Christian Long

Magnus Larsson: Turning Dunes into Architecture

In TED Talks on May 24, 2010 at 11:05 am

Extra credit reflection by DARCY S.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Magnus Larsson: Turning Dunes into Architecture

If only we had several more Magnus Larssons in the world. His combination of humanitarianism and personal interest is a potent spell that can be the beginning of many new forward steps in the world. The origin of many things, such as commercial products, companies and projects arise from someone’s personal interest to make himself or herself a lot of money. This path is disastrous, and can result in the bp oil spill we are currently fixing, or the obesity in one out of every three Americans. When it comes to project like this, however, the good intentions are often regarded as such, and the action from an advantageous idea can result in prosperity of the future.

Magnus Larrson is a dreamer and a risk-taker; he proposes to build majestic dwelling structures underneath sand dunes in the Sahara desert to act as a levy or a retaining wall of sand, using bacteria to make sandstone. This idea is brilliant, audacious yet questionable.

The problem that Larsson is trying to address is this: the sand dunes in the Sahara are moving. Yes, they are moving, and at a rate you wouldn’t believe. Glaciers tend to move about a foot per day, whereas the desert physically eats up one meter of arable land a day, which forces thousands of civilians to pick up their entire village and move southward constantly. There were no other options for these people, until one man refused to let this happen.

The solution is trees. Immediately we conjure a list of doubts, thinking that planting trees in the desert is illogical and improbable to begin with. Anybody could give it half a thought and come up with trees as a solution to this expanding problem, but only an architect could use trees in such an ingenious way, as such:

The trees, which function as a barricade to the shifting sands, grow inside a sandstone architectural oasis where village dwelling is possible and the atmosphere is incredibly smooth and calming.

A lot of skepticism arouses from this idea, unfortunately. For example, the process of actually making this space livable, sustainable and dependable is hard to imagine, but not once you befriend a little tool called bacillus pasteurii, a bacterium that turns sand into sandstone, naturally.

It’s a pretty sound idea, but perhaps a few more practical aspects of the project need to be calculated and considered. For instance, the financial aspect of the project might need to be more thorough than scratch work on the back on an envelope. However rash these first steps towards saving thousands of people may be, the pay off in the end, if successful, will be priceless.

There may be one all-powerful factor which would personally make me turn around right then and there on that TED stage and recalculate this idea as a whole: Mother Nature. If Mother Nature wills the sand dunes of the Sahara to engulf useful agricultural land on a massive, rapid scale, then I wouldn’t come in her way. We witness daily the ruthless earthquakes and forest fires that happens when humans dance a tango they can’t handle. With a colossal mass of sand hurtling towards these structures, I would have doubts in their performance and durability. However, I am confident that Magnus has a “can-do” attitude that will skillfully dodge every obstacle that presents itself.

Ambition is a trait much needed in our dying planet. Magnus intends to expand this “green wall of the Sahara” along the entire continent of Africa, from east to west. All flaws aside, I say more power to him.


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