Harvard Design Magazine no.39 - Wet Matter
The ocean remains a glaring blind spot in the Western imagination. Catastrophic events remind us of its influence—a lost airplane, a shark attack, an oil spill, an underwater earthquake—but we tend to marginalize or misunderstand the scales of the oceanic. It represents the “other 71 percent” of our planet. Meanwhile, like land, its surface and space continue to be radically instrumentalized: offshore zones territorialized by nation-states, high seas crisscrossed by shipping routes, estuaries metabolized by effluents, sea levels sensed by satellites, seabeds lined with submarines and plumbed for resources. As sewer, conveyor, battlefield, or mine, the ocean is a vast logistical landscape. Whether we speak of fishing zones or fish migration, coastal resilience or tropical storms, the ocean is both a frame for regulatory controls and a field of uncontrollable, indivisible processes. To characterize the ocean as catastrophic—imperiled environment, coastal risk, or contested territory—is to overlook its potential power.
The environments and mythologies of the ocean continue to support contemporary urban life in ways unseen and unimagined. The oceanic project—like the work of Marie Tharp, who mapped the seafloor in the shadows of Cold War star scientists—challenges the dry, closed, terrestrial frameworks that shape today’s industrial, corporate, and economic patterns. As contemporary civilization takes the oceanic turn, its future clearly lies beyond the purview of any head of state or space of a nation.
Reexamining the ocean’s historic and superficial remoteness, this issue profiles the ocean as contemporary urban space and subject of material, political, and ecologic significance, asking how we are shaping it, and how it is shaping us.
Published by Harvard University Graduate School of Design
publication: Winter 2014/2015
Harvard Design Magazine is a registered tax-exempt nonprofit, published twice yearly by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
Relaunched in summer 2014, Harvard Design Magazine probes beyond the established design disciplines to enrich and diversify current discourse. Scholarly, poetic, and visually lush, each issue triggers new interpretations of design’s defining role in today’s culture. Distinguished and unexpected voices from the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning meet those from the realms of art, science, literature, and beyond. A space for dialogue, speculation, and surprise: Harvard Design Magazine opens a door onto the applied device of design, and the people, places, and politics it engages.