Landscapes of Excess: An Approach to the Spatial Dynamics of the Offshore Wind Industry
Author: Barbara Graeff
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: Sergio Lopez-Pineiro
Studio Coordinator: Danielle Choi
The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has assigned leases for offshore wind energy generation on the country’s east coast. The first large-scale offshore wind farm will be built in federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. However, roughly 90% of turbine installation happens onshore, where existing conditions are converted into tabulae rasae for assembly operations.
“Landscapes of Excess” analyzes the friction between proposed offshore wind farms and their reciprocal coastal landscapes, framed by the excesses that emerge from their interactions. By focusing on three sites: the offshore wind farm, the Marine Commerce Terminal in New Bedford, and the Brayton Point Commerce Center in Somerset, this project embraces the dynamics of this renewable energy industry, incorporating and resignifying existing movements of material as flows of spatial transformation. In doing so, the project seeks to soften the edges — both literally and metaphorically — and erode the neutrality inherent to this feat of engineering. The excessive material from demolition processes onshore shapes artificial reefs between turbines on the ocean floor; the excessive vulnerability to sea-level rise redefines the hard edge of the terminal in New Bedford; and the excessive energy production offshore shapes a battery landscape in Somerset, where water towers convert water to energy through filling and draining processes.
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.