In The Air_Connected Earth

28th October 2013

2013 will probably be the year that is remembered for the launch of space tourism. For years humans have been looking to space as the next frontier, but in doing so, and in the search for another terra, humanity has overlooked the most important part of being – planet Earth itself. For those lucky enough to have travelled into space, they have gained the unique opportunity of witnessing our planet from above and beyond, as well as experiencing the dawning realization that Earth, our home, is a delicate ecosystem inhabiting space - christened “The Overview Effect” - it is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts and cosmonauts while viewing Earth from orbit or from the lunar surface. As explored in our New Geology: In The Air issue, we are living through a new geological epoch that is affecting the planet. The impact of global warming is becoming a daily reality, as we see a string of devastating and destructive events such as hurricanes, earthquakes and sinkholes. There are also increasing population issues in many countries, forcing cities to build underground. Singapore, the third most populated country in the world with over 5 million sharing only 710 km2, is already putting together proposals to utilize space by digging downwards below the Earth’s crust. It’s time we savored our surroundings, reconnected with reality and embraced our ecosystem. A series of artists, designers and architects is exploring Earth in new ways, celebrating its raw beauty and reminding us of its fragility. In doing so, we are able to relate to Earth once again and reclaim our primitive state, which is, after all, the essence of being human.

Geologically and scientifically speaking, we know a lot about Earth: we know its layers and its makeup, but what is less known, and more foreign to us, is our very primitive and primal link to the energy that the Earth gives us. For a long time now, artists have been attempting to decipher the sound of our planet, exploring the rhythmical noises that radiate from inner Earth. Sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard has captured the sound of Earth using accelerometers (high-sensitive contact microphones). Currently on show until late June 2013 at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry, Beneath and Beyond, by artist Stephen Hurrel and computer programmer Robert Farrell, listens to the tectonic shifts and ongoing movements beneath the Earth’s surface, which, via the Internet, collates the sounds in real time for visitors to experience.The Portland Acupuncture Project by Adam Kuby explores the relationship between the natural world and built environments, aiming to foster a sense of connectedness: personifying Earth as a human body and playing with the methodology of Chinese medicine, Kuby considers the health of Portland city, placing giant needles at key points around the vicinity, and bringing attention to areas that may be overlooked or misunderstood.

Humans have lived and worked in caves since the beginning of civilization, and the current rise in their popularity proves our primal attachment to them. Caves are not only places to call home, but are also extremely energy efficient. According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, millions of Chinese people have moved underground: not only is there a high demand for these energy efficient homes, but they boast all the facilities that modern day life requires too. In fact, cave dwellers are springing up all over the place, with families choosing to live in cliff sides and caves. Alongside this, many architects and designers are looking to caves and the ground for contemporary spaces. Touching on this topic, architect Cazú Zegers says, “The building should come out of the ground and go back into it.” An example of her work can be found in the wild southern limits of Patagonia, where the groundbreaking Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa explores the relationship between the natural landscape and manmade structures. Really digging into the expanse of caves, Oppenheim Architecture and Design has plans to build 47 lodges carved directly into the sandstone cliffs in Wadi Rum, Jordan. Set for completion in 2014, the structure will utilize the existing geological geometries of the rocks, while new structures will be made using cement mixed with the local red sand to create a harmony and balance with the local surroundings. Italian architect Romano Adolini is proposing to convert an abandoned quarry in Italy into cave-like cliffside dwellings, as he aims to “reinstate the cave as an archetypal dwelling that has cultural and anthropological significance in the relationship between man and nature."

Maximizing urban spaces by going underground is becoming a global trend. Corporations are also retreating into the Earth for a catalogue of uses: The Lowline in New York and Pop Down in London both reimagine disused underground spaces. Pop Down capitalizes on a forgotten network of tunnels under London, providing an ideal environment for an urban mushroom farm, which will be lit by fiber optic technology and filtered daylight. The urban underground gardens will serve as a source of food for the new pop-up concept Funghi restaurants and cafés at each entrance. Utilizing the security that deep underground caves can offer, the Pionen Data Center in Sweden is a revamped bomb shelter that is set deep within 30 meters of granite. Deemed to be bombproof, it is a fully functioning data center with many corporations choosing to house their servers here - this place is even home to the controversial Wikileaks servers. As land prices reach a peak, architects in Hong Kong are also looking to build underground data center caves.

Designers and artists are addressing the loss in the Earth’s precious resources, and are exploring ways to redesign with earthy materials in order to restore balance to our planet. Vincent Kuyvenhoven works with serpentine stone due to its ability to hold and break down carbon dioxide. He makes roof tiles and has proposed the notion of replacing hazardous quartz sand with serpentine, which can partially neutralize exhaust fumes right on the spot. Disquiet Luxurians from Emilie F. Grenier explores alternative trends for the production and consumption of rare and luxurious objects in a world that is running out of precious resources. Her project focuses on feldspar - the world's most prevalent mineral that makes up 60% of the Earth's crust. Through exquisite crafting and cautious efforts to extract the mineral, she is exploring new notions of luxury and sustainability. Terra stools from Adital Ela are made from earth and natural fibers using a unique compression process based on ancient building methods. Exploring the treasures and colors that nature exposes, Kirstie van Noort has rediscovered 12 raw materials found in Cornwall, England, which are made into a base material for paint, suitable for coloring stoneware, earthenware and porcelain. The result is a color palette of 108 colors. Her work, which is collated into a book and a series of porcelain pieces, celebrates the rawness and beauty to be found in nature.

Earth’s natural scent also grabs our attention. Scent blogs are speaking of capturing the evocative smell of dry parched lands that receive a deluge of rain during the monsoon season, while perfumers are also tapping into this newly aroused interest in Earth, as they begin to bottle this raw and untamed scent, enabling us to recapture a moment of real primitiveness and natural connection. Trying to bottle Earth’s aromas is nu_be, the first fragrance collection by Fluidounce, which is inspired by the raw elements at play in the universe. Debuting with five fragrances Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium, Carbon and Oxygen, each scent comes in a grey polystyrene case that has to be physically broken to reveal the bottle, which is supposed to signify the action of crumbling and fracturing the Earth’s crust to access its inner scented core. In a similar vein, Dirt is a scent by perfume company Demeter that is designed with subtle tones to resemble the dirt from the fields around the Pennsylvania family’s farm. Unique perfumer Heather Sielaff has created Forêt, which uses notes of pine and vetiver, recalling the scent of earth and damp northwestern trees, while Victory Wolf consists of birch tar, cedar and tobacco evoking nights spent camping beside an open fire.

Artists and designers are drawing our attention back to Earth, as they celebrate its raw beauty and the raw energy it exudes. Some designers are simply utilizing the splendor of Mother Nature, while others are exploring new ways of mimicking its unique aesthetic. Max Lam, a pioneer in this area, has been using chunks of stones to make chairs, while Lex Pott, who is renowned for using natural processes in his work, has taken a similar approach by excavating Belgian bluestone to create a table called Stone and Industry. During this year’s Milan Design Week, many designers explored the natural beauty of stone. For example, Franchi Umberto Marmi's, rock sinks, shown during the Hybrid Architecture and Design exhibition, celebrate a raw yet refined energy that explores the relationship between man and earth.

In addition to designers exploring the materials and aesthetics of Earth, there is also a rise in the number of artists and photographers celebrating Earth’s beauty, power and fragility. Currently showing their first public sculpture in the UK, Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s Rock on Top of Another Rock is situated at the entrance to the Serpentine Gallery in London, and is startling in its simplicity. Photographer Ruben Brulat captures a concurrence between man and nature, as his images present people fully exposed to Earth’s elements, yet appear almost incidental to their dramatic surroundings. Taking a minimal yet contemplative look at rocks is Pascal Grandmaison, whose collection I Lost You In The Desert consists of 12 pieces of dark rock from two islands that float in the beautiful St. Lawrence river in Montreal; placed in specific order, the rocks, which are painted on one side in varying shades of black, create an indoor geographical landscape, complete with peaks, valleys and ranges.

As the world’s population grows and city dwelling increases, we will see a rise in the number of underground developments – not only those that reuse previously discarded developments, but also developments that bore into the ground, utilizing valuable space in a world that searches for a more sustainable approach, while also reaping the rewards that cave dwellings afford. In addition to this, and more importantly perhaps, we will also see a shift beyond mere sustainability: this is a shift in the conscious mind, exploring the possibilities of planet Earth that look beyond the idea of living in space.

Published May 2013 © Reproduced with kind permission of