Broken Kilometer: Exposing the Seed Bed through Erasure
Design is often an additive process. Too often we forget the power of erasure as a subtractive operation. The act of erasure is violent, destructive, aggressive, and counterintuitive, but it can also be a powerful method for developing space, and in the case of landscape architecture, developing greater biodiversity. When you begin to delve into the geology of a site, you both open the past and allow for an informed future – like a palimpsest. The field is no longer a flat plane, but a space that extends toward the horizon and down into the earth. Within these horizontal layers are a series of fields that hold within them a history. That history includes past plant life as well as dormant seeds that lie in wait, each anticipating a time when they might be exposed through erosion or some other physical act, allowing them to germinate and create new life.
In the past few years, my work has leveraged the power of exposing those latent horizontal fields in the landscape through simple interventions of erasure that exploit the potential of the section as a temporal, transitory phenomenon, and as a catalyst for advantageous ecosystem change. Broken Kilometer, a kilometer-long cut in the earth near Harlösa, Sweden, completed in conjunction with the EU project Sandlife and managed by the Swedish Fortifications Agency, is an example of strategically using erasure as a design tool.
The freshly exposed sandbanks of the Broken Kilometer reach back into the past, exposing the seedbed. The project fosters the growth of rare plant species, which correspondingly brings about an influx of rare insects at the margins of these disturbances. In a seemingly incompatible operation, the removal of the topsoil creates a more diverse ecosystem. In honor of the land’s military past and the use of the land to conduct military maneuvers, the erasure is the width of a Swedish tank. It acts simultaneously as a piece of land art, and as a catalyst for increased biodiversity. The piece is temporal and will dissipate over time as the exposed soil becomes occupied with fresh herbaceous material, highlighting its palimpsestic nature. As the seasons pass, the vegetation will slowly revert to grassland, and Broken Kilometer will eventually disappear. The initial act of erasure will only exist as a trace of the original act of manipulating the land.