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Lithium Territories investigates the socio-environmental, spatial, and temporal entanglements of the just energy transition. This academic initiative is a collaboration between the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan, and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, and comprises graduate-level architecture and urban design studios, an urban strategies seminar, and an online symposium. Lithium Territories is sponsored by the Center for Global Inquiry and Innovation (CGII) at the University of Virginia. 

Our joint research agenda addresses a most pressing global challenge: the mandate to take climate action and reverse the path towards planetary collapse. Using lithium as a critical matter powering the energy transition, we examine its life cycle, from extraction, to manufacturing, consumption, and recycling, and socio-environmental entanglements. By connecting our cellphone terminals and electric cars’ batteries to lithium mines in Chile, manufacturing plans in the Asian Pacific region, and gigafactories in the US, we trace the global flows that power every aspect of our lives and transform ecosystems and livelihoods globally. 

While Lithium is powering a technological revolution that promises to decrease the negative environmental impacts of our urban centers, the pace and intensity of the process of mineral extraction have harmful implications for the social and ecological fabric of the mining regions. Through interdisciplinary research and design, this project seeks to unpack the entanglements of these global and local dynamics and positively impact the territories of study while offering a transformational experience to our students.  

During the Spring 2023 semester, the Master of Urban Design students at UVA participated in the Lithium Matters research studio, led by María Arquero de Alarcón, which included embedded workshops with Ximena Arizaga (PUC). Fall 2023 plans for Lithium Territories include a symposium and two parallel graduate level courses. The symposium “Powering The Just Global Energy Transition: A Lithium Trilogy,” Lithium Urban[i]ties, an architecture and urban design graduate studio also led by María Arquero de Alarcón at the University of Michigan, and Mining the Sun: Urban Strategies, a graduate seminar led by Mona El Khafif at UVA.

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