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Smithsonian American Art Museum
ThumbnailWhile walking around Toledo, Spain last summer I came upon the Santa Cruz Museum. Much like our museum's nineteenth-century building, which originally housed government offices and was used as a hospital during the Civil War, the Santa Cruz Museum also is housed in a historic building that was once a hospital (their building dates to the sixteenth century).

Stumbled Upon: Alma Thomas

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Stunning 'Field of Light' Surrounds Iconic Australian Rock

Smithsonian Magazine

If you visit Australia's iconic Uluru rock after dusk in the next few months, you'll see the iconic sandstone formation surrounded by a stunning "field of lights." The nighttime art installation, which is on view until March 31, 2018, is the work of Bruce Munro, reports Jim Byers of National Geographic, a British artist who has long used light to create large works that sparkle and shimmer around the world.

"Field of Lights," which was installed in Australia’s Northern Territory last March, is a homecoming of sorts for the project. In 1992, Munro first came up with the idea while traveling through central Australia to see the Unesco world heritage site. Moved by the "energy, heat and brightness of the desert landscape" he started to sketch out an idea for a field of lit flowers arrayed in the empty expanse, he explained on his website.

“I wanted to create an illuminated field of stems that, like the dormant seed in a dry desert, would burst into bloom at dusk with gentle rhythms of light under a blazing blanket of stars," he said.

Bruce Munro looks over his installation (Mark Pickthall / Voyages)

More than a decade later, Munro created the first forms of "Field of Light" in his backyard in Wiltshire, England. The installation then traveled to the United Kingdom and North America, evolving based on the physical landscape of each location. Fittingly, last March, the largest and most remote staging of "Field of Light" yet arrived in Australia, according to the Guardian.

The year-long installation near Uluru features more than 50,000 delicate glass stems topped with frosted glass spheres that coat acres of the desert floor, with lights inside them coming to life as the Sun sets.

"Field of Light" with Uluru in the background (Mark Pickthall / Voyages)

To take in the view, all visitors need to do is walk on designated paths where they can observe the different colors and shapes of the lights up close.

More than just a beautiful piece of work, the installation is also environmentally friendly, Byers of National Geographic notes. The whole show runs on solar power, and the 236 miles of optical fiber that illuminate it will be recycled after the display ends in March.

Uluru is considered sacred ground for the Aboriginal Anangu people and Munru had continued conversations with locals during the installation process. For their part, they have given the project their own nickname, "Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku," which in the Pitjantjatjara language means "looking at lots of beautiful lights."

Stunning Black-and-White Photos of the Nazca Lines

Smithsonian Magazine

The Nazca Lines have puzzled the world since Peruvian archeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe discovered them in the 1920s. Now they are back in the news after Greenpeace activists added a note to the famous geoglyphs during recent climate talks. Ignoring law that prohibits entrance to this delicate portion of the Peruvian desert, activists laid out cloth letters reading "Time for Change! The Future is Renewable. Greenpeace." Though the activists claim they were careful to not disturb anything, the area they entered is off-limits without a permit and special shoes: the ground around the lines is simply too dry and fragile to be trod upon without first taking painstaking precautions.

One man who knows a thing or two about the fragility of the lines—and the delicate act of both documenting and preserving them—is Edward Ranney, a photographer whose book The Lines, released last August, catalogs the mysterious geoglyphs of the Nazca culture in Peru, as well as cultures in Chile's Atacama Desert, in stunning black-and-white photographs. Ranney has been photographing archeological sites and ancient, pre-Columbian architecture in Peru and Mesoamerica since the 1960s. 

"A lot of people are really outraged, and rightly so," Ranney says of Greenpeace's actions. "Any time anyone walks on the pampa, those footprints don't go away—[the lines] are there because it never rains there. It brought a lot of attention suddenly to the lines, to the Nazca, but it did so in a very unfortunate way."

The Lines looks at the famous Nazca geoglyphs—scratched into the desert more than 1,000 years ago—from a unique perspective: ground-level. Most photographs show the geoglyphs from an aerial view, emphasizing their scale (some are as large as the Empire State Building). Ranney's photos instead show the lines as someone from the Nazca culture, using the lines for religious reasons, might have encountered them.

"Most of the pictures that we see of the lines are taken from airplanes, and it emphasizes the graphic nature and real mystery of how these things came into being," Ranney says. "My interest, because I couldn't get high enough to photograph from the air, was the foothills. I wanted to stick to working to the ground. And I found that the more I saw different patterns, the more intriguing it became, because these lines really change the landscape. For a landscape photographer, it's an exciting project to go into these areas and work in these spaces that is somewhat forbidding and most contemporary travelers don't even get near."


The Lines (Yale University Art Gallery)

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Ranney began The Lines as part of a much broader survey of ancient architecture along the Peruvian coast in 1985. He quickly realized that these desert areas fit perfectly into the canon of work he had been producing since a 1964 Fulbright trip: recording ancient, previously unarchived architecture and sites.

"I realized that no one had looked at this [area] visually and tried to create a fairly comprehensive archive of sites in black-and-white photographs that could stand as references and also as their own artwork," Ranney explains.

The Nazca lines aren't the only ancient structures Ranney has photographed. A new exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Art, North to South, celebrates Ranney's career of photographing Inca and Maya cultures. The show, on view until April 19, includes more than 40 images from his decades of travel and work—work that, to Ranney, is far from complete. 

"There's continual research in the Andean region, which is really exciting because there is more and more discovered every year," Ranney says. "That's why I continue to photograph, because my survey is not yet done."

Stunning Bubbles Frozen Under Lake Abraham

Smithsonian Magazine

These frozen bubbles under Alberta's Lake Abraham might look like winter jewels, but you wouldn't want to be too close to one if it popped: the bubbles are actually frozen pockets of methane, a highly flammable gas. Most of the time, methane escaping from the surface of water is relatively harmless—but if you happen to be lighting a match at the time one of these bubbles explodes, watch out.

Methane bubbles form in bodies of water when dead organic matter (leaves and animals) falls into the water and sinks to the bottom, to the delight of bacteria waiting below. The bacteria munches on the matter and poops out methane, which turns to white floating blobs when it comes into contact with frozen water. Methane is formed in thousands of lakes around the arctic, but decreasing permafrost means more and more of this methane is being released into the atmosphere, a worrying trend for climate scientists who note that methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Photographer Darwin Wigget has been leading photography tours and workshops to Lake Abraham for 11 years, which has helped popularize the location. He has published an eGuide, "Kootenay Plains and Abraham Lake - Winter Edition" for visitors looking to trek out onto the clear ice.

Stunning Images Capture First Close-Up With Jupiter's Great Red Spot

Smithsonian Magazine

Today, NASA released the first photos from the Juno satellite's close encounter with the solar system's largest storm.

Launched in 2011, Juno was sent to orbit the large gas giant and study what lies beneath its colorful swirling clouds, with the ultimate goal of learning how the planet and the rest of our solar system came to be. The little craft entered orbit around Jupiter last July, and has been sending back stunning photos and sounds of the planet since. Every 53 days the little craft transits the planet from pole-to-pole, capturing pictures and data to beam back to earth-bound scientists.

Earlier this week Juno had the latest close encounter of its elliptical orbit, reports Rachel Becker of The Verge, coming within just 5,000 miles of the surface of the Great Red Spot. The orbit of the craft, however, is highly eliptical so at its closest approach to the gas giant Monday evening, the satellite just skimmed the tops of Jupiter's clouds from around 2,000 miles up.

"For generations people from all over the world and all walks of life have marveled over the Great Red Spot," says Scott Bolton, head of the Juno mission, in a press release. "Now we are finally going to see what this storm looks like up close and personal."

The Spot is one of Jupiter's most iconic features.  Astronomers spied the massive feature as early as the beginning of the 19th century—but possibly even earlier. This swirling storm stretches just over 10,000 miles wide, according to recent measurements—roughly two to three times the size of the entire Earth. It's akin to a super powerful hurricane, with wind speeds up to 400 miles per hour and air temperatures over 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit“The Great Red Spot is basically the largest storm in the entire solar system,” Bolton tells Stav Ziv of Newsweek.

But in recent years, the storm seems to be dying down. In 2015, NASA scientists announced that the Great Red Spot appears to be shrinking by roughly 580 miles per year. And in the 1800s, researchers estimate it measured more than 25,000 miles across, Nadia Drake reports for National GeographicBut exactly why the storm is shrinking remains unknown. As Bolton tells Ziv, "it’s very puzzling.”

These photos could start to solve that puzzle.

Stunning Images Capture Peacock Spiders’ Flashy Colors

Smithsonian Magazine

Peacock spiders fall far from most people's definition of a spider. These tiny, colorful creatures are known for their rainbow of hues and their jiggling mating dance moves. Yet until recently, most of their kind has gone unnoticed. But Australian entomologist Jurgen Otto wants to change that. 

“These tiny invertebrates are so different to peoples’ experience of spiders, it turns their view upside down,” Jurgen tells Lisa Morrison at Science Network Western Australia. “Now when people think of spiders they might not think of something black and scary and ugly that they are frightened of and want to squish. They might think of something small and cute and colorful and complex—this give[s] the whole spider group a different appeal.”

For almost a decade, Otto has photographed the spiders in the genus Maratus, also known as the peacock spider. These tiny arachnids are found in western and southern Australia and were first described in 1874. But they are so itty bitty—the largest species is about one third of an inch long—that no one paid them much heed for well over a century.

That is until Otto almost stepped on one of the tiny critters while hiking Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park north of Sydney in 2005. When he saw its tail, brilliantly colored like abstract art, he was smitten. Typically, he collects the beautiful arachnids from the bush then drives them to his home in Sydney, where he photographs and records their mating dances in a dedicated “spider room.” He then returns them to the wild, sometimes a 28-hour round trip, reports Siyi Chen at Quartz.

This past May Otto and his collaborator David Hill cataloged another seven of these brilliant gems in the journal Peckhamia. This latest find brings the total number of peacock spider species to 48—a considerable portion of which Otto found himself—with another 16 waiting in the wings to be classified and named.

At his day job, he works for the Australian government as a mite researcher and undertakes his spider research at his own expense, funding this work with his popular Peacock Spiderman YouTube channel, a Facebook page, and a Flickr profile that features hundreds of stunning images of the spiders.

“They’re fairly cute, which is why people are attracted to them,” Otto tells Elle Hunt at The Guardian. “They behave very differently to how people think a spider does ... they behave more like cats and dogs, moving around, perceiving and reacting to their environment.”

The mating dance moves vary from species to species, but in general the males waggle their tails, wave their legs up and down and scuttle back and forth (and if you do some good editing, they even dance to “YMCA”). If they don’t dance their thoraxes off, there’s a chance their unimpressed lady friend may eat them, explains Chen.

Otto was not expecting to find his latest batch of Maratus. In fact, he and Hill travelled to Western Australia looking for previously described species. Instead, the team found Maratus albusM. buboM. lobatusM. tessellatusM. vespaM. voltus and M. australisreports Morrison. While Otto takes the scientific naming of the spiders seriously, some of their common names are a bit more fanciful, like hokey-pokey, sparklemuffin and skeletorus. 

After this exciting find, Otto has high hopes that that there are many more of these charismatic critters yet to capture.

Stunning Images Capture Rare Pale Tiger in India

Smithsonian Magazine

Last week, wildlife photographer Nilanjan Ray was driving through the mountainous Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in South India with a forest guide when he spotted a tiger crossing the road 200 feet in front of them. Ray stopped and began photographing the tiger as it jumped into the undergrowth, reports Ashish Ittyerah Joseph at The Times of India. It wasn't until the tiger briefly reemerged, when he noticed it wasn't any ordinary tiger: It was very pale, verging on white. It turns out, Ray had captured images of the palest tiger seen in India in a very long time.

Ray’s tiger is not a white tiger, like those favored by Siegfried & Roy. The last truly wild white tiger was shot in India in 1958, reports Michael Safi at The Guardian, though some tigers sporting a white-ish coloring are still bred in captivity. Instead, Ray’s tiger is a distinct color morph known as a “pale tiger,” which has very light fur color with a faint orange tint.

The creature was likely a sub-adult tiger, but its age and sex are unknown. Ray consulted experts about the find, learning that the reason for this coloration is likely due to genetic variation. "It is possible that this happened due to a unique combination of its parents’ genes," he tells The Times of India.

He explains this further in an e-mail to "Skin color and fur coat in mammals are controlled by multiple genes, and ... random mating and varied genetic recombination have resulted in this rare and very pale-colored tiger."

Ray’s tiger may be as pale as tigers come without being white. “It is the palest tiger I have ever seen on the record or heard about in literature,” Belinda Wright, the founder of the Wildlife Protection Society of India tells Safi. “You occasionally see lighter-colored tigers, but they’re nothing compared to this one. There are also some pale tigers in captivity, particularly in the US, but these are ‘cocktail’ tigers that are bred that way, with genes from white tigers.”

Ray tells Joseph that after spotting the tiger and photographing it while it skulked in the bushes, another orange tiger appeared. This startling contrast shows just how different the pale tiger is.

Image by Nilanjan Ray. The pale tiger watches the photographer through the bushes. (original image)

Image by Nilanjan Ray. The tiger with normal coloration accompanying the pale feline peeks through the bushes. (original image)

While the naturally occurring pale tiger seems to be healthy, the same can’t be said of the white tigers currently in captivity. Because the gene pool is so small, white tigers are only produced through inbreeding, which can lead to health problems for the tigers. In fact, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) condemns the practice of breeding white tigers. They’ve also taken a stand against the interbreeding of species to produce hybrid franken-cats like tigons and ligers.

Besides causing a host of medical problems for the animals, these unusual creatures also take the spotlight off the wild population of tigers, whatever their color morph, which are truly in trouble. “Of greater concern, in some cases, there exists the misconception that these unusual color morphs, or other phenotypic aberrations, may represent a separate endangered species in need of conservation,” the AZA writes in its policy statement.

So rather than spark concern for these ghostly feline iterations, these new vibrant pictures of the pale tiger will hopefully shed some light on the plight of all big cats and inspire more people to help protect them. Ray tells The Times of India that he informed conservation officials of the pale tiger's exact location, but has agreed not to release the information to prevent crowds (or poachers) from disturbing the creature.

Stunning Map Shows Changes in Light at Night Around the World

Smithsonian Magazine

Last month, NASA released two global maps of the Earth at night—one taken in 2016, the other a revised version of a 2012 map. The satellite images showed our planet twinkling under the night sky, with constellations of light stretching across vast territories. To pinpoint shifts in light patterns, cartographer John Nelson recently consolidated the two maps into a single image, Betsy Mason reports for National Geographic. His project, titled “Lights On Lights Off,” paints a fascinating—and in some places worrisome—picture of a changing world.

Nelson, a cartographer at the analytical mapping company Esri, came up with the idea for the project while he was toggling between the Black Marble maps, as NASA’s images are called. The maps are composites created by code that picked the “clearest night views” during 2012 and 2016, according to a NASA press release.

“I was swiping back and forth ... and was fascinated by where things had changed,” Nelson told Mason. “So I thought a change-detection map would let me see that really easily, in one go.”

(John Nelson)

As Linda Poon reports for City Lab, Nelson overlaid the two maps by feeding NASA’s data into ArcGis, Ersi’s mapping and analytics software. The software relies on “a simple pixel-difference math bot,” Nelson explains on his blog, which allowed him to highlight new light in blue, extinguished light in pink. Places that did not change—either because they never had much in the way of artificial light, or because they remained consistently bright—were left transparent.

In an accompanying story map, Nelson highlights some of the more striking changes he observed. Blue light proliferates across India on Nelson’s map, for instance. The country has indeed become markedly brighter over the course of four years, thanks to an ongoing electrification program that seeks to bring electricity to rural areas. The Indian government says that over 4,000 villages need to be electrified, according to Poon; that number may be even higher. But Nelson’s map suggests that significant progress has been made in spreading light to rural villages. 

Syria, on the other hand, is crested with pink on Nelson’s map. Since the start of the Syrian civil war, once-thriving urban centers have been destroyed and millions of civilians have fled the country, leaving behind regions of dark.

Night-time lighting has also dimmed in Venezuela and Puerto Rico, though for markedly different reasons. A crippling economic recession in Venezuela has prompted the government to ration electricity. Puerto Rico, by contrast, has been trying to curb light pollution, even launching a special government Task Force to tackle the issue, Poon writes.

Nelson’s maps can’t give us all the answers. It isn’t clear, for instance, why the American state of Georgia is getting brighter while the Carolinas have darkened. And brighter regions don’t necessarily indicate a spike in electrification. “[I]t could also mean a change in the type of streetlights being used,” NASA earth scientist Miguel Román told National Geographic’s Mason.

But maps like Nelson’s can identify areas worthy of further investigation, where changes in human activity may be reflected in the night sky.

Stunning New Views of Enceladus, Saturn's 6th-Largest Moon

Smithsonian Magazine

Enceladus is usually lost in the crowd—after all, it’s one of dozens of Saturn’s moons. But now, the sixth-largest moon is finally getting its moment in the spotlight. NASA's Cassini spacecraft just captured some of the best images yet of the moon's north pole.

The Saturn system is nearly a billion miles away, so images take a while to download from the distant spacecraft. But the photos of the icy moon are well worth the wait. NASA is already posting the raw images as they come in, but is also working on fully calibrated portraits. Using this data, NASA hopes to discover clues to possible geologic activity in the icy moon's history. 

Under constant meteor bombardment, scientists expected Enceladus to be riddled with craters. But surprisingly, there was more to the moon's surface than that. High-resolution images from Enceladus show “a landscape of stark contrasts,” including thin cracks and, of course, plenty of ice.

Even more is yet to come: Cassini will be back on October 28, to dive through the geysers on the planets southern side. The spacecraft will complete its series of close flybys on December 19.

Stunning Photos Capture the Solar Eclipse Across America

Smithsonian Magazine

Today, millions of people across the United States turned their heads skyward to watch as the moon briefly obscured the sun's glow.

This was the first total solar eclipse to travel across the continental U.S. in nearly a century. Over the course of 100 minutes, the moon's shadow traveled from coast to coast, completely obscuring the sun in 14 states, while the rest of North America watched a partial eclipse.

Excitement ran high in anticipation of the event. Special gear was bought, celebratory stamps were printed, apps were created and many people traveled hours or even took chartered flights to catch a glimpse of the celestial show. If you weren't able to see the event in person or online (or if you want to relive it) take in this collection of images of the eclipse from across the country.

For those worried about missing out, have no fear: the continental U.S. will see another solar eclipse just seven years from now, when the moon will cast a shadow from Texas to Maine.

This article will be updated as more photos become available.

Stunning Photos of Africa's Oldest Trees, Framed by Starlight

Smithsonian Magazine

For the past 15 years, fine arts photographer Beth Moon has taken pictures of really old trees. She has journeyed around the world in search of trees notable for their size, age and history, photographing during the day. Her most recent series, titled "Diamond Nights," however, plays with starlight.

Southern Africa, with its diverse ecosystems, has appealed to Moon for a while. While working on her 2014 book Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time, Moon spent time in Madagascar photographing baobab trees. Captivated by their grandeur, she decided to locate different species of baobab in the region, traveling to South Africa and Botswana. The quiver tree, an iconic aloe plant noteworthy for its height and ability to live hundreds of years in the heat of the African desert, brought her to Namibia.

Silhouetted against the night sky, these ancient trees appear otherworldly. Baobabs can live to be more than 1,000 years old, growing up to 80 feet high and 30 feet in diameter. Carl Taylor, a research associate with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, describes the tree: "When the leaves are off they have this immense trunk and these little stubbly branches, so it looks like somebody pulled them up from the ground and reversed them and the roots are growing aerially." According to Taylor, while expanding populations and changes in land-use patterns pose a threat to baobabs, for the most part they are revered and allowed to grow quite large. "They're esoteric,” he says.

Moon decided to create her nightime-set tree series after reading about David Milarch in Jim Robbins' The Man Who Planted TreesWith the help of a local guide and tips from travelers, Moon tracked down the sites by day, scoped out a tree's best side, then returned after nightfall. Many times she returned on moonless nights. The darkness helped her to capture the details of ancient trees reacting to starlight that is millions of years old – by extension, capturing a sense of time and nature beyond ours.

“It’s hard to imagine because we have light so close to us in so many areas now," she says. "It’s a darkness like I don’t think I’ve ever experienced."

All of the trees and locations she has visited have been exciting in their own ways, Moon says; however, she found the abundance of stars to be a particularly memorable part of working on "Diamond Nights." “Because these locations were so remote and away from light pollution, the skies were absolutely blazing," she recalls. "I had never seen the Milky Way in its entirety stretched out across the horizon. It was spectacular."

Moon believes that trees are important to many issues faced by the world today and hopes that her photography can place them in the spotlight. “They’re part of our landscape, maybe to the point of kind of taking them for granted,” she says. "So I thought these iconic old trees could start a larger conversation."

While she prefers to keep quite about her upcoming projects, Moon does not believe that she will tire of trees anytime soon. 

To view more of Beth Moon's work, visit her site here.


Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time

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Stunning Photos of the Night Sky From the International Earth and Sky Photo Contest

Smithsonian Magazine

The winning photos of the 5th Annual International Earth and Sky Photo Contest—a selection of which are highlighted above—feature jaw-dropping nightscapes from all over the world, ranging from dazzling aurora displays in Norway to brilliant starfields seen from the desert near Fayoum, Egypt. 

The contest highlights a style known as landscape astrophotography, which combines elements of the night sky and the Earth's horizon, and more than 1,000 submissions from 55 countries around the world make up a vast array of spectacular photos of the earth and the heavens. 

The contest is a collaboration between The Earth At Night (TWAN), the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and Astronauts Without Borders. These sponsors hope the images raise awareness of issues with light polution. You can see more than 70 additional contest images in the video below.

Stunning Slo-Mo Footage of Hummingbirds Hovering in Air

Smithsonian Magazine
The hovering technique of a hummingbird is one of the most mesmerizing sights to witness

Stunning Slo-Mo Footage of Hummingbirds Hovering in Air

Smithsonian Magazine
The hovering technique of a hummingbird is one of the most mesmerizing sights to witness

Stunning Timelapse of a Dragonfly Growing Wings

Smithsonian Magazine
Watch the transformation unfold before your eyes

Stunning deep space photo reveals new details of Orion nebulae

Smithsonian Insider

Recently crowned the “astronomy photo of the year” by Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog, a new image of a region of Orion’s belt reveals the deepest […]

The post Stunning deep space photo reveals new details of Orion nebulae appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

Stunning high-resolution NASA images available online for public exhibits

Smithsonian Insider

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has made available to the public a new online collection of images that capture the excitement of planetary exploration and the journey to understand the origin and evolution of the solar system.

The post Stunning high-resolution NASA images available online for public exhibits appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

Stunning, Surreal Concepts Cast a Spell on the Fairy Tales Architecture Competition

Smithsonian Magazine

For millennia, the fairy tale's unique ability to communicate important lessons through the telling of fantastical tales has held audiences in rapture. Now, the architectural community has turned to the tried-and-tested narrative form to provoke new innovations and interest in architecture through the Fairy Tales competition. 

Entering its fourth year, the competition was first imagined up in 2013 by architectural thought-leader Blank Space in partnership with the National Building Museum. By its very nature, the competition treats architects as worldbuilders. To participate, entrants must submit original artwork and complementary fiction that re-images the world we live. Themes range from the deeply personal to the largest societal and environmental issues of the day.

For this year's competition, a jury of more than 20 leading architects, designers and storytellers came together to decide on four winners, in addition to 10 honorable mentions. They announced the honorees at a live event at the National Building Museum hosted by NPR's Lauren Ober on Monday night. 

French architects Ariane Merle d’Aubigné and Jean Maleyrat weren't able to attend in person, but the duo won third place for their submission “Up Above." Their entry dreams up a way for refugees to escape the horrors of the world by taking to the skies. In their world, those looking to leave oppression and inequality behind can live in the clouds—specifically in shelters balanced on thin stilts high above city skylines.

Image by Ariane Merle d’Aubigné & Jean Maleyrat. (original image)

Image by Ariane Merle d’Aubigné & Jean Maleyrat. (original image)

Image by Ariane Merle d’Aubigné & Jean Maleyrat. (original image)

Image by Ariane Merle d’Aubigné & Jean Maleyrat. (original image)

Image by Ariane Merle d’Aubigné & Jean Maleyrat. (original image)

Chicago architect Terrence Hector earned second place for his world that granted architecture sentience by means of a slow-moving species of concrete and metal. Offering a new meaning to the notion of walking cities, Hector's entry, “City Walkers” or “The Possibility of a Forgotten Domestication and Biological Industry" pays tribute to the work of iconic director Hayao Miyazaki, especially Howl's Moving Castle (2004), as well as themes of anthropomorphizing buildings in architectural history.

Image by Terrence Hector. (original image)

Image by Terrence Hector. (original image)

Image by Terrence Hector. (original image)

Image by Terrence Hector. (original image)

Image by Terrence Hector. (original image)

The competition also awarded a special prize this year to architects Maria Syed and Adriana Davis. Their entry, “Playing House,"  explores how a split-personality can manifest literally through architecture, and it was the highest-scoring submission by members of the American Institute of Architecture Students. 

Image by Maria Syed and Adriana Davis. (original image)

Image by Maria Syed and Adriana Davis. (original image)

Image by Maria Syed and Adriana Davis. (original image)

Image by Maria Syed and Adriana Davis. (original image)

But the night went to Ukrainian architect Mykhailo "Misha" Ponomarenko who took first for his entry, "Last Day."  Ponomarenko's work playfully imagines what would happen if science fiction-like structures were inexplicably woven into ordinary landscapes. His out-of-this-world insertions into normal scenes aren't just stunning—they also offer commentary on how machines reshape their environments. caught up with Ponomarenko to talk to him more about his work and how he sees fantasy informing today's architecture. 

Who are your biggest influences?

When I studied in school it was American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. I learned a lot from his works—I read all his books; I was really addicted. All his principles and ideas still apply today. I have a lot of feelings about him but not too many words.

But right now, I’m really influenced by the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, and also landscape in general. I was walking all day in Washington today looking at the landscapes. It’s so beautiful here, especially around the [National Museum of the American Indian]. The authentic marshes, and the rock work, and even the ducks in the lake in the pond—it looks so real in the middle of this metropolis. I was deeply impressed. That natural wildness so affects the landscape. It was inspiring.

Talk to me about Bjarke Ingels. What about his work makes an impression on you?

How he works with problems, and how he solves problems in architectural ways. His building is very pragmatic and very rational, and I’m also very rational and pragmatic, so this is why I love him a lot. I’m very interested to understand what he does. With each of his projects he creates a series of 3-D diagrams where he explains step-by-step how he came up with his shapes. After you see the diagrams, it feels like the building came naturally. It was meant to be here; it was part of the environment; it was a response to conditions of this environment and to the conditions of this place in general. And, it solves problems—not only for people going to use the building, but also people going to walk around it. His rationality is deeply inspiring.

Image by Mykhailo Ponomarenko. (original image)

Image by Mykhailo Ponomarenko. (original image)

Image by Mykhailo Ponomarenko. (original image)

Image by Mykhailo Ponomarenko. (original image)

Image by Mykhailo Ponomarenko. (original image)

It’s so interesting to move from ideas of pragmatism and rationality to talking about a fairy tale competition. When I think of fairy tales, I think of irrational concepts. Did you set out to apply pragmatism and rationality to "Last Day"?

I didn’t think too much about pragmatism. I was thinking about contrast between nature and manmade; rational and irrational; regular and irregular; horizontal and vertical. You take a real landscape and then you add something unreal. But not a big jump, just a dash of unreal. A little bit bizarre, a little bit strange, a little bit unreal. Then you put people in the forefront of your landscape who just live in this space.

They interact with this space and they act absolutely normally, like this is the way it’s supposed to be. And it’s like: “Wow, this looks interesting.” You’re seeing something absolutely unreal and impractical, but everyone acts as though it’s normal. The contrast between nature and manmade is the most interesting and beautiful part of our existence.

Working with these ideas, how did you come up with the specific story you wanted to tell for this competition?

I generally am inspired by landscape paintings. Also, the Swedish artist Simon Stalenhag, he has the same idea. I copied this idea from him. He painted real landscapes, suburban landscapes, villages, then he puts something really weird there— some robot or dinosaur, strange structure or machines and people play around it. It looks very utopian or dystopian. It also feels very nostalgic. Every time I look at his paintings it feels like I’ve seen it before. Maybe because of my Soviet past.

I was born in the Soviet Union when it was still a union. Then it broke up like it is, but we still have Soviet heritage. So you can see similar culture or places and it’s something similar. It awoke some weird feelings, like melancholic and nostalgic. I really like these feelings and I thought, wow, I want to do something similar but keep it not as negative. Some of his paintings look a little bit negative, like a rusty structure falling apart. I wanted to do something positive—why should it all be negative when I could do something more optimistic? I also wanted to work with landscape and to interact with landscape. It’s like you see this landscape and you have this feeling inside to share, it’s like a burst of energy and I was like wow, I want to do something with this, and so I just start to sketch. There was something in there that was really unpractical and unpragmatical.

By doing this kind of intervention you can find some interesting ideas which could be implemented in the real world. Something really interesting could show up [in the shapes you create] and allow you to see the space from a different perspective and give you more thoughts and feelings about this landscape.

What fairy tales would you say inspired you growing up?

I’ve always been deeply inspired by science fiction. I love Star Wars. I grew up with Star Wars. It was my favorite series. When I was a teenager I was reading a lot of science fiction books about planets and about the universe, all this stuff. This is deeply inspiring, and I really want to work on other ideas that tie together real landscape and science fiction and science and architecture and see what pulls together.

What do you want readers to take away from your work?

I want to evoke some feelings about our planet, and about landscapes and about our influence on these landscapes. What we can do with them, and what we actually are doing. I believe we can do way better than what we are doing now.

Anything else you’d like to add?

People: you need to recycle garbage, and make our planet cleaner, and read more science fiction.

Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Naturkunde. Serie A, Biologie

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"Herausgegeben vom Staatlichen Museum für Naturkunde in Stuttgart."

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