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Environmental Architecture (MA)

RS1: The Lithium Triangle


In the context of the global transition from fossil fuels to 'clean' energy, the Lithium Triangle Research Studio focused on the political and ecological tensions that characterise processes of lithium extraction across Chile, Argentina and Bolivia - an area also known as the 'lithium triangle' – with a particular attention to disputes between indigenous populations and global mining corporations. Through collaborative research methods and partnerships with organisations on the ‘ground’, the studio explored the role of architecture and design in the context of the global struggle against resource extraction.

The lithium triangle is a unique case globally, both for its geo-climatic conditions, and for its unique location at the interception of different models of development. It exemplifies the multi-scalar and interconnected processes of planetary resource extraction, revealing the real costs of 'green', economies, while suggesting the need to replace decarbonisation by reproductive justice as they central loci of climate justice struggles.

Our priority has been to develop research in ways that can be immediately mobilised by those communities that are more affected by environmental destruction.

The Lithium Triangle Studio proposed two key conceptual figures to guide the exploration of environmental architecture: “Desert” and “Mountain”. These are figures that lie at the interception of multiple worlds inhabiting the Andean region of the Puna de Atacama.

If mountains are commonly associated with sacred and divine entities across the world or with natural challenges to be conquered by explorers and adventurers, in the Atacama, they exist as family members, uncles or grandparents, part of extended kinship structures. For their part deserts are commonly associated with the absence of life, a justification for the violence and land appropriation exerted during the European colonisation. The Atacama is a particular kind of desert – commonly referred to during the colonization period as the despoblado (uninhabited). Its dry surface registers most events that take place above and beneath it. The surface of desert is better understood as an index, or a film in a photographic camera. Events of violence, or genocide and of ecocide carved on its grounds reminds us of the desert’s political and economic importance.


Comunidad Indigena de Tulor-Beter, S Pedro de Atacama.

Fundación Desierto de Atacama

Fundación Desierto de Atacama (Atacama Desert Foundation, Chile) is an autonomous and non-profit institution that works in an interdisciplinary way in research, conservation, education and enhancement of material and intangible heritage in northern Chile, integrating and associating professionals, institutions, local organizations, communities and indigenous peoples.

Rolando Humire Coca

Biochemist and Indigenous Leader. Was the President of the Consejo de Pueblos Atacameños, and in that position led the negotiations with the Chilean government for the regulation of lithium extraction facilities in the Atacama Salt Flat.

Dr Alonso Barros

Lawyer (PUCCh) and PhD (University of Cambridge) with two decades of experience in advocacy and anthropology involving projects affecting indigenous peoples territories in Latin America. Since 2013, he works as a researcher and litigation lawyer, mediator and arbiter on behalf of indigenous peoples and communities involved with the extractive industry in the Atacama desert.

Dr Gonzalo Pimentel

Social Anthropologist and Archeologist, he is the Director of the Atacama Desert Foundation, Chile, with a long track record of working with and supporting indigenous communities in their environmental disputes against mining companies. 

16 December 2020
15:30 (GMT + 0)
Various online events - 16-18 December, 2020


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