Annual theme


Subscribe to
our mailing list

* indicates required


City of Zagreb
City Office for Physical Planning, Construction, Communal Affairs and Traffic


Faculty of Architecture
University of Zagreb


City Acupuncture


Oris - House of Architecture




City of Zagreb
City Office for Culture, Education and Sport


Republic of Croatia
Ministry of Culture

Work title: Liquid Highways

Juror's comment
The "artifact" or infrastructural spine is a very good project as a large scale architecture project; but I see very vague the way it is described the relationship with economy and money. It seems to me that is very innovative as an infrastructural object but very traditional on its approach to create new economical forces. Thoughts? [EBP] The proposal has a clear general idea: the construction of a Water Highway; and outlines a network based on infrastructure and current technical capacities. However, such concept is not so different to the one that lead to the construction of the Panama Canal at the end of 19th century. [CRN]
Largely undeveloped, Canada’s Arctic is one of the last pristine environments on the surface of the Earth. The forces that make it inhospitable have in fact granted it a kind of ecological robustness. Natural year-round freezing of the Passage has, until now, protected the delicate ecosystem from destructive industrial forces. But how will it survive once it is navigable in an ice-free season, given the anticipated diversion of shipping traffic from the Panama Canal? Byproducts of shipping traffic are not the only threat to the arctic environment. The region is estimated to hold 25 percent of the world’s remaining oil and gas. Canada’s estimated oil reserves, some 180 billion barrels, place second only to those of Saudi Arabia, and 25 percent of this recoverable crude oil is buried deep within its arctic territory. With heightened economic stakes, the potential for political conflict increases. Canada lacks an adequate military presence to enforce its contested border claims. Its government has long made the claim that the Arctic waters, including the North West Passage, are sovereign territory: that these straits should be treated more as land, as they are lived on by the Inuit. However, this argument melts away with the effects of global warming. In the summer of 2007, North West Passage melted completely. Given the predicted expansion of navigable territory, how does Canada, a country with a small navy and extensive coastline, protect its ecological heritage, access its resource wealth, and assert its sovereignty? The region will likely remain frozen in the winter for at least the next hundred years and, in the absence of a concerted strategy, lone operators will inevitably move to pursue resource exploration and extraction at the earliest opportunity. The Canadian government has an opportunity to leverage the difficulty of the Northwest Passage’s year-round navigation in a way that protects the region’s natural environment, asserts Canada’s sovereignty, and generates economic benefits as well. We propose an infrastructural spine, a ‘Liquid Highway,’ ploughed by icebreaker through the Northwest Passage’s deep-draft straits that facilitates year-round shipping. As a new institution, the network allows Canada to serve in its role as environmental steward and lends legitimacy to its claims of sovereignty in the North. In this scheme, the Passage is opened artificially and thus entry is unquestionably regulated by Canadian authorities. The extreme conditions of the site actually offer a means for its control, while also preserving environmental conditions and enabling economic development. We argue that this new institution manages both environmental and anthropogenic challenges for the shared benefit of all stakeholders. Carved by a fleet of icebreakers, the route allows the government to control shipping traffic in the NORDREG region (the zone of surveillance extending over Canada’s Arctic waters and maritime Exclusive Economic Zone in which the government has decreed it compulsory for all ships over a certain tonnage, foreign or otherwise, to declare their entry). Levying tolls on trade ships that operate within it, the route becomes economically productive and enables the deployment of a series of environmentally sensitive “soft” interventions to preserve the region’s ecological heritage and assist in the Passage’s operation. Their “soft” quality describes how they operate: capable of responding to changes in their environment, managing an unpredictable flow of inputs as operational prerequisite. The Liquid Highways is dependent on the reality of Arctic freezing and demand for access to the territory from a multitude of stakeholders, including government, industry, Inuit, and with increasing frequency, tourists. “The stability of the system is rooted in its dynamics, in its capacity to handle and process movement, change, difference…” (Kwinter, “Soft Systems,” in Culture Lab, ed. Brian Boigon.) A camp first develops from the scattered shelters of a few weary explorers: a station comes into being as parts collect. A variety of station types activates the route along its course by offering a new set of programmatic opportunities for prospective users. A rotating staff and a constant flow of travelers, researchers, hunters, and ship crews populate these stations. Floating huts are deployed as brief rest stops for researchers travelling remotely. They cluster in the summer, sharing watercraft to move around locally. In the winter they spread out and each hut informally claims the ice ‘land’ around it. Charting is conducted, and as global warming makes remote areas easier to reach, the route becomes busier, demanding a more complete life support system. The open ice field is marked by the huts, equipment, vehicles, and eventually, station components, that link one by one to expand the network’s reach. Spin-off industries, like cruises and guided tourism, IT support, and the manufacturing of stations flourish. New economies are born and regional identities develop. A system of attendant services begins to line the wayside of the Liquid Highway as the North matures.
Work details
Application Number 0000402168
Author Gertler, Miles , Canada
Coauthors Manchanda, Karan , Canada
back to list