Tag Archives: space

David Holmgren on Permaculture Principles

David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and PathwaysThere is so much in David Holmgren’s Permaculture that I am sure I will return to it, but I wanted to capture the basics in one post. One long post.

Way back when I had a house and a garden, I found out about permaculture and read the huge manual by Bill Mollison and was immensely impressed and tried to grow all my own veg. I failed, and learned a lot in the process. It is many years on now, of living in rooms and flats and no access to gardens and moving and a publishing endeavour and a thesis. I am quite excited to come back to it in thinking about urban and public space and how we live, how we create community, how we leave every place we inhabit, and the earth itself, better than we found it. That’s rarely talked about.

Uncertainty about our place and our future and our knowledge, however, is more and more talked about.

We live in an uncertain age — theoretical science has opened up a whole world of uncertainty, modernity clashing with traditional values, crisis undermines possibility of certainty about the future, and the pace of technology-driven change

Even so, what surprised me — and shouldn’t have because it is a reality that we must face — is that this book starts with, and doesn’t bother to argue for, the reality of climate change, peak oil, crisis. In fact the permaculture movement started with that foundation forty odd years ago

Insofar as permaculture is an effective response to the limitations on use of energy and natural resources, it will move from its current status as “alternative response to environmental crisis” to the social and economic mainstream of the post-industrial era. Whether it will be called permaculture or not is a secondary matter. (xvii)

It argues for a true sustainability, looked at in different ways as befits a key principle for organizing life. One is ‘as a set of coherent system priorities’. There follows an interesting set of binaries that contrast industrial with sustainable culture —

David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways

I am trying to think more along continuums rather than through binaries, but this is useful I think.

So on to definitions.

Definition:  Expanded from Permaculture One: “Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for porvision of local needs.” People, their buildings and the ways they organise themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent (sustainable) agriculture has evolved to one of permanent (sustainable) culture.

A second definition: the use of systems thinking and design principles that provide the organising framework for implementing the above vision. (xix)

And then there is this

Permaculture is a whole-hearted adaptation to the ecological realities of decline, which are as natural and creative and those of growth….The real issue of our age is how we make a graceful and ethical descent. (xxix)

and if you didn’t quite get that, he writes:

I am suggesting that we need to get over our naive and simplistic notions of sustainability as a likely reality for ourselves our even our grandchildren and instead accept that our task is to use our familiarity with continuous change to adapt to energy descent. (xxx)

Yes please, let’s do that. I wish everyone from now on could just start right here.

David Holmgren’s Ethical Principles of Permaculture

Three broad principles — pretty easy:

Care for the earth
Care for people
Set limits to consumption and reproduction, and redistribute surplus (1)

I liked this:

In particular, we need to be suspicious of seeing the philosophy of individualism as the source, rather than outcome, of material well-being. Further, we should expect that the beliefs and values that have developed with a rising energy base are likely to be dysfunctional–even destructive–in a world of limited and declining energy. (2)

I loved this:

The stewardship concept demands that we constantly ask the question: Will the resource be in better shape after my stewardship? One cannot go far in this process without challenging the ethical validity of the ownership of land and natural resources that lies at the heart of our legal system. Control of land and natural resources has been central throughout history; in a low-energy future it will again become the primary focus for ethics, politics and culture. Indigenous land right and agrarian land reform in poor countries are two issues that continue to challenge the prevailing ethics about land. The ethic of earth stewardship provides a moral imperative to continue to work out more creative ways for vesting control of land in collective structures, rather than taking as natural the individual ownership of land that goes with our Western industrial culture. Efforts to do this over the last hundred years show that it is not an easy task.  (5)

It is part of care for the earth: understanding the living soil, stewardship of land, preserving biodiversity, seeing all living things as intrinsically valuable and minimising our impact on them.

Care for people? It means understanding the massive structural inequalities, doing what we can to undermine them beginning with ourselves and our families, our neighbourhoods, our communities. I think missing here is a little deeper thought into social and racial justice and how those intersect with environmental justice —  the words environmental justice don’t appear at all, but I think will have to be intrinsic to a wider movement. Graham Haughton‘s work is a start among that of many others I am now exploring.

And hell yes to redistributing surplus.

There then follow twelve principles:

Each of course links to the others, ‘In this sense, each principle can be thought of as a door into the labyrinth of whole-systems thinking.’ (xii)

1. Observe and Interact

icontreeThe icon for this principle is a person as a tree, emphasizing ourselves in nature and transformed by it. (13)

A process of continuous observation in order to recognise patterns and appreciate details is the foundation of all understanding. (13)

And lo and behold, a popular education spiral — I use this all the time to think through things:

David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways

2. Catch and Store Energy

iconcatchenergyThe icon of sunshine captured in a bottle suggests the preserving of seasonal surplus and a myriad of other traditional and novel ways to catch and store energy. It also reflects the basic lesson of biological science: that all life is directly or indirectly dependent on the solar energy captured by green plants.

The proverb “make hay while the sun shines” reminds us that we have limited time to catch and store energy before seasonal or episodic abundance dissipates. (27)

Energy is stored in landscapes — water, nutrients and carbon. This is what our presence should be working to rebuild. This means we think about the land we can manage, we think about catchment and regional planning, and we think about households and the built environment as stores of energy.

When considering the development of the tools, buildings and infrastructure , we should aim to emulate, where possible, the characteristics…for natural storages of energy. The following design criteria are relevant:

  • modest in scale
  • well-designed for long life and/or made frmo easily renewable materials
  • simple to maintain (not necessarily maintenance-free)
  • multi-purpose and easy to adapt to other uses. (46) 

3. Obtain a Yield

iconobtainyieldThe icon of the vegetable with a bite taken shows the production of something that gives us an immediate yield but also reminds us of the other creatures who are attempting to obtain a yield from our efforts. (55)

Then he goes on to talk about Kropotkin‘s refutation of the Darwinists in arguing that cooperation is as prevalent if not more than competition. Yay. It means understanding where and how we are dependent on social relationships — harder to see sometimes in the modern world, just as our interdependence with the other creatures in our world is obscured.

4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback

iconself0regulateIn modern society, we take for granted an enormous degree of dependence on large-scale, often remote, systems for provision of our needs, while expecting a huge degree of freedom in what we do without external control. In a sense, our whole society is like a teenager who wants to have it all, have it now, without consequences.

The Gaia hypothesis of the earth as a self-regulating system, analogous to a living organism, makes the whole earth a suitable image to represent this principle. (72)

This is really hard, because it’s been a really long time since we’ve done it. That’s all about to change.

Learning to think wholistically requires an overriding, or reversal, of much of the cultural heritage of the last few hundred years. With little experience of whole-system thinking and such cultural impediments, we need to focus our efforts on simple and accessible whole systems before we try to amend large and complex ones. (85)

5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services

iconusevlaueThere is no more important example in history of human prosperity derived from non-consuming use of nature’s services than our domestication and use of the horse for transport, soil cultivation and general power for a myriad of uses. (93)

I love this, it encapsulates everything wrong with consumption, and a lovely definition of use value, evocative of William Morris somehow:

Appropriate use:

How well we use the products from natural resources is as important as the way those products are made. The dining table that is used each day to feed a large household is very different from the one used for the occasional dinner party in an otherwise empty house. One will become imbued with the memories and marks of living. The other will occupy space that is locked, insured, maintained and heated, doing little. (95)

6. Produce No Waste

iconearthwirmThe earthworm…lives by consuming plant litter (wastes), which it converts into humus that improves the soil environment for itself, for soil micro-organisms and for the plants. Thus, the earthworm, like all living things, is a part of web where the outputs of one are the inputs for another. (111)

A critique of privatisation, of built-in obsolescence. A recognition that the world’s poor know more about this than anyone else living, and instead of being looked down upon they should be held up as teachers and examples.

7. Design From Patterns to Details

icondesignThe spider on its web, with its concentric and radial design, evokes zone and sector site planning, the best-known and perhaps most widely applied aspect of permaculture design. The design pattern of the web is clear, but the details always vary. (127)

I don’t think it surprises me that he references Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language here, looking at the regular patterns to be found in our built environment. I quite love that he tries here to look towards beginning a similar pattern language for permaculture design.

This is all about thinking how energy is stored in the landscapes we create, but its interesting to think of ‘site design as cellular design’.

We can think of a permaculture-designed garden (Zones 1 and 2) as a human rural settlement cell. There is a limit to efficient garden size before we have to jump up into a more complex production system. Successful gardens do not keep expanding. Instead, they provide a surplus of plant stock and human knowledge that help to establish new gardens.

Despite the great challenges in recreating community, the expanding interest in eco-villages and co-housing as part of the permaculture vision is implicit recognition of the problem that the nuclear family is too small in scale for many aspects of ecological living. (138)

8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate

iconintegrateIn every aspect of nature, from the internal working of organisms to whole ecosystems, we find the connections between things are as important as the things themselves. Thus “the purpose of a functional and self-regulating design is to place elements in such a way that each serves the needs and accepts the products of other elements.”

Our cultural bias toward focus on the complexity of details tends to ignore the complexity of relationships. We tend to opt for segregation of elements as a default design strategy for reducing relationship complexity.

The icon of this principle can be seen as a top-down view of a circle of people or elements forming an integrated system. The apparently empty hole represents the abstract whole system that both arises from the organisation of the elements and also gives them form and character. (155)

Then there is this:

Permaculture can be seen as part of a long tradition of concepts that emphasize mutualistic and symbiotic relationships over competitive and predatory ones. Declining energy availability will shift the general perception of these concepts from romantic idealism to practical necessity. (156)

There’s a section called rebuilding community, and god knows we need that.

…almost everyone active in the permaculture movement would agree that stronger development of co-operative relationships between people, families and communities outside the large institutional structures is the perfect complement to personal and household self-reliance. Without this alternative, political strategies for taming the global institutions are like King Canute telling the sea to retreat.  (172)

I like too the list of characteristics of a sustainable community:

  • Local and bioregional political and economic structures

  • cross-fertilization–biogenetic, racial, cultural and intellectual–giving natural hybrid vigour

  • Accessibility and low dependence on expensive and centralised technology

  • capable of being developed by incremental steps with feedback and refinement (172)
    Because the design of sustainable culture is beyond the capability of any mortal, the process must be organic and iterative. Each small step and stage should be immediately useful and workable and should provide feedback for refinement, and even changes, of direction. (173)

9. Use Small and Slow Solutions

iconsmallandslowThe spiral house of the snail is small enough to be carried on its back and yet capable of incremental growth. With its lubricated foot, the snail easily and deliberately traverse any terrain. (181)

Lovely — though the use of the word lubricated still makes me giggle like a twelve year old.

I also love how clearly this stands in opposition to Le Corbusier’s paean to speed adhered to by planner after planner.

The speed of movement of materials and people (and other living things) between systems should be minimised. A reduction in speed is a reduction in total movement, increasing the energy available for the system’s self-reliance and autonomy. (181)

10. Use and Value Diversity

iconbirdThe spinebill and the humming bird both have long beaks and the capacity to hover, perfect for sipping nectar from long, narrow flowers….

The great diversity of forms, functions and interaction in nature and humanity are the source for evolved systemic complexity. the role and value of diversity in nature, culture and permaculture is itself complex, dynamic, and at times apparently contradictory. (203)

It’s also interesting that emerging from nature, this value of diversity is connected to place and it is the cultures most attuned to the places where they live that hold the most wisdom.

Permaculture uses the patterns that are common to traditional cultures for design principles and models. the diversity of design solutions, strategies, techniques and species are a toolkit towards new cultures of place. Wherever we live, we must become new indigenes. (211)

This is particularly interesting in thinking about cities, the new cultures of place that grow in them, and how their connections to the land surrounding them can be made visible and healthy.

11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal

icontrailThe icon of the sun coming up over the horizon with a river in the foreground shows us a world composed of edges. (223)

I like that he looks at ‘marginal’ neighbourhoods, cites Jane Jacobs as noting that they are where space and low rent allow new things to grow and thrive. Also the ways that we see the edges between rural and urban, where it is the connections that are interesting.

12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change

iconbutterflyThis principle has two thread: designing to make use of change in a deliberate and cooperative way, and creatively responding or adapting to large-scale system change that is beyond our control or influence. (239)

We need to break out of the delusion of apparently linear acceleration of human material and numerical progress to a world view in which everything is contained by cycles, waves and pulses that flow between polarities of great stability and intense change, all nested one within another. (270)

Permaculture is a dynamic interplay between two phases: on the one hand, sustaining life within the cycle of the seasons, and on the other, conceptual abstraction and emotional intensity of creativity and design. I see the relationship between these two as like the pulsing relationship between stability and change. It is the steady, cyclical and humble engagement with nature that provides the sustenance for the spark of insight and integration (integrity), which, in turn, informs and transforms the practice. The first is harmonious and enduring; the second is episodic and powerful. The joyful assymmetric balance between the two expresses our humanity. (271)

I find all of these useful starting points for thinking about cities, planning, building communities. It is built for praxis, and while much of this book is highly detailed about how these have been concretely implemented in terms of household design and agriculture, I think it will be quite fruitful to explore how they can be usefully applied in a broader movement to help create a better world. All of these things fit together, and I am enjoying exploring the potential of this.

David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways

 

Tools for Creating Space — An initial reading list

I was talking to an old friend and a new one today about creating space/ place (or is hosting it a better word, shaping it, allowing it to grow…). I have been thinking about this on and off for a very long time now and so returning to this list I began some time ago. Looking at it, I’ve only just realised after that conversation that I have really fallen in a shocking way once again into instinctively distinguishing between public and private space in a very binary way.

Ideally I think there is a continuum, a way to move easily between — to even be drawn from one to the next and back again — that is not just by crossing the boundaries we create around estate, institution, park, garden, home, rooms and etc. If I remember rightly I had this flash of insight when reading the awesome Christopher Alexander. I suppose my forgetting is the power of habit (and binary thinking, it’s so easy and helps make sense of the bewildering amount of information out there).

This continuum connects with but doesn’t map exactly onto adjectives like sacred, quiet, lively, creative, peaceful, inspirational, wild, communal, safe and all those many other kinds of feelings and spaces I think help us enjoy the fullness of life. It also fits increasingly well with my latest reflections — I’ve been thinking that so much we study or read focuses on things themselves, when in fact what’s most interesting lies in how things connect and relate to each other and of course in human relationships, this connecting all happens in the physical spaces between us. All my research on race and the construction of material spaces and the political economy of cities and community is really about that, I like thinking about how Gramsci or Stuart Hall or David Harvey might intersect with the new things I am reading about how traffic patterns and public squares and community halls and understandings of community, or in turn how those connect to the ways permaculturists might think about and design a landscape and how human beings live on a piece of land.

This started as a list about public space, it has embarrassingly few women or people of colour or people from non-Western countries. People the canon pushes to one side and have to be sought out — I am seeking them out. My thesis, of course, was full of this kind of work uncovered over the course of several years, part of future research is mapping and writing how the political economy of geographies of race and gender (and the other things that shift our relationships to space and each other) map onto these more intimate ways of creating/building/shaping/hosting spaces.

Here’s a beginning bibliography of what I’ve read and marked to read, to be updated as an ongoing concern and suggestions are welcome. I will be updating it over time, so it should be getting better.

Alexander, Christopher – A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Center for Environmental Structure Series) – an encyclopedic look from tiny details to whole communities about how we occupy and design space.

Alexander, Christopher – The Timeless Way of Building

Anderson, Elijah – The Cosmopolitan Canopy — an ethnographic look at Philadelphia spaces that are comfortable for all and with potential for relationships to develop, and also the ways that the colour line and segregation work to undo them…

Appleyard, Donald – Livable Streets – Some of the best concrete studies I’ve seen (and best illustrations) on patterns of sociality and built environment, particularly traffic.

Bachelard, Gaston – The Poetics of Space – A little French philosophy using phenomenology (or focus on the experience) of space, with a focus on the poetic image and the intimate spaces of the home.

Beaumont, Matthew and Gregory Dart (eds) – Restless Cities A wide ranging collection of authors writing about the different ways we live, experience, traverse the city

Bell, Graham – The Permaculture Way: Practical Steps to Create a Self-Sustaining World: 1

Chtchetglov, Ivan – ‘A Formulary for a New Urbanism’ one of my favourite situationist writings on the city and its transformation …

♀Civic Systems Lab – Designed to Scale A wonderful study of a year long project in West Norwood, London using the creation of multiple small collectively managed projects to create an ecology of place that supports a healthy community

♀ Cooper-Marcus, Clare – Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces

Cooper-Marcus, Clare – House as Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home – A lovely psychoanalytic look at human relationships to the home — how they shape the space and how in turn it helps to shape them. 

♀ Cooper-Marcus, Clare and Wendy Sarkissian – Housing as If People Mattered: Site Design Guidelines for Medium-density Family Housing – Some of the few women writing about design and its impact on human beings — particularly women and children. Their dedication and insight are amazing.

Cullen, Gordon – The Concise Townscape — A wonderful look at how we move through space, and how planners or architects can design spaces to create different effects.

Day, Christopher (1993) Places of the Soul: Architecture and Environmental Deisgn as a Healing Art

Dovey, Kimberly (1985) ‘Home and Homelessness: Introduction’, in Altman, Irwin and Carol M. Werner eds. Home Environments. Human Behavior and Environment: Advances in Theory and Research. Vol 8. New York: Plenum Press, 1985. — One of the best things I’ve read on how we connect to the space of home, and how that reframes the meaning of homelessness.

Dovey, Kimberley (1999) Framing Places: Mediating Power in Built Form

Dovey, Kimberley (2010) Becoming Places: Urbanism/ Architecture / Identity/ Power.

♀ Ferguson, Francesca – Make_Shift City: Renegotiating the Urban Commons: Die Neuverhandlung des Urbanen

Fiebrig, Dr Immo – Edible Cities – Urban Permaculture for Gardens, Balconies, Rooftops and Beyond

Fukuoka, Masanobu – The One-Straw Revolution — His goal of working hard to achieve a life of simplicity and as little work as possible through observing and working with nature is inspirational.

Gehl, Jan – Life Between Buildings: Using Public Space

Gehl, Jan & Birgitte Svarre – How to Study Public Life: Methods in Urban Design – lovely studies of how people move through and use public spaces geared to improving how we design them.

Hamdi, Nabeel – The Placemaker’s Guide to Building Community (Earthscan Tools for Community Planning)

Hamdi, Nabeel – Small Change: About the Art of Practice and the Limits of Planning in Cities – A look at creating place that begins with a goal of creating an ‘architecture of possibilities’….

♀ Hayden, Dolores (1981) The Grand Domestic Revolution

♀ Hayden, Dolores (1995) The Power of Place: urban Landscapes as Public History

Holmgren, David – Permaculture Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability – a primer on the philosophies behind permaculture, thoughts on buildings connections and diversity

Howard, Ebenezer – Garden Cities of To-Morrow — a classic of planning, one whose utopian ideals have mostly been stripped as it has been used as a basis for suburb design.

Jackson, J.B. (1994) A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time

Jacobs, Allan B. – Great Streets

♀ Jacobs, Jane – The Death and Life of Great American Cities – Classic book on everything that makes beighbourhoods safe, vibrant, creative and wonderful to live in.

Kaplan, Allan – The Development Practitioners’ Handbook – a fascinating and above all respectful look at working with communities to improve conditions and spaces.

Lefebvre, Henri – The Urban Revolution – One of the great philosophers on space, its development and commodification.

Le Corbusier – Planning the City of Tomorrow – Here because this explains so much of modern planning and city centres as we know them — and is pure evil.

Levine, Donald N. – Georg Simmel on Individuality and Social Forms

Lofland, Lyn – The Public Realm: Exploring the City’s Quintessential Social Territory – a transformative book looking and the connections between physical space and lived space, what Lofland describes as ‘realms’.

Lynch, Kevin – The Image of the City – a fascinating look at the imageability and legibility of the city, how it is experienced by residents, how both enhance experience, and how they are improved through deisgn and planning.

Manzini, Ezio – Design, When Everybody Designs: An Introduction to Design for Social Innovation (Design Thinking, Design Theory)

mcdonaugh, tom – The Situationists and the City – a wonderful new set of translations of situationist writings on thinking about how people are shaped by the city and how they can transform it.

Minton, Anna – Ground Control: Fear and happiness in the twenty-first-century city – A look at the UK policy and regulatory context of development and housing, and the impacts of increasing privatisation, criminalisation and gating of communities.

Norberg-Schulz, Christian (1985) Concept of Dwelling (Architectural documents)

Norberg-Schulz, Christian (2000) Architecture: Presence, Language, Place

Oswalt, Oswalt, Klaus Overmeyer, Philipp Misselwitz – Urban Catalyst: Mit Zwischennutzungen Stadt entwickeln

Perec, George (1975) An Attempt at Exhausting A Place in Paris A short observation of many things in a single Parisian square

Perec, George (2008) Species of Space – wonderful, playful insights into the nature of space and our experience of it

♀ Phillips, April – Designing Urban Agriculture: A Complete Guide to the Planning, Design, Construction, Maintenance and Management of Edible Landscapes

Project for Public Spaces – How to Turn a Place Around

Rosa, Marcos L & Ute Weiland – Handmade Urbanism: Mumbai – Sao Paulo -Istanbul – Mexico City – Cape Town: From Community Initiatives to Participatory Models

Rossi, Aldo – The Architecture of the City

Rudofsky, Bernard – Streets for People: A Primer for Americans

Ruskin, John – The Seven Lamps of Architecture

Sadik-Khan, Janette – Streetfight — The political and design story of transforming New York with paint, bike lanes and increased pedestrian and public space.

Simmel, Georg – ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’ (1903) — the impact of the city, its crowds, its buildings and cultural life on human beings, an interesting reversal of urban planning questions.

Sitte, Camillo – The Art of Building Cities: City Building According to Its Artistic Fundamentals — the 1889 classic on what works in ancient spaces and cities, and looking to eradicate the rectangular plot from modern planning…

Speck, Jeff – Walkable Cities — some good strategies for creating walkable cities, though more from a point of view of planning for increases in property values and those who can afford them

Sternberg, Esther (2009) Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-Being

Tuan, Yu-Fu – Topophilia – a fascinating study of topophilia, or the ‘affective bond between people and place.

Turner, John F. – Housing By People: Towards Autonomy in Building Environments

Ward, Colin (1990) Talking Houses: 10 Lectures – a collection of essays critiquing the UK’s council housing programme from the anarchist perspective prioritising dweller control. Lovely.

Wark, MacKenzie – The Beach Beneath the Streets If anyone can rescue the Situationist International from a descent into artistic inconsequentiality, it is McKenzie Wark.

Whyte, William H. – The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces – A classic study of how to study public space and what you learn from the practice in thinking about design and community building.

Ziehl, Michael, Sarah Osswald, Oliver Hasemann – Second Hand Spaces: Recycling Sites Undergoing Urban Transformation

Save

Save

Save

Save

Cosmonauts at the Science Museum

Cosmonauts was an exhibit of utter wonder and delight — who has not dreamed of space? You go from room to room, mouth dropping open and eyes sparkling like a kid on Christmas day. I kid you not.

I am still sparkling just a little. I mean, space. Human beings in space. Amazing.

It opens with some of the early work, the early imaginings tied to the early tinkerings with rockets that led to the full space programme. I wish this section had been longer to be honest. There is work from architecture student Georgii Krutikov, his designs for a flying city from his thesis in 1928 (to read more see the awesome charnel house blog):

5c036834b65571057400a1d4e333e38c imagesEven better than Constant, how have I never seen them before? These were only a taste of the brilliant drawings, more of which can be found in his portfolio:

georgii-krutikov-vkhutemas-flying-city-diploma-project3Tsiolkovsky and Federov’s works and words, and the role of the cosmists (cosmopolitans, cosmopolity) appear too. From the Cosmonauts exhibition website:

Cosmopolity’s formation had been foreshadowed in the opening decades of the 20th century by the emergence of cosmism, a philosophy developed by Russian thinkers including Tsiolkovsky and Nikolai Fedorov that contributed to a notion that the Soviets were masters of the cosmos.

The members of Cosmopolity were sympathetic to cosmism’s goals of populating the universe and achieving eternal life, and shared its dream of distant planets populated by new societies. Eager to communicate their vision of the future to the wider world, they requisitioned a shop in Moscow and staged the first ever space travel exhibition.
Window diorama of the cosmists' 1927 'World's First Exhibition of Models of Interplanetary Apparatus, Mechanisms, Instruments, and Historical Materials' -- the words read 'Cosmopolitans invent the roads to new worlds'
Window diorama of the cosmists’ 1927 ‘World’s First Exhibition of Models of Interplanetary Apparatus, Mechanisms, Instruments, and Historical Materials’ — the words read ‘Cosmopolitans invent the roads to new worlds’

Konstantin Tsiolokovsky’s ‘Album of cosmic journeys’, mathematical equations and rocket models, these dreams and writings and experimentations would push forward space travel — so on to the model of Sputnik, launched in 1957, the craft of Yuri Gargarin, launched into space on 12 April, 1961 and the first man to orbit the earth in Vostok 1.

vostok1_1600px

Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman ‘to storm outer space’ in Vostok 6 in 1963.

rian-airfield-300

Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space, traveling in Voskhod 2 in 1965. The machinery of space travel, impossibly solid, and anything but futuristic or rocket shaped or even vaguely aerodynamic with its bits and pieces of receiving equipment sticking out, is breathtaking. The models are brilliant, but it strikes you with awe to see the awkward pods barely big enough to carry a human being, scorched and stained with travel distances more vast than I can really imagine.

luna

images2 images3

Up, pup and away

And then there are the dogs. This is the Science Museum’s puntastic heading, and finding it on their website made my day today. That, despite the fact that a number of dogs were killed as the next sentence informs you. But before Yuri Gargarin went into orbit, 48 dogs had already been there before him, 28 of whom survived. They had this:

space-dog-model-800x392

Film footage of a dog being released from this contraption and frolicking happily, pictures of dogs, stories of selections of dogs… Aw.

Space dog, Kozgawka, in training in a tailor-for-dogs helmet.
Space dog, Kozgawka, in training in a tailor-for-dogs helmet.

This is the first time I have really felt any desire to go back and see an exhibition again…but the book is fabulous and will be read with enthusiasm.You are drawn irresistibly to the great objects that carried dogs and humans into space and back again, first the ones that shine, and then the ones dulled by the intensity of re-entry into our atmosphere. But there was so much more to see here, to think about, to be inspired by. And the occasional complexities added by pictures of Stalin, Khrushchev, a background of the politics of the cold war. The fascinating life histories of these pioneers. The work put into not just surviving in space but living in space, and making the Mir space station possible.

We saw it on Friday during the museum’s late night opening, a truly brilliant idea as too often in London, great exhibits are ruined by equally great crowds. As Cosmonauts was a truly brilliant exhibition.

Save

Protection Through Power: Titan Missile Museum

Able to launch from its underground silo in just 58 seconds, the Titan II was capable of delivering a 9-megaton nuclear warhead to targets more than 6300 miles (10,000 km) away in about 30 minutes. For more than two decades, 54 Titan II missile complexes across the United States stood “on alert” 24 hours a day, seven days a week, heightening the threat of nuclear war or preventing Armageddon, depending upon your point of view.
Titan Missile Museum website

Titan Missile Museum

If you had any doubt about the masculine nature of this power, and this strategy….

Titan II’s primary mission was deterrence. Deterrence is the art of creating in the mind of the enemy the fear to attack, preventing the start of the war.
— Sign posted at site

The video we watched was entirely cold war, full of ‘the enemy’ this and ‘the enemy’ that. It left me with a visceral hurt. A fear for our future. A quaking at this kind of madness because I can only see people’s faces, imagine their lives and loves and dreams, I cannot imagine an enemy. I was suddenly grateful to Stanislaw Lem, who pushes this thinking as far as it can go to serve as a warning too bitter for real satire (I had just read Peace on Earth, which chimed word for word with the rhetoric here).

It has a terrible logic to it, one you can feel and understand. Yet a logic that at no point meets with or shares anything with the logic by which I live my own life. My own logic that is continuously at risk due to theirs.

Not only did we create a missile capable of destroying this world as we know it, the propulsion system was driven by a mixture of two deadly chemicals, in themselves destructive of our earth.

Titan Missile Museum

Inside it is full of old technology, boxes of unknown lights:

Titan Missile Museum

The gear I associate with dreams and hopes of space travel, rather than mass destruction, making them eerie in this place:

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

Technologies to maintain a constant temperature for the sake of the chemicals, to protect the missile so it can be sent even after our own destruction at the hands of the Russian has been assured, to protect the people who must send it:

Titan Missile Museum

Everything on springs so the ground rocked by impact of their nuclear missiles, the release of our own nuclear missiles … nothing can be felt, and nothing but a direct hit can destroy this place.

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

The control room with its fascinating banks of ancient computers and instruments.

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

The control panel from which the missiles are sent to any one of three targets — no one at this site knows what these targets were. Absolved from responsibility of prior knowledge, crisis of conscience about loved ones, remembered streets, priceless treasures. The tour guide walked us through the launch sequence, the buzzers sounded, just as they would have sounded at the end of the world. Even knowing it was all for show, I can’t describe the feeling this left me with. The way my heart stopped its beating a moment. The sadness.

Titan Missile Museum

And the missile itself, the first glimpse with a reminder that no one can ever be alone in this place:

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

The blunt face of extraordinary violence, terror, death.

Titan Missile Museum

The relationship to space exploration technology is so clear I wonder that I ever felt them disentangled, that I ever could have possibly imagined a benign program to explore the stars. The components below evoke SF memories to me, I love metal. You could forget they were designed to kill every human being within 900 square miles of an air blast — because we could chose whether it detonated on impact or at altitude.

Titan Missile Museum

Titan Missile Museum

You are allowed to see everything, take pictures of everything, ask any question. Because technology has advanced so much we now have far deadlier weapons deployed in very different ways. Probably in many more places. We still stand on the brink of destruction.

Save