Shall we project a world? | The Doomers’ Ball and Project Heracles.
“What use is it to talk of money, power and territory in the face of inevitable and total environmental collapse? What is gained by dividing up the arctic, except knowledge that such artificial barriers are destined to be disputed, circumvented or ignored in the face of Man’s insatiable greed for wealth?”
—Matt Ozga-Lawn and James A. Craig, Stasus
The Think Space ‘Money and Territories’ competition winners were announced the past week and it was not surprising for us, as we can imagine it wouldn’t be a surprise for this blog readers, that a project called The Doomers’ Ball caught our attention for the poetry behind the project. After the results were announced we were able to find out that the authors are Matt Ozga-Lawn and James A. Craig from Stasus, a team that was published here before. The competition was focused on design based projects to envision the economic and geopolitical future of the Arctic lands; as examples of blurred presents and multiple futures.
Stasus presented not only a project, but a poetic narrative inspired on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story Masque of the Red Death, where the main characters are a group of environmentalists named the Doomers. They add:
The Doomers’ believe that humanity’s over reliance on oil will generate an inescapable civilizational collapse when oil supplies run out, and environmental conditions caused by its frenzied excavation worsen. Their response in the face of the forthcoming apocalypse is to ‘ignore civilization to death’: to prepare family and community for the imminent collapse of civilization through the establishing of isolationist, survivalist villages.
That’s the leitmotiv behind the ball for the Doomers; to create a place in which they can ignore civilization as it collapses around them, distant from the cities and towns but situated at the heart of the matter at Svalbard —the arctic being one of the last wildernesses, due to be torn apart in the insatiable desire for oil.
The The Doomers’ Ball narrative goes beyond a traditional architectural project, it makes us wonder about the meaning of life, the importance of our actions and the immanent presence of nature in our daily life. The strong narrative of the projects is part of Stasus’ approach. As they did with their project for Pamphlet Architecture 32. Resilience, the importance of highlight forgotten landscapes and learn from them is also part of The Doomers’ Ball story, inasmuch as our characters can’t escape from the certainty of civilizational collapse but at least, delude themselves in the remaining years by finding refuge in the light of one of nature’s most incredible effects. Stasus wrote:
Although we often recognize the Northern Lights as a vivid green effect, its color is related to both altitude and atmospheric composition interacted with by the sun’s rays. Through careful and precise positioning and atmospheric manipulation, the Doomers Ball is able to house seven rooms, each colored as the colors of Poe’s Masque: blue, purple, green, orange, white, violet and, finally, reddish black.
They will hold their ball in these seven rooms, each colored by the different aspects of the Aurora Borealis.
In the same way as Étienne-Louis Boullée was trying to invent new worlds through his architectural visions, Stasus is giving us the opportunity to discover a whole new world where the interaction of nature and infrastructures is based on the form of the Prirazlomnaya oil platform, where, on it’s own words, its elements will become the ballrooms, each bathed in a different color, in a procession leading upwards to the stars.
The use of narrative is one of the most important issues of the project, as it helps to reveal the spatial possibilities of the proposal. When talking about poetry and architecture, we can recall Boullée again when he wrote “That is my belief. Our buildings —and our public buildings in particular— should be to some extent poems. The impression they make on us should arouse in us sensations that correspond to the function of the building in question.” The Doomer’s Ball cannot be understood without the poetry in it.
At this point we want to talk briefly about other project that is deeply related, using poetry and architecture as catalyst of political change. We’re talking about Project Heracles: Maybe without poetry, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see how it has evolved from a speculative competition in 2011 to be exhibited at the European Parliament in 2013. We won’t repeat all the reviews that have been written since May 2011, when Domus under Joseph Grima editorial direction, invited its readers to participate in a call for ideas titled Project Heracles, asking them to send imaginative projects capable of connecting Europe and Africa across the 14 kilometres of the Strait of Gibraltar. Instead of that we want to recognize the value of the open letter that Joseph Grima wrote to the President of the European Council, asking him “what are you waiting for to develop a plan for a hospitable entrance and gateway to Europe on the Eurafrican border?”
Poetry gives architecture the sensibility and strength to project new worlds and envision new futures, in this case, without borders. The importance of having Project Heracles exhibited and discussed at the European Parliament makes us believe that we can still project a world aside from the fears of capitalism and borders. We’re living times when it’s possible to read the most inhuman news about borders and frontiers, as for example the detention conditions in Lampedusa or the recent news about the Spanish Government keeping the razor wire on Melilla fence, justifying the use of the measure by arguing that razor wire is used in many other locations, such as prisons and nuclear power plants. In this context it’s easy to understand the importance of using architecture as a political weapon to fight against what Poe described as “Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”
If we consider the poem as a place, this two projects has the common link of constructing new realities in a place where [according to Bachelard**] we have moved from a constructed to a dreamed world; where we have left fiction for poetry.
“A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.”
― Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph and Other Stories
*Title taken from the quote “Shall I project a world?” by Oedipa Maas as seen on But does it float.
** From Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 1958.
You can see Stasus submission in Think Space platform among the selected and winning proposals.