2021 Design Studies Thesis Prize: Juan David Grisales’ “From Humboldt to Caldas: Environmental Liberations through Tropical Altitudes”

Tropical Landscape

Ceroxylon quindiuense (Quindío wax palm)

by Juan David Grisales (MDes / MLA I AP ’21) — Recipient of the Design Studies Thesis Prize

When we stand on earth and think of the world in latitudinal terms, we are minimal, yet this is the world we attempt to conquer and pretend to comprehend. When we stand at low altitudes in the tropics, in front of tropical glaciers, we can see the world—through altitude—without the need to go out in space to synthesize an image of this planet.

This thesis proposes a deviation from reading the world in latitudinal terms, to see beyond north-south dichotomies, and to transcend binary norms that have largely defined and misinterpreted tropical environments. While many of these territories have achieved political independence, the colonial structures of power and imperial views remain, and they continue to govern us.

The work is developed through two interconnected components. First, a group of essays that examine and conceptualize a series of “Environmental Liberations” in the tropical Andes, which include liberations of ecologies, grounds, and publics, but most importantly, liberations of the mind, social constructions, and imposed norms that are constantly manifested in the built and non built environment.

Second, these ideas are also narrated and abstractly projected through time and space to generate a “Tropical Journey,” as a time line to disseminate history and a device to assess tropical diversity. This historical trip and landscape narration is an invitation to read the earth’s short elevation, which only extends a few kilometers, and explores how altitude becomes “a Tropical Liberation”—a disassociation from misperceptions of “tropical” as a homogeneous hot and humid climatic condition.

Visit the 2021 Virtual Commencement Exhibition to see more from this and other prize-winning projects.