M.ARCH Option Studio // Adaptive Archipelagos – Great Lakes Futures

The Department of Homeland Security in the United States identified water as one of the primary threats to National Security – citing the primacy of the Great Lakes as a desired ground zero for environmental refugees in the case of anticipated water crises, including aquifer exhaustion, watershed destruction, environmental pollution. Steady erasures of ecological and environmental accountability protections (more apparent in recent news from the US and EPA head Scott Pruitt’s declarations – despite “official” government documents – but also from the Canadian government) subject our lakes, rivers and liquid landscapes to increasing and disastrous stressors – many of which are initiated, formed and deployed by human hands.  We can look both far and near to see evidence of this. First Nations and indigenous communities are still under do-not-drink or boil-water advisories. Cape Town [1] is rationing its water supplies; families are subject to daily water-quotas and one-flush-a-day toilet rules. On the one hand, we have exhaustion, and on the other, inundation. The other dimension of this paucity is plenty – but not in the positive: catastrophic storms, disastrous rain events, global warming, climate change – all wrought, in larger part, by the excesses of our technologies.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that 70% of coastlines worldwide are projected to experience sea level change, and it is very likely that over 95% of the ocean will rise,[2] although many experts feel that sea level rise will likely exceed IPCC projections. Global warming indicators mean that extreme weather events will become more intense and more frequent; contending with rising sea levels is not the only challenge, but also extreme rain, extreme snow, already saturated grounds. In May 2017, then Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, declared a state of emergency when persistent rainfall caused the failure of three dikes in the Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough. Île-Bizard and Île-Mercier had also been evacuated and parts of Montreal (like Ottawa-Gatineau) were under water. This studio will investigate and speculate on the spatial implications of excess through the design of an adaptive – and hybrid – condition that is responsive to a changing landscape.

This studio will engage the waterworks of a liquid body: each student will work, on one of the Great Lakes: Superior, Michigan, Erie, Huron, Ontario) and, for the last part of the studio, on the speculative waterworks of that body. Students will explore the waterscape of these liquid territories through both their technical and experiential dimensions and the connotative and denotative aspects of each: silt, particles, wetness, vapor, fullness, emptiness, bathymetry, inundated, soaked, drizzle, viscous, lock, dam, trickle, watercourse, river. The formation (and formations) of the desert is paired with the formation and morphologies of water:  wind-blown, wind-swept, inundated, drizzle, soak, dry, cracked, viscous, trickle, flood, muddy, river, lake, dredge. of the studio. The second part of the studio focuses on the development  an adaptive spatial intervention that engages with the challenges of sea level rise, climate change and future change scenarios? Will this be a exploring a port future for Duluth? Defensive urban strategies to avoid a subaqueous urban future?  A sudden climate change shift that requires the consideration of new dams, urban watercourses and urban oases? Does Toronto float? What happens to the interface between the Great Lakes and shipping infrastructure along its watercourses? What is the new adaptive archipelago / liquid future of the Great Lakes ?


[1] See Rosa Lyster’s essay in the New Yorker, “Counting down to Day Zero in Cape Town,” https://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/counting-down-to-day-zero-in-cape-town

[2] https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/unfccc/cop19/3_gregory13sbsta.pdf

[Header image by Martin McDonald]