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AMAZON FIRE: WHO OWNS THE AMAZON?

As part of an ongoing effort to make content more accessible, LAM will be making select stories available to readers in Spanish. For a full list of translated articles, please click here.

BY CATHERINE SEAVITT NORDENSON, ASLA

FROM THE FEBRUARY 2020 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

Who owns the Amazon? In news reports about the unprecedented number of fires burning in this vast forest during the past several months, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has vehemently answered “Brazil”—punctuating that claim with the charge that any nation holding a different opinion is simply a colonizer, usually a European one. Yet defined in terms of the river’s massive watershed, the Amazon rain forest—the world’s largest such tropical biome—falls within eight South American countries: Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, and Guyana.

Those same eight polities have been embroiled in a seven-year legal battle with Amazon.com, Inc. and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, who would very much like to own .amazon—the domain name, that is. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers—the independent body that vets global Internet addresses—has sided with Bezos. American corporate interests, once again, seem to have the upper hand over local cultural heritage and place-name identity, despite concerns voiced by Brazil’s minister of foreign affairs and representatives from other governments that share the watershed.

Certainly, “owning” the Amazon has always been bound up in questions of sovereignty. And sovereignty has long been caught up in authoritative claims of possession. (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

The nitrate mining town of María Elena in Chile. Photo by Ignacio Infante.

For an exhibit focused on extractive industries, Beyond the City: The South American Hinterland in the Soils of the 21st Century is mercifully short on aerial photos of strip mines and oil derricks. Instead, the installation by Somatic Collaborative now at the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial focuses on the human settlements that serve resource extraction industries.

Beyond the City catalogs five South American cities established or expanded because of the growth of heavy industry from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. The five case studies are spread across three nations and several extraction, or at least exceptionally invasive, industries: gold mines in Belo Horizonte, Brazil; nitrate mines in María Elena, Chile; oil drilling in Judibana, Venezuela; iron mining in Ciudad Guayana, Venezuela; and the production of hydropower in Vila Piloto, Brazil. Each of the cities shares “a very strong national or state government that was pushing forward a project that they believed would advance a larger greater good,” says Somatic Collaborative cofounder Felipe Correa, the chair of the architecture school at the University of Virginia (UVA). These public–private partnerships sought to develop housing and working environments for a white-collar managerial class that would guide populist infrastructure expansions harvested from this land. “Industry had a social project,” Correa says. “If you look at what oil companies are doing in the middle of the Amazon today, they’re completely devoid of a social project.” Beyond the City presents historical evidence on how this mandate was introduced, but the exhibition trails off once each town left its designers’ hands. (more…)

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