Xingu River, Brazil

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.


Concluding remarks:

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.

The Truth of Worlds. I have been here long before you I have witnessed more than you can remember When you brought to me truths I only saw lies As you fool yourself believing it will be you to save us all, all I see is that it is you who needs saving. As you grasp ever tighter, attempting to keep to your truths, the only one to know is mine. Ultimately, I will continue here, When all that is you, ceases to exist, because I have learned to be true to myself. And, as you continue to deny the only truth there is to know: There is no me and you, but only us.
Synchronizing Paths. The Synchronization Field Diagram attempts to map the possibilities of synchronization between worlds and the existing systems common to all in order to align possible mediation strategies through design interfaces.
Systemic Mappings. The mapping and overlay of selected systems indicated by the Synchronization Field indicates possible sites for meditation.
Naturalizing River Flow. With the proposed opening on the dam the right branch of the river, once a fertile nesting and feeding ground for riverine species, can once more be irrigated and its ecology regulated by the river's natural water pulses thus guaranteeing stable habitats for human and non-human species to thrive. Strategically positioned dikes along certain sections of the river, direct and concentrate the water flow according to its water level. As the water rises according to the natural river pulse cycles, water can spill over flooding the next section of the river. In this way, enough water is concentrated to guarantee habitat ecology along the river according to the water released through the dam. With time, these dikes will disappear as they trap sediment and debris flowing through the river, allowing for flora to fix above them.
Worldviews. Three worldview perspectives of the proposed walkway to reconnect shore populations to the river, resignifying the way occupation occurs. 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.