This video shows a lecture by Architecture student Magnus Larsson on TED. He wants to turn some of the most deserted and harsh landscapes on the planet into habitable structures. How? By turning loose sand dunes into solid architecture using bacteria. A team at UC Davis has been looking at the microorganism bacillus pasteurii to solidify the ground in earthquake-prone areas. As Larsson puts it, “All I did was to deliberately misapply their technology … and to pump up the scale, and turn it into a 6,000-km-long wall that’s made of sand and protects against sand.”
Larsson explains that as architects we are trained to solve problems. But he does not really believe in architectural problems. He only believes in opportunities. Which is why he shows a threat, and an architectural response. The threat is desertification. His response is a sandstone wall made from bacteria and solidified sand, stretching across the desert.
He convinces that sand is a magical material of beautiful contradictions. It is simple and complex. It is peaceful and violent. It is always the same or never the same, endlessly fascinating. One billion grains of sand come into existence in the world each second. In a way, the static, stone mountain becomes a moving mountain of sand. But, moving mountains can be dangerous, because dry areas cover more than one third of the Earth’s land surfaces. Some are already deserts, others are being seriously degraded by the sand. Larsson gives an example of the Sahel which is located on the south of Sahara. This is the region most closely associated with desertification. It was here in the late ’60s and early ’70s that major droughts brought three million people to become dependent upon emergency food aid, with about up to 250,000 dying.
Larsson convinces that this is a catastrophe waiting to happen again. And it is one that gets very little attention. It seriously threatens the livelihoods of millions of people, and especially in Africa and China. Now, sand dunes cover only about one fifth of our deserts. And still, those extreme environments are very good places if we want to stop the shifting sands. Larsson describes that four years ago, 23 African countries came together to create the Great Green Wall Sahara. A fantastic project, the initial plan called for a shelter belt of trees to be planted right across the African continent. The plan to use natural “sand catchers: was great but one of the problems with planting trees is that the people in these regions are so poor that they chop them down for firewood.
However, Larsson presents an alternative to just planting trees and hopes that they will not get chopped down. He proposes sandstone wall which does three things. First of all, it adds roughness to the dune’s surface, to the texture of the dune’s surface, binding the grains. Secondly, it provides a physical support structure for the trees, and thirdly, it creates physical and habitable spaces inside of the sand dunes. He convinces if people live inside of the green barrier they can help support the trees, protect them from humans, and from some of the forces of nature. Inside of the dunes inhabitants find shade. They can start harvesting condensation, and start greening the desert from within.
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