In the XIXth century, the ponds of New England witnessed the birth of the global ice trade. The Ice, harvested in large quantities in the ponds and rivers, was shipped and railed throughout the world, opening the way to a globalized food market. Each winter the New England ponds were intense production landscapes, rich with infrastructure, tools, and rituals. Today Jamaica pond’s surface barely freezes, so one can wonder what role ice can still play in the narrative of the park? At a larger scale, what role can ice play in the narrative of climate change?
Responding to the brief of designing a theater in Jamaica Pond, this project grafts itself on to the park’s water cycle in order to stage the appearance and disappearance of Ice. The Jamaica pond ice company, reunited for the occasion, operates the three pavilions. Rainwater is harvested in the tower uphill in big copper molds; they are then transported to the freezing unit where Ice slowly freezes over the cold winter nights. At the end of the winter, the ice blocks are finally harvested and brought to the theater, which stages an orchestra of Ice melting slowly over a set of cymbals.
The year-long performance brings back some of Jamaica pond’s past industrial landscape narrative while representing the changing climate of New England with a performance relying on delicate climatic factors. The song plays until all the Ice is melted; how many days will it play next year? How many more springs will it play at all?
What prompted the project?
The project emerges from the investigation of the history of the site, located in Jamaica pond, an area of Emerald Necklace Park in Boston. I wanted to work directly with the natural material present in the park, and research rapidly led me to learn about the rich history of ice in the ponds of New England. In the XIXth century, these ponds where the birthplace of the international ice trade, and, what are today, pleasurable parks were back then productive landscapes supporting the growth of the global markets of perishable goods. Confronting this past narrative of ice abundance and emerging globalization with the up-coming crisis of our contemporary moment was the initial drive of the project.
What questions does the project raise, and which does it address?
The project raises the question of the impact of climate change on our material reality, our landscapes, and our daily life. In an era of fastness and instantaneity, these transformations are happening progressively over long scales of time, which often makes them difficult to grasp. I strived to investigate what potential architecture has to bring representation to these climatic changes; the project seeks to accentuate them and make them more tangible for people.
What informed the one-year timeframe of the performance? What role does time play within the project?
The brief from the project was to design a theater to stage a recurring performance. I chose to read the natural transformation cycles of water in the park as such a performance to be staged and, in particular, the annual formation and dissolution of ice in winter. Time thus plays an essential role in the project, on the one hand with the seasonal dimension that set the pace for the operation of the theater and calls back on the winter « ice harvesting season » of the industrial past. On the other hand, longer scales of time, years, over which the performance of ice melting and the music it produces transforms, dims, and eventually stops.
How does the project seek to communicate to the audience the threat of climate change?
Through the physical metaphor of Ice melting, the project raises the question of the changing of our climate and the effect it will have on our material reality on a daily basis. As quoted from Olafur Eliasson’s statement on his « Ice Watches»; being confronted with melting ice « provide a physical and tangible experience » of climate change. Here though, the ice is produced on-site in smaller quantities, and its sculptural effect is complemented by a more immersive experience in the theater, which creates a melody out of the melting ice. The delicate setting of this theatricalized ice factory and the sensibility of its adjustment to the climatic variations is what communicates to people the effectiveness of the change that is slowly but surely occurring.
To what extent is the audience an active or passive viewer within the performance?
The audience is invited to engage in a course through the three pavilions of the theater and witness the different stages of water harvesting, freezing and melting, and their fragile balance. On the other hand, the song in the theater is produced only by the ice as a result of the theater operations; it is a filtered expression of the local climate, the visitors are passive viewers, witnesses of the change.
What role must and should we, as architects, play within the contemporary climate crisis?
There are two primary roles I can identify. On the one hand -assessing that architecture is before all a media, through which images are propagated more than buildings- architects have agency to talk about climate change, give representation to the crisis and prepare the ground for action. On the other hand, considering that the building industry is accountable for 39% of global carbon emission, practicing architects have the responsibility to impose new sustainable practices in the industry. These include, for example, systematizing the consideration of embodied carbon in early design phases but also understanding and integrating the products of advanced research in sustainable materials and design strategies.
What is for you the architect's most important tool?
Opportunism, not in the classical pejorative sense of self-service and egoism, but rather as a form of tactical approach to the discipline. As a field, architecture is known to have loosely defined boundaries and the architect to be naturally inclined toward multidisciplinarity. In that sense, opportunism would mean nurturing this openness to find unexpected drivers for architectural design and create opportunities for innovative architecture. In this project for example, to some modest extent, it could have meant digging in the history of New England ice trade and then collecting vernacular or contemporary low-tech forms of water management infrastructures or even comparing local weather reports, all of it without having a precise idea of where it is leading but rather gradually assembling the pieces into a narrative that ends up carrying the project.