The Reserva Ecologica exists in the littoral zone between Buenos Aires and the Rio de la Plata; the greenish brown rectangular bar above the ecological reserve is a lagoon that was formally the municipal bathing area designed by JCN Forestier in 1918; the brown rectangular zone above that is the old port zone, Puerto Madero, which has recently been redeveloped as a high end residential neighborhood; downtown Buenos Aires is above that, with the Plaza de Mayo visible in the upper right portion of the image

The Reserva Ecologica is a testament to the potentiality of the Rio de la Plata biome and infrastructural projects gone awry.  Perched between Buenos Aires and the Rio de la Plata, with Puerto Nuevo on one side and the Petrochemical Port on the other, it is the liminal space between intentionality and potentiality.  And it is just to the north from the mouth of the Riachuelo canal.  Given its proximity and unique characteristics, it will serve as both a precedent and contextual situation to be dealt with for this thesis project.

The Reserva Ecological is a result of an incomplete poldering system begun in the 1970’s under the military dictatorship with the intention to reclaim land from the Rio de la Plata and create a new government administrative center.  The perimeter embankments were constructed using a poldering system- an embankment was created and infilled while excess water was pumped out.  The embankment material was demolition debris from projects underway in the city at that time as new highways were being cut through the existing fabric.  Sediment from the river was deposited by natural currents, combining with the landfilling process through the mid-80’s, with the intent that the excess water would then be pumped out, a process which was never finished. Upriver seeds from the ecosystems of the Parana and Uruguay Rivers were deposited here by currents, floodwaters and birds.  In 1984 the project to reclaim the land was abandoned and two years later it was declared a “Natural Park and Ecological Reserve” (municipal law 41,247/86).  The rich sediment, tidal fluctuations and floodwaters, and introduced plants from gardens and parks in the city make for a diverse ecosystem of hyacinth lagoons, mudflats, and hillocks which is now recognized by Bird Life International as important avian habitat.

The depositional currents of the Rio de la Plata have the effect of growing the Argentina side of the Rio de la Plata; Since 1888 the city has added nearly 20% of it's landmass; this zone holds a high concentration of the industrial and ecological infrastructure of the city, including the Reserva Ecologica

However, before the city edge was defined by the Reserva Ecologica, it contained a popular and prosperous bathing promenade, as were popular in many cosmopolitan cities in the early 20th century.  In 1918 Jean Claude Nicolas Forestier, pupil of Alphand, was contracted to come to Buenos Aires and produce an urban plan for modernizing the industrial capital city.  Like many places throughout the Americas this was a time of great growth and optimism and also over European fetishism and capital investment.

The sunbathing promenade was the only project that was realized from this plan, but it was wildly popular.  Given its location near downtown in close proximity to working class and bourgeois neighborhoods, it succeeded for a time in giving space for rich and poor to stroll and be seen but also to bath in the river, have a meal, or fish.  The quality of the water slowly deteriorated and by 1950 the river was closed off to recreational use, though the “balneario” promenade remained.

It was under this context that the project to reclaim land from the river for a seclude governmental center for the military dictatorship was undertaken 28 years later.  Considering this, it seems as if the water channel in front of the promenade was purposefully maintained in order to create separation between the people and the government, acting almost as a moat and providing a high degree of access control at the southern edge.  This area has since become filled in with water hyacinth, a florescent chimera ecosystem and an aching historical reminder.

The sunbathing promenade- balneario municipal- in 1925 looking from the city out towards the Rio de la Plata where the Reserva Ecological will eventually be formed; the formal gardens and park along its edge mediated the comingling of recreations and work; the depositional tendency of the Rio de la Plata on the shoreline can be seen to the right side of the image

the balneario is seen at the city's edge with the bustling new port "Puerto Madero" between it and downtown Buenos Aires; to the far right in the center of the image you can just make out the Plaza de Mayo, the ceremonial heart of the city; the biplane wing is conveniently in the frame

The sunbathing promenade is seen swarming with people; the number of people wading makes clear the shallow depths of the water here, and the popularity and social vitality of a social place to bath, be seen, and eat; at this moment in time most of the population was fundamentally connected to the Rio de la Plata in a quotidian way

For our purposes this study is particularly interesting for three reasons:

1) the fecundity of the Rio de la Plata biome and the appropriateness of the water hyacinth as a catalyst in these chimera ecosystems is a major force that must be respected and utilized.  The question of how is not one of intentionality however, as the biome will assert itself regardless of the presence or form of human intentions.

2) the sediment load of the Rio de la Plata makes a strong case for land reclamation strategies along the coast.  History has shown that these can be wildly effective with relatively small efforts. However, they make dredging a constant, arduous, and monumental task.  The Rio de la Plata is a geologic force.

3) the presence of the river in the quotidian life of the inhabitants of the city was fundamental to the making of modern Buenos Aires and the mixing of social types and classes (as well as the mixing of other types of ecosystems).  The loss of this characteristic in the second half of the 20th century paralleled many of the economic and social problems experienced by the city during that time.  This suggests that any environment remediation in this hydrological system- in our case the Riachuelo portion- is fundamentally a political economic question concerned with issues of environmental and social justice.

With the close proximity of the Reserva Ecologica to my site, the historical and thematic issues of the place will play an important role in the concept and execution of the thesis project.  The instrumental landscape of the Reserva Ecologica consists of the dump trucks, conveyor belts, and wrecking balls used in the demolition projects, but also the historical bathing promenade and resultant hyacinth lagoon, the estuarine currents and floodwaters, the sediment load of the Rio de la Plata, the gardens dispersed throughout the city whose seeds make their way here, the autonomous and individual birds flying through this zone bringing seeds and eating insects, and the construction debris itself.

the Reserva Ecologica is a ruderal landscape- refuse and overflow from the Rio de la Plata and the city coalesce here into one spectacular landscape; its situation- large polluted port complexes on either side, perched between downtown Buenos Aires and the Rio de la Plata, make the Reserva Ecological a chimera of all the fecundity and failed intentions of cities and continents


Landscape instrumentalism understands technology as inseparable from human environments and behavior.  There is no dividing line between of the organism and its technologies through which it mediates and metabolizes its surroundings.  As a material practice, instrumentality- the intentional operation of these technologies- has long been cast aside and little understood by designers.  The scaffolds, sump pumps, and dragnets are typically the concern of contractors, fishermen, and hobbyists.  As a social practice, however, instrumentalism has a rich history in modern design practice.

As a social practice, however, a focus on instrumentality has a long and storied history in the design process.  The use of tools and implements to move through space and mediate social exchanges has long been considered as a method for generating landscapes.  Example range from the vernacular- the pop up tents at a local farmers market or the pickup truck and grill at a tailgate party- to the absolute pinnacle of professional landscape design the sinuous paths of Olmsted and Vaux’s Central Park designed for horse carts, and Lawrence Halmprin’s interest in the movement of bodies through space.  In each of these case, the instrumental aspects of the technology and body of the organism actualizes the potentiality of a given environment.  This actualized potential is the creation of landscape.

"the drive in Central Park" here in 1860, when the rest of the landscape was under construction (instrumentality as a material practice) the drive and the presence of carriages had already created Central Park; image from the Smithsonian

the paintings by Maurice Pendergast at the turn of the 20th century show the layered activities and the landscapes that are generated by the carriages passing by

the may pole in the foreground organizes the landscape and creates the spring landscape of central park; painting by Maurice Prendergast

grills, tailgates, tables, flags, and coolers are all transported and deployed before a New York Giants game in New Jersey; the implements are used to territorialize a space, demarcating and organizing social interactions- sharing a sausage and cheap beer and talking about whether Eli Manning has "it" today.

crates and tents are set up at Union Square in New York City, creating a farmers market and invigorating the plaza; the tools hold wares, mediate commercial and social transactions (where do you grow your food? Oh! that's an adorable baby! That'll be $42) and orchestrating commuters' movements as they try to press through and get to the subway entrance

"Experiment in the Environment", 1962, Anna Halprin; the wife of Lawrence Halprin, Anna's experiments with the methods and experience of moving through space and it's capacity to generate environments were fundamental to the precise and profound interest in choreography and movement found later in Lawrence Halprin's landscape designs.

an example of the "motation" system (movement + notation) developed by Lawrence Halprin in the 1960's; his theories on the experience of the bodied environment- what we would call the instrumentality of embodiment- elucidated the capacity for movement of bodies, not merely static space or forms, to create landscapes; this was is fundamental to any understanding today of the interest in process and change in the designed environment.

The development of sophisticated social-instrumental means have enabled the creation of enduring and appropriate modern landscape types, in particular those dedicated to leisure [recreation and commercial].  But continued development in this vein since Halprin has yielded proliferation of increasingly banal leisure-parks, with riverfronts and former industrial sites everywhere being papered over and populated with claritinmen- smiling yuppies flying kites and pushing bikes.  It is the full realization of the commoditization of public space.

Meanwhile, one sub-current in the practice of landscape design seeks to grapple with infrastructural landscapes, while another intends to expand the agency of the inhabitant, enabling everyone to make their own place, if only for  a moment.  This will not be achieved with a continued fixation solely on the social-instrumental aspect of day to day interaction.  A focus on instrumentality as a material practice might be the method that adds some steel to these well-intentioned impulses and enables the construction of new forms, programs, and landscape types.