The Xingu River sits within the Eastern Amazon Biome, flowing into the Amazon River. The basin sits within the deforestation belt of the Amazon, where encroaching activities threaten the rainforest. This region holds a multitude of endemic species and is home to around 26 indigenous Amerindian nations across 21 Indigenous territories and 9 nature conservation units. The complexity of its spatial arrangement is only surpassed by the extent of its history and ecological complexity. As we face our planet’s ecological collapse due to resource based developmentalism, life on a planetary scale is increasingly threatened. Under the Anthropocene, urbanization networks have expanded beyond the traditional concept of hinterland. Planetary urbanization theory (Brenner & Schmid, 2012) unravels how untouched regions are now operationalized and incorporated into global resource networks.
In the Xingu River basin, all life has developed around water. The importance of the river pulse, which in turn depends on continental and planetary water flow cycles, has been suddenly altered by the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam. Such conditions are stark reminders of the detrimental effect that infrastructure projects of this magnitude can have when environmental and ecological cycles are not fully taken into consideration.
This project explores the possibilities for mediation of natural and local social systems with the demands of development of Modernity in the river basin, specifically in the areas directly affected by reduced water flow caused by the Dams diversion of most of the river’s flow towards reservoirs for energy generation.
Traditionally, Amazon rivers are spaces that allow for shared occupation. By considering water as the mediative space, forms of shared occupation and use are proposed which can enable the reconfiguration of coexistence and forms of life in the Xingu River according to varied worldviews. This sensitive approach towards local existences looks for a type of urbanization different from that of the modern project. In order to identify potential synchronicities between worldviews, a framework for reading worldview alignments regarding the systems in question was developed. Through this framework, the process of drawing and mapping spatial interactions is informed by the values of each worldview. The project then identifies the systemic elements which compose and dictate certain social, economic and ecologic conditions with potential for interface designs. In this way, design proposals can address the social and ecological consequences brought by the dam’s construction and operation.
This project questions the role and limits of urbanism in such territories, exploring a mediative design approach which attempts to re-position the field of urbanism sensibly when operating within “not so obvious” urban environments and territories. As urbanization expands beyond the traditional definition of the urban-rural dichotomy, according to planetary urbanism theory (Brenner & Schmid, 2012), so too must the field encompass the transition of these territories as results / or under the influence of urban decisions and demands.
This thesis poses a question to our field that possibly cannot be answered with the tools we have at our disposal. If the field intends to position itself within such territories, we must begin to propose an alternative paradigm which can territorialize cosmopolitics.
Assuming a position where the best solution for the identified problems caused by the Dam is its dismantlement, we can state that there is no space for Large Infrastructure projects within the Amazon that can secure social and ecological balance and sustainability.
Coming from an Ecological Urbanism position, the examples of design proposed by this project are unable to address the complexity in such landscapes, caused by the existence of the dam.
Solutionist design approaches acting on such conflicting territories not only risk falling short of truly addressing the main problem but may also be a precedent for the construction of more large infrastructure projects in the region.
Brenner, N. & Schmid, C. (2012). Planetary Urbanization. In M. Gandy (Eds.), Urban Constellations (pp. 10-13). Berlin: Jovis.