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ulterior ruins


anthropologic archive / algae and oyster production / environmental justice center

professor alexandra barker


fall 2021

Located in the community of sunset park, ulterior ruins is a regeneration of a former coal power plant that sits at a forgotten and secluded corner along the east river, which the urban spelunking community considers a crown jewel among New York City’s many offerings.


The immediate surroundings have been, as Smilijan Radic would say “subjected to the tradition of neglect and shrouded in lack.” Yet the current ruins express that a story took place. Both the history and the future of the building are uncertain, as nature continues to reclaim the building and site,  new contexts must be made to ensure the past is respected and new histories are made. 


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The algae cultivation relies on a 6 level raceway, following the gallery circulation, in which gravity slowly moves the water between the gallery spaces. An Archimedes screw then returns the water to the top level, allowing for continuous circulation promoting oyster growth and water filtration.  Light cannons starting at the roof, weave through the gallery spaces downwards to provide the light necessary for the algae’s growth and create powerful moments of light and shadow for the artwork to play off of. 

Ulterior Ruins creates an archeology archive along a proposed green corridor, reconnecting the site with the community of sunset park and creating a destination for the public and private sectors alike. A new riprap barrier protects the site against rising sea waters, creates new ecosystems, and circulates people through the building at the ground level. 

The section reveals the program, that of gallery spaces, not meant just for fine art, but for endangered ecosystems. The volumes are embedded in pools of oyster, and algae production. At moments, sculptures are moved into the pools themselves, allowing for the algae and oysters to grow on them. At this moment, the hierarchy between human’s artistic and engineering pursuits is broken, and a new heterarchy is created between archaeology and ecology, which the Anthropocene age implies. 


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In addition to the ecological and cultural production, Ulterior Ruins serves as a new home for climate justice groups such as Uprose.  This new space would allow for greater organizational operations which will be necessary to achieve climate equality. 


Meetings spaces, classrooms, and an amphitheater would offer a space that reflects a possible version of climate equality in which the community can meet and discuss issues and actions allowing for a greater influence within New York City’s political sphere, and possibly reaching beyond that of New York, such as being a possible venue for climate conferences such as the Conference of the Parties, which took last month in Glasgow. 

The concept of time in relation to the climate crisis is precious and is becoming increasingly so with every new dire report. By constructing the appearance of abandonment, or ruins, it is reflecting that if action is not taken, buildings and possibly society will fall to decay. But there is a possible more holistic solution when we consider how environmental production can  coexist with leisure activities and the conservation of our built industrial past can be recontextualized in order to address and offset the damage that they have caused to the local ecosystems and their contribution to our current crisis.

Ulterior Ruins place art, that is stuck in the time of its creation, in a forgotten space, with endangered ecosystems reminding the visitor of time again. This serves as an archeological archive not only as the art serves as artifacts of human history, but also humans impact on every aspect of ecology along with the history of the building. Worker circulation cuts through gallery spaces above the visitor’s heads and the gallery spaces and circulation plunge into the pools of oysters, algae, and art. The user is submersed into this new, possibly uncomfortable but necessary heterarchy.


Ultimately a symbiotic relationship is formed between the cultural and ecological production, resulting in the promotion of societal’s engagement with water culture, building, and ecosystem conservation, while giving a larger platform for the voice of the communities that are most affected by the climate crisis. 

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