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The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism

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Rush House interior and ocean view, 2018; photo: © Leslie Williamson

One hundred miles north of San Francisco, perched on the edge of 10 miles of rugged, wind-swept California coast, is a touchstone of 20th-century architectural history — The Sea Ranch. Conceived in 1964 by developer Al Boeke and a group of Bay Area architects, landscape architects and graphic designers including Charles Moore, Joseph Esherick, William Turnbull, Lawrence Halprin and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, this development was founded as the antithesis of suburban sprawl. With the open-minded optimism of 1960s California as a jumping-off point, The Sea Ranch was designed as a modern model community combining affordable living with exemplary architecture and a shared commitment to “live lightly on the land.”

On December 22, 2018, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will open The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism, an exhibition devoted to exploring the early concepts and plans of this seminal Northern California Modern development. The exhibition will feature archival and contemporary photographs, original drawings and sketches from the project’s designers and a full-scale architectural replica.

“In mid-20th century California, Modern architecture represented social progress. It signaled a shirking of tradition and bold new models for living. The Sea Ranch was envisioned as a place to embrace the land, a particularly moody and memorable land, that could expand California’s existing indoor-outdoor lifestyle beyond cloudless skies and manicured golf courses,” said Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design. “The exhibition at SFMOMA revisits the earliest designs and concepts for The Sea Ranch, which embodied the progressive ideals of the initial team who designed for higher environmental standards and architectural excellence.”

The Vision + Design Team

In the years after World War II, when real estate expansion created vast, identical suburbs for the burgeoning middle class, several California developers had a different idea. They sought to break this mold through financially viable projects that linked progressive values with modern architecture. One developer, Alfred “Al” Boeke, acquired a 10-mile by one-mile parcel of coastal California property bisected by a two-lane highway. Situated on a craggy shoreline above the Pacific Ocean, the site consisted of a series of meadows bordered by rows of Monterey cypress trees and, across the highway, a dense forest backed by the Gualala River. Formerly home to the indigenous Pomo Indians, loggers and a sheep ranch, it was now the site for a radical experiment in modern architecture.

Boeke’s vision was to create a two-phase development plan, first offering affordable homes for weekenders to establish the project’s financial stability and then, in phase two, creating a small town with amenities for full-time residents. Boeke enlisted the landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and land, wind and water experts to study the rugged terrain before creating a masterplan. Where Boeke saw financial opportunity, Halprin saw something else — social and environmental possibilities. Halprin, who had experienced the shared purpose of communal living while on a kibbutz in Israel, incorporated those values into the project, as well as his learnings from camping on The Sea Ranch site. His master plan prioritized large swaths of shared meadow and specified that 50 percent of The Sea Ranch land be set aside as common “open space.” Ideas included capturing water from the Gualala River in wells to support the community, mitigating the gale-level oceanic wind through thoughtful tree planting and thinning the looming forest to bring in sunlight. “I realized that it was this character that I hoped we might achieve at The Sea Ranch, a feeling of overall place, a feeling of a community, in which the whole was more important and more dominant than its parts. If we could achieve that — if the whole could link buildings and nature into an organized whole rather than just a group of pretty houses — then we could feel we had created something worthwhile which did not destroy, but rather enhanced the natural beauty we had been given,” explained Halprin.

Boeke assembled a group of Bay Area architects tasked with designing different parts of the community. Established San Francisco architect Joseph Esherick would create the iconic marker building, a general store and restaurant, and a series of single-family homes within the hedgerows. The young, Berkeley-based upstart team of Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, William Turnbull and Richard Whitaker (MLTW) was engaged to design condominiums and a recreation center. Understanding that marketing the community would be key to the project’s success, Halprin enlisted graphic designer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon to create the project’s distinctive branding and graphic identity as well as interior supergraphics in the common buildings.

“The Sea Ranch signaled a new era in building that attempted to hold countercultural impulses and developer-driven financial imperatives in a sympathetic balance. The initial phase of The Sea Ranch development was so transformative that it set off a wave of inspiration in form and typology, radiating well beyond Northern California. It set in place a system for the sensitive occupation of a precious landscape that acknowledged the past while operating from a distinctly modern perspective,” said Joseph Becker, associate curator of architecture and design.

Architecture

The Sea Ranch’s proposition foregrounded stewardship of the land, a shared system of values and design rules and the use of forms and materials inspired by Northern California’s vernacular. Using the visual language of the region’s barns, sheds and other agricultural buildings as inspiration, Joseph Esherick’s six “Hedgerow Houses” demonstrated how designing with minimal impact on the environment could also be contemporary, spacious and beautiful. His designs reduced visual clutter to avoid catching the ever-present wind and their sloping roofs mimicked nearby Cypress trees. “We deliberately took the windiest place. If we could provide a comfortable environment for people in this hostile environment, then I thought we were home free,” explained Esherick. Key to the design decisions for all of The Sea Ranch was the mandate to keep structures unpainted and sided with wood native to the project to enable them to blend into the environment. A Design Review Committee codified a design language and created processes to ensure conformity among the built projects and restrain visual distractions such as flowerbeds, parked cars and reflective surfaces.

MLTW was engaged to design a new type of housing structure consisting of 10 units around a central courtyard within a single footprint. This project, Condominium One, encouraged communal living, limited environmental impact and provided low cost units for buyers from a variety of income levels. “We wanted the units to be organized together, compact and big and in the landscape, like barns and farm clusters, rather than simply sprinkled across it, to open up more lands for commons but also to bring attention to the larger landscape. The kinds of materials we used were also to be of the place, allowing the landscape to be the dominant influences,” said Donlyn Lyndon. In Condominium One, MLTW took a “saddlebags” approach, where a simple core structure holds the central mass of the building and additional volumes are “hung” off this space to serve multiple purposes. “The idea is you draw a relatively simply shaped building and then add forms to it to make special places. For example, a corner window bay that captures the view, a bed nook, or a projecting stair. The ‘saddlebag’ forms are not pure but respond to the particularity of their site,” described Mary Griffin, wife of the late Bill Turnbull. Condominium One’s design memo included rough-hewn timber, exposed posts and beams, unfinished siding and a signature, raised loft known as an aedicule that functioned as a bedroom.

“With the strict adhesion to unfinished redwood and cypress siding, a massing of simple volumes, and shed roofs that mimicked the agricultural barn while acting responsively to mitigate the prevailing winds, The Sea Ranch was an evolution of the Bay Area regional styles into something new,” added Joseph Becker.

Graphics

As impactful as the architecture and landscape design of The Sea Ranch were, so too were its graphics. Halprin hired Barbara “Bobbie” Stauffacher Solomon to create a logo, marketing materials and the signature interior murals in the development’s communal spaces. Using the now classically modern Helvetica font, a clear departure from the swirly ’60s typefaces being used in the Bay Area at the time, and incorporating motifs riffing off the site’s history as a sheep ranch, Stauffacher created a graphic system that was immediately identifiable with this project. At The Sea Ranch’s Moonraker Athletic Center, Stauffacher had free rein to add color to the whitewashed plywood interior. Her now-iconic supergraphics exploded with colorful visual impact in the restrained spaces, and launched a movement within graphic design that was recognized with the cover of Global Architecture magazine in 1966.

Postscript

The Sea Ranch opened in 1964 with a completed nine-unit condominium, a set of small demonstration homes, a restaurant and general store, and a small pool and tennis recreation center. In its first decade, it seemed that the owners who believed in the original concept both realized and supported The Sea Ranch vision. Yet in the early 1970s, controversy arose when inland residents, fearing that coastal development would limit public access, filed a lawsuit resulting in a 10-year construction moratorium at The Sea Ranch. This suspension shifted the priorities of the developers, who needed to recoup the financial losses incurred over a decade of inaction. Phase two of The Sea Ranch — the town for year-round residents — was never constructed and development was instead recalibrated to continue to focus on weekenders. Yet the spirit of the founders lives on — current owners at The Sea Ranch are actively discussing its future as a collective. The environmentally attentive design philosophies along with the now-iconic graphics resonated globally and still influence architecture and design today. Over 50 years later, The Sea Ranch continues to be a model for 21st-century progressive living.

Organization

The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design, and Joseph Becker, associate curator of architecture and design, are co-curators.

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Europe’s major tourist sites battle climate change to survive

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Climate change is destroying heritage sites across Europe and globally. Ancient historical landmarks could disappear completely unless swift action is taken to protect them from environmental damage, researchers are warning.

Climate change is destroying heritage sites across Europe and globally. Ancient historical landmarks could disappear completely unless swift action is taken to protect them from environmental damage, researchers are warning.

Future generations may never get to explore streets conquered by medieval knights in Greece, city quarters built by the Islamic empire in Spain, 10th century cliff-top castles in Slovakia and many other historical wonders in Europe.

Floods and rising temperatures are already damaging ancient buildings, said Angelos Amditis, project coordinator of a project called HYPERION which is helping major sites in Greece, Italy, Spain and Norway, adapt to the impacts of climate change.

‘If we don’t act fast, if we don’t allocate the right resources and knowledge, and … create a common alliance to address the climate change issues, we will pay very dearly,’ he said.

‘We may (completely) lose well-known landmarks in Europe and globally … our children may not have a chance to see them except on video,’ said Dr Amditis, who is director of Research and Development in the Athens-based Institute of Communication and Computer Systems (ICCS).

Historical vulnerabilities

The HYPERION project is developing tools for mapping out the risks and helping local authorities find the most cost-effective ways to reduce the vulnerability of historical sites.

Mapping the risks includes assessing the structure and condition of buildings and monuments and installing sensors to monitor the ongoing impacts of climate change and other threats to the sites.

The project also uses data from Europe’s Copernicus satellites to map the areas at risk and gather climate data.

What can make conservation work particularly complex is that different buildings on a single site were often constructed in different eras and using different materials. Each building must therefore be individually assessed, and may need different forms of protection.

For example, early builders in Venice often re-used stones and other bits of buildings found locally. As the city became wealthier, it began importing fresh materials which were better quality, and are proving more resistant to the impacts of rising tides and floods.

Viking towns

And in Norway’s Viking town of Tønsberg, buildings were constructed over several centuries, and made with different types of wood or stone. Local temperatures are rising, and affecting each building material differently, said Dr Amditis.    

Many monuments and sites are made more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because they are already suffering damage from pollution, earthquakes or other hazards.

So, to boost their resilience to climate change, they need to be restored and protected from all the hazards they face, said Dr Amditis.

For example, Greece’s beautiful city of Rhodes is hit by frequent heatwaves, earthquakes and flooding. But its medieval buildings also need protection from damage caused by heavy delivery lorries. This could involve finding a less harmful way to transport goods to the local population, said Dr Amditis. The HYPERION project is not involved in this aspect of the city’s resilience planning.

Locals’ solutions

Authorities must involve local communities when planning ways to protect heritage, said Daniel Lückerath, project coordinator of a project called ARCH.

‘The danger is that they will not like the solution you provide and then they might not use the historic area anymore,’ said Dr Lückerath, who is a project manager at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems (IAIS).

‘People are what make historic areas … what give those areas value,’ he said. Without them, ‘you would just have a ghost town,’ he added.

Like HYPERION, the ARCH project is developing tools for authorities to assess and protect their local heritage. ARCH is co-designing these with authorities in Slovakia’s ancient capital Bratislava, the Italian village of Camerino, Valencia in Spain and Germany’s harbour-city, Hamburg.

Sometimes there is a difficult trade-off between protecting heritage and allowing new developments which benefit the local community. For example, Hamburg recently carried out major dredging work to allow larger container ships to reach its port.

Water levels

This work, combined with climate change, is changing the water levels in the city’s 19th century warehouse district which is a World Heritage Site, said Dr Lückerath. This change in water levels could weaken the foundations of the old warehouses so they will need ongoing monitoring, he said.

Major heritage sites are not the only ones that need to be preserved. ‘Any site in danger is a problem for the communities living there,’ said Aitziber Egusquiza, coordinator of the SHELTER project which is developing risk assessment, early warning systems and conservation tools for communities, including those with few financial and technical resources.

In some cases, local authorities do not monitor the impacts of climate change and other risks, lack information about the age and state of their local heritage, and lack the political will to protect it. As a consequence, communities living near some of Europe’s most exposed sites are not necessarily aware of their vulnerability, making it very difficult to conserve them.

‘That worries me,’ said Egusquiza, who is senior researcher at Tecnalia, an independent research and technology organisation in Spain.

It is important to convince the leadership to invest in conserving these sites, especially as they bring tourism and jobs – both of which will be lost if that heritage is lost, said Egusquiza.

‘We need to put more numbers on what will be lost if we don’t act,’ he said, referring to projections about economic impacts on local communities.

Community heritage

The tools developed by SHELTER, ARCH and HYPERION projects will be tested by the cities and communities which helped design them, and then trialed in other regions to see if they can be replicated in different situations. Ultimately, the aim is to help all communities protect their heritage.

But with Europe and other regions facing the combined crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine, and rising cost of living, it is easy for leaders to push preserving cultural heritage down the list of priorities, said Dr Amditis.

‘It is a very expensive and time-consuming exercise, but it is worth the time and the resources. If you lose even one site, it’s a big loss for humanity,’ he added.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.  

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The Evil Russian on American Screens: Stranger Things Season Four Short Review

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image credit: Netflix

After the collapse of communism in Russia a few years ago, the frequency of propaganda through the media carried out by the United States that presents Russians as evil, ruthless, and very cruel was expected to decrease. This alleged decline is because the United States’ attention has been diverted to many Arab and Middle Eastern countries after the 9/11 incident. However, these American filmmakers have retained the depiction of Russians as “the bad one” in their film masterpieces, whether for merit or business reasons.

Maybe it’s not just a hobby or a business, but as a form of counter-resistance from the West to a series of events and political steps taken by the Russian side during that period to the present day. Russia, which often shows the power and absoluteness of its government—even though it has taken the form of a communist state—wants to show its identity as a true geopolitical enemy of the United States. As if invited to return nostalgia, the Russian government now feels more like a reincarnation of the Soviet era.

The depiction of Russians as criminals on the screen of the United States is the most concrete and decisive manifestation of the Soviet Union’s communist regime, which is all associated with being antagonistic and full of oppression. The above is still relevant today for most Americans that Russians tend to be scary and have bad intentions. The reason is that the Russian government, which Vladimir Putin currently leads, gives the impression of being hard, fierce, and scary. The ex-KGB, Vladimir Putin, has been heavily criticized for his policies during his time in power. Putin has been criticized for his big ambitions to expand his country’s geopolitical capacity to defend himself against future NATO attacks. The 2014 annexation of Crimea evidences this ambition—it did not stop there—Putin showed a fierce side of himself by supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria until the invasion of Ukraine in early 2022.

The portray of Russian citizens as cruel and terrible antagonists has been produced in many American films, such as in the movie John Wick—whose dog was killed by Russian criminals. Not only that, but the American series also took part in projecting this. Call it Stranger Things. Regarding the depiction of Russia as “the bad one” and America as “the good and superhero,” the author will discuss the sub-plot of saving Jim Hopper in the fourth season of Stranger Things which was just released on 27 May 2022 and 1 July 2022 then.

In this fourth season, the depiction of the Stranger Things story is divided into several settings, one of which is the story of Jim Hopper being a prisoner of Russia. This Jim Hopper sub-plot shows the audience the horrors of Russia’s prisons. This plot presents the impressions of prisoners being treated harshly like slaves who deserve to die and several scenes showing the violence of the prison guards on Jim while being interrogated about his friend Joyce Byer in the third season of Stranger Things. The highlight of the depiction of the Russian character as a party with bad intentions is to reveal research on the terrible monster “Demogorgon” in Stranger Things that have appeared since its first season. We can assume that the Russians are deliberately keeping the monster for later testing. This little depiction is enough to allow the audience to be furious. Jim Hopper, who unexpectedly managed to escape from a Russian prison, suddenly wanted to crush the Demogorgons instead of escaping and flying to America when the opportunity was at hand. Through this, The Duffer Brothers seem to give the impression that the bad and unwanted things in the future tend to be caused by Russia, while America comes to save the world.

Still around the story of Jim’s rescue and attempted escape as a Russian prisoner, the character of Yuri Ismaylov—an airplane pilot from Russia—played by actor Nikola Djuricko also received quite a bit of attention. The reason is, that Yuri’s character is described as a braggart and a con artist who causes Jim to have difficulty escaping many times. Again, the Russians are illustrated as the wrong side and the source of trouble.

There are several analyses related to the reasons for the American film embedding the Russian side as an antagonist. One is America’s desire to maintain a superior image to its geopolitical opponents. America has so far maintained its desires and ambitions due to the old story of the great ideological feud in the past Cold War era—between communists and liberals. From this old story, the depiction of good and bad in American films is still felt today.

However, apart from the reasons above, which emphasize the ideological war and show off between the two sides, it is also possible that these films were made in the context of business interests. To be precise, American Screens don’t want to get out of their comfort zone. The success of films portraying the Russian character as cunning, cruel, and full of intrigue gave American filmmakers an exhilarating feeling. For example, American films entitled The Equalizer, Atomic Blonde, and Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol managed to make big money. For this reason, maintaining the image of Russia’s antagonist can be said to be done for smooth business.

Now, the question is, how long will America place its geopolitical enemy as a villain in its cinematic masterpieces? The answer to the question above is the same as asking a question about how long America and Russia will be enemies and show off against each other in the eyes of the world. Our job as film lovers is to sit back and chew popcorn on a comfortable sofa. Eliminate the bad stereotypes brought by the media because the truth is that the media are not always right and often exaggerate problems. Truly, people are different from government, may be we will have many unexpected things in common. So, release endless hatred.

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Akanksha Sood Singh: The Woman of the Wild

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Photograph: Akanksha Sood Singh

Akanksha Sood Singh is among India’s premiere multi-award winning natural history filmmakers. She is known for her extreme passion and brilliant story-telling. With two decades of work experience that covers the range and breadth of film production, she has been documenting some of the most rare and endangered species across India. Her films have been televised across the globe, not just for the strong stories and breathtaking visuals, but also for the empathy her work has created towards the natural world and exposed the need for conservation.

Under her banner, The Gaia People, she wants to bring a change, bust myths, showcase the incredible diversity we live with and ignite hope for the future. This is more for the next generation – the future custodians of this heritage. How will they emphasize and protect anything they don’t see? We want them to grow up with pride, empathy and responsibility towards the environment. And thus, the first step is to know what their natural world holds.

Among the 250+ awards and nominations, she has won four National Film Awards given by the President of India, a UN Film Award, the Global Icon for Mass Media 2020 and the Diversity Leader Award 2020 by the World Congress of Science & Factual producers. She is one of the Jurors for the International Emmy ® Awards – Documentary category, member of the Jackson Wild Advisory Council and a consultant to the United Nations Environment Programme.

​​Can you tell us more about why you named your production company The Gaia people?

My company is fuelled by individuals who come together to work with me on natural history films. The Gaia – Mother Earth – is what unites the diverse group – the fact that we want to tell stories of the natural world. So when we were brainstorming for a name for the production house, this seemed apt. 

Why did you start Women of The Wild India?

WOTW started in May 2021. It was more out of sheer frustration because I could not find a single point source to know about women who are working in the field of environment and STEM. Social media as a platform is today a directory of sorts too – but looking through it to find individuals can be daunting. Names are misleading, bios may not be added, photographs can be abstract. So I thought, why not bring them together under one umbrella. Tell their stories – Who are these women and what do they do? How did they get here? What are the issues they face? How can they collectively become a cohort to inspire others through their journeys?

If in the 21st century we don’t put the spotlight on women working for the environment and if we don’t start throwing up issues we face, it will never happen! Now is always a good time!

Tell us about your personal experiences being close to the wild.

I grew up fascinated by television and the visuals it threw at me of wild scapes around the world. Back then I had no idea I could be a “filmmaker”, but I knew that I wanted to travel around the world and see those places and capture them in some way. Opportunities came my way early in life, I recognised them and I made the best of everything. It’s been close to 20 years now working in the wild, telling stories of the natural world using visuals and technology, and I must confess it is exhilarating. On the scale of 1 to 10, financially this career is at 3, but “job satisfaction” sits at 10! There is never a boring day – it is not 9 to 5 and there is constant adventure and challenge and drama (something I thrive on)! There is peace and tranquility at work space – away from the unbearable chaos of the city! I can take my children to the office with me! I get to travel, to meet people and to explore habitats and the creatures that live therein! And then there is storytelling – a tool that I love to use and exploit – to help with research, with communication, with awareness, with fundraising, with education – it’s a skill and I am proud to be a specialist factual story teller!   

You are going to star in Season 3 of The Brink. What role do you play there?

Hahahahahahhaaaa! Me in front of the camera is now probably going to be a retirement plan! No, I do not star in On The Brink. I am the producer, director, writer (and even the cook) of the series being made in partnership with The Habitats Trust. Yes, we are in production for Season 3. And like how we change the format every season, this one too is evolving with a very new and distinct treatment.

On the Brink – we hope to make this one of the longest running series in India that puts the limelight on lesser known species and habitats in the country. There is so much diversity and if people do NOT know, if they keep seeing and chasing just the megafauna, how will you create empathy and action for the natural world?

What are some wildlife documentaries you recommend young nature enthusiasts to watch?

Everything and anything! Globally, brilliant content is made on animals, habitats, behavior, natural events, issues, etc. Watch everything as an audience and soak it up. As you grow older, work towards visiting the places you see. And if what you see and experience excites you, start exploring ways in which you can work for the wild. This is one industry or career option that won’t ask what percentage you got in your 12th boards or what grade you got in college – it asks for passion, commitment, mental strength and creativity.

Is nature conservation the same as wildlife conservation?

Conservation is the sustainable use of nature by us. Preservation is protecting nature from us.

Wildlife depends on nature for food and shelter. So nature conservation is directly related to wildlife conservation. If the habitat / forest of an area is conserved, then the wildlife of the same area gets protection.

Wildlife conservation is protecting plant and animal species and their habitats. Wildlife provides balance and stability to nature’s processes – every plant, bird, animal, insect is there for a reason – is there because it plays a role in the ecosystem. So wildlife conservation ensures the survival of these species.

What is a story from Women of The Wild India which has personally inspired you most?

ALL OF THEM! I can’t single out one. Each woman has so much to say and there is so much to learn from their journeys. For me, the BTS (behind the scenes) of Women Of The Wild is the real part – connecting with the ladies, hearing their stories, answering their questions, hearing their trauma and trying to figure ways of healing and networking and opportunities. That is the whole point of this platform.

I want to make each and every woman a role model – without that there will be no inspiring the next generation. Break the stereotype.

What fuels your passion for the wild?

That’s a tough one! I don’t know – I have never given it a thought! I do this because I can’t think of doing anything else! This is not a JOB. This is my being. I live and work in a space that accepts me as an extension of itself.

What can we do to break gender stereotypes in wildlife conservation?

This can be a very long list, but some points:

Start with making gender an everyday conservation at home and breaking stereotypes at home – for both boys and girls. As parents, lead by example.

Learn and convert information into knowledge and talent to use as a tool

Women should encourage and stand up for women

Uncondition yourself and the men you know

Be vocal

React

Seek support

Hold organizations, departments and individuals accountable.

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