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Fracking Landscapes, Regenerative Empathy, and Ocean Energy Landscapes

Fracking Landscapes, Regenerative Empathy, and Ocean Energy Landscapes

Stefano Romagnoli is an Argentinian landscape architect. His work is centered on the development of renewable energies, regenerative agriculture, natural disasters, and all topics related to climate change as well as the health of our planet. Below we highlight three of his projects to accompany The NESS Podcast episode where Stefano talks with us about his current research into ocean energy in Patagonia and his thoughts on landscape as a discipline.

Fracking Landscapes
Mapping Socio-Environmental Conflicts in Vaca Muerta, Argentina

A new paradigm towards energy has been established in the twenty-first century. The term “energy transition” speaks to a broad and visionary idea, based not only on re-imagining the generation and diversification of the energetic matrix, but also on the democratization of the resources and the debate on access, protection of the environment, culture, and social impacts. Energy production and consumption should be done in a fair, democratic, healthy, and sustainable way. 

In 2010, Argentina discovered one of the major unconventional oil and gas reservoirs of the world: The Vaca Muerta Region in Patagonia. Until today, only 3% of the reservoir has been exploited. However, in less than a decade, the entire landscape and urban configuration of the region have been reshaped. 

This research focuses on making visible some of the socio-environmental impacts and effects from the fracking industry at multiple levels and across varied themes in Vaca Muerta and in Argentina, reinforcing the idea that better public policies, planning, and design are particularly necessary to achieve spatial justice. In this sense, the project is one more contribution to planning efforts. Its is focused on the diagnosis and documentation of the actual conflicts of the region to raise awareness about the inequalities that the fracking industry is generating on the environment, culture, society, economy, and infrastructure,and also to promote the incumbency of design disciplines in these topics.

DATE: 2019 / Penny White Project Fund 2019, Harvard University Graduate School of Design / PHOTOS: Courtesy of Stefano Romagnoli (REGION) and Soledad Patiño (AUSTRAL) / TEXT: Soledad Patiño (AUSTRAL) and Stefano Romagnoli (REGION)

Regenerative Empathy: Complex Assemblages in a Shared Environment

Design studios are at the core of education at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD). Guided by a faculty member, students explore questions that lie at the intersection of real-world problems and speculative thinking through new frameworks of knowledge that seek to advance design practice. “Regenerative Empathy: Complex Assemblages in a Shared Environment” was one of 20 studios offered at the GSD during the 2018—2019 academic year. Sponsored by the LUMA Foundation, it is the first of a series that will investigate the city of Arles, France, and its surrounding region. 

The Arles region is an especially auspicious topic of study today. Three distinct landscapes converge in, and give structure to, this territory: the Alpilles Mountains made of limestone formations and scrub forest, the flatlands of the Crau, an extensive rocky plain with a geologically compressed subsoil that can only support grasslands, and the salt marshes of the Camargue in the delta of the Rhône River as it enters the Mediterranean Sea. The region is on a major migratory route for birds, has one of the few remaining operational transhumance routes in Europe for sheep and other livestock, hosts a robust tourism industry, and produces agricultural goods. 

More importantly, here, the friction—and sometimes collision—between the forces of nature and the actions of humans to reshape the effects of those forces is ongoing and clearly visible. Occupied and reworked over millennia, this landscape has been dramatically transformed from a windswept “wasteland” in the words of historians Marc Bloch and Fernand Braudel,1 to a garden-region well supplied with water, an extensive fabric of hedgerows of all types and sizes to shelter crops from the Mistral— strong, cold wind that blows across southern France‚ and an agricultural production that would not have been possible without far-reaching technological inputs. In what were previously wet lowlands and arid plains, an extensive filigree of canals redistribute water where there was none, drains it where there was too much, controls it where it overflowed, and separates salt from fresh water where they were once united. The received image of this Edenic patchwork of orchards, vineyards, and sunflower fields— beautifully depicted in Van Gogh’s painting—belies centuries of soil exploitation and exhaustion that has degraded its capacity to sustain life.

Silvopasture System Axo. Courtesy of Stefano Romagnoli

Details of the Regenerative agricultural system. Courtesy of Stefano Romagnoli

DATE: 2018 / Teresa Galí-Izard investigation semester group, Harvard University Graduate School of Design / TEAM: Stefano Romagnoli / PHOTOS: Courtesy of Stefano Romagnoli / TEXT: Anita Berrizbeitia 

Ocean Energy Landscapes
Exploratory Design Process of Ocean Energy Infrastructures and Architecture in Patagonia 

Design must be part of a collective strategy for charting pathways to deeply reduce greenhouse gases in the twenty-first century. The fact that 34% of the global greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 came from the energy supply sector 1 demands a strong commitment from all design disciplines to work towards this global issue. At the same time, infrastructures have gained visibility and have become supportive systems with possibilities to generate dialogues with architecture. 

Ocean Energy Landscapes analyzes the intersection of renewable ocean energy infrastructures and architecture in the unique Patagonian milieu through the lens of design. By incorporating both theoretical and pragmatic literature on infrastructure, landscape architecture, ecology, and renewable energy it proposes three case studies based on different energy technologies, scales of intervention, and coastal sites. Interestingly, despite the fact that energy generation begins as an important driver of the study, the question of design comes to the foreground through the opportunities that these infrastructures represent for the community. 

The multiscalar approach of the research focuses on the issue of local sovereignty, which demands an understanding of the historical, environmental, political, economic, and social context of each site selected and how this problem can be addressed through design and the relationship between infrastructure and architecture. At the same time, the study raises awareness on the importance of energy infrastructures that contribute to not only the decarbonization goals of this era but also to their relationship with the environment.

Planning ocean energy for the patagonia coast. Courtesy of Stefano Romagnoli (REGION), Tomas Pont, and Juan Cruz Serafini  

San Julian Port Final Mapping. Courtesy of Stefano Romagnoli  (REGION), Tomas Pont, and Juan Cruz Serafini  

DATE: 2020 / ResearResearch in Practice Grant – LafargeHolcim Foundation / TEAM: SStefano Romagnoli  (REGION) , Tomas Pont, Juan Cruz Serafini / PHOTOS: Courtesy of Stefano Romagnoli / TEXT: Stefano Romagnoli  (REGION) , Tomas Pont, Juan Cruz Serafini

Listen to The NESS Podcast with Stefano here!

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