ADS7: Something in the Air – Politics of the Atmosphere

Nico Alexandroff

Nico Alexandroff is graduating from the Royal College of Art with a Masters in Architecture. Nico completed his BA Hons Architecture at Manchester School of Architecture in 2017, graduating with a 1st Class honours degree. Nico was awarded the Academic Excellence Award and the Faculty Alumni Prize for Highest BA mark. He went on to work at architecture practices in London; Hawkins\Brown Architects and Burrell Foley Fischer before joining the Royal College of Art. In both practices, he was involved in civic and cultural projects. Nico was also involved in the V&A Exhibition Road Day of Design 2019 where he took part in the design and build of a modular furniture set that doubled as solitary bee habitats. In his first year at the Royal College of Art, Nico was a member of Architecture Design Studio (ADS) 3, led by Daniel Fernández Pascual & Alon Schwabe, who together form Cooking Sections. His resulting project, Handicapping Golf, was included as a selection of works of RCA students at the 2019 Seoul Biennale of Architecture & Urbanism.

This year Nico’s research and design work for ADS7, led by Elise Hunchuck, Marco Ferrari and Jingru (Cyan) Cheng, will be featured in Sky River, a two-part digital and physical installation that is part of Critical Zones: Observatories for Earthly Politics at ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (Germany), curated by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel with Martin Guinard and Bettina Korintenberg and will be on display May 23, 2020, until February 28, 2021.

Nico has been nominated for the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Dissertation Medal Student Awards (Announced 1st December 2020) for his dissertation, Life at the [L]edge After Extraction, which exposes methods of greenwashing and loopholes within resource extraction industries in the UK.

Contact

n.w.alexandroff@gmail.com

Instagram

Degree Details

School of Architecture

Nico’s practice engages in the entangled relationship between politics, ecology and planetary metabolic processes. Taking a multidisciplinary, multiscalar approach, Nico is interested in how aesthetics can be used to initiate action to combat the unfolding catastrophe of climate change.

Coronavirus is a fast catastrophe, it operates at a pace that evades collective human cognition. Societies, via decision-makers, are forced into a mode of action that is of a viral temporality, the action itself severe, with a trans-national reach. We understand climate change as a slow catastrophe, but climate change is subject to radical simplifications as it weaves between scientific fields, bureaucratic systems, and public domains via the media.

The virus, coined by US President Trump as an ‘invisible enemy’ has left very visible ‘marks’ in its wake. Coronavirus is a climate emergency geoglyph, a catastrophic revealing of habitat destruction, industrial farming practices and species extinction in a globalised world. These ‘marks’ are autographic visualisations—a visualisation that is of itself—differing from data visualisations, the interpretations of data sets. Other autographic visualisations in recent memory are the Australian bushfires of 2019 and the Siberian peat fires currently burning. These phenomena provide an urgent and necessary reflection of their entanglement within planetary metabolism—which includes human entities.

Indexical Ice—Nico’s thesis project—constructs a methodology that attempts to illustrate climate emergency geoglyphs occurring on Greenland's ice sheet, with similar temporal pressures to the pandemic. The project aims to hold actors accountable, along the vectors of positive feedback. After graduating from the RCA, Nico plans on continuing the research he has developed during his thesis project, operating within the fields of research architecture, spatial design, visual cultures, and political ecologies.

Greenland’s southwest coast. An observatory of planetary metabolism — The map, composed of multitemporal images, depicts a changing geopolitical landscape alongside a landscape in climate flux. Greenland is opening on all sides, both in terms of its resource extraction and its melting sea ice — they are not mutually exclusive. An Anorthosite mine headquartered in Canada but located on Greenland’s oceanic edge encounters flour. An iron mine, based in the UK and owned by a Chinese company, located on the ice sheet, is witness to blooms. A Ruby mine based in the US but located in a glacial fjord experiences plumes.

Aesthetics Shortcuts: Blooms, Plumes and Flour — The visualisations depict the convergence of planetary systems. The aesthetics of these phenomena have a didactic role in orienting people towards a new, alternative cosmology. By collaging various forms of scientific information, the distance between the molecule and the territory is bridged, and a multi-scalar image is produced, one that asks questions of human accountability within planetary processes. Aesthetics have the ability to compress complex information that goes beyond scientific realms. They enable a narration of planetary metabolism.

Environemental Phenomena

Indexical Ice, Plotting a Planet in Flux constructs an alternative cosmology via the substance, ice. Ice, commonly thought as an undifferentiated body, converges at various scales of planetary metabolism. Indexical Ice investigates the forms in which this metabolism—climate change—reveals itself and examines how physical visualisations and the aesthetics of planetary flux can be appropriated—constructing alternative cartographies, connecting cause and effect—in such a way as to induce political action.

This project employs three recently discovered environmental phenomena that occur on Greenland’s south-west coast. The phenomena—blooms, plumes and flour—indicate that, compared to climate model predictions, the ice sheet is melting at an amplified rate due to the triggering of positive feedback loops. In tandem with the plumes, blooms and flour, Indexical Ice reappropriates three active mineral extraction sites in Greenland to expose both the phenomena and the industrial activities taking place adjacent to and within the planetary flux.

Indexical Ice questions the relationship between the problem and the model we use to understand the problem. Action is taken based on how decision-makers preserve the problem. Indexes define the boundaries of models. They are the parameters within which we project and understand the changing earth system. Indexes are constructed—and therefore inherently political.

Medium:

Animation, Film, Mapping
Aesthetic
Arctic
Catastrophe
Climate crisis
Cosmology
Data
Ecology
Infrastructure
Metabolism
Phenomena
Planetary
Politics
Parasite Sensors, Blooms

Parasite Sensors, Blooms — Greenland is a landscape where human habitation comes disproportionately in the form of extractive infrastructures, removing data and minerals. The infrastructure that affords nation-states via corporations the ability to plunder is the very same infrastructure that can be appropriated for other means.

Iron Extraction Witnessing Blooms

Iron Extraction Witnessing Blooms

Parasite Sensors, Plumes

Parasite Sensors, Plumes — Metabolic apparatus are a collage of both mineral and data’s extractive infrastructure. The indexes are measured through a series of analogue sensors. As parasites, the sensors awkwardly cling on to existing infrastructure and, over time, at the expense of resource extraction. Their presence draws physical connections between cause; industrial activities and effect; climate phenomena, connections that are all too often far removed and entangled with and by bureaucratic systems. As well as recording a climate emergency geoglyph, the metabolic apparatus also symbolise the planet in flux. The intervention aesthetic holds actors accountable along the vectors of positive feedback.

Ruby Extraction Witnessing Plumes

Ruby Extraction Witnessing Plumes

Parasite Sensors, Flour

Parasite Sensors, Flour — The metabolic apparatus uses aesthetics shortcuts to enable recorded data to enter fields of political discussions outside of the scientific realm. They use extraction sites as a lens through which to examine global climate politics, and in doing so draw light on the lack of action. Metabolic apparatus is used as a metaphor for the project as a whole, composing a methodology to use climate phenomena as a tool to observe human impact within planetary metabolism in order to initiate climate action. Action that takes a variety of formats.

Anorthosite Extraction Witnessing Flour

Anorthosite Extraction Witnessing Flour

Indexical Ice designs indexes at sites of extraction. The indexes—Metabolic Apparatus—are a collage of both mineral and data’s extractive infrastructure. The indexes are measured through a series of analogue sensors. As parasites, the sensors awkwardly cling on to existing infrastructure and, over time, at the expense of resource extraction. The metabolic apparatus uses aesthetic shortcuts to enable recorded data to enter fields of political discussions outside of the scientific realm. They use extraction sites as a lens through which to examine global climate politics, and in doing so, draw light on the lack of action.

Medium:

Animation, Mapping

Timeline of Deployed Media — Indexical Ice proposes a timeline for action. The timeline is divided into three fields; public domain, extractive processes and climate negotiations. 13 venues and their interconnected stakeholder relationships are positioned throughout the timeline. The projects conceptual framework is deployed as various forms of curated media. The design of these mediums require several venues; venues of discourse and negotiation, venues of information consumption and creation, and venues of fictional worlds. The deployed media engenders subsequent events.

Venue 1 Climate negotiations: COP26, Cryosphere Pavillion — The proposed Cryosphere Pavillion positions negotiators, politicians and scientists on Greenland’s south-west coast. Unlike the image in mainstream media, one of the calving glaciers and scientific information visualisation consisting of red and blue graphs, here one is exposed to this planetary change through the extractive apparatus and concessions. The pavilion uses the aesthetics of the metabolic apparatus as its subject matter as well as the conceptual framework in which they operate: drawing mediums together — that wouldn’t normally be placed together — as a way to initiate discourse.

Venue 2 Public Domain: Video Game, Indexical Existence — Indexical Existence is a video game proposed for 2027. A fictional world that is grounded in reality, it uses changes happening on Greenland’s southwest coast as its narrative. The game reveals geopolitical tensions emerging in the Arctic, as the ice melts, national-states via corporations are looking to make financial gains. Within the game, your aim is to reappropriate existing extractive infrastructure to expose the changing planetary condition.

Venue 3 Extractive Processes: Extraction Site Working Group — Positioned at the sites of extraction on Greenland’s southwest coast. Stakeholders gather to examine the changes occurring in the landscape. As ice retreats, global politicians and extraction corporations are far removed from the planet in flux. Here, they gather to talk with local people, questioning the inaction taken by world leaders. This geographic proximity to the phenomena aims to compel politicians to take action, an action that will enforce new prohibitive measures on extraction companies.

Indexical Ice proposes a timeline of action. The project's conceptual framework is deployed as various forms of curated media. The design of these mediums require several venues; venues of discourse and negotiation, venues of information consumption and creation, and venues of fictional worlds. The architectural intervention is a methodological one, where, constructing a framework for a series of events, it deliberately positions itself within already existing domains. Drawing various fields of knowledge along a single vector, it challenges the lack of political action. The deployed media do not propose a singular design outcome, but instead, they construct an expansive field of possibility, open for future developments.

Medium:

Images, Visualization, Timeline

Ice in Iceland

The Uncharted

Object of Science

Bad Vibrations

Surface Sensor

Aerosol Catchment

Thirst for Energy

Tourists Eyes

Lost Sediment

Opening Arctic

A collection of research drawings that reveals several perspectives of Arctic Ice.
The drawings explain the research methodology which frames the project—Indexical Ice.

Medium:

Drawing, Digital
Social
Royal College of Art
Registered Office: Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, South Kensington, London SW7 2EU
RCA™ Royal College of Art™ are trademarks of the Royal College of Art