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Department of


Lithium Triangle | OPN Masterclass

Course: ARCH 000
Students Involved: Erin Copeland, Alex Hochstetler, Dan Cowden, Paul Jasper


Our project is concerned with  rising demand for high powered rechargeable batteries in cell phones, computers and electric cars, (as well as in consistent use in ceramic and glass manufacturing) the lithium industry is surging. Over half of the earth’s identified Lithium deposits are found in South America’s “lithium triangle”, an otherworldly network/system of high-altitude lakes and bright white salt flats in the Andean plateau that straddles Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. The largest and least developed of the salt flats is the Salar de Uyuni in Southern Bolivia which, with an area 4,000 square miles at 12,000’ above sea level, comprises 50-70% of the world’s known lithium reserves. While the lithium of Salar de Uyuni is worth an estimated $1.3 trillion, Bolivia has been reluctant to foreign investment, re branded colonialism, and their attempts to develop infrastructure have been minimal at best. The process of extracting lithium, as well as potassium, boron and magnesium, from 30m below ground level uses already scarce water sources and displaces local animal species and people.


Transnational development of the salt flats is as inevitable in our eyes as it is in view of the global market. The seemingly infinite expanse of Uyuni will soon be demarcated and urbanized through a ‘city’ of evaporation pools.


Our first drawing, viewed from a perfect, yet impossible location, the three dimensional diorama is aligned with the gallery walls themselves. Through the continuous horizon line, ceiling/sky and brine pools/tiles, the museum space and diorama are blurred. Viewed from any spot save for the ‘perfect spot’ a visitor would be presented by a supremely deformed diorama, much like the partial experience of a human in the face of such a vast expanse. The sheer scale of the Salar de Uyuni is impossible for humans to comprehend in full as the horizon line. This vantage point resembles the perspective from which corporations direct large scale development. Using massive amounts of data to present an image of expertise and absoluteness in the public eye, these developments often proceed with little resistance. However, in reality their research is ignorant of social and cultural forces and therefore, incomplete at best.


The second image, similar to the Diorama View, the sample collection of objects embodies several privileged views. While the image is self reflective of our work in the masterclass, we primarily want to engage a narrative of the investors/engineers/curators who play “god”, determining the realities of the salt flats from remote locations.


Finally, we engage with the human scale and begin to understand the scales and atmospheres of the landscape. Indigenous groups have been working the salt fields for generations and are being pushed out by international development groups as well as local species who call the salares their home.



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