alexandra regan toland

research narratives in artistic ecology

Mapping the Urban Grind Mill


The city is a bit of a grind mill. The stony surfaces of buildings, sidewalks and infrastructure are subject to the same forces of weathering as mountains and seashores. In time, atmospheric emissions and ground up waste accumulate as urban dust – an unintentional consequence of so-called “pavement-milling.” Without vegetative cover to bind particulate matter, dust accumulates and mobilizes during dry periods. During extreme weather incidents, on the other hand, run-off from paved surfaces can inundate streets and sidewalks like rivers cascading through mountain valleys. With no vegetation to filter dust, transpire water, or provide shade or habitat, a range of negative environmental effects result from soil sealing,including the climatic heat island effect, higher atmospheric and soil pollution, changes in water balance and groundwater recharge, and biodiversity loss.

This is what soil sealing really looks like in Berlin and in the Environmental Atlas:

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 10.05.22 PM Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 10.00.46 PM Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 9.59.23 PM versiegelung ausschnitt senstadt

People who live in areas of high impervious soil coverage are faced with more environmental health risks than those living in less sealed areas. Over time, the “urban grind mill” erodes feelings of well-being along with building surfaces. According to the Berlin Environmental Atlas “the degree of impervious coverage in urban areas has an immediate effect on the human habitat. A high degree of impervious coverage is usually associated with a disparity of open space per capita. Long rows of buildings, frequently interrupted only by asphalt or concrete surfaces, can have a depressing, monotonous effect on residents. Such factors of nature as the change of the seasons can no longer be experienced in the immediate residential environment. Increased dependence on nearby recreation areas at the outskirts of a city on the other hand generates traffic, which also has a negative effect on the environment.“

The goal of this work is to explore topics of soil sealing as they affect the environment and human well-being: How does “imperviosity” affect us as individuals and communities? How do we reflect on the concrete barriers in our daily lives? How do we cope with the demands of the “urban grind mill”? For the Macro/Micro Biologies series at Art Laboratory Berlin, I explored the idea of an “urban grind mill” in a map made of street dust collected from sealed areas in Berlin and an installation of soil samples, shoes, and soil sealing data. Soil sealing may be seen as an indicator of the quality of macro-biologies.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 8.54.58 PMDSCN1871shoe sole flat

Mapping the Urban Grind Mill took place from March 8 to May 4, 2014 at Art Laboratory Berlin, as part of the [macro]biologies I: the biosphere exhibition. Special thanks to Jasmin Honold, Myriel Milicevic, Thomas Nehls, Gerd Wessolek, and Regine Rapp and Christian de Lutz for their valuable input.

And here is some visual inspiration for the project:

1_grind_mill Tiangong_Kaiwu_Grinding_MillBetondschungelthe-asphalt-jungle-dvd-cover


This entry was posted on May 4, 2015 by and tagged .
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