Material Geographies 1: Large-Scale Infrastructure and Urbanization in the Sonoran Desert

AbstractThis advanced research workshop aims to explore the role of territorial infrastructural systems in relation to \”fast paced\” forms of urbanization within the North American context. Using the North American Desert City as an \”open laboratory\” (Primarily the Phoenix / Tucson mega-corridor), the seminar will explore the relationship between fast-paced forms of urban development and a broad host of environmental resources that enable their existence. Furthermore, through a series of lectures, discussions, and mixed media drawing explorations, the course will serve as a speculative platform to rethink the territory\’s current infrastructural morphologies as potent organizational devices that can begin to reformat this ground, in order to conceive alternate formal and experiential identities that begin to bridge the abyss between mute patterns of development and the unacknowledged material forces of the region. BackgroundNot unlike many North American urban scenarios, settlements along the western edge of the Sonoran Desert, primarily in the Phoenix-Tucson urban corridor, have established a bipolar relationship with their immediate environment. In this region, fast-paced urbanization has thwarted the material presence of the desert and the diverse ecologies that enable its existence. Conceived and constructed as a synthetic sponge that can artificially accommodate bosky lawns, lush golf courses, and exotic palm trees, the region\’s arid ground has been replaced by a seamless, overextended artificial quilt, originally tailored for agricultural production, and today composed primarily of low-density residential developments and their respective services and amenities. This unclasped urban expansion, conceptually removed from the desert, has been enabled by infrastructures that exploit the scarce resources found within the region\’s broader, arid biome. An accretion of diverse infrastructures, tasked primarily with a laborious manipulation of water, has generated an inconspicuous public works system that fuels the terrain\’s excessive scales of development. Currently, a critical reduction in the area\’s water supply, paired with a nationwide disinvestment in public infrastructure, opens up the need for inventive organizational strategies that can rethink existing configurations of fast-paced, metropolitan growth areas within arid landscapes. However, present professional and conventional modes of representation lack the agility to tackle the terrain\’s more animate processes generally resulting in banal forms of urban development, that ignore the most ephemeral geographical pressures. FrameworkThrough a series of representation exercises and directed studies, students will construct visual profiles of this terrain, and attempt to render visible the eclipsed environmental and infrastructural dynamics that facilitate urban activity in this area. In doing so, the seminar will explore the embedded potential of current infrastructural systems to generate new, more inventive models of urbanization.Throughout the course of the semester, five distinct, yet interrelated constructs will be investigated:Ground: will explore the broader ecological dynamics of the North American Desert in relation to the diverse forms of urbanization in the last fifty years. Hydrology: will engage the dynamics of water in the region, and examine the diverse mechanisms put in place to harvest it for agricultural and urban uses. Cultivation: will focus on the multiple ways in which this territory has been transformed from arid ground into a productive agricultural quilt, and analyze the influence of agricultural patterns in the region\’s urban morphologies. Fracture: will investigate the diverse Southwestern surveying expeditions and their imprint in the dimensioning of the land. Students will specificall