What Is a Lake? Post industrial Landscapes in Texcoco

Just a few kilometers north from Mexico City’s historic colonial center lies the arid desiccated lakebed of former Lago Texcoco. Historically, Texcoco has acted as a kind of biological appendix for the city’s urban metabolic waste, managing both sewage and solid waste land-fills. Today, it appears more like a graveyard of failed 20th century industrial projects. Conspicuous on satellite images of Texcoco are remnants of these projects: an abandoned salt harvesting operation sits like an ancient ammonite fossil by a billion-dollar airport runway whose terminals will never be built. The arresting emptiness of Texcoco’s sacrificial landscape has always stood in stark contrast to the density of the Megacity, perpetually implying a ‘land of opportunity’ or, at the very least, low-cost real estate. But like the quick-sand that always appears in colonial adventure narratives, Texcoco tends to (literally) swallow these ambitions. The soils of Texcoco are mostly water and highly compressible. The more water Mexico City extracts from under the city, the more Texcoco sinks, like a balloon that is constantly deflating. Any structure built on the soils of Texcoco will need to withstand an estimated 30 meter fall over the next 70 years.

Recently, there have been renewed attempts to think of the future of this former lake as something more than simply the toxic origin of asphyxiating dust-storms, the city’s best and most enduring monument to the colonial eco-cide of Aztlan, or the place where entrepreneurial ideas go to die. The architect Iñaki Echeveria is currently building an “ecological” park 36 times the size of Central Park in Manhattan, whose lush vegetation and questionable land acquisition practices have already inspired critique. However, the billion-dollar failure of the international airport has given these kinds of projects a new sense of urgency. The question of “what to do?” with Texcoco seems more urgent than ever, for a city whose social, economic, and ecological problems are increasingly inextricable. In this studio, we will take up this question in partnership with some of the most knowledgeable soil scientists currently investigating Texcoco in order to think with (not against) the arid, saline, subsiding soils of what we might call ‘the most misunderstood landscape in Mexico.’ Our basic intuition will be that despite its history, or perhaps because of it, Texcoco holds the key to Mexico City’s future.

This studio will trave to Mexico City where we will work in collaboration with ETH Master of Science in Landscape Architecture and UNAM Masters in Soil Science and Geology. We will travel together and have joined guest lectures, workshops, and pinups. Students will work in pairs to define a territorial strategy and then will be asked to develop specific sites in detail with optional individual work.