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Water Bodies

Supervisor(s) Prof. Anuschka Kutz
Engagement Urban Cultures / Exploring Urban Cultures
Campus Campus Brussels & Remote. The studio will operate in hybrid mode, approximately alternating 50/50 between on-site and remote mode.
Language English
Studio or individual? The Studio Projects will be carried out in groupwork of 2-4 students per group.
Year / semester 2023-24, sem 1


The oceans have been used by humans mainly for energy, as a source of both protein and propulsion. Most obviously, winds, currents and tides have been harnessed for transport, while whales, walruses, seals, fish, crustaceans, molluscs and other shoreline flora and fauna – from seaweed to goose barnacles – were transformed into food, fertiliser and fuel. But the capitalist commodification of these ‘free gifts of nature’ has been far from straightforward, and in many instances much harder than on land.

Campling Liam and Alejandro Colás. (20121. Capitalism and the Sea. Verso: London / New York, p. 12


Studio Urban Field Lab

Water Bodies

Image: Map of Jordan.
left: Water Precipitation and Population Density. right: Water Bodies. Drawings by Sabine Ariqat, Studio Urban Field Lab, KU Leuven, 2021.

Water is the new frontier. With water scarcity becoming more and more acute, ‘water is the new gold’. Water Bodies are a lifeline under threat. Transboundary, they are under pressure to accommodate competing needs, from infrastructure arteries for transport and trade, to energy, extraction and resource, to food, biodiversity and leisure. With water levels falling, many lakes and rivers have run dry. At the same time, extreme weather events push water levels to sudden swells, flooding land and livelihoods. Water Bodies are contested territories.


dry, wet, adventure, pollution, fiction, trade, leisure, enterprise, colonization, bathing, extraction, wealth, risk, speculation, stock, shock, fun, death, debts, coast, sea-level, discharge, risk, beauty, bounty, slavery, fish, vessels, oil riggs, kids, swimming rings, deprivation, rural, farewell, urban, offshore, island, fringe, privilege, labor, love, loathing, trader, merchant, commerce, market, craft, mystery, luxury, exoticism, escape, utopia, labor, convicts, quotas, wars, borders, dredging, shore, sand, mud, haulage, romance, military, outpost, beach, bar, flooding, ducks, swans, sewage, contaminants, defense, freshwater, hotel, algae, estuary, pesticides, oil, drips, disposal, cleanup, ice cream, sunshine, mining, radioactivity, yacht, survival, travel, transport, fresh, salty, foam, path, camping, floating, sinking, shrinking, singing, tale, male, power, protein, currents, tides, depth, shallowness, …


“Seabeds continue to be drilled for their fossil fuels and minerals, and coastlines developed for real estate and leisure. Container ports now act as global hubs for new complex networks of global commerce, transferring commodities and generating value across different maritime-dependent sectors of the world economy ranging from shipbuilding to insurance, freight transport to cruises. The legacies of, and continuities in, seaborne slavery and bondage – as well as the modes of resistance and internationalism they engendered – remain central to emancipatory politics across the globe. […] Ocean winds, currents, tides and weather patterns have combined with biochemical and geophysical characteristics […] or natural features such as sandbanks, reefs, lagoons, inlets and shallows to produce specific risks […]. In turn, the expanded reproduction of capital has radically transformed the nature of the oceans, particularly since industrialization. It has reshaped coastlines and reconfigured marine ecosystems through dredging, dumping, depletion and discharging. […] …the Earth’s geographical separation into land and sea has significant consequences for capitalist development.”
(Campling, Liam and Alejandro Colas (2021). Capitalism and the Sea. London / New York: Verso, 1 – 3).

“… And I imagine those murky layers undulating along the sea floor, bringing to our airy regions a convoy of this substance of night and impassive ashes ripened by the harshness of the north. Then the beach is whipped by a wind not felt on the body; it is a secret wind. High waves come in, lifting close to the shore, they form less than ten meters out, the green of campêche trees, and in this short distance they unleash their countless galaxies. Branches of manchineel and seagrape lie about in havoc, writing in the more peaceful sunlight a memoir of the night sea’s work. Brown seaweed piled there by the invisible assault buries the line between sand and soil. Uprooted coconut palms have tumbled sideways like stricken bodies. Along their trail, aIl the way to the rocky mound marking the distant Morne Larcher, one can sense the power of a hurricane one knows will come.”
(Glissant, Édouard (1997) Poetics and Relations. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 121).


We will center our work on water bodies and their adjacent spaces on land and water. Within the studio, we will form groups of 2 – 4 students at the beginning of the semester. Each group will nominate and then concentrate on one water body. This permits us to include your experience, context, expertise and interest into the studio context. The water bodies can be located anywhere in the global context, so long as at least one student in the group is familiar with the context, has expertise, experience or another kind of connection to it. Your water bodies could be coasts, deltas, rivers, lakes, seas, canals or streams. They can be in urban, remote, rural, industrial, pagan, touristic or wild locations. We will chart, observe, decode, collect, map and remap water bodies and their adjacent spaces, using divergent scales, from the remote to the macroscopic, producing a series of detailed super-sized drawings. We will examine global, trans-national, regional and local trade, transport, production and leisure realms, settlements, environments and other entities and territories located at the rim of the water body, zooming in on particular locations that are located at the water bodies. We will look at changes, threats, pollutants, depth, opportunities, fun and enjoyment. Timelines will serve as prognostic tools. Data, stories, facts and on-site observations – where possible – will provide multi-faceted insights. We will gather stories of those nestling on the edges of the water body or those who can no longer be there. We will include unheard voices or ‘voices in decline’ as well as voices in power, human or other. We will examine ownership and use patterns, lines of responsibilities, as well as shifts and transformations. Who makes decisions? Who and what is on the receiving end of these decisions? Who or what loses out? Which are the interdependencies between land and water? What are the pressures and opportunities?

Our work will be investigative and reflective. We will spend a considerable amount of time creating oversized maps in starkly contrasting scales from macro to micro, charting our water bodies and their adjacent spaces in diverse ways, exhausting many lines of enquiry. We will compare and reflect on differences and similarities between the water bodies we examine within the studio. On the basis of these insights, each group will then speculate on how to edit, adjust or nudge.

Phase 1. Water Bodies. Explorations.
Output: An Atlas in extreme Scales. / A field of Explorations to tell the Story.
Critical Cartography, Super-size drawings, scales between 1:100,000 to 0:10.
/ Field of Maps, Films, Models, Photographs, Probes, Probes, Charts,

Phase 2. Water Bodies. Reflections. Similarities and Differences.
Output: A comparative chart /story.

Phase 3. Water Bodies. A Speculative Adjustment.
Output: Productions of active drawings / models in 3 selected scales. Focus scales will be nominated by each group from scales between 1:100,000 to 0:10.

The studio will work in a hybrid mode, with likely alternating on-site sessions on the Brussels campus and remote sessions using digital interfaces. You will need to undertake your own independent travels to locations.

Studio Urban Field Lab deals with real-world societal, political, economic and cultural transformations for which alternative spatial responses are sought. The studio sees itself as an advocate of our obligations towards the environment, the lifeworld, humanity and society. We need to step up to developing creative ways beyond technical solutions, to redistribute, to harness dormant opportunities, to tackle spatial surpluses, to edit, alter and shift, without conceding quality. We need to widen our role and practice field as architects, engaging in interdisciplinary work modes to tackle isolationist disciplinary responses, whilst at the same time using our inert expertise. Your projects will need to integrate a clear stance and commitment towards these issues by acting with conscience and care. We investigate and develop through critical practice. You will need to work beyond ‘final outputs’, committing to an in-depth, rigorous and critical ongoing research-driven process throughout. Stradling into other disciplines is actively encouraged.

If you have any questions, please email me: anuschka.kutz@kuleuven.be