The Thinness of Lines
Jimmy Pan (MDes Risk and Resilience 2020)
Normal water is water that behaves. It is a water that is tame. There is nothing to fear, since it is not threatening. It does not violate the boundaries that the built environment has set for it. Water is held behind dams, kept out behind levees, rainscreened, conveyed to drainage outlets on street corners, and only allowed into our sacred space of home if we choose to open the tap or flush the toilet.
We have it under control.
Home is a protected space, an intimate space, sterilized by the limitations of what we choose to allow within its borders. Home, for the dweller, is the emblem of safety and security—a constructed familiarity isolated from “dirt, fear, and anxiety.”1 Yet, the “intricate set of networks that produce this bliss” remain “invisible to him/her, hidden underneath and outside the house.”2 Buried systems, especially those related to water, have excised process from product, shifted insight to the periphery, and inadvertently arrested our imaginary to a routine of maintenance rather than a custom of adaptation. If within this status quo normal water is assumed as the only water, and the multiplicities of waters are reduced into a homogenized singular water, then disaster must be a product of water blindness.
Goodbye line, it was nice knowing you. Where does my lot end? Where does yours begin? Inundation doesn’t care. The compulsory and reflexive desire to rebuild in the exact same location after devastation demonstrates the success of the illusion—a “high level of control over the interaction between edifice and its environment” is the only course of action.4 To discover new futures, planners, policy makers, and designers must investigate unfamiliar tools.
We do not need control.
Subduing randomness to order and converting uncertainty into risk is a dangerous game of drawing boundaries by assumption. Resilience is a confused term. It is defined as “the quality or fact of being able to recover quickly or easily from, or resist being affected by, a misfortune, shock, illness, etc.; robustness: adaptability.”5 Isn’t robustness the antithesis of adaptability? We are conditioned to focus on ‘coming back stronger’ or ‘bouncing back’ to normal. Similarly confused are the myriad of urban projects focused on thickening the shorelines. We are merely redrawing boundaries, adding breadth to the line, and endowing thinness with an abundant poche of false gravity. I wonder—would Euclid laugh or cry? Normalcy is governed by elasticity. Transformation emerges from plasticity.
“When an angel accidentally falls and drowns in the sea, its desperately flapping wings send out vibrations that cause a harmonic fluctuation that coincides with the sound of a suppressed cry, announcing an ocean storm. Think not the feathers washed up on the shore a natural event.”6
Maria Kaika, City of Flows: Modernity, Nature and the City (New York: Routledge, 2005), 107.
“Mantoloking, New Jersey” at https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/weeklynews/nov12/ngs-sandy-imagery.html.
“resilience, n.5”, OED Online (Oxford University Press: accessed February 08, 2019)
John Hejduk, “Evening in Llano,” in Education of an Architect: The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of Cooper Union (New York: Rizzoli, 1988), 340-341.