The Right to the Sewage

The Mezquital Valley is the world’s longest running experiment with wastewater agriculture, having received all of Mexico City’s untreated sewage continuously since 1901. What started as a small stream at the beginning of the 20th century is now a torrent that irrigates and fertilizes 220,000 acres of farmland. While the sewage offers an enormous free subsidy to these farmers in the form of nitrogen and other plant nutrients, it also poses human health risks and long term environmental challenges for the valley’s soil. The recent construction of a billion dollar wastewater treatment plant has sparked fierce resistance from farmers, who claim that their yields have been reduced by half while contaminants like heavy metals remain in the treated water. For these farmers, poverty is also a health risk.

In this studio we will examine the mutual co-construction of Mexico City and the Mezquital Valley in order to propose a way forward. A basic assumption of this studio will be that the world cannot afford for wastewater agriculture to fail, as climate change will make dry-land farming increasingly important for food sustainability in many of the world's largest cities. How do these cities need to change in order to support wastewater agriculture? How does agriculture need to change to better anticipate its metabolic connection to the bodies and urban milieu of 20 million people? In our work we will develop projects that confront material relations on both sides of the sewage pipe.

This studio is supported by the SOM Foundation. Over the course of the semester we will engage scholars and activists from Mexico, and benefit from a collaboration with Mexican students of edaphology at UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Spanish language competence is encouraged, but not required. Our work will require us to develop projects to a high level of detail, with an emphasis on drawing. We will also develop our technical competency in adapting architectural drawing for web-ready content. Students will work independently, but we will benefit from a collective attitude towards knowledge production.

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Option Studio Presentations

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