Houston: Extreme Weather, Environmental Justice and the Energy Transition

This multidisciplinary studio will use the lenses of climate adaptation, climate mitigation and climate justice to explore the design opportunities that could come with a wholesale reconfiguration of the Houston Ship Channel area, where sites left empty by the drawdown of fossil-fuel industries can be re-imagined as sites for clean energy, logistics and natural systems. This transition, so is the studio’s hypothesis, creates the opportunity for the communities near the Downtown end of the channel to reconnect, remediate and regenerate.

After the group research phase, interdisciplinary teams of 2 will design individual projects based on a self-formulated brief. Taken together, these designs form a catalogue of responses that can stimulate the conversation about the Houston’s transformation to a climate robust and just city in a post-fossil world.

For these types of complex questions, design can play a powerful role as a convener and synthesizer. The aim of the studio is to use design to visualize the challenges and opportunities, to develop strategies, and to innovate and envision the future environments (neighborhoods, landscapes, facilities and buildings) that a just transition to a climate robust city can bring, in a feedback-process with stakeholders and experts. The mid-term, which will also take place in Houston, will be used for local validation of, and feedback on, the initial design concepts.

The studio will use a pedagogy that fosters interdisciplinary collaboration, multi-scalar thinking, and an awareness of the relationships between physical and social environments in the face of uncertainty. Within this format, we will explore how climate change and the energy transition and migration intersect with social, economic and environmental justice. In the process, we will leverage digital technology to help with analysis and projections.

This studio is the first of a series of studios sponsored by AECOM, who will also support the studio with subject-matter expertise. Focusing on ‘tropical resilience’, the studio series will span the globe looking at the unique conditions  of the tropics, many of which we also find in Houston, such as rapid urbanization and weak planning instruments, with no strong separation between functionalities in urban areas; intense climate conditions and risks – storms, wet bulbs, extreme seasonal variability-; histories of colonialism, segregation and extraction, often combined with a lack of appreciation for local knowledge and agency. As part of the series, each studio will result in a publication and an exhibition, combined with a symposium.

Friday 2:00 – 6:00, with additional desk crits during the week at mutually agreeable times.
Instruction will be in person.