Arid Lands Institute and USC Lead Design Research on Water Adaptation

Hadley Arnold, co-founder of the Arid Lands Institute, joined the School of Architecture at USC to teach a year-long advanced MLA+U Design-Research Studio dedicated to water adaptation and the global history of drylands design. The goal was to form a laboratory that drilled into the history of how humans around the world have adapted to long, hot, dry periods through designing innovative infrastructure and landscape systems that helped inform our relationship to water. The studio culminated in a draft of a physical 360-page Atlas for Drylands Design. 

Many of the systems emerged from archeological and anthropological sites in the world’s ancient cultural hearths. Students began by researching the location, time period, and cultural context; the meaning(s) behind the system’s name; and the combination of hydrologic functions performed (catchment/filtration/storage/distribution). They also studied whether these water systems arose independently or evolved from other systems in the global family-tree of hydrologic design.

The interdisciplinary studio also examined how people organized socially around water, looking at water and people as coupled systems. Arnold noted that many of the systems were hard to document or in deteriorating conditions, but this course was unique in that it allowed these systems to be drawn and analyzed through a designer’s lens. In addition, students were asked to consider how these systems were related to issues of environmental justice and resource scarcity, and in turn, what the systems may be able to teach us today about governing democratically in contemporary cities.

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