The Forms of Water: Aquatic Landscapes in South America

South America can be analyzed as an aquatic territory: the three major river basins (Orinoco, Amazonas and the Plata), ground waters as the Guaraní aquifer, or the immense southern iced fields, claim the attention of global environmental policies, which are today focused on water. However, the economic and social advantages offered by plans of development, largely based on these resources, seem to be in conflict with ecological and cultural issues, in a subcontinent with isolated communities and territories practically “untouched” by western civilization. These unsolved oppositions force us to reconsider the usual ways in which we understand and transform the world. In this perspective, South America can be considered as a test case.

Throughout this seminar, we will link the theoretical questions that water poses with concrete cases. We will deal first with the big dimension of fluvial infrastructure, considering debates, projects and executions through the last two centuries. This part of the seminar is linked with the transcontinental research network South American Project / GSD.

From this broad picture we will move to what was once known as the “Jesuit Republic”, the most renowned example of heterotopia followed between the XVII and XVIII C. The fluvial region, under the hegemony of the guaraní people when the Conquest began, was deeply transformed by the Jesuits. The area can also be considered in terms of its energetic potential and its natural “monuments” (Iguazú Falls). Prof. Silvetti’s concurrent Option Studio will deal with an intervention in this same region.

We will consider next the cities and ports, which commanded from the first centuries after the Conquest the whole process of territorial control. Today, around 80% of the population of South America is urban: the contrast between its “virgin” hearth and metropolis like Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires is a key element in our discussion.

The last case concerns the iced Patagonia and Antarctica. Through the “frozen continent” we fully enter the global world. Patagonia has been inhabited since 15000 years ago, but Antarctica can be considered the last no-man’s land, “without” human history, the Paradise of Science.

The seminar will consist in lectures and discussions. As the semester goes on, the students are invited to present their own cases of interest in the South American region, selected among those which were considered, or proposing new ones. The oral presentations will be the basis of the papers that students will submit at the end of the course.