Habbakuk is an example of the use of Concepts Revisited: Re-enactments, a development method defined by V2_lab. In practice it is a multi-strand research project incorporating expert meetings, interviews, and hands-on experimentation.
In 1942 the Allies were suffering heavy losses from German U-boats, due largely to the limited range of patrolling aircraft and the resulting "mid Atlantic Air Gap." In light of this critical problem, Sir Winston Churchill entertained the radical idea of building large ships made of Pykrete, a frozen mixture of water and sawdust.
The new material was invented by scientific adviser Geoffrey Pyke who presented the idea of constructing "berg-ships" - up to 4,000 feet long, 600 feet wide and 130 feet in depth – that could be made cheaply, and in great numbers, from Pykrete. These ships would be slow and easily spotted but practically invulnerable to bombs or torpedoes. They could be used by aircraft to provide protection for shipping, particularly in the mid Atlantic, and as a base for invasion.
At a meeting of the Allies in 1943, Lord Mountbatten had a block of Pykrete prepared to set up a live demonstration. It is reported that he took out his revolver and fired first at a block of ordinary ice which immediately shattered. He then fired at a similar block of Pykrete which was so strong that the bullet ricocheted, narrowly missing one of the attendees. Churchill ordered the creation of this ship and a prototype was built in the Rocky Mountains of Canada in the mid-forties by “conscientious objectors” to the war.
Ultimately the project was abandoned in favour of conventional military technologies but the prototype remained in its secret location on Lake Patricia for a full year before melting, a sort of melancholy monument to the genius of Geoffrey Pyke, inventor of Pykrete.
Mission and Objectives
The Habbakuk story reveals that the pressure of an extreme scenario such as war inspires even no-nonsense statesmen such as Churchill to consider concepts that are eccentric, unconventional, and perhaps even impossible to execute.
The unrealised Habbakuk aircraft carrier is a primary source of inspiration, however we are also conducting research into other successful and unsuccessful instances of innovation in extreme scenarios, including and not limited to: long-term storage of nuclear waste, covert communications, “black swan” events, emergency distribution of food assets, and evacuation plans for planet Earth.
Through examining these case studies through various methods we aim to create knowledge around the true nature and popular myths of innovation; the power of joining the forces of science and creativity; the importance of prioritization and decision-making factors; and maintaining strategic advantage through surprise.
The project will utilize art, design, and science to critically examine the pathways of innovation and the advancement of human civilization by exploring alternate uses of technologies of war and other extreme events. The project will comprise of a series of short documentary films, a publication including interviews and original essays, and newly commissioned artworks responding to the critical aspects of innovation in extreme scenarios.
At the end of the project a final touring exhibition and lecture series, encompassing the project outputs (documentation, prototypes, material experiments, video documentation, etc) provide a method for the public to access this thinking on materials and technological innovation and ultimately generate new ideas in art-science research.