A small back-page article for the Western Australian The Architect Autumn edition. It concerns the latest Star Wars installment and a sample of the architecture, or rather the space architecture, found within its fictional universe and the ubiquitousness that has been bestowed upon it, that has seen it aligned to other filmic devices. Pick up a copy at all good outlets…? There are also some excellent pieces of writing to be found within its pages.
A NOSTALGIA PRODUCING INSTRUMENT. A LANDMARK FOR SPACE.
Outer space begins a few hundred kilometres perpendicular to the Earth’s surface. There have been various gateways to this infinity, the most celebrated of which is Cape Canaveral, located near the centre of Florida’s Atlantic coastline. Nestled here within the Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) are two launch pads that have been responsible for supporting countless launches.
In the excursus of Collage City entitled Nostalgia-producing instruments, Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter include two photographs of the KSC launch complex structures. The authors pose the question, ‘Why should we be obliged to prefer a nostalgia for the future to that for the past?’ The launch-centered buildings invite the nostalgia of a golden age of space travel when these structures represented a gateway to space and the future.
Launch pads 39A and 39B stand out on the low Florida coastline, piercing the blue horizon as they sit atop a futuristic hill-fort. From a distance they could be mistaken as the skeletal remains of Hans Hollein’s aircraft carrier’s run aground inland, perhaps in the process of being broken down as often happens to ships amongst the low-tides of Chittagong’s ship-breaking yards in Bangladesh. The structure is so impenetrably dense that any human scaled element is lost amongst it; analogous to the insignificance of man set against the inky black infinity of space. But these dense expressions of structure are not being dismantled nor are they lying dormant. After more than fifty years of service they continue to operate as a fundamental component to the launch facility, being modified and repurposed to accept continually advancing launch systems technology.
The two launch pads are linked to the cavernous VAB via pathways topped with a layer of spark-resistant river stone. This gauntlet is run at a deliberately unhurried pace by the crawler transporter; a moveable element of the launch pads that as well as providing a plinth with which to stand the launch system atop, is responsible for the delivery of the rocket to the launch pad proper. Decades of use has seen rockets scorch the fire trench that is used to control and direct the blast over water. Bricks lining the fire trench walls are often shot kilometres away from the launch pad due to the incredible forces at play. These bricks bear an indelible patina, the mark of a sublime event whose forces you can conjure as your hands run over them.
Man no longer frequents the Moon, though has left some evidence; Skylab has since burnt up on re-entry; the International Space Station will certainly suffer a similar fate. Space it seems is no suitable place for a landmark to celebrate mankind’s ultimate endeavour (although Lebbeus Woods’ Einstein’s Tomb would tend to make a case for its viability). All that remains and will remain in the wake of such historically significant events are two hulking launch pads that continue to endure a solemn, dutiful service here on Earth.
List of Illustrations
image a – Launch pad 39A (2012), the author’s image.
image b – Launch pad 39A (2012), the author’s image.
 Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, Collage City (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1978), 173.
The following text was intended to accompany the drawings that were published in the CLOG: SCI-FI issue from 2012. The drawings obviously spoke for themselves…
The 100 Year Starship.
What started out as an exercise in the fiscal stability needed to support such a venture, strangely enough materialised. Nobody, not even those that instigated the project could have imagined that it would actually be built. Even the dreamers.
And so, over the course of a hundred years (give or take) a starship was constructed in a high earth orbit, keeping it beyond the ever expanding belt of debris, but also as was widely acknowledged at the time, beyond threat.
First world nations, supported by their largest multi-national corporations, mined the Moon successfully creating 3d printed silicate structures and panels. This technology combined with the use of abandoned space stations to form a skeletal structure, ensured the slow but steady construction of what resembled a city, taking shape in space. Gigantic, extruded, square profiled sectors grew from a central mega-truss, the birth just within eyeshot on a cold, clear night.
The starship was sent out from its orbit to slingshot through the gravities of other moons as it made its way to uncover possible second homes. It mined as it circled these celestial bodies, supplying a new religion of architected construction that provided some form of occupation for those generations forging an existence aboard. 3d printing machines became churches, to a background of air-conditioning hum, unpredictable mechanical clanging, and revolutions…
The heliosheaths of many suns and stars have been passed through by the one hundred year starship. The solar sail that once caught solar winds from within the Milky Way has been tossed and turned so that it now resembles swaddling, wrapped over the platonic form.
It appears motionless in a distant galaxy. A traveller from an antique land. A colossal wreck, boundless and bare. Intact for the most part, there are moments when life once struggled to escape it’s greebled carcass. No passengers are left now. They are all long since departed. The last one died thousands of years ago. The last of his species.
A reliquary of progress, it has outlasted its creators. Technology has triumphed over man. It has left him for dead. It is now utopia incarnate. At least for another five hundred thousand years or so. Its course will be interupted by the supernova of an aging star. The starship will travel directly towards the gravitational collapse and be intercepted by the star’s expelled material at a combined velocity of sixty thousand kilometres per second.
A product of the Enlightenment, it will end in a burst of radiation that will outshine stars.
This is one of my other favourites. Part of what I was trying to accomplish through this series was the expression of the sublime. I was trying to demonstrate the ultimate magnitude of Kant’s sublime. In this drawing I am attempting to describe that this characteristic is found both internally (within the starship, akin to Piranesi’s Carceri series) and externally (beyond the mathematical expression of sublime; the supposed infinite).
This is the first excerpt from my final design submission that I will be posting on this website. Over the next few weeks I will be posting a selection of postcards from my 100YSS book, and will on occasion provide some additional information that may or may not be either relevant or enlightening.
This drawing was the only ‘real’ architectural drawing in my final submission. A plan, section, elevation drawing that hints at an unknown trajectory. To be honest I am not sure if I had scale in mind. Any scale would be irrelevant anyway. I felt as though I had to include it in case I was accused of pure illustration. As it turns out it is one of my favourite drawings from this project. It is the essence of my entire project. Some sort of autonomous ambiguity.
This animation was submitted as part of my final design folio. It was hastily put together on the morning of submission using a combination of hand drawings and After Effects with a smidgen of help from Photoshop. You will have to use your ears to try and guess from where the sound was borrowed.
The animation was produced with its display in mind. During the presentation of the project it was projected over a wall, with the intention that it would compliment the other components of the exhibition.
Earlier this year I had the good fortune of being invited to exhibit a selection of my drawings on the walls of the newly refurbished UWA Architecture, Landscape, and Visual Arts library. I look at this opportunity as fair consolation for the loss of my beloved Nissan Pulsar to the same storm that wreaked havoc on this very library, initiating its repair and restoration.
Much thanks goes to Honey Hiranandani of Ferguson Architects for her patience and impetus, and also to Gina Sjepcevich for her assistance throughout this project.