Fluid Territories: Mississippi River and Mississippi Delta Landscape interventions


Diagrams by Elan  Fessler and Mack Cooper William and Prof. Pablo Lorenzo-Eiroa

COOPER UNION -Organizational Simulation of Fluid Territories -

Professor Pablo Lorenzo Eiroa

Students groups:
Elan  Fessler and Mack Cooper William     

(selection of work)


"Progress and catastrophe are the opposite faces of the same coin"  Hanna Arendt (1968)

 “The State subordinates the hydraulic force to canals, pipes, damns that do not allow turbulence, which obligates movement to go from one point to another, for the space to be striated and measured, for the fluid to depend on the solid, and the flux to proceed passing by parallel laminar series. Instead, the hydraulic model of the nomad science and the war machine consist of expanding by turbulence over a smooth space, in producing a movement that occupies the space and that affects simultaneously all the points, instead of being occupied by itself as a local movement that goes from one point to another. ”  Gilles Deleuze and Feliz Guattari  “A Thousand Plateaus”


Space and Structure have always been related to architecture’s subject matter. In order for an idea to be of any relevance to deep structure, it has to be able to relate to the structure of that space. Public space and infrastructure play a similar role in that relationship. Architectural ideas concerning public space should relate to its structure. In this sense, infrastructure remains an area untouched by our profession, with few alternatives largely unexplored, where it is only developed by state driven organizations like the Army Corps of Engineers. Since a large amount of energy and economic resources are related to infrastructure renewal and enlargement, the architect, in a side role, should engage a more active participation in order to take these opportunities for large-scale interventions to transform so that they can achieve a more sensible role to the urban space. The problems of infrastructure excess and infrastructure redundancy are produced as everyday common interventions and present continuous opportunities for architecture interventions to affect the city at large.

There is a known shift in worldwide port cities over the turn of the 20th century that involves the recycling of the port’s infrastructure in order to incorporate the ports into the fabric of the city.  The shift produced by maritime global exchange, presents a background for a less developed problem. The shift in the incorporation of these structures, which were originally designed for different scales, purposes, and then domesticated by cities, mark a special social shift in the perception of urban space structures. On the other hand, those same cities are challenged by a parallel problem, in relation to the same areas of exchange between city and water. Today, water control systems are the focus of attention of many states, since not only the rising levels of underground water affect cities in floods with water coming from underneath, but also from borders facing open waters or rivers, with problems of containing the increasing pressure of water. As studied at Princeton University, the effects produced by global warming present the case that in 100 years, the tide will raise 2 feet globally, an equivalent of .60m (for instance, the shore of New Jersey and its beaches will be receding by 240 feet (80m).


Infrastructure today has no time, it is always new and replaced for the new, instead of growing and adapting organically with the city. A more open-ended comprehensive thinking of the public space in relation to infrastructure is necessary. A strategy with these bases could adapt to new uses proposing an alternative behavior. Public space and its structure must incorporate accumulation of time, effects, functions, and layering of problems, which continuously transform within time. Infrastructure interventions progressively have become simple engineering, linear solutions, while opportunities for integration in a more comprehensive urban design panorama are being simplified by shallow economic thinking. Its excess, its qualities, and side effects as well as its urban potential are eliminated as non-critical interventions become aggressive, eliminating any possibility of those landscapes to acquire identity or quality by simple substitution. Homogenization, standardization, simplification and insensibility are the only means to measure itself with anything else other than its immediate simplified purpose of its construction. Many times we can notice that infrastructure is replaced by building parallel infrastructures, with increasing simplification. The excess and replacement become unproductive redundancy because of the new rigid design, which derives only by multiplication of the same problems it tries to solve. A demand for accumulation by time instead of replacement is necessary. Integration rather than elimination and a comprehensive inclusion can only use time as a tool to accumulate complexity rather than beginning new in each case.

It might be a possibility to de-motivate infrastructure linear functions in order to develop simultaneous public urban landscapes. Infrastructure needs to become formally unstable to be able to relate to the complexity of the interventions at the scale it usually sustains. Proposing a more integrated, more sensible and more complex for the dual. De-motivating its function to becoming more open in its being. Infrastructure has been commonly centralized, but today infrastructure has been extending largely the city landscape.  This expansion of the urban space that consumes any territory has not been able to accommodate to the new, but rather the opposite to homogenize the landscape. That is the extreme case once it encounters the fluid territory of the edges of the water, as we can analyze its indifferent behavior connecting the Keys around the Gulf and Florida Coast. Infrastructure excess is generally present in redundant interventions and already an open opportunity to develop architecture opportunities. Architecture could operate using these structures generating interesting public space. At the same time, if infrastructure excess usually disturbs environment by producing side effects that affect the dynamic stability of natural processes, then those anomalies and disturbances can be manipulated to generate landscape opportunities. Generating an artificial ecology, Infrastructure excess may produce Architecture as excess. By these means infrastructure excess could propagate architecture opportunities as residue.

Since Hurricane Katrina, current solutions for controlling New Orleans’ possible future floods will include the building of extra large infrastructure interventions with a degree of structural excess. Architects in this context can use, boost, and redirect this excess towards developing landscape architecture operations out of infrastructure deviations, side effects or latent opportunities in resistance by using infrastructure together with the existing environmental forces. A more creative and dynamically efficient determination of the structure of public space will allow for these large infrastructure interventions to operate at a more adequate and sensible scale. In this way, allowing spatial architecture strategies and public space to be conceived, which otherwise, without compromising the structure (infrastructure) of that public space will tend to be restricted to work as urban decoration.



The Mississippi River, as well as the entire system of deltas and wetlands, is in a continuous state of shift and movement. This continuous shift of the territory has been altered by the aggressive and insensitive application of levees and other structures, which affect the natural evolution of this shift.  The changing the curves of river, its movements, sedimentations, processes and the entire ecosystem produces negative visible effects over time, which contributed in part to the Katrina disaster. It seems that the effect of the environment was not considered once these structures were developed. Clearly these structures could be more open-ended in function so that a more comprehensive and sensible spectrum of possibilities can be integrated in this dynamic ecosystem. The ratio of change of the Delta system is about 7500 years each time a new delta is created because of sediments. The delta has diverted its primary channel already by six times. Concerning the sedimentation process, which has been largely affected by the levees, the Mississippi carries 500,000 yds /day of sedimentation which once deposited at the delta, increases consistently at the area of the wetlands. Another fact is that the infrastructure has not been used in relation to recovering the latent history of the area to use of the sedimentation process as a way to generate dry land.  Generally this is a common practice that was developed with the crop fields in the area and in the opposite lowlands side of the Mississippi River, generally where the highlands area lies. Within the amount of water that the river carries, 70% is water and 50% is sediment.  At the same time, the Atchafala River carries through 30% water and 50% sediment, collaborating to a rich and diverse ecology once it encounters the Mexico Gulf.  The Mississippi River Delta includes a history of evolution in which movement and the continuous reinvention and appearance of deltas is a part of these rich systems of territories. Currently, there is a high ratio of vanishing wetlands, of about 1 acre per 35 minutes, and these wetlands have always served as barriers for storms. The infrastructure of the levees to contain the river made a shift from working as flood plain to be more like a river constructed as a conduit, or as an artificial canal.


“Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra—that engenders the territory, … It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges persist here and there in the deserts that are no longer those of the Empire, but ours. The desert of the real itself”.Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation.

 By applying certain digital frames to animated sequences of the analog research, a new digital material becomes visible and operative. Framing, layering and filtering with digital tools becomes a mode to select information. Forced distortion and manipulation should be discerned between excessive information. A creative vision of “what to look for,” and “how to look,” became two faces of the same problem related to interpretation and reading.  In this sense, a more active and important role to representation started activating the problem of presentation as opposed to representation.

 One of the ideas worked through this specific medium was to present rather than represent actions, problems, solutions and speculations. Animation was then understood not only as a representation in time, but as a way to think and understand the constitution and construction of form within time. A strategy, which uses time to build up form, would be able to include more evidence or data as well as dynamic input that would progressively become incorporated as new problems and shifts to solve.