Disarming Carbon

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Project Team

Author: Jeb Polstein

Institution: Harvard Graduate School of Design

Instructor: Danielle Choi

Studio: From Offshoring to Near Shore: Littoral Landscapes at Work; Graduate Landscape Architecture; Fall 2021

Instructor and Studio Coordinator: Danielle Choi

Project Description

Confronting the climate crisis requires confronting the massive systems of industrial infrastructure that have given rise to it. This project begins to do so in the local context of Lynn, MA, home to a General Electric Aviation manufacturing facility, and fifteen miles offshore, at a floating liquefied natural gas terminal. Together, these sites are part of a complex physical and institutional territory that spans from fossil energy production and transportation to federal expenditure and military surplus. Disarming Carbon proposes a system that explicitly links the two sites and enables better futures of renewable energy, carbon sequestration, and coastal adaptation. Specifically, workers strip down the GE plant’s hard edge and certain aging buildings, installing a salt marsh and berm pattern that extends into the urban fabric. Remaining factory buildings host wind turbine production, which builds on existing skills and machinery. Offshore, workers transform the gas terminal into an integrated kelp and wind farm, creating electricity and biofuel while capturing carbon. Ultimately, while our current modes of industrial production may feel intractable, this project suggests that they are not inevitable.


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Project on JSTOR

Studio Description

This studio will imagine alternative futures—in situ and ex situ—for productive landscapes in Massachusetts sited in coastal areas of chronic risk. The complex environmental and social interests of people at work in working landscapes will be explored through design from the regional scale to localized sites. New England’s socially productive landscapes—ports, forests, fields—have been displaced by colonization, relocated overseas, fragmented by urbanization, or restructured by market-oriented forces. The remnants of these technoecological landscapes that once supported everyday life and culture in the region have been romanticized, miniaturized, and historicized. Fossil capital has led directly to rising temperatures and decreased biodiversity—and the uneven distribution of cumulative effects on human populations. During the early 20th century, through the New Deal, the profession of landscape architecture undertook a broad range of projects funded by the National Works Program. During the1930s, landscape architects planned, designed, and executed work across federal agencies as diverse as the Treasury Department, War Department, Tennessee Valley Authority, Federal Housing Administration, and the Department of the Interior (to list just a few examples), creating thousands of jobs for out-of-work Americans. A closer examination of this history reveals that amidst the celebrated public landscapes were also many projects of environmental absurdity, constructed through grueling manual labor, often by racially segregated work crews.

Amidst the current economic crisis and calls for a Green New Deal, the discipline of landscape architecture has the potential to again create jobs—“green jobs”—in service of a decarbonized economy. But without compelling visions for the future, the discipline will be limited to projects of climate change resilience that stabilize the current rhythms of everyday life. This stability may seem reassuring in turbulent times, but it also represents the most pernicious form of “sustainability.” What is wet and what is dry are no longer reliably fixed in space; meaningful employment seems increasingly uncertain. As C.L.R. James observed of Herman Melville’s novel, Moby Dick, the ocean brutally exposes the entanglements of nature, culture, and technology that support human society. Captain Ahab instigates the whale hunt, but the survival of the ship depends on the creativity and ingenuity of the entire crew. This studio will investigate the relationships between landscape and labor on sites that defy the clear geographical displacements of “post-” landscapes (e.g. post-industrial, post-agricultural, post-carbon); we will imagine new hybrid landscapes for adaptation and transition.