Learning from Piura: Building Resilience in an Era of Climate Change

What can the building culture in developing countries teach us about resilience in the era of climate change?

Culture and climate are intimately linked together. Understanding how past human cultures have responded to changes in climate may give us important lessons as accelerating global climate change becomes our reality.

Should architecture try to engage with global warming by relying on sophisticated technologies that reduce emissions, or should it turn its gaze to affordable strategies that mitigate its impact and make populations more resilient to its lingering consequences?

The Northern coast of Peru has been experiencing the effects of climate change for 5000 years. The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has created severe climatic and cultural disturbances in Peru and widely scattered areas all over the world, affecting the civilizations that flourished there, causing both involuntary and organized migrations over centuries, and spurring different responses in territorial management and the construction of cultural artifacts, according to the Foundation for Exploration and Research on Cultural Origins (FERCO).

Piura, a booming region in the North of Peru, has the potential to be a laboratory for responses to climate change. The resilience of its low-income rural population to recurrent ENSO phenomena can inform how traditional low-tech construction can be reinterpreted today to face global warming.

Can contemporary architecture transform these traditions, building upon the wisdom embodied in time-tested techniques and refining them for wide-spread application? Can contemporary architects, so often called on to be technical specifiers, still be inventive and generous and support healthy communities in the face of urgent conditions?

The studio will try to answer those questions from a design point of view. It proposes an overview of how different cultures of the Northern Peruvian coast endured climate change over time and will analyze how present inhabitants of Piura cope with extreme climate events in order to imagine a different approach to technology and the act of building.

The studio will then focus on the design of an Innovation Center for Resilient Building Knowledge in Narihualá (Piura), a village heavily affected by rain and flooding during the 2017 ENSO. The Center will host research that is lab and crop based. It will also sponsor educational initiatives to spread new hybrids of traditional and contemporary building techniques that improve resilience in Peru and elsewhere. Finally, the facility will serve the local community as a resource and a refuge during future extreme climate events.

This studio will not pretend to find solutions to global warming. It aims to raise compelling questions and spur imaginative responses to living and building along with climate change.

The studio will travel to Lima and Piura, Peru during advanced studio travel week.

All Semesters

Spring 2021
Advanced Design Studio: Manufacturing Wonderland
Marlon Blackwell, Andrew Benner
Spring 2020
Advanced Design Studio: Kitchen Sink Realism
Pier Vittorio Aureli, Emily Abruzzo
Spring 2018
Advanced Design Studio: City of Mercy—House of Grace
Hildigunnur Sverrisdóttir, Kyle Dugdale
Spring 2017
Advanced Design Studio: Cityscapes
Tatiana Bilbao, Andrei Harwell