, the island was heavily controlled to ensure that there remained room for economic benefit without political compromise.

[Deshima Island, circa 1810.]

[Deshima Island, circa 1810.]

The Dutch East India Company, arguably the first megacorporation, set the benchmark for trade in Asia. And cultivated a fleet of over 4000 ships to establish its monopoly--through political-spatial exceptions on trade islands throughout Asia. Dejima, because of the suspicion of of shogunate rule, was the most extreme with its own land serving as both port, trading post, resort, and geographic satellite. The Dutch flag was flown there from 1641 until 1857. For several years during the Napoleanic wars, Dejima was the only place that the Dutch flag stood firm. In many ways, Deshima was a foreshadowing of globalization, trade politics, free-trade zones, and other EEZs, 400 years in the making. The island form, especially that which is entirely artificial, served as a prophylactic throughout the trade exchange and contact between Asia and Europe. It was a mediator, neither authentically Japanese nor authentically European. Its fan-like shape provided an ideal lengthened edge towards the Bay for docking.

[Construction of the Venetian Causeway in Miami (1925). From the Florida Photographic Collection, Rc21474.]

[Construction of the Venetian Causeway in Miami (1925). From the Florida Photographic Collection, Rc21474.]

3. VENETIAN ISLANDS // No, not the real Venice; Venice, Miami. Before the faux fronds of Dubai, there was the Venetian Causeway--a developers crap shoot. The 1920s saw a land boom in Florida. The team of John Collins, a farmer turned developer, and Carl Fisher, a promotional genius, responded by constructing a chain of capsule-shaped islands along a causeway linking Miami to what became know as Miami Beach. The project, known as the Venetian Islands, began by selling underwater plots, specifying that the buyer would receive land on an island that had been dredged, filled, and improved. There was no physical land for potential buyers to survey when buying; they were buying the idea of land and lifestyle convey through images and real-estate speak.

[The perfect pill-shaped developments of Biscayne Island, San Marco Island, San Marino Island, Di Lido Island, Rivo Alto Island, and Belle Island. Constructed in the 1920s

[The perfect pill-shaped developments of Biscayne Island, San Marco Island, San Marino Island, Di Lido Island, Rivo Alto Island, and Belle Island. Constructed in the 1920s.]

The Venetian Islands were tightly calibrated to dimensionally ensure as much beach property as possible. All the islands were bisected by the Venetian Causeway, a bridge linking across the Bay that provided infrastructure and access. Collins and Fishers development in the Bay is tied to a contentious legacy, initiated in the 1860s, of drainage and land reclamation in the Florida Everglades.

[These are the remaining signs of the Isola di Lolando in Biscayne Bay, the island under contruction when the market crashed in 1929.]

[These concrete pillars are all that exists of the unfinished Isola di Lolando in Biscayne Bay, the Venetian Island under construction when the market crashed in 1929. Now, ironically, rather than an artifical island, it is an artifical reef.]

The exuberance of the overall project finally stalled with the combined strike of hurricanes and a burst real-estate bubble (the first of its kind!) in 1929. The legacy of this can be seen in the massive outline island figure of Isola de Lolando and its concrete pilings rising some 5-10 feet out of the Bay. Intended simply as evidence of a more storied history of innovations in land fabrication, these case studies show the role of economic opportunism and exceptions to create something solid from nothing, or something inhabitable from the uninhabitable. How do politics and economics figure in the scale and magnitude of these geographic exceptions? Although single-minded in their intention, how can the techniques involved in their fabrication--socially, ecologically, economically--further their viability and relevance?

Add new comment

BLOG ARCHIVE

2009

December 2009

November 2009

October 2009

September 2009

August 2009

July 2009

June 2009

May 2009

April 2009

March 2009

February 2009

January 2009