Fracked Real Estate
By Troy Matthew Lacombe
MArch GSAPP, Columbia University
Global dependence on fossil fuels continues to facilitate pressure on rural landscapes to cohabitate with infrastructures that do not mix with domesticity. The fragile picturesque landscape of Appalachia deteriorates as the process of extracting natural gas from the earth’s crust, namely Fracking, infiltrates these pastoral lands with pipelines, drilling rigs, tanks, and thousands of large cargo vehicles. All of these elements play a major role in transforming the landscape into an organism with one singular purpose – to extract and transport natural gas to millions of homes nationally and internationally. Unfortunately, this singular multibillion dollar operation intentionally evades the wellbeing of the inhabitants of this changing ecosystem. Fossil fuel companies play a rigorous political game of real estate to procure millions of acres of below-ground mineral rights to gain control over the above-ground property.
This intervention introduces a role-reversal by introducing the element of “citizen research” through the materialization of architecture as a weapon of domestic agency. This growing research facility is funded by the Department of Energy’s billion dollar investment in the research done by MIT on Enhanced Geothermal Systems. This project presumes the goal of collaboration to inhibit access to the Utica Shale prior to the end of shortening productive life of the Marcellus shale in Susquehanna Valley, Pennsylvania. In return, a new form of renewable energy holds potential for exploration by a collective agency to reinvigorate the lost horticology of the region.
Bruno Latour’s Actor Network Theory investigated the role of objects in social infrastructures. Domestication of Fracking involves an ecosystem where technological systems to transport methane, wastewater, sand, and chemicals are programmed to obtain greater agency and control over the inhabitants of Susquehanna Valley. Residents gain agency through salt cavern storage systems that monitor the flow and storage of methane through changes in the ground temperature. In an unstable capitalistic market, residents inherently balance the profits of a natural gas entity with the loss of their land. Respectfully, Enhanced Geothermal Systems are deployed to release the reliance on natural gas for energy given the anticipated expiry of methane wells.
The changing place of architectural practice
Architectural practice is directing its attention towards balancing domestic ecosystems and the infrastructures that contribute to the comfort of that ecosystem as we continue to densify our urban centers. Specifically, architectural practice holds an obligation to find creative solutions for reducing our energy footprint all the while improving social and domestic space. There is a growing attention to the effect of material flows on their respective geographic sources as we become more easily internationally connected.
Troy is an architectural designer, researcher, and teaching assistant based in Manhattan, New York. He has experience working as a designer and researcher in a number of small to mid-size architecture firms in Seattle and New York. Urban culture and community are at the heart of his personal passion in architecture. More specifically, his investment in architectural research involves a critical analysis of material culture and life-cycle management while considering the social responsibility of buildings. He has developed an obsession with finding a harmonious relationship between the sensual materiality of space and the exposure of intentionally hidden systems of disposal, recycling, and up-cycling of materials.
Troy obtained his Master of Architecture from Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) in 2017. He graduated with the highest distinction and was awarded the prestigious McKim Prize for travel and has been invited to numerous fellowships and award competitions including the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Silver Medal. He has co-taught representation in architecture at Columbia GSAPP for two years and is continuing to research the critical intersection of drawing and built form through the lens of political agency.