The Politics of Mapping the Invisible

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Studio Instructors

Eva Castro and Federico Ruberto (

The studio takes on the challenging task of rethinking South China Sea, its geopolitical and material ecology through infrastructure and design, following the methodology of Landscape Urbanism.

Elements central to our methodology:

  • Infrastructure
    Rather than approach the question of infrastructure as a cosmetic problem –in need to be concealed, we treat it as an opportunity to engage with the machinic processes ranged across its sites. The critical role played by infrastructure in the organisation and management of the city’s complex systems of movement, communication and exchange is recognised as the basis from which its operation can be further developed and pushed beyond its tendency to fragment and divide toward other possibilities. We pursue the formal and material articulation of infrastructure, coordinating its operations with the territorial processes, forms and parameters identified in the site, developing its relation to the ground, and
    elaborating its architectural composition.Beyond the problem-solving and remedial capabilities, landscape and engineering techniques, such as soil remediation, water cleansing strategies, traffic control, earthworks… to name a few, become the medium through which concepts find the material constrains to emerge as highly designed spatial structures.
  • Ground morphologies
    Collectively, the approach to the different dimensions and registers of the site are coordinated through the morphology of the ground. It is especially through the treatment of the ground, through its formation, that we seek a means to resist the tendency to conceive a site as, ideally, horizontally articulated, absolutely flexible, and infinitely reprogrammable. We would argue that it is through form that landscape urbanism
    attains one of its principle means of agency as a design practice concerned to commit itself toward specific urban scenarios:This type of ‘groundwork’ provides an opportunity to generate artificial topographies with the formal capacity to structure relations between environmental, social, cultural and economic factors on a given site. Whilst the techniques employed for this type of groundwork may be borrowed from those used in more conventional techniques of landscaping, it is through their architectural elaboration that these forms
    achieve the greatest potential to articulate determinate — though not deterministic — urban relationships.

Studio’s structure:

  1. Indexing Territories
    The workshop understands mapping and diagramming as both exploratory and propositive, having an active and crucial role in the design process. Indexing records the constitution of a given territory. It registers its topographical, geological, environmental, demographic and socio-economic conditions as processes, forms and parameters. The aim is to develop the capacity to read information from fields and then decoding, synthesizing and systematically processing it into indexical models.
  2. Meshing the Grounds
    This workshop will deal with the mediation of bottom up readings and strategic decision-making concepts.The overall arrangement of the material components produced in the previous steps will be adjusted and further articulated to respond locally to specific conditions and globally to relational strategies.
  3. Scripting Prototypes
    The purpose of the workshop is to explore different scripting techniques as a means of creating flexible design tools that are capable of accommodating change and a degree of indeterminacy within the design process. In this stage we will generate variations of material components, linking them to a research on infrastructural, environmental and/or other spatial performance.

Testing ground_
Our testing ground has multiple designations across the various territories that frame it, varying from Nánhǎi to Biển Đông to Dagat Timog Tsina to Laut China Selatanin to Dagat Luzon. Its boundaries arise amidst the shorelines of China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam. Within its 3,500,000 square kilometres it contains no more than 15 square kilometres of land distributed within no less than 250 islands, atolls, cays, shoals, reefs, and sandbars; some seasonally submerged, others permanently underwater; some in continuous state of mutation, growing, solidifying…We refer to the South China Sea, the marginal sea part of the Pacific Ocean.

The SCS carries a tremendous strategic importance owned to the fact that one-third of the world’s shipping passes through it carrying over $3 trillion in trade each year; it contains fisheries that are crucial for the food security of millions in Southeast Asia and, it has huge oil and gas reserves -believed to lie beneath its seabed.

.-perennial disputes among 6 countries over its ownership.
.-huge environmental impact of dredging activity of site, destruction of coral reefs on site
-subduction + low salinity of the water
.-weakened buffering capacity to strong typhoons

Being one of the most important slocs in the seas on the one hand, and given the ambiguity of both, its morphological thresholds and masses dusting its waters on the other, this site has been subject of historical disputes over its sovereignty. These disputes are increasingly becoming one of Asia’s most potentially dangerous point of conflict, one with a political domino effect that could surpass by large the immediate region, creating new territorial alliances and hierarchies within the worldwide power structures.

We will read the (in)tangible lines drawn by geology, energy (resources) and politics and map the invisible, describe the submerged, uncover the concealed … in doing so we will design a future: the fictional context within which these precious 15 square kilometres are contained. Among many possible scenarios based on the hastening events taking place now, ours will choose to be situated within the polemic, evidencing the studio’s provocation.

Fiction will by the studio be developed as ecologically driven abstraction, because as Reza Negarestani put it, “terrestrial thought and creativity must essentially be associated with ecology, but an ecology which is based on the unilateral powers of cosmic contingencies such as climate changes, singularity drives, chemical eruptions and material disintegration. Any other mode of thought basking in the visual effects of Earth as a blue marble or the Sun as the exorbitant flame is but submission to heliocentric slavery” (Reza Negarestani, “Solar Inferno”).

The projects will utilise infrastructure –and its design, as the main vehicle to introduce new narratives within the territory’s interstices, envisaging strategies that will dwell on issues of connectivity, politicalgeographical adjacencies and temporal conditions. To design means for the studio to name “some natures rather than others”, since “the key political question is one that centers on the question of what kind of natures we wish to inhabit, what kinds of natures we wish to preserve, to make, or, if need be, to wipe off the surface of the planet (like the HIV virus, for example), and on how to get there. The fantasy of ‘sustainability’ imagines the possibility of an originally fundamentally harmonious Nature, one that is now out-of-synch but which, if ‘properly’ managed, we can and have to return to by means of a series of technological, managerial, and organizational fixes” (Erik Swyngedouw, “The Post-Political Condition and the Environment”)