The Power of Frontiers

EssayThe Frontier

A quick note about this section

It was as a 27­year­-old news reporter that I found myself in one of the most remote communities on earth, seeking out a few of the most adventurous, downright badass guys anywhere.

Essay & Photography by
David Michael Lamb

The four men had just arrived in Resolute Bay after having been rescued from the North Pole. They were Americans, all pilots, and had flown one of their planes from Alaska to the pole. They landed on an ice floe at 90 degrees north. Because they wanted to. Because it would be awesome to do something only a select few others have ever done. Because if you have the gear and the ability to go to the North Pole, why wouldn’t you?

In many ways, this sort of thing wasn’t unusual for them. One of the group, Dick Rutan, had been the first person to ever fly a plane non-stop around the world in 1986.

On this day in May 2000, however, luck turned out not to be on their side. As they took photos of one another at the pole, the ice under their plane shifted, and it sank into the slush, right up to the wings.

Stranded at the top of the world, they radioed for help and within a day or so another plane came, rescued them and took them back to the Nunavut community of Resolute Bay, where I was assigned by the CBC to meet up with them and tell their story.

These four men were totally unphased at what had just happened to them. Don’t get me wrong – they were aware of the risks they had taken and knew a slightly different set of circumstances could have easily led to their deaths.

As they took photos of one another at the pole, the ice under their plane shifted, and it sank into the slush, right up to the wings.

But they were happy to accept such risks. What they got in return was a life of adventure, an opportunity to enter territory few other humans ever do, an existence where success is never guaranteed, where the outcome is uncertain, and where the potential rewards cannot be had anywhere else.

We live in a risk-averse world. H.L. Mencken said “the average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.” Most of us will do nothing to jeopardize the moderately-priced car in the driveway, the granite countertops in the kitchen or the winter holiday in the Caribbean.

clyderiver2

It is this desire that prevents most of us from venturing anywhere near anything that could be described as unexplored. A land that has not been thoroughly mapped by Google and served by Verizon Wireless is no place for the timid, the unsure, or the soul who basks in the safety of the familiar.

If we even have the courage to ask ourselves whether we are willing to walk down the unmarked path, or into a place where there is no path at all, most of us would summarily conclude that the risks are too great.

The reality is that the further (or farther) we head out into the frontier, the greater the risks. The explorers who found new lands all risked death, and many failed to reach old age. So did Marie Curie, who discovered radiation and then was slowly poisoned to death by it.

clyderiver3

The entrepreneur with a new product idea risks financial ruin, public humiliation, loss of reputation, although probably not starvation.

The writer flogging a bad novel is repeatedly rejected, ridiculed, and often walks down the path of mental illness.

The reality is that the further (or farther) we head out into the frontier, the greater the risks.

And yet, venturing into the unknown remains irresistible.

It is the place where creativity lives. Where we cast off the drudgery of routine and sameness, and look for something new.

In Beijing, you can see design at the frontier. The CCTV building, designed by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Sheeren is like nothing ever built before. It doesn’t really even look like a building. It looks like a strange box that will probably fall over soon. It redefines what skyscrapers are. On the day it opened in 2012, Sheeren went so far as to say the building asks what architecture even is? What does it do? What is it for? We may have thought those questions were answered two thousand years ago by Vitruvius. In dedicating “On Architecture” to Augustus, he promises to “lay out all the principles of the discipline.” Reading such a work that has survived from antiquity to now, we could allow ourselves to take it as the final word. No need to ask or re-ask any more questions. But no. Incredibly, it’s still possible to construct a building that forces us to question everything we think.

One thing we do know is that the frontier is big. After centuries of building structures for ourselves to inhabit, we are still asking what architecture is. After going to the moon, landing a spacecraft on a comet, and diving to the deepest parts of the ocean, there are still mountains in Patagonia that have never been climbed, and bear no names. After solving such beguiling problems as polio and smallpox, malaria still kills millions, and new, deadly strains of influenza crop up continually.

clyderiver4

The desire to explore, to understand, to discover knowledge, to create, is deep within us. It’s not overstating it to say this is what makes us human.

The explorer Fridjof Nansen said “we all have a land of beyond to seek in our life. What more can we ask? Our part is to find the trail that leads to it. A long trail, a hard trail, maybe; but the call comes to us and we have to go. Rooted deep in the nature of everyone is the spirit of adventure.”

In 1910, Robert Falcon Scott set out with three colleagues to be the first humans to reach the South Pole. They were beaten by Roald Amundsen by about a month. On the march back to base camp from the pole, all four died.

Scott was a dedicated journal writer and so we know his thoughts right up to the end. In the last few days, when he knew death was coming, he wrote, “We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint.”

Few men have ever ventured farther out onto the frontier than Scott, and no better summary of the acceptance of risk has ever been written.

helping hands

Giving Out Helping Hands

The inception story of the nonprofit, e-NABLE, which is little more than a year old demonstrates what happens when strangers meet and collaborate, their collective skills creating something revolutionary. It all started when American Ivan Owen shared a video of a mechanical hand he had made for a Steampunk convention. Across the world, in South Africa, a carpenter named Richard Van As saw it as a solution to his plight. He had lost a few of his fingers in carpentry accident. He reached out to Ivan, asking for his help. Ivan agreed and together they went to work on creating a prosthetic.

Read More

the frontier tuque thumb

Our First Venture

Ventures Update is a recurring feature that tracks the progress of one of our own creative projects. The inaugural Venture is the design and development of a Canadian Icon: The Tuque.

Read More

today

Today’s Frontier

It's the hardness of the land that makes people soft. Newfoundland is an unforgiving landscape. It denies the pathetic fallacy, but at the same time reinforces an irrational love of the place.

Read More

robot dna thumbnail

Forming Robots From DNA

Fighting cancer effectively means attacking only the effected cells. DNA Robots seem to show great progress.

Read More

girls at lowline

Where There’s Sunshine Underground

Major cities are centres of construction. Condo after condo, new office towers, sports centres and more each take their own slice of the city, each evolving it and sharing it with their own footprint. Eventually, land runs starts to thin and we realize we've missed one important thing: public green space.

Read More

project row houses

The Not-For-Profit Sculpture

Rick Lowe was creating political art, works infused with messages of social change. This is not new. Many artists have done it. From the likes of Shepard Fairey to Eugene Delacroix.

Read More

ice cream thumb

Collaborative Ice Cream

Ice cream will never be the same. With flavours that include ‘Black Olive Brittle & Goat Cheese’, ‘Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons’ and ‘Toasted Coconut with Candied Macadamia Nuts’, an ice cream company is changing the way we think about this dessert. On Yelp, one customer wonders, “How do they pair such perfect flavours together?”

Read More

dance thumbnail

Designing Dance

Itamar Kubovy believes that ignorance can be a powerful ally. The Executive Director of Pilobolus, a New York based experimental dance troupe, constantly works to redefine the company and how they approach their craft. In recent years they have paired up with non-choreographers to push the practice forward, working with dance outsiders like illustrator Art Spiegelman and illusionists Penn & Teller.

Read More

baxter robot thumbnail

The Humanity in a Factory Robot

Baxter is a red robot with two large arms and a screen featuring two eyes. "Not a week goes by when somebody doesn't comment to me”, told Jim Lawton, Chief Marketing Officer at Rethink Robotics, “‘Wow, I love working with your robot. They're so engaging and friendly and I just love the smile".

Read More

quotidian record and player

What Does Data Sound Like?

Brian House effortlessly flows from data to code, artistic expression, music, and back again. This intersection of skill and understanding lends uniqueness and exacting clarity to his art. It's evident that only someone of his multifaceted nature could come up with his work; he is an artist who is helping us feel data.

Read More

openrov thumb

OpenROV

In the early grades of school, we learn about explorers. We hear about their journeys: how they traversed the Atlantic, pushed through heavy North Pole snow and planted their feet on new soil for the first time.

Read More

align thumb

Align

Reimagining something familiar is one of the most ambitious things a designer can do. The chair is one of the most difficult of all. Despite the diversity of chairs out there, how can you improve on the basic design?

Read More

seaboard by computer

Seaboard

One such instance is the Seaboard. What first looks like a wonky George Foreman grill turns out to be a musical keyboard. But unlike traditional pianos, all its keys are black and, even more unusual, they are made out of a malleable material. That makes the keys soft and creates a continuous playing surface. This […]

Read More

robotic printer thumb

Mini Mobile Robotic Printer

Jonathan Stein noticed something about printers. The ubiquitous devices that sit on our desks were, in fact, quite simple. In effect, he realized that it was just a box that moved from side to side and “printed” the document.

Read More

Ototo thumbnail

Ototo

Kids these days. They play on iPads and iPhones tapping on fake birds in slingshots and skeuomorphic drums. Adults might lament and wonder if kids are gaining anything from all that tapping. Whatever happened to turning a cardboard box into a car?

Read More

plumen 002

Plumen 002

“Don’t you think it’s strange”, comments Nicholas Roope, Founder and Design Director at Plumen, “that the lightbulb, an object so synonymous with ideas, is almost entirely absent of imagination?”

Read More

estimote stickers

Estimote Stickers

We’ve all heard of wearables, but nearables might be the next device that empowers your life.

Read More

map notebook

Best Made Map Notebook

Here’s a question: are you still discovering a neighbourhood if Google Maps is acting as your real-time guide?

Read More

myo thumb

Myo

“No, you can’t be Magneto.” What a 20th century thing to say. The creators of Myo may have brought that power one step closer.

Read More

an american diary

An American Diary

In the Summer of 2014, Anthony Gerace embarked on road trip across America, armed with a map and 2 film cameras—a Hasselblad c/m 500 and a Yashica T4. What he captured on his journey feels both entirely familiar and strangely foreign. That combination felt like a perfect fit as we were gathering content for this first issue of Field Guide.

Read More