Aqua Incognita II: Reimagining Liquidity in the Mexican Altiplano

Aqua Incognita II engages students in research by design, furthering the GSD focus on Mexico’s urbanization challenges, by advancing nature-positive[1] reparative actions in the water-scarce Central Mexican altiplano. This critical zone[2]—originally a wetland territory and today bordering the thirstiest region of the nation, Mexico City—is engaged with unsustainable water scarcity urbanization, exacerbated by our human-induced climatic crisis. With the objective of helping communities that are struggling to see a viable future, the studio is focusing on the critical design question of how we can return liquidity to these former aquageographies and inhabitants.

Thanks to our ongoing research project, the feasibility of a Water Fund is being considered with the support of the Nature Conservancy in the Apan Plains. This subregion of the altiplano, in the states of Hidalgo and Tlaxcala, is formed by small settlements and medium-sized towns, whose source of agricultural employment is rainfed barley monoculture for the global beer industry, in tandem with industrial employment in global commodity chains—all contributing to aquifer depletion. Our work will seek to enhance climate justice through landscape conservation, livelihood restoration, and urban water circularity to counterweight desertification, biocultural loss and failing crops as well as unregulated urban growth.

To do so, we will conduct four acts of design research over the course of the semester by deciphering actors, critical cartographies, alter-actions and reimagining alter-livelihoods. First, in Acts I, II, III, we will map and analyze environmental, social, and political barriers and enablers to the conservation and equitable distribution of water across this rural-urban formerly liquid terrains. A studio field visit to Apan, projected for early October 2022, will enable additional on-site experience and inquiry. With this knowledge, in Act IV, we will formulate new design visions whose implementation could lead to more sustainable distribution and management of water resources. The studio forms part of a multi-year collaboration between Harvard GSD, local universities, the municipality of Apan, six Ejido (collective) commissariats, and a local office (eeTestudio). Many of these collaborators will participate in lectures and reviews.