60 607 A Motorway Named Rio


Passed foundation level courses/ Bachelor

Recommended prerequisite knowledge

Open for landscape and architecture students

Obligatory for 2nd semester landscape architecture master students

Course content

The studio will investigate the transformation of a motorway named Rio Santiago and research in what ways the rethinking of a key infrastructure could trigger an environmentally and socially just development of the urban habitat.

The Boulevard Rio Santiago is the main artery of the metropolitan area of San Luis Potosí in Mexico, a world heritage city with a population of one million people, a centre for international car fabrication, located in a semi-arid climate. The boulevard was built in a dry river, in part for its strategic location and in part for sanitation reasons. With a changing climate and a growing city, what had been a reasonable plan at its time, has become highly problematic: Recently occurring heavy rains frequently cause the flooding and mudding of the motorway bringing the city to a collapse.
The motorway’s trouble is prototypical (and a metaphor) for the challenges of contemporary cities and will serve as the spatial spine and conceptual entry point for engaging necessary transformations towards a city that is able to consolidate environmental systems, urbanization pressures and a culture of social participation.

When addressing the problem of the highway inevitably city-wide and interrelated issues unfold: water-management, urban climate, transportation networks, accessibility of jobs and services, social fragmentation and marginalisation, densification, cultural heritage and landscapes, leading finally into the question of how these aspects are embedded in urban form and public spaces.
Given the spatial constraints of the already built city, what are the opportunities to define synergies between the ecological and socio-economical challenges at hand? What are the appropriate scales to address the challenges?

The question of flooding and rainwater management for example needs to be situated within the scale of the region and might be coupled with the facilitation of improved water supply and health of marginalized populations and areas. At the same time, and at a local scale, social segregation and the physical and perceptual barriers that entrench the social divide and facilitated by the dissecting character of the motorway, could be eased through its upgrading into a green and ecological infrastructure. The question of mobility, with a strong demand for better bike connections and public transport, could be coupled with a reforestation of the main avenues, improving the city's urban micro-climate. Linked to transportation is the question of equal access to job opportunities, public facilities and services, impeded by the city’s vast extension and fragmentation. This could be countered by a densification and the accommodation of housing in the low rise inner city - an inquiry that potentially conflicts with the heritage buildings and the promotion of cultural landscapes and needs to be addressed on an architectural scale.

The studio will engage with the obvious urban issues of contemporary cities set at the intersection between region, landscape, urbanism and architecture. In San Luis Potosí they lay bare, calling for urban designs now.

Learning outcomes

The design research studio will provide students with conceptual categories to address the complex, multilayered and interrelated issues of urban sustainability from the intersecting perspective of landscape design, urbanism and architecture.

Concretely, students will develop skills in the critical transformation of infrastructural and already built out urban areas under high development pressure.
Students will acquire methodological skills from the creation of interpretative maps and projective cartography to strategic scenario development, as well as proposition of concrete designs out of the strategic approach. This involves a multi-scalar ability to move fluently between the territorial, urban and architectural scales.

The studio’s underlying thesis will encourage the rethinking of urban, social and environmental challenges as opportunities to develop liveable and just spaces. Students will develop an adequate professional vocabulary and communication skills.

Additionally, the participants will learn to act in an international context and to bridge language and cultural barriers through a shared professional agenda.

Working and learning activities

The studio elaborates on multi-scalar design methods and approaches to support ecological and context- and time-responsive urbanism in relation to already existing urban structures.

The studio is organized around four phases:

First phase: mapping of different urban layers such as hydrology, mobility, vegetation, density, heritage, growth pattern, social and economical structure on the territorial scale with GIS.
This phase will involve familiarization with notions of environmental justice and sustainability techniques. It will be accompanied by input lectures.

Second phase: strategic transformation scenario development on an urban and landscape scale, based on findings and coupling of different layers from the first phase.
This phase will focus on the spin-offs of a possible transformation of the motorway and will be conducted as a collaborative workshop and group work in San Luis Potosí and involve public presentations.

Third phase: elaborating the design strategies into landscape, public space and architectural proposals, visualizing and “telling” the proposals to communicate to a broad audience. This phase will involve video sessions with students from San Luis Potosí.

Final phase: Production of a studio booklet that can serve as a tool to advance the discussion on sustainable urban transformation in and outside San Luis Potosí.

AHO: Sabine Müller (architect/urban designer), Gauthier Durey (architect, landscape architect)

In collaboration with UASLP, San Luis Potosi, Mexico: Marcela López (architect/urban planner) Victor Gutiérrez (architect/urban planner), Ricardo Villasis (architect/environmental planner), Benjamín Alva (urban planner), Adrián Moreno (architect/urban planner), Renato Ramos (biologist)

Professor in charge

Sabine Müller