UNLESS is an agency for change. It is a non-profit organization devoted to transnational research on extreme environments threatened by the planetary climate crisis. UNLESS's pilot research project Antarctic Resolution was recently published as a book.
The research, that looks at the Antarctica, has been also exhibited at the Architecture Biennale (Venice) and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Madrid). It also prompted an urban campaign #SpeakUpForAntarcticaNow” (Berlin).
#SpeakUpForAntarcticaNow is a call to action conceived to engage Berliners and planetary citizens to give a voice to the only continent with no indigenous population and create a constituency for a Global Commons which is vital for the survival of humanity.
While creating awareness on Antarctica’s pivotal role in the global ecosystem in defence of intergenerational justice, “#SpeakUpForAntarcticaNow” promotes the signing of three important petitions, that call to permanently ban hydrocarbon extraction in Antarctica now, protect 3.8 million sq Km of Antarctic waters and commit to international research stations in Antarctica.
KOOZ UNLESS is a non-profit agency for change devoted to interdisciplinary research on extreme environments threatened by the planetary crisis, what prompted Antarctica as a pilot project?
UNLESS Since the signing of the Paris Agreement, we have been collectively monitoring the exponential growth of the absolute value of man-induced CO2 emissions and the related rise of global temperature above pre-industrial era. Today that value reached 419 parts per million. Whilst the number per se might seem innocuous, it becomes brutally alarming if compared to historic values which reveal that never, in the past 800,000 years of history - during the glacial and interglacial eras that succeeded one-another - has the Planet witnessed such high concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. Well, we can assert this with certainty only thanks to scientific research conducted in the Antarctic by glaciologist who analyse minuscule air-bubbles captive in deep Antarctic ice. Without Antarctica – unquestionably the largest repository of data on our climate history – we would not have the necessary scientific evidence to understand the Earth’s transformations and inform what I believe are undeferrable environmental policies. So, while reflecting on ways in which we could contribute to promote change with UNLESS, we decided to focus on the single greatest planetary archive: Antarctica.
Without Antarctica – unquestionably the largest repository of data on our climate history – we would not have the necessary scientific evidence to understand the Earth’s transformations and inform what we believe are undeferrable environmental policies.
Image courtesy of UNLESS ©️ Delfino Sisto Legnani
KOOZ What informed the formalisation of the research undertaken into a publication?
UNLESS Accounting for 10% of the landmass, 70% of the freshwater and 90% of the ice of Planet Earth, Antarctica is not only our largest planetary archive, but also the greatest menace to global coastal settlements endangered by the rise in sea levels induced by anthropogenic global warming. The threat that Antarctic ice thinning poses to our own lives and those of future generations is real: the kilometres-thick ice sheet is currently melting at the alarming pace of 200 Olympian swimming pools per minute, and the total meltdown of Antarctic ice would increase global sea levels by 60 meters, launching the largest migration ever witnessed by humanity. Yet, while the future of our Planet depends, to a great extent, on the fate of the Antarctic, our seventh continent is collectively neglected.
While the future of our Planet depends, to a great extent, on the fate of the Antarctic, our seventh continent is collectively neglected.
Our ambition with publishing Antarctic Resolution was to redeem Antarctica from oblivion by catalysing and broadcasting knowledge on what is unquestionably a pivotal Global Commons, with the twofold ambition of constructing a high-resolution image of the continent and advocating for Antartctic Resolutions.
Developed as a transnational and multidisciplinary collective effort, Antarctic Resolution was launched on occasion of the bicentenary of the first recorded human landing on the continent in the form of a 1000-page volume published by Lars Müller Publishers and authored by the 150 leading world Antarctic experts. Focussing on the continent’s unparalleled scientific potential, contemporary geopolitical significance and extreme inhabitation model, the encyclopaedic publication presents, alongside rigorous academic essays, an unprecedented visual portfolio (comprising of photographic essays, data-driven infographics, cartographies and architectural drawings). The latter was conceived with the ambition of translating - visually and in an accessible format - rather complex subjects in order to entice a wide and diverse audence.
Image courtesy of UNLESS ©️ Delfino Sisto Legnani
KOOZ The project has been since presented in different cultural institutions, which were they and what was the ambition of the installations?
UNLESS Since the publication of Antarctic Resolution we presented the research in homonymous site-specific exhibitions in three venues: in the Central Pavilion of “How will we live together?”, the 17th International Architecture Biennale directed by Hashim Sarkis (Venice, Italy), at Fondazione Kenta on occasion of Pre-COP16 (Milan, Italy), and at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza on occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Madrid, Spain).
Venice is a city that could be itself intended as a barometer of climate change and Antarctic ice loss.
In Venice – a city that could be itself intended as a barometer of climate change and Antarctic ice loss – the research was embodied by four devices, enveloped within a black environment reminiscent of the six months of darkness that obscure the continent. Exploded for this occasion in a seven metres long interactive volume, the publication was exhibited alongside the Heroic Age snow goggles worn by Captain Scott while man-hauling across the Antarctic, and the pioneering Antarctic Suit conceived by UNLESS and D-Air Lab as a portable environment designed to enable survival on the hostile desert. The fourth element was an art installation conceived in collaboration by an artist and a scientist: Arcangelo Sassolino and David Vaughan.
I believe that having the possibility of presenting multidisciplinary research beyond printed matter within the context of exhibitions is essential to enhance the dissemination scientific knowledge and accelerate the process of data democratisation. In the case of our work with UNLESS, for example, our collaboration with Arcangelo Sassolino and David Vaughan proved unequivocally the overwhelming power of the arts to catalyse global action. The invitation to both came as the result of a fundamental question we asked ourselves on how we could possibly share with the visitors of the Biennale – alongside the knowledge provided within the publication – the humbling and empowering emotion I experienced on the occasion of my expedition to Antarctica. As the immensity of the white desert is impossible to replicate with any image, and no words can properly describe it (let alone the architecture lexicon that is absolutely irrelevant in a continent in which the notion of perspective, scale and time are transformed beyond recognition) we invited Arcangelo, an artist who uses as physical and conceptual "elements" of his art the forces acting in nature, to reproduce the unforgettable soundscape that reverberates in the continent as the colossal ice-sheets fracture. Elaborating scientific data and studying records provided to us by David, Arcangelo was able to evoke with dramatic eloquence such thundering soundscape – one which I witnessed first-hand and that fuels to date our actions at UNLESS – leaving a lasting memory on all visitors of the Biennale who hopefully were then compelled to act and protect our planet.
KOOZ UNLESS just completed the urban campaign #SpeakUpForAntarcyicaNow in Berlin, could you tell us a bit more about it? How do you imagine this campaign/project developing in the upcoming years?
UNLESS Indeed, on occasion of the 44thAntarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) held in Berlin, the project of Antarctic Resolution evolved beyond the walls of cultural institutions taking over the German capital with a campaign “Speak Up for Antarctica Now”. The ambition of the campaign is to construct a constituency for our only continent without indigenous population to defend intergenerational justice.
“Speak Up for Antarctica Now” called upon Berliners and passers-byto demand accountability on the future of a continent that is 1.4 times the size of Europe to the ATCM delegates of the 29 decision-making nations that have the right to vote binding measures and resolutions on the Antarctic, and invited all to embrace their role as Antarctic citizen by signing three petitions.
Developed in collaboration with Carlo Barbante, Alan D. Hemmings, James N. Barnes, the petitions incited planetary citizens to Speak Up to: Commit to international research stations in Antarctica; Permanently ban hydrocarbon extraction in Antarctica now; and secure the largest at of ocean protection in history by establishing three Marine Protected Areas in the Southern Ocean.
While the physical campaign in Berlin lasted for the whole duration of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (and saw UNLESS collaborating during that time also with Greenpeace, Fridays for Futures, the Antarctic Southern Ocean Coalition and other NGO to organise the first ever Rally for Antarctica) the call to “SpeakUpForAntarcticaNow” will extend in the virtual realm, and will periodically manifest itself in urban interventions on occasion of important climate fora such as COP, and at upcoming ATCM scheduled in Finland, India and Italy.
The ambition of the campaign is to construct a constituency for our only continent without indigenous population to defend intergenerational justice.
Image courtesy of UNLESS ©️Louis De Belle
KOOZ UNLESS has been invited to present the project within KoozArch's exhibition on the Un-built at the FuoriSalone in Milan, what is the potential of showing this campaign within such a context and audience?
UNLESS The potential of exhibiting “SpeakUpForAntarcticaNow” within koozArch’s Un-built show at the Fuori Salone in Milan is twofold.
On one hand it represents an invaluable opportunity to reach a different audience and invite them to reflect upon Antarctica’s crucial role in our global ecosystem and – ideally – to act to ensure its protection and, in turn, the preservation of our own species. On the other, it offers practitioners the chance to consider what it entails to design architecture and furniture for extreme environments. Antarctica is in fact known to be the quintessential Space Analogue. Its iconoclastic landscape, consistently monochrome, with distorted day cycles that last six months, imposes on its transient citizens a life in confinement within research stations with unexpected high-density cohabitation that obliterates privacy and imposes total sensory deprivations. Within this context, the notion of design takes a different connotation. While experimental construction materials able to endure hostile temperatures, high wind velocity and hyper-dry environments are developed for the building envelopes, designers work closely with doctors and scientists to define the most appropriate interior spatial organisation, and select light simulators, scented materials and colour palettes to alleviate psycho-physical overwintering syndromes. The lessons that can be learned in Antarctica could not only prove essential for cosmic endeavours which contemplate (as yet unearned) life beyond Planet Earth, but it might inspire designers to contribute to rethinking extreme environments and thereby contribute to enable further scientific explorations, while at once building a deeper consciousness on the need to conceive sustainable solutions.
The lessons that can be learned in Antarctica could not only prove essential for cosmic endeavours which contemplate (as yet unearned) life beyond Planet Earth, but it might inspire designers to contribute to rethinking extreme environments and thereby contribute to enable further scientific explorations.
KOOZHow and to what extent can architecture based research tools trigger political action on imminent issues that are affecting our Planet?
UNLESSOne of the contributions by UNLESS presented within Antarctic Resolution is the construction of the first ever Archive of Antarctic Architectures. While systematically researching for archival documentation worldwide on all buildings ever erected in the continent, we had the opportunity to reveal an under-theorised accelerated history of Antarctic architecture (from primordial huts to hyper-technological mobile structures reminiscent of 1960s provocations) and to critically evaluate the status quo by assessing analytically the efficiency and sustainability of our polar infrastructure. What emerged from our studies is firstly that of the 76 stations present on the continent today only one of them is shared: the Italo-French Concordia Station. All others are national, embassy-like settlements, often built in proximity to one another to conduct similar scientific research, which punctuate the un-normed geography of Antarctica to overtly assert territorial claims. This deregulated proliferation of stations effectively hinders the scientific potential of Antarctic programmes by absorbing disproportionately the available funding to sustain the operational running cost of the stations themselves, limiting the average surface area devoted to scientific laboratories to only 13.5% of the total, and imposing a scientist to staff ratio of 1 to 9. This data – which was simply not available prior to the collective research launched by UNLESS – is disconcerting, especially if one considers that Antarctica is a Global Commons and that according to the Antarctic Treaty, the territory below the 60th parallel South shall be governed equitably for humanity as a whole, ensuring true scientific cooperation (art. 3).
Our ambition and aspiration with UNLESS is that the research we conduct may assist informing geopolitical transformations in the governance of Antarctica. To this end, we have shared our data-based findings also in the context of the Antarctic Treaty meetings held in Berlin just last week, and launched a petition calling for International Stations in Antarctica. We believe there is the possibility, with the right arguments and some patience, to make a case that might induce to a paradigm shift that leads to the reduction of our contaminating footprint in the continent and to the enhancement of true scientific cooperation.