Sound Locators

This studio is about the future

– the immediate future, the one just out of reach – embedded in the present but not yet unleashed. The studio sets out to mine new and constructive relationships between emergent infrastructures and contemporary urban protocols in the ‘contested landscape’, interrogating the history of oil and energy production in the US in order to open new possibilities for the future of American cities.

To forge a new path, create new models. The studio recognizes this moment in our energy policy that could transform our place in the world and is already shaping the cities in which we live.  Our sites are the alien landscapes that are becoming increasingly familiar – sites whose sheer scale can alter the fortunes of nations, and the climate across the globe. Sites that beg new, forboding terminologies, with names like kill zones, split estates, and carbon cemeteriesTo mine these relationships the course is structured similar to an energy expedition. Students will speculate, explore, extract, and export.

In a changing ecological and cultural context, the demands on existing and developing infrastructure are many. A discourse centered on efficiency, resiliency, and profit is driving decisions that will continue to shape cities and lives for generations. The studio will interrogate the many and alternate histories of infrastructural development relative to oil and energy production in the US, in order to open new possibilities for the future of American cities. Students will question historical conceptions of energy infrastructure as a condition for growth, detail its current capacity as a conduit for new and emerging services, and speculate on future infrastructural logics that can act as a site and productive testbed for competing geospatial and geopolitical agendas.
The doomsday narrative of ‘peak oil’ has recently been displaced by its own market pressures, with high energy prices spurring technological advances and exploration in previously unfathomable locales, extending the forecasted ‘end of oil’ indefinitely. Hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’), deep sea exploration, and a host of other ameliorative technologies are radically transforming the economic and geologic fortunes of the US, and large swaths of the Western Hemisphere.

The urban and architectural implications of this transformation are as yet unknown. New company towns and worker camps emerge throughout newly explored territories, a new frontier characterized by hardship, speculation, and profiteering. Benefitting from newfound sources of energy and labor, the American City is poised for explosive change, rapidly transforming relationships to its hinterland, its borders, and its international neighbors. The studio seeks to extract the unique logics of these territories to uncover and affect how they will shape the city to come.

The Keystone Pipeline currently transports high volumes of crude oil from sources in Alberta Canada through North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri to distribution centers in Southern Illinois. The proposed Keystone XL extension is a hotly contested addition to this network, which would travel through Montana and South Dakota, skirting the edge of the ecologically sensitive Sand Hills region, and atop the Ogallala Aquifer – one of the nation’s largest sources of water for drinking and irrigation. The pipeline would increase capacity to the Gulf Coast, where the Canadian crude is able to be refined by modern refineries and exported to global markets – constituting a significant part of the national economy. Significant protests by environmentalists and labor advocates have questioned the ecological safety and economic viability of the project. Portions of the larger Keystone project not requiring presidential approval have been completed, while a permit for Keystone XL – the international, northernmost leg- has been denied by the State Department. Debate continues as to the future of the pipeline and Canadian crude in the US.

The studio will conceive of the pipeline as a new intercontinental territory, a major national north/south conduit, a potential stronghold in a new energy economy, and as a site of potential existential and ecological risk.

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