Thinking Through Soil

Urbanization is always a process of soil formation. Every material process that shapes the construction of the urban environment passes through the soil at some point. In Thinking Through Soil, we will use ‘soil’ as an interpretive category to guide us through the political consequences, design epistemology, and material contingency of the urban environment. In particular, this seminar will take a close look at the Mexico City-Mezquital Valley system. The soils in the Mezquital Valley have been irrigated with untreated wastewater for longer than any other soil in the world, and are locked in a cycle of reciprocal presupposition with the desiccated soils of Mexico City’s rapidly subsiding lake-bed. As the world’s largest experiment in wastewater agriculture, the successes and limitations of this system are of deep significance to a warming world, and provide a concrete framework for testing the possibility of designing the relation between cities and the soil they produce.

The seminar will consist of two parts. In the first part we will examine the history and theory of urban soil, paying particular attention to the limitations and blind spots of the natural historical categories we have inherited and through which the category of soil has emerged. In the second part, we will use the Mexico City-Mezquital Valley system to rethink these natural historical categories, and test new design proposals for the architecture of post-natural soil.