Remnants of the Biosphere

BLDGBLOG, written by Geoff Manaugh, just published this blog on Remants of the Biosphere.

Photographer Noah Sheldon got in touch the other week with a beautiful series of photos documenting the decrepit state of Biosphere 2, a semi-derelict bio-architectural experiment in the Arizona desert.

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“The structure was billed as the first large habitat for humans that would live and breathe on its own, as cut off from the earth as a spaceship,” the New York Times wrote back in 1992, but the project was a near-instant failure. The entire site was sold to private developers in 2007, leaving the buildings still functional and open for tours but falling apart.

Sheldon’s images, reproduced here with permission, show the facility advancing into old age. A vast biological folly in the shadow of desert over-development, the project of Biosphere 2 seems particularly poignant in this unkempt state.

The largest sealed environment ever created, constructed at a cost of $200 million, and now falling somewhere between David Gissen’s idea of subnature—wherein the slow power of vegetative life is unleashed “as a transgressive animated force against buildings”—and a bioclimatically inspired Dubai, Biosphere 2 even included its own one million-gallon artificial sea.

In this context, Biosphere 2 could be considered one of architect Francois Roche’s “buildings that die,” a term Roche used in a recent interview with Jeffrey Inaba. Indeed, in its current state Biosphere 2 is easily one of the ultimate candidates for Roche’s idea of “corrupted biotopes“; the site’s ongoing transformation into suburbia only makes this corruption all the more explicit.

Watching something originally built precisely as a simulation of the Earth—the 2 in “Biosphere 2″ is meant to differentiate this place from the Earth itself, i.e. Biosphere 1—slowly taken over by the very forces it was naively meant to model is philosophically extraordinary: the model taken over by the thing it represents. It is a replicant in its dying throes.

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