Category Archives: Research

Landscapes of Embedded Energy: The Lifecycle and Use of Geothermal Energy in Iceland

Iceland has become the leading global producer of geothermal energy per capita. Geologically one of the youngest countries in the world, it has only emerged out of the ocean in the last 20 million years. Iceland sits on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a 10,000-mile long divergent fault line-crack along the ocean floor caused by the slow separation of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, two of the largest within the northern hemisphere. This unique geological condition occurs only in Iceland and is responsible for the abundance of geothermal resources the country has. By moving away from each other at a rate of 2 cm per year, pressure releases and exposes lava to the sea between them. The lava bubbles to the surface and cools, forming new land. It is the only place in the world where fire creates new land while ice simultaneously shapes the landscape. These geological conditions provide the circumstances in which a society may begin to sustain itself by integrating their operations of agriculture, aquaculture, industry, and recreation with the heat and electricity generated by the geothermal resource. This Penny White Research Project observes Iceland as a case study for understanding the cultural, social, and economic importance, significance, and implications of the active renewable energy source.

The photo essay displayed here catalogs the lifecycle and use of geothermal energy in Iceland. It moves sequentially in the process: resource, exploration/extraction, processing, delivery, industrial and recreational uses, emergent ecologies, and end of use/questions of afterlife. The goal of the project is to document what the current uses are, and uncover what waste byproducts are produced to foster emergent economies and ecologies.

Please contact me if you’d like more information.

Subaks in Bali

In June 2012, UNESCO listed a new World Heritage Site – The Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: the Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy. Since then, I have been working closely with Julia Watson on mapping and developing landscape planning strategies for the sustainable development of the newly designated sites. Using GIS, I generated a series of scaled maps showing the different sites, as well as enlarged areas of these sites. To plan for tourism development, we propose to establish various interpretive walks, and to upgrade designated sites as pilot projects for sustainable development. The original maps were published in two publications for the Indonesian government. In May 2013, we developed more detailed maps, which offer a closer look at the sites. These maps were designed for use in a traveling exhibition for design charettes across Bali in Summer 2013.

Indigenous Landscape Systems

In early 2012, I started working for Julia Watson in her firm Studio REDE. I conducted preliminary research into a number of indigenous cultures to further study and analyze in detail various infrastructures, cultural areas, and adaptive management strategies.  They were diagrammed, modeled, and mapped.
I also worked with Julia to create a classification system to describe the different cultures. The challenge is generating terms broad enough to encompass a diverse range of cultures, but still specific enough to address the complexities of each individual society. The goal of this work is to create a body of knowledge of indigenous techniques and strategies which could be used as a tool for contemporary landscape architects.


Material Ecologies: Mapping Material Lifecycles and Properties

While studying landscape architecture, I took a class with Jane Hutton called “Material Ecologies.” Each student selected a landscape material within a certain site to trace. The materials were then analyzed and their lifecycles were catalogued, with a general overview of where they were sourced and the processes they underwent to become a material in the landscape. That summer, Jane received a PITF grant to synthesize the coursework. Over the following year, I worked with her to develop a more in-depth analysis of the materials selected in the course.

I developed a codification system to diagram the 16 materials’ lifecycles and used GIS and data from manufacturers to generate a global map. The map illustrates the points of origins of raw materials and admixtures, as well as points of manufacture, which were involved in the production of the 16 materials on their way to the study site in Cambridge, MA. The diagrams illustrate to-scale linear distances traveled by materials to arrive at the study site. The map describes and visualizes the implications of landscape material choices and decisions, and illustrates how materials used locally have global impacts, depending on their points of origin, methods of extraction and production, as well as methods of disposal.