The astronomer Johanne Hevelius’ 1647 work Selenographia, the first atlas of the moon, included details that would not have been visible together at a single moment in time. The moon rocks slightly on its axis, so the face visible in one full moon differs at its edge from another full-moon night; Hevelius, returning to his telescope again and again, collapsed many nights into one. Even within a single drawing session he would go back and forth hundreds of times between the paper and the telescope, looking, drawing, looking, drawing – each time focusing on a small detail, trying to get it right and stitch it together with the rest of the lunar landscape. At the time there was no such thing as a snapshot; early modern scientific images dealt with the passing of time by collapsing it or drawing it out. Botanical illustrations might depict one plant with features as they would appear in different seasons or stages of maturity. On a page of Conrad Gessner’s Historia Plantarum (compiled 1555-1556), the flowering portion of the plant is drawn and dated two years earlier than the root, because he was reluctant to pull it up – a literal enactment of Ursula K. Le Guin’s preference “to leave influences and inspirations down in the ground, where they might continue to sprout, rather than bringing them up into the light where they don’t.”

As a physical artifact ages, it can take on qualities of Hevelius’ drawings of the moon, revealing multiple realities overlaid. Architecture makes a good example because buildings often outlive their builders and initial occupants, and are adapted to new uses and styles. New services might run through the walls alongside disused older ones. A preserved facade can be a window into a building’s past, but as scholar Alexandra Lakind remarked, keeping just the facade is “both literally and metaphorically a front,” an evocation of a past erased. I used to drive by a wood-frame bungalow with stucco oozing out around its windows and doors, underlying adobe or faux-dobe construction betrayed by the wobble in the vertical lines of the plank siding. Like a moon map, its edges were records of different times and different views.

-Natasha Balwit-Cheung

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~11% of opens) was the immensely practical red-white-blue bag. In the Members' Slack, we've been sharing the gory details that come with changing our publishing & payment processing stacks – which is nice to see interspersed with more joyous Member projects like adult-sized playground equipment and camp stools built from CNC-routed firewood.


Scope of Work is supported by our awesome Members, and through generous support from:


At 27% of total emissions, the transportation sector is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the US. In the race to decarbonize it, batteries are critical and we need them to be better, cheaper, and more plentiful. But lithium mining has its own attendant harms to ecosystems, watersheds, and Indigenous sovereignty. Intensified demand for minerals can stoke geopolitical tensions and entrench historical patterns of dispossession and exploitation. I’m excited about a new report from the Climate and Community Project that tackles these intersections. It starts with the premise that transit decarbonization, environmental justice, and Indigenous rights are too often pitted against each other, and seeks solutions that balance these factors. The authors take a quantitative approach to modeling the transformations necessary to get to zero-emissions transport while minimizing lithium mining. The best case scenario in their analysis emphasizes reducing car dependence, downsizing lithium batteries, focusing on micromobility, and ramping up lithium recycling. The worse scenario – if status quo driving conditions extend to 2050 with ICE vehicles simply swapped for EVs – projects US demand requiring three times more lithium than is currently produced for the global market.

The authors of the report are doing good work stewarding it into public consciousness, going on podcasts and giving interviews, and responses and critiques have been similarly thoughtful.


  • Today, the default way to build a floor is a flat slab of emissions-intensive concrete. But New York’s 1898 building code included more varied and capacious techniques. Brick and segmental tile floors were common, and alternatives included “solid or hollow burnt-clay, stone, brick or concrete slabs in flat and curved shapes [placed between beams]… and any of said materials may be used in combination with wire cloth, expanded metal, wire strands, or wrought-iron or steel bars.” The light and strong Metropolitan floor system, popular in New York in the 1890s but rare today, consists of catenary wires embedded in a plaster-of-Paris matrix. All the load is borne by tension in the wires, while the plaster provides fireproofing and a smooth surface to walk on. Many forgotten or archaic floor systems and load-bearing structures offer great lessons in structural ingenuity and material efficiency. The Guastavino’s stunning use of structural tile in vaulted ceilings required only a small amount of cement. New forms of thin-shell vaulted floors rely on many of the same principles to great advantage. Certain practices of the past were abandoned not because they didn’t work, but because fuel was cheap, emissions were uncounted, and pouring concrete is comparatively fast and easy.

    Early-stage design choices can halve the embodied carbon of a building frame. The bulk of a typical building’s embodied carbon is in its structure, mainly in floor slabs. The layout of the structural grid and the choice of decking material happen near the very start of the design process of any building; following good rules of thumb at this stage or involving engineers early on who know how to optimize for lower impact in structures will usually save more carbon than deliberating over materials, furnishings, and finishes once the structural design is fixed.
  • I’ve been on the lookout for markers that reveal information about the time elapsed during an object’s manufacture and asked my husband (a mechanical engineer and industrial designer) and people in Scope of Work’s Slack what they have noticed. Date stamps on injection molds are straightforward, but there are more subtle clues within the process: ripples or faults could show where the material solidified at different times. Similarly, tool marks on machined surfaces could reflect a feed rate that is too high (a process allowed too little time), while the layer thickness in a 3D print might reflect the tradeoffs in resolution the designer was willing to make for shorter printing time.


  • Marianna Janowicz wants to know how you dry your laundry.
  • Localized failures in linear infrastructure systems (power lines, water lines, roads – anything long and mostly straight) can have cascading effects, disrupting wide expanses of interconnected systems. Extreme heat can cause power lines to sag, reducing transmission efficiency and requiring trains on electrified lines to travel more slowly. Loss of power to water filtration plants cuts off access for customers, and damage to roads not only creates bottlenecks for regular traffic but can hinder repair work. These systems can become more resilient by integrating emerging technologies like low-power miniature sensors, robotic inspections, and distributed fiber optic sensing. Remote monitoring provides continuous information about degradation and damage and highlights repair needs that could go unnoticed. But there are some challenges – infrastructure is typically built to last, and embedded sensors and software tend to become obsolete more quickly. The civil engineering sector tends to be a slow adopter of new technologies, due in part to that mismatch in technological life cycles, and also due to “fragmented supply chains, reliance on past experience and practice, and concerns about safety and robustness.”
  • Architect Frank Duffy, quoted in Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn, conceived of a building as “several layers of longevity of built components,” which he named shell, services, scenery, and set. The shell lasts the lifetime of the building (to most people, it is the building). The services (cabling, plumbing, air conditioning) might be replaced every decade or two. The partitions and other non-structural built elements (scenery) might shift around with new occupancy, and the set – the furnishings, finishes, etc. – has the shortest season.


  • Managed retreat originally referred to the removal of sea walls and coastal infrastructure to allow subsiding or low-lying areas to flood, and sometimes return to a wetland or salt marsh state. In recent years, the phrase has been broadened to describe the planned movement of people and assets away from vulnerable places to higher ground or safer land to avoid climate-related hazards like wildfires and inland flooding.

    At the other end of permanent retreat from one place, there must be arrival and settlement somewhere else. I recently came across the concept of ‘managed arrival’ used by Daniel Aldana Cohen, director of the Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative. Managed arrival calls for the focused and large-scale creation of housing, infrastructure, and care services in cities people might flee to. In this dialogue on the potential evacuation of Miami, Cohen argues that learning how to welcome and support climate migrants – and preparing for it – is an urgent priority.
  • To agronomist Almendra Cremaschi, seed sovereignty means cultivators and farmers have the ability to “freely decide what to produce, how to produce, and what to do with the results of [their] production.” Cremaschi is part of Bioleft, a community initiative experimenting with open-source seed development through a method they call participatory breeding: farmer breeders, public sector breeders, agricultural extension workers, and social scientists work together to develop seeds that are resilient, with high nutritional quality and high yields. Communities envision the seeds they want and share the process, information, and results on an open web platform.


A Norfolk Southern train carrying at least five cars of vinyl chloride derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on 2023-02-03. Vinyl chloride is a colorless gas produced industrially to make PVC; it’s flammable, carcinogenic, and exposure can cause burns, lung damage, and death. To prevent an uncontrolled explosion, residents were evacuated before Norfolk Southern carried out a controlled burn of the contents of the derailed cars.

OSHA regulates vinyl chloride in workplaces to 1 ppm. Its “mild, sweet” odor becomes detectable around 3,000 ppm. During and after the controlled burn, people 15 miles from the site reported smelling chlorine. Residents of East Palestine were encouraged to return home on 2023-02-08, five days after the derailment, and encountered persistent odors and animals that had become ill or died. The impact of the accident remains unclear and residents want answers.

Disasters like this (which rail workers warned corporate negligence could lead to) bring renewed attention to the politics of monitoring and measurement. Information from air monitoring equipment that officials use to proclaim what is safe and what is hazardous does not relay an objective binary truth, nor is it measuring every chemical substance potentially released. Parts per million of combustion byproducts in the air are one indicator – 3,500 small fish floating dead in streams are another. Max Liboiron, author of Pollution is Colonialism, has urged for a shift in the concept of toxicity “away from fetishized and evidentiary regimes premised on wayward molecules behaving badly, so that toxicity can be understood in terms of reproductions of power and justice.”


I save any good-looking syllabus or reading list I come across online. A few from my overflowing basket:

Thanks as always to Scope of Work’s Members for supporting Scope of Work. Thanks also to Sachiko Kusukawa for her lecture “Not a snapshot: scientific images in early modern printed books,” which inspired the introductory notes to this issue; to Justin Balwit-Cheung for his observations on temporal artifacts of different manufacturing methods; and to James Whiteley for his ideas and reading suggestions on the lessons to be learned from historical floor systems.

Love, Natasha

p.s. - We care about inclusivity. Here’s what we’re doing about it.

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