Restorative Practices: Learning from Food, Culture, and Climate in Northern New Mexico

Food Culture

Regional cuisines are shared cultural memories built on distinct relationships between people and land. And yet, the modern industrialized food system is a vast machine calibrated for the impossible ideals of homogeneity, efficiency, compliance, and infinite growth.

The production and consumption of food shapes the world around us, and setting the table for a shared meal is a powerful force for transformation. This studio will explore the entangled production of food and our built environment as tangible, material manifestations of our societal and cultural values, and as powerful and urgent drivers of rapidly accelerating climate change. As we face converging crises of planetary heating, systemic social injustice, and global pandemics, the radical redesign of our food systems will be but one bellwether by which we measure urgent change. This studio will learn from the people and communities who have stewarded our land in reciprocal relationships throughout time as guides of how to design that radical transformation.


New Mexico is home to many convergent and conflicting culinary traditions, built over generations of clashes between cultures and on contested ground. This studio will consider foodways and agricultural history as our lens through which to understand Native and non-native New Mexican history, the legacy of Spanish colonialism and forced migration, the layers of systemic and legislative violence that have been enacted on Native peoples, the fight for sovereignty and self-determination, and the ecological transformation of an extreme landscape in service to an industrialized food system.

In a desert climate where dry-land farming knowledge has been cultivated and protected for generations, heavily-irrigated industrialized pecan production is now New Mexico’s top cash crop export. Breeding and growing green chilis has formed a cultural identity for an entire region of southern New Mexico. Native farmers and seed keepers maintain blue corn and other three sisters’ crops that have been bred to grow in dry climates, while white sonoma wheat and other small grains experience a resurgence in the region. Native farmers work to preserve dry-land farming practices passed down through generations, while grocery stores and other food retail outlets dwindle in the sparsely-populated state. Navajo beef ranchers work tirelessly to maintain healthy balance between their herds and their prairie grassland, while CAFO factory farms pollute the waterways just across the border. Heavily engineered irrigation systems supply water to southern New Mexico, while acequia water management maintains healthy aquifers in an extreme climate.

Meanwhile, as planetary heating intensifies, climate instability brings drier, hotter conditions, heavier rains, and ever-growing wildfires to the region.

Program & Site

This studio will design an educational center for food culture and farming that will collect, preserve, and project the food and farming traditions of New Mexico. As the changing climate upends many traditional ways of farming around the country - as growing conditions change, as extreme weather events become more frequent, and as desertification spreads - this project will center the intelligence, intergenerational knowledge, and food traditions of Native farmers, seed keepers, and chefs in service to resilient and adaptive food systems.

The program for this studio will be the holistic design of a 20 acre farm and food culture center in northern New Mexico, including:

  1. Teaching kitchen & classrooms
  2. Restaurant
  3. Museum / Gallery
  4. Seed Archive
  5. Library / Resource Center
  6. Production kitchen & agile processing infrastructure
  7. Cold storage
  8. Preservation lab: Canning, Dehydration, Freezing, Oil Preservation, Inoculation, Vinegar pickling, Fermentation
  9. Ecology & microbiology lab
  10. 2 acre teaching farm
  11. 20 acre production farm
  12. Watershed management

Course Structure

In the first four weeks of the semester, we will digest and draw New Mexican cuisine. Through research, data collection, mapping, interpretation, and drawing, students will locate specific ingredients within their spatial, infrastructural, social, ecological, political, historical, and economic context in the region and beyond.

The second portion of the semester will be the design of an educational building and agricultural landscape in dialogue with the unique ecology and history of northern New Mexico. We will challenge students to design at multiple scales, from the design of an agricultural landscape to the design of an architectural material logic. In order to draw out generative relationships between conceptual ideas and architectural design decisions, we will lead students through the key phases of our design process at MASS - first developing a clear and legible concept design, then assigning that concept a formal and material logic that is responsive to the projects’ unique environment, and then focusing on rigorous architectural drawing technique to express those ideas.

Students will work individually on the first assignment, and then in pairs for the design project.

Travel Week

Our trip will be to New Mexico, where we will be hosted by Joseph Kunkel, Principal and Director of MASS’s Sustainable Native Communities Design Lab and others from our MASS team in Santa Fe. We will visit cultural landscapes in the state, eat with chefs who specialize in various types of uniquely New Mexican regional cuisine, spend time in the Navajo Nation with native farmers and ranchers, and travel south to the industrialized landscapes of pecan and green chili production.

All Semesters

Fall 2023
Carlos Zedillo Velasco, Alberto Kalach, Andrei Harwell
Fall 2022
Oil, Land, People—The Challenges for Architecture
Claire Weisz, Marc de la Bruyère, Andrei Harwell
Fall 2020
Advanced Design Studio: The Innovative Urban Workplace
Abby Hamlin, Dana Tang, Andrei Harwell
Fall 2019
Advanced Design Studio: Vienna—Another Day in the City
David Gissen, Surry Schlabs