Ocean as Platform

Ocean as Platform

By B. Cannon Ivers

I am standing knee-deep and barefoot in a fertile patch of mud. It is a struggle to keep my balance as the mud seizes my every other step. With 13 people around me, we are stamping down weeds into the blanket of earth, preparing ground for an age-old system of cultivation. Land in Hawaiian culture is not just soil, but a sibling. I am feeling connected to the land on a visceral and spiritual level. Just before jettisoning our shoes and plunging into this mud, we welcomed the sun while standing on a venerated rock foundation, basking in the glow of the sun that we were beckoning. We are preparing a site for taro cultivation, in return for the food and other provisions we had previously gathered--leaves, fruits, roots, and berries--to flavor and enrich food for a pig we are cooking in an underground oven, called an imu. I am fundamentally being nourished by the land, probably in a way that I never have been before. I am participating in the rediscovery of tradition.

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This is my introduction to the traditional Hawaiian resource management--a system of land tenure and organization from sky to ocean--called Ahupuaʻa. Ahupua‘a is driven by principles of ecology and hydrologic cycles, where conditions are tailored for specific crops to flourish and in turn nourish the people who cultivate and share them. The salinity of water is masterfully calibrated to develop algae in order to raise fish and sustain human colonisation. The borders of the Ahupuaʻa are determined by function and equality as the distribution of resources and land is shared. (FIG 1) During a research studio trip to Hawai‘i as part of the Alimentary Design studio lead by OMA at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) in 2015, I gained insight into the current condition of food availability and provenance on the island of O’ahu--the most populated of the Hawaiian Islands, focusing in particular on the Ahupuaʻa of He’eia on the windward side of the island. (FIG 2) Through the process of data-mining and design development, I was advised and motivated by Sean Connelly, who was born on O‘ahu, and grew up in He’eia. With local intelligence from Sean and design input from Christy Chang and Shohei Shigamatsu from OMA, I devised a system for oceanic food production called Ocean as Platform. The project looked to the surface of the ocean, but also sectionally through the ocean and sky as grounds for production. What prompted this research was the startling statistic that Hawai’i currently imports 92% of the food consumed by the 1.4million residents and 8 million tourists at a cost of $3 billion. The majority of the food is brought in from the mainland, some 2,500 miles away largely because the Ahupua‘a is no longer in operation. Hawai’i’s reliance on imported food is not a crisis of available land. It is an issue of land ownership. Of O’ahu’s 597 square miles, 14 land holders own 420 square miles. Because of this, the process of converting forming pineapple plantations and other underutilized land into productive agriculture has been a slow and frustrating process. The statistic that makes one sit up and listen is the estimation that if any type of event were to disrupt the flow from the mainland, Hawai’i would have enough food to last only 10 days. As a result of these findings following the Hawai’i Food Security report, there is now a movement to return to local grown food, to the systems of the past; to the attitudes of the age of the Ahupuaʻa.

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Fundamental to Ocean as Platform is an understanding of the Economic Exclusion Zones (EEZ). The EEZ is a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over which a state has sovereign rights regarding exploration, use of marine resources including energy production from water and wind. This global initiative gives each country with a coastline sovereign rights to 12 nautical miles of ocean, including protecting those waters through military engagement. This was seen recently when China scrambled jets after a US destroyer sailed within the EEZ of the disputed island in the South China Sea.(FIG 3) It’s not the 12 nautical mile border that is of particular interest for this project, but rather the cumulative area when a distance of 12 nautical miles encircles an island like O‘ahu. The result is 2.5 times more surface area of ocean than land in O‘ahu or 125 times more surface area of ocean to land for the entire island chain.(FIG 4-8) Stories of tradition tell us that Pacific Island navigators perceive a border at 30 nautical miles, which was the furthest distance from land that one could get and still be able to read the shape of the mountains. Or, that 3 nautical miles was the distance away from the shore where the depth of water would not exceed a fisherman’s ability to free-dive. (FIG 9)

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Understanding that at each of these borders the ocean and sky have dramatically varying characteristics due to ocean currents, temperature and depth was critical to the project. This underpinned the notion of a system that operated both within and outside each of these borders, and experimented with the idea of ‘one site with multiple operations’ to link the land and the ocean through a system of production. (FIG 10) Architecturally speaking, the system begins with the idea of ‘self-organising’ mega-structures that could be deployed throughout the various ocean zones that include cultural borders and Economic Exclusion zones. These leviathan structures, at a scale that could perhaps only be realized as a military endeavor, are tantamount to aircraft carriers or deep sea oil rigs. (FIG 11) Within the mega-structures are smaller more manageable growing biomes that would be harvested at different times of the year. The growing modules are designed to naturally cluster through wave motion and their geometry affords tug boats the ability to maneuver them into place.

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Analogously, there is a symbiotic relationship where the mega-structures act as docking stations for the food growing pods to receive captured rainwater or be fed from solar-powered desalination plants. According to research by Lockheed Martin, the ocean absorbs enough solar energy to provide 3 times the global energy need and offset 2.5 billion barrels of oil every day. Once the crops reach maturity and become ready for harvesting, the pods are discharged from the mega-structures, corralled by tug-boat and hauled to shore. (FIG 12-15) This approach was inspired by the French engineer Georges Mougin’s visionary, albeit quixotic, proposal to haul icebergs to parts of the world that have a deficiency of clean drinking water. The size of the growing pods is determined by the width of the dredged channel into Kāneʻohe Bay, leading to the military airbase where the pods are docked for harvesting. During this time, the mega-structures remain at sea, capturing rainwater and solar gain before the growing modules return newly seeded and planted. (FIG 16-18)

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The project prompted me to reassess the border between land and sky. If one begins to think about sky and land as two separate entities, the land as a productive surface and the sky as atmosphere to nurture the land, how the border is engaged becomes quite important. I was inspired by a system that uses the properties and energy of the ocean to create a climate control system. OTEC (Oceanic Thermal Energy Conversion) effectively takes the heat generated by the surface of the ocean and uses it to vaporize ammonium in order to spin a turbine. As the turbine moves, it powers a pump that brings cold water from the depth of the ocean to cool the ammonium and return it to a liquid state. The heat generated from the solar gain on the surface of the ocean once again vaporizes the ammonium thus setting up a continuous loop of energy production and an alternative climate control system tantamount to modern air conditioning technology Through my experience in learning about traditional Hawaiian resource management, I developed a proposal that uses the altitudinal change in climactic temperature and ocean temperatures at various depths to regulate the optimal growing conditions for particular crops. Crop-filled balloons would reach into the atmosphere to grow fruit and vegetables that would otherwise not be able to be grown in the 82F average temperature of O’ahu. (FIG 19) What would a Hawai’ian strawberry grown at altitude taste like? Additionally, submersibles inspired by the Argo Float--a submersible that collects data profiles on salinity, temperature and current flows of the upper 2000m depth of the world’s oceans--would house seeds and crops. These submersibles would be taken deep into the ocean to temperatures that would trigger germination by simulating a winter cycle, as well as calibrating the temperature for optimal growing. (FIG 20-21)

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In conclusion, this speculative project examines the perceived borders between land, sky and sea, envisioning instead one holistic system that challenges land-based agriculture as the only method of production. It raises the question as to whether the people of Hawai’i, those most adept to the ways of the water, can forge a new economy of food self-reliance that moves towards food exportation to make the Ahupuaʻa global again. It also examines civilian and military borders, being projective about what a post-military scenario would look like for the Ahupuaʻa of He’eia by repositioning the use of the military scale infrastructure as a system for production, processing and distribution of ocean-based agriculture.

B. Cannon Ivers graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design with distinction. Throughout his professional experience in the field of landscape architecture, he has been awarded numerous awards, both collectively and individually, for innovation and execution of high quality public realm projects and contemporary urban parks. He is a chartered member of the Landscape Institute in the United Kingdom and he is a Director with LDA Design. Cannon frequently contributes to design discourse through numerous publications examining 3D design and digital fabrication, spatial programmability, intelligent water design, as well as high impact, low maintenance planting design. His research and interest in the methods for activating public space underpins the designs that he creates, fostering a sense of community cohesion by establishing a calendar of events and activities throughout the year. Cannon has a profound appreciation of the importance of site specificity and strives to create meaningful design solutions that are place sensitive.