University of Westminster
critics: arthur MAMOU-MANI & toby BURGESS, DS 10.
suckerPUNCH: Describe your project.
jack MUNRO: Sanguis et Pulvis seeks to re-establish the dissipating autonomy of the Siwa Oasis in Egypt’s Western Desert. Throughout its history, this Berber settlement has remained isolated and self-sufficient; its traditional economy based on agriculture, its vernacular based on mud brick construction. However, two environmental phenomena have jeopardised this ancient way of life.
Firstly, the encroaching sands of the Sahara have significantly reduced the farmable land surrounding Siwa, forcing its economy to focus increasingly on the unreliable and highly seasonal tourism industry. Secondly, a series of rare rainstorms in the 1920s caused catastrophic damage to the town’s historic centre, dissolving the salt rich mud bricks. This destroyed faith in the material on which the town’s vernacular was based and led to a universal adoption of generic concrete structures.
Sanguis et Pulvis addresses these issues in three ways:
Creating a new local construction material based on slaughtered animal blood.
Animal blood is an abundant waste product in North African countries, with each halal slaughtered cow producing around 40 litres of blood. This material can act as a powerful binding agent for use in construction. This project develops the material as both a method of solidifying sand dunes, and as bricks to re-establish a sustainable local vernacular.
Creating a new economic base through the low-tech generation of solar electricity.
Desertec is a multi-billion dollar project which aims to create a vast international network of high voltage power lines across Europe and North Africa (MedGrid), linking renewable energy sources capable of supplying 40% of the region’s electricity. This project uses locally constructed Fresnel lens solar concentrators and Stirling engines to generate electricity for sale on international markets, creating a new and stable economic foundation.
Enabling large scale agricultural land reclamation.
The project slowly creates a barrier protecting Siwa from the Sahara, allowing agricultural land reclamation of up to 14000 acres. This will strengthen the historic agricultural economy of the town, as well as provide the necessary grazing land for increasingly large cattle herds.
sP: What or who influenced this project?
jM: The project was influenced strongly by the experimental methodology of Frei Otto, which informed my early experiments involving granular materials and techniques of sand solidification (documented at www.jsmunro.co.uk). The desert researchers Ralph Bagnold and Michael Welland contributed to my understanding of complex desert processes, whilst the project was discerningly guided by studio tutors Arthur Mamou-Mani and Toby Burgess of Westminster DS10.
sP: What were you reading/listening to/watching while developing this project?
jM: Emergence; IL series; Morpho Ecologies; Sand; RealFlow “help”; BBC 6 Music.
sP: Whose work is currently on your radar?
jM: Moxon, Carmody Groarke, Moh, Ordinary, Heatherwick, and Serie.