Sunday, April 25, 2010

Magnus Larsson: Turning dunes into architecture

By Hannah W.

"[S]and is a magical material, of beautiful contradictions. It is simple and complex. It is peaceful and violent. It is always the same, never the same, and endlessly fascinating." Magnus Larsson, a British architecture student, has created a bold new plan to stop desertification. Larsson's plan is to create a 6000 km wall (roughly the size of the Great Wall of China) just south of the Sahara Desert made entirely out of sand dunes. In order for the wall to function the way they want they must turn tons of sand into sandstone.

Larsson got his idea from The Great Green Wall, where 23 countries in Africa have joined to help stop desertification by planting trees, shrubs etc., but the people along the wall are so poor that they will end up using the vegetation for fire wood. Realizing this, Larsson set out to find a more stable and secure way to stop this devastating force. This is when he found tafoni, which are ellipsoidal rock cavities which can have spaces from the size of a baseball to the size of a truck. From this he got the idea to solidify the dunes and create caverns beneath that help support trees, are able to collect condensation, and allow a place where people are able to live with regulated temperature.

At this point in the talk I was still doubtful. How on Earth he was going to take tons of sand and turn it into sandstone? Larsson had already come up with a solution to that problem - Bacillus Pasteurii. It is found mainly in marshes and wetlands. This bacteria, when mixed with sand, will create sandstone within 24 hours. Putting it into the dune, however, would be tricky, they could either balloon the bacteria putting it in the sand or they could inject it with metal rods.

The cost to this project is probably far less than anyone would ever expect. Initially you would have to buy the bacteria for 60 dollars but you would never have to buy them again, and so for a cubic meter of sandstone it is only 90 dollars. This I believe is quite reasonable considering the fact that in a century we will not be able to use 1/3 of the land because of desertification.

Larsson has come up with an ingenious solution to a potentially devastating problem. I think that if his plan does go through it can make a world of difference. People living in desert areas will be safer from the elements, and they won't have to keep moving their villages because of drifting dunes. Not to mention the desertification will stop and perhaps the desert itself will even recover from the centuries of drought.

Larsson has a bright future ahead of him in the field of architecture, or perhaps even natural preservation. I hope that the wall will be built, it has the possibilities to change live for the better. Larsson ended his inspirational talk with a quote from Jorge Luis Borges, "Nothing is built on stone; all is built on sand, but we must build as if the sand were stone."

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