Phytopia by Pablo Zunzunegui

Phytopia by Pablo Zunzunegui

Student: Pablo Zunzunegui
Tutor: Ron Rael
University: University of California, Berkeley, Department of Architecture
Location: Amazon

Phytopia is a series of speculative explorations that take place in the Amazon.

The imperatives of reforestation and neo-indigenous urbanization are possible through the implementation of a choreographed symbiosis between machine and Amazonian ecologies.

Soil conditions, as well as the importance of the canopy layer of the Amazon are essential to the proposal. As probably some of you know, the majority of the Amazon’s life is not at the ground level. It is actually at the canopy holding almost 95 percent of the life of the Amazon- where it is estimated that half of all life on Earth can be found.

On the other hand, the Amazon’s floor receives only 2 percent of the sunlight and lacks the nutrients necessary for new vegetation to grow. In addition, this forest’s floor is largely devoid of minerals like phosphorous, potassium, calcium, and magnesium but is rich with aluminum oxide and iron oxide that make this soil too acidic for germination.

In the past, civilizations that inhabited the feral Amazon used to create their own soil – terra preta. A combination of wood, charcoal, excrement and fish bones made farming possible for these tribes. After the Spanish conquest, the aboriginal settlements disappeared due to extermination and/or diseases brought by the Europeans.

The explorer and conquistador, Francisco de Orellana, believed that the Amazon was the home of a very sophisticated and populous civilization where everything was made of gold and food was abundant. He called it “El Dorado”.

No evidence for the existence of this old civilization has been found, and in fact, the reality is not so prosperous: The Amazon is being depleted and big cities are becoming even bigger. Overpopulation, social and economical disparity, pollution and pandemic diseases are latent problem. This brings me to the next speculation: A neo- indigenous civilization that escapes from this problematic urbanization migrates en masse to the forest. In the mature stages of the information age, auto-didacticism has become a ubiquitous phenomenon. Hacker communities have taken the art and techniques of repurposing mechanisms to a larger scale.

These inhabitants will possess a multiplicity of skill sets. Members of the population could perform as researchers and scientists as well as farmers. Now the question is: How to sustain those activities when the existing natural conditions of the Amazon allows for either rainforest or human occupation, but not both?

The key is to have the ability to control sun and rainwater exposure to the ground, while minimizing the occupation footprint to allow agro-forestry practices.

A series of machines will work as mechanized canopies and will open and close creating a variation of porosity. This variation will maximize sun exposure through the day and minimize rainwater impact to the ground during heavy rains.

In the drawings you will notice that the way that I represent these mechanisms is by visually hacking – just grabbing and combining pieces from different elements to later recompose them into these machines. On the other hand, the representational model has differentiated the dynamic and industrialized aspects of the proposal from the static human settlement portion. The dynamic and industrialized structure has been built using CAD/CAM techniques with clear acrylic, while the human settlement portion is manifested as handcrafted wood structures clad in sticks collected from nature.

I also wanted to represent in the drawings some of the opportunities for occupation. In this case, there are research laboratories, which will be exposed to the heart of the Amazon- the canopy – and it will help to discover, preserve and harvest natural species that will contribute to finding cures for diseases. In addition, you can observe that farming practices are present through all of the drawings.

In order to demonstrate the process of this neo-indigenous urbanization, I will present a narrative that describes the proposal from the beginning to the end- if we can call it an end.

I proposed a site located at the border between Brazil and Bolivia, which provides the perfect example of how a growing country like Brazil that uses their resources indiscriminately- also fueled by political issues and corruption- has depleted the Amazon considerably. In fact, in some cases, the borderline is perfectly depicted by the contrast between the dark, dense vegetation on the Bolivian side next to the lightness of the bare land on the Brazilian side.

I tried to recreate the sequence in which everything would happen: first, the untouched Amazon; second, depletion of the Brazilian Amazon forest begins; third, the Brazilian side has been depleted; fourth, neo-indigenous migration begins; fifth, the new civilization has been established; sixth, when all human life is gone; and my last speculation: All machines will stop at some point, and then is when the Amazon will thrive.

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