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Generative Landscapes


Generative Landscapes is an interdisciplinary research project that investigates architectural, landscape, and environmental histories of the Guianas, with a view to articulating the significance of these histories for theorizing environmentality and guiding responsible action in the contemporary context of environmental crisis.


Map of mountains and rivers

The Guianas constitute a territory defined geologically by the Guiana Shield in South America, and politically by the independent states of Guyana and Suriname, and the overseas department of French Guiana. Through a focus on the Guianas, the project explores the manner in which the effects of climate change—including its historicity and spatiality—are experienced and lived in intersubjective and intergenerational community. The project has been developed as part of the larger Caribbean Environmentalities research initiative, an interdisciplinary initiative that investigates modes of environmental experience in the Caribbean and the Guianas. The project developed out of Cornell’s Andrew W. Mellon Collaborative Studies in Architecture, Urbanism and the Humanities Fall 2019 Expanded Practice Seminar, titled “Atmospheric Pressures: Climate Imaginaries and Migration in the Caribbean,” co-taught by Tao DuFour, Assistant Professor of Architecture, and Natalie Melas, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature.

Map of mountains and rivers

Map of ocean and rivers

Map of ocean and rivers

Forests and coastal plains of the Guianas are not merely experienced locally, but conceptualized and appropriated geo-spatially, integrated into global structures of environmental governance tied to conflicting interests aimed at both resource extraction and environmental preservation, the latter monetized in forms including carbon sequestration (Collins 2020). Processes of deforestation have historically directly affected indigenous and maroon communities (Price 1996). Urbanization and infrastructural transformation of the coastal plains occurred primarily in relation to plantation agriculture tied to colonial and postcolonial histories of forced labor and migration (Look Lai 1993, Rabe 2005, Rodney 1981) and, in Guyana today, foreign investment in offshore hydrocarbon exploration and extraction (Jobson 2019). These complex and layered pasts are constitutive for the experience in the present of environmental horizons of the Guianas, and the spatiality and historicity of their landscapes.

Map of city

The project proposes further that the representation of this environmental spatiality is also significant for and enfolded into its experience and conceptualization. In the Caribbean context, arguably, no other medium captures the phenomenological sense of the environmentality of the region more vividly than literature (Hall 2017). The literary traditions of the Caribbean constitute a unique archive and source of knowledge about the typicality of the lived experience of its environmental spatiality and historicity. Landscapes are not merely valued in terms of resources or “natural capital”, but rather, the environment is first and foremost lived. It is through a living relationality to the environment that it becomes a genuine intersubjective and intergenerational sphere of concern (Agrawal 2005, DuFour 2022, Glissant 1997). The project thus equally emphasizes the role of the humanities in spatio-environmental research, and its integration with ethnographic and fieldwork based research, and information systems models of geo-spatial analysis.

Map of city

Project Team

Tao DuFour, project director

Carlos Umberto Blanco, GTRS research assistant

Jessica Lee, GTRS research assistant

Gracie Meek, research assistant

Edward Aguilera Perez, research assistant

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