4.163J / 11.332J
Urban Design Studio - The Salton Sea

This studio will investigate ‘landscape and urbanism’ opportunities for an area known as the Salton Sea, located in the Sonoran Desert of Imperial and Riverside counties just north of El Centro, California. Our task will be to plan and design for new development that will accommodate 40,000 people over the next twenty years, including: new landscape, infrastructure, and housing scenarios.

Background: Water, Infrastructure, Environment, Agriculture
The Salton Sea is one of the world's largest and lowest inland seas at 227 feet below sea level. It is California's largest lake with a surface area of 381 square miles. Its environmental history is a fascinating tale of human error and engineering hubris. The Sea was created accidentally as a part of the Colorado River delta in 1905 when massive flooding caused the Colorado River to break through a poorly constructed irrigation levee and flow freely into the Salton Basin until 1907. For the past hundred years the water level has been maintained primarily by agricultural runoff flows from the Imperial, Coachella, and Mexicali Valleys.

Ideal Community
Although the proposed is an extremely contemporary project, it also addresses older currents in American urbanism – specifically the tradition of the ideal community built with a sense of autarky, in other words – in isolation. A town of 40,000 not coincidentally resonates with historical models of ideal towns, from the Renaissance up to utopian American settlements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, nineteenth and twentieth century company towns, and collectivizing ideals of socialist utopians (Owen in the USA), later successfully realized in Kibbutz (Israel) and Kolchozes (Former Soviet Union). The premise of such towns is a certain figural and formal clarity which itself explains a stance of independence vis a vis the social terrain at large. Furthermore, these towns have an intense agricultural component, driven by their constitutive requirement for self-reliance. What this project instates, then, not only the design of agriculture as a system, but also that of the town as a clear figure –a description cut out of the desert. The studio will tap into the urbanist tradition to elaborate both the cultural and social consequences of the drying out, and resulting artificial resuscitation, of the desert ecosystem.

Fall 2012