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Concrete Plans/Liquid Chaos

Houston faces an escalating threat from natural disasters, but these are certainly not naturally caused. The city's native coastal prairie, once an expansive root-filled sponge capable of absorbing and storing vast quantities of water, is now under siege. With the expansion of the oil industry and aggressive urbanization, these once-porous grounds are being relentlessly paved over with concrete and asphalt—hard, solid, and prone to flooding. Its urban sprawl stretches not only horizontally across the surface but also penetrating into the ground, where intensive extraction of oil, gas, and water substantially hollowed and desiccated the land, causing it to shift and sink.

Examining Houston as a case study, this drawing argues that urban infrastructures, whether unintentionally or by design, turn water “solid” by confining it within edges, walls, and borders. Anuradha Mathur and Dilip da Cunha introduce the concept of "wetness," which challenges the dichotomy conventionally drawn between land and water—where water is often viewed merely as a resource for land development and consumption. Water, in its essence, is dynamic—it flows, evaporates, condenses, precipitates, and accumulates. It is the liquid we consume, bathe in, and swim through; yet, it is also the elusive cloud we cannot touch, the invisible moisture in the air, and the life-sustaining fluid that permeates plants, soil, and rock fractures. The project extends this notion of wetness to critique how water infrastructure, by sealing off landscapes both vertically and horizontally, obstructs natural water flows and cycles, eradicating water's inherent "liquid characteristics." As a result, water, when obstructed in its natural pathways, transitions from being stagnant to violent when surpassing the limit of urban plans, leaving the city dangerously vulnerable to the impacts of excessive rainfall or storms.

Differing from the conventional plan views typically used to illustrate flood issues, this drawing employs sectional perspectives to zoom in on various hardened boundaries imposed on water bodies. This approach not only highlights the deliberate intent to "solidify" water by altering its flow and natural cycle but also exposes the failure of such efforts. The juxtaposition of these anthropogenic surfaces through their disconnectedness reveals a critical flaw: water should not be tamed but respected.

“Concrete Plans/Liquid Chaos” is part of the group exhibition Big, Hot, and Sticky at the Architecture Center Houston, curated by Dalia Munenzon and Maggie Tsang.