Wetness in the Altiplano: Drought as an Opportunity to Redefine Edge Conditions

Maffie, Sophie, School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Putalik, Erin, School of Architecture, University of Virginia

Wetness in the Altiplano uses the contingency of drought and the emerging fertile lakebed as an opportunity to rethink land tenure regimens and redefine property boundaries in Lake Titicaca. In Peru’s Bay of Puno, State delineated borders sever the wetland into uncrossable parcels and disregard the existing social and material ecologies that are intrinsically intertwined with the Bay’s shifting gradient of wetness. I use alternative Andean ontologies (ayllu) as a method to redefine property lines as a thickened, living, and ephemeral constellation of edges

Through the design of a hydrosocial imaginary, I question how access can equitably be inscribed into the receding lakebed. Using micro-topographic and ecological interventions, this design project proposes the thickening of existing property boundaries to create communal corridors that reconnect fractured communities and preserve land-based care practices. The thickened edge expands into the lakebed, preemptively claiming the water column as a shared commons and promoting equitable access across a gradient of wetness. Wetness in the Altiplano utilizes seasonally shifting Totora reed (Schoenoplectus californicus subsp. tatora) as a figure of the commons, redefining access as an archipelago in which the natural features that mark ownership are not fixed in space. The ephemerality of Totora reed requires the seasonal renegotiation of border conditions between local land-holders and the broader lacustrine community, ensuring kinship, reciprocity, and flexible land claims.  Totora acts as an embodied social agent, reinserting indigenous sovereignty into water column and promoting ayllu autonomy.

Note: This project was developed over the course of two semesters, presented verbally in May, 2024. The PDF below is a translation of my narrative.

MLA (Master of Landscape Architecture)
Andean ethnobotany, Cultural landscapes, Alternative ontologies , Andean Altiplano, Totora Reed, Lake Titicaca, Border Studies, Ayllu
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