Journal article

Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies

Ocean space is currently being urbanized on an unprecedented scale, a phenomenon under investigation by the architectural laboratoire bâle, EPFL Switzerland. Lefebvre writes of the all-encompassing process of urbanization, that agriculture, industry and urbanization follow each other (Lefebvre 2003). This model can be tested for ocean space, which already plays a major role within mobility and organisational networks and is at the same time a fluid, partially industrialised landscape of dimensions often far exceeding comparable zones on land. The research aims to investigate these relationships, position ocean spatial typologies within the urban debate and identify planning tools informed by the physical, as opposed to the virtual, condition of flow, which implement the ocean itself as an “active” agent. In the case of the Barents Sea in northern Norway, the interest in ocean space is fuelled by the opening of the Northern Sea Route to Asia and the prospect of releasing vast off-shore reserves of oil & gas on the one hand, and the alarming rate of global warming as reflected in the receding ice-front on the other. The strategic development of infrastructure, the provision of access and the complex grid of international networks active in the region are indicators of a particular type of urbanism acting at the territorial scale. This specific character, however, demands an urbanism of flows. Despite its remoteness, its vastness, its extreme climatic and light conditions, its relatively sparse human population and its abundance of natural habitats, this territory is under extreme pressure. The Barents Sea exemplifies the need for a new kind of spatial strategy, a strategy which works with the dynamics of the ocean and its potential for the current urbanization processes. How can urban design methods and principles be applied to ocean territory and how can natural “clients” such as inhabitants, or phenomena such as ice, be catered for in planning terms? The laboratory’s project developed “territorial constitutions” for the Barents Sea which were then further articulated in singular architectural projects as a proof of concept. The context revealed itself to be both an extremely harsh and aesthetic natural environment and a correspondingly extreme artificial and utilitarian built environment.


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