Groundswell Alastair Parvin & Lukas Barry 13/05/10 16.51
Greenpeace Competition for the 'Airplot' at Heathrow
Last year, Greenpeace organised the collective purchase of a plot of land directly in the path of the proposed third runway at Heathrow. The so-called 'Airplot' ended up with 90,000 co-owners named on the deeds of the land, forming a legal obstacle to compulsory purchase, and a symbolic expression of support. At the beginning of 2010, an architectural competition was launched to design a defensible structure which would occupy the airplot site in the event of the plans going ahead, which would serve as a symbolic and physical barrier to compulsory purchase and the demolition of Sipson village. Groundswell was selected as the wining design by the judges in April, and the design was unveiled as the new government announced plans to scrap the third runway project in may.
What is proposed is, in effect, an 'anti-monument' - an inversion of the traditional architectural symbol. Whereas the conventional monument is a structure built by the few to impress upon the many, this would be the reverse: a structure built by the many to impress upon the few.
Via the Greenpeace website, each supporter would fund 1 (or more) earthbags, which is printed with their name and delivered to the airplot, where it is filled with earth. The structure which results is not such much a building as a carefully choreographed accumulation - forming a physical and symbolic mass: a literal 'groundswell'.
The final size or budget of the structure may not be known at the outset, but would essentially be a product of the extent of support, which may accelerate once the process has begun.
If it had to go ahead, we think groundswell would be the worlds first truly 'crowdfunded' structure: a physical articulation of people-power.
Each earthbag is woven through with 4 biodegradable plastic cable-ties, and connected to its neighbours. This means that the structure behaves not just as a heavy compressive mass, but also as a reinforced tensile mesh - making it almost impossible to mechanically dig or bulldoze.
Such a structure can be dismantled, but not quickly, or by using brute force. The harder the attack, the more resilient the structure becomes.
UNCERTAINTY AS A TOOL
Demolition contractors, like all companies, have to manage risk.
During accumulation, a network of tunnels is embedded into the groundswell, comprising re-used LDPE barrels and water tanks.
The actual extent and layout of these tunnels is a closely-guarded secret. Digger operators therefore have no way of knowing where the protestors are hidden, and are therefore forced to assume that any intervention into the structure poses a risk to human life.
During a siege, regular YouTube broadcasts would be made from within the groundswell. Supporters from around the world would be encouraged to mock-up fake 'sets' of the tunnels at home or in their gardens, and replicate these videos on the internet; making it almost impossible for authorities to know with any certainty how many people are actually within the groundswell at a given time.
What is left behind is, in effect, a man-made hill. Once the earthbags and cable-tie net have degraded, and the hill is overgrown with grass and vegetation - it becomes apparent that very little has actually been brought to the area, or taken away from it. Thousands of people have simply added their names to it.
Airplot Hill is left as a community resource and nature reserve; providing fruit, vegetables, honey and spectacular views of Heathrow and the surrounding landscape.
Groundswell, and other shortlisted entries will be on exhibition at Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf in London from 2nd-6th June. 11am-6pm daily. Admission free. For more information check out Greenpeace's website here.
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