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Justin Fowler

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The Machine in the Ocean: On The Petropolis of Tomorrow

Clocking in at just under six hundred pages, Neeraj Bhatia and Mary Casper’s The Petropolis of Tomorrow (Actar, 2013) presents a series of dueling monstrosities—land and sea; ecology and industry; isolation and circulation—at the hard-edged site of their collision. The product of an intensive research studio directed by Bhatia at the Rice School of Architecture, Petropolis documents and explores Brazil’s rapidly developing network of offshore petroleum and natural gas drilling infrastructures as a site ripe for the deployment of architectural expertise and imagination. Conducted as part of a broad collaborative research investigation on resource extraction urbanism initiated by the South America Project (SAP), the studio, as introduced by SAP Co-Director Felipe Correa, is a speculative experiment that “tests an extreme scenario” with the aim of identifying “new hybrids between industry and urbanism for an alternative twenty-first century extraction town.” Complementing the studio work, the editors have marshaled an impressive array of text and photo contributors whose essays offer distinctive takes on the book’s three thematic threads: archipelago urbanism, harvesting urbanism, and logistical urbanism.

The Prince: Bjarke Ingels's Social Conspiracy

A version of this essay was originally published in Thresholds 40: “Socio-” (2012)

Few architects working today attract as much public acclaim and disciplinary head-scratching as Bjarke Ingels. Having recently arrived in New York, this self-proclaimed futurist is undertaking his own form of Manifest Destiny, reminding American architects how to act in their own country.

While his practice is often branded by the architectural establishment as naïve and opportunistic, such criticism is too quick to conflate Ingels’s outwardly optimistic persona with the brash formal agenda it enables. In the current economic climate, there are any number of gifted purveyors of form languishing in New York City. Despite this, Ingels has somehow managed to get away with proposing a pyramidal perimeter block in midtown New York, a looped pier in St. Petersburg Florida, and an art center in Park City, Utah massed as torqued log cabin while maintaining a straight face. Why, then, is his mode of operation considered unsophisticated by so many within the discipline?

Clearly, Ingels has figured something out about harnessing and transforming “the social” that American architects would do well to identify. So, in the manner of any good conspiracy theorist in search for the hidden method, let’s go to the chalkboard, or rather, the diagram...

Part of the answer may lie with Ingels’s brand of populism, which is as much about being social as it is about the social.