ADS3: Post-industrial wetlands: commoning unstable ground

During the 2023-2024 academic year at the Royal College of Art (RCA), Daniel Pascual Fernández and Alon Schwabe, principal investigators at CLIMAVORE x Jameel at RCA, are leading a master's of architecture curriculum titled 'ADS3: Post-industrial wetlands: commoning unstable ground'. The project-based course will journey from the pristine and protected marshes of Ramsar to anthropogenic swamps that are emerging from post–extractive landscapes and investigate wetlands as political, legal, economic and social assemblages.


Wetlands, swamps, bogs, and marshes are all incredibly rich habitats. For centuries they have been drained to ‘improve’ land for farming and real estate, displace people avoiding state control, or eradicate mosquito-borne diseases within settler–colonial regimes. In 2023/24, ADS3 will look at the legacies of desiccated land that are struggling to fluctuate between wet and dry. Situated at the frontier of mineral and financial extraction, these murky post–industrial landscapes are increasingly emerging out of the ruins of capitalism. Some are reflooded in an attempt to be returned to an impossible past state, while others materialise out of abandoned quarries and mining pits. These emergent ecologies become habitats for new anthropogenic environments. Whether ‘natural’ or newly formed, post–industrial wetlands can offer new models of inhabitation through soil and water nourishment across human and non-human populations. Guided by these swampy formations, the studio will question ways in which the built environment can forge new alliances to rethink the redundant infrastructures of modernity. How can we think through wetlands to design support structures for spatial justice? Through the lens of CLIMAVORE – a framework that explores how to eat in the era of human–driven climate change – ADS3 will use architectural tools to map ecological and legal struggles in landscapes trying to stay afloat and in place.

Like many other ecosystems, wetlands have been transformed by human actions and extractivist processes from the Industrial Revolution onward. This transformation has only accelerated since the second world war. As a result, seasons have shifted at unexpected rates, altering the food production and harvests that follow them. Prolonged dry spells during the rainy season in Ghana and Ivory Coast are threatening cocoa supply in the world’s top producing countries. 2021 marked the earliest cherry blossoms in China, where spring and summer are believed to arrive 3.3 days and 4.6 days earlier per decade respectively. Rice farmers, who grow their crops in wetlands, are shifting their planting calendars as both drought and extreme rainfall reduce rice yields. In Europe, the first day of spring has advanced by six to eight days in the past 30 years. Wine harvesting in Burgundy, France, now starts in mid-August, almost a full month earlier than only a few decades ago. Signs that formerly allowed humans to organise life around seasons have become indicators of an imminent crisis. They expose new waves of ‘global weirding’ or ‘season creep’. A vicious loop makes the idea of seasons even more superfluous. The more industries extend seasonality, the more seasons shift, and as seasons shift more, the more industries seek damaging technological solutions to fix a global food system on the brink of collapse.

Under such emerging seasonalities, how can the built environment respond to the ongoing crisis that confronts those inhabiting them? CLIMAVORE is a research framework that explores how to eat as humans change climates. New human-made ‘seasons’ are affecting temperature and precipitation, blurring the lines between spring, summer, autumn, and winter, together with yearly monsoon events. Instead, periods of polluted seas, soil exhaustion, or fertiliser runoff are more influential on our foodscapes. CLIMAVORE advocates that new multispecies approaches to food landscapes, such as wetlands, can highlight the cultural and ecological value of species and spaces that are being pushed to extinction. ADS3 questions how we can secure and enhance ecologies in flux through the commoning of land and expanding food belts, which support agroecological practices. As the global aridity lines move towards the Poles, how can certain ingredients guide policy making and legal efforts to make sure wetland inhabitants stay empowered? How can their environments be kept wet and murky?

Royal College of Art