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ADS3: Refuse Trespassing Our Bodies – The Right to Breathe

Henry Valori

Henry is a Master of Architecture student graduating from the Royal College of Art. His practice engages with cartography, ecology, visual arts, and architecture. He previously studied his undergraduate at Newcastle University, graduating with a first class honours degree in 2017, and went on to practice for two years in the UK. He subsequently undertook a design residency with the School of Speculation where his work was exhibited at the South London Gallery.

Henry’s research focuses on environmental politics and architecture’s role in the production of non-extractive landscapes. He began his studies as part of ADS7’s research collective. Working alongside Jingru (Cyan) Cheng, Marco Ferrari, and Elise Hunchuck, Henry contributed to the film installation ‘Sky River’ as part of the Critical Zones Exhibition at ZKM | Centre for Art and Media Karlsruhe, curated by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel. His first year thesis went on to investigate the politics of desertification in Northwest China, proposing the construction of a citizen science network to aid local afforestation practices. The project was shortlisted for the RIBA West Awards.

This year, Henry has continued his research into unstable ecologies within ‘ADS3: Refuse Trespassing Our Bodies – The Right to Breathe’. He is currently working with ADS3 and the Serpentine Gallery towards the design of an environmental campaign advocating for biodiversity in Camden’s conservation areas. As part of the gallery’s ‘Back to Earth’ initiative, the exhibition will be on display later this summer. His final design thesis, titled: ‘The Politics of Reverse’, examines intensive agriculture and ecological catastrophe surrounding the Mar Menor Lagoon in Southern Spain. This project interrogates unsustainable practices of irrigation and considers how the reuse of refuse can shape an alternative future for the Lagoon and its People.

‘The Politics of Reverse’ examines the substance of waste brine from desalination plants to reveal how the metabolization of liquid pollution has generated ecological catastrophe and political upheaval in the Spanish province of Murcia. Henry’s proposal considers how a landscape strategy surrounding the Mar Menor lagoon could be designed to reuse and filter toxic brines. Through investigating themes of water politics and climate crisis, the project aims to support the existing political resistance and environmental activism already accomplished by the Lagoon’s inhabitants. 

In November 2020, NGO campaigns were initiated with local residents to recognize the Mar Menor – Europe’s largest saltwater lagoon – as a legal entity, owning the legislative rights to “exist as an ecosystem”. Yet its official status froze after several hours, as agribusiness companies filed oppositional lawsuits against the province. Hence, taking the petition for the Mar Menor’s legal personhood as a brief, The Politics of Reverse aims to realise a post-personhood future, where a generation of purifying irrigation systems are constructed on behalf of the sea: this architecture is an upstream intervention that alters downstream metabolism; a revolt against the extractive agricultural practices that have altered the Mar Menor beyond recognition. Through this research, Henry hopes that the project’s investigation into themes of consumption and metabolism can contribute to a wider understanding of how to live with pollution and preserve landscapes for future generations. After graduating from the RCA, he plans to further his practice collaboratively, working within the fields of environmental design, research architecture and the visual arts.


Murcia's hydro-social cycles — Through the medium of a performance lecture, this presentation investigates the political history and liquid conditions of the Mar Menor lagoon. These visualisations collate various forms of media, using animation, cartography and found footage as a critical tool to trace the region’s metabolism of water and waste brine.

The Politics of Reverse investigates the ruins of extractive agriculture surrounding the Mar Menor Lagoon in Southern Spain. It frames this investigation through the substance: brine.

Brines are highly concentrated salt-water solutions that are toxic to most life forms. The brines flowing into and under the Mar Menor are created during the process of desalination.

Desalination is used in this arid landscape to filter salty waters for agricultural irrigation. This technology has changed the Lagoon’s basin into a territory known as “Europe’s vegetable garden”, defining a period of intensive agrarian production which has, in turn, fuelled an ecological catastrophe.

Saltwater now represents the decisive frontier for the future of Murcia’s irrigation, an endless supply transfigured from the scale of the ocean to the agricultural appliance. Murcia’s ‘thirst’ has short-circuited its natural processes of hydration through a new regime of desalinated water. Demineralized drinking water is processed out of the ocean, whilst a highly concentrated waste brine – desalination’s antithetical by-product – flows back into the sea.

This hydro-social cycle acts out its conclusive stages within the marine environment, confronting bodies with unadaptable levels of salinity. 


The landscape surrounding the Mar Menor Lagoon in 1997. — A key change took place in 1997 whereby traditional terraced agriculture was subverted by irrigated fields, accelerating fertilizer run off and waste brine outflows. .
The Mar Menor in 2015. — Since this shift in landscape practices, the Basin has undertaken immense engineering projects to irrigate cheap arid land upstream from the Lagoon. Now, golf courses, greenhouses, pools, tourism, and agriculture metabolise desalinated water at an ever increasing rate.
Reverse Osmosis filters — Desalination depends on the process of reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis filters compress saltwater from the sea or ground through nano-membranes, separating salt from water. After Spain’s droughts in the 1990’s hundreds of these filters were installed throughout the Lagoon’s basin for agricultural irrigation...
Irrigation change after 1997 — ...their by-product waste brines are often illegally redistributed back into the Mar Menor – pumped down into aquifers or disposed of through ancient waterways.

As desalination plants were built over and under the Mar Menor’s salt marsh ecosystems, they continued to construct the possibility of new land ventures, sustaining the region’s fundamental paradox of an economy predicted on environmental health, which is in turn responsible for ecological collapse. At this intersection between inland politics and offshore reserves, Murcia’s landscape is suspended inside an agricultural monopoly maintained by pipes, fixtures, and private capital.

Three Material Exchanges — A small portion of farmland adjacent to the Rambla del Albujon becomes the testing ground for saline agriculture. This ancient tributary directs the majority of the Campo de Cartagena’s run-off into the Mar Menor; and its central role in the polluting of the Lagoon has incited political protests and scientific investigations along its length. To promote existing activism, the project designs an agricultural demonstration amongst the Rambla’s contaminated soils.
The Reorganization of Industry

In reaction to the Mar Menor’s environmental turmoil, a petition was drafted by local residents in 2020 to recognize the Lagoon as a rights-bearing entity or a “legal person,” providing the Mar Menor with legislative rights to “exist as an ecosystem and to evolve naturally".

This proposal uses the local petition as a brief for the design of an alternative landscape practice, whereby desalination brines are used to alleviate water stress.

The politics of reverse is enacted through three material exchanges:

Firstly, a Reclamation – dismantling and reappropriating a coastal hotel to build agricultural terraces.

Secondly, a Reaction – cultivating algae using waste brines from inland desalination units.

And thirdly, a Remediation – using filtered brines to sustain saline crops, absorbing pollutants upstream before they reach the Mar Menor.


The Ruins of Leisure — As modernist ideals arrived on the Lagoon’s shores, La Manga (the Mar Menor’s enclosing sand bar) was colonised by a new architectural era of sun-bleached concrete. Hotel Lagoymar and Hotel Doblemar were built in the 1960s by a businessman named Tomas Maestre. He was the father of La Manga's sprawl. In an attempt to reclaim both the ruins of leisure and the ground on which they stand, Hotel Lagoymar is deconstructed on behalf of the sea and used to break down intensive agriculture systems.
Reclamation

In an attempt to re-configure Murcia’s coastal urbanism, contemporary ruins destined for demolition are utilised for the building of agricultural terraces. This material exchange is enacted between Murcia’s two largest economies, whereby a hotel is used to subvert intensive landscape practices. Hotel Lagoymar – one of a pair of twin hotels that was never finished – is a relic of modernist acceleration. The structure was built at such a speed that it was sanctioned unsafe to complete.

Through the legislative framework of the Mar Menor’s environmental personhood, this building is ceremoniously deconstructed and reassembled as terrace walls – performing an architectural act of solidarity for the sea.

The terrace farm typology is a traditional system within the Mar Menor’s Basin. It is also a landscape strategy that relies on a natural hydrological cycle: conserving soil nutrients by collecting rainwater run-off.


Harvest — Nutrient-rich algae harvests are redistributed into the terraced landscape where they supplement the surrounding pastures, generating a co-dependent permaculture.
Reaction

The project assimilates the polluted conditions of the Mar Menor to test a saline cultivation strategy that confronts the wasting of toxic brines. Algae growing structures blend with the terraces to generate a pollution-filtering typology, a composite of ancient and novel farming techniques.

This architecture produces a reverse image of the desalination filter: brines that were once wasted are now the basis for dryland agricultural practices. 

Within this shelter, a harvest of algae and filtered brine is collected each week. Hypersaline varieties such as Arthrospira and Dunaliella salina are grown within the building’s network of pipes and pumps, producing a high-protein yield able to sustain arid pastures that support the region’s climate and hydrology. This liquid crop is drained and laid out to dry along the length of the building, where algae’s are evaporated in the sun.

Through contamination and cultivation, The Politics of Reverse reduces water stress on the Campo de Cartagena’s aquifer by salvaging refuse brines in place of extracted groundwater. 


Typology — Drawing on the Campo de Cartagena’s hydraulic heritage of channels, reservoirs, pipes and fixtures, these waste brine typologies are covered with algal plumbing – cooling the structure’s interior via evaporation and providing shade for agricultural workers.
Remediation

Waste brines are positioned as a pharmakon for the remediation of the Lagoon and its basin: Like a vaccine, the project uses the substances that are poisoning the Mar Menor to fight its infection. By reinterpreting toxic brines and deadly algal blooms as a possible remedy for the Mar Menor’s ecological decline, polluting substances are administered within a farming protocol that cultivates resilient lifeforms.

This metabolic strategy is defined by the mutual use of produce and refuse. Through variating saline crops with algae production and goat pasture farming, this irrigating typology maintains a co-dependent system, able to reduce salt pollution through bioremediation. Brines are metabolized up by salicornia, quinoa, atriplex crops, which in turn feed livestock pastures and fertilize exploited soils.

The Politics of Reverse interrogates architecture’s ability to produce landscapes and in turn cultivates defiant forms of life that absorb desalination’s polluting flows.

The Politics of Reverse constructs a resistant environment, against the Mar Menor’s metabolic disorder.

This work is a revolt. For a living Mar Menor.


Journal

A research journal documenting the project’s investigations, interviews and the legal petition for the Lagoon’s rights can be read here: