Neck of the Moon

“Orbital debris poses a risk to continued reliable use of space-based services and operations and to the safety of persons and property in space and on Earth,” observe both NASA and the European Space Agency. What is space debris?  Space debris is the collection of defunct objects such as satellite explosions and collisions, spent rocket stages, old satellites and fragments from disintegration, all of which orbit the Earth. Such material byproducts of the space age and the information age pose collision risks with operational space objects. This problem is especially significant in geostationary orbits, where satellites cluster over their primary ground targets and share with space debris the same orbital path. At that height, orbital debris will normally continue circling the Earth for centuries or more. New satellites continue to be launched at a growing rate of over a hundred each year, increasing the risks and detrimental effects of Earth’s orbiting junkyard.

Neck of the Moon cleans up the orbital environment by compacting targeted space debris into a new satellite planet that orbits the Earth. Rather than displacing the debris to a lower altitude, or pulverizing it into thin air, a large tug with a robotic arm approaches and compacts large objects at high altitudes. The compacted mass grows into planet Laika, the Earth’s second moon. Its namesake, a stray dog from the streets of Moscow, was the first creature to orbit the Earth. Both Laika cyborgs share a vital generative role in humanity’s journey into the space and information age. An umbilical line ties Laika to the Earth, and more precisely to the belly of the Cotopaxi volcano in Ecuador. The cordlike structure is a space elevator that connects the Earth to the newly formed planet and supplies it with materials. It also beams the solar energy captured by Laika back to Earth. The space elevator ducks into the crater of the splendid Cotopaxi volcano, which presents itself as an isolated gorgeous cone covered with snow seen from all perspectives.

The project’s holistic vision finds its best grounding in this peak of the Earth. It is also claimed that Cotopaxi means "Neck of the Moon" in an indigenous language. Cotopaxi had already impressed the geographer Alexander von Humboldt in his nineteenth-century travels to tropical America. He wrote: “We may consider this colossal mountain as one of those eternal monuments, by which nature has marked the great divisions of the terrestrial Globe.” It is with the help of mountains that the project pursues the will to connect the internal, external and aerial layers of the Earth, to articulate cosmic, topographical, climatic and vegetal features of the surface of the Earth, and to analyze the interaction between the features of landscape and the imaginations of people, including scientists and artists. We are Odysseus as we travel collectively from ape to human and eventually, after leaving the planet, to starman-angel. “It is not with rockets, Sputniks or missiles that modern man will achieve the conquest of space,” observed Yves Klein, “It is by means of the powerful yet peaceful force of his sensitivity that man will inhabit space.” Our storytelling explores what it means for the cyborg to be embodied in high-tech space junk worlds.


Design Earth is a collaborative practice led by El Hadi Jazairy and Rania Ghosn. The office’s work engages the geographic to open up a range of aesthetic and political concerns for architecture and urbanism. Literally, ‘earth-writing’ from the Greek geo (earth) and graphia (writing), the practice of making geographies involves the coupled undertakings of “writing about,” projecting or representing the earth and also “writing on,” marking, forming or presenting again a world. 

Design Earth is based in Ann Arbor, MI and Cambridge MA.
Project Team: El Hadi Jazairy + Rania Ghosn, Jia Weng, Mingchuan Yang, Shuya Xu, Hsin-Han Lee, Sihao Xiong
Exhibition installation and production: Matthew Tarpley, Joseph Swerdlin, Nicholas Pacula, Kent Rodzwicz/TINT Boston

Rania Ghosn
 is an architect, geographer and partner of Design Earth. She is currently assistant professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture + Planning. Her work critically frames the urban condition at the intersection of politics, aesthetics and technological systems - be they energy, trash, or farming. Rania holds a Doctor of Design from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, a Master in Geography from University College London, and a Bachelor of Architecture from American University of Beirut. Prior to joining MIT, she was an Assistant Professor at University of Michigan and a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Boston University. Rania is founding editor of the journal New Geographies and editor-in-chief of NG2: Landscapes of Energy. Some of her recent writings have been published in GSD Platform, Journal of Architectural Education, MONU, Thresholds, Bracket, San Rocco, and Perspecta.

El Hadi Jazairy is a licensed architect and a founding partner of Design Earth. He is currently assistant professor of architecture at the University of Michigan. His research investigates spaces of exception –such as institutional campuses, free zones, and city-states– as predominant forms of contemporary urbanization. El Hadi holds a Doctorate of Design from Harvard, a Master of Architecture from Cornell, and a Bachelor of Architecture from La Cambre in Brussels. Prior to his appointment at the University of Michigan, El Hadi was Lecturer at MIT, and a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard. El Hadi is founding editor of the journal New Geographies and editor-in-chief of NG4: Scales of the Earth. Some of his recent work has been published in Journal of Cultural Geography, GSD Platform, Topos, Journal of Architectural Education, San Rocco, and MONU.