Why is this interesting? - The Runway Edition

On wind, runways, and how nature shapes architecture

Colin here. I’m a sucker for super creative visualizations that make the invisible visible. Aaron Koblin beautifully visualized the dynamic flight patterns around the North America and it was a hypnotic view of complexity. But this one, which I found on the ever-reliable Metafilter, stood out for a deeper, and very interesting reason. On its surface, the site is a visualization of the runways (and their directional patterns) around the world. The lines on the map “display the orientation of all airport runways in color gradients from north-south axis (blue) to east-west axis (yellow).” 

But what is fascinating is the way all of these  structures are specifically designed with the prevailing winds in mind, making takeoffs and landings easier. These rules of physics apply to the largest Boeing 777 or a small Cessna aircraft; Whether you’re flying out of Frankfurt airport, or a small regional landing strip. 

According to the project, “runways generally point in the wind direction, as aircraft take off and land more easily upwind. The designation of these is based on their respective alignment angles.” 

Why is this interesting?

What stood out to me is the idea that, while we create man-made structures that are capable of launching planes to far-flung cities, nature plays a crucial shaping role in the directions and alignment of all parts of air travel. It’s a hidden hand that, when you see it zoomed out at to a full-earth view, is awe inspiring. The natural world still has power over our perceived power. 

According to the site, Trails of Wind:

Winds circulate around the globe, forming patterns of gigantic proportions. These patterns become part of human culture and are reflected in our architecture. They are hidden designs, mapping the complexion of the earth, which we can uncover. By orienting on the direction of general winds, airports recreate wind patterns, forming a representation of a global wind map with steel and stone, thus making the invisible visible...As much as we like to think of ourselves as the makers of our own world, we maintain a dependence on the laws of physics and nature. Without even knowing it, we inevitably create an image of the world in our culture and ourselves. The beauty and authority of our planet extend farther than we think.

Look at the macro view, and it is a decent approximation of global wind patterns, set in concrete. The interplay between wind, nature, and other forces shaping the world we experience seemed interesting and poetic, and in general the project seemed like just the jolt of inspiration and creativity that I need from the internet once in awhile. (CJN)

Art of the Day:

Currently on display at the Met Breur: “Composed of thirty-two sculptures, utilitarian containers, and decorative objects from the Museum's collection, Vessel Orchestra is the first sound-based installation commissioned by The Met. British artist Oliver Beer (born 1985) uses microphones and speakers to amplify and shape the ambient tones resonating within each vessel, transforming them into an arresting and unexpectedly versatile musical instrument.” Adam Gopnik covered it for Talk of the Town and here’s what it looks/sounds like. (NRB

Quick Links:

  • On Feist and Sesame Street (CJN

  • Apparently carpe diem doesn't mean seize the day, as we've all been led to believe, but rather "plucking the day" as in flowers. "Gathering flowers as a metaphor for timely enjoyment is a far gentler, more sensual image than the rather forceful and even violent concept of seizing the moment. It is not that as a culture we can’t understand what it means to harvest something when it’s ready—we do have related metaphors like “making hay while the sun shines,” after all. But there is something in the more Hollywood phrasing “seize the day” that has clearly resonated with people in the last thirty years. We understand the phrase to be, rather than encouraging a deep enjoyment of the present moment, compelling us to snatch at time and consume it before it’s gone, or before we’re gone." (NRB)

  • Excellent interview with Paul Ford about how he works on Usesthis, one of my favorite sites (“A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.”). Paul, if you’re reading this, you still owe me a guest edition! (NRB)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)