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ADS7: Something in the Air – Politics of the Atmosphere

Rosa Whiteley

Rosa is a Master of Architecture Student at the Royal College of Art. She previously studied her undergraduate at Manchester School of Architecture, where she was awarded the Dean's Award for Academic Achievement, and the Ian Crofton Award for Meritus achievement. At the RCA, she studied in ADS 3: Offsetting the Offshore in her first year of studies, where she focused on the spoils of the oil industry in the North Sea. Her dissertation addressed themes around the rights of nature and the political discourse of extraction. Continuing her interests from the previous year, she has studied in ADS7: Politics of the Atmosphere, which has focused on climate politics and the geopolitical influence on the atmosphere. She currently works as a freelance architectural researcher and spatial practitioner, focussing on ecological systems, uncovering networks of metabolic entanglements, and understanding systems of power. Rosa is passionate about climate education within the field of architecture and has been involved with the Architecture Education Declares network. Rosa received the RIBA Wren Insurance Scholarship during her second year at RCA and was shortlisted for the RIBA West Awards during her first year. A portion of Rosa’s research and design work for ADS7, led by Elise Hunchuck and Marco Ferrari and Jingru (Cyan) Cheng, will be featured in Sky River, a digital and physical installation, part of Critical Zones: Observatories for Earthly Politics. It will be on display at ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Germany, until February 28, 2021.




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Degree Details

School of Architecture

ADS7: Something in the Air – Politics of the Atmosphere

Graduating in a time of global upheaval, pandemic and political reckoning is a strange yet intriguing time to be a spatial practitioner. Rosa hopes to work collaboratively and independently to contribute towards the heightened need to imagine restructured worlds within urban spaces and global networks. She aims to use her understanding of research, mapping, and spatial studies,developed during her time at RCA, to contribute towards the essential work needed in these tumultuous times.

Rosa’s thesis examines themes of polluted airs, global metabolism, multispecies coexistence, and ways of collectively living in damaged grounds and airs, questioning how we might break down the conception of deadly landscapes through considering metabolic entanglements within these landscapes. She hopes to continue researching aeroplankton and their interactions with the ground in the context of climate breakdown conversations, specifically within discourses around the colonisation and toxification of the atmosphere. She hopes that her studies of atmospheric assemblages will contribute towards an understanding of our damaged atmospheres as lively, living, resilient, and weird. She will pursue the threads of this research through her independent practice, continuing to work as a collaborative freelance architectural researcher and spatial practitioner alongside practitioners, artists and activists.

RW_WIP_Show Film
In the Pink addresses the longstanding phenomena of pink death clouds that periodically dominate the arctic atmosphere. These clouds originate from the city of Nikel, in the Russian Arctic, found on the borderlands between Russia, Norway, and Finland. Since the 1980s, continued nickel metal extraction and smelting in these borderlands have caused deathly, toxic clouds to fill the atmosphere of this region.

In The Pink examines lives that exist and flourish within the so-called deathly cloudscapes and landscapes that are found in the border regions between Norway and Russia. The toxic and metallic footprints of the death clouds onto the ground have created dead zones, dead forests, dead lakes, dead taxa, and dead people. However, certain lifeforms, such as opportunistic fungi spores, thrive in the toxic air and the damaged soils. These spores seek out the toxic, ‘deadly’ aerosols, living on and within them. The pairing of toxic lively aerosol and living aeroplankton creates conjoined matters of life and non-life within just one cloud particulate. Through a study of these weird assemblages, In The Pink disassembles the concepts of dead landscapes, dead atmospheres, and dead clouds.

The territory of Nikel is damaged; but the act of calling them and their inhabitants dead, as residue, or as finished, is a dangerous way to treat the ruins of capitalist airs and grounds.

The project produces typologies of spaces and times that learn to flourish within the footprints of the damaged airs, through learning from and living amongst, the weird assemblages that currently thrive within it. A future for the Russian town of Nikel is imagined and structured through a shifting calendar of events and rituals. Metabolic Devices act within the so-called ‘dead zone’ of Nikel to reframe the metallic transformation of the territory and to question ways in which the landscape is inhabited and politicised. Storytelling is used as a device to imagine communities of multispecies coexistence — and the very spaces that enable them to form. The stories that unfold below — ‘Tapping Birch’, ‘Culturing Withdrawal’, ‘A Spore Washout’, and ‘In Living Memory’ — all act to tell the tales of resilient entanglement, found somewhere between the ground and the air.


film, animation, mapping, storytelling
The living and Non-Living Inhabitants of the Pink Death Clouds — The Death Clouds of Nikel contain communities of cosmopolitan wanderers. Trichoderma fungi spores are drawn to live within the pink of the cloud, latching onto the cloud’s toxic nickel and sulfate inhabitants, using them as transportation devices within the cloud. The particles of sulfate and nickel that these spores occupy deflect a pink-hued colour from passing sunlight; from the ground, the cloud flickers pink. Traces of metallic toxicity and sulfuric deposition mark the cloud’s footprints on the ground as it traverses the Arctic. Collectively, the death cloud’s inhabitants form a weird assemblage of living and nonliving. Collectively, they form the architecture of the not-so-dead Pink Death Cloud.
A Weird Assemblage — Cloud particulates of enlivened toxic nickel aerosol, lively acidic sulfate, and living aeroplankton fungi spore. Please interact with these assembled death cloud inhabitants through zoom, scroll and drag.
Calendar of Weird Assemblage — An understanding of the durational relationships of the inhabitants of the death cloud reveals shifting timescapes of exchange. In the Pink proposes seasons that interweave with and amplify resilient metabolic entanglements through multispecies events and rituals. Each colour and stream represents each inhabitant of the death cloud. Where the streams merge and blur and where the boundaries of the bodies are not clear, metabolic entanglement has taken hold. Each season corrodes the conception of death and the conception that these bodies are separate entities. They are seen here, collectively in a web of time, not as individuals, but as a lively and weird resilient assemblage.
Metabolic Device: The Sap Tap
01: Tapping Birch — Cirrus clouds sit high in the sky, seeded by metallic aerosols, undetectable at the ground. This is the 14-day long season of birch tapping, which shifts each year as the Arctic spring warms. Performed by the mountain birch tree, Trichoderma fungi, and a human companion, the sap is drawn from the tree as it stretches, awakening to spring. By taking the sap and tending the tree, humans embed themselves within the processes of exchange that form entanglements within this damaged ground.
Metabolic Device: The Fermentation Apparatus
02: Culturing Withdrawal — The death cloud arrives in a dense red haze. With the air still too cool for the fog to dissipate, it lingers for 30 days. During this season, humans commit to a 30-day withdrawal from the haze, whilst suspending the collected tree sap directly in the descending fog. The haze contains fungal inhabitants that will colonise the tree sap, fermenting it. This fermentation releases chemicals — such as betulinic acid and polyphenols — which, once consumed by the human, will contribute toward an increased metabolic resilience, in the coming seasons of pink haze.
Metabolic Device: The Spore Catalyst
03: A Spore Washout — The month-long haze has departed, and temperatures have warmed to an arctic summer. This is the season of Spore Washout when the uncertain promise of the death clouds looms in the atmosphere above. Slime fungi grow in the rotting debris of islands within the city. An electrical atmosphere is created by a sulphur sensing device, which signals the fungi to release bursts of spores. Fungi spores are ancient engineers of weather — the first cloud seeders of the atmosphere. As they enter the pink, toxic air, they take control of the clouds, seeding the cloud’s particulates and encouraging rain formation. An atmospheric washout ensues, dispersing the death cloud and allowing the fungi spores to even further dominate the landscape.
Metabolic Device: The Living Memory Capsules
04: In Living Memory — The cultures of fungi and bacteria, grown within the fermented tree sap during the season of arctic haze, are gathered within cultured petri dishes and taken to the living memorial of the death cloud. These living memorials act as devices, proxies, and markers throughout the city. Like other archives or natural proxies, these stored records of the death cloud have the ability to act as objects of dispute. These structures also act as a memory to living, lively, and lost inhabitants of the death cloud. Living within the toxic ruins of metal smelting in these scarred lands means living with the loss of human and nonhuman.


film, animation, mapping, storytelling

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