I am currently and undergraduate studying architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, and this semester I participated in the Public Lab River Rat Pack seminar class with Derek Hoeferlin. In addition to taking part in all the balloon flights this semester, I was tasked with curating the photographs to be used for the analytical diagramming of each site that we visited. Halftone versions of the selected photographs are linked to this research note.
I think the most important thing to me about the diagrams of the site and the selection of the photographs was that they reveal the fringe conditions of St. Louis in relation to the river. These fringe conditions are social, economic, and ecological. Indeed, they are deeply interrelated not just on a technical level, but on a physical level, one that is visible in many of the photographs that we took over the course of the semester. The photographs that I selected were aimed at exposing these juxtapositions, not making any claims about them, but making them visible.
While all of the research that we did was valuable, I do think that overall the most important lessons I learned were about the social conditions of research and the connotations it comes with. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the Mississippi River when it gets to St. Louis is that access to the river becomes extremely regulated. Whether this is for safety reasons--when the flooding happened at the beginning of the semester we could not even get out to the river sometimes with the balloon-- or for reasons of property ownership, the context provides an interesting dimension to our research. Who is it for? To what degree need the research be visible to all? To what degree does using the extremely visible red balloon--and driving it through the streets-- provide people access to the river in new ways?