Fionn Byrne. Operation: ‘Hello Eden’. In Goes Soft: Bracket 2. Ed. Neeraj Bhatia & Lola Sheppard. Actar (2013).
OPERATION 'HELLO EDEN': PREEMPTIVE ECOLOGY
Acting less as protagonist, the modern military has been increasingly responsible for responding to environmental crisis. This role is projected to increase in the future as global warming forces the failure of ecological systems to operate within predicted parameters, resulting in the failure of infrastructural systems upon which they are built. Writing in the political and economic context of the 1970s, John McHale argues that technology is not only a means of environmental control but is also integral as a functional component of the ecosystem and that any man-made infrastructural systems can also be a productive natural system and needs to be considered as such. McHale’s categories of technology as predictive understanding versus expanded control are well matched with the landscape architectural terms of analysis and intervention. Although perhaps weary of technologies of predictive understanding, such as aerial imaging, this data, made available by the military has facilitated all manner of environmental and terrain analysis readily used by landscape architects, scientists and the public. Less accepted is supporting technological intervention into ecological systems. In conflict zones these two technology categories outlined by McHale, respond in tandem, often on the same platform. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are able to provide remote real time situation analysis and rapid situation control. This project acknowledges its use of military technology for sites analysis and explores the potential benefits to the use of technologies of environmental control in a remote site facing significant ecological challenges.
PREEMPTIVE ECOLOGICAL ACTION
Since the 1970s our planetary environment has been characterized as being in a state of crisis so profound as to challenge our very survival. NASA’s release of the Apollo mission images of Earth from space galvanized a fear of impending environmental doom due to nuclear warfare, overpopulation, and pollution.1 Today this sense of crisis has shifted away from destruction by military means towards economic causes. Our unabated consumption of natural resources which drives global markets has given rise to the universal threat of climatic change. The fear of instant destruction has been replaced with a sense of chronic environmental weakening with localized system failures.
Instead of acting as protagonist, the modern military has increasingly been responsible for responding to environmental crisis. Perhaps the most telling example was the response and ensuing criticism at the lack of response of the American military following the breaching of New Orleans’ hydrological infrastructure system as a result of pressure placed upon it by Hurricane Katrina. The military was called upon to repair damaged infrastructure (hydrologic, transportation, energy), provide medical aid and logistical support. This role of the military in responding to environmental crisis is projected to increase in the future as global warming forces the failure of ecological systems to operate within predicted parameters, resulting in the failure of infrastructural systems upon which they are built or vice versa.
This coupling of infrastructural and ecological systems is a current preoccupation of the field of Landscape Architecture. Pierre Belanger, who has published considerable research on the topic, explains: “the generic, technological apparatus of modern infrastructure has largely overshadowed the preeminence of biophysical systems that underlie it. Whereas in the past, industrialized nations were forced to contaminate or destroy the environment in service of the economy, today that equation is being reversed. The economy is now inseparable from the environment.”2 This sentiment is echoed by the Canadian Department of National Defence who recognize that: “the impact of environmental health on the economy and society cannot be underestimated.”3 As such, emergency response efforts will require the operational capacity to both restore infrastructural capabilities and to respond to ecological failures. If it is recognized that in many cases ecological failure will require military intervention, where at the extreme it is even argued that a shortage of necessary resources has the potential to destabilize or collapse societies,4 then it can be argued that preemptive ecological action is a legitimate military pursuit.
To return to the example of New Orleans, we can imagine a scenario where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers builds not only flood protection levees and walls but designs wetlands which have the potential to mitigate storm waters before they approach the city. These wetlands would have the added advantage of strengthening the brackish water ecosystem that is the foundation of the areas fishing and shrimping economy. Thus the design process is re-imagined to engage today’s most financially secure and technologically advanced organization – the modern military. Elizabeth Mossop’s call for “strategies for armoring or defense”5 of Mississippi Delta communities through land-building and the restoration of coastal swamp and marshland communities would be well heeded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
If we accept that the military will invest in ecological infrastructure to pre-emptively mitigate the need to respond with greater force, it is worth asking what form the design process of this institution will take and how will it impact the work of landscape architects. Even if we don’t accept that the military will encounter ecology as a productive asset and negative force multiplier with greater frequency in the future, it is still worth considering the impacts of the technological advancements of this organization to the design process of landscape architects and related disciplines. There is no greater historical example of this than the internet (a military invention of the late 1960s) which has had a profound impact on the profession of landscape architecture, but other examples could be provided extending from the origins of the profession such as the ha-ha (moat) to examples critical to contemporary work such as GPS. This paper will argue that the most profound impact on the design process will be the dissolution of the boundary between observation and intervention, both enacted remotely and accelerated to near instantaneity.
OBSERVATION VERSUS EXPERIMENTATION
Writing in the political and economic context of the 1970s, John McHale was keenly aware of the growing ecological crisis and the imbrication of technology with ecological systems. He more broadly defines technology as “all systems for attaining to greater predictive understanding and expanded control of the human environ.”6 Infrastructural systems would of course be included in this definition. He argues in his book The Ecological Context that technology is not only a means of environmental control but is also integral as a functional component of the ecosystem. This position is clear in his desire that “industrial and agricultural undertakings need to be redesigned as ecologically operating systems,”7 the aspirations of which can be seen as contributing to contemporary landscape architectures engagement in landscape infrastructures.
McHale organizes technology into two categories, those of predictive understanding versus expanded control. In landscape architecture the design process facilitated by its use of technology is similarly divided. Predictive understanding refers to all manner of tools, systems and practices for collecting and projecting information on the past, present, and future of a site: observation or what is most commonly called mapping by landscape architects. Whereas expanded control is any process that increases, decreases or limits the flow of materials or energy to or from a site: a physical transformation of site conditions or experimentation. Of course not unique to the profession of landscape architecture, the same division between observation and intervention is a component of the scientific method and is maintained in most fields of science. Claude Bernard, writing around one hundred years before McHale, describes well in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine the distinction between observation and experimentation. Where observation consists in nothing phenomena without disturbing them while experimentation is the active introduction of variation or disturbance by an investigator into the conditions of natural phenomena.8
Although perhaps weary of technologies of predictive understanding, such as aerial imaging, this data, made available in large part by the military through advances in satellite and spy technologies, has facilitated all manner of environmental and terrain analysis readily used by landscape architects, scientist, and the public. From early maps of military fortifications to modern day high resolution satellite imagery, the visualization and delineation of landscapes has been pioneered by military technological advances and later appropriated by landscape architects, ecologist and geographers. In either an academic or corporate setting one would be hard pressed to produce examples of work that did not at one stage or another, make use of aerial imagery collected from Google Earth, Bing Maps or a similar platform.
Less accepted is supporting technological interventions of expanded control into ecological systems; experimenting with ecology. Just as one would be hard pressed to find examples of projects that did not make use of satellite imagery, it is difficult to find examples of projects that make use of advanced technological innovations towards site design, construction or continued/continuous site maintenance and monitoring. With respect to site design, landscape architects are beginning to take notice of software which responds to changing parameters rather than static variables, but construction and maintenance are largely carried out by men with shovels or by mechanized earth moving machines.
PERCEIVE AND ACT
The distinction McHale has made between technologies of predictive understanding versus expanded control is much less clear when applied to modern military platforms. For example, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) operating in conflict zones are able to respond with these two technology categories responding in tandem. Visual satellite observation is continuously fed to a remote operator who is able to respond near instantly with audio signals or an array of armaments, providing real-time situation control. This technological advancement was prefigured by Marshall McLuhan. His insight is quite clear and worth quoting at length.
“…the price we pay for special technological tools, whether the wheel or the alphabet or radio, is that these massive extensions of sense constitute closed systems. Our private senses are not close systems but are endlessly translated into each other in that experience which we call consciousness. Our extended senses, tools, technologies, through the ages, have been closed systems incapable of interplay or collective awareness. Now, in the electric age, the very instantaneous nature of co-existence among our technological instruments has created a crisis quite new in human history. Our extended faculties and senses now constitute a single field or experience which demands that they become collectively conscious… As long as our technologies were as slow as the wheel or the alphabet or money, the fact that they were separate, closed systems was socially and psychically supportable. This is not true now when sight and sound and movement are simultaneous and global in extent.”9
Nowhere is this collective consciousness of our extended faculties (technologies) being advanced as quickly as in military research centers. The United States Air Force express their future ambitions clearly in the document Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047:
“Advances in computing speeds and capacity will change how technology affects the OODA loop [observe, orient, decide, and act]. Today the role of technology is changing from supporting to fully participating with humans in each step of the process… UAS [Unmanned Aircraft System] will be able to react at these speeds and therefore this loop moves toward becoming a “perceive and act” vector. Increasingly humans will no longer be “in the loop” but rather “on the loop” – monitoring the execution of certain decisions. Simultaneously, advances in AI will enable systems to make combat decisions and act within legal and policy constraints without necessarily requiring human input.”10
Clearly the boundaries between observation and experimentation, predictive understanding and expanded control, between site analysis and design, are dissolved. Operation ‘Hello Eden’ (Thesis, Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design, 2010) acknowledges its use of military technology for site analysis and explores the potential benefits to the use of technologies of environmental control in a remote site facing significant ecological challenges. The project begins to explore the possibilities of landscape architecture when the designer is liberated from responding to singular closed systems and allowed to operate across a variety of dynamic feedback loops.
OPERATION 'HELLO EDEN'
Colombia is planning on doubling its energy capacity through an expansion of its hydroelectric infrastructure. Integral to this plan is the proposed Pescadero-Ituango dam, with a projected cost of 2.29 billion dollars and an associated reservoir stretching 70 km through critically endangered habitat.11 The design of the dam accommodates changes in the area’s hydraulic regime by storing enough water in the reservoir to ensure a reliable flow though the turbines even in dry seasons. This designed variability in reservoir’s depth, known as the drawdown, has a significant impact on the ecological diversity and biomass along a reservoir’s edge. A drawdown of greater than 9.5 meters is said to have an inhibitory effect, reducing any ecological measures to a minimum.12 This Dam is projected to have a drawdown of 12 meters. The implications of this inhibitory environment are significant. Wetlands and riparian ecosystems provide ecological services towards improved dam operations by reducing sediment load while also providing regional services by supplying habitat to migratory species. At a local scale, a productive ecological system can ensure available food and clean water. Globally, Colombia has a highly significant level of biodiversity and yet has only five protected wetlands.13 Even before increasing their generative capacity two fold, the area of inundated lands serving as reservoirs for hydroelectric dams is greater than protected wetland habitat. This habitat type is known to be critical in protecting species diversity. Thus the local imbrications of infrastructure, energy, economy, and ecology have true global consequences.
Assuming the development of the dam as a given Operation ‘Hello Eden’ explores a means of realizing rapid and substantive topological transformation without the need for the construction of transportation infrastructure in this remote mountain valley ecosystem. In order to produce a viable wetland habitat in the face of such a significant reservoir drawdown there must be substantive topographical variability. Ideally, the landscape would be shaped in such a way so as to hold volumes of water deep enough to avoid fully evaporating during the dry season, only to be reconnected to the larger water body while the reservoir is at its high. The best site for such a wetland is a flat expanse of land at the edge of the reservoir at an elevation close to the projected reservoir height. This site condition would maximize the horizontal distance that the wetland can occupy while ensuring two requirements: the filling of the wetland depths during high water; and that the water is not be so deep as to drown wetland plants at the high water level. Freely available 3D topographic information via Google Earth by way of satellite imaging can be imported to AutoCAD Civil 3D and analyzed to easily delineate suitable targets. The specific GPS location of these targets can be then passed to a X-47B UCAV or other similar strike platform able to deploy Mk 82 500 lbs ordinances which cost a mere $268.50 per unit.14 Dropped in linear sticks, few aerial passes of the site can rapidly turn an otherwise planar forest floor into a topographically varied surface prepared for wetland colonization.
The logic of piggybacking on the resources of an existing organization, such as the mobilization of military technologies for the generation of tactical wetlands, can also be used for the protection of this landscape type. The Ramsar Convention is an international organization founded in 1975 with a mission to conserve and protect significant wetland habitat. Internationally the Ramsar Convention protects over 185,000,000 hectares of wetland habitat classified into three categories: marine and coastal; inland; and human-made wetlands. Within this third category we find 4 interesting types of landscape: aquaculture ponds; ponds, such as farm ponds, stock ponds and small tanks; water storage areas, such as reservoirs and dams; and excavations, such as gravel pits, borrow pits, and mining pools.15 Furthermore, to make the case stronger, several designation of wetlands of international importance are also met. For example, from “Group A, item 1: a wetland should be considered internationally important if it contains representative, rare or unique wetland types”. Or “Group B, item 4: a wetland should be considered internationally important if it supports plant and/or animal species at a critical stage in their life cycles, or provides refuge during adverse conditions.”16 With this in mind we understand that the true potential of the Operation ‘Hello Eden’ is not the generation of a novel wetland system, but the design of a procedure by which any location on the globe can be hydro- and topographically manipulated by a remote operator to rapidly generate a productive and viable habitat under the protection of an international organization. Site analysis and intervention are completed by the same technology via the same platform by the same designer.
1 Scott, Felicity D. Architecture or Techno-Utopia: Politics
After Modernism. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007, p.213.
2 Belanger, Pierre. “Redefining Infrastructure.” In
Ecological Urbanism, Ed. Mohsen Mostafavi and Gareth
Doherty. Baden: Lars Muller, 2010, p.345.
3 Saydeh, Emmanuel (Manny). Director Environmental
Stewardship, Department of National Defence. Personal
communication , February 9, 2011.
4 The CNA Corporation. National Security and the Threat
of Climate Change. 2007, pp.13-18. Online PDF:
5 Mossop, Elizabeth. Interview with Elizabeth Mossop.
American Society of Landscape Architects. Retrieved
March 3, 2012, from http://www.asla.org/
6 McHale, John. The Ecological Context. New York:
George Braziller, 1970, p. 86.
7 White, Mason. “The Productive Surface.” In On farming,
Ed. Mason White and Maya Przybylski. Barcelona:
Actar, 2010, p.102.
8 Bernard, Claude. An Introduction to the Study of
Experimental Medicine. New York: The Macmillan
Company, 1927, pp.8-9. The field of medicine is cited
as an example because I would argue that it will
undergo (is undergoing) a similar transformation where
the separation between observation and intervention is
9 McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg galaxy: the making
of typographic man. Toronto: University of Toronto
10 USAF. Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan:
2009-2047. Washington, 2009, p.41. Online PDF:
11 WWF (World Wildlife Fund). WildFinder. Online: [http://
Pescadero Ituango no nacio ayer. Online:
12 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations: Fisheries and Aquaculture Department. Dam
design and operation to optimize fish production in
impounded river basins. Rome: FAO, 1984.[http://
13 Ramsar. The List of Wetlands of International
Importance. March 26, 2010. Online PDF: [http://
14 Federation of American Scientists. Mk82 General
Purpose Bomb. April 23, 2000. Online: [http://
15 Ramsar. Information Sheet on Ramsar Wetlands (RIS) –
2009-2014 version. September 18, 2009. Online PDF: