Gerrit Rietveld Academie & Sandberg Instituut Research Fellowships Reader 2023
Fellows Published —

What was the starting point of your research project?

Forecasting, Otherwise is an ongoing research project that delves into the failures of architecture, boundary-making practices, the urbanization of natural resources and frameworks of predictability by analyzing one case study: the Seasonal flash floods in Barranquilla, Colombia.

What approach did you take for the fellowship research project, and how does it relate to the role of research in your practice?

Rather than conducting a linear analysis of infrastructural failures and plausible solutions, the research fellowship allowed me to navigate Barranquilla’s archives, meteorological data, and discussions with academics, policymakers, urban planners, and communities with curiosity and critical engagement. As a result, my approach to the fellowship was to assess urban planning and architecture through the lens of eco-feminist practices and methodologies for working with sensitive social landscapes and complex environmental issues.

Your work takes you across several countries and continents. How do the different geographies, territorialities, cultures, and local idiosyncrasies affect your research methodologies, and what challenges do you face while working through these differences?

Despite its detractors, the term “Anthropocene” remains a fertile ground for contemplating the interconnected webs of humans and more-than-human entities that transcend borders and cultures. Delving into different issues related to the climatic crisis implies exploring different scales and geographies. This is a challenge that exists not only for my research but for any other methodological approaches for working around anthropogenic consequences and infrastructures.

For example, on 11 June 2022, meteorological services in Barranquilla recorded 15% of a year’s rain. On the same day, a tornado struck near Istanbul in Turkey, and a storm wreaked havoc in Ankara while wildfires raged in San Bernardino, California. All these multiplicities and temporalities engendered by anthropogenic forces expose the interconnectivity produced by the weather and our patchy relationship to the environment. Although we all experience weather events locally, when significant meteorological and geological forces take place, they also lay bare the unbalanced levels of exposure that different bodies and communities have to the different political and ecological climates. Despite the ubiquity of experiences poured by atmospheric events, the depiction of climate change and climate policy as a consolidated, unified idea reinforces the assumptions that enable the urbanization of natural resources and environmental injustices in the Global South. Therefore, the big challenge isn’t working with different geographies but recognizing how the bigger narratives of climate change tend to ignore the people exposed to it.

Forecasting, Otherwise

At the beginning of 2021, I started working with Universidad del Norte, a higher education institution in Barranquilla, a city in the Caribbean in my home country. The aim of this collaboration is to produce a body of work that examines the local seasonal flash floods under the lens of the climatic crisis, urbanism, and ecofeminism. This collaboration and ongoing research project also became part of the work I developed for the Sandberg Research Fellowship between 2021 and 2022.

The project explores the overlaps between the urbanscapes of Barranquilla, water, and the climatic crisis by examining the cultural perception of seasonal flash floods. Far from effective and frictionless, the formulaic urban solutions partaken by local authorities to solve the city’s lack of rain drainage infrastructure fail to confront the intricate social landscape and complex environmental issues of Barranquilla. Recognizing the urgency of a critical posture toward modern urbanistic ideas in the Global South, the research focuses on building connections between local culture, climate discourses, and posthumanism, aiming to open new ideas about how the city of Barranquilla can coexist and engage differently with its watery landscape. In this way, the project foregrounds the importance of both the local narrative devices used to frame its bodies of water and the infrastructural projects developed to contain them.

Hereby I am publishing a collection of short texts, field notes, and other thoughts that trickled from this research umbrella, and that make visible a few ideas that emerged from the waters I have been navigating with this project. The texts explore different connections between infrastructure, frameworks of predictability, and the bodies that endure political and environmental climates.

The first two sections introduce Barranquilla and the construction of marginality by understanding the decay and lack of infrastructure in the city as well as placing infrastructural project as some kind of forecasting device for urban futures. Further in the text, the chapters drippings and embodiments moves into the margins. Hoping to counteract modernist narratives of natural control and architectural solutionism, the last texts attempt to change the scale and abstractions enabled by traditional urbanist projects, climate policies, “green architecture,” and sustainability by adding a layer of embodied responses to the weather and climates.

Barranquilla and The Floods:

In my childhood, I visited Barranquilla almost every holiday to see my grandparents. When I was in town during the rainy season, I recognized a collective fear of storms and heavy showers. For instance, my grandmother never dared to go out during heavy rainfall. I understood her distress after the first time I saw a street flooding abruptly, cars and people were pushed away by rampant streams of water that looked like untamed, brown rivers full of trash and debris. Every rainy season, Barranquilla floods with dangerous fast-running rivers locally known as arroyos. Because of the lack of rainwater drainage systems, limited soil permeability, and steep slopes, these floods turn into an overflowing stream of destroyed houses, washed-away cars, and landslides, bringing human, material, and economic losses while temporarily reorganizing the territory.

When it rains, the daily patterns change as kids skip school, buses divert their course, and impromptu actions are performed in the city’s streets, where the missing infrastructure is replaced by improvised survival rituals and a meshwork of bodies whose everyday lives rely on the contingent relations between them. Working in Barranquilla implies situating myself as a local and as a foreigner. It also involves navigating my position as an architect that tries to find spatial agency rather than continue designing and building more, especially in a context where construction is a synonym for progress and wealth. Understanding the flash floods has also implied flowing in hostile waters, handling the precarity of local archives, waiting, and asking for information that is always missing.

By looking into the entanglements of floods, weather, and urban planning, I am examining the failures of architecture, boundary-making practices, the urbanization of natural resources, and frameworks of predictability, while witnessing the traces of abuse and absence they have left in a country of ecological abundance. Colombia’s freshwater supply exceeds fifty-thousand cubic meters per capita. However, increasingly frequent and heavier natural disasters have begun to threaten its bodies of water and wetlands. In Colombia, wetlands cover 2-million hectares and floodplains span 2.5-million hectares; they each play a crucial role in the function of ecosystems as well as cultural history. Both wetlands and floodplains help to control floods and support agriculture, fisheries, and forests. They also retain nutrients and house a wide diversity of flora and fauna.

The department of Atlántico, where Barranquilla is located, is characterized by swampy wetlands and grassy floodplains scattered with hills and forests. Barranquilla is situated in the meanders of the Magdalena River’s mouth, surrounded by swamps and the Caribbean Sea. Nevertheless, its metropolitan area has only a few visual or programmatic connections to these bodies of water. This tropical region experiences seasonal fluctuations of rain and drought because the Caribbean accommodates the climatic phenomenon of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). El Niño is an irregular periodic variation in wind and sea-surface temperature that reduces river flow and creates rainfall anomalies. El Niño is characterized by warm currents in the Pacific Ocean, producing low levels of rain precipitation and severe droughts. Conversely, La Niña produces a cooling effect and heavy rains in the region. When any of these environmental oscillations hit Atlántico, they tend to displace thousands of people while laying bare the profound social disparities of the area. El Niño, other environmental fluctuations, and big narratives of climate change become the scapegoats for local governments to avoid acknowledging the failure of the exclusionary policies put in place in the entire region.

How local authorities manage climatic fluctuations such as El Niño exposes the deep environmental injustices of the Caribbean region and what Colombian historian Alfonso Múnera Cavadía calls “hierarchichal geographies of race,” where colonial legacy has unfolded in a topographical literacy that connects climate, race and territory.1 These geographies falsely construct the idea that “educated” and “civilized” people inhabit the mountains while the lowlands are inhabited by “underdeveloped” communities. This idea influences how Caribbean political elites plan and build the city in a quest for international investment.

Barranquilla is an impermeable concrete patch in the middle of a watery landscape. It is the biggest city in the Colombian Caribbean, with a population of 1.2-million people, of which 40% live in poverty. The southwest part of the city houses mainly impoverished communities. During the 1990s, right-wing paramilitary groups expanded along the north of Colombia through the Caribbean region with the help of local landowners, businessmen, politicians, and members of military forces. The paramilitary armies displaced thousands of people from their homes in rural areas, who began resettling in Barranquilla. Displaced populations settled mainly in the existing neighborhoods of the southwest, but as more people arrived, they established 10 informal neighborhoods in the 1990s and 15 more during the early 2000s. The inhabitants of this area of the city work without formal contracts as street vendors, security guards, gardeners, and construction workers. Women work mainly as domestic workers, nannies, hairdressers, and street vendors. Most of them commute to the northern sectors to provide these services.

Amid rising inequality and fast urbanization, the flashfloods became more severe. During the period of significant forced displacement due to the internal Colombian conflict, the arroyos grew, which in turn reduced the permeable surface even more. The municipality also decided to complete drainage works in the wealthier center and northern neighborhoods, worsening the situation in the south.2

Field Notes

In March 2022 I went again to Barranquilla to visit the Historical Archive of The Atlántico Department, to try to understand the affected communities in the south of the city, and carry out a walk with locals and students. The walk was one iteration of Failed Architecture Situations, an embodied form of criticism which attempts to bring critical discourses about urbanism and space to the places where they matter. The walk consisted of following the same waterway around the city and understanding how the urban landscape spatialized bodies of water depending on socioeconomic and ecological factors. In some areas, the water was considered dirty and toxic; in others, the same waterway was considered pure and appropriate for bathing and leisure activities. The walk allowed me to understand the municipality’s pervasive mediation of natural resources, poverty, and urban development.

During this trip, I met with different actors involved in the technical solutions developed to work with the floods. I could feel there was a certain sense of relief around infrastructural and technical projects as if they had finally found a cure to natural fluctuations in the powers of modern engineering. Unexpectedly, questions about the environmental crisis, heavier rainfall, and unpredictable weather never fully evolved in our conversations. The visit made me feel like I was peregrinating the sanctuaries of modernity, worshipping western ideas of infrastructure but ignoring the discourses behind them—the same discourses that perpetuate environmental and social disparities, especially in a country like Colombia. However, on the same trip, I witnessed kids playing and swimming in the flooded streets in the city’s informal neighborhoods. This situation made me question the localized absence of infrastructural projects and the inclusion of rainwater as an architectural, programmatic element in the urban landscape.

I myself don't want to romanticize the kids playing in filthy water as some kind of misery porn imagery. I understand this image betrays both the desire and the discomfort to express views over urban forms when the situation emerges from a profound environmental injustice. Nonetheless, it serves to draw attention to the urgencies of how someone’s relationship with their environment is materialized, how they conceive natural resources, and how both are products of the process of producing and designing space.

Bodies are Infrastructures

On 11 June 2022, meteorological services in Barranquilla recorded in only one day 15% of one year’s rain. Guatemala’s Volcano, Volcán de Fuego, erupted on the same day. In Turkey, a tornado occurred near Istanbul and a storm wreaked havoc in Ankara while wildfires burned in San Bernardino, California. These multiplicities and temporalities engendered by anthropogenic consequences lay bare the interconnectivity of different ecologies and the shared experiences by different bodies and cultures. Despite the ubiquity of experiences poured by atmospheric events, the depiction of climate change and climate policy as a consolidated, unified idea merely reinforces the assumptions that enable climate injustice.

Conventional attempts at conquering a would-be-climate-catastrophe future all rely upon the same ideas of control, whether of the natural environment or individual and collective behavior. These attempts to use technical solutions to master the future seem stubborn and careless. Therefore, instead of concentrating my efforts on accessibility or the extension of infrastructure in Barranquilla, I prefer to explore its absence and decay as ways to display the construction of marginality and unequal power relations.

Although urban weather is shaped by extensive mesoscale features, weather events that belong to particular urban environments arise from the characteristics of the urban setting, such as large areas covered by buildings, paved streets, and parking areas, and the generation of waste. All of them combined create what is known as the local weather environment, characterized by urban heat island effects, flooding, changes in precipitation, elevated concentration of pollutants, and street-canyon winds.3 However, these descriptions of urban weather only correspond to meteorological weather and the prediction technologies that make it measurable, while invisibilizing the bodies that are essential to render it tangible. The technologies that generate conceptions of the weather are not connected to each locality's affective, physical, and social aspects; on the contrary, they separate the bodies that endure and create the weather from their forecast.

Thinking with gender and cultural theorists Astrida Neimanis and Jennifer Mae Hamilton through the concept of “weathering,” I explore infrastructure and weather beyond ideas of resilience and meteorology. As a feminist figuration, “weathering” attunes one to human embodiment and cultural difference in a time of climate catastrophe, where “weather” is the totality of the atmospheres that bodies are made to bear. The presence or absence of Infrastructure in any urban environment is illustrative of its inhabitants’ aspirations and imaginations of the future. Because of the amount of resources and time required to produce and maintain it, an infrastructure is a form of long-term forecasting. When infrastructural urban projects are unevenly distributed, and when they don’t take care of the needs of the people that depend on them, they reveal a problematic idea of our climatic futurities.

In the past year, I have been floating among historical archives, meteorological data, master plans, and talks with academics, policymakers, urban planners, and communities paying attention to specific contexts, their histories, and their structures. It has been a process of critical engagement and caring participation without either praising or entirely refusing my findings. In my ongoing process of understanding Barranquilla and its communities, I decided to slow down my approach to any solutionist architectural perspective. Instead I allowed myself to look into the missing voices and collectivities. Inspired by feminist writers and authors and confronted by the reductionist discussions with local policymakers about infrastructure and rainwater drainage, this research project is taking shape into a speculative archive which searches for alternative ways to live with water and produce feminist counter-imaginaries to the floods. The speculative aspect of the project is a way of mothering the crisis and going against any totalizing and capitalist project to counteract the climate crisis, creating a more nuanced framing to address human-environmental relationships and Barranquilla’s profound social inequality.


As I write this in October 2022, Colombia is in turmoil because it is being hit by La Niña, meaning heavy rainfall is flooding almost all of the Caribbean coast. In the past weeks, I have been observing weather apps, requesting data, asking collaborators to send me information and reports, reading newspapers, following Twitter and hashtags, and contacting the meteorological services. Besides a few visits to Barranquilla in the past year, these have been regular activities for me to be able to inform myself about what is happening in the city. In that process, one of the most frustrating exchanges with Colombian institutions has been contacting the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) in Colombia. Their answer is usually an automated email asking me to wait to receive the requested information. When the files come—if they ever do—they are broken, empty, or full of blank information. This data seems to be even more inaccessible if it comes from data collection points in informal neighborhoods.

Tired of waiting, I tried to access other ways of forecasting and sensing the weather. I remembered a story. In 2012, a scandal erupted in Colombia when news outlets exposed corruption related to a man known as the "rain shaman," Jorge Elias González. It was revealed that for over 20 years, he had been hired by officials and event managers to control the weather at national festivals, concerts, marathons, football tournaments, and other major events using public funds. Even the 2010 inauguration of President Juan Manuel Santos had employed his services. González, who had learned the arts of water divination and cloud manipulation from his father, used a mix of religious and indigenous practices, as well as a modified form of radiesthesia or dowsing, to control the weather. Dowsing was originally developed in sixteenth-century Germany to locate precious metals but extended to finding water sources using magnetic field perception.

The scandal became widespread after the festival director of the Ibero-American Theater Festival revealed that canceling an open-air production of Carmen was necessary when González was not hired to stop the rain. However, the scandal did not stop there, as it was discovered that González had been paid two thousand US dollars to manipulate the weather during the closing ceremony of the 2011 Under-20’s Soccer World Cup in Bogotá. This revelation occurred during an investigation into the alleged misuse of one-million US dollars of public funds. Although the remaining nine-hundred-and-ninety-eight-thousand US dollars of the fund received less attention from the media, the scandal around González’s services to manipulate the weather persisted and stayed on the front pages of different news outlets.

I tried to contact González for an interview through different people. I asked directors, actors, and organizers of the theater festival. Not one of them could help me find him. Alongside this exploration to find out more about his practices and his many years working to control the weather and change the forecasts, I stumbled upon an article published by one of the leading newspapers in Colombia, El Tiempo. The headline stated, “The Shaman who stops the rain couldn’t avoid the flooding of his own home.” González’s home was located in a rural impoverished area and had been washed away in a downpour.4


I was still waiting for a response from IDEAM. In the meantime, I stumbled upon a mechanical hygrometer, an outdated instrument for measuring the weather. In meteorological science, the hygrometer measures the humidity, or more precisely, the amount of water vapor in the air of any other atmospheric gas. Old hygrometers function using human hair, which contracts and expands in response to water and changes in humidity levels. Hair is hygroscopic, which means it tends to retain moisture. In a mechanical hygrometer, the tension created by the changes in the length of the hair is magnified with a mechanism that moves the needle on the hygrometer’s dial, communicating to the user the humidity levels in the room.

Entangled with ideas of hair and bodies as weather antennas, I ended up in the AccuWeather Frizz Forecast Index. By changing the word “weather-forecast” to “hair-day-weather,” the website gives a forecast ranging from a scale of 1 to 10 and predicts how frizzy your hair will be based on local weather conditions. Through the app, I was able to access the frizz factor for Barranquilla. These measurements depend on atmospheric humidity, dew points, cold, wind, and rain, which could result in frizz, flyaways, and static hair. Downpouring rain will damage tousled waves, straightened hair, and blowouts; windy conditions will whip and tangle; and dew points will change the amount of moisture in any hair type. Accessing this information allows for essential beauty planning to avoid having a bad hair day or an unexpected trip to the salon.

Even though the hair day weather report informs superfluous data for my search, at least these measurements acknowledge the uneven bodily exposures to the weather systems and, in one way or another, how they also incorporate forces of racism, colonialism, and sexism. By addressing bodies as an essential missing part of the data, the almost useless measurement of AccuWeather signals how the big technological responses to climate change and the inaccessibility of data are elements that miss to acknowledge the people and the bodies that endure the anthropogenic consequences of modernity. The missing infrastructures, data, bodies, and stories that embody climatic injustices give an account of all the wrongdoings of the material logic of infrastructures and the necessity of unprofitable, more vulnerable, and slower frameworks for forecasting, planning and developing alternative climatic futurities.5

1 See further, Alfonso Múnera Cavadía, “Fronteras Imaginadas: La Construcción de las Razas y de la Geografía en el Siglo XIX Colombiano.” El Taller de La Historia 3, no. 3 (2014).

2Guerrero, Acevedo Tatiana, and Kathryn Furlong. "Water, Arroyos, and Blackouts: Exploring Political Ecologies of Water and the State in Barranquilla," n.d.

3See further, Urban Meteorology Forecasting, Monitoring, and Meeting Users' Needs Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. (2012).

4To read more about Jorge Elías’s story see María Mazzanti, “A man, a scandal and the weather,” Simulacrum Magazine 31, Water.

5Thinking about floods, infrastructure and water with the help of: Judith Butler, Cecilia Chen, Donna Haraway, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Jennifer Mae Hamilton, Alfonso Múnera Cavadía, Astrida Neimanis, Open Weather (Sophie Dyer and Sasha Engelmann), and Abdou Maliq Simone.