This year in Archgen721 we take inspiration from Rem Koolhaas and OMA’s Netherlands Master Plan titled Zeekracht, a complex integrated systems design around wind energy, including aquaculture, ecotourism, marine bioreserves, and the repurposing of a decommissioned oil rig, etc. The Zeekracht system project holds a lot of merit, especially its ability to describe a complex economic/ecological system from the micro-biological through to the global scale, and its ability to project an image of a supranational macro-scale renewable energy project that is democratically organised etc. However the project also raises a number of questions relating to aesthetics, pragmatics and future economies.
We spent time in Week Seven (2012) deciphering the visual scheme of OMA’s Zeekracht design which features in the recent Ecological Urbanism reader.
As a group we made the following observations:
OMA have visualised for the North Sea an Energy Super Ring made up of clusters of wind farms with an estimate annual energy output rate of 13.400 TWh (terrawatts) comparable to the annual energy output (11.300 TWh) for the Persian Gulf States in petrochemical supply. We found the Zeekracht design an interesting articulation of a macro-scaled renewable energy infrastructure with the primary energy exponent being wind.
As a group we noted that the Zeekracht system design delivered variations of surplus in energy production, increased biodiversity in ecological zones, new marine recreation zones and artificial reefs, spin-off industries such as ecotourism including diving and wildlife watching, selective fishing practices, the reuse and retrofitting of obsolete infrastructure from the oil industry etc. We also read the project against Julian Raxworthy and Jessica Blood’s essay on infrastructure. See The Mesh Book.
The group could see that OMA had presented not only a system that held ecological integrity, it was also a system that attempted to embody democratic organisational principles also, placing an International Centre for Ocean Energy in the intersection of seven different national marine zones illustrating the idea of the collective supranational economy. It is interesting to see this level of detail at the macro-scale, to reflect not only a changing idea of energy production, but also a changed context of industry ownership and delivery. Yet some ambiguities occur. If, for instance, this project is part of a Netherlands Master Plan, as it does state, then how would the allocations of power sharing occur so as to maintain a democratic alliance not only for those countries potentially investing in such a project but also those who may be able to participate in purchasing energy surplus. Is the OMA idea of Enerco a supranational corporation, wholly government owned, or is it a new phase venture of established European energy supply corporations such as Shell. Considering the long history that Dutch corporations have with the petrochemical industry it’s hard to imagine such a project being funded without corporate investment. The group felt that a tension between the proposed collective model and the prospects of international distribution were potentially at odds and the organisational model needs to have strong political transparency built into its ethos.
2. The idea of the aesthetics of the Super Ring swallowing an estimated 33.8% of the total North Sea surface area has major indictments for the aesthetics of the project. Quoting Raxworthy & Blood “Discussing an aesthetic of infrastructure is absurd because appearing infrastructural is not the same as being infrastructural; ornament cannot have a structural relationship and still be ornament.” Even if the Zeekracht project delivers a refined visual idea of the wind turbine, there is a psychogeographic loss in turning an ocean into an intensive productive zone as this project does. As Koolhaas has written himself on the productive idea of the void, of blank spaces in which the populace can dream and sustain a non-material state of mind, where recreation can be passive, the collective psychogeographic twist that would accompany such a project would take from people the almost primal right to look at a blank horizon, to experience the sea as other. The group felt that the Zeekracht system delivers aesthetic rewards within the renewing biodiverse parks but that the aesthetic social cost was extremely high.
3. The group also questioned whether the model was sustainable and appropriate as a type of energy mono-culture and perhaps the project’s hybrid intentions need to be made more explicit. Was there for instance room to develop tidal turbines, photovoltaics, or even algae production to generate hydrogen within the envisioned system?
4. The group had other smaller concerns regarding the legibility of the graphic scheme, the use or under use of keys, and wanted more detail on how surplus energy could be stored in disused gas reservoirs on the ocean floor.
5. Lastly, how does this system translate as cultural space? A question to hold and sustain.
Thanks to OMA for their great work on Zeekracht.