“It Still Takes 12 Days”: Building An Audience for Industrial Ecologies

Nelida Nassar  11.01.2015

“It Still Takes 12 Days,” an exhibition created by Landing Studio now showing at Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture of the City College of New York, reveals the remarkable stories behind global industrial production. (The explanation for the curious title is simple: even in this age of technological wonders and instantaneity, it still takes up to 12 days to move goods from China to some of the world’s markets). Concentrating on two themes, the translation of natural processes into industry and the intersection of industry and the city, its big idea is to study a ubiquitous material – in this case, salt – and its associated industry and to propose design tactics for positively integrating its global production with local production, while simultaneously initiating a debate on its future development.  The outcome could pose an alternative, or several alternatives, to the age of sustainability and the myriad of opportunities before today’s designers.

The show’s choreography sends visitors along a raised, serpentine path through the exhibits of 4 specially built enclosures rhythmically divided by 3 enfilades. Wanting to encourage people to ‘develop their own eye’, it keeps commentary to a strict minimum: the captions list the items displayed, accompanied by only brief comments pointing out their distinctive attributes.

Divided into sections – landing, rural infrastructure, nature, art, monument, global trade, and localities – the exhibition presents a variety of models, videos, photographs and installations. It features Landing Studio’s design interventions in two cities, Chelsea, MA and Staten Island, NY – both homes to major marine industrial dock facilities dedicated to the transshipment of de-icing salt – drawing on the considerable research that the firm has conducted on global industrial ecology. Natural forms like rock salt are shown to be  forerunners of  industrial sites, as well as of strictly utilitarian equipment such as mining tarps and windscreens. The local and the global are mixed together, with large models of architecture shown alongside more familiar drawings and plans. There is even an actual mound of industrial raw salt, although it is displayed in a strikingly artistic way.

For this occasion, Landing Studio built spaces, some of which we can enter and others which are observed through a window, recalling the dioramas found in natural history museums. As spaces, they may be seen as diving boards that invite us to jump into the deep end of their images. Also displayed are color photographs arranged on several panels in enfilades which, taken together, reveal infrastructure systems that often remain unobserved in the city. This photographic compilation documents the landscape of the salt docks at multiple scales: neighborhood views of the salt pile, a view of the salt pile as seen from Chelsea Creek, the unloading of evaporated salt, and bulldozers unloading
a ship.

At another moment, photographs of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty face Brine Mine in the Netherlands. The closing enfilade presents 8 images on each side comparing the Sambhar Salt Ponds in Rajasthan, India (in 2008) to the Ile de Re Salt Ponds in France (in 2006). Both series focus on the industrialization of the labor involved in salt evaporation. They juxtapose similar, traditional methods of harvesting salt which are, nevertheless, characterized by dramatically opposed cultural significance, economical gain, and branding power.

Julio Salcedo-Fernandez – chair of the architecture department – admits, in his eloquent exhibition introduction, “there are no overarching generalizations … just an emerging nuanced understanding of the myriad of possibilities before designers”; but he thinks that it provides a context which can help architects and landscape designers to better understand industrial infrastructure, taking into account the most current the thinking on these matters. He also traces the potential long-term impact of Landing Studio’s exhibition, claiming that its curatorial approach could play a major role in changing the way we view and interpret infrastructure and sustainable design, opening up a subject previously restricted to discussion within a small circle of designers.

Landing Studio concentrates its attention on our perceptions of materials and on the ways our images of place and environment are formed, demonstrating in the process that the key to any successful exhibition is the ability to tell a good story. And this is something their team does very well. Indeed, their account transforms the experience of architecture and landscape infrastructure into a story about space, a fragment in the larger narrative of the perpetual reinterpretation of architecture’s enduring invariants: time, space, ground, sky and light.

Atrium Gallery
The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture
The City College of New York
141 Convent Avenue (at 135th Street)

Gallery Hours: Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. –  5:00 p.m.
Until April 15, 2016

*With a lecture by Landing Studio’s Founding Principals
Dan Adams and Marie Law Adams at 6:30PM in the
Spitzer School of Architecture, Sciame Lecture Hall