Inhabiting Wetness

Ana McIntosh

Cristina Parreño Alonso

Miho Mazereeuw
Sheila Kennedy

This thesis is an exploration of the condition where water meets urban edge in Asunción, Paraguay, proposing an architectural response that considers water not as a challenging force, but rather as a powerful asset for the maintenance of ecosystems and health of the city. It makes a case to consider the humedales (wetlands) as an important constituent in imagining the future of Asuncion in the face of climate change, a future in which the value of the wetlands has been ignored. The development of the city at the water’s edge is inextricably tied to the destruction of wetlands and extraction of river sand for the construction of highway, private and public developments. This is the approach of the binary: the separation of wet and the dry. What it might mean instead to inhabit a gradient of wetness by exploring possibilities for resilient living at the edge? What might it look like to design for the ebbs and flows of the Rio Paraguay instead of against it to meet the demand for growth?

Sited in the Bañado Sur, this project considers these questions in a zone of informal housing that experiences hazardous flooding from heavy rain and river surges. These inundations often lead to the disruption of life, loss of work and the evacuation of inhabitants to temporary camps with inadequate living conditions. This thesis speculates as to how one might design and build using buoyancy to provide for housing, working, common use and storage spaces for both wet, dry, and in-between conditions. The proposed vivienda typology explores how uses and spaces might expand, contract and change over time and in different water levels while still supporting basic needs. At the same time, the house itself becomes a vessel for the movement of water: water consistently falls on, flows through, washes away, and evaporates as the home is used over the course of a day. Palimpsest, Symbiosis and Layering become guiding terms that inform not only how to think about the spatial conditions at the water’s edge, but also the diverse narratives and histories that exist in a place like the Bañado Sur. It is a place of great complexity, resilience, culture and tradition. Although adapted for this specific context, the thesis is an invitation to question the line of the wet and dry where city meets water around the world. In the words of Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha “if water separated to be somewhere is in crisis today, wetness negotiated everywhere holds the way forward.” (JAE 74:1 March 2020).