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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, Lithium Territories kicked off with the urban design research studio Lithium Matters led by Porter Visiting Professor María Arquero de Alarcón and UVA Program Director Mona El Khafif. A series of workshops with PUC partner Ximena Arizaga helped to guide student research and anchor it in existing power dynamics between governments and community stakeholders. Students came to grips global and regional forces driving the lithium cycle. They mapped lithium’s history as the third element in the periodic table to green energy solution. They traced lithium flows across the globe, becoming familiar with the major stakeholders involved in funding, extracting, and production. They visualized each stage of lithium’s transformational journey from minerals in the ground to highly prized goods. But because the lithium life cycle does not occur detached from the realities of everyday life, students also continuously internalized the local impacts of the increasing global pursuit of lithium by visualizing the role that this element plays in our lives and eventually, by designing new lithium geographies.


In addition to the ongoing research and conversations was an in-person trip to the United States’ only operating lithium mine, Silver Peak, during which students also explored the surrounding region and the industrial center forming just to its north.
Fall 2023 plans for the [Lithium Territories] collaboration includes an urban design studio led by María Arquero de Alarcón at Michigan University, a lecture-based seminar led by Mona El Khafif at UVA, and a symposium at UVA focused on the lithium research from the previous spring semester.

Additional recognition for contributions to the body of research and design go to Ila Berman (Elwood R. Quesada Professor, UVA; Next Cities Institute Director), Brian Owensby (Professor of history in the Corcoran Department of History, UVA; CGII Director), Matthew Seibert (Professor of Landscape Architecture, UVA)...






Lithium Mining Through the Sea

In the year 2073, humanity had achieved a great technological feat - they had built floating sea enclaves that could sustain human life. 

The old world had been devastated by climate change and rising sea levels, and the only way for the human species to survive was to adapt to a new environment. 

The people of this world embraced this new way of living beyond the land, in The Vessel.

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