‘AQUA INCOGNITA:’ Deciphering Liquid Territories in the Mexican Altiplano

Aligned with the GSD´s focus on Mexico´s urbanization challenges, and with a further commitment to advancing research by design at the GSD, Aqua Incognita aims to decipher an array of visions capable of advancing “nature-positive[1]” repairing actions in today water-scarce Central Mexican altiplano, toward more sustainable livelihoods and biocultural landscapes. This critical zone[2]—originally a wetland territory and now bordering the most urbanized region of the nation—is engaged in a transformative trajectory associated with unsustainable urban development now further exacerbated by our human-induced climate crisis.

This process is particularly visible in the Apan Plains, a sub-region of the altiplano formed by smallsettlements and medium-sized towns at eighty kilometers East of Mexico City, and whose landscape and basic source of ejidal employment is characterized by rainfed barley monoculture for the beer industry, overlaying a past landscape of agave fields for pulque, aguamiel and alcohol production. In these shifting liquid territories, climate change is accelerating the depletion of water resources, desertification, and the loss of crops and biodiversity. Besides, contemporary farming in service of global commodity chains and major water-intensive industrial players are layering new risks and driving land use changes that further challenge the uncertain futures of this region.

Using Apan as the initial case study, we will first map the environmental, social, and political barriers and enablers to the conservation and equitable distribution of water across this rural-urban aquographies. With this knowledge, we will formulate new design visions, alternative growth strategies, and novel infrastructural interventions, whose implementation could lead to more sustainable management and governance of water resources. The studio forms part of a multi-level assemblage of local universities, the municipality of Apan, the Hidalgo State Secretaries of Economic Development and Public Policy, six Ejidos commissariats, and a local office (eeTestudio) who will participate in lectures and reviews, and counts with sponsorship from international development agencies.


[1] https://www.naturepositive.org/

[2] https://zkm.de/en/exhibition/2020/05/critical-zones