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Touch this earth lightly

Last month I took part in an expedition to Antarctica: spectacular, vast landscapes, light that is constantly changing, and plenty of wildlife. Cathedrals and skyscrapers made of ice float alongside our small ship, that navigates between surfacing humpback whales and schools of orcas. On land, we are met by seals of all shapes and sizes, from fur seals to elephant seals. We walk among large groups of penguins. Unaccustomed to humans, they are anything but shy; we do our best to keep our distance.

Antarctica is one of the last uninhabited places on earth. Human impact is barely present. In order not to disturb this unique biotope, extensive precautions are taken. We are only allowed to be ashore for brief periods of time, in small groups, and along a marked route. Clothing and footwear is cleaned in advance, so they are cleared of bacteria, seeds and pollen. Each expedition we wade through disinfectant with our boots. We are not allowed to leave anything behind or bring anything back, not even an Antarctic pebble.

Because truly everything is aimed at leaving no imprint, the concept of environmental footprint suddenly becomes tangible. And even though our ship runs on diesel, the drastic simplicity of this premise is contagious. What if we could achieve the same minimal impact on the other six continents as well, I wonder.

Which reminds me of the Australian architect Glenn Murcutt and his adage "Touch this earth lightly". Murcutt literally lifts his buildings so the landscape and biotope are not disturbed. They are made with a minimum of material and virtually installation-free despite the hot climate, as he reinforces natural ventilation with spatial design. Could it be we find inspiration on this matter from the hottest and coldest places on earth?

Ronald Schleurholts
architect-partner cepezed

Cobouw, 1st of june 2023

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