Unforgettable Fire

"The overwhelming obliterative power of nuclear weapons turns them into a kind of ubiquitous anti-landscape, something that no geography, built or natural, can successfully resist. … If we're going to study cities, in other words, then we should also study that which is radically anti-city." — Geoff Manaugh, BLDGBLOG

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Resample: "The Chicago Pile-1 was Enrico Fermi's first successful attempt to achieve a critical nuclear reaction, which occurred in 1942 in a squash court underneath the Stagg Stadium bleachers at the University of Chicago. The squash court was the only place on campus with thick enough walls and a sufficiently elevated ceiling to house the pile of graphite bricks and wooden timbers that constituted the first nuclear reactor. Thus, the nuclear bomb arguably owes its genesis to a sporting space."

Here is a map centred over the Stagg Stadium bleachers, using the Ground Zero mashup developed by CarlosLabs. Using Google Maps and nuclear explosion blast projection data, the application shows the thermal damage caused by a nuclear explosion.

Courtesy of CarlosLabs

One simply selects the nuclear weapon of choice and clicks "Nuke It". Below, we see the devastation caused by the 15-kiloton Little Boy uranium bomb (dropped by the United States on Hiroshima in 1945) as if it were detonated at the site of Chicago Pile-1:

Courtesy of CarlosLabs

The 50-megaton Tsar Bomba was detonated in a nuclear test by the USSR in 1961 as a means to demonstrate the power of the Soviet arsenal during the Cold War. Below, we witness the largest explosion ever produced in human history in a feedback loop to Stagg Stadium:

Courtesy of CarlosLabs

Before deciding to obliterate the site that first harnessed the power of the atom, I began by detonating a Little Boy uranium bomb over my home, and I notice that both of the sources I found this link from did the same thing. Why? Obviously it is about understanding the impact of the bomb through the experience of the familiar, but in my case it was a little more nuanced than that. The familiar in my case was synonymous with the walkable or had-walked: I perceived the damage done by the Little Boy by comparing it to my embodied understanding of those neighbourhoods I have walked so many times.

Courtesy of CarlosLabs

In her essay "The Indeterminate Mapping of the Common," Doina Petrescu notes the links between the nomadic subject and the beginning of architecture, which she locates in the work of Francesco Careri.

In his book Walkscapes, Francesco Careri suggests that the 'architectural' construction of space began with human beings wandering in the Palaeolithic landscape: following traces, leaving traces. The slow appropriation of the territory was the result of this incessant walking of the first humans.

By considering 'walking' as the beginning of architecture, Careri proposes another history of architecture – one which is not that of settlements, cities and buildings made of stones but of movements, displacements and flows …. It is an architecture which speaks about space not as being contained by walls but as made of routes, paths and relationships. Careri suggests that there is something common in the system of representation that we find in the plan of the Palaeolithic village, the walkabouts of the Australian aborigines and the psychogeographic maps of the Situationists. If for the settler, the space between settlements is empty, for the nomad, the errant, the walker – this space is full of traces: they inhabit space through the points, lines, stains and impressions, through the material and symbolic marks left in the landscape. These traces could be understood as a first grasping of what is common, as a first tool to size and constitute resources for a constantly moving and changing community.

In other words, returning to the above discussion of Ground Zero, while walking is another way of understanding the history of the city, is it perhaps also a way of understanding that which is "radically anti-city"?

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"This 'silvery snow,' [Gary Snyder] suggests, is something geologically new – even outside biological experience altogether, something never before encountered by life on earth. But it is precisely this that makes radioactive fallout perhaps the only true, long-term marker of human presence on earth. It is our greatest fossil, so to speak. Even now, the globally nomadic residues of nuclear weapons tests form a ghostly stratigraphic marker that can be found literally around the world, something that has become an all but permanent part of the earth's sedimentary record. In other words, if there is anything on the planet that will announce to future species that humans were, in fact, once here, it will be this thin band of fallout that has drifted down through interconnected systems of biology to form a kind of strange and poisonous sugar – an anti-biotic dust whose shortest half-life is already far too long – in the rocks all around us." — Geoff Manaugh, BLDGBLOG

(via Wired Science)


2 responses to Unforgettable Fire

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