THE MARS EXPERIMENT- The Jordan AA Visiting School 2018Profile

by Kais Al-Rawi, Director of the Jordan AA Visiting School

 

31 May 2018
Various locations, Jordan

 

In many ways, the Visiting School programme sets an experiment, and an experimental environment. We are pushing the boundaries of this experiment within the Jordan Visiting School from multiple perspectives. For starters, we have left the challenges of designing on Planet Earth and set our ambition within this year’s and last year’s agenda, to design for MARS. It takes us back to basics, which we might otherwise take for granted on Earth such as oxygen, surface, water, radiation, weather and gravity – nonetheless we are intrigued by those challenges and take them as opportunities to innovate.

 

Particle Generation Project by Chi Bhatia, Joanna Maria Lesna, Wala’a Sahloul and Bryan Rincon – Instructors Vincenzo Reale and Conor Carson Black

 

To a large extent, what fascinates us in this experiment is what can result out of stepping out of our comfort zones. On day three of last year’s programme, 50 of us, from 25 countries, took an excursion out to the Wadi Rum Desert. An area of about 720 square kilometres which is about the size of Beijing or Shanghai – yet has nearly zero permanent manmade structures. It is a protected UNESCO world-heritage site that features a vast landscape of narrow gorges, natural arches, towering cliffs, ramps, massive landslides and caverns. It is notably known for its red sand which happens to exist in that specific part of the desert – surrounded by yellow sand deserts. The spectacular landscape made this site the choice of several films to portray Mars, most recently and notably Ridley Scott’s The Martian featuring Matt Damon.

 

Wadi Rum Before from ‘The Martian’. © 2016 Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment LLC.

On day four, we head to Petra – which lies on the opposite end of the spectrum, yet another experiment. Petra is a place like no other, a city and civilisation dating back to as far as 500BC, yet only discovered by modern civilisation in 1812; only 206 years ago. It is an experiment as it is unprecedented in its level of detail, and construction – being carved into the mountain, beyond even being manmade. This has proved to be a design and construction idea that actually addresses an environmental challenge on MARS – radiation. Building into a mountain can reduce radiation by as much as 75% due to the shelter provided by the ground and foreground.

 

Days five through ten are where ideas come into fruition; it is the intensive effort that comes after being equipped with tools and technology on one hand, and an immersive out-of-this-world travel experience on another. Add to that being among a largely international, diverse and powerful group of individuals – guided by our faculty whom are renowned experts within their fields. We are targeting Martian challenges for a specific experiment, it is one that seeks the output of a creative network of individuals, being in a unique environment, and addressing unique challenges. It is the stark contrast of learning scripting and algorithmic design on one day, and being on the back bed of a pickup truck roaming the desert with no roads and infrastructure on the next.

 

Petra, Jordan. Photograph by Julia Koerner

 

In many cases, Martian challenges and design problems are investigated by engineers and scientists whom are focused on scientific and research driven solutions. In a recent conversation with Rob Mueller from NASA’s Swampworks research unit in the Kennedy Space Center, I presented our outcomes to Rob, and towards the end he said “I’ve seen many ideas, and I’ve seen them all repeat. Today, I saw new ideas and that’s really exciting”.

 

Our experiments and outcomes ranged from the material scale, to the architectural scale, to the urban scale. On a material scale, we tackled spacesuits and what they can offer beyond being wearable – how they can actuate and transform and adapt to address challenges like protection from dust-storms, or create movement and stimulate exercise through inflation which is much needed for health due to Mars’ low gravity.

On an architectural and spatial level, we question how architecture might be formed by harvesting dust storms and lightning which are two threatening phenomena, by recognising that they can be utilised to form habitats and power as seen in the Particle Generation Project. Another experiment is the lattice project where pods are launched into valleys within Mars’ landscape and grow to interconnect and form habitats which are then over the course of time covered and protected by wind-driven sand and dust.

 

Hybrid Skins Project by Dana Halasa, Karen El Asmar, Jhila Prentis – Instructors Julia Koerner & Kais Al-Rawi

 

What’s next? Where do we go from here? We are preparing for the MARS 2.0 Visiting School which means more experiments, more physical prototyping, more conversations with the industry, building up on ideas and research, more opportunities to step out of our comfort zones, and more opportunities to innovate and push the boundaries of what’s possible through an experimental environment.

 

Lattice Project by May Makia, Samer Wannan, Kenismael Santiago-Pagan – Instructors Vincenzo Reale and Conor Carson Black

 

You can help shape what’s next. Join The MARS Experiment this summer between 24 June and 3 July 2018. A limited number of remaining spaces in the programme are still available.

 

For more information:
AA Jordan Project Logbook 2017
AAVS Jordan microsite
Apply to AAVS Jordan
Contact AAVS Jordan

AAVS Jordan on AA Conversations