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The Utilitarian Mountain

Shortlisted proposal for The Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2021 Collaboration with Francesca Liuni

Two dialectic forces will shape the future of urban environments: expansion and contraction. Urban spatial expansion is the physical expression of human planetary growth. In contrast, the rising seas, desertification, wildfires, and other climate events are the contracting force acting upon these urban environments. This installation aims to examine how these forces required unique resourcefulness from the constrained geographic territory of Gibraltar and imagine how they will transform the City in the future. The small peninsula (a potential island with sea-level rise) city-state is an example of a restricted environment with limited natural resources and complex political and social conditions. 

The Strait of Gibraltar is a node in the planetary nexus, a strategic passage between the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, Europe, and Africa. Gibraltar, the small City, and the massive 423-meter tall limestone mountain endured a millennium of embattled history. The peninsula has been the source of territorial conflicts between Spain and the UK since the Utrecht treaty in 1713. Today, Gibraltar is a British overseas territory striving for autonomy with 34,000 citizens. The Gibraltar relationship with the Spanish government has been tumultuous under the Brexit negotiations making political, social, and economic issues connected to the shared border crossing challenging. The peninsula will require energy, water, and economic self-sufficiency and land for growth to accomplish the potential of autonomy. 

The Rock dominates approximately 40% of the 6.7km2 peninsula area. The City is interconnected and interdependent on the Rock. Beyond the initial strategic military purpose of the mountain and the settlement to serve it, the Rock serves the City and supports its continuous resilience. The geologic compound of dolomitic limestone allowed settlers to excavate traverse tunnels throughout the Rock along during the last three centuries. The extensive 55km long maze of tunnels was created for defense by the British military, and the material extracted was used to create new land for development and services (new airport). Rainwater falling on the Rock is collected into carved reservoirs, providing a sustainable solution for local water needs. As the British military scaled back from the peninsula, the City - Nation found new economic industries in online gaming. And while immaterial in production, the data centers required to support the industry occupy some of the deserted tunnels. The Rock and the City exist in equilibrium: material extracted from within it allows expansion of settlement outwards with land reclamation and the preservation of the Rock Natural Reserve. That Rock’s void is then filled with sources of life. 

This installation examines the potential future of this balance, from one hand, the condensing of available habitable space with sea-level rise threatening to disconnect the peninsula from Spain, and on the other hand, the need for expansion and growth into the water and the Rock. The Two presented together; these imaginaries tell the story of global urbanization and the history of resilience ingenuity. The work intersects two of the Biennale themes: below the ground and heritage. This project will be developed for the Seoul Biennale based on ongoing research on the issue of “Continental Islands” by the team. 

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