Wiring Territories


In the South American context, we have witnessed how oil extraction processes have set up the initial urban framework for future reappropriation, as in the case of Ciudad Ojeda and Nueva Lojo, undeterred by the incongruence between the value sets of the first and second phases of production. Felipe Correa’s research into these regions has elucidated that, “The metrics of the oil camp have become the template for a new type of post-oil city, one that is a direct byproduct of the oil extraction process itself”[1]. It is the permanence of the infrastructures that extraction processes yield, often in remote areas, that is a critical factor in the second production of these urban settlements. Understanding the lifespan of the oil industry as approximately twenty-five years, we must question how these processes and infrastructures can be deployed in a manner to account for their future production(s), which involve cultural, political, geographic, and economic factors as well as the specificity of their logistical processes. This positions logistics and their infrastructural formats as the crucial mechanisms by which to harvest future urban organizations.

We could say that the major spatial formats of logistics consist of surfaces, containers, and conduits[2]. These formats have colonized vast swatches of peripheral urban environments, and operate at a scale that is more closely aligned to global and regional logistics than to those of the city. Surfaces are planes of mediation that typically operate at a territorial scale as they are primarily implicated in a form of harvesting or collection. Containers are architectural shells of enclosure often located between the formats of surfaces and conduits—for the storage, refining, or distribution of a particular good. The conduit as a type is tasked with interfacing between the scale of the territory and that of architecture. These types are used to transfer matter and energy across vast distances that must negotiate local settlements, politics, ecosystems, and both containers and surfaces. Because of the trans-scalar nature of conduit systems and their associated infrastructures, they often inscribe territorial zones for further development. A simple example would be the discussions involving high-speed rail in the United States. While high-speed rail operates as a conduit to move people and goods through the landscape, it requires a particular carrying capacity of people or trade to be viable. At the same time, certain nodes within high-speed rail networks profit from their geographic location in opportunistic stopping points within the network, which activates new populations and economies. While the interdependence between transport infrastructure and urban growth is largely documented, little acknowledgement of the role of oil or gas pipelines, as territorial conduits in harvesting a regional framework for urbanism, has been made.

Pipelines are large infrastructural conduits used to transport oil or gas, deployed primarily between points of extraction and refining. Pipelines are desirable because they are able to transport energy in a more efficient, reliable, and safer manner than tanker trucks or rail tanker cars [3]. As they typically move through varied ecological zones, political boundaries, and cultures, they require collaborative efforts between several divergent actors.
Currently there are over five million miles of pipeline in the world, dedicated to oil and gas transportation. Connected continuously, this would encircle the world’s equator two hundred times [4].

Within the oil industry, pipelines are often used between key logistical moments—linking sites of extraction and storage, storage and refining, and refining and product terminals. Crude oil gathering lines originate at a production field tank battery, which is a gathering station for different sources of crude oil. These lines are typically two to twelve inch pipes associated with a pump station that move the crude oil to a main line [5]. The main line transports the crude to refineries, and is typically eight inches or larger in diameter. Main lines often cross through hundreds of kilometres of varied geographic topography and political borders. The refined products pipeline is the final conduit within the logistical chain, and transports refined oil from the refinery to product terminals. These terminals are large tank farms located near consumers.

While the technical engineering and properties of fluid dynamics determine the internal specifications of the pipe—including the diameter, thickness, material selection, fittings, etc.—the outside of the pipeline needs to interface with the external environment, including its topography, climate, political policies, and cultures. While the features of the external environment are typically viewed as secondary to the internal specifications of the pipeline, what if the environment played a larger role in determining the location, trajectory, and design of pipelines and their associated infrastructures? This would include local conditions and cultures in the discussion of mega-conduits, as these settlements will ultimately inherit these infrastructures and potentially utilize them for differing means. This could be viewed as a hybrid infrastructure wherein the top down regional trajectory and internal specifications of the pipe push up against the local environment and its values.


The interdependencies between sites of natural gas extraction, refining, and consumption has fostered a network of territorial conduits, which move through the Brazilian hinterland, including its communities and ecologies. The Uruguayana-Porto Alegre Pipeline will unify a series of separate pipelines developed over the past two decades. Spanning 3,100 kilometers and linking northern regions to the southern cone once completed, this energy ring will redistribute flows of energy, wealth, and people across the territory, which is destined to threaten smaller settlements and local ecologies. Instead, how can this energy-ring foster new territorial relationships between economics, geopolitics, culture, and ecologies that increase the resilience and robustness of these systems? Specifically, at the scale of the MCC65, the pipeline’s trajectory and interface with its environment — including the existing communities of Charqueadas, Sao Gabriel, Cacheoeira do Sul, and Alegrete as well as the unique ecologies of the Pampas, Pantanal, and Atlantic Forest — provokes the following lines of inquiry:
— How can the pipeline’s interface to its local context be designed to account for social and cultural concerns while simultaneously addressing environmental challenges of the Pampas, geopolitical complexities, and economic opportunities?
— How can this newly connected hinterland maintain its culture and ecologies while leveraging new opportunities afforded by this infrastructure?
— How can new architecture and infrastructure be integrated to make the collective public realm more robust and sustainable?
— How can negative ecological effects of oil and gas transportation be addressed in the design of this infrastructure and these growing settlements?
— How can these developments be conceived with long-term, holistic planning to create a healthy environment and culture for resource transportation, and account for their infrastructural co-option post-oil and gas?

As new pipelines and their associated infrastructures cross the once remote hinterland, it exposes these rural settlements and local ecologies to development pressures. A critical gas pipeline in this system is the “Uruguayana-Porto Alegre Pipeline”, also referred to as MCC65, which runs through Southern Brazil to Uruguay and serves as a final segment in a ring of gas pipelines between Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Bolivia. While redistributing energy, wealth, and populations along this ring when completed, the 570-kilometer segment will also need to navigate the smaller settlements and unique ecologies of the region. This project phase will investigate the effects of this development on the larger territory of the energy ring, as well as the small-scaled settlements and local ecosystems along MCC65, which are poised to transform. The studio will document this corridor to understand the unique constraints and opportunities as well as the overlapping visions and values of this territory, to inform transcalar design approaches to critical interfaces. We will question how architecture can hybridize this infrastructure with the competing forces of economics, geopolitics, cultural values, and ecologies, in an effort to create resilience and robustness through holistic integration. The effects of conduit infrastructures on the territorial and local landscape are often overlooked by designers, yet these have become the predominant infrastructural spatial type within globalized logistics. How can the regional and local relationships that are embedded in conduit infrastructures be leveraged through design approaches that while at the scale of architecture, have a widespread impact over the territory? While the conduit exists within a territory, it also creates new territories once built. These territories are a complex negotiation of several actors and environments (human and physical) and are constantly redeveloping their characteristics and boundaries.

The project questions how a new template of urbanism can be formed between industrial processes, local cultures, and existing ecologies. Due to its length, two pumping stations will be required along the route of MCC65. Pumping stations are an infrastructure attached to pipeline conduits to overcome gravity (topography) and friction that occurs within the pipeline. These are typically located twenty to one thousand miles apart, depending on the diameter of the pipe (friction), thickness of the pipe (allowable pressure), and topographic elevation differences. Working at the scale of architecture, we are interested in how a specific node plays a role in the larger territory and how the pipeline is leveraged (currently or in the future) to create new relationships between the two stations.

1 Felipe Correa, “Afterlife Strategies: The Other Post-Oil City”, Volume, nr. 29, (2011): 130.
2 Neeraj Bhatia et al., “Formatting Contingency” in: Pamphlet Architecture 30: Coupling (New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 2011), 8.
3 Morgan Downey, Oil 101 (New York: Wooden Table Press, 2009), 257.
4 Thomas O. Miesner and William L. Leffler, Oil & Gas Pipelines, (Tulsa: PennWell Books, 2006), 213.
5 Ibid., 3.