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Conference paper

Making and unmaking a frontier territory

Longyearbyen, the main town in Svalbard, presents historical, contemporary and projected relations between environment and design. First sighted by the Dutch Barentsz in 1596, this pristine, seemingly sublime landscape has a history of the arrival and application of technologies with destructive impact on its delicate arctic ecology. Early visitors came to hunt, fish and cull whales, followed by industrial resource extraction through the mining of coal. Mines left clear markers on the landscape, including headgear and buildings (e.g. Taubansentralen), dark smudges and screeds of residue by hollowing out millenially aged carbon. Svalbard’s presence as a geo-political territory grew after WWI with mining maintained together with natural environmental protection. As carbon fuels fell out of favour, since the 1990s Longyearbyen has emerged as a site for the application of experience design tourism, expansion of science education and research into climatic and biological systems. Longyearbyen is one of the world’s largest sites of gathering low orbiting satellite data and techno-designs include a variety of scientific climate measurement. Longyearbyen is not merely a new datascape triangulated from above but informational and environmental mapping occurs in and about the the historical landscape in what we call an Anthropocence-scape. We unpack these ‘territorial’ relations through applying the section from landscape design and studies to a vertical section of the town that reveal timescapes and relations from geological to informational planes, features and intersections. Our analysis is informed by cultural history, landscape and interaction design and technology critiques, digital media and futures studies, supported by a four year research project Future North. Manifestations of the Anthropocene need to be understood in historical context through hindsight but also through design foresight. This is to address how destructive legacies might be repaired through anticipatory acts for more resilient futures, stretching Piug de Bellasca’s notions of care to ‘territorial care’.

Morrison, A.Larsen, J. 2017. 'Making and unmaking a frontier territory'. In Proceedings of Making and Unmaking the Environment. Oslo: 07.09.2017–09.09.2017. Available: http://www.makingandunmaking.net