The Mississippi Studio: Appropriating the Terrain of the Basin Model

The Mississippi Basin Model (MBM) was the world\’s most ambitious working model. Located in the township of Clinton on the outskirts of Jackson, MS, it covers approximately forty acres of land, cleared and molded in the 1940s into a giant relief map. A vertical foot on the model equaled 100 feet of the Mississippi landscape, a horizontal step on the model was a mile, and 5.4 minutes in its working was a day in the real world. Here, in one-third square mile, was the third largest river basin in the world after the Amazon and the Congo – representing 1,250,000 square miles of land reaching from the Appalachians to the Rocky Mountains, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.The model, in operation until 1973 and now abandoned and in ruin, was once both a miniature of the Mississippi river basin and the experimental ground of a powerful control regime. It was built by German prisoners of war, fitted with pumps, monitors, and drains, and manned by engineers. This constructed landscape was \’worked\’ to plot, and to market design interventions that were then built in the actual basin in an effort to manage flows and prevent flood.The City of Jackson, the present owner of the MBM, is at a loss for what to do with this icon of River Hydraulics. Restoring it to its original working condition is not a viable option and destroying all traces of it is just as unlikely. The MBM, in its abandonment, presents a unique design opportunity.The studio will appropriate the extension and ambition of the MBM. While it will focus on transforming its 40 acres, it will also acknowledge the model\’s agency in transforming a larger terrain. In this sense we will challenge notions of site even as we challenge conventional representations of landscape.The studio will explore an investigative approach to design. Students will undertake research, mapping, and analogous constructions in an attempt to represent the terrain of the model as a dynamic landscape. This investigation will open design opportunities and initiate strategies for transforming the MBM as well as territories \’extended\’ from and \’worked\’ by it. The studio is open to landscape architecture, architecture, and urban design students.There will be one funded field trip to the MBM and to territories along the Mississippi River that the model impacted – the Baton Rouge/New Orleans corridor, the Atchafalaya floodway/swamp, the Old River Control Structure at Simmesport, the Waterworks Experiment Station at Vicksburg, and the Yazoo Delta.