Immersed in a stream of water, half of the island is constantly heated to plus five degrees thanks to a photovoltaic field. This allows us to observe and predict what might happen in our near future
Eva Pfannes and Sylvain Hartenberg (OOZE)
The public discourse around climate change often focuses only on mitigation and the need to keep temperatures and emissions as low as possible in order to slow down global warming. An aspect that is often neglected is that of adaptation. The Earth’s climate has already endured dramatic changes countless times throughout its billion-years long history. All climate crises so far have led to mass extinction and explosions of life. At this year’s architecture Biennale in Venice OOZE architecture studio and artist Marjetica Potrč are addressing and expanding on this issue.
Lampoon review: OOZE’s artwork at Venice Biennale 2021
Exposed in the Central Pavilion, the artwork by Eva Pfannes and Sylvain Hartenberg (OOZE) showcases a project under development in Sweden titled Future Island. The central piece, a heated stone, is surrounded by a 4543-billion-year logarithmic timeline painted on the walls. The timeline shows the Earth’s shifting temperature, with increasing details towards the present. It makes graphically clear how ice houses and greenhouses alternated even before now and offered habitat for new and developing forms of life. The piece also illustrates fifteen different adaptation stories, showing how different species managed not only to adapt but to become themselves «architects of more sustainable habitats» during the climatic crisis in order to survive and continue to evolve. The stories start from the rock on show: explaining how the rock originated 1.85 to 1.75 billion years ago, produced by Earth during the Proterozoic eon and it was formed during the Svecofennian orogeny, during a process of massive structural deformation that gave birth to what we know today as Sweden and Finland. The rock stands as a witness of all processes, evolution, mass extinctions, and adaptation experiences to come. Another story dates back to 730 to 650 million years ago and tells the viewer about how the very first multicellular organisms were able to survive and keep reproducing during the Planet most severe ice ages by de facto creating a new habitat underwater.
Constant changes in climate resulting in challenges and mental stimulation
Closer to the present, 2.5 million years ago, after a period of tough climate change, primates had developed new tools – such as enamel-covered teeth to chew dry food, or the ability to walk on two feet to be able to have an overview of the environment around them, or more complex social networks and tools made of stone – ultimately leading to the evolution of the Homo species. Constant changes in climate presented living beings with always new challenges and mental stimulation, which helped their brains and skills to develop further: «natural selection» explain OOZE «was not always down to the fittest but also to the most adaptable to the changing surroundings». The last story challenges the ideas behind the birth of the system we currently live in – which entails «capitalism-property ownership, finance, colonial power, double entry bookkeeping, a conceptual division between nature and society» – and the laws that govern it. The principles behind those elements, according to OOZE, «were around several hundred years before being put into a meal». Climate change was essential in the making process: it has been argued that two decades of exceptionally good weather in England from 1730 to 1750 improved food supply and started a habit of investment in manufacturing, which ultimately created a feedback loop as fossil fuel burning and ecological transformation affected global temperatures. The existence of finance and the notion of ‘return on investment’ play a key role: «This universal demand for exponential returns puts unprecedented strain on ecosystems». All of this, while choosing to ignore long-term consequences. Yet humans, it becomes clear after reading the adaptation stories, have the ability to project into the future, imagine the world they want to live in, and then build it. Here is where architecture takes the field.
Future Island: an artificial island built inside a park in Stockholm
Both the whole Biennale project and the last adaptation story were born out of an ongoing architectural project by OOZE in Stockholm, Sweden. «Future Island is a permanent artwork for the next hundred years in a new University campus» explains Pfannes. Future Island is an artificial island built inside a park of the campus. It is constructed in granite stone, «which we found on the site» and that was taken out from the excavation to create the University foundations. Its peculiarity is that «half of the island is always heated to plus five degrees». The system is similar to a floor-heating pavement. Both the ground of the island and some rocks are heated, so that visitors can physically experience the different temperatures. The system is linked to a photovoltaic field placed on one of the Campus buildings, which generates the energy that heats the island: the energy created by the sun heats the island. Technically the photovoltaic field heats the national grid, where the energy for the island is then taken from, to ensure continuity. The aim is to «research how flora and fauna adapt to this changing temperature in their surroundings». This idea is to work with the Anthropocene and, studying the way animals and plants respond and adapt, understand what can be anticipated and what other aspects might instead be surprising. It is also conceived to be a tool for opening the conversation to what is most likely to happen to our planet if we don’t start to rethink our way of inhabiting it. Although it is possible to book a visit to the island, the plan is to keep human interference to a minimum. A monitoring team is active on the site and gives constant updates, similar to weather reports.
The idea that drives this and most OOZE projects, is to create a «sustainability that can be experienced» explains Hartenberg. All OOZE projects tend to focus on «one element at a time», like wind, earth, fire or water, and then take one problem associated with it to give a practical demonstration. The same principle as Future Island was applied to the King’s Cross Pond Club in London titled «Of Soil and Water». The project starts from a question: «what if all the city would have to deal with the water that is present in its own territory?». The question then gives birth to an experienceable project, from which it becomes possible to think about larger urban strategies. A micro-ecological environment was created in the heart of London with a natural swimming pool at its center: «it talks about the city in construction and its relationship to nature», and tries to prove the point that «if you are part of nature you have to follow nature’s rules». The pond is free of chemicals and depurated with natural processes through plants. This means that its capacity to accommodate people is limited: a hundred and sixty-three per day. «We all carry bacteria on our bodies and if there’s too many the water becomes unbalanced and polluted» explains Pfannes. This concept, developed through these along with other projects, aims at making the field of architecture more responsible as a discipline, both by communicating to consumers to make them more aware when it comes to choosing, and by showing professionals in the field alternative models and modes of practice that take nature laws into account.
Based in Rotterdam, Ooze is an international design practice operating between the fields of art, architecture and urbanism