Nocturnal Field Trips: 7 World Wonders Best Explored at Night

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night light art

When planning out world travel, one typically dwells on destinations more than times, but some of the best sights can only been seen at a particular point in the day or, in the case of these marvels, at night.

fieldtrip

WebUrbanist is pleased to announce a new partnership with Google Field Trip, bringing some of our best and brightest travel articles to their mobile platform, allowing you to find hidden wonders of the world wherever (and whenever) you may be. In this article, we have teamed up to highlight seven amazing places to visit by night, each offering special surprises to the nocturnally inclined.

World’s Largest Urban Bat Colony in Austin, Texas

bridge bat experience austin

At dusk, people flock to watch the emergence of 1.5 million bats from beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge, designed and built in 1980 in a way that inadvertantly turned out to provide an ideal roost for a particular breed of flying nocturnal predators.

bridge bat sign

Often under-appreciated or even feared, these night flyers consume between 10,000 and 20,000 pounds of food each evening, helping them earn their keep. Today, there is even a dedicated Statesman Bat Observation Center from which visitors are encouraged to experience the spectacle.

World’s Largest Ice & Snow Festival in Harbin, China

snow festival by day

snow festival at night

By far the biggest such event in the world, the Harbin International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival consists of huge works of art and architecture that truly come into their own once the sun sets and glowing lights behind and within bricks of ice come to life.

harbin snow festival building

snow ice festival staircase

Using swing saws to cut ice directly from an adjacent river, artists then turn the frozen building blocks into human, animal and mythical figures as well as huge staircases and structures. Among other honors and awards, a snow sculpture featured at the festival holds the world’s record for size at 750 feet by 28 feet (13,000 cubic meters of snow). Other similarly-impressive global ice festivals can be found in Japan, Canada and Norway as well.

Synchronous Firefly Swarms near Knoxville, Tennessee

night lightning bug sync

lightning bug flying art

Fireflies can be a wonderful sight regardless of the species, but one rare type in particular (Photinus Carolinus), is even more special than its cousins: the so-called Synchronous Firefly swarms light up in unison, pulsing every few seconds at the exact same time.

synchronous firefly swarms

At Great Smoky Mountains National Park, viewers can buy tickets in advance and be taken by shuttle to special viewing areas from which to observe these lightning bugs. Within the park, 18 other species of firefly can also be found, but only one whose constituents almost all flash simultaneously.

Ghost Ship Water Hologram in Amsterdam, Holland

amsterdam light festival ship

A maritime marvel in more ways than one, this 3D optical illusion involves two intersecting planar projections beamed onto perpendicular planes of vertical water.

amsterdam maritime ghost boat

amsterdam light vessel

Created for the Amsterdam Light Festival by VisualSkin, the resulting real-life rendering looks like a 17th-century seafaring vessel seemingly held in stasis and composed of water and light. The effect, naturally, works best at night, turning a fountain by day into a marvelously surprising evening display.

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Old New Jersey Factory to House Earth’s Largest Vertical Farm

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Offices & Commercial. ]

aerofarm factory floor

Opening this year in Newark, this 69,000-square-foot space will grow 2 million pounds of pesticide-free produce each year, turning an old steel factory into the largest indoor farm on the planet, 75 times more productive per square foot than open fields. This AeroFarms facility is to serve both as the company’s global headquarters as well as the anchor project for a Maker’s Village designed to grow business in the city and provide a prototype for scaleable urban agriculture.

aerofarm interior space

Plants rooted in reusable microfleece cloth and stacked in modular planters will be sprayed by a nutrient mist and illuminated by LED lights. These crops require no soil, 95% less water and create no harmful runoff.  Located on a 3-acre industrial site in the Ironbound neighborhood, the structure will expand the role of affordable and local urban farming in the community and provide nearly 100 jobs for residents.

aerofarms aerial image

More on the process: a “reusable cloth medium [supports] seeding, germinating, growing, and harvesting. Cloth has a number of benefits such as durability and reusability, increased cleanliness and sanitation, and the efficient harvest of a dry and clean product.” In terms of LED innovation and efficiency, the company is “targeting specific wavelengths of light for more efficient photosynthesis and less energy consumption. LEDs can also be placed much closer to the plants, enabling greater vertical growing for even greater productivity per square foot.”

aerofarms hydpropnic indoor agriculture

Aeroponics is the key to the solution, representing “a cutting-edge type of hydroponic technology that grows plants in a mist. The aeroponic mist most efficiently provides roots with the nutrients, hydration and oxygen needed, creating faster growing cycles and more biomass than other growing approaches. AeroFarms has designed its aeroponics as a closed-looped system, recirculating our nutrient solution and using over 95% less water than field farming.”

aerofarm facility rendering market

aerofarms leafy greens

“We are delighted to introduce AeroFarms, a farming and technology leader, to the City of Newark, creating jobs for local residents and greater access to locally grown produce for our community,” said Ron Beit, founding partner and CEO of RBH Group. “AeroFarms will anchor our broader ‘Makers Village’ development project in the Ironbound neighborhood that will compete toe-to-toe with the Brooklyn Navy Yard in terms of a superior cost structure and greater transmodal access, bringing 21st century ‘maker-type’ businesses to Newark and the State of New Jersey.”


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Record-Breaking 57-Story Chinese Skyscraper Built in 19 Days

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sky city speed

The world’s tallest prefab building has just been constructed at a rate of 3 stories per day, showcasing the power of modular design and industrial prefabrication operating at scale. Located in Changsha, China, and designed to be part of an even larger Sky City complex, this mixed-use structure features 800 apartments and office space for 4,000 workers with a total of over 2,000,000 square feet as well as 19 giant atrium spaces.

fast

Producing many of the component parts in advance in factories, including entire truss systems, saves time and energy on site and also reduces pollution associated with busy construction sites and cast-on-site concrete. Its builders at BSB estimate a reduction in output of carbon dioxide by 12,000 tons thanks to these techniques.

sky city interior

sky city interiors

Mini Sky City, as the tower is titled, is to be part of a larger Sky City series of interconnected skyscrapers that will include vertical farming spaces. One of the less-obvious byproducts of building at such speeds: China is able to effectively rapid-prototype urban design experiments at scale, testing novel strategies for vertical interaction and horizontal integration across structures.

sky city progress

sky city part one

If you have ever driven past a skyscraper in progress day after day, you will know from experience just how fast this assembly really is compared to industry standards around the world – the precision of parts and management of contractors involved would be staggering in a situation with less-tight coordination as well.


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Brutal but Beautiful: Book of 88 WWII Coastal Military Ruins

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[ By WebUrbanist in Abandoned Places & Architecture. ]

world war eerie images

Traveling 23,000 miles over 4 years, photographer Marc Wilson has amassed an amazing collection of images spanning bunkers, gun emplacements, observation posts, command centres and other wartime infrastructure around Europe.

wwii coastal war ruins

war time bunker remnants

In his book, The Last Stand, 86 of the resulting images are arrayed to tell a complex story of different times and places. More than merely photographing these haunting remnants of war, however, Wilson also provides highly articulate reflections on everything from their site-specific purposes and aesthetics to their broader places in military and architectural histories.

war ruins woods

world war remnant architecture

“Composed of copious quantities of poured concrete,” many of these structures “defy and eschew any established aesthetic sensibilities: no hint of the classical, the gothic or the baroque here. Their geometries, purely contingent, were designed to resist the effects of the latest developments in projectile technology, their profiles shaped to deflect such missiles and avoid any direct percussive explosions on their structures.”

orld war brutalist remains

world war encampments

world war concrete bunker

His shots are carefully composed and timed, often taking place in the early hours of the morning when eerie mists and dim lights grant the subjects a surrealistic atmosphere. There is a dreaminess and dreariness to his work that manages to make the objects captured seem both ordinary and otherworldly. Prints of many of the pieces featured in the book can be purchased as well.

world war castle tower

world war winter imagery

world war water barrier

Unlike even the most pragmatic warehouse of the time, “there was nothing speculative or arbitrary about the bulwarks of their sometimes bizarre and often ungainly forms: they were purely functional. While far from being graceful or classically proportioned, there is something visually appealing about the alien (and sometimes sinister) forms of those bunkers. Novelty does not quite describe this appeal: more surprise perhaps – a surprise that courts the sublime.”


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Glacier City: Icelandic Ice Cap Carved Out for Year-Round Use

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[ By WebUrbanist in Destinations & Sights & Travel. ]

ice cave blue chapel

Burrowing hundreds of feet into the second-largest glacier in Europe, the world’s largest system of ice tunnels and spaces (including a chapel and cafe and exhibit spaces) are being excavated to connect visitors with a massive natural blue-ice cavern buried deep beneath the surface of Iceland. This incredible complex is set to open within the next few months – just in time for a summer vacation.

ice cave project

ice cave interior tunnels

Set inside Lanjoekull (Long Glacier), the Ice Cave rests on hundreds of feet of ice and is set nearly 5,000 feet above sea level – naturally, its location within a glacier means it can be accessed year-round. Combined with its record-breaking size, these factors make it unique among global ice architecture projects.

ice cave lighting design

ice cave underground light

Lights have been embedded using ice and snow in the passageways to create stunning illumination effects as one passes into the glacier. Visitors will be driven up the entrance via a special 8-wheel-drive, 40-passenger vehicle with 360-degree views and accompanied by guides who will then bring them inside these amazing tunnels carved from ice. One has to wonder: why stop at tours and visits? One could conceivably create an entire city below the surface, or at least a remote outpost for winter sports, using these same techniques.

ice cave entry carving

ice cave walls passageways

ice cave infrastructure

More on the history of the project from its makers: “In 2010, one of Iceland’s leading consulting engineering firms had an idea, that resonated with a some of Iceland’s most experienced adventure tour operators. They had a bold and daring vision, to take people not just around and onto, but also inside the heart of the remote and extraordinary glacier ice cap.”

ice architecture project

ice cave greenland military

Geoff Manaugh of BldgBlog highlights a similar historical endeavor called Camp Century (aka Project Iceworm) in which the US military burrowed beneath the ice in Greenland (video above): “Camp Century was a sprawling complex of prefabricated architectural units and steel arches installed within the ice cap, and, astonishingly, it was powered by a portable nuclear reactor.”


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Glacier City: Icelandic Ice Cap Carved Out for Year-Round Use

Bild

[ By WebUrbanist in Destinations & Sights & Travel. ]

ice cave blue chapel

Burrowing hundreds of feet into the second-largest glacier in Europe, the world’s largest system of ice tunnels and spaces (including a chapel and cafe and exhibit spaces) are being excavated to connect visitors with a massive natural blue-ice cavern buried deep beneath the surface of Iceland. This incredible complex is set to open within the next few months – just in time for a summer vacation.

ice cave project

ice cave interior tunnels

Set inside Lanjoekull (Long Glacier), the Ice Cave rests on hundreds of feet of ice and is set nearly 5,000 feet above sea level – naturally, its location within a glacier means it can be accessed year-round. Combined with its record-breaking size, these factors make it unique among global ice architecture projects.

ice cave lighting design

ice cave underground light

Lights have been embedded using ice and snow in the passageways to create stunning illumination effects as one passes into the glacier. Visitors will be driven up the entrance via a special 8-wheel-drive, 40-passenger vehicle with 360-degree views and accompanied by guides who will then bring them inside these amazing tunnels carved from ice. One has to wonder: why stop at tours and visits? One could conceivably create an entire city below the surface, or at least a remote outpost for winter sports, using these same techniques.

ice cave entry carving

ice cave walls passageways

ice cave infrastructure

More on the history of the project from its makers: “In 2010, one of Iceland’s leading consulting engineering firms had an idea, that resonated with a some of Iceland’s most experienced adventure tour operators. They had a bold and daring vision, to take people not just around and onto, but also inside the heart of the remote and extraordinary glacier ice cap.”

ice architecture project

ice cave greenland military

Geoff Manaugh of BldgBlog highlights a similar historical endeavor called Camp Century (aka Project Iceworm) in which the US military burrowed beneath the ice in Greenland (video above): “Camp Century was a sprawling complex of prefabricated architectural units and steel arches installed within the ice cap, and, astonishingly, it was powered by a portable nuclear reactor.”


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Groundscrapers: Survivalist Condos in Converted Missile Silos

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Houses & Residential. ]

luxury condo exterior entry

Located in a converted subterranean silo near Concordia, Kansas, the first complex of these high-end survival accommodations is already sold out and their creators are working on a second nuke-proof silo transformation project for eager buyers. Many silo homes exist already, but few are designed for multi-family living and many remain semi-theoretical as yet – this one is luxurious and fully realized.

luxury condo floor plan

luxury underground living complex

Luxury Survival Condos boasts both the nuts and bolts, “physical protection, redundant infrastructure for power, water, air, and food,” as well as a surprising array of amenities: facilities for “cross training, aquaponic farming, medical support” including a “community swimming pool, dog walking park, rock climbing wall, theater and general store” as well as a jail for anyone who misbehaves.

luxury subterranean underground condoes

The eye-popping prices are compared by founder Larry Hall to Manhattan residences, but seem steep even by New York City metrics: $1.5 million for a half-floor unit just under 1,000 square feet, $3 million for a full floor and $4.5 million for a “penthouse” (two floors). For those who can afford it, the company also offers their services for transforming whole silos into single-family survival retreats.

missile silo montage

The first space was purchased in 2008 and features seven floors of living spaces, able to accommodate up to 75 occupants. The various areas are connected by elevators (to be powered by green off-grid sources in an emergency) as well as stairs for redundancy. Each resident is allocated a 5-year supply of freeze-dried food in addition to the vegetables and fish grown and bred underground. Water and air treatment are addressed as well, with a 750,000-gallon reserve of drinking water as well as filtering systems. Generators and wind turbines feed into a battery bank to store up at least some level of power reserves as needed.

luxury silo climbing wall

luxury silo facilities power

luxury silo split level

Given how much people pay to buy these units one has to wonder if they ever bother to use them under normal conditions, perhaps to get a sense of what life would really be like should they end up living there in a real end-of-world scenario. Of course, the standard problems apply: if others know where this is, what is to keep the hordes from attempting to overwhelm it were a global disaster ever to unfold?


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World’s Largest Indoor Farm is 100 Times More Productive

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Offices & Commercial. ]

indoor farm japan interior

The statistics for this incredibly successful indoor farming endeavor in Japan are staggering: 25,000 square feet producing 10,000 heads of lettuce per day (100 times more per square foot than traditional methods) with 40% less power, 80% less food waste and 99% less water usage than outdoor fields.

indoor factory lettuce farm

indoor farm high yield

Customized LED lighting developed with GE helps plants grow up to two and half times faster, one of the many innovations employed in this enterprise by Shigeharu Shimamura, the man who helped turn a former semiconductor factory into the planet’s biggest interior factory farm.

worlds largest indoor farm

Shimamura has shortened the cycle of days and nights in this artificial environment, growing food faster, while optimizing temperature, lighting and humidity and maximizing vertical square footage in this vast interior space (about half the size of a football field).

indoor future led farming

With a long-standing passion for produce production, he “got the idea for his indoor farm as a teenager, when he visited a ‘vegetable factory’ at the Expo ’85 world’s fair in Tsukuba, Japan. He went on to study plant physiology at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, and in 2004 started an indoor farming company called Mirai, which in Japanese means ‘future.'”

indoor farm interview detail

The beauty of this development lies partly in its versatility – since it deals in climate-controlled spaces and replicable conditions, a solution of this sort can be deployed anywhere in the world to address food shortages of the present and future. Saving space, indoor vertical farms are also good candidates for local food production in crowded and high-cost urban areas around the globe. Aforementioned strides in waste and power reduction also make these techniques and approaches far more sustainable and cost-efficient.


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Project Sprawl: Mesmerizing Algo-Generated Game Architecture

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[ By WebUrbanist in Gaming & Computing & Technology. ]

world building architectural model

Facing down the difficult challenge of creating an ever-changing urban gaming environment, this digital designer went with a cheap alternative that is aesthetically compelling and could have impacts beyond cyberspace.

world building generative algorithm

The game, Project Sprawl, is something of a cross between the Grand Theft Auto series and classic roll-playing games, but most critically: its metropolitan context needs to be dynamic and full of surprises, evolving over time like a real city.

game buildings brutalist urbanism

Low on funds and looking for cheaper and easier world-building solution than stock skylines or fully-custom options could provide, Cedric Kerr “decided to develop software that could auto-generate complex cities, from street maps to skyscraper architecture, for his characters to inhabit.”

game building stretch animation

As these animated illustrations show, there are rules to the way the generative algorithm constructs buildings – starting with a simple baseline, windows and doors, cantilevers and split facades morph and evolve in mesmerizing ways.

gaming architecture stretch pull

From Wired, “The solution to Kerr’s urban planning problem came in the form of Unity, a game engine often used to design game worlds from the size of a room to entire solar systems. The result was a set of building blocks that could be pulled and stretched in any direction with facades that would update in real time. Kerr could quickly sketch an outline of a foundation and in seconds have a unique building automatically populated with windows, doors, and other architectural details.”

game building city grids

The result of this project is a kind of architectural vocabulary that could be useful for deconstructing architecture, creating simulations or generating backdrops for conceptual projects. From Kerr: “the idea is that each building is decomposed into a set of rules forming a grammar that describes each stage of the process. These rules are hierarchical so a building is made up of facades, facades are made up of floors, floors are made up of tiles, tiles contain windows and so on.”


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Rebel Architecture: 6-Part Series on Global Guerilla Urbanism

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[ By WebUrbanist in Architecture & Cities & Urbanism. ]

architecture spider

In a series of six superb videos, Al Jazeera explores the gritty reality of architects and urban designers as activists in destinations from Vietnam and Nigeria to Pakistan and Brazil. Five of these 25-minute episodes are embedded in full as videos below, with summaries to let you see which you may wish to view – that said, each of the six is well worth watching!

abandoned warehouse spain

In Guerrilla Architect, Santiago Cirugeda, an architect from Seville who has dedicated his career to reclaiming urban spaces for the public, deals with difficult realities in “austerity-hit Spain, where the state has retreated and around 500,000 new buildings lie empty.”

Fortunately, he notes: “In times of crisis, people come together to find collective solutions.” One of his challenges, as covered in this mini-documentary, is converting an abandoned half-finished factory into a vibrant new cultural center.

architecture of violence

In The Architecture of Violence, Eyal Weizman “explains architecture’s key role in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the evolution of urban warfare.” He explains that “architecture and the built environment is a kind of a slow violence. The occupation is an environment that was conceived to strangulate Palestinian communities, villages and towns, to create an environment that would be unliveable for the people there.”

In this episode, local Israelis and Palestinians explain in candid interviews “how it feels to live in a landscape where everything, from walls and roads, terraces and sewage, to settlements and surveillance are designed to ensure the separation of the two peoples, while simultaneously maintaining control.”

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