Students: Shipping Tales



Architectural Association (U.K.) / Tutors: Liam Young & Kate Davies (2014)

The sea has always been the plasma that connects distant lands with stories of otherness, mythic voyages, the monsters of the deep and travels into the unknown. In the recent years, the shipping industry has stripped back the mysteries of the sea to a landscape of economy and efficiency. As the containerization of cargo takes over the supply chain, the Lego-like ports no longer emanate stories of far-away lands. The ships travel in closed routes, berthing for less than 24h at each harbor; they have taken over the surface of the sea, yet the ocean-bed remains unknown. There are better maps of Mars than the seabed of planet Earth. As scientists have now entered into the “golden age of oceanography,” they slowly explore stretches of the oceans and discover extraordinary riches in oil, minerals and biodiversity, all susceptible to exploitation.

However, these efforts are made in arduous circumstances. Through the technologies of navigation, the sea, read as data, is depicted in a fashion similar to William Turner’s paintings, where the sea and sky appear as particles of the same consistency, merging into one another in adjacent brushstrokes. The seafarers very often see ghost signals on their radar through a condition called “sea clutter.” As water spray is released in every cusp of the waves, these particles reflect the radio waves propagated by the ships creating apparitions on the radar screens. Similarly, some stealth geometries or shadow conditions can conceal objects that float or lie dormant on the bottom of the ocean. As the maps that delineate what we know of the seascape become more and more complete, they always depend on the instruments that were used in the process of imaging — these tools having their own limitations.

While the colonization of the high seas is in full scheme, this project imagines the sea as an autonomous state rather than a patchwork of jurisdiction. This new stewardship follows pirate aspirations of anarchical ideals inspired by the impossibility of governing the sea — a condition that allows the conception of absolute freedom. The Blue state is imagined with a unique border line, the horizon. As visibility conditions fluctuate the border would be delivered daily as a weather forecast. Shipping routes are revised to include floating islands of free trade, shipwrecks are submitted as monuments of the state’s heritage and border zones are to be inhabited by nomadic radar spoofs and sonar anomalies that disrupt the efficiencies of high frequency shipping lanes. The radar and sonar, the very instruments that are used for mapping and quantifying the ocean are played against themselves to become sites where the mythic can start to re-emerge.

Oftentimes cartographies of the sea used to mark the edge of the world. Others included the phrase “Here be dragons” and drew sea serpents, dragons and other mythical creatures when denoting uncharted waters. As the threshold between known and unknown shifts and engrosses the whole globe, the “edge of the world” finds itself in the confines of technology where the limits of our own perception now reside. There too, might be the site for a new mythical anthology.

Blue State Ma