Desert Futures. Scenarios for a World of Extremes

Desert Futures is a multidisciplinary studio at the intersection of research, spatial design, and activism. It aims to spatialize and make visible the tensions between cultural and natural systems, and design visions and strategies for habitation, transformation, and remediation that center on environmental justice and care in the face of the climate crisis and future uncertainties.
In the past century, the desert has been settled, mined, farmed, and bombed. It has served as a ground for all sorts of human experimentation. Transforming the desert into a productive or hospitable space has been the fixation of many (scientists, economists, industrialists, politicians, ideologists, artists, designers, engineers, and the market) and, by extension, modernity. The environmental consequences of these extractive practices are grave and include uncontrolled urbanization, soil pollution, depletion of resources, perpetual drought, disease, and extinction—all exacerbated by the climate emergency.
The World Atlas for Desertification predicts that by 2050, 90 percent of the Earth’s land will be degraded due to human actions, rendering many places across the world uninhabitable and expanding desert regions and the precarity of life within them. Learning from the desert as a planetary site and understanding these processes can help us not only develop scenarios and strategies for change but also speculate on how resources are governed, managed, and shared amongst various constituents (human and nonhuman) in extreme conditions.

The studio will be focused on the North American desert ecoregion, particularly on a selection of sites along the Mojave and the Sonoran deserts that demonstrate the entanglement between extraction, perpetual waste, irresponsible water management, inhabitation, and environmental degradation. There is an urgent need to reimagine these spaces in time of future uncertainty and the climate crisis.

The goal of the studio is to analyze and make visible the processes of the desert’s colonization, to identify extractive typologies of architecture, urbanism, infrastructure, and land use, and to design opportunities for their transformation based on the values of environmental and social justice and radical care.
The studio will use a pedagogy that fosters interdisciplinary collaboration, a whole environment/system approach, multi-scalar thinking, and an awareness of the relationships between physical and social environments in the face of uncertainty. Within this format, we will experiment with the agency of design to research, engage with various constituents, tell stories, develop strategies, and design interventions on the scale of the site and the scale of the system.

The studio will include guest lectures and conversations with Joseph Grima on Non-Extractive Architecture (Founder Space Caviar, Creative Director Design Academy Eindhoven), Dr. Maureen McCarthy on Native Waters on Arid Lands (Research Professor at the Desert Research Institute), Diana K. Davis DVM, Ph.D. on The Arid Lands (Chair, Geography Graduate Group. The University of California at Davis), and more.