Critical Zone Observatories
Our close association with the circle of Bruno Latour has led to many inspiring insights and motivations. In the build-up to Latour’s ‘Critical Zones’ exhibition at the ZKM, which opened in May 2020, we investigated various means of both occupying layers of the critical zone (including for purposes of measurement), and also revealing them architecturally as significant and largely invisible (or ignored) thresholds.
Working with Oscar Emanuel of wood innovators Xylotech we proposed to the Communauté des Communes du Clunysois a series of investigations whose process of construction and use would become related experiments in ‘core samples’ linking the microscopically local to the terrestrial at different scales. They would put into question the notion of ‘observation,’ relating apparently to the far-flung, but needed to be refocussed on the intimate eco (or ‘home’) system on which we depend.
Two iterations of this initial process are shown here, one a tower made of gleaned branches (3d-scanned and pre-assembled on a computer), whose purpose is to allow actual and experimental occupation of the tree canopy in the Bois de la Roche near Cluny. Captors would measure oxygen production by the trees, and the public would have access to this data and experience in real time through a diaphanous observation platform in tensioned stainless steel wires. This structure would be a demonstration of minimal impact and disruption to a verdant landscape, as well as an experience/experiment for public benefit and revelation.
The second tower is intended as a doubly-oriented observatory: facing up (and across, to the medieval towers of Cluny) and down, into the ground, towards an excavation finishing in the bedrock, the lower limit of the inhabitable critical zone. The tower structure –made in a complex doubly-curved wood skeleton, clad in woven willow branches- is experienced in ascent rather like Brunelleschi’s Santa Maria Fiore dome, as an interstice; inside the oculus volume, it can be used for concerts and recitals, readings, and the dissemination of information about the constellation of similar structures and the instructive pathways that link them for visitors.