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ADS7: Transboundary Geo-logics – Politics of the Atmosphere

Tonderai Prince Maboreke

Tonderai Prince Maboreke's research explores the intersection between architecture, metabolism, infrastructure, and engineering strategies to interrogate themes of environmental capitalism and geopolitics. A recipient of the AIA UK Student Award (2016), OUT Scholarship (2018), and the Carpenters' Company Bursary (2020), Tonderai has experience in both architecture and engineering practices in Taiwan and the UK. Eager to continue exploring opportunities around the world, this experience fostered his interest in culture, time and space. His first-year design project, “The Right to Breathe,” explored the relationship between Industrial Capitalism, Environmental Politics and Metabolism by addressing the problems of “sick building syndrome” within caravans often used by marginalised gypsies and travellers. The project was selected in the top 3 jury selection of The Design Film Festival (2020). 

This year, as part of ADS7, Tonderai explored the “Phenomena of the Red River” surrounding the recent Norilsk Oil spill in the Siberian Arctic. Speculating on future metabolic states and remediation infrastructures, this project sees Tonderai positioning himself, as architect, as both a mediator and an instigator, between the public and political elite.

After completing his studies at the Royal College of Art, Tonderai aims to continue evolving his practice, working on projects of different scales, developing his research into the intersection

The aestheticisation of oil spills and their viral spreading through the lens of social networks are two phenomena with which we have become all too familiar. The transgression of the bright and beautiful hues of oil slicks, reflecting sunlight, attracts our attention; momentary awe masks the drastic metabolic effects on humans and non-humans. It is the negligence of government officials and businesses that has led to these environmental catastrophes, with little to no concern for their short or long-term effects.

This design proposal responds to an event on the 29th of May 2020, when an oil spill took place in the city of Norilsk, Siberia. Some 21,000 tonnes of diesel leaked into the nearby Ambamaya River, polluting an area of about 180,000 square metres. It revolves around a particular false proverb that layers of oil and water do not mix, leading to false assumptions of potential futures. Political negligence meant officials—including President Vladimir Putin—were only made aware of the spill two days later and publicly, via social media.

The aestheticisation of the oil demonstrates the potential of social media to influence action, with corporations no longer able to escape from the public exposure of social media platforms. The power of social networks presents us with a unique opportunity—to be citizen journalists, and to influence action. 

In this proposal, I move between the roles of designer, political activist, lawyer and mediator as an “architectish” in an effort to expand architecture’s potential to influence global systems and policy. By staging an online campaign, forecasting from 50 years into the future metabolic, this project asks: what do speculative futures of aestheticised remediated environments that explore ideas of bioengineered futures look like? Creating a connection between the viral spread of the oil spill through the social networks and the rhizosphere networks of nature, the staging of these interventions through an online campaign is done to provoke political action and environmental strategy implementation. How can an adaptable strategy be created that connects activists on the ground anywhere around the world?

Norilsk Oil Spill — On 29 May 2020, an oil spill took place in the city of Norilsk in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia. The saying that oil and water do not mix is not entirely accurate. This false proverb leads to faulty assumptions of potential futures.
Viral Social Media Networks, Event “0” — Political negligence meant officials were only made aware of the spill two days later, and via social networks. The aestheticisation of the oil shows the potential of social big data to influence action; corporations can no longer hide from the public exposure of social media platforms.


Site of the Spill — An oil spill is never limited to an easily defined and discrete site. With some 21,000 tonnes of diesel leaked into the nearby Ambamaya River, an area of about 180,000 square metres was polluted. This area, above the Arctic Circle and in Central Siberia, is inhabited by extractive landscapes, Indigenous lands as well as the flora and fauna of healthy and dead forest tundra and boreal forests. Map-diagram.
Contamination — The combination of the Ambamaya river’s current and northern prevailing winds, encourage diesel from the polluted main river to seep into the surrounding and adjacent wetlands, contaminating the soil and water. This array of toxicity intersects with the migration pathway of the endangered Lesser White-fronted Goose and reindeer, who use this area of land to feed and breed. Polluted water and lack of vegetation posing an ongoing risk to their health, as well as the livelihoods of their indigenous herders.
Norilsk Oil Spill — On 29 May 2020, a fuel reservoir, owned by Nornickel subsidiary, NTEK, failed. The Norilsk Oil Spill, as it would come to be known, caused significant pollution and damage across several scales, involving multiple stakeholders. Section-perspective-diagram.

Site: Norilsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia (69.456460, 87.929419).


Digital Illustration

The methodology developed to investigate the spill creates an understanding of the extractive processes at a macro scale (Geopolitical), the event of the spill (Hydrological) and the micro scale (Future Metabolic Implications). These interactions, respectively, call for the interrogation of policy, the remediation of infrastructure and future metabolic implications through the targeted utilisation and leveraging of social media networks to spread awareness, applicable to a wide range of current environmental issues. These three scales are often considered separately, however, through social networks, underlying connections and relations can be brought to the fore between corporations, governments, and the public. This developing methodology aims to expose these inherent connections, realising possible moments for intervention, in any oil spill, globally.

Geopolitical — At the macro geopolitical scale, my investigation explores the multiple cross-continental stakeholders bidding for the remaining extensive untapped resources within the Arctic.
Geopolitical — The geopolitical interrogates the intersection between Russia’s vast extractive network and the permafrost soil on which it uneasily rests. Furthermore, it involves creating connections between the extractive networks, permafrost cities and capitalistic geopolitical relations, all of which amount to more than 60% of Russia’s GDP.


Digital Illustration, Animated
Oil Slick Metabolism — Along the water’s surface, a film of oil creates two imperfect mirrors, a combination of reflective and refractive light waves. On this surface, between the air and the oil, some light reflects and some light refracts. Just below the surface, between the water and the oil, some light reflects and some light refracts. And it is also here that, due to the thickness and density of the oil, there is a floating layer where the distance between the imperfect mirrors is the same as a wavelength of light.
Toxic Transgressions — Aromatic compounds, like Benzol, Toluene, Xylene, and Ethylbenzene, cannot be contained by current oil boom technologies. The phenomenon of the red river in Norilsk is not new and it goes back to 1999, when toxic substances leeched from containment infrastructures into soils, waterways, and other networks.

This inference of UV light causes light particles to evaporate and the heavy particles to sink, dissolving with the water. The oil slick provides two possible ranges for intervention—above and below the surface. Oil and water, it seems, do mix after all.


Digital Illustration, Animated
ADOPT A BLOCK CAMPAIGN — Taking the form of an online handbook and instructive website, support is provided to activists on the ground in Siberia (and various other locations), providing instructive detail on how to remediate polluted water environments. As part of ongoing campaigns to remediate these ecosystems, a proposed choreography with rhizosphere networks unfolds, enabling for multiple bioengineered futures that take the shape of speculative fungal landscapes weaving, reaching over and through the Siberian tundra and waters.

After catastrophic events, we immediately seek out the ability to “fix” or “repair” our environments. A speculation on an answer: the ADOPT A BLOCK Campaign.

Buy A Block — Activists can purchase and inscribe what they like on the floating mycelium cubes such as "F*CK NORNICKEL" in protest.
Connecting — Activists around the world can get involved in the campaign via the online chat function.
Site & Irrigation Canal Intervention — The interventions not only remediate the landscape, but also incorporate a series of stakeholders providing cleaner water and vegetation through the incorporation of a fungal landscape and irrigation canal. The planting of mushrooms promotes the growth of vegetation and remediates through rhizospheric action of the fungi: the root systems break down toxic compounds and supply nutrients to the adjacent soils, increasing plant yield. The canal is constructed in three incremental phases due to its size.
Metabolic Calendar — The cubes provide spaces for breeding and feeding for the migrating geese and so are deployed in the summer months according to the migration calendar. When rainfall is at its highest and fungi can thrive they are deployed at their various locations.
Floating Wetland & Fungi Landscape Intervention — The mycelium floating wetland cubes and vegetation on the canal filter the waterways, providing vegetation for the Siberian tundrae reindeer to eat. They also facilitate access across the canal for indigenous and local people as well as crossing reindeer.
Detail — The structures are constructed from materials and fixings that revive the landscape as they decay.

Volunteer activists on the ground in affected locations around the globe can reach out to get involved in the remediation campaign strategy.


UX Design, Digital Illustration
Remediated Landscape and Policy

Forecasting Thirty years in the future: The ADOPT A BLOCK campaign continues to remediate damage to the environment caused by oil spills and prior pollution. Involving activists on the ground and Norilsk Nickel remediation staff, interventions continue in the form of an irrigation canal, and a revived landscape through the harvesting of mushrooms and floating wetland blocks made from mycelium. The campaign interventions, based on forecasted bioengineered futures, provoked changes in the operating policies and procedures of Norilsk Nickel, who now have a transparent emergency response plan based around ADOPT A BLOCK, and are able—and willing—to work together with activists to clean their surrounding environment.


Digital Illustration

Carpenter's Company Bursary