Territorial Organization Beyond Agglomeration: Towards an Atlas of the Global Hinterland

This research seminar starts with an understanding of urbanization as a process of generalized territorial organization where cities, metropolises, megalopolises are the focal points in the utilization of the whole earth by humans. Building upon the agenda of Planetary Urbanization – under development at Urban Theory Lab GSD – the seminar will try to investigate how the global system of agglomerations although occupying no more than 3% of the planetary terrain, are responsible, through their multi-scalar metabolic interdependencies, for the organization of most of the 75% of the earth’s surface currently used. The goal of the seminar will be to challenge the agency of designers to systematically engage with, spatialize and chart the organizational contours of this rather obscure ‘global hinterland’: the patterns, typologies, distribution and equipment of specialized landscapes of production, extraction and waste disposal and their logistical coordination through dense infrastructural networks into global commodity chains.

The seminar is structured around two pillars, one aiming to unpack conceptual and methodological challenges and a second emphasizing on the development of a critical cartographic attitude. Weekly themes will range from an overview of seminal historical and contemporary examples in which design disciplines have tried to deal with the organization of world resources and land use (B. McKaye, R.B. Fuller, C.A Doxiadis, recently OMA report); to contemporary strands of research that can help grasp the structure and organizational complexity of the global hinterland. With a steady reference to the emerging agenda of Planetary Urbanization and especially the concept of operational landscapes, the seminar will draw from scholarship in critical and economic geography, environmental studies, Global Commodity Chains, Global Production Networks and Large Technical Systems. It will address issues of uneven development, geopolitics, and technological and geographical determinism and bring them in dialogue with recent preoccupations of designers to engage with increasingly larger contexts. In parallel, the seminar will introduce advancements in geographic information systems and experiment with cartographic techniques that make such an investigation possible, but also critically address their blindspots and limitations.

The seminar requires active engagement with weekly readings and discussions as well as a semester-long cartographic research project around a specific territory and resource crucial in the global system of exchange (food, minerals, energy) that will trace the possibility of an Atlas of the Global Hinterland.