Shifting Ground: Precarious Settlements and Geological Hazard in Medellin, Colombia

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As the force field of urbanization grows in complexity, variety, scale, and rate in the early decades of the 21st century, designers, urbanists, and policy-makers alike must develop new theoretical and methodological approaches. This article demonstrates the use of landscape as a primary framework for theorizing contemporary urbanization and developing pre-emptive design strategies through a discussion of a design research report on the risk of death by landslide in Medellin’s Aburra Valley. Landslides in these geologically hazardous slopes have killed 784 low-income residents in the past 80 years, and by 2030 nearly 350,000 residents will be at risk.

Shifting Ground, a collaboration between the think-tank URBAM of Eafit University in Medellin and the Social Agency Lab of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, proposes landscape-based strategies for redirecting urbanization processes in order to avoid further disasters in the valley and simultaneously produce new economies. Landscape is used as a research and design framework and takes into account the geologic makeup of the slopes, regional hydrology, local economies, and the flow of settlers relocating to the slopes.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)148-159
JournalLandscape Architecture Frontiers
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • urbanization
  • landscape infrastructure
  • design research
  • landslide
  • erosion


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