“The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself.”
—Charles Darwin

The Galapagos Islands hold a revered place in the popular imagination thanks to a five-week visit in 1835 by Charles Darwin, whose reflections on what he observed there would spur his creation of the theory of Evolution. It is still imagined to be a version of Eden, but the reality is much less sublime. This is a place of stark fragility. The very tenuousness of inhabitation is what made it possible to see the forces of adaptation at work. That is also what complicates the entangled and often competing interests of conservation, science, and tourism.

Although long a place visited by seafarers - sailors, pirates, whalers, and fishermen - it is only within the last 100 years that a significant human presence has been installed. Although constrained by legal and ecological protections, the development has been largely unchecked on two of the primary islands, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal. We hope that our studio can explore how architecture can contribute meaningfully to the continued cohabitation of the islands with its iconic fauna.


The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic formations - a group of 13 major islands on either side of the equator that are now a part of Ecuador. They are located about 1000 kilometers from the mainland and hold many native species found nowhere else on earth including iguanas, finches, penguins, cormorants, and giant tortoises.

The capital of the Galapagos is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on Isla San Cristobal. A branch of the Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) is located here, at the border between the town and the National Park that covers most of the island. Our site is on land adjacent to the park, the University, and a public beach named Playa Mann.


Our program consists of four elements: a branch office of the Galapagos Conservancy, a residency program for visiting scholars, a public meeting space, and a public garden. The built portion of the project will be 30,000 square feet and include administrative spaces for the Conservancy, residences for the visiting scholars along with support spaces (kitchen, dining, living, working), and the multi-use meeting space.

The Galapagos Conservancy, which has its main offices in the tourist center on Isla Santa Cruz, is a non-profit that raises funds globally, targeting primarily past visitors who want to support this beautiful and fragile habitat. There is a perception by the Galapagueños that the Conservancy is composed of outsiders that do not understand or recognize their interests. This project is an attempt to form bridges of shared interest and benefit with the Conservancy and the locals. The residency program is intended to complement the work of the adjacent University programs, while also engaging the public. The meeting space will be open for use by the Conservancy, the University, and locals.

The public garden will include public showers, changing, and toilet facilities in support of the nearby beach, an important public space itself. The garden will be a demonstration project that biologically treats the project’s wastewater, a necessary initiative as currently there is no wastewater treatment on the island and all effluvia is simply ejected into the ocean.


We will begin the semester with collaborative research and a short design exercise. We will then travel to Ecuador, first visiting Quito where we will meet up with Marisa Paz, a faculty member at USFQ. She will then accompany us to San Cristobal where we will spend five days exploring our site and the surrounding context, both natural and man-made. On returning, students will be asked to develop individual responses to the site and program. A number of consultants will be brought in to enrich the work with their expertise.

All Sections and Semesters

Fall 2023
Weaving Memories, Building Meanings: Finding A New Sacred For Heritage Sites
Sandra Barclay, Jean Pierre Crousse, Can Vu Bui
Fall 2021
Advanced Design Studio: Potent Voids
Lina Ghotmeh, Surry Schlabs
Fall 2020
Advanced Design Studio: Troubled Waters
Tod Williams, Billie Tsien, Andrew Benner