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Of Men, of Gods, of Earth – since the epic poems of Homer and Hesiod in the eighth century BCE, Hellenic Anemoi (winds) have occupied realms of both material and immaterial being. From Plato (fourth century BCE) to Aristotle and Theophrastus (third century BCE), Vitruvius (second century BCE), and Pliny the Elder (first century BCE), entire worlds have been constructed and deconstructed by winds so well-defined that they were drawn into literature, art, and architecture as forces, entities, and spaces. Today, Oi Anemoi give form and force to the next frontier of resource extraction. It is in this context that today’s winds – and the dynamics that drive them and our need for power – are transforming property, livelihoods, and aesthetics in ways that alter relations with terrain, strata, and volume.

As the impacts of climate destabilisation become more widely felt, governments and private companies find increasing incentives for investments in renewable energy. In cooperation with the European Green Deal, the European Union (EU) formally adopted the European Climate Law in 2021; which legally binds EU Institutions and Member States to a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To meet this target, each state must take quick and significant strides towards harnessing its own renewable energy. For Greece, success in this endeavour relies on the nation’s abundance of sun and wind – both of which require vast amounts of terrain and stable relations with heat to produce and maintain energy. While investors may be driven by immediate incentives and short-term, perceived gains in increased renewable capacity, local landholders remain concerned with the environmental impacts of solar and wind farm expansion; which often carry negative economic impacts on local communities. Unlike fossil fuels, locations and availabilities of wind and solar resources are dynamic, evolving, and relational; and, any pathway towards net zero emissions, requires us to co-design with Oi Anemoi – in all forms.

RS4 proposes alternative ways of thinking and designing architectures and environments as volumetric, evolving climate ecologies – bringing the renewable energy transition and social justice into collective political practice. We will actively engage in processes of ‘making’ – historic and contemporary, in situ and ex situ – as a means of claiming and creating rights to space, resources, and alternative forms of coexistence.

At the core of this work, we will ask:

What architecture is possible when we design with weather as a means of allocating space and resources justly in a future that demands agility?

Endangered bird habitat on Gianisada Island off the north coast of eastern Kriti, Greece, November 2023. Photograph: Christina Leigh Geros

Context: Currents of Speculation

Driven by a growing demand for a ‘green’ transition – away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources – national governments, private companies, and international organisations are planning (and implementing) massive expansions of wind and solar energy capacities in locations around the globe. While not in opposition to renewable energy, residents local to the sites of these plans are often less supportive of their construction due to aesthetic objections and land access restrictions; often leading to years of legal action and delay, higher land costs, and less favourable incentives overall.

Green energy production does carry spatial consequence. To generate the same energy as a coalfield, solar panels would need nearly four times as much surface area, and wind turbines require seven times more; and neither of these energies are produced without visible, often intrusive, equipment. These vast machinic fields then become ‘landscapes of value’ – reflections of resources plucked from the sky above. While wind, itself, remains invisible until it turns something, ruffles a flag, or kicks up dust, the value of the field is reduced to the visual icon of the turbine blade. This furthers the falsities of imagination: that wind acts only when it causes something else to act, and this substitution – of the blown thing for the blowing itself – obscures other powers and causes of flow.

Without wind, all life would perish in minutes; bringing our need to design for its continuation into sharp focus. As global temperatures rise, the winds that life, as we know it, relies upon will change as well. The increasing number of catastrophic wildfires around the globe is one of the most immediate and serious consequences of rising global heat. In Greece, a nation that (traditionally) anticipates wildfires each summer, scorching temperatures have turned the heavily-forested landscape into a tinderbox, prone to burst into flame regardless of spark. According to European Forest Fire Information System data, more than 42,900 hectares have burned across Greece in 2023 alone (as of 1 August). Climate destabilisation – intensifying patterns of high precipitation coupled with prolonged drought – does more than create a hotter and drier environment, across Greece; as increased precipitation allows for increased plant growth and subsequent higher temperatures lead to rapid plant drying, creating more burnable biomass to feed flames fanned by strong winds and high temperatures. This emerging climate pattern serves opportunistic development that often inadequately considers the social and environmental needs of local communities.

Greece has been a nation embroiled in an ongoing economic crisis since 2010; a crisis which only exacerbated changes to the nation’s socio-environmental fabric that had begun in the 1970s – in particular, large shifts in settlement patterns, from rural to urban, leaving the forest open to risky speculation and mismanagement. In the context of a falling economic index, short-term profit gains over long-term stability tend to gain political support and investment. Communities have felt the consequences of unchecked urban development and underfunded environmental management for the past decades, but the increasing speed and intensity of rising global temperatures recontextualises the significance of Oi Anemoi.

Weather assemblages and economies, eastern Kriti, Greece, November 2023: photograph, Christina Leigh Geros

Focus: Sites of Pressure

When we speak about climate destabilisation, we are referring to the myriad of weather-related events that are anticipated to occur in response to increasing land and sea temperatures, or quantities of heat at the earth’s surface. Where and in what quantities heat collects around the globe drives wind speeds, directions, and precipitation patterns. As temperatures rise, winds – and all that they carry – become less predictable; a phenomenon seen on both local and global scales.

Scientists have determined that the Arctic is warming exponentially faster than lower latitudes; which slows down the jet streams, or high-altitude winds, that encircle the globe and carry moisture and heat north from the equator. These slower moving jet streams hold weather conditions in place for longer periods of time. In the summer, this results in an acceleration of heatwave conditions in particular geographies – one of which is centred on the Mediterranean Basin. Drier, rockier soils tend to dominate the terrain; leaving vegetation to serve as the conduit of moisture from the subterrain to the air.

During 2022/23, RS4 focused research and design efforts in northern Euboea, an island off the east coast of the mainland of Greece, which suffered catastrophic loss to wildfire in August of 2021. Oi Anemoi of northern Euboea are not especially known for their ecological relation to the island; yet, fires create their own weather and it was this phenomenon the studio found itself situated within. Even when winds appear to have stilled, air circles–always looking to fill ‘empty’ space. Fire-weather provokes reactions and intra-actions that remain heated long after the smoke has cleared. As flames release heat, pockets of ‘emptiness’ intensify air movements, creating winds interior to the fire itself. When supplied with plenty of fuel, these fire-winds grow into storms which exhibit weather so extreme, so quick moving, and so unpredictable, that meteorologists and fire specialists both find them uncontrollable. Regardless of the spark that ignites them, these fires, and the weaponised winds they create, produce sites of expansion for opportunistic developers. Working with communities impacted by the 2021 wildfire in northern Euboea, RS4 has been developing strategies for resisting development pressures, particularly those pressures that have risen from the increasing availability of wind and industrial-scale access made possible by the fire.

Throughout much of Greece, the forests are particularly vulnerable to summer wildfires due to underfunded fire prevention. With the rising heat and strong winds of summer, fires that might have once been more readily contained are no longer containable; creating the perfect conditions for the opportunistic expansion of condition-specific economies into new territories. On the island of Kriti, with its unique topography and position within regional wind currents, economies – direct and indirect – have been centred around wind resources for centuries. In the last three decades, however, more than 202 MW (megawatt) of industrialised wind energy production capacity has been installed on the island. Some industry resources claim that each MW requires 1 to 16 hectares of land area, depending on terrain and excluding associated infrastructure. While some activities, like farming and animal grazing, may still occur, the operation of the turbine still carries environmental consequences for many species of flora and fauna. Communities in Kriti that have been coexisting with wind turbines are now living with the cascade of consequences from their operation, and increasingly finding the need to resist further development. Concurrently, increasing heat and shifting winds are changing century-old irrigation and farming practices in ways that re-situate land values and risk calculations. This year, RS4 will work with these communities to better understand the longer-term impacts of development pressures around atmospheric resource extraction and land practice adaptations in a rapidly changing atmospheric environment.

Active wind turbines, eastern Kriti, Greece, November 2023. Photo: Christina Leigh Geros

Locus: Aeolian Matter

The island of Kriti is the largest and most populated of the Greek archipelago; a mountain range that rises from the sea(s) and runs east to west. Kriti and its Sea separate the Aegean Sea to the island’s north from the Libyan Sea to its south. The Meltemi, or Etesian, Winds are dry, seasonal air currents that form in two concurrent pressure systems – a high-pressure system over the Balkans and a low-pressure system over Turkey – each sending their dispelled energy and matter in a fierce current through the Aegean Sea, from north to south. Kriti is centred directly in the Meltemia flow with the eastern part of the island receiving winds that have formed over Turkey and the west receiving those that have formed over the Balkans. From a planetary weather scale, the Meltemia are part of the Asian monsoon system, but their annual performance is also informed by regional scale patterns of heat formation and movement. The intensity and seeming reliability of these winds is the primary site of speculative development along the high elevations and north coast of Kriti; but these are not the only winds within which RS4 will site counter-speculations for alternative worlding of Aeolian matter.

From the south, Kriti receives winds that rise from the northern African deserts known as the Sorokos, or Sirocco, winds. Although often arriving violent and stormy, leaving a trail of red dust in their wake, these winds carry many essential minerals for the island’s flora and fauna. Home to many endemic species, Kriti’s essential biodiversity and health belongs, in part, to the Sorokos. As thermal patterns shift globally, the meltemia and sorokos currents destabilise as well. Historically, wind has been inconsequential to standard, legal definitions and representations of land, property, and access to resources. RS4 aims to reposition wind and aeolian matter as a key element in responding to specific environmental struggles faced by communities across Kriti.

Scope and studio framework

This year, students will work on several sites in eastern Kriti that are currently experiencing environmental challenges deepened by wind energy interests and shifting wind patterns in the region. These sites will be situated around the following conditions:

  1. Sound, light, and sea: The loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta, can be found around the globe, but is the only species of sea turtle in the Mediterranean that nests in Kriti. While protected under Greek Law, loggerhead turtles face many challenges when attempting to nest, hatch, and navigate back to the seas from the beaches of the island. In order to successfully lay and hatch, the turtles require specific climatic conditions which are currently being disturbed by rising temperatures; and once hatched, baby turtles must follow the light of the moon reflected on the sea to guide them into the waters, but increasing urban development makes it difficult for them to find their way. Local community groups and school children volunteer to guide these turtles safely into the waves, but the challenges grow each year. What additional challenges might already-approved proposals for offshore wind farm developments off the northeast coast of Kriti introduce to the lifespan and cycle of the loggerhead sea turtle? Students will work with local environmentalists, volunteer groups, and school children from Sitia and Rethymnos to address these issues.
  2. Aerial infrastructures: Existing and proposed onshore wind farms located on mountain tops that surround Sitia are destroying key bird habitat, particularly for large birds of prey that cruise the eastern Meltemia (seasonal winds). These birds, and the ecologies they rely on, play an important role on the island. Working with local aviary activists and experts, students will work with existing spatial planning and environmental policy to find ways to build and/or strengthen protections for aerial infrastructures and habitats.
  3. Pollinating Profiles: Due to the island’s rich biodiversity, including over 160 endemic plant species, Kretan honey has long been considered some of the best in the world. The Greek words for honey, μέλι (meli), and for bee, μέλισσα (melissa) have been recorded for 3,500 years and reflect a strong correlation between the tradition and importance of beekeeping with the mythological daughter, Melissa, of Kretan King Melissus. Rich in self-seeding plants such as thyme, sage, bramble, oregano, pine, acacia, arbutus, and (cultivated) citrus, is known to be highly fragrant, rich and medicinal. Between the clearing of mountain tops for wind farms and changing agricultural practices (pesticide use) in the lower elevations, the diversity of plant and insect species that produce this rich honey is decreasing. Students will work with local beekeepers and communities to better understand changes to the flavour profiles of Kretan honey as both climatic and socio-economic dynamics shift.
  4. Pressures and flows: In recent years, eastern Kriti has seen a rise in flood conditions due to increasing heat and intensified precipitation patterns. These climatic shifts are incompatible with traditional agricultural and irrigation techniques and contribute to amplified water issues, particularly along the Pentelis River near Sitia. Students will work with local farmers to understand traditional methods of irrigation and potential alternative methods.
  5. Heat and Drought, Here and There: The climate of Kriti has always been relatively hot and dry, which has led to centuries of crop irrigation strategies and techniques to facilitate the reliable production of olive oil – a crop that dominates many hillsides around the island. However, when temperatures are too high (as typical for the last few years), the olive blossoms fail to bloom and olive production declines. The same rising temperatures felt in Kriti are consistent across much of southern Europe, including the olive oil producing regions of Spain and Portugal where crop success is more dependent on rainfall. In recent years, drought conditions across the region have driven the price of Kretan olive oil to more than triple previous rates. Given current climate predictions, students will work with local farmers and communities to consider alternate ‘superfood’ crops, crop irrigation, and drought-resistant staples.

Research partners

During the first year of RS4, the studio worked closely with local communities and activists affected and focused on the aftermath of the 2021 wildfire that devastated North Euboea. This year, we will be working in close partnership with communities and activist movements on the island of Kriti. The Live Project, which the entire studio will collaborate on during Term 1 and will culminate into a workshop in Greece during T2, will work towards building dialogue between these groups around specific questions, case studies, and design strategies.

Along with our collaborating communities and organisations in Kriti, we will be working with Froso Papadimitriou, an internationally-practising artist and curator based in Sitia, Kriti and with Nelly Psarrou, a political scientist and filmmaker based in Limni, whose work addresses communities on the frontlines of struggle against unethical development across Greece, but especially with communities in north Euboea.

Decommissioned turbines remain, Euboea, Greece, October 2022. Photo: Christina Leigh Geros