On Ash Clouds | Observatories

Iceland in August 2010. Photo by Luis Callejas

Recently we published an introduction of Harvard GSD‘s course On Ash Clouds with Paisajes Emergentes as visiting professors. After analyzing the student’s projects through a curatorial process, we found three different main paths, and the first one is the idea of transforming different kind of elements into observatories.

Volcanic ash consists of small tephra, which are bits of pulverized rock and glass created by volcanic eruptions. Wind and eruption style are the two major controls on the dispersal of ash from an erupting volcano and its very fine particles may be carried for many miles, settling out as a dust-like layer across the landscape. This weather event, most of the time have only minor climatic effects, but can contribute to spectacular sunsets and landscape transformations. This last point is the main inspiration to create observatories, to research, analyze or simply enjoy looking at the ash cloud.

Here is a selection of projects which aims to transform airplanes or some other infrastructure and devices into observatories:

[1] Airplanes as Observatories by Michael Luegering

Planes as Observatories. The complete image here

If an observatory is defined as a structure overlooking an extensive view, an airplane can be a good device to be transformed into an observatory. Isn’t it?

According to Luegering, if observatories’ design seeks to find a way to facilitate open access to views around the world, then a commercial aircraft is a device that can be used to do this. With this idea in mind, the focus of the project is based on the ash cloud produced by the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull and how the disruption of airspace and air travels might be seen as an opportunity.

How might planes become commercial observatories for the masses used to see the spectacles of natural phenomena?

Airplanes as Observatories by Michael Luegering

Airplanes as Observatories by Michael Luegering

Luegering insists on the importance of exploring the variety of experiences that clouds and atmospheric events can provide. He has designed different kinds of observation points, including the first-class seating options


[2] View-Port by Anne Weber

View-Port by Anne Weber

Anne Weber’s collection examines how various concepts of a beautiful and terrible nature have been represented throughout history –from the paintings of Caspar David Friederich to Werner Herzog’s film “Fitzcarraldo“–.

Her project View-Port revisit the observatory as a temporary and flexible installation which allows the viewer to have their own personal view on the natural environment and make its own representation. Individual view-ports will be deployed at airports affected by volcanic activity throughout Europe and, besides observatories, they will act as temporary shelters during the eruption.

View-Port by Anne Weber

As we can see on the image above, the view-port is composed by an inflatable dome, that can be stored flat on airport facilities until it becomes necessary due to inclement weather; the full dome projector will translate external conditions by illuminating them in the interior of the dome; a satellite that will relay images remotely and a 360º camera that will shoot live footage creating the time-lapse to be projected. Weber points about how it works:

Light-weight cameras are pre-installed along zones of high volcanic activity, such as inside craters. Cameras can also be deployed as needed: attached to weather ballons to observe ash clouds in the air or with vulcanologist to observe ground conditions.

Depending upon the site of the video stream, the view-port can create a more contemplative environment within the ash cloud or a more dynamic scene of the eruption itself.


[3] KEFLVÍKURFLUGVÖL – LUR FLY-IN by Erick Thor Erickson Andersen

KEFLVÍKURFLUGVÖL – LUR FLY-IN by Erick Thor Erickson Andersen

Sharing similar ideas with Luegering, Erickson Andersen also proposes to use unmanned aerial vehicles as observatories. This vehicles [UAVS] are usually deployed with high-resolution cameras mounted on gyroscopes. This makes possible that drones can capture images from miles away and become ideal devices for surveillance purposes.

UAVS from the project by Erick Thor Erickson Andersen

We can read that UAV remote sensing functions include electromagnetic spectrum sensors, biological sensors, and chemical sensors. A UAV’s electromagnetic sensors typically include visual spectrum, infrared, or near infrared cameras as well as radar systems. And:

Other electromagnetic wave detectors such as microwave and ultraviolet spectrum sensors may also be used, but are uncommon. Biological sensors are sensors capable of detecting the airborne presence of various microorganisms and other biological factors. Chemical sensors use laser spectroscopy to analyze the concentrations of each element in the air.

In Erickson Andersen project, drones can stay air-born for over 40 hours. High-resolution footage of the volcano and ash cloud can be transmitted to an Imax screen where it can be viewed through the forward windshields of retired aircraft, thereby safely inhospitable environment for airplanes that will never fly again.

UAVS from the project by Erick Thor Erickson Andersen

Instead of creating a new airplane graveyards, this project proposes new ways of reusing this planes.


[4] Observatory Highway by Jack McGrath

Observatory Highway by Jack McGrath

The observatory highway is a project by Landscape architecture student Jack McGrath. His inspiration can be better understood in this quote:

“So each soap bubble is a cosmos unto itself?
No, that would again be an overly autistic construction.
In thrush, we have to do here with a discrete theory of coexistence.”

– Peter Sloterdijk

McGrath uses the ash cloud as infrastructure. In an exercise of weather event interpretation, he decided to focus “on the ground”, while pointing “when the rest of aviation is moribund, you still can get from point A to point B on through the interior of a fascinating unknown territory.”

Observatory Highway by Jack McGrath

Some of these projects remind us Hans Hollein’s Transformation series, when he tried to crate post-natural landscapes using every day objects. The idea behind all of these observatories makes us feels like weather-voyeurs, always waiting for some espectacular natural event to happen for us to go there, keeping our eyes to discover what is hidden behind the ash cloud.

Can our obsession with weather events last forever?


*This post is part of a series of five [this, the second one] on the course On Ash Clouds.
Harvard GSD Course. Master in Landscape Architecture
Visiting professors: Paisajes Emergentes. January 2011

Alexander Arroyo, Siobhan Aitchison, Erik Andersen, Kunkook Bae, Senta Burton, Sherry Chen, Rachel Cleveland, Tracie Curry, Heather Dunbar, Lauren Elachi, Michael Easler, Katie Hotchkiss, David Knugi, Kara Lam, Jack McGrath, Connie Migliazzo, Emely Milliman, Madeleine Murphy, Chris Myers, Eunsae Park, Andrew Leonard, Michael Luegering, Lindsey Nelson, Mia Scharphie, Erika Schwarz, Kate Smaby, Heather Sullivan, Xiaowei Wang, Yuyu Wang, Anne Weber, Yizhou Xu, Xin You, Jeongmin Yu, Chuhan Zhang

Instructors: Luis Callejas, Sebastián Mejía, Lukas Pauer


About this entry