Housing & Infrastructure in Yucatan: Beyond the Mayan Train

The Yucatán Peninsula in southeastern Mexico has been described as “one big flat slab of limestone gently slanting into the sea.” It is a place where urbanization and environmental preservation have always been in delicate balance due to its particular geological conditions: a medium to low tropical rainforest on water-soluble limestone. An underground water system produces sinkholes called cenotes, despite the lack of major rivers.

In the 1840’s John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, influenced by explorers such as Alexander von Humboldt, traveled to the Yucatán Peninsula and documented some of the most important archeological sites in the region. Catherwood’s litographs and Stephen’s book, ‘Incidents of Travel in Yucatán’, were instrumental in sharing with the world the relevance, breadth, and impact of Mayan culture in the region

From Tulum and Bacalar in the east to Celestún and its mangroves to the west, from the archeological site of Calakmul in the middle of the rainforest to Rio Lagartos on the northern coast, and from centuries old cities such as Campeche and Mérida to recent tourist territories such as Cancún and the Mayan Rivera, the Yucatán Peninsula is a territory in constant flux.

In recent months, the new federal government in Mexico announced the construction of the Mayan Train, an ambitious work of infrastructure, which will connect an important number of cities and towns in the region including Campeche, Mérida, Chichén Itzá, Cancún, and Palenque. Highly polemical due to its environmental implications and its lack of clear objectives, the projects seek to address the historical infrastructural shortcomings in the region while also laying the groundwork for networked economic growth and new forms of housing and employment across the territory.

This studio will look at the region in its historical and contemporary shifts and develop more productive, sustainable, and inclusive models for territorial transformation. We will critically engage tools of environmental and hydrological restoration, cultural heritage preservation, housing, as well as infrastructure and tourism, as ways to think about connectivity, form, inhabitation, and development in the Peninsula at large.