The Wave in Architecture

It’s a rather popular architectural motif, particularly of course in coastal and riverside cities. I wonder if there ever has been a historical study of the wave in architecture. Here are a few random examples from Europe:

Dessauerstraße, Hemshof Ludwigshafen, Germany. I couldn’t find out about the architect nor he date of these buildings.

Built over the course of more than a decade and finished in 2018: The Wave in Vejle, Denemark, designed by Henning Larsen.

Elbphilarmonie in Hamburg, Germany. Opened in 2016, by architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron.

Inside of Multihalle, in Mannheim, Germany, built by Frei Otto in 1975.

The yellow skys of New York

In June 2023 massive wildfires in Canada caused air pollution in New York to a scale not known to New Yorkers. Besides the serious health issues the smoke-filled air causes, it also tinted the whole city in a curious sepia like color. The remarkable images, the New Yorker chose to accompany this article, show that the editors clearly recognized the aesthetic qualities. For a day or more all contemporary images of New York appeared like paintings from the romantic period of the 19. Century. All photographs are by Clark Hodgin for The New Yorker.

Tides (2021)

Tides” (alternative title “The Colony”) is a sci-fi movie from 2021 about a post-apocalyptic world at the moment the first human communities are about to re-settle again. The only territory suitable is a coastal strip that is covered by tides twice a day. The area is a tidal zone, not quite land and not quite sea, with little to no vegetation and natural shelter for the people to build a more permanent habitat.

The landscape and weather in the story are the same as on the location, the movie was filmed. “Tides” was largely filmed outdoors on the small island Neuwerk in the German Tidelands, situated between the estuaries of the rivers Weser and Elbe.

Neuwerk during low tide

Director Tim Fehlbaum explained in an interview how this landscape inspired the movie plot in the first place:

“For the outdoor scenes we went to the German Tidelands, which was where the idea for the film started. I’m a very visual director and my ideas often have a visual trigger. I had never been to the Tidelands and having grown up in the Swiss mountains being at the low point of Germany was eye-opening. Looking out at this expanse of water was so interesting because in an hour or so, everything you just saw becomes covered in water. The floods in the film are real, and they come in twice a day. Shooting there was exceedingly difficult because we could never shoot much longer than two or three hours, and I always wanted to keep shooting, but it becomes a question of minutes before the water is at your knees and suddenly up to your chest.”

You could say, the movie is really an exploration of this landscape and the living conditions and the atmosphere in tidal zones. That human renewal after the partial retreat and ecological meltdown takes place in such a tidal zone is interesting as it references this landscape as a realm of opportunity, transition and change – a liminal space full of potential rather than decay.

I find this inspirational in regard to our current situation of ecological and social transformation. Author Kim Stanley Robbinson made a similar reference to the “intertidal” as a space of opportunity and renewal when sketching his “Super Venice” in the post-apocalyptic novel “New York 2140” four years earlier. It is striking how both works are set in tidal zones, how both interpret them as spaces of renewal, and yet how radically different they paint this landscape. You can read my post on Robbinson’s book here.

Street Scene on the Rhine

A street in the city of Bonn with the Rhine river in the background, January 2024.

The “Lost River”

Ryan Goslings 2014 movie “Lost River” is most of all a portrait of urban decay and our fascination with decay in a broader sense. The film juxtaposes the stylized display of bodily mutilation and destruction in a Grand Guignol style cabaret on the one side and the at once slow and dramatic decay of urban environments in the US rust belt on the other.

While buildings on fire – an image particularly indicative of the Detroit situation in the 1980s and 1990s – or urban structures overgrown by vegetation are the two main visual ciphers for urban decay in the movie, a flooded town also plays a central role.

As one protagonist explains, the town is called Lost River, because a section of it was once purposefully submerged when a water reservoir was built. Beneath the river lie the remains of that city and also a prehistoric theme park. Pre-historic monsters are said to live in the deep water. The idea of a prehistoric past lurking underneath the water’s surface is reminiscent of J.G Ballard’s 1962 novel “Drowned World“, where global climate change and flooding causes nature to regress into an early state of evolution.

The movie pays little attention to this submerged town. Instead it effectively uses one rather simple image in several scenes: the street lights that stick out of the water and create an eerie sense of displacement and confusing proportions.

Children of the Sea

2019 Japanese anime movie “Children of the Sea” (original title: 海獣の子供, which translates roughly as “Children of Sea Monsters”) is set in a fictitious island in the Okinawa region of Japan. The movie directed by Ayumu Watanabe puts a lot of effort into creating the image of a culture and a way of life, that is aquatic or located in a fluid continuum between dry land and water, the city and the sea. Here are screen shots from two scenes of intense tropical rainstorm that blur the distinction between land and sea.

Another noteworthy scene is the following, set on a pier that is aligned with concrete tetrapopds. These tetrapods have been used since the 1950s all over the world to protect coasts against erosion and flooding. They are particularly prominent across Okinawa and have come to define the look of the coasts there. (See the wiki article here)

Since the movie’s plot is about the meeting and friendship between two brothers born in the sea and a city girl and the girl’s eventual emergence into the underwater world, the tripods here seem to symbolize the community’s effort to maintain the separation between land and sea and protect it’s people from the forces bur also the allure of the ocean.

Kota Ezawa: Flood (2011)

Kota Ezawa (*1969)Flood, 2011
© Courtesy the artist and Galerie Anita Beckers, Frankfurt a.M.

Drawing Extreme Conditions – Emma Stibbon

In an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 2023, contemporary British artist Emma Stibbon exhibited her own wood carving “Collapsed Whaling Station” alongside a selection of works from the Royal Academy collection. All art works depict extreme weather events or ruination or other kinds of disasters. In this nice video she talks about her fascination with these kind of images, referencing explicitly the current climate crisis and it’s effects.

Bionic housing solutions in comics: Aquarica

In a comic book by French authors Benoit Sokal and Francois Schuiten from 2022, an ancient maritime myth is picked up in a comic format. The story is about a small community of refugees who once settled on the back of a giant whale floating in the ocean. The animal is so vast, that it’s back appears like an atoll or a small island. Vegetation grows and various animals have settled, attracted by the mild climate created by the warmth of the animal’s body. After seventy years however there are conspicuous signs that the whale is starting on her journey towards the North Pole, endangering the survival of the small society that has made her back it’s home.

Essentially, the environment for this community is similar to many coastal and island communities: The living conditions are rather comfortable but there is a constant danger of drowning. Whenever the whale moves or sinks, the sea becomes agitated and rises threatening the human settlements.

The authors have come up with a clever piece of bionics as adaptation measure for this condition. The community lives in giant crab-like houses (or rather house-like crabs). These housings have long legs to elevate and hatch like roofs that can close and seal the interior against water in case of inundation. Some of these giant crabs apparently can also swim and cover large distances individually. Here are some sketches from my edition of the book:

This design is not so unlike the houses on stilts that were once common in Bangkok and can now be found again in places like Makoko in Lagos or Apung Teko in Jakarta. Of course these moving and amphibious crabs are much more sophisticated. To inhabit and navigate the crabs, humans had to develop into a symbiotic existence with them. The whole lifestyle of this small community is highly symbiotic and so far adapted to it’s host/surrounding, eventually making it impossible for them to leave. That certainly is the tragedy of this little floating eco-topia.

The two volume book is a wild mixture of maritime folklore, pop-culture references (Moby Dick, obviously), romantic fairy tale and eco-fantasy. Too crude and stagy for my personal taste, but nevertheless interesting as a twist on an old maritime myth – for reference see my post on whales as islands here – seen under today’s light of climate adaptation imperative.

Put your money on Atlantis

In times like these, what the world needs is good humor and good counseling. And this company apparently offers both. Because if you name your business consulting company after a city that spectacularly sank into the sea as a punishment for the hubris of it’s citizens, you have to have a really keen sense of humor. And these guys have been at it for 30 years! So they must be doing something right after all.
And yes indeed, they are:
For this Greek company, Atlantis is not only a quirky choice of a name, but also a commitment to cultural heritage on the one hand and to the ocean on the other. In their own words: “ATLANTIS Consulting implements projects aiming at the promotion of culture, “blue” technologies and the exploitation of the underwater wealth (cultural and natural) for the benefit of the European economy. ATLANTIS is pioneering internationally on the issue of the protection and sustainable exploitation of the cultural heritage.”

So if I ever happen to amass enough finance to seek the services of a finance consulting company, they will of course be my first choice. And until them, I’ll keep researching the odd paths of cultural heritage of sunken cities and of Atlantis in particular. (Note: Atlantis is actually not an uncommon name for finance enterprises. I guess the lure of untold riches is a stronger allegory than a notorious demise.)